I squirmed in my uncomfortable plastic fold-up chair and anxiously awaited the end of the seemingly endless prayer I was listening to. I began to hear some strange noises. The woman seated next to me was rocking back and forth muttering under her breath. She gradually became louder and louder until she was yelling at the top of her lungs. This was not English, or any other discernable language for that matter. Not one other member of the congregation looked at this woman in shock or wonder. Instead, they all were kneeling and yelling in a similar fashion. At the front of the room, on a raised platform, a man stood short in stature but powerful in voice, his arms raised high and his voice leading them in praise. This was my first encounter with Pastor Wayman Mitchell, standing before his church like a proud father.
“Are you a Christian?”
“Have you been saved?”
“What church do you attend?”
Questions like these from the current and former members of the congregations were inexplicably difficult for me to answer. Every church goer, pastor and church staff member wanted to know what religion I claim and where I practice. The problem is, I am not an active member of any church, nor have I ever been. Yet, I found myself telling these people, “Oh, I don’t really attend one, but yours is so nice!” I used this and other clichéd mutterings if for no reason but to validate their enthusiastic concern, hoping they would stop asking.
Despite all my trepidations, it didn’t take long for me to realize just how easy it is for some to fall in love with a church. With few exceptions, most people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. There’s an undeniable sense of happiness emanating from the entire building, from the pastor to the congregation. The companionship and comfort a church offers is undoubtedly addictive. Most appealing is the promise of something that some people can’t get anywhere else: a peaceful future, even after death; in a word, faith. Looking into the inner-workings of the Potter’s House church demonstrated the power of a tight-knit church and a caring pastor.
The assertive evangelism of Prescott’s Potter’s House attracted many spiritual people in the 1970s and 1980s. Their efforts were covered frequently, usually in a critical manner, by the media. But an extreme schism shortly after its foundation left the enigmatic and much disputed sect decimated and scattered. Media coverage faded. Following the split, many members of the church were left emotionally traumatized and searching for religious restitution after the media and former ministers spoke of internal corruption and abuse.
These days, the Potter’s House is a lesser-known sect of Christianity with often small congregations and sermons that boast ultra-conservative beliefs, including mandatory confessions and spiritual preparations for an upcoming apocalypse. Its churches also go under the names of Christian Fellowship Ministries, The Door, La Puerta and Victory Chapel. The sudden deterioration of the group left questions unanswered and many wondering what actually happened, or happens, behind closed doors.
What constitutes a cult and why that word has become so casual, so easy to assign to a group of people who behave differently than what others expect in today’s society is difficult to determine. The lines between cults and intense churches have become blurred by unfortunate occurrences like those in Waco and Jonestown.
What began as an effort to unveil a cruel cult, hell-bent on brainwashing those down on their luck gradually became a more substantial quest, one in which I found the borders that separate innocent religious groups and dangerous cults are not so clearly defined.
In Flagstaff, Ariz., the only Potter’s House church in town stands on San Francisco Street in the oldest religious building in Flagstaff. A precariously-placed bell hangs in the tower. The pastor warns it can still be rung, but only at your own risk. It has a small-town charm to it; the carpet is green and instead of pews, the congregation sits on fold-up chairs in rows. The only sign of modernity in the entire church is the projector hanging from the ceiling.
The screen reflects an image of a world engulfed in flames.
On the particular Sunday I attended the church, the pastor for The Door Fellowship is unable to make it to church, so a young couple happily takes over and preach in his absence.
As the small group, 15 people, goes through three hymns, I am surprised to find the four teenaged boys seated next to me are singing the loudest. Unaccompanied by parents, they are the most attentive listeners in the church and each one of them stood up to introduce his or herself with bright smiles and firm handshakes.
We mingle and sing praises, then each and every congregant greets me. They ask my name, what my major is and how I found out about their church. Marion, the piano player, assures me the pastor will speak with me once he returns from his trip to Phoenix.
The night I met with Devin Manygoats, the pastor for the Door, was a cold and windy Flagstaff night. The wind howled through the feeble church and the creaky trees. It was close to 8 p.m. and San Francisco Street can become uncomfortably dark. A black cat scurried by causing me to nearly fall off the bench I was sitting on.
Upon meeting Pastor Manygoats, it becomes immediately clear he is a working man. He has rough hands and though he is sharply dressed in suits while preaching, his leisurely clothes are splattered with oil and paint from his day job as a mechanic. He speaks just as he preaches: passionately and intensely, interrupting himself to laugh and elaborate on each and every detail.
In his closet-sized office decorated with maps and broken speakers, the pastor jumps into a brief prayer. He prays for my questions to be pure in intent and for his answers to be honest and in God’s glory. His wife sits next to me.
“I don’t feel comfortable sitting in a room alone with a woman who isn’t my wife,” Manygoats explains.
During the interview, Mrs. Manygoats, remains virtually silent, even stoic. During church, she maintains control of four little ones, balancing a baby in one hand and a Bible in the other. Here, she seems to recognize her role as chaperone and shows little emotion, but keeps watchful eyes on my notes and on her husband.
Manygoats proceeded to quote the Bible and preach before I could get my first question in.
“In the Book of Acts you see the building of the first churches. Jesus ascended into heaven, left Peter and said, ‘I want you to pray and to wait for the Helper.’ Evangelism starts and begins in the Book of Acts. Our fellowship has followed that structure of the Book of Acts. Because we all need a model, we turn to the Bible. The Church should be active. They should constantly be doing stuff,” Manygoats said.
After an hour or so, Mrs. Manygoats explains she has to leave to pick up their children and the pastor concluded his final anecdote. He hands me a flier and invited me to something called a pioneer rally in Chandler, Ariz. After asking only two questions and listening to many Biblical quotes, the interview is over.
Many Potter’s House families, like the Manygoats, revolve their lives around the church. The Potter’s House following is now growing into its second and third generations and these younger members must learn to adhere to the church’s strict tenets while living in a more progressive world. Their parents and grandparents never had to worry about the temptations of television or the Internet and most chose not to pursue higher educations. College students like Jeremy DeRois and Amanda Montgomery are in a delicate stage in their lives where they strive to find a balance between their faith, education and social lives.
When Jeremy DeRois finds me waiting for him in front of the University of Arizona Union, he excitedly welcomes me into his office. He begins speaking as if we had known each other for years, laughing constantly and gesturing frantically.
DeRois holds strong ties to the Potter’s House and continues to attend weekly sermons at The Door in Tucson, Ariz. Despite the church’s suggestion to avoid television, 21-year-old DeRois is close to completing his undergraduate degree in film production. Though he grew up only seeing old episodes of Scooby-Doo taped by his grandfather, DeRois now looks to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer for inspiration and entertainment.
“I understand why people think it’s a cult, but I don’t think it’s a cult,” DeRois said. “Doesn’t everyone in a cult say that? We [church members] joke about it. I love talking with people about my church and just telling them we really aren’t. I treat it like a joke and most people admit they didn’t know and [have] just heard about it.”
In Flagstaff, Amanda Montgomery takes me into her room in Reilly Hall. We can barely take a few steps before excited freshmen stop her and ask her to mediate a roommate conflict or stop the incessant music on the floor above her hall. Montgomery is the senior resident assistant in Reilly, thus responsible for an impressive amount of unruly freshmen students.
Her own room is decorated with pictures of her friends and inspirational posters.
While both retain their strong faith, Montgomery, is no longer a part of the Potter’s House. The controlling nature of the church influenced her decision to leave.
Twenty-year-old Montgomery chose to officially leave the Potter’s House when she came to Flagstaff to study mathematics for secondary education. She says her faith in God has not wavered since she moved away from her home in Prescott, but she questions the methodology of her former church.
“It’s really interesting,” Montgomery said. “I have flashbacks of being really young and going through hard times in that church. I never had anything to compare it to so I accepted it as the norm. Growing up there and being spoon-fed what I should believe and being told how I should act, I really resent that.”
At the head of the Potter’s House is Wayman Mitchell, a man displeased with the direction Christianity was moving in. In a world of weak biblical teachings and backsliding Christians, Mitchell concentrated all of his efforts on creating his perfect church, complete with a vigorous and obedient following.
Shaping it as Seemed Fit to Him
The year is 1954 and kneeled before the altar in a Foursquare Gospel Church in Phoenix, Ariz., Wayman Othell Mitchell found God and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. A short time after he was saved, his newborn daughter tragically died in her sleep, leaving Mitchell and his wife, Nelda, grief-stricken and lost. Mitchell returned to his church a broken man. After hours of solitary and questioning, yet ultimately rejuvenating prayer, Mitchell emerged and took Nelda by the hand. They walked out of the church determined to preach the word of the Lord that had raised him from such dark depths.
Founded by Mitchell in 1970, the Christian Fellowship Ministry was a departure from a Christianity that, in Mitchell’s eyes, was ignoring the fundamentals. Mitchell had grown weary of progressive pastors who he believed were distracted by academics and demanded a return to the cornerstones of Christianity: the inarguable authority of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible.
Motivated by what he perceived as a lack of passion in his own Pentecostal church, Mitchell sought stronger ties with God. He wished to adhere to the fundamentals of Pentecostalism, but return to a simpler, stricter lifestyle. Shortly after this revelation, a radio sermon by famous evangelist Oral Roberts and an altar call he and his wife answered would dramatically change his life.
In the archived section of Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Cline Library, there rests one book regarding the northern Arizona-native religion. The clerk laughs at the graphic cover as he hands me Ron Simpkins’ An Open Door: A Story of the Restoration of the Local Church. Published in 1985 by the church’s own publishing company, the book details the history of the church from the perspective of Simpkins as an active member of the Potter’s House.
According to An Open Door, Mitchell was a gambler who dabbled in petty theft before he took his first steps toward Christianity.
He joined the military at a young age and after finishing his final tour in Guam, he set out to find a relationship with God and a church that suited his needs.
The 25-year-old Mitchell left Phoenix to attend L.I.F.E. Bible College in Los Angeles, Calif., but struggled with the school’s lack of revivalist teachings. Unashamedly passionate in his own faith, Mitchell was appalled and disgusted by suggestions by his professors to calm down and seek higher education. He would remember this disappointment when he mentored the pastors he recruited to help spread his own teachings.
Mitchell and his disciples would later refer to other pastors and Christians who did not strictly adhere to the same biblical laws as lukewarm or backsliders, derisive terms widely used in sermons and altar calls today.
After a brief attempt to revive Pentecostal sermons in Wickenburg, Ariz., Mitchell gave up on trying to revitalize other churches and moved to Prescott to start his own. Recalling the military training of his youth, Mitchell wanted discipline and passion for his own church. This task proved difficult as he faced many obstacles including poor building structures, local opposition and, importantly, little money. Mitchell faced tough odds in his efforts to bring back true fundamentalism. In his mind, his only hope was to attract a lot of people, and to do so quickly before he ran out of money.
As with most proselytizing religious organizations, the Potter’s House sent all of their members to the streets. They did so with Bibles to wave and megaphones to ensure they were seen and heard everywhere they went. The Internet is full off endless archival footage of enthusiastic crusaders forecasting the impending apocalypse and denouncing innumerable immoral activities ranging from watching television to masturbation. Today, the Potter’s House takes a much calmer and milder approach. They recruit simply through word of mouth and global evangelism.
The Potter’s House has grown significantly since its inception. With a reported count of 2,000 churches worldwide, the Potter’s House has an undeniable presence in the Christian world. Churches can be found across the United States, as well as in such countries as the Netherlands, Guam, Australia, Thailand and South Africa.
Interestingly, the majority of the new church’s recruits in the early stages were hippies, delinquents and transients. In many interviews, Mitchell asserted these were his favorite type of people to save. They were like him: former rebels brimming with passion and aggression perfectly-suited to the old-fashioned evangelism reappearing in his new church. Their sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle had brought their souls close to hitting rock bottom, an ideal place where the Potter’s House could step in and preach the saving word of the Lord. When Mitchell realized there was a veritable gold mine of converts in young people, he appealed to them with events like coffee houses, concerts and movie screenings. Through events like these, Mitchell continued to attract the young, creative type.
These outreaches are still a major part of the Potter’s House today. Called “180” events, churches hold concerts and movie screenings in popular businesses and parks around town and continue to end each event with the same sermons and altar calls that attracted the early builders of the Potter’s House.
Each would bring in many, sometimes hundreds, of young people who were then surprised with a sermon and altar call following the concert or movie. Caught up in the excitement and glamour of this new group, the majority of attendees would agree to join and be saved by Mitchell and his pastors.
Like Clay in the Hand of the Potter
It’s 1975 and Scott Flitcroft receives a package from his brother in Prescott, Ariz. Inside he finds marijuana, pipes, a gospel tape and a note denouncing his need of drugs thanks to a new found comfort in God. Flitcroft immediately packs up and hitchhikes to Prescott in hopes of collecting the rest of his brother’s past diversions.
On the other side of town, Laura DeDario wakes up in her teepee to find a community more accepting of her alternative lifestyle. Her family and friends in Scottsdale rejected her free spirit long ago, pushing her away from the urban and cosmopolitan city life and into the mountains in search of spiritual fulfilment.
At a coffee house performance hosted by the new Potter’s House church in town, these two bohemians met and instantaneously fell in love. Three months later, they were married.
One year later, the Flitcrofts were planting churches and evangelizing for Pastor Wayman Mitchell and his church. Thirty-six years later, their daughter, Hallie Morales, would play piano next to her husband, Angel Morales, the Spanish pastor for the Prescott Potter’s House chapter.
Angel and Hallie both have a deep-rooted history with the Potter’s House that goes back to their parents. Angel’s history with the church stems from a miracle he witnessed as a boy. A young Angel Morales stood at an outdoor healing in Prescott and watched his father carry his older brother in his arms to the pastor. Angel’s brother had polyarticular arthritis, turned feet and was unable to walk on his own for over a year. The pastor prayed over the boy until Angel swears he saw his brother’s feet move to a normal positioning.
It was then Angel realized he wanted to be a pastor.
When I looked out the window of a little Mexican restaurant on the edge of Prescott Valley, Ariz., I recognized the sigil of a burning Earth on the back window of an SUV and anxiously awaited meeting one of the mother church’s most-respected pastors.
“We aren’t that different from other Christian churches,” Hallie says as she spoon feeds Navarro, the couple’s 11-month-old son. “We just require you come to church and remain faithful to your ministry.”
“We are a totally normal church,” Angel echoed. “Our main priority is to recruit new people to the church. It’s worked for us; you can’t argue the testimony of a changed life.”
Montgomery, whose family is close with the Morales family, grew up in the church.
“My history with the Potter’s House is that I was born and raised in it,” Montgomery said. “The history with my family started before I was born. Both my parents came here from California where they had gotten married and were in search of a church that would send them out as missionaries. The Potter’s House fit those criteria. They train very young people up there and send them out as missionaries after one or two years of training in the church. My dad really wanted to be involved, so they came out here and had my two older brothers as an infant and a toddler. They’ve been going to the church ever since and continue to. I was a member for a solid 18 years.”
Manygoats found the Potter’s house later in his life after turning to alcohol failed to fill a void. Because he knows of struggle and hardships firsthand, he takes a similar approach in his own recruitment, looking to those from all walks of life.
“We have a guy in the church now who, three or four months ago, was sleeping on the streets,” Manygoats remembers. “He would drink with the drunks. He came in one night while I was shampooing the carpets and said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t change. I don’t want to live like this.’ He had this view that even God won’t help him. I told him I was a drunk and that I used to take off from my family and that God set me free. Then we prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. Three months later, he’s sober. He has his kids back with him and they’re going to school here. He prayed for an automotive repair job and got one.”
Mitchell was himself a reformed man and knew how powerful the camaraderie of religion could be. He found other men with pasts similar to his and instructed them on how to plant churches and evangelize. He called for them to find young, passionate people to build the fellowship, like the Flitcrofts. Many pastors have tumultuous pasts like Manygoats.
“Some of them were gangbangers; some were involved with crazy stuff. [Some were] heroin addicts and years later they’re preachers,” Manygoats said.
The Potter’s House, named for the biblical verse where God uses the ability of a potter to sculpt something in his vision, believes there are no accidents. God directed them to this particular church with plans to mold them as He sees fit.
A Church Built Not on Works, but Grace
The Potter’s House is, in fact, one branch of Christianity. Its tenets, however, veer into much more conservative, fundamental territory. They stress the importance of extreme loyalty to their church and constant prayer by its members. The group has often been criticized by other churches for its strict standards and traditional standpoint on the role of women in the ministry. However, the church has been, in many cases, open, honest and vocal about many of its teachings since its foundation.
Many Potter’s House pastors, like Manygoats, are not afraid to say their church is different.
“There are other churches that believe once you’re saved you’ll always be saved,” Manygoats said. “We don’t believe that. It is simple to be saved; it’s not hard. The Bible says there is simplicity in Christ. Just repent. Turn away from your sins and turn to Him. We don’t believe that works save us. We are saved because [salvation is] a free gift from God and all we have to do is receive it.”
This idea that practicing members must take an active approach to faith is typical of most religions. What separates the Potter’s House from other Christian churches is the intensity in which they practice their beliefs.
Praise in the Potter’s House churches entails entire congregations singing loudly, waving their arms and, at times, speaking in tongues. The Potter’s House’s tendency to attract young people had resulted in a shy congregation, at first. New worshippers were unaware of how to behave in church and seemed ashamed to display affection or praise. Mitchell used an innovative approach to press his young followers to show the utmost amount of adoration for their Lord. Tapping into their collective past, he encouraged them to show the same joy and enthusiasm for the Lord they showed to their favorite musicians at concerts. Mitchell’s methodology struck a chord with his congregants. They immediately took to a more exciting worship and, today, are known as some of the most uninhibited congregations.
Though the Potter’s House does not separate men and women like many religious groups, they have a relatively old fashioned view on gender roles, particularly in the ministry. There has yet to be a female pastor. Women are confined to the congregation, the nursery or to the choir.
Weddings in the Potter’s House are the ultimate opportunity to demonstrate devotion to a relationship with Christ. Women are discouraged from walking down the aisle, dancing or serving alcohol to their guests. The ceremony must be held in the church the couple attends.
In An Open Door, Simpkins explains the Potter’s House efforts to move men to the forefront of the church as the natural, biblical order.
“Women have traditionally made up the largest numbers of converts. Sadly, this has shaped a gospel that is heavily feminine in its orientation,” Simpkins writes. “[Mitchell] had been saved under a woman preacher and knew that God could use women if men wouldn’t respond, but he’d seen the problems in their homes and churches too. The Bible was clear and he would stand with it.”
Amanda Montgomery attributes this male dominance as a major factor in her break from the church.
“I think it’s also caused me to become more of an advocate for women’s rights,” Montgomery said. “I see that as a huge issue in the church. Men are the leaders, always the preacher. The highest position you could be [as a women] is the pastor’s wife. There were certain Sunday school classes that I vividly remember they would ask what you want to be when you grow up. girls are [normally] like ‘I want to be a princess!’ Half of the girls in my class wanted to be pastor’s wives. Why not be a pastor? Why not be a doctor? Don’t limit yourself to what society, meaning this church, is telling you.”
No one in the Potter’s House Is shy about the distinct gender roles in the church. I never sensed that the women I met or saw were displeased with their life. In the books I read for research, men spelled out what women must do to please their husband and their god very simply.
“They are involved in the vital business of looking after stuff,” Ian Wilson writes unashamedly in his book Unto the Ends of the Earth.
There is no fighting from the women of the church, as they see family and church life as laid out by the Bible. Men work to provide for the family the women care for. Both fathers and mothers, however, are responsible for instilling strong Christian ties through church attendance and rigorous prayer.
One of Mitchell’s greatest complaints with other churches in modern Christianity is a lack of prayer. He resents those pastors who only pray at the end of a sermon or for mere minutes a day. He argues that because prayer is direct communication with God, it should be practiced for hours each day. Most Potter’s House churches, including The Door in Flagstaff, hosts daily group prayer meetings early in the morning and later in the evening. Each prayer group last anywhere from one to two hours.
Each sermon follows a distinct order, often putting the offering at the beginning. The pastor speaks about the good the church is doing around the world and implores his congregation to contribute to the cause.
Though one of the most common aspects of Christianity, tithing has long been a source of controversy for the Potter’s House specifically. Their church is where they pray, meet their spouses and friends, and attend sermons and Bible studies. By attending and donating to the church, members believe they are rewarded with an intimate relationship with God.
Simpkins feared a modern lack of will to give to the church could contribute to the downfall of man’s relationship with God.
“America has drifted into a secular mold not just to deny God, but to worship ‘new’ gods, which are actually only the old gods of lust and mammon,” Simpkins writes. “Their power can only be broken by a direct attack on this stronghold.”
Manygoats agrees tithing is imperative to the mission of his church.
“As far as money goes, our money is mostly geared toward evangelism,” Manygoats said. “Whatever money we get here in the church, it’s for the lights to stay on, to pay for the building and for outreach. If we go show a movie at the park and cook some hotdogs, that’s where the church money is going. None of the money goes to Prescott.”
Though Manygoats says his money stays at The Door, other churches claim parts of their weekly offerings go to the mother church. Mitchell reminds everyone during his sermon how important and necessary their donations are.
However, their method of tithing has often been criticized by the media and former members. Past news reports and exposés into the Potter’s House show some secretive bookkeeping and threats by pastors to keep the church’s monetary informatin private.
Along with their biblically-backed demand for funds, the Potter’s House insists its members spread the word of the Lord in all aspects of their lives. Pastors relive the stories of average people working dead-end jobs and facing various disappointments until they found the Potter’s House. It is the job of each and every member to recruit and allow their church to grow.
One of the most apparent characteristics of this church in particular is their radical evangelism. The Potter’s House encourages all members to speak openly about their closeness to God and bring others to the church. There is footage of young crusaders visiting college campuses and city halls to engage in lively debate with former members and protestors.
One of the most contended aspects of the Potter’s House church is the high standards members are held to. As an evangelical and Pentecostal church, the Bible dictates daily life. Men rule the household and must be clean shaven to stand at the altar. The Internet is seen as a vessel of temptation and the church suggests multiple different filters to avoid impure pop-ups. When rules are broken, congregants are disciplined, meaning they may not participate in ministry and may only attend church to hear the words of their pastors and learn from their mistakes. Mitchell consistently adds to the list of rules and preaches the benefits of living a lifestyle free of modern pestilence.
The first complaint of the church is the television rule. Many claim they were not allowed to watch television or go to the movie theater during their time in the church. Pastors argue, however, this is more of a suggestion and it only applies to those involved in ministry.
“Everybody is free to do whatever they want,” Manygoats said. “TV is a choice and an option. We don’t have a TV by choice. If you want to be in ministry, we do have standards for that. Just like the police force has standards. You don’t have to be in ministry. That’s where a lot of problems come from, people want to live however they want and still be in ministry and still do the will of God. It ultimately comes down to the relationship with God and their own honesty. Many times, people who lie about their ministry or break a lot of the standards, God reveals it and they end up leaving the church. Before we installed these standards, ministers would fall away and backslide. They were watching TV and being fed with sin.”
Church members, particularly those interested in joining the ministry, are given a choice: follow the rules or leave the church. DeRois, having faced discipline once for seeing a movie, sees some of the rules as a little more difficult to follow considering his college lifestyle.
“For the no TV and movies rule, they have a meeting every year in Prescott,” DeRois explains. “Everybody who is in ministry goes to it and hears a sermon based on serving and they sign contracts. I don’t fully agree with that just because an agreement like that, especially when you’re serving God, it’s between you and God. It’s not you and an organization. I admit, in Prescott, I signed it because I have to and I want to serve and I realize this is a requirement. Yes, I did break the rules watching TV and movies. But for the alcohol part, it’s not a hard rule. In Prescott, they don’t go to dances or dance at all. I break those rules, don’t tell my mother.”
DeRois said there are other strict guidelines members must follow, but that it is up to the member how strictly they adhere to them.
“I turned 21 in October and I had never had any [alcohol] before,” DeRois said. “I found out very quickly I’m allergic to beer, so that stopped. I have had my occasional party nights since my 21st birthday but that is one I would not share around my church. It’s a wishy washy one.”
The strict rules and tenets, intended to keep followers on the right path, are the largest cause of criticism and concern. Pastors and ministers believe, however, adherence to these rules result in a healthier and happier lifestyle, made clear through testimonies of those saved and changed by the church.
Fruit of Repentance
Attending the 2014 Pioneer Rally in Chandler, Ariz., offered me a unique look inside the church and its inner workings. I met members, heard sermons and witnessed healings. As intimidating as it was, I learned more the two nights I attended than I did in all the long nights I spent in the library researching the group.
Physically being in church with peers is a major part of the Potter’s House structure. Many of the churches host sermons on Sundays and Wednesdays, morning and night, in addition to prayer sessions and outreach events. The Door in Flagstaff hosts two sermons on Sundays, one on Wednesdays and prayer group on Thursdays. The majority of other Potter’s House churches hold similar schedules. The group holds a strong belief that going to church breeds positivity and that not going fosters sin.
I hoped that by attending one of these infamous rallies I would witness miracles and fainting spells, or at least be forcibly removed for being a godless heathen in blue jeans.
This was not the case.
One thing I knew for sure, I was scared to attend a revival, even after the Morales family had taken such a liking to me and offered to save me a seat. I know they had high hopes of recruiting me to their church, but I was in no position to turn away a friendly face at a notoriously intense rally.
Unfortunately, I failed to find them either of the nights I attended.
Walking into The Door Christian Center in Chandler was an eye-opening experience. The church was packed with a vast array of people. Men and women, old and young from all different races and ethnicities mingled excitedly.
Attendees mingled and greeted each other as a band played in the background. The building was packed from wall to wall with Potter’s House members from all across Arizona, and some from around the country, buzzing with praise and excitement. The prayer room was full of people with their heads bowed urgently praying for all types of healing and miracles. In the nave, members rushed to find good seats.
A man read a biblical passage about donating to the church aloud as men walked the aisles with offering bins. I looked up at the man collecting dollar bills and credit card numbers and was immediately reminded of a man in the mafia. His pinstriped pants and callous expression stood out among the smiling congregation. I looked around and noticed all those collecting tithes had similar features.
When Joseph Campbell took to the pulpit, he exudes confidence. He wears a dark brown suit and held a Bible in his right hand.
“People will criticize us. People will judge and persecute us,” Campbell says. “It doesn’t matter what they think of us. We’re a bunch of crazy evangelists who yell and jump and speak in tongues and that’s okay!”
His sermon is passionate and loud from beginning to end. He has a drawl typical to many fire-and-brimstone pastors. The ends of sentences end with an “-ah!” His face grows red and his fists became clenched as he paced and preached for over an hour.
“Christianity is a religion of power,” Campbell says. “We are strong and there is a flood of perversion released here in America we must battle. We have turned our backs on Israel. It is time we fight back.”
Like many Pentecostal sermons, interaction by the congregation is expected and encouraged. Amens and hallelujahs are heard throughout the room and hands sporadically spring up in praise. When asked to praise God, the group responds in tongues.
Some cover their mouth when overcome by the Spirit and the word of Christ, others shout it to the heavens. Some pray quietly while many mutter words that sound like a made-up language. However, the Bible explains this occurrence is a miracle and is actually the word of Christ. Those who have not accepted Christ are believed to be incapable of understanding the holy language. It is particularly shocking when the pastor himself begins to cry out in tongues through his microphone.
On the next night, church founder Wayman Mitchell preaches.
This night I know to arrive early. I sit in my same seat as the night before. Interestingly, the Bible I accidentally left behind the previous night has been placed neatly on my seat. This night, there is a larger crowd and I watch as the ushers scramble to find more chairs for the growing mass of worshippers.
After a few hymns and another encounter with the intimidating offering collector, Mitchell stands at the altar and the congregation erupts into uproarious applause. Despite his diminutive stature and meek stance, the man is greeted like a celebrity.
Mitchell’s sermon is much calmer than Campbell’s. His message, however, is exceptionally more piercing. He glorifies Russia’s annexation on Crimea stating members of the church must take a similar “boots-on-the-ground approach” to practicing their faith and bringing more people to the church.
He made many similar comments regarding politics, local news happenings and other churches. Going on the attack, Mitchell referred to a local couple who took over a church formerly belonging to the Potter’s House as pedophiles, which elicited the same awkward chuckles that occur when a politically incorrect, slightly racist grandfather makes an inappropriate comment at family dinner. The family wishes he hadn’t said it, but then again, that’s grandpa.
Mitchell then made his altar call. He asks the congregation to raise their hands if they are ready to accept God into their lives or if they have backslid and forgotten their relationship with God. Hundreds of hands sprout from the congregation. He requests bowed heads, “front to center, left to right,” and urged all to repent and redefine their relationship with God. Many rock back and forth, tears streaming down their face as Mitchell spoke. The majority of the congregation rose and proceeded to the front. Upwards of 300 people prostrate themselves on the steps and above them stands Mitchell with raised arms and a proud expression.
Hundreds were in attendance and the majority of them rededicated their life to the church that night. The collection plates were full and many were healed of their ailments. Congregants hugged and smiled as they filed out to their cars. Mitchell’s rally could be classified a success.
This rally is a prime example of the Potter’s House canonical stance to attending church. Their firm belief that worshipping with their peers and reaffirming their relationship with the church translates into a happier life and stronger congregation is clear at the pioneer rally.
Manygoats explained how those who are faithfully lukewarm will see problems in their day to day life. Referred to as the fruit of repentance, sin can be washed away through consistent praise and church participation.
“Somebody that is a womanizer, their fruit of repentance could be that they are not trusted, that they are hated because other women find out. They could get STDs; it could be high stress on his life or guilt because he know he is doing wrong,” Manygoats explained. “One day he will find himself alone, or he will get married and it will end in divorce. These are the fruits, what grow out of decisions that we make. When we turn away from sin, stuff will grow from that. There will be physical evidence that our lives have changed.”
Going to church and seeing the benefits of a life in the church are only the beginning steps of a continuing journey that is joining the Potter’s House. After a new convert attends multiple sermons and many classes, they must then start answering altar calls and evangelizing. Later, after these steps, they are given the privilege of being healed of various ailments by their pastor.
Healings are a well-known aspect of many extreme churches, particularly in evangelical churches. People with ailments ranging from eczema to cancer travel the world and wait in the longest lines for the chance to be healed by a gifted spiritual leader.
During this healing, men and women off all ages approach the pulpit when called and raise their hands before their pastor. He then begins to pray frantically, asking the crowd to pray with him and ask God for mercy on the afflicted.
At the rally, one woman approached the pulpit with a bandaged hand she said caused her constant pain. Mitchell begged for the Lord to take mercy on her and allow her to praise Him with no worry of pain. She cried out, removed the bandage and Mitchell smiled proudly as she wiggled her fingers and rotated her wrist.
Through biblical studies and repeated healings, Mitchell has created a sort of guide to determine what sins cause certain ailments. This controversial method of assigning life-threatening illness to the sins of someone or their ancestors has been a major source of controversy for Potter’s House.
According to Mitchell, allergies, for example, are an unfortunate side effect of illegitimate birth. Similarly, deafness is a sign of either idol worship or homosexuality. Tumors, cysts and infections all signify the embodiment of hatred and bitterness.
The intense behavior seen at sermons, rallies and healings are only the primary events the Potter’s House hosts to attract attention and followers. Their haunted houses and outreach events are notorious in the Christian community for forcing unknowing attendants to face their own mortality with terrifying depictions of hell and descriptions of the apocalypse.
An Object of Horror and Scorn
As you walk through each dark corridor and peek into every shadowed room, you are confronted with your own mortality. In one room, a woman lies on a gurney wailing about the pregnancy she just terminated. Two nurses stand beside her clutching buckets filled with blood. In the next room, a man dressed as Satan stands next to a man who just hanged himself. There are no zombies or ghosts here, only reminders of what a life of sin can result in.
Making it ever clearer for those in attendance, “This doesn’t have to be your end,” says a voice over the loudspeakers. “Come, let me show you a better way. Many take the broad way in life and it ends in destruction, but some take the narrow road and make Heaven their home . . . Choose tonight whom you will serve.”
It’s Halloween at the Potter’s House. This annual haunted house is held at Potter’s House churches nationwide and attracts thousands of visitors. It has garnered national media attention for gruesome depictions of the unholy lifestyle the church views that the majority of society leads. Those who enter the attraction are not permitted to leave. They exit into a church where a pastor will preach and perform an altar call.
It is unclear if the Potter’s House is a benevolent and passionate savor of souls, or something more controlling and sinister. Speak to and observe the church’s active congregation and their opinions are clear and resounding. There are, however, those outside the church, some of whom are former members, who would go so far as to say the Potter’s House could be classified as a cult. But does this label fit?
In the History Channel’s documentary, Decoding the Past: Cults – Dangerous Devotion, scholars and cult members explore what constitutes and a cult and the dangers they present to members and society.
In the documentary, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University Robert Jay Lifton explains, “It needs to have three characteristics to call it a cult. One is that a guru becomes worshipped rather than religious principles.”
Adoration of Mitchell becomes especially apparent at rallies, where hundreds of bodies are found bent at the feet of Mitchell, begging him to pray over them. Are they bowing in submission and praying to their Lord, or are they bowing in supplication to Mitchell? Did they themselves know the answer or more importantly, the difference?
“Another characteristic is that is has thought-reform like characteristics that is systematic indoctrination,” Lifton says.
In terms of thought-reform and systematic indoctrination, this has been one of the biggest criticisms of the Potter’s House. There are numerous former members who have complained of mind-rape and fear-based confession. Additionally, a new convert to the Potter’s House is required to go through numerous classes and meetings before officially joining. In these classes, they must confess each and every prior sin and relinquish all control to their new church to ensure a more biblical lifestyle. This seems to fit the mold, until one remembers the Catholic Church along with its rites of catechism and rites of confession.
Lastly, the third characteristic of a cult, according to Lifton, is, “heavy exploitation from above, usually the guru himself or herself and other high-ranking people. That exploitation tends to be economic and sexual.”
The Potter’s House and Wayman Mitchell, specifically, have been accused of exploitation in the past. Economically, the church has long been criticized for secretive monetary practices.
There has been some speculation that the church hides paper trails and gives most of its money directly to Wayman Mitchell. There is one documented case of sexual abuse by a member of the ministry against an underage girl.
It should be clearly noted that there is no credible authority that has classified the Potter’s House as dangerous or a cult. Still, when held to the standards described by Professor Lifton, Wayman Mitchell and some of his practices come close.
“The cult leaders have early experiences of neglect, of abandonment, of disappointment in parental figures and authorities,” said author of Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time Peter A. Olsson. “The dynamic is that they then become the parent, the powerful parent, the omnipotent parent for their followers.”
Mitchell’s parents divorced when he was young and though he lived with his father for the majority of his youth, he was forced to relocate to Phoenix after his father’s sudden death.
Mitchell’s strict rules and preaching style are similar to those of a strict, but loving father. He is a parent who recognizes that his children must have rules to protect them from their own poor judgment. Recall that many of Mitchell’s early convert were drug addicts and runaways who strayed from their parents’ guidance. His goal is to save his recruits and keep them on a righteous path.
The aggressive and controlling style of leadership Mitchell uses in his church is similar to those of some of the most infamous cults. Leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh were just as charismatic as Mitchell and used similar methods of recruitment. Jones used public events to draw people in, surprising them with sermons and requests for monetary offerings. Koresh used fear tactics, preaching the upcoming apocalypse.
Many members of strict religious groups later report instances of abuse and manipulation by either their mentors or fellow members. Though there are few recorded cases of abuse in the Potter’s House, former members have come clean about serious mental exploitation and public shaming. Amanda Montgomery reminisces on the controlling nature of her former church.
“When I think of abuse, the first thing that comes to mind is physical abuse and I never saw anything like that happening,” Montgomery said. “But, the more that I have not gone there, the more I see that there was a lot of emotional and mental abuse to the point where the pastor had a lot of control over what the people thought and said and did. They did that a lot by making you feel bad, making you feel guilty and kind of beating you down as a person. That’s why they had alter calls every single service, so you could confess all your sins or even any bad thoughts you had.”
This type of forced confession and publicized scrutiny is a key aspect to any cult. The individual member is broken down and told he or she is a sinner who needs God, and the church, to ensure a happy life. After the confessor has admitted to leading an unholy life, they can be rebuilt by the church and pastor into an obedient follower.
Montgomery found this especially apparent in her time with the church.
“It was always that you weren’t good enough and that you needed God to make you a whole person,” Montgomery said. “I think the undertone of that is that you need the church. It was controlling in the way that the Potter’s House wanted you to rely on the church and be scared to challenge the social norm.”
During my time with the Potter’s House, I also noticed that various pastors are not ashamed to call out other pastors or churches for failing to teach the entirety of the Bible or offer enough praises, particularly during my interview with Manygoats.
“The mission is to share to the world that there is a Messiah that came to show the world salvation in their lives and in eternity,” Manygoats said. “We try to stay as close to the Bible as we can. Not everyone believes that. There are many groups that disregard parts of the Bible. Calvinists go as far as to disregard the book of James.”
Though the Potter’s House disagree with most other religious organizations, they maintain that they are a righteous and holy group. Members and pastors deny any cult affiliation in their church.
“There’s a miracle at work in our church and God is involved,” Manygoats said. “When people say we’re a cult, I just think to myself, ‘Wow, that’s not true.’ It’s sad. We pray for those people.”
In his books Churches that Abuse, cult scholar Ronald Enroth explores various church sects and groups that, in some way or another, mistreat their members. Examples vary from stealing money to physical abuse, and he claims Potter’s House does both. Enroth says the group attracts followers through manipulating young people and appealing to their “need to be affirmed, to be accepted and to be part of a family.” This has been the case for most cults.
Because many members of the group were alcoholics, drug abusers or high school dropouts, they were all able to attribute a sense of instant belonging to the Potter’s House. They were in the perfect mindset to be saved: vulnerable and desperate. Many have gone on-record claiming an instant connection with the group, which led to extreme confessions. Looking back, some former members have said their confessions are what kept them tied to the church for so long and left them bound to the group. Montgomery says she was pressured to stay because of family ties and guilt tactics.
“Once people start to control small aspects of your life, they make you rely upon them and the church and the church’s rules,” Montgomery explains. “They make you feel guilty if you aren’t extremely involved.”
She found her peers to be most judgmental during her final year of high school when she decided to attend NAU.
“It got to a point where I was coming up here to start my freshman year and their only reaction was, ‘I can’t believe you’re leaving. Why are you leaving us?’” Montgomery remembers. “It was more of a ‘You need to stay here, what are you going to do up there?’ ‘Flagstaff is an extremely liberal school,’ and they only had negative things to say about Flagstaff. It was never about having your own experience, it was about staying in the church.”
Psychology professor and department chair for NAU Heidi Wayment also believes the inherent need for community explains most involvement in cults or extremist social groups.
“We know that cohesion is an important social idea,” Wayment said. “All of our well-functioning groups and memberships, whether it’s a family or a sports team or anything, the most important motive is that human beings need people. [Cults begin with] this healthy premise that we’re social creatures. Social cohesion is this really positive glue that helps us create norms within a particular group.”
This positive social cohesion, however, is the same idea that fosters addiction and what many people call brainwashing. Members become addicted to the feeling of belonging and promptly forget prior beliefs, allowing group think to take over. Along with the need to belong, there are multiple psychological processes that explain the attraction to religious groups as well as the tendency to radically change one’s beliefs in order to join. As humans, we will do almost anything to rationalize what makes us happy.
“Cognitive dissonance reduction is an idea that there is discomfort when our behavior might be at odds with our values,” Wayment explains. “You’re part of a group so you’re getting social acceptance, which is a reward. If there is a conflict, what will usually change is the person’s attitude instead of the behavior. A person will then minimize the importance of the issue. We change things in our mind to make it palatable. Cults get people to behave in a certain way and, eventually, the attitudes will align with the behavior.”
Despite what the conscious may believe, people adjust their thought processes so they can be happy with doing thing they may have considered wrong before. It is a complex mental process, but is quite common among those moving into a new social group, or out of one.
Montgomery noticed she was being coerced into making decisions based on what the Potter’s House taught and chose to explore her independence elsewhere.
“I’ve realized that any sort of decision I make now is my own and I choose to go to church and it has nothing to do with Potter’s House,” Montgomery said. “It’s actually really opposite of the Potter’s House in that they pray for other churches and they want to breed a sense of community not just within the church, but within all of Flagstaff. When I go to [my new] church, I feel uplifted and empowered instead of being beat down and distraught.”
For some, which church to attend is not a personal choice but an intervention on behalf of their loved ones. There are recorded cases of some Potter’s House members who used treatment called “exit counseling” or see cult deprogrammers to make the difficult transition from the church they claimed controlled them back to their former lives.
Given the deep familial and community ties involved, it is of no surprise that leaving a particular church or group can hurt regardless of the reason for leaving, especially if one has spent years working with the same people. It can also be difficult because of social pressures and a lack of support. Those who left the Potter’s House church risk ostracism and isolation as they try to reenter the world they had previously denounced so vehemently.
As hard as it may be to move on from the emotional trauma of leaving a church, Wayment urges those who have done so to give themselves time to heal.
“It takes a strong person to chalk it off as a learning experience and not ruminate,” Wayment says. “It’s important to have compassion for the self and not judge the self for the past. The self-perception theory argues that in the absence of absolute knowledge people observe their own behavior and justify it. To say [their behavior] was all for nothing is a huge threat.”
Montgomery knows first-hand how difficult it can be to leave a church, especially with her family’s active role in the Prescott church.
“It’s something I’m still trying to figure out,” Montgomery said. “A lot of the Potter’s House doctrine is still so heavily engrained in my actions and in my thought. I have to consciously be aware if I’m making a decision because I feel guilty if I do it or if I don’t and really [ask myself] why am I feeling that way. I would say that it still really affects me and that it’s almost brought a really bitter experience to all religions, especially with extremist groups like the Potter’s House.”
Montgomery is not the only one to have left the Potter’s House, nor is she the only one to have felt so torn between what her family believes and what she thinks is right. The transition from one social group to another is troubling and often coincides with aggression. Past members of the Potter’s House have turned to online chat rooms and the media to air their grievances with Mitchell and his teachings, leaving the church with a notorious reputation.
For centuries, millennia, in fact, man has turned to a higher power and to religion for guidance. For many involved in a church, faith dictates every aspect of their life. At its best, religion can bring people from the deepest depths of depression, create lifelong bonds and give purpose to those seeking salvation. At its worst, it can breed violence, hate and fear.
After the major rupture of the church, Potter’s House quickly faded into the background of religious news. Former members stopped calling the newspapers and took to the Internet.
In a series of crudely animated and robotically voiced YouTube videos, for example, a group of obviously disgruntled former member of the Potter’s House church — called the ThePottersClub — relay their biggest complaints. In one video, two characters discuss the common problems children who used to be a member of the church face.
“You know you were a Potter’s House kid when you wake up and think the rapture has happened and you’ve been left behind.”
“You know you’re a Potter’s House kid when you pretend to hate TV, but watch it at your friends’ houses every chance you get.”
In another video, two men discuss the mysterious nature of how pastors hide information regarding former members and leaders.
“The Potter’s House Fellowship erases traces of their old pastors,” the cartoons claims. “It’s like they’re afraid to talk about them.”
Pastor Joe Weidinger of the Grace Chapel Fellowship in Flagstaff was one of the pastors who left the Potter’s House to start his own church. When asked for an interview, he declined stating, “What is in the past is in the past.”
Those who remained with the church ceased their crusading and reduced their efforts to recruit, publically at least.
Regardless of criticism, however, the Fellowship remains standing. Through their evangelizing and generational qualities, members continue joining and parents continue to send their children to the church.
The Potter’s House faced many legal hurdles as they spread across the globe like wildfire. Twenty years after its creation, many followers were leaving suddenly and rushing to speak with the media. There were claims of fear tactics, money laundering and spiritual rape.
The Christian Research Institute, who initially said the church was “doing an invaluable service in reaching loss souls,” changed its statement in 1988 to one of disapproval and accused them of “theological aberrance.” They stated their concerns as the following: “structural authority, use of tongues, hyperactive atmosphere and no doctrinal statement.”
One of the biggest news stories the Potter’s House faced was the tale of a little girl, so horrified but what she saw at Sunday school, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder. After attending a sermon at the Potter’s House church her father attended, the 5-year-old reportedly told her mom and maternal grandparents she “thinks they’re going to scare [her] again” if she returns. The pastor admits to dressing up as Satan and making the kids stick their hands into a blood-filled basket with a heart, yelling, “You will never get your hand out again.”
He claimed today’s generation “doesn’t understand fear. There is a certain amount of fear is good.”
The mother insisted the father cease taking the girl to his church.
A few years later, a news channel in Boston, Mass., looked into their local Potter’s House church to find out where the congregation’s tithe was going. Former pastors and church treasurers confirmed that only Mitchell or the highest ranked pastor in the area could view church funds. All those who asked questions were allegedly chased out. The report confirmed that about half of every church’s tithe went to the mother church in Prescott.
“I’d toss you out of that church on your ear, that’s what I’d do,” a Flagstaff pastor told Chris Turner, a former church member when he asked where the money was going.
Turner eventually spoke to Mitchell about the discussion with his pastor and expressed his concern that, as a member of the church, it was his right to know where the money goes.
“No, no it’s not.” Mitchell said in the phone conversation.
News of the Potter’s House eventually hit primetime television when Geraldo Rivera hosted a former church member on his talk show. The evening’s subject was former members of various religious organizations or, as he put it, “zombies for Christ.”
Debbie Christensen, a guest on the show and a former member of the church, said she was raped by a higher ranking man at her church. When she alerted her pastor, he demanded she keep it quiet. Adding insult to injury, he accused her of bringing it upon herself for wanting a boyfriend at only 16 years old.
After years of participating in the church, her mother successfully removed her from the organization. Christensen, now an adult with a family of her own, claims she still has a hard time reading a Bible, watching television, attending church and forgetting her taught hatred of Catholics, much to the dismay of her Catholic husband.
Scandals like these paired with the controversial tactics of the church have resulted in mixed views on the Potter’s House. Former members claim it is a controlling cult, while current members claim the group saved their lives. Those on the outside are left with an array of information and facts that can be confusing and conflicting.
Author of Confusion
There is no definitive answer to which religion practices correctly or which people will go to Heaven or if there even is a Heaven. Religion and faith are vague and often offer intangible benefit. That’s part of what makes those who believe so strong, in a sense. Placing your faith, worries and paychecks in the hands of someone who promises you a relationship with an unearthly presence and an afterlife filled with unknown pleasures is no simple task.
In Ethical Issues That Matter, E. Hammond Oglesby argues that all Christian religions strive to achieve the goal of achieving life that meets or exceeds biblical ethics.
Mitchell disagrees. He believes the majority of Christians are weak in their practice and lukewarm in their faith.
“The world is full of cultural Christians, people who are raised on religion but have no spirituality,” he said in his sermon. “This rally is to save those who are not yet saved.”
It ultimately comes down to a matter of perspective. Like clay in the hand of the potter, the idea of religious moral discourse is malleable. It’s subjective.
The universal debate of which religion is true or right and which Heaven exists, if any, will likely never end. New religions, in particular, face criticism and scorn.
One must only look to the news or the Internet to see an example of religious intolerance. Whether it is one church or religion bashing another, the church criticizing various lifestyles or disgruntled former members of a church, judgments and accusations come from all angles. It is up to each individual to come to their own conclusion.
Church on church criticism has led to international wars and long-lasting prejudice. Aggressive judgment towards any group can be just as dangerous. Wayment argues we are too quick to label groups as cults, that intolerance only pushes people deeper into controlling groups.
“The tendency is for people to say, ‘Those are crazy people. How could anybody do that?’ There’s a tendency for people who aren’t in those situations to judge because it makes it safe for us,” Wayment says. “The fact is that these ordinary psychological processes that are beneficial to us operate the same exact way for those in cults. These people are trying to be accepted and fit in. If they don’t participate, they will be ostracized. Pressure to conform is great. It’s not crazy people drawing in crazy people. These human needs have the potential to lead people astray because of self-justification.”
After months of studying and attending church with members of the Potter’s House, I am left as unsure of what to think of this group as when I began my research. The congregation is kind, but fiery. The pastors are passionate, but at times offensive. Those collecting tithes are usually intimidating.
This uncertainty points to a greater concern of faith-based judgment. Only time has determined which church founders and religious apostles have been kind and just in their teachings and who has been violent or power-hungry.
Most people involved in churches, cults or other groups are happy to be a part of something bigger. They wish to find peace and camaraderie in like-minded humans. It is not until a great tragedy or eye-opening experience occurs that those who took part can look back and see the wrongdoings or deception.
There’s no absolute checklist that dictates who is right and who is wrong; there is only personal conviction and hindsight.
Despite religion being one of the more controversial topics, it is a simple concept to those who place their faith in the hands of a higher power.
“That’s why we are a fellowship church, because the Bible says that God is not the author of confusion,” Manygoats says. “If there’s anything that rings confusion, it’s probably not because of God. He doesn’t confuse us.”
Though God may not be the author of confusion, many still wonder if religion is beneficial or detrimental to society. Churches generally promote righteous behavior, but through other actions can promote judgment and hatred.
When asked how it affects him when people refer to his church as a cult, Angel Morales answered confidently, “I tell them to come and see for themselves.”
Criticism and legal drama has left the group pariahs, even in their hometown. Angel Morales claims they are outcast and judged more in Prescott than anywhere else he has visited.
“Here, more so than anywhere we go, we find people talking about our church,” Morales said. “They judge us before they even come to a sermon.”
As has been seen in many other cases of ostracized groups and cults, public criticism creates strength and unity among members and leaders, giving them a common cause to fight for.
“The best thing that can happen to cult is for them to be prosecuted,” Wayment said. “It becomes an us-versus-them situation. We must be doing something right for them to attack us. Persecution leads to more cohesion.”
Regardless of whether the Potter’s House is a cult or a misunderstood religious group, it is difficult to deny they are smart and organized in their practice. They have successfully avoided disbandment by the media and created a global network of evangelical Christians.
The criticism they face creates the kind of persecution the Bible predicts and gives the group unity. Together they stand, willing and ready to recruit those who have been cast away by society and those who have searched for purpose and meaning.
Though no one can be certain of how and when the world will end, or who will be saved, Mitchell’s followers take solace in their faith in the church and in their church founder. The Potter’s House sees the world as a sinful place with a nearing apocalypse; they do not fear the rapture. They have banded together and lived their lives as the Bible dictates, shunning modern pleasures and looking to Mitchell for spiritual guidance.
“We are called to invade a fallen world,” Wayman Mitchell tells his attentive congregation. “Hell is the only destiny of the world in which we live.”