Family divided: Pastor denies his group is a cult

Michael Clark will be calling his siblings during the holiday season to wish them a Merry Christmas.

He might even get to visit some of them. But, he says, he will not be calling or visiting one of his older brothers, John Clark, a pastor who lives in Graham.

Michael, 54, an associate minister at Nashville Praise & Worship Center in Nashville, N.C., says he hasn’t spoken with his brother in about 15 years, not because he doesn’t want to but because John Clark doesn’t let him.

“He considers us unclean,” Michael Clark said, referring to himself and his 11 siblings. “He wants nothing to do with us.”

John Clark is the head of a group called Pastor John’s House, which meets at Bullard Lane in Graham for prayer and Bible studies.

He is also at the center of a complaint that is being battled in Alamance County Superior Court in which a former member of the group alleges that Clark was responsible for breaking up his marriage. The lawsuit was dismissed on Thursday.


Still, the matter raised issues about Clark’s methods when dealing with the group members.

Some have gone as far as calling his group a cult.

Many, including Michael Clark, allege that this is not the first time a marriage has been affected by the wisdom of John Clark.

Michael Clark’s own marriage, he says, was almost destroyed due to his brother’s actions.

For his part, John Clark denies he’s ever broken a marriage or that his group is a cult.

“I’ve treated everybody the same,” he says. “Some did well and followed the commandments of God and some did not and that is different.”

One day in 1991, Michael Clark recalls, his brother came to him and told him that his wife and her family were ungodly and that he needed to get away from them.

“John discerned that she was evil and that I needed to get away from her,” he says, particularly if he wanted to keep coming to the meetings. This, as far as he knows, was the first time his brother “manipulated” a marriage.

Though he was devastated, he decided to leave his wife and two small boys. Though the separation was short, being apart from his family was horrible, he says, citing that he lost 16 pounds in three weeks. In the end, his brother still “asked for my membership and put me out, leaving me broken and helplessly alone.”

He decided to go back to his wife, who took him back. The two raised their two children together. They now live in Nash County and will be celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary in January.

Before this incident, Michael and John Clark did many things together. They both earned their Master of Divinity degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

John Clark also took classes at Oral Roberts University, according to Michael Clark. He says his brother’s career there was cut short due to his argumentative nature, which created conflicts with the professors and the dean of the school of theology. “They simply would not listen to him,” he says.

The brothers also used to work side by side in the ministry their father, George Clark, started in 1953. When their father was alive, the group was called “The Pioneer Track Society” and met in Henderson, where the Clarks used to live.

Michael Clark described the group as “a small, loving group of mostly elderly people” who met at his parents’ house. For larger gatherings, he said, the group would meet in a building he owned in Henderson.

“It was a kind and compassionate organization, however removed from the mainstream of denominational Christian churches,” he says.

After their father died in 1989, John Clark took over the group. From that point on, things started to change, Michael Clark says.

“I don’t think anybody intended it to be what it is now,” he says.

He says that after he left the group, members were forbidden to communicate with him. “These people were my ‘family’ for a period of 16 years (from 1975 to 1991),” he says. “The separation, group interventions and eventual rejection was a horrible ordeal for me and my real family.”

Phyllis Browning, another of John Clark’s siblings, says she was deeply hurt by John Clark as well. Browning, 59, who now lives in South Carolina, attended the meetings for many years.

About 10 years ago, she recalls, “(John Clark) called me and told me that I was evil. That was the last time I ever heard from him.” She says her brother told her that God had been dealing with him about “getting all the evil out of his life.”

Browning says that to this day, she doesn’t know what she did wrong. She says she and her brother never argued or had a disagreement prior to this incident.

“It hurt me so bad; I loved him so much,” an emotional Browning said. “I just wanted to be like him. I loved all the people there.”

She adds, “I still love him, I just can’t understand him.”

Reached at his Graham home, John Clark denied that this is how things happened.

He says his brother Michael Clark and his wife had “some serious problems” at the time his brother left the group but that he never told him to leave her or that she was ungodly.

“I was actually the one who, after he separated from his wife, told him he really needed to go back,” he says. “No matter what the problem is, it is not my policy” to suggest separation or divorce. “Marriage is an institution that I respect,” he adds. The relationship between husband and wife “is too personal for me to interfere.”

He says he has tried to keep the relationship with his brother alive but that his brother never responded to his attempts of communication. For awhile, John Clark says, he didn’t even have a phone number to call his brother.

As far as Browning, he says he never told her she wasn’t welcome into the meetings. He says he did refuse to take her offerings because he didn’t agree with the way his sister was conducting her life. “Phyllis was my favorite (sibling),” he says. “When I had to refuse her money, she got very angry.”

He says he doesn’t know why all of a sudden people are blaming him for their problems.

“I have to maintain a simple level of decency and holiness for those under my care and for the Lord and sometimes that causes us problems,” he says. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Since the Times-News reported on the allegations raised against him in the legal complaint, he says rumors about him and the group he oversees have gotten out of control.

“I can’t compete with the rumor mill,” he says. “My reputation around here is ruined.”

Some of the things that have been said about him were based on misinterpretations of things written on the group’s Web site, he says, like a pastor who said he was in the wrong for saying that his group was the one true representative of the saints.

“I didn’t mean (the group) was the only one in the planet” with the true message, he says. “I never dreamt that. I love God’s people and they are scattered through all the denominations.”

Other rumors, like the one about him receiving 50 percent of the people’s income as tithes or that he is destroying marriages, are simply wrong, he says.

He says that in the last couple of weeks he has received about 40 letters from couples who say he has helped them with their marriage. “There are many more people that would tell you that I have helped their marriage,” he says.

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A pastor from a church in New Mexico, however, is so convinced John Clark’s group is a cult that he dedicated a section of his church’s Web site (http://www.joywell.org/apologetics/clark.html) to look at the group’s doctrines and beliefs.

Roger Griffith, senior pastor at First Assembly of God in Bosque Farm, N.M., says he found out about the group in the late 1990s when a member of his congregation told him she was considering visiting the group.

The woman in question was going through a hard separation and was very vulnerable, Griffith says. He says she told him that she was told by someone in the group that she needed to move to North Carolina in order to be saved and that she could marry someone from the group.

Typically, he says, when people tell him they are leaving the church to join a different denomination, he never tries to stop them.

“If they leave our church and go to another church, God bless them,” he says. On this occasion, however, “I just didn’t feel right about this.”

John Clark refutes any claims that his group is a cult. He says there are no rules that members have to go by other than respect and simple decency. “Everyone is free to come and go if they want to,” he says, adding that he doesn’t tell people to get together or to leave each other.

He says he has made mistakes throughout his life but that he has never intentionally done anything to harm anyone.

“When I first heard about the lawsuit against me, I went and got alone and got on my face and asked God to judge me,” he says, “and I am still depending on it.”

He continues, “I believe that whatever happens, I am going to trust God that it’s right.”

Michael Clark says he is sure his brother John “is truly convinced that what he is doing is right.”

“I have no vendetta against my brother,” he says. But, he adds, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that John is not helping all the people that consider him their pastor.

“He is hurting some of them very badly.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Times-News, Burlington, NC, USA
Nov. 29, 2007
Keren Rivas
www.thetimesnews.com

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This post was last updated: Nov. 30, 2007