I find them sitting on the couch. Calvin and the Husband. Watching Star Trek. But not just any Star Trek. They are watching the ORIGINAL Star Trek. You know. Captain Kirk. Bones. Mr. Spock. Mr Sulu. Scotty. THAT Star Trek. A classic that I watched with my momma once we owned a television. This particular episode I don’t remember. The Return of the Archons. A weird turn of events and Bones becomes this mindless, emotionless, peace hugging guy. Kirk tries to snap him back into reality. Bones simply replies, “You are strange. Are you not of the Body?” Well, Bones is peaceful until he realizes that Kirk is NOT of the Body. He freaks out. You are NOT of the Body! You are NOT! and starts choking Kirk.
It became an inside joke. He’d whisper “Are you of the Body? No. No you are not of the Body. You are a traitor.” I’d giggle. Nervously. When you come to grips that what you grew up with was not as it seemed you find ways to laugh. Otherwise you will just cry.
They call themselves The Body of Christ or The Body for short. It is a small rag-tag group of churches throughout the US with a few missionary branches in Haiti, Mexico and Africa. They claim no headquarters, denominational identity or religious creeds. The majority of the churches go by Gospel Assembly but there is no universal requirement to adopt that name. This loose non-organized denomination began in the early 1900s with the vision of one man, William Sowders. He had a vision to restore the original doctrine of the early church in the Book of Acts. So he invited any who would come to thresh the Word of God. Oneness, Trinitarian, Arian. No matter what you believed, you were welcome to come and present your thoughts. You were, of course, subject to question. Through these early times of the “School of the Prophets” the “truth” was revealed. Churches were started and annual campground meetings happened in the hills of Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He died in 1952 at the age of seventy-three. But not before appointing the leadership of The Body to a man named Tom Jolly. A man who would split from the original Campground group in the 1965. A split that would last until the early 2000s.
I heard Jolly was a fantastic preacher, a great man of God, one to be revered and respected. But Jolly had a horrible secret. Jolly was a pedophile (read about it here). In the early 90s he was convicted of his crimes. He was removed from leadership and died a few years later. A fact that was reported in the local newspaper but not apparently the churches at large. I didn’t learn about this until 2010 when my own father went to prison and someone decided to tell me a DIFFERENT story about Jolly.
The church does not hold to Orthodox teaching. They are, by loose definition, Arian in regards to the Father and the Son. They are Pentecostal and baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues is an absolute must. Water baptism is fully under in the name of Jesus (I’m fuzzy on this because my original baptism was about 34 years ago) They do not really teach the importance of conversion or salvation in the traditional sense. They hold a Calvinistic view of sin although I’ve heard that debated in meetings. There is no traditional view of heaven or hell. There is a teaching about a bride called out, 144,000 members who will rule and reign with Christ 1,000 years (Read Revelations 20). There is no devil, depending on if you are in a West Coast, Midwest or Southern church. They believe they are the latter rain church, the true bride of Christ, the only ones with the truth. If any other person has anything “truth” they received it through the church…somehow. They teach the doctrine of perfection and charity. A doctrine that led to a physical standard of dress, worship, family culture and personal endeavors. The best I can describe this church, ESPECIALLY the one I grew up in, is a Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, white male dominated cult with touches of Jehovah’s Witness, Judaism and Calvinism.
This is the church that built me. Once upon a time. It was my whole, entire world. I was never going to leave. Like, NEVER.
Without giving you a whole whos-who of this organization, I ended up in a off-shoot of the original Campground group. My pastor came to the Body through a large church in California called Redwood Gospel Assembly. At some point he moved his family to Boise, Idaho where he started Boise Bible Assembly … A small church of about 20 people when I arrived at the age of 3. He was a dynamic and fiery preacher and ruled the assembly with a iron fist. He would make a person feel like they were the most special person in the world. Even when he was correcting you, he’d make you feel special. (or so I’ve been told). The assembly was located on 5 acres outside of Boise. There was a large white farmhouse and a barn they converted into the church. We arrived in May of 1978. They showed us the church and the black piano the first day. We returned the next week and we stayed until the church closed in 1990. I grew up the daughter of the piano player. At one point, I was related to most of the church because my momma’s entire big family were members. Until the strain of living a holy and perfected life was too much take…that or the divorce of my grandparents. Either way, the family left but my parents stayed along with two of my uncles.
My father’s family did not like the church much. How it separated us from them. How we no longer celebrated Christmas, Easter, birthdays or even events like graduations, weddings, births or deaths. How we wore long sleeve tops that went no lower than the clavicle bone (I wore a LOT of turtle necks). How we wore long skirts no shorter than 1 inch below our knee. How we would miss family events but never miss a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday church service.Yet, they loved us. Even when we were not lovable. I never once felt like my father’s family…my aunts…my grandma and especially my grandpa…didn’t love me. I was loved.
There are many unwritten rules that we followed that were never actually “written doctrine”. That’s the problem. There are no written faith statements (not that I’d sign one anyway), documented doctrines or organizational structure. At least, not that is readily available for those outside of the church to find. Because each church was “led” or “managed” by a single man, my peers and I grew up in the same “organization” with COMPLETELY different experiences. Our doctrines may be the same, but our cultures were not.
Because of the loose structure of the churches I’ve been hesitant to actually write about where I grew up. For one, the training of keeping ourselves away from persecution STILL remains with me. There is a small piece that protects a place and a people that I loved. I am also related to people who still attend the churches in my area. I do not want to disrespect their faith, their conviction or their vision. I am friends with people across the country, in assemblies across the country. Assemblies that I would probably have moved to had my husband been willing to leave this area AND Abba hadn’t told me to leave all religion. Ultimately, I do NOT ever want to hurt someone with this blog.
But I know I must speak. The teachings…the people…the culture took a wounded girl and wounded her further. It robbed me of 30 years of my life. I’ve been gone for 8 years, and I’m only now just beginning to feel safe enough to process just what the heck happened.
So, today I break my silence. Even if it’s only so I can finally finish a chapter in my book I’m trying to write. I’m going to share about this place and what it’s like to grow up in the Body, the daughter of the piano player. It may have started out right, but what’s left, is a dangerous place for the vulnerable, weak and abused.
Am I of the Body? At age 41, I can finally say, without pain, “No.” I am no longer of the place that made me.