The Vision: The Cult Leader Lie

The Vision: The Cult Leader Lie February 5, 2021

The Vision, pp. 285-295

This book is so weird.

Magdalene was dead. 

Grief pulled them down like a tidal undertow. It was a nightmare, beyond comprehension. Every pleasure was swallowed up in the pain they bore. Sleepless nights, sobbing off and on all day, work left undone, their vision gone in the midst of despair. They had talked about danger and dying. They thought they were ready for anything. They were willing to be martyrs. But this was real—so different from their play pretend bravery and spun spirituality.

Who is “they”?

Reporters came from all over the nation to document the arrest of what seemed to be half the country. Corruption, greed, murder, and major fraud involving banks, insurance companies, local lawyers, and county tax assessors, all suddenly made known. The novelty of discovering every political leader in a three county area to be involved in a violent White Supremacist clan was worth reporting.

First, there is nothing in the text to directly link this crackdown to Magdalene’s mother and brother contacting the feds. I assume these are linked. But it seems like this could have been more clear.

Second, the statement white supremacists running the area was so novel that reporters came “from all over the nation” changes my conception of the world Debi has sketched. The fact that white supremacists controlled the area had always been stated as an open and unchangeable secret. If white supremacists running an area is novel and easy to clean up in one fell swoop … that changes things.

This book is nothing if not inconsistent.

How do the feds even have the time to come in and clean up white supremacist infiltration of a local community’s government? We’ve been told the Muslim extremist threat is so severe that there are bombings around the country practically every day. Why would the feds care about a single act of arson and murder in a small Tennessee town?

Also, if this all came to light because of Magdalene’s mother and brother sending the feds Magdalene’s dad’s white supremacist internet passwords … IDK. That’s not my understanding of how the internet works? Besides, don’t the feds already monitor white supremacist activity on the internet?

Well, regardless, that’s the end of the White Supremacist threat to our merry band of heroes. It’s over—just like that. Kaput. Poof. One enemy down! Two to go!

A Performance of Grief

Back to the reporters:

When they approached those who loved Magdalene, asking about hte night of the fire, they were met by sobs from men and women alike. The great sorrow subdued the news hounds, making them wonder how one young girl had provoked such devotion.

This feels … performative.

Word trickled to the Freemans that, amidst the many arrests, federal gents were discovering that some local and state officials were actively manipulating the law to seize the property and assets of The Last Publishers ministries and their leadership. It all smelled of money … big money.

Wait, what is that supposed to mean?

The weary eyes of Malachi met the eyes of his beloved.

This writing. Egads.

Obviously the berry secret was not such a big secret after all.

Oh FFS, they already knew the local white supremacists were trying to gain control of their property. And someone broke in and stole their last jar of the berry brew after they shipped the rest of it out to heal that missionary, remember. I’d gotten the impression this was all a pretty open secret.

Then, suddenly, the press was gone. The feds were gone. The mourners were left to weep undisturbed.

Yellowstone’s soon coming fury could no longer be hidden.

What an interesting transition.

Anyway, everyone gathers at the Herb Den.

They came because the were shaken to their very core. Every face looked troubled; not just sad, not just confused, but very, very disturbed.

Even with everything else that had been happening, losing Magdalene had been the greatest blow in Cheyenne’s life. Bobbie Jo hadn’t stopped crying since that night; even in her sleep she whimpered. Julie and thrown up for two days.

Look, I’m not going to police people’s grief. But. These people made Magdalene call her father, knowing that he was both abusive and a committed white supremacist. If they hadn’t done this, she would still be with them. This just feels over the top. Like, fine. But here’s my side eye.

Why Did God Let Her Die?!

Dusty is pissed.

“Why would God do such a thing? Why did God let that nasty, filthy scumbag kill Magdalene? God could have turned the bullet just a tiny bit. He could have caused the smoke to cloud Derek’s vision. He could have done any number of things that would have required almost no effort. Why?! Didn’t he care?

“She was so young! She had her whole life ahead of her. Why would anyone hurt there? She believed and trusted! How could God allow this terrible thing to happen to her? She trusted him to protect her! We prayed … and now she’s dead!”

He’s not wrong.

Yancey stands up and says “Da boy’s right” and “What did God do about dose prayers?”

Yancey’s angry eyes settled on Malachi as if he were blaming him for the murder of Magdalene. A tremor seemed to engulf him. He dropped into his seat as if he no longer had strength to stand.

Why is Yancey there? Why does Yancey care? Yancey is such a weird character. Why does he drop in his seat as though he has no strength?

Asher could see that Malachi’s health was heavy. He had seen him break into weeping several times over the last week. Now he watched the Old Gent struggle to clear his eyes and throat before he answered.

The “Old Gent”?

Why is no one willing to deal with the fact that it is their fault that Magdalene is dead? No one even acknowledges this. No one mentions the role that making Magdalene call her dirtbag dad played in her death—not even Dusty notes this, and he was there when she called. It’s like it didn’t happen.

So. How is Malachi going to explain Magdalene’s death?

I’m sure it’ll be fine.

“When should God have let Magdalene die? Should he have turned the bullet, this time saving her, then stopped the car from crashing five years from now?”

Is “yes” an acceptable answer?

“Should he have kept her from getting cervical cancer at 45 years old—

Damn, Magdalene’s life sounds dangerous.

—or stop her from having a stroke at 68?”

Yes! Yes, he should stop those things!

Look, the average life expectancy for someone born when Magdalene was is something like 78 years. Malachi’s narrative makes it sound like someone was out to get her. Also, the Bible says that those who walk in God’s ways will be granted long life, so that is not too much to ask.

“Is God more merciful to let her live a long time before she dies? Is he unjust to let her die so young?

Uhhh.

“Who has suffered? Her? Or us?”

Here it comes.

Malachi’s hands hung loose down his side as if he were too weary to lift them. His voice dropped almost to a whisper. “What we fail to understand is how short life really is.”

Yup.

“What really counts is eternity.”

There it is.

Oh, but wait. Wait wait wait.

“So she went on ahead. Yes, I grieve to lose her. But our loss is her gain. Many of you did not know that Magdalene carried a very heavy secret on her small shoulders. That secret weighed her heart with great grief.”

Oh no.

“She was too young to keep such a terrible thing to herself. She bore her grief alone except for Hope and I, and at our request she told Tess.”

Oh no. Oh no no no.

“She didn’t want to grieve you, so she kept quiet. She wanted to protect you from sorrow.”

THIS WHOLE NEW PLOT LINE IS UNNECESSARY.

“You remember she was fanatically clean and particular.”

Do you see it yet? Can you guess it?

“We often laughed at her and her yellow rubber gloves and doctor’s masks.”

Ahahah Debi, you should’ve gone back and added some mention of this earlier, lolol.

“She was particular for your sakes, not hers.”

Have you guessed it yet?

Well. Here goes nothing.

“During her year on the street she had become HIV positive.”

Yep. They went there. They really went there.

“The disease was already advancing in her body. She knew she was living on borrowed time.”

I don’t like this new plot line, I don’t like it at all!

AIDS Like It’s 1985

I have a question. How did they know she was HIV positive? We never heard any mention of her visiting a doctor. If she learned of her status before, while she was working on the streets—how? She’s a minor. She needs a parent’s signature on all of her documents. If Hope and Malachi had taken her to the doctor, they’d have had to reveal that she’s a runaway. So that clearly didn’t happen.

I don’t see how they could possibly know she’s HIV positive, and even if she somehow got a diagnosis for that, she was absolutely not visiting the doctor while living at TLP, which is gross medical neglect. AIDS is treatable now. And yes, this book was written in 2009, not 2021, but it was treatable then too. Debi is writing as though AIDS is a death sentence, when by 2009 it was not. 

There was a shared gasp across the room as everyone sat up in unison, trying to fathom this unexpected revelation. Then the mood in the room shifted to fear as people searched their memories of any time they might have come in contact with Magdalene.

Small-town east Tennessee, where it’s still 1985.

This is just so sad. So, so sad.

But also, this is just so completely unnecessary. They could have just said that Magdalene is with Jesus, and is happy now, and isn’t that better than life on this earth with all of its worries and cares? And then they could have left it at that. That is, after all, what they believe. But no! They have to invent this brand new claim that Magdalene had AIDS and was going to die soon anyway, so no harm no foul.

This is so unnecessary!

Cheyenne interrupted, “But what about the brew? Wouldn’t that have helped?”

Good question.

Rather than begin a discussion about the brew, Malachi responded with as little information as possible. “There seems to be some properties of this particular disease that would not respond to the brew. The brew’s formula works with the immune system, building it. HIV uses your immune system to destroy your health.”

Well isn’t that convenient.

He stumbled to recover his thoughts. “Of course, Magdalene took every precaution, especially around the children, and Tess saw to it that she did. That is one reason that Tess encouraged Magdalene to contact her daddy when she did, before it was too late.”

I am extremely uncomfortable with all the talk about how careful Magdalene was to protect everyone. That focus just feels off. Also, Malachi’s comment about the children makes clear why Hope and Malachi made Magdalene tell Tess she was HIV positive. And somehow that just feels … bad.

The Cult Leader Lie

This is also the first time we learn that Magdalene was motivated to call her father by her own impending death. And you know what? I don’t buy it. It’s so out of the blue.

You know what this feels like? It feels like a cult leader rewriting history. Dusty and Yancey both just yelled at Malachi, questioning his claims and his authority, and in response, Malachi is reasserting his claim to control over this group by suddenly announcing that no one knew this, but Magdalene was HIV positive. And that’s why it was God’s will that she died! And that’s why they made her call her dad!

I mean, good gracious, look at this:

“Another thing you need to know about our little sister is that she dreaded her advancing sickness. She knew that it might be long and drawn out. She had studied what to expect, and it was an awful road she had to travel. Death is always an ugly monster, but when AIDS is the vehicle it is an extended ugliness that torments over and over before it is through. She would be thankful that her friends and family did not have to go through that with her.”

When rereading this section, I wrote a note in the margins: “this feels like a cult leader lie.” Because I’m sorry, it does. It’s just too convenient that Malachi is the only one who knows all of this, and that Magdalene isn’t here to confirm or deny his assertions. We never got any hint of any of this before.

Finally, we get this:

“We have all seen and heard Mr. Giles testify to having come to know Jesus. In prison he will be able to share his testimony of being deceived and then seeing the truth, and coming to know the Savior. He may make a profound difference in the lives of many inmates. Ike, her favorite brother, has shared with us that the rest of the family is now seeking God.”

Of course. Because Ike, at 15, is now the leader of the family. Because he’s male. So he’s the one they’re communicating with, not Magdalene’s mother. Who is an adult.

So see! It’s actually good that Magdalene died!

No no really.

“I can almost hear her laughing and saying to me, “Oh Malachi! You know, it was perfect timing. He spared me all my pain and gave me all his joy!”

For real. For real it says that.

There was a pause as everyone contemplated the words. Cheyenne looked around at the people who sat there. The Old Gent had answered well. It was strange how differently you feel when you know all the facts.

This feels off.

It just feels off. So very very off.

Magdalene’s Girls

Within the conversation of Magdalene’s AIDS comes a conversation about what she believed was her mission in life: Malachi tells everyone gather that Magdalene that believed God had given her a special mission to convert Muslim girls. He tells those listening that Magdalene once had a dream in which she saw “lots of young Muslim girls” standing in a circle and singing a song.

“I can’t remember all of the words,” Malachi says, “but it was something to the effect of:”

We sing a new song
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God.
He has redeemed us to God by his blood
out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.
He has removed our darkness,
now we see.
Jesus is the King of Kings.
He is worthy.
Worthy is the lamb that was slain.
Sing a new song with us.

Malachi says that when Magdalene came to TLP, “she began to fast three days a week” and to pray for Muslim girls. Is that a good idea if you’re HIV positive? That seems like probably not a good idea to me.

Bobbie Jo then stands up and tells everyone about the “jewel” Magdalene gave her—remember, at the end of an emotionally charged conversation, Magdalene went through the motions of putting something in Bobbie Jo’s hands—even though there was nothing there—and told her to reveal her “jewel” when the time was right. She shares Magdalene’s dream of raising her daughter Starlight in the Millennium.

Bobbie Jo raises her hands, releasing the jewel.

Bobbie Jo dropped to her knees, weeping. “It’s okay! Oh, Lord, I love you! It’s okay. I know Magdalene would be glad.”

Glad … that she died? I assume?

Everyone sat silent without looking up or saying anything. Except for the quiet weeping, the silence went on and on.

At that moment—well, I’ll let Debi tell it, because her writing is … something else.

Suddenly the door of the office was thrown open, sending in a flood of late afternoon light. Raw terror from the tense days caused every person in the room to react with a violent jerk. Several metal folding chairs slapped the concrete as people jumped to their feet as if to flee. There was a guttural sound as air rushed from their lungs. Panic sent a surge of adrenaline through Cheyenne’s extremities, stinging her arms and legs.

Yeah.

It’s the shopkeeper from next door. “Turn your TV on … just turn your TV on,” she says. The last time someone said something like that to me was September 11th, 2001. But no matter! Asher jumps up “like a jack-in-the-box” and turns on the TV. (I’m not sure why the Herb Den has a TV handy.)

It was Fox News, live form Iran.

Of course it was.

They saw on the screen what looked to be several thousand people standing tightly grouped together, in front of what appeared to be a  college campus. Many had their hands in the air. Their faces were full of joy. They were obviously Middle Eastern. Some of the women were covered head to foot in burkhas and dark robes.

This is all going to be great. So great.

Right in front, clear to all, a large group of smiling teenage girls was waving the Farsi translation of God’s Story book. The camera panned and came in for a close-up shot, settling on one of the books. The girls began to sing in another language, but the English translation scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

Sure Debi. Sure. Sure that happened.

It’s the song: word-for-word the one Malachi recited earlier, which he said was an approximation of the song Magdalene said she heard in her dream, which he couldn’t remember word for word.

That makes total sense. Total. Sense.

We sing a new song
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God.
He has redeemed us to God by his blood
out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.
He has removed our darkness,
now we see.
Jesus is the King of Kings.
He is worthy.
Worthy is the lamb that was slain.
Sing a new song with us.

So let’s see how this went. These teenage girls are going to college (I assume, given the setting), and someone gets their hands on this new book, and they all start passing it around and reading it, and they’re transfixed by what they read, and decide to become Christians. Fine. So then they … call the media? Debi tells us it “appeared to be a huge peaceful rally.” So they … hold a rally?

And they write a new song, practice it, and memorize it, so they can sing it at the rally? In front of the cameras? While waving copies of the book? Their point is … what, exactly? And what is their next step? Are they having a rally with specific demands, or aims? This seems incredibly risky.

Bobbie quietly whispered in a trembling voice, “Magdalene’s girls? They’re singing Magdalene’s song!”

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Iran, but things are not great there for religious minorities, especially individuals who convert from Islam. And this is a thing that often frustrates me: things are not great because the country does not have religious or political freedom, not because of a specific vendetta against Christians (in fact, google tells me that members of the Baha’i faith and individuals who are members of the wrong Muslim sect are also persecuted in Iran).

Trying to convert people to your religion when they live in a country where they will likely be harmed if they change religion seems like a dick move to me. My preference would be to start by helping people gain religious and political freedom … and focus missionary efforts on places where people won’t be killed if they convert to your religion. I get that this is driven by the Christian belief that those who do not convert will be tortured for eternity after their deaths, but … that belief is a bad belief.

So. Magdalene is dead and all is well with the world.

Cool.

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