This letter was sent to the founder of Master’s Commission, Lloyd Zeigler, and the leader of the MCIN, Eric Hunsberger on April 18, 2008. At the time, I had no idea I would ever make them public or start a blog. My intent then was to resolve issues I’d faced from my time in Master’s Commission which spanned from 1998-2005, which I considered abusive, cult-like, and in some cases illegal. My intent was to improve the student and staff member’s lives (at least future students/staff) so they didn’t have to face what I did, or at the very least to speak up so the leadership knew how I felt. That was the “Christian” thing to do, or so I thought. I knew my letters wouldn’t shut down Master’s Commission and they would continue with what I felt was abuse and control, but I knew my letters could let them know that they needed to change and that there were a growing number of alumni who felt “burned.” In fact, not long after I started my blog (in 2010), at least 20 former students sent a similar letter to Lloyd and the MCIN. They were read by the MCIN and an apology was issued to them. I did not receive one.
So, for those of you who are thinking about going to Master’s Commission or a discipleship program, read this and then know your rights before you enter. You have the right to be paid for your work for Master’s Commission or any church/ministry and you have the right to say no to anything and everything they ask you to do at any time without the threat of harm (physical or psychological). You have the right to report labor violations to the state and federally, or report to the police if someone hits you or sexually assaults you. You have the right to videotape, take pictures, share emails, take sound bytes, and distribute them. You have the right to talk about your horrors, to blog about them, to revolt, to stand the fuck up for yourself. You have the right to leave, to get out of that place, to never speak to them again, or to tell them to fuck off.
Read on for what I sent:
Dear Lloyd Zeigler and Eric Hunsberger,
This letter may come as a surprise after 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.
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 and Master’s Commission Industries. I seek dialogue to be opened up between the offending parties 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:
- 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), 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, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. 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.”
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.