In the Vine House days, as we fell in love more and more with our Master Yahshua and thus increasingly obeyed His teachings, our popularity with the local churches slowly waned to the point of branding us as a cult. For us, the "Cult Scare" began in the mid '70s when the Christian parents of five young women who lived at the Vine House, and pastors in the Chattanooga area, were seemingly threatened and offended by the fact that their daughters' Savior meant more to them than anything, even their own possessions and family.
The message of anti-cult crusader, Ted Patrick, was received without question, and his message was: "The Yellow Deli is a cult! Beware!" The parents received it mostly because they didn't understand their daughters' radical departure from mainstream religion. It was received by most pastors in the area because the message of fear was an easy explanation that helped scare young people into staying in their dead congregations. And in one blatant example, at least, some city officials joined forces with the parents and pastors to promote Patrick's plan to end the cult by kidnapping and deprogramming!
These parents paid thousands of dollars to Patrick for his help to "rescue" their adult children from the group at the Vine House. It was a plan that not only parents, but religious leaders and even government officials could get behind. Patrick's message injected fear of brainwashing and mind control into parents about any group outside of mainstream Christianity. But for the time being, the Yellow Deli was his specific target. What our Master Yahshua called love (having His commandments and obeying them) was interpreted by Patrick and the Christian pastors as cultic, and as evidence of being under mind control. The local media, and especially the Chattanooga Times, were willing players in fanning the cult scare fire.
Rebecca Westbrooks was the fifth person Patrick kidnapped and attempted to deprogram in Chattanooga. By the time she was whisked away to be deprogrammed in January, 1980, the cult scare was well under way. She had graduated from Central High School in the early-to-mid '70s, and her father was a detective with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department. She came to us as a disillusioned Christian who wanted to find a place where she could devote her whole life to Jesus. All the different doctrines in Christianity were confusing to her because what she read in the New Testament was so clear about the fruit of following Him -- living a life of love and unity as the only way the Church can be (unless Christ is supposed to be divided, as the apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). When she met us at the Vine House, she saw people living a pure life together, striving to obey the Word of God in peace.
However, even after she was baptized and began to find the reality of what she had read about in the Scriptures, her father received a lot of pressure to "do something" about his daughter being in a cult. He couldn't understand it, but the pastors had an easy answer from Mr. Patrick: "Your daughter is brainwashed!" He listened to the horror stories in the newspapers and from the pulpits around town. He made his decision and thus undertook a scheme to kidnap his daughter. Given his position as a detective, he could arrange for someone to make a false criminal charge against her! She was arrested on a fabricated drug charge and brought to the city jail. Her father's friends posted her bond and released Rebecca to him.
Once released, Detective Westbrooks put her in the back of his cruiser and whisked her away to Centre, Alabama, as if he was taking care of official business, at taxpayer expense. Rebecca had no idea what was going on. When they arrived she was locked in a room where the windows were screwed shut. She was treated like a criminal and held against her will. She could not go to the bathroom alone, and two ex-members slept on either side of her night after night. Her arrest by the police was just a means of getting her into the hands of deprogrammers.1
Not only did Detective Westbrooks have help from his buddies in law enforcement, but more surprising is the fact that two judges knew what was going on and willingly participated in this abuse of official authority. While Rebecca was held captive in Alabama, her court date came and went three times. In her absence she was convicted of the drug offense.
Sometime later, after Rebecca had escaped from the hands of her captors, we hired a lawyer to look into the record of her court case, conducted without her being there. He found a revealing piece of paper, a docket entry with a note from one judge to another judge. The handwritten note from Judge Cox to Judge Meyer said, "Doug, this is the case of Detective Westbrooks' daughter that I told you about. He is having her deprogrammed in Alabama and she won't be here for the hearing."
After seeing this note, I personally went to see Judge Meyer. I reminded him about the case, and let him know that I knew that he and Judge Cox were involved in this whole scheme. He stood up from his desk and said, "Are you trying to blackmail me?" I responded by saying, "Judge Meyer, I know that you know that what I am saying is the truth." He sat back down and asked, "What do you want me to do?" I told him that Rebecca Westbrooks was not looking for revenge, but only wanted her name cleared from this injustice. I made it clear that she wanted the record expunged, which means destroyed, as if it had never happened. Judge Meyer got up from his desk and I followed him to the clerk's office. I watched as he told her to produce the file of Rebecca Westbrooks and to expunge the entire file. And so, the false conviction of Rebecca Westbrooks was erased from the record forever.
As I reflect on this event thirty years later, I have a much clearer picture of what was going on spiritually then, and even how it has progressed up until now. The Christian religion has had a historic relationship with the State ever since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire 1700 years ago. That alliance has produced massive bloodshed and injustice for centuries. It is because of this history that our Founding Fathers erected a wall of separation between church and state to protect religious freedom in this country.
This easily forgotten event of Rebecca Westbrooks' illegal deprogramming in 1980 was our first encounter with the awesome power of this dangerous alliance between government and religion. Her story is a classic scenario with modern-day facts: She is not satisfied with mainstream religion. She joins a group that is radically different and begins to follow her heart and finds her created purpose in living a life of loving and serving others in obedience to the gospel. Her Christian parents are bewildered and offended by her choices. So are the Christian pastors. They persuade government officials to cooperate in this deprogramming scheme. Anti-cult players like Ted Patrick inject the "cult scare" fear as a catalyst. They pull it off flawlessly... almost.
It is an age-old pattern orchestrated by the prince of the power of the air -- Satan himself. It has been going on for a long, long time, and now, in these last days, it is gaining momentum around the world. The alliance of church and state is forming in a way never before seen. The goal is to establish an ecumenical unity that pressures non-mainstream religious groups into "joining the fold" or being marginalized to the point of extinction. The anti-cult agenda fits hand-in-glove with this scheme of the evil one. The ecumenical "body" of the Harlot holds the reigns on the government, exerting an ever-increasing influence on officials at every level. This is prophesied in the Bible as how the Man of Lawlessness will come into power.
Rebecca Westbrooks' story from the Vine House days is but a microcosm of the plan and scheme to destroy the true witness of the kingdom, the corporate expression of the life our Master lived that proves God's love to all mankind. It parallels what it was like for our Master during His life. There were countless attempts to discredit Him and to destroy His life, from the time He was born to the time the religious leaders trumped up charges against Him and pressured the Romans to crucify Him. We have learned that if we are true to Him, we will be treated the same way He was treated.
So far, in our 35-year history, this scheme to discredit and destroy us has followed us all over the world. Hopefully, those in Chattanooga who were affected negatively by the "cult scare" can begin to see through what is happening and join with us to build this wonderful life of love as a witness of the kingdom to come.