Texas Governor Rick Perry's August 6th prayer rally, The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, has already garnered criticism for being a Christians-only affair that blurred the line between church and state and featured speakers with extreme beliefs far outside of the mainstream. One of these beliefs in particular caught my eye – the claim by John Benefiel, head of the Heartland Apostolic Reformation Network, that the Statue of Liberty is "a demonic idol, right there in New York harbor." * [EDIT: Please see below]
Here's what Benefiel said in August of last year:
Libertas is also called the Freedom Goddess, Lady Freedom, the Goddess of Liberty. You know there’s a statue in New York harbor called the Statue of Liberty. You know where we got it from? French Free Masons. Listen folks that is an idol, a demonic idol, right there in New York harbor. People say, ‘well no it’s patriotic.’ What makes it patriotic? Why is it? It’s a statue of a false goddess, the Queen of Heaven. We don’t get liberty from a false goddess folks, we get our liberty from Jesus Christ and that Statue of Liberty in no way glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no connection whatsoever. So I’m just telling you we practice idolatry in America in ways that we don’t even recognize.
Benefiel is part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement, a loosely defined Protestant movement with elements of Pentecostal and Charismatic theology. NAR was founded by C. Peter Wagner, an anti-idolatry zealot best known for burning statues of Catholic saints in Argentina. The defining belief of the NAR is that "God is restoring the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of Prophet and Apostle." And who are these new Apostles and Prophets? Why they are, of course.**
Let's look at Benefiel's assertions.
Is the Statue of Liberty really Libertas?
Yes. The statue, entitled Liberty Enlightening the World, is a representation of Libertas, the Roman goddess of Liberty. Britannia, the personification of Great Britian (and ancient goddess in her own right) is considered another version of the same idea, as is Columbia, the personification of the United States. I should probably mention here that Benefiel also wants to change the name of the District of Columbia because of this association. Libertas also appears on the coinage of those noted heathens, the Swiss.
Did French Freemasons give it to us?
Yes, in large part, but when Benefiel says "Freemasons" he really means "Illuminati." And by "Illuminati" he means "secret Satanic overlords who really rule the world." Think I'm kidding? Watch the video below where he claims that homosexuality is an Illuminati plot to control the world's population. He clearly states that he believes the Illuminati to be "over, above" Freemasonry. Benefiel also believes the Unites States to be in the grip of the ancient god Baal, who he claims is responsible for "all of the sexual sin and perversion in America." You are forgiven if all this is starting to sound like an Alan Moore comic.
Freemasons were very involved in the creation of the statue. The idea itself came from Édouard René de Laboulaye, a French jurist, author, and Freemason, who conceived the project as a token of fraternity between the two countries and a big middle finger to the policies of Napoleon III. The project was continued under the auspices of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who was a Freemason, and the Union Franco-Americaine, largely made up of other Freemasons. Freemasons in the United States raised the money to build and design the base. As you can imagine, they are pretty proud of their contributions to the both the statue and the freedoms allowed by the United States.
They should be. The founders of this country, the gentlemen who put in place the very freedoms that Benefiel currently enjoys were largely Freemasons. George Washington was a Mason. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and John Adams were all Masons. Many other signers of the Declaration of Independence were as well.
Here’s what President Grover Cleveland, by all accounts not a Freemason, said at the statue's dedication:
We are not here today to bow before the representative of a fierce and war-like god, filled with wrath and vengeance, but, instead, we contemplate our own peaceful deity keeping watch before the open gates of America, and greater than all that have been celebrated in ancient song. Instead of grasping in her hand the thunderbolts of terror and of death, she holds aloft the light that illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement.
Sounds good. Now let's look at some of John Benefiel's beliefs.
Benefiel wants to rename the District of Columbia the “District of Christ.” He believes the country is under a curse from God. And just spent 40 days laying “spiritual siege” to the capital to free it from Baal’s influence. He thinks homosexuality is an Illuminati plot to control the population. Given his association with anti-idolatry C. Peter Wagner, I think we can assume that he has no use for the pretty lady in the harbor either.
Which group am I supposed to be afraid of again?
Does Perry share Benefiel’s beliefs or is their alignment just a political convenience? Someone should probably ask him. I hear he's running for president - this is might be a good time.
And a final note to John Benefiel. If you really want to crusade against removing Lady Liberty from public life you can start much closer to home than the east coast.
She’s also on the dome of the state capital of Texas.
*I should have been clearer here - I'm not sure Benefiel spoke at The Response but he is reported as an "Official Sponsor." I don't know for certain if he spoke or not because the web site about The Response has already been closed down. Make of that what you will. My apologies.
**Detailing the strange theology of the New Apostolic Reformation would take much more room than we have here but you should read this excellent article by Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer to gain more insight.
Photo: William Warby/Creative Commons/Flickr
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