Prosecution direct - expert, Dr. Melton
Dr. John Gordon Melton Prosecution Witness - direct questioning by Tomas Benevidez
Tomas Benevidez: Your Honor, the State would call Dr. John Gordon Melton.
Judge Baca: Alright. Dr. Melton, please approach the witness stand.
Dr. Melton is sworn in.
Judge Baca:And you were present when I just spoke about being loud... So we can hear you, Ok? Alright. Then you may proceed.
Tomas Benevidez: Thank you, your Honor. Good afternoon, Dr. Melton. Can you please state your full name for the Court and spell your last name.
Dr. Melton: My name is John Gordon Melton. The last name is spelled M-E-L-T-O-N.
Tomas Benevidez: And what is your occupation or profession?
Dr. Melton: I’m the Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, which is located in Santa Barbara, California. The Institute is a religious studies research institute.
Tomas Benevidez: Thank you. How long have you been the director?
Dr. Melton: Since nineteen sixty-eight.
Tomas Benevidez: And what degrees do you hold?
Dr. Melton: I have a B.A. of Masters of Divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary and a Ph.D from Northwestern University in the History of Literature of Religions.
Tomas Benevidez: And how long have you been... Oh, I’ve already asked you that question. During your years have you had occasion to study religious groups?
Dr. Melton: That’s been my whole academic career. The Institute was founded in order to study religious organizations, specifically in the United States. And one of our first work products was the Encyclopedia of American Religion, which is a standard reference book on all the different religious organizations in America.
Tomas Benevidez: About how many religious groups have you studied over the years? Or organizations?
Dr. Melton: Well presently, there are about two thousand, five hundred active in North America and the Encyclopedia covers another five hundred that have become defunct over the years, so at least that many plus the ones that I’ve studied from other countries.
Tomas Benevidez: What credential do you hold?
Dr. Melton: Say again?
Tomas Benevidez: What credentials do you have?
Dr. Melton: Ah... besides my Ph.D, I’m a research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which has the major religious studies department in the UC System. I’ve... formerly President of the Communal Studies Association. This is a major academic organization studying communal groups. I’m a member of the American Academy of Religion, The Society of Scientific Study of Religion. Those are the major ones.
Tomas Benevidez: Are you published or have you written any books?
Dr. Melton: I’ve written a few. I’ve authored myself over thirty books and I have been... I’m the senior editor for another twenty five or so academic books. I’ve authored a number of articles. I haven’t counted them recently. I regularly, at least two three times a year, give papers at academic conferences.
Tomas Benevidez: Have you ever testified in court cases?
Dr. Melton: I’ve testified probably in twenty to thirty court cases over the years. I’ve been involved and given deposition in that many more.
Tomas Benevidez: Were you qualified as an expert in most of those cases? Dr Milton: In all of them.
Tomas Benevidez: Ok. Were any of those criminal cases?
Dr. Melton: Probably no more than five or six of them. Most of them were civil cases.
Tomas Benevidez: What type of criminal cases were those?
Dr. Melton: Ah... the two I recall right offhand were both murder cases, which religion had a role.
Tomas Benevidez: And did you testify on behalf of the prosecution or the defense?
Dr. Melton: In the two... In those two cases I was on the prosecution side.
Tomas Benevidez: Have you testified on the defense side?
Dr. Melton: That’s usually where I’m at.
Tomas Benevidez: So testifying on behalf of the prosecution is the exception not the rule?
Dr. Melton: For me, that’s the way it’s been, yes.
Tomas Benevidez: Your Honor, at this time I’d like to proffer Dr. Melton as an expert.
Judge Baca: Alright. Any objections?
Ms. Montoya: No, your Honor.
Judge Baca: Alright. He is accepted as an expert in, I guess, Theology or Religious Study.
Dr. Melton: Religious Studies.
Judge Baca: Religious Studies. Alright. You may proceed.
Tomas Benevidez: Ok. You mentioned that, the issue of Communal Studies. How does that relate to your expertise?
Dr. Melton: As I began to study different religious groups of America, I recognized that a lot of them were organized communally, that is members of, share their income, often share their living facilities together, and that was an important part of their religious dynamic. Not only does the Roman Catholic Church have a large number of communal groups, who we know as the religious orders, but there are a number of religious groups that are themselves organized communally, and so I’ve got into studying communal groups and became an... been an active member of the Communal Studies Association and along the way was elected their president.
Tomas Benevidez: What’s a communal group?
Dr. Melton: There are several different definitions, but the basic definition is that the members share the means of production and consumption in society, that is, they share what they earn, either by working together on a single project or by individuals taking their income and pooling it together, and then they share their consumption, that is, they don’t live off of lower and higher salaries that they might earn, but they live off of their need.
Tomas Benevidez: How does that relate to your religious studies?
Dr. Melton: Well, most communal groups are religious groups, as it turns out.
Tomas Benevidez: The Lord Our Righteousness Church. Have you had the opportunity to listen to some of the members of the group and their potential testimony in Court? And have you studied various documents, and various literature, DVDs and other documentaries?
Dr. Melton: I began became aware of the church back in spring or summer as news began to filter out about it on the internet and it came on the radar screen, so to speak. Intensive study began just three weeks or so ago, a little more than that, when you contacted me. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to examine their former website which is still posted on the internet on another site. And I’ve had the opportunity to travel here, actually to Raton, where I was able to sit in on the interviews of I think it was six of the members, interviews that were done by your investigators.
Transcriber's note: Students of this case can see the preserved documents, referred to by Dr. Melton, which were written by Bent and his various sexual partners, as well several from underaged victim, "L.S.," (who merely laid naked in Bent's bed), here on the mirror site: www.strongcity2.info/archives.html (or click the "Files" tab at the top of this page). Click to read any of the various documents.
Tomas Benevidez: You also listened to testimony today?
Dr. Melton: I did. I sat in today and yesterday.
Tomas Benevidez: Did you review any documentaries?
Dr. Melton: On the website there are several important video presentations of the group, one is a documentary the was done by the BBC and later shown on American television on the National Geographic Network, about a fifty minute documentary, filmed in two thousand and seven. Not a very flattering documentary in many places. It comes on ok for the first part of it. The last part of it, the rather typical BBC secularists approach shines through and I can understand why the group was very upset when that aired.
I then went on and watched the... probably one of the most important things in shaping my opinions of the group was the video that the group made of about themselves in response to the National Geographic video. This was a little over an hour in length and a well done production.
Transcriber's note: Students of this case can see the video, which the group made, referred to by Dr. Melton, here on the mirror site: www.strongcity2.info/videos.html (or click the videos tab at the top of this page). Scroll down to the 117 minute video, entitled, "The Finished Work."
Tomas Benevidez: Based on reviewing all that material, did you form any opinions on how to classify or characterize this group.
Dr. Melton: I did. I came to the conclusion that this was one of several hundred new religious groups or new religious movements that existed in America. As a religious type, it was a messianic millennial group.
Tomas Benevidez: And what does that mean Dr. Melton?
Dr. Melton: Ah... it...
Tomas Benevidez: I guess first define, "messianic."
Dr. Melton: Messianic. Messianic groups are led by people who, individuals, who take upon themselves and to whom the group believes to be a Messiah in some role. The actual role that a Messiah plays varies from group to group, but that’s the essential characteristic. The early Christian Church was a Messianic group. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and so it’s similar to it in that way.
A millennial group is a group that believes in the, that in the very near future, eminently in our lifetimes, at least, that significant changes in the order of things will occur. This is usually read by medias, by the end of the world. Not understanding that, the word, "world," has a lot of different meanings to it, but significant changes in the social order are coming.
The group, to finish the classification, the group, organizationally, is a separatist communal group. Michael, Mr. Bent is a very typical charismatic founder, leader. And based upon my understanding of the group and my study of it, you had asked me to look into the question of whether or not he was the person who welded authority. He’s a person of great authority within the group, essential to the organization.
Tomas Benevidez: I’m going to hold off your Honor until that’s done.
(A band is playing outside the Courtroom.)
Judge Baca: Alright. Thank you. You may proceed.
Tomas Benevidez: Thank you, your Honor. What is a charismatic founder, leader.. mean?
Dr. Melton: Generally, we use the term, "charismatic," to describe a leader, who has several essential qualities. First, self appointed, that is, I’m a Methodist minister. I became a Methodist minister by meeting a set of requirements that the church sets up and going to my conference and the Bishop laid his hands on me and said, I’m "a minister." So, I accepted. What authority I have, comes from that.
A charismatic leader receives his authority, essentially, by self proclamation. Charisma is a understanding that the person, who is a charismatic leader, has special qualities. In this case, the special qualities started with Mr. Bent’s transformation in the year two thousand, the time that he accepted the name Michael and began to describe himself in various categories.
Charisma is both asserted and given. So that charisma is asserted by one person, but the group grants charisma. So the group that he was leading at that time, which was derived from the Seventh Day Adventists Church, when he asserted that charisma, and also along with it, the group reorganized. Then, at that point, the group that stayed, members left at that point, but the group that stayed, then agreed to that. They granted him that leadership. So since that time, he’s exerted that leadership in a variety of different ways.
Tomas Benevidez: And in found their leader?
Dr. Melton: Well, he’s the one who was essential to the founding of the group. Most of the people, who are members of the group now, were present at that, in two thousand, and were part of the group that moved onto the land and adopted a communal organization and became, the church, Lord Our Righteousness. There were co-founders, but he was the essential person in setting that up.
Tomas Benevidez: Is that consistent with what you heard from the members of the new religion, The Lord Our Righteousness Church that you sat in those interviews?
Dr. Melton: Well, they very much helped shape my opinion of the group. The six people I saw interviewed, heard them speak were all very strong members of the group, very articulate most of them. One or two of them were a little hesitant, given the situation and the audience. They were not used to speaking in front of; there were four or five people present when that happened. But all were very articulate. All of them expressed their veneration of Mr. Bent, Michael. All of them tried in their own way to explain why he was special, why he was different. Most of them used different terms to do that. Some of them, one suggested that Wayne Bent no longer existed. Michael was who he was. Others suggested that he was Jesus Christ returned. One mentioned, what is clear on the tapes and on the website, that Michael is a reference to Michael the Archangel. But they all, very much said he was a special person. He was different from everyone else. He delivers the revelations by which the group lives.
I mentioned earlier that it was a millennial group. Millennial groups live out of the story. And they have a story to tell about how time is progressing. And for this group, time begins really in October of fifteen seventeen at the Reformation. And we’re living in a four hundred, or we’re now just out of, a four hundred ninety year cycle that the last seven years of which was the year two thousand to two thousand and seven. That’s very important for the group and Michael is the story teller. He’s the one who has from his revelations of God, has projected this story, has presented this story. The group has accepted the story.
Tomas Benevidez: And how does he exert influence or authority over his group?
Dr. Melton: Well, he was the one that organized the group. He’s the one who through his teachings have projected the story, theology which the group lives. He exercises his influence in several different ways in setting up ritual events, in offering teachings to the community, which then become the subject of group discussion and acceptance. And the one who explains history and what’s happening now and what’s going to happen into the near future.
Communally, separatists commute, communes always reorganize. They have moved out and become separate, because they are they have a critique of society. This critique has to do with a number of different things. Important to this group is the critique of traditional marriage. But they have critiqued the medical system. They have critiqued diet. They dress differently. If they are in a larger crowd, you can pretty much pick them out from hair styles and clothing that separate. That pulls them apart. And then they have geographically moved away from the larger system of things. They have a distinct theology that sets them apart from the rest of society.
Tomas Benevidez: Ok. As part of their theology, the seven virgins, would Mr. Bent then have the ability to use his authority over L.S. and A.S.?
Dr. Melton: That’s very much part of it. It’s part of a larger theological, part of the larger story, that begins with the announcing of the Two Witnesses. The story the group tells comes from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation in the Bible. And it’s laid out in actions that are going to happen through what is seen as an intense prophetic period that ended on October thirty-first of two thousand and seven, and has continued in a different vein since then. The part of that critique has been to reorganize this group, first into a communal society, then more informally into what amounts to an extended family. And then, to reorder sexual relationships and that is part of the critique of society dysfunctional families, why continue? And everyone gets a new name. So, many of them have changed their name legally, some have not at this point. So, there’s a reorganization. And at every point, where these changes have occurred, Mr. Bent, Michael, has been the instigator of the change. The group accepts the change on itself. They’re not brainwashed zombies. They’re real intelligent people. They go through a process of acceptance, but he’s been the instigator. And the seven virgins of... this relates to a passage in the Book of Revelation, seven angels pouring out the vials of wrath upon the world. This has been given a new interpretation and was acted out as part of the group’s life.
Tomas Benevidez: What’s the significance of rearranging sexual mores in this story and the combining of the seven virgins or maidens with the messengers pouring out the plagues?
Dr. Melton: Well, it provides a context in which marriages that were brought into the group. In other words, when the group formed in two thousand, it had already been together. Most of the people in the group had been there for a decade or more prior to that. The group goes back to the nineteen eighties. So, there are marriages that have been constructed prior to the group that are brought into the group. Rearranging or critiquing the traditional understanding of a monogamous marriage or serial monogamy, as we have it mostly in this country, allows for rearrangement of relationships within the group. It allows for sexual relationships between. It allows for extramarital sexual relationships. It allows for redefinition of family, for family units. And it has allowed Mr. Bent to assert himself as the husband of some or all the women and the women to see themselves as his wife. And this then sets up the situation with the virgins. Much of the language that was used in the telling of the story of the virgins had originally been constructed really already in two thousand with the designation of what would turn the two witnesses. The two witnesses were two women who ah... the two witnesses also are a passage in the Book of Revelation. The two witnesses are two women that came and first lay with Mr. Bent, Michael, and then consummated the marriage. And this also begins part of the story... is what’s happening during this seven year period is that you are remaking your life to become fit, to be the Bride of Christ. So everyone is rearranging their life in a more holy way.
Tomas Benevidez: Dr. Dinsmore. You heard her testimony correct?
Dr. Melton: Yes.
Tomas Benevidez: She seemed to be confused regarding some of the terminology that was used by this new religion. Can you explain that?
Tomas Benevidez: Did you arrive at any other opinion?
Dr. Melton: I think those are the main ones.
Tomas Benevidez: Thank you.
Back to Transcripts menu
To return to the trial "transcripts menu," click the "Trial" tab at the top of this page.