Monthly Archives: August 2013

Character Assassination – Part 2

CAIn part one of this article, I chose to cover the topic of Character Assassination by taking some early church history and dissecting it to see the tactics the church uses against those that have differing views or beliefs, question or oppose the church’s dogmas, doctrines or rules, question leadership, or expose lies and abuses. This tactic of Character Assassination shows itself throughout church history. It is not an isolated weapon used only a few times. Even today, this weapon of choice is used against those that oppose religious teachings, rules, doctrine, etc., or expose abuses.

In part one, we discovered five tactics thus far, used against William Tyndale that are currently used today in religious institutions. When I left off with Tyndale’s story, he had just moved to Germany in order to flee the persecution from religious leaders in England. Because of the nature of some of the truths expounded in his story, I would like to also take the time to extract them for the reader to see. So, not only will I continue to highlight tactics as we get to them in his story but, I will also highlight certain truths that are important for every religious person to understand and realize. Why? Because what Tyndale dealt with is the same stuff that we deal with today in TODAY’s churches with religious leaders of all walks of faith.  There is a reason for deception in teaching – that reason is control, as we shall soon see.

Let’s look at the rest of his story.

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale (1536)william tyndale

The New Foxes Book of Martyrs,

Pages 125 – 129

After meeting with John Frith, Martin Luther, and other colleagues, Tyndale decided that the only way he could obtain the benefits he wanted from his translation, was to put it in the language spoken by the common people, so that they could read and see the simple plain Word of God. Undoubtedly he was influenced in this decision by seeing Luther’s translation and the effect it was having on the German people.

Tyndale knew it wasn’t possible to establish the lay people in any truth unless the Scriptures were so plainly laid out before their eyes in their own language that they could understand the meaning of the text. Otherwise, the enemies of the truth would destroy it by using likely but misleading arguments, traditions of their own making that were without scriptural foundations, and by juggling the text and expounding on it in such a way that it was impossible to determine if what they said was the right meaning or not.

Tactic #6: Keep the lay people ignorant of the TRUTH of God’s Word by manipulating and twisting scripture and meaning.

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Okay, let me stop here and interject some thoughts. The truth that is brought to light here is very important for everyone to digest and consider. The enemies of the TRUTH were the religious leaders of the church! They were not the heathen/pagan people.  They were not even other religious sects!  How could that be? Think about it. Tyndale knew that the religious leaders of the church had SKILL. What was that skill? Deception“Using misleading arguments, traditions of their own making that were without scriptural foundations, and by juggling the text and expounding on it in such a way that it was impossible to determine if what they said was the right meaning or not.” Does the reader realize how exceptional a skill this is? To be able to twist scripture and expound it in such a way as to gain follow-ship and keep them blind to the REAL TRUTH, is a great skill! Does the reader also realize that the clergy KNEW Tyndale was telling the truth and this incited them further to silence him?  They were not interested in TRUTH, they were interested in control. Why? Because he who CONTROLS has power to generate wealth.  Could it be that the power, prestige and money afforded them by the Church was not something they wanted anyone to mess with?  If people knew the truth, it would affect their position and income.  Another thought to consider is that these religious leaders had the ability to be able to incite to violence those same followers against someone trying their hardest to get the truth to them! Using deception to gain control is a tactic of many religious leaders and, they hone those skills with practice.

Now, back to the story.

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He was certain that the chief cause of all the trouble in the Church was because the Word of God was kept hidden from the people, and so for a long time the abominations and idolatries of the hypocritical and self-righteous clergy could not be seen. For this reason, the clergy did all they could to keep the Scriptures hidden so that they could not be read at all. And even if someone COULD read them, the clergy so twisted their meaning that the unlearned lay people who despised their abominations could not solve the riddles in their doctrines, even though they knew in their hearts that what the clergy taught them was false.

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Herein lies another great TRUTH that resonates with me in a big way. One of the biggest frustrations that I had for many years was that my study of scripture showed me things that were being taught that were not true. BUT, like these people in Tyndale’s day, the word acrobatics and twisting by clergy was so good from the pulpit that it caused me to dismiss the truths that I was seeing. My thought was, “they are more educated than me, so surely THEY must be right.” In my heart and mind, the conflict raged within me for years. Every Bible study I did was revealing truths that contradicted doctrines. Every time I came across truths, it made me angrier and angrier because, I was SEEING truth in scripture and angry that what I was taught contradicted it! It became such a mental battle that I had a sleep disorder for years. I also knew that to question clergy about doctrine would bring me under ridicule and attack from the pulpit.

What was happening to me can happen to anyone. I was interpreting scripture based on what THEY told me it meant, not on the truths that God was revealing to me through his Word! When we dismiss truth to continue to believe the lies we are told, we become pawns to be used to suit the whims of clergy. Sadly, we will even be the ones incited to hatred and violence against those that oppose us or believe differently. We will be incited to violence against those that expose the lies or abuses. We will fight against the ones that try to point out the truth with vigor and continue to believe the lies we are told.

Now, let’s get back to the story.

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For this and other reasons, God stirred up this good man to translate the Scriptures into English for the benefit of the simple people of his country. Tyndale began printing his New Testament translation in 1525 in Cologne, Germany, but was interrupted by a legal injunction and completed the printing in Worms in 1526. Soon after, his translation appeared in England. When Cuthbeth Tonstal, bishop of London, and Sir Thomas More, speaker of the House of Commons, saw the translation they were much offended and began to devise ways in which they could destroy what they called “that false, erroneous, translation.”

Tactic #7: Any works written that show TRUTH must be labeled and shown to be FALSE. This is done by twisting scripture and meaning to reinforce that the truth is a lie and then, to LABEL the work so that people will be more likely to dismiss it as such. Works can be labeled the same way that clergy label people. It works the same in both areas. However, to label the work also transfers the label onto its author.

As it happened, Augustine Packington, a textiles merchant, was at Antwerp in the Netherlands on business, and there met bishop Tonstal, who was there because Tyndale had moved there from Worms.

Tactic #8: Follow the heretic everywhere you can. Enlist the aid of others in other areas to help in your cause to destroy the heretic and his works that expose truth.

Packington liked Tyndale but told the bishop he did not. Tonstal and Thomas More had devised a plan whereby they would buy all of Tyndale’s books before they reached England, and he told this to Packington. Packington replied, “My Lord! I can do more to help you in this matter than most of the merchants here, if it would so please you. I know the Dutch men and strangers that have bought Tyndale’s books from him to resell them, so if you will give me the money I need, I will buy every book from them that has been printed and is still not sold.”

The bishop, thinking he had God “by the toe” and in his control, said, “Do your best, gentle Master Packington. Get them for me and I will pay whatever the cost, for I intend to burn and destroy them all at Paul’s Cross church in London.”

Upon receiving the bishop’s money, Packington went immediately to Tyndale and told him the whole plan, and an agreement was made between them to sell the bishop all the books he could be sold. So the bishop of London had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale now had ample money to print more books.

After this took place, Tyndale revised and corrected his New Testament and increased its printing so that three times as many books were sent to England. When the bishop learned that more books were appearing in England, he sent for Packington, who was in London on business, and said to him, “How can it be that there are so many New Testaments here? You promised me that you would buy them all.”

Packington answered, “I bought all of them that were available, but obviously they have printed more since then. It will probably get no better so long as they have stamps with which to ship the books, so you had better buy the stamps also if you want to be sure.” At this answer the bishop smiled, realizing that he had been hoodwinked, and so the matter ended.

A short time after, a George Constantine, who was suspected of certain heresies, was taken into custody by Sir Thomas More, who was now lord chancellor of England. More said to him, “Constantine, I want you to be frank with me about what I’m going to ask you. If you are, I promise you I will show favor to you in all the other things that you are accused of. Across the sea is Tyndale, Joye, and a great many like you. I know they cannot live without help. There are some that help them with money, and since you are one of them and you know where their money comes from. I urge you to tell me who is helping them.”

“My lord,” Constantine said, “I will tell you the truth. It’s the bishop of London who has helped us, for he has given us a great deal of money for New Testaments so he may burn them. He has been and is our only help and comfort.”

“I’ll keep my pledge,” said More, “for I thought that’s what it was, and so I told the bishop before he went about doing it.”

Soon after, Tyndale translated the Old Testament, and wrote introductions to each chapter that were well worth being read over and again by all who saw them. These books were taken into England by various means, and it cannot be told what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the whole English nation, which before had been shut up in darkness. Tyndale’s books, especially the New Testament translation, were of great spiritual benefit to the godly lay people, but of great harm to the ungodly clergy, who were afraid that by the shining beams of truth their deeds of darkness would be clearly seen. So they began to rouse themselves and plan how they might stop Tyndale.

Tactic #9: Spare no means to destroy the truth and those that bring it!

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I would like to offer up some more thoughts here. The clergy had done their best to keep the Word of God out of the hands of the people. By doing so, it afforded them an opportunity to manipulate and control the common people. Once the truth came to light and began to spread, people realized that they had been deceived and began to fall away from the Church of Rome. This affected the church leaders because it also affect their pocketbooks. Stomping out the root cause – the reading of scripture by the common people – was the only way they could regain control of the masses and secure their livelihoods. Church leaders wanted to maintain control of people. Control brings wealth and power. What church history tells us is that eventually, the printing of scriptures had to be banned under penalty of death because masses of people were finally being freed from the bondage to the church, and leaving it.

. . . Click Here to Continue to Part 3

Character Assassination – Part 1

CA I would like to cover a tactic that religion uses in order to stifle opposing or differing views. This tactic is called Character Assassination. Character assassination is one of the many weapons used against differing beliefs. It is also  used against those who expose lies or abuses in any given institution. All throughout church history, I have read countless examples of this taking place. Not only this, but religious leaders have used this weapon in the “name of God.” Early Church History not only shows us this tactic, but, it also attaches the death penalty to it. It was nothing for the church to not only shame and slander those who disagreed with their doctrinal beliefs, but it was necessary for the church to completely SILENCE those who disagreed. This is why murder was the number one weapon used on “heretics.”  Anyone that disagreed with the church and its leaders, it’s doctrines, methods and rules, were labeled as such and, put to death.

But, history also tells us that murder was not enough for these religious leaders of the early centuries. They didn’t just murder their opposition, they tortured them, sexually abused and mutilated them, they buried them alive, and did all manner of evil to them BEFORE they killed them. History shows us vividly that those that said they loved God and were his followers, committed some of the most heinous crimes against humanity the world has ever known. Many of these crimes I have cited in my book, Religion’s Cell. And, all of these crimes were done “in the name of God.”

The end result of this tactic is to get people to not believe the person that these religious leaders wish to silence.  To show the extent to which some people will go in silencing opposition in doctrine or belief or, silence a victim of abuse in the church, or silencing the TRUTH, I would like to talk about William Tyndale (1536). Everyone should know who this person is since he translated the Bible into English.

Here’s what happened to this Martyr. Let’s see if the same tactics of the church are alive and well today against God’s people who dare to disagree or expose lies and abuses. Here’s Tyndale’s story. Throughout, I will expose tactics of the clergy.

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale (1536)william tyndale

The New Foxes Book of Martyrs,

Pages 121 – 125

We now come to the story of God’s martyr, William Tyndale, who was surely chosen by God to dig up the roots and foundation of the pope’s government. Consequently, the great prince of darkness, having malice against Tyndale, left no stones unturned in his efforts to trap Tyndale, betray him, and take his life.

Tyndale was born near the border of Wales in 1494. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and soon after began his life work of translating the Bible into English. when he left Cambridge, he became schoolmaster to the children of a Master Welch, a knight of Gloucestershire in England.

Master Welch served outstanding dinners, and so was often visited by the educated and high-ranking officials of the church. Being a member of the household, Tyndale ate dinner with them and joined in their discussions about such people as Martin Luther, the German theologian, and Desiderious Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance scholar and Roman Catholic theologian — and took a hardy part in their discussions about church controversies and questions about the Scriptures.

Since Tyndale was well educated and had devoted himself to studying God’s Word, he never hesitated to give them his judgment about scriptural matters in plain and simple words. When they disagreed with him, he showed them in the Bible what the Scriptures said and how they were wrong in their beliefs and doctrines. This happened frequently at the Welch’s home, and the local clergy soon grew weary of Tyndale’s constant references to the Scriptures and criticism of their doctrines, and began to bear a secret grudge against him in their hearts.

It wasn’t too long before the clergy invited Master and Lady Welch to a banquet without Tyndale, and immediately began to expound their erroneous doctrines freely and without resistance. Undoubtedly they planned this in an attempt to turn Master Welch and his wife against Tyndale and back to their doctrines.

Tactic #1. Try to influence those closest to the victim, against him. Plant the seeds of doubt regarding his character or opposing beliefs by twisting scripture to prove yours. Use God’s judgment as a tool to incite fear and bring friends and family under the control of the clergy, causing them to turn their backs on the victim. I cannot express how many times this has been used on victims of abuse in the churches I am familiar with. Whole families were divided by this tactic. This is not a testimony becoming of anyone that names the name of Christ or, claims to believe in a holy and merciful God.

In this they almost succeeded, for no sooner had Master and Lady Welch returned home, then they began to argue with Tyndale about the things the priests had talked about at the banquet. Tyndale used the Scriptures and began to reason with them how the things they had been told were wrong.

Then Lady Welch, somewhat indignantly, said to him, “One of the doctors [of divinity] who was there can afford to spend one-hundred pounds whenever he wishes; and another, two-hundred pounds; and another, three-hundred pounds. So for what reason should we believe you instead of them?”

Tyndale saw that it would do not good to answer her, so after that he talked very little about such matters. He was a that time, however, working on a translation of Erasmus’s book, The Manual of the Christian Knight, which had been published in 1509, and he gave his master and lady a copy of this translation and asked them to read it. They did, and from then on few of the clergymen were invited to their house for dinner, and when they were invited they were not given the opportunity to expound their papal doctrine freely.

As this continued and the clergy realized that Tyndale’s growing influence with the Welch’s was the reason for it, they began to gather together and talk against Tyndale in alehouses and other places, saying that what he was teaching was heresy. They also accused him of this to the bishop’s chancellor [secretary] and some of the bishop’s officers.

Tactic #2: Spread slander and gossip to everyone you know in order to rally others to your cause against the “heretic.” (Today, this would be done via the internet, through blogs and social media.)

As a result, the chancellor ordered the priests to appear before him, and ordered Tyndale to be there also.Tyndale had little doubt that the session was not called for the priests, but to make accusations and threats against him. So on the way he prayed hard and silently to God that He would give him the strength to stand fast in the truth of His Word.

When the time came to appear before the chancellor, he was threatened, reviled, and talked to as though he were a dog. Many things were charged against him, but no one came forth to prove the charges, even though all the priests from the area were there. So Tyndale escaped out of their grasp and went back to Master Welch.

Tactic #3:  Deceptively lure the heretic into a group meeting designed to attack and defame him. Treat and talk to him like he is of no value. Make him feel worthless and guilty. Accuse him of all manner of impropriety and sin. Do this in front of everyone so the group can gang up on him. (This is emotional abuse, by the way.)

Many of the leaders in the cult I came out of have pulled this stunt. They call a meeting with the person that is in opposition or, exposing abuse, and the person unsuspectingly shows up to a room full of people ready to attack and accuse.

Living near the Welchs was a doctor of divinity and former secretary to the bishop who had been friendly toward Tyndale for some time. Tyndale went to him and explained the many things he saw in the Scriptures that were contrary to papist doctrine and that had caused him his problems with the local clergy and the bishop, for he wasn’t afraid to open his heart to this man. Whereupon the doctor said to him, “Don’t you know that the pope is the very Antichrist that the Scriptures speak about? But be careful of what you say, for if anyone finds out that you are of that opinion, it will cost you your life.”

Not long after, Tyndale disputed with a certain theologian about the truth of the Scriptures until the man cried out in frustration these blasphemous words, “We would be better without God’s laws than without the pope.”

When Tyndale heard this, his godly zeal burst forth and he replied, “I defy the pope, and all his laws! If God spares my life, it will not be many years before I will cause every boy who works on a farm plowing fields to know more of the Scriptures than the pope does!”

As time passed, the priests increasingly railed against Tyndale and accused him of many things, saying that he was a heretic.

Tactic #4: Label the individual as a “heretic”. By placing a label on the individual, clergy is attempting to dehumanize him so that dismissing him or his opinions is much easier. Choosing not to address someone individually who challenges the toxic faith places a blanket negative label on all who would agree with that person. Those who disagree with what is taught are labeled as “detractors,” “malcontents” and “traitors”, who would destroy the ministry or organization. These labels then become rallying points under which other followers can be moved to action to hurt the individual. Once the label has been placed, it becomes more difficult to see the person as a human with real needs and the potential for good judgment. This is why church leaders today still use labeling against those that disagree or expose abuses within their institutions.

The pressure of the attacks became so great that Tyndale went to Master Welch and said that he desired to leave his employ and go to another place. “I am certain,” he said, “that I won’t be allowed to stay here much longer, and that you won’t be able to keep me out of the hands of the clergy, even though I know you would try. But only God knows what harm might come to you if you keep me here, and I would be sorry for that.” So Tyndale left with the blessing of Master Welch, and went to London and there preached for a while, as he had done in the country.

Tactic #5: Make the harassment so bad that the person labeled as a heretic has to flee for safety. (In the fundamentalist cult I came out of, abuse victims who spoke out about their abuses have had to literally move to another city to get away from the harassment of the clergy and church members.)

Not long after arriving in London he thought about Cuthbert Tonstal, then bishop of London, and especially Erasmus’s note in his book in which he praised Tonstal for his learning. He felt that he would be quite happy if he could somehow work for Tonstal. Tyndale wrote a letter to the bishop and then went to see him, taking with him a copy of the oration of Isocartes, the Athenian orator and teacher, which he had translated out of Greek into English, but the bishop gave him various reasons why he had no work for him, and advised him to seek work elsewhere in London. Believing that God in His providence had shut this door for a reason, Tyndale then went to see Humphrey Mummuth, an alderman of London, and asked for help. Mummuth took him into his home, where he lived for about a year. While he was there, Mummuth said, “Tyndale lived like a good priest, studying night and day, eating only plain meals and having but one beer with them, and wearing the simplest of clothing.”

During that year, Tyndale felt an increasing urge to translate the New Testament from Latin into a plainer language. But as he saw how the preachers boasted about themselves and claimed total authority in spiritual matters, and how vain the bishops were in everything they did [many clergy act this same way even today], and how much he was disliked by them all, he realized that there was no place he could do it in London or England. Soon God provided him sufficient money through Mummuth and some other men so he could leave England and go to Germany, where Martin Luther had just finished translating the New Testament into German (1521), and was working on many tracts and catechisms and a translation of the entire Bible.

. . . Click here for Part Two.

Pictures, Embroidered Garments and Candles

inside church

Notice the pictures, statues, lighted candles.

PICTURES IN CHURCHES. Following Constantine’s example, men of wealth founded and endowed churches, and adorned them with all the treasures of art. Those in particular which were dedicated to the memory of the martyrs, were embellished with
representations of their sufferings, and with pictures of Old and New Testament subjects.

Notwithstanding that Eusebius professed himself shocked at the bare idea of pictures in places of worship, there is no doubt that the practice had already commenced before the time of Constantine. One of the canons of the Council of Elvira early in this century forbids “the painting of the objects of worship and adoration on the walls.” Later in the century this practice excited the indignation of the aged Epiphanius of Cyprus. Coming to a church in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and seeing on a curtain a figure (whether of Christ or of one of the saints), he tore down the curtain, declaring that it was an abomination and contrary to the authority of Scripture for the image of a man to be hung up in a Christian church. The cloth, he said, would be better used to bury some poor man in. On his return home he sent a plain curtain to replace that which he had torn down. To paintings in course of time were added statues, but the practice, which soon developed into actual image-worship, provoked so much opposition as to produce, in a later century, tumults and civil war.

garmentsEMBROIDERED GARMENTS. It was the fashion for men and women of rank in the large cities of the empire, to wear robes on which the chase of wild animals was embroidered in gold and silver thread. Those, on the other hand, who made pretensions to piety, substituted for such pictures scenes from the New Testament: the marriage feast at Cana, the healing of the paralytic, the blind man restored to sight, Mary Magdalene embracing the feet of Jesus, and the resurrection of Lazarus. Bedizened with such figures, they supposed, as the good bishop Asterius tells them, that their dress must be well approved in the sight of the Lord. The bishop rebukes their folly, and counsels them to sell their embroidered garments, and use the proceeds for honouring the living images of God. Instead of carrying about the sick of the palsy on their clothes, he advises them to seek out and relieve the actually sick; instead of wearing on their bodies the embroidered figure of a kneeling penitent, to mourn with a penitent spirit over their own sins.

lighted tapersLIGHTED TAPERS. Another practice, both irrational and heathenish, must be noticed in this place, namely, the use of lighted candles during the day time. As belonging to the pagan religion it was protested against by several of the early Church writers. “Miserable men burnt lights to God as to one who dwells in darkness. If they would only contemplate that heavenly luminary which we call the sun, they would understand at once that God, who has given so bright a light for man s use, has no need of their lamps. For if in so small a disc which on account of its distance appears no larger than a man s head, there is so intense a brilliancy that the eye cannot gaze upon it without being dimmed with mist and darkness, what brightness must we not suppose there is in God? Is that man then to be thought in his right mind who offers the light of candles and wax tapers to the author and giver of light? The light which God requires is of another kind, not with smoke, but clear and bright, the light of the mind, which no one can exhibit unless he is acquainted with Him. Their gods, because they are of the earth, stand in need of lights, that they may not be in darkness; and the worshippers, because they have no taste for heaven, are recalled to the earth even by the ceremonies to which they are devoted.”

The first intimation of this practice in the Church is in the Canons of the Council of Elvira, held between A.D. 313 and 324. “It is decreed that wax candles be not kindled in a cemetery during the day; for the spirits of the saints ought not to be disquieted.” By the end of the fourth century it had nevertheless become a part of the ceremonial worship. Paulinus of Nola, A.D. 396, glories in the splendour of his noon-day illuminations. “lt, the bright altars,” he tells us, “are crowned with thickly clustered lamps: the fragrant lights smell of the waxed papyri: day and night they burn, so that night glitters with the splendour of the day; and day itself, glorious with heavenly honours, shines the more, its lustre being doubled by innumerable lamps.” — Backhouse, Early Church History to the Death of Constantine, pgs. 240-241.

The following excerpt from Early Church History to the Death of Constantine shows us how these corruptions entered into the church. These corruptions became a norm throughout the church of Rome in later times. The end result of these corruptions are self-explanatory.

  • The pictures mutated into elaborate statues of Mary, Joseph and other saints that adorn many churches.
  • The embroidered garments led to the elaborate priestly garments found in Catholicism and other religions.
  • The candles can be found not just in Catholic, but other churches as well, where congregants light them as part of their prayer and worship.

If only people would realize just how much paganism has been mixed with religion and realize that all these ascetic tendencies do not help a person get closer to God. They do not please him. He never commanded them to be done. The tendency to mimic the Levictical Priesthood by gentile people who call themselves ‘Christian’ is another reason for this tendency. Gentiles need to realize that only a LEVITE (A Jew) could be a PRIEST and approach God in the Tabernacle. They are not Levites. Any priest approaching God that is not Levite is a pollution, a corruption — under the Old Covenant with the Jews. And let’s not forget the fact that the Levitical priesthood was done away under the New Covenant. So, there is no need for a priest between God and man!  God has given us one mediator between him and us; and it’s not a priest or pastor or any other man outside of Jesus Christ. The priestly garments of the Levite priest do not apply to Christianity and never will. All these garments do is bring glory and honor to the one wearing them instead of God.

No matter what area of religion I cover in church history on this blog, one will find that man’s tendency is to corrupt simplicity with his own theological ideas and inventions in order:

  • To make everything more ostentatious.
  • To bring honor and glory to man.
  • To give man power and control over others.
  • To have sexual dominance.
  • To gain prestige and wealth for himself.

Everything man has touched in religion has led to corruption. It has:

  • Led to the inequality of the sexes.
  • Male dominance in religion and society.
  • Led to the abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children worldwide.
  • Given the church and its leaders power, control, prestige and money.

The fruit of religion is corruption and abuse of women and children hidden underneath a shroud of “righteousness” and “holiness.” Doesn’t that tell us something? We need wise up to this fact.

Rape, Incest and Sexual Abuse

This article is a prime example of a male-dominated religious environment. Whenever there is inequality of the sexes, rape, incest and sexual abuse are rampant. Religious denominations, no matter the sect, should not have autonomy from the law like this Mennonite community has. The law needs to intervene to protect the women and young girls from this abuse. Those that have been raped, have been denied counseling AND have not been protected from further abuse.

PERPETRATORS WERE CAUGHT, BUT THE CRIMES CONTINUE

By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

Click the following link to read the original Article:

http://www.vice.com/read/the-ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-000300-v20n8?Contentpage=-1%3Futm_source%3Dvicefbus

mennonite

All photos by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky also contributed reporting to this article.

For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body. No way to understand how another could dream of a man forcing himself onto her in a field—and then wake up the next morning with grass in her hair.

For Sara Guenter, the mystery was the rope. She would sometimes wake up in her bed with small pieces of it tied tightly to her wrists or ankles, the skin beneath an aching blue. Earlier this year, I visited Sara at her home, simple concrete painted to look like brick, in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their rejection of modernity and technology, and Manitoba Colony, like all ultraconservative Mennonite communities, is a collective attempt to retreat as far as possible from the nonbelieving world. A slight breeze of soy and sorghum came off the nearby fields as Sara told me how, in addition to the eerie rope, on those mornings after she’d been raped she would also wake to stained sheets, thunderous headaches, and paralyzing lethargy.

Her two daughters, 17 and 18 years old, squatted silently along a wall behind her and shot me fierce blue-eyed stares. The evil had penetrated the household, Sara said. Five years ago, her daughters also began waking up with dirty sheets and complaints of pain “down below.”

The family tried locking the door; some nights, Sara did everything she could to keep herself awake. On a few occasions, a loyal Bolivian worker from the neighboring city of Santa Cruz would stay the night to stand guard. But inevitably, when their one-story home—set back and isolated from the dirt road—was not being watched, the rapes continued. (Manitobans aren’t connected to the power grid, so at night the community is submerged in total darkness.) “It happened so many times, I lost count,” Sara said in her native Low German, the only language she speaks, like most women in the community.

mennonite2

Mennonite children attend school in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia.

In the beginning, the family had no idea that they weren’t the only ones being attacked, and so they kept it to themselves. Then Sara started telling her sisters. When rumors spread, “no one believed her,” said Peter Fehr, Sara’s neighbor at the time of the incidents. “We thought she was making it up to hide an affair.” The family’s pleas for help to the council of church ministers, the group of men who govern the 2,500-member colony, were fruitless—even as the tales multiplied. Throughout the community, people were waking to the same telltale morning signs: ripped pajamas, blood and semen on the bed, head-thumping stupor. Some women remembered brief moments of terror: for an instant they would wake to a man or men on top of them but couldn’t summon the strength to yell or fight back. Then, fade to black.

Some called it “wild female imagination.” Others said it was a plague from God. “We only knew that something strange was happening in the night,” Abraham Wall Enns, Manitoba Colony’s civic leader at the time, said. “But we didn’t know who was doing it, so how could we stop it?”

No one knew what to do, and so no one did anything at all. After a while, Sara just accepted those nights as a horrific fact of life. On the following mornings, her family would rise despite the head pain, strip the beds, and get on with their days.

Then, one night in June 2009, two men were caught trying to enter a neighbor’s home. The two ratted out a few friends and, falling like a house of cards, a group of nine Manitoba men, ages 19 to 43, eventually confessed that they had been raping Colony families since 2005. To incapacitate their victims and any possible witnesses, the men used a spray created by a veterinarian from a neighboring Mennonite community that he had adapted from a chemical used to anesthetize cows. According to their initial confessions (which they later recanted), the rapists admitted to—sometimes in groups, sometimes alone—hiding outside bedroom windows at night, spraying the substance through the screens to drug entire families, and then crawling inside.

But it wasn’t until their trial, which took place almost two years later, in 2011, that the full scope of their crimes came to light. The transcripts read like a horror movie script: Victims ranged in age from three to 65 (the youngest had a broken hymen, purportedly from finger penetration). The girls and women were married, single, residents, visitors, the mentally infirm. Though it’s never discussed and was not part of the legal case, residents privately told me that men and boys were raped, too.

In August 2011, the veterinarian who’d supplied the anesthetic spray was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and the rapists were each sentenced to 25 years (five years shy of Bolivia’s maximum penalty). Officially, there were 130 victims—at least one person from more than half of all Manitoba Colony households. But not all those raped were included in the legal case, and it’s believed the true number of victims is much, much higher.

In the wake of the crimes, women were not offered therapy or counseling. There was little attempt to dig deeper into the incidents beyond the confessions. And in the years since the men were nabbed, there has never been a colony-wide discussion about the events. Rather, a code of silence descended following the guilty verdict.

“That’s all behind us now,” Civic Leader Wall told me on my recent trip there. “We’d rather forget than have it be at the forefront of our minds.” Aside from interactions with the occasional visiting journalist, no one talks about it anymore.

But over the course of a nine-month investigation, including an 11-day stay in Manitoba, I discovered that the crimes are far from over. In addition to lingering psychological trauma, there’s evidence of widespread and ongoing sexual abuse, including rampant molestation and incest. There’s also evidence that—despite the fact that the initial perpetrators are in jail—the rapes by drugging continue to happen.

The demons, it turns out, are still out there.

Eight Mennonite men are serving sentences in prison for the rapes of more than 130 women in Manitoba Colony. One of the alleged rapists escaped and now resides in Paraguay.

Eight Mennonite men are serving sentences in prison for the rapes of more than 130 women in Manitoba Colony. One of the alleged rapists escaped and now resides in Paraguay.

At first glance, life for Manitoba’s residents seems an idyllic existence, enviable by new-age off-the-gridders: families live off the land, solar panels light homes, windmills power potable water wells. When one family suffers a death, the rest take turns cooking meals for the grieving. The richer families subsidize schoolhouse maintenance and teachers’ salaries. Mornings begin with homemade bread, marmalade, and milk still warm from the cows outside. At dusk, children play tag in the yard as their parents sway in rockers and watch the sunset.

Not all Mennonites live in sheltered worlds. There are 1.7 million of them in 83 different countries. From community to community, their relationships to the modern world vary considerably. Some eschew modernity entirely; others live in insular worlds but allow cars, TVs, cell phones, and varied dress. Many live among, and are virtually indistinguishable from, the rest of society.

The religion was formed as an offshoot of the Protestant Reformation in 1520s Europe, by a Catholic priest named Menno Simons. Church leaders lashed out against Simons’s encouragement of adult baptism, pacifism, and his belief that only by leading a simple life could one get to heaven. Threatened by the new doctrine, the Protestant and Catholic churches began persecuting his followers throughout Central and Western Europe. Most Mennonites—as Simons’s followers came to be known—refused to fight because of their vow of nonviolence, and so they fled to Russia where they were given settlements to live unbothered by the rest of society.

But by the 1870s, persecution began in Russia, too, so the group next sought refuge in Canada, welcomed by a government in need of pioneer settlers. On arrival, many Mennonites began adopting modern dress, language, and other aspects of contemporary life. A small group, however, continued to believe that they would only be allowed into heaven if they lived in the ways of their forefathers, and they were appalled to see their fellow followers so easily seduced by the new world. This group, known as the “Old Colonists,” abandoned Canada in the 1920s, in part because the government demanded school lessons be taught in English, and hinted at standardizing a country-wide curriculum. (Even today, Old Colony schooling is taught in German, is strictly Bible-based, and ends at 13 for boys and 12 for girls.)

The Old Colonists migrated to Paraguay and Mexico, where there was ample farmland, little technology, and most importantly, promises by the respective national governments to let them live as they wished. But in the 1960s, when Mexico introduced its own educational reform that threatened to limit Mennonite autonomy, another migration began. Old Colonies subsequently sprouted up in more remote parts of the Americas, with a heavy concentration in Bolivia and Belize.

Today, there are about 350,000 Old Colonists worldwide, and Bolivia is home to more than 60,000 of them. Manitoba Colony, which was formed in 1991, looks like a relic of the old world dropped in the middle of the new: a pale-skinned, blue-eyed island of order amid the sea of chaos that is South America’s most impoverished and indigenous country. The colony thrives economically off its members’ supreme work ethic, ample fertile fields, and collective milk factory.

Manitoba has emerged as the ultimate safe haven for Old Colony true believers. Other colonies in Bolivia have loosened their codes, but Manitobans fervently reject cars, and all of their tractors have steel tires, as owning any mechanized vehicle with rubber tires is seen as a cardinal sin because it enables easy contact with the outside world. Men are forbidden from growing facial hair and don denim overalls except in church, where they wear slacks. Girls and women wear identically tied intricate braids, and you’d be hard pressed to find a dress with a length or sleeve that varies more than a few millimeters from the preordained design. For Manitoba residents, these aren’t arbitrary rules: they form the one path to salvation and colonists obey because, they believe, their souls depend on it.

As all Old Colonists desire, Manitoba has been left to its own devices. Except in the case of murder, the Bolivian government does not obligate community leaders to report any crime. Police have virtually no jurisdiction inside the community, nor do state or municipal authorities. The colonists maintain law and order through a de facto government of nine ministers and a ruling bishop, all of whom are elected for life. Beyond being mandated by the Bolivian government to ensure that all residents have a state identity card, Manitoba functions almost as its own sovereign nation.

Abraham Wall Enns (center) with his family. Abraham was the chief civic leader of Manitoba Colony, Bolivia, during the time of the rapes.

Abraham Wall Enns (center) with his family. Abraham was the chief civic leader of Manitoba Colony, Bolivia, during the time of the rapes.

I covered the Manitoba rape trial in 2011 for Time. Haunted ever since my first visits to the Colony, I wanted to know how the victims were faring. I also wondered if the heinous crimes perpetrated on its residents were an anomaly, or if they had exposed deeper cracks in the community. Is it possible that the insular world of the Old Colonies, rather than fostering peaceful coexistence unmoored by the trappings of modern society, is perhaps fomenting its own demise? I was compelled to go back and find out.

I arrived late on a moonlit Friday night in January. I was greeted by the warm smiles of Abraham and Margarita Wall Enns who were standing on the porch of their small home, set back from the road by a manicured and tree-lined driveway. Though notoriously reclusive, Old Colonists are kind to outsiders who don’t seem to threaten their way of life, and that’s how I’d arrived there: I had met Abraham, a freckled, six-foot-tall leader in the community, in 2011, and he said that I should stay with him and his family if I ever came back. Now I was here, hoping to see Old Colony life up close while interviewing residents about the rapes and their aftermath.

Inside the spotless house, Margarita showed me to my bedroom, next to the two other rooms in which her nine children were already sleeping. “We had this installed for security,” she said, grabbing a three-inch-thick steel door at the bottom of the stairs. There had apparently been some robberies (blamed on Bolivians) recently. “Sleep well,” she told me before bolting shut the door that separated me and her family from the rest of the world.

The next morning, I rose before dawn with the rest of the household. On any given day, the two eldest daughters—Liz, 22, and Gertrude, 18—spend the majority of their time washing dishes and clothes, preparing meals, milking the cows, and keeping a spotless home. I did my best not to screw up as I helped with the chores. I was exhausted by lunchtime.

Housework is outside the domain of Abraham and the six Wall boys; it’s possible they’ll go through their entire lives without ever clearing their own plates. They work the fields, but since this was the farming off-season, the older ones assembled tractor equipment their father imports from China, while the youngest pair climbed the barn posts and played with pet parakeets. Abraham allows the boys to kick around a soccer ball and practice Spanish by reading the occasional newspaper delivered weekly from Santa Cruz; however, any other organized activity, be it competitive sport, dance, or music, could jeopardize their eternal salvation and is strictly forbidden.

The Walls told me that luckily no one within their family fell victim to the rapists, but like everyone else in the community they knew all about it. One day, Liz agreed to accompany me on my interviews with rape victims in the community. A curious and quick young woman who learned Spanish from the family’s Bolivian cook, she was happy for an excuse to get out of the house and socialize.

We set out in a horse-drawn buggy along dirt roads. During the ride, Liz told me about her memories during the time of the scandal. As far as she knows, the perpetrators never entered her home. When I asked her if she was ever scared, she said no. “I didn’t believe it,” she told me. “So I only got scared once they confessed. Then it became real.”

When I asked Liz whether she thought the rapes could have been stopped earlier if these women had been taken seriously, she just wrinkled her eyebrows. Hadn’t the Colony given the rapists liberty to attack for four years, in part, because people had blamed the crimes on “wild female imagination”? She didn’t reply, but seemed lost in thought as she steered us along the dirt road.

We pulled into the pebbled courtyard of a large house, and I went inside for an interview while Liz waited outside in the buggy. In a dark living room, I spoke with Helena Martens, a middle-aged mother of 11 children, and her husband. She sat on a couch and they kept the window shades drawn as we talked about what had happened to her nearly five years ago.

Sometime in 2008, Helena told me, she had heard a hissing sound as she settled into bed. She smelled a strange odor too, but after her husband made sure the gas canister in the kitchen wasn’t leaking, they fell asleep. She vividly recalls waking up in the middle of the night to “a man on top of me and others in the room, but I couldn’t raise my arms in defense.” She quickly slipped back into a dead sleep and then the next morning her head throbbed and her sheets were soiled.

The rapists attacked her several more times over the next few years. Helena suffered from various medical complications during this period, including an operation related to her uterus. (Sex and reproductive health is such a taboo for conservative Mennonites that most women are never taught the correct names for intimate body parts, which inhibited certain descriptions of what took place during the attacks and in their aftermath.) One morning she woke in such pain that “I thought I was going to die,” she said.

Helena, like the other rape victims in Manitoba, was never offered the chance to speak with a professional therapist, even though she said she would if given the opportunity. “Why would they need counseling if they weren’t even awake when it happened?” Manitoba Colony Bishop Johan Neurdorf, the community’s highest authority, had told a visitor back in 2009 after the perpetrators were caught.

Other victims I interviewed—those who awoke during the rapes, as well as those with no memory of the night—said that they would also have liked to speak with a therapist about their experiences but that doing so would be nearly impossible because there are no Low German-speaking sexual-trauma recovery experts in Bolivia.

All of the women I spoke with were unaware that the greater Mennonite world, particularly progressive groups in Canada and the US, had offered to send Low German counselors to Manitoba. Of course, this meant that they also had no clue that it was the men in the colony who had rejected these offers. After centuries of tension with their less-traditional brethren, Old Colonist leadership regularly block any attempts at direct contact with their members initiated by these groups. They saw the offer for psychological support from afar as yet another thinly veiled attempt to encourage the abandonment of their old ways.

The leadership’s refusal likely had other underlying reasons, too, such as not wanting these women’s emotional trauma to stir things up or draw too much attention to the community. I had already been told that a woman’s role in an Old Colony was to obey and submit to her husband’s command. A local minister explained to me that girls are schooled a year less than boys because females have no need to learn math or bookkeeping, which is taught during the extra boys-only term. Women can neither be ministers nor vote to elect them. They also can’t legally represent themselves, as the rape case made painfully apparent. Even the plaintiffs in the trial were five men—a selected group of victims’ husbands or fathers—rather than the women themselves.

But while it was tempting to accept the black-and-white gender roles in Manitoba, my visit also revealed shades of gray. I saw men and women share decision-making in their homes. At extended family gatherings on Sundays, the women-only kitchens felt full with big personalities and loud laughter, while men sat solemnly outside discussing the drought. And I spent long afternoons with confident and engaged young women such as Liz and her friends, who, like their peers anywhere, see each other when they can to vent about the annoying things their parents do and get updates on who broke whose heart last week.

When it came to the rapes, these times of strong female bonding—and the safe space provided by such a segregated daily routine—offered comfort. Victims told me they leaned on their sisters or cousins, especially as they tried to adjust back to regular life in the wake of the trial.

Those under the age of 18 named in the lawsuit were brought in for psychological assessment as mandated by Bolivian law, and court documents note that every one of these young girls showed signs of posttraumatic stress and was recommended for long-term counseling—but not one has received any form of therapy since their evaluations. Unlike adult women who found at least some solace with their sisters or cousins, many young girls may not have even had a chance to speak with anyone about their experiences after their government-mandated assessments.

In Helena’s living room, she told me how her daughter was also raped, but the two have never spoken about it, and the girl, now 18, doesn’t even know that her mom is also a rape survivor. In Old Colonies, rapes bring shame upon the victim; survivors are stained, and throughout the community other parents of the youngest victims told me that it was all better left unspoken.

“She was too young” to talk about it, the father of another victim, who was 11 when she was raped, told me. He and his wife never explained to the girl why she woke with pain one morning, bleeding so much she had to be taken to the hospital. She was whisked through subsequent medical visits with nurses who didn’t speak her language and was never once told that she had been raped. “It was better she just not know,” her father said.

All the victims I interviewed said the rapes crossed their minds almost daily. In addition to confiding in friends, they have coped by falling back on faith. Helena, for example—though her clutched arms and pained swaying seemed to belie it—told me she’d found peace and insisted, “I have forgiven the men who raped me.”

She wasn’t alone. I heard the same thing from victims, parents, sisters, brothers. Some even said that if the convicted rapists would only admit their crimes—as they did initially—and ask penance from God, the colony would request that the judge dismiss their sentences.

I was perplexed. How could there be unanimous acceptance of such flagrant and premeditated crimes?

It wasn’t until I spoke with Minister Juan Fehr, dressed as all ministers in the community do, entirely in black with high black boots, that I understood. “God chooses His people with tests of fire,” he told me. “In order to go to heaven you must forgive those who have wronged you.” The minister said that he trusts that most of the victims came to forgiveness on their own. But if one woman didn’t want to forgive, he said, she would have been visited by Bishop Neurdorf, Manitoba’s highest authority, and “he would have simply explained to her that if she didn’t forgive, then God wouldn’t forgive her.”

One of the youngest victims to speak with prosecutors was as young as 11 during the time of the rapes. Most of the victims have had almost no psychological counseling, and according to experts, are probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

One of the youngest victims to speak with prosecutors was as young as 11 during the time of the rapes. Most of the victims have had almost no psychological counseling, and according to experts, are probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Manitoba’s leaders encourage residents to forgive incest, too. It’s a lesson that Agnes Klassen learned in a painful way. On a muggy Tuesday, the mother of two met me outside her two-room house off a highway in eastern Bolivia, approximately 40 miles from her former home in Manitoba Colony that she left in 2009. She wore her hair in a ponytail and was sweating in jeans and a T-shirt.

I wasn’t there to talk with her about the rapes, but once inside her house, the subject inevitably came up. “One morning I woke up with headaches and there was dirt in our bed,” she said, referring to when she lived in Manitoba, as if remembering an item she had left off a shopping list. She had never thought much about that morning since and wasn’t included in the lawsuit because she saw no reason to come forward after the perpetrators were nabbed.

Instead, I had come to talk to Agnes about other painful parts of her past—namely incest—the origins of which aren’t even clear. “They kind of mesh together,” she said of her earliest childhood memories, which include being fondled by several of her eight older brothers. “I don’t know when [the incest] started.”

One of 15 children, growing up in the Old Colony of Riva Palacios (her family moved to neighboring Manitoba Colony when she was eight), Agnes said the abuse would happen in the barn, in the fields, or in the siblings’ shared bedroom. She didn’t realize it was inappropriate behavior until the age of ten, when she was given a stern beating after her father found her brother fondling her. “My mother could never find the words to tell me that I was being wronged or that it was not my fault,” she recalled.

After that, the molestation continued but Agnes was too scared to go to anyone for help. When she was 13 and one of her brothers tried to rape her, Agnes warily notified her mom. She wasn’t beaten this time, and for a while her mom did her best to keep the two apart. But the brother eventually found her alone and raped her.

The sibling assaults became increasingly commonplace, but there was nowhere for Agnes to turn. Old Colonies have no police force. Ministers deal with wrongdoing directly but because youth are not technically members of the church until they are baptized (often in their early 20s), bad behavior is handled inside the home.

Seeking help outside the colony would have never entered Agnes’s mind: from her first day on earth, she, like all Old Colony children, was taught that the outside world holds evil. And even if someone managed to reach out, there is virtually no way for a child or woman to contact or communicate with the surrounding non–Low German world.

“I just learned to live with it,” Agnes said haltingly. She apologized for her stops and starts, for her tears. It was the first time she had ever fully told her story. She said the incest stopped when boys began courting Agnes, and she filed it away in her mind as a thing of the past.

But when she got married, moved into her own house in Manitoba, and gave birth to two daughters, family members began molesting her children during visits. “It was starting to happen to them, too,” she told me, her eyes following the movements of her two young platinum-blond girls darting past the windows as they played outside. One day, her eldest daughter, not yet four at the time, told Agnes that the girls’ grandpa had asked her to put her hands down his pants. Agnes said that her father never molested her or her sisters, but that he allegedly routinely abused his grandchildren until Agnes fled Manitoba with her daughters (and still allegedly abuses her nieces, who remain in the Colony). Another day, she caught her nephew fondling her youngest daughter. “It happens all the time,” she said. “It’s not just my family.”

Indeed, for a long time now there has been a muffled yet heated discussion in the international Mennonite community about whether Old Colonies have a rampant incest problem. Some defend the Old Colonists, insisting that sexual abuse happens everywhere and that its occurrence in places like Manitoba only proves that any society, no matter how upright, is susceptible to social ills.

But others, like Erna Friessen, a Canadian-Mennonite woman who introduced me to Agnes, insist, “The scope of sexual violence within Old Colonies is really huge.” Erna and her husband helped found Casa Mariposa(Butterfly House), a shelter for abused Old Colony women and girls. Located near the town of Pailon in the heart of Bolivian Old Colony territory, they have a continuous influx of Low German-speaking missionaries ready to help, but the number of women who have made it there are few. Aside from the challenges of making women aware of this space and convincing them that it’s in their best interest to seek help, Erna told me that “coming to Casa Mariposa often means leaving their families and the only world they’ve ever known.”

While Erna admits that exact figures are impossible to calculate due to the insular nature of these communities, she is adamant that rates of sexual abuse are higher in the Old Colonies than in the US, for example, where one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Erna’s whole life has been among these groups—she was born on a Mennonite Colony in Paraguay, raised in Canada, and has spent the past eight years in Bolivia. Of all the Old Colony women she has met over the years, she says, “more have been victims of abuse than not.” She considers the Colonies “a breeding ground for sexual abuse,” in part because most Old Colony women grow up believing they must accept it. “The first step is always to get them to recognize that they have been wronged. It happened to them, it happened to their mom and their grandmother, so they’ve always been told [to] just deal with it.”

Others who work on the issue of abuse in the Old Colonies are hesitant to pinpoint incidence rates, but say that the way abuse is experienced within an Old Colony makes it a more acute problem than in other places in the world. “These girls or women have no way out,” said Eve Isaak, a mental health clinician and addictions and bereavement counselor who caters to Old Colony Mennonite communities in Canada, US, Bolivia, and Mexico. “In any other society, by elementary school a child knows that if they are being abused they can, at least in theory, go to the police or a teacher or some other authority. But who can these girls go to?”

Though it wasn’t by design, Old Colony churches have become the de facto state. “Old Colonists’ migration can be understood not just as a movement away from society’s ills, but also toward countries that allow the Colonists to live as they choose,” said Helmut Isaak, Eve’s husband who is a pastor and Anabaptist history and theology professor at CEMTA, a seminary in Asuncion, Paraguay. He explains that before Old Colonists migrate to a new country, they send delegations to negotiate terms with the governments to allow them virtual autonomy, particularly in the area of religious law enforcement.

In fact, the serial rapes stand as one of the only times that a Bolivian Old Colony has sought outside intervention regarding an internal matter. Manitoba residents told me that they handed the gang over to the cops in 2009 because victims’ husbands and fathers were so enraged, it’s likely the accused would have been lynched. (One man who was believed to be involved and caught on a neighboring colony, was lynched and later died from his wounds.)

The Old Colony leaders I spoke with denied that their communities have an ongoing sexual abuse problem and insisted that incidents are dealt with internally when they arise. “[Incest] almost never happens here,” Minister Jacob Fehr told me one evening as we chatted on his porch at dusk. He said that in his 19 years as a minister, Manitoba had only one case of incestuous rape (father to daughter). Another minister denied that even this episode had happened.

“They forgive a ton of gross stuff that happens in families all the time,” said Abraham Peters, father of the youngest convicted rapist, Abraham Peters Dyck, who is currently in Palmasola Prison, just outside Santa Cruz. “Brothers with sisters, fathers with daughters.” He told me that he believes his son and the entire gang were framed to cover up widespread incest in Manitoba Colony. Abraham senior still lives in Manitoba; he considered leaving in the period immediately following his son’s arrest because of hostility from the rest of the community. But uprooting his family of 12 proved too difficult, so he stayed put and says that over the years and despite his perspective on his son’s incarceration, he has been accepted back into the fold of Colony life.

Agnes thinks the two crimes are flipsides of the same coin. “The rapes, the abuse, it’s all intertwined,” she said. “What made the rapes different is that they didn’t come from within the family and that’s why the Ministers took the actions they did.”

Of course, leaders do attempt to correct bad behavior. Take the case of Agnes’s father: at some point, his fondling of his granddaughters was called out by church leaders. As procedure dictates, he went before the ministers and bishop, who asked him to confess. He did, and was “excommunicated,” or temporarily expelled from the church for a week, after which he was offered a chance to return based on a promise that he would never do it again.

“Of course it continued after that,” Agnes said of her father. “He just learned to hide it better.” She told me she doesn’t have faith “in anyone who after one week says they have turned their life around,” before adding, “I have no faith in a system that permits that.”

Younger perpetrators have it even easier; according to Agnes, the brother who raped her admitted his sins when he was baptized and was immediately expunged in the eyes of God. He now lives in the neighboring Old Colony, Riva Palacios, with young daughters of his own.

Once an abuser has been excommunicated and readmitted, church leadership assumes the matter has been put to rest. If an abuser flagrantly continues his behavior and refuses to repent, he is once again excommunicated and this time permanently shunned. Leaders instruct the rest of the colony to isolate the family; the general store will refuse to sell to anyone in the household, kids will be banned from school. Eventually the family has no choice but to leave. This, of course, also means that the victims leave with their abusers.

Yet it wasn’t sexual abuse that finally prompted Agnes and her family to abandon Manitoba, which they did in 2009. Instead, her husband had bought a motorcycle, after which he was excommunicated and the family shunned. When the couple’s toddler drowned to death in a cow trough, the community leaders wouldn’t even let her husband attend his own son’s funeral. That’s when they left Manitoba for good. In the end, driving a motorcycle was apparently a larger affront to the Colony’s leadership than anything Agnes, her daughters, or the rest of the women in the community had suffered.

Keeping a colony like Manitoba together is getting harder and harder in modern times. Agnes and her family aren’t the only ones who’ve fled. In fact, the nearby city of Santa Cruz is populated by Mennonite families who have become fed up with the Old Colony way of life—and the situation may be reaching a crisis point.

Johan Weiber, leaning on his pickup truck, is the de facto leader of a dissident group of Mennonites in Manitoba.

Johan Weiber, leaning on his pickup truck, is the de facto leader of a dissident group of Mennonites in Manitoba.

“We no longer want to be a part of this,” a young father named Johan Weiber told me one day when I visited him at his home in Manitoba. Johan and his family were one of 13 others still living in the colony but who had officially left the Old Colony’s church. For months, they’d been saying they wanted to leave—they even owned vehicles—but Manitoba Colony leaders refused to compensate them for the land they wanted to abandon. Now, instead, they’d decided to build their own dissident church inside Manitoba.

“We are [leaving the Old Colony church and starting our own] because we have read the truth,” Johan said. By “truth,” he meant the Bible. “They tell us not to read the Bible because if we do, we realize things like, in no place does it say a women’s hair has to be braided like that,” he told me, leaning on his white pickup truck as his ponytailed daughter played in the yard.

Curious about the specifics of religious instruction at Manitoba, one Sunday I attended a service at one of the colony’s three nondescript brick churches. I soon realized that the solemn 90-minute ceremony is not a priority. Heads of households might go two or three times a month, but many go even less frequently.

For children, the core school curriculum is based on selected Bible readings, but aside from a silent 20-second prayer before and after meals, there is no specified time or requirement for prayer or Bible studies in the adult Old Colony world.

“Many [people have] lost their biblical literacy,” said Helmut Isaak, the Mennonite historian. He explained that over time, as Mennonites stopped having to constantly defend their faith against persecutors, other more practical concerns took precedent. “In order to survive, they needed to spend their time working.”

This has created a crucial power disparity: the small cadre of church leaders have became the sole interpreters of the Bible on Old Colonies, and because the Bible is seen as the law, leaders use this control over the scripture to instill order and obedience.

Ministers deny this charge: “We encourage all our members to know what is written in the holy book,” Minister Jacob Fehr told me one evening. But residents admit in quiet that Bible-study classes are discouraged and Bibles are written in High German, a language that most adults barely remember after their limited schooling, while Low German versions are sometimes banned. On some Old Colonies, members face excommunication for delving too deeply into the scripture.

This is why Johan Weiber was such a threatening presence—he terrified the leadership and community at large. He also reminded them of the troubled past of the Old Colonies. “This is exactly what happened in Mexico and that’s why we came [to Bolivia],” said Peter Knelsen, a 60-year-old Manitoba resident who arrived from Mexico as a teenager with his parents. It wasn’t just the Mexican government that was threatening Old Colonies with reform, but also an evangelical movement from within that sought to “change our way of life,” said Peter, who explained that in his colony in Mexico dissenters tried to build their own church, too.

For more than 40 years, Bolivian Old Colonists had escaped such an internal rift. But with Johan Weiber’s attempt to build his own church—he also wanted land in Manitoba on which to farm and build his own independent school—Peter and others spoke of an impending “apocalypse.” Tensions nearly exploded in June, after my visit, when Johan’s group actually broke ground on their church. Soon after construction commenced, over 100 Manitoba men descended on the site and took it apart, piece-by-piece. “I think it’s going to be really hard to maintain the colony intact,” Peter told me.

If this rift continues to widen and the crisis comes to a head, Manitobans already know what to do. Centuries ago, the original Mennonites in Europe, faced with persecution, had a choice: fight or flight. Given their vow of pacifism, they fled—and they have been doing so ever since.

Manitoba leaders say they hope it doesn’t come to that. In part, this is probably because Bolivia is one of the last countries left that will let them live on their own terms. So for now, Minister Jacob Fehr says he prays. “We just want [Weiber’s group] to leave the colony,” he said. “We just want to be left alone.”

Heinrich Knelsen Kalssen, one of the rapists, is led out of the courtroom by police in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Heinrich Knelsen Kalssen, one of the rapists, is led out of the courtroom by police in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

On my last day in Manitoba, I got a shock.

“You know that it’s still happening, right?” a woman said to me, as we drank ice water alongside her home. There were no men around. I hoped something was lost in translation, but my Low German translator assured me it wasn’t. “The rapes with the spray—they are still going on,” she said.

I peppered her with questions: Had it happened to her? Did she know who was doing it? Did everyone know it was going on?

No, she said, they hadn’t returned to her house, but to a cousin’s—recently. She said she had a good guess about who was doing it but wouldn’t give me any names. And she believed that, yes, most people in Manitoba Colony knew that the imprisonment of the original rapists hadn’t put an end to the serial crimes.

As if in a strange time warp, after dozens of interviews with people telling me everything was fine now, I didn’t know if this was gossip, rumor, lies, or—worse—the truth. I spent the rest of the day frantically trying to get confirmation. I revisited many families who I had previously interviewed, and the majority admitted, a bit sheepishly, that yes, they had heard the rumors and that, yes, they assumed they were probably true.

“It’s definitely not as frequent,” said one young man later that day whose wife had been raped during the first series of incidents before 2009. “[The rapists] are being much more careful than before, but it still goes on.” He told me he had his suspicions about the perpetrators’ identities as well, but didn’t want to give any more details.

On a subsequent reporting trip by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky, the photographer for this article, five people went on record—including three Manitobans as well as a local prosecutor and a journalist—and confirmed that they had heard the rapes are continuing.

Those I spoke with said they have no way to stop the alleged attacks. There is still no police force in the area, and there never will be any proactive element or investigatory force that can look into accusations of crimes. Anyone is free in the colonies to report somebody else to the Ministers, but crimes are addressed on the honor system: if a perpetrator is not ready to admit his sins, the question is whether the victim or accuser will be believed… and women in Manitoba already know how that goes.

The only defense, residents told me, is to install better locks or bars on the windows, or big steel doors like the one I slept behind each night during my trip. “We can’t put in streetlights or video cameras,” the husband of a victim of the rapes told me—two technologies not allowed. For it to stop, they believe they must, as before, catch someone in the act. “So we will just have to wait,” he said.

That last day, before leaving Manitoba, I returned to visit Sara, the woman who woke up with rope around her wrists nearly five years ago. She said she’d also heard the rumors of ongoing rapes, and breathed a heavy sigh. She and her family had moved to a new house after the gang of nine was captured in 2009. The old house held too many demon-filled memories. She said she felt badly if others were now living her past horrors, but she didn’t know what could be done. After all, her time on earth, like that of all her fellow Mennonites, was meant for suffering. Before I left, she offered what she considered words of solace: “Maybe this is God’s plan.”

Editor’s Note: Abuse and rape victims’ names have been changed at their request.

Buildings of Worship

Milan Cathedral, Italy

Milan Cathedral, Italy

SPLENDOUR IN WORSHIP. To the ancient simplicity there now succeeded a taste for religious pageantry, the natural associate of ease and opulence in a superstitious age. The notion began to prevail that in order to captivate the multitude, Christianity needed to be surrounded with pomp and presented under images of sense. The example of Constantine gave a powerful impulse to this movement. In his new capital on the Bosphorus, in Antioch, Jerusalem and other places, he erected churches which emulated in their magnificence the grandest of the heathen temples. . . Did it never occur to the good bishops of the age of Constantine that all this outward glory, however it might harmonise with the character and purpose of the Old Dispensation, is foreign, if not wholly repugnant, to the spirit of the New? So far from being able to serve God better in their glittering temples than did the early Christians in their simple unconsecrated buildings, the allurements of sense which they took so much pains to accumulate, were the very means to obstruct and render more difficult that worship in spirit and in truth which is alone acceptable unto Him. — Early Church History to the Death of Constantine, pgs 237-238.

Even today, magnificent churches span the globe. Unparalleled in opulence and splendor, these churches have become not just a testament to the immense wealth the church has amassed, but they have become normative for every religious sect. Many today still believe that they can worship God better in bigger buildings decorated in costly materials and crafted with the most intricate and ostentatious architecture. What they fail to realize is that church buildings have become the biggest idol in the hearts of religious leadership and their followers. Just as these elaborate buildings interfered with the purity of worship in Constantine’s day, so it is today. Churches have become places of religious showmanship, rooted in elaborate orations and music aimed at getting religion’s followers to let loose of their pocketbooks.

We must understand that church buildings have nothing to do with God. They are a mutation of paganism with early Christianity; an invention of Constantine’s own theological devices.  Early Christians had no designated “churches” of worship. Pagan temples were converted to “churches” in order to bring the masses together to congregate into one place so that they could be monitored and controlled by clergy. This is exactly what many churches of all denominations do today. They monitor and control those that enter through their doors and use the tactics I elaborate on in my book, Religion’s Cell, to bring about thought reform to the specific institution’s ideals and dogmas.

There is nothing wrong with meeting in a building in this day and age to worship. There is everything wrong with the way in which organized religion wield’s it’s power and control over people in order to control and manipulate them once they enter into the “church building.” Real Christianity is missing in many of today’s religions due to corruption. . . it has turned into a system of showmanship and of amassing wealth instead of a system of purity rooted in helping the poor, the fatherless and the widow in need.

Maintenance of the Clergy

TAT CoverDuring the early days of Christianity, church leaders all worked and provided for themselves and their families. Offerings were never taken for the maintenance of clergy. The offerings were always distributed to the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, the captives. The corruption, of men taking for themselves from the offerings, didn’t happen until the third century. It was shortly after they started taking a portion of the offerings that they then began to EXACT the monies for their office. God never commanded us, nor showed us by his example, that those who shared the gospel should be partakers of any earthly goods of others. As a matter of fact, scripture tells us that they are not to take from the people (see my book, The Truth About Tithing)!  Jesus was a carpenter by trade. Paul was a tentmaker. Other Apostles were fishermen. None of his disciples lived off the offerings they received that were given to help the poor. This corruption, of men living off the backs of the poor through their forced tithes and/or giving, has to be one of the grossest and most blatant misuses of the position of ‘Pastor.’ Many passages have been twisted or overlooked in order to propagate this lie and, my book, The Truth About Tithing, exposes them.  Here’s what early church history tells us:

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Early Church History to the Death of Constantine

by Edward Backhouse, 1906

MAINTENANCE OF THE CLERGY. We have seen how, in her days of pristine simplicity, the ministers of the Church supported themselves by their own labour. The free-will offerings of the congregation were at first appropriated to the use of the sick and the poor, of orphans, widows and captives. By degrees a portion of the weekly contributions was set apart for the maintenance of the presbyters [pastors].  At a latter period, in some churches a three-fold, in others a four-fold, division was adopted; one share, in the latter case, being appropriated to the bishop, another to the rest of the clergy, a third to the church building and service, and the remainder to the poor. [Notice how the sick, poor, orphans, widows and captives who once received 100% of the offerings are now relegated to only one portion of them. They are the ones that need it the most!]

In the circular issued by the synod of Antioch against Paul [of Samosata], . . . and the Apostolical Constitutions say, “Let the young be diligent in their business, so as to have enough for their own support and to bestow on the needy. For we ourselves besides our attention to the word of the Gospel, do not neglect our inferior employments. Some of us are fishermen, some tentmakers, some husbandmen; for none of those who are dedicated to God ought to be idle.” We have seen in Cyprian’s lamentation over the state of the Church, that the pursuit of trade was not unknown to the African clergy, and was indeed too eagerly followed by some. The council of Elvira forbids the bishops and clergy to be itinerant merchants, but permits them to trade within the province. They were however on no account to exact usury. Even so late as A.D. 398, the fourth Council of Carthage directs that “clergymen, however learned they may be in the divine word, should provide themselves with food and clothing by some handicraft or agricultural labour, but not to the hindrance of their office in the Church; and that such as were strong enough to labour should be instructed in some handicraft and in letters.”

Chrysostom also, about the same time, has described the country clergy around Antioch: “Their language was not Greek but Syriac. They were engaged in agriculture at one time following the plough, at another taking their turn in the pulpit; at one time hedging or cutting thorns with a bill hook, at another sowing the seed of the word; being able to boast of a very small modicum of worldly learning, but yet fairly acquainted with the Holy Scriptures.” “The bishops and presbyters of those early days,” observes Hatch, “kept banks, practised medicine, wrought as silversmiths, tended sheep, or sold their goods in open market. They were like the second generation of non-juring bishops a century and a half ago, or like the early preachers of the Wesleyan Methodists. They were men of the world, taking part in the ordinary business of life. The point about which the Christian communities were anxious was, not that their officers should cease to trade, but that in this as in other respects they should be ensamples to the flock. The chief existing enactments of early councils on the point are, that bishops are not to huckster their goods from market to market, nor are they to use their position to buy cheaper and sell dearer than other people.”

But this liberty was not suffered to continue. The Church had now become subject to the State. It is true we find Theodosius at the end of the fourth century exempting the inferior clergy from the trading tax, provided their mercantile transactions were kept within bounds; but this immunity being abused, all clerical persons whatsoever were by a law of Valentinian III. (A.D. 425-455), interdicted from trade.
The practice of taking fees for the services of the Church, a practice utterly unknown in her days of purity, was not admitted without opposition. In Spain, at the beginning of the fourth century, it had become a common custom to drop a piece of money into the font or box as a gratuity for the rite of baptism. The
Council of Elvira prohibits this custom, assigning this cogent reason, “Lest it be thought that the priest gives for money what he has freely received.”  In the same spirit, at a much later period, the Council in Trullo forbids the clergy to receive any thing from the communicants at the Lord s table, because “the grace of God is not an article of merchandise, nor is the sanctification of the spirit to be bought with money.”  In like manner Jerome declares it to be unlawful to take a fee for performing the burial service. — Early Church History to the Death of Constantine, pgs 233-235.

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According to Backhouse, the third and fourth centuries were where the origin of tithing developed. Iranaeus, Origen and Cyprian began planting the seeds toward tithing by teaching that tithes were similar to ‘first fruits.’ Cyprian even taught that, “on the ground that the tribe of Levi was supported by tithes in order that it might be devoted entirely to the Lord’s service, claims the same inheritance for the Christian clergy, who receive as it were tithes, that they may not depart from the altar (Backhouse).” By equating the office of Bishop and presbyter with the Levite Priest that served in the Temple, it allowed them to also add to the position the same honor, reverence and holiness of the position that the Priest in the Temple held. This also instilled a “fear” of going against the “man of God.” Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. Presbyters, Bishops and Priests (or whatever other term used for leadership) attained for themselves a holiness and reverence that was never given them by God. They stole these honors through craftiness in order to benefit and reap personal gain.

The idea had acquired a yet stronger hold in men’s minds by the time of the Apostolical Constitutions where they later added, “As the Levites, who attended upon the tabernacle (in all things a type of the Church), partook of the gifts, offerings, first-fruits, tithes, sacrifices and oblations, so you, O bishops, are, to your people, priests and Levites, ministering to the Holy Tabernacle, the Holy Catholic Church, ye who stand at the altar of the Lord your God, and offer to Him reasonable and bloodless sacrifices through Jesus, the great High Priest. . . . Oblations and tithes belong to Christ and to those who minister to Him. Tenths of salvation are the first letter of the name of Jesus. (Backhouse)”

By deceiving the people into believing that priests, presbyters and bishops were similar to Levite priests that served in the Temple, it allowed the Catholic clergy an avenue into people’s pocketbooks. This one corruption has proliferated down through history and has become so massive, that it has allowed uneducated and self-serving men to enter into the ranks of pastoral leadership while earning salaries that rival many large corporations.

It’s time for clergy to earn their own livings and provide for their own families. Offerings should be dedicated 100% to the poor and needy and not divided between administrative expenses, employee expenses, building expenses, expense accounts for pastors and, pastoral salaries. Christians everywhere should be angry at having their finances siphoned by religious institutions that coerce or force giving and/or tithing through fear of judgment or cursing from God. There is nothing wrong with giving, but there is everything wrong with giving under duress or threat of punishment. Many churches use tithing as a means to determine one’s Christian character and, as a prerequisite for serving in the church!  Some churches, like the one I was involved in, would not help you if you were in desperate need of help, if you did not tithe! Tithing was used as a weapon against the poor and needy — the very ones that God COMMANDED we take care of — because they could not afford to tithe.  Yet, when the truth is brought to light regarding this lie about maintaining clergy, many will fight against it and, against the one that points out the corruption. Remember, I didn’t invent this truth, I am just pointing out what has already been pointed out by someone else. Maintenance of the clergy is the biggest ponzy scheme this side of heaven. We had better wise up to this lie of the church and start requiring clergy to get a job and support themselves. Imagine how many poor could be helped just with the savings in clergy salaries?