Monday, October 19, 2015

An Embarrassment of "Churches". When "Christian" Is Blasphemous, Senseless ... and Violent.

And there are more of these "churches" than we know.

David Bromley, professor of religious studies and director of the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there are thousands of similar small, independent Christian churches around the country. They're typically very conservative, following a very strict fundamentalist theology with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

"Every now and then, one pops up that has gone awry," Bromley said. "That's statistically not shocking because there are so many of them."

This article is relatively short ... but not sweet.

It is a story right out of cult lore: a tightly knit group has been arrested in the death of a member of the "church" who was called in for "spiritual counseling." Pictures of the assailants have gone viral ... and they look positively guilty.

On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten—one of them to death—by their own family members and fellow church-goers who wanted them to “confess” to their sins, authorities say.

Police charged the boys’ parents with manslaughter and four other participants with assault in the chilling incident that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and left his 17-year-old brother, Christopher Leonard, in serious condition.

All the people charged have pleaded "not guilty".

The beatings lasted fourteen hours.

"Not guilty."

The purpose of the intervention was to have Lucas and Christopher confess to sins: one for sexual molestation of a minor (police later found no evidence of such misconduct) and one for attempting to leave the church.

"Not guilty."

Deborah Leonard - mother of Lucas and Christopher - said that although she herself administered some of the blows to Lucas, she was powerless to intervene later on.

"Not guilty."

Tarnishing Christianity

In 1992, Bishop John Shelby Spong (Episcopal) wrote Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism. He followed that book up with The Sins of Scripture: Exposing The Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. He was, of course, pilloried by the Christian Right for these books, but to many, he brought forth a sense of reason and (perhaps) a new sin: using Scripture as a basis for a violent righteous arrogance.

The Word Of Life Christian Church is but one of many so-called "Christian" churches tarnishing the image of a loving religion. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church was one such Fundamentalist church run by a dictatorial pastor, a church which other Christians across the country were forced to distance themselves from. It was Phelps' bravado that brought attention to it. But other like churches are more hidebound and secretive.

The Fundamentalism of Bruce and Deborah Leonard and their pastor, Jerry Irwin,  was so extreme, it isolated them from the rest of the community. Eventually their neighbors looked upon the "church" as a cult. Their leader, Pastor Jerry Irwin, had gained a reputation as a vengeful, demeaning man who even claimed - in sermons - that people from the congregation had lusted after his wife.

"Spiritual Cannibalism"

One ex-member, Nathan Ames, described the decline of the church:

"Many left after realizing that he was a narcissistic psychopath," Ames wrote in the letter. "The few that stayed were slowly lied to and manipulated into believing Jerry was called from God to 'control' their lives – filling their minds with outlandish stories that were for the most part fabricated."

He described the trajectory of the church as "spiritual cannibalism."

Are Charismatic Leaders The Problem?

From all accounts, the Word of Life Christian Church has changed from a loving, energetic church to a controlling entity that engendered fear. Many people say that the Leonards were never like the people they see today.

So was it strictly Jerry Irwin's fault that Bruce and Deborah Leonard became so violent in their attitude towards others? Is following a charismatic psychopath a choice? After all,  Quran-burning Terry Jones still has a following even though he was kicked out by his own congregation (and Germany) for being too controlling. Will the Leonards (and the other four) base their "not guilty" on Irwin's (and currently his daughter's) hold on them? 

The testimony of young Christopher Leonard may hold the key as to how all this came about and about how Irwin's cult managed to call itself "Christian."