A big hello to our new neighbors in Scenic, the Iglesia ni Cristo, a big cultish church from the Philippines that calls itself Christian. Barbara Soderlin reports that the church paid $700,000 this summer to buy the whole town of Scenic, about 40 miles southeast of Rapid City.

West River has plenty of wild-eyed crusaders for Christ. But the new owners of Scenic make me antsy about taking Highway 44 to the Badlands. I'd hate to get caught up in a church like this:

  • In classic cult fashion, Iglesia ni Cristo demands strict obedience from its members.
  • More cultishness: the church is a family business. Its only leaders have been founder (and God's "last messenger") Felix Manalo, his son, and, currently, his grandson. Hello, Moonies....
  • These "Christians" deny the divinity of Jesus. I have a problem with people who can't use simple words like "Christian" correctly.
  • They say the only path to salvation is through their church. Lutherans, Baptists, fundagelicals out by Wal-Mart: you're all as wrong as I am!
  • They impose compulsory church attendance on members.
  • They tell members not to join labor unions (well, that will get them in good with some South Dakotans).
  • They tell members to avoid going to court (that will get them in good with Kristi Noem).
  • They push members toward block-voting in public elections... wait a minute! I'll bet Gordon Howie is bringing them here so he can get them to vote for him in a primary challenge against Noem! Now it all comes together!

Keep your cult radars tuned to Scenic over the coming weeks. I'd like to think that maybe we'll just get some nice neighbors who boost our tourism dollars. Iglesia ni Cristo has millions of members worldwide; maybe some of them will come to South Dakota for a nice little revival meeting now and then.

But when a personality-based church buys an entire town in a relatively isolated region, I can't help hearing "Warren Jeffs" and "Jim Jones" in my head.

Update 2011.10.05 05:42 MDT: If you think I sound intolerant of other beliefs, take a look at what Iglesia ni Cristo thinks of Christians:

...we now ought to reject the catholic priests and the protestant pastors, for they are ministers of satan. We also ought to reject the Catholic Church and the different protestant churches, for they are not of God, but of satan or the devil [INC publication Pasugo, August 1961, p. 39].

That ought to go over well at the next interfaith coffee.