'Prophets' Of Doom Challenge Area Clergy

Hartford Courant/February 15, 2003
By Jesse Leavenworth

The Rev. David Larsen had asked his congregation for announcements Sunday when a man stood and declared he was "the Prophet Peter."

As had happened in other churches in the area recently, this stranger to the Voluntown Baptist Church began by saying the Day of Judgment was upon the land.

"I'm off the pulpit in a minute," Larsen said. "I got in his face. `You leave or you will be arrested.' I think my body language indicated that there might be a third option, and then he left."

The self-proclaimed prophet and others who have interrupted church services and confronted clergy over the past several weeks are followers of the late "Brother" Julius Schacknow, whom they call "the Lord Julius Christ."

Schacknow, who was described by former followers as a manipulative sexual predator, has been dead for 6½ years. His followers, however, have been reviving his name recently in mostly mainline churches, which they say have failed to awaken their flocks to a world steeped in sin. They say they have an obligation straight from the Scriptures to warn people about the doom hurrying down to sinners from the hand of an angry God.

"The Lord Julius taught us to be prophets' voices," a middle-aged man who identified himself as Brother Andrew said Thursday. "Most Christian leaders are false shepherds."

The confrontations have come in the middle of services and during appointments between clergy and Schacknow's followers. In almost all cases, the meetings ended with Schacknow's disciples becoming increasingly agitated and hurling biblical curses, clergy members said. The confrontations have been focused recently in southeastern Connecticut, but word has spread among churches and ministers have been told to be prepared.

Clergy members who have met them over the past several weeks say Schacknow's followers twist Scripture to meet their beliefs.

"They decide what they are and then they read the Bible to prove what they are," the Rev. Ken Carpenter of Union Baptist Church in Mystic said.

Andrew and another follower, who identified himself as Brother Peter, talked about their faith and their mission in an hourlong interview Thursday. They believe that Christ, in the form of Schacknow, returned because people had not taken advantage, through Jesus, of a chance to stop sinning. Schacknow came to evaluate 20th-century Christians and to pass sentence, Andrew said. The sentence, he and Brother Peter said, is a scorching of the earth.

"The Christian world is an utter failure," Andrew said. "America has turned into an immoral sewer."

In an interview with The Courant in 1987, Schacknow said, "I'm your creator and I've come to punish the world for their sins, for their ungodliness, their crookedness, breaking my commandments. ... You are interviewing Jesus, who has returned like a thief in the night."

Andrew said he met Schacknow in the early 1970s, when the man with the piercing eyes who was born a Jew in Brooklyn, N.Y., was attracting a following of several hundred people in central Connecticut. Describing himself as a sinner who was smoking marijuana and "whoring around," Andrew said he knew instantly that Schacknow was more than a mere man and soon came to an unswerving faith in his divinity.

Schacknow called himself "the sinful messiah," saying he had to sin to know what it was like. Disillusioned former followers said Schacknow's sin of choice was sex. They said he manipulated teenage girls and women into his bed, suggesting that it was God's will. Men were expected to allow their wives to sleep with Schacknow. One of his stepdaughters accused Schacknow in a civil suit of sexually assaulting her for seven years, beginning when she was 11. The suit was settled out of court, and Schacknow was never charged with a criminal offense.

Schacknow parlayed his charisma into successful businesses operated by his most loyal disciples. At his urging, dutiful followers worked long and hard for little money and built multimillion-dollar real estate and construction operations in the state's center.

All of that crumbled in the late 1980s, and since his death in 1996, Schacknow and his followers have gone unnoticed by the media and cult awareness organizations.

Andrew said he started his mission of warning Christian leaders about their failures in May 2001, but word about the confrontations only started to spread recently. Asked if either of them had interrupted church services, Peter said he had, but he would not go into detail.

The Rev. Amy Johnson remembered being in the middle of a sermon on the Sunday before Thanksgiving when a man stood up and said she was leading the United Church of Stonington astray and that all of the people in the pews were going to hell.

Stunned silence followed.

"At first, people thought it might be part of my sermon, because occasionally we do creative things," Johnson said. But the man had a "kind of violent" demeanor, Johnson said.

"He was a negative force," she said. "I said, `I'm going to have to ask you to leave.'"

He left when Johnson called on the church deacons to come forward.

The Rev. Gregory Hamby of Quaker Hill Baptist Church in Waterford met with two men about a month ago after one of them asked for five minutes of his time. The men told him the world had rejected God's grace through Jesus "and the age of wrath has begun," Hamby said. "God is going to kick rear end and take names."

When one of the men asked to come back later for an hourlong visit, Hamby said he told him that would not benefit either of them.

"He stood up and his face just became instantaneously furious," Hamby said. "He said, `You will be cursed. God will strike you with a major deformation and you will lean to the right.' I think they wanted me to be scared, but I didn't feel scared."

Christian leaders say churches have different plans to deal with interruptions of services, such as singing a hymn or calling on the deacons.

Carpenter, minister at Union Baptist in Mystic, said he had heard from colleagues about confrontations with Schacknow's followers. So when he met with two Wednesday, Carpenter said he was prepared. He had the two men sit on a low couch, Carpenter said, while he and his associate minister were on higher chairs.

As in other meetings between clergy members and Schacknow's followers, Carpenter rejected their presentation and they became increasingly animated and angry.

"I told them at the end - they were starting to curse us - if you guys are going to curse us, you ought to know about this ancient ritual," Carpenter said. He then made up a story about an ancient curse used by Celtic monks in which a candle is broken, thrown at the feet of the non-believer and the words "Candelae extinctorus!" are repeated three times.

"This is completely made up, right out of the atmosphere," Carpenter said. "I was trying to say I don't believe in cursing. I don't believe God works that way and he certainly doesn't give people that kind of power."

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