Allegations Spotlight York Church

Pastor: 'You Won't Find Cult Here'

Omaha World-Herald/March 4, 1990
By Mary deZutter

York, Neb.- The Rev. Edward Morey shook his head at the attention being paid to his "little 2-by-4 church" in this middle-sized city.

"We've been here 12 years," Morey said. "Nobody ever paid any attention to us. Now we're getting calls from all over because they think we're a cult."

A tall man, on the heavy side, with a rough-hewn, acne-scarred face, Morey declined the opportunity to be photographed, saying he looks "like a brute" in photos.

"No, you won't find a cult here," he said, walking from a tiny back room into the main worship area of the Good Life Pentecostal Church where he is pastor. "Just a little band of Christian people."

Testimony during the past year in two child-custody court cases has centered on allegations that the Good Life Pentecostal Church has created an environment in which excessive physical punishment of children and coercion and brainwashing of adults occur. The church claims a membership of about 40, half of whom are adults.

Judge Transferred Custody

District Judge Bryce Bartu brought the church into the spotlight at the end of January when he transferred custody of Carol L. Peterson's three children to her former husband and ordered Mrs. Peterson not to speak to the children about her religion.

Caryn Hacker, a psychiatric social worker from Omaha who specializes in the study of cults, testified that the church is a cult whose members are manipulated into subjugating their wills to the will of the leader. Through a gradual process, the members become dependent and unquestioning, she said.

The Peterson case hinged largely on Mrs. Peterson's punishment of her 11-year-old daughter, Cassie, whom Mrs. Peterson admitted whipping 43 times with a belt over a four- or five-hour period. Between whippings, the child had to write dictionary definitions of "stubborn" and "rebellious" and Bible verses relating to those traits.

The punishment was imposed after Cassie was suspended from the York Christian Academy, an uncertified school exempted from state requirements for religious reasons.

The academy has nine students, Morey said, and is attached to the Good Life church.

Cassie was suspended for picking up crayons during prayer, court testimony indicated.

Mrs. Peterson is a petite, 36-year-old woman with long-brown hair, a peaches-and-cream complexion and soft gray eyes. In an interview at a York truck stop, Mrs. Peterson laced her hands gently around a mug of hot coffee and discussed her religious beliefs.

People must do what the Bible directs, she said, or they will lose their souls. She said she has been a member of the Good Life church three years and obtained her knowledge and understanding of "God's word" during that time.

Physical punishment, she said, is mentioned in every biblical passage about the discipline of children.

"The Scriptures do say to beat," she said. "I could not be nearly as severe as the Bible. Do you know what the Hebrew law said to do with a child who was rebellious? They gave him to the Pharisees, and if that didn't work, they stoned him. Because they understood rebellion and what it breeds.

"I know modern psychology suggests all kinds of alternative methods"

'He Chastens You'

But methods such as having the child sit by himself for a few minutes, grounding or denial of privileges are not God's way, she said.

"God never denies you anything, he never sends you off by yourself, but he chastens you."

Cassie was disciplined for "the sin of stubbornness and rebellion," Mrs. Peterson said. "The Bible says stubbornness is an abomination unto the Lord and rebellion is as a sin of witchcraft. That's about as serious as you're going to get in the Bible."

Another custody case argued last summer harkened back to church activity in 1984. Court witnesses said Morey accused three women members of practicing witchcraft rituals and sexually molesting two girls, age 6 and 10, who also attended the church. A boy was later accused. The 10 years old victim also was alleged to be a perpetrator and a witch.

The custody battle in which this testimony came out was over the 6-year-old.

The child's mother is a member of the church; her father and stepmother have left the church. A temporary settlement has been reached out of court, allowing the child to leave the church and live with her father. A permanent settlement is awaiting signatures.

Didn't Understand

The 10-year-old, who was 16 by the time she was called to testify, said in court that Morey first made the accusations in a conversation with her and her mother. The first thing he said, the girl testified, was "that it was all that he could do to keep from pulling me across the table and beating me."

She testified that she didn't understand what he was accusing her of, and she kept silent.

Her mother Lucille Naber of Stromsburg, Neb., testified that under what she understood to be Morey's direction she took her daughter home and spanked her. She continued the spankings day after day.

"He said just keep, it up until she quit, until she confessed, you know," court records show Mrs. Naber testified.

Beating children is preached from the pulpit, she testified.

The mother said she used a switch for these sessions. The girl said she was struck "all over."

Mother and daughter testified that the beatings went on for up to a week, until the girl confessed. She testified that she didn't do what she was being accused of but finally confessed "because I wanted the beatings to stop."

The mother testified that after the daughter confessed, church members refused to speak to either her or her child.

'We Were Shunned'

"We were shunned," Mrs. Naber said. "(My daughter) was totally shunned. She could not play with the other children. It is almost like you are dead. You are not alive. I was not totally ignored, but (my daughter) was totally ignored."

"Did you agree with this?" attorney Christine Costantakos asked.

"No, it really hurt," the mother said.

"Did you at any point make protest or..."

"Yeah," the mother said. "I think it was a couple of months later I talked to Reverend Morey and I said 'When is this all going to stop? Because when I see her being treated this way, you know, it hurts me, you know. And he said, '(Your daughter) is using you. She is a witch and is just playing with your mind."'

The attorney asked, "At this point in time, do you think you did the right thing by using discipline?"

"No," the mother replied.

In an interview Morey said the mother and child's recollections of his statements were "baloney."

"I wouldn't respond to anything as stupid as that " he said.

The mother's description of shunning also is untrue, he said.

Coerced Confession

Another woman, Debra Worman, who is the stepmother of the 6-year-old, testified that she was one of the women accused of being a witch and that Morey coerced a partial confession from her. She said Morey called her in to a meeting of all the men of the church and told her that "the men of the church have bound together to pray and we have prayed that if you or any of the other two women are lying about your involvement and the lesbianism and the molesting that within 90 days you would lose your mind."

She testified that Morey visited her twice to convince her that she was possessed by a demon who was blocking her remembrance of her sins.

"He came back and said he believed that I wasn't able to remember because the other people had been under demonic possession and they weren't able to remember until he was able to lay hands an them and pray for them. And he said that 'We are going to do that for you today, and I am going to tell you some of the things that they have told me, and I want you to think about these things.' And he says, 'The more you think about them, the more you will remember about them just like the other women did.' "

Random thoughts

She said she thought about the things he told her, things such as goblets and daggers and licking animal blood off another woman's body, and she wrote down any random thoughts that came to her, as Morey had told her to do. She said Morey later took the two pages on which she had written her thoughts.

Several months later, the allegations against Mrs. Worman and the others were brought to the attention of the York Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol. Mrs. Worman "underwent a polygraph examination, which indicated that the allegations were not factual," Police Chief Frank Valentine wrote in a letter after the investigation.

No charges were filed, and Valentine wrote that in his opinion "religious manipulation" appeared to have played a part in the accusations.

Mrs. Worman testified that she had been in the church two years before the witchcraft allegations were made and that during that time she and her husband had turned to Morey for advice on nearly all their family decisions. She said she had disobeyed a couple of times and was "rebuked" and" ridiculed."

'I Wasn't Accusing'

Morey said in an interview that the accusations about witchcraft and molestation did not occur in the way Mrs. Worman described.

"I wasn't the one doing the accusing, but I did happen to be the pastor," he said. He refused to comment further on the situation.

He said he gives church members "common-sense advice" if they want it, but disobedience "doesn't get them ostracized from church or separated from my good graces or from God's. You don't sell your soul to me when you come to this church."

The Good Life Pentecostal Church owns the TLC day-care center in York. Its director, Leigh Lundy, is an active church member. The center is licensed by the state as a group day-care home, and its director is authorized to care for nine children of the general public as well as her own.

State guidelines prohibit spanking or rough treatment of children at licensed day-care homes, said Marsha Wandersee, licensing specialist at the State Department of Social Services. She said she could not reveal whether the center has ever been found to be out of compliance.

Children Sat Stoically

At a recent Thursday night service, about 40 people filled the pews at the Good Life Pentecostal Church. Pre-school and elementary-age children sat stoically with their parents through a Bible study that stretched over half the three-hour service. The children did not squirm or whisper.

On the raised platform at the front of the church, Morey preached his interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Jesus Christ is coming again soon, Morey said, and he will reign over the nations for 1,000 years. He is using the time until his second coming to winnow out the people who will reign with him.

"We may be just the holy rollers at the end of the block today," Morey said. "But at the restoration, you might be looking at the mayor. The people of this church may be the administrators of this city."

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