About halfway into his article, Hannaford takes a dramatic hiatus from his fast-paced recounting of the litany of evils and crimes that our community has supposedly committed. At this point, he takes a breath to ponder: “I wanted to understand,” he muses in bold letters, “whether there was something about the culture inside Homestead Heritage that could allow these abuses to happen—or worse,” he ominously suggests, even “foment them.” The reality, however, is that he wasn’t looking for enlightenment at all but seeking to press us into his already predetermined story line. He had a template, and he was going to squeeze and push us into it even when it required chopping and mixing facts into Playdough that would then be more pliable in his hands than reality. A number of friendly ex-members called us before the article came out, telling us that Hannaford boasted to them of having exposed a millennial, apocalyptic group, the Strong City, a few years ago in New Mexico and that therefore he “understood” groups like our own, implicitly equating our community to that of Strong City. He didn’t, then, “want to understand” through open-minded investigation. He had us pegged from the beginning. We were another Strong City.
Hannaford, ignoring the experience of now over fifty thousand visitors a year and hundreds of members as well as dozens of ex-members, has simply gone ahead to conform us to the standard template of the “cult” offered by people such as his “expert” Janja Lalich. So it is no surprise that the first step toward his “understanding” supposedly comes when he stumbles across, in his words, a “clue”: “the leadership structure.” This “clue,” though, for all his attempts at drama, is hardly something Hannaford discovered in his “research” of our community.
Consider, for example, Eugene V. Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College. He was named 2004 Connecticut State Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Gallagher reveals that “the most powerful image that has been constructed by the contemporary anticult movement is that of the eerily powerful cult leader.”1 In fact, “experts” within the somewhat closed circle of “anticult” crusaders, such as Janja Lalich and the late Margaret Singer, hold the exertion of authority to be a signal attribute of a “cult.” Singer and Lalich, for instance, write in Cults in Our Midst that “all cults are a variation on a single theme.”2 What is the single theme? They insist that “a cult is a mirror of what is inside the cult leader.”3 And who exemplifies this “single theme” that always finds its mirror reflection in such “cults?” These “experts” believe, in their remarkably bigoted view, that every religious group they do not like, and consequently label as “cults,” is led by a malignant authority similar in kind to the likes of “Jim Jones” or “David Koresh.”4 In fact, as Gallagher explains, “cult opponents” must automatically “adopt an unwavering focus on the leader . . . . The leader, who in anticult rhetoric is inherently deranged, unstable, manipulative and corrupt, is the pivot around which the entire anticult movement turns.”5 Hannaford has simply fallen for this bigoted stereotype. To Hannaford, “they all look alike,” and, after all, he exposed Michael Travesser of Strong City, so our leaders must be just like him.
Gallagher writes that in the “stereotype promulgated by cult adversaries” such as Lalich and Singer, the “characteristics of the cult leader are unvarying, influence flows only from the leader to the followers, and the same exploitative relationship is repeated over and over again. The anticultists see little if any dynamism in the interactions of leaders and followers; followers are simply acted upon and leaders retain unshakeable command and control.”6 And “if he says the sky is green, the sky is green.” All of this must be concluded a priori apart from any authentic investigation or even any encounter with leaders or groups whatsoever. Once a group for any reason becomes branded as a cult, the anti-cult mind will apply this stereotype to its leadership regardless of whether the authority truly is that of a Jim Jones or a Michael Travesser, or that of the loving, noncoercive authority of true fatherhood described in Scripture. Indeed, as Gallagher concludes, “If a group is defined as a cult, everything else necessarily follows.”7
So if Hannaford turns his article into a class B movie script, our “tall, imposing, bearded” leader with a “booming voice” must continually be walking around (in slow motion preferably) with slavish followers blindly falling at his feet, wailing out, “Unworthy. Unworthy, we’re unworthy.” He must be—we need a little echo when this is spoken—a “messenger from God.” (Also “God” should be pronounced “Gawd” for the proper effect.) This stereotypical picture must be in the article, not because it conforms to reality, but because that is the bigoted stereotype Hannaford must apply to his story for it to be the really big exclusive. In Hannaford’s view, Blair Adams must be “Dear Leader.”
By the way, Blair is probably around 6’2″ and does have a fairly closely trimmed grey beard. He is known for his sense of humor and is a loved grandfather and father. He is fun and interesting to be around. He is often unable to attend our meetings because of health issues and is involved in very few of the day-to-day activities of the church. If someone read Hannaford’s article and later happened to run into Blair, they would never recognize Hannaford’s “imposing” figure. Anyone who really knows Blair, inside or outside of the community, would paint a very different picture of the man than Hannaford’s malignant portrait.
Hannaford, of course, intends the phrase “messenger from God” to imply some extraordinarily grandiose claim made by Blair Adams, that he is the exclusive funnel of revelation from God or even the Messiah himself. In other words, he wants everyone to understand “messenger from God” in the context of the cult template. We do believe that Blair Adams is a “messenger from God.” But we also believe every other member of our church is a “messenger from God,” too, as well as many others outside our community. We believe every authentic Christian is called to bring God’s message to others.
Let’s do a quick Google search. Oh no! Iris Krasnow, writing for the UPI, records Billy Graham a few years ago admitting he’s a cult leader: “Evangelist Billy Graham may have the charisma that attracts figures like Johnny Cash and Lyndon Johnson, but he claims to be nothing more than a messenger of God.”8 Krasnow even quotes Graham making the startling admission: “I’m just a messenger, handing out messages that say, ‘God loves you. You need to let Christ into your heart in order to have your sins forgiven.’ It’s my voice that I think God is using.”9 My goodness. Graham actually thinks God is speaking through his own voice!
We suspect Hannaford has little if any understanding of the common Evangelical view of the “anointing.” Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Charismatics and others all believe that those in ministry act as “messengers from God.” Peter commands those ministering in the church that when they speak, they should do so as “the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Paul praised the Thessalonian church because “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us [not just Paul], you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). Perhaps much of mainstream Evangelical Christianity simply remains a mystery to Hannaford, so, in hearing that we might believe that God could speak to us through other men, women and even children, Hannaford’s rather narrow life experiences leave him clueless as to the actual meaning of our belief and that of hundreds of millions of others worldwide. It seems his mind simply snaps to the conclusion that some sinister plot akin to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or maybe The Manchurian Candidate, is unfolding, with mindless automatons passively receiving “messages” from their true master. Given his claims to having a Church of England background, Hannaford’s apparent ignorance of Christianity is astonishing, but still more astounding is his arrogant, reckless irresponsibility in publishing this insidious mischaracterization of our community, even though he has no firsthand experience with us.
1 Eugene V. Gallagher, The New Religious Movements Experience in America (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 220 (emphasis added).
2 Margaret Singer, with Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995), p. 15 (emphasis added).
3 Singer and Lalich, Cults in Our Midst, p. 258 (emphasis added).
4 Singer and Lalich, Cults in Our Midst, p. 28; Gallagher, New Religious Movements Experience in America, p. 12.
5 Gallagher, New Religious Movements Experience in America, p. 12.
6 Gallagher, New Religious Movements Experience in America, p. 13.
7 Gallagher, New Religious Movements Experience in America, p. 13 (emphasis added).
8 Iris Krasnow, “Evangelist Billy Graham—He’s God’s Messenger on Earth,” Lodi (Calif.) News-Sentinel, 25 May 1985.
9 Krasnow, “Evangelist Billy Graham.”