Prayer Group Runs Away From Home, Sparks Fear of Mass Suicide

When one person hears from God, they are considered “special.” When one person hears from God and leads other folks along, that can lead to trouble.

This weekend, a Pentecostal Prayer group in Palmdale CA. found trouble. The group left their worldly belongings behind, along with goodbye letters; worried family members notified police after finding notes and other important belongings in a group member’s purse.

The notes indicated they were going to see deceased relatives and were ‘Waiting for Jesus.’ Sheriffs and other officials searched the desert and surrounding environs, only to find the group on the following Sunday morning, in a park, praying — the children accompanying them were on the swings. The explanation? One cannot have worldly possessions on your person when praying.

Their leader, Reyna Marisol Chicas is now being held on a 5150 (psychiatric hold), and the members of the group are back with their families.

So is this just another California Story, or something more? For many Pentecostals, hearing from God is an important part of a faith life. In this particular case, the leader of the prayer group, Chica, had gathered some church members for a outside prayer group. A policeman Saturday morning found the group praying outside of a high school “against violence and premarital sex.” Sounds like some spiritual warfare to me. Interestingly enough, no men were in this group, and perhaps they saw themselves very much like the women Sarah Posner descibes in a recent article about Pat Robertson’s Women Warriors. “

Chicas and her prayer group members are not aberrations; they are very much a phenomenon in many Pentecostal, charismatic and non-denominational churches today. Sincere, believing people under the leadership of charismatic leaders who hold “spiritual authority” will follow, many without question, in the hopes of improving their spiritual state. Many people, moreover, are reluctant to question spiritual authority, preferring to explain away “weird” behavior because of the leader’s special connection to God.

That’s what Jim Jones’ followers did, and so did the members of Heaven’s gate. Much of the abuse in the Catholic church occurred simply because people never believed that priests or nuns, representatives of Jesus Christ on earth, could possibly harm children — simply because of the “spiritual power” of their office.

There is, however, a bigger story here. I have been thinking a lot lately about Glenn Beck’s religious language in public, and his claims to testimonies about God.

What he says is not so different from what Ms. Chicas had to say, except he had a bigger audience. Even more troubling, people seem willing to question “governmental” authority, but not question the people who are leading them “spiritually.” Revelation, it seems, is plentiful, but common sense is in short supply. What America needs more of in its religious fervor is doubt.

Family member’s doubts saved that prayer group in Palmdale. Certainty about faith and religious leaders is by no means certain, and it can prove deadly.