Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 29, 1996 Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 13:35:32 -0700 nn nn AA

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 29, 1996 Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 13:35:32 -0700 From: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #112 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/29/96 (Part Two of Two) More on... 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 religion-hucksters. 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 Conference." 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 watchdog group. * 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 Britain. ****** 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.) *** If you are a member of American Atheists, consider joining our moderated discussion group, aachat. 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