House of Yahweh may be breaking foodstamp law
By RICHARD HORN and LORETTA FULTON
'LIKE LITTLE ZOMBIES'
Kay Jordan wanted to save her soul, so she obediently gave money
to the House of Yahweh.
When cash was short, "Yahweh" accepted her food stamps.
Now she's of the Abilene sect but in deep trouble with the state
of Mississippi - for food stamp fraud.
Jordan used the food stamps, she said, to pay one of the three
tithes required by House of Yahweh founder Yisrayl Hawkins out
of fear of eternal damnation.
"He said we had to pay that or we were in danger of going
to hell," she said.
Like other former members and elders of the sect, Jordan said
House of Yahweh leaders regularly welcomed food stamps and even
welfare payments as part of their complex tithe system.
That is hardly the intended use for such benefits, say state officials
who oversee the federal program. It is illegal to use food stamps
for anything other than the purchase of food, they say.
Jordan claims the sect also exchanged food stamps for scrip that
could be used to buy items at feasts, and also to pay workers
who performed tasks at the compound near Eula.
If that's true, the House of Yahweh is breaking the law, said
Don McWhorter, regional supervisor for the Texas Department of
McWhorter could neither confirm nor deny that he is investigating
alleged benefits abuse among sect members.
House of Yahweh leaders, including Yisrayl Hawkins, have not responded
to repeated requests for interviews. Some members have offered
blanket denials of wrongdoing but referred further questions to
One ex-follower, Anah Jeffries, whose husband was an elder before
both he and she were ex-communicated, said Hawkins used to pay
workers in the compound with food stamps before they were replaced
with the Lone Star Card.
"The House of Yahweh doesn't teach taking food stamps - the
man does," Jeffries said. "It is Yisrayl's personal
advice to people."
Jeffries said she doubted that people who don't live in the compound
are aware of what Hawkins is doing. She noted that among the three
latest elders to be ordained into the sect, one is a lawyer and
one is a military doctor.
"They are not stupid people," she said, and believes
they would be surprised to learn of some of the things Hawkins
advises poorer, less educated people to do.
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.
'SHED YOUR BLOOD'
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
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
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
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.
All content copyright 1996, Richard Horn,
Loreta Fulton,The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
Send a Letter to the Editor about This
Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
Send the URL (Address) of This Story
to A Friend:
Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications