JISHOU, HUNAN — I haven’t paid too much attention to the Fathima Rifqa Bary case, but today I found her appearance on a conference call released to the Internet really disturbing.
Bary, now 17, ran away from her Columbus, Ohio, home at age 16. She says she had found Jesus, and feared her Muslim family would kill her once they discovered her Christian faith. She ended up in Orlando, Florida, drawn to a church there through a Facebook page.
She is in foster care in Florida while the courts decide on what to do with her, since she is still a minor. There are no questions about her safety if she is sent back home, but some questions about the involvement of the Global Revolution Church and its pastor, Blake Lorenz, and his wife, Beverley in Bary’s coming to Orlando.
A few days ago, Bary, who is supposedly in state custody, joined in a conference call with Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The Dobsons and Perkins are well known conservative Christian figures. The conference call host begins by welcoming his special guest, Bary, who then relates in a fairly matter-of-fact way how she prayed to God for guidance, and ended up learning how to pray in English to God and Jesus.
About four minutes into the nine-minute clip, Bary is invited to lead the conferees in prayer, which she does rather spectacularly. If you have never attended a Fundamentalist or Evangelical church, be prepared to be really, really disturbed at what you hear. Bary basically rants for a few minutes, exhorting Jesus and “Father God” to help her people, then abruptly falls silent, as if she’s physically exhausted or run out of things to say. (She wasn’t cut off from the call. You can hear her more subdued voice later on.)
I’ve been in fundie churches, so I’m not disturbed by her method of prayer exactly. I’ve heard it before. And that’s the problem I have with it. I’ve have heard the same words — or ones very similar to them — from countless other “born-again” Christians. To me, she sounds like she has been programmed to repeat verbatim what others have said in her adopted/adoptive church.
Now, I don’t know all the details of the Bary case, so I am basically shooting from the hip here. This young lady may in fact have fallen away from her Muslim faith, or have had questions about religion in general, and found Christianity — kinda hard to miss it in Ohio, after all. But her fervency, her irrational fear of her own parents, and her automaton-like imitation of fundie prayers sounds mighty like she was lured away by — yes, I am going to say it — a cult.
Of course, since she’s in Florida, suggesting the Global Revolution Church is a cult borders on blasphemy, but the modus operandi is the same. It’s hard to say what she was told to believe and say, and what she truly believes is true in her heart.
[Talk To Action has a long article about Lorenz’ and his church’s involvement in several right-wing Christian movements. Calling them a cult is not an exaggeration.]
There is a website specifically for Rifqa, rifqabary.com, which not only solicits donations for Bary’s legal defense (for a child custody case involving her parents and strangers — WTF?), but also suggests her parents are untrustworthy heathens who will surely kill her if she returns home. Her parents say they will do nothing of the sort, and just want their daughter back home.
In fact, googling her name and their names turns up a wealth of anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic blogs and websites that all allege that the Barys and their mosque are extremists who will perform an “honor killing” for Rifqa’s apostasy.
Some details about her life suggest otherwise to me. Rifqa is a high school cheerleader. She does not wear a burkah to school, or to practice. Her parents allowed her access to Facebook. Her brothers had parties at home when the parents were away. None of this suggests a radical, fundamentalist Muslim household. In fact, the Barys sound like a pretty normal Ohio family — except they aren’t Christian.
It’s a sad commentary on a whole lot of issues. I only hope there’s a happy ending for all the Bary family.