Jerry Peden's United Pentecostal Church Experience

The follow has been taken from "The Journey Out of the United Pentecostal Church" by Daniel J. Lewis, copyright 1994. See below for further details. Note that Conqueror's Bible College closed in the 1980s.

JERRY PEDEN, Stockton, California

[Jerry Peden was reared in the United Pentecostal Church from a very young age. His home districts were Arkansas and Idaho. He attended Conquerors Bible College, the UPC school in Portland, Oregon. He has since served as a pastor and church-planter for the UPC as well as an official at his alma mater in Oregon.]

To open my mind to the past days in the United Pentecostal Church is like pulling a scab off of a wound to see if healing has taken place. It appears that there will be a permanent scar, but thank God the wound is closing.

I was born in northwest Arkansas. Milton Peden, my great-grandfather, accepted the oneness Pentecostal message at an old-fashioned brush arbor meeting, and he later became an advocate of the "oneliness of God" indoctrination.[1] By contrast, my mother's parents attended the Assembly of God church, and even though they were also Pentecostal, I will always remember how strange it felt when we were constantly told that they were in error and could not go to heaven. In my childish mind, it seemed that they were godly people, and in fact, they were more consistent in their Christian walk than were my father's people who belonged to the UPC.

If the term 'Arkansas Traveler' fits anyone, it was absolutely a true picture of my family. We began a series of moves between Arkansas and Idaho that was to be repeated every two to three years. In Idaho, the whole flavor of the UPC was more moderate and less judgmental.

What a cultural shock to move from the Idaho District back to Section 7 of the Arkansas District![2] Some of the ministers were malicious and full of condemnation. The moderates were openly ridiculed, and some were even "disfellowshipped."[3] To be disfellowshipped came to be the most dreaded thing that could happen within the framework of the UPC. Not only was there fear of alienation from the church, some taught that anyone who was put out would burn forever in the lake of fire.

We were taught that UPC ministers were called of God, and this calling was so high that whatever they preached or taught was of God and could not be questioned. This teaching was further pounded into our heads at home by parents. The fear of speaking out against God's anointed leader would later result in the most devastating event of my life. I was thirteen years old at the time, and my family had returned from Idaho to Arkansas on one of our moves, where we attended a small country church. The pastor of the church hired me to mow lawns for him on Saturdays.

During this time, a fiery evangelist came to our church to hold a two or three week revival meeting. On the first Friday night of the meeting, my Dad came to me after the service and told me that I was to spend the night at the pastor's home, so he would not have to come after me the following morning for work. My sleeping arrangements for the night were to be with the evangelist who, incidentally, preyed on young boys. (He did believe, however, that both men and women must wear long sleeves.) I was raped and traumatized by this man. My fear of my Dad and the fear of telling on the "man of God" were so great that these acts were to be repeated again before the revival fires finally waned.[4]

When I was fifteen, my parents separated, and my mother moved once more with all the kids back to Idaho. The bitterness over the family situation and the confusion caused by the evangelist threw me into a downward spiral that led to gross spiritual darkness during my high school years. Into that blackness came the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ!

The summer after my senior year of high school, God really began to convict me of sin, and a great hunger for Him began to grow in me once more. At a Youth Camp in Idaho, I was welcomed and shown great kindness. Finally, the convicting power of Jesus warmed my heart, and I knelt in deep repentance at an old pine stump and repented of my sins. Many people encouraged me to attend Bible college in Portland, Oregon. In the fall of 1965, I applied and was accepted. Events too numerous to mention led me back to Arkansas, where in 1972, I started a church in Berryville. In my youthful optimism, I thought I could become a positive influence in my Section. Because I had graduated from Bible college, however, I was considered to be an outsider and was told by the Sectional Presbyter (now deceased) that I needed to sit under him or one of the other strong pastors in the area, pay tithes, and get "properly grounded." I remember the harshness of our bi-monthly fellowship meetings. It seemed that each meeting became more like a contest to see which preacher could convince the others that they were the most holy. My father-in-law said it reminded him of quail hunting: "Everything that tried to get going got shot down by the mob."

My wife has naturally curly hair (they said she cut it), and it is naturally auburn with no grey (they said she dyed it). We were constantly condemned for wearing wedding rings, and our church was considered worldly, because women who attended wore facial make-up and had short hair. Finally in 1981, I was invited to join the staff at Conquerors Bible College in Oregon. This seemed right, and I thought I would be returning to the moderate Pacific Northwest which I had known a decade ago. Little did I realize that great changes had taken place there. Theological questions were raised, and Don Fisher, the new president, was compelled to meet the District Board so often that it bordered on the ridiculous. Nathaniel Urshan, the General Superintendent, was asked to intervene on our behalf. Our belief was that, since we were in good standing with the denomination and since the college was endorsed by the UPC's Department of Education, such antagonistic behavior would not be tolerated. No help came.

Eventually, the District Superintendent of Washington smugly handed me a letter directing me to meet with the District Board. No mention of any charges were made in the letter, so from a legal standpoint, there was no way the Board could take any ecclesiastical action against me. However, I had already seen what this same board had done with innuendo and conjecture to Don Fisher, and I knew that I did not have the stamina to face such a "meat grinder."

If to remain in the UPC meant that I had to fight the rest of my life, I determined to have no further part of it. To me, the future of my family's spiritual well-being was of much more importance than remaining in a religious system and trying to change it. We made the decision to leave. When my Fellowship Card was cancelled, I received a form letter from UPC headquarters telling me that it was hoped I would not lose out with God, and the next day I received an identical letter from the same source. I wondered, "Were so many leaving that a form letter was needed to keep up?"

[1] The "oneliness of God" is rural jargon for the "oneness of God" [Ed.].

[2] The government of the United Pentecostal Church divides the United States up into Districts, usually comprising a single state. Below that, each state is divided up into sections. Each district has a superintendent, while each section has a sectional presbyter [Ed.].

[3] The term "disfellowship" is a legal word in UPC government which approximates excommunication. It means that one is now expelled from the true church. Other people within the UPC are forbidden to have contact with "disfellowshipped" churches or people [Ed.].

[4] This story is not intended to suggest that such abuses are typical within the UPC. However, in any totalitarian structure where unquestioned authority exists, the susceptibility to abuse is heightened. [Ed.]


"The Journey Out of the United Pentecostal Church" by Daniel J. Lewis may be accessed for free in PDF format here. Much thanks to Dan Lewis for permission to distribute his book.


Posted June 20, 2014

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