Tag Archives: Pentecostal

Spurning Wisconsin offer, Ashley Furniture Industries takes jobs and safety issues to N.C.

Last year, Gov. Scott Walker’s job-creation agency struck a deal with Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. that would have led to a loss of 2,000 jobs.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Walker chaired at the time, offered Ashley a $6-million tax credit in 2014 for agreeing to invest $35 million to expand its headquarters in Arcadia. But, as part of the deal, WEDC accepted the company’s plan to eliminate nearly half its labor force of about 4,000 workers in the state.

Company president Todd Wanek explained that he couldn’t find the kind of skilled workers he needed in the area near the company’s Whitehall plant.

So how could a jobs agency negotiate a deal to kill jobs? It turns out that Wanek and members of his family made donations totaling $20,000 to Walker about two weeks after the deal was struck.

“Pay-to-play certainly comes to my mind and I know I’m not alone,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now. 

According to an investigation conducted by One Wisconsin Now, 60 percent of the companies that received grants from WEDC were Walker contributors.

Better luck down south

Engulfed by bad publicity, Ashley decided to decline the $6-million tax credit and instead looked south.

According to a recent story in Business North Carolina, Ashley plans to create 454 new jobs in that state during the next five years and invest upward of $8.7 million there through the end of 2019, the magazine reported.

Not only did North Carolina get far more jobs than Walker’s team negotiated, but North Carolina appears to have gotten a better overall deal for less money than WEDC was willing to pay. North Carolina offered tax credits of $4.6 million from 2016 through 2027.

According to Business North Carolina, Ashley’s latest deal with the state comes on top of “the initial phase of development where it committed to create 550 jobs and invest $80 million between 2012 and 2015. Ashley exceeded these commitments by creating more than 1,100 jobs.”

Part of the initial phase in North Carolina included job training provided by Ashley to prospective workers.

By comparison, Ashley added 300 employees at its Wisconsin locations in Arcadia and Whitehall through 2014.

“It seems that even after his privatized commerce department agreed to give millions to a company run by his campaign donors, that Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin again,” Ross said. “Rather than create jobs in its home state, the company has decided to cut and run on expanding in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.”

Since the Ashley Furniture scandal, Walker has stepped down as chair of WEDC, which even Republicans have declared a disaster. 

Corporate culture

The case raises a broader question about WEDC’s approach: Is Ashley Furniture the kind of employer that Wisconsin should support?

Earlier this year, Ashley was hit with a $1.8-million fine from the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations in Wisconsin. More than 1,000 worker injuries were officially recorded at the Arcadia plant in three and a half years. All of the incidents were serious enough to have been reported by someone other than the injured employee.

“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a strong statement.

In early 2013, the company came to national attention for a discrimination suit. A lesbian worker sued the Ashley Furniture HomeStore of Secaucus, New Jersey, claiming she was grilled about her religious beliefs and then fired. According to court filings, former employee Isabel Perez said she was told that she didn’t fit in with the company’s “culture.”

Perez said the furniture store’s manager “spoke in tongues,” a state of babbling hysteria induced by religious fervor, which Pentecostal Christians believe is the result of possession by the Holy Spirit. Two managers at the store told Perez that God ordered them to let her go.

The same store was sued in 2013 for alleged harassment of two Muslim employees, who said they were repeatedly accused of being terrorists and were tormented with racial slurs.

The two employees were fired after they complained about the verbal abuse. 

According to the website Back2Stonewall, the Waneks support the Christian-right organization FamilyLife, an anti-gay group that lobbies against same-sex marriage and LGBT civil rights.

Pastor who starred in TV’s ‘Snake Salvation’ dies of snake bite after refusing treatment

Reality TV Pastor Jamie Coots, who starred in the National Geographic show Snake Salvation, died last night from the bite of a rattler after refusing treatment from emergency workers out of deference to God.

The Kentucky Pentecostal preacher, who handled deadly snakes in front of worshippers to demonstrate the power of faith, believed that God made him impervious to the venom of serpents.

Coots, pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., starred in Snake Salvation along with Pastor Andrew Hamblin, who was recently cited for violations related to snake-handling, according WBIR.com.

Cody Winn, another preacher at Full Gospel Tabernacle, told WBIR he was next to Coots when the latter was bitten during the Saturday evening service.

“Jamie went across the floor. He had one of the rattlers in his hand, he came over and he was standing beside me. It was plain view, it just turned its head and bit him in the back of the hand before, within a second,” Winn said.

Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe told WBIR that Coots was found dead in his home at about 10 p.m. on Saturday. Sharpe said emergency workers got to the church after Coots was bitten, but he’d already left. Officials then went to his house but could not get consent to treat him or transport him to the hospital.

Officials said they returned to the home an hour later, but Coots was dead.

Religious extremists fight for control of government

Are Christian extremists trying to take over government?

In the 1940s, an argument erupted among a group of American Christians far from the mainstream.

Pentecostals, the spirit-filled worshippers known mostly for speaking in tongues, were at a crossroads, divided over the extent of God’s modern-day miracles. If God made apostles and prophets during the New Testament era, did he still create them today?

Most Pentecostals said no, and went on to build the movement’s major denominations.

A minority disagreed – and amazingly, their obscure view is now in the crosshairs of a presidential race. Some critics, fearing that these little-known Christians want to control the U.S. government, suspect that Republican Rick Perry is their candidate.

The Texas governor opened the door to the discussion with a prayer rally he hosted in August, a week before he announced his run for president. Organizers of the Houston event, such as Lou Engle, leader of The Call prayer marathons, and Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, had for several years been under the watch of mostly liberal writers alarmed by the preachers’ rhetoric.

The end of the world is an intense focus of many of the religious leaders involved in the rally. Engle has said that the tornado that leveled Joplin, Mo., last May was evidence of God’s judgment on the country over abortion. Bickle views acceptance of same-sex marriage as a sign of the end times.

These preachers believe demons have taken hold of specific geographic areas, including the nation’s capital. They also promote a philosophy of public engagement known as the “seven mountains,” which urges Christians to gain influence in business, government, family, church, education, media and the arts as a way to spread righteousness and bring about God’s kingdom on earth. The language seems close to dominionism, the belief that Christians have a God-given mandate to run the world.

Ever since Perry gave these leaders a broader platform, religion scholars and activists have been debating whether these church leaders represent a real threat, an apocalyptic vanguard maneuvering to establish a Christian government. The task of measuring their influence is complicated by the preachers’ wide range of teaching and practice, and by the many different expressions of dominionism under various names.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow warned that dominionists want to prepare the world for Jesus’ return by “infiltration and taking over politics and government.” Michelle Goldberg, author of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” wrote at The Daily Beast, “We have not seen this sort of thing at the highest levels of the Republican Party before.”

Randall Stephens, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., who researches Pentecostals and politics, called warnings of a conservative Christian plot an overreaction. “I think this is a rabbit hole people fall down and it has a whiff of conspiracy,” Stephens said.

Anthea Butler, who has written extensively about dominionism with author Sarah Posner on the liberal website ReligionDispatches.org, considers the outlook troubling and worth examining, but cautioned against overstating its strength.

“I don’t know if ‘threat’ is the right word. I think ‘problem’ is the better word,” said Butler, a religion scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.

Perry has never said anything that would directly link him to dominionism. However, he fueled speculation about his views at the rally by quoting from Joel 2, a Bible book the preachers favor, which tells of a prayer assembly of spiritual warriors as the world ends. On stage with the governor was Alice Patterson, author of “Bridging the Racial and Political Divide: How Godly Politics Can Transform A Nation,” who believes there is a “demonic structure behind the Democratic Party.”

Robert Black, a Perry campaign spokesman, said the GOP governor is an evangelical who attends Lake Hills Church in Austin. In a recent appearance at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Perry explained that he had turned to God in a time of need – a personal testimony common for born-again Christians.

“Gov. Perry believes that Americans of all faiths should be active in dictating the course of our country,” Black wrote in an e-mail. “He supports our republican form of democracy and trusts the American people to decide who should lead it.”

Critics have also questioned whether Michele Bachmann’s religious and political views have crossed a line into dominionism. In a 2006 appearance in Minnesota, the year she was first elected to Congress, she prayed, “We are in the last days” and called separation of church and state “a myth.” In the 1980s, Bachmann was a law student at Oral Roberts University, a Pentecostal school that emphasized the biblical basis of U.S. law. However, that approach is shared among a range of conservative Christians and is not the definitive marker of someone who thinks only Christians should govern.

Many evangelical leaders are incensed by the discussion. The allegation that Christians are plotting to build a theocracy has dogged Christian conservatives since the 1970s and ’80s, when evangelicals stunned both Democrats and Republicans by emerging from political hibernation to regain their voice in public life.

Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure and founder of the Prison Fellowship ministries, said labels such as “dominionist” are epithets meant to discredit all Christian activists. David French, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, wrote an article in the National Review with the mocking headline, “I’m a Dominionist? I had no idea.”

However, many religion scholars argue that some watered-down dominionist principles have long influenced conservative Christian activists, who hope to shape society according to a biblical worldview. (A true dominionist not only wants Christians to shape the world, but also run it.)

Bruce Barron, a Christian scholar and author of the 1992 book “Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology,” wrote that many early leaders of the Christian right said they had been influenced by the social analysis of Rousas John Rushdoony, who believed the nation was in a moral and cultural crisis and advocated replacing democracy with biblical law, mostly from the Old Testament. This way of thinking is known as Christian Reconstructionism.

By the late 1980s, many evangelical leaders felt that dominionist ideas had gained so much attention that they could no longer simply dismiss the teaching as fringe, Barron wrote.  Among the critiques was a February 1987 cover story in Christianity Today, the prominent evangelical magazine founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, which quoted scholars saying that ignoring the stream of thinking is no longer an option. “They haven’t been taken seriously enough,” one scholar told the magazine.

More recently, C. Peter Wagner, an expert in church growth, has become a lightning rod for critics of dominionism, largely because of the extensive research of Talk2Action.org, a liberal investigative site, and one of its writers, Rachel Tabachnik.

Wagner is a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who had noted the rapid spread of independent Pentecostal churches. In 1974, he dubbed the trend the New Apostolic Reformation, and eventually became a leader among these churches. He is now considered an apostle along with his wife Doris, who specializes in healing.

Wagner sharpened the Pentecostal focus on spiritual warfare, through books with titles such as, “Breaking Strangleholds in Your City (Prayer Warriors).” He trains people to use intense direct prayer and other strategies to fight demonic control of specific cities or regions. In addition, he promotes the “seven mountains” philosophy of placing Christians in positions of influence, but insists it is no stealth plan for a Christian-only government. Wagner said that most of the church leaders he works with believe that both major parties are under demonic influence – not just the Democrats – although some individual politicians are “kingdom-minded.” Church members are deeply frustrated about politicians promising to outlaw abortion and address other social issues, but never fulfilling this pledge, Wagner said.

“There’s nobody that I know – there may be some fringe people – who would even advocate a theocracy,” Wagner said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where his ministries are based. “We honor those who have other kinds of faith.”

Bickle, interviewed in Kansas City, Mo., said he knows Wagner but is not affiliated with him. Bickle called the apostle “a humble guy” who does not know Perry and would not advocate Christian control of society.

“He’s got a team of loosely connected people – maybe 100 ministries – it’s a small number. They are ‘quote’ telling people to go influence society. But some of their guys under them are using these hostile terms, like ‘taking over society,'” said Bickle, who said he is not a dominionist.

“We want to influence things in our own microscopic way,” Bickle said. “I wish we did have influence, but it’s so minute.”

Mel Robeck, a specialist in Pentecostalism at Fuller Theological Seminary, cautioned against concluding too much from the preachers at Perry’s event. Robeck is a minister with the Assemblies of God, one of the largest Pentecostal groups, which posts a 13-page theological statement on its website explaining why the denomination does not believe in contemporary apostles and prophets.

Robeck viewed the prayer rally as standard GOP outreach to religious conservatives who form the core of the Republican Party and sees Wagner as repackaging old, marginal ideas to create a new movement. Days after the Texas governor held the prayer marathon, the American Family Association, which financed the event, e-mailed participants asking for help registering conservative Christians ahead of the 2012 election.

“To see potential political leaders courting these people – what they’re really doing is looking for the votes that they think these folks can deliver,” Robeck said. “I don’t know of any politician that can afford to miss any kind of church vote and they know that church leaders can often influence people.”