Lord Our Righteousness Church

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The Lord Our Righteousness Church, sometimes called Strong City, is a religious community near Clayton, Union County, New Mexico. It originated with a group of about eighty adherents who migrated to the area from Sandpoint, Idaho in 2000.[1] In 2008, the community consisted of approximately fifty people. The community believes in modesty of dress and the women wear long skirts and dresses, and reportedly mix well with the local people.[1]

Its leader Wayne Bent, born May 18, 1941,[1] is known as Michael Travesser within the church.[2] Bent, once a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, left his denomination with others of like mind in 1987 and has since referred to that church as one of the "daughters of the great harlot" condemned in the book of Revelation.[3] Bent claims that, during an experience in his living room in June 2000, God told him, "You are the Messiah." Bent has since stated, "I am the embodiment of God. I am divinity and humanity combined."[4]

The group's website has been taken down several times and reinstated. It contains frequently-updated writings and videos, including a nearly two-hour long documentary entitled Experiencing the Finished Work.[5]

UK Media coverage and subsequent documentary[edit]

British journalist Alex Hannaford[6] first visited Strong City in 2004, investigating claims that the cult was contemplating suicide.[7] His feature,[8] including interviews with Wayne and Jeff Bent and various sect members, was published in the UK the same year. Hannaford later wrote a follow-up piece for the Sunday Times magazine in the UK[9]

Three years later, The End of the World Cult, a documentary, aired on Channel 4 in the UK. It covers Bent's announcement that the Day of Judgment began on October 31, 2007. Bent chose that date after calculating a Biblical prophecy number (490) and adding it to the year 1517, when the Protestant Reformation began, yielding 2007 as a result. The specific date, October 31, comes from the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses.

"Inside a Cult" was shown on the Four Corners program on the ABC in Australia. Inside a Cult was also broadcast on the National Geographic Channel in the United States; this version is shorter and uses the same footage as the one mentioned above, but with some interviews with cult experts. The church has stated that the National Geographic documentary was highly inaccurate and inflammatory in nature.[10]

Investigation[edit]

A former church member has alleged that Bent told his congregation that "God told him that he was supposed to sleep with seven virgins," including the member's own daughters, then only 14 and 15 years old. The man, John Sayer, refused but continued to allow his youngest daughter to reside at Strong City, while the oldest chose not to return. Although he left the compound with his wife and daughters after being a church member for sixteen years, Sayer returned with his 14-year-old daughter to the cult compound a second time. According to Sayer, she was one of three minors taken into state custody for their own protection in April 2008.[1] A New Mexico state Children, Youth and Families Department spokeswoman said that three minor teens were taken from the compound in the days after an April 22, 2008, investigation. The state judge hearing the case has issued a gag order, and state officials have provided no further details of the investigation.[1]

Two weeks after the children were removed and the gag order was in place, Bent was arrested by the New Mexico State Police. The charges were three counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The ages and genders of the children in state custody were made public: a 16-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl.[11] He was held on $500,000 bond with an arraignment scheduled for May 8, 2008. Following his arraignment, the judge reduced the bail to $55,000; as of May 9, he remained incarcerated.[12]

The initial charges refer to Bent having inappropriately touched three minor girls in 2006 and 2007. According to the state Department of Public Safety, one of the girls no longer lives in the community.[12]

Bent also freely admits having sexual intercourse multiple times with his son's former wife. They were divorced when this took place. Both he and his son state that "God forced Michael" to commit this act of consummation.[4] Bent asserts that though he lay "naked with virgins" and the virgins asked him for sex, he refused.[12]

A June 17 update from Wayne Bent/Michael Travesser's web site and other news reports state that New Mexico authorities released one of the young women previously taken from the compound from state custody.[13]

Both the prosecution and the defense excused one judge in the case. Union County Judge Gerald E. Baca was appointed the case on July 2, 2008.[14] The jury trial started November 17, 2008.[14]

Conviction[edit]

On Monday, December 15, 2008, jurors convicted Wayne Bent of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was acquitted of a second charge of criminal sexual contact with a minor.[15] Bent was allowed to return to Strong City, the sect's compound near Clayton, pending sentencing.[15] On Dec 30th, Judge Gerald Baca imposed the maximum sentence of 18 years but suspended eight years. He will have to serve at least 8½ years before becoming eligible for release.[16]

An Albuquerque news station reported that as of September 11, 2009, Bent has been on hunger strike while in prison, and a judge has ordered that force-feeding be used should it become necessary.[17] According to the church's website, Mr. Bent entered a religious fast that takes the form of a Jubilee fast. It is also claimed that his fast is a protest of his imprisonment 'because of a lie'.[18]

Conviction overturned[edit]

On June 28, 2011, The New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned all convictions against Wayne Bent. The court determined the grand jury was not legally assembled. In the unanimous 3 judge decision, Judge Roderick T. Kennedy shares the opinion of the court;

As a result, the indictment issued by the grand jury was void and the district court did not have jurisdiction to proceed with the trial in this case

—Judge Roderick T. Kennedy, [19]

On October 22, 2012, The Supreme Court overturned the NM Court of Appeals ruling and Wayne Bent continues to serve out the remainder of his sentence in prison.[20]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Accusations Against Sect in New Mexico, May 4, 2008. Associated Press report via the New York Times. Accessed May 6, 2008.
  2. ^ New Mexico: 3 Children Are Removed From an Apocalyptic Church, May 1, 2008, Associated Press report in the New York Times.
  3. ^ Strong City: The Lord Our Righteousness Church: A Brief History and Overview at the Wayback Machine (archived November 23, 2011)
  4. ^ a b Inside a Cult documentary info published by the National Geographic Channel.
  5. ^ Strong City: The Lord Our Righteousness at the Wayback Machine (archived November 23, 2011) - Webpage published by The Lord Our Righteousness Church
  6. ^ Alex Hannafor - Hannaford’s website
  7. ^ Michael's diary, 2002, captured by Apologetics Index
  8. ^ Bizarre Magazine, feature on Strong City
  9. ^ Hannaford, Alex (14 June 2009). "Wayne Bent: The cult of the man they call messiah". The Sunday Times (New Mexico: News International Group, UK). Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  10. ^ "This Witness Appeals for Justice". The Lord Our Righteousness Church. Retrieved 30 January 2011. 
  11. ^ Sex Charges for Leader of Doomsday Sect ABC News. Accessed May 6, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c Church leader arrested on sex charges in northeast N.M. May 6, 2008, Associated Press report in the Washington Post. Accessed May 7, 2008.
  13. ^ Teen From NM Sect Released From State Custody. ABC News Accessed June 17, 2008.
  14. ^ a b "Case Detail for State vs. Wayne Bent". NMCourts.gov. 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  15. ^ a b "Sect Leader Who Allegedly Sought Virgins Found Guilty on Sex Charge". AP (TAOS, N.M: Fox News). 15 December 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  16. ^ "New Mexico Apocalyptic Sect Leader Gets 10 Years in Sex Case". AP (Las Vegas, N.M: Fox News). 31 December 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Kayla Anderson and Matthew Kappus (09 September 2009). "Judge puts fasting cult leader in doctor's hands". [News 4]. ABC. KOB-TV, LLC.
  18. ^ Bent, Wayne (AKA: Michael Travesser (31 August 2009). "My Crown Of Thorns". www.strongcity.org. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  19. ^ Massey, Barry (29 June 2011). "Religious Leader’s Conviction Tosse". The Associated Press. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  20. ^ "Appeals court upholds cult leader's convictions". Hearst Properties Inc. KOAT Albuquerque. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2014.