Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Satanic ritual"? Or a Christian fundamentalist/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic attempt to drive out Satan?

According to the news story Police told fire part of satanic ritual by Jennifer Baker,, March 2, 2011: "Charmaine Ranford, 25, of Lincoln Heights, faces one count of aggravated arson. ... Ranford is accused of purposely setting a fire at the Marietta Terrace apartments at 10101 Love Court in Lincoln Heights on Monday. When police took her into custody on Tuesday, she described the act as part of a 'satanic ritual,' records show. No injuries were reported, and damage from the fire was minor, Lincoln Heights police said."

Likewise, according to the news story Woman told police she started fire to perform satanic ritual, FOX19, March 2, 2011: "CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Lincoln Heights woman is behind bars after police say she purposefully started an apartment fire as part of a satanic ritual. ... According to court documents, Ranford started a fire at Marietta Terrace on Monday. She admitted to starting the fire and acknowledged she was performing a satanic ritual."

But then, according to the following story: Police: Woman Claims Fire Was Attempt To Remove Satan, WLWT, March 2, 2011: "When confronted by officers, they said Ranford claimed the fire was part of a Satanic ritual. But the woman later said that the fire was to remove Satan from the items being burned, not to worship him" [Emphasis mine].

The WLWT page originally carried the "Satanic ritual" headline too, but then promptly updated it. The other sources have not yet done so.

Maybe the police and court records got Ranford's initial confession wrong? That would seem the most likely explanation. Burning objects that are believed to be inhabited by demons, or which are regarded as a source of temptation, is a very common practice among fundamentalists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and new-Apostolics. (For some documented examples, see New Apostolic Reformation Leaders Burn Native Art by Bruce Wilson, Talk To ACtion, Tue Oct 19, 2010.) And I would suspect that not every pastor who promotes the burning of such objects is also careful to teach the congregation about fire safety.

Some Satanists, and some non-Satanist ex-Christians too, occasionally perform rites of Cathartic blasphemy that involve burning Bibles or other objects representing their past experiences with abusive authoritarian forms of Christianity. But such rituals are far less common than fundamentalists/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic burnings of non-Christian religious artifacts and lots of other things too, everything from pornography to Harry Potter books. Statistically, it is far more likely that Charmaine Ranford was following fundamentalists/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic teachings than that she was actually practicing some "Satanic ritual." Moreover, had Ranford burned a Bible or any other Christian religious artifact, or if the ritual had involved any actual Satanic symbolism, I'm sure these details would have been featured in the headlines.

I also wonder whether she really intended to confess to "arson" (an attempt to burn the entire building), or whether she just started a fire for the purpose of burning particular objects and was insufficiently mindful of fire safety. I would be interested to know how the police went about interrogating her. It is, alas, far from unheardof for cops to pressure suspects into confessing to something far worse than they are actually guilty of, if anything. It is also not uncommon for the police to make exaggerated charges against someone in anticipation of a plea bargain. Since Charmaine Ranford is also African-American, I also wonder if racism, on the part of the police, might have been a factor here.

I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that this woman is a victim of -- among other things -- bureaucratic ignorance about the practices of her particular form of Christianity. If so, I wonder whether her church, if any, will come to her defense, or whether they too will jump to the conclusion that she was practicing "Satanic ritual" and therefore shun her.