Cults are illegal in the United States

The God state

• Sunday, 10.30 a.m. There is service at the Highland Baptist Church. Already the third on this sunny June morning. After 250 and 300, this time almost 500 believers came. "How wonderful the heart that bled and took away my sins," sings the congregation, "how wonderful the hands that hold the wine and bread." A pink liquid is served in plastic cups; a white pill embodies the body of Jesus.

He is happy, says Mark Wible after the fair, "that friends from Germany have found their way to God". Wible, the parish assistant pastor, is a cheerful, dynamic gentleman. Big and strong as a tree, his handshake feels like a vice. Wible was once a basketball player and at a young age also worked as a trainer in Germany. "You know Oberramstein near Darmstadt? Very pretty." He liked the country, the people. But because he had "already taken Christ to his heart" at the time, he was irritated by the lack of godliness in his host country. "So few churchgoers," remembers Wible, looking a little perplexed, "and I've heard it's not getting better. Why only?" Good question. Although we want to know from Pastor Wible why it is different in America. Nine out of ten Americans believe in God, 83 percent describe themselves as professing Christians, and 38 percent go to church at least once a week. More than half of Americans believe that the Apocalypse of Revelation will come true, and 61 percent believe that God has a solution to all worldly problems.

From that point of view, it's not surprising that Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of The Christ" grossed $ 370 million in the US alone. Christian belief is so ingrained in the nation's consciousness that the Los Angeles Times recently commented: "Nobody who is hostile to religion would ever be elected president here." So far, so clear. Nevertheless, the topic can hardly be grasped. There are countless tendencies among America’s Protestants alone: ​​Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostal Church, Church of God, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Nazarenes, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians. What makes them different? Mostly marginalia, sometimes world views. Sure, in America anyone can be what they like and consequently interpret the Bible or believe what they want. But he can also have his absolution given in mega-churches at mass events that seem like a mixture of a pop concert and a sacred fair. Praise the Lord.

That immigrants have imported every world church and America continually invents its own beliefs, from Mormons to Scientology, only makes it more confusing. Not to mention abstruse cults that commit mass suicide to go into the sky on the tail of a comet.

The Highland Baptist Church is located at 3014 Maple Avenue, Waco. Waco is roughly halfway between Houston and Dallas and is considered the most religious city in America. The buckle on the Bible belt, say the residents of Waco jokingly. Wherever even Christ made a sign of the cross, he would pass. They say there are more churches than bars in Waco. Signs everywhere on the roadside. Jesus saves.

LIFE - A Wonderful Choice.

One proclaims that a good marriage takes three: husband, wife, God. And doesn't George W. Bush, who describes himself as a born again Christian, own a ranch in Crawford, near Waco, where he spends his vacations and holidays? Where else can one research religion in America? Also because the British magazine "The Economist" put forward the thesis some time ago: "If you want to know where America is going, you have to look at Texas." So Waco. You come along Interstate 35, pass the suburbs and shopping malls, and then you see them, behind Exit 335, imposing buildings with neoclassical facades and tapered turrets. They lie between the park and the trees, like a Kremlin without walls. Reverend Daniel Harrison Williams, professor of historical theology, sits at Baylor University and gives a powerful lecture on the ancient thesis paper Ex Corde Ecciesiae, quotes Ignatius of Antiocha and ends up at some point in the 21st century with the slightly irritating statement: "Europe will implode because it is completely devalued of moral identity, no longer in contact with the Bible. " Williams says, "The Bible is the only law because it is the good law." We already know that they take the topic of religion quite seriously in this house, even if it is asserted that the university is primarily a secular educational institution. Baylor University is run by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant community in the United States with 16 million members. And of course Williams' colleague Doug Henry, a very distinguished young man and doctor of philosophy, cannot be persuaded either with the objection that the Holy Scriptures cannot possibly stand above the jurisdiction of a country. But, says Doug Henry, the United States' Constitution and Declaration of Independence were at least based "on the spirit of the Bible." One nation under God. A state created by God, built on the right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Even on the dollar bill it says: In God We Trust.

Could the first settlers have seen anything other than God's gift in the vastness and the boundless resources of the land? The Land of the Chosen? Henry: "For us it is the place on the mountain that Jesus spoke of, the new Jerusalem." He even tries to get the Jews out of Egypt, where immigrants like Amish or Quakers had previously been persecuted for religious reasons. In short, isn't it obvious that, since George Washington, most presidents' speeches on the State of the Union have sounded like prosaic sermons for parts of the time? Henry; "The values ​​of the country are invoked, underpinned by biblical quotations and Christian metaphors, everyone can hear the lofty rhetoric." God bless America. Henry says, "America is religion." Williams adds: "This awareness connects everyone, from the average citizen to the intellectual." "Wait," says Pastor Wible at Highland Baptist Church, "I have a family that you absolutely must meet." And there they sit in an adjoining room: Christopher, called Kit, and Sarah Riehl with the children Anna-Jane, 10, Caleb, 9, and Rachel, 7. He is calm, reserved, a lawyer; she lively, passionate, housewife. Pretty, well-behaved children, extremely smart for their age. The Riehls don't watch TV, except when sports programs are on. The children read novels and children's books from the 1950s. Sarah asks, "Why don't we like Cinderella and Harry Potter?" Caleb: "Because sorcery is the devil's power." They don't celebrate Halloween either. Kit: "Halloween is the world's excuse to flirt with Satan." Sarah says, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Nice people, the Riehl family. Polite, open, patient storytellers. Christian values, they say, call for action. Kit: "You have to stand by what you believe, even if it's not easy." So he'll never join the bar because the position is for the right to abortion. That is why Sarah decided not to pursue a professional career: "When I got pregnant, I no longer needed recognition from the world, only from God and Kit." And that's why their children will never join the Boy Scouts because they talk openly about sex and contraception. That school prayer was scraped up in the US? Scandalous. That the theory of creation has replaced Darwin's theory of evolution in the curriculum? Unacceptable. Sarah asks, "What is abortion?" Rachel replies: "When little babies are made dead ..." The child starts to sob, runs away. Sarah says: "The word of God determines our life." The Riehl family is certainly not representative of all Americans, just as Waco does not represent Texas and Texas does not represent the USA. But the word of God has determined the life of the country more and more since George W. Bush ruled Washington. The President also tirelessly castigates abortion; He wants to prevent same-sex marriages by law; He blocked the expansion of stem cell research because of ethical concerns. And one of his first official acts, Faith Based Initiatives, which donate six billion dollars a year to religious organizations for social and charitable programs, is seen by critics as an unconstitutional amalgamation of state and church. Refrains from Christian hymns can also be found in Bush's speeches, and it sounds a bit like the spirit of the Old Testament when he threatens in the war on terror: "Whoever is not for us is against us." Up until his 40th birthday, Bush was not a man of God, but rather a friend of vice. Filou, poker player, whiskey lover. "The whiskey or me", wife Laura is said to have threatened once. Shortly thereafter, a certain Billy Graham entered Bush's life. That Graham, who has already advised President Nixon, who believes in angels on earth and says things like, "The victorious Christian is called ... to daily devotion to Christ." Graham created the new prototype of the evangelist in the 1950s: modern traveling preachers who reached an audience of millions through television appearances, lecture tours and books. Their messages are mostly simple, their similes taken from everyday life, and their clientele are primarily white, middle class and up. Graham's Evangelistic Association maintains academies for missionaries who flock to all corners of the planet so that in addition to GIs, Lifestyle and Hollywood, the American version of the Trinity can also spread to the world.

Thanks to the evangelists, religion has become a billion dollar business in America. The bestseller lists are full of titles, somewhere between esotericism and pseudotherapy, that propagate dialogue with the Lord. "I am grateful to be a child of God ... I will enjoy myself all day", writes the popular evangelist Joyce Meyer in her book "Starting Your Day Right". Christian music, with similar slogans from booze to hard rock, makes nearly $ 1 billion in annual sales in the United States. In addition to relevant literature, videos and DVDs, the 320 branches of Family Christian Stores also sell baseball caps, stickers ("My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter") and Faith Pops (fruit candies wrapped in Bible quotes).

"Everyone believes they believe," says Philip Posey, "but the question is: do you lead a Christian life?" Posey is the manager of the New Life Center, a home for homeless men on the outskirts of Forth Worth, Texas. The New Life Center is run by a Faith Based Initiative called the Cornerstone Assistance Network. Former alcoholics and drug addicts live in the 18 rooms of the house, who are now supposed to find their way back to a stable life through faith. Although there is only one Bible available in the in-house library, Posey says: "We consider a partnership with Christ to be desirable, lip service does not help." Posey says he spoke to thousands of bums on the street. "All but a handful said they believed in God." And what should he think of the fact that the neighbors, professing Christians, initially protested vehemently against the New Life Center? "I say you will recognize them by their fruits." Posey used to be an investment and tax advisor with his own company. Its customers are wealthy, its annual sales are in the six figures. "But something was wrong," says Posey, "when people came to me, I always felt this inner emptiness, this misfortune." First he decided to become a social worker. He is now studying at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and wants to be a priest. "Christ needs us to continue his spiritual office." Posey complains, "There are millions and millions of Christians and no one makes a difference. We have to get back to the core of the teaching." Because when he looks around, his country seems to him as if it had fallen into the clutches of the devil.The Catholic Church is shaken by rape scandals, the Protestants a patchwork of theses, the evangelists more sellers than heralds. Posey: "Gospel has become a commodity, the message is: Jesus loves you, salvation beckons." This is also Posey's explanation for the boom in mega-churches. In 1970 there were ten of these mostly non-denominational, monumental places of worship, the events of which seem like a mixture of a pop concert and a sacred fair. There are now 842. Three of the six largest are in Texas. Posey considers them to be the result of an increasingly anonymous society that celebrates egoism, has lost contact with others and has become a placebo for religion: "They make it easy for you to feel good and forget your guilty conscience." The largest mega-church in America is the Lakewood Church in Houston. Their church services take place in the Compaq Center, 17,000 seats, which used to be the home of the Houston Rockets basketball players. The 200-strong choir performs between two man-made waterfalls. Lakewood's priest, Joel Osteen, says, "If Jesus were here today, he wouldn't be riding a donkey either, he would be driving a car." That is an excellent picture. The church in America is no longer in the middle of the village, it can be reached via highways, framed by huge parking lots on which neon signs vie for customers. And it often looks like the Highland Baptist Church in Waco. High, bright rooms, blue upholstery, turquoise carpeting, the walls wood-paneled. Pleasant, standardized, fully air-conditioned. After the mass, the churchgoers drive back to the suburbs, where the Riehls also live, uniformed prosperity amid well-tended gardens. There they invite you to a fast-food restaurant with dozens of dishes on the menu. The only difference is that everything tastes similar and when you go out you don't know what you have eaten.

"America," says Posey, "is the Promised Land, but we have grown fat and indolent, and if we do not change we will choke on our blessings." The wind blows through the myrtles. It's a hot day and the wind is strong and dry. Clive Doyle wanders through the man-high grove that was created as a memorial. 82 myrtles for 82 dead. Granite tablets in the dusty ground bear their names, their age, and the date of death: April 19, 1993. John-Mark McBean, 27. Zilla Henry, 55. Margarida Vaega, 47. The sun is vertical. The myrtles bloom pink. Nicole Gent Little, 24, and Aisha Gyrfas Summers, 17, died with their unborn children. Doyle, a native Australian, 63, casual worker with his hands covered in burn scars, is one of nine survivors of a tragedy that has become synonymous with religious fanaticism. Doyle stands in front of the stone slab with the inscription: Shari Doyle, 18. And says: "Why fanaticism? I only believe in God." Doyle is a member of the Davidian Branch, a Seventh-day Adventist faction that at some point made its way near Axtell, Texas, a half-hour drive outside of Waco. The Branch Davidians believed that it was there that God sent a prophet: David Koresh. Doyle values ​​the statement: "A former carpenter." And then he says that in Mount Carmel, as their residential complex was called, they lived in harmony and brotherhood like the apostles, that everything was shared and that Koresh would finish his Revelation Seven Seals.

"Your only Redeemer is my truth," wrote Koresh, drawing with Yahweh (Hebrew for God). In Waco, however, Koresh had the reputation of a tyrant who impregnated teenagers and abused children for no reason. "The Sinful Messiah" was the headline of the "Waco Herald-Tribune". An exchange of fire with government officials attempting to search Mount Carmel resulted in a 51-day siege that ended in a flaming inferno.

The cause of the fire has not yet been fully clarified. The government spoke of mass suicide; Doyle asserts that tanks attacking flammable tear gas had started the fire, which is certainly supported by indications. "Outrageous violence against people of different faiths is rampant in our society," says former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, who represented the Branch Davidian in its unsuccessful lawsuit against the US government. You just have to ask Sarah Riehl what she thinks of the Branch Davidian, then she hisses: "These weirdos dragged the name Waco in the dirt." It's a name steeped in history. During the Civil War, the Confederates recruited 17 companies in the Waco area, seven of their generals came from the city on the Brazos River. More blacks were later lynched in the area than anywhere else in the United States, and the Ku Klux Klan has always been popular.

Michael Lind writes in his book "Made in Texas", the spirit of this region, this mixture of intolerance, warmongering and Christian fanaticism, also determines George W. Bush's politics and endangers "the future of America and possibly the whole world". Bush has filled important positions in the judiciary with religious hardliners, and his Justice Minister John Ashcroft is also considered an arch-conservative fellow believer. Of course, the Bush administration did not step in when a judge refused to have an illegally erected granite stone bearing the Ten Commandments removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building. Meanwhile, the evangelist Franklin Graham discredited the Prophet Mohammed and declared Islam to be an evil religion. Franklin is Billy Graham's son and gave the sermon at Bush's inauguration. When this man announces that he is ready to offer Iraqis "in the name of Jesus our love", a Muslim could take it as a threat.

Is that surrender to Christ? Where are they, the "good, moral, Christian values" that Reverend Williams claims to have recognized in Bush? A president who plans the gradual cuts in welfare and wants to leave the weak to their own devices. As governor of Texas, Bush has executed more people than the rest of his colleagues combined. What about the fifth commandment? Isn't forgiving a Christian virtue? Jurist Kit Riehl says: "Only God can forgive." The Wibles just got back from a youth camp where they convinced seven- or eight-year-old kids to dedicate their lives to Jesus. In addition to all sorts of Bible classes, they also have a mission in the Highland Baptist Church that they call Project White House. Their task is to convert the unbelievers who lived in the so-called 10-40 Window, between the 10th and 40th parallel, between West Africa and Borneo. There, according to Wible, "the ground is hard and parched from the heat of false religions". Iraq is at the center of the 10-40 Window.

Pastor Wible has no problem finding a justification in the Bible even for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the bombardment of civilians, women and children: "There is a prophecy that there must be unrest and war before Christ returns "Terror will shake the earth." His wife Laurie sits next to her and assures: "We all pray for Israel, the Jews have given us God's word, Jerusalem is God's holy city, and he will return there." The fact that Muslims might see things very differently for similar reasons is ignored. Whoever has the best democracy also has the right God. Christianity Today magazine reported extensively in its July issue of atrocities perpetrated by Christians from Nigeria to Nepal. In connection with the torture committed by Christians in Abu Ghreib, she came to the succinct conclusion that there is evil in each of us.

On the way back from Waco to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Black the night and colorful the promise in the labyrinth of the highways with its illuminated product show. Lexus promises luxury. New at Burger King: the Texas Double Whopper. On the car radio, channel 88.3, ​​the program "Family Life Today". The moderator says, "God is watching us and HIM doesn't like what he sees." What does he mean by that? One has to think of Clive Doyle standing in front of the myrtles and saying, "Who can tell me who God is and what he wants from us? Everyone's concept of God is an imagination in our heads." Doyle says: "If you judge David Koresh, you have to see how he lived: He had women, he had a Harley, he was a rock star. He lived the American dream. God sent David to us in the form of Satan, so that he shows us our ugly grimace. " At "Family Life Today" they are now discussing sexual tendencies in young people that need to be stopped. Signposts fly by outside and billboards over and over again. The face of Tiger Woods. The half-naked body of a woman on a lingerie advertisement. The moderator advises parents who cannot convince their children that sex before marriage is a sin; "Listen to the Bible, it's good for you." Asphalt shimmers under dark gray bridges. What was it like what Philip Posey said? "We are either at the beginning of the end or facing a resurrection." And in view of this, you lose your bearings in this jungle of colorful signs and lights. Is that the apocalypse already? Then it comes again, the resolute voice of the presenter on the car radio: "Think of the apostle Paul who says: Imitate me while I follow the path of grace."