Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A Tragic Murder Case Puts IHOP in the Spotlight (UPDATED)
In Kansas City, Missouri, the tragic death of 27 year-old Bethany Deaton has brought an underground religious community to light. The tragedy has also brought media attention to the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a New Apostolic Reformation ministry based in Kansas City.
According to the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office, on October 30th Bethany Deaton was found deceased inside a vehicle at Longview Lake, reports the Kansas City Star. The statement of probable cause states that on a nearby notepad was written "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that? I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will still save me." While the scene initially looked like a suicide, a confession by one of Bethany Deaton's housemates would indicate otherwise.
An official statement posted online by KSHB 41 News states that Micah Moore, her 23 year-old roommate, has been charged with first degree murder in her death. The statement of probable cause indicates that on November 9th, Micah Moore told a Jackson County Sheriff's Detective that he killed Bethany. Moore said that he had shared a residence with Bethany and her husband, Tyler Deaton, along with several other males. According to the statement, Moore claimed that he and the other males had sexually assaulted Bethany over several months, and that they were afraid she would tell her therapist about the sexual violence. Moore said that Tyler Deaton had ordered Bethany's murder, according to KMBC-TV 9,
Authorities also interviewed Shelly Hundley, a pastor at the International House of Prayer who had spoken with Moore at the Grandview Police Department. Hundley reportedly told a Jackson County Sheriff's Detective that Moore admitted the sexual assaults to her.
Interviews with roommates of Moore and the Deatons paint a sordid picture of their "religious community." According to the statement of probable cause, one roommate claimed that Tyler Deaton was the leader of the community, and that he had been "groomed" to join their group. Other roommates claimed that sexual activity took place between Deaton and members of the group. One witness quoted Deaton as saying that the sex was part of a "religious experience."
Other people claimed that the Deaton's religious gatherings were large in scope. KMBC-TV 9 spoke with a neighbor of the Deaton's, who said that the group had weekly meetings and 50-60 cars would line the street. If this is correct, Tyler Deaton's meetings drew a sizable audience.
Bethany Deaton's murder and the subsequent accusations about her husband's religious group have brought the International House of Prayer into the spotlight. Bethany moved to Kansas City in 2009 to intern at IHOP, while Moore was a student at IHOP University, according to Fox 4 News. KCTV 5 reports that Tyler Deaton's group worshipped together at IHOP. A blog belonging to someone identifying as Tyler Deaton also mentions IHOP.
However, this does NOT necessarily mean that IHOP knew about or countenanced the alleged abusive practices in Deaton's group. News reports indicate that IHOP staff have cooperated with authorities. Additionally, IHOP is mourning Bethany Deaton's murder while distancing itself from the religious community. According to a statement from IHOP University president Allen Hood, Bethany Deaton and Micah Moore joined an "independent, close-knit, religious group" that "operated under a veil of secrecy." Hood stressed that the group existed independently of IHOPU, adding that it was important to IHOP that the group's illicit practices be exposed.
I hope that as more information emerges on Deaton's religious community, we can form a clearer picture of what went on. What was the role of Christian fundamentalism in that community? To what degree did manipulation and grooming take place, as described by witnesses? How long did the abuse of Bethany Deaton going on? Did others outside the community know, and could they have helped her? Finally, if Tyler Deaton ordered her murder, as Micah Moore claims, will he face justice? As a community reels from a senseless murder, both healing and answers will be important in the days ahead.
11/14/12 UPDATE: Truthspeaker's Weblog and Feeling the Fiction dispute the claim that IHOP had no affiliation with Tyler Deaton's religious group. The two blogs state that Tyler Deaton was acknowledged as a division coordinator for a Home Fellowship group in a recent IHOP hand-out, but has since been removed. Truthspeaker reminds readers that "In order to be a home-group leader, you just sign up. If people want to go to your home group, they will. There has been no vetting up to this point although I now know that is changing." The Kansas City Star has corroborated these claims.
11/15/12 UPDATE: According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, prosecutors stated that Tyler Deaton is under investigation in Bethany Deaton's murder.