This week, I’ve posted actual letters I’ve written to the pastors I worked for. The next letter in the succession is what I sent to the co-founder of the MCIN, or Master’s Commission International Network, Lloyd Zeigler. I sent this letter to Lloyd because each Master’s Commission group is under the MCIN umbrella and has to agree to follow a set of guidelines.
I urged Lloyd (and Eric Hunsberger, who heads up the Administrative side of the MCIN) to make note of what happened to me because I was speaking on behalf of several other students and staff members from Austin and Louisiana. I felt that was a responsible thing for me to do.
Lloyd and his wife called me as soon as they received my letter and talked to me for two hours. They apologized on behalf of Master’s Commission and said they weren’t aware of any of this until my letter came. Lloyd also told me if I felt I should pursue a lawsuit, I would have their support. I knew I’d have enough of a case to win a lawsuit, but my family has never been the type to pursue lawsuits. I also don’t think Lloyd realized that he’d be implicated in that same lawsuit, if I pursued one, because the Master’s Commissions in Austin and Louisiana were tied to his network of ministries and he might ultimately be responsible.
Lloyd said he’d be sending my letter to his lawyer to see if there were some things from it they could add into the MCIN guidelines to protect students and staff members from this type of thing happening, but he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas to start a new church after that phone call and that was never done (to my knowledge). He also said that because Nathan Davies was the Vice President of the MCIN he’d have to stand by him and support him, and I’d have to understand that. I didn’t and don’t understand that, actually. I think my letter and my demeanor on the phone must have been too mild to really convey the type of damage that was done to me and many others by this ministry for him to take Nathan’s side. Otherwise, Lloyd wouldn’t stand by and let young people get abused. At the end of the phone call, Lloyd told me to give his cell phone number to any of the people I was writing on behalf of, if they wanted to call him, he’d apologize to them and talk to them, too. I’d like to believe he really meant this, but I’m not sure because I gave his number to one of my good friends and she said he never answered her phone call or returned her voice mail.
Although I’m disappointed that this issue was completely discarded after my conversation with Lloyd and Tim, at least they had the integrity to call me and talk to me. For that, I am extremely thankful. However, the fact that young men and women are still getting spiritually abused and that my letter fell to people who just gave me lip service and ignored the rest of my pleas, is cause for me to need to talk about my experience.
The following is the letter I sent to Lloyd and Eric in 2008:
Dear Lloyd Zeigler and Eric Hunsberger,
This letter may come as a surprise as I’ve been out of Master’s Commission Industries in Lafayette, LA for three years; however, the issues I’m addressing in this letter are relevant to the future of the MCIN.
After spending a year in Phoenix in 1998-99, I feel I developed a respect for both of you (Lloyd and Eric) and that respect has carried on into my years as a staff member in Texas and Louisiana (under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson).
My writings here are not of an offended, immature Christian, but of a burden I feel from God to speak my heart on what has happened to me because I know I’m not the only person I’m speaking for. There are many silent staff members (former and current), and students (former and current) who have felt deep, intense pain and betrayal after leaving Master’s Commission. And more importantly, there are issues of manipulation and ostracizing that need to be heard and dealt with for the safety of the MCIN and the students and staff.
My suggestions and claims below are based on my own personal experience as a staff member and student of Master’s Commission of Austin (Director, Nathan Davies) and Master’s Commission Industries (Director, Tim Wilson in Lafayette, LA), under Pastor Alex Jones. I seek dialogue to be opened up between the offending parties (Davies, Wilson, and Jones) and the groups which govern or oversee them (MCIN). My wish is that change would come and MCIN would take responsibility for the changes that need to take place.
While I will not go so far as to say that all Master’s Commissions are cults, I will say based on my experience (and experiences of my peers), Master’s Commission Industries falls into the category of what experts call a destructive group or a cult. The reason I use these terms are based on studies that have been done on cults. The following are traits that Master’s Commission Industries has:
- A Totalitarian worldview: A group that approves of unethical behavior while claiming goodness and promotes the goals of the group over the individual.
- Exploitation: There is pressure to give money, to spend a great deal of money on special projects. Exploitation can be financial, physical, or psychological.
- Alienation: Separation from family, friends, and society, a change in values and substitution of the group as the new “family”.
- Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs; recruiting and fund-raising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure; use of “front groups”.
Additionally, some of the following are issues I have personally felt in my experiences in MC Industries (both under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson):
- removing people from their normal surroundings and friends, often with weekend “trips” and “retreats”
- sleep and sensory deprivation
- development of a deep emotional debt
- public confessionals
- low-risk relationships (unconditional acceptance)
- fear of punishment or damnation for even thinking about leaving the new “family”
- viewing all of the outside world as evil or satanic so that any desire to return to it is also evil.
Other things the group leaders imposed:
- leaders who claim divinity or special relationships with God and insist on being the sole judge of a member’s actions or faith
- demands for total control over members’ daily lives (one of the hardest to recognize once involved)
- isolation and exclusion from the surrounding community
- demands for control of members’ finances
- absolutist views toward difficult life problems and spiritual questions
- special (exclusive) promises of salvation or keys to spiritual understanding (i.e.: “It is only through adherence to our beliefs and our rules that you can be saved”).
During my time as a student or staff member, I made effort to resolve and voice my complaints while working for the above mentioned parties. However, when I brought up certain issues, I was both rebuked and harassed, or dismissed as unimportant. Equally as important as the psychological effects, are the the financial issues.
I was paid $100 a month for well over 60 hours of work, which is less than $0.40 an hour (40 CENTS). Only one year was my pay increased to $500 a month (and that was when I worked as a nanny for senior pastor, Alex Jones), which is around $2.00 an hour.
I am speaking up about these issues because there are many more staff members and students who are willing to give their heart to these ministries and may walk away harmed spiritually, financially, and mentally.
I am requesting that the Master’s Commission International Network and the Assemblies of God (or appropriate governing boards) investigate these issues and particularly Master’s Commission Industries. I ask that you, MCIN, take an aggressive stance toward these issues. Upon investigation, I would like to offer that they establish guidelines to benefit the future employees/students.
For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the students:
- Safe “complaint” system established that a student can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
- Guidelines established involving limitations on how much a director can dictate of a student’s “self-discipline.” Including, but not limited to dating, entertainment, music, clothing, etc.
- Establish clearly that the Director or Staff Member is NOT the voice of God for the said students and staff members and in no way should exercise such grossly misguided authority.
- Protection of the student from authoritarianism of a Director’s or Staff members by revoking a group’s affiliation with the MCIN, if deemed necessary.
- Guidelines and hours set to protect the student from over-work, long term exhaustion or fatigue, or physical ailments due to over-work for no (or very little) monetary payment. Following the laws that the Department of Labor establishes, according to www.dol.gov
- A board of directors for each Master’s Commission that should include parents of students or staff members. Also, a safe “complaint” system established in which a student or staff member’s parent(s), guardian or friend can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
- Regularly monitoring of activities, and teachings to prevent further development of patterns of cult-like teachings, destructive and harmful teachings and practices.
- Encourage students to engage in open relationships with their parents, family and friends and not to exclude or hide anything from them. To develop an “Open Campus” policy and Parent’s Board for parents to question policies, procedures, pay scale, work load and work schedules.
For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the staff members:
- Set, enforced guidelines regarding pay scale for staff members relevant to actual work done that would be in the secular environment in the specific metropolitan area. Additionally, following the Department of Labor laws on employment and minimum wage.
- Provide some type of minimum paid sick days and funeral leave standard to secular work place.
- Provide access or information to health benefits or coverage, and adjust pay to appropriate for health care. (Note: Health care and health benefits do not mean the state run insurance!)
- Provide paid vacation for full-time staff members, relevant to secular workplace.
- Provide mileage compensation for job related driving.
- Allow for staff members to date at their discretion, under advisement of the pastor only if the said staff member requests the advisement of a pastor. Take away the “No Dating” policy for students or staff members who are beyond their First Year. No dictating, scare tactics, or harassment of the staff member’s choices of dating.
Perhaps the greatest issue not covered is the issue of a person who leaves Master’s Commission (most groups included in this) is often ostracized. To ostracize is to: 1. exclude, by general consent, from society, friendship, conversation, privileges, etc. Ostracizing is what some modern churches do, but it’s wrong. If you don’t follow their tenants, you get excommunicated. After serving MC for several years, I followed the voice of God to go home. This voice of God that I heard was contrary to the voice of the pastors. What’s ironic here is that I followed the voice of God, but was shunned from their ‘bubble’ and my reputation was ruined within that ‘bubble’ for not obeying the pastor.
I have carbon copied a number of persons for this letter. Please know that I care deeply about the future of Master’s Commission, my former employers and their children; however, I would be doing a great injustice to the ministry itself, it’s pastors, and related friends and benefactors had I failed to bring these wrongs to your attention.
I speak also on behalf of many alumni and former staff members who did not wish to risk personal retributions or emotional trauma from resurfacing these issues. They now have a voice and I hope forgiveness and open dialogue can one day enter all of our hearts. As Pulma Gobodo-Madikizela says, “For in the end, we are a society of people and not ideas, a fragile web of interdependent humans, not of stances.”
Cc: Nathan Davies, Tim Wilson, Alex Jones
Resource: ACUI International Conference presentation “Desperately Seeking Community: The Appeal of Cult Leadership”, Mindy Griffith, University of Arizona. March 6, 2000, New York, NY.
Additional information on Cults obtained from Purdue University Counseling Center and
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Counseling Center.
Labor Laws may be obtained at the Department of Labor website: www.dol.gov