Updates: Phoenix Goddess Temple, Santa Muerte, New Apostolic Reformation

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 10, 2011 — 82 Comments

I have some updates on recent stories covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Phoenix Goddess Temple Arrests: Since my report on Thursday, this story has hit the national and international newswires. It is now revealed that charges include prostitution, pandering, and conspiracy. Most reports I’ve read seem pretty confident that this was nothing but a brothel with a veneer of spirituality painted on as a legal smokescreen. I’ve never seen so many scare quotes being used in a mainstream newswire report before.

Phoenix Goddess Temple members. Photo by Jamie Peachey.

“During a Wednesday search of the Phoenix temple and two church-related sites in nearby Sedona, police seized evidence showing that “male and female ‘practitioners’ working at the Temple were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary ‘donations,’ all on the pretense of providing ‘neo tantric’ healing therapies,” Phoenix police said.”

We’ve also learned more about the raids on the affiliated Sedona Temple, and the undercover operations that were underway for six months. In addition, some of those arrested have spoken with journalists, insisting that they are not engaged in prostitution.

During an interview with CBS 5 News, three of the women talked while in handcuffs. “I call myself a shaman. I believe in earth-based healing,” said Holly Alsop. After a six month investigation, Phoenix Police have 18 people behind bars accused of running a prostitution ring at the Phoenix Goddess Temple. When interviewed Friday, the women would not specifically say what the healing practices were, but when they were asked if any of them had sexual intercourse at the church, they had one very clear answer. “No, no. Absolutely not,” said Amanda Twitty. “Absolutely not. Everything we do is healing,” said Holly Alsop, and “No,” said Jamie Baker. “We’re not a brothel, we’re a church,” said Baker.

Whatever our suspicions in this matter, it’s now up to a judge or jury to decide if the evidence gathered by undercover officers is indeed enough to convict them of operating a prostitution ring. Whatever the truth of the matter, this should be an interesting test of how far religious protections can extend. We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

More on Santa Muerte: It seems I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with Tim Stanley’s vicious editorial in the Telegraph, George Conger at Get Religion dissects the assertions made about the Santa Muerte folk religion and finds them wanting.

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration. Sorry.  This won’t do. The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation. […] to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence.”

Another UK paper, the Guardian, came out with a much more sympathetic and thoughtful piece on Santa Muerte just yesterday, in what can only be seen as a counter-point to Stanley’s hysteria.

“To one side of the shrine was a candle shop. We decided to buy a candle to put on the shrine as most of the people in the queue were holding candles. I had read earlier that each colour of candle carried with it a meaning: red for love, white for luck and black for protection. We bought a white candle each and went back to the end of the line. The man before us in the queue wore a black singlet, exposing his enlarged biceps which were covered in tattoos; his wrists and neck were draped in gold chains. We observed him carefully when he arrived at the shrine. First he lit a black candle and placed it down in front of him beneath the altar. Then he got down on his knees and crossed himself. With his eyes closed, he began to utter a prayer under his breath. Finally, he stood up and lit a cigarette. He took one puff and left the rest on the ashtray as an offering.”

Also giving a far more balanced look into Santa Muerte is Texas newspaper The Monitor, who notes the rise of altars and spiritual aspects to the drug trade, but gain perspective from anthropologist Antonio Zavaleta. Zavaleta observes that this trend is less about an increase in believers and more about “a relocation of them.”

NAR’s Respect For Other Religions: New Apostolic Reformation guiding light C. Peter Wagner has been on something of a public relations blitz lately, ever since his movement has come under public scrutiny due to its ties with Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. Most recently, Wagner was interviewed by Voice of America, where he insists that NAR has respect for other religions, and operates “within religious pluralism.”

C. Peter Wagner. Image courtesy of skywaymedia.

“We don’t believe in taking over a nation. But we believe in exerting as much influence in every one of the mountains to see the values of the Kingdom of God within a democratic society, within religious pluralism,”

Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action does a thorough debunking of Wagner’s claims that NAR isn’t seeking dominion, and values pluralism, and Right Wing Watch joins in as well. RWW points out that Wagner admits to his movement’s growing political influence in the VoA interview.

“I think they’re right that the influence is growing and the influence was very strong in The Response meeting. But what I see in the media is that critics of conservative candidates like Rick Perry are accusing him of doing something bad by his friendship with people in the NAR. I don’t know if Rick Perry would consider himself as a part of the NAR but he had some people on the platform and in the audience who were part of the NAR. But I don’t think there is anything worse about being part of the NAR then being part of the Southern Baptists or being part of the Catholic Church or being part of any other segment of Christianity.”

As I’ve pointed out again and again, my bottom line is how their growing influence will affect religious minorities in the United States. NAR leaders have, time and time again, expressed their hostility to Pagan and occult belief systems, and any politician who willingly associates with them should be questioned regarding how much of their agenda they support.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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