A Short Review of Personal Experience in the United Pentecostal Church

Contributed by Jeff Jacobson 2/2/89

Here is a short review of my experiences with the United Pentecostal Church.

I first came into contact with the UPC through my older brother who had joined a few years before. My step father got stationed to Austin, Texas when I was 16, and Ken (my brother) suggested I check out the church. I had for the previous year been studying religions in an attempt to find God, so it seemed like a good idea for me.

At the first service I attended, I had a mystical experience while praying at the altar, and felt through this experience that God exists, that He cares about me, and that these are His people (since He met me there).

I began attending church regularly, and my life essentially came to revolve more and more around the church. I began to fast one day per week, to read my Bible daily, and I dropped all sports activities that I had previously been excited about. Also, my contact with people outside the church came more and more to be solely to try to get them into the church.

When I graduated from high school (1973) I moved to my home town, Rapid City, South Dakota. I moved into a "Boy's home" at the UPC there where my brother also lived. I was a totally devoted member, following the holiness standard to the letter, donating all my spare time and money to the church, and treating all "outsiders" as potential members rather than friends. I went on a seven day fast not long after moving there because I felt I wasn't spiritual enough.

In 1977 the church was planning to build a large new building on a new lot, so I decided that since I had to move out of the house I was sharing (my friend got engaged), I would buy a van and live in it so I could give my rent money to the church. So for about one month I lived in a 1962 Ford van on the church parking lot. No one ever suggested to me that I was going too far in sacrificing for the church.

Meanwhile, the pastor, who was the one telling us to sacrifice for the work of God, was living in a new home on a five-acre lot with horses and 3 cars. I also discovered that he had a three acre plot in the hills that he planned to build a summer cabin on.

This discrepancy between what the pastor was requiring of his followers and how he was living himself was in a way the final straw that got me to seriously question that I may not be involved with a group that is truly Christian. Let me now tell some of the smaller events that occurred which caused me to finally leave the UPC.

Our pastor, J.H. Yohe, was the sole authority in our church, so everything he decided was how it was. For in stance, he had a vision for a huge building that really wasn't needed when one looked at the growth of the church.

He controlled the design, location, and funding for this project. The net result of this project was that the church just recently (1988) swapped with an Assembly of God congregation for a much smaller building that was free of debt.

J.H. Yohe controlled the holiness standard we all went by also. All members of the church had to sign a form declaring that they would abide by the standards of the church. He basically followed the UPC standard of no TV, no movies, etc., but he also added his own flavor to it. For instance, we could not wear t-shirts unless they had a pocket on them. In essence, every aspect of the church and the lives of the members was under the control of J.H. Yohe.

This was problematic for me to a degree, since I had seen occasions that pointed out J.H. Yohe's fallibility. He once accused me of saying detrimental remarks about a friend of mine which I never made. Once I chose to go to a meeting of the Inner Peace Movement in order to witness to them.

This was on a Thursday night of an all week revival at the UPC, so I didn't really think I needed to get revived but instead should be winning souls. I returned to the UPC just as the service had ended. J.H. Yohe came up to me and grabbed me by the front of my shirt and told me I should never miss a service.

He sort of caught himself and straightened up my shirt, but that had a big impact on me since I couldn't understand why saving souls wasn't more important than being in every service. Why was doing what J.H. Yohe thought God wanted more right than what I thought God wanted me to do? Why do Christians have the Holy Spirit if we never get to listen to Him?

Once after a rousing sermon about the need to do everything we can to win souls, I bought a billboard that advertised the church and assumed from the sermon that the church would help pay for it. When I went to the church secretary to inquire about getting assistance toward the bill, she said in an indignant tone that the church had no responsibility toward that.

I felt from this and many other actions of church members that the church was saying one thing about soul winning, but when it came to action, it was saying quite the opposite.

A few times the pastor had us doing things that he knew were unethical if not illegal. One time at a city parade I was making hot dogs that J.H. Yohe was selling to the crowd. He knew he should have had a health permit for this, but he did it any way.

Another time, we went into the Black Hills and cut down firewood, including oak, which we also should have had a permit for. These things seemed unchristian to me.

There were often times when some church member or someone needed financial assistance, but the church never raised a finger to help them. The callous way we viewed and treated outsiders troubled me also. The only good outsiders were was to get money out of or as potential members.

Another aspect that caused me concern was internal. The Bible says that Christians have "peace that passes all understanding", but all the time in the UPC I never felt peace in my soul. I instead felt fear and guilt that I wasn't accomplishing enough for God. This feeling came directly from the preaching of J.H. Yohe. He continually pressed us to sacrifice for God in all ways.

We could never do enough for God. There was always pressure to do more, which I obligingly did. After six years of this, however, I got to wondering when I would ever manage to do enough? What more could I do? I always kept myself loaned to the maximum that I could and gave that money to the church.

In late 1977 I told my brother Ken that I was concerned about some aspects of the church. He told me that he also had concerns, and was in fact writing a critique that he hoped might help change things.

After this I was gradually getting closer to the decision to leave the church, but my brother convinced me to stay until his paper was distributed. My girlfriend wrote me a letter after I told her my feelings saying she would follow the pastor no matter whether what he taught was in the Bible or not.

I paid for the copying costs of the 70 page paper, and helped distribute it, then I left for Texas since I decided I didn't want to stay in that church any longer.

The pastor got the first copy of the booklet, then several members. The next service after I left was devoted to condemning the booklet.

J.H. Yohe brought in a UPC pastor who knew Greek (my brother used the original Greek words in his paper), and stated that "this book is from the pits of hell" and other such phrases. My brother tried to confront the Greek expert after the service but didn't get very far.

The Loerzels, Albros, and Wagners read the booklet and all left the church. Ken left after it was clear that there would be no change. I had gone to the Texas church that I had previously gone to, believing that they were more spiritual than the Rapid City church.

When I was sitting in the first service up in the balcony among the 600 or so members, the pastor gave some announcements and then said "Jeff, what are you doing here?" I stood up and gave a typical testimony of how glad I was to be there, etc. and then sat down.

The pastor, Kenneth Phillips, said "I want to see you after the service." I got even more confused when after the service a guy came up to me and asked "are you Jeff?" I said yes and he told me Howard Wheeler wanted to speak to me.

Howard was my idol as the perfect Christian, so I was excited to see him. The guy led me under the stairs to Howard, who told me in hushed tones that I shouldn't see the pastor that night. I was confused.

It turned out that there was a split occurring in the Texas church with Howard on one side and the pastor on the other. Pastor Phillips had been told by J.H. Yohe (I believe) that I had come down there to cause problems like I had in Rapid City.

In fact, I had come down there to get help. Anyway, I left there after two weeks because the pastor was worried about me, and I couldn't figure out what was going on there.

Later in Rapid City, J.H. Yohe had preached in a service about his son being backslidden, and started pulling his hair. This was the last straw for some of the members, so they requested the UPC headquarters to remove him.

What transpired between J.H. Yohe and headquarters I don't know, but he packed up and moved to Louisiana to run a UPC boy's home there. Some of the members went with him.

I have learned quite recently that X told people my brother and another member were gay, which is not true. I believe it is quite clear that this man is not fit for the ministry, yet the UPC, which no doubt knows much more about his foibles than I chose to transfer him instead of removing his credentials. I find this absurd and disgusting.

I believe that in many ways the UPC has taken six years of my life. From age 16-22 I was a totally devoted slave to the church, giving 25% of my income and all my time and energies. I believed that I was serving God when in fact I was serving the UPC.

I accepted the UPC mainly because of my initial mystical experience. One reason I stayed in so long was the teaching of the church that when doubts entered my mind, this was the devil tempting me and I should rebuke the devil to stop the doubting. This prevented me from critically evaluating the church.

Today I am working on a Master's degree in Religious Studies at Arizona State University, and I am somewhat of an expert in the cult field. I hope to help people understand that in today's religious marketplace we must watch out for those hucksters and con men one finds in any market.

Yours, Jeff Jacobsen

See Part 2