In March 2011, I was a guest on a North Carolina public radio program to be interviewed for my involvement in a cult. I was able to share my story about living inside a cult called Master’s Commission and the effects the coersion had on me. My fellow guests were religion experts, James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Sean McCloud, an associate professor of religious studies and American studies affiliate at UNC-Charlotte; Benjamin Zeller, an assistant professor of religious studies at Brevard College.
James Tabor has special significance in the discussion of cults. He wrote a book called Why Waco? which examines the FBI raid of Waco, Texas/David Koresh.
What happened in Waco?
In a 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch outside of Waco, Texas, in McLennan County. Koresh, 54 other adults and 28 children were found dead after the fire.
[The FBI]…barricaded [the Davidians] in their building, seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh, did not survive the fire. Seventeen of these victims were children under the age of 17. The Danforth Report claims that those who died were unable, or unwilling, to flee and that Steve Schneider, Koresh’s right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and committed suicide with the same gun. Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including 5 children. Waco: The Rules of Engagement claims that FBI sharpshooters fired on, and killed, many Branch Davidians who attempted to flee the flames. While the few Branch Davidians who did successfully flee the fire supported this claim, the Danforth Report concluded that the adults who died of gunshot wounds shot themselves after shooting the children. Independent third party investigations refute the Danforth Report. On the final day of the Branch Davidian siege in 1993, aerial FLIR film was shot by the FBI that seemed to show automatic weapons fire directed into the burning buildings. Former Senator John Danforth, under the direction of Acting Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted a 14-month, $17-million investigation that exonerated the government of any wrongdoing.
In 1995 [James Tabor] testified before Congress as an expert witness on Waco and has urged both government officials and media spokespersons to drop the use of the prejudicial label “cult,” and approach such new religious groups with a combination of critical evaluation and a sympathetic attempt to enter the world view of those involved.
The cult I was in was called Master’s Commission. It was formed out of a mega church pastored by the TBN regular, Tommy Barnett. Phoenix First Assembly of God was a hub for televangelists like Joyce Meyer, Mario Murillo, and Jim Bakker to visit. On special occassions, we bussed in drug addicts and homeless people. It was here Master’s Commission (MC) ran for over twenty years, often posing as a secular group “City Conquest” to hold youth rallies inside public high schools and boost recruitment.
According to the MCIN website (the international oversight network for Master’s Commission), the history of Master’s Commission is as follows:
The idea for Master’s Commission was birthed while two men, Carmen Balsamo and Larry Kerychuck, were at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting Phoenix, Arizona. Larry was speaking a message entitled, “Who’s Your Hero?” and after that meeting they had a conversation with the brother of a Mormon missionary. This young man told Carmen and Larry that his brother was his hero because of his commitment to his beliefs. This young man had converted to the Mormon faith and forfeited a college scholarship to fulfill his 2 year Mormon mission in a rural part of America. The young man expressed how impressed he was with the commitment of the Mormon people to their religion and asked why Christians were not as committed.
As they walked away from that conversation, these two men desired to find a way for young, Christian men and women to give one-year of their life in service to God. They decided that they would first personally take that time frame and dedicate themselves to scripture memory, Biblical studies, outreach, witnessing and accountability to each other. They found, after that one-year period, their personal and Spiritual development was astounding and Carmen decided to offer an opportunity for others to be involved. Francis Graves, wife of church missions overseer Charlie Graves, was a great woman of prayer and came up with the name “Master’s Commission”. The initial group was 12 members and met daily at the campus of the Phoenix First Assembly of God Church in 1984. Tragically, in the early stages of Master’s Commission, Carmen Balsamo died from a sudden heart attack. Phoenix First Senior Pastor Tommy Barnett then introduced Pastor Lloyd Zeigler as the man to develop the program; Master’s Commission has exploded throughout his tenure.
Pastor Lloyd Zeigler transformed this concept from a single 12 member meeting into the nation’s leading discipleship program with over 100 affiliated programs worldwide. He also developed the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) in 1995 whose purpose was to assist the development of other Master’s Commission programs nationally and internationally. Pastor Zeigler currently still oversees and directs his own Master’s Commission program, the MCIN, and is the Lead Pastor of Relevant Church in the North Dallas, Texas area.
Master’s Commission comes from a line of ideology that can be classified as fundamentalist, dominionist and charasmatic. In 2008, Bruce Wilson wrote about Sarah Palins’ link to Master’s Commission and The Third Wave. Palin attended an Assembly of God church (like I did), and prayed over the Master’s Commission at their graduation ceremony.
There’s also a link between Jim Bakker, a good friend of Tommy Barnett’s, and Master’s Commission. Bakker runs a Master’s Commission at his compound in Missouri which is responsible for “interning” at his TV show. Pastor Lloyd, the founder of Master’s Commission, still visits Jim Bakker for speaking engagements.
I first attended Lloyd Zeilger’s program in 1998, when I graduated from high school. They had recruited me from a rally at my public high school from the group City Conquest. Later, I moved to Texas to do my second year of ministry training in Master’s Commission of Austin, a group ran by Nathan Davies that has now moved to Lafayette, Louisiana. The group has changed it’s name from Master’s Commission as a result of the controversies brought up in this blog, and they now have a new director. The group resides in Our Savior’s Church, one of the many church “plants” by Alex Jones. The photo below shows the church plants by Jones, a former Assemblies of God reverend who has links to Every Nation Ministries and the Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal and his wife who’ve spoken numerous times at their church. I left Our Savior’s Church in 2005.