Quick Notes: James Ray, Summum, and a Haitian Pastor

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James Arthur Ray is Free (for now): Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday, starting with the news that New Age motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, charged with manslaughter in the deaths of three people at a sweat lodge ceremony he led, has been released on bail.

“James Arthur Ray walked out of a Camp Verde jail at 11:10 a.m. [2/26], according to Yavapai County Jail Sgt. Dee Huntley. Ray gained his freedom after Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow lowered Ray’s bond Thursday from $5 million to $525,000. Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat lodge ceremony he led near Sedona in October.”

Ray’s bond was lowered after his lawyers argued that he’s broke, and couldn’t afford to pay $5 million dollars. While he’s free until his trial, Ray had to surrender his passport, and is barred from performing any ceremonies that could potentially harm someone. For a pretty thorough round-up of recent Ray-related news, check out Indianz.com.

Summum Heads Back to Court: Almost exactly a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled against the New Age/UFO religion Summum, who wanted the right to place a monument of their Seven Principles in the same park as a Ten Commandments display in Pleasant Grove, UT. But while Summum lost (on a free speech challenge), Supreme Court justices and analysts both opined that the case could very well be re-heard on Establishment Clause grounds, and that’s exactly what Summum is now doing.

“Geoffrey Surtees, a lawyer for Pleasant Grove, argued that the Ten Commandments display in the city’s Pioneer Park conveys a secular historical message, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is permissible. But Summun’s attorney, Brian Barnard, contended that the monument advances religion and that Pleasant Grove must give other religious messages equal consideration. “They are a mandate from God, the Judeo-Christian God,” Barnard said of the Ten Commandments.”

A SCOTUS win for Summum here could spark considerable changes concerning religiously-oriented monuments on public lands. If Pleasant Grove wants to avoid another loss, they should take the advice of Justice David Souter and either erect more monuments to give the current one a more secular context, or remove all monuments and make the case moot. If they don’t? Well, get ready to commission all those Pagan monuments you’d like to see.

Conversions for Food? While the recent evangelical Christian attack on Vodou practitioners in Haiti was shocking enough, in its wake Pastor Frank Amedia of Touch Heaven Ministries implied that food aid was ultimately  tied to an expected conversion.

“We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

Contrary to the stance of some extremists, this sort of food-for-converts method is usually frowned on in mainstream evangelical culture. The controversy has prompted evangelical news outlet Christianity Today to do a follow-up, and see if Amedia was quoted out of context. The answer is “sorta-kinda”.

She then expanded her question to ask “Would I continue to help them knowing they were still practicing Voodoo?” I responded that I would show them our love by helping them and that I would hope to become their friend, and then as their friend, that our compassion and love might be the difference to lead them to Christ. She then asked “How long would we continue to supply them?” To that I answered that “I am not sure we could continue to support them in the long term because we would not want to perpetuate that process. We equate [voodoo] with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

So there’s still a cut-off point for charity if you aren’t sporting a Bible, just not an immediate cut-off. The implication that Christian charity is finite for non-Christians has sparked criticism from CT readers, but we’ll have to wait and see if a more organized rebuke of the expectation that your food will buy converts emerges from the evangelical Christian community.

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