Church of Body Modification (Archive Listing)

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Please see the the listing for updated information.

The Church of Body Modification was, in theory, a religious organization designed to meet the spiritual needs of the modified community.

Note: See the talk page for an official response from the CoBM.

The CoBM was started in the summer of 2000 by Steve Haworth in Phoenix, Arizona as what many would describe as a legal "scam" to let people get body modifications without the risk of being fired from their jobs. Steve Haworth met with the maintainer of the rec.arts.bodyart tattoo FAQ at the Long Beach tattoo convention, who reported:

"I saw Steve Haworth there, and he plied me with information about his latest scheme to form 'The Church of Body Modification.' The idea is that if we form a church based on this, if anyone gets fired for having a nose ring or something, we can squeal and cry 'religious discrimination.' I'm not sure if that will fly with the courts, but he seemed quite excited by the idea." (2000/05/31)

In its first year of existence, the church did very little, but due largely to publicity (and financial support) from BME, it managed to start building up a small membership base. However, it was not long before there was a great deal of unhappiness because the Church as an organization was not replying, for at times as long as a full year (if at all), to people who'd donated money. In addition, people started to ask the questions: "why is this a church?" and, "if this is a church what does it believe?"

Because the church had never been formed as a spiritual group, no doctrine of any kind had been considered, and now they were left trying to sort that out on the fly (and under public scrutiny). In addition, the head ministers did not appear to believe in the spiritual aspects, on top of the fact that they would disappear for weeks or months on end and appeared to contribute very little. Fakir Musafar, probably the most respected and certainly most spiritually mature person in the body modification community, publicly denounced the CoBM due to its spiritual emptiness—when asked how to prepare for a suspension, Fakir Musafar stresses "spiritual readiness" and the presence of a shaman, whereas Steve Haworth stresses "pain conditioning." (Quoted in an article in the Phoenix New Times). At this point the church had been denounced (and continues to be denounced) by the vast majority of spiritually respected figures in this community.

The church attempted to put together a brief statement of purpose (up until now, the web page contained a few pieces of poetry, some autobiographical articles on self-cutting, and a somewhat incoherent member mission statement signed "slave princess"), and branches began forming internationally, leading to even more internal tension when one branch would make ministers of people who'd been very public in attacking other ministers in other branches, and things like that. A "nonconfrontational" doctrine statement was eventually drafted, partially clarifying the church's spiritual mission. However, for many people it was too little too late, and little could correct the previous wrongs.

It should be noted that, as of December 2001, the CoBM has not performed a legal ceremony of any sort (weddings performed have not been legal), nor has its core legal premise (that it can protect the rights of the pierced/modified) been tested successfully.

Shannon Larratt of BME, a vocal supporter of the CoBM for its first year and a half, left the church a year and a half after joining due to his belief that the church had nothing to offer spiritually and second thoughts about the legal posturing. After Shannon left, a number of members who'd been defrauded by the church (having donated money, offered more, and heard nothing back even when inquiring repeatedly over long periods) left also. One member wrote the following question to Rev. John Gomes, one of the church's first ministers, and one that was fairly publicly accessible:

"Every time I bring up a flaw or a problem with the CoBM, you don't want to hear about it and end up bringing the debate down into the gutter. That's your call, but the more the CoBM inner circle ignores me, the more I feel like I have to point these things out. The more I am ignored, the louder I'm going to have to be. It's not any kind of a personal vendetta against you and it never has been. What's the reason why I supposedly 'haven't made any points, only insulted'?"

The response typified the church's relationship with the general public at that point in time. In huge, bold letters, this was the response, coupled with similar posts in the public forums, revealing to the entire online world the warmth the church felt for its members:

"Go fuck yourself you lifeless, bitter, simple minded jerk-off"

Rev. John Gomes then followed up this attack by posting bigoted jokes ("What's the object of a Jewish football game?" "To get the quarter back!"), signed with his standard church signature of "///MindBodySoul."

At about the same time, Rev. Jesse Jarrell, the church's third minister (and of course a founding core minister) made the following public comment about the meaning of the church (similar comments had been made earlier that year by him as well). In addition, when asked what experiences he'd had with ritual, he replied, "I have no interest whatsoever in ritual.":

"...Little to none of my 'spirituality' comes from modification practices. The mods I choose are not the cause of self realization, although they may be a symptom. Fuck religion. I have never subscribed to any religion, and still don't feel that I do. I joined a club that celebrates alteration of the human form, and the people who make it spread and evolve."

Former CoBM Deacon Bryan Walker, who had been in charge of member relations, left the CoBM at about the same time as well, citing the following among his reasons (excerpt):

"Three times, I applied to become a minister. The first two times, I received no replies at all. The last time was when I was already well known to the church (as the head of member correspondence). I met and exceeded almost all requirements to become a minister but was totally voted out (some of the people voting weren't qualified to even be ministers until the requirements were lowered for/by them). Even on the vote to become a deacon, I had one person vote against me. What's this say about the church? More than I'd like to admit.
"In answering emails, I dealt with 80% of what came in by myself. The other 20% was forwarded to others for them to answer. When the news letter was *FINALLY* mailed out to members about a week ago, every time it mentioned a contact, it listed one minister's personal email address. This is someone who never replies to their mail (I know, I get people that write me multiple times about these things).
"For the past two years, or so, I've been completely walked over, stepped on, and looked past. I've taken a lot of shit from some of the people in this church simply because I believe in the cause. Today is where it ends."

A number of ministers thanked Bryan for his work, but the public response to his resignation by the core ministers included accusations that he'd left because he was bitter over having been turned down as a minister. Then, they set out to find the person who'd made "a violation of minister conduct" and told Bryan that there'd been a vote against him for Deacon. The church promised to find "the little bird whispering and misleading and misinforming" Bryan and "to expose them." As it turned out, the person who had informed Bryan as to his vote status was Rev. Beki B, the President of the US branch at the time.

In 2002, two church ministers in Florida, Rev. Alva Richcreek and Rev. Steve Truitt, were arrested for practicing surgery without a license for performing advanced surgical genital mods on women. Both BME and the CoBM pledged to cover their defense, with Rev. Beki B of the CoBM personally telling me the day I donated that the CoBM had already raised $5000 to help pay for legal costs.

Church of Body Modification-1.gif

Another minister (who has asked that his name be kept out of this entry) in the CoBM then began his own CoBM fund raiser as well. Via Cafepress, he ran shirts that said "Body Modification Is Not A Crime" and were sold from an ad (pictured to the right) reading (in part) "...both of these men worked in a shop that was a 'piercing only' shop. If practitioners of a piercing shop can be arrested for such alleged charges, then when does it stop? Will tattoo artists be arrested next? ... Will we have to pay $200 to get our tongue pierced by somebody with a medical degree?"

This advertisement pretty strongly implied that the charges were related to piercing (which obviously they were not), and many people believed it and donated because of it. Of course, none of the charges were related to piercing, and piercing shops had not been threatened by the law—the charges were related to procedures that were undeniably surgical and illegal. This followed in the trend of the CoBM misleading its members, and many people agreed that it was extremely immoral to raise funds for a defense when misleading the public as to what the charges were about.

In any case, judging by the positive feedback on their forums, the CoBM members certainly supported Rev. Alva and Rev. Steve T. The t-shirt drive brought $100, and PayPal donations were alleged to have brought several hundred dollars to Rev. Beki B. However, suddenly, the disciplinary committee sent a letter to Rev. Steve T, demanding that he and Alva resign the church, or be prosecuted by them. Three reasons were listed for this expulsion:

The first reason was, "You are both arrested. While awaiting trial you go on the news in an attempt to make themselves look good—??! and bring the church into it." (sic)

Of course, this was done with full CoBM support, and many other church ministers had done equally misguided television interviews (the CoBM had never prepared a media relations package for ministers)—the founding members had appeared numerous times on various low-class shows ranging from Jenny Jones to Ripley's Believe It Or Not. It is also important to note that all of the core members also involved in doing illegal procedures (not necessarily wrong, just illegal), most of them on a far more prominent level.

The second reason was, "You had your church gathering in Florida in December. You immediately sent Beki 20 member applications. However, they didn't send any money." (sic)

It's important to note that, at this point, the CoBM no longer required forced donations from new members, so Rev. Steve and Rev. Alva had simply had a donation bucket which they used locally. Given the financial history of the CoBM (effectively stealing money from its members and ministers), many ministers felt that it made more sense to raise and utilize money on a local level than to drop it into the "black hole in Phoenix."

The last reason listed was, "Finally where were you guys before getting arrested. True, you had the social but aside from that we have seen no contact with the church whatsoever, until you wanted the churches backing." (sic)

Rev. Steve T and Rev. Alva ran one of the more successful and productive branches of the CoBM, hosting regular events and generating new members. They actually did reach people locally and get things done. Considering that "home office" would often not reply to contacts for months at a time, it could be argued that Steve and Alva were model ministers, if anything.

In any case, they didn't lie down gently in response to this document, and the leader of the disciplinary committee was forced to resign instead. Getting back to the fund raising, at this point, the church had said they'd raised $5000 via Rev. Beki B's contacts, $100 via the T-shirt sales, and at least several hundred dollars via PayPal (which went to Rev. Beki B.) ... However, according to Rev. Steve T., neither he nor Rev. Alva had received a dime—or even a message—from the CoBM.

So where did that money go?

No one has said publicly what happened to the $5000, if it even existed. Many people assume now it was a bluff to affect BME's donation of money to the case. The t-shirt money is still pending transfer from Cafe Press, and as far as the money that went to Rev. Beki, people started complaining that they'd donated without a response. Rev. Agni Kudra attempted to follow it up, and getting no response, actually posted in their public forum encouraging members to call her and demand to know where the money went.

This brought the resignation of more ministers from the church. Rev. Sean Phillips posted, "As of last Saturday, I am no longer a minister within the church. I have resigned in a hope to be able to devote more time to personal local projects I have going.", and was followed up by a member's resignation which summed up how many of the remaining and former members felt, "I am resigning my membership in the church as of today, please remove me from the site member list. I have found that the church has done nothing for me spiritually or otherwise."

Rev. Shawn Porter similarly summed it up in one of his post-resignation notes on the subject, "I'd like to publicly apologize to anyone I encouraged to join, and remind those who donated money and never heard from the church to ask for it back. The idea was good. The reality has more to do with an insecure, barely-literate girl with bad facial tattoos trying to make a name for herself. Look for your spirituality inside yourself. White tattoos, misappropriated funds, and hurt feelings have nothing to do with it."

Since then, the CoBM has also surfaced in a lawsuit against Costco where a member alleged that her eyebrow piercing was a legitimate and essential part of her faith in order to force change in dress code. The lawsuit appeared to receive no support or even a press release from the now largely defunct CoBM.

At this point, the CoBM appears to be a thing of the past, marking an interesting and dramatic period and a failed attempt to win rights for the modified via well-intentioned legal trickery. With only a few relatively inexperienced piercers desperately clinging to their minister status, it's probably fair to mark this entry "RIP, COBM 2000-2002".

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