Like many others who've joined the House of Yahweh and then left, Kay
Jordan said she and her husband with their five children were drawn to the
sect because it seemed to fill an emptiness in their lives.
They were living in Tennessee when Yisrayl Hawkins came to Nashville to preach. Her husband, who worked at the General Motors Saturn plant, liked what he heard, and the Jordans began following the sect's teachings. They traveled to Abilene for feasts, which last almost a week three times each year.
Times were good for the Jordan family, but then her husband was laid off for refusing to work on Saturdays, the sect's holy day, and had trouble finding work. In 1991 they came to Clyde and lived in a one-bedroom house.
"We followed along like little zombies, I guess," Jordan said. "The more we'd go, the more brainwashed we became."
One of the teachings was that tithing to Yahweh was part of the path to salvation. The Jordans wanted to pay, and when the cash was short they paid in food stamps.
Hawkins did not teach from the pulpit that food stamps should be given, Jordan said, but his elders told people they could be accepted.
Receipts used when tithes were collected included three boxes: "cash," "check" and "other," she said. While "other" presumably could mean credit card or donated goods, Jordan said the message was clear: food stamps.
Jordan also used food stamps, she said, to obtain "Yahweh money" to spend at the Yahweh Store, actually an 18-wheel trailer set up during feasts and offering everything from Yahweh publications to Mogen David wine.
The Jordans later moved to Mississippi, and continued to travel to Abilene for feasts, depositing food stamps as part of their tithes.
Mississippi took notice, however. And while Jordan's husband was now working, the couple was under-reporting his income so they could stay on food stamps. They needed the money to live, she said, because so much was going to the House of Yahweh.
Other former members have made similar claims that they've given thousands of dollars to the sect. Jordan said she could not recall how much she and her family have given.
Last September Jordan, who had moved back to Abilene, received word there
was a warrant out for her arrest in Mississippi. Someone, she doesn't know
who, had turned her in for the underreporting.
She traveled to Mississippi to take care of the matter. She entered into the equivalent of a deferred adjudication plea agreement, meaning the charge won't stick if she pays $1,760 in restitution, plus court costs, a fine and a $30-per-month administrative fee.
Jordan knew blaming the House of Yahweh was no defense.
"I knew they were going to catch me someday," she said.
Even today she admits that what she did was clearly wrong and that ultimately it's her responsibility, not the House of Yahweh's.
But she and others say they want the public informed about what is happening in the sect, despite concern for their personal safety. Once a person leaves the sect he or she "is no longer considered innocent blood, Jordan said. "They can shed your blood if they so desire."
The rift in the sect, ex-communicants said, developed over such matters as teaching of polygamy and, most recently, encouragement that followers change their last names to Hawkins. Well over 100 people have legally changed their names in past months.
Leaving was difficult, Jordan said, noting the sect follows the path of other cults that teach rules must be followed concerning every facet of their lives, down to the kind of toothpaste to be used.
But last Christmas Eve, in the Mississippi Baptist Church where she grew up, she made the final break.
"I went back to that little church and rededicated my life to Jesus Christ," she said.