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Roots of Hendricks' religion traced

Copyright 1984 U.P.I.

November 12, 1984, Monday, BC cycle
Roots of Hendricks' religion traced


The religion practiced by David and Susan Hendricks and their three children has been a key component of the prosecution's case against Hendricks, who is on trial for the axe-slaying’s of his family.

Prosecutors allege Hendricks' conflict between his fundamentalist religious beliefs and his sexual attraction to other women drove him to kill his family in their Bloomington home.

Hendricks' trial in Winnebago County Circuit Court was not in session Monday because of Veteran's Day but was scheduled to resume Tuesday.  Hendricks is expected to testify in his own defence this week.

A professor of church history at the McCormick Theology Seminary in Chicago provided some background on the religion called the Plymouth Brethren, a forerunner of the "Exclusive Brethren," the sect to which Hendricks belongs.

In an interview with the Peoria Journal Star, professor Thomas Shafer said Hendricks' religion is small in membership but traces its roots to the birth of Christian fundamentalism.

The faith "has remained very small in this country," Shafer said.  "Their views, however, have spread through leaders of fundamentalism."

U.S.  Census figures show about 33,000 members in the United States.  But Shafer warned those figures may be deceiving because of the faith's rejection of formal organization that makes counting them difficult.

He said the faith began in the early 1800s as a rejection of established religions and the ties between government and churches of the time.  Founders believed churches of the day had "sold out" the Scriptures by becoming involved in politics and social issues, Shafer said.

"They felt the job of the church is to convert sinners" in preparation for judgment day, he said.

Doctrine and meetings are kept simple and members concentrate on the Bible for guidance.  However, individual congregations act with great autonomy and members attempt to live austere lives of fellowship and worship, he said.

Members who have testified at Hendricks' trial have preferred to call themselves "believers" and have identified other members as "being in fellowship" with them.

Shafer described the group as "highly individualistic" and fiercely Bible-based.

There are no ministers and services are called "meetings," when members read from the Bible and discuss matters as the spirit moves them.  Women are not allowed to speak or make major decisions for the group, testimony at the trial has revealed.

An early leader of the Plymouth Brethren was fundamentalist theologian John Nelson Darby, an Anglican cleric who brought the faith to the United States from England and Ireland, Shafer said.

The faith was originally formed to break down barriers of Christian denominations but it suffered a split in the mid-1800s.  Darby led one group to the more structured "Exclusive Brethern."

Lawrence Macy, a member of Hendricks' faith, testified his sect takes a hard line against extramarital sex and that moral misconduct could result in religious sanctions against members.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Hendricks was keenly aware of his church's moral opposition to extramarital sex.  They claim Hendricks was attracted to models he hired to pose for ads for his patented back brace.