Apr 23, 2017

Exorcised: Luciferian church looks to start anew after harassment

Michael Ford has closed The Greater Church of Lucifer, which lost its lease after its landlord received death threats.Michael Ford has closed The Greater Church of Lucifer, which lost its lease after its landlord received death threats
Keri Blakinger
Houston Chronicle
April 23, 2017

It was just weeks after opening day when an unwanted cherub statue came sailing through the front window of the Greater Church of Lucifer.

Hopemarie and Michael Ford were not surprised to learn that some ne'er-do-well had plucked the stone carving from a neighbor's yard and used it as the centerpiece of a strangely symbolic act of vandalism at the controversial Old Town Spring church.

They'd known well before their Halloween opening that their unconventional beliefs may not be well-received in the Harris County community. But it wasn't the cherub-chucking - or even the bizarre oil-splattering incident, or the more dangerous tree-limb-cutting - that eventually forced the Fords to shutter their place of worship.

Instead, it was the death threats against their landlord, who ultimately refused to renew the church's lease amid safety concerns.

When they finally moved out their Baphomet statue and locked the door for the last time after less than a year in operation, the Spring couple went home with a bitter realization: It's not easy being a Satanist in the Lone Star State.

Technically, the Fords are Luciferians, but sometimes the term is used interchangeably with the more common Satanists moniker. Although the Greater Church of Lucifer has roots in Texas, the media-savvy Satanic Temple and the much older Church of Satan are perhaps better known.

The three groups have some differences in belief, but they're all up against the same set of prejudices and misconceptions. Despite decades of horror-film depictions, they do not, in fact, sacrifice virgins or eat babies. At least two of those groups don't have "Eyes Wide Shut"-style orgies, although one wouldn't rule it out.

And - counterintuitively - they don't actually worship Satan.

"Most Satanist groups are atheistic," said Josh Hammers, a Satanic Temple member based in Orange. "Most don't believe in a literal Satan, but some do."

Instead, many see Satan as a literary figure who speaks for anti-authoritarian rebels everywhere.

"The symbol of the adversary is that of the self-liberator," Michael Ford said. "It's about taking charge of your life."

'Working for the collective good'

But that doesn't mean anything goes; Satanists and Luciferians still have codes of conduct.

"We believe in social karma, and if you really wanna change the world, you have to start with yourself, so Satanists are some of the most moral people," said Bob Moseley, a Church of Satan adherent in the Dallas area.

"If this country was majority Satanists, you wouldn't have crime or racism or homophobia," he said. "I know that frightens the hell out of Christians."

The Church of Satan, which has no physical church or formal meetings, was founded in the 1960s by former carnival worker Anton LaVey. The group describes itself online as "self-centered" and "elitists."

Viewing themselves as the purists and the originals, the Church of Satan rejects all other forms of Satanism.

"I wouldn't say we are at war with these other groups," Moseley said. "We are annoyed by them. I don't like to have to answer for their stupid antics."

The organization answering for some of those outlandish antics is the similarly named Satanic Temple. Founded in 2012, the Temple has repeatedly grabbed headlines with such stunts as a Pink Mass - two men kissing over the grave of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church founder's mother - and an eye-catching rally in bondage gear and diapers intended to show opposition to the "fetal idolatry" of Planned Parenthood foes.

But Dallas-area Temple member Greg Stevens insists they're not just political activists hell-bent on trolling Christians.

"We really are a religious group, but one of our basic principles is that we wanna be activist on the matters that are important to us," Stevens said. "We are interested in social justice issues and working for the collective good."

Although the Greater Church of Lucifer also has strong moral underpinnings, it stands out for its Bible Belt roots. Ford started studying what he called "the left hand path" in the early '90s and eventually developed a philosophy of his own, later dubbed Luciferianism. He started publishing books around 2000 and later launched an online store, Luciferian Apotheca, to sell Satanic gear such as black ceremonial robes, pentagram necklaces, Lucifer throw pillows and Baphomet chalices.

Unlike the Church of Satan and Satanic Temple adherents, Luciferians can be theistic or atheistic. And, sometimes, they believe in magick - but that doesn't mean summoning the devil, Ford was quick to explain. "Magick is about self-transformation," he said. "It's about causing changes in accordance with the will."

Magick rituals can be focused on overcoming obstacles or achieving goals, almost like self-actualization - but with esoteric symbols.

Despite their differences, all three groups have learned a common lesson about the difficulty of being a Satanist in Texas.

"No pun intended, but we're kind of demonized," said Hammers.

Stevens - who wouldn't say where he works or even in what industry for fear of what his employer might think - said he hasn't been hassled over his Temple membership but added, "There are members of our organization that have received death threats."

Hope for future

The Fords have become too familiar with that sort of harassment - ever since they teamed up with other Luciferians to found a physical church in 2015.

At first, everything seemed fine. The neighbors were friendly. The community was welcoming.

"We had so many well-wishers in Old Town Spring," Hopemarie Ford said.

But after the church's opening day, the harassment started.

"As a Luciferian, when you get that kind of unfair backlash, it makes me dig my heels in," Michael Ford said.

But eventually the church's detractors published the landlord's number and address and encouraged people to call her and send letters. So at the end of the lease, she declined to renew, and the church shut its doors in August.

But now the Fords are looking for a fresh start.

They've changed the group's name to the Assembly of Light Bearers and put new-member requests on hold while they regroup after some internal turmoil. Someday, a future Halloween, perhaps, they'd still like to set up shop in a Houston-area building.

They're hoping things work out better this time around, and they're optimistic their hard-earned reputation as stalwarts in the community will be enough to carry them through whatever ill will comes their way.

"The people who know us, they know we're good people," Hopemarie said with a smile.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/houston-belief/article/Exorcised-Luciferian-church-looks-to-start-anew-11093429.php

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