"When you enter the Potter's House it is like a noose around your neck. They don't cinch it up at once but continue to put more pressure and control as time goes by," Steve Schoner ex-member of the Potter's House.
The words of Schoner are repeated again and again from former members who look back at their time with the church with regret. Many members feel that they were "lovebombed" upon entering the church but were soon subjected to mind control, brainwashing and public ridicule.
Considered by some to be a cult, others to be a salvation, the Potter's House continues to work with great dedication at its literal goal as a place where people are molded into good Christians. Also known as La Puerta, the Christian Fellowship, Victory Chapel and several other names, the Potter's House was established in 1970 under the leadership of Wayman Mitchell and is centered in Prescott. Since then, the church has spread like wildfire and currently consists of over 1,000 parishes in 73 countries. Mitchell, founder and current leader of the church, says that it started with people from the hippie generation and served as a center of acceptance. But for some former church members it has been anything other than a positive experience.
Dave Diver was a faithful member of the church for twenty years before he was expelled for asking where his donations were going. Diver gave $60,000 to the church over the years. When he asked what his last check of $2,000 was being used for, the church waited till the check cleared and then told him he would be arrested for trespassing if he returned.
Mitchell claims that the church is "not much different from other churches" and refutes any allegation of wrongdoing.
Debbie Christensen, a former church member, claims that they use scare tactics to keep people in the church. They believe "you're going to hell and need to be saved." She believes they made her turn on her own family and went on to say that they made her feel that "if you left the church, you are going to hell." Will Stubbs, a former Potter's House pastor of 20 years claims that the church believes "if you leave, you'll be out of the will of God."
In one Indiana church, a four-year old was terrorized by a Potter's House pastor. The pastor dressed up as the devil and had her put her hand in a bucket of blood with a cow's heart in it. While her hand was in the bucket, the pastor yelled. "You will never get your hand out!" The pastor responded to this allegation not by denying it but explaining "there is a certain amount of fear that is good."
The Potter's House consistently works within the public eye. Church members put on annual Halloween Haunted Houses across the country that for many serve as an unexpected sermon on Potter's House beliefs. In addition, parade floats and street corner preaching are also part of the Potter's House program along with movies, plays and performances aimed at bringing in young people. Mitchell says that in today's society, the Gospel is so watered down that no one is actually lost and in need of being saved. While many are outraged at such graphic displays as a float of Jesus on the cross being whipped by Santa, Mitchell believes we can never go too far when we are "presenting the truth as it really is." Mitchell continues, "the presentation of the Gospel is not something you put around your neck. people are offended because they are convicted."
Rick Ross is a deprogrammer or exit counselor from Phoenix that rehabilitates those who have been brainwashed or otherwise abused by cults or other groups and has worked with dozens of former Potter's House members. He characterizes the Potter's House "as a group of people who are not thinking for themselves" and that "they are a destructive group."
When questioned about the allegations that the Potter's House is a cult, Mitchell responds that everyone is "free to come and go as they please." In an earlier interview in 1988, Mitchell called Ross, "a highly paid religious mercenary."
Steve Schoner was a dedicated member of the Potter's House for 10 years before his trying separation from the church caused him to think differently. Schoner was being groomed to become a pastor when he was shocked to hear a pastor say "the kingdom of God is a spiritual dictatorship." Schoner felt that as a church member you were not allowed to go against the pastor and you were pounded with a military-like regime. Schoner believes that they use overwhelming psychological pressure and ask for a great deal of commitment. Exhaustion is a technique to keep people in church. From that point on Schoner began to drift away from the church. He felt that the church looked at ex-members as nonbelievers who would go to hell.
Schoner decided to speak out against the church by picketing because of a "moral obligation to say something.' The Potter's House then sued Schoner and several other former members for harassment, illegal blocking of church, and several other offenses. They won $27,000 while Schoner was not able to even testify. Schoner believes the church found a judge with a sympathetic Christian Coalition ear.
When asked why he thought Schoner would spend so much time speaking out against the Potter's House, Mitchell responded that he must be "mentally unbalanced", and that he "needs to get a life."
When asked if he thought the Potter's House limits relations to those outside of church Mitchell responded that one should ask any church member.
The allegations against the church come from Australia to Alaska, but they all wind up right here in Prescott where according to Ross, "Mitchell is accountable to no one" and his "control goes far beyond the church." Mitchell responds that each church is by and large autonomous.
Perhaps Ross said it best with one short line. "The community should be concerned."
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