My Heart Breaks for Micah – and Bethany

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Bethany and Micah, SU Commons, September 1, 2008

One afternoon in the fall of 2007 I walked over and sat down across from Bethany in the Southwestern Commons. I had a dazed look on my face.

“Were you just talking to Micah Moore?” she asked me.

I nodded. “How do you know Micah?”

“He’s in my Reel Jews class. What did y’all talk about?”

“He did most of the talking,” I said, in a perplexed voice. “He told me about Jesus.”

Micah Moore was a freshman. I’d met him at the beginning of July when he messaged me on Facebook and asked if I was living on campus for the summer (I was), and if I would be willing to give him a tour of the school (I did). When he moved in at the beginning of the fall semester, we became good friends. Sometimes at night we would visit the hookah bars on Sixth Street, and drive through Austin listening to music and talking. Sometimes he would play guitar or recite poetry he had written. Sometimes my friend Booth would tell a joke and Micah would laugh so hard, he had to leave the room.

But then we got pulled in different directions and didn’t see each other as often. I’d learned that Bethany and Tyler Deaton were starting a secret prayer group, and I had begged them to let me be a part of it. Micah had dropped acid with some of his hall mates, and lately he wasn’t himself.

That was what we had talked about—and what we would talk about again on the last night of the fall semester, when Beth and I prayed over him. He hadn’t felt safe since the acid trip. It was hard for him to know what was real anymore. His mind was full of disturbing, paranoid thoughts. What if reality is just a projection? What if the people around me don’t even really exist?

Micah hadn’t prayed in a long time, but lately running and praying were the only things that could help him.

And being prayed over by others. Beth and I prayed over him for two hours that night in December, and by the time we had finished he was feeling more peace than he had felt in months. He said he wanted to be part of a community. He really seemed to like us.

I felt cautiously optimistic. To be honest, I was quite nervous. Micah was a cool guy, and I had been worried about how he might react if the two of us tried to ambush him with Scripture. But this wasn’t a case of someone being forced to pray against his will. He had sought us out. He said no counselor he had seen could bring him the feeling of reassurance he felt when Beth laid hands on him.

The moment he left the room that night, Bethany gave me a mighty high-five.

“I think he might join our group,” I said quietly.

“I was feeling the same thing,” said Beth. “Just wait until Tyler hears about this. He’s gonna flip out!” And she ran to go find him.

The next morning, Micah showed up at the door of my room. He handed me a CD and a note he had written.

“I can’t tell you how blessed I am,” it said, “to have become friends with you. You have inspired me on so many levels. It seems like every time I begin to feel negatively about things, I think about things you have told me and it opens my eyes … I know you are always saying you have a long way to go, but don’t we all? We all hurt and grow and fall and that is why we need God. Anyway, I just thought I would tell you how much I respect and look up to you.”

Today I think back on those words, and they burn.

*           *           *

I failed Micah. This is what I’ve been feeling, in one form or another, for most of the last week.

It was already a stressful week. The ends of Octobers are always hard now, ever since the night two years ago when I learned that Bethany was dead. Booth warned me not to let my grief make me bloodthirsty, but I was already so certain there was more to the story than a newlywed taking her own life.

And the rest of what transpired in the fall of 2012 just seemed to confirm my initial suspicions, as a few of the leaders from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City staged a heroic intervention (according to their version of the story) to rescue the remaining 18 members of Tyler Deaton’s cult. At a series of public meetings in the middle of November, senior IHOPKC leaders described how Shelley Hundley had interrogated Micah until he broke down and confessed to killing Bethany.

Mike Bickle and Allen Hood painted in the blackest possible terms the depravity of the sex cult from Texas. The men’s house, they said, was an epicenter of darkness. The core leadership was all engaged in despicable homosexual acts with each other. Tyler and Micah probably weren’t even truly saved. They were murderers. It didn’t seem to matter that Micah was still awaiting trial (and that Tyler had yet to be charged with a crime). What mattered was that Shelley Hundley had exposed a tremendous evil. Because of her, IHOP would no longer be associated with a dangerous cult.

At the time, the murderer narrative made a certain amount of sense. I knew firsthand that Tyler was capable of extreme cruelty. I had seen him twist and manipulate the guys I had once lived with into doing horrible things that they would never have done in saner circumstances. Given the awful, nightmarish reality of Bethany’s death, it wasn’t a stretch to believe something only marginally more awful: that her husband had coerced a mutual friend into taking her life.

Yet there was always that nagging voice of hesitancy and discomfort, and it would come up in conversation whenever the subject turned to Micah. “Do you really think Micah…?”

It wasn’t that they thought Tyler incapable of ordering such a heinous act. No one doubted that. But anyone who had even the slightest familiarity with Micah wanted to know how someone like him—gentle, quiet Micah—could have been a party to something so ghastly.

Micah, who had once picked me up off the side of the road and driven me across town to a friend’s house, when no one else in the group would speak to me.

Micah, who would laugh and cry and cry and laugh whenever he felt the wind of the Holy Spirit.

Micah, who was beloved of my atheist friends because when I was being a total jerk, he had explained his faith to them in a way that was humble, and sincere, and made sense.

How could that Micah ever have done such a thing? What was he doing behind bars in Jackson County, unvisited by members of the group or anyone from IHOP?

And, in my darker and more honest moments, I knew there were several things that didn’t add up.

Like the fact that Bethany was clearly emotionally unstable, and apparently suicidal, in the weeks before her death. Shortly after her funeral I learned from friends and former members of the group that Tyler had shamed her during their honeymoon and shunned her when they returned. Knowing how traumatic the group’s shunning could be, and how prone she was to depression, even before the group started, there were times when I would wonder, what if…?

And then there was the fact that guys who had lived in the house at the time of her death, and whom I trusted, didn’t think Micah had been involved. And the fact that Micah had painted a lurid story of ritualistic sexual assaults that was not only totally outlandish, but also unsubstantiated by any evidence. And the fact—most worrying of all—that Micah was not mentally or emotionally stable, that for as long as I had known him he had been suffering from the after-effects of that drug trip: hallucinations, paranoia, and a tenuous relationship with reality. All those problems had been exacerbated by his association with Tyler’s group, and with IHOP.

*           *           *

And then last week, the week of the second anniversary of her death, Micah’s defense attorney released a 15-page motion to have his testimony rendered inadmissible. I read it—and had to admit that I have no idea what really happened, and that this case is even more twisted and confusing than we knew.

The defense makes a powerful case that Micah’s initial confession to Shelley Hundley was completely fabricated, and that the treatment Bethany received at the hands of Tyler and other group members pushed her to take her own life.

– Analysis of the suicide note found in her van revealed that it was written in Bethany’s handwriting.

– Micah’s DNA was not found anywhere on the plastic bag used to induce asphyxiation.

– Micah was unable to describe the crime scene accurately. He got some pretty important information wrong, such as the location of her body. He said I had helped him commit the murder, though the prosecution feels confident I was nowhere near the crime scene when it happened.

– Wal-Mart surveillance footage shows Beth buying the drugs that were in her system when she died, earlier that morning.

– Video taken from the IHOPKC prayer room web stream shows Micah in the prayer room at the time he originally claimed to have killed her. (I remember walking past him that morning. He was pacing around on the sidewalk outside the prayer room, reading his Bible. He said hi to me in a kind voice. I remember being moved and surprised by it. It was the last time life would be “normal” for either of us, ever).

But the thing that clinched it for me, that made me feel confident that Micah’s confession was probably fabricated, was when I learned the identity of the IHOP-affiliated group that had prayed over Micah and the other group members on the night of Micah’s confession.

It was Prisoners of Hope.

I’ve already written at length about my own experience with Prisoners of Hope. The leadership of IHOP denies that they’re an “IHOP group,” but they’re all IHOP staff members who are brought in to pray over sex-trafficking victims and people they suspect of being in demonic bondage. I went through a few “counseling” and “deliverance” sessions with PoH at the end of last year, and walked away feeling abused, humiliated, and insulted.

The ministry is like a mirror image of Tyler’s group. They implied that they had been following me on social media, wanted to know why I had been photographed with the director of an anti-IHOP movie, and performed a Charismatic “deliverance” ritual (speaking in tongues, snapping their fingers in my ears) designed to “break off” the false spirits of Catholicism, Mormonism, etc. Then finally, as if the parallels weren’t already explicit enough, they rebuked me for saying I would never battle the forces of Antichrist, telling me, “Tyler was right about that.”

So when I read the defense’s statement and found out that Prisoners of Hope had been involved in Micah’s confession… suddenly, a lot of things started to make sense.

I thought about how susceptible the group was to religious manipulation, and how during the summer of 2011 there had been a week (we called it “Fire Week”) where Micah and about half a dozen others would periodically start laughing, twitching, screaming, falling on the floor. (I would say one thing to Micah’s girlfriend and she’d collapse into the couch cushions, wailing).

And then I thought about the deliverance style of Prisoners of Hope, which seems designed to provoke exactly that kind of response.

And I thought about what a metaphorical person Micah is, and how difficult it would be for a literalist to understand that. And I wondered if maybe when Micah, overwhelmed by guilt and the rising tide of religious hysteria, confessed to murdering one of his closest friends—I wondered if maybe he was trying to express a feeling that for him was emotionally true, even if it wasn’t literally true.

Because the defense motion had made one other thing abundantly clear: if Bethany wasn’t murdered, she was certainly bullied into taking her own life.

“At her attempts to initiate a physical encounter with her husband by kissing him,” the report says of their honeymoon, “Tyler shunned her advance, became angry, and scolded her like a child—undoubtedly humiliating and devastating her.” And it kept getting worse: “Upon their return from their honeymoon, Bethany and Tyler began their married life in the basement of the men’s house. Because of Bethany’s attempted physical relationship with her husband, she was punished for her ‘narcissism’ by being shunned, isolated, and ignored. As further punishment, she was not allowed to sleep in bed with Tyler, and the newly married Bethany was forced to sleep alone on the couch. At a time when she had been physically rejected in the most humiliating way a woman can be rejected she was also being socially rejected—excommunicated from those close to her. She could find no solace—no reprieve.”

I hate that this happened to one of my best friends. It grieves me to think that the person responsible will probably never see justice in this life.

And if the defense is right, there are really two victims here. There is of course Bethany, who spent the last days of her life being rejected by a man who had systemically isolated her from her own closest friends and family until he was all she had left. Bethany, who found herself in the position of being the person on whom the group unloaded its anger, hostility, contempt.

And then there’s Micah—who, in effect, fulfilled that exact same role for IHOP.

And my heart breaks for him as it does for her—because even in my darkest imagination I have no idea what it’s like to wake up in a cold police station after a long, sleepless night, and find out that you just confessed to a crime that you didn’t commit. Because, as much as these last two years have been a nightmare for me and some of Beth’s other close friends, they’ve been even more of a nightmare for Micah, who was banished from his religious community, demonized by its leadership, and had to face the prospect of potentially going to prison for the rest of his life because of a statement he made in the throes of religious delusion.

And frankly, I’m haunted by the comment that Micah left tonight on Jonathan Barclay’s blog post about him. Haunted because what Micah says about IHOP is true—“they threw me to the fucking wolves and then walked away dusting their hands off”—and I went along with it. Haunted because his perspective on the similarities between IHOP and Tyler’s group—“to me, they are just two flavors of the same poison”—so fully mirrors my own, and it’s impossible to get IHOP to see that, and I wonder how many more Bethanys there will be, and how many more Micahs. Haunted because, yes, Jonathan’s post was full of empathy and compassion, and my own response, all too often, has not been.

And I’m so sorry that all of this happened. And I wish I had asked these questions sooner. I wish I had listened to the whispers of dissension. I wish I had fought harder for Micah.

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19 thoughts on “My Heart Breaks for Micah – and Bethany

  1. Bethany’s story still haunts me, although I never met her in person. Her story begs to be told, as you have done, because your own question, about how many more Bethanys does it take to wake us up, to stop the horror, haunts me, as well.

    Your article is well written, Boze, and reads like a chapter in your memoir. I am glad to know Micah is innocent, but all the more horrified he endured abuse on top of abuse, in being thrown to the wolves.

    You were a victim, then, too Boze. Your motivation was never to hurt anyone. When we encounter this type of evil, our lives are forever changed. You are a voice for the silenced ones today, and that will go a long way toward change. Thank you for writing so vulnerably and passionately, crying for justice!

  2. It feels strange to be an outsider to this situation and have such knowledge of it, due to reading your blog and articles and the things you’ve linked to. But in some ways, I’m glad I know this story, because it educates me on how easily what feels like a good thing can become sinister. It allows me to point to explain to others that cults are not something that foolish, stupid people fall into, but something far more complicated and alluring.

    I’m certainly glad I know more about it than just those early national-level reports, which were confusing and incendiary and, as it turns out, so wrong.

    The reason I’m glad to know more is that I feel like the more people who know the truth about the way that Bethany was abused and manipulated and bullied, the closer she gets toward some sort of justice. It’s not REAL justice for the wrongs she endured, but at least people know. At least when strangers with no real right to her story–people like me–talk about her, we know about the injustice in her life. Sometimes I feel that when things are going all wrong, all that matters to me is that people KNOW the truth. Even if that won’t fix it. I hope that you and Bethany’s friends and family can take comfort in the fact that there is truth being told.

    The same goes for Micah. Micah, if you read this, I am so sorry for everything you went through. I hope you can begin to find healing. I am glad that people are learning the truth and replacing the version of you they had invented in their heads (thanks to people who lied and manipulated you and others) with a more accurate version of you.

    I hope this comment makes sense. What I’m trying to say is this: Boze, I’m glad you’re telling the story. I’m glad you’re correcting the record. I have no *right* to know this story, but in knowing it, and sharing it with others, I do what I can to let people know the truth of what Bethany and Micah went through, as opposed to the soundbit version that was being passed around when Bethany first died and Micah was manipulated into confessing.

  3. I’m so sorry – for Bethany and Micah and you and everyone else this organization has manipulated and shredded and hurt. I’m don’t think there’s much I can do besides pray for you all, but I will.
    Like Susan said – thank you for writing and being vulnerable. ❤

  4. Thanks for sharing. I am going through the same thing. You articulate so eloquently and powerfully what I hope to one day. I left a non-denominational charismatic deliverance cult his February. The even that made me face reality involved a young man who is now in prison. While he is truly accountable and can now for the first time really face his issue the cult and his upbringing did not provide him the help he needed. And I was concerned for his obvious slow psychological demise while the cult leader in my opinion sided with his parents. The cult leader prohibited me from seeing him. And like Micah I doubt anyone but his mother is visiting and maybe, *maybe* 1 person. I have been praying about seeing him. And I think I will.

  5. Thanks for writing this Boze. I needed to hear all these details because I was on staff at IHOPKC for years and when I heard this story come out on the news a year after I left, I was shocked. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how this could happen. This really helps me ‘let go’

  6. Thank you again, Boze. As I told you before, I’ve read EVERYTHING written over the past two years, and it has been agonizing, as Micah’s mother, to not be able to shout out his innocence from the rooftops. So many hurtful things have been disseminated, clearly said through the IHOP and media filter, that have proven to be untrue. And as my father-in-law, who sadly did not live to see this day, always used to say “you can’t unring that bell…” However, today is a new day. And, hopefully, eyes have been opened. You write a lot about spiritual abuse. I pray people will drink in this story and start thinking for themselves. If it feels like someone other than God has too much control over your life and thoughts, they probably do. Get the hell out while the getting is good.

  7. Hi, Boze,

    I’m an SU alum but I wasn’t around when these things were happening and don’t know any of the people involved. I’ve been really struck by Bethany’s story and yours, I think especially because undergrad was a really difficult, vulnerable time for me and it scares me to think that I could have just as easily had my story go this way or similarly. I’m really sorry for everything you went through and want to thank you for telling your story so candidly along the way while those of us on the outside struggle to make sense of what happened.

    I know Bethany’s family has posted in a few places that they disagree with the dismissal of the case against MM. Do you know why this is, or if they have published their side of the story anywhere? I know having this information won’t undo things or probably really even help to make sense of anything, but I know that there are people following Bethany’s story (folks who knew her and folks who didn’t but who have nonetheless been touched by her story) who care about Bethany’s voice being heard to whatever extent that might still be possible. To Bethany’s family, if you’re reading, my heart goes out to you.

  8. My heart breaks for all of you. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m so sorry for your pain. You don’t know me but I am a lifetime resident of Kansas City. I am a believer in Christ Jesus but am not a member of IHOP.

    My personal story is one full of tragedy including a “Christian” husband that sexually abused our children. After the flurry of activity to protect our children, I spent months and months trying to dissect my situation and why I couldn’t see what was happening at the time. I don’t have any clear answers other than to say we are surrounded by brokenness in a multitude of places. Sometimes we love people that don’t love us back well, even though they may want to love us well. I’ve resolved in my heart that it is not wrong to love someone or to have loved someone that hurts us. We do need to put distance us and maintain boundaries, but the fact that we cared for them (or may even still care for them) is not a ‘sin.’ Even seeking justice becomes tricky and learning to let God be the one responsible for justice led me to freedom from the burden of trying to fix the wrongs against us.

    To Micah, I specifically want to tell you I am sorry that I was not responsive to your needs when you were here in Kansas City and alone in jail. I cried for you. I prayed for you. I asked people around me if we should make sure someone visited with you but I did not follow through. I’m sorry that I did not reach out to you sooner.

    There is so much confusion in this world and it seems like the church should be a place of shelter and protection from that confusion. Unfortunately, the church fumbles and brings more confusion sometimes. I honestly believe most people affiliated with organized churches have good hearts and really want to be a part of something that brings positive changes to the world. I believe that is true of most people affiliated with IHOP too.

    I pray you are all blessed with peace. Please know that you are loved.

  9. Unfortunately, I’m very familiar with this story and with the case. At the time of Bethany’s death I had a blog and reported on her case regularly. I had many articles and testimonies on there about the dangers of IHOP from first hand sources. Bethany’s tragic story came only a few years after the death of a little baby, Jeremiah Candler, whose parents were IHOP members and who was starved to death. He died under his birth weight. IHOP responded EXACTLY the same way in that case, they threw the parents under the bus. (we don’t know them.. they weren’t members etc). It is my opinion that Tyler’s group was just a cult within a cult. I’m sorry for all of your pain…. we hope and pray that some day everything will come into the light. Hopefully this 48 hours show will lead to them doing a show on IHOP (who did not respond to any of their questions in the “Fall from grace” program.

  10. Thank you for writing this… 4 years ago I was a young IHOP intern who endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse by a leader there… Although justice had never been served for the abuse I experienced-this article does give me hope that others will have their eyes an ears opened to the truth about horrendous and outrageous things that are happening in the IHOP community under the shroud of “Gods work.” Reading this has brought back so many awful memories and I just pray that justice will continue!!!

  11. Boze — Thanks for writing and posting so relentlessly on this and related subjects. Yesterday, when I ran across a Cracked magazine article you co-wrote, it was the first update and clarification I’d seen since the original wild media portrayal of Tyler’s group and Bethany’s (then) alleged murder.

    I think one reason I couldn’t bear to look any closer at the time, or follow the story, was seeing how the people involved were connected to IHOP, which, when I was still part of an abusive charismatic culture, was held up as a paragon of wisdom, revelatory theology, and lived-out faith. (At the time of my conversion to Christianity, it was through a larger church’s campus-based in-group, and we had our own mini-Tyler — I was told by him the Lord wanted me to stop using my nickname, encouraged to burn or throw away almost all my possessions, and told when my roommate skipped out on our joint lease (leaving me with debt and effectively homeless) that his group had been praying for me to be delivered from said roommate’s demonic influence.)

    As I saw how quickly IHOP distanced themselves from the situation, I knew they were being dishonest in some way, and it hurt to watch a church I had once admired, and then still believed was sincere (if often wrong) act so hypocritically…and it made me sick to think any group attached to an apostolic/prophetic movement could be involved in a killing (even though, you know, Jonestown happened). I’m massively relieved to learn more and see that though Micah suffered from the madness a self-righteous, charismatic cult can induce, it wasn’t the madness of a murderer…and after knowing more about how hideously they mishandled and worsened a horrible thing, I don’t think I’ll ever view IHOP or related movements anything like so kindly again.

    I know the world of seeing demons and signs everywhere, enduring group pressure to conform and confess sins, high-pressure exorcisms, questioning your own salvation, fearing God’s wrath, and judging people and groups you used to/should love because you knew the “truth” about them — etc.

    I got up this morning and prayed for you and your friends, as I was thinking a lot about all you’ve suffered and lost. I wish there was something more a virtual stranger could do — and if there ever is anything, let me know.

  12. I hope everybody’s wounds from this tragedy have healed. I had the same crisis that Micah went through trying to grapple with reality. People are most susceptible to ideologies when they are most broken down. Reading this, I am very thankful it wasn’t me in handcuffs on the news.

  13. thank you so much for writing and making these things public , i am thankful and you are a brilliant writer. i was/am a victim of IHOP and have suffered and continue to suffer bc of them. i was also at my vulnerable state when i went there and made me even more susceptible to them. i needed help (bc i had been broken down by an abusive person) i also struggled with trying to know what was reality , and they took advantage bc somehow they have the ability read peoples thoughts and steal peoples faces and reproductive organs, etc. etc. so, when i read about how IHOP was involved with this tragedy , and taking advantage of people who are already broken down , and make them feel like it is their faults , i knew bc i know from personal exprerience what they are capable of and if i hadn’t experienced it first hand …. i wouldnt have believed it either. i mean, they have so much power from satan that they have the ability to do just about anything. and somehow make everyone believe it is you at fault . i didnt know i wasn’t the only one. i am sorry about Bethany , she helped draw my attention into IHOP and that i wasn’t the only one. i know what its like to have so much injustice and then be made to feel like you are at fault. please , keep sharing

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