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Dangerous cults: the Assemblies of God and the Leader Newspaper Group

Ajit Randeniya

Since the death of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the Sunday Leader and Morning Leader readers (who are a precious few), are being subjected to an endless barrage of government bashing and other bile that suggest worrying signs of the Group turning into a personality cult: the masthead now includes a photograph of Wickramatunga, with pen in hand, and every edition appears to devote at least 40-50 of space to corny sounding ramblings about his love for his family and staff (admirable though not faultless obviously), and of course, his bravery, promises to avenge his death and demands of a quick arrest.

Clearly Wickramatunga has been a legend amongst his group.

What is worrying is that may be, just may be, the Assemblies of God (AoG), the Pentecostal cult to which Wickramatunga, Sonali Samarainghe and most people at the Leader belong(ed) to, has had a more profound role on the group than people imagined! This degree of devotion and the missionary zeal appears hard to explain on any other grounds.

The AoG is well and truly a 'cult' ,formed in 1914 in Arkansas. It is based on Arminian theology and Pentecostal doctrine that stresses controversial, and sometimes heretical, belief systems including concepts such as speaking in tongues, hands-on faith-healing, slain in the Spirit, and the most un-Christian belief that 'salvation can be lost'.

The men who formed the AoG, and have led it since then, have been described as 'scoundrels who use the sheep for their own gain'. The group includes some of the most dishonourable people ever to have graced the world. They include Billy graham, Morris Cerullo, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn and Karl Strader. These false prophets of our time always aim to attract other cult figures such as Elvis Presley, and political figures such as George Bush (who were both membes of AoG).

Former members of the cult have warned of the dangers of the 'cultish' group behaviour they force the membership to engage in, often involving supporting fellow members of the group, and political causes, through a shared secret behavioural code named 'Blackwhite'. It essentially means that members should be prepared to claim without hesitation that black is white, if required to defend the group from opponents, and when group discipline demands. Rationality or facts to the contrary are considered evil luxuries: AoG says Blackwhite is God's Law.

Other methods of brainwashing is achieved through swearing in New recruits to the dozen or so AoG 'Statement of Fundamental Truths', the Pentecostal doctrines they adhere to. The Statements include common confessions, swearing to that 'the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is without error in every detail'. Attainment of Baptism of the Holy Spirit is manifested by Speaking in Tongues.

The cult nurtures a strong sense of 'fellowship' at informal 'Church services' which provide the opportunity for uninhibited expression of feelings through song, dance and 'tongues'. The members of the cult believe that they can raise the dead, heal the crippled, touch Jesus through cell phones and disturbingly, that non-Christians are the enemy whose defeat they look forward to.

There are more organised and disguised fronts for recruiting and brainwashing: the 'Teen Challenge' division of AoG youth ministries program that focuses on 'troubled youth' is an example. This front, presented as a rehabilitation program for teenage drug addicts, employs coercive tactics to convert troubled young people, and has been dubbed 'kiddie gulag' by the American media. Despite medical and community concerns about the particular drug rehabilitation methods used, Teen Challenge received federal funds under George Bush's 'Faith Based Initiatives' program, demonstrating the level of political influence they are capable of yoelding.

Over the years, the cult has been riddled with numerous scandals involving fraud, sexual misconduct, child sexual abuse, emotional abuse (especially of questioning or dissenting members) and charges of tax evasion. The divisions of AoG that have figured most prominently are the ones in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia.

The leading newspaper in New Zealand, 'The Herald 'revealed in March 2008 that a series of leading AoG pastors had been deeply implicated in a sex scandal. Wayne Hughes, former General Superintendent and the leading preacher Jim Williams were included among those with a history of abusive sexual activity with teenagers. The charges led to further charges of a 'cover up' by the Assemblies of God (the worldwide movement).

Australian AoGod founder Frank Houston was exposed in 2003 as a pedophile. He was also implicated in fraud relating to group finances. Upon exposure of his sordid affairs, Houston suffered what doctors called 'a bout of hysterical amnesia' and vivid hallucinations, and resigned his post. He died the following year. Publisher Allen & Unwin reneged on a book deal with the 35 year old Australian woman Tanya Levin, a former member of the group, on the 'serious moral failures' Frank Houston had admitted to his son Brian (the current General Superintendent of the group's Hillsong curch in Sydney, Australia) prior to his death. Brian Houston was also exposed for financial misconduct on Australian prime time television, and is currently under investigation for tax offences.

In 2007, a leading member of the Hillsong cult, John Orehek, pleaded guilty to two of the 31 charges of 'fraudulent misappropriation' of funds, including defrauding 200-plus fellow members to the tune of A$20 million, by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The American holy men of the group have not been behaving any better.

In 1986, Jimmy Swaggart, in an ugly rivalry for TV audience and donations, exposed fellow AoG pastors Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker on extra-marital affairs and sexual indiscretions. Swaggart cursed that Bakker was a 'cancer in the body of Christ.' As a retaliatory move, Marvin Gorman hired a private detective who managed to photograph Swaggart with a prostitute in a Louisiana motel .(The incident was the subject of an unreleased the 'Texas Motel Medley' by the late rock music legent Frank Zappa)! Upon being busted, Swaggart tearfully confessed on television, 'I have sinned against you, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness'.

This is the cult that seems to be setting standards at the Leader Group, who are preachjng incessantly on honesty, decency and Human Rights to the Sri Lankan government..

God save Sri Lanka!



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