Several thousand members of the Church of Satan gathered in Washington, D.C., from September through November. Coming from across the Americas and Europe, they met to plan strategies and perform rituals designed to destroy the Christian church and unleash the power of Satan in the world.
Or so the story goes.
Word of the satanic convention circulated widely through Christian circles this fall, prompting “prayer alerts” and fund-raising calls of alarm. Reports even included a day-to-day schedule of events for the meeting, complete with satanic baptisms and weddings. But all the reports were apparently based on the uncorroborated testimony of one source: a Christian who claims to be the former number-two leader in the Church of Satan.
Richard Shannon, pastor of Grace of His Presence Church in Fairfax, Virginia, said he heard the story of the convention and other information about the inner workings of the Church of Satan from Hezekiah ben Aaron, a self-described Messianic Christian and former Satanist who had been taken in as a boarder in a church member’s home. Impressed by the sincerity and consistency of Hezekiah and his story, Shannon says he sent letters outlining ben Aaron’s claims to about 20 pastors and Christian leaders in his area, “inviting them to evaluate this man’s information and message.” But the letters were passed on and preached as fact, Shannon says, and created just the sort of sensationalized rumor he had hoped to avoid. “At first I tried to steer the bandwagon,” he said, “but I didn’t realize others were throwing fliers off the back.”
Through The Grapevine
Driven by photocopiers and fax machines, news of the satanic convention spread quickly. It was repeated as a “prayer alert” sent to all 50 states by Women’s Aglow Fellowship, which was planning a national convention for November 4–6 in Washington, D.C. MasterMedia International, a Redlands, California-based ministry to media professionals, used the story in a September fund-raising letter. Pat Robertson mentioned news of the satanic convention on his “700 Club” broadcast on October 31. And eventually, USA Today reported the rumors of the Satanist gathering and the Christian countermeasures.
Larry Poland, president of Master-Media, said he had heard of ben Aaron prior to Shannon’s disclosures. He personally interviewed ben Aaron and arranged further interviews on videotape and is convinced his claims are true. Poland admits that any other evidence he had at the time was “scant and probably insufficient in view of the questions raised since then.”
But Poland maintains the nature of the information called for its quick publication. “If at any level a gathering of people are seeking the destruction of the church of Jesus Christ, I’m willing to take a chance to mobilize prayer, which is all we ever did,” he said. “At worst, we caused thousands of people to pray about spiritual warfare.”
Questions Of Credibility
When CHRISTIANITY TODAY contacted several cult and occult watchers across the country in late October, none had heard any reports of a large satanic church gathering in Washington, D.C. Tom Wedge, a Columbus, Ohio, law-enforcement officer specializing in cult-related crimes, said he had conducted an extensive interview with Anton LaVey, leader of the Church of Satan, near the end of September, during the time the convention was allegedly taking place. LaVey said nothing of the convention, Wedge said.
Further information on ben Aaron did come to light, however, from the files of one cult researcher. The description and testimony was familiar to Eric Pement of Cornerstone magazine, who in 1984 was contacted by Hezekiah ben Aaron of Vik’tory Outreach Ministry in Cleveland, Ohio. At that time, Pement says, ben Aaron sent a booklet describing his involvement in the “American Satanist Church” and his conversion to Christianity. He also offered two other tracts and a cassette that purported to expose the organization and workings of the Satanist Church. Pement said he requested the materials and sent a check, which was cancelled, but received nothing in return. He had not heard of ben Aaron since.
In Pement’s opinion, the whole story “sounds like John Todd,” referring to the controversial witch-turned-evangelist, who rose to celebrity in 1978–79 and faded quickly from view amidst charges of fraud (CT, Feb. 2, 1979, p. 38).
Shannon believes his source is the same Hezekiah ben Aaron. And he, too, has grown skeptical of ben Aaron’s credibility. In late October, when Shannon asked ben Aaron for further proof of his story and confronted him about “indiscriminately sharing” his information, ben Aaron left Shannon’s church. “If this is not a case of fraud,” Shannon said, “then [ben Aaron] is an emotionally troubled individual.”
Shannon is also disturbed about the way Christians have handled the story. “People reacted in two ways. They assumed whatever they heard was true and ran with it,” he said. “Or they avoided the topic [of Satanism] altogether and denied its existence.”
By the reported end of the convention, November 9, Washington law-enforcement officials and church leaders had no evidence to indicate a satanic convention of thousands had taken place. However, for Poland and others, the secrecy and deception of Satanism explains the lack of evidence. If there was any “erroneous information,” he says, it was “in the magnitude of the Washington gathering.” He remains convinced Satanists did gather in Washington.
And so the story goes—neither proved nor, as some would have it, disproved.
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