“But at Least it’s a Christian Cult…” Part 1


On the afternoon of August 1, 2009, I moved to Grandview, Missouri. Improbably, almost miraculously, Tyler Deaton had found us a house on the very day God had promised. The phone call that ultimately saved us had come when we were loading up the moving van on the morning of the day we left for Dallas. It was his cousin’s girlfriend: she wanted us to know there was a family of renters in Grandview who were very interested in renting us their house.

“I can’t believe this,” Tyler had said. “What would we have done, Boze? What would we have done when we got there and we had no place to stay?”

“I told you it would all be taken care of,” I told him. “You should have had more faith.”

Still, troubles abounded. When Betania* (who was already living in south Kansas City) went over to see the new house, she had a terrible feeling about it. I got into an argument with Tyler as we were leaving her parents’ house in Dallas—where he had just asked for, and received, Betania’s hand in marriage—because I had spent five minutes too long getting ready; then got into another argument immediately after when I suggested that perhaps he wasn’t as cured of his homosexuality as he thought he was. Then, when we finally arrived, we spent the entire afternoon arguing about which rooms we were going to live in. I wanted to live in the downstairs basement, and Tyler thought that was a terrible idea.

“Boze,” he said, “it’s dark down here, this room is way too big for you, and you already have a propensity to isolate yourself. If you had this room, you would just hide in here all the time. Upstairs there are three bedrooms right next to each other and you wouldn’t be able to hide in them like you would in here.”

Tyler was so adamant about me not having the room I wanted that eventually (after we had been arguing for about an hour) his cousin Tim accused him of wanting the room for himself. At this point I stood up for Tyler and told him I knew he had my best interests at heart.

And in a way, that was true. Tyler wasn’t just thinking of me; he was thinking of everyone. “I think I might turn this into my ministry room,” he told April* and Betania*. “God has already told me that I’m not supposed to have a normal job because I’m going to be so busy ministering. And when I start counseling people, this won’t just be a bedroom; it’ll be like my own private office.”

And there was one final consideration: I would never be willing to share a room with any of the other guys in the house. But when Peter* moved in at the end of the semester, Tyler was already planning on sharing a room with him.

“Tyler, I can’t explain it,” I told him, beginning to sound like Bethany, “I just really like this room. It’s not because I’m an introvert, or an artist, or trying to hide from everyone. I just… I have a really good feeling about it. I really want to live here.”

“Boze,” said Tyler, “‘the man who isolates himself seeks his own agenda.’”[1]

*           *           *

Now, of course, Betania* is gone, the Group is dispersed, Tyler is back in Texas, and the house in which I spent three and a half years of my life is all over the local news. Thinking back over the events of that long-ago August, it seems disturbingly clear that Tyler already had an agenda in place on the day we moved in, and that, however much he insisted he was fully cured of his “idolatrous homosexual attractions,” the real reason he wanted the room, and the real reason he fought with me over it, hour after hour, until finally I realized I was being selfish and let him have it, was because of those terrible things he would soon be practicing in secret.

That’s not to say he was entirely conscious of his own intentions. He may not have been. That evil thing inside of him, that controlled all of us, controlled him even more.

I’ve written before on this blog about the dangers of misunderstanding people like Tyler—of turning them into a caricature of evil. It seems to happen every time some deceiver emerges to lead a whole group of people into satanic debauchery, and it doesn’t matter how extraordinary the crimes they committed—whether David Koresh, or Jim Jones, or Tyler, or Hitler—we reduce them to spectacles of such outlandish villainy that folks see them and think, “No one in their right mind would ever follow that person.” It can be comforting to pretend that our own sons and daughters would never be led astray when the Piper came calling.

During this past week Father Dwight Longenecker has written a series of posts on his blog about how to recognize a dangerous movement. In the first, “Cults and Common Sense,” he goes through the standard list of cult characteristics; but in the second, “Real Religion and Nazi Zombies,” he does something even more daring: he draws a decisive line between religious movements that are healthy and those you absolutely need to stay away from.

Inspired by one of Pope Francis’s recent invectives, Father Longenecker wants us to know that the most dangerous things in the world are ideologies. It’s not without reason that the Eastern Orthodox Church considers ideologies to be demonic manifestations, capable of whipping whole groups of people into mass hysteria.

He writes:

            The People of the Lie are those types of people who are basically and fundamentally self righteous. They believe in their cause. They believe in their religion. They believe in their ideology 100%. That’s okay. The sickness comes in when they see their group, their belief and code of behavior as a way to change the world (or create a utopia) not as a way to change themselves. At that point the focus shifts away from themselves to others. They’re okay. Others become the problem. Others need to fall into line. Other people need to get with the program. Other people need to conform. Other people need to help create the perfect world the ideologues envision.

It gets worse. The ideologue soon attracts other people who share his vision. They form a group, and that group is the elite. You are either in or out. If you are out you are considered as the enemy. Having enemies is the best way to bolster the group’s coherence. Having an enemy bolsters the ideologue’s self righteousness. Having an enemy helps build fear in the group and loyalty to the leader. Using the image of the righteous crusade bolsters the ideologue and his group so they launch themselves and their self righteous campaign to change the world.

The mentality of the ideologue is also the mentality of the cult leader.

That’s exactly what happened. Even at Southwestern there was all this division between us and the rest of the Christians on campus because we were the great ones, the heroes, who were going to change the world.

Tyler said God was calling him to “rebuild the apostolic community.” What this meant, essentially, was that we were going to model what a Christian community should look like for the rest of the Body of Christ. Christians in America didn’t know how to date rightly, so we were going to show them. He was using our marriage-prophecies as a witness to the rest of the world of what love really looks like. As we moved into the last days, young couples were absolutely going to need the prophetic assurance that their marriages had the blessing of heaven. Few people, even at IHOPKC, were willing to countenance this way of thinking—but that, after all, was what made us special.

As it happens, Tyler and his group were not only ideologues but millenarians. Sociology, history, and Church teaching all agree that millenarianism is the single most dangerous of all ideologies. (The Catholic Church has taken the unprecedented measure of declaring it “the Antichrist’s deception”). Nazism was a millenarian movement. So was Soviet communism. So was the Peoples Temple, a Pentecostal religious sect originating in Indiana led by the charismatic evangelist Jim Jones. And so were we.

Put simply, millenarianism is the belief that a special, select group of people (1) is going to initiate a cataclysmic event (2) that will ultimately lead to heaven on earth (3). These people have been specially chosen (1) to lead a revolution (2) that will overturn the existing order. And out of the ashes of the apocalypse, utopia will spring forth (3).

But the funny thing about millenniums is that they have a way of not happening. The Nazis believed they were inaugurating the 1,000-year messianic era prophesied in the book of Revelation; what they got instead, in the words of Roy Schoeman, “was an almost pure outpouring of hell’s hatred.”

Tyler considered himself a last day’s apostle, someone who was going to be a “pillar of the church” in the final generation, whose preaching would lead to the salvation of the leaders of the Israeli government. But just a few years later his movement is in ruins and one of my best friends is dead. And I have to ask myself, as I have almost every single day since I first heard the news, what was the point of that, and what did he think he was doing when he called us away from our jobs, and our families, and our callings, and moved us a thousand miles from home to this strange place?

[1] Proverbs 18:1

2 thoughts on ““But at Least it’s a Christian Cult…” Part 1

  1. Question: You said “Put simply, millenarianism is the belief that a special, select group of people (1) is going to initiate a cataclysmic event (2) that will ultimately lead to heaven on earth (3). These people have been specially chosen (1) to lead a revolution (2) that will overturn the existing order. And out of the ashes of the apocalypse, utopia will spring forth (3”

    Isn’t this exactly what Bickle is teaching with his end time theology? Just wondering…..

  2. Pingback: Archives | thetalkingllama

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