An arraignment has been scheduled for a metro Atlanta minister and his brother who are accused in an investment scheme.
The Rev. Wiley Jackson, pastor at Gospel Tabernacle Cathedral, and his brother, Rodney, were named in an eight-count indictment in December. Officials say the Jacksons’ company, Genesis LLC., was paid at least $12,000 in investments from two church members since 2002 although the Jacksons were not licensed to sell investment contracts.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the two are set to be arraigned April 12.
Officials have said investors lost their money and Genesis LLC. was not registered with the Secretary of State.
The Smokers Church is not a mere figment of the café owner’s imagination. It was founded in 2001 by Dutch television producer Michiel Eijsbouts. Eijsbouts refers to himself as ‘Pope’ or ‘Smokelighter’ (Rooksteker), and claims his movement has all the marks of a religion.
The church’s website clarifies how it all works. In order to become a member, people need to send a 5 euro note and a handwritten version of the ‘Smokers Oath’, to the church headquarters. That oath pledges allegiance ‘to the Church, its authority and its God, in the Holy Covenant of Smokers’. Subsequently one receives a membership card, that supposedly ‘grants the right to ‘smoke religiously’ anyplace and anytime’.
Although, as such, the ‘religious smokers’ claim a right to smoke anywhere, in practice they only tend to do so at home or in their ‘places of worship’. As you may have guessed, these places of worship are cafés that accede to the Smokers Church, whereupon (only) church members are allowed to smoke on the premises.
In the Netherlands, a few dozen cafés joined the initiative. At least one of those received a fine. However, after the Dutch smoking ban was relaxed in 2010, most of these establishments were no longer covered by the prohibition. At the time, the ban was abolished for small cafés (maximum 70 m2) without staff. In Flanders, aside from the café in Wachtebeke, pubs in Antwerp, Mechelen, and a number other places have also joined the Smokers Church.
Invisible Pink Unicorns
Although the founder of the ‘Church’ formally denies it, it would appear obvious that the Smoking Church is a hoax, like there are many others in the religious sphere. One could think for instance of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or ‘pastafarianism’ (a portmanteau of ‘pasta’ and ‘Rastafarianism’). Within this ‘religion’, the central belief is that an undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster, or ‘noodly master’, created the universe. The deity is usually depicted as a tangled bunch of spaghetti with two meatballs, and eyes on stalks.
A variation of this is the belief in Invisible Pink Unicorns (IPU), whose unparalleled spiritual powers are sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that they are both invisible and pink. According to its founders, the religion is – ‘like all religions’ – based on a combination of faith and logic: that the unicorns are pink, requires a leap of faith, that they are invisible, is based on logic, since one is obviously unable to see them.
Both of the aforementioned parodies have been devised in order to counteract the influence of existing religions on politics and education. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, for instance, was invented in response to the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education to permit the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. In a satirical open letter to the Board, one Bobby Henderson demanded that the belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster would be allotted equal time in the classrooms, alongside ID and evolution. Since that time, ‘pastafarianism’ has taken on a life of its own.
The Smokers Church seems to fit in a somewhat different category of hoax religions: one aimed at obtaining privileges and/or circumventing regulations. Another example of this is the Missionary Church of Kopimism (‘copy-me-ism’), that extolls file sharing as a religious experience, seeking to justify it under that pretext. It holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V to be its sacred symbols, and its followers dress up as pirates. The religion has been officially recognized in Sweden, although the country has not legalized its ‘rite’ for the time being. It is possible however for the religion’s ordained priests to solemnize marriages.
It’s not surprising McDonald would take that line. Across the country, Catholic schools are being shuttered as more and more parents realize that the public schools are doing a good job and that the money they’re spending on Catholic school tuition might be better socked away in a college fund.
Church officials are essentially seeking a taxpayer-funded bailout for their flagging school system – a system that even many church members have decided they don’t want to patronize. One wonders if McDonald has ever heard of the law of supply and demand?
The issue of accountability is also interesting. My guess is that, given the religious make-up of Tennessee, many of the schools taking part in a voucher plan will be aligned with fundamentalist Christianity. What type of science will these schools teach? What type of history? How will the students who attend them perform on standardized tests? Will they be able to get into colleges?
But the elephant in the room is Islamic schools. Will the state fund those as well with its vouchers?
Beth Harwell, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, was asked about this recently by the Marshall Tribune. One gets the impression that Harwell was a bit uncomfortable answering the question.
‘I think it would be a constitutional issue,’ Harwell said. She added, ‘It is one that we would have to weigh very carefully as a legislature.’
Still fumbling, Harwell then said, ‘I think that, in itself, causes real alarm in the halls of the legislature. Having said that, I think we will seriously look at vouchers…. All those concerns are valid ones, legitimate ones. There is no easy answer.’
Alarm bells? Do you think? This is the state, after all, where residents actually went to court to try to stop a mosque from opening in Murfreesboro.
And don’t think this is a theoretical matter. Two Islamic schools in Washington, D.C., have received taxpayer funding under House Speaker John Boehner’s federally funded voucher program for the District of Columbia. Courts have been clear on this matter: Benefits that are extended to one religion must be made available to all.
Harwell says they is no ‘easy answer’ to problems like this. Sure there is: Don’t pass a voucher plan. Focus funding on public schools. If some of the public schools are experiencing problems, give them the support and resources they need to improve.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint alleging that a businessman ran a Ponzi scheme that targeted church investors, including members at Lithonia-based New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Atlanta, accuses Ephren W. Taylor II, the former CEO of City Capital Corp., of operating a scheme to swindle more than $11 million from predominately African-American church congregations. The SEC complaint follows a suit filed by some New Birth members last year in DeKalb County that named Taylor, the church and its pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, concerning an investment seminar Taylor conducted at the church in 2009.
The SEC complaint alleges that investors’ money was used to pay rent, payroll and expenses at City Capital’s various affiliates. It also alleges that while some of the money was used as promised, Taylor secretly diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars that he used to publish and promote his books, pay credit card bills and rent for his New York apartment, and fund his wife’s singing career.
The complaint, which identifies Taylor as a “self-proclaimed social capitalist,” also names City Capital and Wendy Jean Connor, the firm’s chief operating officer until November 2010.