How Did Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa Go from Christian Church to Cult? Part two

In the Happy Days, I grew up in a wonderful hometown church in Washinton, Iowa called Christian Tabernacle. It was non-denominational with its roots in Four Square and Pentecostal. I felt safe and secure there with the local pastor and elders and the rest of the congregation. But something happened to change a loving community church into a cult and we did not see it happening.

This post will my personal experiences and some general resources for you to explore if you have questions about cults in general.

Going to church on Sunday is generally a wonderful routine for many families to grow spiritually together and learn good values. Be very grateful if your church is healthy. You may not want to hear about what those who have been abused by pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, and volunteers in ways you don’t imagine have to warn you about. I am talking about the leaders you trust.

Innocent people got caught in a tangled web of deceit. How does a hometown church go from Sunday School to a cult?


This post is How Did Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa Go from Christian Church to Cult? Part two

No Non-cents Nanna was known by other names back when I chose to leave the Church of the Living Word – a cult that controlled and destroyed lives. Back in 1983 when I moved my children out of the sticky insane web that had been my only support network. Forty years later – the patterns are so obvious – that is when you aren’t too close to the spider in the web.

It is possible to leave a bad organization even with the after-effects of cancel culture. For me, recovery has been a very long journey. However, I feel such a relief that more of my peers and their children are finding each other and learning about cult cultures. This post is kind of a crash course for anyone to explore toxic patterns of behavior in so-called church groups not just Living Word Fellowship.

How Did Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa Go from Christian Church to Cult? Part one

In part one, I wrote anecdotally about my own personal experiences when I was a child going to Christian Tabernacle in Washington, Iowa. I highlighted the worship practices, and personal ministry; a controversial study guidebook, The First Principles (1999 versions are still for sale on Amazon) and for sale on Thrift Books. ( I am not endorsing this. I am only stating that the guide is for sale to give resource references.)

Note: I have included the name of my hometown to keep the confusion to a minimum over the name Christian Tabernacle which is not nor has been affiliated with any other church by the same name. My childhood church was affiliated with The Walk: JRS, John Robert Stevens, The Church of the Living Word; Living Word Fellowship: Grace Chapel South Gate California; Church of His Holy Presence Anaheim, California: Shiloh Kalona, Iowa to name a few.

You have found my post because you were curious about the pre-Walk history that began in 1933 with the founding of the Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa by William J. Stevens. (See the History of Christian Tabernacle Washinton, Iowa in Part one.) Or perhaps you were looking for resources on cults in general. In this post, I will give my personal experiences and opinion with general links that you may find helpful to educate yourself in your own unique circumstances.

I’m sorry to say that there most likely will not be a perfect answer to what you are looking for in this post. My purpose in preparing this post is for general information and entertainment.


I Have a Friend Who Belongs to a Cult

Maybe your best friend’s church/ cult is outright weird.

Worse yet, your friend can’t see the problems in the group they are involved in. You have heard the expression, “Can’t see the forest for all the trees.” it’s like that for your friend.

. You really like this person, but, you can not seem to relate to her underlying stress that is obvious to you, but, not to your friend – a group leader exudes far too much power and control over her every move.

I have some links to general facts for you to skim over until something rings a bell that you think may open the dialog about how you worry about what your friend is into at his/her church.

Patterns of Behavior

You may have heard the term, pattern of behavior.  In my No Non-cents Nanna posts, I have commonly used that term when talking/writing about things kids do

Adults in the workplace, in communities, in organizations all have patterns of behavior where we can predict or decipher in retrospect whether or not most of the group or co-workers will or have gotten along with a certain individual or groups or persons.

Human Resource managers are trained to spot personalities that will or will not work well in the organization that is hiring. The same is true of religious organizations however the leadership of a cult may not have gone through a normal hiring and firing process.

Every organization, good, bad, or indifferent has predictable patterns that may be healthy or not healthy in particular areas. I will give examples in an article with links below.

  • Safe groups are where you grow and mature and have certain ways of managing the church.
  • Unsafe groups all seem to have an imbalance of control in the way they dictate to people.

Disclaimer: Since I am not a therapist, a lawyer, a researcher with a highly educated degree, or a pastor or a priest, etc. I will be sharing links to posts along with some highlighted points and terms. Perhaps these links will help you to start putting together enough of your own puzzle pieces to find the healing you hope for. Then I encourage you to find a reputable therapist for support and professional guidance.



This is my family in 1983. We lived in Anaheim when I decided that the Church of the Living Word was not a safe place for my children.

Some Questions to Think About

  1. Do you have reasons to question Management about Fraud in your group?
  2. Do you feel your pastor is a Safe Pastor that is Democratic and Encourages Questions?
  3. Do you feel your pastor is a Domineering Pastor who does not tolerate questioning?
  4. Do you feel you and your children attend a group that has Good Safe Boundaries with Prevention Plan?
  5. Do you feel you and your children attend a group that does NOT have Good Safe Boundaries?
  6. If Sexual Abuse were to be reported would the alleged victim be Believed or Not be Believed?
  7. Are the pastor, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, ushers, and volunteers Trained to be Attentive to Not Safe Signs?
  8. Does the pastor, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, ushers, and volunteers – Ignore Warning Signs and Complaints of abuse?
  9. Is your group Visibly Active in the Community?
  10. Is your group Isolated due to Fear of Outsiders?
  11. Do you Feel Welcome and Loved in your group once you have been there a while?
  12. Is your pastor a Patient Pastor or an Angry Church Leader where you are or “Never Good Enough”?


My intention is to pull together some kind of index that will help most people figure out the right words they need in order to better inform themselves about the complex issues that are trending in the news.

My very nice church, Christian Tabernacle Washington, got tangled up in a cult led by John Robert Stevens ( 1919 to 1983 ). It seems the adults in the congregation trusted our long-time pastor, W, J Stevens for. so long it never occurred to us to question his son, John Robert Stevens who had been a frequent guest speaker over the years.

I will not have all the answers – this is only a start on a new journey to know more than you and your friend did about cults. I hope we all become more informed in order to make responsible safe decisions.

Are you wondering if “your friend’s pastor” might be an unsafe leader?

How do I find out about the patterns of behavior of an unsafe leader?

I highly recommend reading CULT EDUCATION INSTITUTE

The Cult Education Institute (CEI), formerly known as the Ross Institute of New Jersey, is a nonprofit public resource with a vast archive that contains thousands of individual documents. CEI on-line files include news stories, research papers, reports, court documents, book excerpts, personal testimonies and hundreds of links to additional relevant resources.


How can you determine if a group or leader might be potentially unsafe?

Are you trying to determine if a group or leader is destructive or might pose a possible problem, but can’t find anything specific about that group, organization or leader on the Internet? You might try “Warning Signs” as a meaningful list of criteria to evaluate the group, leader or organization… Many groups and leaders, which may be potentially unsafe, seem to share the same characteristics. Reviewing “Warning Signs”… CULT EDUCATION INSTITUTE Click HERE to read the WARNING Signs 


What are the Patterns of Behavior if Mind Control is Being Used?

Cult Education Institute : Mind Control

Mind Control. Destructive cults, groups, movements and/or leaders “maintain intense allegiance through the arguments of their ideology, and through social and psychological pressures and practices that, intentionally or not, amount to conditioning techniques that constrict attention, limit personal relationships, and devalue reasoning.”.


At Christian Tabernacle in the 1950s and 1960 as I was growing up I believe that my experience was as safe as any other child’s religious education in my hometown. I do not believe at that time anyone of us had been brainwashed nor under mind control by our Christian Tabernacle pastor W. J. Stevens. But with that said in retrospect I have found clear examples were coming out fo the mouth of John Robert Stevens, the son of W. J, who was NOT our local pastor.

All cults have a foundational text, whether a how-to manual (Dianetics), a memoir (Mein Kampf), or a hybrid of the two (The Art of the Deal).

The Living Word Fellowship has “To Be A Christian,” which Stevens wrote in 1933, at age fourteen. Only four paragraphs long, the tract reads with the bluster of a horny teenage boy:

I Saw Satan Breaking away from a Boomer Christian cult

Andrew Marzoni also wrote “Submission, of course, is imperative to many religions, but in The Living Word, salvation is achieved by filtering this impulse through a bureaucratic hierarchy. In Stevens’s portrayal, Christianity sounds a lot like S&M”



Note: The reference link to the tract has been recently by Living Word Fellowship or Chruch of the Living Word. You could hear the actual recording of John Robert Stevens reading his words which are copy and pasted right below. I am grateful to Andrew Marzoni No. 44 March 2019 I Saw Satan Breaking away from a Boomer Christian cult who had to foresight to transcribe those words before the recording was taken down. I copied and pasted the words.

Thanks, Andrew.

“To be a Christian, as I understand Christ,” Stevens begins, “means the acceptance of the absolute authority of Jesus in all of my life.” “To be a Christian means to belong body and soul to Christ, now and evermore, for Him to do with me as He wills. . . . My joy must be in doing His will, in being His slave, in the confidence that whatever comes to me, when following Him, is His doing.”

John Rober Stevens. (1919 to 1983)

Doesn’t the word “slave” concern you?

Rumors have said that JRS did not actually write this. At this time, I don’t know where I read those allegations nor do I have a reference to any possible original works. If anyone can prove or disprove the rumors please let me know.

John Robert Stevens’s “Living Word” demanded perfect submission to his authority as Christ in the Flesh. And now Gary Hargraves’s messages that I have listened to while they were still available were redundant with words synonymous with Obedience, Submission.

Members of TLWF or CLW or The Walk were never allowed to question the hierarchy. If any did question they were “booted out” in some way shape or form. And, the story behind the “blowout” had two sides, but, the congregation only heard one side. It was taboo for members to communicate with someone who was ousted.

I can tell you that I had lots of questions and comments about concerns that were not welcome by any of the leadership. I ended up “escaping” and it was not a pretty picture- it was scary. I was harassed. My departure was shortly before the passing of John Robert Stevens and the takeover of Marilyn Holbrook Stevens and Gary Hargrave, gratefully.


How Did Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa Go from Christian Church to Cult? Part one

Iowa Girl Sees Home Town Terrorized by Youth Group


Living Word Cult -Video Collection – part 3 Christian Church to Cult


More Examples of Mind Control


FRAUD – pick-pocketing the offerings


What makes churches susceptible to fraud?

 One factor is the high-trust and low-control dynamic, placing too much trust in one individual without healthy checks and balances.

Second factor is that often there’s little expertise as far as it relates to finances and accounting, internal controls with checks and balances, and developing good processes to mitigate some of the risk of fraud occurring.

Click HERE to read more

How do you think it is possible for someone to steal from the offering plate or the funds of the church?

I’ve seen it happen. I reported to the elders and got laughed at. __________

Do Your Churches Finances Add Up and The Accounting Transparent?

“Often, church people can’t bring themselves to believe that their pastor, a church trustee, long-time member, or the school cook could possibly steal from the church,” Lichtenberger says. “Normally, it’s one of the most trusted people in the church who’s pilfering from the collection plate, or diverting funds from the church budget or investment accounts to feed their spending habits or pay personal debts.”

  •  Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Christian organizations worldwide were expected to experience more than $68 billion in financial fraud by mid-2019.
  • …“easy pickings” in most churches. Start with the offering plate and move on to the church checking account, ministry credit cards, church’s investment accounts.

As far as I know when I was a member of the Christian Tabernacle the church finances were on the up and up.

However, when the church’s corporate structure changed to The Church of the Living Word, I am not so sure. See Law Suit.________________



Check out the article HERE to compare your church fraud prevention practices.


…more research TBA…

Designated Funds

The Church as a Non-Profit Organization



Tax-Exempt Laws

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