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Jim Bakker

Jim Bakker has moved his TV show from a converted restaurant near Branson, MO, to a 600-acre development in Blue Eye named Morningside that includes “a surreal indoor streetscape of Italianate store facades and condo balconies ... a grand chapel at one end and a portico at the other, the entire scene playing out under a ceiling painted like a cloudless blue sky.” The facility is similar to Heritage USA, the Christian theme park and resort in South Carolina that was the center of Bakker’s PTL empire before his fall. Bakker, who still owes the IRS more than $6 million, and says he has renounced his “prosperity gospel,” has no registered ownership rights in Morningside. Many former followers still support him, including the “man behind Morningside,” Jerry Crawford, who has given Bakker $25 million. Crawford, who credits the evangelist with saving his marriage, denies that Bakker has “suckered” him. [csr 7.2 2008)

The recently released Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, the most comprehensive look at the American religious “landscape,” which includes conversion numbers, finds that half the population changes religious affiliation during their lives, and that a third of native-born Catholics have left the Church — to be replaced by recent immigrants. Although the U.S. still has a Christian majority, there is a religious marketplace RIMmembers. In addition, there is a trend for younger Americans “more likely to belong to minority churches than to Christian ones.” [csr 7.2 2008)

Hahnemann University (Philadelphia) physicians say, in the November 2007 issue of Clinical Psychology Review, that eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is merely the latest in a series of widely touted but unvalidated therapies for the treatment of anxiety and trauma. One of the authors asserts that such therapy is “the same stuff psychologists have been doing for 20, 30 years, exposing patients to the thing they’re afraid of, and the reprocessing or cognitive restructuring.” [csr 7.2 2008)

Having said recently that cults are “an inexistent problem in France,” and that a parliamentary commission’s 1995 list of cults was “disgraceful,” President Sarkozy’s chief of staff, Emmanuelle Mignon, now adds, in response to the controversy engendered by her remarks, that the list was complied without “thorough verification” and “No one doubts today that certain groups should not have been included in that list. Just because a spiritual group is not officially linked with a traditional church does not mean that it is necessarily a cult.” [csr 7.2 2008)

Mississippi officials announced in February that they will close the Columbia Training School for troubled young women following charges by former detainees, and their advocates, of “horrendous physical and sexual abuse,” even death while being restrained, at the hands of supervisors. Columbia, which was sued twice in the past on similar grounds, illustrates a widespread national problem: a survey indicates that there were 13,000 claims of abuse at juvenile correction centers from 2004 through 2007 — in a population of 46,000 detainees (2007) — although only some ten percent were confirmed by investigators. An expert says that training of guards, and oversight, could minimize or reduce the problem, and some states are reforming their systems. [An article in the March 3, 2008 Daytona Beach News-Journal, taken from an AP survey, illustrates some of the reported abuses.] [csr 7.2 2008)

Some members of the doomsday cult near Penza, central Russia, have left the group’s cave, and those who remain say little as they await the end of the world, scheduled for May. Previous attempts of local people to establish contact with the cultists drew gunshots. Sect founder Pyotr Kuznetsov is currently being treated for paranoid schizophrenia at a psychiatric hospital. [csr 7.2 2008)

The Utah legislature has voted more than $300,000 to support a “Safety Net Initiative” aimed to provide services to people suffering abuse and neglect in polygamous communities. An original bill was broadened to include residents of “underserved” and “culturally isolated” communities in Utah and northern Arizona that are not polygamous. The program coordinator said the measure “fits with the goals of the attorney general’s office. We want communities to be healthy and people to be safe and know that help is available.” Various agencies had cut back their services to the target population when a $700,000 federal grant for a similar purpose was not renewed. [csr 7.2 2008)

Former religious teacher Samaria Ali, 57, a graduate of Al-Azhar University and a member of the Sky Kingdom “deviant” sect, has been found guilty of apostasy from Islam and sentenced by a Malaysian judge to a term in jail. Kamaria’s refusal to respond to the judge’s greeting — “Assalamualaikum” — indicated that she had not repented. [csr 7.2 2008)

The Pew Forum has published Politics and the Pulpit, a guide to the rules governing political activity that apply to non-profit organizations (including churches and other religious groups) that are tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The guide, which asks and answers a host of frequently asked questions concerning the legality of religious organizations’ political activities, includes hypothetical case studies to make the rules clear. [csr 7.2 2008)

Televangelist Jim Bakker, whose wealth and fame collapsed amid scandal and a prison term in the 1980s, is now hosting, with his second wife, Lori Graham Bakker, the hour-long “Jim Bakker Show” from the tourist town of Branson, MO, in the heart of the Bible Belt. The daily production, which Bakker considers a church service — it involves prayer, music, and religious messages — is carried on 50 TV stations nationwide and via DirecTV. The show will soon move to a larger location in Branson. [csr 5.2 2006]