My name is Kevin Harper, and contrary to what you may have heard, I’m NOT a fallen away Christian, nor am I disgruntled, or angry, or bitter, or even “withdrawn from.” To the contrary, my wife and I are passionate believers and followers of Jesus Christ. We are happily raising our family away from the circle of influence from the Stanton church teachings, and have been blessed to experience a love for God and each other that, in my experience, is unknown inside the church.
Several have accused me of bitterness—people I have never met and who have never read this blog have made this accusation based on what some teacher, preacher, or evangelist said in a sermon or in class. I can stand before God with a clear conscience that I have never had a drop of bitterness about the church. I’ve seen what bitterness does to the soul and decided at a young age it wasn’t for me. So why am I writing this blog?
The purpose is simply to shine some light on the historical facts of the beginnings of this church, which I believe is responsible for a lot of needless suffering, broken families, and anger with God. Laying out factual history and presenting reasoned scriptural commentary is not an attack. I’m not making assertions, or lying. These are facts, communicated as accurately as I understand them, and are my feeble attempt to speak the truth in love. Please forgive me if you feel I’ve fallen short in that, but that is my heart and my motivation.
In my childhood and early adulthood I saw the train wrecks happening in slow motion in my family. One year, I finally decided to take a stand. I decided that I was not going to be intimidated into silence about my faith, and I began to be more vocal about my disagreement with the numerous unbiblical doctrines espoused by the church. Some family members had been so turned off by the church’s teachings and practices over the years that they didn’t want anything to do with God or with church. I was ashamed that I had been sitting sheepishly in the corner while all this was going on, and decided that it was time to live my faith out loud.
Since then, I’ve heard from many members and ex-members about the continuing pattern of broken or estranged marriages and family relationships, not to mention estranged relationship with God, as a result of the unbiblical teachings and fear and intimidation tactics. It is for this reason that this blog exists. I know there are many whose faith has been shaken or completely destroyed by the heretical idea that if they can’t worship at this church, then they are lost. That is such an arrogant doctrine, and it can’t be further from the truth. I can vouch that God is alive and well outside of this church.
So with that intro, here is a summary of how this church affected my life.
My parents started the first “church plant” of the new sect around 1968 in Stanton, with Merie Weiss’s long-distance coaching from her congregation in Spring Valley. The sequence of events went something like this. If I have a few facts wrong here, please set me straight if you have firsthand knowledge. I have a corrected a few paragraphs as I get more accurate information.
- Merie Weiss was born somewhere in the early 1900’s, probably around 1906 and baptized as a young girl along with others of her siblings. She eventually fell away and came back to church in 1939 under a preacher in the San Diego area people knew as Brother Bills.
- Merie started advocating a militant form of Christianity that was considered tactless and unloving by those around her. The preachers who dealt with her struggled to keep her reigned in. Brother Bills died in 1955, and he had the most influence on her.
- She become more and more disenchanted with the male leadership of the church, and openly taught against the elders and preachers in her ladies Bible studies she started. By 1958 she was withdrawn from for “sowing discord and causing division.”
- She financed the purchase of the Spring Valley church building, where she started the Spring Valley congregation. There, she mentored men to provide at least an appearance of male leadership in the church, writing their sermons at first. This became her new home church and base of operations.
- Merie eventually wrote letters to the brotherhood (the mainline Church of Christ) demanding change. Later, when her letters had been largely ignored, she declared the Spring Valley Church of Christ separated from the brotherhood and the only “faithful church.” She asserted that Jesus had “removed the candlestick” from the mainline churches so that they no longer had the Holy Spirit.
- When my dad’s job was transferred to Los Angeles, my parents moved to Lakewood and attended the Bellflower Church of Christ.
- As disagreements arose between the eldership of the Bellflower church, the preacher, and my parents, my parents broke away at my mom’s urging, with my dad resisting at first. They started a church in their home with the coaching of Merie. That became known as the Stanton Church of Christ. Merely as a way to distinguish between this sect and other mainstream churches of Christ nationwide, I generally refer to the entire network as the Stanton Church of Christ.
- Eventually, the church moved outside our home into a rented building. Most of my memories are from when they met at the Stanton Lion’s Club on Beach Blvd and the Grange Hall in Orange.
- My dad was disfellowshipped when I was about 6 1/2 (not 12 as I had previously thought) over a disagreement with Merie about the meaning of Romans 8:11, according to my dad. My mom says it was over his attitude about his disagreement with Merie, and there is probably some truth to both sides. One of them insisted that the “quickening” of our mortal bodies occurred at baptism, the other insisted it meant the final resurrection. Neither would back down, and, according to my dad, the local women secretly taped a conversation and sent it to Merie for “counsel” on what to do. Apparently my dad was pretty heated, and Merie recommended withdrawing fellowship. The rest is history. I remember well the arguing and tension at home during this time over church. My dad later told me he felt Merie had stolen the affection of his wife, and in retrospect, that seems pretty accurate. Was he innocent? Of course not. No human is innocent. We are all fallen and in need of God’s grace. In any case, at that point, my dad took me to another more mainstream Church of Christ for midweek services, and my mom took me to Stanton on Sunday.
I was subsequently raised in two “brands” of Church of Christ, the Stanton church my mom took me to until I moved out at 17, and my dad’s, which was a “mutual edification” church (meaning no hired preacher). It was there that I was baptized into Christ, learned to preach, lead songs, love and appreciate four part harmony, and study the Bible diligently for myself. I was still a legalist with a flair for avid but friendly debate, but God led me out of that in time.
My dad’s withdrawal was very much a spiritual divorce for my parents, if not a physical one. I love my parents dearly, and have tried for years to get them to reconcile emotionally after all the pain of those years, but old wounds cut deeply. The bitterness and arguing over church has faded, but there’s a spiritual chasm between the two.
[Note: My Dad passed away since the time of this writing. But that’s another story altogether.]
It saddens me to think that the one thing that should draw a marriage closer together–our faith in God–is the one thing that has separated them spiritually and emotionally. It didn’t have to be that way, and I would still like to entertain some hope for some reconciliation and mutual forgiveness in the end of their years together. On the other hand, I told myself my marriage was never, ever going to be like that, and by the grace of almighty God, it hasn’t. My wife and I are deeply in love and deeply rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ.
After getting married, we briefly flirted with going to Stanton a couple years into our marriage because my legalistic upbringing was causing us some friction with members of our home church in Anaheim. I was initially re-baptized into Stanton. Before long, we realized their rules were going way beyond the Bible, and we had to leave before they withdrew from me. I recognized early that it would just have been a matter of time, because I was asking too many questions. I remember clearly some of the sexual rules being taught at this time, and I found it sad that people were so Biblically illiterate that they just followed blindly these teachings of men.
I thank God for my wife throughout all this. Our journey out of legalism has been side by side without any friction between us. It certainly could have gone terribly wrong, since her dad was an elder in our home congregation (which begs the question, where are the elders in the Stanton churches? The first century church had elders within just a few years). I’ve never felt a lack of love coming from my in-laws in spite of a few areas of disagreement over the years, and I’ve been grateful for that. God’s grace has seemed to just unfold in front of us at the same time, and it has been a joyful journey into the arms of a loving God.
My regret comes in realizing how many people I hurt while I was still steeped in a judgmental form of legalism myself, and it hurts to see family members and others still in that place, serving a God they know little about other than what their “Teachers” tell them. Because I can relate to their doctrinal misunderstandings, and found a Biblical path out of them (rather than simply rejecting God and the Bible altogether), I feel called to reach out with this website and do what I can to help them see the path out of this faulty and harmful view of God.
To my family and friends still in this church, I want you to know I love you deeply, and my goal is for you to know the love of God like you’ve never known it before. It’s been hard to write this knowing that it would be painful for some, but sometimes pain is a necessary part of growing up in Christ. The loving thing for me to do is to speak the truth in love openly right now. My family has spent too many years in darkness, and this church has been too long keeping everyone in its grip of oppression. I hope and pray that you can see my heart and know that I’m doing this out of love, not spite. Sunlight, I believe, is the best disinfectant, and this information is desperately needed by so many people if they are ever to rebuild their faith on the rock of truth rather than on the shifting sands of man’s teachings.
I remember growing up hearing so many people mock other churches where “all the preacher ever talks about is love,” both from the pulpit and in private conversation. Given that love is THE trait that God defines himself as, it is truly sad to think about how little this church knows about the subject of unselfish, unconditional love for a lost world. I can promise you this–once you get away from the oppression of your conscience by this church, your understanding of love will grow and will change your life. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.
May God give you the courage to act on what you know to be true.