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Jesus in the Present
The Rise of the Evangelical Left

On March 26th of 1997 national news carried the headlines that 39 people in the group headed up by Marshall Applewhite that called themselves Heaven’s Gate had committed mass suicide. Were these suicides the result of Applewhite’s teaching? The answer is yes. He had redefined suicide as remaining on in their bodies and not being able to board the space ship that he claimed was following the Hale Bopp Comet. Since his followers believed his teachings they were obligated to escape their “container.” A direct link can be made between his teachings and their actions. False teaching has consequences and in some cases very catastrophic consequences.

On June 20 of 2001, Andrea Yates, a follower of Michael Woroniecki, drowned all five of her children, ranging in age from 6 months to seven years old. On March 15 of 2002, Robert Bryant, a Jehovah’s Witness, killed his wife and four children before committing suicide himself. In October of 2003, eight year old Joseph Smith died of what authorities said was a blow to the head. His parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, members of Remnant Fellowship, were charged and convicted of murder. Were these terrible acts the direct result of the teachings of Michael Woroniecki, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or Gwen Shamblin? I don’t think we can make a credible case that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the teachings of the various groups and the actions of the individuals. But that doesn’t mean there is no connection.

As a matter of fact, when we first heard the news about Andrea Yates our first question was, are they Gothard followers? As it turns out they weren’t but the teachings are similar enough that her actions made sense to us. She was well aware that her children were not living the “godly lives” that her “God given spiritual authorities” demanded, she was attempting to save them from the impending wrath of God and the possibility that they will be in heaven. So, although there was no direct teaching that led her to kill her children the teachings and expectations were contributing factors.

Having dealt with many Jehovah’s Witnesses leaving the organization Robert’s Bryant’s actions were not all that surprising. A number of them have told us that they realized they were not able to live up to the according to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s standards, and the additional burden of their families salvation being their responsibility, they had considered suicide. After all, they would be destroyed at Armageddon and they wouldn’t be the cause of their family not making it. In Bryant’s thinking he was taking the next logical step and ensuring that his family wouldn’t be destroyed at Armageddon and that they would have the chance to be recreated in the Millennial Kingdom and have the opportunity to earn eternal life in a blissful world. Were there direct teachings instructing Bryant to kill his wife and children? The answer is an unequivocal no! Were the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society contributing factors? I think the answer to that is yes.

By all accounts, Joseph and Sonya Smith were loving parents and wanted desperately to please God. Total and unquestioning obedience is Gwen’s Shamblin’s prescription to being accepted by God. They did not believe their son was totally and unquestioningly obedient and therefore not accepted by God. Out of their love and concern for him their attempts at correction, according to a jury of their peers, resulted in his death. Did Gwen ever teach that parents should beat their children to death? Not in anything I have read or her of her material. Again, however, her teachings are a contributing factor.

On Sunday, December 9, I received an email from our friend in the Denver area, Bill Honsberger with Haven Ministries asking for prayer. He had just received word that there had been a shooting at the YWAM base in Arvada, CO. As it turns out at 12:30 A.M. Matthew Murray shot and killed 2 and wounded 2. A little more than 12 hours later, at about 1:10 PM, he shot and killed 2 more and wounded others at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. It was widely reported that he hated Christians but it wasn’t immediately apparent why. As things have begun unfolding one of the links is Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles . For example, we read under “Influence on Matthew Murray” on Wikipedia:

I am 22 years old and I was raised in Bill Gothard’s homeschool program all the way through high school. I went to both the Basic and Advanced Seminars. My Mother was fully into both Bill Gothard’s programs AND the Charismatic movement.

What I found were all these other rules I realized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my “salvation” and somehow couldn’t live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules.

On Azusa Street Survivors on December 1, 2007 (13 days ago) he posted in part:

Me, I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard bull**** and then trancing out…sh**……I’m still tranced out. I remember how it was like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught and just….survive every single f***ing day. My mother’s a f***ing psycho too, her and her whole church and christian family.

Are Bill Gothard’s teachings directly responsible for this terrible tragedy? The honest answer to this would have to be no and he is probably positively horrified over these events. There in nothing in his teachings that would command or even endorse killing someone else. But that doesn’t mean that his teachings were not a contributing factor. Let me explain.

The core of his teachings are what he calls in his seminars the “7 Non-Optional Principles of Life”. If these are followed perfectly one will not have any difficulties in life, no sickness, financial set backs, relationship problems, etc. He has developed hundreds of steps, rules and principles to follow which are meant to insure fulfilling the “7 non-optional principles.” In addition he teaches that there is an “Umbrella of Protection” and obey them as though God were speaking to you directly through them, you will be protected. On the other hand, if you get out from under this umbrella (exhibit independent thinking) God will punish you with sickness, financial loss or worse. There is also his view that demons inhabit all sorts of inanimate objects and if brought into someone’s home will cause rebellion and bad behavior. Somehow demons are also passed on genetically from generation to generation and in order to get rid of them we must track them back to the original contact in order to be able to perform the correct rites to rid ourselves or others of them.

The list of rules, regulations, steps, principles and things that will brings God’s wrath down on you are so long that anyone who is really honest with themselves will have to admit, they cannot keep or live up to. If they truly believe the principles are “non-optional” it is completely understandable that the Inability to keep them would lead to giving up and depression as you are awaiting God’s big thumb coming down to crush you.

Are Bill Gothard’s teachings directly responsible for Matthew Murray’s actions? No, But bad teachings can contribute to devastating outcomes. When Matthew wrote:

What I found were all these other rules I realized I could never live up to, yet, the man seemed to have a biblical basis for everything. In Februrary 2001 at age 17 I plunged into a dark suicidal depression all because I thought I had lost my “salvation” and somehow couldn’t live up to the rules. Every single hour of every single day, up until October 2001 I thought about ways of suicide and hating myself for not being worthy enough and failing God. I felt like there was no reason to live because I had lost my salvation and could never live up to the rules.

He was admitting that life was pointless as he was simply waiting for God to destroy him. For Matthew killing 4 and wounding the others were but his last desperate act before God as Gothard had defined Him showed up to crush him.

Jesus in the Present
The Rise of the Evangelical Left