This excerpt is from the chapter titled “Of Love and Loyalty.” I was only a teenager when this took place in reality, but I was able to recreate the gist of what happened. The leader of the group created his own sort of communion. In this scene the fictional leader, Peter Smith asks for his followers devout loyalty.
In the summer of 1977, Peter held a special meeting. He came with his Bible, a bottle of wine, and a silver chalice.
He preached about Jesus’ disciples. He spoke tenderly, with a soft, kind voice. He spoke of the disciples’ love and loyalty for Jesus, their teacher.
He compared us, his followers, to the disciples. He compared himself to Jesus.
Suddenly, Peter raised his voice. He became angry, enraged. He shouted loudly concerning Judas, the betrayer. He clenched his fists, shook his hands. Peter shouted, “In the end the betrayer dies.” He warned us never to betray him.
Peter claimed to be a messenger, sent by God. He swore his never-ending love to all who’d follow. He threatened painful death to those who’d betray.
He raised his arms above his head, palms toward the sky. He claimed he was MIchael the Archangel. He promised paradise to those with patience. He claimed he was the light in the darkness.
Everyone clung to his words. Eyes filled with tears. Their savior had come.
I sensed something wrong, something dubious. I silently questioned Peter’s claims. Something didn’t feel true. I was the son of a minister. I went to Sunday school. I knew the Bible stories. This wasn’t one of them. Yes, I was only a kid, but I knew right from wrong. This was definitely not right.
The ceremony continued.
Or was it a performance?
Peter took the silver cup and filled it with wine.
He started with those closest to him, those in power, Jared, Milt, Russell. Each pledged absolute loyalty to Peter. Each took an oath to uphold the goals of Paradise Farms. Each drank from the cup.
Peter moved from row to row, member to member. He made each member repeat after him: “My loyalty to you will follow me unto death.” Each member drank from the cup, and Peter said, “Child, you are mine.” He made the women kiss him on each cheek.
Every member over 16 years old pledged absolute loyalty to Peter Smith that night. I thanked God I was only 14.
In closing, Peter said, “You’ve shared the cup. You’ve shared my blood. We’re eternally bound. Remember this oath. Go in silence.”