Four young men who tore down a pro-life display at Northern Kentucky University in early April have been charged with criminal mischief. One of the suspects told a local newspaper, “Tearing it down was expressing our right to free speech.” On the other hand, campus police simply watched another student put condoms on a pro-life display of 3700 crosses at Western Kentucky University. A professor approved the student’s action as an “art project.”
In an excellent review of The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought for The National Post, Books & Culture contributing editor Preston Jones wonders why it has so few contributions from Canadian authors. “Canadians may be chagrined that the Companion has little to say of their country. Douglas Farrow (McGill University) and Stanley Grenz (Regent College) are among the few Canadian contributors. This may be a reflection on Christian intellectual life in Canada. When I asked theologian Greg Bloomquist at St. Paul University (Ottawa) about this, he said Christian intellectual life here ‘is like a radio that is on, but just barely, so that your lower level of consciousness catches some of the things that are happening … but you can never really identify clearly what is being proposed.'”
As reported in The Globe and Mail and The National Post, Prime Minister Jean Chretien scolded the Chinese government for suppressing religious freedom and warned that the country could lose foreign investment over its human-rights record, during his trip there this week. “True friends are never shy about exchanging views on important issues, and so as a friend, I must tell you that Canadians are concerned when they hear reports from China of interference in the right of free expression. Or that people are imprisoned and badly treated for observing their spiritual beliefs. These reports transgress our most deeply held convictions,” Chretien told students at the East China University of Politics and Law. The prime minister reportedly had the falun gong movement and Tibetan followers of the Dalai Lama in mind when he spoke; at any rate, there is no mention in these stories of the church in China, which is also suffering persecution.
Former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm is taking a break from provincial politics again so he can open a “spiritual theme park” in Hawaii, reports Province columnist Michael Smyth. Just a few months ago, Vander Zalm led the way in creating the Unity Party, a proposed merger of the B.C. Reform and Family Coalition parties that would follow strong socially conservative policies, especially where abortion and homosexuality are concerned. The Unity Party is currently being led by cartoon producer Chris Delaney, while older members of the B.C. Reform party promise to fight Vander Zalm’s efforts to shut the old party down.
“The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled on a rancorous church dispute in Ottawa, saying a Russian Orthodox bishop in Canada has every right to seize the assets of a dissident parish to prevent it from defecting,” reports The National Post. “The court’s ruling means the renegade parishioners — about 100 Ottawa residents — have no place to worship until they pledge allegiance to the bishop.” Members of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Memorial Church in Ottawa had voted to leave their denomination, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and rejoin the Moscow Patriarchate. Tony Jozwiak, a member of the church, says he and the others can’t understand why the courts won’t give them access to their own parish funds. “I have been in Canada since 1950, and my belief was that we always had freedom of choice and religion,” he is quoted as saying. “If the majority of people wish to return to the mother church in Russia, we ought to be able to do so.”
An offshore bank founded four years ago by an ex-preacher may have bilked North American evangelicals of over $200 million in a scandal that, according to Saturday Night magazine, is “shaping up to be one of the biggest and most bizarre scams ever to hit the secretive world of offshore investing.” The FBI is investigating allegations against the First International Bank of Grenada, which targeted members of evangelical churches and institutions, and the Cambridge International Bank and Trust, which is owned by Langley resident David Rowe and recently cancelled a meeting with its investors. The story quotes an unnamed faculty member at Langley’s Trinity Western University, and notes that, while the depositors came from all income groups, “most shared a distrust of the secular state in general and financial institutions in particular… Much of the attraction of First Bank — like that of all offshore banks — lay in its secrecy. But it also targeted Christian groups with marketing material that played on their particular beliefs and fears. A shaky promotional video for the bank shows Van Brink awkwardly explaining how anyone can get rich by investing in offshore companies. He says he believes God meant us all to have the kind of freedom that comes with wealth. He briefly mentions investment opportunities but seems to focus mostly on how quickly believers can become rich thanks to the various absurdly high interest rates offered by his bank. He calls the people in the audience ‘friends’ and grins at particularly dubious points, such as the part where he explains how depositors are fully protected by something called the International Deposit Insurance Corporation, which, according to the FBI, is a bogus — if impressive-sounding — company. His tone is uncertain and his speech hesitant when he talks about the business of banking. But he comes to life as he moves to topics closer to his heart, such as his personal goals. His object in life, he declares with a sudden childlike grin, is to help other God-fearing members of the middle class — ‘little guys,’ he calls them — cut loose the bonds of financial necessity that blight their lives. Other sales reps used higher-pressure tactics, saying the government and banks conspired to keep good Christians poor.”
See the July issue of BCCN for a story about similar recent con artists, and possible theological and practical responses to their schemes.