Universal Church of the Kingdom of God

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Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Portuguese)
Catedral universal.jpg
Headquarter of UCKG in Brazil.
Classification Christian (Protestant)
Theology Neopentecostal
Region ± 200 countries (2012)
Headquarters Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Founder Edir Macedo
Origin July 9, 1977
Official website http://www.universal.org

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG, from Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus [iˈɡɾeʒɐ‿wˌnʲiveʁˈsaw du ˈʁejnu dʒi ˈdews]) is a Pentecostal[1] Christian denomination founded on July 9, 1977 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Bishop Edir Macedo.

In 1999, the majority of its members lived in Brazil,[2] but it had established temples in the United Kingdom and, since 1992, set up temples in Africa and in India, gaining millions of members overseas. In 1999, it was reported to have more than 12 million members, with 8 million in Brazil.[3][4] By 2013, UCKG had congregations in the United States as well, in Brooklyn, New York City and elsewhere.

The Church has frequently been accused of illegal activities and corruption, including money laundering, charlatanism, and witchcraft, and intolerance towards other religions. It has been subject to bans in several African counties, and was implicated in the murder in Britain of Victoria Climbié, prayed for rather than protected and treated. There have been accusations that the Church extracts money from poor members for the benefit of its leaders.

History[edit]

The church was founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, a Brazilian who grew up poor. He began preaching evangelical Christianity on the streets of Río de Janeiro. From the 1990s the Church expanded rapidly; by 2009, there were an estimated 4500 temples in Brazil with more than 8 million members. Church buildings are called temples, and the largest one was inaugurated in 2014. Inspired in the original Solomon's Temple and named after it, it is the largest religious sites in Brazil, capable of holding 11,000 people.[5]

From 1989[edit]

Cathedral of Faith in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

UCKG expanded to Portugal in 1989, which marked the first European location for the UCKG. Their proselytism was aggressive, and they were somewhat successful among the illiterate and people disenchanted with Catholicism. During the 1990s they were very visible and energic and quickly amassed huge profits[citation needed]. In 1995, a scandal ensued after the attempted purchase of the well-known theatre Coliseu do Porto to transform it into a temple. Today, the UCKG has more than 100 temples and about 15,000 members in Brazil. It then began expanding into Eastern Europe.

In 1989 Macedo and the Church purchased Rede Record, which was Brazil's second-largest television network as of 2013.[6] In 2009 the Workers' Party (PT) in Brazil bought advertising from Rede Record, which it had formerly limited to Catholic publications[dubious ], in new venues, and paid for public service messages in UCKG media outlets.

The church identifies with Prosperity Theology, and in the late 1990s started trying to change its image of being associated with only the poorest people. In 1998 Macedo appointed his nephew Marcelo Crivella as Bishop. Crivella said, "We want to win the middle class."[3] In 1992, Crivella began a mission in Africa, resulting in the creation of multiple UCKG temples. Crivella returned to Brazil in 1998, and was given a four-bedroom condominium in an exclusive development, where Macedo also lives. He is married to Sylvia Jane, with three children who attend a Methodist school in Río de Janeiro.[3]

Some observers of the time thought that Crivella was being promoted as a competitor to the popular Catholic priest-singer, Marcelo Rossi, who had sold over 4 million albums.[3] In 1999 Crivella was reported to have signed a contract with Sony Music to make three albums, one in Spanish. The first CD, The Messenger of Solidarity, sold 1.3 million copies that year.[3]

Crivella was the only pastor whom Macedo authorized to hold large events in stadiums. He has been effective at attracting crowds: the first time appearing at the Nilson Nelson gymnasium in Brasilia, with a capacity for 25,000 people; he filled the Estádio Fonte Nova in Salvador, and the Mineiro in Belo Horizonte. In October 1999, Crivella packed the Maracanã in Río de Janeiro. By the end of that year, Crivella planned to have sung "in the largest football stadiums in the country" according to weekly news magazine Veja.[3]

Political participation[edit]

In 2002 Bishop Crivella ran successfully for federal Senator from the state of Río de Janeiro, as a candidate for the Liberal Party.

In 2005 he was among the founders of the Brazilian Republican Party, and switched his affiliation. The party has been described as a vehicle to run candidates for the UCKG[citation needed]. Vitor Paulo dos Santos is head of the party. Other prominent members are Bishop Edir Macedo of the UCKG, José Alencar, former Vice President; and journalist Celso Russomanno.[7]

Crivella also ran for mayor of Río de Janeiro in 2004 and 2008, both times unsuccessfully, and for governor of the state of Río de Janeiro in 2006.

The church's influence[edit]

The church's continuing growth and controversies since Macedo purchased Rede Record have resulted in frequent media attention. In addition, claims against the church and government efforts related to other investigations have caused review of its operations.

Reports in 2009 from a Brazilian governmental investigation of money laundering estimated that the Church received USD $1.4 billion per year in tithes, collected in 4,500 temples in 1,500 cities in Brazil. From 2003 to 2008, deposits for the Universal Church of the Kingdom God in Brazil reached R $3.9 billion.[8]

Doctrines[edit]

Most UCKG doctrines are the same as most conservative Evangelical-Pentecostal doctrines. Specific doctrines include belief:[9]

  • That the baptism of the Holy Spirit empowers believers for service and endows them with supernatural gifts.
  • That ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are divinely ordained.
  • That Jesus Christ appointed two ordinances to be observed as acts of obedience:
    • immersion of the believer in water (baptism)
    • the Lord's Supper, symbolic of consuming the body and blood of Jesus, in remembrance of his sacrifice and in the expectation that he will return.
  • In divine healing as described in the Christian Bible
  • That people can be sanctified (become holy[10]) during their lifetime.
  • The UCKG does not believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is sufficient enough to work in the congregant's life today, therefore they teach that a member of the church has to 'sacrifice' what he depends on to God through the church (for example, all of their income, savings, etc.) twice a year, they commonly refer this as the "Campaign of Israel."[11]

The UCKG also considers that "hard work, perseverance and faithfulness to God" will produce earnings for people, and that a tithe of expected earnings should be given to the Church,[12][13] a doctrine called prosperity theology. They offer the "promise of the psalm" (Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd): peace, healing, protection, prosperity and favour.[14]

Supporting evidence[edit]

Doctrines are simply stated by the UCKG; no evidence for them, or for any fundamental beliefs, is given.[9] The UCKG Web site lists "case studies", with names but no other identifying information, of people who are reported to have benefited from UCKG membership.[15] Categories are Deliverance, Family Finances, Love Life, Transformation of Life, and Health and Spiritual Healing. A typical example is a man writing that he had a criminal record and was in debt, who thought that the UCKG Campaign of Israel would restore his financial situation, and said that he cleared his debts and changed his character, ultimately being phoned out of the blue by a company who had heard good things about his work, and gave him a responsible, well-paid job, which he considered due to the Campaign. A name and location (Stanford Hill) is given, but no other supporting information.[16]

Controversies[edit]

The church has frequently been accused of illegal activities, including money laundering, charlatanism,[17][18] and witchcraft.[17] Observers are concerned about its intolerance toward other religions and even other Christian denominations, as it has attacked Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, other Protestant and Christian groups, Spiritism, Neo-Paganism, Japanese new religions, Atheism, Agnosticism, homosexuality and especially Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé.[19]

The church is accused of extracting money from its often poor congregants, and using it to enrich UCKG leaders rather than assisting the needy.[18][20] Accusations of charlatanism are the most frequent. The church has been under formal investigation in Belgium.[21] Newspapers in the US, UK, Brazil and Zambia have reported on charges of abuses by the church.[22][23][24][25]

The UCKG says on its website that they have challenged media reporting, and that several times companies have had to retract certain allegations.[26]

Charges of fraud and money laundering[edit]

In August 2009, a judge accepted prosecution charges against Bishop Edir Macedo and nine other UCKG leaders who were charged with fraud against the church and its followers. According to The Guardian, government prosecutors accused the men of laundering more than US$2 billion in donations from 2001 to 2009, and using much of it for personal gain, buying property, jewelry and cars. "A $45m (£27m) executive jet, reportedly owned by Bishop Macedo, has become the most visible symbol of the scandal."[5]

Following a 10-year investigation, the Sao Paulo prosecutor reported the operation works in the following manner: donations were gathered from followers, and placed in private banks in both New York (via Invest Holding, a private lending bank) and London. The money is sent through Cable Invest, a private bank located in the Cayman Islands. Finally it is sent to Brazil though Brazilian lending companies "Cremo" and "Unimetro", lender banks that divide the funds among Rede Record (UCKG owned television network) executives, who in turn supply more money to UCKG officials.[5]

On October 19, 2010, the São Paulo Justice Court (TJ-SP) by a majority vote annulled all charges made by the São Paulo Public Ministry against the UCKG and its principal representatives. The judges ruled that the São Paulo prosecutors did not have jurisdiction to investigate the case, as the accusations were of a type that fell into the federal jurisdiction.[27]

Accusations in the United States[edit]

The UCKG near Houston, Texas was first inaugurated in the Pasadena area in 1992. Within less than a year the organization opened another location in the greater Houston area at North Shepard/Garden Oaks intersection in The Heights area.

Francisco Martinez case: In 1995, Francisco Martinez started out as an energetic member, who decided to volunteer for church activities. He passed out gospel pamphlets to people on the street. Due to his service, the church administration made him a "church collaborator", given him responsibility to do errands under the order of the pastor Carlos Moncada. Martinez was sent to the grocery to buy items to be used in church services, including olive oil. But, the congregation was told it was "Holy Oil" imported from Israel. He bought wooden crosses made by a local shop, and said the church's claimed Holy Water was delivered by trucks labeled as carrying natural spring water.

Martinez contributed to church investments for future projects. In July 1998 he contributed an estimated $30,000 (U.S. Dollars) into a "private" church account; he said that Moncada's administrators promised to pay back all the money in a period of 2 to 6 months, but he never heard from them, nor did he ever receive a call from the bank. He told reporters that the church had pressed him for that substantial "donation".

In February 1999, Martinez filed a lawsuit against the church in a Houston court for an estimated $2.1 million (U.S. Dollars) for the principle, interest and damages. The court ruled in his favor and gave the church 90 days to pay the settlement. By May 1999, the church had paid him $1.4 million of the judgment. In May 2000, Martinez spoke to local media KTRK ABC 13 and KTMD Telemundo 47 (then known as KTMD 48). He said that the church forced him to do illicit acts and non-church related activities that involved money laundering, fraud and "trash talk" related to other members.

When Carlos Moncada was interviewed and questioned about the oil, he said the church used olive oil imported from Israel. Questioned about the use of church collections, he declined to answer. The press has reported the church performs exorcisms for their believers. Martinez says; "That was all drama." Former church members in Houston accused the Houston branch of similar acts. The reports made headlines throughout the United States.

Victoria and Jesus Lorenzo case: Victoria Lorenzo and her husband Jesus were a married couple who joined the Houston UCKG in 1996. When in August 1999 they raised questions with representatives of the state attorney's office about the church's fund-raising tactics, officials said that church members make their donations voluntarily, so there was no legal violation.

Victoria and Jesus Lorenzo left the church in late 1999 after having given $60,000 in a period of 3 years as members of the church. They lost their office-cleaning business and then their home, and had to declare bankruptcy. They complained that in their time of need, the church did not offer them any help.

"Holy Oil of Psalm 23, blessed in six destinations in Israel" as described above was still being used by the UCKG in 2012; it is praised and described as being distributed in London, UK in the UCKG's UK Web site.[14]

In 1992, Bishop Macedo, the founder and leader of the Church, was prosecuted for tax evasion in the state of São Paulo and imprisoned for 11 days.[17] No charges against him were proved and the case was archived.[28]

Religious conflict with African-Brazilian religions[edit]

Founder priest Edir Macedo and other leaders of the UCKG have several times been accused of promoting hate against African-Brazilian religions such as candomble and umbanda [29] In 2005, Brazilian Justice determined that Macedo's book Orixás, Caboclos e Guias: Deuses ou Demônios? should be removed from stores due to its hateful content [30][31] One year later, the ban was lifted after the church contested it in Justice, alleging rights to Constitutional freedom of expression.[32]

In July 2013, Evangelical churches which proliferated thanks to UCKG's precedents again appeared in the news after the accusation that drug traffic leaders linked to such churches had been banning the expression of African religions in their "morro" shantytown domains.[33]

Victoria Climbié's death (UK)[edit]

Victoria Climbié was an eight-year-old child whose cruel[34] death in the UK led to major changes in child protection policies. She died from abuse and neglect while living with her aunt Marie-Therese Kouao and the aunt's boyfriend. Victoria was seen by dozens of social workers, nurses, doctors and police officers before she died, and by a pastor of the UCKG, but all failed to spot or stop the abuse. Kouao and her boyfriend were charged with child cruelty and murder. During police interviews, both claimed that Victoria was possessed by evil spirits. They were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.[35] Victoria's murder led to a public inquiry which investigated the role of social services, the National Health Service, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and the police in her death.[35]

In February 2000 UCKG Pastor Álvaro Lima saw the girl and expressed the view that she was possessed by an evil spirit,[35] saying in a written statement to the inquiry that Victoria had told him "that Satan controlled her life, that Satan had told her to burn her body".[36] He advised Kouao to bring Victoria back to the church a week later,[35] saying later he suspected she was being abused, but he did not notify any officials. He prayed for her with an assistant.[36] He saw her again several days later with her mother, and advised Kouao to take the girl to the hospital, where she died of her abuse.[37] The UCKG had been planning to hold a service to "cast out the devil" from her, on the day she died.[37]

Belgian parliamentary inquiry[edit]

In 1997 the Belgian Parliament Inquiry Committee on Cults[38] described the UCKG as a dangerous cult, and recommended its formal proscription. The report said that "[The Church] claims that the Kingdom of God is down here [on Earth] and that it [the church] can offer a solution to every possible problem, depression, unemployment, family and financial problems. In fact, [the UCKG] is apparently a truly criminal association, whose only purpose is enrichment."[39] The Belgian report generated controversy for varied reasons, and the Parliament ultimately rejected most of it.[40]

"Kicking of the Saint"[edit]

Main article: Kicking of the saint

A 1995 incident in Brazil known as the "Kicking of the Saint" attracted unfavorable publicity for the Church.[41] In the early hours of 12 October 1995, a holiday in honor of the national Catholic patron saint Our Lady Aparecida, UCKG's bishop Sergio von Helde kicked, slapped, and insulted a statue of the saint in a broadcast on UCKG-owned Rede Record (Record TV). In response, there were violent public protests and bomb threats against UCKG temples.

Von Helde was charged with violating a law that forbids "public discrimination and contempt against another religion", and was criticised by the President. He fled the country. He was later tried and convicted of religious discrimination and desecration of a national sacred treasure; he was sentenced to two years in prison.[42] Edir Macedo apologized for von Helde's actions, but accused Rede Globo, the nation's largest television network, of "manipulating public sentiment" by repeatedly showing a video of the incident.[43]

Accusations in African countries[edit]

In 1998, UCKG was banned from Zambia under the accusation of "unchristian practices". The ban was lifted after the church appealed to the Supreme Court. In November 2005, it was again banned from Zambia under the accusation of promoting satanic rituals.[44] The ban was again lifted after appeal to Justice.[45] Zambia is a Christian country by law.

Also in 2005, UCKG was banned from Madagascar, after members were arrested for burning Bibles in public.[46] The church was banned with the argument that it had been licensed in 1998 as a "foreign society" and not a "cult society".

UCKG was banned from Angola in February 2013 after an incident at the Citadela Desportiva in December 2012, which resulted in the death of several people.[47] The Aid Organs of the Presidency of the Republic recommended also that other churches like the “Igrejas Mundial do Poder de Deus”, “Mundial do Reino de Deus”, “Mundial Internacional”, “Mundial da Promessa de Deus”, “Mundial Renovada" and "Igreja Evangélica Pentecostal Nova Jerusalém”, which are still to be recognised by the Angolan State[48] be banned. In Brazil, those news were published along with a "response" from the local religious leaders.[49]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ uCKG Web site: "a Pentecostal church ..."
  2. ^ (BBC News)Latin America: "Brazil's multinational 'commercial church'", BBC
  3. ^ a b c d e f Roberta Paixão, "O sucessor de Edir Macedo" (The successor of Macedo), Veja, 11 March 1999, accessed 24 June 2013
  4. ^ "JACOB, C.R.; HEES, D.R.; WANIEZ, P.; BRUSTLEIN, V. Atlas da Filiação Religiosa e Indicadores Sociais no Brasil, São Paulo: PUC-Rio - Edições Loyola, 2003. ISBN 85-15-02719-4"
  5. ^ a b c Phillips, Tom (2009-08-13), Brazilian evangelical leader charged with fraud, The Guardian (London), retrieved 24 August 2009 
  6. ^ "Igreja também procurou Dilma para manter pacto inalterado", Estado de São Paulo, 25 February 2013 (Portuguese)
  7. ^ "Longe do PP, Celso Russomanno diz que eleitorado de Maluf é bem-vindo". JB. 8 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Policia: "Inquéritos contra a Universal foram arquivados, diz advogado" (Investigations were filed against Universal, says lawyer), Terra, 11 August 2009, 24 June 2013
  9. ^ a b UCKG website, "What we believe" lists many points, most of them common to all Pentecostal doctrines
  10. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.Sanctify: to make (a person) holy, to purify or free from sin
  11. ^ Campaign of Israel
  12. ^ UCKG Web site: Tithers must be like eagles, July 2013 "We are encouraging you to put God to the test and, during this month of July, give the tithe of what you can 'see yourself' earning, as through your hard work, perseverance and faithfulness to God, you believe you deserve."
  13. ^ UKCG Web site: Yellow rose- fo prosperity
  14. ^ a b Web site: Could one drop of oil really make a difference?, 17 May 2012
  15. ^ UCKG Web site, "Case studies"
  16. ^ UCKG: Bailiffs were constantly knocking on my door…
  17. ^ a b c "Igreja in concert: padres cantores, mídia e marketing", by André Ricardo de Souza (in Portuguese). Quote: "in 1992 Edir Macedo was imprisoned accused of charlatanism, quackery, and larceny by fraud"
  18. ^ a b "Prosperity" in the 1990s: Ethnography of the work commitment between worshippers and God in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Scielo (Portuguese)
  19. ^ RELIGION-BRAZIL: "Intolerance Denounced at UN", IPS News
  20. ^ "Ex-Member Bids Farewell To 60G – And Her Faith", New York Post, 23 July 2000, posted at Freedom of Mind
  21. ^ "Belgian Parliamentary Report on UCKG", Apologetics Index {{country data {{{1}}} | flaglink/core | variant = | size = | name = | altlink = men's national floorball team | altvar = floorball }} and (French)
  22. ^ "ONE HELL OF A WAY TO RAISE MONEY - HOLY-ROLLER CHURCH CASHES IN ON FAITHFUL", New York Post, 23 July 2000
  23. ^ "The exorcists", The Guardian, 15 January 2001
  24. ^ brazzil.com: "Praise the Lord and pass the catch-up", Brazzil, 1995
  25. ^ "AFP: Satanism claims lead to riot", Religion News blog, 27 November 2005
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ "Accusations against UCKG recognised as illegal", Universo Politico, 24 October 2010 (Portuguese)
  28. ^ http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/noticias/0,,OI3917867-EI5030,00-Inqueritos+contra+a+Universal+foram+arquivados+diz+advogado.html
  29. ^ cem anos, umbanda ainda sofre preconceito
  30. ^ preconceituoso faz Justiça proibir livro de Edir Macedo|obra=estadao.com.br/|acessodata=14/09/2012
  31. ^ e diretores da Record são processados por descaminho
  32. ^ [2]
  33. ^ [3]
  34. ^ From Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report, cited below: "who ended her days the victim of almost unimaginable cruelty"
  35. ^ a b c d House of Commons Health Committee, The Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report, Sixth Report of Session 2002–03
  36. ^ a b "Pastor prayed for 'possessed' Victoria", BBC, 6 December 2001, retrieved 23 April 2010
  37. ^ a b Victoria's life of horror", BBC, 12 January 2001, retrieved 23 April 2010
  38. ^ .pdf file with text in French and Dutch
  39. ^ [4]
  40. ^ Vote of the Belgian Parliament on the report of the Enquête (Commission) on Cults (pdf), Session of May 7, 1997
  41. ^ "On Faith", Washington Post, 24 November 2006
  42. ^ "Evangelical Christianity thriving in Brazil", Latin American (interdenominational Christian) Missio
  43. ^ Jack Epstein, "A Skirmish in Brazil's Holy War", San Francisco Chronicle, 5 November 1995
  44. ^ "'Satanic' church banned in Zambia". BBC News. 30 November 2005. 
  45. ^ "Zambia 'Satanic' church ban lifted". BBC News. 29 December 2005. 
  46. ^ [5]
  47. ^ [6]
  48. ^ http://www.portalangop.co.ao/angola/en_us/noticias/politica/2013/1/5/Government-suspends-Universal-Church,05a2018b-ebaf-4385-83ca-f2bb935a8759.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  49. ^ [7]

External links[edit]