The International House of Prayer is a charismatic/Pentecostal church/mission in Kansas City, Missouri.
It used to be most famous for it’s “prayer room” — a sanctuary that has run perpetual prayer and worship services, 24/7/365, since 1999.
That mission struck me as a kind of Pentecostal version of what groups like the Trappists do — just replace the Trappist liturgy with the improvisational, ecstatic worship style of charismatic American evangelicalism. Yet there was still something vaguely creepy about the place. Where the Trappists are praying for God to sustain and redeem the world, the folks at IHOP were praying for conquest and destruction.
Neither conquest nor destruction seems compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that’s the gospel according to IHOP founder Mike Bickle. Or, if you believe Bickle, according to the angelic messengers who provided him this revised gospel because he’s the special recipient of God’s special message that “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly” just ain’t cutting it anymore as the answer to “what does the Lord tell us to do?”
Erik Eckholm profiled IHOP for The New York Times back in 2011:
The staff and students here are required to spend at least 25 hours a week in the prayer room, and they also engage in weekly fasts of a day or more. The focused worship, Mr. Bickle says, affects real-world events by weakening the demons and strengthening the angels that swirl among us. Most important, he says, the incantations, multiplied worldwide, may help usher in the long-awaited final days: seven years of bloody battles and disasters that will end with the Second Coming, with true Christians spirited to eternal bliss and everyone else doomed to hellfire.
“The Second Coming will probably happen within the lifetime of people living today,” Mr. Bickle said in an interview. …
Bickle’s End Times obsession is a very different flavor from the variety preached by Rapture enthusiasts like Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey or John Hagee. We’ll get into the details of that difference later, but for now let’s just say it boils down to that core message of conquest and destruction.
So what does it mean when, instead of praying for God to redeem and preserve the world, you devote your life to praying that God will conquer and destroy it? Well, the Trappists gave us Thomas Merton. IHOP gave us Tyler Deaton.
You may remember Deaton’s story from when it first broke back in late 2012. I wrote about it a bit here — “American Horror Story: ‘Ex-gay’ evangelical formed murderous cult, police say.” (Trigger warning for that link — and for the remainder of this post. The allegations of rape and murder in this story are pretty grim.)
Here’s the news report from local NCB affiliate KSHB, from when the first charges were filed in the case:
In that video, Beth Vaughn reports:
According to court documents, the confessed killer was part of a community where religious experiences included communal sex. Micah Moore said he killed Bethany Deaton to make sure she didn’t tell police about the numerous times she was sexually assaulted by her male roommates. One of those roommates was her husband, whom Moore described as the religious leader of the group.
Moore has since retracted his confession.
So what in God’s name was actually going on there at the International House of Prayer?
Jeff Tietz digs deeper into the story in a long, thorough, compelling piece for Rolling Stone, “Love and Death in the House of Prayer.” The subtitle offers a summary: “Tyler Deaton, a self-appointed apostle in one of the fastest-growing evangelical movements, loved Jesus, Harry Potter and, much to his dismay, other men. When his wife turned up dead, the secrets began to spill out.”
Tietz dug deep, interviewing many of the members of the fervently devoted group of young Christians who had gathered around Tyler Deaton. He relies most heavily on Boze Herrington, a former member of the group who was weirdly “disciplined” by this little community for his alleged spiritual shortcomings. It’s an ugly portrait of spiritual abuse and manipulation.
Republic of Gilead directs us to another source offering additional information and perspective on the story Tietz covers so well. Blogger Kendall Beachey was a classmate of Tyler Deaton’s at IHOPU — the church’s unaccredited Bible college. He knew this group of IHOP disciples quite well — although, as he says, it turns out not as well as he thought he did. Beachey offers an up-close, first-hand account:
The men coming to the house had given Tyler a choice. If he left the International House of Prayer (IHOP), never contacted anyone in his worship group again, and became integrated into another church, then after three or four years he could be in good standing with IHOP once more. He was told IHOP would help him to transition home, but after that, he was on his own.
When the IHOP leaders showed up, they were not alone. The police were there, just out of sight, and when Tyler stepped onto the porch, it was all over. It was November 9th, 2012 and Tyler Deaton was being taken in for questioning for the first time. The story went from that of a suicide and a misled worship group, to a homicide investigation and a sex cult.
I was the one who opened the door. Not a part of the group. An outsider. No longer at IHOP. An outsider. Over the course of a few weeks — from Halloween night when my former Biblical Studies Director from the International House of Prayer University (IHOPU) called to tell me, “Tyler’s wife committed suicide,” to that next Monday after the night Deaton stepped out onto the porch and the whole thing blew open — I found myself subsequently believing three separate stories.
Beachey’s account is fascinating in part because he is — or was — sympathetic to the peculiar form of religious devotion in which Deaton and his group had gotten swept up. He is fluent in the details of that little world and ably translates some of its idioms, conventions and mores for the rest of us. To an extent, though, he’s still more fluent in that language than in the one the rest of us speak, and some of what is most fascinating in Beachey’s series of posts is what he leaves untranslated — the way phrases like “prophetic word” or “forerunner” appear as matter-of-fact references to commonplace ideas.
Like Tietz, Beachey describes a culture of spiritual abuse and manipulation, yet he doesn’t see Tyler Deaton’s groups and its practices as an exception to the larger culture of IHOP. “What makes Deaton’s vision so different from Bickle’s?” he asks.
Beachey seems genuinely torn as to whether or not Micah Moore’s original confession of murder and serial rape can be believed. Moore is a troubled, suggestible young man — an easy target for manipulative “spiritual” leaders. That’s what makes his confession believable, but that’s also what makes it possible that he was manipulated into making that initial, sensational confession. That confession, among other things, shifted the blame and the focus of the criminal investigation away from the church and onto Deaton’s small cadre. Beachey notes that Shelley Hundley,* director of IHOP’s “Forerunner School of Ministry” seems to have played a large role in convincing Moore to make that initial confession, which seems to echo some of the themes from Hundley’s own sensational conversion testimony.
So, then, who killed Bethany Deaton? As Beachey reminds us, we can’t yet say we know the answer to that. But we have a good idea of what killed her. A prideful doctrine of conquest and destruction isn’t just unhealthy. It’s lethal.
Prayer is practice. Praying is a kind of becoming. The Trappists who pray for sustenance and redemption are sustained and redeemed. At the International House of Prayer, worshippers call for conquest and destruction. Those prayers, alas, do not always go unfulfilled.
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* I have a hard time seeing Hundley as credible. She is, among other things, an “exorcist.” And this account reeks of enthusiastic embellishments. Perhaps it’s all true and HIPAA regulations forced her to retell the story of her healing and of her “atheist” doctor’s consequent conversion without providing any verifiable names or details. I can imagine that as a technical possibility, but it does not seem the likeliest explanation for that account.