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Faced with ‘cult’ group, Selma churches unite to educate communitycomment (0)

May 7, 2009

By Sondra Washington and Jennifer Davis Rash

Allan McConnell said he came to Selma to “pick a fight.” After receiving several calls about a nonprofit organization and seemingly religious-based group Freedom Foundation, McConnell, formerly with Watchman Fellowship, began digging to get to the bottom of the group’s belief system.

“When I came to Selma and discovered what was going on, I picked a fight,” McConnell said to more than 800 people attending Elkdale Baptist Church, Selma, April 26.

“We need to be defending Jesus Christ in our community,” said McConnell, founder of Radar 13 Ministries, which works to defend the deity of Christ. “I have learned a lot about what (Freedom Foundation President Mark Duke) teaches, and it’s some really serious stuff.”

Elkdale Baptist Pastor Micah Gandy was not picking a fight when he planned an informational meeting about cults in general at his church in March.

But when Duke and some of his followers protested the meeting, Gandy rescheduled the event for April 26 so he could be present in case there was a problem. The reason Gandy asked McConnell to “fill the pulpit” March 8 was because he was going to be out of town.

More pressure came as the April service neared, but Gandy stood strong. He also reworked the focus of the service to be mainly about Freedom Foundation and its ties to House of God, a Colorado church that has been labeled a “cult.”

Although House of God members moved into Selma about three years ago, area pastors and leaders said they believed the group had the right to be there and meet even though they believed the group’s teachings against the deity of Christ were incorrect. But in recent days, some Christians said they felt threatened by the group as they united against the Freedom Foundation’s activities to add to their flock.

Shawn Samuelson, spokeswoman for Freedom Foundation, said Duke was originally a leader in House of God but stepped down when he moved to Selma.

Noting that Duke was out of town until May 15 and could not be reached for comment, Samuelson confirmed she is one of two “spiritual partners” that lives in the house with Duke and his wife. But “we do not have a sexual relationship.”

This “spiritual partnership” is one example of the many concerns that led Gandy to schedule the April meeting.

He said Duke “promised” if McConnell was allowed to speak, Freedom Foundation members would “march” and picket “door to door.”

The night before the meeting at Elkdale, Freedom Foundation members delivered copies of a letter written by Duke to the homes of several area pastors.

Addressed to Tom Stacey, director of missions for Selma Baptist Association, the letter noted Duke’s disapproval of McConnell’s “un-Christlike methods and behaviors.”

“I have seen and heard of many disturbing instances where McConnell has manipulated, misjudged and twisted information,” Duke wrote in the letter. “I have heard accounts of people being harassed, tracked and unfairly persecuted.”

But McConnell called these allegations “ridiculous.”

Gandy added that “this is not personal. We never sought a fight with Mark Duke or Freedom Foundation. We pray for them. ... there are churches all around Selma (waiting to take them in).

“Groups like this, if they ever push you around, they’ll keep pushing you around and you won’t be able to do anything,” Gandy said.

“It makes you question if there is an ulterior motive behind what they are doing,” he added. “Once they opened that door and pushed us into a corner, we made the decision to stand up for Jesus and the gospel.”

Winston Williams, pastor of Rosedale Memorial CME Church, Selma, said one reason he supported the Elkdale Baptist event was because he had watched the developments of Freedom Foundation.

“It is alright to defend the faith one believes in and to stand for the right to preach what you want, but it is not alright to make threats to a person’s church,” he said, referring to Duke’s actions in recent days.

McConnell called Duke a “false prophet.”

“Mark Duke and the other leaders of the House of God and the leaders of the Freedom Foundation say that Jesus is just a man — a good man, but just a man,” McConnell said. “The House of God and Mark Duke preach … that Jesus is not God. … I’m almost speechless that they can call themselves a Christian church and say things like this. That is utter blasphemy.

“We are talking about a cult leader,” McConnell said. “I find in the Scripture that you should test everything. The man flat-out lied to me about basic, simple questions and turned me over to an attorney. I’m testing all things — all the claims he makes spiritually. He’s a supposed Baptist going around threatening churches.”

Duke graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., McConnell explained.

He believes Duke is deceived.

“What they are teaching here is a doctrine of demons,” McConnell said. “It is not scriptural. … When a ‘man of God’ hides behind an attorney, then the questions really start rolling.”

During his sermons and on Freedom Foundation’s weekday radio show, Real Talk Selma, Duke has been said to commonly call people who oppose him and the group’s efforts Neo-Confederates, bigots, Pharisees and racists. In one of his sermons, Duke talked about child molesters in the church and immediately referred to Martin Luther King Jr.

McConnell said, “I have heard a lot of racism in Selma, and you know who I’ve heard it from — Mark Duke. I’ve heard the man talk down about people simply about the color of their skin. … talking about the pastors here not having enough knowledge … calling people ‘yahoos.’”

Selma resident Renée Callen said, “Mark Duke talks about how much hatred there is here, but I don’t see it. I think Selma is a very warm, friendly and loving town.”

Stacey agreed.

“The charges of racism are meritless,” he said, pointing out that Selma Baptist Association has one predominantly black church as a member, a second one in the application process and a predominantly white church with black members.

As far as the April 26 event, Stacey said, “We wanted to speak truth to the whole town and let thinking adults decide for themselves.”

For more information on McConnell’s findings about the group, visit www.wewillfindthetruth.com.

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