What Religious Cults Seem to Have in Common June 2, 2015

What Religious Cults Seem to Have in Common

Jeff C. Stevenson first heard of the “All Saved Freak Band” in the 1970s. He listened to their music, thought it was unique, and continued to acquire their albums over the years. It was only later that he realized the band was really just an outreach tool for Rev. Larry Hill’s Church of the Risen Christ, a group with a mysterious and seemingly-shady history.

When he finally got in touch with one of the band members to hear the backstory, he also gained access to several other members of the church. It turns out the group was a cult, replete with brainwashing and abuse (“emotional, physical, sexual and mental”). Three members ultimately died and another was permanently disfigured as a result of following Hill.

Now, after speaking with 17 survivors, Stevenson is finally sharing their stories in Fortney Road: The True Story of Life, Death, and Deception in a Christian Cult (Freethought House, 2015):

In the excerpt below, Stevenson talks about the similarities many cults have with one-another and where Larry Hill fits in:

Cults are as old as recorded history and they tend to flourish during periods of social and political turbulence. There is evidence of their existence after the fall of Rome, during the French Revolution, during England’s Industrial Revolution, in Japan after World War II, and in Eastern Europe after the breakup of the Communist regime.

Unlike most established religions that usually incorporate some type of elected board to ensure checks and balances, cults usually have a pyramid structure with one strong authority figure at the top who demands complete obedience from subordinates. Control is always the goal of the leader and he or she must constantly monitor the group to ensure all members remain loyal to the community and its teachings and purposes.

When I began researching this book, I was surprised to discover that many of today’s modern day cult leaders, self-proclaimed prophets and heretical bible teachers were born within years of one another. And they all claimed to have supernatural visions, hear voices from God or angels and were all told they had a great work to do while here on Earth.

This is exactly what the Reverend Larry Hill experienced early in 1965. He had the first of his five visions from God, and how he used those revelations to draw a congregation of young people to himself is the story of what happened at Fortney Road.

A quick overview of these men — they are almost always men — shows an alarming pattern that has been followed dozens of times, and almost always includes physical, sexual and mental abuse, and often death.

William Branham, the first of nine children, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky on April 6, 1909. Branham claimed that in his early childhood he heard the voice of the Angel of the Lord who told him “never to drink, smoke or defile his body for there would be a work for him when he got older.” In 1946, he testified to having received an angelic visitation, commissioning his worldwide ministry of evangelism and faith healing. Although he was embraced by many in the burgeoning Pentecostal movement, in hindsight his “prophecies” and visions were shown to be false or never substantiated, and his doctrines about the Trinity and the role of women in the Fall of Man have now been denounced by mainstream Christianity. He was killed in a car accident in 1965, but Branham still has followers to this day.

In 1911, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, an American author and the founder of the Church of Scientology, was born.

In 1916, Victor Paul Wierwille was born and would be remembered for founding The Way International in 1957. He claimed to have heard from God in 1942: “He spoke to me audibly, just like I am talking to you now. He said he would teach me the Word as it had not been known since the first century, if I would teach it to others.” Wierwille died in 1985.

Oral Roberts was born in 1918 and his claims of having healing power, seeing visions and hearing from God directly are well documented. Most famously, he claimed God told him to build the City of Faith Medical and Research Center and later said he saw a 900-foot-tall Jesus who told him that the vision would soon be realized and that the hospital would be a success; it closed in 1989. Roberts passed away in 2009.

Also in 1918, Mark L. Prophet was born and claims he was first contacted by the Ascended Masters at the age of 18. He would become a religious figure, self-proclaimed prophet, orator, and husband of Elizabeth Prophet. They founded The Summit Lighthouse organization in 1958 and after his death, his wife renamed the organization the Church Universal and Triumphant in 1975. She died in 2009.

In February of 1919, David Berg was born in Oakland, CA. He married in 1944 and between 1948 and 1954, Berg was a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance but was expelled from the organization for differences in teachings and alleged sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old female church employee. Berg moved his family to Fred Jordan’s American Soul Clinic in Mingus, Texas, and he enrolled in a three-month religion course. Larry Hill’s first wife said that Larry also took religious studies at the clinic but I have no evidence that Hill and Berg ever met. Berg worked with the organization until 1967, and in 1968 he formed the Children of God organization (now The Family). Berg died in 1994.

In 1920 Sun Myung Moon was born, and as a self-proclaimed messiah, he founded the Unification Church in 1954.

In 1921, Harold Camping was born and would later become infamous for predicting that Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994 and then, after a robust promotional campaign, he predicted May 21, 2011 was the day of judgment, followed by a physical Rapture that would occur on October 21, 2011. Camping died in 2013.

Modern-day apostle and prophet Sam Fife was born in 1926. In the mid-1960s, he felt he was experiencing a “move of God” and created the organization The Move, which focused on believing the Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ were near. He died in 1979.

The 1930s saw the birth of future televangelists Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch, David Wilkerson, Jerry Falwell, and Jimmy Swaggart, cult leaders Jim Jones (People’s Temple), Marshall Applewhite Jr. (Heaven’s Gate), Rajneesh (Indian mystic, guru and spiritual teacher with an international following), Charles Manson, Werner Erhard (EST training), and Stewart Tanner Traill (Forever Family and Church of Bible Understanding).

And on May 21, 1935, Charles Lawrence Hill was born into the family of Charlie and Thelma Hill of Ashtabula, Ohio, a brother to 14-year-old Claudine. What was the world like when Larry Hill was born and is it possible it influenced the man he would become?

Fortney Road is available beginning today.

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