Archive of ‘For Students’ category

Cult Connections: Acquire the Fire & Master’s Commission Conferences

898782750_4dc0288bb4_z

Pre-teens and teenagers are most susceptible to groups like Master’s Commission which claim to be “Discipleship Programs.”

Master’s Commission, in particular infiltrates youth groups. They provide the youth workers, the human videos, dances, skits and sometimes the preaching to youth groups at their home churches and at churches worldwide. It’s no wonder that youth kids aspire to be “as cool as” the Master’s Commission kids.

What’s scary about that is that what you see on the stage when Master’s Commission is nothing like what you live through in an actual program.

Even worse, is that there are programs like this all over the U.S.

Take my friend, RA at http://www.recoveringalumni.com, for example. She writes about Teen Mania. She recently posted about Acquire the Fire. Boy, was I grateful! Here’s why. I recently found out my dad was driving his church bus to an Acquire the Fire conference. I couldn’t believe my own dad was partaking in something so closely related to Teen Mania (it’s hosted by Teen Mania, and Ron Luce is well aware of the abuse going on in the Honor Academy, which RA has exposed and written about for quite some time).

What’s so threatening about Acquire the Fire? After all, the Newsboys perform there, among other well-known singers and preachers. A reader responded to RA’s post on Acquire the Fire and pointed out in her blog, that ATF is sort of a “gateway drug” into the Honor Academy’s system of abuse, legalism and manipulative isolation from the world.

Honor Academy shows signs of being an abusive, destructive group; therefore, I would not support Teen Mania nor Acquire the Fire.

What is with these destructive groups targeting our youth groups and sucking in our pastors to believe that they should send their kids there?

I don’t fault pastors ignorant of this knowledge.

They look at the conference itinerary and see some of the most well-known and well sought after speakers and music artists in the Christian community. Of course, Acquire the Fire and Master’s Commission International Network’s yearly conference appeals to them. These conferences are marketed to everyone within that demographic as the “place to go” for youth.

Couple that with light and sound systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to millions; fog systems; musicians; and gimmicks galore, and you have everything that appeals to a young audience.

It’s no wonder people like me and RA get recruited so easily into horrific destructive groups.

But these 2 groups aren’t the only ones who destroy young people. Read Deb Paul’s story: College Days: Catch the Spirit or Control the Spirit? Deb attended Pensacola Christian College, PCC. Deb’s story starts sounding a lot like mine and probably many others who attend these fundamental Christian “colleges” or college-like programs.

Deb talks about the rule book she received:

I received the packet for Pensacola Christian College prior to leaving my home and I read the rule book.  And the “things you need to know” book you received did not really include ALL the things you need to know before attending this college.

Like Master’s Commission, although you receive a rule book you don’t really know what you’re truly getting yourself into until you arrive. Even then, they usually take a few days to truly enforce the rules as strictly as possible.

Deb would get demerits for:

…wet hair, sleeping in my unmade bed at 7 in the morning on a Saturday, demerits for not scrubbing out my sink “good enough”, demerits for wearing socks instead nylons the wrong time of day.  Demerits and a lot of them for sleeping through a class by accident.  We were made to do everything, even be to bed on time every night at eleven o’clock.

Although I never got demerits in Master’s Commission, we got “rebuked” which is where we were called into a meeting with either the director of our program, Nathan Davies, or another staff member and a support staff member. From there, our rebuking ensued. We’d get scolded, preached at and threatened to have a worse punishment or to get kicked out if we didn’t change. We were told scriptures in the Bible that told us to be clean, to obey, and not to be rebellious or independent.

Let me ask you this: If Jesus were around today, do you think he’d approve of such abuse and destructive behavior from pastors?

How else do you think groups like Teen Mania and Master’s Commission successfully infiltrate our youth groups? What can we (concerned citizens, Christians, non-Christians, parents, siblings) do to prevent this type of abuse and the abuse that Deb faced at PCC?

 

The Unpaid Master’s Commission Intern, Legal or Not?

Are Unpaid Master’s Commission Internships Legal or

Not? OR: How to Out Your Pastor for Not

Paying YOU!

A Little Pebble Can Make a Lot of Waves

I just read this in a fishing magazine of all places. My dad and mom love Alaska, so we have a lot of outdoor adventure magazines around the house.

What’s odd is that I always knew I’d wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, but I never thought my blog might make a big difference. What’s unique about this blog is that it’s the only place that I know of that openly speaks about the spiritual abuse people have faced in Master’s Commission.

When I was in Master’s Commission, people would come up to me and say, “You’re a great woman of God,” or “You’re going to change the world,” or “You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless.”

I honestly think that a lot of what people said was sweet, but just very generic and sometimes very hokey (you know the type of old women who come up and wave flags over your head and speak in tongues like they’re on drugs? yeah, that’s hokey to me). But, what is so ironic to me is the fact that my little pebble-self has made some big waves since July, 2010.

Waves Were Made

Not even five months have gone by and I’ve been contacted by Lloyd Zeigler, co-founder of the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) and director of my former Master’s Commission group in Phoenix (now Master’s Commission USA in Dallas, Texas). We discussed some very heavy issues for months and I prodded him to take action over a letter documenting spiritual abuse and slavery-like treatment of staff members. He did take action and the group I was part of, Master’s Commission Industries (now Elevate 3D–who operate in Pods out of Our Savior’s Churches in Louisiana), lost it’s affiliation from the MCIN because of the contacts I made with over twenty former students and staff members, and the encouragement I gave them to write to Lloyd Zeigler. They did.

The MCIN Agrees With Unpaid Internships

Lloyd and I disagreed and ended up parting ways over a variety of issues I continued to try to bring into dialogue. I found out we didn’t agree on a great many points and I was not going to stop until things were better for future students and staff members.

Now, I’m on my own and no one is here to advocate except for me. Lloyd argued with me when I told him that seven year long staff members can’t be treated as interns.

It’s unethical and illegal, even if they’re willing to stay!

I shared with him a New York Times article about how the Department of Labor has been cracking down (for several months now) on business who have interns. Trust me, they’ll catch up to Master’s Commission soon enough–even if it’s through my personal contact to them (which I have).

Lloyd Zeigler stated his case: He’s known doctors who interned for a year and weren’t paid. He knew a zoologist who interned unpaid for a year. It was ethical to him, because Master’s Commission was giving value to the students who interned (for more than a year…even for fifteen years).

I explained to him that there was a huge difference. A doctor goes into the field knowing that he will spend several years studying very demanding biology courses, and then will take a difficult MCAT exam and will spend some time training in the field so that he can make a six figure income (or more).

Additionally, I know teachers who have earned their teaching credential by spending one or two years (depending on the school they attend) taking credentialing courses and student teaching. Student teaching is unpaid, but you’re warned about it early on. You’re also qualified to teach after the student teaching, and can earn a great salary, benefits and three months off in the summer. Not a bad deal.

“Interning” in Master’s Commission is not at all like becoming a doctor or a teacher. If a Master’s Commission student or staff goes into ministry, they rarely become a senior pastor. Most, if not all, become a youth pastor and/or a Master’s Commission director. These youth pastor jobs aren’t always high paid, and Master’s Commission directors do have the luxury of getting compensated financially out of their MC budget.

Why Master’s Commission Staff Members Don’t File Complaints

Why don’t Master’s Commission staff members file complaints, speak up, or report their unpaid “internships?” In my case, I had a very difficult time finding out WHO was the proper person to report this violation to. I spent time as a staff member unpaid, and other years was severely underpaid at $50-$150 a month.

The New York Times reports that, “…It is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

I know this to be true. Many of my peers who served as staff members in my own Master’s Commission, or close-by groups in Texas complained to me about not getting paid or getting severely underpaid. However, none of them wanted to be the whistle-blower.

For good reason.

Master’s Commission carries with it a “don’t criticize” and “don’t question the authority” unwritten rule. If you do speak up about something you’re unhappy about, you’re often accused of being “ungrateful” or your spiritual life is called into question.

No “intern” or staff member would want to speak up and risk the chances of being labeled a troublemaker or endangering their chances of networking with a pastor who knows of Master’s Commission and respects the group. If your ultimate goal was to be a pastor, you wouldn’t want to speak up either.

Where To File a Complaint

The other question is where do you speak up, if you want to?

I considered several places. The “Christian” thing to do, in my mind then, was to talk to the pastors themselves. The ones I had an issue with. So, I did. That went nowhere, which left me a bit helpless.

Where else was one to go?

I went to Lloyd Zeigler, and let him know that these things were happening, and he should address them. Turns out, it took a few years for anything to change, and even then, not much has changed within the Master’s Commission International Network and their treatment of staff. I learned during those months that Lloyd didn’t even pay his staff members a fair wage (severely less than minimum wage).

I also learned that the position a Master’s Commission staff member is in it is less likely to draw attention from the Department of Labor if laws are violated because the way the groups are set up. Often, the groups aren’t set up as ministries within the church, but sort of under an umbrella. Not to mention, churches often aren’t scrutinized by the government, since they non-profit groups. They typically have to be reported to the government, by the intern his or herself.

Seek out an Employment Lawyer–Immediately

Another option that would resolve issues is for the staff member to contact an employment lawyer in the state that he or she served in Master’s Commission. If the offense happened in Texas, then you must contact a Texas lawyer who handles Employment Law.

What is the offense? If you were a staff member in Master’s Commission, or on any church staff, and were unpaid or underpaid, you have the right to file a suit against that group for back wages. You can search online for wage comparisons for the type of work you did and find the minimum wages that you should have been paid. Any job worked should have been paid minimum wage, at the very least, but jobs such as Administration have a minimum yearly salary that is required to be paid (even by churches). To ensure winning your case, you should speak to a lawyer within two years of leaving your Master’s Commission group, or church. Some lawyers will attempt the case after three years, and there are some cases where a lawyer may take your case due to the cult-like behavior of a group like Master’s Commission. In this case, a lawyer will file against the Master’s Commission group up to several years after you’ve left, especially if you can prove that you required medical attention or therapy after your years within the group.

Another place to contact is the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. In order to receive legal representation, you must find a local affiliate. You can do so here: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates.  I’ve reported my case to my local affiliate.

Find an Investigative Reporter

When Ted Haggard was outed for his sex scandal, Mike Jones (the callboy) turned to a news reporter, Paula Woodward, an investigative reporter at KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, Colorado. A news reporter, especially a local investigative journalist may be able to begin work on the story. (For more information, click here: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/how_pastor_ted_got_outed.php)

I’ve contacted several investigative reporters, and have been emailing one in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I’ve also contacted Oprah, 60 minutes, CNN, Gloria Allred, and several lawyers in Texas and Louisiana.

Every local news station or news paper has an investigative reporter. You can google to find the official newsite and then look at their reporter’s profiles to find their email address. Most journalists respond to emails sent to them.

In addition, places like CNN, FOX News, or MSNBC are very interested in hearing these type of stories. They always have a contact page on their official website, with instructions to follow. You typically have to prepare a press release write-up, which can be a lot of effort, but you can always find sources online that can help you prepare a press release with your story. Include facts, such as how much you were paid (or not paid), how many hours you worked, what types of labor you did, and any other information that you think would be relevant to a media story.

How to Report to the Internal Revenue Service

Additionally, you can report financial indiscretions (such as political contributions, which are illegal or being underpaid as a church employee) to the IRS. On the IRS website, it talks about reporting a church to the IRS:

The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if the Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity. This reasonable belief must be based on facts and circumstances recorded in writing.

The IRS can obtain the information supporting a reasonable belief from many sources, including but not limited to:

  • Newspaper or magazine articles or ads,
  • Television and radio reports,
  • Internet web pages,
  • Voters guides created and/or distributed by the church,
  • Documents on file with the IRS (e.g. a Form 990-T filed by the church), and
  • Records concerning the church in the possession of third parties or informants.

The IRS must derive the facts and circumstances forming the basis for a reasonable belief from information lawfully obtained. If this information is obtained from informants, it must not be known to be unreliable.  Failure of the church to respond to repeated IRS routine requests for information is a factor in determining if there is reasonable cause for commencing a church tax inquiry.

You can find more information on the IRS auditing Churches here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/article/0,,id=181365,00.html

The Cycle of Abuse: Discipleship Programs

This blog deals nearly entirely with Master’s Commission abuse and recovery, but since December or so I’ve maintained a friendship with some of the Recovering Alumni from Teen Mania who’s stories are so similar to mine.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Teen Mania and Master’s Commission are both abusive discipleship programs. After all, they both take students away to be discipled away from their family and friends, and focus on militaristic rules, rituals and leadership, and force prayer and Bible study on their students.

When I first entered Master’s Commission, I’d heard of Teen Mania but didn’t know anyone who attended nor did I have access to seeing them or meeting them. Later, in my first year in Master’s Commission my roommate Tiffany kept trying to set me up with her friend who was in Teen Mania. She told me stories about all the missions trips he’d gone on and I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous–missions was my thing at the time.

Today I read Keith’s story on the Recovering Alumni site, and was (again) surprised how similar Keith’s story was to mine in ways. We had an unrelenting loyalty and obedience to our leadership. If they told us to jump, we’d say how high? Keith was obedient like I was. Keith always tried to be moral and do the right thing, and I was a lot like that when I entered Master’s Commission. My mom taught me to be respectful to people, and I interpreted that as obeying my teachers and elders.

Part of Keith’s story really hit me:

Other than these two minor things, the trip was going great and I was making good friends. Then one day, out of nowhere, while we were in the town square preparing to share the Gospel, my team leader came up to me and told me I was no longer allowed to speak with my closest male friend on the trip, Shane. I couldn’t even respond to my team leader because I was so taken aback. Shane seemed like a good guy and I thought we had a positive influence on each other. My team leader asked me if I understood what he was asking me to do and I said yes. He never told me why I shouldn’t talk to Shane but I just figured he would tell me later. For the rest of the day, I kept my distance from Shane as I was told.

Keith describes this incident and how he reacted in a way that I consider accurate to how I reacted every time I was told what to do in Master’s Commission. If I was told to do something that didn’t make sense, I was sometimes too shocked or scared to ask WHY and I assumed that (like a normal person) my leader would tell me later.

That talk, reason or excuse never came later.

Because we’d get rebuked or punished if we questioned our leaders, many of us were too scared to question our leadership. Like Teen Mania, Master’s Commission had a set of rules that were to be followed and if not, the ultimate punishment was being told to leave the program. However harsh our leadership was, we never thought that it would be a good thing to be kicked out. Such shame and disgust was surrounded with getting kicked out and we were taught that we’d be completely out of the grace of God (and walking with Satan) if we got kicked out.

And this is how the cycle of abuse held it’s power over us as new students. Eventually, we came into a position of leadership and the same tactics were used to make us behave in a way that was sometimes threatening to the students. We were threatened if we didn’t rebuke the students harsh enough.

Please read Keith’s Story and if you are a Master’s Commission Alumni please consider checking out Recovering Alumni. The site is a great resource for recovery.

Why I’m Not Afraid of Libel

Supreme Court

You’ve probably heard the term slander before. You may have even heard that I’m “slandering pastors.”

 

Incorrect.

 

The correct term would be “libel.”

Libel is written word against someone else, IF it is untrue.

 

Why am I not afraid of libel? Many reasons. The first is this: nothing I write about Daniel Jones, Nathan Davies or Lloyd Zeigler is untrue. I can either verify it (because it happened to me) or I have witnesses who can verify it happened. Multiple witnesses.

 

In 1964, there was a court case called New York Times vs. Sullivan. The case extended the protection offered the press by the First Amendment. L.B. Sullivan, a police commissioner in Montgomery, Ala., had filed a libel suit against the New York Times for publishing inaccurate information about certain actions taken by the Montgomery police department. In overturning a lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court held that debate on public issues would be inhibited if public officials could sue for inaccuracies that were made by mistake. The ruling made it more difficult for public officials to bring libel charges against the press, since the official had to prove that a harmful untruth was told maliciously and with reckless disregard for truth. (Source)

 

So, they would have to prove that I told a harmful untruth (STOPPED RIGHT THERE), and that I had a malicious and reckless disregard for the truth.

 

Case closed. I continue to speak. Join me. Or let them keep intimidating people into silence.

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.

Finding a Therapist

Today, I’m back at the therapist search. After moving, I ended up losing a great therapist who specialized in cults and destructive groups. She’s not accepting new patients, so that’s a bummer.

Searching for a therapist is HARD work. Right now, I’m fortunate to have two things I didn’t have before: a job and health insurance. This makes the search WAY easier.

Up until now, I’ve had to search for a therapist who offered a sliding scale (they offer you counseling services for as little as $10 a session based on your income) or attend therapy at my University Counseling Center (which were free, up to 8 sessions).

I’m now searching for a therapist who specializes in cults, PTSD or anxiety. How do I know to search for that? Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a psychologist and psychiatrist in my days (thanks to Kaiser Permanente and CSUN’s Counseling Center), and those have been the diagnoses. So, I try to narrow down my search to someone who deals primarily with those issues. Also, take time to familiarize yourself with terms such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) which is what your therapist will most likely use.

If you haven’t already done so, check out International Cultic Studies Association. They provide resources, articles and this helpful page on How To Find a Therapist.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers some information on PTSD, including Finding and Choosing a Therapist. Here, I went to Anxiety Disorders Association of America, where you can do a local search for therapists who specialize in anxiety disorders. Also recommended by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is Sidran: Help for Post Traumatic Stress and Dissociative Conditions. There’s an article on the site called What to look for and how to choose a therapist.

After looking at various resources from NAMI to Psychology Today, my advice is simple.

  • If budget is an option (if you have little to no working budget for therapy), ask around for referrals from a University or a city/county mental health office. If you can’t find individual therapy free or low cost, consider group therapy or classes in your area.
  • Look for someone who specializes in your specific issue. Do some research. Know what your symptoms mean, or at least have an idea before you go.
  • Be picky. If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist you chose, there’s nothing contractually binding you to stay in that relationship. If they’re not qualified, or tend to give you the impression they’re not a good fit, feel free to ask them for a referral.
  • Go as often as you feel comfortable, or as often as you can afford.
  • Remember that attending therapy is good for us (cult survivors) but it’s also something that can reopen existing wounds. Make sure you have a good support system of friends and family members who understand that this may be an emotional time for you. Sometimes an hour session can bring up emotions that last hours, days or weeks. Don’t be afraid of this, but just realize it’s normal for this to happen.
  • You might find it helpful to write things down. I keep notes of events I remember that I want to speak to my therapist about. I journal after visiting the therapist about what we talked about and any thoughts I had about it.
  • TIME HEALS and time changes things. Sometimes it takes years of therapy, years of talking about something traumatic, and even medication or alternative treatments to see improvement. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect change to come over night, but do keep working toward it and preserve your energy for positive improvement, positive relationships and a positive future.

Submission

Submission

It’s a dirty word, that every feminist hates.

Every rebel,

every child of Satan,

every one who is outside God’s blessings

hates the word SUBMIT.

 

It’s a dirty word that godly leaders hate to use, but they do it anyway, for our own good.

It’s for our benefit that they ask us to submit, to obey, to be subject to what God tells them.

Right?

That’s what I was taught for years. And it’s total MANIPULATION, CONTROL, AND ABUSE.

I pulled out my journal from 2002.

It was a notebook I kept in Master’s Commission, during my Second Year. The first year I’d be considered a “leader” and a “real discipler.”

It was also the first year I was put to work in the offices of Master’s Commission and had to stay up at all hours of the night discipling young women. Yet, I paid tuition to do this.

Several thousand dollars.

I paid.

To work.

In this notebook, I kept journal notes ranging on the subject of dating to how tired I was performing Hell’s Alternative (a play our Master’s Commission wrote terrifying “sinners” into accepting Jesus).

On this particular page I’d opened, the infamous phrase nearly highlighted itself: “SUBMISSION BEGINS WHEN AGREEMENT ENDS.”

Nightmares of Nathan haunting me with these words are going to flare up tonight.

I’ll bet you a dollar.

I’ll probably be standing over my own grave, next to Satan, with Nathan cursing me saying, “Submission begins….when agreement ends! Remember Lisa? If we don’t agree, you should SUBMIT! SUBMIT WOMAN!”

Haunting little montage playing out in my head.

Control tactics are subtle.

And they suck.

Think for yourself.

My Cult Life.

Who Died and Made You King?

There’s a relatively new song out called King of Anything by Sara Bareillies, which you’ve probably heard. I heard it today on the way to work.

There’s a part of her lyrics that really stand out to me.

Who cares if you disagree? You are not me

Who made you king of anything?

So you dare to tell me who to be

Who died and made you king of anything?”

I don’t really think this needs explaining. I think it’s pretty clear that I love these lines and if I had a “life” motto, this would be it. :)

AAAWBVVG5EM3

I Can’t Hear God Anymore, A Review

In Wendy J. Duncan’s book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, she tells an eloquent and heartbreaking story of when she first joined Trinity Foundation, a cult in Dallas, Texas led by Ole Anthony.

She opens the book with a quote from Margaret Thayer Singer: “Remember that none of us is beyond being manipulated by an intense, dedicated and persistent persuader…”

I’m already won over. Not only is it true, but it’s asserting that we, those who’ve left cults and abusive churches, are as normal as anyone else and our story could have happened to anyone. I already feel at home with Wendy’s words.

Duncan acknowledges the hours she’s spent researching, interviewing, and reliving her past, which is something I immediately can relate to. The amount of behind the scene hours that go into a blog seem tremendous, but to tackle the subject in a book is more than double. Duncan has quoted some well-known experts in field in her writing, to her credit and our benefit. I was introduced to several new books and experts that I knew nothing of before reading I Can’t Hear God Anymore.

The Same Ol’ Jargon

Some of Ole’s lingo is immediately recognizable to me, and it creeps me out and comforts me. I’m creeped out because Duncan’s description of Ole is so similar to my former pastors, Daniel Jones and Nathan Davies. For example, Doug and Wendy wanted to marry after dating for seven years. Ole took the same position that Davies and Jones took with me and many others: it’s the pastor’s job to be a “spiritual covering” and counsel you on who you should date or marry. As with Doug and Wendy, my leaders convinced me over and over that it was my sinful nature that wanted to date a particular man or think about marrying another one. The Trinity Foundation even uses the term “rebellious spirit” which is something that many of of us female former Master’s Commission students identify with. We were all told we had one.

I’m comforted, though, upon realizing that what I went through really is what I’ve assessed it to be: a cult. Over the years, I’ve shared with Master’s Commission friends that my therapists have said Master’s Commission was a cult, and upon further research, I determined it to be a cult. They looked at me really funny and some of them even said, “I thought you were crazy.” Many friends have given me the impression that I was dumb, or over reacting. Yet, I persisted in my research, and found more and more evidence of it being a cult. What Duncan does in her book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore, is map out the characteristics of a cult based on Michael Langone’s book, Recovery from Cults:

A cult has some form of excessive authoritarianism, but they’re different from the military because the military explicitly states the authoritarian structure and there is an accountability to an authority outside of the group.

A cult also exhibits excessive devotion to some person, idea or thing.

Uses a thought reform program to persuade, control and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices.)

Systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members.

Exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals.

What makes Duncan’s story even more reliable, is an article written about Ole Anthony, in The New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger in 2004. Televangelists were afraid of Anthony, because “over the past fifteen years, Anthony ha[d] waged a guerrilla war against televangelism—”a multibillion-dollar industry,” as he describes it, “untaxed and unregulated, that preys on the elderly and the desperate.’” (Bilger)

Already, I realize that Ole Anthony is a dichotomy. He’s got some common ground with some of us who believe that televangelists are a fraud who prey on people. He also later began ministry to the homeless, which he was praised for.

Anthony was described as an “evil child” by his Lutheran minister when he was six years old, and according to Burkhard Bilger, the writer for The New Yorker, the evil child continued into young adulthood where he stole cars, shot up heroin and lit a cross on fire.

After starting The Trinity Foundation, Anthony had been accused of leading a cult. “At one point, a man named Bob Jones (name changed at his request) brought in a list of pointed questions from the organization Cult Watch, and read them out loud at a meeting. “You know what a cult is?” Anthony told him. “It’s a place where someone tells you what to do in the name of God. If I ever tell anyone what to do around here, they should shoot me.’” (Bilger)

Anthony was confronted with his cult like characteristics and like the true charismatic leader he is, he denied it and put his life on the line to back up his claim.

Another interesting similarity to Daniel Jones and Ole Anthony is their recognition for community service. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jones joined the PRC (Pastor’s Resource Council, under the Louisiana Family Forum, a strongly Right-wing conservative group, who’s anti-gay, anti-feminist and pro-life) so his church could do some relief work. They received congressional recognition. Anthony began taking homeless people into his church community and his efforts reached the White House. President George H. Bush wrote to him, “Word has reached me of your outstanding record of community service. Barbara joins me in wishing you every success as you continue to set a fine example for your friends and neighbors.” (Bilger)

Duncan explains in her book why Anthony and leaders like him are so well-praised by prestigious groups such as Congress and the White House: “Cults depend on strong charismatic leaders. Without a charismatic type of leadership, cults cannot develop. Charismatic leaders have a strong need for power, enormous levels of self-confidence, and an unshakable conviction in the correctness of their beliefs. When a leader has the quality of charisma, he is able to arouse an extraordinary level of trust and devotion from his followers.

A Psychoeducational Approach to Recovery

To recover from the abusive environment of the cult, Duncan shares from Captive Hearts Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich. To promote healing and transitioning, Tobias and Lalich recommend a psychoeducational approach: ” a process of gathering knowledge and understanding of the cult experience and is a critical part of working through the shame and humiliation of finding yourself in a spiritually abusive group.”

Duncan also recommends professional help (as do most cult experts), and the support of former members. The group of former members she and Doug met with gathered to heal and provide support. They also identified words and phrases that were specific to The Trinity Foundation and “reclaimed” those words and “unload[ed] the language” of it’s cultic meaning so that the words and phrases that once triggered unpleasant memories would now hold new meaning.

I think what’s on most of our minds, and what was on Duncan’s was reestablishing her relationship with God. She examines how the groups such as The Trinity Foundation and other cults “uniformly distort God’s grace and character” and how it was most difficult to recover her relationship with God. Wendy and Doug decided to try a liturgical church such as Catholic or Episcopal, since Doug felt that evangelical churches were ruined for him by Ole.

I’ve often felt very similar, actually. On my departure from Master’s Commission and Our Savior’s Church, I attended a few different churches alone or with friends. I tried the Chi Alpha group at my university, the local Foursquare church, a few non-denominational churches, and some others. I felt most at home in a quiet Catholic mass my friends had invited me to.

I went with two friends, who “showed me the ropes.” They told me when to get on my knees, what page the song was on, and how to hold my hands to receive communion. The only thing I had trouble with, was that I was on the verge of a break down anytime I went. Anything church related made me want to sob in the middle of service, and this Catholic mass didn’t fail to make me cry. But, when I went, I cried in a different way. I cried because it was different than the evangelical experience I’d had. It was quiet, and reverent, instead of showy and loud. I could hear my own thoughts and prayers, rather than hear the person next to me praying out loud or yelling to God. When the priest gave his message, he read from the Bible and gave limited personal interpretation. It was thematic, but not contrived or full of personal opinion.

Wendy Duncan’s book is one I’ve enjoyed reading, and one that brought me to tears. More than that, though, it’s smart, genuine and encouraging. I’ll leave you with her discussion of Matthew 18 (a passage of the Bible which deals with a brother sinning against a person): “Much later, we were discussing this Matthew 18 issue with another former member, and he observed that if you do not feel safe to go to someone to discuss with them how they have offended you, then that person probably does not qualify as your brother. He has a point. I would not advise a friend of mine who was leaving an abusive husband that she was obligated to go meet with him to explain to him why she needs to leave. Once that sense of covering is broken it is broken, and the task for someone who has been abused is primarily to find a place to be safe and to heal.”

In Wendy’s words, let’s “go find a place to be safe and to heal.”

For more information about I Can’t Hear God Anymore visit: Dallas Cult or purchase on Amazon.

You can also read an article The Dallas Observer did on the book here.

If you live in or near the Dallas area, you can attend Individual Counseling Services with Doug Duncan, MS, LPC a professional counselor licensed in the state of Texas, or their FREE Support Group held on the fourth Saturday of the month.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.