In Honor of the Day God Stood Up Garland, We Look at Five Texas-linked UFO Cults

Another damn tour group crowds the streets of Garland.EXPAND
Another damn tour group crowds the streets of Garland.

As midnight approached on March 24, 1998, the residents of Garland tuned in to channel 18 to await God's television debut. If the predictions of new resident/cult leader Hon-Ming Chen proved accurate, the Lord would interrupt regularly scheduled programming at 12:01 a.m. to announce his impending descent on the Dallas suburb in a flying saucer.

After performing a series of arcane rituals in his backyard, Chen's disciples, known stateside as God's Salvation Church, filed inside to receive their holy orders. The 24th became the 25th and the mass of journalists, policemen and residents gathered on Ridgedale Drive fell silent, fixed their eyes on the screen and waited ...

This was not the first time UFOs and religion mingled in Texas. In the bright new future of mid-century America, science had begun to usurp the role of religion, and a savvy crew of regional quacks, con-men and would-be saviors began to give stale theologies a sci-fi makeover in an attempt to ensure relevance.

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, Earth was a failed science fair experiment and the contaminated planet was about to be disinfected like a petri dish in an autoclave. As the the new millennium dawned, the disenfranchised no longer needed to dream about escaping their miserable hometowns. They could become an initiate and leave the planet entirely.

To mark the 16th anniversary of the day God didn't show up on television in Garland, we've put together this short list of UFO religions that appeared in Texas during the latter half of the 20th century. Some burned themselves up in the atmosphere, some fizzled out quietly, but a few hearty mutants made it through the year 2000 unscathed and continue to offer salvation to anyone willing to come up with the membership fees.

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God's Salvation Church aka Chen Tao In 1992 atheist college professor Hon-Ming Chen received a message from God suggesting that he pursue the life of a holy man. Not being one to argue with the voices in his head, Chen began studying numerous religious texts before joining a UFO cult in his native Taiwan. After becoming disillusioned by corrupt leadership and excessive dues, he formed the splinter group Soul Light Resurgence Association (SLRA) which would come to be known as Chen Tao/God's Salvation Church when the group began to immigrate to Garland in March 1997.

A bewildering syncretism of Buddhism, Christianity, UFOlogy and Taoism, the apocalyptic SLRA believed Earth had suffered five great tribulations caused by fallen angels called "King Satans," the first of which was a battle waged between dinosaurs 10 million years ago in the Middle East. Each time armageddon occurred God had descended on the Americas in his flying saucer to airlift all living creatures to safety. Chen soon announced that the sixth tribulation was imminent. By 1995 he and his disciples had landed in San Dimas, California, and renamed themselves God's Salvation Church, dogged by accusations that Teacher Chen had hustled followers for upwards of $90,000 a head for a ticket to ride.

In March 1997 Chen paid cash for the house at 3513 Ridgedale Drive in Garland after deciding its name sounded like "God's Land." One hundred-fifty disciples soon followed, eventually buying upward of 30 homes within a 2.5-mile radius of their leader.

At the time Garland was not the progressive hotbed of arts and culture it is today, and many residents did not take kindly to the idea of Taiwanese awaiting the space rapture in their backyard. Most immediate neighbors seemed relieved that church members were quiet and kept their lawns nice, although at least one called city code enforcement to report they were attempting to build a landing pad without a permit. The cultists were in fact building a gazebo.

As 1997 progressed Chen's bizarre proclamations began to garner increasing media attention. In June the church placed ads in several Canadian papers based on his claims that Jesus had taken the form of Abraham Lincoln and now lived in Vancouver. Their query received no response. In September Chen published the book God's Descending on Clouds (Flying Saucers) To Save People in which he predicted that God would descend in the flesh on his house on Ridgedale Drive at precisely 10 a.m. March 31, 1998. Upon arrival the Lord would replicate Himself to meet everyone in attendance and thus initiate the great evacuation. What's more, God would announce his return by preempting all television broadcasts on channel 18 at 12:01 a.m. March 25, bumping a home shopping network on local cable.

By late March the media circus was in full swing, leaving Garland officials scrambling to institute crowd control measures as the neighborhood was overrun by television crews. In the days immediately preceding the Lord's television debut some church members shaved their heads or were seen wading in the creek behind Chen's house. Others excitedly interpreted contrails of passing planes as signs from God and dug a large hole to bury objects they felt would aid future Earthlings.

Midnight struck on March 24, and the assembled crowd waited with bated breath ... and nothing happened. Cable subscribers continued to shop unimpeded.

After about 25 minutes Chen and his now visibly bummed disciples emerged into the front yard to address the hundreds of people massed outside his home. Speaking through his interpreter, Chen reiterated his belief in God despite his failure to appear on TV and reassured everyone there were no plans to off themselves. When asked if he still expected God to descend on Garland at the end of the month Chen replied "I want to emphasize that God's kingdom has already descended, God has already descended... Because we did not see God's message on Channel 18 tonight my predictions of God arriving on March 31st can be considered nonsense." He then said his followers were free to go if they wished and closed by stating "I have never referred to myself as a prophet ... I would recommend anybody not believe what I said anymore."

Reporters -- in smaller numbers than the week before -- turned up the morning of the 31st to pick the bones of the story clean. At 10 a.m. Chen, accompanied by the few dozen true believers, spoke to the crowd. He asked everyone in attendance to shake their own hand and then proclaimed that everyone was God, therefore he had descended and multiplied enough to greet everyone personally. Chen then stared directly at the sun before explaining that a mere mortal would have been blinded, a stunt who's impact was severely reduced by the resulting bout of uncontrollable blinking and squinting. He then revealed that his followers would be leaving Garland by May 10 and gave onlookers 10 minutes to crucify or stone him to death. No one obliged, likely because everyone who would have taken him up on the offer was in the process of moving back to Taiwan.

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