York Church a cult, social worker claims

The Grand Island Independent/January 28, 1990
By Michael Hooper

York -- Inside a church alleged to be a cult were some 36 members chanting the name of Jesus, raising their hands and singing.

At the front of the Good Life Pentecostal Church in York last Thursday night was Rev. Edward Morey, carrying a wooden stick about 4 feet in length. While conducting a Bible study, he used the stick to emphasize points and strike the floor.

The Good Life Pentecostal Church, involved in at least two lawsuits, is causing quite a stir in York these days.

Last Wednesday in York County District Court, Caryn Hacker of Omaha testified that Good Life Pentecostal Church qualifies as a cult because the church practices the use of physical and mental deprivation, isolation of its members from family and society, active recruitment (witnessing), lack of outside communication such as television, turning money over to the church, and fear of outsiders.

Hacker spoke during a hearing on a custody suit between a divorced couple, Carol and Robert Peterson, both of York. Carol, a member of the Good Life Pentecostal Church, is the custodial parent of the couple's three children: Sadie, 15, Cassie, 11 and William, 6. Robert Peterson is not the blood father of Sadie, although he did adopt her.

Robert Peterson filed for custody of the three children, claiming Carol:

  • Is not qualified as a mother because she removed the children from York public schools and enrolled them in York Christian Academy, which is a non-accredited yet recognized school under the state's Rule 13.
  • Has failed to adequately care for the children's health by not giving them proper immunization shots (although she has since gotten the children shots).
  • Has turned the children away from their father, claiming the devil is in him.
  • Has increased her activity with the Good Life Pentecostal Church.
  • Has unnecessarily beaten her children, including giving Cassie about 40 lashes for being rebellious and not beating Sadie when she was once dishonest.

Hacker, a certified master social worker who has investigated religious and cult-like groups for the last 11 years, testified that Morey has a "big impact" on how the church members conduct their lives and what they believe, according to a story in Thursday's edition of the York News-Times.

Give up freedom

Hacker said a cult is a group of people who give up their sense of freedom to the leader of the group. She said the only cult criteria that Good Life Pentecostal Church did not meet was that members do not practice communal living, the News-Times said.

She said members are recruited by "love-bombing" them, which means they are told things to make them feel a need for love and happiness. The love eventually becomes conditional and members must follow the belief system to remain a part of the group.

On the day she spanked Cassie about 40 times, Carol Peterson said Cassie was expelled from Good Life Pentecostal's school, York Christian Academy.

When Cassie came home that day, Carol Peterson said she made her copy Bible scriptures relating to rebellion and from the dictionary.

Cassie kept making mistakes so her mother spanked her for each mistake, Carol Peterson said. The spankings took place over a period of 4 ½ hours.

Debra Worman of York, a former member of the Good Life Pentecostal Church, testified that the church tried to cast demons out of her son because he liked snakes and was rebellious, she to the Independent.

Worman testified that a member of the church cannot question Morey and that if a member does say Morey is wrong or off track, the member can be labeled a wtich or that the member is of Satan.

Worman said Morey excommunicated her from the church under allegations that she was a witch, lesbian and child molester.

Worman said she volunteered to be investigated for child molestation by York City Police and the Nebraska State patrol. After a thorough investigation, no charges were filed against her.

Goes on TV show.

In fall 1988, Worman went on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show and said she had been abused by a cult. She didn't name the cult or her hometown. Three members of the Good Life Pentecostal Church in York filed suit against Worman alleging that she had slandered the church. That case was dismissed last year.

Morey told The Independent that he would not address any allegations against him, but he did say the allegations are untrue.

Kyle Nielsen, 30, secretary of the church board, who has been with the church since its infancy, tole The Independent that Worman is trying to hurt the church. Dozens of people have attended the church and left and did not say bad things about it, he said.

"No one had as juicy a testimony as Deb had," Nielson said.

When asked if the church practices mind control, Nielsen and three other church members laughed.

"We're all individuals. We all have control of our faculties," Nielsen said.

Bill Budler, treasurer of the Good Life Pentecostal Church, who say through the Peterson vs. Peterson custody hearing, said the church should not have been involved in that case.

"I think the church was put on trial without prior notice," he said.

In an interview with The Independent, Carol Peterson's mother Irene Brumbaugh of York, said she at first encouraged Carol to join the Good Life Pentecostal Church. Carol testified that she used to drink and use drugs before she joined the church.

Bur after Brumbaugh heard about what happened to Worman, she began to question the church's activities.

As Carol got more involved in the church, her visits to her parents became less frequent, Brumbaugh said.

Learning about cults.

Brumbaugh has taken it upon herself to find out as much as she can about cults and the Good Life Pentecostal Church. She has gathered stacks of documents relating to the church and cults.

Brumbaugh said she is particularly concerned about the children in the church's school, York Christian Academy.

Nielsen said 11 children are enrolled in the school, which is adjacent to the church building, located at 74 Nebraska Ave. in York.

According to a supplementary sheet for parent representatives none of York Christian Academy's monitors has graduated from high school except for Rhonda Bouchard, the substitute monitor, who completed the 12th grade at Grand Island Senior High in 1973.

Monitor John Cemer attended Trenton Public Schools through the ninth grade; monitor Vivian Cemer also attended Trenton Public Schools through the ninth grade; monitor Kimberly Morey, 20, daughter of Morey, attended York Christian Academy from 1981-85 and has a GED; monitor Jo Anne Morey, 18 attended York High School and has a GED; monitor Irene Morey, wife of Morey, attended a high school in California in 1967-68, but did not graduate.

Inside the school, there are no computers, no music room, only a student room with cubicles where students study.

York Attorney Bruce Stephens, who represented Robert Peterson, said Cassie Peterson testified that when she didn't understand something at the church school, she was told to read it again. She read it again and didn't understand. She read it a third time and still didn't understand. Then she was told to pray about it.

That is not the way to teach children, Stephens said in his closing argument, Wednesday. Cassie Peterson no longer attends school at York Christian Academy, but her sister, Sadie and her brother, William, still attend the academy.

Dreams changed.

Sadie, who once had dreams of going to college in interior decorating and going to Germany, admitted in court Wednesday that her dreams changed after she began attending York Christian Academy.

"I'm happy where I'm at. I'm satisfied where I'm at and I just can't see myself being happy anywhere else," Sadie said. She said she may take some college courses but will let the Lord tell her what to do.

District Court Judge Bryce Bartu asked Sadie if she believed the Lord speaks through Morey. She answered that Morey gives messages from God.

Bartu asked her what she would do if Morey asked her not to go to college, and she answered that she would consider the suggestion and pray about it. If Morey asked her to go to college, she said she would consider it and pray about that, too.

Nielsen said he has two children in York Christian Academy. They wouldn't be in the school if he didn't feel they were getting a good education, he said.

The school uses a self-paced curriculum that comes from Accelerated Christian Education in Lewsiville, Texas.

Nielsen said church members want their kids to attend the school so they son'e be exposed to sex and drugs in public schools.

When asked why women in the Good Life Pentecostal Church all wear long hair, Nielsen said it's scriptural not to cut a woman's hair.

So do women just let their hair grow to the ground?

"No," he said. "It won't get that long."

Nielson and other church members said they don't watch television because there isn't anything worth watching on it.

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