House of Yahweh leader Yisrayl Hawkins has penned a four-page newsletter sent to thousands of residents in Taylor, Callahan and Jones counties, claiming the news media has wrongly portrayed the group.
While Hawkins declined to return calls Friday, House of Yahweh adviser John Young said the newsletter is an effort to give a more accurate insight into the religious sect than that provided by the media.
An attorney, Young said the newsletter isn't an effort to influence potential jurors when Hawkins goes to court - probably later this year - to face bigamy and other charges. Young said he is convinced there was enough evidence, long before the newsletter was sent out, to warrant a change of venue because of negative publicity.
"It was not intended to reach any potential jury pool," Young said. "It was intended to reach out as a church and to invite less hostility."
Callahan County District Attorney Shane Deel, however, sees an ulterior motive and said the newsletter is part of a last-ditch, "propaganda effort to attempt to assist Yisrayl Hawkins.
"That's the whole reason for the existence of the corporation - to benefit him personally. I don't expect this effort to have any impact on his legal proceedings. I think it is actually a sign of desperation."
The House of Yahweh made headlines several times last year, including the indictment of Yisrayl Hawkins, the conviction of elder Yedidiyah Hawkins for aggravated sexual assault of a child, and predictions on national TV of a nuclear holocaust.
In the newsletter, Yisrayl Hawkins strongly asserted that the House of Yahweh doesn't teach or tolerate child molestation, underage marriage or multiple marriages. Likewise, Hawkins said the religious sect doesn't "force our way into people's homes to see what they do in their own homes" and shouldn't be held accountable for what goes on in them.
"I do not believe that churches, schools, or hospitals are responsible for criminal actions of their members," Hawkins wrote. "If that were so, every preacher, teacher, doctor and nurse should be arrested now."
According to Young, the newsletter - which he said was sent to "tens of thousands" - targets no particular audience.
Instead, he said, it attempts to "address the issue head-on" and make it clear that the entire group shouldn't be cast in a bad light because of alleged inappropriate behavior by some.
Young said that he didn't know exactly how many newsletters were sent out but that they were sent to postal addresses throughout the three counties.
"I know of no other church in which one of its members is charged with a criminal offense that the church seems to be put on trial in the media as the House of Yahweh has been," Young said. "If you look back at media coverage, you'd have to agree the context of the House of Yahweh is always negative. It's always about those few people who find themselves in trouble with the law."
Hawkins encouraged Abilenians and others to call or stop by and tour the facilities.
"Our phone lines are always open to calls if you have questions about us - The House of Yahweh," Hawkins said. "Our gates are open to anyone who would like to come to services or to just say 'hello' or 'shalom.'
"See for yourself what we believe and teach, and the simple way we conduct our lives."