Wednesday, December 11

Speaking of Christian Kitsch....

Great Maggie Gallagher column

. No hints, just go read.

An absolutely fascinating article from the LATimes (LRR) about Ole E. Anthony, bane of televangelists:

He is the founder of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a group of about 400 Christians, 100 of whom live communally in a rundown section of the city, attempting to emulate the practices of the 1st century church--right down to its poverty. Each Trinity employee, including Anthony, earns $50 per week, after room and board. Trinity's annual budget is $500,000, a sum that some of the nation's most popular televangelists routinely raise in a single day. Foundation members hold Bible studies and church services in their houses and apartments and run a small school and a restaurant serving hearty dinners for $3. The organization's primary mission is to house the homeless, not in specially dedicated shelters, but in the bedrooms and living rooms of Trinity members.

And that is how Anthony came to oversee a national spy operation dedicated to rooting out fraud and excess among some of America's biggest TV pastors. Many of the destitute who took refugee at Trinity told him that they had given their last dollars to TV pastors who had promised the gullible and often desperate believers a huge return on their faith-inspired giving. It's called the Prosperity Gospel, and it's preached often over the airwaves.

''It's a perverted theology that tells people they'll get a return on their investment,'' Anthony says. ''They're told they'll get a hundredfold blessing for their money. They are told to write hot checks, take out loans. These televangelists have got to know what they're doing.''

In 1989, Anthony launched his own war on dishonest religious broadcasters, using the skills he learned as an intelligence operative with the U.S. Air Force to ferret out corruption. ''I do enjoy the hunt,'' he says. ''But I'd much rather be out of a job.''

Pete Evans, a slight, bespectacled 47-year-old with graying hair and a boyish face, looks more like a graduate student than one of Trinity's best investigators. These attributes have helped him slip unnoticed inside a number of televangelists' organizations. ''We're looking for the 'smell factor,' '' Evans says. ''We looking for connections to different corporations, financial documents that indicate fraud, potential informants and any indication of immoral activity.''

He has worked undercover as a printer with Benny Hinn Ministries in Florida, and he lived for more than four months among followers of the Word of Faith Fellowship in South Carolina. During that assignment, he carried a hidden video camera and taped disturbing scenes of church elders trying to ''scream the devil'' out of children. The footage ran on "Inside Edition."

''It turns my stomach to witness those things,'' he says, ''but it does create a desire within me to expose what's going on.''

Nonetheless, Evans is semiretired from undercover work. ''It used to be pretty easy, but it's getting harder,'' he says. ''People are starting to know who I am.'' The more security-conscious televangelists now run background checks on potential employees and volunteers and have tightened access to sensitive areas.

Much of Trinity's work is less glamorous than Evans' undercover operations. Members get tips from informants and disgruntled employees who often call the nonprofit's (800) 229-VICTIM hotline. They track televangelists' assets and companies through Internet database searches that include family members and known associates. And they watch thousands of hours of the televangelists' broadcasts, which frequently reveal nuggets of information. ''These people like to brag,'' Anthony says. ''Their egos are so big that they can't help it.''

The most productive investigative work is frequently the dirtiest: making ''trash runs'' behind the televangelists' headquarters, their banks, accountants' and attorneys' offices, direct-mail houses and homes. (Trash is public property, though going through dumpsters on private property is trespassing. )

Under the cover of night, Anthony's troops will jump into trash bins wearing latex gloves and sort through spoiled food, leaky soda cans and soggy coffee grounds in search of pay dirt: a memo, minutes of a meeting, a bank statement, an airline ticket, a staff roster. Those scraps of information, collected over years, can piece together a bigger story.

Can we send them to Boston?

A report says that unless action is taken, around 1,000 historic British church buildings could be closed down over the next decade.

In spite of decades of declining church attendance most congregations have battled successfully to keep their churches open. But, according to a recent report, the 2030 Sunday attendance figures could be down to 500,000, from fewer than one million today. Mr Field said: “If we look at the overall figures of baptisms, marriages and Sunday church attendance, the numbers are down very significantly.” He said that two recent “body blows” to the Church had brought the situation to a head. The first was the £800 million losses made by the Church Commissioners on property speculation in the 1980s.
With income from the commissioners’ remaining assets going to pay clergy pensions, he said, parishes had been forced to become almost entirely self-supporting as well as having to find extra funds to give to the dioceses to pay for increasing administrative costs. Mr Field said: “Some congregations are near the point of saying to their bishops: ‘Here are the keys.’ I fear that in the next five years there are going to be a large number of redundancies.” Towns and villages might have to set up trusts to look after them if they wanted the buildings to survive, he said. “It is not just a question of conservation, there is the equally important question of access, of letting people appreciate these churches. It is impossible to understand English history or architecture without knowing about the English Church. It is crucial to our sense of identity.” Mr Field said that the second blow was foot-and-mouth disease, which had led to a restructuring of farming in Britain with many small farms being taken over by conglomerates. As the people who ran these farms and their wives had often been the mainstays of the local country parish, serving as church wardens and vergers as well as being among the most generous givers to the collection plate, their loss was throwing churches into deeper crisis, he said.

A piece about the restored chapel at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore

Notre Dame's chapel occupies the second floor of Theresa Hall, a five-story building designed by noted Baltimore architects E. Francis Baldwin and Josias Pennington. It originally featured a high vaulted ceiling, round arches, carved wood wainscoting and pews, and finely crafted ornamentation, including eight stained-glass windows made in Munich, Germany.

The space was brutally altered in the late 1960s, when much of the original detail was covered up or removed during an unsympathetic renovation designed to add air conditioning and seats and provide a more contemporary space for students to celebrate Mass. The renovation was launched shortly after the Second Vatican Council recommended that every Catholic church become more of a communal space, with priests facing worshippers instead of turning away from them. It also reflected Modernist attitudes about design, wiping away historical finishes rather than saving them.

As part of the 1968 alterations, contractors installed a flat ceiling to conceal air conditioning ducts inserted in the vaulted space above; cut down the stained-glass windows to fit within the lower ceiling, hid the pine floor with mustard-colored carpeting, replaced the marble altar with a wood one, and removed the old communion rails, choir loft and organ. The once bright and soaring space became dark and austere - more like a club basement than a worship space.

The goal of the 2002 renovation was to recapture the historic space while accommodating contemporary needs. The college hired Murphy & Dittenhafer of Baltimore to guide the work, with Michael Murphy as principal in charge and James Suttner as project architect. They recommended restoring many original features, including the stained-glass windows, and replicating others based on historical photographs and drawings. They took the chapel back to its original proportions by removing the drop ceiling and closing in one side that had been opened up. They even had radiators put back beneath the stained-glass windows - a low-tech solution that helped preserve the historic character of the space.

But the architects did not simply turn back the clock. The college's goal of accommodating contemporary services and events called for a combination of restoration and renovation. Besides the straightforward restoration work, the architects' big moves included designing a new altar, pulpit and sanctuary platform that project farther into the nave. New pews were fabricated for the space, with several rows of chairs in the front to provide flexibility for different services, concerts and weddings. Ductwork was threaded through the vaulted ceiling to diffusers that appear at first glance to be part of the ceiling.

One of the architects' best contributions was developing a 22-color paint treatment that enhances the space and brings out the details. Side walls are yellow, and the semicircular apse is green. Certain accent colors were inspired by the stained-glass windows; others are earth tones that invite quiet meditation. The architects instructed the painters to lighten the shades progressively as they moved toward the ceiling, to accentuate the room's verticality. Suttner has a knack for selecting just the right colors; his choices make the chapel at once contemplative, joyful and uplifting.

If you compare old and new Catholic churches, you'll find that to be one of the greatest differences: color. Even little country churches around here, built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, no matter how simple, all feature color - borders, murals, tromp d'oeil...modern churches are so....bland, yes?

Ontario church prayed that neighboring strip club would close;

It did, and now they're in the building.

Mr. Wyns will conduct the evangelical service from a new stage, built with wood from the old one. "We wanted to take it down," he explained. "We didn't want even the thoughts of the stage. It was a real fancy-doodle stage; there were poles."But Mr. Wyns has no intention of throwing away the massive disco ball that once glittered over club patrons and performers: He intends to put it back in its rightful place to shine as a victory trophy over a new set of observers.

Cleveland Plain Dealer article on Daniel Montgomery, apparently confessed murderer of Father Gulas

Banko convicted in NJ

The Rev. John Banko was the first New Jersey priest to be charged criminally in a sex case since the Roman Catholic church became embroiled in a national scandal this year. After less than 2 days of deliberations, the jury convicted Banko of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment. The abuse with the boy, now 20, happened in St. Edwards Roman Catholic Church's community center in Milford. Banko could be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison. He had no reaction as the verdict was read. The victim buried his head in his hands. Banko, 56, of Hamilton Township, denied the charges when he testified Monday. But during cross-examination, Banko acknowledged previous sexual liaisons with both men and women. He also told investigators that his vow of celibacy as a priest made no direct mention of abstaining from sex.

I am all for purging the predators from the priesthood. I am also for purging the destructively stupid. And if a man is both, it just makes it easier.

Shanley's out

The Rev. Paul Shanley, an accused pedophile priest at the heart of a clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, walked out of jail on Wednesday after an unidentified group of friends raised bail to free him. Shanley walked out of the Middlesex County Courthouse as his lawyer and another man, apparently a bodyguard, shoved reporters out of the way. A half-dozen protesters stood outside the courthouse denouncing prosecutors for not blocking the release. Under the terms of his bail, Shanley was forced to give up his passport and promise to remain in Massachusetts and have no contact with victims or witnesses in his case.

A reader sends along this link to a page he's created for those interested in protesting the reportedly Catholic John Carroll University's Planned Parenthood referral webpage.

You might have noticed that my thinking blogging - as opposed to any linking - has been light this week. That's because the outlets for which I write want to get all of their Christmas and New Year issues laid out and out of the way. So I've written three columns and one feature this week so far, with, I hope NO MORE to come.

Back to regular blogging.

Tough column from Howie Carr at the Herald taking Cardinal Law to task for even considering bankruptcy, but from an unusual angle:

When it comes to doing the right thing by the poor and the downtrodden, Bernard Cardinal Law has a message for all us taxpayers.Give, give, give 'til it hurts. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and then some.Yet when Law himself is asked to meet his obligations to those raped and violated by his priests, His Eminence has a very different response, which is:I'll see you in bankruptcy court. What a surprise, eh? In yet another realm, the fraud's message is, do as I say, not as I do.Responsibility, apparently, is for the flock. When it comes to the higher-ups, they talk the talk, but they wouldn't think of walking the walk. That's for the dopes who still think the second collection is on the level.Until the recent unraveling of his corrupt empire, the sanctimonious prince of the church annually went to Beacon Hill to bang his tin cup on the State House steps, demanding ever more generous handouts for the shiftless, the indigent and the promiscuous. But now that it's finally Law's turn to buy a round, he's tipping over tables in his unseemly rush to get out of the room. Money for sodomized altar boys? Don't push me, pal. Ever hear of Chapter 11?

From the Weekly Standard, a lengthy examination of evangelical pop culture products.


Blog Archive