MINOR "CHRISTIAN" CULTS (Part I)
"There's nothing wrong with handcuffing a girl to keep her from going
- Lester Roloff
Christianity is perhaps the most diverse faith in the world. As a
whole, it is divided into four main groups: Roman Catholicism, Eastern
Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Pentecostalism. And each of these main
branches, with the exception of Roman Catholicism, is further subdivided
into smaller factions, each one having a somewhat different view on Jesus
Christ, the Holy Bible, sin, salvation, and other issues. A quick look
through any telephone book will reveal hundreds of different denominations;
some of them stretching across the nation or the globe, with others being
no larger than a single church.
Chances are that listed among those hundreds of valid Christian
denominations, there will also be listed at least one religious cult.
But what makes a cult a cult? There are many different definitions of
the word "cult." Funk & Wagnalls defines a cult as being "a system of
religious rites and observances." Some ministers would label any church
that did not use the Bible as being a cult. And others would simply define
any new religious movement as being a cult.
However, almost every group that has been universally regarded as
a cult has demonstrated at least two or three of the following traits:
1. It is led by an autocratic central authority who demands absolute,
unquestioning obedience and submission to the cult. This central
authority usually, but not always, consists of a single person.
Some cult leaders even consider themselves to be either Christ or one
of His direct representatives.
2. It does not reveal what it truly teaches up front to those who ask
about its beliefs, but instead gradually introduces the neophyte to
its beliefs little by little until he/she is fully indoctrinated by
3. It uses coercion, brainwashing, and/or threats to gain new members
and keep them in the cult, sometimes also using violence or the
threat of violence.
4. It urges its members to renounce all ties with their families and
friends and pledge total allegiance to the cult.
5. It takes the holy writings of an established religion or faith, such
as the Bible (Christianity), the Koran (Islam), or the Vedas (Hindu-
ism), and negates, denounces, de-emphasizes, supplements, or alters
them. Or it may keep the writings, but insist that the cult
leader(s) alone can correctly interpret them.
6. It physically or psychologically assaults its own members, usually
for reasons of discipline.
Š7. It requires its members to forsake all personal possessions and to
give them all to the cult.
8. It has a very low tolerance for individuality and/or nonconformity,
and will persecute such attributes as vehemently as it possibly can.
9. It uses violence or threats of violence against the cult's enemies
and/or former members.
10. It holds its own creed to be the only real way to salvation or peace
in defiance of all other creeds or denominations.
11. It performs criminal activities such as forgery, blackmail, fraud,
and burglary in order to further its own purposes and ends.
This is by no means a complete list of cult traits, but should serve
merely as a guideline to identifying cults. Groups such as Jehovah's
Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are often
referred to as cults, and both definitely exhibit traits such as the ones
listed above. (Both groups, for example, claim that they are the only true
church and also feature their own interpretations or additions to the Holy
Bible: Jehovah's Witnesses almost invariably use the corrupt New World
Translation, while the Latter-Day Saints hold the Book of Mormon, the Pearl
of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants to be as sacred, if not more so,
than the Bible.) However, no matter how one chooses to look at these
groups, they are certainly safer than organizations such as the ones
described in this essay, even though both groups fall outside the realm of
Below is a partial list of minor cults in the United States, Canada,
and Mexico, as well as an explanation of their beliefs, their leaders, and
some of their activities. As the title indicates, most of these
organizations claim to be Christian in nature. The true nature of Roch
Theriault's organization, however, is unknown at present, and the Church of
the Lamb of God is a Latter-Day Saints splinter group.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
The Body of Christ is a network of religious communes founded by
former Southern Baptist minister Sam Fife, C.E. "Buddy" Cobb, and Dr. James
Meffen in 1962. The Body of Christ is also known as "The End Time
Ministry," "The Movement," and "The Body." Today, the cult has around
7,000 to 10,000 adherents in two dozen communes (called "wilderness farms"
by the cult) located in Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas,
British Columbia (Canada), Guatemala, and Peru. The cult's headquarters
are in Miami, Ohio. The NEW YORK TIMES also reported that the cult owns "a
fleet of planes" which it uses to reach the communes.
The cultists study and follow the teachings of Sam Fife and Donald
Barnhouse, the other major theologian of the Body of Christ before his
death. They speak in tongues, practice faith healing, believe in demon
possession, and believe that the Bible should guide their lives. They also
believe in an upcoming period of "Great Tribulation" and feel that it is
their duty to prepare to be the leaders in this "end of time" and to set up
shelters where people can take care of themselves after electricity, food
supplies, and other necessities are cut off by the coming disaster. To
this extent, they raise animals and grow their own food on the wilderness
farms in order to be self-sufficient. According to Dr. Meffen, who left
Šthe Body of Christ, the cultists speak of themselves as "manifested sons of
God" and believe that once they have perfected themselves, "Christ will be
manifested through them." The cult employs a subtle recruitment process.
Dr. Meffen and fellow defector Charlene Hill claim that the cult finds
people who are unhappy and channel them into the Body of Christ and also
"infiltrate existing churches and Bible study groups." Members of the cult
live in poverty, with poor clothing and no radio or television. Any
property they own must be turned over to the cult, and many older followers
even sign over their pensions.
The various settlements and branches have different names. The Dallas
group, which disbanded in 1983, was known as The Dallas Northtown Church.
A major commune near Europa, Mississippi, is known as The Church of Sapa.
Many other branches are simply known as "Christian Ministries." Leaders
insist that there is no single organization called "The Body of Christ,"
and claim that the far-flung communes are really autonomous, separate
entities with no official connection. According to critics Meffen and
Hill, the members consider themselves to be one group in fellowship and
also speak of themselves as "The Body of Christ" when they are together.
Critics charge that families are broken up if one spouse joins the
cult without the other. The Body of Christ has also been named in several
child abuse cases. Charlene Hill, who stayed in the Body of Christ for
eight years with her husband and three children, claims that the children
are disciplined severely and possesses a tape recording of her daughter
relating that she was spanked "hard" if she didn't answer questions in
Mrs. Hill also claims that the cultists must constantly listen on
headsets to tapes made by Fife and Barnhouse, and that they must also read
their speeches. She also claims the group teaches that it is not wrong to
"distort the truth when talking to reporters." Many ex-members believe they
have been brainwashed, and the cult has lost some members to deprogrammers
such as Ted Patrick.
The cult carries out a brutal policy towards possible defectors and
those who break the rules of the cult. Charlene Hill claims that shortly
before she left, the group told her she was possessed by demons and tried
to exorcise them by tying her to a bed and whipping her with a belt, then
submerging her in a bathtub filled with cold water. Shari Smith, another
defector, claims that she was beaten with a wooden paddle and that
rebellious members were tied to beds, chairs or the floor and thrown into
cold showers with their clothes on until they repented. Smith herself was
once kept in a cold shower for four and a half hours.
The Body of Christ came under public scrutiny when one of its leaders,
Reverend John Hinson, was convicted in 1977 on charges of kidnaping in
Mississippi and sentenced to ten years in prison. The conviction, however,
was overturned when Hinson appealed.
As for Fife himself, he was killed in a plane crash in Guatemala on
April 26, 1979 at the age of 54. He was on a small private airplane
carrying himself and three cultists to visit the group's Quiche Theological
Institute and one of its settlements in Guatemala when the plane crashed,
killing everyone on board.
THE NEW TESTAMENT MISSIONARY FELLOWSHIP
Š On the outside, the New Testament Missionary Fellowship may seem like
another Pentecostal group. The members sing hymns, dance, play guitars,
and speak in tongues. However, underneath the facade lies a fanatical cult
devoted to a self-proclaimed prophetess named Hannah Lowe, who founded the
cult in 1964 after serving as an Evangelical missionary in South America
for 40 years. Hannah states, "We are a small group of Christians who come
together for prayer and Bible study. There are no rules or regulations or
church. We believe in Jesus Christ, we believe most surely."
It is doubtful that the cult still exists, as Lowe fled to Columbia in
1973 for reasons that will be explored later. While it existed, the cult
was based in New York City and, according to deprogrammer Ted Patrick,
"preyed upon exceptionally intelligent Ivy League college students." Some
of its branches were located at Columbia and Yale.
Charlotte Sheniken, a former member of the Fellowship, gave this
description of a prayer meeting within the cult:
They play tambourines, guitars and other instruments,
sing hymns and dance. You sing and sing, the instruments
get louder and some dance in the center of the singers and
Then the rhythm builds up and gets frenzied and you
begin talking in tongues and some get revelations. Hannah
sits in a chair screaming in tongues and getting visions.
Pretty soon all thirty people are doing something. You
can't help yourself - it builds up to a pitch.
The cult also printed a professional-looking newspaper called THE YALE
STANDARD, which gives the religious history of Yale and hints that the New
Testament Missionary Fellowship would be a good place for students who
wanted to learn about Christ.
One of the more prominent members of the Fellowship was McCandlish
Phillips, a former writer for the NEW YORK TIMES. He was convinced that
Hannah Lowe was a prophetess, and wrote a book called "The Bible, the
Supernatural, and the Jews," in which he says: "When a prophet, or a
prophetess, speaks by the momentary inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the
words may come like lightning or like dew, but they are always fresh and
arresting and right to the point of immediate need." Phillips even gave
lectures to followers and those who considered joining the cult.
One of those swayed by Phillips' lectures was a young man named Wes
Lockwood. When he got to Yale he was introduced the the cult and got
involved in their activities. According to Ted Patrick, "The whole process
of entrapment was much slower, more subtle, more sophisticated than in any
other cults I've dealt with. Wes was gradually isolated from the rest of
the university as a result of frequent Bible study sessions and prayer
meetings. Then step-by-step he was turned against his family and that made
him feel guilty, and served to make him even more dependent on the
group...The members would engage in singing, dancing, speaking in tongues -
so-called ecstatic devotions - that went on nonstop for up to four or five
hours a session, and which left the converts exhausted and confused,
emotionally wiped out. Then the leaders would indoctrinate them, when
their resistance was broken, and would hammer at them with denunciations of
the university, the political system, their families, the institutions of
government, all of which they were told were of Satan."
By Christmas, Wes was so dominated by the cult that he called his
Šparents to tell them he would not be coming home for the holidays: "There's
a man here named McCandlish Phillips who gave a lecture last night...He
said the Lord has more for us to do than go home for the holidays. He
convinced me. I'm going to stay here and do the Lord's work." Lockwood's
parents then inquired about the group, and discovered that all four
freshmen members of the Fellowship had canceled their plans to go home for
the holidays. Wes' father, Joseph Lockwood, then flew to New Haven to try
to talk Wes into coming home. He learned to his astonishment that Wes had
changed. He was withdrawn, uncommunicative, and hostile, and had lost a
lot of weight. Wes insisted that his father had no right to interfere in
his life, and was supported by Hannah Lowe. For the next two years, Wes
stayed in the Fellowship until he was kidnaped in 1973 by his father and
Ted Patrick, taken to New Jersey, and deprogrammed. During the session,
Wes grew very violent and withdrawn, attacking his father, speaking in
tongues, and dancing in the middle of the room in which he was being held
in what is known by the cult as the "Sanctified Dance," but made a complete
recovery afterwards, sobbing in his father's arms after the deprogramming.
The overweight Hannah Lowe owned an estate in Yonkers and a farm in
Columbia, as well as an apartment in New York. Her devotees worked at
part-time jobs and gave all their money to the cult. Sometimes Fellowship
members were sent to the Columbia farm for a time. One who was sent there
was ex-member Margaret Rogow: "We worked daily from 5AM to 5PM doing farm
work, house-cleaning and cooking. We received no wages for our labor, but
had to pay Mrs. Lowe $30 a week for room and board. We quickly used up our
savings and were placed in a very difficult situation of bondage." Sex was
forbidden within the cult, even between married couples who belonged to the
Fellowship, as Hannah Lowe taught that it was filthy, disgusting, and of
Also in 1973, after a failed kidnaping attempt on another cultist,
Patrick was thrown in jail for a short period of time. When he finally
went on trial for the attempt, McCandlish Phillips and fellow cultist
Calvin Burrows were scheduled to testify for the prosecution, but neither
showed up. As for Hannah Lowe, she took off for Bogota and is still living
there on an estate she purchased for $250,000. The jury handed down a "Not
Guilty" verdict after only 90 minutes of debate.
MINOR "CHRISTIAN" CULTS (Part II)
Lester Roloff, a fiery radio evangelist who supported homes for
rebellious children, came under scrutinization in 1973 when it was alleged
that girls at his Rebehak Home were beaten and starved. When questioned,
Roloff admitted that the girls were paddled and whipped if they misbehaved,
maintaining that it was meant to save their souls.
State officials then insisted that Roloff obtain licenses for his
homes and maintain state standards. Roloff refused, claiming that the
licensing requirement was "Communistic" and violated religious freedom.
Upon learning that the Supreme Court had ruled against him, Roloff closed
the homes temporarily and then reopened them under the protection of his
People's Church. In 1981, a state court ruled that Roloff could operate
the homes without a license. Roloff died in 1982 when his private plane
CHURCH OF THE FIRST BORN
This Oklahoma cult came under scrutiny when a boy whose parents
belonged to the cult died from appendicitis. His parents refused to get
medical treatment for him, claiming that the cult prevented them from
seeking medical help. The parents were charged with manslaughter and were
finally acquitted on 1982. The jury's verdict was based on the the judge's
ruling that Oklahoma's laws concerning religious exemptions to child abuse
laws could also apply to the couple. The outcome of the trial triggered a
massive public outcry, which resulted in a new state law being passed in
1983, which states that the belief in and practice of spiritual/faith
healing may no longer be used as a defense in cases of alleged child abuse.
According to State Senator Tim Leonard, who drafted the new law, "My
argument was the child's constitutional rights to life override the
parents' constitutional rights to freedom of religion."
JESUS THROUGH JON AND JUDY
A case similar to the incident in the Church of the First Born
happened within the Colorado cult known as Jesus Through Jon and Judy in
recent years when its founders were sentenced to three years' probation for
allowing their child to die of pneumonia. The judge overturned the
religious exemption, claiming that it only applied to what the judge termed
"recognized religions." The case is being appealed.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
The Local Church was founded by Witness Lee, now 81, a disciple of a
Chinese Christian known as Watchman Nee, who died in a Communist prison.
Nee's writings can be found in some bookstores. Witness Lee then came to
the United States in 1962 and founded a network of churches based on the
concept of "localism," the belief that there is only one true church in any
given city. In fact, members of the cult even call it the "local church,"
insisting on lower case because they consider themselves to be the only
true church. Among other things, the cult "pray-reads" the Bible instead
of studying it, which involves repeating sentences or sentence fragments
from the Bible, interspersing them with shouts of "O Lord Jesus," "Praise
the Lord," and "Amen." Critics of the movement contend that Witness Lee has
distorted the teachings of his deceased mentor, Watchman Nee.
The Local Church, like other cults claiming to be Christian, has
printed full page newspaper ads that denounce Christian groups that
criticize their practices. When the cult attempted to set up branches in
colleges, it has attracted a lot of attention. The branch at Moody Bible
Institute rushed through the campus, shouting "Babylon is falling" and
"Moody is crumbling." Meanwhile, the branch at Long Beach, California, set
up a club at Long Beach City College that was simply called "Christians,"
harassed members of established denominations, and periodically held
burnings at the beach where members affirmed their loyalty to Witness Lee
by burning their dearest possessions, according to an ex-member. If a
member should question such practices, he/she will probably be reminded of
one of the church's teachings: "Close your mind. When you are in your
mind, you are in trouble."
On September 29, 1982, a provincial judge in New Carlisle, Quebec,
sentenced the leader of a "doomsday religious cult" to two years in prison
for his connection with the beating death of a child and the castration of
a cult member. The leader of the cult was named Roch Theriault, also known
as "Moses." Theriault pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal negligence in
the beating death of Samuel Giguere, 2, whose parents were members of the
cult, and to a charge of causing bodily harm stemming from the castration
of cultist Guy Veer, who was responsible for beating Samuel to death. Veer
was found not guilty by reason of insanity and placed under psychiatric
The Brother Julius cult is centered in Meriden, Connecticut. Its
leader is Julius Schacknow, 63, a former engineer who preaches that he is
According to Julius, God first appeared to him in 1946 when he was
stationed at a American naval base in Guam. God allegedly told Julius that
he was destined to become a prophet. Julius also claimed to have had a
complete mental breakdown while stationed at Guam.
After two failed marriages, Julius married for a third time and moved
to Dover, New Jersey, claiming that it was safe from an impending
earthquake that he predicted would destroy New York. The earthquake was
first slated to hit in 1971; the date has been updated several times since
then. While living in Dover, he would get four or five couples to read the
Bible with him in varying degrees of ecstasy and zeal, but the group would
always fall apart whenever Brother Julius tried to quote Scriptures as
justification for wife-swapping.
In 1970, Brother Julius claimed to have had a talk with God, where God
encouraged him to ask Him any question he wanted. He claims that modesty
almost prevented him from asking God this question: "Am I Your Son,
According to Julius, God's reply was "There never was another."
Julius then moved to Meriden, after unsuccessfully trying to convince
a Tennessee church called the Church of God that he was Christ. In
Meriden, he began to issue prophecies to his fledgling following. All of
them proved to be false, including a claim that a diabetic in Thomaston,
Connecticut, had been cured. The diabetic stopped taking insulin, and then
fell into a deep coma two days later and almost died. Julius also tried to
raise someone from the dead.
Curiously, this string of failures has not worried Julius or his
followers, who numbered at least 50 at last count. The cult also operates
an organization in Meriden called TAMPCO, or The Anointed Music and
Publishing Company, which distributes propaganda promoting Julius and the
cult. Julius has even spoken at some high schools in the past.
Deprogrammers such as Ted Patrick have had difficulty in snatching
brainwashed members away from the cult.
On October 5, 1982, the members of a cult called Stonegate, "a self-
styled Christian commune" located in Kabletown in Jefferson County, West
Virginia, gathered in a farmhouse and formed a circle. In the middle of
the circle, Leslie Green, who was 25 at the time, was holding her two-year-
old son, Joseph, as still as she could while her husband and the boy's
father, Stuart Green, who was 28, spanked his buttocks with a wooden paddle
that was one inch thick and one foot long. The spanking continued for two
hours, as the parents tried to force Joseph to apologize for striking
another child. Joseph then turned pale, and Stuart Green took him to a
local hospital, where he was proclaimed dead.
On August 2, 1983, Judge Frank DePond sentenced Stuart and Leslie
Green to one year in jail each and fined them both $1,000, having convicted
them of involuntary manslaughter. Judge DePond said it was "incredible"
that he could not impose a stiffer penalty. The sentencing was interrupted
by a man who said that the Greens should be tried for murder. He later
The judge told the cultists, "By entering a plea of guilty you have
admitted that you killed another human being, a defenseless two-year-old
boy, your own child. It is a sad day for our society when a court must
intervene to protect a child from its own parents. Joey's fate is out of
our hands today, but your fate is not."
Faith Assembly, also known as "Glory Barn," is a cult based in the
area around Warsaw, Indiana. It was founded about 13 years ago by Rev.
Hobart Freeman and contains about 2,000 members. The cultists are
discouraged from seeking medical attention on the grounds that only God can
heal, and that the use of medicine is evidence of lack of faith. Several
newspaper accounts claim that at least 52 people have died as a result of
the teachings of Faith Assembly. Most of them were infants and children.
Reporters Jim Quinn and Bill Zlatos of the FORT WAYNE NEWS-SENTINEL have
Only a small fraction of the 52 known victims were old
enough to understand the teachings of Faith Assembly.
An even smaller fraction made their own decision to shun
One victim asked for a doctor a few hours before her
death, but no doctor arrived because her husband and friends
decided prayer was best for the woman. They prayed for
her for hours after she had died.
Routine medical procedures could have prevented many of
Faith Assembly deaths were found in Indiana, Illinois,
Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Missouri.
What sort of danger could a group of white-robed, barefoot young men
and women who wander the highways telling people about Christ pose to
They're known as the Christ Family. If they still exist, they can be
found in Florida, especially in the Boca Raton area. And according to one
ex-member, the experience of being in the cult was a terrifying ordeal.
The Christ Family has a relatively simple set of beliefs. According
to one member who calls himself Charlie Christ, the cult believes that
"non-violence is peace, no sex is love, and no materialism is harmony." To
Charlie, these ideas are the "keys to heaven."
As stated earlier, the members wear white robes and travel the earth
barefoot. According to Charlie, "We're all walking on the same ball of
dirt. [Being barefoot] implants that message on the soles of your feet."
They also smoke tobacco and marijuana.
Charlie Christ used to be known as Charlie Orton, owner of a Boca
Raton air conditioning business. But back in 1975, he sold the business
and his three-bedroom house and joined the group. The reason? "I found out
that they believe the same way I do about love...It's a heavy experience to
live in this world and not be able to relate to the love you feel inside.
That's why people join the Christ Family."
But a psychology student and former member of the Christ Family who
goes under the pseudonym of Sadie Morgan had a different story. After only
two days of meeting with members of the group, she left home to wander the
highways of Florida with them shortly before Christmas 1977. She was 22
years old at the time. However, after only one day in the Christ Family,
she was successfully kidnaped by her parents and taken home. At that
point, her voice and color had changed, and she was reciting schitzoid
ramblings and religious phrases. Sadie later made a complete recovery,
thanks to counseling from her father.
In retrospect, Sadie believes that the cult members who visited her
might have given her a drug without her knowledge in order to brainwash
her. The drug, if there was one, was hidden in either her food or the
cigarettes cult members gave her. Although it cannot be proven, her family
believes that it may have been phencyclidine, or PCP, also known as Angel
Dust. The drug has been known to cause wild and unpredictable behavior in
Although the Christ Family denies using any illegal drugs other than
marijuana, four members were arrested around the time Sadie joined the
cult. Their cigarette papers had been treated with LSD, short for lysergic
acid diethylamide, one of the most popular (and notorious) drugs of the
Sadie says about the group, "A lot of things they said struck a chord
in me because I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe in his teachings
and in him as a man and a beautiful person.
"But I don't believe in someone who I invite into my house destroying
every bit of my freedom, I mean, my personal mental existence. That I
don't believe in and that's what I say they did."
Also known as the Church of the Living Word, this cult is led by
"Apostle" John Robert Stevens. At least 100 churches in the United States
are allied with this "restoration movement."
Although The Walk publicly denies sanctioning any extrabiblical
revelation, Stevens claims that "God has given the apostolic ministry a
unique ability to break into new levels in God and then impart them to the
people." The elite members of the organization are known as the "apostolic
company," and they reportedly receive "new levels of revelation" on a
regular basis. All members of The Walk are expected to submit to such
Stevens, like many other cult leaders, is extremely intolerant of
individuality. He wrote a book in 1977 called "From Many Comes One," in
which he claims that "the day of individuality is ending. Christ is coming
to be glorified in His saints, not that a lot of individuals will be
running around with Christ glorified in them, but that they will lose their
own identity as saints...God does not seem interested in giving His people
anything as individuals to make them happy and contented... God does not
want to protract the problem of individuality." From an orthodox Christian
standpoint, Stevens' description of Christ is disturbingly similar to that
of "Big Brother" of George Orwell's "1984."
Stevens also places a strong emphasis on authority and subjection,
and exhorts members of the cult to totally submit to himself and the
"apostolic company," using the rationale of "Divine Right" used by kings in
the Middle Ages to cement their authority over their subjects: "Those who
are submissive will accept a word of authority over them, even when that
word is wrong...If the Lord has revealed the authority over you, you can be
submissive, even when the authority deviates from the will of God. In
other words, you can receive some wrong words of direction and still be a
winner." One pastor in The Walk even claimed that he "would follow Brother
Stevens to hell" and be honored by God for submitting to the will of
The Walk is also involved in psychic and borderline occult practices.
Stevens tells his followers that "In your present state, even though you
are a Christian, your eyes are still not seeing the spirit world, your ears
are not hearing the spirit world...You must work your way up to the higher
plane." Members of the cult practice such rituals as the "glory chain,"
which can supposedly be used to transfer God's blessings through people.
This is done by placing the right hand, palm up, underneath another
cultist's left hand (also palm up) and transferring the blessing through
the back of his hand. Stevens also teaches that astral projection can be
performed, and cites I Corinthians 5:3-4 for support, claiming that Paul
was able to project his soul to Corinth from a distant point.
Martha Stevens, who was married to Apostle Stevens for 40 years, filed
for divorce in 1979. During the proceedings, she revealed that Stevens'
holdings could amount to $40 million. A California newspaper then launched
an investigation of the Church of the Living Word, and learned that it had
conducted a Nevada silver mine fraud that allegedly cheated members of the
cult out of at least $500,000. Stevens also possessed an extensive art
collection and $29,000 in silver bars, and hired an attorney for the
divorce suit, paying him $10,000 plus $125 per hour. Martha claims, "My
husband has total control of the church and its funds, and total access to
all church finances. He is, in essence, the church himself."
MINOR "CHRISTIAN" CULTS (Part III)
HOUSE OF JUDAH
In July 1983, Michigan state troopers removed a wooden stock which was
confiscated from the House of Judah religious camp in Allegan, Michigan,
when police raided the cult and took 67 children from their parents and
placed them in state custody, pending an investigation into the alleged
beating death of a twelve-year-old child at the camp. In subsequent
television interviews, the fanatical leader of the House of Judah,
"Prophet" William A. Lewis, justified the beatings as being "the will of
God." He explained that the cult members had to make a choice of obeying
God and beating their child (supposedly in accordance to the Bible) or of
not beating him and risking the eternal damnation of the child's soul.
Lewis stated that the dead child's parents bore no responsibility for the
child's death because God told them to beat the child. Lewis explained,
"God killed him because God doesn't like bad children."
This church, based in southern California, is a little-known yet very
dangerous cult that exhibits many of the same signs that were evident in
the now-defunct People's Temple. Its leader is "Pastor" Eleanor Daries,
referred to as the "Oracle of God" by cult members. At first glance, she
may appear to be a warm and caring individual. One woman who joined
When you finally met Pastor, you fell in love with her
at once. Everything about her personality was attractive.
She treated you like you were really special. Most of the
young people affectionately called her "Mother." The new-
comers soon adopted that term also because she treated you
like you were her own child. This woman [Eleanor Daries]
was constantly saying "I love you."
One former member claimed:
She had a fantastic personality that drew people like
a magnet. Once under her power, she could make you believe
almost anything. I loved her very much, and the desire to
have her return that love and friendship was so strong that
I was willing to do almost anything to get it. She used
this knowledge to control me for a long time - never quite
letting me close enough to satisfy me, yet always holding
satisfaction before me as a hope, as one would hold bait
before an animal.
And another former member named Donna stated:
I had only met "Pastor" a couple of times, but she had
me totally wound around her finger. I adored her and was
willing to do anything in hopes of being someday like her...
"Pastor" constantly glowed. You could almost feel the
presence of her personality before you even saw her.
Everything came alive when she entered the room. She was
a perfect lady, graceful, pretty, gracious, having the
carriage and manner more associated with royalty or nobility
than with a pastor...She radiated life and vitality, was
totally feminine, and at the same time managed to make her
authority and strength felt. One felt both awed and drawn
Donna was suckered into Faith Tabernacle, and a few months later quit her
job and moved onto a "dorm" for singles located at the commune. She then
gave all her valuables to "Pastor" Daries as a sign of submission to her
authority. According to her, the leaders "insisted that the answer to life
lay in renouncing self and all earthly ties to family, friends, and
possessions, and by giving oneself entirely to serving God through the
special mission of the commune."
Donna then stayed on the commune for two years, letting her life be
planned out for her by the cult. Then she started dating a fellow member,
and was soon afterwards called to special meetings where she was told that
her fiancee couldn't manage money or maintain a clean environment. She was
coerced into signing a pledge to remain loyal to the group even if her
fiancee didn't. She was then pressured into attending secret night
meetings where she was interrogated harshly and humiliated. Still
undaunted, Donna finally won permission to marry, but later learned that
the cult had instilled in both of them a mutual fear that the other would
either leave Faith Tabernacle or inform on his/her spouse. As a result,
they rarely spoke to each other.
Donna also unearthed - and was subjected to - a nightmarish system of
fear and terror that served as the underlying foundation of Faith
Tabernacle. The security system was very complex, yet so subtle that the
untrained eye would take years to see it. Everything one said or did
within the cult, including using the telephone, was done under the watchful
eyes of Daries' bodyguards and reported to Daries. Guards were also posted
at the doors during every sermon. Nobody entered or left the compound
without their knowledge. The guard system served two purposes: to protect
Daries and to prevent any members from escaping or forming a mutiny. The
compound itself was surrounded with a tall wire fence that was bugged every
step of the way.
Members of Faith Tabernacle are forbidden to watch television or read
newspapers or magazines. Most individual activities are also discouraged
by the cult. Members are also expected to reveal every last detail they
can on their friends in the cult to the leaders. If one did not inform on
his friends, he could expect to be disciplined for not doing so. As Donna
said, "The result was that everybody watched everyone else and cut the
other guy's throat in order to save his own neck."
And there was good reason to fear discipline. Although there is no
evidence of physical abuse as in the People's Temple, there is a lot of
psychological abuse within Faith Tabernacle. A Japanese boy who was a
member of the cult was, according to Donna, interrogated for an hour at one
session until he was reduced to tears. Teen-age children in the cult were
forced to slap their parents who were being disciplined. Even the youngest
children were not spared; one little girl who was quite pretty and just
learning to talk was forced to repeat "I ugly, I ugly" over and over in
order to keep her from developing pride. Another girl got spat on. Most
discipline meetings were held at night on the spur of the moment in order
to further disillusion victims so that it was harder to resist the
psychological assaults they were forced to undergo.
As for Eleanor Daries herself, she is an extremely paranoid and
manipulative individual who went through two failed marriages. Donna said
that Daries probably hated men: "She taught that women should rule
everything, and that men didn't have any brains and weren't good for
anything except to father children." Daries also ate from sterilized
dishes and drank only sterilized water, having an abnormal fear of germs
and poisons. She was also accompanied by a bodyguard at all times for fear
of being shot or stabbed, and took part at all discipline sessions.
CHURCH OF THE LAMB OF GOD
This violent cult, with a thirst for blood that rivals that of the
People's Temple or Charles Manson's group, has its origins in a relatively
peaceful Mormon splinter group known as the Church of the First Born of the
Fullness of Time. (Whether or not it is related to the Church of the First
Born discussed earlier is unknown.) It was founded by Alma LeBaron, a
polygamist who was kicked out of the Latter-Day Saints, who took his wives
and children, along with a small band of fellow polygamists, to Mexico in
1943. Alma then set up his own church and a tiny village named Colonia
LeBaron, which Alma ran until his death.
Joel LeBaron, one of Alma's seven sons, assumed control over the
church and was assisted by his brother Ervil, a stocky, oval-faced man who
then tried to wrench control from the group away from Joel. Unable to do
so, he then split from the group with approximately 50 followers and formed
the Church of the Lamb of God in the early 1970s. In 1972, Joel was
assassinated by two of Ervil's followers, Gamaliel Rios and Daniel Jordan,
who killed Joel on Ervil's orders. After another brother, Verlon, took
over Colonia LeBaron, Ervil tried to have him murdered as well, but failed.
The theology of the cult is relatively simple. Ervil LeBaron was the
One Mighty and Strong Prophet of God, and thus the sole ruler of the cult.
Members of the Church of the Lamb of God practiced polygamy, and LeBaron
himself took 13 wives and fathered at least 56 children. Ervil taught that
there were some sins that men could not be forgiven for, and the only way
they could be saved was by the spilling of their own blood. Among the acts
for which LeBaron prescribed "blood atonements" were failing to tithe to
him, failing to share wives with him, and failing to adhere strictly to
In 1974, two trucks filled with cult members attacked a rival LeBaron
commune located near Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Once there, the cultists
fire-bombed every building, killed two people, and left around two dozen
seriously injured. The "blood atonements" were on.
In 1975, one of Ervil's wives left him and was promptly killed. In
the same year, cult member and fellow polygamist Robert Simons refused to
give one of his wives to Ervil. He too was murdered soon afterwards.
It is believed that in 1977, LeBaron ordered the strangulation death
of his pregnant teen-age daughter, Rebecca Chynoweth, who was living in
Dallas with her husband Victor Chynoweth, who was suspected of planning
some of the cult murders along with his brothers Mark and Duane. All three
broke with the Church of the Lamb of God several years ago.
In 1977, LeBaron then targeted a rival polygamist leader. Rulon
Allred, a naturopathic physician who lived in Murray, Utah, was shot to
death by two women in front of several patients. The women are believed to
have been among Ervil's wives. LeBaron was finally convicted of the murder
in 1980. Victor and Mark Chynoweth were also charged with the murder, but
not convicted. Ervil LeBaron was then thrown into a Utah prison, where he
died in 1982. One of his wives, Anna Marston, claimed the body and had it
buried at Resthaven cemetery in Houston.
However, an FBI spokesman claims that while Ervil was in prison, he
supposedly wrote a hit list naming 23 disloyal cultists. He claimed that
the names came to him in a revelation. By 1988, 21 murders would be
credited to members of the Church of the Lamb of God, possibly working on
the hit list Ervil left behind. After LeBaron's imprisonment, his
followers founded a new commune near Mexico City. Others left the cult and
established non-polygamous families in America.
In 1984, a Utah woman and her 15-month-old daughter were killed, their
deaths attributed to LeBaron's followers. Daniel Jordan, one of the two
cultists responsible for the death of Joel LeBaron, left the cult and
settled near Denver with his four wives, one of them being a daughter of
Ervil. Jordan was killed while on a camping trip in Utah in October 1987.
On the night of Jordan's funeral, Ervil's son Aaron showed up at the Jordan
family's main dwelling and proclaimed himself the new One Mighty and Strong
Prophet of God. A fight broke out, and Aaron was arrested on a misdemeanor
charge. After staying in jail for three or four days, Aaron was released
and hasn't been seen since.
Shortly afterwards, another one of Ervil's brothers, Ross LeBaron,
told the LOS ANGELES TIMES: "It's gonna be terrible, a blood bath. I've
had the revelation. Ervil's kids, they're just gonna kill and kill and
Ross turned out to be right. On June 27, 1988, cultists shot to death
Mark and Duane Chynoweth, who were living in Houston. Also killed was
Duane's 8-year-old daughter, Jennifer. Mark was killed in his appliance
store. At the same time, Edward Marston, who was living in Irving, was
also shot to death by cultists. Edward was the son of Anna Marston, one of
Ervil's wives and the one responsible for his burial in Houston. The
killings all took place within a few minutes of 4pm CST, with what the
DALLAS TIMES HERALD called "stark brutality and military precision."
The killers left few clues. Both the Houston and Irving drove dark
pickups, with the driver of the Houston pickup wearing a beard. Aaron
LeBaron, along with his brothers Andrew and Heber, are being sought for
questioning. Heber is also wanted as a suspect in a 1986 bank robbery in
IN THE NAME OF GOD?
Naturally, some doubt may exist about denouncing the teachings of some
of these cults, especially concerning the belief that God will cure any
diseases that trouble His followers. The Bible does reveal some instances
of miraculous healings performed by people other than Christ, but it does
not say anywhere in the Bible that the use of medicine to cure ailments is
in any way blasphemy. Many people who are devoted to Christ nowadays,
including the author of this study, will claim that God has healed them of
disease or ailment, or at least relieved them of some kind of pain.
However, it should be stressed that when one, claiming to act in the
name of God, prevents another person from receiving medical aid without any
consideration for the afflicted person, it can be safely said that the
person blocking medical aid to his/her comrade is defying God's law. The
individual believer should, of course, be able to refuse treatment on
religious grounds if he/she refuses it on his/her own free will. However,
the believer should be reminded of the incident where Satan tempted Christ
to jump off the Temple in Jerusalem, saying that the Scriptures claimed
that God "will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up
in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." To
this, Christ simply replied, "It is also written, 'Do not put the Lord your
God to the test.'"
As for disciplining children, there is no mandate in the Bible that
demands that all children be disciplined in the same way; for example,
spanking. Solomon once said that "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a
child; the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." Unfortunately,
too many people, even those who mean well for their children, put the
stress on "the rod" instead of "correction." It should also be noted that
Solomon elsewhere said that "He that troubles his own house shall inherit
the wind." And in no way does God ever tolerate brutality in discipline;
Christ spoke out vehemently against it in the Gospels.
It should be remembered that Christ handed down two commandments to
serve as a "foundation" for the Christian ethic: "'Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This
is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love
your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two
commandments." (St. Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)
Religious cults such as the ones described above go against these two
cherished principles that Christ taught while on the earth. If a religious
group claims to place anything above a person's God-given right to life and
love while still claiming to serve the Lord, avoid the movement at all
costs. Chances are that the movement in question is one of the hundreds of
religious cults that still flourish to this day.
And the last thing a Christian needs is a foundation based on shifting
sands instead of a solid Rock.