Ex-members of Miller cult speak out

Denver Post/April 16, 1999
By Kevin Simpson

Since self-proclaimed prophet Monte Kim Miller and his Concerned Christians took the international stage in October - first with their mass disappearance from Denver, later with the deportation of 14 disciples by Israeli authorities - only one individual has broken away from the group.

Cult member John Bayles recently returned to his home in New Jersey, where surprised family members reportedly have helped him undergo counseling. Otherwise, Miller's grip on his disciples has been firm and unyielding.

What prompted Bayles to break free isn't clear. But others who have fallen under Miller's sway over the years say a variety of disquieting signposts helped them see the light. Among them: a bizarre preoccupation with the stock market; biblical pronouncements outrageously far afield; a call for others to abandon family to join him in Denver.

And the emergence of his "Godvoice."

"He told me . . . that basically because he was such a humble servant, God was lifting him up to be the leader of many," said Debbie, a 47-year-old Illinois homemaker and mother of two who had an eight-year telephone relationship with Miller. "I think he deluded himself. I knew not to contact him anymore, that something had gone wrong.

"I knew he was a false prophet."

Phoenix furniture store owner Jack Hook became close friends with Miller in the 1980s. The two shared an understanding of Christian Gospel and maintained frequent phone contact, punctuated by occasional visits.

Miller initially showed disdain for money-minded preachers, Hook remembers. But his attitude about finances later took a radical turn, and Miller began rationalizing that his previous service to the Lord entitled him to freely solicit from his followers.

Hook says he tried to reason with Miller, to steer him back to the philosophical path they once shared. But their conversations dwindled between 1993 and '95. Finally, as Hook sat in his furniture store office in 1996, the phone rang.

"It was like a different person," Hook recalls. "He started talking in triplicate, saying, 'I'm speaking in the voice of God.' If he'd done that before, I'd have told him he was nuts."

About 80 of Miller's disciples, harvested from across the country through paid radio broadcasts and audio tapes distributed to an extensive mailing list, have remained steadfast. Their exact whereabouts remain unclear, although some members of the group - if not all of them - reportedly have settled in Greece.

Miller, 44, now says he is destined to die on the streets of Jerusalem. Those who knew him feel mixed emotions at their failure to reach him - sadness at the change in Miller, concern for his current disciples and relief that they somehow resisted the seductive power of his prophecy.

Debbie, the Illinois housewife, first heard about Miller through a Christian publication called Media Spotlight. She ordered some of Miller's tapes and liked what she heard. She called his Concerned ristians organization in January of 1988 and asked to be put on the mailing list.

She sent $10 for the tapes, but Miller never directly asked her for money. In fact, he seemed to be living a humble existence, having given up his job as a marketing executive to pursue his ministry.

For Debbie, Kim Miller represented a powerful antidote to disillusionment with organized religion in America.

"I thought he was one of the greatest Christians I knew," she recalls.

In retrospect, subtle things drew her in. Numerics, for instance.

Miller could make even the most mundane numbers come alive with meaning. He could read them raw, or slice them and dice them to account for historical alterations to the calendar, double or triple them, and finally affix some scriptural significance to them.

She remembers that he took her birth date, March 11, and matched it to a Bible verse: First Corinthians, third chapter, 11th verse: "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Delivered by Miller, it seemed an intoxicating revelation with very personal overtones.

"Once he got a hold of some intricate unraveling of clues that opened up a prophecy, I went there with him," Debbie says. "I got it, I was in the inner group, and that made me frustrated with others who didn't believe this."

Debbie isn't sure if that was Miller's intent - for his followers to isolate themselves by their beliefs - but she sensed a gradual philosophical separation from others until she felt "kind of like an island."

It was in 1994 that Debbie first heard Miller speak as God.

It started as "little one-liners" and evolved into longer monologues on more troubling topics. Debbie found Miller's pronouncements as God at once shocking and fascinating - and she scribbled many of them on paper so she wouldn't forget.

But when Miller phoned to ask her to pray for three specific stocks that God had directed him to buy, she began to regard his words with a more skeptical ear. Still, she told him she'd pray.

"It made me feel important," she says. "He was good at making us all feel special when he'd call and ask for a favor. I'd have never understood if I hadn't had firsthand experience. You want to be close to the head guy."

Miller also wanted Debbie to visit him in Denver. He told her it was important to the Lord.

But when Debbie's husband put his foot down, an angry Miller accused her of loving her husband, her family - even her dog - more than God, she recalls.

"What he was saying to me was if I follow him, my family would be saved, my husband would be saved," she says. "If I didn't, he (implied) that something bad would happen. That's a tough thing to hear, that I loved my family more than God. They were intimidating tactics."

One day, she flat-out told him he was not being "biblical" in his counsel. He responded with a 20minute monologue in the Godvoice.

"Kim wanted to be a man of God. I know that," she said. "In the purest sense, he wanted to be a great man of God. I think he probably had a problem with love of power and love of money. When you put those things down in the flesh, they eventually will overtake you."

In the spring of 1997, Miller told her God was giving her another chance to follow the Lord. When Debbie challenged him again, Miller ended the conversation abruptly. That autumn, when he called to give her one last chance, Debbie simply told him she couldn't talk.

"In a way, I feel somewhat accountable for having helped elevate this person to this position by looking to him for years for information," she says. "I was one of his biggest cheerleaders. I still think of him as a friend, in a strange kind of way."

The attraction fades

Another former Miller follower thinks Miller has been "handed over to witchcraft."

The follower, who asked to be identified only as Charles, used to call himself Kim Miller's "East Coast connection." He handed out leaflets from a backpack and estimates that he distributed 20,000 audio tapes, but fell out of favor with Miller before the leader of the Concerned Christians disappeared.

"You're talking to the guy who got more than two-thirds of those people into Concerned Christians," Charles says.

Charles, who already had shut down his small business to "seek the kingdom" when he met Miller, was initially attracted by the tapes, and slowly assumed an active role in spreading Miller's ministry.

But Charles - along with others - eventually clashed with Miller and pointedly questioned him about his departure from key beliefs.

"Kim would not listen to the other brothers, three or four of us concerned about things he was doing . . .," Charles says. "He had no love. He couldn't be corrected. Kim could never accept that from anybody."

Charles remembers Miller fasting, for just a few days at a time, but felt that the very act of proclaiming his fast, rather than silently enduring it, smacked of manipulation. Once Miller's God-voice emerged, the clashes became more pronounced.

One particular exchange ended with Miller's rebuff to Charles in triplicate, complete with numeric reference to the book of Revelations' "mark of the beast."

"You're sick-sick-sick," Miller told him. "You're six-six-six."

Over time, Charles says, he noticed some of Miller's closest followers acquiring their leader's own slow, hypnotic monotone. At that point, he says, he was urging others to leave the group. But Miller always managed to intervene, exercise control over his disciples and keep Charles at arm's length.

"He's the most dangerous of them all, from Jim Jones to David Koresh," Charles says. "But will they hurt themselves, do a Heaven's Gate kind of thing? I don't think that's Kim's M.O. They'll follow the Bible to a T. They believe they're in the Scriptures, that they're a part of the end-time scenario."

Jack Hook remembers Miller telling him that a 100-day fast had triggered his divine insight, a claim Hook still doesn't believe. In the God-voice, Miller said that God wanted their once-strong relationship rekindled - and that Hook was to "bow down" and follow Miller, who had unique knowledge of Scripture.

Miller didn't ask Hook for money straight out, but made his desire clear: It was time for Christians who believed in him to sell their worldly possessions and help his cause. Hook told his friend he sounded like some kind of cult leader and warned him to pull back.

"I cried, I begged him on the phone," recalls Hook. "I think he remembered some of the good days, the friendship. I think it was hard for him to deny me. I sensed there was a split-second of reservation, that he thought maybe he'd better not do this.

"But all of a sudden - boom! - he's back to communicating with the voice of God."

Once the disappearance of Miller and his followers hit the news last October, Hook left a message on Miller's answering machine. He urged his friend to return the call and offered to help him out of this mess. But Miller hasn't called.

"If only somebody could get through to him - somebody that he knows - and appeal to his beginnings, maybe that would give him some hope that what he did is not the unpardonable sin," Hook says. "Nobody's died yet. There's a chance he can come out of it."

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