Friday, August 26, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-four


It took Amazon a few extra days to find a copy of “The Crumbling Foundation” for him. After he finally received it, he read it, a few pages at a time on his lunch breaks. It was a real eye-opener, but he forced himself to read slowly, verifying quotes as he read. So far, every time he located another source for a quote, what was in the book proved accurate. Sometimes he had to search many different sources before finding the quotes he needed.

But he felt all the extra effort was worth it. If he was to convince Judith The Word contained deep flaws, he had to make sure that every single point he made was correct, and provable. Even with that, he feared he could not convince her. The Word had the resurrection and Charlene, he had…he wasn’t sure what he had. He knew he could no longer follow a lie, but what would replace it? He’d grown up knowing that all “Christian” religions apart from The Word were imitations of the true religion, run by crooks and liars, agents of Satan. He didn’t think he could join another church. Besides, he might just find problems there, too.

The first few chapters of the book confirmed his understanding of where The Foundation went wrong with its prophetic interpretations. Mainly, it should never have tried them. History was full of false prophecies based on methods similar to, or even identical to the years-for-days ideas advanced by Apostle Adderly. As the author noted “the plethora of dates for the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world, strewn across the historic landscape, serve as warning not to attempt such things. So far the failure rate is 100%, there is no reason to believe someone else will do better.”

He started to skim a chapter discussing the doctrinal flaws in The Word’s understanding of various Biblical doctrines. It didn’t interest him, as he still believed many of The Word’s basic articles of faith. But then he noticed an emerging pattern. The Word always taught the various Christian churches all called the others heretics for not holding the correct beliefs. He’d already noticed on his travels for work, that this did not hold true for some. Now he learned that far from arguing continuously over beliefs, most Christians accepted a common understanding of core beliefs. Those beliefs lay distinctly outside what New Jerusalem taught, it was The Word that advanced strange doctrines, not found elsewhere.

Disciples took pride in this, seeing it as proof they were right. He began to hold a new opinion, when everyone else tells you have it wrong, you have it wrong.

The next chapter, entitle “It’s Not About Doctrine” looked more appealing to him. It covered the religion’s most worrisome aspects; the lack of caring for others, the rules, and enforced shunning. He quickly found that it contained information he’d never thought about. It also explained the difficulty of breaking free.

“This chapter details the most egregious problems with The Word of God Foundation: lack of transparency in its financial dealings and decision making; the many harmful and unscriptural rules it imposes on its members, and the means it uses to insure compliance with those rules. In order to understand how the religion imposes this structure on its members, we need to examine the methods it uses to control their ability to think for themselves, using Steven Hassan’s BITE model.”

Hassan, a mental health professional formerly associated with the Unification Church wrote and taught extensively on the subject of abusive religions. “BITE” stood for Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotion.* A quick look at his website convinced Samuel the Word of God fit the model in many ways. The Word controlled its member’s behavior, even such personal matters as dress and grooming. It limited contact with Outsiders, instilled fear in the Disciples, and pulled on their emotions.

He thought of Judith crying in front of a cheap movie, New Jerusalem had her emotions locked-in to focus on The Word’s teachings. The Foundation controlled the information flow by severely limiting what the Disciples could read or see. It did this by instilling fear and encouraging peer pressure. It kept the Disciples so busy they didn’t have time to look at anything even if they felt so inclined. The copy of “1984” David gave him was the first book written by a non-Disciple he’d read since graduating from high school. No wonder he had such a hard time opening his mind and deciding what to do!

He put the book down and went back to work, looking forward to a continuation of his studies.

**

“Dad.”

“What is it David?”

“You know I got several offers. I’ve decided to go to Bellevue College. It has the best medical technology program in the state.”

His son smiled proudly, “I’m getting a large scholarship that I applied for a couple of months ago.”

Samuel grinned and congratulated his son, shaking his hand. He said he was proud, then he realized that he about a million questions, but David had one of his own. Would his father have trouble at the Gathering House? After a moment’s thought, he said no, he no longer cared what they thought. He was ready to let the chips fall where they may.

“Where are you going to live? You’ve never been away from home.”

That was silly, every year millions of eighteen year olds left home and went to school.

“Keith DeRoche, a friend from school is going there for the same program. He and I can rent a basement apartment from his aunt. It’s only about a mile from campus. The rent will be cheap and I can get a work-study on campus to pay my expenses.”

“Sounds like you thought of everything. I need to think about how I’m going to talk to your mother.”

“Dad, I don’t want to cause more trouble between you and Mom, but I have to do this.”

“I know.”

The two talked pleasantly for a minute or two, then David went back down the hall to his room, and Samuel turned to the work reports on his computer. But he couldn’t concentrate on work. He kept thinking of what he’d read about all the rules The Word imposed on the Disciples. This provided a perfect example, why was education wrong?

Now that he’d been doing some research, he knew the real answer to that question. The Apostles said that education was a useless pursuit aimed only at success in this world. Disciples aimed for success in the world to come, The Lord’s Paradise. But education interfered with New Jerusalem’s control of its members. Educated people were harder for the Apostles to control.

When he went to bed himself a short time later Judith was sitting up and reading the latest “Word of God” magazine. “The Word” contained material intended for use in Disciple-making, it contained articles aimed at the public, not Disciples. Judith, Luke and the Larsons were the only people Samuel knew that read it from cover to cover.

She put the magazine down on the covers as he entered the room.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

“David told you he’s going to college.” Her voice was flat, conveying a curious mixture of emotionless despair and anger.

“He did.”

She took a deep breath, pursing her lips. “Well, we can’t let him go. It’s contrary to our instructions from New Jerusalem.”

Samuel answered that he didn’t think it was a matter of “letting” him go. He was going with or without their agreement.

“Caleb and Luke will remove you from the Servant Committee. They will restrict David, maybe even Cast him out. How can you let this happen, we’re so close to the end?”

She started to sob, her words coming out in broken confusion.

“David should be going to New Jerusalem… or Disciple- making fulltime Disciple-making… or going to missionary school… he has an opportunity to travel… he has endless opportunities within The Word. Instead he’s going to run off to college like an Outsider!”

He pointed out that other Disciple children were going to college. She didn’t care. The kids going to school were mostly going to trade schools, a year at most and they’d be doing what they were supposed to be doing working, Disciple-making, and getting married.

“I thought we’re going to be in Paradise in a year.” Samuel said without thinking.

“So that’s it. You don’t really believe we’re that close to Paradise do you?” she said with cold fury. Suddenly her voice changed to a wail, “How can you?” she burst into tears. “I’m going to lose you and David like I lost Charlene. I’ll spend forever without you.”

Tears poured down her cheeks. He walked around to her side of the bed and sat on the cover next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, “Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

She pushed his hand away, then suddenly grasped it tightly, pulling him toward her. She flung an arm around him, “Don’t leave me. I don’t want to live forever without you. Or David.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good,” she sniffed and pulled a tissue from the box on the nightstand. “I feel like this job promotion is pulling you away. You should be working harder on these new responsibilities as a Servant. It’s exciting times, but it’s going to be a lot of work. But the reward will be worth it.”

She patted the bed next to her, “Come to bed. Hold me and tell me it will be all right.”

He smiled, “it will be all right.”

Later he lay staring at the shadows on the ceiling. The book was right. He knew she loved him, but New Jerusalem, the Apostles, the Gathering, had first claim on her emotions. He needed to figure out what he’d do if she couldn’t break free.

*Information on the BITE model can be found at https://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php 
  - JAT

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental
  


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-three



Caleb and Samuel sat down in the upstairs library after the Sunday Gathering, their wives having driven home together. Samuel noted that Caleb came alone, a good sign. If he’d brought another Servant, it would mean he was forming a review committee. That fact that he was alone at least meant he wasn’t that far into the process. Yet. It still did not bode well that he wanted to meet in the Gathering House rather than at a coffee shop or something.

“I just wanted to chat about a couple of things,” as always the words themselves implied a casual conversation. His tone didn’t. But Samuel knew Caleb’s moods. He decided years earlier that Caleb was constitutionally incapable of relaxing. He tried to control his tone and emotions, to keep the “chat” as informal as possible.

“Okay, what’s on your mind?”

“You’re spending a lot of time with Matt Edwards.”

How did Caleb know that?

“Well, we take lunch together once a week. Our employers aren’t too far apart. So we meet and just chat about stuff. Nothing serious.”

“You are not counseling him about anything specific?”

“No. I think he’s feeling a little…I don’t know like he can’t figure out how to do more.”

He needed to play his cards carefully here. Caleb seemed focused on Matt. He had to make sure that he didn’t give away what he and Matt talked about. They’d both be in front of review committees.

“I see. Has he said anything about Gloria Lighthorse or asked about Ricky Halbert?”

“No. Why?”

Caleb explained that they were still having trouble over “that mess.” Ricky’s family, including an Apostle, was trying to limit the investigation. It created a division among the Apostles. Apostle Halbert might have to resign, an unthinkable problem at this stage of world events.

“Matt Edwards has a connection with Gloria Lighthorse…” Caleb went on.

“Before she got in trouble, she was Matt and Laura’s babysitter.”

“We know that,” Caleb snapped, “we think there is an improper relationship between her and Matt. I wanted to see if you have any hint of that. She seems to have some problems, it may have influenced her behavior with Ricky.”

Samuel seethed on the inside. They were going after Matt on trumped-up charges. Why on Earth would they do that? An accusation like this could ruin the man’s life!

“I can’t imagine Matt doing anything like that. He’s devoted to Laura, I’m sure of that. He’s just not sure if he measures up as a Disciple.”

“He needs to show up for Gatherings and Disciple-making more. That will fix his problem.”

“I’ll do that,” was what Samuel said to Caleb. What he thought was “I’ll show him how to inflate his next monthly Disciple-making report. If he reports more time, they may find somebody else to bother. Maybe they’ll leave me alone, too.”

“How are you doing,” Caleb probed.

“I’m doing fine.”

“I’ve been a little worried about you lately. You aren’t zealous anymore. Some exciting events are coming up. We aren’t supposed to know, but Luke can’t keep quiet. Even he doesn’t know the details, but some big stuff is coming.”

“I understand. I’ve just been in a slump lately, I’ll pull out of it somehow.”

Caleb ended by encouraging him to stay on top of the developments, they were coming fast.

As he drove home, Samuel pondered the situation. He still had no idea what the Apostles planned for the next few months. Whatever they planned, it was clear they would tolerate no dissent. They would allow nothing less than complete loyalty, and absolute obedience to their commands.

**

Matt shifted around in his seat uneasily. He took a long look through the restaurant window before turning back to face Samuel.

“How does he know we’re having lunches together?”

Samuel shrugged. He pointed out that as a real estate agent, Caleb spent a lot of time driving around. Probably he’d spotted them. Jumping to conclusions about wrongdoing fit his style.

“He’s obsessed with everybody else’s business and problems. Sophia is even worse.”

“Ah-ha.” Matt lit up suddenly. “Sophia, Judith, and Laura went shopping after Disciple-making Saturday. Laura told me they’re real concerned with what I’m doing. She said they think that I’m dragging her down and hurting her spiritually.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I said work was keeping me busy and I was finding it hard to get to Gatherings and out in Disciple-making. I told her she could go to Gathering without me. She said it was too much work to take the kids alone. I think the Servants, well Caleb mainly, are trying to use her to get to me.”

Samuel agreed. New Jerusalem was prying into every report from the Gatherings. Any drop in the number of Disciple-makers or the time they put in would reflect badly on Caleb. They had issued new instructions about accounting reports, they were going to watch those like hawks too.

“Maybe we should stop meeting, it would give them one less thing to gripe about.”

Samuel shook his head. Caleb, knowing he’d brought the matter up, would immediately decide they were doing something wrong and trying to cover it up. If they kept right on having lunch together, he could tell Caleb he was trying to encourage Matt.

“Give it a couple weeks, he’ll find some other stupid thing to worry over. He likes the drama of new problems, fixing them isn’t as much fun.”

**

He came home that evening to find Judith in front of the TV. He recognized the DVD at once. For years, one of the features of the summer Grand Gatherings had been full dress plays reenacting well-known Bible incidents. A few years earlier, the Foundation started producing film versions on DVD. Judith was watching the first one, “The Joy of the Resurrection.”

Samuel had never liked the films, now with his newfound thinking, he liked them less. The acting and production values looked like something put together by creative but poorly equipped and trained high school students. The scripts lacked any degree of sophistication. They were obvious public relations pieces. Ostensibly, the Apostles planned them as part of a campaign to make The Word appear technologically savvy. In fact, they made it look behind the times.

On top of everything else, they tried to use Eastern Washington as a stand-in for the Holy Land, and Paradise looked suspiciously like Mt. Rainier National Park.

Judith sat in her favorite chair, leaning forward. If she heard him enter the room, she didn’t look up, but watched the TV, transfixed, her hands covering her mouth and nose. He knew the movie well, she watched it so many times she must have had every second memorized.

It depicted Lazarus’ resurrection with remarkable emotion, women wailing at his death, and weeping with joy when he returned to life. It also depicted the death of Eutychus, a young Greek who went to sleep in a window while listening to Paul preach. When he fell out the window and died, Paul brought him back to life. It presented the death and resurrection of Jesus dramatically. All these events showed the power of The Lord to bring the dead to life.

The film ended with several scenes of celebrations in Paradise as families reunited with loved ones in the Resurrection. At that point, Judith always cried, no doubt picturing herself and Charlene together again. The film was sentimental, obviously intended to pull on the emotional heartstrings of vulnerable people. Samuel had never heard of any Outsider impressed by the film, it did inspire many Disciples to look forward to Paradise and redouble their efforts to please The Lord.

Samuel went to the kitchen to find a snack. Shortly Judith joined him. Red showed in her eyes, and she’d smeared her makeup. She walked up and put her arms around his neck, pulling him close. He held her for a moment, smelling her hair. For a moment, old feelings stirred, emotions from their early days together.

Then the moment vanished, she pulled away from him and said, “I can hardly wait to get through this year. So much is happening. Clearly The Lord is guiding The Word through these last days.”

“Yes, events are happening quickly.”

Caught up in her own world, she didn’t notice the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. It angered him. The leaders of his religion were deliberately misleading his wife and God knew how many others, with false promises. No doubt, The Word’s numbers of conversions and donations would go up. What would happen to the people a year from now?

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-two



They had planned to go out in Disciple-making together on Saturday morning. But when he woke up, Samuel couldn’t summon the energy to get going. He told Judith he didn’t feel well. David also begged off, a common event these days. This clearly annoyed his mother, who told him he needed to apply himself to The Word more diligently. He wisely let this comment slide.

“You need to get moving to,” she snapped at Samuel, “this new job is interfering with your relationship with The Lord. It isn’t right, time is short, we’re about to collect our reward and you want to spend your weekends sleeping in, instead of serving The Word.”

Samuel didn’t want another lecture, and snapped back at her, “You know that’s what’s wrong. I dedicated myself to The Lord Almighty, not a bunch of men sitting behind big desks telling me what to do.”

She stared at him. Her mouth worked for a few seconds, but no words came out. He knew he needed to walk that back quickly.

“I’m sorry, Honey. I don’t feel well, I’m tired, and this new program means extra work on the Servant Committee. I shouldn’t have said that, and it’s not how I really feel.”

“Well I hope not. This is an important time. Don’t forget we’re going to see Charlene soon.”

“I know,” he answered wearily, “like I said I’m tired. I’ll work on my attitude.”

Judith pulled out her phone and arranged to work with Sophia. Caleb, it turned out had to go show a house. Samuel started to speak then held his words. He wasn’t the only one skipping Disciple-making. His wife already had plenty to say to Sophia between houses.

After Judith left he went to his den, and turned on the computer. Not sure what wanted he wanted to do, he shuffled through some books and papers. Nothing interested him. Maybe he’d clean up some, the place needed it. He opened the closet door, it contained nothing but old junk. The shelf held a few boxes, he couldn’t remember what was in them, they’d been there for years.

The first one contained cassette tapes. Good grief, he wasn’t even sure Goodwill would take them. He poked through them for a minute, he didn’t expect to find anything interesting. Then one caught his eye, the label read “Grand Gathering, Seattle, 2007.” This was it! The recording he wanted. Long used to newer technology, he’d been looking for a CD, not a tape. Even The Foundation’s website didn’t have a recording, he suspected because they didn’t want anybody to hear it.

He rummaged around the closet and found the old tape player. He dusted it off and plugged it in. Another miracle, it worked. He put in the tape and hit play. The quality was terrible, but he could still understand it.

"Do you believe?"

"Yes," the crowd shouted back.

"Do you affirm that The Lord God Almighty established His Foundation, the Word of God in 1933?"

"Yes."

"Do you affirm that seven years later he cast Satan to the earth as demonstration of that power?"

“Yes.”

“Do you believe the year 1941 is marked in Scripture, a signpost of the approaching time of the end?

"Yes!"

Do you believe the year 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel marked another signpost pointing to His Paradise?

“Yes”

"Do you affirm the Lord God Almighty is your Lord and Master?"

"YES!"

"Do you affirm that this world is ending, and that only the Godly will see the Paradise on Earth?"

"YES!!"

"Do you affirm the Apostles of The Word of God Foundation are His visible representatives?"

Again the crowd roared its response.

With each affirmation, the assembled Disciples responded with growing enthusiasm. Rodgers paused for effect. The crowd grew quiet again, expecting the climax of the speech.

The Chief Apostle, who had been shouting louder with each question suddenly spoke quietly.

"Do you, personally, affirm that you accept direction from The Lord's Apostles, as His representatives...”?

The crowd began to clap and shout even before Rodgers finished his sentence, making it hard to hear on the tape.

"...And do you affirm that it is your obligation to carry the message of His Apostles to an ungodly world..."

The applause and shouting grew louder

"...and will you carry that message, in defiance of all obstacles, in defiance of Satan..."

As scattered shouts resounded around the stadium, he grew quiet again, although he had been growing louder.

"...In defiance of your own doubts, which Satan may plant in your mind."

Rodgers suddenly boomed forth in full voice.

"Disciples of The Word the question is simple: will you serve Satan or will you serve The Lord God Almighty, as directed by his apostles...GIVE YOUR ANSWER NOW!"

The crowd went into a frenzy, a roar, on the tape recorder it sounded like a huge storm of static.

“My fellow disciples, careful examination of scriptural chronology, world history, and fulfilled prophecy all give clear indications.”

He paused again for effect. More cheers and applause punctuated the pause, it sounded like static.

“The Day of the Lord is at Hand.”

Cheering.

“The time for God’s Disciples to be downtrodden at the hands of his enemies is over.”

More cheers.

“Our victory is NOW.

“Next year, 2008, marks the fulfillment of the 1335 days of the book of Daniel, the final signpost pointing to the Great Day of The Lord.”

“Do you expect great events in this marked year of our Lord?”

The cheers of the crowd overwhelmed the tiny recorder’s ability to repeat the sound.

“I take it you are ready to live in Paradise.”

“Yes, my fellow Disciples we know that this year’s series of Grand Gatherings, ‘Paradise is at Hand, will be the last held on this wicked Earth before the Lord Almighty removes sin forever…”

A pause for cheers. Samuel smiled at the memory. He thought maybe he’d climbed onto his seat, everybody had been crazy.

“Yes, my friends, next year will see Paradise brought to the Earth, A Paradise the Bible foretold many years ago…”

The cheering crowd overwhelmed the tinny voice on the cassette.

“… a message preached by The Word of God Foundation for seventy four years is now arriving.”

The tape stopped a minute or two later, leaving him sitting in his chair staring at the machine. His memory did not deceive him. John Rodgers himself had promised the arrival of Paradise in 2008. How could a man claiming direct guidance from The Lord Almighty be so wrong? Why would anybody believe him now? But clearly four million Disciples all over the world, hung on every word he uttered. It was ridiculous. A wave of sadness swept over him. That was Charlene’s last Grand Gathering.

**

Judith came home around midafternoon. Samuel assumed that she and Sophia went to lunch or shopping or something after morning Disciple-making. She responded to his casual questions with cold indifference.

“I cleaned my den this morning.”

“Good for you. I’m glad you found something you thought worth doing.”

He apologized for not going out in Disciple-making with her, again saying he didn’t feel well. She showed no interest in his excuse.

“Caleb says the Disciple-making is more important now than ever before. This is the Outsiders last chance to accept The Word. Their salvation depends on our preaching efforts. If there’s someone out there that would respond if you talked to them, it’s your obligation to go talk to them.”

“Don’t you think that if The Lord wants somebody to hear The Word, he’ll make sure it happens? That’s what Jesus said.”

“The Lord also says we’ll be bloodguilty if we don’t do enough preaching. We could die at Armageddon if our faith is lacking, and we show our faith by preaching The Word.”

Samuel decided to let it drop. There was no reasoning with her. He wanted to play the tape from the 2007 Grand Gathering, but this wouldn’t be the time. He had hoped it might wake her up. Probably it would make no difference, she would stand by The Word no matter what.

That evening he got the call that set in motion the storm that would alter his life.

“Hi Caleb, what’s up.”

“I would like to talk to you privately tomorrow after Gathering.”

He felt a cold hand on his shoulder, Caleb’s tone was ominous.

“What about?”

“Oh, nothing big. We’re just worried about you.”

“I’m doing fine, but if you want to chat that’s alright by me.”

“Good. See you tomorrow.”

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty-one



The entire midweek meeting followed the theme “Keep the Gathering Clean.” A discussion of the article that so worried Matt and Samuel started the meeting. The first paragraph set the tone, “if you know of sin or wrongdoing in the Gathering and do nothing, you share in the sin yourself. When we become aware of sin, a properly trained Christian conscience moves us to correct the problem. Speak to the person involved, tell them they must approach the Servants with the matter. If they do not do so in a reasonable space of time, you must make a report to your Servants.”

Samuel paid more attention to the audience than the study program. The people around him all nodded, agreeing with the message. Although not new information, he didn’t think he’d ever heard it stated so plainly. He’d known his entire life that Disciples must report problems to the Servants. But some Disciples, who wanted to avoid turning in good friends or family, found room in the rules to avoid doing so.

This article left no more wiggle room. As Caleb read it, The Apostles flatly declared that Disciples who ignored the requirement to report sin, were themselves now subject to review by the Servants. This left no doubt the Servants would Cast-out a person that failed to tell what they knew.

“Matt and I were right,” he thought, “we’re in North Korea.”

The last part of the Gathering contained another surprise.

“Beginning in May, only baptized Disciples and their children who live at home may attend midweek meeting. Bible studies that make enough progress in becoming Disciples may attend when approved by the Senior Servant. The Apostles will announce more details soon.”

That announcement created considerable reaction in the audience. A buzz rippled through the Gathering House. It was hard to gauge just how the Disciples took the news. Samuel found out quickly after the meeting ended. A small mob surrounded Caleb, a few who didn’t want to wait to see him pigeonholed the other Servants. Several asked questions about how their unbaptized Bible Studies could qualify to attend. One woman asked about her adult son, not yet baptized, but he’d been coming to Gatherings with his parents recently.

He told all of them what he knew, which was next to nothing. “We’ll hear explanations in the first part of May. I know that means waiting a couple of weeks, but I’m sure it will make sense.”

The woman asking about her son nodded, “Of course we must wait on The Lord, all things in due time.”

She wandered away, obviously content to wait until The Lord threw stone tablets down from heaven. Were all Disciples this unconcerned with their religion? Had he been this blind to reality? Major changes raised many questions, and she was happy to wait to find out if the religion would accept or reject her child.

**

On Friday night, following that midweek meeting, the Servants met for the usual monthly meeting. Caleb noted Luke’s absence as he had another matter to investigate.

“More trouble at South Hill?” Sergei asked in jest.

“No,” Caleb snapped, “and that’s not funny. We’re still dealing with fallout over there, and now he has to chase down a Servant in Moscow, Idaho who didn’t properly store the Gathering’s records. It might endanger the word if Outsiders get their hands on personal information.”

Again, no one worried about the individuals involved. Protecting The Word and the Apostles assumed supreme importance.

Caleb went on to explain that he had important matters to discuss, he wanted to get the routine affairs of the Gathering handled first. Samuel thought of asking him what he meant by “we’re” still having trouble at South Hill. That sounded like strictly like a problem for the Area Servant. But Caleb and Luke were thick as thieves, no doubt Caleb thought he had nearly as much authority.

The meeting went smoothly, although clearly most of the men had trouble keeping their minds on topics at hand. For once, the Gathering wasn’t conducting any reviews. The Johnson’s, Cast-out two years earlier, had written a letter to New Jerusalem asking to have the decision reversed, based on a change in policy. New Jerusalem turned them down because their sin was failure to obey the understanding at the time.

Samuel only half heard the comments. He believed the matter involved sexual conduct between husband and wife. He wondered, if he’d been on the original committee would he have voted to boot them? He hoped he’d have had the sense to say it wasn’t the Servant’s business, but he honestly didn’t know. At the time, he did not question instructions from New Jerusalem.

Usually, the accounts report went quickly. This time Caleb spent extra time going over every number. He annoyed Allen Jefferies, the supervising Servant, by double-checking his addition and subtraction through the entire report. When Al complained, Caleb told him to be quiet, he’d find out shortly why this was so important.

After a few other typical items, Caleb said he had another important message from New Jerusalem. The Apostles, acting through staff at headquarters, would exercise greater control of the Gatherings. In particular, finances merited extra attention.

“What a minute,” Sergei interrupted, “when they put in that fancy communication equipment they said we’d still run things locally.”

“And we will. As Servants, we’re still responsible for the well-being of the Gathering. We still have control, but we will report our actions in more detail.”

“Information equals control,” Samuel said casually.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Sergei added, “they’re going to give us more paperwork and less authority.”

Caleb insisted that wasn’t the plan. A couple of the others agreed with Sergei, New Jerusalem wanted to hand them the short end of the stick. Caleb said he’d been in extensive talks with Luke on the matter. Benjamin jumped in and asked why Caleb didn’t keep the rest of the Servants informed. His answer seemed lame, he claimed that all the Area Servants and New Jerusalem took time to hammer out the details. When they finished, the Servants would learn the new policies and procedures.

“This is a big change. Our Gathering is hardly alone. Many other Senior Servants took part in working all this out. It wasn’t done without input from the locals. I am convinced that New Jerusalem knows what it’s doing.”

The grumbling continued as Caleb outlined the details New Jerusalem sought. It issued new report forms, with detailed instructions. The groans increased when Caleb told them everyone needed to learn every form. The Apostles didn’t want to hear that information was late because the responsible Servant was ill. Samuel doubted the Apostles were going to read all this paper coming in from thousands of Gatherings all over the world.

But, in his experience, the faceless bureaucrats loved to throw their weight around. It was their chance to be somebody important. Eventually the meeting wound down. The Servants left complaining about the extra work, Samuel left wondering why the sudden changes. He suspected that New Jerusalem used the furor to get the Disciples fired up for whatever they planned for the next year.

But that didn’t explain a sudden load of extra work dumped on the Servants. The average Disciple would never know about tonight’s meeting and the fresh reports. He could see no benefit to loading the Servants with extra work. New Jerusalem needed the Servants, no matter how many reports they wanted, Servants provided the local control.

Once again, he started thinking about resigning from the Servant Committee. It would upset Judith, who saw it as a step down. If they followed the rules, David going to college should disqualify him. He could leave on his own, or get kicked out.

He returned home in funk. He had too much going on. His research now had him convinced he’d allowed his religious leaders to twist his ability to think. What they said and what they did, didn’t line up. He wanted to believe, in fact he did believe most doctrinal teachings. What he didn’t believe was that twelve men in Seattle should rule every part of his life.

He worried about Judith. He feared all the changes going on had trapped into thinking that her problems would disappear in a year. Again, his research caused trouble. He feared the coming year would end in more disappointment, just like 2008. If that year was a guide, New Jerusalem’s slaves would keep marching, chasing an uncatchable carrot. It was no way to live. Why couldn’t it all stop? He would be perfectly content to go to Gathering on Sunday, preach by talking to friends or co-workers when opportunity arose. He would send his son off to college with his blessing. The boy would have a good life, he was sure.

He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life trying to keep up with changing rules and teachings. He most especially didn’t want to spend the rest of his life watching a hundred-fifty people like a hawk, waiting for them to make a mistake so he could punish them. He wanted his life to change.

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Twenty


The fight started on the way home from Gathering. Samuel had no interest in starting one, he wanted to keep a low profile. But the conversation about the night’s Gathering quickly developed a life of its own. Judith began talking about how soon she would see Charlene, a topic he hoped to avoid. But she put him on the spot by asking what he thought.

“It certainly is exciting, I’m a little concerned about what’s behind this business about reconfirming our commitment to The Word. I thought that was something we did every day.”

“You have a problem with expressing your commitment to The Word?” Her tone held ice.

“Oh no. I just wonder why they wanted it like that.”

The conversation went downhill from there. She demanded to know what was holding him back from his commitment.

“You’ve been working a lot lately. Are you too busy with your new Outsider friends to commit yourself to The Lord?” Her contempt was obvious, “Outsider” sounded like an obscenity.

He insisted that he still kept up all his responsibilities as a Disciple and Servant. He looked forward to seeing Charlene in Paradise. He hadn’t missed a Gathering. What more did she expect of him?

She lapsed into hurt silence. He looked in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of David’s face. Clearly, he was upset to watch his parents arguing. Samuel tried to find a way to smooth over her feelings, without success. She wanted him to share her enthusiasm for whatever New Jerusalem cooked up. But he just couldn’t summon the energy.

He had a despairing thought, was The Word right about not asking questions? That explained his position, letting his research undermine his faith. Maybe he should stop, but as soon as he thought it, he knew he wouldn’t. He could not let go of his need to find the truth. He also needed to find a way to talk to his wife.

“You do know I agreed to that statement of faith, along with everybody else?”

“Yes.”

“Whatever they’re planning, it will be new and different. We’ve never done anything like this before. It must be significant.”

She agreed with him on that point. He imagined that they had entirely different ideas of what all the changes meant. Deep in his heart, Samuel feared the Apostles planned to hatch some crazy scheme to get the Disciples worked up. What would happen when Paradise did not arrive on schedule?

They were almost home, he looked over at his wife. She stared straight ahead, he could see a tear sliding down her pale cheeks. When this plan of New Jerusalem’s failed, how badly would they hurt her? Could she hold up through another cycle of hope and despair? No matter what he thought, and what he felt, he needed to stay in her life. He needed to be present and catch her when The Word failed her.

**

Rodgers second speech about The Word’s upcoming plans went largely unnoticed by its target audience, Outsiders. They didn’t care what he said. He hinted at all sorts of “world-shaking events” in the near future without giving much in the way of detail.

Samuel jotted a few notes, noting that he was far from alone in this. The Disciples hung on every word, Samuel wanted to compare what Rodgers said with statements from the past. He had a hunch that it this wasn’t the first time New Jerusalem said all this.

Rodgers again went over all the signposts pointing to the time of the end. He explained in detail the various calculations, and the significance of the beginning and ending dates. Every Disciple understood the scriptural evidence pointing to the approach of Armageddon. Nevertheless, they all listened carefully.

Rodgers spoke of the beauty and joy of Paradise. He talked about all mankind leaving in peace, everyone with a house to live in, and plenty of food. Death would vanish with the Resurrection.

Here, Judith choked back a sob or two, and ended with a quiet smile on her face. Samuel again worried, how would she react when she no longer had the security of her faith?

“Today the entire world is on notice, Humanity cannot ignore the message from God. We do not yet preach a message of doom, yet doom approaches. Doom for those who choose to live apart from The Lord Almighty. Today we continue to proclaim the time of the Lord’s desire to save all those who wish to live with Him. The Lord Almighty invites you to become one of his Disciples, to accept the joy of life forever in His Paradise.

“Soon, The Lord will cancel the invitation. Soon, we will bring a message of doom, not invitation. Do not ignore this message, now you must come to The Lord’s Word before it is too late.”

The Gathering House rang with applause. Did these people realize the Chief Apostle just announced God’s intent to kill seven billion people?

Monday, on his lunch break Samuel checked various news sites on the web, looking for reporting of Rodgers’ speech. He found very little. One or two religious pages carried brief notes, no large television news network mentioned it. The local newspaper printed New Jerusalem’s press release without comment. So much for giving the entire world a notice it could not ignore.

**

“We’re stuck,” Matt said, talking around his sandwich, “that’s what’s wrong with us. It’s coming at us from all directions.”

Samuel, his own mouth full, couldn’t do more than nod agreement. Matt went on elaborating on his thought.

“At heart, I think we’re both committed to living a Christian life. We thought that’s what we were doing when… well it’s what I thought I was doing when I became a Disciple.”

“Right, I was born a Disciple, but I always believed, at least until recently.”

Matt pointed out that both of them still believed most of the doctrinal teachings. They ran into a problem with the constant monitoring of their lives by the Servants and ultimately New Jerusalem. The subject and tone of a part for the upcoming mid-week meeting disturbed them. It followed the heels of Rodgers’ public speech.

“Take that article we’ll study Wednesday night. It makes me feel like we’re living in North Korea or something. We’re all supposed to report people anytime we see them doing or saying something wrong.”

“Thought crime won’t be tolerated,” Samuel said.

Matt laughed. “Yes, we’ll send you to the Ministry of Love for re-education.”

“You’ve read 1984? David has me reading it now.”

“David’s a smart boy.” Matt went on to say he’d read it several times, but never connected it to The Word until now. But it fit, the specialized language, people reporting wrongdoing, heretical thoughts. The threat of enforced shunning always hung over their heads.

“I know what you meant when you said we’re stuck. They manage to box us in by isolating us. We can’t even talk to our families without fear. Judith will leave me, I know it. She gets teary every time somebody starts talking about the resurrection. She’s obsessed with it. She lives to have Charlene again.”

For a moment, Samuel choked on his words, “I’m afraid they’re going to hurt her, badly, with all this talk about Paradise coming next year. When it doesn’t happen it will crush her.”

Silence prevailed for a full minute while both men thought over what they’d just said. Neither had spoken so freely to another person. After a moment Samuel found his words.

“I’ve never said any of this to anybody. I guess I have to trust you.”

“If this isn’t that damn stupidest situation ever I don’t know what is.” Matt said, quietly, “two grown men scared to talk about a mutual problem. Yes, you can trust me.”

“I guess if you want to cause trouble, according to what we’re going to study midweek I should report you for cursing just now.”

Matt laughed before turning serious. “I suppose you could. You know, if I was single, I’d just walk away. I’d figure out how to go tell all the people I annoyed with my preaching back when I converted and tell them I’d made a mistake. I’d have friends again. But I’d lose Laura and the kids. I can’t do it. Like I said, we’re stuck.”

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Armageddon's Disciples Chapter Nineteen



He’d received so many notices about special meetings, important new messages, and groundbreaking DVD’s over the last few months, that Samuel thought semi-seriously about writing New Jerusalem and telling them not to bother anymore. The hype over some remarkable new event on the schedule had reached the saturation point. He no longer paid much attention to them.

His current plan for life worked, though. He went to Gatherings, attended Servants’ meetings, and reported just enough Disciple-making time to avoid Caleb’s attention. He’d solved the last problem with a simple expedient: he lied on his last monthly report. He reported for the regular meetings on Saturday twice, so others in the Gathering saw him in the preaching work. But he inflated the numbers on his report.

He spent some time each week, mostly on his lunch break, talking about his religious conflict with some of his coworkers. Two of them were religious, another an atheist. The four spent lunch breaks in friendly discussion debating their beliefs. The ability of the others to disagree politely, contrasted sharply with The Word’s understanding of Outsiders. The others understood Samuel’s conflict, and clearly wanted to help him talk it out.

If anybody asked about his Disciple-making time, he was going to say those conversations counted. The irony amused him. Here he was listening to Outsiders poke holes in New Jerusalem’s teachings and then reporting that time to The Word’s headquarters as preaching.

So when the latest message from Caleb calling for a special meeting of the Servants landed in his voice mail, he yawned. But attendance was mandatory, unless he was sick or dead. When he arrived at the meeting, he found out he wasn’t alone. Sergei Ivanov, Allen Jefferies, and Benjamin Oldendorf were already there.

“What’s this one about, do we know?”

“Probably putting the right cover sheet on the fax reports,” Sergei muttered.

Samuel laughed, “Office Space. I love that movie.”

“That’s a trashy R-rated movie,” Benjamin snapped, “you shouldn’t watch Outsider stuff like that. I turned it off, like we’re supposed to.”

Samuel thought quickly, he needed to avoid investigation. “I saw it on TV, they cleaned up the bad parts.”

“I saw it at my brother-in-law’s place. He’s an outsider you know,” Sergei added.

Samuel couldn’t help but notice how absurd the situation was, grown men coming up with excuses for watching a funny movie. It was absurd.

As usual, Caleb arrived last. Samuel hadn’t noticed this habit until recently. Lately, Caleb was last to arrive almost every time. He probably thought he was too important to sit and wait for others.

After the usual opening prayer, this time very brief, Caleb started talking. He reminded them of policy about taking notes at Servants meetings and review committees, specifically it wasn’t allowed, unless directly requested, for example to note certain new procedures. Otherwise, only the Senior Servant, at Servant meetings, or the one leading a review committee would keep notes. In that case, the note taker would promptly turn them over to the Senior Servant. No one was to keep notes or minutes at home under any circumstances.

Samuel could see perplexed looks on the other faces. He wasn’t the only one confused by this sudden review of what they all knew as policy. He’d always understood there would only be one record kept. Keeping the records in the Senior Servant’s archive protected them.

In the last few years, the archive remained in a password protected file on the computer sitting in the corner of the library. Only Caleb, Luke and the IT department at New Jerusalem knew that password. Until now, he hadn’t given it much thought. Knowing Caleb’s habits, he wondered if the file was up-to-date. Scanning and storing documents took time.

Gloria Lighthorse, egged on (Caleb’s words) by a bunch of Outsider lawyers, petitioned Juvenile Court to declare her an emancipated minor, or at least a ward of the court. The media would report it, incorrectly of course. Outsiders did not understand The Lord’s requirements. Samuel saw again, the people didn’t matter, only The Foundation.

“New Jerusalem believes we may have to give depositions and turn over any notes we may have. I’ve copied everything here,” Caleb gestured toward the computer, “and sent it to New Jerusalem. I assured them there are no more notes.”

The assembled men nodded, they understood what Caleb wanted. There would be no other notes.

“I’ve received more information from New Jerusalem about these two special speeches by Apostle Rodgers. The first is for Disciples only, delivered during the mid-week Gathering. We must take care that only baptized Disciples and immediate family enter the House for that Gathering.”

He handed each of them a list, explaining that they needed to call the individuals and explain the conditions for admission to the first speech. Each of the lists outlined the criteria, if a question arose, they needed to read the list as written. The instructions specifically excluded the Cast-out and unbaptized adults. Children could attend with their parents. If anybody kicked up a fuss, they could call Caleb.

“These attendance rules will apply in the future. We aren’t announcing it just now, but soon only Disciples may attend the midweek Gathering. At this one, we will reaffirm our dedication to The Word. It isn’t a complex procedure, just a public affirmation of our standing before The Lord and His Apostles.”

Several Servants expressed surprise at this. Even hard-line “company men” like Robert Brown and Benjamin Oldendorf wondered what was going on. Both protested that asking for a “pledge of allegiance” insulted dedicated Disciples. Samuel said he felt the same way about excluding studies, drawing a scowl from Caleb, who said he was only following instructions from New Jerusalem.

“We will hear the second speech, for the public the following Sunday. For that one, we’re encouraged to invite as many as possible, just like Commemoration.”

“We’re going to give our studies whiplash,” Sergei remarked.

“Well, New Jerusalem surely knows what it’s doing. We should respect their instructions,” Allen Moore replied.

Caleb wrapped it up with a few routine instructions about the presence of extra people. He added that when making their calls they should stress the invitation to the second address from Apostle Rodgers.

“Gentlemen, events are moving swiftly. We must not question our instructions. We must not let setbacks like this silly legal nonsense distraction from our service to The Lord. He is guiding us to the completion of his grand plan, don’t let anything deflect us from the path of righteousness and devotion.”

**

An air of expectancy hung over the Gathering House as the midweek Gathering began. After several years of plodding along following the failed 2008 prophecy, recent events changed the Disciples’ attitudes. The sudden rush of events reinforced the idea that The Lord had something big planned. In the years after 2008, the Disciples came to Gathering with boredom written all over their faces.

Tonight they laughed and smiled as they talked. A lighthearted, almost festive attitude prevailed. A light that no one had seen in years showed in Judith’s eyes. Samuel could not enjoy his wife’s newfound happiness. He’d learned too much in his studies. The Word’s few discussions of 2008 treated it as an aberration. The Disciples read too much into The Word’s prophetic interpretation.

Samuel knew better. His research confirmed his recollection of Rodger’s big speech in Seattle in 2007. He’d reread parts of many books and magazines, items he’d not looked at in years. The critics were right, in those years The Foundation taught the end would arrive in 2008.

Worse, he now knew the Word had done the same in the past on several occasions. His study, and all the recent verbiage from New Jerusalem convinced him they were about to do it again. He also knew why they kept picking new dates. In the years leading up to 2008, the religion grew by five percent or more each year. Since 2008, it never exceeded one percent.

Certainly New Jerusalem stood to reap big benefits from renewed excitement. New dates encouraged Disciples to increase their Disciple-making. More preaching meant more books, magazines, and Bibles sold. New converts meant more people preaching. Increased attendance at the Area and Grand Gatherings, which brought in major money according to “The Crumbling Foundation,” would add to the bottom line.

The first part of the Gathering covered new information about preaching. New Jerusalem planned several new publications lined up for release at the Grand Gatherings, with training in preaching the new message. It all sounded so exciting, whispered comments in the audience filled every gap in the messages read from the platform.

Rodgers speech occupied the last few minutes of the program. This surprised the audience. They expected more. What he said sounded like a pep talk, it reminded Samuel of talks he’d heard from the sales manager firing up the outside sales staff. The writers at New Jerusalem perfected a message to appeal to Outsiders of all beliefs and practices. The Lord extended one last opportunity to become a Disciple and live in Paradise. Knowing of the swift arrival of the Lord’s Great Day, people would flock to the Gathering Houses.

“This is a time for you to show your loyalty to The Lord’s Word. Just as you showed your dedication by baptism in water, so now will you reaffirm your loyalty to The Lord, and His Word and Apostles. At the end of this message, your Gathering’s Servants will call the roll for your Gathering. After confirming who is present, you will pledge your loyalty to The Lord and His Apostles. You accept their leadership of His Disciples through the instruction and regulation provided by The Word of God Foundation.”

As Caleb stepped back up to the speaker’s platform, the building buzzed with expectation. They’d never done anything like this before.

Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Armageddon's Slaves Chapter Eighteen



Samuel’s hand shook slightly as he hit enter, completing the transaction. He reflected for a moment on what he’d just done.

While researching he kept seeing references to “THE CRUMBLING FOUNDATION: A Critical Examination of the History and Teachings of The Word of God Foundation”, By Dr. James Kingsley. Kinglsey taught Philosophy and Religion at an East Coast college. Like most Disciples, Samuel knew of the book, but never read a single word until recently. Kingsley devoted his career to studying the Foundation, and publishing many articles and papers on the subject. The Crumbling Foundation was a compendium of all his research.

Some claimed that his parents may have been Disciples, later they became Forsakers. The Foundation did not ever comment on his criticism, and having never read his works, Samuel did not know. Disciples liked to talk about how he tore down every aspect of The Foundation’s Work, its leadership, the doctrine, even finances and administration. Kingsley, according to the Disciples, offered nothing positive.

Samuel now found it funny that all these people knew so much about a book they never read. But Area Servants, speakers from New Jerusalem, and articles in the Study Guide encouraged that attitude by repeatedly warning about the dangers of reading critical articles by false religious leaders, and worse, Forsakers.

He knew he wanted to read the book, but the library didn’t have it. It took him two days to work out a way to get his hands on the book without Judith discovering it. He ordered it from Amazon and had it sent to his work address. As soon as he completed the checkout, he called Irene at the front desk.

“I just ordered something personal from Amazon and had it sent here. Just let me know when it arrives and I’ll come up and get it.”

“Surprise for the wife I hope.”

“Yes, I’m sure it will surprise her.”

**

The midweek Gathering the week following Commemoration contained a last minute part, passed on directly to Caleb Larson, or so he claimed in his opening comments. He started by noting the Foundation prided itself on not asking for money. Donations were always voluntary. This was not strictly true, since 2008 The Foundation had issued general requests for money on at least three occasions.

Local Gatherings found themselves asking for money regularly. The rules required an accounting report every month. In most places, East Spokane included, these invariably ended asking for funds to cover a shortfall. Area and Grand Gatherings also heard an expense report for the convention. These always included money sent to New Jerusalem. Until now, Samuel had never questioned those expenses. He now knew he needed to look into this.

Tonight’s direct appeal felt and sounded different. The world headquarters asking for money marked a major shift in how it did business. Were sales of literature falling too low to support the Foundation? Maybe a change in the business outlook drove the changes Rodgers hinted at in his Commemoration night speech.

So Caleb stood before the entire Gathering and read a letter begging for funds. No one appeared to have a problem with this. He saw heads nodding all around him. Of course, New Jerusalem needed money how else would they fund the end of the world?

After the Gathering, Matt Edwards found him among the chatting Disciples, and asked if they could have lunch. He wanted a chance to talk, nothing serious. Samuel quickly agreed, they worked within a mile of each other and he’d wanted to talk since Commemoration. He wanted to sound out Matt and see what he thought.

**

The two men met the following day at a burger place between their employers businesses. For two or three minutes they exchange small talk about families and children. After their server took their orders, Samuel asked Matt what was on his mind.

“Well,” Matt started and stopped. His face showed his struggle with words and emotions. After a few seconds he started up again. “I hope we’re speaking confidentially. I don’t know who else I can talk to.”

“Go ahead. I can keep this between us.” Suddenly he laughed, “Well unless you’ve committed a crime.”

“No crimes, just confusion.” He took a deep breath before plunging ahead. “I’m not sure how I feel about being a Disciple. I mostly don’t have a problem with what we believe, I never did understand hell or the trinity. I liked the idea of living in Paradise, those were all ideas that attracted me when I became a Disciple.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, but weren’t you baptized at that big Grand Gathering in Seattle in 2007.”

“The one where Rodgers announced we’d be in Paradise the next year? Yeah, Laura and I were baptized together there. I still want to believe that Paradise is coming soon, but I find it hard. And I just can’t stomach what’s going on in the Gathering these days.”

The two men talked through lunch, finding that they shared many of the same concerns. Gloria Lighthorse’s treatment especially upset him. He’d arranged the meeting in good faith to hear her concerns and then it all spun out of control. He wanted to help, he thought it was the right thing to do. Now between her parents and the Servants, she wanted nothing to do with Disciples.

“I liked Gloria. She was good with the kids. They loved her, she liked to read to them. I know it’s wrong but I thought of inviting her over to sit with them again. She won’t return my phone calls. Nobody treated her well.

“I’d think a Christian organization would treat people better.”

Samuel agreed, and asked what Matt wanted him to do.

“Listen to me I guess. I doubt there’s anything we can do. It’s not just Gloria, its lots of problems. To be honest, I’d probably quit going to Gathering and take some time to sort out my feelings. I don’t think Laura will let me.”

Samuel studied Matt’s face for a moment, and decided the man was being honest. For a moment, he’d wondered if Matt was a plant, an attempt to trap him saying something against The Word. He decided he didn’t care, if Matt was a spy, it was one more piece of evidence about the true nature of The Word.

“I’m wrestling with similar feelings. I can’t sort out if it’s me or my religion. Am I a bad Disciple or a good person? I don’t know any more.”

The two men talked so long, their server had to ask them to finish their meal, she had customers waiting. They apologized, paid the check and left. As they walked out into the spring sunshine, they agreed to meet again the following week. Both agreed they would benefit from talking together. They shook hands and walked away to their cars.

For the first time in a long while, Samuel felt at ease. He had someone to confide in. He went back to work where he tackled another big new training program, and for the first time in weeks didn’t think about religion until he got home.

**

Another meeting of the Servants, including those taking over at South Hill. Luke looked nervous as they all took their seats. He’d been busy and out of sight lately. The investigators from New Jerusalem had left, only to return a few days later. Neither Samuel nor any of the others knew why. After the usual prayer and introductory comments Luke started bringing them up to speed on events. What he said shocked the assembled Servants.

“The review of the South Hill Gathering is complete. New Jerusalem has removed all Servants, starting with Norm Halbert. Ricky is subject to restrictions in the Gathering. I can’t tell you anything else about their disciplinary cases.

“The Foundation may pay some money to the young woman that complained. We do not admit responsibility, or even that anything happened to them. We…”

“I don’t believe it, The Foundation is paying these tramps hush money,” Sergei Ivanov snapped.

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Luke tried to respond, “We have much larger issues. The Apostles plan to introduce a new program at the Grand Gatherings this summer, they need to concentrate on that. They need all of us to focus on it. We can’t have Outsiders creating trouble, which they will, if possible.”

“It’s hush money,” Sergei asserted again, “I don’t like it.”

“Well we don’t have any choice. New Jerusalem decided what to do.”

“Is this why New Jerusalem needs money?”

That was the question Samuel wanted to ask, but didn’t have the nerve. The questioner was Benjamin Oldendorf, probably the least imaginative man in the room. No one would think for a second that he harbored doubts about The Word. Luke hesitated for a second.

“I don’t think so. The letter went to every Gathering in the world.” Another hesitation. “From what I understand, the proposed settlement is small. The request from New Jerusalem involves getting this new program off the ground.

“And no, don’t ask. I don’t know what it is.”

Luke concluded quickly. The current Servant arrangements would remain in place for a few weeks. Luke said he would spend the next two or three weeks visiting all the Gatherings, to try to recover from the disruption created by the shuffling of positions. After that, he hoped it would all settle down through the summer Grand Gatherings.

As the men filed out of the Gathering House, Samuel asked Luke one more question quietly. Did the proposed settlement of the legal issues include Gloria Lighthorse?

“Why should it? She’s effectively Cast-out. She’s a minor and her parents have already said they will obey the scriptural rule not to take Disciples to Outsider courts, and there was a determination that Ricky did nothing wrong.”

“Maybe it should include her. Ricky hurt her too.”

“She’ll get unhurt if she humbles herself, and displays remorse to her review committee. You should know that.”

Luke looked around to see if anybody else could hear them talking.

“Look,” he said in an undertone, “the Halbert mess runs all the way up to the Apostles. Big things are about to take place, this isn’t the time for trouble. It needs to come to an end, and quickly.”

With that, he turned for the door, leaving Samuel wondering.



Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas  All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental