Who's minding the store?

Party leaders unaware 19 candidates belong to same two churches

The Montgomery County Sentinel/August 7, 1986

At least 19 local mem- bers of two fundamentalist Christian churches, many of whom registered to vote here for the first time within the past three months, are running for seats on the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee and as Democratic Maryland House of Delegates candidates.

Candidates from Great Commission Church which is monitored by national cult watch-dog group, the Cult Awareness Council, and the Damascus Christian Community claim there is no concerted effort by the churches to run a block of fundamentalists for these positions.

County Republican regulars, however, are concerned that the groups might be quietly trying to take over their party. County Democratic Party leaders had been unaware that Great Commission Church members were running in their primary.

"If it's a calculated move to take over the party, we are going to respond," said Brian Berry, chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans and an At-Large candidate for the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee. "I'd like so know what their agenda is."

The candidates, 12 from the Great Commission Church and seven from the Damascus Christian Community, have not publicized their connections to the churches or to each ocher, and those contacted by The Sentinel claimed not to have known of the candidacies of some of their fellow church members.

Virtually all those interviewed by The Sentinel reporters, however, gave strikingly similar responses as to why they are running, namely that the Republican Party in Montgomery County and in Maryland is dead and they hope to revive it. Some candidates readily admitted their lack of political experience, saying they had recently decided it was time to become involved.

The candidates each stressed his or her decision to run as an individual. Some said they knew of other church members seeking office, but urged a reporter so find those candidate's names without their help.

Geoffry Botkin, an administrative assistant at Great Commission said, "Great Commission doesn't endorse, or sponsor, or contribute to any candidate."

He added that the organization does not get involved in politics as a church.

Several candidates live on the same streets or in the same apartment complexes, and one switched parties and changed apartments within her complex, a move that put her in a different legislative district.

Young Republican Berry, who has been active in county Republican politics for many years, and 15 other party regulars running for the 19-member central committee have formed a slate, "Republicans for Montgomery," but Berry said that move was planned before they discovered the backgrounds of the fundamentalist candidates.

Berry, describing himself as a conservative Catholic, said he is not opposed to fundamentalists running in the GOP, but that these candidates have made no strong efforts to identify themselves or their goals, and have no background in the party.

"The Republican Party in Montgomery County is at stake," Berry said. Spots on the central committee are considered plums for stalwarts like Berry and his slatemates, who have been "working our butts off for years," he said.

Berry said only a few committee incumbents are running for re-election this year, and that if he and other party workers had not formed a slate, they would have "lost the party" to the Great Commission and Damascus Christian candidates.

Apparently this sort of political activity by fundamentalist churches is occurring nationwide. ABC-Television's "Nightline" aired a program this week describing efforts by fundamentalists around the country to gain positions on party central committees and other political offices.

The Cult Awareness Council calls the Great Commission Church, also known as GCI for Great Commission International, a "shepherding disciple group." A source at the council said former members, some of whom receive "exit counseling," or deprogramming, report that the group uses mind control and excessive authoritarianism. Some former members have referred to the church as cult-like.

In a Feb. 6 Sentinel story, several former Great Commission members said they left the church only after lengthy deprogramming sessions. These and several other members said Great Commission church "elders" exerted authority in every aspect of their lives, including deciding whom they could marry, where they could live and how they should discipline their children.

In that story, church members defended the group, saying it provides great fellowship and a solid fundamentalist background to biblical teachings, and encourages freedom in scriptural interpretation.

Great Commission, which locally conducts Sunday services in the auditorium of Springbrook High School, is holding a convention this week at Bowie State College.

The campaign manager of one local Great Commission candidate said he ran political campaigns in Iowa two years ago. Great Commission Church members have also run for party offices in Michigan and Minnesota, according to a source at the Cult Awareness Council.

Great Commission spokesman Botkin refused to answer questions about members in other jurisdictions that might be candidates.

"It's traditionally a policy of churches-... not to disclose information about members or affiliates."

There is no planned effort to organize any of the Great Commission candidates as a group, according to Ken Swenson, campaign manager for James Reid, a Great Commission member and Democratic candidate for a District 19 House of Delegates seat.

Swenson identified three other House of Delegates Democratic candidates as members of the Great Commission Church: Gail Walls, also running in District 19, and Mary Dunphy and Jeff King, both running in District 20, and Jannet Warren, a Republican Central Committee candidate. Walls, Dunphy and King either could not be reached for comment, or failed to return repeated calls from The Sentinel.

Walls switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party on April 30 and moved within her Wheaton apartment complex, which straddles legislative districts 18 and 19, according to voter records. Reid also switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party, according to records.

"GCI is a fairly large church," cautioned Swenson. "I think it's real important to be accurate. You shouldn't assume they (the House candidates) know the other people," Although Swenson said he wanted to be "up-front" with the Democratic Party, longtime Democrat and District 19 House of Delegates candidate Carol Petzold said, "They (the candidates from Great Commission) are studiously avoiding telling who they are."

Petzold said that workers for Great Commission candidates knocking on doors in her neighborhood refused to answer questions about the candidates they are working for.

"Obviously, it points out the need on the part of the public to carefully and closely scrutinize all of the candidates, most particularly those who have switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and those who have switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party," said Jay Bernstein, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

"We could well have happen in Maryland, in Montgomery County, what happened with the LaRouche candidates" in Illinois, where followers of extremist presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche won the Democratic Party nominations for lieutenant governor and attorney general, Bernstein said.

"I think you'll see some real reforms, on just on a local level," Bernstein said.

Unlike Walls, Reid, Dunphy and King, the other Great Commission and Damascus Christian Community candidates are seeking Republican Central Committee positions. There are two seats each from districts 15 through 20 on the committee, one from District 14, and six At-Large positions, for a total of 19.

Although they claim there is no organized effort behind the candidacies, no more than two candiates from the Great Commission Church or the Damascus Christian Community are running in any but the At-Large race.

Neither church is helping these candidates financially or organizationally, both groups said. To do so would violate the tax-exempt status of the churches.

Republican Central Com­mit­tee candidates Thomas Gyde, Mark Fisher and Lynn Allen all identified them­selves in telephone interviews as members of the Great Commission Church. Gyde is running in District 16, Fisher in 19 and Allen in 20.

Fisher said he also attends church with Montgomery County Republican Central Committee candidates Robert Normoyle, Gladys Marie Hensley and Laura McKinley. Normoyle is running for a District 20 seat and Hensley and McKinley for At-Large positions.

Gyde, Normoyle and Hensley all have the same campaign treasurer, Lillian Hensley, who Gyde said is Gladys Marie Hensley's sister. Attempts to locate McKinley and Hensley for comment were unsuccessful.

Candidate Janet Warren, running for a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee District 18 seat, works at the Hyattsville offices of the church, according to a GOP source.

A person answering the phone at the Great Commission Church office said there was a Janet Warren working there but that she did not think the Warren there was a candidate. Warren did not return that call, and could not be reached for comment at her residence.

Robert Clark, president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, said Montgomery County Republican Central Committee District 18 candidate Bruce Hallman had also identified himself as a member of Great Commission. Hallman could not be reached for comment.

While many of the candidates have only recently filed as county Republicans, they say they are running for the committee to get people involved in politics and to help the party. "There it so much apathy," Gyde said.

Allen, Fisher and Hensley registered as Republicans here between June 23 and June 30, the deadline day for candidates to file for office. Normoyle registered to vote as a Republican on May 7.

Fisher said he had been a registered Republican in Prince George's County, where he lived before moving to Montgomery in January 1985. Likewise, Allen said he was a registered Republican in San Diego, Calif., where he lived before moving here a year-and-a-half ago.

"We are a very politically active group of people," Allen said, adding that "procrastination" kept him from registering to vote before June 23.

Fisher, who asked a reporter interviewing him whether she regularly attends church, conceded that whenever a group of people does something, there has to be some organization. All Great Commission Church members interviewed said no one had recruited them to run for public office.

"I don't think there's any significance to the fact that several members of the church" are running for central committee, Allen said, adding that he is surprised that more members are not seeking office.

Great Commission Church members "like to respond to issues...that we feel are important to the moral fiber of society," Allen said. "There is an absolute standard of right and wrong."

Allen said he is opposed to abortion, homosexual rights, sex out of wedlock, pornography and divorce.

A manager of a GCI publications firm, Allen said that if he owned his own business, he would ask prospective employees whether they are homosexual and, if heterosexual, whether they live with a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married. If the job seekers answered yes, Allen said, he would not hire them because homosexuality and "heterosexual promiscuity" are immoral.

"If a person is immoral in one area, they're going to be inclined to be immoral in other areas as well," Allen said.

Seven other Republican Central Committee candidate, attend the Damascus Christian Community. Michael Vario, a candidate for Republican Central Committee, District 19, and an elder in the Damascus Christian Community, said the central committee hopefuls running from his church "discussed running as a slate and decided against it."

Vario said that as a church elder, "I do very much preach the ethic code of Jesus Christ," and "I would hope I would have an influence on (other Damascus Christian Community public office-holders') views.

"I don't see how a man's or woman's political views can be different from his ethical views," Vario said.

Vario performed the wedding ceremony of Republican Central Committee District 17 candidate and Damascus Christian Community member Glen Clusman, who said he is running because "the Republican Pasty is dead in this state."

As for people like Berry, Clusman said, if "they've been working so long in the party, why is the party still dead?" Clusman was one of the few church candidates contacted who listed specific issues of importance to him, bringing more business into the county and repairing county roads.

Church member and central committee At-Large candidate James Ball said he is running because he wants to see a strong GOP in the county. But when pressed to discuss what he would do to invigorate the party, 24-year-old Ball said, "That's a hard question to answer."

As for what he would include in a Republican Party platform, Ball said, "I'd have to really think about that, too, before I'd answer it. I don't know how to answer that right now."

Ball said he would make his own decisions as a central committee member, based on "my conviction in the Lord."

Republican Central Committee District 15 candidate and Damascus Christian Community member Stephen Harford, whose address as listed with the county election board is the same as the address given for the church in a local phone book of Christian businesses, noted that the committee will help determine the GOP presidential nominee in 1988.

Harford, 27, said he considers television evangelist and unannounced presidential candidate Pat Robertson to be "a mighty man of God," but that he has not decided whether to support his candidacy. Harford also said that "the Republican Patty is dead in Montgomery County."

In addition to Harford, Ball, Vario and Clusman, three other Damascus Christian Community members are also seeking public office. Christopher Highland is seeking a Republican Central Committee District 15 seat, and Robert Highland, Jr. is vying for a Republican Central Committee At-Large seat. Bryan DuBois, seeking a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee District 14B seat, is also a church member.

Vario said that Christopher Highland belongs to the church. Robert Highland, Jr., and Dubois told The Sentinel they are Damascus Christian Community members.

A woman answering the phone at the Damascus Christian Community said that church's pastor, William T. Woodrow, was on vacation and would not return until Aug. 17.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.