James “Jim” Bellar, or “Jesus is Master (JiM),” a self-proclaimed minister and apostle of Dove Outreach church, tends to his flock of around eight adults at his home in Waverly, Ohio.
At Dove Outreach church, which has been described as a cult in court documents, James Bellar is referred to as an apostle of Christ. While Bellar told The Athens Messenger it is more or less a ceremonial title, it does give him a more personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, he said.
“I’m not one of the 12 (biblical apostles),” James Bellar said. “It’s my calling, I’m an apostle.”
Court documents allege James Bellar, brother of Serah Bellar’s indicted father Robert Bellar, is rewriting entire sections of the Bible to better fit his teachings while also advocating for incest among Bellar family members.
In an interview, James Bellar maintained he is “retranslating” the Bible to a “faithful” rendition of the gospels for English-speakers. So far, he has only finished the gospel of Matthew. When asked what authority he has to “retranslate” the Bible, James Bellar had a simple answer.
“God. The Holy Spirit. I don’t have to answer to any man. God. You have to answer to God yourself,” he said.
Valerie Trainer, a member of the Dove Outreach congregation, is glad James Bellar is retranslating the Bible.
“He’s doing translations as God gives them to him, to be more perfected by the Lord — praise the Lord — but that’s a good thing,” Trainer said. “He’s an apostle, yes. Praise the Lord.”
Bellar also runs JiM’s-IGA, or “Jesus is Master’s — Internet Gaming Association.” Together, he and his church members play games like fantasy baseball and football, Bible trivia and World of Tanks, a popular multiplayer tank-fighting video game, according to the organization’s website.
The “New Recruits” webpage of JiM’s-IGA gives clear instructions for how to become initiated to the band of gaming knights, as they frame themselves.
“We reside at and pledge allegiance to JiM’s-IGA. Though we are not currently Christians, we affirm to behave properly,” the rule states. “We shall not cheat, cuss or use any foul words expressly or implied, will not be indecent or immodest, nor endorse any form of witchcraft. Though not a crowned Knight may still earn Patches below up to three stripes (sic) They are lords and ladies of the realm.”
However, in the realm of JiM’s-IGA, not all is well.
Last week, the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office arrested multiple members of James Bellar’s congregation — Robert (brother to James) and Deborah Bellar, as well as their sons, Josiah and Johnathan, both adults.
The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office alleges that the quad of Bellars engaged in a litany of sexual and physical abuse crimes. The prosecutor goes even further, arguing in the indictments that the font of their alleged behavior may have been “cult”-like beliefs stemming from what was being taught at Dove Outreach Church.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn declined to comment for this story.
According to the organization’s website, it appears Robert and Deborah Bellar participated in JiM’s-IGA, under what appear to be “gaming” nicknames.
“Bob’s aliases include HeavenBound and James 4:14 (sic). Debbie also uses Proverbs 31 and James 5:15,” the website said.
Many members used gaming nicknames with verses from the epistle of James, a book in the Bible. Several of the verses used as usernames convey themes of forgiveness from sin.
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him,” reads the passage James 5:15, Deborah’s screen name.
In an interview, Serah Bellar also described the church as a cult.
“All the kids would have to go, whether they wanted to or not — even if you were sick, you had to go, it didn’t matter,” she said. “Anytime he’d say anything, I’d just kind of repeat it in my head, like, how messed up it kind of sounded.”
Court documents and Serah Bellar both allege that James Bellar would encourage members to procreate with siblings in anticipation of the end of the world.
James Bellar denies all the allegations about his church.
“The plain truth is that they’re all lies — unbelievable lies,” James Bellar said. “Well, they should be unbelievable.”
He said he was not aware of any abuse.
“We are not a cult, I don’t run people’s lives,” James Bellar said. “I preach the truth. And certainly, if I saw anything illegal, it would have been dealt with.”
Trainer, who said she has been a member for over 20 years, emphatically denied that Dove Outreach Church is a cult.
“As far as I know, it’s a church that believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s all Jim has preached as long as I’ve gone there,” Trainer said. “So whatever you’re hearing out there about whatever — it’s not true.”
She said she has never heard James Bellar preach about the need for incest among family members.
“If it’s in the Bible, that’s what Pastor Jim (Bellar) preaches,”
Trainer, who said she had only heard “a little bit” of what the Bellar parents and two siblings were being accused of, said she had never seen any indication that Robert and Deborah Bellar were abusive, physically or sexually, toward their children.
She said if the Bellars were found guilty of what they were accused of, they would need to repent before God for their crimes.
“If you’ve done anything wrong, I don’t care who you are — if you’ve committed any sins against God, you have to repent,” Trainer said. “That goes for everybody, God does not discriminate.”
James Bellar took umbrage to The Athens Messenger and The Athens NEWS’ prior reporting on his church.
“I believe what you printed here is junk,” James Bellar said when asked if he believed there was any merit to the accusations levied about his church in documents.
Bellar refused to answer many questions posed, and repeatedly told the reporter he did “not listen,” and was not “seeking the truth.”
One question James Bellar refused to answer was whether his brother Robert Bellar had visited his house while he was wanted by the law, as Assistant Athens County Prosecutor Liz Pepper alleged on Friday during Robert Bellar’s arraignment. He said his response was contingent on The Athens Messenger’s coverage of his church going forward.
“I’m gonna wait until I hear from what you print, and what I said already just to see if I can trust you or not,” James Bellar said on Monday. “I’m looking for people who’s after the truth and who wants to share truth (sic). I’m not looking for people who wants (sic) to twist things and explain things completely, or anything.
I don’t have any hatred toward you — I’m serious. I can’t make it any plainer — matter of fact, I love you, it’s just through the love of God, I just don’t think you deserve to be talked to until you do what you know is right.”
Stephen Kent, an expert in cult behavior and religious deviancy, and a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, said James Bellar’s church does not appear to be a standard Christian church — even absent of the incest accusations.
“This group appears to be way off the charts in relation to normative Christianity,” Kent said.
Kent pointed to James Bellar’s role as “apostle,” and his goal of rewriting the Bible, are often indicators of an extreme religious personality. Kent also said to beware of religious figures who appoint themselves to grandiose titles.
“One has to be very careful about religious figures who claim unique godly authority because in doing so they place themselves above secular law,” Kent said. “When people grant themselves extreme religious authority — then one has to wonder if that person is delusional or narcissistic.”
** *** **
Cole Behrens is the assistant editor for The Athens Messenger.