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Churches that Abuse #8

Lifestyle and Experience

    
                          CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #8

                             RONALD M. ENROTH

                               Written 1992
                          


LIFESTYLE AND EXPERIENCE


Abusive Churches Foster Rigidity



     Tom and Pam Murray are still searching for God and the truth
after their seven-year experience with what has been called the
No-Name Fellowship, or C-U (Champaign-Urbana) Ministries, titles
that originated with the media for a group of Christian believers
who considered themselves to be just a "part of the body of
Christ and therefore did not believe a name for [our] group was
necessary." Tom says that even after two years out of the group
he is still working through a lot of experiences in his mind,
"trying to discern what was good and what was bad; attempting to
save and retain that which was profitable and releasing that
which was unprofitable." Of one thing he is sure, sincerity does
not guarantee that God will always honor your actions.
What began as a Bible study, organized by a few students who felt
the established churches were weak and ineffectual examples of
Christianity, evolved into a rigidly structured group with one
man giving basically all the direction. As is typical of some
authoritarian groups, the No-Name Fellowship consisted of white,
middle- to upper-middle-class young people from eighteen to
twenty-five years of age, of above-average intelligence, well
educated, and highly idealistic.

     Doug Kleber was chief elder in all but name. It was
generally recognized that he had experienced a "greater calling
of God" than had the other elders and, conse quently, much of
what the members practiced in the daily routine of their lives
stemmed directly from "revelation" that Doug received, or from
additional "revelation" that was received by others on the
subjects on which he had broken ground. These extra-biblical
"revelations" dictated how members were to property eat, dress,
discipline their children, decorate theirhomes, clean their
homes, and behave in the marriage bed. Because of the group
members' love of the Lord and their genuine seeking to know and
do what he wanted, they submitted to Kleber's self-appointed
spiritual authority, even though at times Pam knew that he was
wrong. As time went on, she eventually convinced herself that she
"was the one that was s always wrong."
     It was generally recognized that Kleber had always had a
dominating presence about him, even from youth. It was said that
at one time a number of prophetic words had been spoken over him
indicating that God had called him to lead people. Tom never
believed, nor does he now believe, that there was any
"deliberate" motive to coerce or control people on Kleber's part.
"I still believe that this man's heart was free from any
deliberate intention to lead us in any way for his own personal
gain, financially or psychologically."
     Pam, however, knew that something was "off," but she
couldn't label what was wrong. "I appreciated receiving
direction, being a new wife and mother. I felt so loved by the
brethren. We were all in it togher. I don't believe that all the
fault for the group lies i the leader's lap."
     Consistent with a number of similar groups. Pam and Tom's
fellowship attempted to live according to "first-century-church"
standards. They believed that "the stain of the world" was upon
the established church. "Many of us who were zealous for God
found it easy to separate ourselves from other churches, other
Christians, families, and friends because of what we saw
happening in the mainline churches."
     In a very revealing statement, Pam and Tom observe: "If
there didn't exist a real lack in the organized church today, you
probably wouldn't have the 'backlash' effect involving thousands
of well-meaning young Christians." This "backlash" resulted in
members of the NoName Fellowship believing that they were the
only devoted and pure body of believers around. They became
distrustful and contemptuous of almost everyone, and believed
that most people were wicked or misguided hypocrites destined for
eternal damnation. "We became victims of zealousness without
knowledge." Tom now takes a more balanced approach to the
biblical notion of separation from the world. "There is a place
for elitism in the church if it's wrapped in wisdom and
understanding."
     As Pam looks back on the experience, she finds it hard to
believe that when people called her brainwashed, she took it as a
compliment. "We were blessed to have a clean mind. But it did
reach a point where I didn't decide things on my own. Even
vacations had to be cleared with the leadership. You wouldn't
dare leave without God's blessing. And the elders would be called
to okay the house we wanted to rent." She now understands that
"trying to make thirty-five housewives clean, decorate and dress
the same way didn't leave room for expressions of individuality"
that are a normal part of the diversity of the Christian church.
She also understands that the enforced cutting of almost all ties
with family and friends outside of the fellowship was not God's
way of "separating oneself from the stain of the world."

     As parents and others began to react to the isolationist
stance that the fellowship was taking, members began to believe
that the "world was out to get them." "Parents kidnapped their
kids to have them deprogrammed, which in turn stirred up the
media and local authorities with the end result being that all
these circumstances only solidified our initial convictions. No
one thought that this was anything but the normal sequence of
events that an end-time church was supposed to go through." As
far as those on the inside were concerned, the critics "just
didn't understand." Members felt that "no one could ever get the
full story unless they came in person to find out for themselves
how we lived." Of course, no one was ever given the opportunity
to see the real group dynamics.
     Over the course of time, as Kleber received more and more
"revelations," life became increasingly rigid and difficult. The
control mechanisms employed by the leadership covered a broad
spectrum of behavior includ-ing dress, diet, work habits,
personal style or mannerisms, prayer, Bible study, fasting,
entertainment, jobs, and whether or not to have children. "There
wasn't one area in our lives where we weren't legalistic about
something." Tom reflects, "It seems strange that during our time
in the fellowship, you would think that the overwhelming evidence
in the New Testament concerning grace would have had some effect
upon our minds concerning these rigidities." However, there was
so much "revelation" coming that the average member found it
impossible to take the time necessary to carefully study the
Bible to determine for him or herself that what was being taught
was the whole truth of God. In addition, as Pam notes, "I lived
in fear of correction, while Scripture tells us to embrace and
love it." Also, many of the rules and regulations were never
actually spoken or articulated as a command. One simply knew
from experience that something was a rule, and, if not adhered
to, discipline resulted.
     Given the overwhelming amount of "revelation" that Kleber
supposedly received, "the tendency was to trust first and then
hope that you could find the time to search the Word in prayer
and verify or refute whatever particular issue was being
discussed." The term "revelation teaching" as used in the group
did not signify a special, dramatic, prophetic utterance, but had
to do with accumulated spiritual knowledge and insight from the
Bible that the leadership claimed to receive from the Holy
Spirit, some of which was merely the pastor's attempt to relate
Scripture to everyday life. For these folk, the meaning of
Scripture is not simply that which the intellect understands from
reading, but is apprehended ultimately by revelation from the
Holy Spirit. For example, when it was announced that women should
not wear jeans, it came not as an isolated pronouncement, but was
based on a continuing series of "revelational teachings" that,
layer upon layer, gradually readied the congregation for
directives that might seem strange to outsiders.
     Life became increasingly based on experience and not on the
standards of Scripture. Conscience became externalized and
embodied in Kleber and the other elders. At the same time members
were taught not to trust their feelings, intuition, and emotions,
lest they find themselves "walking in the flesh." "We stifled the
voice of God within, mistaking common-sense reactions for the
'rising up of the flesh.'" Tom believes that "It was probably
this very doctrine that disabled most of us from ever obeying the
'gut feelings' of apprehension within. Many times we stifled our
own conscience in the desire to walk spiritually." For Pam, who
had had an active prayer life before the fellowship, "God turned
into an unreachable spirit. It was like playing a game that I
could never win." She has lost all desire to share Jesus with
others.
     If members ever did decide they had reason to disagree with
Kleber and his "revelations," they quickly found reason to stop.
Pam knew that even when she desired to stand and say, "This is
crazy!" or, "I don't agree!" she would have been disciplined for
disrupting and coming against authority.

     Women of C-U Ministries were totally submissive to males and
were barred from leadership or decisionmaking roles, as well as
from work outside the home. Pam says that, "It got to the point
where what I had to say usually got suppressed because I knew it
was a waste of time to discuss it. I'd lose." Tom, no doubt
reflecting his status as a male in the group, takes a more
moderate view on how dissent was handled. "There never seemed to
be a great deal of major dissent on most issues, and when dissent
did appear, it wasn't of the type that endangered the fabric of
the fellowship. In fact, it occurred rather often in the course
of meetings and was generally settled by the breaking of the
Word."
     Although the "breaking of the Word" may have been a part of
the settling of dissenting opinion, outrageous discipline of
members was the order of the day according to Pam and other
ex-members. These measures included the spanking of adults with
hands, belts, wooden paddles, or other objects; the drinking of
salt water; having liquid soap squirted into a woman's mouth for
inappropriately addressing her husband; and lying at someone's
feet in order to apologize. Pam recalls a women's prayer meeting
at which one woman was told to remove her dress in order to
become "more vulnerable."
     Fear, guilt, and intimidation all played a role in the
disciplinary process. Obedience to the standard of the group was
secured by the fear of divine judgment. For the most part, the
internalized psychological and spiritual discipline applied by
the group was enough to bring about the desired results. But on
quite a number of occasions, verbal public humiliation and
sometimes physical public humiliation were used to help
straighten out deviant behavior. Tom adds, "Many, but not all, of
these disciplinary measures took place in front of the entire
body, because we regarded ourselves a family. Many times the body
was asked to judge whether they thought the offender had found
repentance."
     Unfortunately, the harshness of the discipline extended to
the children as well. Pam says, "I could cry over some of the
spankings they received. Bruised bottoms. They were even
calloused." The eventual disbanding of the church was in large
part related to a tragic event that took place in another branch
of the organization in Spokane, Washington. (At one point the
group also had outposts in Passaic, New Jersey, and Piano,
Texas.)

     In December of 1987, ten-year-old Aaron Norman died as a
result of medical neglect and a beating administered by his
father and Doug Kleber. The boy suffered from juvenile diabetes
but his parents did not obtain medical care for him, preferring
to rely on the healing power of prayer. When his physical
condition worsened and prayer did not seem to be effective,
elders of the church were consulted to determine what the problem
was. According to a story in the June 21, 1988 issue of the
Chicago Tribune, the elders determined that Aaron had sinned. The
sin was masturbation, but Aaron would not confess to the sin. His
father decided to spank Aaron with a board because the Holy
Spirit had told him that he had been masturbating. As the Spokane
County deputy prosecutor stated, "His father and the elders
'rebuked' Aaron to confess, but he wouldn't. Aaron's father and
Kleber then beat the child. . . . A wooden paddle was used at
some point until Aaron confessed. On Sunday morning when his
parents awoke, Aaron was dead. There were severe bruises on his
buttocks."
     The Murrays left the fellowship when it "all blew up in our
faces." If the fellowship hadn't broken up, they feel they would
probably still be there. "We really didn't have a clue that
anything was wrong." They have had a difficult time since leaving
because they had been programmed to believe that to exit the
group was to leave family. Members who had left previously were
said to be "deceived and going to hell." The faithful who
remained prayed that the defectors would suffer calamities to
prove to them that they had been wrong. According to Pam, "Since
we believed so strongly that the group was 'The One,'
contemplating leaving wasn't even in your thoughts. Rather, we
had a fear of doing something wrong and being told to leave!"
Pam went through a time after leaving when she wondered if God
even existed. They both have had difficulty in returning to
church. Tom admits, "I'm not sure if I'll ever understand why God
allowed it to happen, but his grace and mercy are sufficient
enough to satisfy us when there aren't any answers to the
questions that we still ask."
     Tom Murray gives a final warning: "It is foolish to think
that you can remain objective in an abusive-church situation for
any length of time without being subtly influenced. No one can
consider themselves above the possibility of deception."

     There is another "nameless" group, much larger than the one
just discussed, which also engages in various forms of spiritual
and physical abuse. Very little has been written about this
obscure worldwide church which is said to have as many as one
hundred thousand members. It was founded at the turn of the
century by a Scottish coal miner named William Irvine who was
later joined by Edward Cooney, an Irishman. In the early days,
the group was referred to as the "Cooneyites," and later became
known both as the "Two-by-Two's" (because its itinerant preachers
or "workers" travel in pairs) and the "Nameless House Sect." The
group deplores denominationalism and "man-made" doctrines. It
identifies with no name and claims only to follow Jesus Christ.
Former members, who often refer to it as "the Truth," claim that
a great number of children raised in the movement are subjected
to stern discipline from an early age in order that their "wills
can be broken." Exmembers report that infants as young as three
months old are swatted. One said that fussing of small children
is an unacceptable disruption of the meeting, so children must be
taught quickly and firmly how to behave and be silent. Children
are expected to behave as miniature adults and whatever must be
done to achieve this end is done. One common discipline is to
expect children to eat everything on their plates, to train them
for the task of being in the "work." Forcing children to eat is
considered part of breaking their wills and teaching them to
submit to parental authority. If they refuse or cannot, the
workers view it as rebellion.
     Like many other abusive churches, the Two-byTwo's impose a
restrictive and rigorous life-style on the membership. Women
adherents shun makeup and wear long, uncut hair wrapped tightly
in buns on the tops of their heads. Jewelry is proscribed, while
plain dresses are the norm. Slacks, shorts, and sleeveless
blouses are forbidden in public. They submit to the men of the
group who tend to wear dark-colored clothes and carry
black-covered King James Versions of the Bible. Marriages are
performed by civil authorities only, since church "workers" do
not register with state officials.
     Conformity to a strict life-style is expected of all
children and young people in the Truth. They are discouraged from
participating in after-school sports and other social activities.
Their circle of friends does not extend beyond the group.
They often grow up ignorant and unaware of current affairs around
them. One woman remembers taking her young son to the doctor who
was astonished that the boy knew nothing about Big Bird or other
Sesame Street characters. Another woman relates that her son's
kindergarten teacher was shocked that he hadn't ever heard of
Easter. . .[most Two-by-Two's do not observe Christmas or
Easter]. This lack of awareness, culturally, religiously,
politically, and socially, severely stunts their perceptions of
the world around them.... Emotional withdrawal and social
isolation are typical responses among children in the Truth which
are carried forward into adulthood.

     Members of the University Bible Fellowship were encouraged
to get rid of their stereos. One student threw his
six-hundred-dollar stereo receiver into Lake Michi gan and
exclaimed, "I felt so free after that." An exmember of another
abusive church tells of being advised to get rid of her dead
husband's spirit by burning her wedding pictures, selling her
wedding ring, and giving away their bed. "Our children watched
their baby dolls and stuffed animals get fried in a bonfire,"
reports one ex-member, whose former church taught that such
attachments could become "idols" and therefore represented
potential sin.
     Life-style rigidity in abusive churches often mani-
fests itself in a curiously reactive mode with regard to
sexuality. Proscriptive measures reveal a sometimes bizarre
preoccupation with sex that mental-health professionals would no
doubt conclude gives evidence of repression. For example, an
ex-member of Faith Tabernacle, a now defunct California church
pastured by Eleanor Daries, was told she had to give up playing
the cello because of the "sexual positioning" required to play
the intrument. Members of the University Bible Fellowship (UBF)
were urged to repent of their sinful desires and cut off their
relationships with boyfriends and girlfriends. Those who dated
were called "wolfy men" or "foxy women" and were considered to be
full of "flesh desires." Another authoritarian group provides
written guidelines for male/female behavior in church: "Limit
physical contact in church to hand-holding. Snuggling, cuddling,
laying the head on his shoulder, if longer than a second or so,
is not appropriate. Excessive massaging of one another is not
appropriate."
     The women of Community Chapel, in printed instructions dated
September 1975 and titled, "Perspectives on Dress Conduct," were
given detailed guidelines about underwear, fingernails, and
make-up. Under the heading, "Breasts," we read: "No exposure of
cleavage showing. Examine what is exposed when bending over;
nothing should be seen. Consider also exposure when sitting and
swinging around. Small-chested gals need to be extra careful."
     Under the entry on fingernails: "Color should be subtle and
natural, not deep, bright, or unusual colors." Women of Community
Chapel were instructed to "let the Pastor take the initiative to
hug, but feel free to hug him if there is a great, proper need."
     In view of what transpired in that particular church a few
years later, these kinds of "guidelines" appear now to be rather
tame. In that same church, Community Chapel, the pastor at one
point included these specific regulations in the Sunday bulletin:
"Remember our rule: All women who show up at the church offices
should be dressed femininely, and if they are wearing slacks,
those slacks should be definitely feminine, complemented by
feminine tops and feminine shoes. . . . Please respect the right
of your shepherd to guide you into more appropriate,
conservative, and feminine dress." Men of the church were not
overlooked. The church bookstore sold a pamphlet entitled, "Jesus
Had Short Hair!" The bulletin advised males to "avoid low cut and
unbuttoned shirts, jeans, beards, unkempt hair, long fancy
sideburns, and frizzy hair." Neither sex could wear amulets or
crosses.

     While mainstream evangelical churches have always encouraged
a life of holiness before the Lord and urged moderation in dress
and other aspects of life-style, authoritarian churches
demonstrate an excessive focus, on such concerns. The restricted
life-style and limits on personal freedom that follow are just
other examples of the need to control that all abusive churches
exemplify. Conformity to prescribed standards is achieved, more
so than in mainline churches, through peer pressure and pastoral
directives.

     As we have already seen, some of these pastoral directives
and announcements border on the ridiculous, and to the outsider
they are both puzzling and amusing. For example, Hobart Freeman,
former pastor of Faith Assembly (not affiliated with the
Assemblies of God), told his flock that wearing striped running
shoes was considered to be homosexual fashion. He also announced
that members should not use the terminology "pregnant woman."
According to Freeman, only cows become pregnant; women are "with
child." The Sunday bulletin of one California church contained
the following announcement: "Mrs. Blank [I have changed her real
name] refuses to stop the soul-damning sin of gluttony. She uses
every excuse to stay fat. She also has a bitter, complaining
attitude toward this church. The Board of Elders recommends that
she be transferred to [another church] until she is willing to
stop her sin of gluttony. The members of this church will vote on
dropping and barring Mrs. Blank next Sunday.... If Mrs. Blank
wishes to repent, she needs to see [the leadership] and express a
willingness to stop complaining and lose weight."

     In my research of abusive churches, I never cease to be
amazed at the degree to which private and personal concerns are
made public and brought to the attention of the congregation. In
a relatively small organization known as "Rejoyce [sic] in Jesus
Ministries," the members were asked to pray for two named
individuals "and their finances." Then the bulletin proceeded to
announce: "This past week, checks that they wrote out to RJM
bounced. Note: If you have written a check to RJM that has
bounced, please get in touch with the RJM Office regarding
repaying the original amount plus charges resulting from your
bounced check."
     Seattle's Community Chapel distributed a bulletin insert
entitled, "Guidelines for Dancing Before the Lord." It contained
detailed instructions for adults and children pertaining to the
expected conduct of members while participating in dancing during
the worship services. "Do not obstruct aisles or block vision;
return immediately to your seat after dancing. Keep 'locked into'
Jesus during worship, but be watchful for collisions. If it is
crowded, confine your movements to a smaller area. . . . Watch
where you swing your arms."
     The guidelines also provide for those who are not physically
fit. "If you are new to the athletic moves of dancing in the
Spirit, be careful of overdoing it at first. Stretch tight
muscles before and after use. Some people find that elastic ankle
and knee braces help if these areas are weak or sore." The policy
statement also notes that, "Because of the limited space and the
number of those wanting to dance during the service, the pastor
wants the most gifted to be in the front area during service, and
not more at once than the area can accommodate without the
dancers having to fear collisions." And finally, "Ushers and
elders should be notified when people violate our rules. We do
not want to allow misconduct to continue or proliferate."

     A final example of legalism within authoritarian churches
can be seen in the list of regulations that one particular
network of churches imposes on those who attend "training"
sessions. I have selected just a few from a lengthy list to give
you a sense of the control exercised by this group:

* No unexcused absences from any of the meetings will be
tolerated.
* All the trainees must be seated in the meetings in strict
accordance with their assigned seat number.
* All the trainees must be in their seats at least five minutes
before the start of each meeting.
* No eating, drinking, or gum chewing will be tolerated after the
start of the meeting.
* No trainee is allowed to leave his seat for any reason
(including rest room) during the course of a meeting, except for
emergency.
* All the trainees are charged to participate in no gossip or
negative talk against any individual or any church.
* All the trainees must rest each afternoon and not go out to
visit, shop, etc.

     Although most authoritarian churches adhere to a strict
regimen of do's and don'ts, there are a few exceptions. I have
talked to a number of former members of the Christian Growth
Ministries shepherding movement who have indicated that quite a
bit of flexibility was applied to the area of drinking behavior.
In fact, in some shepherding circles, drinking was almost
promoted and drunkenness trivialized. One exmember of a church
affiliated with Charles Simpson, who at the time was still with
Christian Growth Ministries, describes it this way: "In the early
1980s, a bunch of us began to go out drinking for some innocent
fun. Even drunkenness was not looked upon as a bad thing. One of
our sayings was, 'It's not what you do, it's who you do it
with.'" 

     If life-style rigidity is a characteristic of most abusive
churches, the role of subjective experience is equally crucial in
understanding how such groups drift toward religious marginality.
In the second chapter we discussed the pervasive influence of
spiritual experience in the life of Community Chapel. Earlier in
this chapter we noted how the lives of Tom and Pam Murray were
impacted not only by outrageous discipline, but also by
"revelation teaching," and the primacy of experience. Another
group that recently dissolved as an international federation of
churches, but which illustrates the importance of subjective
experience, is Maranatha Christian Ministries. Here is the
account of one young woman's spiritual quest in that
organization.

     Karen Moore left Maranatha Christian Ministries (MCM) after
three years of dedicated service to what she believed was God's
work. Having moved up in the ranks of leadership, she was
responsible for the lives of fourteen other young women as their
"discppler," or "shepherdess." She could no longer reconcile the
dichotomy between the God she once knew and the one she served
with fear in MCM.
     Karen joined MCM after two years of experiencing depression
and a sense of purposelessness that came on the heels of several
life changes. She had graduated from nursing school, ended a
seven-year relationship, and began to lose her network of friends
after the disbanding of her campus fellowship. She was at an
extremely vulnerable stage in her life, in need of some stability
that her new-found Maranatha friends seemed to provide. Through
MCM she found loving people, a Christian value system, goals and
direction, leadership, and tremendous support. In exchange, she
gave up her will, her ability to think critically, and her
relationships with family and former friends.
     Karen came to MCM with numerous doubts and reservations
concerning the teachings in the group, although she was impressed
by its radical nature. She believed in being totally committed to
God, but was concerned about what she perceived as an excessive
emphasis on holiness, faith, victory, "overcoming," and a lack of
balance with regard to mercy, grace, and love. She initially
believed that she could provide this balance for the group.
Her early skepticism was labeled as "mind idolatry" accompanied,
the leadership told her, by spirits of critical thinking,
independence, rebellion, and mistrust. These so-called "spirits"
were exorcised from her at the beginning of her time with MCM,
and any further objections to MCM doctrine or practice were
merely recurring manifestations of those very same spirits. Thus,
Karen's abilities to think critically and evaluate were
effectively stifled.
     As she was further indoctrinated into God's "higher plan,"
she learned that her mind had been totally perverted by the Fall
and that it was completely unreliable. Depression, she was told,
was a sign of spiritual oppression. Anger was sin, unless it was
directed at outsiders, in which case it was probably righteous.
Above all, she came to understand that submission to MCM
leadership was essential.
     Each member of MCM was under the direction of a "discipler"
or "shepherd" who, in turn, was under the authority of other
leaders in a pyramidal, hierarchical structure. Robert Weiner,
MCM's founder, was at its head. Every aspect of life was to be
under total submission to the leadership, whether having to do
with family visits, "acceptable" literature, marriage, and even
female hygiene. Disobedience to the leaders was seen as
rebellion, which was equated with the sin of witchcraft.
     As time went on, Karen discovered that whereas she once
loved God with open affection and awe, now she was scared and
intimidated by him. As she moved up in leadership, she found
herself explaining the teachings of MCM to new members so that
they sounded less harsh, reassuring them that abiding by the
teachings was really pleasant and fulfilling. At the same time,
she realized that while she once was able to discern God's will
personally, she now was told that her leaders knew God's will for
her better than she knew it herself. Unfortunately, their answers
supposedly representing God's will were often contrary to those
she knew deep down to be biblical. Examples of such "answers"
were that "reading books by non-Christians would reap
corruption"; that she had "to get permission to visit my
grandmother, or to travel at all. If I wanted to visit relatives
out of town, I was to submit that to my shepherdess who would
take it to the pastor for confirmation. If he agreed it was from
God for me to visit, I was then permitted to do so"; that "I was
no longer to be alone on my days off or anytime" [because, the
devil was trying to attack her]; and, that "I could more easily
be deceived because I was a woman." Friendships outside of MCM
were terminated, except within the framework of evangelism. One
was permitted to develop friendships only for the purpose of
witnessing. To "draw life from" loving relationships outside the
group was felt to contradict the command to keep oneself
unstained by the world. Other Christians could conceivably
fellowship with members of MCM, but it was believed that they had
such a lower revelation of God that it was repeatedly asked, "How
can two walk together who do not share the same vision?"
     In time, Karen felt that love became wholly conditioned upon
her behavior. She was no longer heard unless she was presenting
the party line, all else being considered evil and severely
confronted as rebellion against the leadership and ultimately
against God. The MCM vision became god, and everything was to be
sacrificed to it. "The work" was imponant, but individuals were
not. Members were expected to dress like overcomers, smile like
overcomers, serve like overcomers, and behave like overcomers.
Outsiders, particularly Christians who did not know them well,
marveled at members' faith, victory, generosity, and obedience.
Maranatha members had a high view of their own organization,
considering themselves "God's Green Berets."

     Upon making her decision to leave, Karen was overcome with
thoughts of guilt and doubt as she agonized over conflicting
feelings. To leave was to break covenant with MCM - an
unforgiveable sin. To leave was to jeopardize the movement of God
in MCM, and to endanger her salvation as well as the salvation of
her outside friends and family. An overreaction to problems
within the group could be costly. Was she lost in carnal,
soulish, selfish pride? And, as a woman, was she as easily
deceived as her MCM brothers had said? Her fourteen disciples
might backslide. She also knew that her character would be
defamed by the leadership if she left. They would announce that
she was a false teacher, a false prophetess, one who never knew
the Lord, just like others who had left before her. Her publicly
confessed "sins" would be brought up as evidence against her.
Perhaps Satan had come against her with great force to keep her
from her ministry. Maybe a strong spirit of deception had come to
blind her to God's mighty call upon her life, to distract her
from her obviously close relationship with him.
     As these doubts filled her mind, her pastors fed her
additional guilt and psychological intimidation. Regardless of
the doubting, after many days of fasting and prayer Karen could
not honestly say that God had shown her any sip of which to
repent, contrary to the counsel of her pastors. She had not read
any non-Christian books, nor was there anything which she was not
willing to give up for God that had become an idol. Yet she had
been told that she had let Satan have an open door to her heart,
and that she must repent and renounce him so that she could get
on with God's will and continue as a full-time worker in the
ministry.
     Karen's decision to leave, as told to her small group of
disciples, was quickly communicated to her pastor, Mark. Initial
attempts to sway her with kindness and encouragement soon gave
way to accusations of lack of trust for the leaders God had given
her. There were dark predictions of her future, veiled threats,
and eventual disfellowshipping. There was no place for her in MCM
unless she repented - and submitted. Eternal damnation hinged on
her decision.
     Karen fully expected her plane to crash as she flew home to
her parents. The wrath of God, according to her pastors in MCM,
was upon her. Gone were the smiles, the assurances, the optimism
for an alternate life-style that was far superior to ordinary
life. Gone were the prophesies about being part of God's end-time
army, and the supposed opportunities to reign with Jesus in the
Holy of Holies reserved for His called-out ones. The young people
in MCM were to be "the future great Christian leaders, full of
power and grace and truth, that would lead the other
unenlightened Christians through the coming Tribulation." Karen
was told that all she now wanted was "to be married and to be a
rich, mediocre suburbanite." Feeling that she could not continue
in the group and maintain her relationship with God, Karen was
forced to choose between serving him and "breaking covenant" with
"his people." On January 18, 1981, Karen Moore walked away from
"the Vision" of Maranatha Christian Ministries.

     To conclude this chapter, I share the articulate and
insightful commentary of a young man who was also a Maranatha
member. In so doing, I also share his "prayerful hope" that all
those involved in authoritarian movements will "earnestly seek to
prove all things, holding fast to that which is good."

     The most significant problems with Maranatha stem directly
     from its interwoven concepts of discipleship and submission
     to authority, which, I feel, have resulted in serious,
     destructive abuse.
     In Maranatha the centrality of authority is a natural
     consequence of a military self-perception. Greater emphasis
     is placed upon building the "army of God" than nurturing and
     developing the "family of God." The leadership sees itself
     as setting up a new order on earth in the prospect of
     bringing in the kingdom of God, thereby establishing an
     external purified order in this age.
     Preparation of leaders is obtained as quickiy as is
     physically possible under the guise of ministry or spiritual
     expertise culminating in a sink-or-swim survival of the
     fittest environment. The often painful results in Maranatha
     include a lack of leaders with a mature understanding of the
     Bible. Because of this, unwarranted authority is attached to
     the contemporary spoken word, the rhema, going so far as to
     hold that it is equal to the written Word, the logos.
     All too often the public revelation in the Bible is
     subordinated by the private revelations of the leadership of
     Maranatha, pointing not beyond themselves to Christ
     crucified and risen, but to the leadership's own experience.
     Unfortunately, this can lead to setting goals to possess the
     life of God in exclusively ecstatic experience.
     On the emotional or mental level, the Maranatha environment
     encourages spiritually and experientially oriented persons
     to allow phenomena to determine their faith instead of
     interpreting experience with reason in light of Scripture.
     The "swallow-follow" concept, the "mind idolatry" teaching,
     and the overall dictatorial exercise of authority all
     combine to form a totalitarian attitude that behavior is
     determined solely by unfettered and thoughtless obedience
     and submission to authority. When the mind and the values of
     knowledge and understanding are rejected, downplayed, and
     scorned as being "rebellious," the mind becomes subverted
     and the will is subdued into passivity, producing a
     dangerous phenomenon many refer to as "mind control." The
     potential and, in fact, recurrent result is a mass
     production of stymied personalities. Consideration and
     appraisal of the individual by authority is effected through
     the capricious, demanding, and judgmental eyes of
     condemnation rather than the eyes of compassion,
     understanding, and mercy. Motivation becomes fear-oriented,
     not loveoriented.
     Faith is transformed from an adventure into a duty as
     concern for righteousness through holiness and blind
     adherence to proscribed behavioral codes begin to envelop
     the individual's identity. Holy living becomes a pretext for
     a new legalism; keeping "the law" tends to become an end in
     itself rather than a means of service to God.

.........

Note:

If you ex WCGers under HWA cannot identify with many things
brought out in this chapter, then you are truly blinded to the
ways of Satan the Devil, or you just will not admit and REPENT of
being under the influence of an organization that became a cult.
It is very hard for some people to admit they were under
deception; that they were part and parcel of corruption, false
attitudes, some false teachings, power control, of abuse in mnay
ways, and that they had for a length of time given their minds
over to a man [and his clones] and had come to practice loyality
to and organization above the admonition of Paul, when he said,
"Prove all things and hold fast to that which it good" (1
Thes.5:21).
It is sad for me to have to repeat: Many from the WCG will not
admit they need to REPENT of following a man, of looking to men,
of placing men before the Holy Scriptures of God, and giving
their minds over to a man and men.

If YOU are still in this boat of self deception, I pray all that
is written in this book you are reading, will strike a cord in
your heart and mind. And if the shoe fits - wear it. Then admit
your past mistakes; come to God in repentance; ask for His
forgiveness. He will forgive. He will grant you a new start. He
will lead you into the truth that will make you free.

Keith Hunt
    

To be continued


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