A video linking the Republican candidate for governor in Hawaii to an evangelical religious group became a center of controversy this week when his Democratic opponent's social media director called attention to it with a Twitter link.
"Is Aiona lying about his ties 2 the Transformation Network..or did he just misspeak again and again..?" L.P. Neenz Faleafine tweeted on Monday.
James "Duke" Aiona immediately accused Neil Abercrombie's campaign of "spreading what I would call unconscionable, fabricated video attacking me and my personal faith."
In response, Abercrombie's spokeswoman emphasized that the video "was not produced or generated by our campaign." She also insisted, however, "Voters have been expressing concern that Duke Aiona is mixing religion with politics in a way that may not be appropriate in Hawaii today."
The group at the center of the controversy is the International Transformation Network (ITN), which is known for its promotion of "prayer evangelism," a movement within the religious right that prays for a change in the "spiritual climate" of entire cities. The movements has gained particular notoriety, however, for its demands that its followers burn "occult Items," a description which includes the Book of Mormon, "images of the Virgin Mary" and "evil depictions" of cats.
Bruce Wilson, who posted the controversial video, is the co-founder of a blog "which covers the intersection of religion and politics." During the 2008 presidential campaign, his video featuring Pastor John Hagee was credited with forcing then-candidate John McCain to reject the prominent evangelist's endorsement. Wilson was also the first to publicize Sarah Palin's evangelical associations.
More recently, Wilson has been focusing on documenting the activities of the prayer evangelists. He notes, for example, that in 2001, movement leader Cindy Jacobs wrote, "It is not unusual for tourists to bring home keepsakes from faraway lands that have demonic attachments or are idols. What we often do not realize is that these objects can curse us. For instance, many people purchase African masks that have been used in worship ceremonies. Others buy native art such as Kachina dolls, statues of Hindu gods and statues of Buddha. Back home, havoc starts to reign in the form of sickness, tragedy, depression or marriage break-ups."
An evangelistic campaign in Argentina in 1990, which included the founder of the International Transformation Network, went even further and targeted all "kinds of material things that might be bringing honor to the spirits of darkness; pictures, statues, Catholic saints, Books of Mormon, pictures of former lovers, pornographic material, fetishes, drugs, Ouija boards, zodiac charms, good luck symbols, crystals for healing, amulets, talismans, tarot cards, witch dolls, voodoo items, love potions, books of magic, totem poles, certain pieces of jewelry, objects of Freemasonry, horoscopes gargoyles, native art."
Wilson further alleges that "ITN operatives have played a significant role organizing and inspiring Ugandan legislators who have drafted, cosponsored, and backed the draconian and internationally denounced Anti Homosexuality Bill before Uganda's parliament which would mandate the execution of many HIV positive Ugandans. ... International Transformation Network leaders such as Ed Silvoso claim homosexuals are possessed by demons, assert that HIV and AIDS can be cured through faith healing and prayer, and decry basic birth control methods."
Wilson's latest video, which he posted to YouTube last Friday, is intended to refute Aiona's claim that he is not a member of ITN. It begins with a newly-discovered clip of him saying at the All Pacific Prayer Assembly in 2008, "I'm a part of a prayer evangelization program called Transformation Hawaii. And we've seen some great things happening within the last few years because of prayer."
In an interview last May, Aiona had told a reporter, "I'm not a member of Transformation Hawaii. I'm not a member of the International Transformation Network. I have participated in some of the events, as I stated, because they share some of the values and tenets of my basic Catholic-Christian belief."
The most serious charge made in the video, however, is that "in 2006, violating state ethics rules, Aiona accepted over $7000 in gifts to fly to Argentina and attend evangelist Ed Silvoso's sixteenth international conference on nation transformation."
"This politically motivated attack video takes quotes out of context," Aiona asserted on Wednesday. "It splices videos together, it manufactures patently false statements as they relate to a faith-based organization."
Aiona insisted again that he is not a member of ITN and said that he "does not agree with some of its views, particularly on homosexuality." He also released a document indicating that the ethics issue was dismissed in August by Hawaii's Ethics Commission.
"But what else can Aiona say, " Wilson commented on Thursday, "given that he's starred in Transformation Hawai'i ads and infommercials, attended (and led) multiple Transformation Hawai'i events, contributed a chapter to a book detailing Transformation Hawaii's efforts, accepted cash gifts of over $7,000 to finance a junket to an Argentina conference of Transformation Hawaii's parent ministry, publicly dedicated Hawaii to Jesus in the name of Transformation Hawai'i, stated his intent of 'discipling' Hawaii for Transformation Hawai'i and it's parent ministry, the International Transformation Network, and been prayed over, at a 2009 ITN Hawai'i conference, at a religious ceremony reminiscent of a coronation?"
The following video was posted by Bruce Wilson to YouTube on October 15, 2010.
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