Today I feel a little bit like Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist in the classic horror movie Halloween who ran through the streets of Haddonfield telling anyone who would listen that Michael Myers had just escaped from the insane asylum. As he frantically warned the residents, they looked at him as if he were a paranoid crank. Similarly, I warned in May that something was seriously amiss at Mike Bickle's International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Grandview, Mo., an exurb of Kansas City. Part of my job is monitoring extremist organizations, which brought me to IHOP's worship center at midnight, when I expected the cavernous hall to be practically empty. Instead, I found a far more disconcerting scene. Here is what I wrote on May 4:
There was a gigantic 24/7 prayer room filled mostly with teenagers, many of whom appeared to be of high school or college age. A band played hypnotic Christian music while the audience of 100 or so youth engaged in a diverse set of worship rituals. Some were seated, as if they were in a traditional church setting. Others danced and skipped, like they were in some sort of fundie rave. One youth twirled a purple fan, as if he were at a gay circuit party. About a quarter of the participants walked in a trance-like state through the aisles muttering to themselves -- a practice that I had not seen before. Some of these youths walked non-stop for over an hour, with no signs of stopping to rest.
Beware Grandview and Kansas City. You have an aggressive, militant, angry, fundie cult growing under your nose. It's time to wake up before you become the next Colorado Springs. Don't be caught flat footed wondering, "How did this happen?" Consider this your first warning.
My warning wasn't heeded, and residents of Grandview now appear mystified by the murder of a young woman who belonged to a religious sect with close ties to IHOP. The Kansas City Star reports that a charismatic youth leader, Tyler Deaton, had persuaded members of a church youth group he started at Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Tex., to move with him to Kansas City so that they could be close to IHOP. His group allegedly began drugging and sexually assaulting Deaton's wife, Bethany, 27, for what they deemed spiritual reasons. Deaton, who identified as an "ex-gay" who'd been healed through Jesus Christ, also allegedly began having sex with male members of his cult. Afraid that Bethany was going to reveal the group's crimes to her therapist, Deaton allegedly ordered one of his followers, Micah Moore, to murder her and make it appear to be a suicide. The plan seemed to be working until Moore cracked and confessed to authorities.
It would be unfair to portray this episode as representative of what occurs at IHOP. However, it cannot be denied that this church has become a magnet for extremists with a militant, "end times" view of the world. From my experience, it is an ideal incubator for young narcissists with Messiah complexes who fancy themselves prophets. In my work with Truth Wins Out, I have seen many bizarre activities on the fringe, but nothing has freaked me out as much as my evening at IHOP. The young people there were nothing short of zombies who looked disconnected from the world. Any ordinary person would walk away from the experience and instinctively know that what he or she had witnessed was abnormal, teetering on dangerous.
If this weren't scary enough, it appears that IHOP is attempting to take over the city of Grandview and turn it into a hotbed of fundamentalism. It appears that they are using Glad Heart Realty, which is located in the converted strip mall where IHOP is based, to help move in followers. In a town of 25,000, it wouldn't take too many transplants to control the city's politics. And there may already be allies in government expediting the takeover. Here is what the city wrote about IHOP coming to town a few years ago:
The organization purchased 125 acres of land immediately adjacent to Interstate 49 in northern Grandview in 2009. Its future plans include an approximately 30 million dollar plus phase one investment that will include moving the core activities of its Mission Base (headquarters) to the new site. The initial activities include a 2500 seat 24/7 prayer room, a 5,000 seat weekend church and conference facility, and apartments for housing students and missionaries. International House of Prayer leadership intentions are that the new campus ultimately will result in a new village-like hub for the activities of the Mission Base as well as add new life, new activities and excitement for Grandview.
Grandview was extremely pleased in the IHOP decision to make the City the movement's new "home." Since the decision was made in 2008, the City has seen a rapid influx of IHOP-associated individuals and a "quickening" and positive upswing in hope and optimism for the future.
I'm not sure that the rise of a youth sect that led to the alleged murder of Bethany Deaton was the kind of excitement that Grandview had anticipated. With other radical sects now in the area, such as Lou Engle's The Call and Andy Comisky's Desert Stream, Grandview residents might want to take a fresh look at IHOP before every day seems like Halloween.