Six members of an East Texas church some have compared to a cult were arrested after disrupting a Sunday morning sermon at Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch.
Lakewood Church spokesman Donald Iloff says the six young men, who were later identified as members of the Church of Wells, started shouting during Osteen's 11 a.m. sermon Sunday and were eventually escorted out of the sanctuary by church ushers and arrested by responding police. “One of them was screaming out scripture,” Iloff told the Press. “I think I heard one of them yell, 'Thus sayeth the Lord.'”
Among the members arrested and charged with criminal trespass was 26-year-old Jacob Gardner, who's credited as being one of the Church of Wells' founding members. As this Texas Monthly story from last year recounts, Gardner met Sean Morris and Ryan Ringnald while attending Baylor University in 2007. After the three young men graduated, they formed the Church of Arlington, which they ultimately relocated to the small East Texas hamlet of Wells, renaming their growing congregation the Church of Wells.
A banner on the church's website features the faces of pastors and other spiritual leaders who have inspired the Church of Wells' teachings, from Protestant Reformation leaders like John Knox to revivalist preachers like Jonathan Edwards, whose sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” helped trigger the First Great Awakening. The church's "manifesto" claims the Church of Wells has revived the Lord's “standard of righteousness which has long lain without a Church to bear it.”
As you'd imagine, the church's presence in Wells hasn't been without controversy. In May 2012, a baby born to church members died when her parents, instead of dialing 911, prayed for Christ to heal the child as she turned blue and struggled to breathe. The church has also come under fire for its practice of encouraging members to shun their family and friends. In one of his teachings called “The Doctrine of Judgment,” Morris writes that church members “must be divided from your family for your own salvation, because your family is united in the worldwide divide against God.”
Iloff claims that Sunday wasn't the first time Church of Wells members have turned up to disrupt sermons at Lakewood. About a month ago church members “caused a disturbance” when Osteen was shaking hands with Lakewood members after one of his sermons. “They were asked to leave and not come back,” Iloff said.
All six members were arrested and handed class B misdemeanor trespassing charges, according to Houston police and court records. Iloff says Lakewood plans to continue pressing charges, which he said is “uncharacteristic” for the church. “This is something we're concerned about, so we plan to see this thing through,” he said.
Here are mugshots of the other Church of Wells members arrested alongside Gardner Sunday:
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