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)
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God


LocationRio de Janeiro, Brazil
DenominationPentecostal, Evangelical
WebsiteUCKG official English language website
Clergy
Senior pastor(s)Edir Macedo
 
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Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Portuguese)
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God


LocationRio de Janeiro, Brazil
DenominationPentecostal, Evangelical
WebsiteUCKG official English language website
Clergy
Senior pastor(s)Edir Macedo

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG, from Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, pronounced: [iˈgɾeʒɐ wˌnʲiveʁˈsaw du ˈʁejnu dʒi ˈdews], also known as UCKG HelpCentre) is a Pentecostal Christian organisation established in Brazil on July 9, 1977, with a presence in many countries. According to church sources as reported in Brazilian magazine Veja, in 1999 the UCKG had 12 million members worldwide, of which 8 million in Brazil, with 5,000 churches and 20,000 pastors there.[1][2] Church sources from 2003 indicate a worldwide membership of about 2 million, over 90% of which in Brazil.[3]

Contents

History

From the UCKG website

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was formed in 1977 in Brazil. It owes its origins to an evangelistic programme conducted by Bishop Robert McAlister, a Canadian missionary in the Pentecostal tradition. The church's spiritual leader, Edir Macedo is a former Brazilian national lottery employee and disillusioned Catholic who began his ministry in mid 1977 by preaching on a weekly radio show, according to Brazilian press reports.

Macedo went on to found UCKG. He started to hold services under a small park shelter in Rio de Janeiro and later used cinemas and local halls to draw in congregants and shortly afterwards a funeral parlour.

Further church openings followed and the movement expanded across Brazil. As of 2010 there are about 5000 UCKG Churches in Brazil. Its headquarters in Rio de Janeiro can accommodate 12,000 people.

Following an exploratory visit to the United States, the UCKG was established in New York in 1986, expanding later to other US cities.

The UCKG then opened churches in other countries in the Americas including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala, Ecuador, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana. In Europe, it established congregations in Germany, United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and Latvia. In Africa, churches were formed in Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, Uganda, Botswana, and other countries. In Asia, churches exist in in India, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Japan (where the first 24-hour church is based). There is also a branch in New Zealand and Australia. Today the UCKG is present on almost 200 countries having started to establish in Muslim countries like Senegal where churches suffer constant attacks.[4]

Other history

In addition to many radio stations in Brazil, Portugal, Angola, South Africa and in many South American and African countries, in the UK the UCKG bought Liberty Radio in 2000.[5] However, it was found to have breached two strict broadcasting rules by broadcasting religious content and giving undue prominence to its owners[6], and the licence for terrestrial broadcasting was not renewed. Liberty Radio continues to be owned by UCKG, but broadcasts on the Internet and satellite only.[7]

In 2010 the UCKG announced plans to build the Templo de Salomão, a 10,000-seat church designed as a replica of the Temple of Solomon.[8]

Doctrines

Most UCKG doctrines are the same as most conservative Evangelical-Pentecostal doctrines. Nevertheless the church openly identifies itself with the Prosperity Theology. Specific doctrines include belief:[9]

Controversies

Many specific criticisms are listed on the Rick A. Ross Institute website.[10] The UCKG's response to some of these issues are on its website.[11]

Throughout its history the church has been charged with immoral and illegal deeds, including money laundering, charlatanism,[12][13] witchcraft,[12] and intolerance toward Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, other Protestant and Christian groups, Spiritism, Neo-Paganism, New Japanese Religions, Atheism, Agnosticism, homosexuality and especially Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions such as Umbanda and Candomblé.[14] The church is accused of extracting money from congregants, who are often poor, and using the money to enrich UCKG leaders instead of distributing it to the needy.[13][15] Accusations of charlatanism are the most frequent. As a consequence of such charges, the church has been under investigation in Belgium.[16][17] There have been detailed reports in the US,[18] UK,[19] Brazil,[20] and Zambia.[21]

According to the UCKG website, media organizations that have made accusations against the Universal Church lost cases and had to retract their allegations.[22] The website says that the Universal Church has been found innocent in cases around the world, in New Zealand,[23] the United Kingdom,[24] and the Netherlands. A TV station there lost its case and had to pay the court expenses of €102,978 and was threatened with a fine of €250,000 if it chose to ever speak against the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.[25] The website says that the Universal Church is committed to transparency and building good relationships with the media.[26]

Charges of fraud

According to the Brazilian press, a judge has accepted prosecutors' claims that the founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and nine other leaders took advantage of their position to commit fraud against the church and its followers. Prosecutors accuse the leader of the church, Bishop Edir Macedo, and nine other church leaders of laundering more than US$2 billion in donations from 2001 to 2009. It is believed through federal government reports that the money that is given by the followers is gathered, used and placed in private banks in both New York (via Invest Holding, a private lending bank) and London. The money is then 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 of which then are in charge to split the money to Rede Record (UCKG owned television network) executives who then supply more money to UCKG officials.[27] In October 20, 2010 the São Paulo Justice Court (TJ-SP), made null all accusations made by the Public Prosecuters against the UCKG[28]

Accusations in the United States

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

The Francisco Martinez case:

In 1995, Francisco Martinez first started out as an energetic member, who decided to volunteer for church activities such as holding "reach outs" to people in public and handing out gospel pamphlets. In mid 1997 the church administration decided to move him up making him a church collaborator. Martinez began running errands under the order of then pastor Carlos Moncada. In those errands Martinez was sent to the grocery supermarket and was given a list of items for church services. One of those items was olive oil, which the congregation was told was "Holy Oil" imported from Israel. Other items he was to purchase were wooden crosses ordered from a wood shop in the local area and Holy Water, for which he claims they had shipping trucks deliver natural spring water.

Martinez then contributed to church investments for future projects. In July 1998 he contributed an estimated $30,000 (U.S. Dollars) into a "private" church account and claims that Moncada's administrators promised to pay back all the money in a period of 2 to 6 months but Martinez himself was not notified either by Moncada or his administrators neither did he ever receive a call from the bank. As time passed, he then talked with reporters claiming that it was the church that was putting pressure on him in order to unpocket the money and not that of a "well intended" donation. It was not until February 1999 that Martinez filed a lawsuit against the church in a Houston court for an estimated $2.1 million (U.S. Dollars). The church was given an ultimatum of 90 days to pay the money to Martinez and by May 1999 the church could only give him $1.4 million dollars back (perhaps much less). In May 2000, Martinez spoke to local media KTRK ABC 13 and KTMD Telemundo 47 (at the time still known as KTMD 48) revealing that the church forced him to do illicit acts and non-church related activities that clearly involved money laundering, fraud and "trash talk" in reference to other church members. However, Carlos Moncada was interviewed and questioned about where was the oil purchased yet his answer was; "We order pure imported olive oil from Israel". Then he was questioned about the church collection (cash donations/offerings) and its destination, his answer was; "That I cannot answer at this moment". Other things pointed out to media were about the cast-outs (exorcisms) of evil spirits in their believers. Martinez says; "That was all drama". Other church members (who then abandoned the church) accused the Houston branch of similar acts. These accusations made headlines throughout the United States.

Victoria and Jesus Lorenzo case:

Victoria Lorenzo and her husband Jesus Lorenzo were a married couple and first joined the church in February 1996. The couple were members of the UCKG at the same Houston Heights area subsidiary. When in August 1999 they raised questions about the church's fund-raising tactics, the state attorney's office said it found itself powerless to act because church members make their donations voluntarily.

"There is nothing we can do legally," said Heather Browne, state's attorney spokeswoman. "There's a problem here - but we cannot legally sue."

Victoria and Jesus Lorenzo left the church in late 1999 after giving $60,000 (in a period of 3 years while being members with the church). They lost their office-cleaning business and their home later going bankrupt.

"They left us in the street," said Victoria Lorenzo. "It got to the point that we had to give them all our money - literally they were asking members in the church to empty their pocketbooks on the altar."

Ex-church volunteer Ludy Karr of Houston admitted she scammed followers by buying olive oil from the local supermarket that pastors then claimed to churchgoers was blessed, and had come from Israel.

"When I asked the pastor about it, he said I had the devil inside me and that I was being taken over by evil spirits," said Karr.

Tax evasion

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 in 1992.[12]

No charges against him were ever proved and the case was archived[29] as it was felt within the church that this action was politically motivated.[30]

Victoria Climbié's death (UK)

Victoria Climbié was an eight-year-old child whose cruel death led to major changes in child protection policies in the UK. 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 the UCKG, but all failed to spot and stop the abuse as she was slowly tortured to death. 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 sentenced to life imprisonment.[31]

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.

On 19 February 2000 Victoria was taken by Kouao to the UCKG on Seven Sisters Road. The pastor, Álvaro Lima, told the inquiry that he suspected she was being abused. He said that Victoria told him that Satan had told her to burn herself. According to the inquiry report "Pastor Lima expressed the view that Victoria was possessed by an evil spirit and advised Kouao to bring Victoria back to the church a week later".[31] Lima decided to pray and fast with an assistant; he did not call the police, hospital or social services, and took no further action.[32]

On 24 February 2000 Kouao took Victoria back to the UCKG, where Pastor Lima advised them to go to hospital and called a taxi;[31] when she arrived at the hospital her temperature was 27 °C (normal temperature is about 36 °C). She died the following day—the same day the UCKG was planning to hold a service of deliverance for her to cast out the devil.[33] A post-mortem examination found 128 injuries on all parts of her body; the pathologist reported that it was the worst case of deliberate harm to a child he had ever seen.[31]

Belgian parliamentary inquiry

In 1997 the Belgian Parliament Inquiry Committee on Cults[34] labeled the UCKG as a dangerous cult. The report further alleged that "[The Church] claims that the Kingdom of God is down here and that it 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."[35] The Belgian report itself generated controversy for varied reasons and the Parliament ultimately rejected most of it.[36] Subsequently the UCKG won a legal case against the State of Belgium in respect of allegations which were made in a 1997 parliamentary investigation.[37] The government admitted making an error to include the Universal church in the investigation.[38]

The "Kicking of the Saint"

An incident involving the UCKG in Brazil is known as the "Kicking of the Saint."[39] In the early hours of October 12, 1995—a holiday in honor of national Catholic patron saint Our Lady Aparecida—UCKG's bishop Sergio von Helde kicked, slapped, and insulted a statue of the saint on UCKG-owned Rede Record (Record TV), leading to violent 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, and was later found guilty of religious discrimination and desecration of a national sacred treasure and sentenced to two years in prison.[40] Edir Macedo apologized for von Helde's actions, but blamed Rede Globo—the nation's largest television network—for "manipulating public sentiment" by repeatedly showing a video of the pastor kicking the saint.[41]

References

  1. ^ ABN News (Brazilian News Agency) through PADOM website - Igreja Universal completes 32 years old present in almost 200 countries - 2009
  2. ^ http://veja.abril.com.br/031199/p_044.html
  3. ^ "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"
  4. ^ UCKG Angola Website news
  5. ^ News Article BBC - UCKG buys Liberty Radio (UK)
  6. ^ review, 4th quarter 2000, with details of yellow card to Liberty Radio
  7. ^ http://www.radio-now.co.uk/news123.htm
  8. ^ "Solomon's Temple in Brazil would put Christ the Redeemer in the shade; Huge replica planned for São Paulo would be twice the height of the iconic statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro Tom Phillips, July 21, 2010, The Guardian.
  9. ^ UCKG website, "What we believe" lists many points, mostly those common to all Pentecostal doctrines
  10. ^ Rick A. Ross Institute website: list of articles on UCKG
  11. ^ UCKG: "Misconceptions", responses to criticisms
  12. ^ a b c Igreja in concert: padres cantores, mídia e marketing, by André Ricardo de Souza (in Portuguese): "in 1992 Edir Macedo was imprisoned accused of charlatanism, quackery, and larceny by fraud"
  13. ^ a b "Prosperity" in the 1990s: ethnography of the work commitment between worshippers and God in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (in Portuguese)
  14. ^ RELIGION-BRAZIL: Intolerance Denounced at UN
  15. ^ Freedomofmind.com, from Universal Church of the Kingdom of God - Ex-Member Bids Farewell To 60G – And Her Faith, from New York Post, July 23, 2000
  16. ^ Belgian Parliamentary Report on UCKG (in Flemish and French)
  17. ^ English Translation of Belgian Parliamentary Report on UCKG
  18. ^ New York Post: ONE HELL OF A WAY TO RAISE MONEY - HOLY-ROLLER CHURCH CASHES IN ON FAITHFUL, 23 July 2000
  19. ^ Guardian newspaper: The exorcists, 15 January 2001
  20. ^ brazzil.com: Praise the Lord and pass the catch-up
  21. ^ AFP: Satanism claims lead to riot, 27 November 2005
  22. ^ http://news.uckg.org/2010/misconceptions.html#
  23. ^ http://uckg.org/show_pages.php?tbl_pages_id=PGURL-9dc64f1da7
  24. ^ http://uckg.org/show_pages.php?tbl_pages_id=PGURL-a6e1693af4
  25. ^ http://uckg.org/show_pages.php?tbl_pages_id=PGURL-d3e5c6a068
  26. ^ http://news.uckg.org/2010/press.html
  27. ^ Phillips, Tom (2009-08-13), "Brazilian evangelical leader charged with fraud", The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/13/brazil-evangelical-leader-charged-fraud, retrieved 24 August 2009 
  28. ^ http://noticias.r7.com/brasil/noticias/tribunal-anula-toda-a-acusacao-do-ministerio-publico-estadual-contra-a-universal-20101020.html
  29. ^ http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/noticias/0,,OI3917867-EI5030,00-Inqueritos+contra+a+Universal+foram+arquivados+diz+advogado.html
  30. ^ http://news.uckg.org/2010/myth4.html
  31. ^ a b c d House of Commons Health Committee, The Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report, Sixth Report of Session 2002–03
  32. ^ Pastor prayed for 'possessed' Victoria, BBC, 6 December 2001, retrieved 23 April 2010
  33. ^ Victoria's life of horror", BBC, 12 January 2001, retrieved 23 April 2010
  34. ^ .pdf file with text in French and Dutch
  35. ^ [1]
  36. ^ Vote of the Belgian Parliament on the report of the Enquête (Commission) on Cults (pdf), Session of May 7, 1997
  37. ^ UKCG website on Belgian legal case
  38. ^ http://uckg.org/show_pages.php?tbl_pages_id=PGURL-f804ec7a50
  39. ^ Washington Post "On Faith"
  40. ^ Latin American (interdenominational Christian) Mission: Evangelical Christianity thriving in Brazil
  41. ^ "A Skirmish in Brazil's Holy War" by Jack Epstein in the San Francisco Chronicle

External links