Sunday, February 22, 2015

IHOP and Tyler Deaton's Community

The February 21st edition of 48 Hours explored the 2012 death of Bethany Deaton and the ominous religious community led by her husband, Tyler Deaton. (The full episode is available for viewing here. A transcript of the show is available here.) Former members of Tyler Deaton's home-based religious group have accused Tyler of shunning, rigid control over members' lives, and sexual encounters with male followers. The Deatons were affiliated with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a controversial New Apostolic Reformation ministry in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bethany's death was originally deemed a homicide when her friend, Micah Moore, confessed to murdering her. Moore was a member of Tyler Deaton's religious group and a congregant at IHOP. In late 2014, however, Moore was cleared of all charges. According to a motion filed by his attorneys, Moore's account of her death was not corroborated by forensic evidence, and his confession may have been prompted by a chaotic "exorcism" conducted by IHOP representatives. IHOP spokesman Nick Syrett denied that an exorcism took place, according to the Kansas City Star.

After Bethany Deaton's death, IHOP distanced itself from Tyler Deaton's group, lamenting that it failed "to discern the nature of Deaton’s alleged secretive, perverse, cultic practices" in a November 2012 press release. However, some observers remain unmoved by IHOP's statements. Last night's Twitter conversations about 48 Hours probed the relationship between IHOP and Tyler Deaton's private religious community.

I wish 48 Hours had devoted more time to IHOP's culture and how this might have influenced Tyler Deaton's and his group. In what ways did IHOP's practices and beliefs provide fertile ground in which Tyler Deaton's group could take root?

First, several former IHOP congregants have accused IHOP of fostering unhealthy power dynamics. For example, Ariel, a former IHOP congregant who blogged at Gospel Masquerade, looked askance at Mike Bickle's immense power in the organization and his grandiose statements. Another former followers told the New York Times that IHOP asked her to leave after she questioned an instructor's teachings about "signs and wonders". Writing at the Cosmic Cathedral, former IHOP congregant Kendall Beachey claimed that IHOP tolerated no dissension from those in its ranks.
"[Boze] Herrington tells a story of being rebuked for questioning Deaton. "Tyler is the apostle of Southwestern," he was told, "you need to do whatever he tells you!" Yet I could tell countless stories of how students who voiced disagreements with teachers at IHOP’s Bible school, my alma mater IHOPU, were treated in similar fashion. Many were reduced to tears; I was compared to heretics; a friend was told, "I’m fighting on the Lord’s side, whose side are you fighting on?” and most pointedly one teacher said, “The angel came to Mike, not you; who do you think we are going to listen to?"
These statements from former congregants paint a picture of a church that is hierarchical and intolerant of dissent. The teachings of IHOP pastor Mike Bickle also suggest a hierarchical worldview, specifically a patriarchal worldview. For example, in a May 2012 talk entitled "The Incredible Worth of a Woman", Bickle promoted male "headship" and wifely submission, as did guest speaker Michael Brown during a 2014 talk at IHOP. According to former members, IHOP models a hierarchical religious community that demands acquiescence from its members. If this is true, Tyler Deaton's hierarchical religious group resembles IHOP in this respect.

Second, IHOP embraces a theology that favors magical thinking over critical thinking. Dreams, visions, ecstatic prayer, battles with demons, and communion with the divine are the bread and wine of New Apostolic Reformation ministries, including IHOP. Preachers and worshipers alike believe themselves to be "forerunners" for Christ's return, possessing special God-given missions to proselytize, end abortion, etc. In at atmosphere full of fanciful statements, worshipers are not encouraged to reason, question, or weigh teachings against evidence.

When there is no rational criteria for weighing religious claims, charismatic figures such as Tyler Deaton can make religious claims and assert authority with ease. Rolling Stone's 2014 article on IHOP observes that its theology makes it very difficult for leaders to rein in zealous congregants. Since IHOP's theology is based on personal religious experiences, the spiritual claims of followers are no more falsifiable than those of the pastors.

In a post at the Cosmic Cathedral, Kendall Beachey pointed out parallels between IHOP's belief system and the belief system of Tyler Deaton's religious community.
"While intensified, twisted, and warped in Deaton’s group, the key dynamics of ecstatic religious experiences, charismatic giftings, and strong hierarchic authority based on religious devotion, fundamentalism, and asceticism are all values alive and well within the leadership culture of IHOP.

The sense of urgency and the belief that through spiritual discipline, prayer, and fasting, the return of Christ will be hastened is another tenant of IHOP that was warped and manipulated in Deaton’s group. Young adults, desperate for purpose and meaning, latch onto Bickle’s unique end times teaching about their present day role in the unfolding end- times drama in order to feel special, elite, a ‘part of a history-changing movement.’ Language about being “Joel’s army in training” (a phrase stripped in Bickle’s current view of the ‘latter rain’ theology it originally supported), ‘the end time generation,’ or the ‘point of the arrow’ in God’s activity on earth, all give members of IHOP purpose and motivation. Students and staff are told to live lives of spiritual devotion so they may have supernatural apostolic power ... 

... Elitism, gnostic secret knowledge of the end times, special religious experiences, etc. all differentiated IHOP and those like them from the rest of the American church. That more extreme versions of this theology and praxis grew up and flourished (no matter where they got their start) at IHOP should be of no surprise. From the outside, the extremism blended right in."
Finally, both IHOP and Tyler Deaton's group have sought separation from the outside world. According to the 48 Hours expose, Bethany and other members of Tyler's group had less and less contact with those outside their group, including family members, over time. Similarly, IHOP leaders see those outside their church as distractions, rivals, and even dangerous enemies during the impending End Times. Mike Bickle has repeatedly prophesied horrific End Times scenarios, in which wicked non-Christians will wallow in depravity and persecute Christians. In a presentation for Joseph Company, Linda Fields framed Muslims and the "gay agenda" as competitors with Christians for leadership. At OneThing 2011, Corey Russell encouraged audience members to break ties with friends and lovers who did not share their faith. In short, both IHOP and Tyler Deaton's group looked askance at outsiders, even if they acted out this sentiment in different ways.

I want to be absolutely clear -- Tyler Deaton is responsible for his own actions. Did IHOP cause Tyler to create an isolated, toxic religious group in his home? No. Did IHOP encourage the unethical behavior that Tyler has been accused of? No. He and he alone chose to create his home-based religious community. The actions he took as leader of that community are his alone.

However, IHOP's theology and culture deserves closer inspection. Judging from the claims of former members, Tyler Deaton's religious group appears to have exaggerated and perverted elements from IHOP's culture. IHOP provided a setting in which hierarchy, magical thinking, and distrust of outsiders were seen as normal. We need to ask if and how IHOP's theology and culture allowed Deaton's group to take root.


  1. I heard about this- but never looked into it. I'll watch it now. Thanks!

    1. Heather -- I'm glad 48 Hours devoted a show to the Deaton case.

  2. Ditto Heather. How creepy, and yet how familiar.

    Also, as an aside, I love how misogynistic groups like to introduce the topic of gender roles using misleading phrases that sound pro-female. For example, "The Incredible Worth of a Woman." Give me a break.

    1. Donna -- Creepy is right!

      Misogynist religious groups love to flatter women. They think it will distract women from the second-class status they want to impose on them.

  3. Watched it. I agree with what you said below - that Tyler Deaton's self-absorption and emotional distance was both apparent and very disturbing. It was also interesting to read the body language between him and the interviewer:

    Deaton: "I'm being totally honest with you and everyone else, and most of all with myself."

    Interviewer: "Bull****."

    1. Agi Tater -- I'm glad that the interviewer wasn't fooled by Tyler's act.

      Being married to Tyler, or being part of his "community", must have been an unpleasant experience. He's a piece of work.

  4. This helps me so much. Growing up I was raised in an end times church. As soon as I reached adulthood and had a choice I switched to a mainstream church, one that had been looked down by my growing up extremist church. I have family members who are still totally in this and it is escalating every year. I see their children being harmed by this extremism. But part of me always felt a little afraid like "what if they really are right.". It makes me mad because even though I've moved so far beyond this, you can't spend your entire childhood being forced to see the world this way and not still have some fears hooked into you as an adult. I never knew exactly why/ how to articulate thing that were wrong. Your post her teases it out for me and just helps me elucidate and put into words my thinking on groups and belief systems like this. Thank you

    1. Jenna -- I'm glad it gave you some insight. I'm sorry to hear that you were raised in a church that instilled so much fear in its members, and I'm relieved that you left. Here's to overcoming all that fear!


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