Ex-Members Of Bay Area Church Recall Lives Under Total Control

KCBS News 5, San Francisco/March 1, 2013

Vallejo - Former members of an East Bay church whose leaders are under investigation by the state Department of Corporations for an alleged real estate scheme said the probe brings back memories of the total control the church once had over them.

Don Jackson has his own congregation now, called the Upper Room in Bay Point. He said he lets people be the way they are, and doesn't dictate what they do in their personal lives.

It is very different from a church he used to belong to called General Assembly. It was led by Pastor Lacy Hawkins who, according to Jackson, controlled every move his members made. "I wanted to buy a house, I wanted to buy a car, talk to him," said Jackson.

Former member Carolyn Williams said the church discouraged contact with the outside world. "Thanksgiving come, Christmas come, you were not with your family, you were with the church," said Williams. "Because they taught that they were your family."

In the beginning, Williams said the pastor even tried to stop members from having children. "That was a big no-no. Children keep you out of heaven. I had my tubes tied from the pressure of that," said Williams.

Former members believe that controlling nature of the church led a follower to try to kill Pastor Hawkins. It happened in 1996 in the parking lot of General Assembly's church in Union City. Hawkins was shot in the face, but survived.

Hawkins is now under investigation, along with his second-in-command, Michael Parker, for running an alleged real estate scheme.

Rick Ross was not surprised about the state's recent accusation. "On one hand he is their pastor, on the other he is now their investment adviser."

Ross is a nationally recognized cult expert who has deprogrammed people coming out of groups such as the Branch Davidians. "In my opinion, this is a deeply destructive group and Lacy Hawkins has hurt many people," he said.

Ross said many former church members contacted him. He believes anyone, no matter how smart or successful, can be victims. "The truth is, virtually anyone can be sucked into a destructive cult given the right opportunity and time in their life," said Ross.

In an interview with KPIX 5, Hawkins' second-in-command Michael Parker denied any wrongdoing. "This wasn't the church coming in to take over a business. This was Michael E. Parker, a business lean management expert who had an idea of how we could help our people," said Parker.

KPIX 5: "Former members of your church have come to us and made these statements, that in the past when you were growing up in the church there were forced sterilizations of some of the members."

Parker: "Really?"

KPIX 5: "You have never heard that?"

Parker: "I have heard these types of accusations that people have made because these are things that have come from disgruntled people."

Parker was incredulous, but volunteered even more: "I have heard we have guns on the roof. I have heard we put things in the food to make people keep coming back to church," said Parker.

What Parker called rumors were enough to finally prompt former member Carolyn Williams to get out. "I started becoming awake," she said.

She left the church and then did something she never dared before. She bought a home. "I didn't ask Hawkins for permission, I just did it," said Williams.

Jackson said he was glad to be out, too, but fearful for the ones left behind. "They've ruined lives destroyed marriages, destroyed children," said Parker. "Somebody needs to know the truth."

Sources told KPIX 5 that the California attorney general's office was also investigating the church's leaders. Kamala Harris' office could not confirm or deny the report.

As for that state investigation, a judge issued a ruling this week, but that won't be made public for a month.

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