Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Of heretical reverends, NYS Senator Ruben Diaz and a cure for AIDS

Reading Hoy newspaper last Friday, something caught my attention:

On the eve of "a historic Christianca community gathering" humbly titled "The Last Crusade" which took place at the Madison Square Garden this past weekend, Pastor Ricardo Reyes of the Queens-based El Elyon Church told reporter Tommy Calle:
[Translated by yours truly] In this 'crusade' at the Madison Square Garden' we hope to count with the presence of people who are sick with AIDS, cancer and all types of incurable illnesses so that they will be healed through their faith and the power of God
The event not only counted with performers such as the Pastor's wife, Lucy Reyes, but Christian reggaeton 'sensations' The Reyes Queenz (daughters of the Reyeses).

Now, many a congregation nowadays promises to 'cure' people of everything and, though the quote stuck in my head, the whole article just struck me as a puff piece on the Reyes clan.

Then I caught this WNYC radio report and transcript and realized it was more than that.
REPORTER: Most of the crowd is Latino, though there are many blacks, Asians and some whites. Yirzavit Castillo, whose father runs a church in the Bronx, is here, because he saw one of the many Spanish-language TV ads, complete with celebrity endorsements
The event was actually a revival by controversial South Korean preacher Jae-Rock Lee and the WNYC reporter mentions other supporters:
REPORTER: At the Garden, [Lee] was joined on stage by New York State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz and by the head of the National Religious Broadcasters, one of the country’s most influential evangelical groups
Outside the Garden, there were protests by South Koreans, who claimed that Lee was setting himself up to be the next Reverend Myung-Sun Moon, by seeking to align himself with foreign religious leaders to gain respectability when in South Korea, some see him as being a heretical preacher. WNYC says:
REPORTER: Like Reverend Moon, Jae-Rock Lee has been disowned by the Korean evangelical establishment. He was kicked out of his denomination for teachings his critics say are heresy. One website says he has claimed to sit at the throne of God, command angels and performed every miracle in the Bible except walking on water... In 1999, Jae-Rock Lee made headlines when his followers stormed a television station in Seoul and took over the control room, as it was preparing to broadcast a documentary about him. But at the Garden, few of those attending knew or cared about Lee’s clashes back home or his alleged blasphemy. They came because they had seen the ads, or because their preachers had told them to come witness Lee’s teaching
A 'healing session' closed the opening day ceremony with people "limping up to the stage" on crutches and screaming in joy after being 'healed.' WNYC says:
REPORTER: Little noticed by the crowd were those who were turned away – those who couldn’t get out of their wheelchairs, including one man wearing a yarmulke. In the meantime, Jaerock Lee kept chanting, while on the stage below him Juan Sanchez kept tossing his cane in the air and catching it. The semi-paralyzed gunshot victim was one of more than a dozen people exuberantly shuffling back and forth, smiling, shouting and blowing kisses to the crowd. Afterward, Sanchez explained what happened.

SANCHEZ: Today, when the pastor prayed, I felt my leg becoming straight. And my lower back – the pain is gone. I can walk normally. Now I’ve got more faith in my heart and my body and my soul, too.

REPORTER: Sanchez said that he trusts God will help him continue to improve, and he’ll pray every day, just like he always does. Then he leaned on his wife, limped toward the subway and returned to Queens.

This level of cross-pollination between conservative minority religious denominations and leaders makes me a bit queasy and not in small part because it's happening under the radar.

Richard Bartholomew at Salon blogs does and deconstructs the event press release here. Money quote (on an announced 'medical table' at the event were American and Korean doctors were supposed to pray for healing and assess afterwards if the person had indeed been cured thru prayer):

How exactly doctors will be able to make medically-valid diagnoses from a swift once-over at a “medical table” is not explained. However, one New York senator is not bothered by such a detail. ASSIST’s Dan Wooding spoke to Johnny Kim, who liases with mere mortals on behalf of Lee.

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