Pentecostals

Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Saved in El Salvador: Lots of media are flocking to cover gang members-turn-evangelical story

Certain places in the world have problems that seem to be intractable. South Sudan. North Korea. And El Salvador.

The latter is the homicide capital of the world. Zillions of dollars have been poured into it. The U.S. government has declared war on its criminal elements. And nothing’s changed.

One institution, however, is dealing with the gangs. I was fascinated to see Molly O’Toole’s piece in The New Republic on how evangelical churches have the only solution that’s working.

Who would have thunk it?

At a small jail outside San Salvador, Brother David Borja lifted his sunglasses to talk a guard into letting us inside. The cell, originally intended for temporary holding, smelled of sweat and urine. In the center was a roughly ten-by-ten-foot cage, and inside it, a tangle of limbs and hammocks.

At the sight of Borja, a street preacher from the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, bare-chested, tattooed young men began crawling down from the hammocks and pulling on T-shirts.

As Borja started to pray, the men crossed themselves and bowed their heads. A few cried silently; others testified, “Truth.” … As the guard latched the thick steel behind us, we could still hear the men’s applause, and pleas for the pastor to pray for them to be saved.

Prisons are obviously fertile missionary grounds here.

Founded in 1977, the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” church, known as “Taber,” is now believed to be El Salvador’s largest church. Taber claims a congregation of more than 40,000, with millions of converts and more than 500 churches across the country. The megachurch also owns a handful of TV and radio stations and newspapers, extending its reach. In 1950, El Salvador was around 99 percent Catholic, but Protestantism has shot up since the 1970s, with 40 percent of adults today identifying as Protestant.

That makes Taber one of the most influential institutions in a country otherwise dominated by gangs.

The switch-over of Latin and Central Americans from Catholicism to Protestantism is still one of the more under-covered stories of modern religion reporting. It is a fait accompli one never thought would happen as recently as the 1970s. Here we read about an evangelical church that's taken on the gangs that rule the country.

According to experts, one of the gangs’ golden rules is that members can never leave with their lives. But in the past few years, there’s been a fascinating development: Gang bosses are increasingly granting those under their command desistance—a status change from “active” to “calmado,” meaning “calmed down”—if they convert to evangelicalism. At El Salvador’s San Francisco Gotera prison, about 1,000 ex-gang members have become evangelicals, nearly all of the overcrowded prison’s occupants.

The phenomenon can also be seen outside, at smaller Pentecostal parishes such as Ebenezer, whose ministry to gang members, The Final Trumpet, is known for speaking in tongues. Newfound-religious who stray from the righteous path, however—whether by drinking, doing drugs, beating their wives or girlfriends, or not attending church—can face deadly consequences from their former compatriots.

It’s an open, urgent question whether evangelical megachurches like Taber can use their influence to bring peace to El Salvador . . .

Actually, according to the link provided in the above paragraph, Ebenezer is simply a Pentecostal church and is known for a lot more than tongues-speaking. I am guessing the reporter is not too familiar with the doctrines of these various congregations.

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When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

When reporting on tragic trends in Latin America, don't leave out Catholics and Pentecostals

The headline drew me instantly: “Latin America is the murder capital of the world.”

Appearing in the Wall Street Journal (which, being behind a paywall, is not accessible to non-subscribers so I’ll cut and paste what I can), the piece said the entire continent is in a crisis mode because of the non-stop murders that happen nearly everywhere.

With only a few exceptions (Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba), it’s become a horrible place to live and a risky place to visit. The question, of course, is how religion fits into this picture, in terms of the history of the region, as well as life there right now.

The piece begins with a description of how Acapulco, once the vacation spot for the rich and famous, has become a a sharpshooter’s gallery.

Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.

It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.

With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.

Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.

The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.

I guess there are SOME advantages in China being a police state. It does keep the murders down, although God only knows what really goes on in prisons and prison camps in that country where people disappear and never return.

In this story, everyone gets to die, starting with elementary school-aged kids to surgeons who botched a plastic surgery operation on a drug lord. The latter were found encased in cement.

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Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Since I’ll be heading to California at the end of the month for a gathering of religion writers, I thought I’d scan the headlines to see the day's news in that part of the country. Some of it was delicious, such as the movement for all of the central and eastern parts of the state to split off into "New California," a 51st state without the baggage of the coastal cities.

Others showed a hole in news coverage, in that few newsrooms in the nation’s third largest state employ a religion specialist –- even part time -– and many, like the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, now have none.

Thus, when one of the most famous churches in southern California -- Church on the Way in Van Nuys -- had a fire last November, only the Los Angeles Daily News covered it. And the reporter who wrote the follow-up story didn’t seem to know any of the history behind this Pentecostal church, which was a national center for the Jesus movement in the 1960s and 1970s.  

However, the big story in southern California for the past two days has been about a couple living outside of Riverside who were discovered on Sunday to have kept their 13 children shackled in an innocent-looking suburban home.

I’ll start with a summation from the Rolling Stone

Authorities in California have arrested 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin on nine counts of torture and child endangerment each, after discovering their 13 children were held captive in their house, with "several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings," the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said in a news release.
Last Sunday, a 17-year-old daughter escaped the house, located in a quiet suburban town named Perris, roughly two hours southeast of Los Angeles. She told law enforcement that her siblings remained trapped against their will, according to the news release. Police and deputies initially thought all were children, but they found that the "victims appeared malnourished and very dirty" and were "shocked" to learn that seven of them were actually adults.
The children, who range from age 2 to 29 -- seven were legally adults –- were interviewed at the Perris police station, where they received "food and beverages after they claimed to be starving," before being transported to nearby hospitals for medical examinations and additional treatment, according to the news release. Authorities did not say how long the children were shackled. Their conditions have not been released.

Hmm, I wondered, could there be a religion angle to this?

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It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

Good morning, journalism class. Today's topic is the question of the voice in writing, specifically news writing.

No, we're not talking about active voice versus passive voice, Rather, let's look at the voices -- the "subject matter experts" as the phrasing goes -- selected by a reporter and a media outlet to speak to a given item.

For this question, we can thank The New York Times and their recent feature titled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Amid Nature’s Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." While the subject itself is interesting, it was the voices heard in the story -- as well as those not heard -- that caught my attention.

Here we go:

Vicious hurricanes all in a row, one having swamped Houston and another about to buzz through Florida after ripping up the Caribbean.
Wildfires bursting out all over the West after a season of scorching hot temperatures and years of dryness.
And late Thursday night, off the coast of Mexico, a monster of an earthquake.
You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts, like the science fiction writer John Scalzi who, surveying the charred and flooded and shaken landscape, declared that this “sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now.”

We go on to a survey -- written and published before now-Tropical Storm Irma made its first U.S. landfall as Hurricane Irma -- the thoughts of several experts about the relationship, if any, between environmental disasters and the End of All Things.

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Faith, prayer and mental health in Ghana: Harper's magazine provides even-handed story

Faith, prayer and mental health in Ghana: Harper's magazine provides even-handed story

In this month's issue, Harpers magazine has a piece about mental health care (or the lack thereof) in western Africa that touched quite deeply on religion and the efforts of some religious leaders to deal with the mentally ill.

What I thought would be an exposé on the gullibility of the ill who are taken in by religious charlatans actually turned out to be about a system where the only people with a plan to help the mentally ill are those same religious leaders.

Now, there have been exposés on Ghana’s horrific mental health facilities, but this piece took a different tack. The fact that certain Ghanaians' idea of healing involved prayer instead of medicine matters less than the fact that the places offered by these leaders are the only places to which the mentally ill can go with any hope of being cared for. Ghana is many decades behind the rest of the world in terms of any mental health care at all. The piece is called “A Prayer’s Chance: The scandal of mental health in West Africa” tries to show what those in the "prayer camps" are doing about it.

Samuel Donkoh had just turned ten when he began to slip away. His brother Martin, two years his senior, first realized something was wrong during a game of soccer with a group of kids from the neighborhood. One minute Samuel was fine, dribbling the ball, and the next he was doubled over in spasms of laughter, as if reacting to a joke nobody else had heard. His teammates, baffled by the bizarre display, chuckled along with him, a response Samuel took for mockery. He grew threatening and belligerent, and Martin was forced to drag him home.
The episode marked the onset of a frightening metamorphosis. Martin couldn’t understand what was happening to his brother, for although he had seen many abodamfo (“mad” men and women, in the Twi dialect) on the streets, the conventional wisdom was that such maladies afflicted only those who deserved it — excessive drinking or drug use was a popular explanation — or were otherwise spiritually or morally compromised. Samuel, the sensitive, well-behaved son of devout born-again Christians, did not fit that mold. 

The article goes on to describe how his mother prays over Samuel – even reprinting the exact psalm she turned to – and sets up how the rest of the story will go.

What was to be done? The approach advocated by members of the Donkohs’ church — prolonged fasting and that brand of combative, focused prayer known as spiritual warfare — had brought little respite, but pursuing a medical route seemed fraught as well. Two of Agnes’s aunts had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and repeated stays at Ghana’s largest mental hospital, in the capital, Accra, had not helped them. Infamous for its chaotic atmosphere and rampant abuse, the hospital, built in 1906 by the British colonial regime as an asylum for the criminally insane, had rather aggravated their situation. One aunt died alone, a vagrant outcast; the other subsisted on the margins of her hometown. Agnes resolved that a similar fate would not befall Samuel.
A family friend suggested a drastic course of action. He urged them to seek treatment at Nazareth Prayer Centre, a distant religious retreat, or “prayer camp,” renowned as a place where people struck with madness could be cleansed of the demonic forces holding them captive. Spurred by the Pentecostal revival that swept West Africa during the 1990s, these rural camps — some of which allowed families to stay for months or even years on end — had come to serve as alternative sites of care in a region where health services, particularly mental health services, were notoriously scarce and underfunded…

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