ames says he’s fighting for custody of his four children because he alleges his estranged wife, Jennifer, is being controlled by a religious group that he calls a cult and fears their children may be in danger.
He says that after moving their family to Missouri two years ago to join The Fellowship of the Martyrs (FOTM), Jennifer developed an attachment to the ministry’s leader, Doug Perry — who claims to hear the voice of God — and their marriage fell apart. James says he soon came to believe the growing FOTM community was unsafe for his family. He says when Jennifer refused to leave with him, he took their children and left in the middle of the night — a decision that landed him in jail on kidnapping charges, and the kids back with his wife. Now, out of jail and no longer a member of FOTM, James says he’s hoping to save his marriage. Jennifer insists that FOTM is not a cult, and she believes that Doug is a prophet of God. Is she interested in reconciling with James? And, does she feel their children are in harm’s way? And hear from Doug. How does he respond to allegations that FOTM is a cult? Plus, cult expert Rick Ross weighs in.
A Tour of the Ministry
Doug Perry explains how the Fellowship of the Martyrs (FOTM) began and gives a tour of the ministry’s grounds.
Dr. Phil plays clips from a few of Doug’s 900-plus YouTube sermons, in which he claims he’s seen people “instantly healed” from conditions like anorexia, schizophrenia and drug addiction, as well as broken bones. Dr. Phil expresses his concern to Doug. “The implication for all of these people and good families who are suffering from autism, and lupus, and schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s, and fibromyalgia and all of these things you’re talking about suggests that if they’re still suffering from this, then they don’t really believe,” he says.
“I never said that,” Doug says. “I’m not talking to you from a superstitious, religious, snake-handling, whatever kind of a background. I’ve got the academic background to understand psychologically versus spiritually, and spiritually works.”
In another online clip, Doug says, “I have been praying specifically for Newtown, Connecticut, for about four years. I knew that God wanted to do something there, that nothing happens by accident, and nothing just sneaks across his desk without him purposing it.”
Dr. Phil says there isn’t any mention of Newtown, CT in any of Doug’s online sermons prior to the tragic shooting that claimed 26 lives. “Two days after that shooting, you say, ‘I’ve been praying about this for four years.’ But you didn’t mention it in those 900 sermons,” he points out.
“And I didn’t present it as some proof that I hear God either,” Doug says.
“What is a rib?” Dr. Phil asks.
“A rib is a word that we use to talk about somebody who is your spouse,” Doug says.
Fearing for His Wife and Kids
James says he regrets the day he ever met Doug.
James tells Dr. Phil that while his family stayed with FOTM, his young girls were labeled as having demons. He says his youngest was having fits of rage, and members of the ministry said she had a demon and the “spirit of murder” in her. Another daughter was accused of having a spirit of seduction in her. James says he found out later that the group attempted to cast the demon out of one of his daughters.
Doug accuses James of not telling the whole story. “You’re just leaving so much stuff out — That you came there, that you believed that you heard God, that you believed demons were real, that you were totally on board, every step of the way,” he says.
Under Doug’s Influence?
Jennifer explains how she knew her marriage was over. Is she interested in reconciling with her husband?
Jennifer tells Dr. Phil that FOTM is not a cult, and she’s free to come and go as she pleases and isn’t being controlled. She claims that she and James had problems in their marriage before they arrived in Missouri.
Although Jennifer and James are still legally married, she says she considers herself to be married to another man, whom she refers to as her rib, and with whom she recently had a baby.
“Is this a sinful relationship that she’s in?” Dr. Phil asks Doug.
“She’s going to have to answer to God for that,” he says. “It’s not my job to enforce the 10 commandments.”
Jennifer addresses James. “It sounds to me like you’re more upset because you feel duped because your marriage failed,” she says.
“I was duped all around,” he says.
“You’re looking to blame him, you’re looking to blame me, you’re looking to blame the ministry and not accept responsibility for anything that you did and that you participated in,” she says. She says James wouldn’t even apologize to her for taking their children from her for two months.
“You weren’t even interested in speaking with the kids for, like, a month during that time,” James says.
“You know why I didn’t want to speak with them? Because I didn’t want to see them cry for me,” Jennifer says. “Because I didn’t want to have to answer their questions about, ‘Mom, why aren’t you here?’ Because I thought it would be easier for them if they just got to be on a little vacation with Daddy.”
Inspiring Criminal Activity?
In October, 2012, Greg Weiler was arrested for planning to destroy 48 churches in Oklahoma. Weiler’s family says they believe Greg, who is mentally ill, was inspired by Doug’s teachings when he was with FOTM.
Doug says, “Let me be real clear: Nobody is a member of FOTM. Greg was not a member of anything. He stayed in our homeless shelter, and we loved him. Nobody funded his trip. I believe that the whole idea was demonically inspired. It has been used as ammunition against us. It’s certainly doing harm to his life, but otherwise, nobody is really hurt,” he says.
“I believe that FOTM has a very high potential in doing something very drastic,” James says. “This gives them a very high probability of being like the next Jim Jones, or the next David Koresh, or next Heaven’s Gate, or something crazy happening because of the bizarre rituals and the bizarre beliefs that they hold.”
Greg’s family declined to be on the show because they claim they are fearful of Doug Perry.
A Cult Expert Weighs In
Rick Ross is the founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute and an expert on cults and controversial groups and movements. “I really question what’s going on at FOTM. I question the kinds of influence that exists there,” he says. “And quite frankly, at times, in the way in which you come across, you’re not taking responsibility, and this young woman, Jennifer, seems to be here, and you’re puppet master, Doug.”
Jennifer argues that no one controls her.
“I would welcome you, Rick, to come visit any time to come talk to people,” Doug says.
“Doug, I don’t need to smoke to know that smoking is not good idea,” Rick says. “I don’t need to go to FOTM to know that FOTM is a bad idea.” Rick says harmful group leaders tend to always be right and never take responsibility. “Jennifer, is Doug ever wrong?”
“I’ve disagreed with him more than once,” she says.
“Can you name three times that Doug has been wrong?”
Doug and Rick argue. “I don’t owe you anything, Rick,” Doug says. “You’re the enemy.”
Dr. Phil asks Doug if he believes that there is mental illness beyond “having demons” and that perhaps Greg Weiler could’ve benefited from help outside of FOTM.
Doug agrees, but says if someone shows up on his doorstep, all he can do is offer love and let his family know that he’s safe.
“But he’s not safe if what he needs is treatment, and he’s with you instead,” Dr. Phil points out. “You said there were two things you wanted people to know about this ministry. What are they?”
“We’re doing a lot of good stuff. There are 3,000 people a month getting fed through our food pantry,” Doug says. “There are people who’d be dead under bridges, frozen to death if we hadn’t taken them in. We’re trying to do something different than chandeliers, and new gymnasiums and cathedrals, and try to live out what Jesus said to do to care for the least of thee.”