Knox Family Fears Son is Part of Cult 24, 2003

A Knox County mother and father say their son may never be the same, and they blame it on his religious revival during college. Tony and Susan Hupp are sharing their story, because they don't want other parents to experience their pain.

"He's the fun guy, the one who always made me laugh," Susan Hupp says of her 24 year old son Joshua.

"He was voted most popular in senior class in high school, on the baseball team," says Josh's father Tony.

The son they sent to college and the son who's there now might as well be two different people, they say.

"We definitely believe there's been mind control," Susan explains.

The Hupps say Harmony Church, which meets in a Tulsa, Oklahoma home forever changed their son. The church recruited members from Oral Roberts University, without the school's approval, and once the university found out, administrators kicked them off campus.

This summer, police in Tulsa arrested the church's pastors, Janice and Robert Turner, a married couple. Investigators say a church member confessed to them they had sexually abused a child. But instead of reporting that abuse to police, like the law requires, detectives say the Turners severely beat that member, and others who disobeyed them, in religious ceremonies they call "disciplining the flesh."

Detectives call Harmony Church a "cult."

"I thought we had more influence over Joshua," Susan says. "It was a denial on my part to think that could really never happen here, it really couldn't happen here, but it has."

The Hupps say Josh was never overly religious. He chose Oral Roberts, a private, non-denominational university, because he received a scholarship. He was homesick at first.

"It's traumatic for any kid to go off to college right?" says Tony.

"I was concerned for him, but just told him to hang in there, that it would be OK," Susan says.

His parents say Josh's roommate invited him to Harmony Church. Josh liked it, but when his parents came to visit, they didn't.

"The picture was immediately a little odd to me, a little odd. but our country is about freedom of religion, a lot of good churches have started in living rooms," says Tony. "Like any parent with a child, there's things children do you are uncomfortable with and kids say, 'Daddy, there's no problem here, this is a new church, it's OK.' Well, what do you do? Yank him out, bring him home because he's going to a church you don't like? You know, you don't do that."

They told their son about their concerns, and over the next few years, the concerns grew. Josh married another church member -- a girl the Hupps like very much. But in January, their son and daughter in law cut off all contact, in a phone call.

"He was very emotional, saying he was a bad person," Susan recalls. "He was a dog. He'd been lying to us and the world and was not who we think he is."

"He told us he was a whore. It's almost like he'd forgotten everything he ever learned about his faith," Tony remembers.

Now Josh won't speak to his family. He even denies they're his parents. They went to Tulsa last week to fight a restraining order their son took out against them. The judge ruled in Josh's favor, and extended the order. They say Josh wouldn't even look at them in court.

Josh did speak with a Tulsa TV station about his controversial church.

"Oh this is an easy target," Josh says. "The Waco's he Jimmy Jones, the whatever the hell. This is an easy target. You've got 40 people, a small church, they meet in a house, this is an easy target."

The Hupps say they hope other families learn from their mistakes. They say a conversation about religious influences is something they never thought they needed to have, now they wish they had.

"I think the first mistake you can make is to think you can reason them out of it," Tony says. "And you can't. You're initial response is to fix it, so you mistakenly think you can reason with them because they're not making any sense."

This average American mom and dad say they hope someone will say the words to convince Josh and Rhonda to re-connect.

"But I've come to realize that it's not going to be us," Susan says.

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