Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This post is written by a man from California who had previously experienced a high demand faith group. Though the relative size of the group was small compared to others, the effects were none the less devastating. After the text of this guest post, I will refer back to some previous posts on this blog that confirm the characteristics outlined by Mr. Browner as being evidence of mind control techniques.

 Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

      Yes, the phrase may seem over used, but it accurately details the characters in the true story I am about to share. My name is Scott Browner and between 2007 and 2011 my family, wife and two children, were involved with a very small Christian, Bible-based ministry in Southern California. Up until 2007, I had no previous exposure to the Bible or Christianity, but had always been a spiritual seeker, mainly looking into more new-agey stuff.

      First, let me give some brief yet relevant background. In 2004, my wife and biological mother of my kids who were 6 and 9 at the time, passed away at age 40 from a rare form of cancer. I was a single father of two and had a very demanding job on a network TV show which required long and unpredictable hours. I was barely coping with the new dynamics and was understandably tired, stressed and always concerned for the well being of the kids. Three and a half years later, I met and married my current wife who happily took on the role of Mom to two needy children.

  It was during our short engagement that she met Matt Swogger and his wife, Leah Swogger, who had two children of their own. They said they were Christian ministers and operated directly under a prophet and great man of God named, Larry Herlong. I was thrilled to have found someone who could show me how to live with that “peace that passes understanding”. They didn’t even charge for their services even though this is what they did full time. How amazing! (and yet a totally foreign concept to me at the time…)

          They prayed with us and their technique was rather unorthodox. We would always pray eye to eye rather than with heads bowed and eyes closed. Looking back this seemed suspiciously like a form of hypnosis. Within a very short time of individual ministering with them, I was pressured to start tithing. I was ok with it, but according to them there was also the need to “plant a seed”. The amount required: $10,000!  That’s not a typo. TEN THOUSAND!!!  I listened to the reasoning from Matt about this and was shown Scripture to back it up. Even though I was scared, I wrote the check. I thought, ok, I can afford it and was promised huge blessings as a result of this major “act of faith.” After all, I was giving to God, not really to Matt, right

    I bet I know what you’re thinking……how could I be so gullible, trusting and foolish??!  I completely agree and have to live with that very day. However, hang on for that was just the beginning………

     Barely a month later, my wife Julie informed me that it was very intense at the Swoggers, because they were on the verge of losing their house. In addition to that, they didn’t have a penny to their name to move into a rental unit. This was the first time I became aware that things were far from ideal in their world. Their personal and financial reality had not been disclosed to me until that point. I offered to loan them another 10k (interest free, of course) to get settled or, possibly, I suggested it could be an advance on my tithes. This notion was not OK, nor of God, according to them. The next $10k had to be a gift with NO STRINGS and then God would be able to pour out a huge blessing on me. You guessed it! This totaled a $20,000 gift, not including tithes, within the first few months.  Again, I willingly gave the money and they were able to move and put a roof over their heads. Shortly thereafter, Leah became pregnant with her third child. Oh, and by the way, neither of these ministers had jobs as they both insisted God had called them to minister full time and “live by faith”. Was I getting stupider by the day?

         Along comes Larry Herlong, the prophet! He was a very large man of around sixty years old with jet-black hair and a thick southern accent. My very first experience with one of Larry’s “prophecies” came very shortly after our marriage. Julie, my wife, announced to me one night that Larry and Leah had prophesied that within a few months she would get pregnant! Now we had discussed this at length before the wedding and realized she was probably past the age of conceiving, but it wasn’t impossible. But whatever happened, she would be happy raising my two as her own. We were both at complete peace with that, but Larry had other ideas……… 

         Well, more than the few months came and went and the glorious day still hadn’t arrived! The kids were excited about the new sibling and were picking out names and the whole house was abuzz. Yet, still there was no baby. Leah then informed my wife that the Holy Spirit told her that the reason she was still not pregnant was that she had not “planted her $eed” with Larry. Julie didn’t have any money though….but wait…there was her 401K! The only savings she had in the world!!  By this time I was no longer quite the cheerful giver I had been before, but she wanted to do it so I said ok. We cashed it out, paid the large tax penalty and handed over almost another $10,000 ON TOP OF very steady, faithful tithes from my paychecks.   And yet….still no baby!

About then it started to get bad. Larry began to tell Julie that it’s because her husband (me) “wasn’t right”. They would go out to lunch, shopping and manicures (on my dime, while I was out working hard) and he began to regularly put me down. That, as you can imagine, didn’t exactly promote marital harmony. Isn’t a man of God supposed to help build up marriages!? Immediately his comments put a wedge between the very husband and wife who were supporting him!  Right off the bat, the blame game started and never once did Larry or the Swoggers take responsibility for all their insidious, inaccurate and self-serving prophecies that didn’t come to pass! They were never accountable. It was always me or us at fault. Another diversionary tactic- I would get the….. “well, I never said when” standard answer. This is still just the beginning, but I must get to the major events or this post will become a novel.

      I made the grave mistake of passively accepting everything that was told to me and was taught and even “brainwashed” into mistrusting my gut feelings and common sense, often being told that those internal warnings were just the devil trying to hold me back or things of that nature. I paid a steep price for that!  I was also continually being told what a dangerous place I was in because I wasn’t “in with both feet”, and how much God hated that!  Larry was a master manipulator. Whenever I expressed doubts over Larry’s authenticity and the validity of his doctrine; they would get angry and use fear tactics to put me in my place.  

For example:

      He had a vision I would be in a bad car wreck (with my son, who was a mere child) but with another check $$$- I could “get right with God.” I now know that questioning and struggles are a normal and healthy part of everyone’s walk, but that was not permitted under Larry. We were frequently hearing phrases like;    

    You Are Robbing God!     OBEY without question!    Don’t put your mouth      on God’s anointed!              You must reverence us!

      To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. We were learning about the Bible and Jesus, although not in a very easy to understand way. We had some nice times and moments as a group. I can use the analogy of a tall glass of clear, clean spring water. Initially, it’s totally pure, refreshing and healthy. But if someone puts a few drops of raw sewage in it, you wouldn’t want to drink it. That’s what it was like except it was more like adding a few large tablespoons of sewage!!

       Enough of the light adventures, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Some of the worst moments of our time with them:

        Larry and Leah completely bullied and scared my wife into giving them the entire inheritance from her father when he passed. That totaled -$100,000!!! She willingly and generously bought him a $56,000 Lincoln Navigator. Yet, that still wasn’t enough. Within a month, under EXTREME pressure and manipulation, she handed over the remaining $44,000 in cash! He and the Swoggers used it to move into new houses in Westlake Village, Ca. Four months later, they were all broke again and asked me for more money. For the entire four years, the relationship was a bottomless pit of endless financial need. And why was that?  Because none of the “ministers” worked!! In my first church encounter, I had found the only Christian Ministry where J-O-B is a four letter word!  Somewhere around this time Leah got pregnant again with her fourth child.  In reality, we basically went broke subsidizing them even when I couldn’t afford it. It would get worse if my work/income slowed down. But Matt would always tell me to stop complaining because “God loves a cheerful giver”, and can’t bless a bad attitude like mine. He conveniently neglected to quote the rest of the verse:

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7

        Julie was completely devoted to Larry and he used this for his own self-serving purposes. He once told her that her key to happiness was to always put him first. That needs no commentary. 

         Not surprisingly in hindsight, the ministry never grew any bigger than a dozen or so regulars at the bi-monthly Bible studies. Even though Julie introduced many people to him, (he frequently referred to her as his “wing man”)none of them stayed very long or gave much money. Despite all this, one day he turned to her and totally blamed her for the fact that the ministry wasn’t growing! According to him, it was because she was taking anti-anxiety medication and that was holding everything back! Within a month, she had quit cold-turkey (what a woman!!) and was clean……….six months later, the ministry folded anyway and Larry left town. Again, he displayed absolute zero accountability!!

         Perhaps the worst of all was when he told my 11 year old daughter that she would get cancer if she talked to her grandmother on the phone. (Let’s don’t forget that she lost her biological mother to cancer several years earlier.) When I confronted him about that, he tried to weasel his way out of it by saying, “Well, I didn’t mean right away”! (verbatim)  Shame on him and shame on me too for not protecting my family from this constant nonsense! I should’ve walked away from him then and there. There is guilt over this which I have to live with every day!

       Believe it or not, there really is much, much more to share and it doesn’t get any prettier. There were others who happen to be in Larry’s path to which multiple prophecies were made that never materialized. These “prophecies” centered mostly on careers, money and soul-mates. But it was never him that was wrong…so he said.

Here are a few further examples of the abuses of spiritual power.

        – We were “instructed” to put our perfectly healthy dog to sleep because she had a “bad spirit”.

   – We were told to move and get a new car as our old one also had a “bad spirit”. It didn’t matter whether or not we could afford it. That thinking wouldn’t reflect “faith.”

   – It wasn’t all just about money either. Julie was instructed, to immediately stop seeing her therapist who was extremely helpful to her.

   – Larry told Julie that if she ever left his ministry she would end up in a mental institution. He said if I left awful things would happen to me.. I would lose everything and/or get a horrible disease!

   – One day Leah presented some “rules” regarding what we, as husband and wife, could do behind closed doors in the matrimonial bedroom (graphic details are unnecessary). I was disturbed by this blatant crossing of boundaries and when I dared to question it, I was told the following: “Even though the Bible is very vague about this, Larry is very clear!  It sounded to me like Larry is just fabricating rules based on his own personal hang-ups.

      The list of atrocities and violations goes on and on but it is time to wrap things up. Despite the many red flags that God kept waving, we stayed far too long. Then the glorious day finally arrived when they went too far with the endless blame and we finally had enough!  On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July, with my wife in tears, we went to a nearby church and spent over four hours talking and crying with one of the elders. This elder gently and lovingly explained how we’d “been had” and this so called Christian Ministry was nothing more than a corrupt, polluted and self-serving cult of which there are sadly– many around the country and world. Some of their church members had been through similar experiences, but few as extreme as ours. These religious cults manipulate and take advantage of sincere and trusting people like us every day. He also assured us that we could walk away without fear of incurring the wrath of God. This had been a major fear factor in why we stayed as long as we did.

       To their credit, the ministers of the cult didn’t try to lure us back and we have had no contact with any from that group for over two years. Now we are rebuilding the lives they almost destroyed. Our God is good and didn’t let the total destruction happen. We may not own our own home anymore and are significantly poorer, but we learned many invaluable lessons about discernment and spiritual wisdom. It is my sincere prayer and hope that this information can spare someone else the torment we endured and that you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way.                                                                                   

     Thanks for reading and God Bless.

_______________________________________________________________

 Three characteristics came to mind as I read this post. First, I recognized the mystical manipulation.

Thought Reform at WOFF- Mystical Manipulation – found here.

 Secondly, I recognized the control issues over money as also in both groups.

The $50,000 Offering– found here.

Next, there is no doubt that fear was used as a control method in both groups.

Word of Fear Fellowship (WOFF) – found here.  

 Though the group in this post was smaller, the dynamics were similar to WOFF and other groups of that nature. Below I have included a couple videos of L A Herlong Ministries.

 

 

 

Thank you, for reading and please, leave your questions or comments.

And with that, let us remember:

It is never too late to wake up and leave and reclaim your life!” Steve Hassan

Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me and Josh confirmed it.

Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.

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Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 468.

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5 thoughts on “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”

  1. I read the post wolves in sheeps clothing about Larry Herlong and his friends.I am troubled and ashamed of him for acting the way he has done. Met him about 18yrs ago in Alabama he ministered to me and read my spiritual mail and the thing he propheside to me came to pass. He doesnt sound like the same person any more. So sorry you had to go through what you and yours did . May You be blessed in spite of the enemy . yours in CHRIST Phillip Ingram

  2. Regarding “WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING”

    I am so so sorry this happened to you and your family. I to was almost manipulated by Matt Swogger. I have been to their house a couple of times. I was also at Larry’s a couple of times. The first time meeting Matt, he told me that God told him I was to give Larry my Navigator…..what a joke. God told him this. How convenient for Larry!!! I thank the good Lord that He has given me great friends, with great WISDOM. They didn’t get much over 300.00 from me. The Lord knows you gave the money from your heart, you will be rewarded. As you can see they are struggling, and have lost over and over again…..well they will never have enough, because they are taking what is not theirs. They are robbing our Father.

    I believe we have met at one of their meetings, actually I am positive of it. You have beautiful kids, from what I remember. You have amazing hearts and are givers. You paid for my dinner.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  3. Hi Jannie,
    Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you didn’t allow yourself to be conned by Matt and Larry!
    I only wish I had possessed that wisdom back when I was in their cult!
    I trust you decided to no longer have anything more to do with them now that you realize what they are all about. God bless!

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