Walk Away Gideon leader walks away By Skipp Porteous Other than a bed, what is the item mo
Gideon leader walks away
By Skipp Porteous
Other than a bed, what is the item most commonly found in hotel and
motel rooms throughout the world? If you answered a Gideon Bible,
The Gideons, with 95,000 zealous members in over 135 countries, distribute
a whopping 72,516 Bibles a day throughout the world. That's about
50 per minute.
As a young man growing up in Germany, John Seigel never envisioned
his future as a champion for the Gideon movement in America. In 1964,
Seigel came to the United States through an exchange program. While
in Illinois, he fell in love with an American woman (whom we'll call
Dee) who had been born again. Soon they were married and moved to
Germany, where John worked in his family's business.
Then, in 1966, at Dee's encouragement, John attended a Billy Graham
crusade in Berlin. These carefully planned campaigns have only one
purpose - conversion. Fine-tuned over the years, the hype and group
psychology has produced the foolproof altar call.
When Graham gave his famous invitation, John's heart strings felt
the tug and, like a lamb headed for slaughter, he went foward with
scores of others. From that point on, he immersed himself in his newfound
After five years in Germany, the couple and their two daughters (with
another on the way), moved back to the U.S. For a while, they attended
a staid Lutheran church.
In 1973, John received an invitation to participate in the work of
the Gideons International. Local Gideon groups are called camps. Soon,
he became Bible placement secretary of the Omaha South Camp. With
a population of about 500,000, the Omaha metro-area had two Gideon
camps. For three years, Seigel was responsible for checking on hotels
and motels in the area served by his camp. His duties took him from
flea-bag motels to the finest hotels in the city.
Doing the work of the Lord became John's obsession. Whenever he wasn't
on his job as a contractor sales rep for a large lumberyard chain,
he was out with the Gideons. Having taken the Dale Carnegie course,
Seigel became one of the better speakers among the Omaha Gideons,
and spoke at least once in nearly every church within the bondaries
of his camp.
In his effort to please God, Seigel became president of the local
Gideons for three years; zone leader for a portion of eastern Nebraska
for another three; and spoke at more than 100 churches, asking the
members of those churches to support the Gideons prayerfully and financially.
In addition to placing Bibles in hotels, motels, and jail cells, he
went to schools and colleges to hand out New Testaments. John believes
that he could have been considered a "number one Gideon."
Some pastors, though, forbade the Gideons from speaking at their churches.
John viewed them as "less spiritual." One minister of a fundamentalist
church about 15 miles south of Omaha - after he learned that the Bibles
weren't the King James version - refused to take the Bibles offered
by Seigel. "The King James version is the only true word of God,"
declared the Rev. Everett Sileven.
During their tenure at the Lutheran church, the Seigels enrolled their
four daughters in an Assemblies of God school in Bellevue, Nebraska.
Bellevue, an Omaha suburb with a major Air Force base, is populated
with a high percentage of Air Force families, many of whom belong
to Pentecostal churches. "Those people, Seigel observes, "are used
to following orders and seem to be more open to the kind of indoctrination
provided by Pentecostal churches."
In 1979, the Seigel family left the Lutheran church and joined the
newly formed Trinity Church Interdenominational, which had just begun
construction of an 1,100-seat auditorium. John's daughters were brought
up under the church's teaching, and one attended North Central Bible
College in Minneapolis, the same school from which Jim and Tammy Bakker
From the start, John and Dee threw themselves into church service.
Once a month, they assisted in cleaning the church's auditorium, and
Dee became a Sunday school teacher. A voracious reader, Dee also had
her own radio show in which she reviewed religious books for a Christian
The pastor asked John to consider taking a position as an elder in
the growing assembly. Dee, though, went to the pastor and told him
that her husband wasn't "spiritually fit" for the position. Apparently,
she considered herself more spiritually advanced than her spouse.
"I probably wasn't fit for the position," Seigel says in retrospect,
"because I couldn't believe everything the church taught about gifts
of the spirit and speaking in tongues."
John's Gideon activities continued unabated. During the 1980s, he
spoke at training seminars in Omaha and at various state conventions.
He also served as a German translator at the Gideons International
confererence in Phoenix. Concurrently, John and his Gideon brothers
continued to hand out Bibles at public schools and on college campuses.
Throughout these years, Seigel continued to study the Bible in earnest.
Perhaps, unknown to both of them, John and Dee were drawn into a sort
of spiritual competition. As he pursued his interest, what he found
really disturbed him. Objective Bible study is what actually began
to turn Seigel around.
For instance, he learned that Bible scholars have concluded that no
more than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually
said by him. Additionally, there is no account of a single word ever
written by Jesus. We have only the words of others who claim to tell
us what Jesus said. Some of these writers never knew him. What they
put into writing, as many as sixty years after his death, was hearsay.
The Gospel writers don't agree on Jesus' genealogy, or exactly what
he said, or the details of his life, leaving us with a record replete
with inconsistencies and contradictions.
This newfound knowledge brought John to a point where he could no
longer belive that the Bible was the one and only true word of God.
After 16 years of active service, he withdrew his membership with
John's withdrawal from spiritual life caused conflicts at home. In
every argument, his wife insisted that she was right as she quoted
her color-marked Bible. "When a spouse, and the church behind him
or her, is always 'right' and uses the Bible to support one's view,
what is the other person to argue?" Seigel says. "One can only lose
under those circumstances."
Several years earlier, John switched jobs and became a real estate
broker. About 60 percent of his business came from his church affiliations.
As an active member of his church, his fellow parishioners were some
of his best customers. All seven pastors of the church (or at least
their immediate family members) bought a home from him. In the church
he was considered "the resident Realtor." And quite willingly, he
tithed 10 percent of his income.
"I felt more and more that the born-again and spirit-filled life was
not for me," Seigel says, "but, for the benefit of my family I attempted
to remain in the church." During that period, thought, John's disbelief
became a source of depression. At times, he considered suicide.
The disparity in levels of commitment between John and his wife produced
considerable tension and frustration in his family life. "My wife
drew ever closer to 'God,'" John says, "and claimed to have the truth."
Seigel says that his wife is "a very intelligent and talented woman,
probably one of the best I could have found."
For a while, the couple attended counseling together with one of the
church's young pastors. The counselor, who lacked any seminary training,
said, "John, if you would just submit to Jesus Christ the way you
are supposed to, you and your family would not have these problems."
The unconventional advice didn't help, and the rift within the family
widened. "I could no longer take the word 'Jesus' in my mouth, whether
in word or song," John says. When the senior pastor of Trinity Church
strongly recommended that John move out of his home, he did so.
Not quite ready to end the marriage, he sought reconciliation with
his wife. She wrote to him, "We will not live with you again unless
you get spiritual counseling." John's next step was to file for divorce.
Dee is now convinced that Seigel is "demon possessed."
"I feel free since I left the Gideons and the church, just as free
as a new Christian may feel when he or she is born again," John says.
"If the demons really exist, they must like it around the church,
for they have not looked for me at my apartment yet."
John compares himself to someone who has given up drinking. "I consider
myself a recovered Pentecostal," he says. Does he still believe in
God? Seigel answers, "Nature shows me the presence of a creator, but
I'm not convinced that this creator has the form of God as presented
in the Bible. I describe myself best as an agnostic, and I am very
comfortable with this. Jesus Christ falls in the category with Martin
Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin - men who saw things wrong with the church
and wanted to improve things. None of them probably intended to start
a new church or religion, but hoped to improve what was already there.
To elevate Jesus to a God status is beyond my comprehension."
After leaving the church, John says, "any anger or feeling of rejection
I experienced while in the church is gone. Just the fact that there
is no longer the guilt trip instilled at every church service, with
the invitation to go forward again and again, is a big relief." He
adds, "At 50, I can relate to Austin Miles' statement, 'All those
things happened in my first fifty years. The next fifty years will
be even better.'"
Life is beginning anew for John Seigel. Associates at his office tell
him that they like him a lot better, since he no longer carries his
religion to the office. He has actively gone out to meet other people,
and has joined the German-American Society, and is making new friends.
"I do thrive on relationships with people for my own well-being, and
for my business," Seigel says. "These 'wordly' people have been a
great support for me. They accept me for who I am, not for whom I
Surprisingly, some of Seigel's friends from the church are supportive
of his views because they see the overreaction on the part of his
wife and pastor in separating him out for punishment. A church member
friend recently referred a major house sale to him, thus showing him
support and his acceptance of him as a person, even after leaving
the church. Others, however, will not talk to him.
Initially, the divorce taxed John's relationship with his daughters.
Now, ten months afterward, the improvement is evident, and he sees
his daughters on a regular basis.
Today, Seigel realizes that his case is not isolated but part of a
common pattern. He hopes now to reach out to the husbands and wives
of born-again people. He says, "Too few born-agains think critically
enough to read books other than the Bible or Christian books." He
believes many suffer spiritually and emotionally because of the "black
and white, accept it or be thrown out" attitude of Pentecostal-type
churches. "I got sucked into it," he says, "and it took an almost
impossible amount of strength to get out of it. I am better for the
experience, though. Life is again worth living."
Talking with others, Seigel emphasizes, and reading about others with
like experiences helped him tremendously. He said that the _Walk_Away_
newsletter, and the four books _Jesus_Doesn't_Live_Here_Anymore_ by
Skipp Porteous, _Don't_Call_Me_Brother_ and _Setting_the_Captives_
Free_ by Austin Miles, and _The_Mind_of_the_Bible_Believer_ by Edmund
Cohen, have helped him to understand what happened to him during his
involvement at Trinity Church Interdenominational - and what is happening
in Pentecostal churches throughout America.
"Some of those involved with Pentecostal churches see no way out,"
Seigel says. He knows otherwise. Weaker people, he feels stay in the
church for fear of losing their support group. "This indeed makes
many a Pentecostal church a cult. Recovering Pentecostals could be
a good-sized church, if we would just seek out and encourage one another,"
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