In September, I’m having my very first guest blogger take over my blog and post on Thursday nights. Boze Herrington has an incredible story of struggling with growing up in fundamentalism, legalism, false ideas about God, and even ending up in a cult for a while before he truly began to grasp the truth of God’s healing love. Please read Part I and Part II here before you read tonight’s conclusion.
Flowers of Evil:
How I Left Radicalism, Embraced Love, and Found Jesus
by Boze Herrington
In the Summer of 2011, the shun is lifted. The Group throws a party to celebrate my return.
Four days later, Timothy initiates the next phase of my punishment. He takes away everything that makes me… me.
I can longer read. Or write.
Or talk about “intellectual” things.
Or wear the clothes that I wear or look the way I look. I’m given a complete makeover. New haircut, new glasses, a whole new wardrobe. Selected by him.
Everyone calls me “Bobby” now. My real name. “Boze” was weird and literary and epic. A dreamer. Bobby is a normal young man. Like them.
Timothy calls it “behavioral modification” and says when it’s over, I’ll have a whole new identity. No longer will I view myself as an individual, but as part of a community. A community of End-Times apostles.
Phase three begins in August. The Lord appears in a dream to two different people on the same night. He says I’m a danger to the rest of the Group. To the women, especially.
Something very strange is happening to my friends. They hate me. They think I’m evil. I can see it in the way they look at me. The way they address me.
Bobby, I think we should stop talking… indefinitely.
Bobby, twice during worship you looked at Matthew with malicious idolatry.
Bobby, why did you manipulate Jim into hugging you?
So I’m isolated. Made to eat my meals on the floor in the middle of the room. Yelled at. Carefully guarded. Timothy places two guys over me to watch me at all times. “This isn’t my problem anymore,” he tells them. “I’ve been abused enough.”
Sometimes when I’m lying in my room during worship, I can hear them praying in the living room. They’re praying against me. Against the demons that I’m sending to attack them.
The Lord speaks to them and says he’s going to punish me for everything I’ve done to them.
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I feel sick. My God, what have I done to these people?
And the whole time I’m thinking, This doesn’t seem Christian.
I’ve done enough reading to know by now. That was all I did for six months when no one would talk to me. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth… they were my friends. My mentors.
And this—the punishments, the “End-Times training,” the random evacuation drills, the stockpiling of food, the prayer times where people are told that their friends who have left the Group are going to hell—this is not the Christian faith as traditionally taught and practiced. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not that.
* * *
Clarity dawns in the first week of October 2011, when I attend a guest lecture at the International House of Prayer.
A traveling pastor speaks on the differences between radical Islam (“Islamism”) and mainstream Christianity. It’s pretty shocking. Because his description of Islamism sounds suspiciously similar to what I’ve believed for the past twenty years.
What they have in common, I come to find out, is a form of religion known as fundamentalism.
A violent, wrathful god.
An intense set of rules that has to be scrupulously followed.
Paralyzing fear of other people who don’t share your beliefs—even fellow believers who are “living in compromise”; and a corresponding rejection of mainstream society, art, science, education, culture.
Fundamentalism is basically a modern variation on Gnosticism, the ancient heresy that said bodies are bad, pleasure is immoral, and the purpose of life is to escape this “evil world” for a place of spiritual transcendence. Gnostics use direct revelation from heaven (“Gnosis”) as the basis for all their actions.
Gnosticism is so seductive because it seems so holy. So Christian.
But it’s not. It’s the enemy of all true faith.
And that’s what I was. I was Gnostic. Had been for as long as I had been a believer. A born-again, on-fire Christian, filled with the Word of God. And I was living in massive deception.
Dominoes began tumbling.
How could this have happened? I asked myself. How can a sincere believer read his Bible for twenty years and come to the exact wrong conclusions about God?
And why were these beliefs not challenged, but rather reinforced by my Evangelical upbringing?
And by the Group? By Timothy?
If he had the word of the Lord, straight from heaven… why has he been wrong this whole time?
Until finally it all connected.
Timothy was NOT actually an End-Times apostle, getting ready to lead us into a Glorious Future as opponents of the Antichrist and his evil regime.
He had no degrees, no credentials, no training. He was not ordained. Had never been to seminary.
He was nobody. And I was under no obligation to obey him. To respect him. I could leave anytime I wanted.
And I was just about ready to. When they came to me in February 2012 and said I had to move out, it was hard at first. I had been a restraining influence on the Group. Once I left, I knew things were only going to get worse.
But at the same time, I was slowly waking up out of the nightmare I had been in for the last four years of my life. And eventually I gave in and accepted that God was calling me out of this prison, this hell. And that that was okay.
What a radical idea: that God’s love didn’t have to be hurtful. He actually wanted me to be me.
A few weeks before I move out, I have a dream.
In this dream, there are dandelion spores flying everywhere. Anytime a spore lands, it magically transforms into an End-Times novel.
And if anyone is standing near those novels, a terrifying thing happens. They begin changing. They become violent. Irrational. Murderous.
They become zombies.
On April 1, 2012, I move out.
I move into a new house. I rest. I spend the summer healing. Playing piano, watching silly movies. Reading. Talking to people. Nothing too religious, just learning how to be human. And that it’s okay to be human.
On August 18, 2012, Timothy and Rebecca get married.
I formally join the Catholic Church.
More people have left the Group. A few of them contact me. We begin working in secret to try and expose it.
Lists are drawn up. Authorities are notified.
We wait. And wait, and wait.
Finally, on a sunny afternoon in the first week of November 2012, my friend *Hannah texts me. She’s managed to secure a meeting with two of the main leaders from the organization we’re a part of.
All day long I’m nervous and excited, not knowing what to expect. If they could just hear what we have to say, it might be enough to prompt action.
She calls me at around seven. Says we need to talk.
“Boze, I have some news, but it’s really tragic.”
Rebecca is dead. She took her own life. Brilliant, hilarious Rebecca. She had just finished nursing school, just gotten married, and now she’s gone. There’s no bringing her back.
I can’t remember anything that happened that weekend. I remember walking home and then… nothing.
I don’t understand. At one point we were best friends. There were few other things I could count on, but I knew she was going to be around for a long time. She would get married and live in a house with a dozen kids and we would go on being friends long into our old age.
And when I cry, I know I’m crying as much for the death of her dreams as for anything else. Because they were systematically stolen from her by the person she most trusted. And I wish we had never met him. Because if we hadn’t, she would still be alive and happy.
The next Tuesday, Election Day, is the day of her visitation.
Timothy tries to have me thrown out of the funeral home, but her sisters and his parents protect me. He makes fun of her during the eulogy, and the Group laughs. He talks about what an awesome husband he was, how much she loved and defended him.
He seems nervous. His reign is in trouble, and he knows it. In the silence of the funeral home, people are connecting. Asking questions. Sharing their suspicions. Defying him openly.
So I wait. For the Group to implode. For the other shoe to drop.
I’m sure it can’t get any worse. But it will.
Two days later, on November 8, the Group is formally disbanded by the ministry we’re a part of and everyone is urged to go home.
On the next day, Matthew drives to the police station and turns himself in for the murder of Rebecca. He says Timothy told him to do it.
I thought I knew what had happened. Now I don’t know anything.
Over Christmas I reconnect with Teryn and the rest of their friends from back home. We talk. We pray. We piece things together.
The other boys are coming forward and saying Timothy coerced them into illicit relationships. Our whole “prayer group” was just a front for his evil agenda.
We learn that they had had a serious fight just a few days into their marriage. Rebecca was scared of him. She would read for hours at a time. She kept saying she was going to hell.
Hell. The place he was always sending people.
She was using his language. Whatever he had said… somehow it had broken her.
And, not knowing how else to deal with it, he did what he had always done. He shunned her.
Just like he had shunned me.
Only it was worse, because they were married.
Two months into their marriage, and she was being shunned by her own husband. And the rest of her community.
Was she murdered, or did she commit suicide? Either option is viable, given the circumstances. Her death is still under investigation as I write this. But whatever happened, this is certain:
Spiritual oppression became so heavy that it took a life.
* * *
As I’ve written these posts, the question I keep asking myself is this: Why did no one get help? Why did it not occur to us that shunning people is a pretty horrible thing to do?
I think about all the objections I have now. But for every one, Timothy would have had an answer ready.
Boze, I don’t care what a bunch of psychologists say.
Only Spirit-filled people could understand why this is necessary.
The same answers he always gave us.
I think about Rebecca and wonder, how could she fail to realize she was being abused? When it was so obvious?
The truth is, none of us placed any value in so-called “human wisdom.” Our direct connection to God trumped everything.
But prophecy failed us. Prophecy said it was all going to work out. That he was a good person, doing the Lord’s work.
And the prophets were wrong. They were predisposed to see abuse as holiness. To deny the evidence of their own senses, the evidence of reason (because “the heart is deceitful above all things”). To ignore the advice of other people.
But here’s the crucial thing, the scary thing: the exact same tendencies are at work within today’s fundamentalist / Charismatic movement.
For me some of the most painful moments in this whole ordeal came after I left the Group. My conclusions about what had happened, and why, were rejected by those around me for “not being Christian.”
And I started listening to people. And I realized they were teaching the same things we believed. Not just once or twice, but constantly.
“Presidents should be selected by prophets.”
“Scientists / professors / artists / theologians are evil and not to be trusted.”
“Jesus is going to destroy people because He loves them.”
I’ve been told—to my face—that the reason there’s so much immorality in the Church is because we no longer have the courage to shun people.
This HAS to change. You hear Christian preachers warning against a “false gospel” of grace and permissiveness. But I’m telling you, there’s a false gospel of hatred and fear, and it’s every bit as dangerous. And every bit as seductive.
I know, because I grew up in it. I thought it was Christianity. When the whole time, it was the opposite.
How easily, I sometimes think… how easily we could follow the Antichrist, thinking we were following Jesus.
So, as unpopular as it may be, the church in America must pray for the courage to stand against these false teachings.
To say, “NO, love is not abusive. Or violent. And neither is Jesus.”
“NO, rejection of unbelievers / other believers / experts / science / art is not the Gospel. It’s pride.”
“NO, you don’t have to be ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ to be a good Christian. Just love. Love radically.”
And not just your friends or family, but strangers. Enemies. People who are not like you. People who don’t think like you. That’s the Gospel. And until you’re reached the place where your love extends to those outside your circle, you still haven’t grasped the fullness of Jesus’ love.
“By this you know the Spirit of God,” wrote the apostle John in his first letter: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, emphasis added).
People have asked me, “How can you stay in the Church after all you’ve been through?”
And the answer is: because of the Incarnation.
Yes, I did a lot of reading during those eight months of isolation. But that wasn’t what saved me. Gnostic that I was, I was obsessed with abstract theological concepts. I was imprisoned by them.
But what He offered me was the experience of knowing a person. A human being. Himself.
I encountered Him there. Not in vague ideas. But in my suffering. Through the lives of the saints. Through prayer. Through bread and wine, the stuff of earth, I found Him. Jesus. The REAL Jesus. Not the one I had always imagined: some disembodied guru spouting “universal truths” that are disconnected from anything real.
But a solid, passionate, emotional, earthy, flesh-and-blood human.
Who drank and made merry.
Who loved and honored women.
Who hung out with all the wrong people.
Who scandalized the pious.
Who was beaten. Tortured. Executed. Who allowed Himself to be murdered. And never once lifted His hand to inflict pain on another person.
This, this is the idea that saved me. That brought me out of prison, out of darkness. It’s okay to be human. It’s not only okay. It’s GOOD. In fact, God Himself took on human flesh to walk among, to redeem us, to love us.
There’s something so beautiful in just being ourselves in our broken, pathetic human messiness. When we stop trying to be perfect and let the love of God heal us, show us who we are, and accept it… that is when we become truly beautiful.
And that’s how I was saved. That’s how my identity was healed, renewed. When I realized that God loved me just as I was. When I stopped trying to impress Him. Stopped living in fear of myself, my thoughts, my feelings, and embraced who I am. The context in which I live. The body through which I experience this incredible world and a God who is kind, who is patient, who is loving.
A God who became human. Like me.
Boze Herrington has a degree in English from Southwestern University. His passion is to tell stories that challenge perceptions, promote beauty, and expose injustice. He loves Catholicism, Celtic fairy tales, and The Lord of the Rings. He’s working on a series of novels. He blogs at www.thetalkingllama.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SketchesbyBoze.