Disenchanted followers of Samanta Roy explain why they left
In the early 1970s, Rama Behera – the man now known as Dr. Samanta Roy – preached what former followers said was a fairly straightforward interpretation of the Gospel.
He was very aligned with the New Testament, followers said, though he always rejected the concept of a Holy Trinity.
“Rama believed that Jesus was God, that there is no distinct Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” said former member Gail Langsjoen, who was in the group from 1974 to 1987. Since leaving the group, Langsjoen has spoken out on several occasions against Samanta Roy in newspaper and television interviews.
According to former members, Samanta Roy’s straightforward interpretation of the Gospel changed over the years, incorporating more tenets of other faiths.
“It was (at first) a Christ-centered faith,” said Langsjoen. “Then there was Judaism, there was Hinduism, a lot of Hindu caste.” She said the group itself eventually developed a social order, “a hierarchy of personages and outcasts.”
Where once Samanta Roy would read directly from the Bible, he eventually shifted to paraphrasing and then to not using the Bible at all, according to Elliot Lane, a member of the group for 20 years.
Lane said that Samanta Roy’s shift toward Judaism led to his inviting a rabbi to speak to the group and, briefly, to consider having members wear yarmulkes. Another former follower said that Samanta Roy encouraged name changes to Jewish names.
Lane said the meetings eventually shifted from sermons to confrontations where Samanta Roy would berate group members for their sins, and encourage family members to do the same.
“Wives would stand up and say (about their husbands), ‘well, he didn’t take out the garbage,’” Lane said. “Then there’d be four or five hours ranting about that person.”
Eventually, rather than preach the Bible, Lane said, Samanta Roy would rail against the government, the IRS, and the Republicans. Lane said Samanta Roy was “pro-Democrat” because he believed that Democrats favored greater freedom of religion. Members had previously been told not to participate in voting. Then, in 1992, he encouraged the group for the first time to vote, according to Lane.
Samanta Roy established rules of dress that included button-up shirts and dress slacks for the men, Lane said. Women were prohibited from cutting their hair. But later the hair of some women was cut as “recompense for their sins,” according to Lane.
“He had hundreds of rules,” said a former member who asked that his name not be used. Many of the rules dealt with diet, he said.
According to Langsjoen, Samanta Roy did not so much take control of the group as members submitted control to him.
“He didn’t stand up one day and say that we must all now ask permission to do everything,” she said. “These people, and there were more and more of them in growing numbers, out of their own hearts, asked more and more questions. I think it snowballed into such a thing that Rama was absolutely corrupted by it.”
One former member who left the group three years ago, Steve Ritland, provided the Leader with what he said is material that was passed out to children in the group. He also provided a statement to the Leader about why he was going on the record regarding the material, which he cited as one of the reasons he left.
“I left the sect in March of 2001 for several reasons,” Ritland said in his statement. “One was Mr. Samanta Roy’s discouragement of the use of the New Testament, based on alleged unreliability due to corruption of the text, in spite of contrary testimony by the best of New Testament scholars.”
According to Ritland, the standard, approved Bible in use at the time he left contained only the Old Testament.
Ritland said that when he left the group, Samanta Roy called and made the assertion that the group values the New Testament because, “it tells us about the Lord Jesus.” However, Ritland said that because of the leader’s teaching that the New Testament was “tampered with” and corrupted, and to his knowledge, few if any members ever read it. They all used a Jewish version of the Bible containing only the first 39 books, Ritland said.
That anti-Christian sentiment is reflected in a series of handouts that, according to Ritland, were given to the children at some of the group’s weekly gatherings in the early 1990s.
Another reason for leaving was Mr. Samanta Roy’s failure to distinguish between the Western culture and New Testament Christianity, which, sadly in many cases, are poles apart,” Ritland said. “This confusion of culture with Christianity has led the leader into an irrational hatred of Christianity.”
“Another reason for leaving the sect,” Ritland continued in his statement, “was the disintegration of families, fueled by instructions to wives and children not to listen to husbands and fathers, as well as frequent humiliating verbal attacks by the leader. When you are called a “Christian bastard” enough times, family members tend to distance themselves from you, and a normal family life is impossible.”
Wesley Kemp was a member of the group for a total of 16 years. He said Samanta Roy’s doctrine changed dramatically over the years.
“I don’t think they even use the New Testament anymore,” Kemp said. “In the beginning it was all the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts. There’s a lack of consistency and he gets away with it.”
Kemp left the group once when he was 16, returned at age 19, and stayed for another eight years before leaving for good. By the time Kemp left permanently, in the spring of 1993, he began to feel that much of the life in Samanta Roy’s group made no sense. That applied to much of what Samanta Roy preached.
“There were always exceptions to the rules,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be logical, it doesn’t have to make sense; Rama says so and that’s it.”
Kemp said that after his father had left the group, Samanta Roy tried to exert more control over the family.
“I tried to hold on as long as I could but it got to the point where Rama was trying to do something I didn’t approve of,” he said. “He wanted more access to the family.”
Kemp said he is bothered by the ostracism that Samanta Roy practices. The parents of members who don’t approve of their children’s involvement in the group are ostracized, he said, as are the many children who walked out on the group upon turning 18.
“He still preaches ostracism,” Kemp said.
Wesley’s older sister left the group in 1981 at age 19 and was ostracized by their parents until their father’s defection from the group 12 years later, Kemp said. Their mother, who is still a member, has since broken off all communication with the family.
“She was very polite about it,” Kemp said. “She didn’t yell. She just wasn’t going to change. She set aside everything I said. We don’t know where she is.”
Asked whether he believes the group is – as some have labeled it – a cult, Kemp said that is a question best left to the experts to answer. But it is not the social movement that Samanta Roy might have once envisioned.
“It’s more a perpetual crowd, gathered in one place, that never figured out how to go home,” Kemp said. “They’ve been going in circles for 30 years. It’s a trap.”