Church called a 'hate group'

Cincinnati Post/November 5, 2005
By Kevin Eigelbach

A Wednesday night prayer meeting at the Fellowship of God's Covenant People in Burlington appears to be like those of many other small, Protestant churches.

About a dozen men and women sit, roughly in a circle, near the front of the church. All are white, but that's typical of many local churches.

What's different about this congregation is that it's the only Northern Kentucky church labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation's foremost monitor of hate groups.

The Montgomery, Ala.-based SPLC has included the church on its list of hate groups because of church beliefs, said Joe Roy, chief investigator for the non-profit group. Church members believe God chose white people to become the rulers and administrators of God's kingdom on earth. Only they can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And what of the other races? "The Bible simply does not tell us," said Lawrence Blanchard, one of the church's two pastors. "God created each individual race separately and it was good, but he chose one particular (race) for his bride."

"It's a white supremacy belief system," Roy said. "If they never left the house, that would put them in the category."

Started in 1971 as a civil-rights law firm, the center has gained a national reputation for monitoring hate activity, which it's done since 1981. Its Intelligence Project tracks more than 700 hate groups across the country.

Roy said Don Elmore, Blanchard's co-pastor, has spoken at events put on by the Christian Identity movement, including an annual super-conference in Branson, Mo. "We've had him on our radar for some time," because of people he associates with, the speeches he makes and books he writes.

There are probably 600,000 to 700,000 Christian Identity adherents in America, Roy said. Most are nonviolent, but some involved in the movement have committed acts of domestic terrorism, most notably Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber.

Identity members believe that Caucasians are descendants of the 10 so-called lost tribes of Israel. Elmore said his church shares that belief, but not those of some other Identity churches, such as that non-whites are soulless "mud people" created with the other Biblical "beasts of the field" described in Genesis.

The Burlington church doesn't advocate violence, either, Elmore said.

"If the impression is that we hate other races or other people, the answer is no," Blanchard said. "That's certainly not what we believe, and that's not what the Bible teaches."

The congregation resents the "hate group" label. In its view, their church isn't out of step with the modern world; the modern world is out of step with God.

"God's laws put us at variance with this country, but we are what this country used to be," Elmore said. "We're 150 years out of our time frame. We would be the norm then."

Church members believe that they are part of the true Israel - God's true, covenant people - white people. They believe the people we call Jews today are not God's chosen people, but usurpers of the title. These beliefs have not set well either with Jews or with the world at large.

"We know we're out of synch, in a lot of respects, with modern Christianity," Blanchard said.

Their belief about white people has its roots in their interpretation of events described in the Bible. In the Bible, the ancient kingdom of Israel originally consisted of 12 tribes, each named for one of the children of the patriarch Jacob. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom split into the 10 northern tribes - called Israel - and two southern tribes, called Judah.

The Assyrian Empire invaded Israel in 721 B.C. and deported some residents. Fellowship members believe these people migrated to the Black Sea region and became the Caucasians.

They also believe today's Jews are not God's chosen people. They believe they are descended from the Khazars, who adopted Judaism in the 8th Century for political reasons.

A professor at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati agreed to look at some Fellowship literature and judge its historical accuracy. For fear of retaliation, she didn't want to be quoted by name.

"They have done a really good job of creating this origin myth for themselves," she said, but added that it's just a myth. Archaeological evidence shows that most of the 10 "lost" tribes fled south into Judah after the Assyrian invasion, not to the Black Sea area, she said.

She wasn't impressed with the quality of the scholarship.

The literature takes things out of context, she said, and what it doesn't take out of context comes from sources with the same philosophy as the Fellowship.

Told of her objections, Blanchard said, "It took me three to four years of study before I was convinced. I'm sure a brochure here or there would not be convincing. Our desire would be for people to start to ask questions and do their own study."

The Fellowship began as a Bible study in Bellevue that Elmore took over three months after its founding. He said he became an ordained minister about 12 years ago, but wouldn't say what denomination ordained him.

The church building, at Camp Ernst Road and Rogers Lane, was a motor repair shop, then a Baptist church, then a Freewill Baptist church, which sold it to the Fellowship about eight years ago.

It has only 10 pews. There's a kitchen in the building, but no classrooms or fellowship hall. The congregation usually eats in the sanctuary after every other Sunday service.

About 30 people attend the 11 a.m. service, the only one of the day. It lasts for about two hours, with a Wurlitzer organ and voices providing the music.

Elmore and Blanchard share the preaching duties, and they don't go for short sermons.

Elmore began a recent Wednesday night prayer meeting as pastors in other churches do, with a list of concerns: the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a man in divorce proceedings, a young man in the Navy.

Elmore talked to God: "We come before you grieving at the manner this country has departed from your law," he prayed. "(At) the wickedness that abounds in all areas of life."

One by one, all 10 present prayed, with the others all answering "Amen," until Elmore closed with another prayer: "As world conditions crumble, as the debt of the nation grows, as enemy powers rise up, I ask that we rest in the knowledge that you are our God, our shield, and that Mystery Babylon shall fall. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."

Fellowship literature identifies Judaism with Mystery Babylon, an entity described in the Biblical book of Revelation.

Elmore is a paunchy 63-year-old with white hair and a white mustache.

Blanchard, 53, thin with silver-rimmed glasses, carries a silver dollar in his pocket - not those Federal Reserve notes we all carry - just to show people what a real dollar is. He was pastor of a small church in Washington state before being invited to become co-pastor of the Burlington church about three years ago.

Neither preacher gets paid for his work at the church. Blanchard and his wife run a Web site for the transportation industry. Elmore teaches school.

They could make a good living as preachers if they were more mainstream, Blanchard said, but they "can't forsake the truth."

Elmore sees himself as a modern-day Pilgrim. The mainstream churches don't uphold discipline, they don't preach against sin. They build gyms, they play rock music, he says.

He proudly says that he's descended from the Huguenots, who were persecuted for their faith in France, and from Capt. Jack Jouett, one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War. The love of America and the disposition to be persecuted for religious beliefs are in his genes, he says.

He believes that, these days, there are more enemies within the republic than without it. The enemies are those of communist persuasion, he says, particularly the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

America now has property taxes, income taxes and inheritance taxes, all of them against God's laws, he says.

He sees the fact that America has become a debtor nation as evidence that the country has abandoned its covenant with God. It is one of the curses promised in the biblical book of Deuteronomy to those who break the covenant.

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