Adherents – a bigoted website ?
Talk among some at the Assemblies of God Fine Arts Festival in Orlando last summer centered on the growing influence of what some see as a bigoted online website which seems bent on destroying their denomination. Selected entries, false information, censored material and a failure to respond to corrections dominated the complaints. “If there is anyone controversial, with any remote connection to the Assemblies of God, they will post their name,” a denominational leader explained to me, “if there is anyone positive, they will omit it.”
Numerous controversial, independent Pentecostals, some of whom spent less than three years in the Assemblies of God are listed but Sarah Palin, who grew up in the denomination all her life is not. In fact, rather than be forced to list Palin as a member of the denomination Adherents fails to list her at all. Palin, who appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, is regularly mentioned as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Meanwhile, the Jonas Brothers, who grew up in an Assemblies of God home and who performed at the very Fine Arts Festival I spoke of, and whose father was an Assemblies of God pastor and now their business manager, are not listed. I guess the Jonas Brothers aren’t famous enough.
Most serious of all is the charge that Adherents allows persons of one faith to use the website to attack persons of other faiths and with false information. According to this charge, enemies of the Assemblies of God are turned loose to attack without correction or oversight for their sources. While the site promises that “we are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections…” repeated attempts to correct false information have remained unanswered for many months.
While posts for other religious groups include input from their leaders and officials, the post on the Assemblies of God does not. “They don’t even do a spell check for our entry,” a pastor told me in Orlando. For example, Adherents posts a link to “Famous Mormons,” a site ran by the Church itself. The site is careful to respect non Christian faiths. According to Adherents there are now 5.6 million Jews in the United States and more than 13 million worldwide. Its site now rates more than 9,000 famous Jews. Meanwhile, Adherents says there are 2.8 million members of the Assemblies of God in America and 52.5 million worldwide, making it the fourth largest Christian religious body and yet it lists only 31 famous members almost all of them negative. Adherents lists close to 100 famous members of the Christian Scientist denomination, all positive. Its list of “Famous Catholics” numbers beyond 20,000.
Included in the lists of other denominations but missing for the Assemblies of God are the founders of the Church and all major ecclesiastical leaders. Adherents ignores the A-G General Superintendent and Mission’s Director. C. M Ward is not famous enough for the website. Ward was a friend of presidents. His ABC radio show lasted 25 years and rivaled Paul Harvey for audience size. His books line the shelves of pastors’ studies worldwide. Thomas F. Zimmerman, who led the denomination for almost 30 years is not mentioned. Don Argue, friend of the Clintons, who was president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was appointed to the United States Commission on Religious Freedom or Jerry Rose who served as President of the National Religious Broadcasters Convention are likewise considered unworthy by Adherents.
In general, names on Adherents Assemblies of God “Famous List” must have been the subject of negative publicity or conform to a rigid right wing, Republican stereotype. The talented, Joshua Dubois, a member of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, a small, predominantly black denomination, was Barack Obama’s choice to direct the Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a White House position. He is ignored by Adherents.
My interest was piqued by my own entry. I had left the Assemblies of God 25 years before. When I organized the Charity Awards, receptions held in the White House, six first ladies and presidents serving as honorary chairperson, spinning off Mercy Corps as a prominent worldwide charity, Adherents ignored me. As they should have, I had not been a part of the A-G for much of my adult life. And as a presidential advisor, serving in the White House they continued to ignore me. When I wrote New York Times bestselling books and appeared on dozens and dozens of television shows there was nary a mention. Appropriately so. But suddenly, when the Bush taping controversy erupted, presto, I appeared as a “famous member of the Assemblies of God” on Adherents, even though my link to the denomination was 25 years cold.
The site about me was written by a person of another religion who attacked my motives and implied that I made money. What is interesting is that my accuser was herself embroiled in scandal and forced to withdraw as a nominee to the George W. Bush cabinet. None of her controversy appears on her own Adherents site, she is in one of their “protected” religions. As to her information and implications? They are false. I took no money from the taping controversy, went off television for six months, took no related speaking fees or book royalties, nor have I since published a book.
All of this raises the question, who is behind Adherents? Who runs its vitriolic Assemblies of God pages? Speculation in Orlando centered on enemies of Pastor Karl Strader, who were seeking revenge online. Others suggested that it was a writer for an independent Charismatic magazine with a denominational vendetta. (Highly unlikely, since the pages are riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings.)
Meanwhile, irritated by its critics, who hound Google and other search engines with complaints about the bigotry, Adherents only rubbed salt in the wounds by appending to their list of famous church members the following disclaimer. “[Note: Although some observers may consider the history of the Assemblies of God to be tainted by such famously scandalized televangelists as Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Gene Scott, and others, we would urge people to not judge the denomination only by these famous few. Although the denomination has more than its share of unsavory preachers and leaders, the general membership of the Assemblies of God is, for the most part, a bastion of strong values and sincere religious commitment. Statistically speaking, Assemblies of God members exhibit a higher than averge (sic) commitment to Christian living and striving to live ethically.”
According to complaints, the modus operandi at Adherents continues unabated. Duane Chapman, star of the reality show, Dog and the Bounty Hunter, was ignored by Adherents when his show was a hot feature of A&E. Chapman had gained notoriety for hunting down Andrew Luster, the Max Factor heir, who had fled to Mexico after being charged with drugging and raping women. When Mexican officials tried to throw Chapman in prison, for violating Mexican extradition laws, bragging that he would not last a year, 15 members of congress and the Secretary of State rushed to his defense. All ignored by Adherents. But when a negative controversy erupted over Chapman’s use of a racial slur Adherents suddenly decided he merited inclusion in their famous members of the Assemblies of God list. Apparently, Chapman, who by his own admission has not been an active member of the denomination, once attended and Assemblies of God Sunday School as a child.
Hmmm, well okay, if Duane Chapman had to be rushed onto the Famous Assemblies of God list for using a racial slur, what about Bernie Madoff, who pulled of the biggest white collar crime in history? Does his name appear among the 9,000 plus “famous Jews” of Adherents. Nope. Not famous enough for Adherents.
Nor does the website, which felt compelled to say that [the Assemblies of God] “has more than its share of unsavory preachers and leaders,” make any mention in its Catholic section on the pedophile crisis that has erupted twice in modern times. Nor are any of the names of the accused priests mentioned among the 20,000 plus “famous Catholics.” In June, 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The so called John Jay Report, which came out of the work of the Conference, found 11,000 allegations against 4,392 priests. Not a mention in Adherents.
The Adherents website, which has ignored repeated attempts to correct inaccuracies and offer some balance, apparently remains committed to the vilification of the Assemblies of God. While other sections have been co-opted by leaders of the religious groups named or have substantial input to guarantee accuracy, or at the very least, employ spell check, Adherents has given its anonymous Assemblies of God editor free reign to vent his or her anger. It is what happens when a website becomes hi-jacked by an agenda.
What can you do?
1.) Register your complaint to Adherents for its bigoted coverage of the Assemblies of God.
2.) Encourage professional, websites such as Wikipedia, which make an effort to get their facts right. Or new religious sites such as Ascension Gateway, which insist on strict factual guidelines, with no theological or socio-cultural agenda.
3.) Register your complaint to Google for giving special status to a site that is inaccurate and bigoted. Not to mention rife with grammatical errors.
While Google does not normally interfere, employees tell me that they sometimes remove special search engine enhancements for sites that are deemed “junky,” inaccurate, libelous or intolerant. Google celebrates diversity, which is what the internet is all about and is sensitive to attacks on gays and other minorities but this includes religious groups, especially if a website is misrepresenting its purpose. Here is a page about how to get things removed by Google: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/topic.py?hl=en&topic=13926