Cesar Vargas said he wants to set the record straight.
“My church is not a cult, and the people in it are not crazy,” he said.
Vargas is a member of House of Prayer Christian Church, now called the Place of Help Prayer House. The church has been at the center of controversy as former members, including Vargas’ mother, Gladys Jordan, call it a cult.
Jordan was one of about 30 people who staged a noisy protest May 19 outside the Airport Road church.
The protestors alleged church leader Rony Denis manipulates followers, degrades women and children and is committing fraud.
Jordan said she and her two sons joined HOPCC when it formed in 2004. She claimed she was “cast out” when she started questioning leadership and the church’s unaccredited education program.
Jordan’s younger son was also expelled from the church for the same reason, Jordan said.
But Vargas said the church is misunderstood because members choose to follow guidelines of early Pentecostal churches.
“We believe that the church should be different from the pop culture,” he said. “We are what the Assemblies of God, Church of God and Methodists were 100 years ago.”
Vargas, 26, said he loves his mother but doesn’t agree with her perception of the church.
He said he makes his own decisions and claims former members are spreading lies about the church. He said members do have access to cellphones and the internet and that their school is accredited.
Vargas sent copies of his high school diploma and other diplomas of church members from Heritage Home School Academy based in Overland Park, Kansas, and dated from 2011 to 2013.
Heritage Home School Academy is accredited by the National Association of private Schools.
Vargas, who said he plans to study theology, also provided copies of students’ SAT scores.
“Most of us tested well above the national average,” he said.
Jordan said she listened to church leaders who convinced her to pull from son from Bradwell Institute his senior year.
She agrees her son received his high school diploma from Heritage Home School Academy in 2013. She said Denis paid for it while she was still a member.
But Jordan said the church is no longer using Heritage Home School. She said it now uses BJU Press Homeschool.
BJU Press supports Christian educators by producing textbooks and materials for home schoolers rooted in Christian beliefs, according to its web-site. BJU Press provided the learning materials for HOPCC’s school, God’s Heritage Christian Academy.
The pamphlet for God’s Heritage Christian Academy states: “This school does not seek accreditation by any outside educational institution but does endeavor to provide the highest possible academic program.
Jordan said the school ordered one set of manuals and then proceeded to make copies of the book for each student.
Former church member and day school teacher Yvette Bowens confirmed the current curriculum is not accredited.
Bowens said she was a member of HOPCC and its affiliates starting in 1989. She said her twins attended public school until the sixth grade before she put them in the church’s educational program.
Bowens said she taught several grade levels and believed the school was legitimate. But the church kept moving her from state to state and changing the way they conducted class.
Bowens said her twins are 19 now and she claims they are unable to attain their GED. She said Denis is not to be trusted and the kids’ education is in jeopardy.
Jordan said HOPCC’s school is one of many issues Denis is trying to cover up. She alleges kids are being physically and verbally abused, and worse.
Vargas said those allegations are unfounded.
“We know several people that left our church have been making prank calls to several places,” he said. “The fire marshal was called and told a bunch of lies about the safety of the church. He came out, inspected, and everything was fine. Several church members have had Child Protective Services called to their home for no reason, no nefarious activity or child abuse/neglect has been found. We were able to obtain copies of the phone complaints, and we recognize the voices of former members. We are considering soliciting the help of local law enforcement.”