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Miracle Child Was Messiah to Followers in Watts Group

Second of two parts

November 01, 1988|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Eldridge Broussard Jr., his father said, was a miracle child.

Irma Broussard had been told she would have no children, that she and her husband would have to carry on the Lord's ministry alone. But then one afternoon, in a back room of the tiny frame house in Watts, a vision bore down on Eldridge Broussard.

"It came on me like a blanket, a heavy blanket, and I couldn't move. I wasn't sleeping, but I couldn't move at all till it was over with," Broussard recalls. He saw Irma holding a baby, a boy, a child that bore his name.

Irma scoffed when he told her about it. "She said, 'The doctor told me I never gonna have no children.' But I knew what I was talking about, because I'd had a vision."

A little over a year later, a son was born.

So it has always been with Broussard and his first-born son, the controversial founder of the Watts-based Ecclesia Athletic Assn.

One afternoon the elder Broussard had a vision of a house sailing over the rooftops of South-Central Los Angeles and settling over his rocking chair at the family home on East 99th Street. The next day, two contractors knocked at the door, wanting to know if Broussard wanted any work done. He hired them on the spot to build a new house right in front of the old one.

It is said that young Broussard, who followed his father into the Church of God in Christ, sat down with his followers one day in 1982 and wept wordlessly for half an hour, then announced that gospel singer Keith Green was going to die.

A month later, Green's plane crashed and burned after takeoff in Lindale, Tex.

"His life has been a miracle life, all through life," the elder Broussard said recently. "But everything he do now, I made him do."

Today, the younger Broussard is at the center of a storm of controversy over allegations that members of his Ecclesia Athletic Assn., an outgrowth of his Watts Christian Center, were responsible for severe child beatings that last month led to the death of his own daughter, 8-year-old Dayna.

Four Ecclesia members are being held on manslaughter charges stemming from Dayna's death. A fifth, Broussard's brother, was arrested in Los Angeles on charges of felony child endangerment.

And Broussard himself, the man who captivated young South-Central Los Angeles families for nearly 10 years with the message that street gangs and drugs and poverty were powerless against their own faith, is now being described as a spiritual dictator whose hold over his followers persuaded them to give up their homes, their possessions, their salaries, sometimes their own families, for the family he called Ecclesia.

"I wanted to be a possible role model for escape," Broussard, 35, a one-time college basketball star, explained at a recent meeting with Oregon social service officials.

"I wanted to find out, why did a prostitute become that? I wanted to know the psychology of a drug addict. . . . I wanted to know why it was hard for our children to learn to read. I dared to believe that my church could come up with a creative and new way to address these inner-city problems."

The idea was to set up a haven in the ghetto for youngsters and adults, a place to share spiritual and economic resources and to discipline their bodies in a program of athletic training and gospel study that would prepare them for the world outside.

Somewhere along the way, some of his former followers say, the plan went astray.

A Change of Focus

Somewhere, they say, the leader they called "El" quit talking about sacrificing for Jesus and started talking about just plain sacrifice. Somewhere they all stopped talking about Jesus and began talking about "El."

"I would consider Eldridge Broussard one of the most dangerous men walking around this country that has a group of people following him," said Dennis Culmer, a close associate of Broussard for nearly two decades who became disillusioned and left Ecclesia in 1986.

"He has no respect for authority, he has no respect for community, he has no respect for family, he has no respect for God. I feel that if he isn't stopped now, the next time will be even worse."

The Broussard family house stands in a neighborhood of neatly tended shrubs and fresh-painted homes protected by locked gates and iron bars. Around the corner, mini-marts and makeshift churches compete for storefront space.

Eldridge Broussard Sr. had a ministry in one of those storefronts. He also had a barber shop a few miles away that he kept open until he was no longer physically able to work.

It was the same for his nine children, he said, going to school by day, working on household chores by evening, praying by night. Between praying and working, he knew his offspring wouldn't have time to go wrong.

Fear Factor

"The mind of disobedience is in a child. Foolishness is fond in a child's heart," he said in a recent interview. "When a child loses fear at home, he's not going to have fear anywhere he goes."

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