The headline read “7 Christian bikers arrested in Orange County raid”. My heart sank.
People often think of motorcyclists in that stereotypical fashion. And that’s reasonable; you see anybody dressed head-to-toe in leather: scuffed black steel-toed boots, black leather pants or chaps, black leather jacket, black leather gloves, black leather neckpiece, black leather face cover, black bandanna, black sunglasses… even I can be a daunting sight for some.
Most people (I think) know that the vast majority of motorcyclists are ordinary, decent folk. But ordinary, decent folk don’t make for lurid headlines.
What really made my heart sink was the association of “Christian Biker” with that One-Percent (“outlaw”) stereotype. What is going on here?! I just went to a Christian Motorcyclist’s Association meeting—scary-looking folk, all, with their black leather and tattoos and craggy, bearded faces. But gentle and kind and passionate people, also.
This article speaks of a very different type of “Christian” biker.
Set Free Soldiers call themselves “a group of men who love Jesus and love to ride hard.”
[Set Free Soldiers leader Phil] Aguilar, a Harley-riding ex-convict and former drug addict who served time for child abuse in the 1970s, converted to Christianity in prison. He became the founding pastor of Set Free Worldwide Ministries in 1982. But he and his ministry have been highly controversial… its detractors say it is an autocratic organization that exerts too much control over its members by confiscating their belongings and forcing them to break off relationships with friends and families.
Law enforcement officials and former members say that the group has devolved into a motorcycle gang like any other, and that it has ties to the Mongols, an outlaw biker gang that has engaged in warfare with the Hells Angels.
Set Free chapters in the Midwest have provided security at Mongol funerals, said Steve Cook, an Independence, Mo., police officer and president of the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Assn.
“It is an outlaw club,” Cook said. “Their supposed Christian affiliation doesn’t change my opinion.”
On further reading, we find that this particular organisation was the topic of a 1992 book: Churches that Abuse.
I wish I’d read that book when it first came out. Instead, I took my family into a similar organisation. It lacked the forced communal living of Set Free and didn’t use a biker motif, but did a great job of destroying marriages and lives.
After two and a half years in that organisation, when they started preaching that “anyone who doesn’t talk about money the way we do is not listening to, nor filled with, the Holy Spirit” and excommunicating members who holidayed without asking permission of the “pastors” first, I could not in good conscience continue to be a part of it. But they responded to my refusal to attend by cornering my wife, telling her I was in disobedience to God, and exhorting her to follow them and abandon me. Fortunately she didn’t.
I have seen people that managed to escape that abusive situation forever scarred by the experience. It prompted me to dive into Scripture and discover the truth about Christian Leadership and Authority and the common teaching of abusive “Christian” leaders: “Follow me as I follow Christ!” And the story is sadly common.
“These [leaders] are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.
“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
(2 Peter 2:17-21 NIV)
So. Just as “one percent” of motorcylists are bad news, so “one percent” of organisations masquerading as Christian are also bad news. The point of each is the same: money, power, control, and domination. This is utterly opposed to Jesus (who they claim to follow):
“who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient.”
(Phillippians 2:6-9 NIV)
And just as the one-percenter bikers give motorcycles a bad reputation, so the one-percenter churches give Christianity a bad name. There is one difference, however. The one-percenter bikers are truly bikers, just bad ones. The one-percenter Christians, according to the quote from Peter just mentioned, are not.