Cruelty, Crime and Abuse in the Name of Jesus

It never seems to stop

How does religion get away with it? It relies on the ignorance, gullibility and, yes, the complacency of those are committed to piety. And the consequences can be calamitous. In an article I posted here in January, Humanity’s Urgent Need to Outgrow Religion, I mentioned the plan to spend big bucks to build what amounts to a theme-park at the supposed site of Jesus’ baptism—but the developers have been careful not to call it a theme park. It’s a scam, a prank, a joke, because nobody knows where Jesus was baptized, in fact the gospel of John omits any mention of Jesus setting foot in the River Jordan. Yes, John the Baptist is there, but mainly to announce that Jesus is the “lamb of God who takes way the sins of the world.”  


But a baptism theme-park is a minor offense. We keep being hit with news about the cruelties, crimes, and abuses done in Jesus’ name. Three headlines of recent vintage illustrate the ongoing problem.



The New York Times, 14 May 2023: He told followers to starve to meet Jesus. Why did so many do it? by Andrew Higgins. This happened in Kenya, when members of a cult founded by Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, “a former taxi driver turned televangelist” urged his followers to flee to Shakahola, “an evangelical Christian sanctuary from the fast-approaching apocalypse.” 

“Instead of a haven, however, the 800-acre property, a sun-scorched wasteland of scrub and spindly trees, is now a gruesome crime scene, scattered with the shallow graves of believers who starved themselves to death — or, as Mr. Mackenzie would have it, crucified themselves so that they could meet Jesus.” 

The article notes that, so far, 179 bodies have been found, and many people are still missing.  

“Mr. Mackenzie’s journey from destitute taxi driver to cult leader with his own television channel began in 2002 in a stone courtyard opposite a Catholic primary school in Malindi.” 

“Evangelical Christianity and freelance preachers have surged in popularity across Africa, part of a religious boom on the continent that stands in stark contrast to the rapid secularization of former colonial powers like Britain, which governed Kenya until 1963. About half of Kenyans are evangelicals, a far higher proportion than in the United States.” 

Mr. Mackenzie “…said that he would stay alive to help lead his followers to ‘meet Jesus’ through starvation but that once this work was done, he, too, would starve himself to death ahead of what he said was the imminent end of the world.” 

But guess who is still alive and under arrest! The venality of Mackenzie is clear from his story reported in the article. We can suspect that he promoted the scam without really believing it himself. Do Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen, who have become super wealthy through their “ministries,” really believe what they’re preaching? Whatever the case, they have discovered that ancient superstitions about meeting savior-Jesus work. The most natural thing in the world is that people are afraid of death—and this fear is so easily exploited. Thousands of religions have promoted so many different gimmicks to get out of dying, and the apostle Paul especially pushed the idea that Jesus would arrive on the clouds soon to rescue those who believe. It is no benefit whatever to humanity—now, in 2023—that so many minds are captive to goofy ideas: about half of Kenyans are evangelicals! 


How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Homophobia Flourish in AfricaAnti-gay sentiment had previously existed on the continent, but white American religious groups have given it a boost, by Nigerian journalist Caleb Okereke,, 19 March 2023.

In the U.S., evangelicals have faced considerable pushback in their hostility to gay people, whose battle cry has become, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not taking it anymore.” This resistance to hatred and abuse culminated in the Marriage Equality ruling by the Supreme Court in 2015. But conservative have the Bible on their side—they’re sure of it—because of the so-called clobber verses that show for sure that their god hates homosexuality. And armed with that certainty, some evangelicals saw Africa as a venue for advancing anti-gay hatreds and abuse. 

Full disclosure here: I am gay, and just this week my husband and I celebrated our 45th anniversary. I realized my orientation as a teenager, and was curious to know how that had happened. My father was a doctor, and among his books I found Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. There were the statistics, i.e., maybe five percentage of males are homosexual. No condemnation, no scolding: just the facts of the matter. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic Manual because evidence was lacking that same-sex attraction is a disorder. Therapists should focus on helping their clients achieve productive lives acknowledging same-sex attraction. 

Despite what we now know—after exhaustive study—about homosexuality, evangelicals are sure it’s a moral evil, and irrationally champion the few Bible verses that seem to make their case, e.g. Leviticus 20:13 and Paul’s condemnation in Romans 1:26-27. They have their blinders on: they don’t follow most of the other laws in Leviticus, and they laugh off Paul’s advice to heterosexual couples: “…it is best for a man not to touch a woman…” (1 Corinthians 7:1) and “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).   

Caleb Okereke’s article calls attention to the lies and misinformation perpetuated by the anti-gay campaign in Africa: “It has deep links to white evangelical Christianity and is an export of a made-in-the-USA movement and ideology that is polarizing African countries and harming and endangering LGBTQ+ people.” The article concludes:

“Proponents of ex-gay and anti-gay philosophies depend on the permanence of gay people for their message to be relevant. They require an enemy for their fight to be valid, and they go to great lengths to construct this enemy as a well-funded and all-powerful foreign movement while falsely presenting the local anti-gay movement as a grassroots underdog, despite its heavy reliance on U.S. evangelicals for publicity.” 

This certainly qualifies as cruelty and abuse in the name of Jesus. How we wish evangelical would grow up. They zealously promote hate under the guise of love.


Sex Abuse in Catholic Church: Over 1,900 Minors Abused in Illinois, State SaysA new report by the attorney general of Illinois covering decades names more than 450 credibly accused sexual abusers, including priests and lay religious brothers, by Ruth Graham, 23 May 2023, The New York Times.

It’s a mystery to me that membership in the Catholic Church isn’t down to zero by now. These headlines have become routine for a long time, prompting Richard Carrier’s verdict:

“In actual fact the Catholic Church 
is an international rape factory. And has been for decades; possibly untold centuries. Religious belief not only allowed that to happen, it is still allowing it to happen, as believers refuse to leave the church, refusing to effect any substantive reform that would prevent it, refusing to find a less deadly and destructive religion to believe in and support.” (What’s the Harm: Why Religious Belief Is Always Bad, 10 September 2018)

Why in the world do believers refuse to leave the church? In the wake of this crime, cruelty, and abuse, Catholic churches in Illinois should now be empty. I have argued that, from the very first week of his papacy, beloved Pope Francis should have been holding weekly press conferences to let the world know exactly what has been accomplished to put an end to priests raping children: 

·      This is how many priests have been handed over to the police. 

·      This is how we have upgraded recruiting and training practices to screen for pedophiles. 

·      This is what we have done to ensure that criminal priests are not transferred to other parishes. 

Above all

·      This is what we have done to teach priests about human sexuality. 

In his book, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, Frédéric Martel notes that young men who loath their same-sex orientation opt for the priesthood to avoid suspicion. As soon as their decision is announced, questions about “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” cease. But how do they not perceive what a huge mistake it is to opt to live in an all-male environment! Martel demonstrates (based on four years of research and interviews) that so many of the gays in the Vatican itself are virulently homophobic. This was sustained especially by popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, who brought their own versions of gay-hate with them to the Vatican from Poland and Germany. Even now the Vatican describes homosexuality as an intrinsic disorder.

So the pressure is there—for priests everywhere—to keep a lid on it, to follow the supposed ideal of Paul, “…those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” But this doesn’t work, hence children, for whom priests are ultimate authority figures, become the victims. How do priests explain to children what they’re about to do? “Don’t worry, Jesus is okay with this.” Do they clear their own consciences by going to confession?

Not that all priests are closeted gays, but even the straight priests who have sworn vows of celibacy become aware that keeping a lid on it is an unnecessary torment. Hence priest-on-priest action happens as well, as Tom Rastrelli documents in his book, Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary.

By the way, in this context, “playing dress up” is not a best practice. What are they playing at? Trying to dazzle the folks who show up at church? Creating a distraction? The Vatican—to set an example for priests everywhere—should tone down theatrical ritual and absurd costuming. Its motto should not be, “There’s no business like show business.” The reputation of the Catholic church has been damaged severely, and it

cannot be repaired by the over-the-top worship outfits: get back to the reality of child abuse that needs to be eliminated. And oh—here’s a thought—pay attention to the Jesus-script in the Sermon on the Mount about not giving much thought to what to wear: “
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29). Yet the Vatican seems determined to outdo Solomon is all his glory. But instead they have accumulated so much shame.


David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 


His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


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