By Clete Hux –
The 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, prompted national and local news media to gather information on groups that have the potential of committing such atrocities. The question that most are seeking to answer is simply this: “Are there religious groups out there who would use their apocalyptic theology to justify violence or racism?”
Many groups such as the Branch-Davidians, Seventh-day Adventists, Elizabeth Claire Prophet with The Church Universal Triumphant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even the Mormon Church have from time to time prepared themselves to ride out the approaching apocalypse and the ensuing millennium. Some of these groups have an isolationist and somewhat survivalist mentality in their eschatological (end times) interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures.
Most of the evangelical world remembers 1988 when pastors and churches all over the country received a copy of Whisenant’s book, Eighty-eight Reasons for the Rapture being in 1988. Except for those who have died and gone on to be with the Lord, Christians are still here. There are other end-of-the-world predictors, such as Harold Camping. Prior to predicting the apocalypse and the end of the world, Camping was a somewhat respected radio Bible teacher, but he has been accused of becoming a false prophet by trying to predict a specific date for the end of the world. Camping said that he was almost certain that the period of the final tribulation and the end of the world would be September 1994. “Of course,” Camping added, “I never say absolutely. I’m human I might have missed something” (The New York Post, 20 August 1994).
One can certainly not predict the end of the world and be mistaken without being labeled a false prophet. Dr. John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, says, “Anyone who sets a date is a screwball. Nobody has ever guessed the right date; you’d think they would learn” (Ibid.).
The previously mentioned groups are some of the more well-known, larger cultic groups. However, there are many smaller groups that have the same apocalyptic outlook, and perhaps it would be beneficial to look at a couple of these.
End-Time Ministries (ETM)
End-Time Ministries was founded by the now 78-year-old Charles Meade. Meade moved to Lake City, Florida in 1984 from Indiana, where he began his ministry in the early 70s after spending most of his life as an employee of the Ball Manufacturing Company. According to ABC’s 20/20 reporter Tom Gerald (who reported on ETM), the End-Timers (ETs) have about 1,000 members in Lake City and the surrounding North Florida counties (Spring 1993). Most have joined him from several states (Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 21 May 1989).
Meade brought his followers to Lake City to prepare for the end of the world, and things haven’t been the same since. Meade lives an isolated life, protected by a privacy fence topped by three strands of barbed wire, an elaborate brick entry framing his driveway, and “no trespassing” signs.
Meade’s stated purpose for coming to Florida is, “God’s going to have a mighty army in this end-time. The army that He spoke about in Joel. And you’re some of the people. This generation is the one that’s going to bring Jesus back” (The Sun Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 19 May 1991). Judy Sefransky, a Tampa volunteer of the Cult Awareness Network, told The Sun Sentinel that Meade talks about establishing a society of the greatest people who ever walked the face of the earth. And he talks of himself as doing something that has never been done (Ibid.) This parallels what some former ETs have said about Charles Meade. Former member Joni Cook says of Meade, “He calls himself the Moses of the end-time, the Elijah, the one true apostle on earth, better than the Apostle Paul, second only to Jesus” (Lake City Reporter, 18 November 1988).
Some members of ETM, unlike many esoteric, communal-type cults, live in a very nice subdivision called Southwood Acres, which has spacious lots holding about 60 homes well over the $100,000 range. According to The Sun Sentinel, this is where ETs, recently offered as much as $60,000 in cash as down-payment on homes that weren’t even on the market. Half of the Southwood Acres now belong to ETs (19 May 1991). Even though Meade uses poor grammar and has preached on the folly of formal education, his followers are well-educated, having been recruited from the mid-70s from a Bible study group at Northwestern University in Chicago. Among his followers are geologists, high-tech electronic technicians, and heads of companies. One top leader has Master’s degree from Northwestern and Indiana Universities, while another is an Air Force Academy graduate (The Sun Sentinel, 19 May 1991).
On the surface, it would not appear that these middle-income, progressive-looking members would adhere to the strange cultic doctrines espoused by Meade. However, when one submits to an exclusive authority and power equal only to God on earth, anything could be taught or believed.
In addition to believing that Charles Meade has been called to establish God’s perfect community on earth, followers believe that newspapers, radio, and television are instruments of the devil. They also believe that animals, even images of animals, harbor demons, therefore ETs don’t have pets. One former member says she “placed masking tape over teddy bears painted on her child’s crib for fear that demons would leave the teddy bears and enter her child” (Ibid.).
Another belief is that being tired is a sin, as God’s people are to be empowered with supernatural stamina. Also, it is a sin to cry, for if you cry you have “lost your joy.” ETs are also isolated from family members if they are not part of the group. These family members are not allowed to visit their children and grandchildren who belong to the group. On at least 2 occasions, police have been called by ETs to issue trespass warnings against parents who had come to Lake City from as far away as Montana (Ibid.).
Meade’s message seems to be that his followers are to deny worldly pleasures, but this does not include refusing the world’s money. In fact, according to The Sentinel, Meade preaches that the end-time army, like the God-led Israelites leaving Egypt, should take the enemy’s riches. Meade claims, “When God sets you free, you see what He did to them. He give them silver and gold and give them plenty, takin’ it right from the enemy and give it to His people. I’m tellin’ you the same thing can happen right now. Why should the enemy out there, the ungodly, the unbeliever, be handling all the gold?” (Ibid.). This idea of gathering riches for God’s people is also a common characteristic of the gospel of prosperity or positive confession in the Word-Faith Movement.
Much of Lake City’s gold is being handled by ETs. Although they exclude themselves from virtually every other facet of community living, ETM is well represented in the business community. In 1990, 39 businesses in Lake City and the surrounding areas were owned by ETs. Among these are a roofing business, a landscaping firm, an air conditioning repair shop, a cellular phone company, a deli, and pizza parlors (Ibid.).
Perhaps of all the disturbing doctrines of the ETM, none is more alarming than their disdain for the medical profession. Meade does not believe in doctors. Members are encouraged to throw away their eyeglasses and false teeth and are told that sickness is a result of sin and unbelief. It is all attributed to Satan.
Meade probably adopted this teaching when he belonged to a house church in Muncie, Indiana, where another self-professed prophet, Hobart Freeman, taught occasionally. Freeman headed the religious sect called Faith Assembly. He preached the same doctrine of spiritual healing just as Meade. From 1973-1984, Indiana officials documented 93 deaths of Faith Assembly members who received no medical care, including 42 children. Since 1978, at least 12 babies belonging to ET families, have died from causes that medical officials say could have been prevented. One victim was 4-day old Michael Boehmer, who died in 1989 from internal bleeding, which doctors say could have been prevented with a Vitamin K injection.
“Brother” R. G. Stair
Another doomsday-type soothsayer is Brother R.G. Stair, who has his religious commune in Walterborough, South Carolina. In the late 1970’s, Stair bought a Carolina Motel on South Carolina Highway 15, near Walterborough, and attracted a small band of followers who moved into the motel and into several mobile homes behind it. He also bought a nearby farm and calls his group “The Overcomer Ministry” (The Post & Courier, Charleston, SC, 24 April 1994).
Stair hoped to live a simple life there, much like the Mennonites or the Amish. No drinking, swearing, smoking, or television would be allowed, nor would buying on credit. His followers would live off the land. Women would wear their hair long and men would keep it short. Women would wear dresses; men would wear pants (Ibid.). Like Charles Meade, Stair believes that God heals exclusively without medicine, and he pressurizes his followers to obey by not seeking out the medical profession (The Charlotte Observer, 3 January 1989).
“Everyday R.G. Stair, 60, can be heard on more than a dozen short-wave and A.M. radio stations from Sacramento, California to Conway, South Carolina” (The Post & Courier, 24 April 1994). During his programs, Stair often reminds listeners that he was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In an interview on WIBF-FM from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania Stair issued these prophecies: “God told me in September of 1985, before we would witness the end of 1988 that three things would take place in the United States, that are going to bring terrible judgments and destruction upon our land:
First, the most popular president, Mr. Reagan, we’ve ever had will not finish his term. You may see that happen and come to termination any time and maybe by the time you receive this cassette. Secondly, that’s going to cause great chaotic conditions around the world and the economics of the world are in such bad straights, that there may be coming a world bankruptcy and the canceling of all currency. American economy is going to be busted. Thirdly, nuclear war is already being planned and acceptable to both sides” (11 April 1988).
In another interview on KYW-TV Channel 3 in Pennsylvania, Stair not only predicted that Ronald Reagan would not finish his term of office, but that he would either be removed by sickness or assassination as a possibility. When asked directly by Jerry Pennacoli, the host of the TV talk show, “When do you think the world will end?” Stair said, “I believe before the year 2000” (The People are Talking, 22 April 1988).
William Alnor, an evangelist and free-lance writer, covered the other false prophecies that Stair has made in an article for a Pennsylvania newspaper:
- “All of America’s major cities would be destroyed in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union before Dec. 30, 1988.
- The U.S. economy would collapse before the end of April 1988.
- When the above failed he set the date for the end of May 1988.
- Later he claimed it would happen before Dec. 10, 1988.
- Former President Ronald Reagan would be ‘forcibly removed’ from office before Dec. 30, 1988.
- Reagan would be removed from office before George Bush took over as president last month.
- God’ promised him’ that he would be on 100 radio stations before the end of 1988 to spread his message of doom to America.
To prove that God had kept His end of the bargain, Stair published a list of 102 radio stations on which he was broadcasting, in a recent newsletter” (Delaware County Daily Times, 14 February 1988).
Alnor, author of Soothsayers of the Second Advent, states, “He’s always proclaiming the idea of doom, and this served as a catalyst. People were drawn to him by fear.” Alnor went on to say, “There are a number of groups like this and they are cropping up more and more because of the year 2000. In the year 1,000, people were so worried they were living in caves” (Ibid).
The media scrutiny intensified in July 1988, when a couple from Pennsylvania left the group after the woman’s baby was born dead. Stair had discouraged her from going to a doctor, even though she had trouble delivering her first child. The county coroner said the baby probably would have lived if the woman gone to the hospital (Ibid).
Stair is known not only as a prophet, but also as a pirate. Federal agents seized radio transmission equipment aboard a ship, occupied as an unlicensed pirate radio station. Apparently, Stair had planned to sell the ship to a Central American country to be used to broadcast religious programs (The Post & Courier, 20 January 1994).
Additionally, the frequency that was being used by Stair was normally reserved for government communications, one that is often used by pirates who seize the opportunity. Of course, this is in violation of the FCC regulations. But even the seizure by the FCC didn’t slow him down. He bought more airtime on radio stations, and during these broadcasts Stair asked for more and more money (Ibid).
This appears to have been Stair’s last-ditch effort to have the world know that he is a prophet from God:
“A powerful short-wave transmitter beamed the last-day prophet’s gruff voice into the heavens, where it slammed into a layer of electrically charged gas and bounced back to earth. ‘When I speak.’ He thundered, ‘it’s the word of God.’ Soaked in short-wave static, his voice is quieted. ‘I’ve told this over and over again, that God gave me, in the spiritual realm, authority over the church the true church. In all these Southern states, my influence reaches to the far corners of the world.’ He was pleading now, almost crying, ‘we’re getting very close to the final countdown.’” (Ibid.).
Prior to the FCC seizing the transmitter equipment from the ship, Stair could be heard on as many as one hundred radio stations. After Stair’s predications failed to come true, he began to appear on fewer radio stations. For the most part, he stopped talking to reporters. In his broadcasts he calls them perverted. He still preaches that the world will end, but instead of setting dates, he merely says, “time will be up soon” (Ibid.).
One former associate of R. G. Stair’s said that Stair had promised him a piece of property in Alabama, near Opelika and Auburn. When approached about the agreement, Stair physically beat the man up in front of his family. A lawsuit was filed, and the court required Stair to pay $25,000 in damages. Apparently, Stair is still alive and well preaching his message, and continues to have a group in Auburn/Opelika area (Phone conversation between former Stair associate and Watchman’s Clete Hux, Spring 1992). Just as with false prophets of the “apocalypse now” mentality, when prophecies don’t come true, Stair tries to rationalize as to the failure of these predications. According to Bill Alnor, Stair changed his story again, and then blamed God for it. He claims that God did prophesy the calamities through him, but He was apt to change His mind, just as He did when He decided not to destroy Nineveh in the book of Jonah (CRI Journal, Summer 1998, p. 6).
As noted earlier, other cult groups have also predicted the end. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world several times and amended their “prophecies” when they don’t come true. The Branch Davidians certainly thought they were in the last days. The Church of the Living Stone Mission for the Coming Days in Seoul, Korea predicted that Jesus would return on October 28, 1992. Many people gave up their jobs, homes, and family ties for this supposed upcoming event, but it didn’t happen.
So, instead of “apocalypse now” apparently, it is “apocalypse later.” The church needs to be aware of these end-time false prophets so as not to be deceived. Jesus clearly stated this in Matthew 24:3-5, 11 when the disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of t he world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceives you. For many shall come in my name, saying I am Christ; and shall deceive many.’”
Previously published in the Watchman Expositor April 4,