Se­crets From Their Past

Dis­turb­ing claims about the church the stars of HGTV’S Fixer Up­per credit with guid­ing their lives

In Touch (USA) - - News Flash -

It’s hard not to love them. In the past three years, fans have fallen hard for lov­able goof­ball Chip Gaines and his down-to-earth wife, Joanna, as they ren­o­vate homes for fam­i­lies on their hit HGTV se­ries, Fixer Up­per. “We’re just be­ing our­selves,” says Chip, who ad­mits he’s sur­prised by the show’s suc­cess — and that avid view­ers have rec­og­nized the cou­ple’s de­vo­tion to their faith. “We [aren’t] be­ing evan­gel­i­cal or shar­ing the gospel by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, but they still [feel it].”

But fans may be sur­prised to learn that where they choose to prac­tice their faith has a con­tro­ver­sial past. Chip, 41, and Joanna, 38, are ac­tive mem­bers of the An­ti­och Com­mu­nity Church in Waco, Texas, and In Touch has learned that the house of wor­ship, which Chip has said is a “manda­tory” part of his life, has been the tar­get of claims by for­mer mem­bers who al­lege psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, in­tol­er­ance for men­tal health prob­lems and prac­tices that in­clude ex­or­cisms. Lynda Gruen, a for­mer mem­ber of An­ti­och, tells In Touch she be­lieves view­ers would be trou­bled to learn the re­al­i­ties of the church, call­ing some of its be­hav­ior “fright­en­ing.” “The church holds very strong be­liefs,” adds Keith Re­ich, an­other for­mer mem­ber who went to Bay­lor Univer­sity with Joanna in the late 1990s and also led a wor­ship group she was in. “I can see why peo­ple say it’s like a cult — it meets some of the cri­te­ria.”

Some past mem­bers say the church at­tracted them with mes­sages of love and com­pas­sion, then re­vealed a dif­fer­ent side. Becky Oberg claims she was kicked out of the church in the late ’90s af­ter she was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia. “They thought I was pos­sessed by a de­mon,” says Becky, adding that church lead- ers told her it was her fault and tried to treat her with an ex­or­cism. “They pinned me to my floor and yelled for Satan to leave. They want you to con­fess your sin and be healed or cast out the demons.” Becky says her pri­vate strug­gles were broad­cast to the en­tire church and that some peo­ple were even en­cour­aged to go off their med­i­ca­tions and meet with un­qual­i­fied church coun­selors. But An­ti­och’s founder, Jimmy Seib­ert, tells In Touch that’s not the case at all. “We help peo­ple with prayer and heal­ing and the re­cov­ery process and we send them to med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als as needed,” he in­sists. “It’s a prayer and truth jour­ney. We don’t use the term ‘ex­or­cism’; we would say, ‘Hey, we want to pray with you and iden­tify truth and lies,’ and when you need pro­fes­sional help we guide you in that way. We do rec­og­nize de­monic op­pres­sion. It hap­pens to peo­ple who have been through a tough time and have not sub­mit­ted their lives to God, and dark­ness has a place in their lives.”

One for­mer mem­ber felt that be­ing called “de­mon­i­cally op­pressed” was abu­sive. Prior to Lynda’s exit in 2005, she was placed in one of the church’s smaller “Life­groups,” where she claims she was psy­cho­log­i­cally abused by a group leader for months. “I was told I wasn’t good enough and de­mon­i­cally op­pressed,” she claims, adding that the abuse was so se­vere, she re­quired hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. “The lead­ers were so con­trol­ling and would abuse their author­ity. It was an un­healthy dy­namic.”

Chip and Joanna de­fend their church. “As we know, any thriv­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion will al­ways have its crit­ics,” Joanna — who along with her hus­band is rais­ing kids Drake, 11, Ella, 9, Duke, 8, and Em­mie, 6 — ar­gued while prais­ing An­ti­och for “out­reaches that help the needy, ad­dicted and hurt­ing” in a 2012 is­sue of Wa­coan mag­a­zine. “I am priv­i­leged to call it my church home.” ◼

BE­LIEF SYS­TEM “With­out my faith, I’m not the best ver­sion of my­self,” says Chip (with Joanna).

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