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Churches that Abuse #4

Fanatic People! Fanatic Deception!

                          CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #4

                             RONALD M. ENROTH

                               Written 1992

Abusive Churches Can Go Over the Edge



Abusive Churches Are Not New

     It is tempting to think of extreme authoritarian sects as a
symptom of modern intellectual and religious aliments. We live in
a complex world where personal security is a rare commodity. Pick
up any national paper or magazine and you will find articles on
stress, marital problems, substance abuse, and the increase of
gangrelated violence. Contemporary preachers warn us that
materialism and consumerism draw us away from God; we have become
an ego-centered society that shuns the simple values and simple
faith accepted by citizens one hundred years ago. It is no wonder
then that immorality in the church itself is becoming more
visible. It is no wonder that people, beset by anxieties and
confused by scandal, should find shelter in the more structured
environment of an authoritarian church.
     In America, which has been a haven for numerous small
religious sects, there are important historical precedents for
abusive churches. Most sects offered variety rather than
aberration, but a few could be categorized as extreme. As with
their modern counterparts, they often began with noble
aspirations and biblical foundations, but were led astray through
human frailty. The whole of church history has indeed been one

     The object of Frank's authority was to break down individual
will and self-identity. At various times Sandford laid hands upon
the heads of members who exhibited too much individuality and
exorcised the demons of independent thinking and reasoning. The
only thing that mattered was faith. Thinking accomplished
nothing. The "death of self" became a spiritual goal for full
members of Shiloh. If Sandford asked them to suffer in the
process, they admired him even more for pulling holiness out of
     There was little privacy in Shiloh and Sandford did not
hesitate in becoming involved in peoples' personal relationships.
He encouraged Eliza Leger to leave her husband who had recently
left the movement. She was torn between obeying Sandford the
anointed leader and her duties as a wife to her husband. In a
letter to Eliza, Sandford wrote, "The act of your husband is so
dastardly... so utterly unscriptural that there is not the
slightest reason that he should have the slightest
consideration." Engaged and married people who began
relationships without Sandford's permission, when he was abroad
or, later, imprisoned, were told to "separate" until he had given
them their blessings. It was not uncommon to see separated
couples walk on the same road without speaking.
     As the movement grew, its spiritual elitism became more
pronounced. Their physical isolation on the hill was just a part
of their separateness from the rest of the world. A visitor to
Shiloh would notice immediately that Shilohites were different.
They spoke differently. Their clothes were old, simple, and well
mended, and their lifestyle certainly was unusual. From the
beginning of the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School, David's Band was
the spiritual elite. Only the fittest warriors were selected.
Frank wrote later that he had to literally scare some people
away. The rigors of his community discouraged all but the most
worthy. He wanted no ordinary Christians. Shiloh was to be the
focal point of the kingdom of God.

     When the movement experienced opposition and criticism,
their very elitism became a defense against the arrows of the
Devil. In 1901 Sandford closed Shiloh's communion and worship
services to all but full members. If families opposed their
relatives giving all their possessions to Shiloh, the members
"must be ready to slash every natural tie - turn their backs on
their families, if families should oppose obedience to God,
Stanford wrote, "You are actually to hate, WITH A PERFECT HATRED,
your father, mother, brother, sister, child, and even your own
life, in so far as these are not in conformity with the word of
     Many families did dissolve, marriages broke up, and children
abandoned Shiloh only to be disfellowshipped by their parents.
There was no higher allegiance than to Sandford, for allegiance
to him was allegiance to God. Frank warned his followers:
First you will be out of joint with the world, then out of joint
with the professed Christian world, then out of joint with
consecrated people, and then sanctified people, and then people
that believe in Divine Healing, and then the Holy Ghost people
you know, and THEN you will find a few other people who have gone
on alone with God.
     One of Sandford's greatest weaknesses as a leader was his
lack of compassion. He enjoyed the simple exercise of power and
authority. The people at Shiloh rarely were given any meat. They
lived mainly on cornmeal. When some members prayed for meat
during one of Sandford's trips to Palestine, Sandford arranged
for a side of beef to be delivered. He made everyone eat nothing
but beef until the entire 1,425 pounds were finished. That much
meat, after a vegetarian diet, made everyone sick, but it ended
prayers for meat. He seemed willfully ignorant of the pain his
followers endured for his sake while living the good life
     Even though Shiloh averaged around four hundred people
throughout most of its history, not all those who experienced it
were happy. A few did rebel. Most were bitter when they left and
went to the newspapers with their stories. Some even filed
lawsuits against Sandford. Ex-members told stories of physical or
psychological manipulation and abuse.

     Former members remembered subtle means for disorienting the
members. For example, there was no schedule for work or prayer.
At any moment during the day or night a loud alarm bell would
call members to prayers or to other work. Members worked hard at
keeping up the grounds and constructing new buildings. They were
hungry, often overworked, and spiritually intimidated. Eliza
Leger said she was "metaphysically stoned." She lay prostrate on
the floor for many hours while fellow members circled her body
shouting and screaming as they accused her of "spiritual lapses."
She was then banished to a room for two weeks of fasting.
Sandford interpreted any dissent as the work of Satan. John
Douglas was one of Frank's earliest converts and most of Shiloh
stood on land donated by John and his family. When John left
right after the first building had been raised, after a
disagreement over ownership of a small boat, local reporters who
were critical of Shiloh, and who had been watching Sandford and
his group, picked up the story of Douglas' defection and gave
Sandford his first dose of public criticism. Frank answered the
papers in his magazine, "[Satan] has used godless editors and
reporters to write up the most sensational and glaringly false
statements concerning this work... thus poisoning the minds of
the people all over the country against God's movement."
     Ex-members were called quitters, turncoats, and traitors. At
first they simply lost their place in the Lord's roll call, but
gradually the act of leaving became an act of disloyalty.
Ex-members were not to be spoken to or about. Georgia Sheller was
told to have no fellowship with her parents who had left angrily
and bitterly. She wrote to her parents, "I am following Elijah,
and since you have deserted him I cannot and do not have anything
more to do with you." This treatment extended to members of
Frank's own family. Two of his daughters, Marguerite and Deborah,
left as teenagers. They were both shunned, and Helen was
forbidden to answer their letters. It was expected that you would
stay with the community, even if it meant leaving your family
     To break away from the group required more effort than to
join. After Eliza Leger left she said that "the hypnotic spell
began to break as soon as I dared decide that something was wrong
with this man.... I know that it is a part of that dreadful,
subtle snare that some have broken away from, but that holds so
many still under its power." 
     Staying was painful, but leaving was even more so. Members
were told that to leave was to invite certain punishment and
divine retribution. After Albert Field left with his family, he
had a family portrait taken in case they should all perish from
God's wrath. Leaving also involved some real risk. All
possessions were left at Shiloh. People left only with the
clothes on their backs. Every member deeded their businesses,
family farms, and all other assets to Shiloh to qualify as full
members. When they left, they left destitute.
     Some were unable to face the real world again and returned
to Shiloh. Years of dependence did not make it easy for people to
make their own decisions and fend for themselves. Those who did
return were shunned, isolated in remote houses until they had
earned forgiveness. Merlyn Bartlett left twice. She could not
endure the condemnation after her return. When she left the
second time, she was followed by Shiloh ministers who rode with
her in the train denouncing her to the other passengers as "a

     The wrath of God fell not only upon those who dared to leave
Shiloh. Parents of children who escaped were punished, and so
were those who failed at parental discipline. Those questioning
any aspect of the ministry were severely reprimanded and
punished. Dissent became synonymous with demon possession. It was
a convenient way to bring dissenters back into fellowship. It was
easier to blame a demon than to admit you had disagreed. Only a
person exorcised could be fully forgiven. More often than not,
demonic possession was evident when a man simply thought for
himself. Sandford said, "Think clearly as he may... he cannot get
anything correct... there is only one way out, the person has to
submit or is sent away in disgrace."
     Periods of dissent, grumbling, or restlessness were followed
by purges. The threat of being excommunicated and thrown out of
the kingdom resulted in a renewal of allegiances. These purges
were known as "the siftingout process" or "cleaning-out time."
Sandford was looking for only the "fair, clear, and terrible."
The first purge in 1890 was meant to purify the members. The
purge was a ruthless examination of character and soul. If you
passed the test you were allowed to attend a special service for
which you were given a ticket. Members considered the tickets to
be beyond price. On the ticket were printed the words "fair,"
meaning no blemish, "clear," meaning no guile, and "terrible,"
referring to the face of Satan when he met a child of God. This
purge, like the others that followed, was less a spiritual
purification process than it was a reindoctrination, a means to
solidify Sandford's authority. The purges lasted for weeks,
representing long grueling hours of prayer and fasting followed
by intense interrogation. Only the submissive and defenseless
were accepted.
     Sandford interpreted every criticism as a demonic attempt to
destroy the kingdom of God. "The malevolence of our detractors
only shows that the devil fears the work that we are doing and
will take any means to balk US." He did not seem to worry about
legal prosecution because God would deliver him from his enemies
and detractors. He believed himself to be the prophet Elijah, and
as Elijah, he expected to be persecuted and scorned. But he would
prevail. Sandford threatened reporters who mocked him, "before
long [they] will meet the God of judgment."
     Sandford was arrested on January 23, 1904 on charges of
manslaughter in the case of Leander Bartlett, and child abuse in
the case of John Sandford. The case of John Sandford was over in
a single day, February 3rd. Sandford was found guilty of abuse
and neglect in requiring his son to fast with neither food nor
water for three days. The manslaughter trial began the next
     Leander Bartlett had died of diphtheria that January 25th in
Bethesda, the Shiloh infirmary. He had come to Shiloh with his
mother and sister, and he was a lively and good-natured boy. He
was fourteen years old when he died. Leander had fallen suddenly
ill in the middle of January. He became so weak that he could not
stand and was carried to Bethesda in the middle of the night. It
came out at the trial that Leander had received no medical or
spiritual help during the next week, the last week of his life. A
week after Leander was admitted, Joseph Sutherland was admitted
with small pox. Joseph had refused to obey Sandford's order to
cover his face while visiting small pox victims. Sandford heard a
message from God, "Dead. He said he would hearken unto thee, and
he hearkened not." It was revealed on Sunday, January 25 that
both Leander and Joseph had died that day. Helen wrote to the
overseas missions, "God has been showing His jealousy for David
Truth [Sandford]... the curse falling on those who deviate from
it in the least degree."
     Leander's death was also seen as a punishment as he had
confessed before dying that when he became ill he had been
planning to run away.
     The offenders had been punished. No one was allowed to
grieve for Sutherland. Sandford had "separated" Mrs. Sutherland
from her husband while he lay dying in Bethesda. He told her that
even though he had married them, he wasn't happy about their
relationship. While her husband died, she sat in a public chapel
listening to Sandford tell her that she was now married to Christ
because Joseph had been struck down for spiritual pride and
seeking popularity. Mrs. Sutherland never fully recovered from
the blow. Leander was buried in the Shiloh cemetery. Where other
graves bore loving epitaphs, Leander's bore only a name and a
     The definition of manslaughter in the trial hinged on the
interpretation of death by negligent omission. The prosecution
had to prove that Leander was denied care and treatment. The
matter of faith healing was really not the central issue.
Sandford was convicted because he withheld not only medical
treatment, but faith healing as well. Leander, who had planned to
run away, was denied a doctor and a minister. Diphtheria at the
time was treatable and almost one hundred percent curable if an
antitoxin was given at the onset of the disease. In the end, the
jury had to decide if Sandford had withheld faith healing out of
spite or ill will, in order to make an example of what would
happen to disobedient members. Current and former members took
the stand verifying that Leander received no substantial care for
the week he was sick before he died. In fact, he had been denied
food and water during a seventy-two hour fast. Some testimony was
especially damning. "He [Sandford] stretched his hands out before
him and said he wouldn't care, or he would like to see... his
dead corpse before him.... He said he couldn't pray for him."
During his court appearances Sandford took a passive role,
neither conferring with his attorney nor taking the stand in his
own defense. He seemed completely at ease and unperturbed by the
possibility of a conviction. The people of Shiloh flocked to the
courthouse to watch the proceedings quietly, trying to avoid the
reporters who surrounded the building. In less than two hours the
jury returned the verdict of guilty.
     It took two years and many appeals before the verdict was
overturned (the prosecution was not able to prove "culpable
indifference"). During those years Sandford became convinced that
the Tribulation had begun and if they were to be the refuge in
the wilderness, Shiloh needed to be self-sufficient. Shiloh was
incorporated as the Kingdom of David. More property was
purchased, including dairies and farms. Only a self-sufficient
community would be able to ride out the Tribulation. Sandford
began asking families to join the movement. People across the
nation, eager to be a part of the true church, sold their farms
and transferred their assets to the Kingdom. They had been
promised farms in Durham purchased by the Kingdom in their names.
In fact, only seven of the twenty-two donors arrived to find land
in their names.

     Sandford's second trial followed the disastrous voyage of
1911. Sandford had felt it difficult to deal with the problems at
Shiloh and retreated to his yacht, The Coronet. He selected the
best and most loyal members of Shiloh to serve as his crew. After
a long, tedious voyage around the globe in an overcrowded boat,
Sandford at last returned home to the Atlantic coast. He was
wanted by the police on a kidnapping charge made by Florence
Whittaker, who had been detained against her will on board one of
the Kingdom yachts before being rescued by the local sheriff.
Although most of the passengers had not known, Sandford was on
the run from the law. The Coronet shuttled up and down the coast,
across the Atlantic to Africa, trying to stay in international
waters. When supplies of food and water were almost gone,
Sandford still refused to land, even in a foreign port. The boat,
built to house a maximum of thirty people, was being occupied by
more than fifty. Some crew members and passengers fell ill, and
some died. For the last few months the passengers survived on
biscuits and rainwater rations. The boat had to be pumped
twentyfour hours a day. Men became so weak that they could not
climb up on deck. The men, women, and children aboard lost their
will to live. The constant storms broke the schooner's masts, and
it became impossible to keep warm and dry in the middle of the
storm-tossed North Atlantic. The passengers and crew began to
lose their teeth and suffer constant diarrhea. By the time scurvy
was suspected, it was too late. Much later, Roland Whittom
remarked that he "could not understand how we could have allowed
the man to dominate us so." Only when faced with a possible
mutiny did Sandford agree to return.
     When The Coronet tinally limped into a Maine harbor on
October 21st, six people had died of scurvy and many more were
critically ill. Sandford was immediately arrested for kidnapping,
but when inspectors saw the condition of the boat and crew,
Sandford was arrested for more serious charges, "that he did
unlawfully, knowingly, and willingly allow a ship to proceed on a
voyage at sea without sufficient provisions." At his trial he
admitted his guilt to the jury but claimed he was only doing what
God had ordered. He was sentenced to ten years in the Atlanta
Federal Penitentiary. Three years were cut off from his sentence
for good behavior.

     The final blow to the movement occurred after Sandford
returned from prison. He was unhappy with the poverty and
listlessness at Shiloh and retreated to Boston in 1919. He became
increasingly paranoid, driving in cars with shades pulled down
and keeping all the curtains in his house drawn. Despite being
abandoned by Sandford, Shiloh still numbered almost four hundred
     In February 1920 a civil suit was brought against William
Hastings, a member of Shiloh, for the custody of six of his eight
children who were still living in Shiloh. Their mother had died
and her family, along with the two eldest children, sued Hastings
for nonsupport. Although Sandford was not a defendant in the
trial, this was the case that would finally bring his church
     On the stand, the Hastings children recounted the poverty
they had experienced. Ten-year-old David said he couldn't ever
remember having had breakfast before school, although he did have
lard on his bread as a Christmas present. His older sister Mary
recounted how, because she was too malnourished, she was hidden
in the woods when Child Welfare inspectors came. Neighbors
testified to feeding starving children. In his testimony William
admitted that they did not have enough to eat, but he refused to
work for wages as it was against God's law. He was living on
faith even if his children starved, indeed, as they had most of
their lives. Hastings lost the battle and his children were taken
from him.

     Shiloh stood at a turning point. Sandford's attorney warned
him that other families would use the Hastings case as precedent
and that soon most of the children would be taken from Shiloh.
God then sent word to Sandford in Boston that it was now
acceptable for fulltime members to earn a wage. It was a simple
thing really, but it destroyed the movement. When men went to
work in the mills and farms surrounding Shiloh, the atmosphere of
holiness and separateness was removed. The Bible School closed,
and in one month the population was down to one hundred members.
Members who had listened to Sandford's words finally wondered why
God would change his mind on something so pivotal to the
movement. If they could earn a wage, they could wait for the
Lord's return in more comfortable settings. It was no longer
necessary to suffer in order to live the Christian life. The
purpose for Shiloh's existence simply evaporated. A short time
later Sandford ordered everyone to abandon Shiloh.

     Sandford remained a leader of a small group of loyal
followers, many of whom had endured through many hardships and
tragedies. A small group of believers continues to be known as
"The Kingdom." The Shiloh complex has long since disintegrated,
but in a few homes Sandford is still revered as a prophet and man
of God. Shirley Nelson, whose family history is part of the
history of Shiloh, puts the purpose of remembering Shiloh in
perspective: "I tell it for all the innocent, for those who ...
are bound to be the victims, destined to fall from the cliffs of
someone else's ascent toward the highest and the best."

     The story of Shiloh is not unlike other nineteenth century
American religious experiments that emerged around a single
authoritarian leader. One way to achieve an understanding of
current abusive movements is to step back and take a broader,
historical perspective. An examination of Sandford's Shiloh
reveals amazing parallels to the spiritually abusive groups of

     The lesson we learn from Frank Sandford is that there is
indeed nothing new about "new" Christian movements. Now, as in
the past, the spiritual power holders exert strong
control-oriented leadership and exercise immense influence in the
day-to-day lives of adherents. In the present, like the past,
Christian groups claim new divine revelation through inspired
prophets or preachers who "receive a word from the Lord"
regularly. Like Sandford and his predecessors, today's movements
express the conviction they alone are the repository of "truth,"
or that they have been chosen by God to restore a lost or dormant
spiritual vitality. Both groupings share a strong consciousness
of persecution; both illustrate attitudes of negativity toward
established churches; both view their "spiritual family" as
superior to the biological family; and both have exhibited
concern about the role and fate of ex-members. In short, the
narrative of churches that abuse has important beginnings in our

To be continued


For you ex-Worldwide Church of God members, are you seeing your
history under Herbert Armstrong revealed to you from the practice
of Frank Sandford and the Shiloh church. As Solomon said, "There
is nothing new under the sun" - indeed, history repeats itself,
and it seems over and over again, especially when we will not
learn from it. Much of the mind-set of Sandford was the mind-set
of Herbert Armstrong after his wife Loma died in 1967. As I read
about the Shiloh church I am  reminded of how much Herbert
Armstrong became another Sandford. Power over people,
exclusiveness, control, fear, only one true organization that was
the one true church of God; special insight and a special
connection with God; loyalty to a man and an organization above
anything else; safety promised from the hour of the great
tribulation; demonic powers were behind anything that opposed
Armstrong and his church; ministers under Armstrong acting and
thinking as clones to Armstrong himself; people cast out at the
drop of a hat if any disloyalty was evident; members told to have
nothing to do with those disfellowshipped. Divorce and re-
marriage for the sake of loyalty was given God's approval by the
leadership; Armstrong was by many looked upon as the "Elijah to
come" - a graph shown on worldwide TV (Worldwide Church of God
Telicast) of God the Father, under the Father, Jesus the Christ,
under Christ, Herbert Armstrong. 

The Worldwide Church of God became anther Shiloh church, and
another of the MANY churches that abuse, that have appeared in
the past and in the present. Armstrong often preached one thing
and lived another; the abuse of tithe money and the teaching of
"third tithe" for the poor and needy, was finally also abused by
the ministry for their high living life style. Herbert Armstrong
becoming the chief abusers of money and physical wealth. All of
this and more is expounded for you on this Website under the book
by John Tuit called "The Truth shall Make you Free."

The shame of all this is that churches that abuse turn hundreds
or thousands OFF from God and His Word - they turn their back on
God and Christ - they throw the Bible out of the window - they
walk away from salvation and the Kingdom of God - they go back
into the world of sin and "doing their own thing" - they are like
the dog that returns to its vomit. Men and organizations that
leave such a pathway in history .... well, as Jesus said, "You
shall know them by their fruits." The end fruit is decay and rot.
Then often such church organizations leave behind "offshoot"
organizations with leaders and people who will not admit the
errors and fanaticism and corruptness and false teachings of the
man and organization they came from, and so in a more subtle way
Satan continues to weave his tangled web over the lives of

I suppose it must be so. I suppose it is so because the wheat
must be separated from the chaff. I suppose it must be so that
the very elect who cannot be deceived must be shown, must stand
up and be counted, must be witness to the falsehood and errors of
men who are led astray by their own self-righteousness and

God knows who are His, and He will have them stand and witness to
the truth that shall indeed set you free!!

Keith Hunt

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