Estranged family members describe . . .Life in the church

Tim Gayman is the 36-year-old estranged son of Dan Gayman, the patriarch of the Church of Israel. Tim Gayman and his wife, Sarah, left the church in 1991 and are now in hiding in the western United States. They agreed to an e-mail interview about what it's like to live inside the church colony.

The Joplin Globe/January 2001

Dan Gayman has denied allegations that he preaches a message of hate and that he manipulates members of his congregation.

Q. Tim, could you describe how you came to be "estranged" from your father and the Church of Israel?

Tim Gayman: A little history first. Sarah was brought out to the Church of Israel in autumn of 1982 by her parents. She was 16. Her parents allowed her to stay and attend the church school. My father spent a lot of time with her. In 1984, after Sarah and I had been dating for a year, my dad said, "this is the fork in the road of your life, Sarah, you can either marry Tim and be a part of this family and great church forever, or you can leave with your parents and never see Tim or any of us again."

Sarah chose to stay and marry me. On April 7, 1984, we were married at 6 a.m. without Sarah's parents knowledge. My dad was preaching against having a marriage license at the time, and we would have been unable to get Sarah's parents' permission anyhow, so my dad married us without a marriage license. The way we were married caused a lot of hurt in both our families. Dad could never control Sarah the way he could my sisters and brothers and me. She eventually began to resent his constant manipulation.

Sarah Gayman: I did resent it and couldn't believe how everyone in Tim's family lived in constant fear of rejection or condemnation from my mother-in-law and father-in-law. There were several things that led to our exit, and I felt there were things that were very wrong in the way Dan operated the Church of Israel. For instance, my (in-laws) insisted that I give birth to our second child at home. I didn't feel comfortable with that since we were about 30 minutes from the nearest hospital and my mother-in-law (who had no professional training) wanted to act as my midwife.

But the biggest reason for my departure was an attack of conscience. I was never completely comfortable with their theology which stated that black people don't have spirits and cannot be saved and that only "white-Israelites" can go to heaven. They also believe that Jewish people are the "Seed of Satan." I felt an intense feeling of isolation there. I missed my family, whom I was discouraged from associating with. I had no friends outside of Tim's family and COI members. Tim was constantly being told to "get Sarah under your authority" because it was obvious that I was unhappy and it was an embarrassment to Dan and the family. I felt badly for Tim, but he lived in a constant state of working to please his father. I decided I could not rear my children in that environment. I left Tim in April of 1991 and went to stay with my parents in South Carolina. Tim called me 6 weeks later and we agreed to reconcile.

Tim Gayman: Sarah and I took our kids to a local church in Springfield, and I began to realize that what my Dad was preaching was works-based. It was all religion, it was not Christianity. There were no fruits of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they were condemning and controlling, not loving and kind the way Christ taught us to be.

Q. Is the Church of Israel a cult?

Tim Gayman: Yes, in that my father uses manipulation to control the people in his church. He uses the Bible to fit his current agenda.

Sarah Gayman: I think it's definitely a cult. According to cult exiting counselors like Rick Ross, the fact that Dan Gayman is the central controlling figure of this group and controls his family with guilt, the promise of spiritual blessings and the threat of damnation makes the COI very cult-like in its psychological makeup. Dan also has a keen way of controlling the "rumor mill" and effectively "spins" the story the way he wants it perceived, and is usually very successful at it. The man is completely void of conscience, or he could not tell the falsehoods he tells on a regular basis.

Tim Gayman: My Dad does engage in spiritual abuse. If you don't agree with him, he will try to destroy you. I don't really know about physical abuse. I was harshly disciplined as a child, but obviously survived.

Q. Dan Gayman protests that the Church of Israel has taken a bad rap from the media on its associations with the violent fringe. Does the COI court potentially violent members of the far right?

Tim Gayman: During the 1970s and 1980s, my Dad was more closely associated with what you call the "violent fringe." I know there was some sort of link to "The Order" back then. He was at least sympathetic toward them and talked to some of them on the phone. During the late 1980s he changed and decided it wasn't worth the risk. He began to teach obedience to civil authorities, although he still harbors a deep distrust of the federal government. And, the Church of Israel is a racist church. Their beliefs are based on two things: Jews are the "Seed of Satan," and blacks are an inferior race, have no spirit and cannot be "saved."

Q. Are the rumors about armed guards and a stockpile of firearms true? Does the church complex deserve the label "compound"?

Tim Gayman: Like most rural communities, there are firearms out there. I know there are no armed guards.

Sarah Gayman: I feel it is a compound, in that it is a closed community. A mixed couple would never be allowed to settle down out there (Not that they would want to.) Dan owns several hundreds of acres and most of the parishioners live on that land within a 3- to 5-mile radius of the church.

Q. Sarah, how are women treated at the COI?

Sarah Gayman: Women are not regarded very highly. In my experience, I was expected to shut up and be barefoot and pregnant all the time. If you are a woman with a strong personality who disagrees with Dan, you are in the worst possible position. The only women who have any power out there are Dan Gayman's wife and two eldest daughters, who work tirelessly to please their father by having as many children (at home) as they can and being an example of a "proper Christian-Israelite woman of God."

Q. Anything you'd like to add?

Tim Gayman: We just want to say again that we don't hate anyone out there; hate is not a family value, and that is the main reason we've stayed away from there.

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