One of the founders, along with five other members of the controversial Church of Wells were found to be the six hecklers arrested on Sunday, for causing a ruckus during Pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon at Houston’s Lakewood church.
The five members — Kevin Fessler, 27; Mark DeRouville, 25; Matthew Martinez, 27; Randall Valdez, 28; and Richard Trudeau, 32 — and co-founder Jacob Gardner, 26, were arrested on Sunday, after they began shouting as Osteen started his 11 a.m. sermon. They were forcefully removed from the church, and arrested by police officers waiting outside. The Church of Wells members have been charged with criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, police say.
This isn’t the first time Church of Wells members have had a run-in with the Lakewood Church — which boasts the largest Protestant congregation in the country — claims Donald Iloff, Lakewood Church’s spokesman. About a month ago, Iloff alleges, church members showed up at Lakewood and “caused a disturbance” while Osteen was shaking hands with congregation members.
“They were asked to leave and not come back.”
The Church of Wells, which some call a cult, has been the center of controversy since it moved to the small town of Wells, Texas from Arlington. This controversy is due, in part, to the fact that the church encourages members to shun their family and friends, much like many cults do. In one of his teachings, founding member Sean Morris writes about the necessity of leaving one’s family.
“Your household formerly could have been friendly, but at your conversion there must be immediate spiritual enmity. Jesus says, at the gain of Him and His family, your carnal family becomes your “foes” (Matt. 10:36). You must be divided from your family for your own salvation, because your family is united in the worldwide divide against God.”
In May 2012, a three-day-old infant born to church members died when her parents refused to call 911, and instead chose to pray for Christ to heal the child, as she turned blue, and struggled to breathe. For more than 15 hours after the child’s death, Church of Wells elders carried her lifeless body from house to house, asking church members to pray for the infant to be resurrected, before finally decided to call emergency services.
In July 2013, 26-year-old Catherine Grove disappeared from her home in Arkansas, abandoned her car and all her belongings, and left no word with panicked family members. Grove reappeared weeks later at the Church of Wells, under heavy guard. She insisted that she was not being held against her will, only that she sought out the Church of Wells because she was “seeking the lord.”
Church members have also been physically injured for preaching during a Wells homecoming parade, where they shouted at children and parents that they were going to hell.
With this much controversy surrounding them, is the Church of Wells and its 70 members just a small-town, misunderstood congregation, or are they an emerging, dangerous cult?
[Image Credit: The Church of Wells]