It all started out innocently enough. We were just a bunch of teenagers who went to church together. Brad’s house, where I lived, was one of the main places where we would meet up, but we liked to get together and go to the Megamall, walk around Uptown, sit around at Perkins until three in the morning…we used to do everything together.
Things would get weird, though, when Brad would have everyone over to his house for “meetings.”
He would usually call one person, and then order them to instruct everyone to show up at a certain time. People would come over under the pretense of getting together for a normal social gathering, but there would always come a point at which Brad would stand up and begin to ‘deliver a message.’ He would start out saying something to the effect of, “The Lord gave me a word for tonight…” and then go on to talk at us for about ten minutes, after which he would begin to rant and rave for the next few hours. Like, maybe two or three hours was about normal, but sometimes it went on for longer.
After he’d been at it for a while, he’d begin stopping in mid thought and speaking directly to individual people, as though he were were hearing something straight from God. These ‘prophetic words’ were communicated with the urgency of a genuine mandate from Heaven, and to express doubt or concern about the authenticity of what was going on was sure to invoke divine wrath, which would be summarily expressed by whichever means would most effectively strike fear into the heart of the unbeliever.
Some of us were more skeptical than others, but in the end we all fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Those who didn’t were ‘called out’ and rebuked ‘before all, so that the others might fear.’ Repeated displays of insubordination (whether genuine or perceived) would result in the person being ‘turned over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that their sould might be saved.’ (That meant that they got kicked out of the group.)
Excommunication meant that the person was no longer under Brad’s spiritual protection. You see, it was understood that, if Brad invited you into the group, then you were being given a place of honor among some of God’s special people, and you were under a spiritual ‘covering’ that would protect you from harm. We were made to understand that the Devil wanted us dead because we were chosen by God to do special things for Him, so we neededto be very vareful not to ‘allow sin in the camp.’
[Sorry if this seems disorganized, or is confusing; I’m just trying to get it all out and write it down.]
‘Sin in the camp’ was often the subject of these ‘prophetic words’ that Brad would start issuing to people during these gatherings. There was rarely a specific wrongdoing attached to the accusation. Rather, such warnings were issued in broad, sweeping, nebulous generalities, and the person was left with the firm conviction that, unless they figured out what they were doing wrong and stopped doing it, then the next time God spoke to Brad about them, it would be to tell him that they were ‘hardening their heart’ against Him, and needed to be kicked out of the group so that their sin wouldn’t infect the others.
I know that, for myself, I did as much acid as I could get my hands on between the ages of 14 and 17, so that somewhat explains how I ended up susceptible enough to third-party suggestion to end up getting roped into a mind job like this. We were all especially vulnerable kids, though. I mean, at some point, each and every one of us somehow managed to get manipulated into beginning to give Brad a percentage of our income as a ‘tithe.’ (Brad didn’t work, he just sat at home and ‘sought God’ all day long, so we were very, very carefully manipulated into believing that it was our responsibility to provide for him materially, since he was ‘providing for us’ spiritually by praying for us all the time. That was the thought process, anyway.)
Brad was friends with the youth pastor at the church we were all going to, and it was through this relationship that he ended up being given his own night to host a church service for the youth group and whoever else wanted to show up. It was a lot like the meetings that we would have at his house. Eventually, someone invited him to come and speak at a high school in the area, and that was sort of where things really started to get out of control.
Brad brought his Christian rock band to the school and put on a show for the students in the gym, after which he gave a talk. He had grown up in poverty, in a bad part of town, and had never really known his father. His mom used to bring different guys home to beat her up every night, and Brad and his older brother had basically raised themselves on Spaghetti-O’s and Little House on the Prarie. He’d been through a lot, and he used anecdotes and life lessons that he’d learned the hard way to try to reach out to the kids and give them some hope.
One thing led to another, and before too long, we were traveling around the five state area with this guy as the road crew for his band, doing small groups with the students after the main assembly, and things like that. The message that we shared with the kids in the schools wasn’t really all that bad in those days, back when it all started. It was all about hope. I remember thinking to myself, as I would listen to Brad try to speak life into the kids and lift them up, “why is he talking so different right now than he does to us behind closed doors? This is the message that I believe in…this is what I want to share with people…but it’s like he actually doesn’t believe it in real life, because everything he says to us in private completely contradicts everythibng he is saying right now, out here in public.”
I was really confused, and the confusion just never stopped. Things went from weird to really super ultra weird in a matter of a few short years.