[EDIT: Information in this post was used in the Rolling Stone expose, “Love & Death in the House of Prayer” ]
I first met Tyler Deaton on the evening of Thursday, August 25, 2005. I came into the Chapel and found him playing the piano. He was playing it very passionately, and when he introduced himself I immediately noticed two things – one, that he was somewhat arrogant; and two, that he was probably gay. He was a freshman and I was a sophomore at Southwestern.
I met Betania* three days later through a mutual friend. They had just returned from church to have brunch in the Commons on the morning of the 28th. Betania* was beautiful, and she spoke beautifully. I asked her if she was a writer, and she said she was. When I told her my name (Boze), she immediately asked me if I had read the novels of Charles Dickens. (She had apparently read all of them, with the exception of “Sketches by Boz,” by the time she was thirteen). We had a very involved conversation about C. S. Lewis and the insidious nature of deception.
We became close friends. But it wasn’t until the next semester that I became close to Tyler. At the time, they barely knew each other. I was surprised when I returned from London at the end of 2006 (in the middle of their sophomore year), and they had become close.
However, we didn’t begin praying together in earnest until the fall of 2007. Over the summer, Tyler took a missions trip to India. When he returned, he was full of stories about his encounters with the supernatural realm. For example, he and his three companions visited a children’s realm. When they arrived, he closed his eyes and heard the words, “The leader of this place is committing sexual sin with young boys, and they’re having demonic nightmares.” And one of the girls on his team received a similar impression. So they went and confronted members of the trip’s leadership team, who affirmed that the boys had been having nightmares (but they hadn’t known why), and that recently several of the boys had been caught doing sexual things with each other. As a result, two of those boys and the head leader were removed from the children’s home.
When Tyler returned home, he began to wonder why these kinds of things don’t happen in America. But then on the night of July 20, he was standing in line outside of Barnes & Noble waiting for the release of the last Harry Potter novel when he heard the words, “What you just did there, you’re going to do at Southwestern,” and there immediately erupted out of his mouth the names of three people he was supposed to pray with during the coming year: Betania* and one other girl (“April”), and another guy (Peter*).
As soon as school started, the four of them began praying together nightly. At first they tried to keep it a secret, but the news was all over campus within a matter of weeks. When I found out was going on, I begged them to let me join them. For the next year and a half, we were the core prayer group. Over time our activities expanded to include a second group, consisting of about twenty to twenty-five people, who began meeting in the Chapel once or twice a week for worship. Tyler normally led worship and gave a lesson during those meetings, and then the floor was open for other people to share their prophetic impressions. At first it was very egalitarian. We all felt we were a part of something special, heroic – like the main characters in The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books.
Betania* was devoted to the group from the very beginning. She had always been an outstanding student, the star of the Writing Center, but when we began praying together her “ministerial calling” eclipsed all other considerations. She stopped writing, unless it was school-related. She also began fasting and praying intensely. In October 2007 she went on a twelve-day “Daniel fast,” where she ate only vegetables and drank only water. She said, “[God] is creating a desperation for Himself in me so strong that it won’t be able to be covered up, even by my husband . . . And He said, ‘This is how much I want you, that I’ll have you crying on the floor because you’re so lonely.’”
Now with respect to Tyler, I began to notice at around the same time that she was fiercely attracted to him. I finally confronted her about it at the end of November 2007. She had this confidence that they were going to be married. She knew he was gay, but she felt so certain about it. She felt God was going to use her to draw out aspects of his heart that were wounded and in need of healing.
It wasn’t until the following summer that Tyler became aware of Betania*’s feelings towards him. When he did, he was not happy about it. He had a crush on Peter* and at this point was sick of girls fighting over him. He had a magnetic attraction with women, one that sometimes seemed to be beyond his control.
Betania* cried almost every day that summer, but when she returned to school in the fall she had this determination not to be weighed down by it. For a number of weeks she was seriously thinking about moving to Austin after graduation – she, Tyler, and I all graduated in December – and going to nursing school. But then, towards the end of the semester, she had a talk with Tyler, and he basically told her, “You don’t have to punish yourself; you’re free to do what you want.” After this conversation, she decided to spend six months in Kansas City doing the OneThing internship with Tyler.
* * *
Tyler first visited IHOPKC during the annual “onething conference” at the end of 2007. He returned a few days later, raving about campus revival. He said it was the first time in his life he had realized that we weren’t alone in what we were trying to do at Southwestern. Being in an auditorium with 25,000 people who “operated in prophecy and supernatural giftings” was, in itself, a revelation. It affirmed that he wasn’t crazy.
This event changed the whole nature of our group. We bought books by the IHOP leaders, and books that they recommended, and began passing them around. We shared all the music and gathered in the Chapel as a group to listen to the teachings. We absorbed the organization’s theology. It became an integral part of who we were.
And it all happened so fast. Within a month after his visit, we were all hardcore IHOPpers. Growing up, Tyler had been a Presbyterian. But now for the first time in his life he was open to the idea that the world as we know it might end within our lifetimes. At the end of January 2008, he told me he had heard from God that his purpose in life was to “train God’s final people.” He began reading books by a variety of Charismatic authors – Lou Engle, Rick Joyner, etc. – and taking us to their conferences. In March we went to see Bill Johnson (a prominent faith-healer); in May, Cindy Jacobs, and in July, Todd Bentley. (Bill’s was the most normal, and Todd’s was just full-on insanity). At around this time he “discovered” his calling as an apostle.
* * *
Tyler’s hold over the Group became increasingly aggressive and authoritarian during our last semester. He encouraged the rest of us to shun “April” for two weeks because she was “angry, controlling, hateful, and abusive.” He lectured me heatedly on two occasions for supposedly flaunting his authority – on one occasion, because he felt there was a “spot of darkness” on the side of the restaurant where the Group was eating, and he thought we should move, and I told him I thought we should stay where we were and no one moved. He said I was endangering the souls of my friends by not listening to him.
And, at the same time, the rest of the school had become aware of what was going on in the Chapel and was not happy about it. Some of the other Christians began gathering a binder full of information on Tyler, the Group members, and the Charismatic movement, which they presented to the faculty at Southwestern. Students – many of them concerned friends – accused us of being a cult, and we were forbidden from using the Chapel for about a week.
But there were two incidents that really demonstrated how bad things were getting. The first was the weekend of Homecoming, in early November. Phi Lamb is the Christian sorority at SU, and Kappa Chi is the Christian fraternity. Some of the members of each – including a number of Group members – got together and performed a skit that poked fun at the Christians on campus. I wasn’t there, but I remember they were all dancing around in cardboard Bibles. The audience thought it was hysterical. Not so much Tyler. Immediately after it was over, he called us all into the Chapel. He said we had blasphemed the name of God by misrepresenting him in front of unbelievers, and God was angry about it. I remember being so surprised by what happened next, because within moments there were fifteen to twenty people all lined up in a row near the altar of the Chapel, on their faces praying and repenting, and a lot of them were crying. At the time, there was some obvious tension between me and Tyler, but I don’t think I was fully aware how scared I was. But I thought to myself, “This is so strange, that one person could have so much emotional control over a whole group of people…”
Apparently I wasn’t the only person surprised by this. The Christians who were in Kappa Chi and Phi Lamb, but were not in the Group, were furious. It created a gigantic rift between those of us who were in the Group and those outside of it, some of whom were now openly saying that Tyler was dangerous. Of course, for a lot of us in the Group the accusations didn’t even register, because we felt (and Tyler encouraged the opinion) that this was just the kind of resistance that leaders always get when they’re pushing ahead into new territory. People just aren’t going to understand. But eventually, those who contend and endure the resistance without giving up will be vindicated.
In the weeks between Thanksgiving and finals, there was a prophecy going around the Group that a major tragedy was about to strike Southwestern. It was actually Micah Moore who started it. He spoke to a few of us one Sunday after church and said that while he had been praying in the shower, God had given him this overwhelming impression that a terrible thing was about to happen, and that we would be the only people on campus who had peace about it. Within a matter of days, four other people came to Tyler privately with visions and dreams that affirmed what Micah had said. When Betania* heard about it, she said, “It sounds like someone is going to die.” My birthday was coming up on December 6th, so I sent out a mass email at the end of November telling everyone I wanted them to write me journal entries describing what happened on December 4th and 5th, because I thought whatever was going to happen would happen in those two days.
On the night of December 4th, one student was run over by another student as he was crossing the highway at the edge of campus. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the student who died was a hugely popular student, a senior, a spiritual leader who was active in the peace movement and in interfaith dialogues – the kind of dialogues that, according to IHOP and some other places, are the forerunner of the Harlot Babylon. In fact, the night before this happened we all gathered to listen to a sermon by Mike Bickle, in which he says that Christians are going to pray down judgment on the followers of Antichrist during the Great Tribulation. Of course Mike says in some of his publications that we’re not to start doing this until the Tribulation begins, but as we were listening to that sermon, there was a deep feeling shared by almost everyone present that God was about to descend on Southwestern in glory and judgment, and when He did so, it would destroy those things that were against Him… which, apparently, included this one student. After his death, we were convinced that God had come down in wrath, that our prayers had led to this student’s death, and that our purpose was to travel all over the world repeating the work that we had just done at Southwestern. If I had ever seriously thought about leaving the Group, there was no longer any point in even entertaining the notion. God was on Tyler’s side, and he was now unstoppable.