LOVE ISRAEL FAMILY
LOVE ISRAEL FAMILY TIMELINE
1940 (August 25): Paul Erdmann was born in Berlin, Germany.
1947: Paul, his mother, and siblings moved to Seattle, Washington.
1968 (October): Paul and Marilyn Erdmann moved into a rental property near downtown Seattle. Within a few days, a couple (Clint and Rosemary), their son (Eric), and a Vietnam veteran (Neil) were also living in the property.
1971: The Church of Armageddon (Love Israel Family) Charter was written.
1972 (January): The deaths of two Love Israel Family members, Reverence and Solidarity, occurred after the men engaged in toluene usage.
1973: The Front Door Inn and Israel Brothers Construction Company began operation.
1973 (June): Dedication Israel (Kathe Crampton) was taken from the Love Israel Family by her mother and deprogrammer Ted Patrick. After undergoing “deprogramming,” she returned to the Love Israel Family.
1974: Love Israel Family members danced and sang onstage at the World's Fair in Spokane, Washington.
1983 (July): A group of Love Israel Family elders and other members wrote a letter to Love expressing their concerns.
1983-1984: Following Love's reaction to the letter of concerns, many members left the Love Israel Family.
1984 (January 11): Richness Israel (Daniel Gruener) filed a complaint against Love Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon, attempting to regain a portion of the money and assets that he contributed to the Love Israel Family. Two weeks later, an agreement was reached out of court, in which Gruener was given the Queen Anne Hill properties.
1984 (Summer): The remaining members of the Love Israel Family left Queen Anne Hill properties and relocated to Arlington.
1984 (November): Love Israel joined members at the Arlington property.
1990: The Love Israel Family held first public Garlic Festival on the Arlington property.
2003: The Love Israel Family's Arlington ranch was sold.
2004: The Love Israel Family purchased property in Bothell, Washington.
2016 (February 1): Love Israel passed away at the age of 75.
The story of the Love Israel Family begins with the birth of Paul Erdmann, who would later be known as Love Israel, on August 25, 1940 in Berlin, Germany. Erdmann was born to a well-respected family that was eventually affected by the war and Hitler's Third Reich. After Erdman's father was imprisoned for six months, the Erdmanns left Germany, briefly staying in the Netherlands before coming to the United States and settling in Seattle, Washington. Erdmann's parents would later divorce, perhaps due in part to his father's difficulty in adjusting to his life in the United States. Paul Erdmann, like his father, seemed to have a hard time adjusting at first, feeling like an outsider in school and engaging in frequent fights. As a young adult, Erdmann attended a number of colleges for short periods of time, married, had a daughter, and started a television business that prospered for a short time. While seemingly on his way to fulfilling the American dream, Erdmann became uncomfortable with his ability to sell to clients. Erdmann stated: “When I was selling, I realized that people believed me. Started feeling very guilty. People actually believed me when I told them something! I realized I should be telling them the truth… [I was] making things sound better than they really were—as all salesmen do” (LeWarne 2009:18).
Despite his discontent, Erdmann was not immediately drawn to the ideas of the counterculture movement. In the beginning, his view of hippies was a negative one, but after some contact with the counterculture movement, Erdmann's view changed. In San Francisco, Erdmann had a two-bedroom apartment that served as a communal environment of sorts, as people would live in the apartment for a time before moving on. Three of these people would later become members of the Love Israel Family.
In 1968, Paul Erdmann and his girlfriend, Marilyn, moved into Queen Anne Hill, a residential neighborhood just north of downtown Seattle. Paul and Marilyn were soon joined by a married couple, Clint and Rosemary, and their son, Eric, as well as a Vietnam veteran named Neil. These six were the beginning of the group that would become the Love Israel Family. The small group strove to separate themselves from the rest of society and personally owned earthly belongings in an effort to seek spiritual truth. It was also in this early period that the group would stare into each other's eyes, believing that God was within everyone.
At one point, Erdmann took a trip looking for spiritual truth and experienced a vision that was central to the formation of Erdmann as Love Israel. [Image at right] While on a bus, Erdmann experienced a vision that he had had before, but had been unable to decipher. In this vision, he saw a pyramid formed of people who were arguing. LeWarne reports that in this vision:
God urged Paul to rise to the top, where an image of Jesus Christ was praying on a rock. When Paul looked again, he realized that the figure was not Jesus but himself, possibly as Jesus. Then a giant golden cloud encompassed everything and a translucent stone appeared on which ‘LOVE' was written ‘in a heavenly way' (2009:26).
One day after returning to Queen Anne Hill, Erdmann announced to the other members of the household that he was Love. In addition, the others would also receive their true names. These names represented a quality that the person embodied or was destined to possess, and although the way that these names were determined for members differed, visions often played a role. Rosemary (who had become Love's partner) became Honesty, Marilyn became Patience (she was now in a relationship with Clint), Clint became Faith, Neil became Strength, and Eric became Hope. The group would also go on to adopt the surname “Israel,” which marked them as “Children of God” and represented the time when all people would join together as one under God.
By the second year in the Queen Anne Hill residence, others began to join the original group. Within a few years, the Love Israel Family had expanded into two other homes. Eventually, the family lived in more than a dozen houses in the area, with as many as twenty to thirty people in a single household during periods of influx of new members. At its peak, The Love Israel Family would include approximately 350 members who lived in houses on Queen Anne Hill and in a few satellite properties.
Being part of the Love Israel Family included a degree of detachment from the outside world. Upon joining, members gave up personal possessions, as all was held in common within the Family and distributed by Love and the Elders as seen fit. Later, after the official religious body of the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon was established, new members would sign a document acknowledging their relinquishing of private property as well as powers of attorney to Love Israel through the Church. One was also expected to give up his or her birth name and most contact with the outside world, which included family members. Although letters were sent to the families of new members explaining the lack of contact and aspects of their new lives, the address of the Love Israel Family was shared and visits from family members occurred. Since part of the Love Israel Family's beliefs was a separation from previous lives and experiences, members were not required to share their backgrounds upon joining. With that said, members were predominately white, young, and non-wealthy.
While the houses of the Love Israel Family appeared the same as the others in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, [Image at right] inside they were different. Houses were furnished simply and the Family shunned televisions, radios, calendars, and newspapers in order to promote separation from the outside world and development of spiritual insight (Balch 1995:162). In the early years, Family members stood out because of their distinctive appearance and behaviors that the surrounding community deemed odd. Family members wore simple, homemade clothes, including unique robes that made Family members easily distinguishable. After some time, mainstream clothing was adopted for most activities and robes were reserved for religious occasions and other special events. During the Queen Anne Hill period, Love Israel Family members were also recognized by their neighbors due to some of their practices, including the nightly watch. Selected members would take turns monitoring Family members' houses in the early morning, sometimes waking members to ask if they had had any dreams or visions they wished to share. Adult members were awakened at four thirty each morning for largely spiritual meetings that might last up to two hours.
Although the Love Israel Family stood out from their neighbors for its members' distinctive appearance and unconventional living patterns, many in the Queen Anne Hill area accepted the group with little issue. However, two deaths caused by drug use in 1972 brought the Family into the public eye and caused them to be scrutinized by the media as a drug-using “cult.” The deaths of Reverence and Solidarity Israel occurred after the men placed plastic bags filled with toluene over their heads. Family members were able to convince the medical examiner to postpone autopsies, as the belief among the Family was that Reverence and Solidarity were not dead and would revive in three days. If they were truly dead, this would be a sign that they were “disbelievers” (LeWarne 2009:44). In these early years, the Family relied on spiritual healing rather than typical medical treatments. Due to the fact that “Family elders viewed sickness as a sign of doubt, even serious illnesses might go untreated, including two outbreaks of hepatitis” (LeWarne 2009:45). The belief in spiritual healing also appeared to apply to death, as Family members held a vigil hoping to revive Reverence and Solidarity, but this was unsuccessful. After the autopsies were conducted, the deaths were ruled accidental and no action was taken against the Family as toluene use was not prohibited by law.
Over the years, the Love Israel Family had a variety of businesses that had different degrees of success. The Front Door Inn was the first business venture, opening in the early 1970s and serving coffee and tea. The Front Door Inn became more of a community meeting center that was open twenty-four hours a day and often offered live entertainment. The Family also operated a guest house across the street from the Inn that allowed visitors to stay up to three days for no charge. This guest house served as a place for kin of the Love Israel Family members, as well as potential members, to stay. Additionally, the Family operated a natural foods store and offered free food for neighbors on a table outside of the store.
The Love Israel Family expanded beyond Queen Anne Hill for a variety of ventures. In the summer of 1971, members of The Family began working seasonally for orchardists in the Yakima River valley. One man from this area ended up joining the Love Israel Family. Among his property upon joining was a cannery, which was used to make a variety of goods including wine (which was prohibited within the Love Israel Family in early years). The Family also bought its own property in the Yakima River Valley. In the summer of 1982, about three dozen family members lived in this area, raising crops for themselves and Family ventures. The Family also expanded into a small farm area in Arlington, Washington, which would become a center for the Family after the breakup of 1983-1984. According to LeWarne, “enthusiasm for distant places led them farther afield as well, to North Pacific fishing endeavors, to Hawaii, and to 160 magnificent acres in Alaska” (2009:116). In the late 1970s, the Family purchased a converted minesweeper that they named Abundance. The Family typically avoided ventures that could create debt, but the introduction of money to the community through members and the potential usefulness for the boat in transporting members between various Family locations and as a means for a fishing operation led to the purchase. The Abundance took a couple of years to fix up, and after a number of less-than-fantastic fishing trips, it was clear that the boat cost the Family more than they could justify. Eventually, the Family leased the boat to a man who set the boat on fire and sunk it in an attempt at insurance fraud.
The increasing debt of the Family that seemed to contradict their principle of self-sufficiency left some members questioning the direction of the Family. After all, Family teachings were that those who lived in the present (“now is the time”) should avoid debt. Members began to suspect more than financial problems when rumors circulated that there were disagreements among elders, including Love. LeWarne succinctly sums up the differences that led to a split in 1983-1984 in the Love Israel Family into four categories as follows:
First, economic changes took place when the community began to expand, engage in commercial ventures, borrow funds, and mortgage properties. Second, social divisions increased as the Family found the influx of newcomers difficult to assimilate. Members no longer knew one another as intimately as they once had or shared common goals…A third consideration centered on the growing number of children, whose parents felt they were not receiving essential needs in daily life and schooling. A fourth issue, possibly inherent from the beginning, was the increasingly “king-like” role of Love, who had wealth and received special privileges that created significant gaps between him and lesser members. Among other things, he was believed to be indulging in an expensive cocaine habit that was detrimental to himself and his governance (LeWarne 2009:134).
In July of 1983, some of the elders decided to express their concerns to Love in a letter. This letter stated that those who were writing felt that Love had alienated himself from the rest of Family members spiritually, socially, and economically. Upon reading the letter, Love gave members two options: accept his authority or leave the community. Logic and Strength chose to depart the community. They were followed by other elders and other community members (many who did not know about the letter until Love's reaction). Over the next months, many of the Family members left, leaving a few dozen devoted Love Israel Family members in the community. The process of leaving the community and rejoining larger society was not always an easy transition for ex-Family members, as they faced relearning how to sustain themselves in a non-communal society, finding work to meet their skill sets, and going through the processes of changing their names to more conventional ones and obtaining proper identification credentials. Some of the members who decided to leave ended up living close together, attesting to the strong bonds that had been built within the Love Israel Family. During the breakup, Love faced his own issues as allegations (such as him giving drugs to children) began to circulate and lawyers became involved. Love was concerned about what might happen if these allegations were made public and decided to leave for Los Angeles with his family and a few loyal members until things settled down.
One of the members who decided to leave the community, Daniel Gruener (Richness Israel), brought a lawsuit against the Love Israel Family hoping to regain over one million dollars he had brought into the Family upon joining. The situation came to a conclusion when an out-of-court agreement was reached and the Family relinquished their Queen Anne Hill properties. The Family then declared bankruptcy and moved to their Arlington property to regroup.
The Arlington farm and ranch [Image at right] became the permanent locale for the Love Israel Family for the next twenty years, until the land was lost in 2003. The farm, which was located in a rural area approximately a dozen miles outside of the small town of Arlington, had come into the Family about a decade before it became the headquarters of the community when a woman and her children had joined the Family. While the Family was still headquartered in Queen Anne Hill, the land in Arlington had become a site for members to go to escape the city atmosphere of Seattle, with about fifteen people residing on the farm at a time. The farm had also become a place for special Love Israel Family occasions, including Passover.
In June 1984, about fifty Family members relocated to the Arlington ranch. When they arrived, they found the property in need of a great deal of repair, as many of the permanent ranch residents had left the property months before. Family members had to adjust to a new lifestyle, with living conditions quite different than those on Queen Anne Hill. The barn, which was the central building on the ranch, needed a good deal of work, and the housing that was available consisted of a few unoccupied yurts. Many members viewed the Arlington ranch as a temporary residence until they could resettle elsewhere, but this property became the new home of the Love Israel Family for the next two decades. Love arrived at Arlington a few months after the Family made the move there, as he was still in California during the initial move.
Over the next few years, the Family worked on reestablishing their community and becoming self-sufficient. Houses were upgraded in stages, going from yurts to yurts placed on platforms, to wood frame structures. The barn was refurbished and was used for a variety of purposes. The Family planted gardens and members produced handicrafts that were sold in the larger community. In the beginning, many of the men were working in the outside community, which Love felt weakened communal unity. Because of this, Love suggested the turn to home industries that would enable members to spend more time within the Family community. After some time at Arlington, Love maintained spiritual authority. Unlike the Queen Anne Hill days, Love relinquished control of other areas, such as business. Family relationships and disagreements that had led to the 1983-1984 breakup began to heal for many of the one hundred Family members that lived at the ranch.
Although Love retained his position of authority and his visions were central to Family beliefs, some of the Family practices changed from their Queen Anne Hill forms. The daily morning meetings, Saturday evening gatherings, and special holiday celebrations continued to play important parts in the lives of members. While the teachings of Jesus Christ and the basic tenets of the Family were maintained, some aspects were less of a focus. The Family Charter wasn't as physically present on the Arlington ranch, and many of the objects the Family had once used in rituals to connect them to their Israelite history were non-existent. Additionally, members began recognizing birthdays and carrying typical driver's license. (This may have been largely due to necessity, as many began business ventures outside of the Love Israel Family community.)
For the most part, the Love Israel Family peacefully coexisted with the larger Arlington community. Although some still viewed the Family as a hippie community with an odd lifestyle, the Family's interactions with non-Family members in Arlington helped to dispel negative speculation. The Family interacted with the Arlington community through their business ventures, Family children's attendance of public schools and participation in sports, and the annual Garlic Festival (which began in 1990). The idea for the festival occurred the year before the first official celebration when a potluck dinner was held in order to use garlic that was in danger of being ruined by rain. The Garlic Festival [Image at right] included items for sale, live entertainment, and garden tours. Each year, the Garlic Festival brought in thousands, and began to be publicized to tourists. In 2002, neighbors complained to the county, claiming the upcoming festival was a nuisance. For years, the Family had not obtained a special permit, claiming the festival as a religious event. Serious Israel explained the religious aspect of the festival, stating that the Garlic Festival was a chance for Family members and friends to gather with one another, as well as explain and promote the beliefs of the Love Israel Family. The 2002 issue was resolved with a permit under protest.
Things went well at the Arlington ranch for quite some time. At the end of the 1990s, about fifty members resided at the ranch, living a comfortable life, and getting along well with neighbors. However, financial issues would again cause issues for the Love Israel Family. Around 2002, Love Israel and a company, which had been formed after the 1983-1984 split for the purpose of holding land, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This move had been in the works for a few years, as Family ventures strained finances. It was decided the Arlington ranch should be sold, with the hope that perhaps some of the land could be maintained as Family land. In 2003, however, the Family's Arlington ranch was sold. As the Family prepared to depart, they held a large public moving sale in order to finance their move (many members planned to head to China Bend). Property at China Bend had been brought into the Family in the Queen Anne Hill days, and many members, including Love, had spent some time on this property through the years. Although China Bend did not turn out to be the new site for the Love Israel Family, quite a few members decided to settle there. Others moved to Seattle suburbs and some stayed in the Arlington area. In the Seattle suburb of Bothell, Love and other members settled and set up housing similar to that of the Queen Anne Hill period. Adjacent houses were purchased and yards were connected.
The Love Israel Family has undergone a great deal of change since its Queen Anne Hill days, including the adoption of worldly aspects that were once shunned and movement away from its communal nature, but many members still hold to the basic beliefs of the Family. Additionally, many members and non-members still remain in contact with one another, having built strong relationships within the Family. Since the selling of the Arlington ranch and the relocation of members to other properties, the Love Israel Family has remained largely out of the public eye. Local newspapers and television stations recently published stories when it was revealed that Love Israel was battling cancer. On February 1, 2016, Love lost his battle with cancer. Services were held a couple of weeks later, with an estimated attendance of 400 people. Honesty, who was his wife for 48 years keeps Love's ashes in their home (Lacitis 2016).
The Love Israel Family and the Church at Armageddon's beliefs can be summarized with the following phrase: “love is the answer, we are all one, now is the time.” The Family based beliefs on the teachings of Jesus Christ and encouraged others to follow these teachings as well. Although the Family considered themselves Christians, they differed from other groups because of their focus on personal experience. The Bible's relevance came from member's experiences that provided an understanding of what was recorded in the Bible. Members also felt a specific connection to Jesus Christ, and like him, they were the heirs of God. Taking the last name “Israel” signified the regrouping of people from diverse backgrounds in order to reestablish their proper heritage. The glory of Jesus Christ was within each member and all were one. Because of this, the Love Israel Family believed they “manifested the second coming of Christ” (LeWarne 2009:67). The Family “had gathered at a place called Armageddon—separate from the world—to be received by God” and believed that “others would come from all ends of the earth to join them” (LeWarne 2009:66).
Unlike some Christian groups who have a focus on the future, the Love Israel Family focused on the present, because God was present now. People were encouraged to drop their everyday attachments in order to focus on being united with God. Members also felt it was more important to concern themselves with treating one another with love now, rather than speculating about what happened to one's soul upon leaving the earth. Love is quoted as saying, “The kingdom of heaven is within you, not going to be, it is, so if you are going to find it, you'd better look inside…God is with us all and we are all different parts of it—everybody” (LeWarne 2009:72).
The Love Israel Family also held the notion that its members were eternal. The Family cited John 2:25-26 for this belief: “We know that we have eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ who says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die'” (Church of Armageddon 1971:34). Jesus's sacrifice allowed people to be freed from sin and death. As LeWarne states, “as Children of God, members could no longer die; they were equal to the angels” (2009:72). This belief had every-day implications for members, including encounters with the Queen Anne Hill police that often resulted in jail time for Family members who insisted they were eternal. Since members not only referred to themselves by their Family names rather than their given names, but also refused to acknowledge their worldly birth dates and ages, they were seen as obstructing justice. After some time, the Seattle police worked with the Love Israel Family, using ID cards issued by the police and receiving special driver's licenses issued to Family members without any references to their pasts.
Deaths of Family members were the cause of some confusion among members who believed that they, and fellow members, were eternal. For instance, the early death of two members due to toluene came as a shock to the Family, and medical examiners were convinced to wait three days to see if these men would return to life. Love claimed that, if they were true believers, they would be able to do so. But the men did not rise from the dead. The death of Marcus Israel in 1974 after an accident at the Arlington property was dealt with in a similar manner, with county officials being persuaded to wait three days to see if Marcus desired to come back to life. After three days, Marcus did not return to life. Over the years, it appears that members' interpretations of what it meant to be eternal shifted, perhaps due to the difficulty in explaining deaths of members. Serious Israel's interpretation was based on the idea that “Persons who have true loving relationships with one another will overcome the appearance of death, for the love we share is eternal—indeed, that love is God—and we will be together forever in eternity…through love for one another we can have eternal life, even though the body may give up” (LeWarne 2009:72-73).
Also central to the beliefs of the Love Israel Family was an emphasis on visions and dreams as forms or revelation. The Christian Bible, specifically the New Testament, was held to be particularly important because it verified the information that was transmitted to members through visions and dreams. Love's visions were of particular importance, as they had provided the basic tenets that the Family espoused. LeWarne recounts one of Love's early visions:
One time I felt I gave up the world, my life, in my mind. I let go of everything. God took me up into that place where there is no end, no beginning, there's no time. Just an instant of being everywhere all at once without any end anywhere at all. Then you come back down to a finite position. But then I said, that's not fair—you come back down to the muck. I came into a cesspool of thoughts.” Then, in his vision Love saw the hand of God holding “very beautiful people coming out of the muck. But the handful had no limits, a million, billion, trillion, twelve…an unlimited handful…It was us. It was us. Without any mysteries in our heads any more (LeWarne 2009:67).
Visions were also important in bringing new members to the Family. Many members told of having visions in which they saw Love or experienced visions similar to his before they had ever heard of or come into contact with the Love Israel Family (Balch 1998:71). Once in the Family, members were encouraged to share their visions and dreams, which could be interpreted by Love. While most members did hold to the belief that their visions and dreams were revelations from God, there was one subgroup within the Family that were later found out to be embellishing their visions in order to please Love and others: children. After the split of 1983-1984, some of the children admitted to making up their visions and embellishing on their statements in order to outdo one another.
Around 1970, the Family set out to put down their beliefs in a written document, the Love Israel Family charter. This project originally came about as members set out to search the Bible for answers to questions they had. Love assigned members to specific themes which they researched and wrote up, and Love himself wrote the Introduction. This document addressed the fundamental beliefs of the Love Israel Family and was used by members in study group setting and served as a guide for new members. Due to the important status of the Charter, Love tasked Imagination Israel with turning the Charter into a piece of art. The result was a thousand copies of the Family Charter, a thirty-six page document that included calligraphy, four colors, and gold inlay. The Charter is a combination of statements from the Love family and references to the New Testament, which are written in red.
The Love Israel Family Charter, which is separated into sections with headings such as “Authority,” “Children,” “Bread of Life,” and “Eternal Life”, begins with a statement:
The Church of Armageddon is founded upon the revelation of Jesus Christ. Our purpose is to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ by fulfilling the New Testament. We welcome all people who sincerely desire to live the New Testament without hypocrisy. The aims of the Church of Armageddon are to make it possible for all mankind to live God's way in this modern day and age” (Church of Armageddon 1971:n.p.).
Additionally, the Introduction written by Love states the following: “The church doesn't expect to explain in words our authority or purpose…We realize that all members of this body will recognize each other at their appointed time and we expect no confusion” (Church of Armageddon 1971:1).
The Charter's section on marriage points out that the worldly conception of marriage does not apply to the Family, as “each member is married to Christ” and thus are “married to one another in Christ Jesus Our Lord (Church of Armageddon 1971:22-23). Although this may seem to point to a practice of “free love” within the Family, the situation was quite the opposite. By the later years of the 1970s, the Family required new members to practice celibacy for at least one year and members had to have the approval of Love and other elders in order to start a relationship (Balch 1998:79). It is also in this section of the Charter that it is stated that men will have authority over women, which played out noticeably in the appointment of elders.
The Love Israel Family had a reputation for extensive drug use. While it is true that some Family members used drugs, it must be noted that the extent to which members engaged in this behavior varied. In fact, as Robert Balch points out, some who had been heavy users credited the Love Israel Family for helping them get off of drugs (Balch 1998:71) Love and early Family members used hallucinogenic drugs in order to seek enlightenment and advance spiritually. Some of the visions experienced by members were drug-induced, but this was not the case for all visions. During the Queen Anne Hill days, marijuana was used regularly by many members and often was smoked during spiritual meetings. Hard drugs and liquor appear to have been used rarely by some members, but the use of these substances was for entertainment, not spiritual purposes. As with some of the Family's other beliefs and practices, as time went on, and particularly after the move to the Arlington property, the practice of drug usage underwent a change.
In line with other Christian groups, the Love Israel Family believed baptism to be an important ritual for members. Baptism freed new members from their previous identity and existence and signified their joining of the family of Jesus Christ and the Love Israel Family. In the early years at Queen Anne Hill, a baptism took place after the new member had been with the Family long enough that the Family accepted them. Serious Israel explained that “it was not so much a matter of ‘joining' our family, as recognizing the connection which already existed” through the new member's personal revelation (Israel 1994:53). The baptized member was given a biblical first name and the last name “Israel.” (Family members received virtue names that replaced biblical ones when God revealed their new name.) Baptismal ceremonies became a significant feature of the Passover celebration that were held on the Arlington Property, which had its own lake. New members “took off their clothes, symbolically shedding their own lives, and walked naked into the water while Love watched from a chair. Two Family priests then dunked them, and they emerged with new names. Given a robe and sandals…they went back to their households to celebrations, dancing, and music” (LeWarne 2009:81).
Other important aspects of the Passover ceremony included a large feast, typically featuring fish and honey, and the children's Easter egg hunt. For the Easter egg hunt, a variety of eggs would be hidden for kids to find. Eggs would be worth different points, and at the end of the hunt, the child who had the most points would choose a prize and so on. These prizes were hand-made by members of the Family and included items such as “hand-puppets, a full-mastered [miniature] sailing vessel, fishing rods, bow and arrow, [and] a bead-trimmed purse” (LeWarne 2009:49). A golden egg was also hidden during the hunt, and the child who found this egg got to plan the Golden Egg party. This party served as the birthday party for all children, since children did not have individual birth dates.
From the beginning, Love was the leader of the Family. He attributed being the eldest and having business experience and contacts to the leadership role he took on in the initial Queen Anne Hill group. However, Love's spiritual talents and charisma always set him apart from others and were recognized even when other aspects of his leadership were questioned. Many who joined the Family believed they recognized Love from dreams or visions they had had prior to meeting him. These experiences were often the basis for granting Love spiritual authority and trusting him with decisions. Members felt that his authority was supported by God, which raised his position beyond a personal statement of leadership. Serious Israel stated that in spite of any of Love's flaws, “the overriding fact of his authority was endorsed to [Serious] by God” (LeWarne 2009:77). As the Love Israel Family matured, some issues arose concerning Love's authority, but Love was able to maintain his position.
There were no elections or similar democratic processes in the Love Israel Family. The hierarchical structure of the Family was created through appointments. Love was the top authority and a group of appointed elders served below Love. Each house on Queen Anne Hill had an elder in charge (often there was a man and woman who served as elders in individual houses, but only the men operated directly under Love as community leaders). Elders from individual houses served as intermediaries between members and Love and members had to have most decisions and actions approved by the elders and Love. As time went on at Queen Anne Hill, the elders insulated Love from the concerns being shared by members.
Love also had the authority to determine who was allowed to join the Family and also dismissed members whom he viewed as problematic. Love's authority was ultimate, as would be shown in the reaction to the 1983 letter drafted by concerned elders, and anyone who questioned him could be expelled from the community. Some of these members returned to the Family after some time, but their relationship with Love could not be fully mended. For instance, LeWarne recounts the experience of Respect Israel, who was “a highly ranked Family member until he questioned Love about being Jesus Christ and was expelled. He later came back but never regained his name or position” (LeWarne 2009:79).
As is the case with many communal religious groups, both internal conflicts and external pressures impacted the Love Israel Family. Animosity from outsiders seemed to come with the territory for communal religious groups like the Love Israel Family that were labeled as “cults.” At times, this negative reception dominated relationships between Family members and outsiders. This was particularly the case in the early years at Queen Anne Hill. For some, the Love Israel Family exhibited characteristics that set them apart (such as their clothing and their neighborhood watch), but did not paint them as dangerous. The first event that drew a deal of negative attention for the Love Israel Family was the toluene-related demise of Reverence and Solidarity Israel. While these deaths had a significant impact on the Family, the attention in the press to this event quickly subsided.
The Love Israel Family caused concern for some parents because of the speculation about drug use and mistreatment and isolation of members. The families of new Love Israel Family members would receive letters such as the following shared by Steve Allen whose son, Brian (Logic), was once part of the Family:
I have joined the Church of Armageddon here in Seattle. We are a church and a family.
Our holy book is the Holy Bible, King James Version.
The head of the church is our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Love Israel represents Christ and God as the final word in all matters concerning the church, by the total consent of all church members.
I have given up my old name and all that went with it. My new name is Logic Israel. I do not expect to be returning to Los Angeles.
This will be my last letter.
I have found my true home and I am happy. Now I can be what I am, a son of God.
Please see that all of the members of the family read this letter.
I love you all very much. (Allen 1979:3).
The letter ended in a signature and the Family's address in Seattle.
Since many who joined the Family were young adults, [Image at right] some parents got involved, convinced that their children had been brainwashed. While some parents, siblings, and friends visited the Love Israel Family and were impressed by what they had witnessed (including the cases of some family members who visited and decided to join the Family), others were appalled by the living conditions and odd practices of Family members. New members gave up all of their personal belongings, lived in crowded housing, were encouraged to separate themselves from the outside world and their previous lives, and spent a great deal of time in meditation and other spiritual practices.
One of the responses to family members' conviction that young adults who affiliated with new religious groups (cults) had been brainwashed (programmed) was the process that was called deprogramming, which was believed to reverse the effects of cultic programming. The practice was introduced by Theodore “Ted” Patrick who began deprogramming members of the Children of God, Hare Krishna, and Unification Church in the early 1970s (Patrick 1976). Other groups, including Love Israel Family, also soon became deprogramming targets. Typically supported by the “cult” member's family, the person would be drawn away from their community and forcefully held for hours (and sometimes days or weeks) until they were willing to reject their “cult” life and return to their family. Deprogramming was a threat to the targeted groups because it posed a challenge to group assertions that memberships were the product of the discovery of religious truth and of legitimate conversion. The Love Israel Family experienced only a few cases of deprogramming; the fact that deprogrammings of Love Israel Family were largely unsuccessful served to strengthen the group's anticipation of Armageddon and its belief that member commitment could withstand even determined opponents.
Patrick first came into contact with the Love Israel Family when he deprogramed a young woman who had left the community, but left her child behind with the Family. After the case was settled by the court, the child was returned to the parents. After his involvement in this case, Patrick accused the Love Israel Family of “mind-control, physical abuse of members including children, strict discipline, and inattention to medical and dental needs” (LeWarne 2009:105-106).
In 1973, Patrick got involved in another Love Israel Family case. Dedication Israel (she was named Corinth at the time, but later received the name Dedication due to her experiences) and her mother, who was visiting the Family for a few days, were jogging one morning when Dedication was pulled into a van by two men. Dedication's mother had planned this abduction in order to “save” her daughter from the Love Israel Family. Dedication's mother had also agreed to have the experience recorded for the purposes of a TV documentary on deprogramming. As the deprogramming group drove south, Dedication escaped and was recaptured several times. Each time she would ask people to call the police, as she had been kidnapped, but the deprogramming group would convince these people that Dedication was being rescued from a “cult.” After a few days, Dedication and the deprogramming group arrived in Los Angeles, where Patrick began to implement his techniques (Israel 1995:43).
After several days in which Dedication resisted Patrick's techniques and demanded that her rights be acknowledged, Patrick became frustrated and shut down filming. A professional exorcist was brought in because the deprogrammers concluded that Dedication must be possessed. According to Dedication, she decided to go along with the intervention, and the exorcism was deemed a success. Soon after, she escaped and hitchhiked her way back to the Love Israel Family. Patrick was indicted for kidnapping, but a Seattle judge acquitted him. A few years later, Patrick was convicted of unlawful imprisonment of a Hare Krishna practitioner and imprisoned (Israel 1995:43-44).
Parents often became concerned for their children's safety when they heard stories from anti-cult activists about the dangers of these groups. Sure Israel's parents, who were Jewish, abducted him three times. During the first of these times, he was forcefully taken to his parent's house in Massachusetts and endured “rigorous ordeals, including long harangues, sleep deprivation, slapping him around, tying him down and cutting off his long hair, and shooting him with water pistols whenever he gave what they considered the wrong answer” (Israel 1995:44).
He escaped and returned to the Family. Another member, Consideration, traveled to Ohio after he was told his father needed to have surgery. When he arrived, his parents committed him to a mental ward where he endured shock treatments. Serious and Sure Israel flew out to help Consideration. While there, Sure was again taken by his parents and a group of deprogrammers. His parents sent him to the nation of Israel to reconnect with their Jewish faith. After an extensive struggle, Sure made his way back to the Love Israel Family. In 1975, Sure's parents once again tried to separate him from the Family. Sure was at the Family's property in Alaska when his parents received a court order and police arrested him. He was taken to Massachusetts and the Family worked with the courts to get him released (Israel 1995:44).
The largest challenge that the Love Israel Family faced was internal differences. As the community moved into the 1980s, divisions began to arise because of economic changes, social divisions, concerns about children, and Love's behavior. The Family had always tried to avoid debt, in the belief that if they focused on spiritual development, they would be taken care of. However, as the membership grew, the Family found itself having to alter its views. More residences were needed to house the expanding Family and the introduction of money and assets from new members allowed the Family to engage in new ventures. Starting businesses and purchasing the boat Abundance seemed to be moves that would benefit the Family, but a lack of experience in the areas of these ventures resulted in less success than the community had hoped to achieve. An important aspect of the financial life of the Family was the corporation, “Jesus Christ” that was created in 1976. This allowed the Family to “hold property, transact business, and make contracts” and with Love Israel as the “corporation sole,” he was given financial power for the Family (LeWarne 2009:135).
In the 1980s, the Family began to move away from some of its communal aspects. Love encouraged households to become more self-sufficient and contribute to paying off Family debts. Although some could work in the businesses opened by the Family, many had to struggle to find work in the larger community. This was difficult for many who lacked the skills and education necessary for many jobs, and who also lacked birth dates and necessary forms of identification for obtaining employment. This shift made some members question the direction of the Family, especially given the fact that more involvement in the outside community resulted in outside influences altering community practices (such as the adoption of more conventional dress and the centering of activities on actual, rather than eternal, time).
A combination of involvement with the outside world and the introduction of a large number of new members resulted in community that was not as closely-knit as it once had been. In addition, some members lived at the other Family properties and thus were not as closely connected to the community at Queen Anne Hill. Members also became more distanced from Love; new members did not build personal relationships with Love, and the Elders began to take on more of the daily leadership in the Family. During this time, religious ceremonies began to focus more on his personal aura in an attempt to reestablish connections between Love and other family members.
Members began to question Love and some of the practices of the Family. By the early 1980s, children consisted of about a third of Family members. Since there weren't many children at the Love Israel Family's outset, financial concerns and practical matters about childrearing had not been developed. As more members became parents, they began to request more financial support for children's education and other basic needs, which Love often pushed back against. Many Family members who had been content with the bare necessities wanted more for their children and began to feel discontented with the Family's setup (It Takes a Cult 2009).
As discontent increased within the Family, the elders insulated Love from the daily concerns of members. The elders' actions, the growing separateness among the growing Family, and Love's aloofness all worked to open the door for corruption. Love had his own room and bath while others lived in crowded spaces; he spent money on luxury items while others struggled to buy shoes for their children; and he was rumored to be in the throes of an expensive cocaine habit. In earlier years, Love remain unquestioned because members felt that he was the authority and his actions were always the correct ones. However, this unwavering acceptance of Love's actions had dissipated as many began to feel betrayed by their leader. Members who were concerned about Love and the direction in which the Family was headed took their concerns to elders, as it was still the case that Love was not questioned openly. Some members, like Serious, defended Love and his decisions. While Serious acknowledged Love's weaknesses, he compared the “situation to that of small children who see their father as “‘Godlike,” only to discover, as they reach adolescence, that he is human and fallible” (LeWarne 2009:143).
Eventually, seven Family members wrote a letter to Love that voiced their concerns and pointed to other options, allowing Love to retain his spiritual authority while elders would be given more control over practical matters. In the letter, the authors emphasized the fact that the letter was due to their love and concern for the Family. They also accused Love of taking advantage of the spiritual authority that he had been given, stating that members felt there were contradictions between what Love himself did and what he told others they should do. Since Love was regarded as infallible, members had a difficult time understanding how he could engage in self-serving behaviors that did not live up to community expectations. The authors of the letter encouraged Love to apologize to the Family for his actions and rebuild the relationships he once had with members. The letter was signed by twenty-nine members of the Family. When Love read the letter, he tore it up and accused the writers of “submitting to the forces of Satan” and gave them the options of accepting his authority or leaving the Family (LeWarne 2009:151). Logic and Strength, who had taken part in writing the letter, were the first to leave the Family. As the news of the letter and Love's response made its way through the community, more members decided to leave. Within a few months, the Family had dwindled to a few dozen members.
Richness Israel (who had brought in substantial assets upon joining the Family) filed “a lawsuit that would essentially dissolve the Family” (LeWarne 2009:157). Richness was concerned about those who chose to leave the Family, as they would not receive what they had brought in because it would remain in Love's possession. Richness and those who were on his side wanted the material assets to be given to Richness, who would then be in charge of distributing portions to members. Love was in California at the time, so Serious, Loyalty, and others were given the legal authority to handle Love Israel Family matters.
A couple of weeks after the filing of the lawsuit, representatives from both sides worked out a settlement. Both sides recognized the potential negative consequences of a court case that would bring Family issues into the public eye. Additionally, a temporary restraining order requested by Richness was granted and put the remaining members of the Family in a difficult situation financially. The Family felt pressured to settle because the restraining order could not sell any properties or assets in order to pay off debts. The Seattle properties were turned over to Richness and the remaining Love Israel Family retained ownership of the Arlington ranch, in order to have a property where Family members could continue their community.
Image #1: Photograph of Love Israel (Paul Erdmann).
Image #2: Photograph of the Love Israel Family's Queen Anne Hill mansion in Seattle, still in unfinished condition, in 1993. Photograph by Charles P. LeWarne.
Image #3: Photograph of Butterfly Lake on the Love Israel Family Ranch in Arlington in 2002 . Photograph by Charles P. LeWarne
Image #4: Photograph of the Garlic Festival at the Love Israel Family Ranch in Arlington in 2001. Photograph by Charles P. LeWarne
Image #5: Photograph of members of the Love Israel Family.
**Unless otherwise referenced, the material in this profile is drawn from Charles P. LeWarne's 2009 book, The Love Israel Family: Urban Commune, Rural Commune, which is the definitive, exhaustively researched work on the Love Israel Family.
Allen, Steve. 1982. Beloved Son: A Story of the Jesus Cults. Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.
Balch, Robert W. 1998. “The Love Family: Its Formative Years.” Pp 63-94 in Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis, edited by William W. Zellner and Marc Petrowsky. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Balch, Robert W. 1995. “Charisma and Corruption in the Love Family: Toward a Theory of Corruption in Charismatic Cults.” Pp. 155-80 in Sex, Lies, and Sanctity: Religion and Deviance in Contemporary North America, edited by Mary Jo Neitz and Marion S. Goldman. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Church of Armageddon. 1971. “Church of Armageddon Charter.” Accessed from http://tommcknight.com/friends/seattle/LoveFamily-Charter/LoveFamilyCharter.htm on 10 November 2016.
Haley, Jim. 2007. “Catching up with the Love Family.” Herald Net, January 13. Accessed from http://www.heraldnet.com/news/catching-up-with-the-love-family/ on 13 November 2016.
Israel, Serious. 1995. “'Deprogramming' Our Members: An Account of Events in the Love Israel Family, as Told to Diana Leafe Christian by Serious Israel.” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living 88:43-44.
Israel, Serious. 1994. “Community as Crucible: The Love Israel Family.” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living 85:52-55.
Israel, Serious. 1983. “Bringing the Vision Down to Earth.” InContext 22-25 (Spring).
It Takes a Cult. 2009. Directed by Eric Johannsen. Santiago Films. Accessed from www.youtube.com on 15 November 2016.
Lacitis, Erik. 2016. “Love Israel, Founder of Troubled Seattle Commune, Dies at 75.” The Seattle Times, April 2. Accessed from http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/obituaries/cancer-kills-love-israel-founder-of-troubled-commune/ on 14 November 2016.
“Letter to Love Israel.” 1983. Accessed from http://tommcknight.com/friends/seattle/LetterToLoveIsrael1983/1983LoveFamilyLetterToLoveIsrael.htm on 10 November 2016.
LeWarne, Charles P. 2009. The Love Israel Family: Urban Commune, Rural Commune. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
LeWarne, Charles P. 2000. “The Commune That Didn't Come to Town: The Love Israel Family and a Small Town in Idaho.” Communal Studies 20:81-95.
LeWarne, Charles P. 1998. “The Love Israel Family: An Urban Commune Becomes a Rural Commune.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 89:65-76.
Miller, Timothy. 1999. The ‘60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Patrick, Ted. 1976. Let Our Children Go! New York: Dutton.
5 February 2017