Archives For Alaska

Just a few quick news notes for you to start your Monday.

Asylum For Witch-Hunt Victims: A Nigerian woman in Britain is fighting deportation on the grounds that she will be hunted and killed as a witch in her country if sent back. Cynthia Owie came to the UK in 2008 with her infant daughter, shorty after the baby sadly contracted meningitis and died, now Owie says she is receiving death threats from fellow Nigerians accusing her of witchcraft in the child’s death and is seeking asylum.

Ms Owie, 33, said: “I have been threatened that I will be killed if I go back. I have been told I am a witch and murdered our daughter.” Ms Owie also claims she was treated “like an animal” at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, in Bedford, where failed asylum seekers are held before removal. Her cause has been taken up by West Ham MP Lyn Brown as well as members of the Ascension Parish Church in Custom House, east London, which has been providing Ms Owie with accommodation and support for two years. Rev Chris Hanson, the vicar of the church, took the case to the Home Office last week and said the community was praying that she would be allowed to stay. “Cynthia’s case is one in a thousand,” he said. “She has gone about trying to stay in this country in a God-honouring way. I am hopeful that the Home Office will understand her exceptional circumstances. When the baby was discovered as being very ill, she was accused of witchcraft. People out in Nigeria believe she brought on this illness and we believe if she is returned to Nigeria she would be killed.

If Owie’s plea is granted it could set a new precedent for asylum seekers to the West. Would more individuals from places like Kenya, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia try to seek asylum to escape jail, abuse, or death? More importantly, would a stream of asylum seekers affected by witch-hunts and panics force Western governments to become more proactive in using their diplomatic muscle to end the worst abuses? What do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” and are instead at our doorsteps begging to be spared?

Metaphysical Store Vandalized in Alaska: A Pagan-owned shop in Soldotna, Alaska was vandalized with a large wooden cross last week, the first time such an act has taken place in the small town.

“An Alaska store owner says a wooden cross wrapped to the store sign in Soldotna was an unwelcome act of vandalism that goes against her pagan and spiritual beliefs. The Peninsula Clarion reported 45-year-old Rondell Gonzalez arrived Thursday at her store, the Pye’ Wackets on the Kenai Spur Highway, and found a makeshift cross about 7 feet tall attached to her business sign with plastic food wrap. Gonzalez says she believes in spiritualism rather than organized religion. She also said her father fought and died in Vietnam for religious and personal freedoms.”

The Peninsula Clarion interviewed Gonzalez, who called the action “pathetic”, and expressed surprise that the cross wasn’t on fire. You can find out more about Pye’Wackets at their Witchvox listing. The question now is if this was an isolated prank, pulled by bored teenagers, or if it signals something more sinister.

Sarah Palin’s Christianity: Speaking of Alaska and witch-hunts, religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman points to an emerging debate between former governor Sarah Palin and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend about the nature of religion within the realm of politics. It seems that Palin, in her new book “America By Heart”, criticizes John F. Kennedy for his famous speech about his Catholicism. This has lead Townsend, a niece of JFK, to pen an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing Palin’s views.

“Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy’s speech had “succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.” Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it “defensive . . . in tone and content” and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an “unequivocal divorce of the two.” Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.”

While I doubt Palin would blatantly call for a religion test to high office, her allies in C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation, who regularly engage in spiritual warfare against Pagans, and helped nurture her career, certainly would. The fact that two of the Republican front-runner for 2012 presidential elections, Palin and Mike Huckabee, have ties to Christian groups and figures (like David Barton, for instance) who would deny Pagans their basic constitutional protections is chilling. The more we insist on an unofficial religious tests in campaigns, the closer we get to real ones.

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

Since I first posted about Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin’s troubling co-religionists, the mainstream press and several major blogs have homed in on the blessing Palin received from the African Bishop Thomas Muthee.

“Palin describes the visit of Pastor Thomas Muthee to the Wasilla Assembly of God in 2005. “As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold. And he was praying ‘Lord make a way, Lord make a way,’” Palin remarked. “And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are,” she continued. “And he’s praying not ‘oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,’ no, he just prayed for it. He said, ‘Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.’” “So, again, very very powerful, coming from this church,” she added.”

Muthee is feted by fellow Christians in America and in Africa for driving out the “spirit of witchcraft” that resided in the village of Kiambu, Kenya. Now it seems this wasn’t purely spiritual warfare on the part of Muthee, but involved stirring up mobs and driving a local fortune-teller out of town.

“According to the Christian Science Monitor, six months of fervent prayer and research identified the source of the witchcraft as a local woman called Mama Jane, who ran a “divination” centre called the Emmanuel Clinic … after Pastor Muthee declared Mama Jane a witch, the townspeople became suspicious and began to turn on her, demanding that she be stoned. Public outrage eventually led the police to raid her home, where they fired gunshots, killing a pet python which they believed to be a demon. After Mama Jane was questioned by police – and released – she decided it was time to leave town, the account says.”

As I pointed out previously, this isn’t some isolated third-world preacher, Muthee has toured America, received mainstream press coverage, and gave 10 consecutive sermons at Wasilla Assembly of God (Palin’s former church). He is a strong proponent of the spiritual warfare tactics endorsed by “Third Wave” Christian churches. Knowing that she was willingly blessed by an anti-witch fanatic, someone who has helped stir up the kind of mobs responsible for the horrific deaths of innocent men and women in Kenya, makes me reiterate my previous closing statement on this matter.

“What Pagans need to know, especially those who are considering voting Republican, is if Palin condemns or rejects the spiritual warfare teachings of the Third Wave movement. A movement that essentially espouses malicious Christian magic. Pagans have seen first hand that the religious opinions of Presidents have been used in the past by government agencies to deny us our legal rights. What would happen if our vice president thought we should be supernaturally eradicated?”

Does Palin still credit Muthee (via the power of “Jesus”) with “making a way” to power for her? Does she know and approve of Muthee’s spiritual war against “witches”? I think it would be important to know these things before election day.

Alaskan Tlingit Don Hoff Jr. (Aan Kadax Tseen) writes a searing editorial for the Ketchikan paper SitNews that blames Christianity for nearly “exterminating” Tlingit Culture.

“Look today at the divisions caused by religion amongst Tlingits in your villages. It is not just Tlingits, I see divisions amongst Haidas and Tsimshians people, and I will not speak for them. We have 141 years of history that shows the demise of our Tlingit Culture, caused by Non-Natives brainwashing and assimilation by Non-Natives that God is the way. Non-Native religion has single handedly exterminated Tlingit Culture as we knew it.”

Aan Kadax Tseen’s solution to this near-extermination? An abandonment of non-Native religions and churches.

“The conclusion I came up with is Tlingit People need to stop going to Non-Native churches and practice Non-Native religion. If it is fellowship that you as a Tlingit require then it is to hang out with your Native brothers and sisters of your Clan and Tribe. Your obligation is to your Tribe and not a Non-Native religion or church.”

This emotional call to reclaim the Tlingit religion and culture may find itself in an uphill struggle. While some among the younger generations seem keen to renew their ties with the past, many elders are fervent Christians and mistrust calls for spiritual renewal. This complexity has been voiced by many proponents of renewal, including anthropologist and Tlingit Rosita Worl.

“These tribes may have an additional burden: they may have to address potential conflicts generated among those who have assimilated western views and ways or who may have accepted the Christian faith and be adverse to the renewal of traditional religious practices. For example, witness the religious fervor in one of the Southeast Alaska communities last year that led to the burning of cultural objects and symbols. Elders and religious leaders will have the enormous task of reconciling these differences and tensions among their tribal members. They will be faced with the enormous task of educating their young and tribal members who do not understand the ancient religions and the significance of sacred objects.”

Calls for renewal raise serious questions about the intersections of religion and culture. How do you respect your elders while renewing a religion some of them now fear and distrust? How to deal with external Christian groups and missionaries who think you can remove an indigenous religion without irreparably harming the indigenous culture it is a part of? Tensions will no doubt rise as Tlingit Christians and Tlingit advocates for renewal approach these questions.

Starhawk has jumped into the Sarah Palin fray over at her On Faith blog:

“Whenever I hear someone say, “God is on my side,” I think, “Yep! Just another argument for polytheism.” Because, hey, Sarah Palin’s God may want her to build the pipeline, but I’ve had personal communication from Thundering Herds of Reindeer Gods that say, “No way!” Ereshkigal the Goddess of the Mesopotamian underworld is raging mad at the number of innocent children’s souls she’s had to process since the U.S. started bombing Iraq–she doesn’t like that sort of thing. And the great, protective Earth Spirits who sleep in the bottom of oil reserves are roaring in my ear, “Disturb us at your peril!” You think I’m kidding, perhaps. Think again.”

Starhawk goes on to say the she has no problem with “weird and irrational religious beliefs”, but fears that Palin wont uphold the Constitution or respect America’s religious diversity. Meanwhile, in the comments, Athena lets us in on some ongoing Pagan spellwork.

“It may interest you that several Pagans from around the country are going to work with the spirits of Wolf, Bear, and Moose to cut through the lies and negativity about the campaign, and let the truth come forth. Since Gov. Palin allowed hunting of wolves and bears from helicopters, as well as hunts moose, we thought that it would be appropriate to call on these Power Animals for healing and truth-telling.”

Are these spells already working? Here are some recent Palin-related stories: Sarah Palin’s record on Alaska Native and Tribal issues (more), religion professor Anthea Butler says that Palin’s “[spiritual] warrior spirit is the reason why her candidacy excites the conservative base…”, Esther Kaplan gives you a Palin pastor primer, and Dan Kennedy wonders how “exotic” Palin’s personal theology truly is.

Truly the “Queen of Heaven” works in mysterious ways.