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Book Review - The House of Yahweh



International Journal of Cultic Studies Vol. 4, 2013, 70

The House of Yahweh: My Side of the Story

By Kay Hawkins

Reviewed by RaeAnne Wiseman

Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. 2012. ISBN-13: 978-1477217061; ISBN-10: 1477217061 (paperback), $14.95 (Amazon.com). 204 pages.


Have you ever wondered what being married to a cult leader might be like? In The House of Yahweh: My Side of the Story, Kay Hawkins tells the reader about her tumultuous relationship with Yisrayl “Buffalo Bill” Hawkins, charismatic polygamist and leader of The House of Yahweh in Abilene, Texas. This book chronologically documents the formation of this Messianic sect and relates the specific challenges one woman faced as matriarch of the community.

From a research perspective, the book includes many useful primary sources, including documents from various legal issues that involve the House of Yahweh. As secretary of the House of Yahweh, Kay provides the reader with primary source documents that are useful to a historian of cultic studies. Although the citation of these documents is inconsistent and disorganized, the legal and social battles Hawkins records provide good information about the efforts involved in establishing a religious organization.

The most common theme in the book was the author’s social consciousness. Kay goes into great detail about the embarrassment her husband and her role in the House of Yahweh provoked. One particularly controversial example of Kay’s anxiety over the public’s perception of them was when she described a family of disabled individuals who joined the House of Yahweh: “It would have been best if these people had resided at the back of the property. But no, they set right on the highway where everyone who drove by could see them” (p. 106). Hawkins’ recommendation to hide this family highlights the adverse effects on her of constant exposure to the public eye.

The House of Yahweh: My Side of the Story contributes to our understanding of psychological patterns of cult leaders and the people who surround them. The audience for this book might be family members of group directors who find themselves unprepared for the “spotlight effect” (“the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do”[1]). However the author’s elaborate judgment of her husband and her lack of self-criticism may leave the reader questioning the fairness of this narrative. At the same time, perhaps that isn’t the point.

Kay Hawkins’ explicit purpose for writing this book is to “clarify” (p. x) the circumstances under which she was involved with the House of Yahweh. The subtitle of the book, My Side of the Story, is both descriptive of the contents within and an acknowledgment that the Hawkinses make no pretenses to objectivity. Toward the end of the book, the author mentions a slanderous newspaper article about her role in the House of Yahweh that initiated her writing of the book. She states, “[T]his opened the door for me to go public with the information which I had, which also helped me to psychologically heal” (p. 177). The publication of the narrative gave Hawkins the opportunity to clarify rumors and redeem her sense of dignity. Her story is a testament to the stress of the spotlight that families of influential leaders endure. Writing this book also served as a narrative therapy that clearly helped at the author heal from domestic abuse, spiritual exploitation, and internalized shame.

[1] Nathan Heflick, “The Big Questions,” Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/201111/the-spotlight-effect).