Cults are usually characterized by an unorthodox devotion to a person or idea. Cultish behavior was no more apparent than with the armor bearing team. Toward the end of my tenure, I was a part of the armor bearer team for the First Lady. We would meet every Saturday. The meetings consisted of teachings from a “How to be an Armor Bearer” book. Charlie, the chief armor bearer, taught the class.
In one meeting, Charlie talked to us about a pastor who was gunned down in front of his congregation. Then he asked who felt comfortable carrying a taser or becoming a concealed weapons carrier. He believed this was necessary because Joey said that God told him he would be killed for the gospel one day because he was a prophet and commissioned by God to speak the truth. Charlie was convinced that we needed to ensure Joey was not killed prematurely and admonished us to protect the man or woman of God at all cost. He even suggested we take self-defense classes from a guy in the church that taught Kajekenbo.
After Charlie was done naming all the reasons we needed to act as bodyguards, I raised my hand and asked, “Why don’t we hire security?” Charlie stated that Joey (who was now referred to as the Apostle) didn’t want to hire a security guard because they might not be spiritual or discerning. Other people in the meeting began to give their input, some were aboard and others were obviously skeptical, but unwilling to voice how they really felt.
Charlie then went on to say that we needed to follow Joey and the First Lady everywhere, including the restroom. He cited yet another story of how a pastor’s wife was attacked while going to the restroom and had no one there to help her. At this point, the demands were not only impractical but obviously stemmed from paranoia.
On the last meeting I attended, Charlie expressed his disappointment in us for not attending prayer faithfully at six thirty am every Sunday morning. Since I often came late or missed the prayer meeting altogether, I felt like it was directed towards me. He emphasized the importance of commitment and reminded us that he would not take his family on vacation until the Apostle was able to go on a vacation. Just before the meeting adjourned, he proceeded to pass out some sort of contractual agreement for us to review and sign.
The agreement had a list of expectations and consequences for noncompliance. I got to the part that said the Apostle would sit us down for missing more than two prayer meetings in a month and if the behavior continued, we would be removed altogether. While everyone else signed their papers and turned them in, I shook my head in disbelief. I went to Charlie and told him that I needed time to pray and that I would get back to him by Wednesday.
I talked to Barry about my feelings and showed him the agreement. We both felt that it was ridiculous. At this point, I had been with the church for about four years. I had served faithfully in various leadership positions and had taught numerous classes without signing an agreement to do so. If my loyalty and commitment wasn’t evident through the fruit of my works, I didn’t know what would be.
When Wednesday night Bible study rolled around, I pulled Charlie aside and told him that I could no longer subject myself to his teachings or be a part of the team. He said he admired my honesty, but warned me about the dangers of being out of God’s will.
I met with Nancy at a local restaurant to talk to her about the whole armor bearing team and my reasons for stepping down. I didn’t want her to take it personally and I wanted her to get my side of the story so it wouldn’t be any room for misinterpretation.
I told Nancy that the teaching on serving an anointing to get an anointing was not consistent with Scripture. She didn’t agree and referenced Elijah and Elisha. I went on to explain my point of view (see Chapter 3) and in short, we agreed to disagree. I also voiced my concern over the redundancy of the mandatory six thirty am prayer meeting held every Sunday. The church also held corporate prayer at eight am on Sunday that included at least a fifteen-minute stint in which we prayed for Joey and Nancy.
Nancy agreed that some of the practices instituted by Charlie were over the top at times and thought the team lacked purpose. She commended Charlie for his commitment, but acknowledged his overzealous and misguided efforts. I appreciated Nancy’s honesty and saw a softer side of her than I had before.
The inordinate praise and adoration of Joey was another telltale sign of the church heading in the wrong direction. It’s like we could never “appreciate” him enough. When someone would get up to introduce him or solicit money for his birthday, church anniversary, etc, they weren’t satisfied unless we gave him a standing ovation at the end of their speech. They would go on and on about how Joey had changed their lives and if it wasn’t for him, they didn’t know where they would be.
A minister once got up to close the service and said, “If you know someone who needs help, just bring them to this man right here,” and pointed at Joey. Not Jesus, but Joey. A fallible man was replacing the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Fear was Joey’s leverage. It was used to keep people at bay. The fear tactics came in the form of horror stories of people leaving the church and wandering in the “wilderness” or being shipwrecked. The church was believed to be a spiritual covering that embodied or gave a person spiritual protection they wouldn’t normally have. I can’t forget the infamous phrase “touch not mine anointed”. This was yet another Scripture taken out of context and used to keep people from voicing their concerns to each other.
Let’s take a closer look at the so called spiritual covering that the church or a pastor is supposed to provide. Well, I had a hard time finding any scriptures to support this because there aren’t any. To insinuate or suggest that any of the scriptures do is false. God himself is our protector, Psalm 91 1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day.
Probably the most misused scripture in spiritually abusive churches is 1Chronicles 16:22: “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”. In the Old Testament and in this scripture the anointed refers to those who were set apart by God such as kings, priests, and prophets (see 1Kings 19:16). “Touch not” literally refers to physically harm (see 2 Samuel 1:13-16). Many make it out to be a verbal demonstration or opposition with a church leader, but this is not the case. This false teaching exalts pastors, who are all self proclaimed prophets in these sects, to an untouchable status. But the bible teaches that no one is exempt from following and obeying God’s word.