Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 29, 1996 Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 13:35:32 -0700 nn nn AA
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 29, 1996
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 13:35:32 -0700
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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#112 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/29/96 (Part Two of Two)
TELEVANGELIST MORRIS CERULLO
Mr. Cerullo's World Evangelism organization, based in San Diego,
California, has an estimated income of nearly $65,000,000 per year; he is a
world traveler, and has conducted his "crusades" and Faith events in
countries all over the globe. His "Schools of Ministry & Crusades" claims to
have trained more than 825,000 students in 133 different nations in Cerullo's
"7-point Master Plan of World Evangelism."
While many would dismiss Cerullo as just a small-time huckster and fraud,
doing so ignores the astrounding organizational success he has enjoyed and
his ties to the more "respectable" branches of the fundamentalist and
evangelical community. For instance, when Jim Bakker's "PTL/Heritage USA"
properties went up for sale, Cerullo masterminded a plan to take control.
One of the "joyful" endorsers was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for
Christ, winner of the recent prestigious Templeton Prize in Religion, and a
major player in Christian right political activities. Cerullo is also
linked to a nexus of other Faith-oriented and evangelical movements through
the National Evangelistic Census based in Kingwood, Texas, a
"charismatic/ecumenical ministry to 'turn the nation back to God by winning
our cities to Jesus'."
Cerullo And The Warnke Hoax
Cerullo and the rest of the faith-healing crowd appears to never
under-estimate the level of gullibility their audiences possess, especially
when carrying out "cures" and other "works of faith," or making astonishing
claims about their own status, and the "signs and wonders" they perceive in
divining the future. Cerullo may have reached the bottom of his own barrel,
though, in the "Warnke hoax" which still embarrasses a whole generation of
Mike Warnke was known as "America's Number One Christian Comedian," and
even had a day declared in his honor by the governor of Tennesee. But it was
his books including "The Satan Seller" which propelled him into the secular
media limelight, landing him appearances on Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, and
"20/20", as well as Pat Robertson's 700 Club.
Warnke told a gruesome tale, of how he had joined a powerful satanic cult,
rising to the position of Satanic High Priest and presiding over a force of
some 1,500 who would do his bidding. It was generally a recapitulation of
the "Satan's Underground" claims which had become popular throughout
the1970's and 1980's -- that there existed powerful cabals of ritual
satanists who engaged in a wide range of illegal activities including murder,
child sacrifice, drug dealing, "white slavery," and other foul deeds.
"Satanic Panic" swept the country, fueld in large part by unsubstantiated
claims presented during afternoon talk-shows, questionable television
specials, and statements by self-described "cult experts." Warnke's tale was
one of the most vivid.
The "Satan's Underground" myth gradually imploded, though, in large part
due to the gradiose claims which seemed to have little or no basis in fact.
"Satanic Cult Experts" like ex-FBI agent Ted Gunderson, for instance,
suggested that up to 50,000 kidnappings a year may have been done by devil
worshippers who wanted to use bodies in their ritual sacrifices. But where
was the evidence? Media critics began to point out that news reports often
fueled "satanic panic," along with outlandish claims and word-of-mouth
reports. Books like "The Satan Seller" and Warnke's other work, "Schemes of
Satan," seemed to be adding to the confusion.
Ironically, it was a Christian publication known as Cornerstone which
helped to expose the numerous problems in Warnke's account. Authors Jon
Trott and Mike Hertenstein "found discrepancies that raise serious doubts
about the trustworthiness of his (Warnke's) testimony."
Other artifacts of the "Satan's Underground' legend were eventually called
into question, or discredited altogether. By this time, a slew of similar
tracts and books (often in the form of anecdotal accounts) had been ground
out by Christian publishers, and were hot-selling items in churches,
religious bookstores, revivals and other venues.
And cashing in on the hysteria was evangelist Morris Cerullo and his
infamous "witchmobile." According to the Cornerstone account, Warnke in the
early 1970's "met the Jesus Movement" through a charismatic "street
church"-outreach in Southern California known as "the Hotline," a project
affiliated with the Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim. Many of the
participants were so-called "Jesus freaks," young people who were ex-drug
addicts eager for acceptance, a sense of community, and someone to listen to
their life history. There, Warnke met David Balsiger, a writer who then the
media director for Morris Cerullo. The Cornerstone article notes that "After
starting a youth ministry in San Diego, Cerullo had come in contact with kids
dabbling with the occult and decided to write a book on the subject." The
writing was doled out to Balsiger, who enlisted the help of Warnke after
hearing his tale of Satanic Priesthood and conversion. "The book was to be
called 'Witchcrfaft Never Looked Better," noted the Cornerstone expose.
"They (Warnke and Balsiger) also created a specially outfitted trailer,
purchased to house 'research materials' such as voodoo oil, graveyard duist,
and fortune-telling spray. The vehicle, dubbed the 'Witchmobile,' was to be
unveiled at an upcoming Morris Cerullo convention, The Seventh Deeper Life
By accounts, the 'Witchmobile" turned out to be a great success after it
was presented to a credulous media during a press conference and "youth
rally." The mainstream "Christianity Today" wrote that Cerullo "bore down
heavily on the theme that satanic forces are loose in the nation."
Cornerstone adds that "Mike Warnke, who gave a seminar on the occult, was
one of the newsmen's favorites."
Cornerstone also details the help which Cerullo provided to Warnke in his
efforts to get out of the U.S. Navy early so he could go to work full-time in
the "Witchmobile." When that was accomplished, though, Waranke parted company
with Cerullo and headed for Bill Bright's "Explo '72," described as a
"Christian Woodstock" directed at young people.
There seems to be little evidence to suggest that Cerullo even bothered to
try and verify some of the outlandish claims Warnke was making, or his own
contention that devil cults were "loose" in the country. Even so, the
"Witchmobile" was eventually sold to another alleged ex-cultist who tried,
somewhat unsuccessfully, to "one-up" Waranke. Cerullo continued his own
thriving ministry, and even opened a "Spiritual Warfare School." that hosts
annual rallies and meetings. Among those working with Cerullo are:
* John Avanzini, described as "an authority on perverting Scripture as a
means to picking the pockets of the poor" by Christian Research Institute, a
* Marilyn Hickey, who peddles "annointed prayer cloths" and "breastplates"
for a "suggested donation." Hickey was one of those high-profile charasmatics
who donated money and rallied public support when "Brother Oral" Roberts
claimed to have had his vision of a 900-foot-high Jesus who ordered him to
raise $8,000,000 under the threat that he (Roberts) would be "called home"
should he fail.
* Larry Lea, Texas-based evangelist who was "Dean" at Oral Roberts
University, and a guest of Paul and Jan Crouch who operate the Trinity
Broadcasting Network -- a forum for crank evangelism, religious proselytizing
and end-of-the-world doomsday prophecy. Lea's Church on the Rock boasts a
congregation of over 13,000 members.
* George Otis, former Lear Jet executive, heads the Full Gospel
Businessmen's Fellowship. Otis also operated the "Voice of Hope" radio
station in Lebanon, and made it available to right-wing Christian Phalangist
forces during the Israeli occupation, led by Major Saad Haddad, who was also
a "born-again" Christian. According to Sarah Diamond, author of "Spiritual
Warfare," Otis' station became so vitriolic with its "gospel" message that
the U.S. State Department urged him to shut it down.
* Benny Hinn, slated to appear at the Voice of the Prophets World
Conference next year with Cerullo is described as "one of the fastest rising
stars on the Faith circuit" by CRI. He visits the graves of Foursquare
founder Aimee Semple McPherson and evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman to receive
"annointing" from their bones. He also uses the Trinity Broadcasting Network
as a platform. His claims to "thousands" of "documented" healings have been
disputed; in at least one case, a colon tumor appears to have been removed by
surgical procedure rather than by divine "healing."
The Limits of Gullibility?
Along with faith healing and questionable claims about talking to god,
Cerullo has found it difficult to resist the publicity surround pop-culture
themes such as moral decay and corruption, a topic which has now crossed the
Atlantic from America to Britain.
In yesterday's printed ads, Cerullo insisted that the Christian principles
which once shaped Britain and other societies have been "eroded" over the
past half-century by a cabal of "atheists, rationalists and confused
spiritual leaders. Indeed, Cerullo even accused the Dr. George Cary,
Archbishop of Canterbury, of having done "too little too late" to reverse the
country's "rapid decline morally, spiritually and materially."
Cerullo also used his "Here I Stand!" proclamation to criticize
authorities for outlawing certain advertisements . The Telegraph reports
that for his last London "crusade," Cerullo publicists used a poster
depicting a woman holding a child with the legend: "They say I must not have
a baby...Miracles happen." The Telegraph added: "But an investigation by the
Advertising Standards Authority found that the woman had three children and
no fertility problems. It banned the advert for being inaccurate and preying
on the vulnerable."
But the use of culture war themes such as moral decay is a propaganda
masterstroke for Cerullo and other evangelists who are seeking to establish a
foothold in a nation which for decades has been dominated by the Anglican
establishment. A certain segment of Britons find that the recent reforms of
the Church of England -- such as the teaching that hell is not a place of
fire and brimstone -- run counter to their own more literal interpretations
of scriptural verse. Some Anglicans, even entire congregations, have
converted to Roman Catholicism. Similarly, there is discontent with the
perceived moral debauchery of the royals. Last week, for instance, a Catholic
columnist -- former Anglican priest William Oddie -- blasted the Queen for
her role in the divorce between Prince Chalres and Princess Di. "Can the
exceptional level of Catholic loyalty to the crown be sustained in present
conditions,? asked Oddie.
Other problems seem to be plaguing the British collective consciousness,
including ambivalence, even hostility over immigrants (many of whom are
Muslims), shocking outbreaks of violent crime, and economic problems
vis-a-viz the European Union. Fundamentalist doctrines, especially when
coupled with "Faith" and "prosperity" theologies, may find those conditions
to be a fertile soil in which to thrive. No doubt, evangelists like Cerullo
will be there to "cash in" on the hopes and fears of a new flock growing in
Resources for Further Reading...
Those interested in unearthing the history of the "Satan's Underground"
panic may want to read Lawrence Wright's series "Remembering Satan" which
appeared in The New Yorker, May 17, 1993. The text of the Cornerstone
article on the Warnke fraud is available on the internet; "Selling Satan; The
Tragic History of Michael Warnke" by Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein appeared
in Vol. 21, 1992 of Cornerstone Magazine. While Trott and Hertenstein are
unabashed Christians, we must commend their sense of integrity and
journalistic excellence in helping to expose a widespread artifact of
contemporary urband-legend hysteria. My own article, "Bimbos For Satan,"
appeared in the May, 1989 edition of American Atheist Magazine.)
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