SCHELL CITY, Mo. Twenty-five years after a bitter split turned an obscure church colony into a mecca for the white separatist movement, the stage again is set for a showdown between rival factions.
At stake is influence in the shadowy world of Christian Identity, a movement that often is the common denominator among various factions of the radical right. The struggle pits the well-established Church of Israel, which owns about 1,400 acres in northeastern Vernon County, against a weeks-old upstart.
Christian Patriot movement leader Bo Gritz is scheduled to speak during the weekend of June 1-3 at Pentecost services held by the Church of Israel Redeemed, according to the churchs Web site. Gritz, a former Special Forces officer who burns United Nations flags at gun shows across the country, is listed as director of the new churchs board of advisers.
"There are many former Church of Israel members who have separated themselves from that church," said Jerry Gentry, a Texas businessman who once was the older churchs biggest donor but now is its leading critic.
"Where do these folks go to church now? Their core belief system has not changed," he said. "These people need some sort of shepherding, and they particularly need a place to keep the feasts of the Lord."
Gentry, 57, also was a leading contributor to Herbert W. Armstrongs Worldwide Church of God before being "disfellowshipped" in the early 1980s. He began attending the Church of Israel near Schell City because of its belief system, he said, and eventually contributed more than $600,000. Gentry is opposed to mixed marriages, says blacks and Jews are among the "primate races" created before Adam, and believes the Gospel applies only to whites.
Gentry broke with the Church of Israel last November, after taking a junior pastors side in an acrimonious rift over a settlement package that included $20,000 in cash and the deed to a $100,000 parsonage. The junior pastor, Scott Stinson, later accused church leaders of tax irregularities, charges the church vigorously denied.
Stinson is listed as a pastor of the new church.
Dan Gayman, the 63-year-old patriarch of the Church of Israel, did not respond to the Globes request for comment. Gaymans church claims direct descent from a colony formed here in 1941 by a group of disaffected Mormons and others, including his father. It reportedly has about 150 members, but Gentry said as many as half may have left because of recent scandals, including a controversy over fiscal accountability.
Gayman wrested control of the church from his brother, Duane Gayman, during the 1970s. According to documents at the Vernon County Courthouse, much of the struggle was over Dan Gaymans growing anti-government and white-separatist rhetoric.
The struggle came to a head on the night of June 2, 1976, when the rebels led by Dan Gayman staged a takeover of the church building, locked the doors and unfurled banners proclaiming a movement to "preserve our white seed." The takeover ended in a scuffle with police, and 11 people were arrested.
Because of his "two seedline theory," which speculates on the consequences of the seduction of Eve by Satan in the Garden of Eden, Gayman is widely regarded as a leader in the Christian Identity movement.
In general, Christian Identity holds that white Europeans are the true chosen people of the Bible, that Jews are the biological children of Satan, and that a cataclysmic war between the forces of good and evil is imminent. Also, many believers observe the Biblical feast days of Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost, as set by the Jewish lunar calendar.
In January, Stinson denounced Christian Identity.
Stinson was reluctant to discuss the new church, although the Web site hints at few doctrinal differences between the churches. Even the Confederate-flag-and-Christian-shield symbol, in use by the Church of Israel since the 1980s, has been borrowed by the new organization.
Stinson said there has not yet been an organization meeting for the new church, and he called the Web site "premature." He preferred not to compare the churchs doctrine with that of the older Church of Israel because, he said, much of it has not yet been formulated.
"This is just a skeleton of a church so far," Stinson said. "We chose that name, the Church of Israel Redeemed, intentionally for the people who have left the other church. But so far, theres no building, no tabernacle, nothing except a Web site."
But, the group has rented the community center in downtown Schell City for the June observance, as it did for Passover, which it marked the second week in April. At that time, according to the Web site, between 30 and 50 attended. Gritz spoke on "spiritual warfare" and also gave some Boy Scouts a ride in his twin-engine Cessna at the nearby Nevada airport.
"The problem with Gayman is less doctrinal than personal," Gentry said. "He lies. He spins. He cons. I am doing my best to assist Scott in ministering to those people that have left."
Gentry said the Web site might be a bit premature, but he said Stinson had helped write much of the copy.
Attendance at the Passover observance will not be open to the public, he said, but will be handled on a "reservation" basis. He said he did not have the authority to grant a reporters request to attend the Pentecost services, because it might be a distraction.
"I personally have nothing to hide as to my beliefs, which have been widely published," Gentry said. "Many of these people are far more private than I, and that is their privilege and right as Americans. You see the obvious dilemma we face. How can a church with unpopular, separatist beliefs cooperate with an unsympathetic news media without shooting ourselves in both feet?"