Thanks for not
|Issue #48 • November/December, 1997|
We’re entering the season when traditionally we express our thanks to someone, often the Almighty, for something we feel fortunate in having, such as our fine family, our health, or perhaps just our turkey dinner. I’ve broadened my thankfulness this year to include the federal government, the Oregon National Guard, the Oregon State Police, the Salem (Oregon) SWAT team, and the Marion County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Department.
I’m thankful to them for not killing some friends of mine, namely Paul Revere, founder of Embassy of Heaven Church, located in Marion County, Oregon, his lovely wife, Rachel, and their two charming daughters, Brooke, age 17, and Skye, age 14. The stage was certainly set for these police agencies to do so earlier this year. Just after dawn one January morning, dark-clad members of these agencies, equipped with an armored vehicle and carrying an assortment of automatic weapons, raided the church, breaking down doors, smashing windows, ordering the family and several other members of the church out of bed, and carrying Revere and other church members off to jail. After some desperate pleading from Rachel, they allowed the petrified daughters to stay in her care. At the jail, one of Revere’s fingers was broken as he was forcibly fingerprinted.
The Revere family’s crime was that they had failed to pay their property taxes, and Marion County officials, backed up by the law (the county had denied the church’s request for tax-exempt status) and urged on by county officials who had demonized the church and its members as dangerous extremists, had orchestrated the raid to seize and confiscate the 34-acre church property for nonpayment of $16,000 in taxes. The property had been valued at $119,000.
When I read of the raid I was deeply troubled, and reminded of the bungled police raids at Ruby Ridge in Idaho during which the FBI managed to kill Randy Weaver’s wife and son, and at Waco, Texas, during which 80 people, many of them children, were incinerated in a fire. I was troubled but grateful that the police had acted with enough restraint not to cause the death of any member of the Revere family or their church.
It struck me as absurd, but a sign of our tragic times, that I had to worry about friends of mine being killed by their own government. And I found it equally tragic that most of the newspaper and media accounts of the raid were sympathetic to the government agencies, not the Revere family. The Revere family and its church were, according to news accounts, extremists—and that modern day buzz word made them eligible for persecution, even death, at the hands of the government. What a disturbing world we live in when the United States of America, of all countries, could so easily justify such a view.
I had come to know the Revere family at the various Preparedness Expos they had attended to spread their interpretation of the Bible. Revere, with wild beard and hair, certainly looked different from the clean-cut TV evangelist, or the well-groomed priest or minister. But rather than the hand-waving, impassioned preacher, he was a calm, considerate man who talked to whoever came up to his vendor’s booth. Put simply, he believed in the Kingdom of Heaven and thought mankind owed allegiance only to that kingdom, and that we had no obligation to abide by the rules of any kingdom or government of this earth. His Embassy of Heaven Church had its own government. Revere refused to pay taxes of any kind, or even to apply to the government for a driver’s license. Instead his church issued its own driver’s licenses. Many of us at the Preparedness Shows thought Revere’s beliefs peculiar, but not dangerous. He did not believe in violence and saw no use for firearms.
His daughters added a touch of refinement and elegance to the shows. Meticulously clad in long, flowing dresses, the beautiful and always smiling young ladies sold pencil-shaped packets of honey for a dollar as part of their effort to help their father’s church. My daughter, Annie, whose age falls between that of the two girls, often joined them in tours of the aisles. The other vendors were always glad to see them; they brought gaiety and charm to the sometimes somber political mood of the shows.
When I saw Revere and his family at our most recent Preparedness Show, I greeted them with a much bigger than usual smile, because I knew I was lucky to have had the chance to greet them at all after their encounter with one of today’s most dangerous entities—government. During the three-day show they did as they had done at previous shows: shared their homemade stews and cookies with me, tended my booth while I went off to conduct business with other show vendors, and generally made my stay at the show more pleasant. They have never tried to convert me to their beliefs, perhaps realizing I was beyond conversion to anything. And as at previous shows, they never asked for anything in return.
The Revere family has been homeless since that January raid. They have lived in a couple of trailers donated to them, on some land owned by a man they had ministered to while he was in prison. For this show, they were camped out at a friend’s property. They are trying to get their former property back, but I am not hopeful for them. Revere still has that calm and composed defiance against worldly governments; if the governments who raided his church and took his property thought they broke Revere’s spirit, they are wrong.
But the government has had the last say, in a worldly way, and these “extremists” have been put in their place. But at least, this time, the government didn’t kill them. And for that, I guess I should say thanks.