Friday, February 23, 2007

Cult, fraud allegations follow "Universal Church" to Nolensville Road

Torture, donations for salvation among charges

Reaching out to immigrants, or targeting them?

The Nashville Post reports that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a church that has been accused of fraud, cult-like deception, and other wrongdoing, has purchased a church building on Nolensville Road, an area with a relatively high concentration of Hispanic residents. The church reportedly seeks out new locations in immigrant communities, and its web site (here) is in Spanish.

"The Universal Church has yet to open in the new location, and an official with its U.S. headquarters in New York hasn't responded to calls from in the past week. This church would be the first one for the UCKG in Tennessee. There are indications that leaders for this congregation may be coming up from Universal churches in North Georgia, where carpet manufacturing capital Dalton and other communities have seen massive increases in Hispanic populations over the past decade."

"Critics of the church consider it as a cult or sect, with internet sites devoted to describing the church's alleged misdeeds. Many criticisms center on the church's interpretation of the Christian concept of tithing — claiming specifically that the church practices "prosperity theology," charging parishioners and non-parishioners for the service of dislodging demons from their souls. The targets are usually desperate people of poor or working-class backgrounds, according to critics."

"In Houston, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has faced lawsuits from disillusioned former members who claimed it defrauded poor immigrants out of large amounts of money by convincing them that their donations would bring them salvation."

"In Brazil, its home country, authorities detained a top official of this Pentecostal denomination in 2005 as he landed in a private jet toting seven suitcases that held the equivalent of $4.7 million in cash. The church's founder has been accused in Brazil of embezzlement and tax evasion, but he has never been convicted."

"In London, the Universal Church is best known for its connection to the Victoria ClimbiƩ case. The guardians of eight-year-old Victoria, a refugee from the Ivory Coast, took her to a UCKG church three times during the period in early 2000 when they were inflicting some 128 separate injuries on her body, as they tortured her in order to break Satan's hold over her soul. The pastor prayed for her health. Only on the last visit, when she was semi-conscious, did he suggest they see a doctor. At the enquiry after her death, he said he too had considered her possessed."

"The church is believed to have some 10 million parishioners in 90 or more countries. Edir Macedo Bezerra, who has been described as a Brazilian business tycoon, founded the church in the late 1970s. Since then, in addition to expanding the church, Macedo has expanded its holdings to include newspapers and television and radio stations in Brazil as well as other parts of the world."

Read the full Nashville Post story here.

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