“The Apocalypse Has Been Postponed Until Gym”: My Last Year of High School & the End of the World, Part 2

alvin

Alvin High School, May 2004

On the night I returned home from a long trip at the end of January, I called Booth and he filled me in on what had happened in Alvin during the week I was gone.

Winter had taken over our high school. Friends were behaving differently, not like themselves at all. They were grumpy and depressed. They walked through the halls with scowls on their faces, barely lifting their heads to greet one another. Even the timid and pure were drinking, throwing wild parties, having sex. Booth had been invited to an orgy, but politely declined: he could see what the lure of sexual temptation was doing to the rest of his friends, and it scared him.

But the biggest changes of all had taken place in Brandon. He had injured himself playing soccer and was no longer sure he would be able to attend the school of his dreams. His teammates had held him down and shaved his head. Now he was bald and wore a hood all the time like a Sith lord.

And he hated me. “I hate Boze,” he told Booth. “And you’re turning into him!”

For much of the first half of the school year Booth had been skeptical of our prophetic encounters and the battle that Adriana and I both felt was coming to our campus. But now he was beginning to reconsider. He told me how Brandon had yelled at a girl and threatened her with a baseball bat because she took a kitten that he wanted. He related how Mr. McGowan had snapped in the middle of class and started running through the room with a pair of scissors, screaming and laughing.

“I walk through the halls in the mornings,” said Booth, “and all I can see are faces of despair. I look into their eyes, and there is no hope. One by one, it’s overtaking everyone.”

It was after midnight. Booth told me to hang on for a second and put down the phone. When he returned a moment later, there was a note of worry in his voice.

“I don’t know what that was,” he said. “There was this thing, this noise… I think it was coming from under my bed…”

And then, without any warning, he began yelling hysterically.

He took the phone and ran from the room. From the safety of the kitchen, clutching a knife, he explained to me what had happened. There was a heavy breathing sound, and at first he thought it was the cat. But the cat was in the other room, and the noise was getting louder, and closer…

When Booth’s parents found him sleeping in the hall the next morning, they grounded him. But it didn’t matter. He knew what he had heard that night, and for the first time all year we were unequivocally on the same side. Too long had the darkness lingered. It was time to take back our campus.

*           *           *

Over the Christmas holidays Blazes O’Reilly had returned home and summoned a council. Though I had not mentioned to him the specifics of Adriana’s prophecy, I told him I felt they needed to become better acquainted, so the three of us gathered one wintry night in a back room of his parents’ house.

The reception was not cordial. From the beginning of the meeting Adriana sensed a dark aura around Blazes, “the darkest I’ve ever seen.” At one point when he left the room to make tea, she confided, “My voices just told me not to trust him, because he’s been tempted”—an assertion that was seemingly affirmed a moment later when he returned and told her as much of his story as he had already told me. How could she possibly have known that? I wondered.

For his part, Blazes swore he could see spirits of deception circling around Adriana. “There were three of them,” he explained with a casual air. “They were each taking turns whispering lies in her ear.”

Oddly, though, Blazes couldn’t deny that he felt a strong sense of destiny about her. “I just have this feeling about her, like our fates are intertwined. Like we’re destined to fight to the death. Kind of like Lucifer and Gabriel, only I’m not sure which of us is which.”

Adriana was sure, though. “My voices have shown me,” she said, “that Blazes is the Antichrist!”

*           *           *

For my own part, God had revealed to me during the break that Lauren and I would be sexually tempted in the first week of March. Each of us who were called to be players in the end-time drama would be tempted by the end of the trimester. Whether we passed on to the next stage of our mission would depend on whether or not we passed the test.

As if to confirm my suspicions, my first week back on campus I was propositioned by a sweet blonde girl with a twangy East Texas accent and her best friend in gym class. They wanted to know if I would have a threesome with them. I reached into my tote bag and pulled out a copy of the most recent edition of the school newspaper, in which I had written a long article about the importance of saving yourself for marriage. They read the article with expressions of deep fascination and thanked me. I implored Booth not to tell anyone else, but the whole school knew before lunch.

As a result of some back-room finagling, I began giving a short message on the intercom every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance. I urged the campus to pursue joy and beauty and resist the darkness that was seeking to devour. Together Booth and I wrote six pages in the next issue of the newspaper exclusively devoted to that subject. Booth even penned an article about the “Economics of Joy” in which he graphed the school’s GDP: “Good Deeds Potential”:

 

 GDP

 

I negotiated with Mr. McGowan to let me teach European History for an entire week. On Friday I announced that I had brought in a motivational speaker, Mr. “Ebenezer Scrooge” of Scrooge & Marley’s. The entire class groaned as Booth strode up to the front of the room. Then, as if out of nowhere, music began playing. Scrooge and I spontaneously broke into a dance and were joined by a guy in the third row who knew all the lyrics to the original song (from the 1970 Scrooge musical). For four and a half minutes we twirled around the room and sang about the pleasures of enjoying life:

 

Where there’s music and laughter

Happiness is rife!

Why?

Because I like life!

The entire class watched with mounting incredulity, and by the end of the song Lauren was in tears. “That was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” she said sadly. Booth and I sat quietly back down as though nothing had happened.

 

*           *           *

 

We waited for the first week of March, for the end of the second trimester.

 

I began having utterly terrifying dreams in which I seemed to be traveling out of my body at night and wandering through the rooms and halls of the trailer in which I lived. There were things in my bedroom I had never seen before. I heard footsteps in the hallway and saw strange lights outside my window.

 

I received my letter of acceptance from Southwestern University. I wondered if it was wise to go. I thought about staying in Alvin and fighting alongside my friends in the battle that was soon to come.

 

And then the trimester ended. We all settled into our new classes. And nothing happened.

 

There was no battle, no moment of tempting. Lauren started dating a guy she had met two weeks before. And I could feel the ground giving way beneath my feet.

 

*           *           *

 

On a quiet and warm afternoon near the end of that week, Booth, Adriana, and I sat facing Mr. McGowan from across the desk in his classroom. We were all disconsolate and hoped he could give us answers.

 

Adriana told the story of how she had nearly died the summer before, and how she began hearing the voices shortly after. Booth and I tried to explain all that had happened since Christmas, but it was clear from the moment we began talking that Mr. McGowan didn’t believe us. And by the time we related how Adriana learned that Blazes was the Antichrist, and how Blazes himself seemed to think that he was, and how we had briefly debated using physical force to try and subdue him, small beads of sweat were breaking out on the sides of his round face.

 

I watched him imploringly. I just wanted someone to explain what was going on. My prophetic gift had never been wrong before. Why had it failed me now, at the most critical time?

 

“First of all,” he said, in a very low and quiet voice, “what you’re going through is not unusual.”

 

I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but it wasn’t this. “Are you serious?” I asked.

 

He nodded. “For one, the three of you are reading from a shared text. Whenever three or four people read from a shared text, it’s not hard to induce shared delusions.

 

“Second, I think you’re scared. You’re scared because you’re about to graduate, Boze, and you two will be graduating in about a year. And you’re leaving the only home you’ve ever known, and that’s an incredibly traumatic experience. And it’s not uncommon for students who are juniors and seniors in high school to start having apocalyptic visions, because it’s their way of expressing kind of the terror they feel at the future.

 

“Because, let’s face it, the world may not be ending, but the only world you’ve ever known is ending. You know how they say, ‘You can’t go home again.’ You may come back in a few years, but the school that you knew will be gone. Reality won’t live up to your memories. When you go away to college, you’ll forget about me. And when you think about me at all, you’ll think of me as some sophomoric teacher who liked to pretend he knew everything. But I don’t. And some day you’ll realize that.”

 

My entire experience of the last eight months, all I had felt and foreseen and suffered, was slipping away. The apocalypse wasn’t going to happen, it might never happen, or else it had been postponed. But I was determined to hold on.

 

“What about all the others?” I asked. “We’re not the only ones. What about Blazes?”

 

Mr. McGowan shook his head. “There’s something very dark and unnatural about that man,” he said. “He went wrong somewhere… became something different than what God intended.”

 

He stood up summarily from his desk, as though to suggest that the meeting was over. Together the four of us walked to the door.

 

Booth turned in the doorway and faced him.

 

“I do have a question,” he said. “Was it you? Were you the one who orchestrated… you know, all of that?”

 

Mr. McGowan stared at him quizzically. “No,” he said with finality.

 

We waited. I looked at him, more confused than ever.

 

“Do you mean, was I pandering and manipulating you?” He laughed lightly. “Oh, of course.”

 

He clapped us both hard on the shoulders. “It was quite fun, actually. I’m honestly kind of sad it took y’all that long to figure it out. Your senses were picking up on stuff, but I was putting a spin on it. It’s good that you wanted an order to life, but you have to want it in order to see it. That’s why the super-sensible is so hard for empiricists to get.”

 

He closed the door behind us. Adriana and Booth and I walked forward into the harsh sunlight.

 

*           *           *

 

It’s been ten years since that conversation in Mr. McGowan’s room, but the course my life has taken since graduation has been in a lot of ways a vindication of his warnings. Sociologists tell us that conspiracy theories and apocalyptic thinking are deeply intertwined, and that wherever you find one, you’re likely to find the other. It’s a pathology in the American psyche, a sickness, this fascination with the end times. There’s something deeply un-Christian about it. It’s as though Jesus and the Bible have become nothing more than cultural totems with the power to drive us mad.

 

I’ve held on to my faith, but just barely. The realization that I was not a prophet was devastating, but what has been much worse is seeing the damage caused by End-Times fanaticism, the toll that it takes. I’ve seen it drive otherwise sane people to the brink of madness. I’ve watched it transform them until they were no longer recognizable, until they were willing to do the most horrible things to even their closest friends. I’ve seen it claim the life of one of my dearest friends in the world.

 

So I find myself thinking about the events of that year, and the great disappointment of third trimester, and Mr. McGowan’s explanation for what had happened to us. I think about it whenever a good Christian whom I respect is incredulous that I’m not prepping for the end times, as though it makes me some lesser species of Christian that I don’t have an opinion about when Jesus is coming back. I think about it when I’m sitting on the shuttle next to a man who wrote a 200-page book about the role of the nephilim in the last days that he’s trying to sell me, when I’m in a meeting with Christian counselors who are demanding that I pray out loud to accept my calling to battle the forces of the Antichrist. I think about it whenever someone on Facebook tells me they can’t wait to be martyred, that they hope they continue to laugh long after their head has been severed from their body.

 

“Boze, where do you find these people?” Bethany once asked me, the first time I recounted my story—back when the dangerous group was just forming.

 

And sometimes I listen to that song, “Lake Geneva,” by The Handsome Family, about a woman whose husband is hospitalized because he sees visions of the heavens in the stumps of falling trees:

 

“You remember how he cried

When they strapped him to the stretcher

Convinced his arms were burning

With electricity from heaven

 

“You remember how he told you

Black holes were like Jesus

And the crucifix was a battery

That filled the air with fire”

 

And I hear that and I think, isn’t that my story, and the story of our country? That we’d rather read about the mysterious code that foretells the day of judgment than lift a finger to help the teeming masses on whose treatment the nations will be judged? And aren’t we a sick society, when conspiracy theories and end-times mania, the province of the young and confused and deranged and scared, are mistaken for true worship?

 

After my last conversation with Mr. McGowan, I accepted the nature of the fantasy I had been living in. I was no prophet. I wasn’t destined for greatness. The only certain thing in my life at that moment was graduation.

 

And instead of running away from it, as I had been doing all year, I learned to accept it. I embraced my own normalcy, and in doing so I found freedom and a certain measure of happiness.

 

And at the end of May I graduated and left high school behind me. I worry that some of us are there still.

The Prophets, Part 2 2009 – 2012

[EDIT: Information in this post was used in the Rolling Stone expose, “Love & Death in the House of Prayer” ]

Moving on to the second half of our story, I’ve been dreading having to write about this because it’s all so strange and horrible… Betania* and Tyler began dating at the end of their six-month internship in June 2009. I was surprised, of course. On the morning we drove up to Kansas City (on August 1st), I asked him what had happened. Basically, he said Betania* had confronted him during one of the last nights of their last week at Southwestern and spoken to him frankly about how she felt. He said she was radiant and it was the first time he had ever “seen” her as she truly was – blindingly beautiful. Things didn’t change overnight, but it gave him a new perspective.

However, when they were in the internship God gave Tyler a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms behind homosexuality that make it sinful. In doing so, He also gave him a plan for defeating it. He realized that the reason why homosexual attraction is wrong is because it’s rooted in a worship of other men as gods that is inherently self-hating. (Tyler’s core theological principle was that things are not wrong in themselves, but because of the substance behind them – kind of a dangerous idea, when you fully unpack the implications). There was a night during the internship when he was in his room praying until 2:00am. He felt overwhelmed by this inescapable feeling of worthlessness that made him less than human, less than man. Seeking some way of escape, his thoughts began turning towards Peter* and he immediately felt a surging sense of worth and hope and value beginning to pour into him and the relationship that could have existed between them.

Tyler was stunned. He said, “I had never before seen this deep, blatant mechanism functioning within my soul. The worthlessness, the identity of being less than man, flowed directly, indeed was fueling, indeed WAS the homosexuality!” He realized that the mistake he had been making for over a decade was trying to repent of homosexuality when he should have been repenting for self-debasing idolatry of men. He did so. No more than a few weeks later – this was in April 2009 – he was in the prayer room, and he looked over and saw Betania* quietly praying, and it was like a giant “vat of affection” poured down from heaven and left him overflowing with romantic passion: “real, passionate, sexual, knock-me-off-my-feet, pure, and glorious attractions for the most beautiful woman alive.” Within days of the internship’s ending he asked her out. She of course said yes. On our way to Kansas City he discreetly stopped in Dallas and asked for her father’s hand in marriage. He and Betania* went for a walk the moment we were fully moved in, and he announced his intention to pursue her “unto marriage.” Betania* had been waiting for so long, she could hardly believe it. It was like a fairy-tale romance.

*       *       *

That first semester it was only me, “April,” Betania*, Tyler, and two of Tyler’s cousins. There were also a few people who had joined us from the internship. Peter* came at the end of the semester (December 2009), along with a few other Southwestern students. By the end of 2010, most of the SU prayer group (with the exception of Micah and a few others) had moved to Kansas City. Tyler insisted he had never tried to talk a single person into moving up here, but after they talked to him, they always wanted to. At one point the Chaplain at Southwestern found out we were making a trip back to Georgetown and tried to stop us from setting foot on campus. She was convinced we were proselytizing on behalf of IHOPKC, which wasn’t true. Most of us were enrolled in IHOP University, but we remained an independent organization and IHOP wasn’t even aware of our existence until after we had been in Kansas City for almost two years.

But during that first year, especially, the nature of the Group changed dramatically. In March 2010 Tyler decided that some of us needed to have corporate financing. There were only five or six of us on the financial plan, to start out with. “April” and Peter* were in charge of the money – not only theirs, but also Tyler’s, Betania*’s, and mine. Every time one of us received a paycheck, Peter* or “April” would take all of our money – all but fifty dollars – and put it in April’s bank account. We had to ask special permission if we wanted to buy anything. (God had told Tyler that he didn’t have to work, so he subsisted on donations from friends and family members). With the aid of our community funds we were able to feed twenty people three nights a week before worship and Bible study. Once a week – normally on Friday – the guys had a house meeting at our house, and the girls had a house meeting at their house. We would go in a circle and talk about our week, the sins we had struggled with, whether and how often we had lusted, how we were feeling about the rest of the group (and about Tyler), and sharing was not an option. It was mandatory.

The growing animosity between me and Tyler finally reached dangerous proportions in the latter half of 2010. There was an incident in August where he was leaving from the guys’ house to the girls’ house on the other side of Grandview; when I finally came out of my room, a minute late, he was already gone, so I called him and asked if he would come back to get me. He drove back, but he said, basically, “I need you to promise that this won’t happen again.” And I got scared because I thought he was trying to control me, and I refused to say what he wanted, and he started cussing and yelling and accused me of acting like a schizophrenic person. When we finally arrived at the girls’ house, he brought me into a back room with seven other people and told them his account of what had happened. They were all furious and said I was being hateful and abusive. When I asked if I could explain what had happened, from my perspective, Betania* said, “NO! We don’t want to hear it!” Tyler had been telling Betania* some of the angry things I said about her at our house meetings, and she was already upset about that, and she got furious whenever Tyler was attacked because, as an apostle, he was especially vulnerable to persecution from forces both human and demonic. He told them (and I’m paraphrasing), “I want you to know that this is the kind of abuse I’ve been dealing with from Boze since we got here.”

So it was clear that I had to be dealt with – counseling apparently never occurred to him – and in October I finally got to see the lengths to which Tyler would be driven for the good of my own soul. On the night of Monday, October 18, after dinner, Tyler said, “Everyone but Boze, I need to talk to you in the back room.” They went in the back and talked for an hour, maybe longer. On the next night, when dinner was over, all of them gathered around me in the living room – there were twenty of us in the Group at that point – and Tyler explained that I was being formally shunned because of my extreme anti-social behavior; fear of everyone that often erupted in venomousness, anger, and outright accusations; and propensity for escaping into creativity and writing as a rejection of the “evil Group” – but, above all, because of my unwillingness to deal with my problems (what he called a “religious spirit,” borrowing a term from Rick Joyner).

Peter* drove me home that night and for eight months no one in the house would speak to me. People who were still at Southwestern were warned not to talk to me. Once when a friend – a former NAVY seal, who was only loosely connected with the Group – came over during a snowstorm (January 10, 2011) and asked me to help him and his wife move into their new house, Tyler called him on the phone while I was over there moving them in and demanded that he bring me home immediately. “Darryl” protested: we were in the middle of something. But Tyler refused to let the issue go and finally Darryl, worn down and unhappy, drove me back to the house.

*       *       *

And that was how IHOPKC first found out about our group, because my boss – I worked from home as an editor for IHOP – arranged a meeting with a leader, Ed Hackett, on May 5, 2011. Mr. Hackett was horrified when he found out I was being punished and spoke to Tyler about it. In the middle of June I learned from Tyler’s mom that he and the rest of the Group were waiting for me to ask if I could be re-instated. I did so – a decision I would have cause to regret – and on June 16, I had a five-hour meeting with Tyler at Wendys, at the end of which there was a huge, scary celebration.

There had been some alarming changes in the Group since I left. Pretty much everyone from SU was here now – Micah and three other people were moving in in August – and the community was meeting for dinner and prayer almost every night. Although the extent to which we were actually praying was debatable. During a typical meeting, Tyler would present us with a list of questions. We would go down the list one by one and pray for the Holy Spirit to give us answers. After about three minutes of silence, everyone would share their dreams and impressions, and invariably, they all pointed to the same thing. If anyone heard differently from what the Spirit was saying to the rest of us, that person was singled out in front of everyone and scolded for being “prideful” and “individualistic.” For example, one night we prayed and all heard God saying that we needed to write a letter to Shelley Hundley, the vice-president of IHOPU who is now in witness protection, and warn her that IHOP students were engaged in rampant sexual immorality because the leadership of IHOPKC was not living in community rightly. Tyler drafted the letter that night while we all sat around him in the living room. Within the letter was a series of cryptic statements (one of them was like, “There are giants dressed as midgets walking through the earth”), which Tyler helpfully interpreted as meaning that Shelley was wounded by events in her childhood that made her unable to relate socially to other people, which had created a gaping hole in the fabric of the IHOP community. When we prayed about it, people were having visions of Shelley reading the email and weeping and repenting, but Shelley replied to the email within an hour and said, basically, “None of this is true, I’m one of the most sociable people I know, and please don’t ever contact me again.” This was a stunning repudiation of our discernment, which everyone dealt with in his own way.

On another occasion late that summer we met as a community to pray about two people – a newly-married couple – who had been planning to join us in KC, but had split for Colorado immediately after their wedding. For almost four years this couple had been best friends with another couple, also newly married, who had just moved to IHOP. But now the Colorado couple (the “Jennings”) weren’t speaking to them, and the “Petersons” were bewildered. So of course we prayed about it, and the Group reached the conclusion that the Jennings were hateful, abusive traitors who had rejected God, and Mrs. Peterson was crying, and she said, “It’s just so hard for me to believe… she was my best friend,” and this one girl, who had been in KC for about a week, got in her face and said, “YOU LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME RIGHT NOW! SHE ABUSED YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY!” And then Tyler stood up and repeated a dream he had had in January 2008 – a dream he had been sharing repeatedly for three and a half years, always with some subtle variations – in which Betania* was casually talking to a handsome young man with brown hair – a man she trusted – who turned into an evil wolf-man and devoured her. Tyler said it was clear to him now that this dream referred to Mr. Jennings, and he said (in essence), “I wouldn’t repeat this outside of this room, but I personally don’t even think Mrs. Jennings is saved. I think she’s reprobate” – which is our language for “hardened beyond the point of repentance,” i. e. going to hell.

And there was end-times training, which we began that summer because Tyler had a six-year plan (2009-2015) for training at IHOP, learning Arabic, and going overseas to pray and worship for the purpose of bringing revival in the Middle East; a plan that was weirdly solidified by a dream Peter’s* sister had, before she even dropped out of college to join our group, in which the governmental leaders of Israel were fleeing to Egypt to hear Tyler preach and be converted. Of the people who were in the Group at that time, at least eight of them were planning on traveling with Tyler to Egypt to establish a house of prayer. So we began stockpiling food in the girls’ basement in case of a financial catastrophe – there was at least a month’s supply of food down there – and meeting with Darryl a couple of times each week to practice dodging imaginary bullets, or jumping off of high things, or wrestling a gun out of someone’s hands (in addition to serving in Iraq, Darryl had actually charged and taken down a man wielding a gun at a casino in Las Vegas during a fourth of July shootout). Every few weeks we would have either a planned or surprise evacuation drill. We celebrated the end of our training by watching the “Bourne” trilogy and going on an intense four-day camping trip in the first week of August.

*       *       *

I’ll be honest: I was kind of worried about the direction the Group was now taking. I had spent most of my eight months in isolation reading real Christian theology, and it wasn’t lining up with a lot of what we were doing. I was also increasingly exasperated because whenever I would try and talk, for example, about real Christian theology, someone would inevitably tell me I needed to stop talking. Four days after my return in June, Tyler had gathered the rest of the Group in the living room and explained that I was being placed under heavy restrictions to prevent the reemergence of my “evil, old self.” I could no longer read or write, I had to buy new clothes (which Tyler picked out for me), I couldn’t have intellectual discussions, and I had to start going by “Bobby” (my real name). So, when a girl came to me and said she was having trouble accepting reality, I told her, “According to Thomas Aquinas, that’s because you don’t believe that God loves you, because love and reality…” and immediately one of the guys said, “Bobby, I think you need to stop talking,” and when I said, “Can I just finish what I’m saying?” he said, “No, you need to stop now,” and then one of the girls who was in the kitchen said, “If it helps, I feel demons all over the room right now,” and then the girl next to her said, “I feel them, too!” End of discussion!

Micah, the Petersons, and another girl moved in on August 12th. Tyler’s cousin Tim left on the same day because Tim was convinced – after a long talk with Tyler – that he needed to go and do missions work in Egypt.

I had met Micah the summer before he came to Southwestern. He emailed me in early July and asked if I would give him a tour of the campus. We became friends that semester, and he was in an English class with Betania*. In September of that year (2007) he had tripped out on LSD with some of his freshman friends, and ever since then he had been struggling with questioning the nature of reality – “am I real? how do I know this isn’t all an illusion?” – but he had grown up in the church and had a sincere longing for God, and the two of us were drawn to him, almost instantaneously, because of his sincerity and loneliness and humility. We prayed over him on the last night of that semester (December 2007); then he had a panic attack in a restaurant and almost dropped out of school, but we talked him into coming back and he joined our prayer group.

But he was kind of emotionally unstable – on one memorable occasion during our tumultuous last semester he rode around campus on a bicycle screaming, “I am making WAR on this campus!” and roaring like a lion – and he had a massive freakout during Christmas of 2008. His mother called Tyler and said it was the Group’s demonology that was making him go crazy. Tyler, of course, denied this – he had told Micah repeatedly, “Micah, you just need to calm down” – but Mrs. Moore wasn’t buying it and pulled him out of school. He went to UT for about a year and a half, but then at the end of his junior year Tyler called him one afternoon and asked him, “Micah, are you really happy?” and Micah realized that he wasn’t really happy, and he came back – there was some kind of financial miracle involving the sudden emergence of, I think, three thousand dollars – and became the leader of the SU prayer group his senior year (August 2010 – May 2011).

And now he was moving into our house. Tyler did some rearranging. Simon* a friend from SU whom Tyler had brought to KC with the intention of rescuing him from a homosexual lifestyle, was moved into a room with Micah. Peter* moved downstairs with Tyler so that Tyler could “experience what it’s like to be intimate with a guy in preparation for being intimate with Betania*” when they were married. (Tyler was full of paradigms that summer, and one of the big ones was that you have to experience intimacy with people of the same sex before you can rightly experience intimacy with people of the opposite sex). This was kind of odd, as was the “therapy session” he had with Simon* in which they lay together in Tyler’s bed all night in a largely undressed state, as a result of which, according to Tyler, Simon* experienced a massive breakthrough in discovering his masculinity. Tyler revealed this to me when I asked why he was so tired during one of our Sunday morning hiking trips – he had gotten twenty minutes of sleep the night before – but asked me not to tell the girls about it. (We talked about it at one of the house meetings, but in that kind of environment it all seemed pretty normal and no one thought anything of it).

That was all going on towards the end of the summer. And then Micah moved in, and things just got crazy… I think the first or second week after he moved in was known as “fire week” because everyone – literally everyone, with one or two exceptions – started having these crazy manifestations where they would roll around on the floor or start waving their hands uncontrollably. And there was one night when we were having worship, Tyler was leading, and everyone in the room began screaming and rolling and writhing around like the demons in Pandemonium, and I just lay there not really knowing what to do, wondering if I should fake it, and after worship was over Tyler took me aside and said my immunity to the movement of the Spirit indicated resistance in my heart. The next night he had a dream – and apparently April had a dream – that I was isolating myself and not being a part of the community – and two days later he and the other guys came to me and said they had decided to isolate me because I was regressing into my evil, old, “Boze-ian” self, and I was a danger to the women, and I wasn’t going to be allowed to talk to them, and what followed, for the next three weeks, was a series of increasingly nightmarish and bizarre punishments and psychological mind games. I was screamed at; made to sit in the middle of the living room floor when I ate my meals; forbidden from wearing certain kinds of clothes “because those are the kinds of clothes Boze wears”; forbidden from talking to Micah; when I got on the IHOP shuttles to go to church, two of the guys stood on either side of me to make sure I didn’t sit down next to a woman; Micah (who, at least in my presence, never showed the slightest hesitation about enacting the Group’s decisions) yelled at a guy for coming up and hugging me after worship, but then told him, “It’s okay, it wasn’t your fault – you were manipulated.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what I had done. I still don’t.

But eventually Ed Hackett and Shelley Hundley and the rest of the IHOP leadership found out about it, because another girl who was being punished at the same time as I was – her Bible had been taken away from her and the door to her bedroom taken down – actually went and told them, and they were understandably horrified. When Tyler and other core leaders of the Group met with them in September, they told him that we were approaching near-cult-like status. They demanded he make it known that anyone who wanted counseling was welcome to receive it; that we stop punishing people; and that those students in the Group who were also in IHOPU begin coming to the mandatory Saturday night service. (We had been flaunting this rule all semester by having our own communal worship on Saturday nights).

And at this point it’s not very clear what happened. Everyone stopped talking to me: that much is clear. I thought I was being shunned, again. According to them – as I found out seven months later (Feb 2012), when they finally told me I had to move out of the house – after I quit coming to dinner and worship in September, they assumed I had given up on them. Essentially, they thought I was shunning them. I’m not fully sure I buy this. I know they were still pretty upset with me. I found out a year later from an ex-member that Tyler spent an entire week sleeping over at the girls’ house because he was afraid I was going to murder him. I just wanted people to talk to me. I didn’t have any idea what was going on. I had apparently done some horrible thing in August and was just waiting to be reinstated into the Group. On the one hand, I thought maybe the Group was taking on a mind of its own, in spite of all Tyler’s best efforts. (It was hard for me to conceive that Tyler had anything but the best intentions). On the other hand, maybe I really was ignorant of the depths of my own depravity and didn’t know how many people I was hurting. There were nights when I would sit in my room with the lights out during worship and listen to what was going on in the living room. On two of those nights I heard something really chilling – all the more so later, as I started putting things together. Each night, one of the girls would stand up and say, “I feel like there’s a spirit that’s coming against us – a spirit of control – and it’s trying to attack what we’re doing.” And they would pray about it, and two or three people would immediately say, “It’s Bobby.” And they would spend the next hour praying against me. One night, a girl got up and sang a prophecy about how God was going to punish “those who have hurt you.” On another night, Tyler stood up and said they all needed to deal with the pain in their hearts because of the way I had treated them, because if they didn’t deal with it now they would be dealing with it in five years, or ten years.

So in February of last year after Betania* and Tyler were engaged, when they came to me and told me I had to move out, I was pretty much ready to go. I was already reading some books on Charismatic end-times cults, and there were some unnerving similarities. I reconnected with the Jennings family in Colorado, and they explained why they had left – because Tyler had treated them horribly, and because he was (in their view) a sadistic, abusive control freak. I spoke to some people I trusted at IHOP – a librarian, the leader of my small group, the head of Community Life – and they all said it sounded like a dangerous situation and they thought it was best if I left. So I left. I moved out on April 1st, and I immediately began to feel better. I never looked back.

*       *       *

I don’t know a lot about what happened after I left; though from talking to people I think I probably know more about life in the house after their marriage than I do about the summer between my departure and Betania*’s arrival. I know Betania* wasn’t herself after the honeymoon. It seems clear that she was genuinely suicidal, and that Tyler eventually decided to deal with it the same way he had dealt with me – by “leaving her to the consequences of her own sin” and forbidding people from speaking to her. I’ve heard, from multiple people, that she kept babbling about being “reprobate” – that when they brought her in to see the psychiatrist on the day Tyler supposedly found her in the kitchen with a bottle of cleaning solution, she repeatedly asked the psychiatrist if she was reprobate and he didn’t know what she was talking about.

I know before the marriage, she had some qualms – most people do – but seemed happy. She was excited about marrying Tyler. I wasn’t at the wedding, but judging from the pictures and what people have told me, she was ecstatic on the day they were finally married. Tyler sang a song as she was coming down the aisle – “Come to Me, My Beloved” – and they had a worship service there at the altar. Right after the ceremony, they flew to Costa Rica – Tyler kept the destination secret, didn’t reveal where they were going until they were on their way to the airport.  For her, it had to have been the fulfillment of a dream – a dream she had been having her entire life. She had never dated anyone; never slept with anyone. She had been praying for her husband since she was a teenager. She had written him letters, before they even met. She had had other dreams, of course – she wanted to be a novelist, wanted to teach at a small university and have a cottage in the woods – but her big dream, the dream of her heart, was to be married. There were times when it was all she could talk about. We used to stay up late at Southwestern talking about it, night after night. When I cried at her funeral, even before Micah came forward and confessed to her murder, I don’t think I was crying because she was dead, at least not mostly. I was crying for the children she would never nurture, for the people who would never experience the uniqueness of her perspective in books and be moved or inspired by it, for the husband – the real husband – who might have actually loved her but who never had a chance because she was incapable of falling in love with anyone who wasn’t dangerous. And I was crying, I think most of all, because when we had met on that morning in August in 2005, when she insisted that I read “Perelandra” by C. S. Lewis and explained, for the first of many times, how much she hated deception, her life had seemed so full of potential and promise there was no stopping it. And what I had just witnessed was the senseless and systematic dismantling of one of the most luminous and promising lives I think I’ve known, just an utterly ruthless campaign of dehumanization that destroyed first her dreams, and then her relationships with her friends – both in and outside the Group – and her family, and then her personality, and, finally, claimed her life.