Hi. My name is Boze Herrington and I’m the author of “The Prophets,” a forthcoming memoir about the four and a half years I spent in a dangerous Charismatic religious community. My story has been featured in “Rolling Stone” Magazine and The Atlantic. You can read a synopsis in the three posts to which I’ve linked at the top of this page.
I met Bethany Leidlein at the beginning of my sophomore year at Southwestern University in August 2005. Though initially we had to work through a lot of issues in our friendship, over time we became best friends and kindred spirits. We were both fascinated with literature, fairy-tales, and Scotland; we both wanted to become novelists. She was witty and kind and beautiful and fiercely intelligent.
The same week I met Bethany, I also met the man who would become her husband. Tyler was probably the most zealous Christian I had ever met. He was also a brilliant debater who had never lost an argument.
In the fall of my senior year Tyler felt God calling him to start a prayer group that would meet every night to pray for revival on our campus. Initially it was just me, him, Bethany, and two other people; but within a few months the group expanded to include twenty-five others. Stories of prophetic encounters and visitations with angels became common. Notoriety spread when we tried to heal a girl with cerebral palsy who was incapable of walking.
In my last semester at Southwestern (fall 2008) it became obvious that the group was taking a dark turn. Tyler grew increasingly authoritarian and controlling. He began shunning people he considered rebellious. Some of us felt God saying that He was about to rain down wrath on our school, and that people were going to die because of our prayers. In the last week of classes a friend of mine was killed crossing the street at the edge of campus, and we believed and proclaimed that God had killed him.
After graduation most of the group moved to Kansas City. Tyler felt God was calling him as a chosen apostle of the end times. He instituted corporate financing. Dinner and worship meetings became mandatory. I fought with him and was ultimately shunned for being hateful, angry, and anti-social. For eight months (Oct 2010 – June 2011) I lived in the same house as the rest of the guys, but no one was allowed to talk to me. People in Texas were also forbidden from talking to me.
Shortly after the shunning ended, Bethany and Tyler were engaged. A few weeks later (April 2012) I moved out of the house. They were married in August and by the end of October she was dead. The day of her funeral a friend of ours turned himself into the police, claiming Tyler had ordered him to kill her. He has since recanted his statement and is awaiting trial. The group was broken up at around this time and everyone returned home to Texas.
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Mine is a story of despair and tragedy redeemed in the light of God’s greater story. Through my experience I’ve learned how Christianity can be subtly twisted into something dark and oppressive. I know firsthand the warning signs of spiritual abuse and how easily it can flourish in a Charismatic environment. And I want to raise awareness of the dangers but also to celebrate the faithfulness of God in the land of the living, the beauty that constantly radiates through the sacraments and the Scriptures and all created things.
Some of my favorite things:
Movies: The Tree of Life, The Lord of the Rings, Vertigo, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, City of God, Memento
Novelists: Charles Dickens, J. K. Rowling, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien (see a complete list of my favorite books here)
Stories: The Bible, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, The Arabian Nights, Les Miserables, Macbeth, The Mahabharata, The Henriad, Breaking Bad, LOST
Musicians: Belle & Sebastian, The Killers, Keane, Coldplay, Oasis, The Beatles, The Smiths (see a complete list of my favorite songs here)
25 thoughts on “About”
I just nominated you for The Dragon’s Loyalty Award! Because you have shown me much encouragement over the last few months and you are a loyal friend. Read my post for more details. 🙂
Thanks, Teryn! This is very encouraging
.” One of my life’s ambitions is to help restore a fascination with beauty, artistry, and craftsmanship to the Church. Pope Benedict once said that the theologian who lacks understanding of poetry, beauty, and symbolism is dangerous. I strive to embody art in my storytelling and my whole way of life.
THIS!!!!!!! Right here. Finding artistry, writing and my faith helped shatter the glass and show me where I belonged in the church and how my voice and passions caused such a shift in my heart and my faith.
You rock. I love it when wounded people are brave enough to share their story. Thank you.
Your story needs to be told. The more I read on your site, Boze, the more I really want to know what happened. I’m a fellow cult survivor, as you know, still putting the pieces together.
The level of control Tyler (Timothy?) exerted to allow you to live there, to be shunned for 8-months… to the extent of cutting you off from Bethany, too… I can only imagine the deep pain you endured.
I’ve been in a similar situation and fortunately escaped, but the people are still deeply involved in the same things, to this day. I can only hope that as more of us share our stories that the Light will pierce the darkness that covers the true nature of what inhabits these churches.
Wow, Boze, this is a horrifying story. I am so sorry you have been through this kind of abuse and have experienced this tragedy. Thank you for sharing your story and speaking out. Your voice needs to be heard! (And I pray you find healing as you continue to share.)
Thank you, Reverend Emily. I hope my story will be useful for others as they make their own journeys towards freedom.
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Mr Herrington – Thank you for sharing, I read your story with great interest. My parents met and spent a good portion of their young adult lives in the community that surrounded Church of the Redeemer in Huston in the 70s and 80s, and what you describe reminds me of some of what they encountered. You might be interested in Julia Duin’s book on the community, “Days of Fire and Glory” — have you read it?
You have my prayers as you seek to faithfully love and serve the Lord in spite of the pain you have experienced. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
Thank you, Fr. Nathaniel. I have read “Days of Fire & Glory.” I actually ran across it in the IHOP University library about a week after I was asked to leave the community in 2012. I started reading it and was horrified to discover the weird similarities between Redeemer and our group. The story of what happened to Jane Clowe – how the rest of the community conspired against and lied to her – resonated with some of what I had gone through. The book played a significant role in my decision to leave the group. I emailed the author shortly after my friend’s death to thank her and let her know how much it had helped me.
I read your article in the Atlantic and saw you’re working on a book about your experience. I’m a book editor and would love to talk more! Email me if you’re interested.
Sure, I would love to talk. How would you like me to contact you?
“I want to raise awareness of the dangers but also to celebrate the faithfulness of God in the land of the living, the beauty that constantly radiates through the sacraments and the Scriptures and all created things.”
Redemption! God can redeem all things. Easy to say when the biggest thing God has redeemed is my silly pride. What a vision of His power and His grace. Thanks for sharing your story.
I am so glad I came across your article in The Atlantic—and the story covered in Rolling Stone. It brought up a lot of emotions in me. I think I could’ve easily ended up joining a fundamentalist Christian cult. It was probably just a matter of circumstances that that didn’t happen: that I ended up losing my fundamentalist faith at the end of high school (becoming a failed “ex-gay”), and turning to radical politics in college. While still a freshman, I joined a Leninist organization, which I think was, and probably still is, a cult. I was in the organization for several years, and there are striking parallels between my experience and yours.
One has to do with the all-encompassing commitment to the cause. Your cause was bringing about the return of Christ; our cause was bringing about the Communist revolution. The cause was all-encompassing in that it literally encompassed all aspects of your life. School was subordinated to it. Work was subordinated to it. Family and friends were subordinated to it. Almost every waking moment of thought—indeed, a lot of times, even our dreams—were committed to it: to making ourselves be better leaders, be better organizers. (I remember one of our members would always sleep with her clothes fully on—including her shoes and socks. She was always ready to get up and go, and resume working for the organization. And she would often only get 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night). And we all lived together, just like you. And we moved together, from one town to another, from one state to another—all in the service of The Struggle. I could go on and on with this.
One of the things I find so striking now is how difficult it was to become a member of the group (a fully accepted member, and not just a potential recruit—which there were many). You really had to be vetted, prove that you were a true believer, show that you had the commitment, do all the works, show that you agreed with us on everything important. And, boy, there was so much that you had to agree to. And that’s one tell-tale sign of a cult. It’s the scope of the beliefs that you have to agree to (how many domains of thought they encompass, and how many beliefs), and how crazy the beliefs are—how much they deviate from the norm, from commonsense. That’s really what the cult effectively does in order to function: to beat commonsense out of you. How they go about doing that is absolutely amazing. I didn’t fail to leave the group because I was afraid—at least, that’s not the whole story. I didn’t leave because I couldn’t understand the world, I couldn’t understand anything—including myself—outside of the conceptual framework that I inherited from the group. That’s why I was afraid to leave. Even when I started to realize the conceptual framework was fundamentally flawed, I couldn’t think of how to think outside of it. That, and of course, I didn’t want to leave those who I had grown so incredibly close to.
As you know, the psychological bond formed between people in cults is very intense. You become closer to someone, more intimate with them, when you share beliefs, desires, emotions, and other mental states, and when you do things together, perform collective actions with common goals. This happens in friendship and mutual love. In cults, it’s different. It’s different because of the scope of the mental states that you’re sharing, and their intensity (on the whole). And it’s different in the way that the common goals, and the collective actions performed to achieve them, are understood. They’re of world-historical or cosmic significance. At any rate, I can still say that of the closest people I’ve ever been to, many of them were members of that group. One of the things so touching about your story is how badly the members of your group were willing to treat you. I can relate to that some, but not to the same extent. It’s a great misfortune of the human story that so many of us are victims of cruelty and injustice, perpetrated by those who are closest to us, those who are supposed to love us the most and care the most for us.
And then we have the lack of democracy in the group, and the idealization of the leadership. And what do we do with those who lose their “faith”—their faith in the cause, when their commitment starts to flag, they lose confidence in the leadership, they start showing signs of independent thinking: they question the soundness of group decisions, and so on? Something like this happened to you. In our group, we would psychopathologize them. They were suffering from depression or an eating disorder or bipolar disorder or something along those lines. Or they were having problems with racist tendencies, or sexist tendencies, or classist tendencies, or antiyouth tendencies.
I was accused of having problems with “individualism” (and probably some other isms). This is how they vilified me, after I snuck away—I had to sneak away, because they wouldn’t have let me leave, if I told them I was planning on leaving. After I found out they locked one of our members in a room—in the second story of a house—and kept him there for days, after he told them he was planning on leaving—they had thoroughly psychopathologized him in order to justify this coercive treatment of him (“they were protecting him”, understand?)—until he had to smash through the window, and jump out, in order to get his freedom—this is when I realized that if I was planning on leaving, I better not tell anyone!
Hi, Boze. I visited after you “liked” my review of Belle and Sebastian on my secondary website. This is quite a story, somewhat frightening. I read the entry about the similarities between Muslim and Christian extremists. Very interesting, and, as a Christian myself (but far from an “extremist”–I loathe guns), I find that I mostly agree with you on that one.
Wow what a powerful story. I am really looking forward to reading your blog. God bless your continued journey my friend
Thank you for sharing your story. I was once a part of IHOP and then IHOP affiliated churches in Minnesota. When my wife and I got the right foot of fellowship from this group whom we had been with for many years because of a theological disagreement, we felt lost for many years after. It wasn’t till a couple of years ago that we finally got reconnected with a gospel preaching Christian church community. I pray that despite all that you have gone thru so recently, that your journey back to a solid Christian church would be swift. Church life is where God has ordained believers to be and it greatly increases fruit bearing in your spiritual life. Be well.
It seems that you and I share a similar spiritual abuse background. I actually worked at a cult in Central Texas. I can’t tell you the amount of abuse I witnessed! I eventually left only to look back and realized what happened. It’s good to see that you are finding healing also.
Thank you so much for this blog, and for telling your story publicly. I was raised in a Christian cult and left my past and family behind for an education five years ago, when I was seventeen. There have been many days since in which I’ve struggled to find a reason to continue putting one foot in front of the other, but reading stories like yours gives me more hope than anything. Best of luck to you!
Hey Boze, I read your article about Tina Fey’s new show UNBREAKABLE. Your story not only resonated with me, it made me feel not so alone. If you have time id love for you to read my story. gofundme.com/destinychanges
Thanks for your honest sharing! It breaks my heart about what happened to you and that beautiful girl. I know so many caught up in IHOP and Bethel teachings and they won’t listen to reason, they say it’s ‘quenching the Spirit.’ I was once in a church that was going this way. The deception comes on slowly and suddenly you find yourself living in the ‘wierd.’ By God’s grace, I quickly got out of it and have since found a deep and abiding joy in sound, Biblical teaching. Nothing crazy, just solid expository teaching. Wish you all the best! I know you will be of help to many.
Just to add a question, I feel gutted that Tyler is still out there while Bethany is dead, do you think criminal action could ever be taken against him?
Hi Boze. I’m a new reader, deeply moved by your piece on “the end” of all things. Are you on social media, and do you have a feed our newsletter I can follow? I’d like to keep up with your work, and read your book when it comes out. I grew up in a situation with cult overtones, and spiritual abuse is something I’m trying to sort out on my life now. Thank you for boldly speaking.
Boze, thank you for sharing. I just read your article published on the Atlantic. My father has been involved with these movements for the past 30 years. He was also the member of a cult called the Twelve Tribes in the 2000s. My parents went to Mike Bickle’s church in the late 1980s. I’m convinced his zest for following Jesus is what led to my parent’s divorce. Please let me know when your book comes out and if there is anything I can do to help!
I was part of an unhealthy, cultic group in Ohio that idolized mega-churches like IHOP. Several friends and I are currently sorting through years of control and manipulation we experienced at our church. Thank you for sharing, it’s good to know we aren’t alone.