CONCERNED CHRISTIANS TIMELINE
Founder : Monte Kim Miller.1
Sacred or Revered Texts : Bimonthly newsletter, Report from Concerned Christians . Our Foundation radio program. The Old Testament is also used, but their beliefs primarily deal with the New Testament.
Monte Kim Miller was born on April 20, 1954 and raised in the small farming community of Burlington, Colorado. Miller’s family did not attend church, but he claims to have converted to Christianity after listening to Bill Bright, founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ. He allegedly worked for Campus Crusade, but no record of that work can be found. Miller received no formal theological training. Thus, he claims he avoided any “disciplining in ‘man’s’ traditions” and was able to learn solely from God. 5
Miller was an anti-cult activist in the early 1980’s, around the same time he formed Concerned Christians. He was working as a marketing executive at Proctor and Gamble at the time and he began to lecture at local Denver churches. Miller formed Concerned Christians in response to the New Age movement and his perception of anti-Christian bias in the media. His newsletter, Report from Concerned Christians focused on such topics as feminist spirituality, the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, New Age trends in the Christian church, and alternative medicine. 6
By the mid-1980s Miller’s views began to deviate from orthodox evangelical Christian doctrine and practice. It is claimed that Miller began to have conversations with God at this point, but this is disputed. By around 1988 Miller’s focus began to shift even more. This is evidenced in a series of newsletters criticizing the World-Faith movement and the Roman Catholic Church. Although this in itself is unremarkable, as many religious organizations were also voicing concern in regards to these groups, it served as a precursor to Miller’s attacks on organized Christianity.
Miller began to isolate himself starting in the early 1990’s. In 1996 he began producing a radio program entitled Our Foundation . The program was removed from the air after Miller refused to pay for air time, claiming that God had ordered him not to pay. Miller declared bankruptcy after becoming more than $600,000 in debt. He asked his followers to contribute up to $100,000 apiece. When they refused, it is alleged that he advised his followers that they were going to hell. 7
It was also during this time that Miller began to channel messages from God. His prophecies became increasing apocalyptic. He proclaimed himself to be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11, who would be killed in Jerusalem in December 1999, and then resurrected after three days. He also prophesied that the Apocalypse would begin after Denver was to be destroyed by and earthquake on October 10, 1998. 8
Seventy-two members of the Concerned Christians group abandoned their homes on September 30, 1998 and apparently fled to Jerusalem. The alleged reason for their abrupt departure was both to avoid the destruction of Denver and also to prepare themselves to witness the coming of the Messiah in Jerusalem during the millennium. Israeli authorities raided the homes of 14 members of the group on January 3, 1999, alleging that the group was planning to commit a violent action in an attempt to instigate Christ’s Second Coming. The members were deported on January 8, 1999, and they were returned to Denver. 9
The beliefs of the Concerned Christians group reflect those of many religious fundamentalist groups. Monte Kim Miller focuses on several key issues and is concerned primarily with the New Testament, especially the Book of Matthew. The following concepts are derived from the only known source available regarding the beliefs of this group, the transcripts of a radio program, Our Foundation , preached by Miller. There are 45 numbered programs.
First and foremost, Miller teaches about the importance of spiritual rebirth. This spiritual birth, as opposed to our natural birth, leads to eternal life. To glorify the importance of flesh is to lead a life contrary to the spirit of God. Following that, Miller preaches that humans must become meek and lowly in heart so that they can decrease themselves and Christ can increase himself in them. This suffering and the death of self (and his own ways and desires) correlates with the theme of diminishing so Christ can prosper, and this is accomplished through the Holy Spirit.
Through this decreasing/increasing of the self and Christ and the concept of “cross- carrying” (the idea of suffering identified with Christ bearing the cross), the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be attained. When it is no longer the self that lives, but Christ within the self, it is then that the fruit of the Holy Spirit can be manifested. The fruits of the Spirit include meekness, temperance, longsuffering, gentleness, love, joy, peace, and goodness. Faith is also a fruit of the Spirit, but more importantly it is the means by which these fruits can be achieved.
Humility and self-denial are the next two issues dealt with in the radio programs. Humility is produced by faith, and humility is a centerpiece of each fruit of the spirit. Christians are to humble themselves before one another and also before non- believers. Christians are not to attempt to achieve ruler ship status over the governments of the world during this age (the present). This is the age for humility, not reigning over the fallen world system. Miller believes that the Heavenly Kingdom Teachings are what Christians should live by, and they include:
By denying ourselves,
Carrying our crosses,
Being humble before others, and
Living in Faith.
One cannot abide by these teachings unless the Holy Spirit is in the heart. These teachings to Miller represent the divine edict to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies. It is this concept that is later expounded on it great detail in future programs. Miller’s focus in the programs numbered 10-20 is on self-denial and its consequences.
One should submit to the Holy Spirit and deny oneself. Men who do not know Jesus Christ pursue self; they pursue their own lives and dreams. They pursue the desires of their flesh, and these are the fruits of self-will. The fruits of the Spirit come from self-denial – and that self-denial is a result of the giving up of your own life for the pursuit of Christ’s. One must ignore the earthly kingdom’s “wisdom of this world” because it will lead to the pursuit of self and the fallen natural man. One must strive at all costs to avoid this downfall. The fallen natural man, for example, will take revenge when wronged. Miller then describes the various characteristics ascribed to the self, such as selfishness, self-importance, self-centered, self-serving, self-interest, self-love, and self-pity, among a few.
Miller contends that the only positive aspect of self is self-improvement, which comes about only through a denial of self (a “death to self”) and a subsequent victory in Jesus Christ. There should be no self-defense, even in the example of slanderous accusations are made against one’s nature. Like Christ on the cross, one should merely accept those accusations and forgive his enemies. Along these lines, Miller challenges people to:
Bless them that curse us,
Do good to them that hate us,
Pray for them which despitefully use us.
The next issue that Miller addresses is resistance to evil. He argues that true believers should not resist evil, but should resist Satan. Consequently, Miller argues that one is in fact resisting Satan when one refuses to resist the evil perpetrated by those who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives, and who are Satan’s agents in the flesh. Miller contends that any form of resistance to evil, even non-violent (as demonstrated in the actions of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.,) is unbiblical.
The rest of Miller’s sermons are devoted to the transition from the Old Testament rule of law to the New Testament world of grace.
One should not merely see God’s grace directed to the believer, but one should see God’s grace shining through the believer. One is not to render judgment and attempt to punish non-believing sinners according to Old Testament law, because the new covenant is stronger than the old.
Miller’s emphasis in the last sermons is to establish the idea that believers not challenge government, or attempt to create laws that would punish sinners, but rather to not resist their evil, because one had no legitimate right to judge non-believers.
Like Christ, who came to earth without judging but only to save, believers should try to offer the non-believer eternal life through Jesus Christ, in the same spirit that Christ saved the world. Miller cautions his listeners against the easy trap of a “common religious purpose”, which serves to bring together true believers into deception and alliance with those who are religious but do not truly follow Jesus Christ into the resistance of evil in society. This deception can lead a believer to think is acceptable to resist evil in order to make society more righteous. An example of this is an anti-abortion law. Miller argues that it is not the place of believers to make these laws, because that is an example of resistance to evil.
“There’s a gulf of Biblical dimensions between what Monte Kim Miller preaches on tape and what some have heard firsthand” 11 .
So begins an article in the Denver Rocky Mountain News , and so also begins the difficulty of distinguishing and discerning the truth from opinion, not only in this article but also all articles written about the Concerned Christians. There most certainly is a discrepancy between the written and/or oral teachings of Monte Kim Miller and the accounts given by family, friends, former members, and self proclaimed “cult experts”. While there doesn’t seem to be any immediate consequences arising from this simple fact, complexities arise because only one faction of this divide is talking to the media – and it isn’t Mote Kim Miller and his followers.
A careful examination of the archive of newspaper articles written about the Concerned Christians, suggests that local newspapers have been less than objective. The statistics that follow are derived from the archives of the Denver Post – I have also read through all of the articles from the Rocky Mountain News and found that the articles presented in it follow the trend that is illustrated below, therefore I have chosen to only focus on one newspaper for the sake of clarity.
There were 39 total articles published on the subject of the Concerned Christians between October 7, 1998 and January 3, 2000. In those articles there were 57 sources quoted. By calculating the number of times any given source was quoted, I concluded there are 132 “quotes” in the 39 articles. A few persons accounted for many of the quotes. To clarify, a quote is not calculated by ascertaining the number of times a certain person spoke throughout the same article, but rather if that person is quoted at least once in the article, that is considered a “quote” for him or her. The “quote” number ascribed to a person or group is the number of times that person or group was cited as a source in the articles. The majority of these sources (35) were quoted only once. The breakdown of the sources is as follows:
There were 22 family members or friends quoted. These family members and friends accounted for 52 “quotes”.
There were 5 anonymous sources quoted. These sources accounted for 10 “quotes”.
There were 13 “official” sources quoted. These sources accounted for 15 “quotes”. Of these 13 “official” sources, 9 issued neutral statements regarding Concerned Christians, 3 issued what can be considered negative statements, and 1 issued a positive statement on their behalf.
Perhaps most interestingly, there were 3 anti-cult activists quoted as sources, but between the three of them they make up 35 “quotes”. That is almost 1/3 of the quotes attributed to 3 people.
Among the family members and friends portion, the most often quoted include John Weaver, Sherry Clark, Jennifer Cooper and Del Dyck.
John Weaver is the father of Nicolette Weaver, an outspoken critic of the group who falls under both the family member and former member rubric. Nicolette’s mother, Jan Cooper, is believed to be a high-ranking member of the group and Nicolette has testified that her mother often told her of the short time they had left on earth and that if directed by Miller, she would kill Nicolette. 12 John Weaver often makes highly derogatory statements regarding the group, including claims that the group demands members surrender their lives to Miller’s dictums, charges that Miller is a “con” and “biblical illiterate” 13 and beliefs that Miller is like Almighty God to members and has the ability to plot his own martyrdom and lead them to mass suicide.
Sherry Clark is often the unofficial spokeswoman of the family members, and she testifies that when she met with Miller he told her the only way to be saved was to write a check for $70,000 while simultaneously twisting his mouth and talking in a “weird voice” 14 . She has also questioned his ability to make choices. She is the primary source for characterizing the feelings of family members regarding the cult – she has said that the experience has tragically divided and pulled families apart. 15
Jennifer Cooper is the daughter of John Cooper, who is the husband of Jan Cooper and who also is believed to be the primary financer of the group’s activities. Jennifer successfully petitioned for a conservatorship for control of her father’s estate. To do so, she had to convince a judge that her father was unable to make financial decisions for himself. Cooper claimed that her father had been “brainwashed” and was acting out of character. 16 She feels as though Miller is only after her father’s money.
Lastly, Del Dyck only made the news around January 7, 1999, when 14 of the members were being deported from Israel back to the United States. Knowing his son would be among the members returning, he flew to Denver and met every incoming flight from Tel Aviv – to no avail. These four people are characteristic of the family member’s testimonies as a whole. Generally, family and friends express frustration, anger, sadness, and hurt, which is not surprising. Their sentiments, however, cannot be considered objective.
The anti-cult experts
It is understandable that a group that believes the media to be biased against them would be reluctant to respond to requests for interviews. How much effort the Denver media made to speak with group members is not known, but there are no quotes from members of Concerned Christians in the news stories I examined. One would expect the media would call upon family members for perspective about a group that was believed to be controversial even before they disappeared. If this is understandable, it is also clear that the media have not sought more objective or neutral perspective. Indeed, as I noted above, three local anti-cult activists account for approximately one-third of all quotes. To more clearly understand the context of the quotes used by the media, it may be instructive to offer brief sketches about the three most frequently cited “experts.” In each instance, it is clear that these “experts” are working with presuppositions that preclude much objective analysis.
Bill Honsberger is referred to in many news articles as a “local cult expert.” He is, in fact, a Christian missionary with the Baptist church. Honsberger virulently attacks the legitimacy of both Miller and his followers. He is quoted in 15 of the 39 articles. Some of his more aggressive accusations include:
Honsberger also believes Miller’s divine edicts could turn violent, and that he [Miller] is capable of ordering a group suicide. Honsberger feels that Miller would not mind dying if his prophetic role in the universe was intact. He further considers Miller to be a danger both to those in his group and those around him. Miller’s power, Honsberger asserts, lies in his ability to convince his followers to abandon their families and isolate them completely. 25
Honsberger has also said that Miller has threatened to kill him and casts him as the Antichrist. 26 What is more interesting than all of these characterizations, however, is the fact that Honsberger is one of the only people who can testify to the beliefs of the Concerned Christians. He is often called upon to present their beliefs to the media. This can raise some concerns, as will be discussed later, with the validity of the presentation of their beliefs.
Mark Roggeman , tied with Honsberger as the most quoted source about Concerned Christians, is a Denver police officer who “tracks cults in his spare time”. 27 Roggeman often issues statements of a rather generic sort, usually he comments on the status of family members or general concepts of the members’ beliefs. While he may not provide harsh attacks on the cult members, Roggeman is clearly anti-cult. He was indicted on June 11, 1981 for second degree kidnapping and false imprisonment. He was charged with forcibly kidnapping Emily Dietz and holding her against her will for nearly two weeks before she finally escaped by jumping from a second story window in the middle of the night. 28 It is clear that Roggeman should not be considered an unbiased source.
Hal Mansfield is the director of the Religious Movement Resource Center. The Center is concerned with dissuading people from entering into what they term “destructive cults”. They define a destructive cult as “an organization that inhibits individual freedom of thought through the use of violence, deception and mind control”. 29 A destructive cult is not defined on the basis of its belief system or theology, but rather the dynamics of group organization. There are two different methods by which a group is deemed to be a “destructive cult”. First, from “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, there are eight points of mind control. They are:
The demand for purity
The cult of confession
Loading the language
Doctrine over person
Another guide used by the Center is the Cult Danger Evaluation Frame developed is P. E. I. Bonewits. This evaluation uses a ten-point scale. The areas rated are:
Endorsement of violence
Both of these resources are considered by scholars of religious movements to have dubious validity.
Mansfield is the most outspoken and derogatory of the anti-cultists. He often compares the Concerned Christians to the members of Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians. He has said he considers the Concerned Christians a “very dangerous group”, 32 .and charges that Miller is wrapped up in a power trip. Hansfield also has made assumptions about the violent tendencies of the group. When there were no weapons found on the members after a raid on their house in Jerusalem, Mansfield indicated that weapons were readily accessible to the members. “Come on, that’s the Middle East. You can go across the border and come back with an armful of AK-47s,” he said. 33
Mansfield has also alluded to previous instances of Miller’s “violent tendencies,” but there is no verifiable evidence to support his statements.
The “official” sources that were quoted usually offered neutral statements, and many times were not directed at Concerned Christians specifically but rather at new religious movements generally. There were, however, some interesting contradictions among these sources. Consider the following:
Yair Yizahki, the Jerusalem police commander, also said that the deportation was merely a reaction to the need to fight for freedom of religious worship. 18 This raises an interesting question – how can barring the existence of one religious group promote the freedom of others? This might follow only if, as alleged by the Israeli police, the members of that group are plotting violence.
There were not, however, any charges filed. John Russel, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department said there were no charges against the deportees and Bill Carter, a FBI spokesman, said no action was going to be taken against the members. 20
Many have argued that Israel was acting in order to defer other “extremist” groups from causing trouble. The Concerned Christians were used to make an example.
There is no question that there is an obvious discrepancy between the theology presented in the Our Foundation radio program and the reports of mass suicide and violent tendencies, apocalyptic predictions, “God-voice”, and anti-government rhetoric.
The only testimony relating Miller and his followers to the extremist ideas presented in all of the news articles are former members, family members, and anti-cult activists. The problem at hand is assessing the objectivity of these sources and getting to the truth of what really happened.
An issue of considerable importance is why the media so readily adopted these stories as the truth, and why the media seemingly made such little effort to engage Miller and current members. In the early articles about the Concerned Christians, Bill Honsberger was the only person who could attest to Monte Kim Miller’s prophesies and “extreme” beliefs. Consequently, the statements about these beliefs were always credited to Honsberger. For example, “Honsberger said that Miller teaches Concerned Christians members that he is God and prophesies he will die in the streets of Jerusalem in December 1999, only to rise again in three days. He also believes the apocalypse will strike Denver on Saturday,” 34 .
However biased the presuppositions of the source, this is probably proper journalism. Around November, 1998 the attribution “Honsberger said” began to be left out of stories. So, for example, we read “Miller, who considers himself the last prophet of God, has said he will die on the streets of that ancient city [ Jerusalem] in December 1999 and be resurrected three days later” 35 . This leads the reader to the impression that these statements are a proven fact, when in reality that can only be attributed to one anti-cultist.
The group known as Concerned Christians remains shrouded in mystery. Monte Kim Miller seems clearly to be a charismatic leader who holds (or has held) considerable influence over his small group of followers. Whether Miller and his followers are dangerous to themselves and others is not clear. The uncertainty pivots very substantially on the credibility of the evidence about them.
We have essentially no first hand information about the group — only accounts of a few persons who claim some level of involvement in the group in the past. And, at this point, we have little basis for assessing the reliability of their accounts.
What we do know is that a small number of zealous anti-cultists have waged an assault on the Concerned Christians, and these attacks have been transmitted uncritically by the mass media. I have focused on the Denver media, but the national media in the U.S., as well as well as Israel and Great Britain, have largely accepted the anti-cult presuppositions.
Religious movements are the product of human initiatives and, thus, are subject to all the shortcomings of human beings. Monte Kim Miller may turn out to be a real scoundrel, but that is not clear to me at this point.
As a student of religious movements, I am struck by how closely this case seems to conform to the gulf between public perceptions and the objective reality of so many other religious movements in the course of American history.
Abanes, Richard. 1998. End-time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.
Elliot, Paul. 1998. Warrior Cults: A History of Magical, Mystical, and Murderous Organizations. London: Blandford.
Hubback, Andrew. 1996. Prophets of Doom: The Security Threat of Religious Cults. London: Alliance Publishers for the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies.
Lewis, James R. 1999. Peculiar Prophets: A Biographical Dictionary of New Religions. St Paul, Minn.: Paragon House.
WILSON, Bryan, and Jamie Cresswell. eds. 1999. New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response. London; New York: Routledge.
Weber, Eugen Joseph. 1999. Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
- Ibid. and www.religioustolerance.org
- Rocky Mountain News , December 13, 1998.
- Denver Post , January 4, 1999.
- Denver Post , November 1, 1998.
- Denver Post , January 10, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 9, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 4, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 4, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 6, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 7, 1999.
- Denver Post , January 5, 1999.
- Denver Post , October 7, 1998.
- Denver Post , October 8, 1998.
- Denver Post , January 9, 1999.
- Denver Post , October 7, 1998.
- Denver Post , October 8, 1998.
- Denver Post , January 4, 1999.
- Denver Post , October 7, 1998.
- Denver Post , November 9, 1998.
- Denver Post , January 18, 1999.
Created by Kacey Chappelear
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term 2000
Last modified: 04/19/01