By Cathleen A. Mann, PhD
Wayne Bent, known to his followers as “Michael Travesser,” leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church (LOR) in Northeastern New Mexico, recently ended a self-imposed prison protest fast.
Bent received a 10-year prison sentence for sexual misconduct in December 2008. His criminal conviction was on a single count of touching the breast of a 16-year-old member of LOR during a “healing ritual.”
Mr. Bent is the self-proclaimed “prophet” of LOR, which has a small following within its compound known as “Strong City.” The group was the subject of an in-depth investigation televised by National Geographic titled “Inside a Cult.” Despite the fact that Mr. Bent and his followers spoke freely to reporters, the group continues to blame the producers of the documentary for its leader’s travails.
Bent and his church believe that anyone outside of their group is “the Beast.” Mr. Bent declared that he would “not eat at the hand of the Beast” while serving his sentence in prison.
During his fast Bent proclaimed that “God” was going to release him from prison. But of course that never happened and his sentence won’t end soon. He isn’t eligible for release until 2017.
So why did Mr. Bent really decide to start eating regular meals again?
This was probably due to more personal, pragmatic considerations rather than anything prophetic and quite possibly health concerns.
“God told me I don’t need to fast anymore. So my family is buying me food in the store and I eat that. I don’t eat the prison food, since it is not good for me. God wants me to eat things that are good for me,” Bent said in a letter to LOR children (March 2, 2011).
Bent’s age (67 at time of sentencing in 2008) and apparent frailty certainly have made his life in prison more difficult.
And though he may prefer the relative comfort of the prison infirmary to a cell block, Mr. Bent probably doesn’t like the court-ordered forced feeding he has received.
Despite his criminal conviction Bent continues to insist he is a religious martyr. He steadfastly refuses to admit any wrongdoing regarding the females (some underage) he allowed and/or encouraged to lie naked with him in bed, while he stroked their “sternum.” Mr. Bent claims that he did not receive a fair trial. He and his followers say that the prosecutor and judge responsible for his conviction, as well as anyone else who criticizes the LOR prophet, is not on the side of “God.”
Bent explains, “So the purpose of my fast has been accomplished, and it has taken away the authority of the Beast. This little king with no clothes on has been revealed for who he is. But we warned the State early on. Over and over, proud men were given an opportunity to stand down, but their self-righteous boasting can now be seen by souls covered with the righteousness of God, as only farts in the wind.”
Such division, externalization, and refusal to accept responsibility for wrongdoing is a typical ploy of most cult leaders.
I evaluated an LOR follower in 2009. This also included examining the inside workings of the cult group, which are pretty horrific.
Wayne Bent lacks the character to admit when he is wrong. Instead he wants everyone to believe that he is the physical incarnation of the “divine.” He continues to write long missives to his followers from prison, which are difficult to comprehend, full of biblical references, but supposedly explain his every action and thought.
For example in his recent letter Bent states, “My fast wasn’t for myself; my fast was for the people. I gave myself for them. I was sacrificed for them. Now all of those who are led by the Spirit and could gain by these events have done so. There is no further need or purpose for my fast. And to those who cannot receive the truth, but willfully remain in their illusions, no amount of fasting would benefit them.”
At this point it’s hard to know how many LOR members actually believe Mr. Bent’s rambling letters and remain totally loyal to their imprisoned leader.
But in my opinion Wayne Bent fears that he is becoming increasingly marginalized and irrelevant, so he continues to post on an obscure group Web site hoping to garner attention, while he remains incarcerated and isolated.
Note: During the criminal trial of Wayne Bent cult apologist, Dr. J. Gordon Melton testified that Bent was a misunderstood religious leader. Melton seems to use this same apology for all cult leaders and controversial groups, including Scientology. However, his testimony apparently had little if any effect.
Cathleen Mann, PhD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org