[new: read a treatise on the UPC here]
Here is a short review of my experiences with the United
I first came into contact with the UPC through my older
brother who had joined a few years before. My step father
got stationed to Austin, Texas when I was 16, and Ken (my
brother) suggested I check out the church. I had for the
previous year been studying religions in an attempt to find
God, so it seemed like a good idea for me.
At the first service I attended, I had a mystical experi-
ence while praying at the altar, and felt through this expe-
rience that God exists, that He cares about me, and that
these are His people (since He met me there). I began at-
tending church regularly, and my life essentially came to re-
volve more and more around the church. I began to fast one
day per week, to read my Bible daily, and I dropped all
sports activities that I had previously been excited about.
Also, my contact with people outside the church came more and
more to be solely to try to get them into the church.
When I graduated from high school (1973) I moved to my
home town, Rapid City, South Dakota. I moved into a "Boy's
home" at the UPC there where my brother also lived. I was a
totally devoted member, following the holiness standard to
the letter, donating all my spare time and money to the
church, and treating all "outsiders" as potential members
rather than friends. I went on a seven day fast not long af-
ter moving there because I felt I wasn't spiritual enough.
In 1977 the church was planning to build a large new
building on a new lot, so I decided that since I had to move
out of the house I was sharing (my friend got engaged), I
would buy a van and live in it so I could give my rent money
to the church. So for about one month I lived in a 1962 Ford
van on the church parking lot. No one ever suggested to me
that I was going too far in sacrificing for the church.
Meanwhile, the pastor, who was the one telling us to sacri-
fice for the work of God, was living in a new home on a
five-acre lot with horses and 3 cars. I also discovered that
he had a three acre plot in the hills that he planned to
build a summer cabin on. This discrepancy between what the
pastor was requiring of his followers and how he was living
himself was in a way the final straw that got me to seriously
question that I may not be involved with a group that is
truly Christian. Let me now tell some of the smaller events
that occurred which caused me to finally leave the UPC.
Our pastor, X was the sole authority in our
church, so everything he decided was how it was. For in-
stance, he had a vision for a huge building that really
wasn't needed when one looked at the growth of the church.
He controlled the design, location, and funding for this
project. The net result of this project was that the church
just recently (1988) swapped with an Assembly of God congre-
gation for a much smaller building that was free of debt.
X controlled the holiness standard we all went by also.
All members of the church had to sign a form declaring that
they would abide by the standards of the church. He basi-
cally followed the UPC standard of no TV, no movies, etc.,
but he also added his own flavor to it. For instance, we
could not wear t-shirts unless they had a pocket on them. In
essence, every aspect of the church and the lives of the mem-
bers was under the control of X. This was problem-
atic for me to a degree, since I had seen occasions that
pointed out X's fallibility. He once accused me of saying
detrimental remarks about a friend of mine which I never
made. Once I chose to go to a meeting of the Inner Peace
Movement in order to witness to them. This was on a Thursday
night of an all week revival at the UPC, so I didn't really
think I needed to get revived but instead should be winning
souls. I returned to the UPC just as the service had ended.
X came up to me and grabbed me by the front of my shirt
and told me I should never miss a service. He sort of caught
himself and straightened up my shirt, but that had a big im-
pact on me since I couldn't understand why saving souls
wasn't more important than being in every service. Why was
doing what X thought God wanted more right than what I
thought God wanted me to do? Why do christians have the Holy
Spirit if we never get to listen to Him?
Once after a rousing sermon about the need to do every-
thing we can to win souls, I bought a billboard that adver-
tised the church and assumed from the sermon that the church
would help pay for it. When I went to the church secretary
to inquire about getting assistance toward the bill, she said
in an indignant tone that the church had no responsibility
toward that. I felt from this and many other actions of
church members that the church was saying one thing about
soul winning, but when it came to action, it was saying quite
A few times the pastor had us doing things that he knew
were unethical if not illegal. One time at a city parade I
was making hot dogs that X was selling to the crowd. He
knew he should have had a health permit for this, but he did
it any way. Another time, we went into the Black Hills and
cut down firewood, including oak, which we also should have
had a permit for. These things seemed unchristian to me.
There were often times when some church member or someone
needed financial assistance, but the church never raised a
finger to help them. The callous way we viewed and treated
outsiders troubled me also. The only good outsiders were was
to get money out of or as potential members.
Another aspect that caused me concern was internal. The
Bible says that Christians have "peace that passes all under-
standing", but all the time in the UPC I never felt peace in
my soul. I instead felt fear and guilt that I wasn't accom-
plishing enough for God. This feeling came directly from the
preaching of X. He continually pressed us to sacrifice
for God in all ways. We could never do enough for God.
There was always pressure to do more, which I obligingly did.
After six years of this, however, I got to wondering when I
would ever manage to do enough? What more could I do? I al-
ways kept myself loaned to the maximum that I could and gave
that money to the church.
In late 1977 I told my brother Ken that I was concerned
about some aspects of the church. He told me that he also
had concerns, and was in fact writing a critique that he
hoped might help change things. After this I was gradually
getting closer to the decision to leave the church, but my
brother convinced me to stay until his paper was distributed.
My girlfriend wrote me a letter after I told her my feelings
saying she would follow the pastor no matter whether what he
taught was in the Bible or not. I paid for the copying costs
of the 70 page paper, and helped distribute it, then I left
for Texas since I decided I didn't want to stay in that
church any longer. The pastor got the first copy of the
booklet, then several members. The next service after I left
was devoted to condemning the booklet. X brought in a UPC
pastor who knew Greek (my brother used the original Greek
words in his paper), and stated that "this book is from the
pits of hell" and other such phrases. My brother tried to
confront the Greek expert after the service but didn't get
The Loerzels, Albros, and Wagners read the booklet and all
left the church. Ken left after it was clear that there
would be no change. I had gone to the Texas church that I
had previously gone to, believing that they were more
spiritual than the Rapid City church. When I was sitting in
the first service up in the balcony among the 600 or so mem-
bers, the pastor gave some announcements and then said "Jeff,
what are you doing here?" I stood up and gave a typical tes-
timony of how glad I was to be there, etc. and then sat down.
The pastor, Kenneth Phillips, said "I want to see you after
the service." I got even more confused when after the ser-
vice a guy came up to me and asked "are you Jeff?" I said
yes and he told me Howard Wheeler wanted to speak to me.
Howard was my idol as the perfect Christian, so I was excited
to see him. The guy led me under the stairs to Howard, who
told me in hushed tones that I shouldn't see the pastor that
night. I was confused.
It turned out that there was a split occurring in the
Texas church with Howard on one side and the pastor on the
other. Pastor Phillips had been told by X (I believe)
that I had come down there to cause problems like I had in
Rapid City. In fact, I had come down there to get help.
Anyway, I left there after two weeks because the pastor was
worried about me, and I couldn't figure out what was going on
Later in Rapid City, X had preached in a service about
his son being backslidden, and started pulling his hair.
This was the last straw for some of the members, so they re-
quested the UPC headquarters to remove him. What transpired
between X and headquarters I don't know, but he packed up
and moved to Louisiana to run a UPC boy's home there. Some
of the members went with him.
I have learned quite recently that X told people
my brother and another member were gay, which is not true. I
believe it is quite clear that this man is not fit for the
ministry, yet the UPC, which no doubt knows much more about
his foibles than I chose to transfer him instead of removing
his credentials. I find this absurd and disgusting.
I believe that in many ways the UPC has taken six years of
my life. From age 16-22 I was a totally devoted slave to the
church, giving 25% of my income and all my time and energies.
I believed that I was serving God when in fact I was serving
the UPC. I accepted the UPC mainly because of my initial
mystical experience. One reason I stayed in so long was the
teaching of the church that when doubts entered my mind, this
was the devil tempting me and I should rebuke the devil to
stop the doubting. This prevented me from critically
evaluating the church.
Today I am working on a Master's degree in Religious Stud-
ies at Arizona State University, and I am somewhat of an ex-
pert in the cult field. I hope to help people understand
that in today's religious marketplace we must watch out for
those hucksters and con men one finds in any market.