Back in December 2011, Carmarthenshire County Council voted to approve a loan of £270,000 at 3% to Towy Community Church for its bowling alley project, bringing the total value of the council's package of grants, loans, peppercorn leases, etc. to more than £1.4 million so far.
In the run-up to the meeting, Cneifiwr and Caebrwyn raised a lot of questions about this use of public money, the ability of this very small evangelical church to manage a project on this scale and the many and glaring inconsistencies in statements put out by the church and the council. They also pointed out that the church's website was advertising a partnership with a highly controversial American organisation called Mercy Ministries (links since removed).
Needless to say, this really rattled the Evangelical Alliance which took a first swipe against the bloggers and press here at the end of 2011.
The author of the piece, Jim Stewart, makes three main points. First he comes to the rescue of Mercy Ministries and tries to justify the church's link to that organisation.
As you can see, he gets himself into a bit of a tangle here. True, Towy Community Church had talked about a partnership with Mercy Ministries, he says, and one of the Carmarthen flock had taken a gap year with Mercy Ministries. True, there had been an unfortunate financial scandal in Australia where Mercy Ministries had had to close its local branch (actually the scandal was rather more than just financial; it included allegations of false imprisonment, exorcism and abuse of young women, but Mr Stewart clearly felt that that sort of lurid detail was unnecessary).
He goes on to mention the American founder of Mercy Ministries and her YouTube talks about "deliverance" which he defines as an act of setting free or rescue. From what? Jim Stewart does not elaborate, but we are talking about deliverance from demons and demonic possession.
The problem with these terms is that we are in a world of pseudo-science, and they are very elastic. What is clear is that quite a few of the troubled young women who have experienced the "deliverance" he is talking about emerge from it even more traumatised and troubled. You can read a very well written account about Mercy Ministries' UK operations here. Interestingly, the piece mentions a group called the Abundant Life Church which was also attended by Towy Community Church's gap year student.
Mr Stewart also argues that religious groups seeking funding from the Lottery, councils, etc. should be judged solely on whether they have complied with the terms and conditions of the loans and grants they have received, rather than on religious (and we might add), ethical and political grounds.
That would be very good news for all sorts of extremist religious groups, such as the virulently homophobic Christian Voice. The Klu Klux Klan, which sees itself as Christian, might want to consider opening up a youth training camp in Carmarthenshire on that basis.
Finally, Mr Stewart claims that it was only because of the activity of the bloggers that Carmarthenshire County Council had to meet in full session to debate the loan. It would be flattering to think that was true, but the reality was that the decision had to go back to the full council, partly because of the size of the loan, and partly because the funding package agreed by the councillors in closed session a few months previously turned out to be based on rather wishful thinking.
This being Carmarthenshire, a lot of spin was deployed to persuade councillors to sign on the dotted line. They were told, for example, that giving the Johnstown creamery site to the church for 99 years would save the council money because it would no longer have to pay business rates. They were also told that the church no longer needed to borrow as much from the banks.
The truth was that the church's bankers had got slightly cold feet, and were no longer willing to lend as much, and unverified claims were made about a massive increase in the church's own contribution. The bottom line was that bank borrowings were being reduced because the council had agreed to stump up a heavily subsidised loan.
Jim Stewart's musings were rather mild compared with our next piece.
"Faith-ignorant smear campaign won't undermine us" yells a woman called Jenny Taylor in a rant on a site called Lapidomedia (here) in April of this year.
Taylor goes to town in a piece which has a shameful disregard for the truth and the facts:
- The Council has provided £550,000 of funding towards the project, she says. The true figure is in excess of £1.4 million.
- Wales on Sunday had linked the Carmarthen church to a non-existent Australian charity, she screams. The reason why the Australian charity was non-existent was because it had been closed down in the wake of revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Despite having told us that the Australian charity was non-existent, she then goes on to argue that, apart from the unfortunate coincidence of the name, Aussie Mercy Ministries and Mercy Ministries UK had nothing in common. Just as Microsoft Australia and Microsoft UK are not linked in any way, presumably.
They are all out to get the Christians, she rages, and they are all faith-ignorant, before adding that the Prime Minister, Call-Me-Dave Cameron, thinks that Mercy Ministries is wonderful because of what it is doing for the Big Society.
And this is where the politicians come in, as we shall see in the next installment.