Family cult?

December 4, 2002
By Rick Ross

The St. Petersburg Times published a story about Tampa parents who said their children were "caught in the clutches of a cult." But rather than a group recruiting on a college campus, this "cult" was allegedly gaining members through a long-term substitute teacher at a high school.

That high school teacher was Christine Bowen, who was subsequently fired. It seems Bowen recruited her students to attend a "bible study" led by her husband Tom Bowen, a pharmaceutical salesman.

One family claimed that the Bowens have "stolen" their daughter.

The Bowens deny all the allegations. But historically, at least two churches asked them to leave their congregations.

And no less than three sets of parents say their children cut them off because of the Bowens, including two sons, Tim and Dan Pezzutti, who are now engaged to two of the Bowens' daughters and live with the family.

Some families now call them the "Bowenites."

"This is a destructive religious cult," said father Gerald Mussenden. "They basically encouraged kids to sever ties with their parents[and] friends."

Mussenden, a Florida psychologist, complained to a school administrator and advised that Christine Bowen had recruited his daughter and her boyfriend at high school.

Though he was first supportive eventually the psychologist noticed subtle personality changes.

Ultimately the Mussenden's daughter cut all ties to her long-time church and family, when they became critical of involvement with the Bowens.

Concerned families brought in veteran cult exit-counselor Dave Clark. Clark has worked in the field for more than twenty years and best known for his work regarding the "Bible Speaks." That organization was ultimately sued into bankruptcy concerning claims of "brainwashing." Clark played a pivotal role in the unraveling of the organization led by Carl Stevens.

The St. Petersburg Times was unable to contact Clark for comment.

The Mussenden's daughter Gina said, "I'm not in a cult. I'm not brainwashed."

Gina Mussenden and Tim and Dan Pezzutti don't call their parents Mom or Dad. "I have one father," said Dan Pezzutti, 21. "He's in heaven."

The Bowens say they believe the Old Testament edict to honor your mother and father, but at the same time they raise questions concerning the definition of "mother" and "father." They suggest that children should disobey parents if the parents "go against the ways of the Lord." Whatever that means, per their interpretation.

Note: This article was largely based upon "Division of Family, Faith," December 3, 2002 written by Melanie Ave and published by the St. Petersburg Times

Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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