Offbeat sect offers theology degree

December 15, 2000

A Christian fundamentalist church that believes in raising the dead is offering degree courses in theology.

The Peniel Pentecostal Church, at the centre of political controversy in Brentwood, Essex, where it is accused of infiltrating the local Conservative Association, is offering bachelor of arts degree courses. Degrees from the Peniel College of Higher Education at Pilgrims Hatch, Brentwood, are accredited by the private Oral Roberts University in the United States.

Students pay a full-time tuition fee of just under £3,000 a year, for a course that includes modules in Christian ethics, including views on abortion and homosexuality. A spokesman said the college had recruited 70 to 80 students since it was set up in September 1999.

The college's literature points out that ORU was founded by the evangelist after "God's commission" to him to "raise up your students to hear my voice".

College president Michael Reid, a former policeman, was founder of the Peniel Pentecostal Church. He holds honorary doctorates and an MA from ORU and is studying for a doctorate of ministry at ORU.

Last year his church was rebuked by the Advertising Standards Authority for an advert claiming that a disabled man had been cured by the "power of Jesus" after he had been "half dragged" into the church.

Earlier, the ASA challenged a claim that one of the church's guest speakers had brought eight dead people back to life in Africa. Mr Reid has reportedly said he has met some of those risen from the dead.

Mr Reid has also caused offence by reportedly asking: "Did God make women's rear ends thicker because they need more correction in their lives?" Roy Hayden, a visiting lecturer from the US, said that while he would approach classes from his own "Christ-centred" world view,which includes his belief that homosexuality is sinful, he said disagreement with the church's beliefs would not hinder a student's progress. Students of any sexual orientation, gender and religion are welcome, he said. "But I wouldn't think many non-Christians would want to come here."

A spokesman for the church said that the courses had academic rigour. The ORU degrees are accredited by the North Central Accreditation Body in the US, recognised by the Department for Education and Employment as equivalent to British degrees.

The spokesman said that while the church's beliefs form the basis of the college, the college operated as a separate entity.

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