Keith Hunt - Churches that Abuse #5 - Page Five   Restitution of All Things
  Home Next Page

Churches that Abuse #5

Power and Authority Abuse

                          CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #5

                             RONALD M. ENROTH

                               Written 1992



Abusive Churches Misuse Spiritual Authority

"It took some time for me to adjust after leaving the Church of
Bible Understanding. When I first began attending church again
and meeting with Pastor Tom, I found it very difficult to relax
around him. Sometimes I would cringe and freeze up when seeing
him walk down the hall, and Pastor Tom is one of the kindest,
most disarming people I know. It took a few months for me to
relax. Even now, when attending a church service, I may feel like
I should be participating in some way, or I may get extremely
paranoid, start worrying about my true spiritual condition and
dive into an intense self-examination. These experiences have
lessened as time has gone by, and I have confidence in God's Word
and in my own relationship with the Lord." 

     Thus ends Betty Donald's personal account of her
fourteen-year experience with the Church of Bible Understanding

     Started by Stewart Traill in 1972 as the "Forever Family,"
the Church of Bible Understanding now numbers approximately one
hundred members living in a number of properties in the northeast
United States. Membership peaked in 1978, with several houses and
nearly a thousand members. Betty, along with thirty other
members, left COBU in April of 1989, after a March 4 meeting in
which Stewart claimed he had been teaching in error for
twenty-five years, and that he had totally omitted grace in all
his teaching. He claimed that he was more a victim than those he
had deceived. In what appears to be an attempt to control
damages, Mr. Traill then went on, in June of the same year, to
tell everyone to forget everything they had ever been taught on
the topic that one must be perfect to be born again (using 1 John
3:9, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because
God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he
has been born of God"), and that he himself had just been born
again in February 1989.
     Betty, like all other COBU members, was afraid to do
anything without Stewart Traill's stamp of approval. As one of
the "Gayle Helpers" (assistants/"slaves" to Traill's second
wife), she enjoyed certain privileges that others did not. Yet
she was "scared to death of him." A member never felt truly
faithful to God "unless Stewart accepted you." This acceptance
evidently waxed and waned, depending on how useful one was to
Traill's business or how threatened Traill began to feel by the
favored one.
     Stewart was in complete control of the money in the communal
organization. Betty never cashed one of her own paychecks. All
money was turned in and no accounting was ever given of where it
went. At one point, when appointed to the Board of Directors, she
did see that as much money was spent on COBU telephone calls as
on the group's ministry in Haiti, where they had a missionary
outreach. Traill made sure that all persons handling group
accounts had no experience in financial matters. Any questioning
of this policy brought immediate confrontation and public
humiliation. Additionally, members were required to submit a
special request to one of the Special Request Committees if they
wanted to purchase a pair of shoes, pants, jacket, or other
article of clothing. The committee would determine if the need
was justified. During lunch hours and off times, members were
expected to solicit donations from individuals and organizations
for "the ministry in Haiti."
     COBU members staffed a number of businesses, including S & G
Cameras, one of Traill's enterprises, and Christian Brothers
Carpet Company, a carpet-cleaning business run by nearly all COBU
men. Betty, as a Gayle Helper, had signed a Gayle-Helper
Contract, and worked in the camera shop. Everything from
purchasing stock to attending trade shows to cleaning dishes and
bathrooms was done by the Gayle Helpers, usually on a full-time
basis with no compensation. Although privileged to live at
Traill's $900,000 estate in Princeton, New Jersey, the Gayle
Helpers on the camera-show circuit were expected to sleep in
their vans. According to Betty, "These women were called gypsies.
They would wash their hair in sinks at gas stations, use the
pools at hotels they didn't stay at, and change clothes in
bathrooms in restaurants where they wouldn't think of eating.
They would pack food to take along and would eat in the van.
Everything was written off to the church." In addition, Traill
would use COBU's Christian Brothers Carpet Company accounts as a
personal bank, using funds freely.
     The plan was for COBU members to live as in the days of the
apostles, with "all things in common." According to Betty,
members believed that they had a "higher calling" because of
their deep knowledge, especially the deep knowledge of human
nature and the Bible. They considered their understanding of
human nature unmatched, giving them spiritual eyes to see into
others' consciences and thoughts. As a result, COBU members were,
as Betty describes them, "extremely self-righteous and puffed
up." Stewart would continuously speak to them of his great
expectations for them and their future plans.
     Although he was unable to reconcile a drop in membership of
nearly nine hundred in twelve years, he did claim that his new
teaching was very near to the true apostles' teaching. "Jesus
showed me the secret behind everything." Highly critical of other
churches, Traill would call ex-members "enemies of the Cross," or
"losers trying to throw stones at a winner." According to Betty,
whenever COBU was in the news, they considered it persecution
because "we were truly following the right way and the devil was
     Looking back at it now, Betty believes that the
communal-living arrangement was one of the main ways that their
lives were controlled. Living on one's own was considered less
spiritual as well as dangerous - you were asking for trouble by
leaving the "sheepfold walls." Not only were members expected to
live together, but all men were expected to quit their outside
jobs and work in the group's carpet-cleaning business. Failure to
do so resulted in a person being mocked, publicly humiliated, and
looked down upon. Normal office jobs were seen as "working for
Pharoah." Working for Stewart or COBU, on the other hand, was
seen as doing God's will so that members could make the most of
their talents rather than helping their employers get rich. Thus,
even one's working life was controlled and regimented. Betty
reports that males who leave the church have a harder, time
reentering and adjusting to the outside world because so much of
their daily life was sheltered and controlled. Not all "sisters"
were expected to work in COBU or Traill-related businesses.
As is often the case in abusive churches, family ties were
severed. When members were notified that relatives had died, they
were told to "let the dead bury their own dead." Members needed
approval to visit family. Betty remembers, "There was always an
uneasiness after going to visit your family because of the
scrutiny you were put through when you returned." It was expected
that COBU members would consider one another as family, and
Stewart would often ask, "What would have become of you if Jesus
hadn't brought you to this fellowship?" The expected response
was, "We'd probably be dead."
     Implied guilt and Scripture twisting were often used to
manipulate members. Mr. Traill would take Scripture out of
context in order to make members do what he wanted. "In the
abundance of counselors there is safety," and "He who trusts in
his own mind is a fool," were two verses that were often directed
at a person who didn't agree with others' opinions of what should
be done.

     Marriage was discouraged to such an extent that no weddings
have been held since 1978. However, Traill divorced his first
wife and married Gayle in 1977. Betty recalls that Gayle was set
up as the example for all women in the church to follow. "She
would walk around in the slinkiest outfits that sometimes made
many people blush. Stewart would flaunt her in front of the
brothers and tell them, "Look what you could have."
     It was Traill's custom to hold late-night meetings that
would end anywhere from 1:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. Members were then
expected to work and function normally the next day. Leaving
these meetings for any reason whatsoever, including the use of
the rest room, was highly discouraged. During these meetings,
"catching and pointing out someone else's wrong behavior was how
we proved our desire to be with Jesus, because Jesus hated the
wrong, but, of course, not the sinner. This always ended up in
public verbal executions that would lead to standoffs and long
silences until late in the night." Since women, according to
Traill, were naturally manipulative, devious, and maneuvering,
they were often the targets for these late-night confrontations.
Each woman would then, according to Betty, "have the task of
apologizing so that everyone would believe her, so that she could
be forgiven for whatever horrible crime she had been accused of
and keep from being lynched." A ritual was begun in 1988 in which
members who needed to "make their behavior right" in front of the
group, were required to have four to five witnesses who would
vouch for their sincerity. Insincerity led to repeated
humiliation and/or being put "out of fellowship."
     Stewart, however, was above scrutiny. According to Betty,
"Stewart will only accept 'corrective criticism' coming from a
'right spirit.' Of course, he is the judge of 'right spirits' and
whether any criticism is truly constructive." Stewart has also
complained at meetings that no one ever tells him what they think
of him; yet he makes sure no one has such an opportunity. In a
classic double bind, Stewart tells his members that rebellion is
the ultimate sin so that if you question him, you are charged
with rebelling against the truth and that means rebelling against

(YOU who were once part of the WCG under Herbert Armstrong, are
the "bells ringing" - are the truths about abusive churches
GETTING THROUGH TO YOU?? Are you seeing that you were part of an
abusive church when in the WCG under Armstrong?? Is what you are
reading bringing to the light of your mind the PLAIN TRUTH of
what the WCG was, under the control of Herbert Armstrong from
1967 and onwards, after Armstrong lost his wife in death, and
there was no one to control his ego and vanity? It should be; the
truth should be reaching you; and with the truth you can be made
free, as Jesus promised. If YOU were part of the WCG anytime from
1967 to the death of HWA in 1986, you need to see what the WCG
organization became and was. You need to THANK God you can see
it, admit to it, REPENT of such wrong ways to build and govern
any part of the body of Christ. You need to REJOICE you can see
this truth; you need to have the truth of correct church
government engraved in your mind so you will never be part of
wrong church government ever again. I have expounded to you on
this Website the correct truth regarding church government; make
sure you study it, so you will never be taken in deception ever
again - Keith Hunt)

     After leaving COBU, Betty described herself as a "basket
case." She found herself in a totally new and strange environment
with a few friends who had left with her, and filled with
feelings of paranoia. "Here you are, thirty years old, single,
alone, and ashamed of the way you have been taken advantage of.
After having spent fourteen years with COBU, I felt stupid
telling my parents that they had been right. Trying to adjust,
even opening a checking account, was hard. It was like dropping
off the moon. After quitting my job without notice, and because
of the way I had quit my jobs before, I knew it would be very
difficult to get established. I hadn't held a job for more than a
year at any one place in the past seven years. I had virtually no
stability - physically, emotionally, and barely mentally. I had
an interest in going to a church, but I was very suspicious and
didn't think they'd ever understand. Unfortunately, due to the
lack of understanding on the part of most members of the church
and their inability to deal with someone like me, I received what
amounted to a pat on the head and a wellintentioned 'that's nice,
but now you're out and you have to go on with your life.' After
ten years of isolation and indoctrination in which you think,
live, eat, and breathe COBU, it doesn't just go away."

(Thank God, with His help you can be healed; you can see truth;
you can be free; you can find peace and rest; you can find
freedom from abusive authoritarian church power and control. Cry
out to the Lord for His help and His mind and His strength to put
away all the emotional slop and dirt and deception of the abusive
church. He will heal you! You can be free! - Keith Hunt)    

     Betty's experience with authoritarian leadership is,
unfortunately, not unusual for people who have been a part of
spiritually abusive groups. Control-oriented leadership is at the
core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become
strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence,
and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence.
They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak and
those who consider leaving their flock, as the following letter
demonstrates. It was written by Don Barnett to several members of
Community Chapel who were contemplating leaving. Not only did the
pastor warn the members that they would lose all their friends in
the congregation, but he threatened that demons would harass them
and that they would lack power with God.

"As your pastor, I warn you that you are headed for the bottom of
the sea.... God has called you to this assembly to furnish you
with that which you need. Do you have His permission to leave
this assembly? When you take yourself out of this move of God...
you are going to go downhill spiritually.... When you run from
God, you go to the bottom of the sea.... You could lose your
souls through this. The Devil can take you down, down, down.
I ask you to repent before God ... follow your pastor, stick with
him, stay in the boat and God will forgive you. You are following
emotions and reasoning that has been infiltrated by the Devil...
you are going to lose eternal rewards. You will not be the
same... you cannot just walk into any church and think you are
safe. God won't honor that. He called you here and I am your
pastor, no one else. You must follow me or you will answer to

(Wow.....former WCGers under Armstrong; are you getting it? Do
you see you were in the same abusive boat as many in this book
found themselves in? - Keith Hunt)

     A former associate of Don Barnett describes his style of
leadership: "He's ousted everyone who has taken exception to his
teaching. He's been a very autocratic leader. Even though he says
he allows differences of thought on issues, it's very difficult
for him, really, to allow his leaders to view things differently
than he does. He'll say from the pulpit that he does, but he'll
tell you in person that it's his God-given duty to revise your

     Pastor Phil Aguilar of Set Free Christian Fellowship has
been known to say, "You need to trust God through me; I know
what's best for you." That same attitude was communicated in one
of his sermons when he was discussing his own responsibility as
shepherd of Set Free: "People in this church, don't you say
anything about each other. I can say anything I want. I can call
you anything I want because I have the responsibility and the
accountability according to God's Word for each and every one of
you. I can say what I want. 'Well, if you can say it, I can say
it.' Well, no, you don't know the scriptures. You don't have that
responsibility and accountability; I do. So when I get in your
face, receive it from the Lord or let your tail wag and go home
and cry. Go try and find a TV pastor so that you can turn him on
and off anytime you want."

     Unhealthy, authoritarian leadership encourages people to
place their pastors on pedestals. This is illustrated by the
comments of one ex-member of a church located in a major
midwestern city. "Little by little this man became the standard
by which we all sought to live. The wisdom that poured forth from
his lips left us in awe." An ex-member of an east-coast fringe
group commented that her tiny church was believed to be the full
expression of God and had the mind of Christ. "When the
leadership said something, it was taken very seriously as the
absolute truth. I was part of what I totally believed was a sold
out, godly, and committed church. However, after I left the
church, my life was totally shattered."

(Did not Herbert Armstrong by himself and by others, set himself
on a pedestal, put himself directly under Christ, even have a
chart shown on worldwide TV that he was directly under Christ.
Did not others [if not himself even] teach that HWA was the
"Elijah to come" as Jesus did promise would come before He
returned {Mat.17:9-13]? Did not HWA have his members of his
organization believing they were "special" - the "very elect" -
the "only true church" and that outside his organization there
was no salvation; if you left or were cast you, you were going
into the arms of Satan the Devil? Yes, he did preach so; it is
recorded for all to see in letters and sermons; most of which can
now be found somewhere on the Internet - Keith Hunt)

     Evan and his family had a shattering experience as members
of the Church of the Great Shepherd, a largely Asian-American
congregation located in the greater Los Angeles area. Here is
their 'story.

     In a scene reminiscent of a spy thriller, Evan agreed to
take his two children to meet with his estranged wife, Stacy, at
a neutral location, hopefully secure against any attempts by her
to kidnap the children. Evan was to be accompanied by Doug, one
of the brothers from the Shepherd's Training Center. Stacy was to
be accompanied by Doug's ex-wife, Sandy, and the two Tong
brothers, Dirk and Denny, all of whom had been kidnapped and
deprogrammed by the mysterious Hill Spaniels within the past
three months. Evan was worried about a kidnapping attempt and the
inevitable tortuous and abusive deprogramming process of which he
had been repeatedly warned by the leader of the Church of the
Great Shepherd and the Shepherd's Training Center's (STC), Mrs.
Jean Chao Liang. They agreed that Evan's parents' house, three
hours from Los Angeles, would be the meeting spot the next day.
Evan, with his two children Kelsey and Janna, and Doug, left at
2:00 A.M. the next morning in order to have the opportunity to
scout the area of Evan's parents' home for signs of Mr. Spaniel's
white panel van. They were armed with anointed prayer, on guard
against evil spirits of deception and lust, and under
instructions to manipulate their wives with specific songs during
a time of worship in order to bring them back and into submission
to the "Body."
     The meeting took place during the late morning. Evan's
parents watched the children, whom they had only been able to
meet briefly twice before. The two women were not swayed by the
manipulative "worship," but began speaking to their husbands
about what they had all experienced in the Shepherd's Training
Center in light of the Scripture: would Jesus ever force a couple
to divorce because one partner was against communal living? Would
Jesus send a brother out onto the streets of East Los Angeles, or
drug-ridden Northwest Pasadena, for weeks without money or even a
jacket in order to teach him to repent of alleged sins? Is there
any sin in the Bible called "reaction" or "identity"? Would Jesus
use a spatula to force food down a six-month-old's throat in
order to teach her submission to authority? Would Jesus ever
berate a follower into performing lewd acts in front of him in
order to show that individual how depraved he is and to "free"
him from a lustful or homosexual spirit? Would Jesus ever tell a
married couple how and when to have sex?
     After discussing the bare facts, looking at the Scriptures
(not someone else's interpretations in light of "context"), and
having a few hours away from the thought-reforming influence of
the communal group, Evan and Doug realized the deception they had
been under and the fact that the Scriptures had been twisted in
order to get them and the other members of the STC to submit to
Jean Liang's wishes. The anger and horror over lost years, and,
in the case of Doug and Sandy, lost marriage, did not set in for
a couple of days.
     Thus began the end of over five years of what was sincerely
believed to be "ministry" in the name of God. When Doug and Evan
did not return to the STC, and when outside pressures became too
intense, Mrs. Liang began sending individuals back to their
parents' homes for a cooling off period in order to placate
parents and minimize damages to the group. According to former
members, they were supposed to return to the STC when the
situation was not so volatile. Meanwhile, Hill Spaniels was
working with the recent former members, meeting them as they
arrived at their parents' home. Each, in turn, was freed from the
effects of the thoughtreform process by a discussion of the facts
and Scripture. Within the month, the Shepherd's Training Center
had been reduced to little more than Jean Liang's family of

     The Church of the Great Shepherd began in 1985 under the
leadership of Stephen Liang, Jean's husband, Doug Yasui, and Roy
Chan, all graduates of a well known evangelical seminary. It
began under the name of Asian American Grace and Faith Church, a
nondenominational, independent church with an emphasis on
worship, an openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and an
increased recognition of the place of women in the church. Within
a year, Sunday attendance rose to one hundred and fifty, and the
church enjoyed a growing reputation as an exciting, charismatic
outreach to young adult and college-aged Asian-American
     The next year the name was changed to Asian American Christ
Church and Mrs. Liang began preaching occasionally as well as
directing the high-school fellowship. The tone began to change,
with greater and greater emphasis on absolute obedience to God
(through obedience to the leaders God has placed over his sheep).

     A new emphasis was also placed on the importance of
spiritual authority, tithing, and ministry to the poor.
Attendance began falling. Mrs. Liang, after facing much
opposition, was successful in having herself ordained in a formal
service officiated by her father and a local Vineyard pastor.
By this time, an "unintentional community" had begun at the
Liang's household, composed of the Liang family and persons
interested in communal living (based upon Acts chapters 2 and 4)
or doing seminary internships through the church, or simply
needing a place to stay. The active life of the church was moved
to the Liang household, with Jean taking greater and greater part
in the ongoing work of the ministry.
     During this time, Stephen Liang began undergoing a period of
"spiritual discipline"; God was supposedly bringing him to
account for his lack of love and concern for his wife and five
children. This discipline, administered by Jean and another
"shepherd," consisted of removal from all ministry, public
humiliation, and a separation of Stephen from any relationship
with his family, particularly Jean. By the time this period was
over, Jean was the effective head of the church and the
community. Stephen, reportedly by his own choice, no longer slept
with his wife, nor was he involved in any outward ministry of
preaching, counseling, or teaching. He was relegated to
administrative duties. Stephen also began Shepherd's Services, a
carpet-cleaning and homerepair business.
     By 1988, the church had been reduced to approximately
thirty-five persons and services were held at the communal house,
rather than at a rented church building. The group's name was
changed to Church of the Great Shepherd, and the community had
become a legal entity as the Shepherd's Training Center. Jean
Liang was now the single shepherd of the STC, having either
forced out or disciplined all other potential leaders in the
     As the head of the STC, Mrs. Liang dictated every aspect of
life, whether spiritual, physical, or relational. Doug and
Sandy's divorce came about through a twisting of Matthew 5:27-30.
Although neither had committed adultery, because of Sandy's
reticence to move into the STC, Doug was told that she was
causing him to stumble. He must cut her off as he would cut off
his hand, so that he might at least enter heaven maimed. Even
after they moved into the commune, they were forced to divorce.
Doug spent months on the street and was labeled a "pervert" by
the leadership. He would be brought back periodically to see if
he was sufficiently "repentant." If not, he was turned out again.
Members shared a common purse, with Stephen Liang as head
treasurer under Jean's direction. Numerous questionable expenses
for the community, and especially for the Liangs, were considered
"ministry" write-offs and attached to the tax-exempt church
account. Monies were regularly shifted from one account to
another. Jean reviewed the accounts and set financial goals for
the STC. No money was released without a voucher.
     Evan and Stacy's two daughters almost died as a result of
Jean Liang's influence, the oldest from being force-fed at six
months and routinely beaten, the youngest because of premature
birth due to Stacy's being overworked in the communal house. In
addition, Roy and Mandy Chan's young son and daughter were
severely abused, being regularly beaten or shaken for such
offenses as wetting, crying, not keeping their eyes closed, or
falling asleep. After a severe shaking of their three-month-old
daughter, Jean said that it would be better for her to grow up
submissive and retarded than intelligent and rebellious. At the
time of this writing, the oldest child is approaching his third
     The bonding of mothers and children was seen as a great sin.
Jean regularly separated nursing mothers and their infants, even
going so far as to take them from the breast, saying, "You are
tying your child to yourself and not to the Lord." This "tying"
supposedly endangered the child's salvation. However, former
members state that Mrs. Liang's five children are strongly bonded
to their mother, but have little respect for their father.
Husbands and wives were also separated for long periods. Their
relationships supposedly were impure and ungodly, based upon lust
and manipulation.
     Public times of confrontation, confession, and repentance
were common, lasting anywhere from four to twenty hours. These
sessions usually took place at night. The airing of the most
intimate details of one's life was seen as opening the way for
God to take one deeper into the spiritual life. All participants
were victimized because of their idealism and desire to more
fully serve and love God. These intimate details, including those
related to one's sexual behavior, were brought up over and over
again to produce feelings of deep guilt. "It amounted to
spiritual blackmail," states Evan. Many persons were labeled as
homosexuals and were required to write letters to old associates
confessing this "sin." Old "sins" were never forgotten nor
     Also branded as sin was "introspection" - a term given
negative connotations by the group, but that in reality meant
using one's mind to think critically and being open to the
warnings of the Holy Spirit. Members were required to put aside
all that they had ever been taught, seek a new salvation
experience, and receive the "truth" in one's "gut" (spirit)
without the impure filterings of intellect and reflection.
     Ties with family and outside friends were severed or
severely limited and monitored. It was said that "spirit is
thicker than blood." In other words, one's spiritual family, with
whom one shared the same calling and vision, was more important
than one's natural or biological family.

     Eventually, Mrs. Liang was successful in nearly erasing
every member's sense of autonomy and personal identity. Members
dressed alike, carried the same Bible, the same bag, wore the
same glasses, and had the same hairstyles - all for the sake of
the "unity of the Body." Any personal belongings of sentimental
value were labeled as idolatrous and either thrown away (as in
the case of Doug and Sandy's wedding rings), sold very cheaply,
or given to the "poor." Interestingly, Mrs. Liang retained many
of her personal belongings, and unlike other members, carried a
leather bound Bible, a leather organizer, and wore jewelry. It
was believed that she was no longer subject to vanity and pride
and thus such things were not "idols" in her life. Her children
also retained their personal belongings, their own hairstyles,
and they received the best clothing and privileges. They were
rarely disciplined or required to participate in the work of
maintaining the household, a task that was seen as "learning
servanthood" and regularly took till 1:00 A.M. every day.

     These and many other inequities and atrocities, so easily
recognized by the uninitiated, seemed completely justified
behaviors to the members of STC because of the influence of Mrs.
Liang's spiritual thought-reform program. In obedience to what
they presumed was God's will, they obeyed their shepherd without
     Evan and Stacy are slowly getting their lives back in order.
They started with $23.00 in the bank, thousands of dollars of
debt to the hospital for Janna's premature birth, and two
toddlers whom they barely knew. Nearly everything else was lost
to the STC and Jean Liang. They have repeatedly asked themselves,
"How could we have gotten involved in such a fiasco?" Both are
college educated, Evan only one year away from a Ph.D. degree.
Both had been heavily involved in evangelical campus and camp

(And so it was also in the WCG. For those reading who have no
experience with the WCG under Herbert Armstrong, you need to know
that MANY in his organization were very well educated people,
University graduates; many with letters after their name; some
with PhD; some were very successful business and company men.
Then before 1967 Armstrong was not the same man he became after
1967, after the death of his wife, who until she died held a
large sway over him, keeping him humble. Within the WCG there
were some very bright and interlectual and talented minds, but
many of those minds gave themselves over either to never question
the mind of HWA, or turn away from God and Christ and the Bible
fully or move back into the fundamental Protestant world of
errors and falsehoods - another form of being abused - Keith

     As is the case with most former members of abusive churches,
they have had to deal with guilt over leaving the group. People
who left were said to have committed the sin of blasphemy.
Compounding that is the guilt over having joined in the first
place and allowing themselves and their children to be so
terribly abused.
     On looking back, both Evan and Stacy understand the
vulnerable position they were in upon joining the STC. They had
lost much of the connectedness they had known during their
college-ministry years, and were looking for significant
relationships. Unfortunately, they and their closest friends were
sucked into the group. They were also at major crossroads in
terms of career and family. Evan's career was just beginning to
take off; they had been married three years and were struggling
through normal marriage adjustments, as well as considering
having a family; they had just bought their first home and were
having major difficulties with the builder; and they were
beginning to learn that their early idealism and zeal for God
were not easily reconciled in a world full of conflict and doubt.
The STC offered a place of definite black-and-white answers, a
haven from doubt, a place where idealism for God could flourish,
an opportunity for relationships deeper than they had ever known,
and an outlet where their desire to love and serve God could be
fully expressed. Unfortunately, such an ideal place does not
exist in the real world.
     As of this writing, only one young man remains under Jean
Chao Liang's influence in the Shepherd's Training Center. Other
former members have either gone back to their parents' homes or
set out on their own to reestablish their lives. Mrs. Liang's
promise to reestablish members upon dissolution of the group by
selling the communal house has yet to be realized.
     Speaking of Jean Liang, Evan says: "She never claimed to be
God, only that she had a special calling and relationship with
him. She never claimed to be a prophet or apostle, yet acted with
that authority and rarely expressed doubt." According to former
members, Jean Chao Liang has yet to acknowledge the devastation
she has brought to their lives, and may even believe that she is
being persecuted for righteousness' sake. On chance meetings with
ex-members on the street, she exhorts them to "Go on with the

     Jesus Christ is to be our ultimate role model and our only
Shepherd. Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd (John
10:11). A good shepherd leads rather than controls his flock. I
have talked to many former members of what is commonly, referred
to as "the shepherding movement," and they all share the opinion
of one man who said, "If your shepherd said jump, your only
response was, 'how high?'" It is indeed ironic that an honorable
biblical concept like shepherding has taken on such distorted and
abusive meanings in some Christian circles.

     Pastor Phil Aguilar views himself as the unquestioned leader
of his Set Free flock. Sometimes "shepherds" see their umbrella
of oversight extending to the most mundane of life experiences.
Such was the case when Pastor Phil was watching a high-school
football game one evening in Anaheim, California. An ex-member
recalls that Aguilar, his assistant pastor, and a rather large
number of men were sitting together near the top of the stadium.
The game ended and several of the men, along with the assistant
pastor, started casually walking down the stadium steps toward
the exit. Pastor Phil suddenly called out to them, "Don't follow
Aaron, follow Moses!" The little group had to return to where
Phil was sitting and stand there for about fifteen minutes before
he led them out.

     Authoritarian pastors frequently use militaristic imagery to
illustrate their strict systems of authority and discipline. In
1986 Pastor Don Barnett sermonized about his spiritual soldiers
doing the will of the heavenly commander. He made it clear,
however, that he was their earthly commander-in-chief.
"I have always wanted an army under me that would do what I ask -
just like that. Not for me. A general never fights for himself;
he fights for his nation. He fights for the commander of the
state.... I don't want to be eulogized. I don't want to be lifted
up.... But I am the commander of this army. I'm willing to lay on
the ground in my sleeping roll with the rest of the troops; I
don't need an officer's tent. But I'm telling you - and I want
you to hear me - and I know I speak not just after the manner of
men, but I know that I speak from the Spirit of the Lord when I
say, even as Jesus wanted those to imitate him and follow him
carefully, and the Apostle Paul also, that I am not wrong in
asking that of this congregation. We're going through a battle,
and you're going to see that those who have brought themselves to
the place of discipline and submission, who are really and truly
behind their pastor, are going to be the people who are behind
God.... Those who will not submit will be on the second team, and
they probably will be split off eventually.... I am asking for a
new submission to your pastor.... I'm asking that you hear what
he's saying and do it.... I know that God wants you to do what I
ask you to do, and I know that if you don't, you are going
against God himself."

(How much like is this talk with the talk of Herbert Armstrong
and of course all the religious leaders that abuse power and
authority. Some have less brashness and "in-your-face approach"
to power and authority as like the Pope and the Roman Catholic
church. But it is there in full strength as to the bottom line -
the RC church still claims the Pope is directly under Jesus
Christ, and that they as an organization are the "true church of
God" to which others must one day return - Keith Hunt)

     Abuse of the shepherding or discipleship principle is
certainly not new. It began in the first century church. In Acts
20:30-31, Paul the apostle warns that "Even from your own number
men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away
disciples after them." 

     So be on your guard!

To be continued


You have a great blessing today! You have the Internet! You have
this Website and all the truth it contains! You never have to meet
me, see me, write to me. You can be on your own, be it one of you, 
two or more of you, a single congregation, a group of congregations.
You can have and live the truths expounded on this Website and some
other Websites of the true servants of the Lord, and never be abused
unless one of you in your circle tries to abuse the others. Then I
hope you will know what to do about it. 
The family of God through the worldwide Internet can all be part of 
the body of Christ without abuse .....PRAISE the Lord, and praise Him 

Keith Hunt

  Home Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: