Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Word of Life: Christian Fundamentalism in the Adirondacks

Oral Roberts died yesterday. He was one of the founders of televangelism and the principle behind Oral Roberts University. What you may not know is that the Adirondacks had its own radio evangelist, Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of Word Of Life ministries (in 1941) and the Word of Life Bible Institute (in 1971) in Schroon Lake. Unless you’ve spent some time driving around Schroon Lake, you may not realize that there is a two-year bible school here in the Adirondacks that grew out of the same kind of public evangelism made popular by Oral Roberts.

You won’t find fraternities or sororities at the Bible Institute, no late-night poetry readings or parties, and you also won’t find a degree, at least not one recognized as collegiate. But you will find a genuinely cult-like atmosphere to immerse your children, and a highly developed indoctrination program. As the Institute’s “Philosophy Statement” says “We believe that doctrine is the foundation for all of our endeavors.”

Word of Life Bible Institute‘s mission is to provide students “a rigorous academic atmosphere so that he or she might receive both fully transferable course work and structured discipleship in order to live his or her life with maximum effectiveness for the Lord.” How does today’s Christian youth achieve those goals at the Institute? Through rigid control of their every waking moment, isolation from their peers, parents, and culture, and severe punishment for falling out of line.

It’s all in the student handbook, and it’s quite a read (and quite different from Oral Roberts University). Of course the standard stuff is there:

Emotional exclamations such as ‘Oh, my God’ and ‘Oh, my Lord’ are a demonstration of disrespect for the name of the LORD

And sure we’ve got to figure that there is no swearing, gambling, sex, drinking, or drugs – but no physical contact?

Physical contact between persons of the opposite sex is not permitted on or off campus.

Physical contact between members of the same sex must be within the bounds of biblically acceptable behavior.

There is one exception:

When ice and snow present hazardous conditions, a male student may offer his arm to a female student.

In fact two people of the opposite sex cannot be trusted to be alone, period. The “Third Party Standard” assures they are not:

Two students of the opposite sex must have a third party with them at all times.

You figure it might be tough to walk to class while avoiding encounters with someone of the opposite sex? They got that covered:

Students are exempt from the ‘third-party rule’ only in the central area of the campus.

What if a good Christian couple has secured permission from their parents to marry?

Marriages are not allowed during the school year without prior permission from the Executive Dean.

What about getting engaged?

The Student Life Department must be consulted prior to any engagement during the school year. Parental/guardian permission must be given prior to the engagement.

And just to remind those who have committed the greatest marriage sin:

Divorced or separated students are not allowed to date while enrolled at the Bible Institute.

The world is filled with pesky “culture” according to the leaders of the Bible Institute. They are there to make sure you don’t experience any:

Word of Life uses a content filtering and firewall system to prohibit access to Internet content that is contrary to the Word of Life Standard of Conduct. . . . All activity is logged and monitored by the Student Life Department.

Just in case a student finds a way to expose themselves to the outside world:

All computer monitors must face the public and must be in clear view of supervisors.

What about music? After students have completed their first semester, have written “their biblical principles for entertainment” and have provided the Institute with a copy, they can listen to approved music, but only in electronic format, and only by headphones:

Radios, televisions, clock radios, etc are not permitted at the Bible Institute. They are to be sent home immediately.

All music played publicly at the Bible Institute [a privilege permitted Institute staff] must be screened and approved.

What about movies?

No movies of any kind (DVD, downloaded, streamed, burned, or otherwise) may be played in the dorm rooms at any time, nor may they be kept in the dorm room.

There is to be no attendance at a movie theater.

What about leaving campus?

Special Permission is needed from the Student Life Deans for any of the following:

To travel home or anywhere that would involve an overnight stay.
To drive more than 100 miles away from school, (ie. Canada or New York City).

What about the Second Amendment?

All rifles, handguns, bows & arrows, knives, wrist-rockets, BB/Pellet guns, airsoft guns, etc. are not permitted in the residence rooms, in vehicles or on the person while on campus. If you bring them, you will be required to return them to your home.

The “Code of Honor” provides the general atmosphere and restricts:

The use of traditional playing cards

Participation in oath-bound secret organizations (societies), from social dancing of any type, from attendance at the motion picture theater and commercial stage productions.

Christian discretion and restraint will be exercised in all choices of entertainment, including radio, television, audio and visual recordings, and various forms of literature.

Furthermore, it is expected that associates will actively support a local Bible-believing church through service, giving, and allegiance.

That last one doesn’t always work out so well, readers will remember 20-year-old Caleb Lussier, a student at the Word of Life Bible Institute in 2006 who “actively supported” a local church, the 77-year-old Christ Church, just across the street from the Institute in Pottersville.

Only his idea of active support was to burn it to the ground, though he did remove the bibles for safe keeping before lighting the gas. Caleb also threatened three other houses of worship, plus the one he set to the torch in his hometown.

According to local news reports, “Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said Lussier thought the members of Christ Church were hypocrites who deviated from the teachings of the Bible and the word of God. He allegedly robbed the church twice in May. On one occasion he left behind a message written in a Bible: ‘You’ve been warned.'”

Lussier was arrested in his dorm room after a member of another local church saw him at their services and warned the Warren County sheriff’s office that something wasn’t right.

“He didn’t think they were following the Bible the way he thought they should,” Cleveland told the press at the time, “He holds to the principle, but he said he went about it in the wrong way.”

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55 Responses

  1. Schroon Laker says:
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  10. scott V says:

    I worked for Word of Life in pottersville every summer from 1977 through 1979…..I disagreed with them and was labeled a trouble maker. I was put in a small room during the summer heat until my parents came to get me….a week later. I was not allowed a phone call, was told I could not talk to anyone and they could not talk to me…curtains darwn closed and nobody could talk to me with out discipline against them. Mind you most of us wereteen agers..and scared. They only opened the door to give me food. a couple years later I attended the bible institue…I complained about the demerit system…there I went again…back to a room with same policy…I left there drained ..and still remember back then 1979. A cult who knows only god knows.but they do mentally abuse kids….I am living proof.