The Writing on the Wall:
The Memoir of Athena Carreiro Higgins,
a Former Disciple in the International Churches of Christ
- A Bit of Background and Preamble
- Before the ICC
- First Encounter with the ICC
- Studying the Bible
- My Baptism
- In Paris: My First Year in “The Kingdom”
- The “Honeymoon”
- The Reconstruction of the Paris Church
- Settling In
- The 1989 Boston World Missions Seminar
- My Problems Begin
- An Encounter with Kip McKean
- Trouble With My Conscience
- The New York Years
- Spiritual Boot Camp
- Discipled by Linn Beatty
- Depressed and Suicidal
- Reaching the Sharp People
- A Visit Home to San Diego
- The San Diego Years
- The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
- Jim Higgins is Baptized
- Point Loma and the Young Marrieds
- The Discipler from Hell
- The Reconstruction of the San Diego Church
- The Breaking Session
- The Rest of My Engagement
- The Wedding
- Confronting my Abusers
- Central Sector
- We Can’t Afford to Be Disciples
- A Bruised Reed He’ll Definitely Break: Kip McKean Comes to Town
- Money and the San Diego Church of Christ
- Back In West Sector
- The Seattle Years
- Restless in Seattle
- Scott and Lynn Green Return
- “You are No Longer A Member”
- “Saved” Once More
- Seeing The Light
- The Long Road Out of the ICC
- Masters of Deceit
- More Stupid Pet Tricks
- Meeting With Carol
- Carol Calls for Help
- Tired of the Lies
- The End of the Line
- The Aftermath
Although there are many accounts of personal involvement in the International Churches of Christ, I thought that I would add my story to the ever growing list of dissenters. I must state that I wish in no way to indict the entire “movement”, as I believe (because I have seen) that there are many members of the church who truly love God and strive to serve Him. Unfortunately, they are just as deceived as I once was.
My involvement in the International Churches of Christ has been a lengthy one — ten years. I have used pseudonyms only for those who are not in the full-time ministry. Frankly, all of us who have been involved in the movement are both victims and victimizers, thus mea culpa, mea culpa! However, I believe that those who get paid to propagate the message bear a greater responsibility.
In this essay, I am merely attempting to render an autobiographical account and will not delve into the weightier theological issues. My purpose and intent in writing this account is to demonstrate that what goes on in the “movement” is fairly endemic throughout. I have been a member of four churches in the International Churches of Christ — Paris, New York City, San Diego and Seattle — and I have met and known many of the key players. It is my desire in rendering this account that it will open the eyes of those who have persevered in the movement, in hopes that “things will get better.”
For the person who is considering joining this group, I hope that you will strongly consider what I have written and weigh it very carefully with other accounts. I would also strongly suggest to the ICC novice (and current members) to analyze Kip McKean’s “Revolution Through Restoration-Parts I-II” and compare and contrast it with the Bible. I think the reader will find it most enlightening.
Now onto my story…
I was raised Roman Catholic and spent twelve years in Catholic school. At 17, I renounced the faith in pursuit of something more Bible based. I have always loved God and have been interested in knowing more about the Bible. The Catholic Church that I attended had an excellent youth group and the leader was extremely involved and charismatic. It was through her that I began to get involved in an evangelical Protestant group.
However, the church that I attended had hypocrisy that I just couldn’t live with, so despite having been baptized, I walked away. I didn’t have much to do with God for the next few years as I felt somewhat disillusioned and thus, decided to pursue other endeavors.
I moved to Paris, France in the fall of 1985 and attended The American University of Paris, where I earned a degree in Comparative Literature. I had forgotten to bring my Bible during my first year of college, and when I went home for the summer it was the first thing I packed.
Although I thought about God intermittently, He was no longer my point of focus. During my senior year in college, my paternal grandmother had passed away. I was extremely distraught over this as I was very close to her while growing up. This event, coupled with my senior thesis (90 pages) and five other term papers which were due, meant that by the time I graduated, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
After graduation, I continued my job at the university over the summer, which allowed me to maintain ties with old friends. My grandmother had died of cancer, and that summer I had to see a cancer specialist as my physician had some concerns about a recent diagnosis. (It ended up being nothing). Needless to say, I was extremely upset about this. Here I was several thousand miles from home, alone and several of my friends had left for holiday or moved back to their respective countries. This was a major time of transition for me.
In retrospect, I see how incredibly vulnerable I was and how I was perfect fodder for recruitment, with few friends, no family in town and transitioning between schools.
Prior to these events, I was first met by someone in the church in Paris, France in 1987. However, I was not at all interested in attending a Bible Talk, but I remember that I never threw away the invitation. Upon later reflection, I wonder if I may have attended one of the Crossroads Movement Churches, as a girlfriend and I visited a church in Poway [outside of San Diego, California] in 1982. I remember it, and although I found the people to be friendly and genuinely excited about their church, I wasn’t interested as I lived too far away.
I met Carol McGuirk in August of 1988. She sat directly across from me on the bus and kept eyeing me. Although I look French and speak it fluently, I was wearing my American high school ring. Since she kept scrutinizing me and I could tell that she wanted to engage in a conversation with me, I finally said, “I speak English, you know.” (I have to admit I was quite the snob).
She seemed friendly enough. She told me that she was married to a church pastor, and invited me to her house for an informal Bible Talk. I told her that I used to attend a Bible Talk in San Diego and probably should start doing that again. We exchanged numbers, and I figured that I would never hear from her again. She mentioned that she would be in Boston attending a conference.
As good as her word, she called me — a lot. We had good conversations on the phone, but I really wasn’t all that interested in going. In an attempt to get her off of my back, I finally relented. Even my mom (who had been visiting at the time) said that I should go since that “poor girl” calls me all of the time.
She invited me to her house for dinner first — dinner was to be followed by the Bible Talk. She had arranged for a young man from the church to be there as well. One of the things that really impressed me was how many people they knew and how many friends they seemed to have. Having lived in Paris for awhile, it had taken me years to build friendships and get to know people. I remember the Bible Talk distinctly, and I even remember the Scripture they used. It was the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13). I remember that I “shared” at the Bible Talk, and said that I could see myself as having all of these hearts. I even cried.
They asked me to study the Bible, and we studied that night. I was very eager, as I loved to study, especially literature, and I was quite keen on learning more about the Bible! I studied with Carol and two other girls. One of the girls was originally from Madagascar, but had lived in San Diego, so we shared something in common. The other girl was from Sweden and she was an artist. We hit it off right away.
I was very receptive to the study and we did “The Word.” I had absolutely no trouble believing that the Bible is the Word of God, because I had studied this years before. I had attended a conference by Josh McDowell on this very topic, as well as several other conferences and debates.
We continued to study, and I was “extremely open.” I loved it so much that I went to two Bible Talks a week, Friday night Campus Devotional, Mid-week service and Sunday service. I made friends quickly and easily at the church. I remember my first Sunday and everyone was extremely friendly.
Despite my openness, I was also a very cynical, skeptical person. I distinctly remember thinking to myself: “Yeah, they are warm and friendly here, but they probably go home and yell at each other. This has to be fake.” I studied a lot and came to everything, I also repented of things on my own. I was encouraged and “lifted up” a lot. Being a natural extrovert, I fit in with the group really well.
I remember meeting Kip McKean while I was studying. I had met the McGuirk’s before church at a nearby restaurant and they made a big deal about this guy. I could literally feel his charisma. He was in town challenging the church, and I came to the Sunday service and during his message I just bawled. His preaching was so powerful and he was able to pound the fear of God into me so cleverly that I was ready to repent of things that I didn’t even do!
At one point during Kip’s visit, I remember feeling very upset that I couldn’t come to a meeting. Carol told me that the church was meeting, and that it was for members only. Since I was regularly going to everything, this really bothered and hurt me. She told me that she would especially ask Kip if I could go, but to no avail. In retrospect, I should have been very wary of any church that forbids non-members to attend certain services, since everything should be honest and open and in the light. I was youthful, naive and, despite my intellect, stupid.
As I was studying the Bible, I was already “sharing with others” about what I was learning. I remember sitting in a Parisian cafe with a college chum and he and I embarked on a conversation on the Bible. I distinctly remember him making a comment with which I heartily agreed, and with cigarette in hand, pulled out my Bible! I told him that after our luncheon, I was going to Carol’s house to continue my studies. (He ended up being so impressed with the changes in my life that he joined the church in April 1989. He later left the movement).
I studied for approximately three weeks on a daily basis. Having been a Comparative Literature major, I was constantly challenging the studies and bringing up various philosophers, writers and psychologists. I also remember arguing about getting baptized. Since I had already been baptized twice before, I couldn’t understand why I had to do this again. I even remember angrily saying to Carol, “Gee, and if I join another church what will they do? Have me run around the block three times in order to be saved?”
What finally sold me was my belief that the Bible is the Word of God. I naively believed that the Bible was what they were teaching me. Since I became convinced that I wasn’t really a disciple (not too hard since I was not very moral), I came to the realization very quickly that I needed to be baptized right away!
However, they kept telling me to wait. This really infuriated me. I remember telling Carol that if someone threw me onto the Metro (subway) tracks and I died, my blood would be on her hands.
The group had planned an event at “Diana’s” house, a sister who had worked at the US Embassy. She had a VCR and we watched “Upside Down”, a musical written by Steve Johnson (World Sector Leader and NYC Lead Evangelist) and Sherwin Macintosh. Everyone was just in awe of it, but when they asked me what I thought of it, I said,” All of those characters got baptized right away!” It was all I could focus on and I remember leaving the event feeling very disgruntled.
Later that week, right before mid-week, Carol and I had dinner together in a cafe and we “counted the cost”, although at the time I didn’t realize that that is what we were doing. She had made a big deal of this “last study”, but since Adrienne Scanlon hadn’t been feeling well, we weren’t able to meet. Nonetheless she felt confident that Carol would be able to conduct this on her own, and finally Carol told me that I would be baptized that night at mid-week service.
I remember feeling so excited. The church used to meet at Four Square Pizza in the rooms above the restaurant. It was owned by disciples who allowed our small group to meet there. Right after service I got baptized, and although I wanted to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!” in my mother tongue, I was told that I needed to do it in French in order to encourage the disciples. I remember sharing about my conversion process and being grateful for all of my new friends. I genuinely loved them and still do. I even shared a scripture (Matthew 28:18-20). The reason I chose it is because I liked knowing that Jesus will be with us always to the very end. I was baptized on November 23, 1988.
Fabienne Ravelomanansoa Descotes was assigned as my new discipleship partner. I remember saying thank you to Carol and John for what they did for me. I sensed that after this moment, Carol would not be spending that much time with me, as she needed to focus on others. Since I had so many new friends and understood her purpose, this did not bother me at all. I know that a lot of people usually feel abandoned once they get baptized, but I did not feel this way at all. I remember her husband, John, telling me that “this is only the beginning.”
When I reflect on this, however, I realize that after my conversion Carol and I were never really close friends. During my studies, she actually cried and told me that I was the best friend that she had prayed for and yet, after this, she usually only called me to a) rebuke me or b) call me higher. Never did she call me as a friend or just to chat. After I left Paris, she never kept in touch with me nor has she ever returned any of my calls. This is either love-bombing — fake — or perhaps Carol needs to take it higher. I will let my readers decide.
The first few months were definitely a honeymoon period for me. In six months I read the whole Bible, and they gave me a packet that covered the first 90 days of studies for new converts, which I devoured in three weeks. I remember, at my first Bible Talk after my conversion, that Carol kept bringing up how we needed to bring people, commenting that, “Even Athena, our baby Christian, needs to do this.” I remember feeling bothered by this because I hadn’t heard this before. I couldn’t understand why they were making such a big deal about it. My attitude was “of course, I’ll tell people what I have found. This is great news!”
I filed this in the back of my mind and vainly hoped that she would just drop it. I actually thought that at some point in the movement I would stop hearing about this and that we would actually focus more on Bible Study. How stupid I was!
I remember that, despite the honeymoon, there were some things that really bothered me. First of all, I got little sleep. Fabienne came over to my place all of the time and I found her to be controlling and manipulative. She would spend the night constantly, and insist that we wake up early for quiet times. She seemed to feel that what was mine was hers and that I should be glad to share my clothes and other belongings with her. Being an only child, I was not at all receptive to this notion and held my ground.
They were always pressuring me to move in with others and I flatly refused. I didn’t move out of my place and in with disciples until February of 1990. Even that didn’t last very long as I moved to New York City in April 1990.
In December of 1988, Randy and Kay McKean, along with their children Summer and Kent, moved to Paris. Everyone made such a big deal about it, and called them World Sector Leaders. I remember not really understanding the implications of this. At that time the Paris church was still a mission planting, and I felt distant and remote from the rest of the movement. It was virtually impossible for me to see, let alone understand, that the Paris church was one tiny cog in an enormous wheel. We were told that we should feel honored to have them in our group, since there weren’t very many leaders in the church of this caliber.
Fabienne and I were the first to baby-sit for their children. As it was Christmastime, the church decorated a tree for them. That was all that there was in their apartment at the time.
I remember liking the McKeans right away. Their son made a comment which I thought was cute, but Kelly Petre (an intern who went to Princeton University), laughed, not at what Kent said, but at me, which really hurt my feelings. I could tell that Randy sensed this, and the next time I saw Randy, he made an especial point to personally thank me for taking care of his children. I also respected Randy, but my respect was based on worldly reasons. He was an English major and I felt that we had a lot in common. He was also funny and engaging and I liked his preaching.
In January of 1989 the Paris Church underwent a “Reconstruction.” This was led by the McKeans and Frank and Erica Kim. Since I was a relatively new convert, there wasn’t a whole lot to go through; although I did have to go over my past sins, as well as some specific events in my childhood. There are some events that transpired that are of a deeply personal nature and out of respect for my family, I will not recount them here. Let’s just say that they are interesting fodder for the ICC.
Using my past against me, Kay was able to manipulate me into believing some things that I probably should have never believed. Later, this would play a role in my life, as the leadership was worried about me being near my family and being subjected to their influence. Because of this, Kay McKean strongly lobbied for me to move to New York City.
One thing that I do remember about the Reconstruction (apart from it being extremely emotional and spiritually draining) was the mention of my appearance. I looked like a punk rock chick — I dressed in black, wore harsh make-up and needed to lose weight. I was also challenged to not read any literature for a year!
I told Kay that I refused to look like some loser Christian with a flowery skirt and be a bumbling ignoramus. I flatly refused the challenge. She told me that, since I read so much, I was too easily influenced by secular thinking, and that she would prefer that I read the Bible instead. We finally agreed that I could read as many newspapers as I wanted to a day. (I used to read four.)
I remember walking out of the meeting feeling very angry. Carol was trying to encourage me and kept asking me how I felt. I think she could tell that I wasn’t too happy with things, and she told me to go home and pray about the challenges.
I think one of the things that has always bothered me about the ICC are the constant tolls on one spiritually. I always felt as though I was struggling or wrestling with things spiritually, as if I was at war with myself. Apart from some trauma experienced in childhood, I know of no other situation in my life that has ever caused me such angst. Unless you have gone through this, it is really difficult to explain the feeling and depth of the experience. It is harrowing, to say the least. It also leaves scars.
I went home and like a good disciple “prayed about it.” Then I picked up something to read, and tried not to think about it. Carol called me the next day and asked how I was doing in my repentance. “Fine!”, I snapped. She told me that it didn’t sound like I had repented and that I needed to work on my repentance some more. She discussed that I would make a greater impact if I changed my appearance.
Carol has a way of being alternately loving and gentle and harsh and controlling. Since she converted me, I cared for her very deeply and sincerely believed her to be a true friend. After our conversation, I remember feeling extremely angry. I was crying and yelling and saying, “Fine, if you want me to repent, I will blow your socks off!” I remember pulling out my case of make-up and trying to change “my look.” I also looked at the clothes in my closet, but the brightest colored clothing I owned was gray!
The next day I went to Galleries Lafayette (a French dept. store) and bought a lavender cardigan! I didn’t really care for the color, but I was trying to make a point! I also softened my hair and make-up and marched into “devo.” You would have thought that a movie star walked into the joint, with all of the fuss and clamoring that the disciples made over me. Kay McKean was so thrilled that she actually had Carol pulled out of children’s ministry to come and see her disciple. I was placed on the membership list that night. I was the 54th member of “L’Eglise du Christ de Paris”.
In retrospect, all of this sounds ridiculous, particularly since I can see no biblical mandate for it. Although I am sure that Jesus’ apostles were presentable, no emphasis was ever made on their appearance. How absurd to be challenged to repent of one’s appearance. The Bible teaches that we must repent of sin. Since when is it a sin to have spiked hair and wear black? I admit that my appearance was probably a little off-putting and intimidating, but it wasn’t sin.
However, I was like putty in their hands, because “to leave the movement, is to leave God” and I certainly did not want to do that.
After the reconstruction, things were going really well for me at church. Kay McKean had taken quite a liking to me and I got to be one of her interpreters. I also taught her French and introduced her to the Alliançe Française. I did simultaneous translation at a conference one summer in Paris as well as several Bible Talk leaders meetings. I also spent a lot of time with Kay and I remember her as being very kind, caring and gentle.
One time after I helped her with a written translation, we were riding in a taxi to Carol’s house and she reached out and touched my arm and said, “I really want to be your friend.” She started telling me about a biography that she was reading on Shirley Temple Black. I remember thinking that she seemed so genuine and sincere.
On May 8, 1989 (I have a very keen memory for dates and other minutiae), I embarked on repenting even further on my appearance. I went on the Hilton Head Metabolism Diet (a kingdom favorite) and lost 40 lbs. I was constantly being lifted up for my appearance and for radically going after my weight problem.
That June, the Paris church went to London for a conference entitled “The Power and the Glory.” Doug Arthur preached one of the most amazing and humorous messages that I had ever heard. I was so impressed that I bought the tape.
I loved visiting the London church. There were disciples from all of the European plantings at that time — Stockholm, Paris, Munich and London. It was very exciting. I remember Joyce Arthur preaching that all of us would be leaders in God’s movement, and that we had all of Europe to reach. It was very inspiring.
One of the things that I liked about London was that there was a lot of energy. The French are exceedingly reserved. Being American at heart, it felt kind of good to let loose and yell and cheer. The church had a concert, and all of the Londoners were dancing and clapping. The French delegates sat there with legs crossed and hands clasped in their laps. I couldn’t take it any longer and jumped up on my chair and danced. A few other French disciples joined me and we had a lot of fun.
Fabienne and I stayed with a disciple and her daughter. They were very warm and welcoming. The disciple actually had us sleep in her bedroom, and placed a large basket in the room filled with all sorts of goodies. I felt very at home there, and was so impressed with my new “family” in “the Kingdom.”
In August 1989, the Paris church left for the World Missions Seminar in Boston. This was absolutely amazing. The church met in Boston Gardens, and it was so exciting to see thirteen thousand disciples from all over the world. Since we were foreign delegates, they had planned special events and tours for us. We got to visit the student disciples at MIT and Harvard. The MIT students were charged with showing the Paris students around the city. We had a great time.
Since I hadn’t been in the States for a few years, I was very excited to be home. I remember having a wonderful time and feeling really “fired up.” My mom came to the conference, and even she was impressed with the energy and zeal, and with Kip’s preaching. I also had an opportunity to preach in Boston, as I did simultaneous translation for one of the classes.
All of us were so exhausted upon our return to Paris that I didn’t receive any phone calls for three days. Not only was the conference itself exhausting, but we also had to contend with jet lag. I remember Brian Scanlon commenting that he felt like he had been in a marathon. I remember not feeling that tired. I was so excited that I was ready to win the world for Christ.
I had already been “fruitful” twice by this time and late that summer, I met another woman who would also become a disciple. By the end of summer, I was appointed an Assistant Bible Talk Leader. Everyone always made such a big deal about being in leadership. I could have cared less about it, however.
During my first year as a disciple, I was a student at the Sorbonne. I was working on my French and going through a battery of entrance exams as I was trying, not only to become a matriculated student in the French system, but also to gain entry into the film studies program at the Universite de Saint Denis-Vincennes. I was accepted, and was the only American in the program.
This is where my real problems began. Prior to becoming a disciple, I was quite the “cinephile.” I used to go to the movies on average of three times per week. The demands of the scholastic program, coupled with the demands at church, began to present some problems for me. Church took up a considerable amount of time. As a foreigner I had twice the work load of a native French student because I was working in a second language in a vastly different academic system. Being in the campus ministry is especially grueling, because one is expected to do things constantly and there is little time to get studying done, let alone grocery shopping and laundry.
At this time, I was in Bruno Prière de la Comble’s Bible Talk with his then girlfriend (now wife) Katharina. She was also my new discipleship partner. I liked her a lot, and she had specifically asked to disciple me as she “personally wanted to groom me for leadership.” I remember going to Bible Talk and feeling very distracted. I couldn’t wait for it to be over so that I could immediately leave and go to the movies. (My film studies program had a film viewing requirement). I remember really “struggling” over this and was made to feel like I had to “count the cost.” When I was baptized, I never really felt like there was any cost, because it seemed so obvious to me. However, at this juncture, it was very different.
I remember saying that I had really prayed about it and had worked hard to get into the program. It took me one year, not to mention the considerable expense of having all of my documents translated in order to get accepted by the French University system. Brian Scanlon said to me that, although I had prayed about it, it did not necessarily mean that it was God’s will for me to attend that school. Spiritually I was not doing well at all. I was depressed, bored and angry.
That fall Kip McKean came to Paris to preach at a leader’s meeting. I will never forget it. I was at the height of struggling and was so upset at having to go to a leader’s meeting on a Sunday evening that I almost did not go. It got so late that I had to take a taxi. I was late for the meeting and Kip was already in high gear. I remember his angry little foot steps running back and forth across the floor boards. He was yelling, “if we could peel back the floor and look down into the pit of hell, what would we see? If we could peel back the sky and look into the face of heaven what would we see?” Kip has a way of preaching that shakes one down to the bones. I remember feeling terrified.
After his message everyone quietly and reverently got in their discipleship groups. I had to talk to Kip. He was standing at the front of the church and looking at everyone. I went up to him and said that I wasn’t going to come that night, but after hearing him preach, I was glad that I did. I started crying and he gave me a huge hug and actually held me in his arms and said very softly and gently, “What? You weren’t going to come tonight?” Elena McKean came up to me and stroked me on the cheek.
Kip asked me who I was close to. By that time I had developed a great friendship with Adrienne Scanlon. Kip called her over. She came over immediately and so did Kay. He told them what I had said and instructed them to help me. Adrienne called me every day. During one of our conversations, she told me that Kip had called from Boston to personally ask how I was doing. She said that he “knows a ministry girl when he sees one.” This really encouraged me a lot.
Finally, I made a decision to quit film school altogether and work full-time at the international law firm where I had a part-time job. I had asked my boss for a raise, which I received.
Brian actually preached about my faith and courage during one of his messages and he said that God had blessed me by giving me a raise. However, shortly thereafter I came to the realization and conviction that, since I was on a student visa in France, I was there illegally. Thus it became imperative for me to return to the United States.
Kay did not really want me to go as I was only one of nine disciples who not only had been fruitful, but had personally met, studied and baptized someone in French –I was too valuable a commodity for them to lose. However, I stuck my ground and said that it would be completely unrighteous for me to be in France against the law. I had too much love and respect for my host country and, having gone through the necessary paperwork to stay legal (talk about bureaucracy!), I greatly feared being “found out” and getting deported.
This reminds me of something that I feel is very important to include here. That summer of 1989, I remember Randy McKean mentioning that the Paris church wasn’t set up as legally as it should have been and that we owed some back taxes to the tune of $80,000! The churches in the eastern seaboard had taken up a contribution to cover the costs.
I remember feeling very grateful for those churches and their generosity, but I also remember feeling upset with the church leaders here. One of the things that really bothered me about them was their “American-ness.” They seemed to refuse to understand French culture and fully acclimate to it. All of the activities the church had were very American. I also remember feeling like the leaders were very foolish to not ask those of us who spoke the language fluently, and had lived in France long enough to understand the nuances of French character and culture, for more input and advice. I think that this would have saved a lot of turmoil and stupidity.
Another thing that I remember and feel that it is important to add is that the church in Paris started in 1986 with Frank and Erica Kim and Tom and Anne Turnbull. Those who had been converted prior to the reconstruction of 1989 had lived under tremendous abuse and tyranny. There were many disciples who lived in fear of leaders. I remember Kay McKean mentioning this to me. I wish that I had taken the time to question this further.
I also should have questioned why so many people walked away from what was supposedly “Truth.” The old adage rings true: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” I should have asked those who left, why they left. Nonetheless, I just filed this in my memory bank.
I left Paris on April 10, 1990, and per the strong advice of Kay McKean, I moved to New York City.
My experience in New York City can easily be defined in one word: nightmare! I liken my tenure there to that of spiritual boot camp, for that is exactly what it was! For the first three weeks I stayed with two sisters in their apartment in (of all places) Hell’s Kitchen. My mom was not too pleased with any of this. I landed a terrific job in New York at CBS and worked at the Blackrock Building, which is their corporate headquarters.
After getting this job, I immediately moved in with Terri Gramling Hepner, who was an intern for the church. We lived with another sister, “Marie Jenkins.” The three of us rented a cracker box apartment with giant roaches for $1,200 a month. Great area though — it was on West 82nd and Central Park West. The apartment was so small that you could barely fit a bed in the bedroom.
I hated living there. Terri and Marie were extremely legalistic, self-righteous and immature. I had known Marie in Paris. She was emotional and overly sensitive and also insensitive and bullying towards others. I also got duped into paying a lot more rent once Marie moved back to the southwest. Terri told me that I could pay more rent and it would be considered as my “contribution.” Yeah, right — I was still expected to give every week on top of the high rent.
When my mom came to visit me, she was appalled at my living situation, and said that it reminded her of a flop house. Terri was not great at keeping the area clean. While my mother was there, she had dyed her hair and left hair dye running over the side of the tub. Terry had also borrowed (without asking) a pair of my Chanel earrings and broke them. She actually glued the broken earring back together with super glue. I was upset with her, and explained to her that these were very expensive earrings. Frankly, I was amazed that an intern from the church behaved this way.
Since New York is a city on the go, the disciples are exactly the same way. My first impression of the church was that there was a genuine lack of love. Everyone was in such a hurry that individual people did not matter much. I was very disgruntled by this, and extremely unhappy and depressed. I kept calling Adrienne in Paris and telling her how upset I was with things.
Finally, things got so bad that Terri talked to Linn Beatty about me. She mentioned how “sharp” I was and thought that I would be perfect for the new ministry that they were forming. Terri arranged for me to meet Linn and that is how I came to be involved in the “Eastside Zone.”
The “Eastside Zone” was led by Steve and Lisa Johnson and Barry and Linn Beatty, and the focus of the zone was to “reach out to the prominent.” The Johnsons (World Sector Leaders-ACES) had just moved back to New York from Africa. Apparently, Steve Kinnard had begged the Johnsons to move back as the church had had several hundred fall-aways and things weren’t going well.
None of this surprised me at all. I felt like this church was a mess. To give the reader an idea, Lisa Johnson actually had to preach that no one was to borrow anything from anyone. Apparently, someone had lent their car which got lent to someone else, who lent it to someone else and so on, that the car ended up getting lost! Yes, this actually happened.
I really liked Steve and Lisa Johnson. They were both extremely warm and caring. Steve had this way about him that was very soothing. Whenever I was at their apartment (penthouse), he used to lumber towards me and give me a great big bear hug. Sometimes I would get insecure and think, “Gee, do I look like I need a hug?” I was going through extreme depression at the time, which I will cover in greater detail later. Lisa is genuinely warm, witty and caring. She is one of the most down to earth people and a great listener. Honestly, I really liked them both.
Parenthetically, I must add that I recently saw Steve Johnson in Seattle in the spring of 1998. He was vastly different from the man I remembered in New York. Even my husband commented on it. “That’s the guy that you always spoke so glowingly about? He doesn’t seem like anything to me.” What Jim said was so true. It was as if Steve were an empty shell, a shadow of a man. It was eerie. He had a vacant stare and was so still and bizarrely serene. (If you have ever seen the film, “The Stepford Wives,” it was something like that).
Sorry for the digression. Back to New York…. Since I hadn’t been discipled in a long time and was very disgruntled, Linn told me that she would be my discipler. (Actually, I wanted a discipleship partner because I was lonely and needed a friend). I was thrilled! Linn Beatty is impressive. She has this ability to be so focused on Jesus that she does not care what people think about her or how they perceive her. This translates to her as being nonplused by even the most impressive person. I honestly believe that she could have met the President of the United States and could have cared less about it. Her attitude would have been, “So what? He’s lost and needs Jesus.” I have never met anyone so singularly focused.
Another thing that I found impressive about Linn is her willingness to step in, get involved and help. She was probably one of the busiest people I have ever met, and her lifestyle was so frenzied that I don’t think she ever knew the meaning of rest. It amazed me that she could keep up that pace. These were her good points.
Since we’re both strong and opinionated people, Linn and I butted heads frequently. I remember one time I went to church, at the beginning of what turned out to be a very lengthy depression. She came up to me and said that she, “…was sick and tired of me just straddling the fence all of the time, and you need to figure out if you are in or out, but I’m just plain sick of it!”
I was outraged at her lack of sensitivity and harshness. I was beginning to get very depressed over some things that had happened to me in childhood and they were beginning to surface. Since I hadn’t told her about my childhood, she wasn’t aware as to why I was so depressed. I was so angry that I grabbed my bags and was ready to leave the church for good. Then something inside of me said, “You are going to leave God because of someone else?” I honestly believed that it was the spirit of God prompting me to think this, so I stayed.
Another time I was out and about with Linn, and she told me that she had heard from others that I had said some disparaging things about her. She told me that I was being divisive and then she warned me. She said ominously, “You have been warned.” I never really understood this, as it seemed to come right out of the blue. There wasn’t any instruction or explanation; she just seemed to be on the rampage. It kind of scared me.
Her reaction was also complete hypocrisy, as I know for a fact that the leaders often say disparaging things about the disciples, as well as people who are studying the Bible. In fact, I remember one time we were studying with a woman who did not want to join the church. Linn told us that she was a “weak-willed woman” who was unwilling to repent and wanted to “live in immorality.” If that statement is not divisive, what is?
Actually, a lot of people had attitudes with Linn. As I said before, she will totally get involved and put her whole heart and soul into you. However, it is all done in hopes that you will rise up and be a leader. If this does not happen, she moves on to the next “flavor of the month.” It was in New York where I saw a lot of praise of men. I remember one young woman, who eventually went into the full-time ministry, get lauded and praised ad nauseum. She was a teenager and Linn loved to quote Paul’s statement to Timothy, “Let no one despise you because you are young.”
I also recall Linn preaching about me anonymously and saying that she knows of a disciple who was disgruntled about not having a discipleship partner for awhile. She preached that we needed to be mature and disciple ourselves. Although she didn’t state my name, those who knew me knew who she was talking about.
Since she was so focused on making things happen and seemed to thrive on a frenzied pace, she completely lacked sensitivity. She literally bowled people over, and left a lot of human debris in her wake. This calls into question the genuineness of her love, for the Bible teaches that a true friend loves at all times. Yet her love was so conditional. She did not stick by you if she felt that you were not repenting or living up to your full potential. She seemed to have this belief that she could raise up great leaders for the kingdom based on her experience and expertise. However, the cost was high as it left a lot of hurt people. It is all so sad really.
I brought a visitor to church and Linn started to reach out to her. We were at Linn’s house and her oldest son was acting up. She excused herself and went to discipline him. She spanked him with a wooden spoon and he howled in reaction to it. My visitor was visibly shaken by this — it was obvious that she was terribly upset. I took this “discipline” of children for granted, as it is very common in “the Kingdom.” Literally everyone I knew at church who had children did this. However, that was the last time I ever saw this visitor. She never returned my calls and when we left, she couldn’t get out of there fast enough. She kept talking about it and I tried to reassure her using Scriptures. She refused to listen.
In retrospect, I see how wrong this is. The rod referred to in Scripture was used in tending sheep — it was never intended to be used in hitting them.
Although I have recounted having these problems with one of the leaders in NYC, I honestly do not have any attitudes with her. When I left New York, I sent her a very long letter detailing some of the issues I had with her handling of people in the ministry. I am pleased to say that she called me when I was in San Diego and wanted to make sure that I felt these had been resolved. I told her that I did, and that I forgave her. Nonetheless, I feel that it is important for people to know the truth about what happened to me. If someone is getting paid God’s money to shepherd others, I feel then they had better watch their life and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). What I have written is true, and I realize that I must give a full accounting to God at the judgment seat.
In December of 1990, I moved in with a wonderful sister “Joanne Fuller.” We’ve kept in touch all these years and she is very special to me. She is a photographer, and is creative and talented. We had a lot of fun together, loved the same music and hung out a lot. She was such a great servant, and I always felt that the leaders took advantage of her. She had gotten unfairly laid off from her job, and Leigh Kinnard used to ask her to baby-sit all of the time. It disgusted me that the Kinnards never paid Joanne for her hard work.
Moreover, I told Joanne that she needed to get out and look for work, and that to baby-sit for the Kinnards while they went to their staff meeting was keeping her from accomplishing this. As a result, poor Joanne ended up getting into deep debt, which she is still contending with.
I know that during this time I was not easy to live with and I have great regret in what I put Joanne through, for which I humbly beg for her forgiveness. I got into such an acute depression that I attempted suicide on more than one occasion. I was filled with such anger and self-loathing that I actually began to practice self-mutilation. At one point, I got so bad that I had bruises and contusions on my head and arms, as well as bite marks on my arms.
It was during this time that a lot of disciples in New York suffered with suicidal ideations. A special group was formed and “Dr. Davis” led a counseling group free of charge. This man is a saint and I owe my sanity to him. (He later left the movement.) All of us in the group were extremely depressed, distraught, melancholy and many were suicidal. (One woman was hospitalized and another brother had also attempted suicide.)
Although most of us had legitimate reasons for being depressed, I now can’t help but wonder if I was depressed because of what the group was doing to me. It also calls into question the validity of the movement. If this is the movement of God, then why were so many people trying to kill themselves? Suicide and suicidal ideations are far more common in the movement than people think.
Another element that I would like to point out is the feeling I often got from the New York disciples who pointed out that I was “out of touch” with my feelings. These statements often got me to question myself and make me wonder how had I been so “out of touch” with myself for 27 years?! These statements gave me the feeling of doubt and uncertainty to the point that I felt I didn’t know myself at all. When you are made to feel like you are “out of touch” with your feelings, you then become uncertain how or what you do actually feel.
Moreover, the lifestyle was unbearable and unrealistic. Apart from all of the “meetings of the body” (there were several weekly), one was also expected to study the Bible with potential converts at all hours of the night and be willing to go anywhere to do it. This included Harlem, Spanish Harlem and Alphabet City, the Bronx and Brooklyn, too. New York is as dangerous as they say it is — I called it the concrete jungle. It was unrelenting and, compared to Paris, ugly. Since I was in leadership at the time, I wouldn’t get home from leaders meetings until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. on Sunday evenings, and then Linn expected us to tell our Bible Talk what we had learned. She would follow-up on this, too.
I remember one time I was asked to go with someone to Spanish Harlem to study the Bible. I had just started my job at CBS and, of course, was in professional attire. This sister met me and took me to one of the projects. There were bullet holes in the elevator, and the place smelled of urine. I was incensed with this woman. I didn’t mind going to the project as much as I minded being over-dressed and out of place — I felt that this compromised my safety and put me in jeopardy. She actually admonished me for my worldly attitude!
It was amazing, but the majority of disciples there possessed this attitude. They were completely willing to go anywhere and do anything. Although this is noble, it is completely misguided and idiotic. God gave us a mind and we need to use it. We also need to have a little common sense and wisdom. New York is a big, dark and dangerous city and it takes “street smarts” to survive there.
My depression lasted for several months. I attended the therapy group from December of 1990 through August of 1991. This was an extremely dark and dreary time for me — I wasn’t excited about my relationship with God and was even less excited about the church. I liked some of the people there, but not many. I spent the next several months thinking about falling away. Each “meeting of the body” was a grueling battle — I had to drag myself to the meeting. There were a lot of times I was tempted to walk into Central Park and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead of going to church.
The only really good thing that I can say about the church is that the singing is superb. Those folks sing like angels, they really do. It is just beautiful. Despite my depression, I did manage “to reach out” to people. I was instrumental in converting a Jewish girl, and a girl from Great Britain, who was baptized in Steve Johnson’s bathtub. I also had quite a “follow-up list”, and was known for going out and evangelizing nearly every evening, for which Linn Beatty “lifted me up.”
One of the things I hated about my time in New York was that I was totally dependent on the church. Since I had no family there and no roots, the church became all encompassing. The problem was that I didn’t like the church. Many of the disciples were pushy, legalistic know-it-alls. There are a couple of people who stick out in my mind as being really terrific. One fellow (I was in his wedding) is truly wonderful. I will always love him for his genuine compassion for me — he is the best.
I came to the realization, however, that I moved to New York per Kay McKean’s advice and that, frankly, I wasn’t one hundred percent behind this advice. I vowed to myself that I would never again do something that wasn’t really in my heart to do. This was a costly lesson. Part of me is angry at Kay, not only for her manipulation, but for knowingly putting me in a situation that demanded complete reliance on the church.
The zone that I was in did not have Bible Talks. We had evangelistic outreach events instead or “parties” specifically geared for recruiting. For some reason I never looked at it this way; I honestly thought I was reaching out to the “lost” and that my purpose was noble. The church reflects the city it is in — there are many extremely talented disciples. We had an outreach party for artists, another for performers, and others for financial analysts, professionals and those in the media field.
I realize now that the Eastside Zone, although nobly intended, was extremely divisive. There were a lot of people who went to Ivy League schools, had high powered jobs and other qualifications who felt that they should have been included in that zone. It wasn’t until friends I had made outside of that zone had expressed this to me that I saw and understood the divisions it created. However, it also made me proud and special to be considered “worthy” to be in this group.
The dating life in New York left a lot to be desired. The sisters far outnumbered the brothers, and there were even fewer brothers that one would even want to date. I remember being interested in a brother named “Byron”, who spoke French and worked at an art gallery. I really liked him and he was quite the “evangelizing machine.” He also ended up being a creep to me. In fact, he was so mean that I talked to his discipler, who really let him have it. (His discipler furious with him for his mistreatment of me.)
I actually ended up going steady with Byron’s roommate “Stefan”, a nice, unassuming young man. Unfortunately, we had very little in common, and I found his lack of ambition to be unbearable. Once I broke up with him (in early March), I was not asked out on a date until September! The only reason that I was even asked out then was because I told a brother that I hadn’t been asked out on a date for awhile. Joanne and I used to call ourselves the “dateless wonders.”
I also started putting on weight during this time due to depression and unhappiness.
In February of 1990, I went home to San Diego for a visit. I had a wonderful time and thought about moving back there. I was great friends with “Edwin Gunther”, who I had met in Paris, and we had maintained the friendship. He was like the little brother I never had. When I got to San Diego, he took me out every day and introduced me to all of his friends at San Diego State University.
At that time, the church had a great ministry at SDSU. By the time I moved there, though, it was in shambles. People fell away in droves — Edwin was one of them. His whole house church (20 people) left the church simultaneously. Despite its status as a “pillar church,” it was weak.
In spring of 1990, I applied to Columbia University. I was accepted in to the Masters of Education Program and was slated to start that fall. I remember getting my results that July, on the day that my discipler (I had a new one by this time) and I were leaving to go to Terri Gramling’s wedding (my former roommate) in Philadelphia. We had a long talk about it and she suggested that I defer my plans until the following year, so that I could go back to San Diego and work things out with my family. This sounded like (and was) great advice, and I told her that I would think about it.
In August, I was mugged at knife point at the 72nd Street subway station (below the Dakota) and decided I’d had enough of New York. I immediately tendered my resignation at work, and a month later left for San Diego, on September 19, 1991.
I am reminded of the opening line in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities when I think of my time in the San Diego Church of Christ — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” My tenure in the San Diego Church was the longest of any in the ICC — I was there for a total of five years. By the time I left, I was so attached and fond of so many disciples that I felt like I had been converted there. I reasoned that this was a good way to feel about a place. However, what I went through in that legalistic and pharisaical dumpsite has left me scarred and war torn.
I lived with my father for the first year I was back in San Diego. This turned out to be a wonderful experience, and I am so glad that I did this. I remember going out on a date with a brother shortly after my arrival. We got in a fight about my living situation; he was aghast that I was living with my father and “challenged” me to live with disciples. I told him that there was no Biblical mandate on the matter and that he was being legalistic. He cited Psalms and I told him that the Psalm says that it is a blessing for the brothers to live in unity. I also commented that most disciples lived in complete squalor, and were disorganized, irresponsible and utterly disunified.
I also told this brother that part of my therapy included me being reconciled to certain members of my family, and admonished him for jumping to conclusions without first finding out the facts, adding that Lisa Johnson had stressed we were never to insist that disciples live with other disciples because this was not a command from the Lord. We therefore had no right to made such demands!
We were arguing in the car, and I remember feeling so angry that I wanted to immediately go home and get away from this Pharisee! As fate would have it, he later became my house church leader.
However, this exchange turned out to be symptomatic of the experience that I was to have in the San Diego Church. If I had to define the San Diego Church in one word, it would be: “legalistic”! Legalism abounds in this church — it is just horrible.
The high point of my move back to San Diego was attending a baptism on September 23, 1991 at La Jolla Cove. The fellow who was baptized was Jim Higgins, whom I eventually married! I remember being impressed by him at his baptism and vowing that I would get to know him right away. We quickly became best friends and I was his first date in “the Kingdom.”
I was put into a Bible Talk led by “Allison Brooks.” She also discipled me. I liked her right away. She had been in the church longer than I had, and was extremely real and a bit cynical, which I just loved!. She discipled me for several months.
This was a happy time for me. I got to know Jim, reach out to my family, and I loved being back in beautiful, sunny San Diego. I was also close friends with “Annette Delaney”, who later appeared on 20/20 and spoke against the church. (At that time, I was saddened by this. Now she is my hero!)
I was eventually put into leadership, and Jim and I had a fun ministry at Cafe Lulu’s. Since I was born and raised in San Diego and had been a part of the “scene” before I moved to Europe, I knew a lot of people there. I was having a great time. I also felt a strong sense of security and safety knowing that my family was there. I loved going home and getting away from the abuses and demands at church. I felt safe. I definitely did not have this in New York.
It was really obvious that Jim and I liked each other, and I was told by someone who I was discipling that we would be allowed go steady starting on February 14, 1992. Well, due to Jim’s discipler “Steve Preston”, this did not happen. Steve was incensed that Jim and I had spent time alone together in a coffee shop, and said that if it ever happened again he would ensure that we would never date again.
The great irony in this is that Jim and I had an absolutely pure dating relationship and Steve ended up running off and getting married to one of the daughters of one of San Diego’s regional Elders as they had “fallen into impurity!”
I told Jim that I felt like I was the main protagonist in a play, but didn’t have any lines. Everyone else and their uncle not only had opinions, but control over our relationship. Jim said he felt the same way. He was so angry at Steve’s response that he immediately called Sherman Davis and set up a meeting. That Sunday, Sherman came up to me and asked me how I felt about Jim. I told him that I liked him, and he told me to keep praying. (Funny, but since they make the arrangements, what does prayer have to do with it?)
Jim and I started going steady on my birthday, February 27, 1992. I was thrilled and felt that Jim was an answer to my prayers. On my second date with him, I told my dad that I was going to marry the man.
I was put into a different Bible Talk in Point Loma. (Jim was in yet another Bible Talk). I really liked this group — I was with young married people and they were a lot of fun. I was “fruitful” in this Bible Talk — a woman named Catherine Riley Short (whose permission was granted to use her real name). We became best friends. I discipled her for a long time, and she was in my wedding. She and I lived under the same tyranny. (I am glad to say that I personally pulled her out of the movement.)
While dating, Jim and I were never in the same Bible Talk. I remember mentioning this to Donna Harrigan, who told me to get over it, as she and Randy weren’t even in the same zone when they dated. (She feels that her life and experience is the standard — if she didn’t have a problem with something, neither should anyone else.)
In the ICC, dating (like everything else) is highly controlled and regulated. Jim and I were allowed to speak on the phone once a week. Saturday night is the traditional “date night”. Everything is orchestrated — even if you are interested in someone, you cannot date them every week until you are going steady. In San Diego the dating ritual was (if interested): once every six months, then once every six weeks, then once every other week, then going steady, etc. I know one woman who went steady with the same man for five years! Another friend of mine dated her (now) husband for four years! Things have been modified somewhat, but I wanted to give my readers some background in the staunch legalism that characterizes the San Diego Church, which it has found nigh impossible to shake off.
The lack of trust by the leaders which this portrayed used to really bother me. I recall once telling Linn Beatty that every day she had to trust that I went to work at CBS, when for all she knew, I could be lying about having a job there and be spending my time as a high class call girl. She conceded that that could be true. Either a person has convictions or they don’t — no amount of policing will change things.
Anyway, for approximately three weeks I was discipled by “Cheryl Masters”, who, although married, was not part of my new Bible Talk. I really liked being discipled by her, and remember having one of the best quiet times that I had ever had in the movement with another person. It was a terrific three weeks. She had challenged me to find someone to study the Bible with. That is when I met Catherine, and we studied with her. Then our Bible Talk and discipleship tree changed.
The Mays replaced the Davises, and the Mays decided that all of the marrieds should be in the same Bible Talk, and all of the singles should be together. I remember feeling upset about this because I felt it severely limited my outreach. I was put in with the brother with whom I had argued when I first moved to San Diego. “Brian Stover” was to be my new House Church Leader. “Lisa Daniels” was co-leading. Since I knew Lisa through Allison (they were former roommates), I accepted these arrangements.
Unfortunately, I was paired up with “Valerie Knife”. Valerie was a cruel and manipulative person. I was in this relationship from July 1992 to January 16, 1993, and it was pure, unmitigated hell.
Valerie and I came from vastly different backgrounds and were very different people. She was a single mom. We were the “same spiritual age,” but that was about all we had in common. No matter what I said or did, I could never live up to her expectations. She always doubted me, always had a hidden agenda, and loved to make negative insinuations. For example, when Jim and I were engaged, I asked her if I could go with Jim to visit his parents. They lived out of town. She responded with, “Well, I guess that is okay since I trust Jim.” She is the type of person who engages you in a conversation and later turns your words on you, much like the account in Jeremiah 9. I never liked or trusted her.
Part of the problem in the discipling movement is that you are controlled and made to feel like you are to not only to imitate your discipler, but t become exactly like her. Moreover, one is completely subordinate to his/her discipler, so even if you do have problems, it is nearly impossible to say anything about them without being accused of “disrespect” and insubordination. One is also taught to trust one’s discipler no matter what; even when the discipler is completely untrustworthy.
Even more disturbing is how leaders fail to see the cruelty, manipulativeness and ungodliness in so many of these lower level leaders. Or maybe they do see it, and just turn a blind eye.
Unfortunately the house church leader, Lisa, was exactly the same way. I was lucky with her, because she respected me and so she was always really nice to me, for which I am grateful. (Later on, you will find out why.)
To make matters even worse, Lisa was being discipled by Donna Harrigan, a Women’s Counselor and Sector Leader in the West Region. Unfortunately for her subordinates, her leadership style was tyrannical. Things got so bad that, a couple of years later, when the Harrigans returned to lead the West Region, so many disciples had “attitudes” about her that they literally lined up waiting to talk to her.
The complaints reached Guillermo Adame, the evangelist, who eventually admonished people from the pulpit for “discouraging” Donna. I was so angry at this that I almost jumped up, and stood on my chair, yelled, waved my fist and said, “Good! Now she knows how the rest of us feel!”
The House Church that I was in was the personification of legalism. We got together two mornings a week at 6:00 a.m. for quiet times. I commuted anywhere from thirty to forty minutes on these mornings for meaningless quiet times. The commute for me was a killer. Before I moved downtown, I lived at the end of a peninsula. It took me almost forty minutes to get from home to my house church leader’s place. No matter how often I told my discipler that this was really inconvenient for me, she would snap, “You just need to do it!”
Months later she gave me a ride home and got very frustrated with how long it took to get to my house. I told her, “Now you know how I feel when I come to your house for quiet times.” She looked really “convicted” after I said that.
After I moved downtown, our group decided to meet up north for quiet times. They were so insistent that we meet. It used to really bother me because, while I went to all of the quiet times, my discipler (who had a child) was exempt. It was a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do.” Everyone in the group lived a long way from the new location.
One day I blurted out that we should meet in Presidio Park, since it was centrally located and closer to everyone. I told the house church leader that it was ridiculous to have everyone commuting at 5:30 a.m. Everyone agreed, and so the meeting place was changed. Years later, at our going away party this same leader came up to me and reminisced about our house church. “Wasn’t it great?,” he asked. I replied, “See all of these wrinkles? They came from that house church!” And I laughed. He looked stunned.
We also met on the evenings we had free to “go sharing.” This was a complete waste of time. I remember thinking to myself that I hoped that no one at work asked me what I did last night, because it would sound so foolish and vacuous. I mean, get a life! I remember Valerie was mad that Catherine could rarely come, since she had school or work. I did all I could to protect Catherine from Valerie. I think I did a good job, because Catherine tells me that she always liked Valerie, and I am glad.
What made these “evangelistic” evenings so futile was that we used to meet at Valerie’s house and wait for everyone to show up. Invariably, we would wait for up to an hour, and by the time we got together, talked and prayed, there was little time left for sharing. I also felt funny going to local shopping malls under false pretenses. I was not shopping, but recruiting. When I said this, though, Valerie would reply, “You just need to do it!”
In spite of all this work, our group was never “personally fruitful.” We did convert a mildly retarded girl , and a young woman from a very troubled background, but they had been passed on to us by another group.
There was a tremendous focus by the San Diego leaders on authority. All of the leaders on down to my discipler demanded absolute submission from their subordinates — it was disgusting. I was greatly bothered by Dave Weger, then the lead evangelist in San Diego, who constantly preached on Hebrews 13:17. In all honesty, I don’t think that there is one disciple in San Diego at this time who does not have a problem with this Scripture. A friend of mine who was in the church for a very long time (from Boston’s early days) spent a year praying every day that God would take the Weger’s out of San Diego.
I remember one time Lisa said to her then roommate and me that, although we were well-educated, God had put her in charge of us as a House Church Leader. I immediately changed the subject, and asked her when she was going to get her GED, since not being a high school graduate was a shoddy example. I remember how her roommate smirked at this one!
The leadership decided that the church just wasn’t growing and needed a revival. I remember talking to Edwin, who I had maintained my friendship with despite his having “fallen away”. He responded, “The church is having a revival? I always heard them preach that, since it was God’s church, it didn’t need a revival.” Being so warped in my thinking, I defended the church instead of asking questions.
In preparation for the revival, the Harrigans made people sign a sheet if they wanted to remain members. Since I was dating Jim at the time, I signed primarily so that I wouldn’t jeopardize that relationship. The Revival started. Down came the fire and brimstone from Marty Fuqua. He reamed the tar out of everyone. He preached that we were all worldly and materialistic simply because we lived in southern California. (How ironic, so does he!) Marty is a Kip McKean wanna be — he imitates every idiosyncrasy of Kip. He is so bizarre.
All of the leaders came forward and confessed their “sin” of not imitating their disciplers. The spiritual upheaval was just tremendous; this whole thing rattled a lot of people. I have some friends who still talk about it, and I have even more friends who had lived through the 1986 San Diego Reconstruction who are obviously still tormented by this experience.
I viewed the revival as a huge joke. It was so stupid — I was so sick and tired of something like this happening almost every year. One can never have a good year in the ICC — it is always struggle, strife and spiritual turmoil. The leaders are always testing the followers’ commitment and discipleship, and are always intent on ferreting out anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. The whole process is discouraging. We spend thousands of hours reaching out to and converting people and in one single event, be it Reconstruction or Revival, we lost several hundred people. What a meaningless, time consuming, and asinine cycle.
It is also unbiblical. Jesus warns us to not separate the weeds from the wheat, as you would run the risk of throwing out the good with the bad. This is the job of the angels at the Last Judgement, not people. (Matthew 13) However, since when did the ICC follow the Bible?
I know hundreds of disciples who lead dull and unfulfilled lives simply because they have had to postpone or abandon their personal dreams all for the sake of “the Kingdom.” This supposed “Kingdom of God” then spins its wheels by recruiting members and then tossing them out again. When you really think about it, the whole process is utterly ridiculous. The leaders demand “total commitment” from the followers, but I doubt that any of the apostles would have made the cut, since they abandoned Jesus when he was arrested. Even Peter denied Him three times. If Peter had done this to Kip, Kip would probably have marked Peter for his “disloyalty.”
One of the mistakes that Donna made in regards to the revival was that, after conducting “Life Talks” with her Bible Talk Leaders, she had these lower level leaders conduct the Life Talks for the rank and file members. [These “life talks” were assessments of each disciple’s commitment to the church, and based on their outcome the leaders would decide who could remain a member of the church and who would be thrown out.] Most of the Bible Talk Leaders were unskilled women who completely lacked the necessary counseling credentials to do this type of thing, and also had only a rudimentary understanding of the Bible.
I always felt that Donna missed out on a prime opportunity to get to know her flock better. I suspect she never even knew my name. It is really disgusting to get paid (and well paid, I might add) to shepherd God’s flock and not even know them on a personal level. There is something intrinsically wrong with this.
The revival lasted for several days. It was draining. Lisa was extremely cruel to two of the women in our group, and proceeded to “break them down.” It was awful — it was like watching a cat with a mouse. One woman, who had gotten engaged, was repeatedly told for weeks to not even think about getting married because it was not going to happen for a long time. Lisa yelled and screamed at her, and said belittling things to her. No matter how the girl responded, she was always wrong — as far as Lisa was concerned, she could do nothing right.
The other woman was constantly subjected to yelling sessions where she was belittled and rebuked. Valerie kept complaining about how “hard-hearted” they were.
At one point, the engaged woman was told that she could plan her wedding, but that she wasn’t to think about it! I am not sure how one does this! Her fiancé even told her that he would not kiss her until she was put back on the membership list.
Months later, after we were both married, I asked her if she ever confronted Lisa about her mistreatment of her. She got really nervous and actually started shaking when I asked this, and said nervously that she didn’t really need to and was okay with things. Years later I learned that she had gotten cancer. I firmly believe that, because she internalized these events, it led to her illness. If anyone doesn’t believe that discipling can be lethal — guess again.
Luckily for me, Lisa left me alone. Knowing how she and Valerie operated, they were easy prey for me. I had them both figured out and it was ridiculously easy to tell them, “what their itching ears wanted to hear.” By this time, I had moved into an apartment (my dad had moved to Massachusetts) and was living by myself (a “Kingdom” faux pas!). Lisa challenged me to find a roommate. I told her that I had already asked “Debbie Becker” to be my roommate. Lisa was pleased with this response. Since I was very evangelistic and had quite a reach out list, I wasn’t hammered on this.
However, Lisa was hoping to nail me on my purity. Again, touché! I had been completely “radical” in this area and had no sordid details to recount. The forthrightness, fortitude and vociferousness of my response disarmed her and she seemed pleased. She challenged me to be more submissive to Valerie, and I told her that I was completely willing to do whatever it took to be a great disciple. Valerie added that she had seen some changes and I was put back on the membership list that night.
Since I was discipling Catherine, I had to be a part of her life talk. She was frightened about her “Life Talk”. I told her that it was really no big deal — that I would be there and vouch for her. I suggested to her that she just say what their itching ears wanted to hear and be very compliant. Ha! What the leaders don’t realize is that, because of their constant teaching on deception, we all become master deceivers! How ironic — and sad. Catherine’s “Life Talk” went without a hitch and, she too, was added to the list that night.
I was also discipling another woman at this time, “Sheila.” Things started out well with her, but as time passed, things began to fall apart. I felt that she needed therapy and got really uncomfortable discipling her. She literally hated Valerie. As time went on, she began to hate me as well. She was also unhappy in our house church.
I think things got to be too much for her and she started getting discipled by someone else in our group. I was present for one of her life talks (she had a few), and her new discipler literally threw her out of the church. She yelled at her and told her to go and to never come back. She did. I ran into her a few times, but I always felt really uncomfortable. I felt sorry for her, but in all honesty, I was glad that she left. Now I wish that I could tell her the truth about the church and how much it messes you up.
Jim also skated through his Life Talk, and was totally nonplused by the whole experience. Life in the church seemed so easy for him — I always envied him for that. My whole experience was one of complete strife. At this juncture, I was beginning to get a little tired of dating. I was close to thirty and knew what I wanted. I also knew that it was getting close to my Columbia University deadline (I had deferred them) and I wanted to get on with my life. Jim and I had a few talks and it was apparent that our relationship was headed towards engagement.
In October, one of my closest friends got married. I decorated the reception hall — Catherine helped me. That evening Jim had told me that the leaders had asked him if he and I would be willing to move to Los Angeles. I said, “When do I pack?”, but Jim said no. He wanted to get married first, and then we could think about it. On November 7, 1992 we got engaged. That was a happy evening. My house church leader was in on the surprise, as was my mom, and it was a really great day.
Then came hell.
I had absolutely the WORST engagement ever. I would never wish this experience on anyone, not even a mortal enemy. (The irony of this statement is that I often said this while I was still in the church!) What made it so terrible was the abuse that I suffered under the hands of Valerie Knife and Donna Harrigan. Valerie was discipling me, and was also discipling a girl who got engaged the same day I did. Valerie’s true colors came out — it was obvious that she was intensely jealous of our situation. She intentionally made it a miserable time for us both.
She constantly challenged us, told us that we were losing our focus, and said that she was “concerned.” She also mentioned that I needed to be more submissive to her and that she had concerns about me. Approximately three weeks into my engagement, she decided that, since I wasn’t repenting in the way she felt I needed to, that she would call a meeting (ambush) with Donna, herself and me. I had absolutely no idea what this meeting was about; Valerie merely informed me that I was to go to Donna’s house on Sunday after church.
I arrived at the Harrigan’s house promptly. I was uncomfortable with this meeting, because I didn’t know Donna, and felt certain that she didn’t even know my name. She came to the door and invited me in. She offered me a piece of cake, but I declined. Something inside me told me to not take it, as she could use it against me and make it a weight issue. I’m not really sure why I thought that, but I did.
I went into the kitchen and was promptly ignored. Donna was making lunch for her family. (Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I am giving you precise details, dear reader, in order to demonstrate that I keenly remember things). Then she excused herself and she and her family ate lunch together, leaving me completely alone in the kitchen. Frankly, I was appalled at her lack of hospitality. She made absolutely no effort to converse with me or get to know me.
When she came back into the kitchen, I helped her with the dishes and began to tell her about myself. I talked about my conversion, gave a brief synopsis of my childhood and talked about my experiences in Paris and New York. I felt that there was some information about my childhood that she needed to be aware of which would give her insight as to why I behave the way I do. I kept thinking to myself about the ludicrousness of her discipling/counseling me without any information. That is just flat out stupid.
Valerie finally showed up and we went into the foyer for our talk. Since there weren’t enough chairs, I had to sit on the floor and look up at Valerie and Donna. There is something symbolic there, I think.
Valerie launched into her diatribe as to how I am not submissive to her and that she “is concerned about this as it makes her question as to whether or not I could be submissive to Jim.” After ten minutes of this, Donna turned to me and asked me for my take on things. I knew that if I defended myself, I would be dead in the water and if I agreed, well, that would be the kiss of death. Thus, I decided to keep my mouth shut — that way I wouldn’t give them any fodder to use against me — and just shrugged.
Donna launched into her diatribe and rebuked the tar out of me. One of the things that she said to me was, “Well, Missy, I have the power to postpone your marriage!” I absolutely could not believe that she said that. Here is a person whom I do not know at all, threatening to postpone my marriage! I remember feeling like the air was knocked out of me. I was so overwhelmed with pain that I couldn’t breathe. I was speechless. They told me what I needed “to do” in order to repent.
I was profoundly hurt and angry. My discipler was so smug. She embodied evil to me at that moment. I knew that she had orchestrated the whole thing and that her intent was for this to happen. Since she wasn’t happy, she was going to ensure that no one else would be either. I had no one to turn to; I knew that I couldn’t tell Jim, because he would have freaked out. My mother was out of the question. God knows what she would have done had she heard about it. So I suffered in silence.
I was so grief and panic stricken that I finally confided in Catherine. This threat was unbelievable to me since Jim and I had a model dating relationship by “kingdom” standards. Valerie got exactly what she wanted. I could tell that she had purposely instigated the whole thing, and that this outcome was exactly what she had hoped for.
I had to set about demonstrating my repentance to Valerie and Donna. I actually thanked Donna for helping me and even dropped off a bouquet of flowers for her at her house. Since I lived under the threat of my marriage being postponed, my position was tenuous at best. I was being controlled like a puppet on a string. I had to be fake and pretend to like Valerie and enjoy her company. I also had to appear to be willing to learn from her and to be submissive according to her interpretation of it.
In reality, discipling basically boils down to being fake and behaving in ways that are contrary to what you know is right and true, in order to get the desired outcome. All of us become master deceivers and manipulators and all of us have hidden agendas. This is the only way to survive. You have to learn to play the game and the better you play it, the higher up you go in the pyramid.
At this point, the relationship between my discipler and me was extremely strained. On the video of our Jack and Jill shower, she shared. It was so insincere and shallow. Even she was convicted of her behavior, because she called me to apologize for how she came across on it. I remember that I got very sick at this time. I had acute bronchitis (which later developed into pneumonia). I remember explaining this to Donna, who just shrugged and said that she gets bronchitis every year and doesn’t allow it to stop her. Since I had to demonstrate my repentance, I showed up at the ice skating rink on New Year’s Eve just to demonstrate my support of church activities.
The week before our wedding (our engagement was short, thank goodness, only nine weeks!) the fun times began again. I lived in dread of my discipler, and no one but the girl I discipled even knew about it. My friend was coming in from out of state. She is the first girl I studied the Bible with and we have stayed in touch all of these years. I had wanted to spend some time with her, but wouldn’t you know that our infernal house church had something planned. I had to figure out and get “advice” as to how to ask if I could simply not come to our little event so that I could spend time with my friend. Luckily, my discipler didn’t mind and so I didn’t go the event.
Two days before our wedding, Valerie gave me a call at work. “There’s an all night prayer tomorrow night and you need to be there.” “I am getting married on Saturday,” I replied, “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.” “I am well aware of when you are getting married; you still need to be there.” “Well, I don’t know,” I said. “My mother is coming over early Saturday morning and she’ll be furious when she learns that I stayed up all night. I don’t really think it would give her a good impression of the church.” “No matter what happened, your mother still wouldn’t like the church!, ” said Valerie. Boy, was I angry when she said that! Finally I told her that I would give Terry Jordan a call and get her input.
Luckily for me, Terry and Jerry Jordan (Elders) were doing our marriage counseling. Terry is a very kind and gracious soul. When I told her what was asked of me she said that she “appreciated my heart, but that she did not think that it was a good idea for me to attend.” (I had to laugh about that comment on my heart as my heart had absolutely no desire to do this whatsoever!)
I promptly phoned Valerie and informed her what the elder’s wife advised. However, she couldn’t resist making her little dig. “I don’t appreciate you going over my head like that. I also don’t feel like you were being very submissive to our house church leader by not calling and asking her first”. “Well,” I replied, “the reason I didn’t is because Terry is doing our marriage counseling and is married, and since our house church leader is also single I didn’t feel that she would be the best person to get this kind of advice. I also feel that Terry would have been hurt had I not gotten her input on the matter.” Since there was nothing left to say, she hung up on me.
I waited for a call telling me that my wedding would be postponed. No such call came.
Jim and I were married on January 16, 1993 and are happy today. (Actually, we’re happier now than we ever were in the church!) I remember thinking on my wedding day how glad I was that I would no longer be discipled by Valerie Knife. The thought of this actually added to my joy! I even remember hugging Donna and feeling such a sense of relief that she had nothing to hold over me. Can you imagine thinking this on your wedding day? Can you imagine worrying over the last 48 hours that your wedding might be postponed because you hadn’t effectively demonstrated your repentance?
Jim later pointed out to me that the Harrigan’s never even gave us a wedding gift. Yet, the leaders constantly challenge the group to be supportive of one another and bring gifts. Hypocrisy reigns! Honestly, I’m glad that they didn’t give me a gift. I do not want anything to remember them by.
Also during my engagement, Dave Weger had to give his input as to whether or not I could get married in January. Here is a person who doesn’t know me (we had met once years earlier) deciding what day I could get married. The church leaders were not too keen on our date, since January is traditionally a “push” month. They finally decided that it was okay, since my mother had purchased our flight tickets and they would have felt funny telling my mother that we couldn’t use the tickets because of their decision. (However, they did insist that I change the time of the wedding so that the disciples would have time for evangelism). Such a big deal was made about this, that we were made to feel as though we were extremely lucky to be getting married that day, as no one gets married in January.
Ironically, when we moved to the Central Zone (Gary and Paulette, full-time interns) were also married that day. Since he used to play football for the SDSU Aztecs, though, he had more clout then we did. The leaders are really into football players. (This is definitely a “Kingdom-wide” trait.)
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes before one gets married in the church. Don’t let anyone fool you! The leaders constantly tout how wonderful it is to be married in the church. However, no one tells you about the pure unmitigated hell that one has to go through in order to make this a reality! In fact, Catherine was so disgusted by what she saw that she actually ran off and got married instead of allowing the leaders to toy with her! She told me that after she saw what “Christine”, “Nadine” and I went through, that she vowed that she would never get married in this church! There were actually four people in our wedding party, who at some point, ran off and got married! The leaders can preach that getting married in this church is wonderful, but judging by the behavior of the members, it is obvious that this is simply not true.
There is also a feeling of safety once married. I think that that is why a lot of singles long to be married — so that they can escape from their present tyranny and oppression. Almost everyone I know of who has gotten married in the movement has commented that it is a lot safer in the marrieds ministry than in the singles. This, too, is very telling.
After Jim and I got married, I went and talked to Valerie and Donna about their maltreatment of me. Valerie broke down and cried, and admitted that she had failed with me. She told me that she realized that I did not trust her at all and that she had gone about things the wrong way. At the time I confronted her, Catherine was running off to get married. I could tell that Valerie was being put through a lot — it was obvious that the leaders were pressuring her and making her feel responsible.
I vaguely felt sorry for her, but I must admit I had some deep attitudes towards her and keenly disliked her. In fact, it took me years to get over her abuse and I didn’t forgive her for it for a very long time. My lack of forgiveness demonstrates how unlike Jesus I am, too.
I also confronted Donna Harrigan and told her that since I had been around two World Sector Leaders, I had high expectations of her. I told her that I was disappointed in her lack of hospitality, and that I did not get the impression that she had wanted or had even tried to be my friend. I also told her that I felt that it was unwise on her part to try to counsel and disciple me with out knowing me. To which she replied, “How do you expect me to get to know you, if you don’t volunteer information?” I retorted that I had volunteered information and that she failed to ask any questions.
The sad part with Donna is that she knows she can be hateful. I have seen her be humble. She was humble when I confronted her, but I have also heard reports from several others that when confronted by her sin, she refused to acknowledge it.
What has always amazed me is that her tyrannical behavior is so obvious — she has a reputation for being cruel. As a former roommate of hers says, “her reputation will always precede her.” I cannot understand why the Adames and other leaders don’t see this. Or if they do, why they don’t do something about it. Her behavior is abusive. This is wrong. Shepherds must protect the flock at all costs. That is their job.
To be fair, I heard reports that she has greatly changed. I even felt that she probably had until very recently, when a friend of mine who had been discipled by her in another ministry told me her story. Now I am not so sure.
After our marriage, Jim and I were moved into the Central Sector, which was led by Steve and Sue Schoff. I looked forward to getting to know Sue Schoff, as it was her sister-in-law who had met me and her brother who had baptized me. Alas, this never happened.
Initially, we were in leadership and we did really well — we had a lot of visitors every week on a consistent basis. Steve wanted to know what was the secret to our success. Jim told him and the other leaders (this was at a Bible Talk Leaders Meeting) that our goal was to make sure that all of the members were happy. Thus, there was no mandatory attendance and we respected people. We believed in not putting pressure on people, but making sure that those in our group were happy and that their needs were getting met. When Jim said this, the other leaders looked at him like he was from planet Mars.
The following week, as we were driving to the meeting, I told Jim that I did not feel like going and pointed to the movie theater and mentioned that I would like to go to a movie instead. Jim felt the same way and took the exit; instead of going to the leaders’ meeting, we watched a movie! This ended our leadership career and we have not led since. This was in the fall of 1993.
Although we were “encouraged” a lot to go back into leadership throughout the years, I never wanted to because I felt that it was factious and that the whole premise was wrong. I often said that if they would change the name to Bible Talk Servant, I might be interested.
After our brief leadership stint, Jim and I were put in with military folks. I cannot imagine a less appropriate group for us — we were desperately unhappy. Jim and I disliked the Central Sector so much that we spent the next year trying to fall away. We battled it out each week. One week I would sit in the car and not go to Bible Talk and then the following week Jim would sit in the car. Our involvement in the church was not helping our marriage, either. We made few friends in that sector, although those who became our friends, have stayed our friends.
While in the Central Sector, I remember feeling like I could no longer afford to be a disciple any longer. Steve Schoff planned so many events at the last minute that were both costly and time consuming. Our house church also asked for us to bring things every week. I used to get angry about this because I was in graduate school, Jim was working only part-time, and we couldn’t afford to bring a pot-luck meal for 15 every week. Our house church also had a lot of single males who ate everything in sight and rarely contributed anything.
Someone dropped the ball while planning our annual New Year’s Eve event, so our sector spent the evening at Chuck E. Cheese. (This is a pizza and video game chain on the west coast which appeals primarily to pre-teen children.) Every time I tell this story, people laugh, because Jim and I are the last two people that you would ever see at such a place, even if we had children!! I called our House Church leader (we were in a new group by this time) and told her that we would not be going. We had planned to have dinner with some disciples from the West Sector and then go to the Meridien Hotel for drinks.
When we got home that night, there was a scathing message left on our machine by Steve. I was so incensed that I decided to keep the tape and play it for Jerry Jordan. I have never had an evangelist (or anybody else for that matter) leave that kind of message on my answering machine. We called our disciplers (two of the most wonderful people) and told them what happened. They felt really bad and were very supportive of us.
The next day Kip McKean was in town to “preach the word.” The entire church was doing very badly. Everyone was hurting from past abuses and injuries and the disciples were basically depressed and epitomized the “walking wounded.” I really believe that what the church needed was some tender encouragement and strengthening. The body needed to feel love, kindness and compassion. A dose of gentleness would have been nice.
Kip did not feel that way at all. He talked about his son who, although extremely ill with the flu, played in a tennis tournament anyway and won. He told us that we were a bunch of sissies who made him sick and that we called in sick at the drop of a hat. He said that “unless you are dead or are dying, you should be at all of the meetings of the body.”
This was especially depressing to my discipler who struggled with major health issues. Frankly, the whole message was typical Kip — totally insensitive. It was at that point that I turned off to him. I had met him on a few occasions in Paris and in New York and had tremendous awe, respect and admiration for him. All of that died that day.
Kip also admonished the church for its lack of fruit, saying that he had had just about enough of the San Diego church feeling sorry for itself, complaining and grumbling. It was time that we got over our hurts and evangelized the world!
What he apparently didn’t realize is that everyone felt like, “Who would want this life anyway?” My faith was completely destroyed. I had been resigned to my involvement, saying to myself, “Well, this is okay for me, but why would I want to drag anyone into this?” Now, I felt like I could never get anyone to love Jesus enough to put up with the vagaries of the movement. It was awful.
The body broke for lunch and I spent the day grumbling and kicking the pavement. I saw the first woman who discipled me when I moved to San Diego. She asked me how I liked the message. I told her that I was mad at Kip and that I hated his message. She told me that she was mad at Kip, too. All of us needed comfort and instead we were getting kicked in the teeth for being low-life ingrates. Gee, isn’t it, “Flat out awesome to be in the Kingdom?” (Forgive my sarcasm; I just couldn’t help myself).
The meeting resumed for part two. Guillermo Adame preached. Jim and I were seated in the upper balcony with our zone. Five minutes into the message, our Sector Leader summoned us out of the fellowship. He made a big to-do out of it. I told him that I received his message on our answering machine. He lit into us, saying that he, “was sick of our pride and superiority.” He was “sick and tired of little Miss Paris and her hoity-toity life.”
I told him that our house church leader had said that it was okay that we not attend. He said that he never sanctioned such a thing and that he expected the body to be there. We told him that there were other couples from our zone who did not attend, and we wanted to know why we were being targeted. He responded that it was because we had the most pride, but that he would be getting to the bottom of it and talk to the other delinquents.
Even Guillermo Adame mentioned that there was a, “prideful couple in the Central Sector who did not want to go to Chuck E. Cheese.” We could hear “oooohs” and “aaaahs” from the audience as if we had committed some heinous crime. No mention was made about the seven other couples in our sector who did not go. Moreover, the fact that Guillermo mentioned this demonstrates how information is fraudulently gathered by the leaders.
When Steve summoned us out of the fellowship he made it obvious to all that he had a beef with us and I felt like he was trying to humiliate us. After his comment about our pride, I eyed him and told him, “I am so sick and tired of all of the support that the disciples give you during the year. The trash-a-thons and graffiti wipe-outs, and all of the other stuff; and you people can’t even plan one decent event for your disciples. You plan everything at the last minute and expect us to come running. Well, it is obvious that someone dropped the ball here, because December 31st comes around at the same time every year!”
I was so mad that I did not care if I was being disrespectful. My husband was even more incensed. Things escalated and got rather ugly. What finally calmed our Sector Leader down was that we mentioned that we knew that Kip McKean staying at the Meridien Hotel in Coronado! He got really nervous when we revealed that we were privy to this fact. Nonetheless, he defended his stance, saying that if Kip had to go to Chuck E. Cheese for New Year’s Eve, he would have gone and with a good attitude!
“Yeah,” Jim countered, “but he still would have been able to go back to the Meridien!” (The Meridien is the priciest hotel in the San Diego area).
By the time we got finished talking to the Sector Leader, he was like a little puppy walking away with his tail between his legs. I have to admit that Jim and I relished the moment. Our confrontation ended up having to be mediated by Martin Bentley, an elder in the San Diego church who happens to be Kip McKean’s brother-in-law. We brought up the fact that we were extremely upset by Steve’s message on our answering machine; and I noted that I had never had a message like that from anyone. Even Sue admitted that she had never heard her husband leave such a nasty message on anyone’s answering machine. (I am glad to report that Steve did apologize for his behavior and I appreciate that).
However, I had always wondered why Martin was at that meeting. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that we knew so much and the leaders were afraid that we would blab to the other rank and file members. Just think, we get to go to Chuck E. Cheese and our leader is at the Meridien. Wow, Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head.
The church is always preaching about how their “finances are above board.” However, I remember one year that the members were over-charged for the marriage retreat, which was held at the Embarcadero (1994). The whole event was tacky, particularly when contrasted with the year before — nearly everyone was angry about it. Furthermore, there weren’t enough seats for everyone.
Our discipler (who was George Havin’s son-in-law — George being a former elder in the SDCOC) discussed this with the financial administrator, who admitted that we were over-charged, but that the church would be using the money for something else. My discipler told him that this was not at all ethical and felt that Steve should have been honest with the members and reimbursed the funds. Then the members could decide whether or not they wanted to contribute the remainder.
I also have a friend who is a travel agent and arranges travel plans for many of the leaders. The leader of her sector had asked for a pair of tickets. After much research, my friend was able to find a pair at $200 a piece. However, the leader wasn’t happy with this and insisted on a specific date, time and airlines which shot up the prices to $900 apiece. My friend argued with him and tried to persuade him to purchase the less expensive pair. It was to no avail.
She told me that later that week at devo, he talked about “Special Contribution” and she wondered if the leaders were ever accountable about the funds. She told me that she “had to get her heart right on that one!”
Not too long after our meeting with Steve, Jim and I moved back to West Sector. The Harrigans were no longer there and we were much happier. We had many wonderful friends in that sector and life just seemed easier.
The only things that I remember not liking were the meaningless d-groups and learning that the church keeps MIA lists. This really bothered me. The d-groups were so repetitive, time-consuming and meaningless. Another thing that always bothered me was that we needed to be “unified”, which meant sitting together at every “meeting of the body.” (I got admonished on this constantly, because I liked to sit with my friends and my friends were rarely in my d-group). We sat around and stats were taken on how many quiet times we had during the week, our evangelism and our “response to the message.” I remember commenting to a sister that instead of coming to church, I would be glad to fax in my stats instead! She just laughed.
I remember the last several months of our involvement in the San Diego Church as a happy time, particularly since I had abandoned teaching high school, which had gotten to be too much with my church schedule. (Gee, this was the second career that I have given up for the ICC.) Things managed to work out for us (we got permission; oops! “advice”), and we were able to move to Seattle, Washington in January, 1997. It was our dream come true.
We moved to Seattle on our 4th wedding anniversary. We were very excited, as we had visited Seattle on our honeymoon and were anxious to move here and get a new start. My first reaction to the church was that I thought that the San Diego leaders had given us the wrong address. This church wasn’t even remotely like any of the other churches I had been a part of, not by a long-shot!
This could have been a good thing, but frankly, this place was a mess. Jim did not like the church at all. I tried to dive right in. By this time, I considered myself a veteran at moving within the “Kingdom.”
We were discipled by a couple who had been recently married. They were well-meaning, but extremely inexperienced and naive. I found them to be a bit anal-retentive, immature and legalistic; and after my San Diego experience, I had had enough legalism! I actually liked the young woman discipling me — we got into interesting conversations — but as soon as the topic veered towards a spiritual issue, problems started. She told me she found me intimidating. (If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would have a hefty retirement fund by now!)
Since our lives were in a state of flux, between the move and trying to find employment, church was not our main focus. I am glad that we had the church to move to because, without it, I think we would have felt estranged and lonely. We still felt lonely to some extent, as we had left some great friends behind in San Diego; however, with all of the church activities, there are always things to do.
I tried to get involved right away and attended a newly-formed group for sisters with weight, health and appearance issues. I was asked to preach a message to the women about appearance and decorum; and the intern asked me to talk about — get this! — not farting and burping in public! Can you imagine?! Jim actually thought that the intern was playing a joke on me to see if I would actually do it. But she was not joking. (Apparently, there were some sisters who had gone on dates and farted right in front of the brothers!) I heard one story of a sister saying that they had better crack a window! What kind of church was this?
I found it nearly impossible to make friends in the Seattle church. I am naturally extroverted, so this really bothered me. There were some disciples I had met several times who had absolutely no recollection of ever having met me. One woman, who used to lead the church in Portland, could never remember that she had already met me. It was disconcerting to say the least.
The Seattle church was extremely shallow — hardly anyone has friends in the church. I found it especially difficult to make friends with the marrieds, especially the marrieds with children. So I began to focus my attention on the single women instead, and I was able to develop relationships with a couple of them. Thank God for them.
At the end of March things radically changed in the Seattle Church of Christ. Scott and Lynn Green moved to Seattle and brought with them new administrators and new leadership. This is where it begins to get interesting. For a few months, the leadership stayed fairly low-key. Then, during his “final address to the Seattle church” before he left for Hong Kong for the summer, Scott Green told us that we were lousy disciples and needed to get our focus back. He said he felt that none of us were disciples, and that this needed to change.
It was decided that the church would undergo a reconstruction by the orders of Kip McKean. Apparently he came up to Seattle one day to assess the situation. What is interesting is that Kip never came to a service and thus, did not see the body. How he was able to make this assessment without personal observation is unclear to me.
The leadership called for a mandatory meeting on a Monday evening in July. We decided to not attend that meeting as my in-laws were in town and were leaving the next day. They live out of state and, as Jim and I are both only children, we take to heart the command to “Honor your father and mother.”
The next evening we went to church and I approached (per leadership’s request) my Sector Leader (Carol Kelly) in order to set up a meeting with her for my “Life Talk.” She promptly informed me that since I did not come to the meeting the night before, I was not considered a member and that she was not getting with anyone who did not come last night for at least a month. She told me that I needed to pray and seek God at this time.
I was stunned. I said nothing; I simply stared at her. After her brief tirade, she said, “Amen” and then told me to ask her husband for a meeting, as he may be more willing.
I stalked away fuming, went up to Jim and told him what happened. He didn’t understand what I was talking about, since he was able to get a meeting with the City Sector Leaders for the following week. I was so angry at Carol that I wrote a letter to her. I never actually sent it, but it was cathartic to at least have penned the thing. I was angry for several reasons. First, I had been a member for nearly nine years, and because I miss one meeting, I am no longer considered a member? How shallow and stupid! Second, she never asked me why I wasn’t at the meeting, and assumed I could not possibly have had a bona fide reason. Third, if the meeting was that important, why didn’t my discipler call me personally to tell me that? Fourth, what inference am I supposed to gather by her statement that I “need to seek God at this time” — that I’m lost and going to hell?
At this point, for probably the thousandth time I began to consider leaving the church. I had had enough. We requested to meet privately with the Sector Leaders for approximately one hour before Jim’s scheduled “Life Talk.” We felt that there were some things that we needed to express to them about our discipling relationships, and we also felt that there were some things about us personally that the Sector Leaders needed to know.
I spoke for both of us, as Jim tends to shut down at meetings like this. I described to the Leaders about both of our childhoods. Although we are both only children of loving and caring parents, there were nonetheless events that transpired that were exceedingly difficult. This is what we had wished to make them privy to, which we felt would give them some insight as to why we felt it was extremely important for us to honor our parents.
Despite our reasoning and explanations, the leaders still felt that we needed to be at the mandatory meeting, although Jay Kelly was more sympathetic than his wife. She told us to be careful and not get too fixated on one Scripture — in this case, to “honor your father and mother”. She felt that we really should have considered that the meeting was more important.
I told her that I had worked through some very difficult issues pertaining to family relationships, and that, in light of God’s Word and due to my relationship with Him, I had conclued that I needed to honor Jim’s parents. Thus, it became an issue of conscience for both of us.
This explanation was of no avail. I asked them what right they had to overstep a command from the living God and insist on my attendance. I also asked them why I was not considered a member — simply because I had missed one meeting? And that, not because of rebellion or laziness, but out of personal conviction.
They sprang on this statement. Jay said that they had total authority over this decision because God gave it to them! Jay told me that God absolutely stands behind his leaders and that whatever they “bind on earth is bound in heaven.” Thus, if they deem that a meeting is mandatory, it takes precedence over everything else!
They proceeded to show me a Scripture (Numbers 12) in which God rebukes Miriam and Aaron for questioning Moses’ authority, and tells them that Moses sees God face to face. Jay told me that I am like Miriam and because I dared to question their authority, I was questioning God and being incredibly disrespectful. He noted that Miriam contracted leprosy and told me to be careful because something terrible could happen to me for daring to question God!
I couldn’t believe my ears! Here was the leadership deifying themselves! Since when is a command written by the finger of God superseded by what a mere mortal decrees? Yet, this is what they actually told me. I just couldn’t get my mind around it. This experience troubled me — it troubled me for a long time. It was this issue that, in the end, I couldn’t get past.
My husband and I weren’t put on the membership list for several weeks. We weren’t put back on for several reasons. First, the leaders felt we were not submissive to our disciplers and we needed (in the words of Carol Kelly) “to respect them for being over us in the Lord.” (Gee, they were ten years younger than we are, lacked Biblical knowledge, newly married, young Christians, but they are “over us in the Lord?” Does anybody else have a problem with this?) Second, we hadn’t given enough for our Special Contribution. (They said they were “disgusted” by it, and that it called into question our spirituality.) Third, we did not recognize that we were wrong to not attend the mandatory meeting.
I was so sick and tired of the whole thing that I seriously contemplated leaving, and was just about ready to turn in my resignation. I called a dear friend who had converted in Boston in the early 80’s. I told her that I was sick of the fact that I could never have a good year in the church, and that there were always problems and spiritual strife. I told her that I in no way viewed church membership as synonymous with God’s Book of Life and yet, I felt that that was what leadership was making it out to be.
She heartily agreed with everything I was saying, but then told me that she believed that I really loved God. (Translation: loving God equals staying with the church).
I also phoned “Dan and Kristy Pryor”, friends from the San Diego years. I spoke with Dan first, for quite a long time. I had become perplexed suddenly because, despite my lengthy tenure in the church, I was not able to prove that discipleship partners as we practice and teach them were mandated by the Bible. Since the Pryors had both been part of the mainline Churches of Christ and the Crossroads Movement, I felt that they could shed invaluable insight on the matter.
I asked them why I shouldn’t go to a mainline church, since I couldn’t find any biblical teaching on discipleship, and I knew this to be one of our differences with the mainline churches. Rather than be alarmed by my statements, the Pryors calmly listened to me. Dan suggested that I read Gordon Ferguson’s new book on discipling. After much discussion, I felt better and promised that I would read Gordon’s new book.
Although I still felt disgruntled and perplexed, I also felt very guilty. Part of me thought that perhaps I wasn’t really a disciple. During my two and a half year career as a high school English teacher, my discipleship was shoddy at best. I basically came to things and was surprised that they even kept me on the membership list. I rarely had quiet times — after 200 kids a day and all of that grading and correcting of papers who wants to read? My relationship with God ranged from poor to mediocre. I felt really guilty about all of this, never mind that I was a good teacher and tried to be as Christian as I could with my students (some of them were very cruel).
However, the ICC measures your spiritual status by your performance — that is how each disciple is assessed and graded. I had thus learned to view my Christianity in the same way. Since my performance (by ICC standards) stank, I thought I must stink as a disciple.
In early September the Seattle leadership declared the Reconstruction to be at an end, and had a “special meeting” where all of the “new members” were named out loud. Jay and Carol Kelly told us that we were not on the membership list. My husband was infuriated. He felt that it was done to personally humiliate and embarrass us in front of everyone so that we would repent. He also felt that since we were the “older disciples spiritually” that they wanted to humiliate us in front of the younger disciples by making us out to seem unspiritual.
I told him that since we didn’t know anyone in this church anyway, and those we did know couldn’t even remember having met us, did it really matter whether or not our names were called?
The group made a big deal about the names who were on the list — so much hollering, screaming, and boot stamping went on that it was ridiculous. Scott Green got up there and preached his guts out, stating that, if you were not on the membership list tonight, you were in a very frightening place and that Satan was ready to snatch your soul.
I was gripped by fear and succumbed to it. I ran up to Carol and told her that I would be willing to do anything and I begged for her to help me. I actually believed that I was cursed by God and hellbound. Scott had also mentioned that, since so much time had already been taken up by the Reconstruction, they were ready to move on and weren’t going, “to waste their time with people who hadn’t already repented.” This is Christianity?
This is the second time that I was like putty in their hands. I was willing to jump through whatever hoops I needed in order to be, “deemed by the leadership as right with God.”
It is funny, but every time I wanted to leave the church, Jim got strong and full of convictions; and every time he wanted to leave, I got strong and full of convictions. I spent the majority of summer wanting to leave the church and he felt committed to it. Then when we were publicly humiliated by not being named as members, Jim wanted nothing to do with the church. He vaguely went through the motions and did what Jay told him to do, but I knew that his heart was not into it at all. Nonetheless both of us were put on the membership list.
Before placing membership, Jim was asked to serve in Children’s Ministry. I was upset by this, since he wasn’t on the membership list and the Kellys had made such a big deal about it; I wondered how the Brumleys got Jim’s name in the first place. I also wondered why the full-time ministry people never serve in children’s ministry since they constantly preach that, “if we fail to convert our children, we’ve failed as a movement.”
We were put with new disciplers at this time and things went fairly smoothly for a few months. By January, all of our doubts and misgivings began to resurface. Kip had developed some new studies and all of the churches were to go through them together. For two weeks, the church met every Tuesday and Thursday. It was very tiring. They also taught us the timeline of church history and claimed that the ICC started in 1979 in the Gempel’s living room. Since the vast majority of disciples in Seattle are recent converts, none of them have a clue about Crossroads.
I had some real trouble with Kip’s studies as they focused so little on Jesus. Jesus IS the GOSPEL! In the preface, Kip notes that, if someone even has a rudimentary knowledge of Jesus, we should delve into the studies rather than go through the book of John with them first.
I also saw another disturbing trend. The leaders decided to talk about finances. Ron Brumley and Tom Snyder preached to us that we need to be, “good shepherds of our money” and that it ws fiscally responsible to buy a house! I couldn’t believe my ears! For years, in the San Diego Church we were trained to be “go anywhere, do anything” disciples. This usually meant NOT buying a home, since that would hamper one’s mobility. Now, the doctrine was changing?! I actually had a friend whom Donna Harrigan insinuated was not spiritual for wanting to purchase property!
Another disturbing trend was the never ending mention of Mack Strong, a football player for the Seattle Seahawks. Last autumn Tom Snyder made a special point of mentioning his name at every service. So infectious were his laudatory comments that Scott Green, Jay Kelly, Darren Overstreet and John Causey followed suit.
Personally, I could care less about someone who throws pig skin for a living and gets paid a lot of money to do it. The church’s focus on this brother bothered me because it showed pronounced favoritism and was extremely worldly. I was so upset by this that I called Jay Kelly and talked to him about it, and quoted passages from the book of James which forbid the church to show favoritism.
Jay told me that (and I quote), “The reason that the leaders mention the prominent is because it is an effective tool for evangelizing and a lot of people become Christians because of it.” “Really?,” I countered. “I must have it all wrong; I thought that people became Christians because of Christ!”
Jim got so sick of everything that he couldn’t take it anymore and yet again seriously contemplated leaving. He complained that, in order to be successful in the “Kingdom,” one must be a loser, have no life, no goals, and be happy with having your whole life planned for you.
Things got so bad that I knew that he was going to “fall away.” I immediately called the elders, spoke to Scott Green in person, called Jay Kelly and Jim’s discipler. It was to no avail. Not one of them responded! Jim’s former discipler, with whom he had had such a hard time, was the only one to come to the rescue.
Jim started to do a lot better spiritually and he was on the upswing again. From the pulpit one Sunday Scott Green had told us he had been called to Los Angeles for an “Emergency World Sector Leaders Meeting” that sought to redress the problems in the church. I decided to write a letter to Kip McKean, in order to give him a pulse check from an ordinary disciple.
I wrote my letter to Kip, and expressed to him some problems that I felt were endemic to the movement. I showed Jim the letter. He liked it very much and encouraged me to finish it and send it.
For some reason, instead of working on my letter, I got on the Internet and started fooling around. During the reconstruction, I had gotten on the Internet and came across some things about the ICC, but I wasn’t ready to hear the truth. However, this time I came across stories, accounts and personal testimonies that not only matched my own, but basically re-iterated everything I had written to Kip! I was stunned!
I was fascinated by what I was reading and gulped down as much information as I could. I will never forget the moment when I realized that the ICC was a cult! I got up from my chair and stumbled down the hall muttering expletives. I remember feeling a sense of relief that I was no longer responsible for “evangelizing the world,” and then intense anger at having been duped, manipulated and controlled for so long.
I shared my findings with Jim, and also printed things off of the ‘Net for him. We began to discuss all of the articles that we were reading. I also headed to the bookstore and purchased several books on cults and destructive groups.
After reading about what had really happened with the Indianapolis Church of Christ in 1994, I told Jim that he needed to listen because I had a lot to tell him. By the end of the conversation, we decided to leave.
Jim decided to leave right away. Since I had been in the church for so long, I wanted to conduct a thorough and lengthy investigation of the church. Thus, I decided to stay and pose as a member.
We also felt that it was prudent for me to remain a member officially because we were renting our apartment from a disciple, who had rented to us because we were members. This disciple and her husband were both kind people, and had been warm and generous with us. However, we felt that, had we both left, they might have kicked us out. Since our finances were in shambles, this would have resulted in homelessness. I don’t think that they would have done this on their own, but when someone is in this church, they have to do what they are told to do. So it was hard to gauge.
On April 5, 1998, instead of coming in to service, Jim sat outside. (He didn’t want to be included in the “stats”). He approached his discipler and another mid-level leader, and informed them that he was leaving the church due to doctrinal reasons. That was all he said.
They were stunned by Jim’s departure, because they had viewed him as “doing well spiritually”. Recently he had helped convince someone else not to “fall away.” He ended up discipling this person, and Jay “lifted him up” for the singles to imitate, instructing two of the singles to observe Jim’s discipling technique. Then, without warning or explanations, he walked.
Jay called him the very next day and asked him if there was anything that he wanted to talk about. Jim told him that he was not interested, but thanked him for calling. Jay asked if he could call him the following week and Jim told him that he could. He never called again.
Everyone was stunned by Jim’s departure, and I was treated like the Queen Bee. Anything I wanted, I got. I was even asked who I wanted to disciple me and what group I wanted to be in. Everyone felt so badly about Jim’s “spiritual suicide.”
At mid-week service, though, I had an encounter with one of the lower level leaders. She told me that she was concerned about me and that she had heard that Jim had left the church. I smiled at her and told her that I was absolutely fine. This rattled her and she got angry with me. She told me that if it were her, “life mate”, she would be totally distraught. “What do you want me to do? Cry? Would that make you feel better?,” I asked. She got really upset with me and proceeded to rebuke me for not being open with my feelings. “The problem that I have always had with you is that you are never open or vulnerable with your feelings,” said the ice queen herself.
I found this statement amazing since, two weeks earlier, I had spent the day with her and her husband and was extremely open about my weight/food issues. I told her about what I was learning at Overeater’s Anonymous. I had always been more real and open with her than she ever has with me.
I was so angry at her lack of sensitivity that I almost beat the living daylights out of her. (I am not kidding.) Luckily (for her), a small voice told me to simply walk away, which I did. I was so angry that I was shaking. As I stalked away, she turned around and said, “But, I love you, Athena.” “Yeah, RIGHT!,” I hissed so loudly that the entire fellowship could hear me. (Typical, dysfunctional ICC behavior: abuse, abuse, abuse — but I love you!)
That Thursday, April 9th, Carol met me for lunch and wanted to see how I was doing. I told her that I had been through much harder things in life; this was no big deal. (Yeah, wouldn’t everyone be devastated if their spouse left a cult? What a joke!) She told me that she understood what I was saying as her discipler, Denise Snyder, (the wife of the Lead Evangelist), told her that her tuberculosis has been harder to deal with than the death of her father. (Are these people really considered spiritual?) Funny how the leaders use other leaders to validate statements.
She then probed me with some questions about Jim, but I told her that I didn’t want to answer them since I felt that it would be gossip. “Amen,” she replied and then she proceeded to ask me about a sister in our Sector! I couldn’t believe my ears! Here she was “amening” my desire to not gossip and then she turns around and starts gossiping!
I believe that God showed me this so that I could see the travesty of the leaders and the falsehood of their teachings. Although I was convinced that the group was not sound, I still was not fully enlightened. Let’s face it, ten years of indoctrination is a long time.
Carol also brought up the incident I’d had with the low-level leader. So intense was my anger that I insisted that Carol needed to keep this girl away from me until I cooled off! I told her that I found the girl to be insensitive, abusive, and was amazed that she was in leadership. I added that I felt this type of personality could be damaging to a lot of people.
Jim was so angry that he called the girl and left a message on her answering machine instructing her to keep away from me, and threatening to hire an attorney and sue for harassment if she didn’t! Boy, did the leaders heed that! The girl avoided me like the plague for a long time.
That week my discipler commented that, since I only knew Jim in the church, wasn’t I worried that he might become a drug addict and have an affair on me? I actually started laughing, but she was dead serious. How sad, that a “Christian” would actually speculate about such a perverted thing.
I had another conversation with Carol Kelly on May 19th. It was quite a conversation! I mentioned that the gossip is of epic proportions in the City Sector, and mentioned to her that people had been gossiping about Jim. She stated that, since we are a family and Jim committed “spiritual suicide,” it was like a, “dog returning to his vomit.” (They say that about everyone who leaves.) Because of this, she felt they had a right to talk about him.
“Well, if they are so concerned, then why don’t they call and talk to him. He hasn’t been marked or anything,” I said. “They probably don’t know him that well and would feel funny calling him,” she replied. “If they’re ‘family’, then why would they feel ‘funny’ calling him?”, I asked. “What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense!” She didn’t know what to say to that!
She got into a tizzy arguing with me, and finally blurted that she hated talking with me because, “You get so fixated on one thing.” “Yeah, you’re right! I do tend to get fixated on the Scriptures!”, I responded. In desperation, she told me that she was concerned about my “weakening convictions,” because I would not admit that Jim was not saved. I had told her that since I am not God, I am not privy to the Book of Life, and that all of us must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I asked her if she actually believed that, just because a person was a member of this church, that guaranteed they were going to heaven. She agreed that it did not.
She countered that God had given us the ability to judge who was lost and who was saved. I told her that this is simply not true. She looked incredulous when I said this.
I continued to challenge her on the gossip and slander that goes on in this church and particularly in leadership, and basically pummeled her with the Scriptures. It was beautiful. I am sorry to sound so mean spirited, but for years I had been beaten down and held under by their oppressive demands for total obedience and submission. For the first time in ten years, I felt empowered to say what I thought and to challenge their authority! I realized that I no longer lived under their oppressive, totalitarian legalism and that I could say whatever I want!
During the conversation she resorted to typical ICC manipulation tactics. She told me that I needed to be “humbled by the situation”, adding that “God has put me in your life as a leader.” I challenged her to be willing to learn from me and to be discipled by me and to believe that God put me in her life so that she could learn from me! I asked her if she believed this and if she were willing to learn from me. She looked like I had just smacked her hard across the face! “Why, of course I am, ” she replied. “Good, ” I said, “because I don’t always feel that from you!” Man, I couldn’t believe that I said that! It felt good, too!
After this conversation, she avoided me, and when she couldn’t, she was extremely friendly and superficial with me.
I knew I had intimidated Carol a great deal. Apparently I did so much that she called a meeting with Linda Brumley, and told me that she has asked Linda’s advice because “she wants to help me” and feels that she “lacks wisdom.” Carol had been in the movement for 19 years at that time, and yet was so easily disarmed by a rank and file member. Doesn’t the Bible say that we should be ready in season and out of season? She couldn’t even defend her beliefs with a member!
I could tell that she was choosing her words carefully and was talking in a calm and soothing manner. Each time she set up a meeting, Jim would call and cancel it at the last minute! He would inform her that, “My wife will not be attending as I do not wish it.” (He knew it was an ambush/breaking session). He also knew that, according to their game, I had to be submissive to him. Boy, they did not like that at all!
I continued to conduct my research, and read everything I could about cults and destructive groups. It got frustrating to be part of a cult when I knew what it was, and there were times when I wanted to scream. On the other hand, I also enjoyed being a spy. I forwarded information about the group to interested parties, and was able to say things to get members to think. I also helped to pull some people out, and to better inform those who had already left.
The more I came to church, though, the more preposterous and stupid all of it seemed. I did not enjoy being a deceiver, even though I had good reason; there is no justification for sin, ever.
There are some other stupid pet tricks that come to mind. I got asked about my mail, which the disciples living above us withheld from me for awhile. American Family Foundation had sent me a packet and since it says “International Cult Education Program” on the return address. It sparked some concern.
Carol also told me that she was studying Ephesians, and had read in a commentary that the Bible really wasn’t saying that wives needed to obey their husbands. She eyed me carefully as she said this and quantified her statements with “I’m not sure what to think. I am still mulling it over.” Is this manipulation or what?
Someone actually questioned my convictions, while the day before this same person admired my recent 50 lb. weight loss. (It takes conviction and determination to lose weight!) I was also told that I “needed to keep things from Jim so as to not harden his heart.” I was actually told this by a Bible Talk Leader!
I was also “challenged” incessantly about my contribution and was told by a leader that I needed to get in a fight with Jim and show him my convictions. She told me that I have gotten in fights “over dumber things,” but that contribution is important and he needs to see how important it is to me.
During my “last days” as a disciple in the ICC, I met with one of the deans at a local university. I wrote a seven page informational letter, and told the dean to expect non-students to come and proselytize on her campus. She was wonderful — sympathetic and knowledgeable about the ICC. She told me that she not only planned to alert their security personnel, but would like for Jim and I to come and teach the incoming freshmen during their orientation about cults and destructive groups. I cannot tell you how intoxicating it was to begin to undermine the impending “Fall Harvest” of the Seattle Church of Christ! I also met and interviewed with the editor of the student newspaper at a major university.
I knew that I was convincing and that none of the members had a clue that I was an impostor.
I had written to Rick and Sarah Bauer in May and they had corresponded with me. A close friend of mine had also left the church. She sent me an excellent video that profiled a series of reports done by various television news magazines. It was interesting to read about mind reform and thought control, and to watch it in action. The more I read, the more aware I became of the tactics that were being used to manipulate the members. It was odious.
Finally, I could take no more. I attended the Seattle Church of Christ for the last time on August 25, 1998. Walking into mid-week service, I had just finished conversing with my then discipler, and told her that I felt that church took up too much time and was absolutely meaningless. She seemed surprised that I felt that church was time consuming. In a beautiful stroke of irony, Tom Snyder distributed the church calendar. Basically, the leaders had planned everything through the end of December! All kinds of meetings, classes, Hope for Kids stuff, etc. had been scheduled. I had to resist looking over at my discipler, however. Oh, it was too delicious!
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I spoke to a friend of mine, and told her that I would never be back. During our conversation, I cast an eye at Carol Kelly, who was deep in conversation with my discipler. I knew that they were talking about me. As soon as I left, Carol Kelly waylaid two of my friends and told them to be careful, stating that “Athena is in a bad place.”
The irony is that my friends were loyal to me — one of them told me about this. What Carol Kelly didn’t realize is that her actions mirrored her true self. My friends are not stupid and they have not only watched, but know in detail, many events that have transpired. I am certain that at some point (hopefully soon), they too will leave the movement.
The writing had been on the wall for many years; it just took me a while to decipher it. An obvious question is: why did I stay in the movement for so long? I stayed because I had made a commitment to God to be a “go anywhere, do anything” disciple of Jesus. That resulted in me putting up with a tremendous amount of abuse. For years, I believed the never ending mantras of “God is in control” and “things are getting better.”
Things never got better. I gave the movement a fair shot — ten years of my life which I will never get back. I also came to the realization that, because God had given me “free will”, He (by His own choice) was not in control of this. I was. No, I don’t control the universe, but I do have responsibility for my life and what happens in it. Finally I realized my responsibility to blow the whistle on abusers and abusive groups. (That is why I wrote this essay).
It greatly angers me to hear “old timer” disciples telling me that, “God is in control.” If this is true, then I guess we could use this line of reasoning with Stalin, Hitler, Mao et al. (To acknowledge that Hitler murdered six million Jews, and then excuse it by saying that “God is in control,” has an absurd ring to it). This type of passivity is disgusting. It is, in effect, contributing to the very evil it excuses by allowing it to exist unchecked and unchallenged. Thus, the passive person becomes guilty by association.
As evidenced by what I have written, things have not gotten any better. I experienced purges (“reconstructions’) in Paris, New York, San Diego and Seattle — all four churches I was in during my ten years in the ICC. I have been controlled by abusive leaders in all four churches. (Although Paris ranks as the “kindest & gentlest” in my memory). I have witnessed cruelty, and abusive and tyrannical behavior, by many leaders. I have witnessed a panoply of other stupid pet tricks as well. I have watched people get suicidal and depressed (myself included) because of this. This is the greatest horror in the “Kingdom.”
My greatest area of concern is how the leaders have done profound psychological damage to members and former members. The worst was when they asked people to leave the church during a “Reconstruction” or “Revival.” What kind of human being would knowingly relegate someone to hell? They preach that “to leave this movement is to leave God!” Since they teach that they have cornered the market on salvation, and most disciples actually believe this, they leave the people whom they throw out without hope.
This, to me, is the most odious practice of all. How can this be of God, from God and for God? This type of behavior is so far from God in every way. It reminds me of inquisitions — religious leaders became judge, jury and executioner by deciding who the heretics are, condemning them, and executing them. The only difference is that, instead of killing the body, these modern day inquisitors kill the spirit.
I clung in desperation and frustration for years — desperate, because I believed it to be “the true movement of God”; frustrated, because things weren’t right. When I confronted the ungodliness, I was given pat answers, justification for sin, and told to trust without question.
When I finally sat down and penned my concerns, thought about what was happening (I was once told by my discipler that I should have children, because then I wouldn’t have time to think), and did some serious Bible study, I concluded that to continue membership in the ICC would not only make me guilty by association, but that I would have to answer for all these unrighteous practices. Thus, leaving the ICC became an issue of conscience — I could no longer in good conscience sanction the practices of this church. To do so would require an unacceptable compromise of my integrity and ethics.
As I read over my account, I am struck by the seeming duality of my personality. It has become obvious that over the years I desperately wanted to leave the ICC due to the abuse, boredom and frustration that I felt. I hope that it becomes evident to the reader, that despite how easy it seems to leave such a group, when under the influence of mind control one cannot. One is inculcated with the notion that to, “leave this church is to leave God.”
Marty Fuqua is known for saying that “you can’t run off true disciples.” There is some sort of perverse pride in exhibiting your war wounds and saying, “Yeah, I survived the tyranny of so and so and lived to tell about it.” In your mind, it becomes proof that you love Jesus so much that you are willing to go through anything, even intense and insane abuse.
This also means that the leaders have free range to abuse their followers, and abuse them they do. There are absolutely no checks and balances within the system. How can there be when disciples are always subordinate to their abusers? To repeatedly abuse, rebuke, make scathing accusations, use “breaking sessions” openly embarrass and humiliate, deceive and then tell the person that you love them is sick, indeed. Moreover, this is what discipleship in the ICC engenders.
The only way to break free from it is to run from it. However, “if you leave this movement, you leave God.” This statement has so much pull that you compromise your integrity. For some people, I believe it has compromised it to the point of no return.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. I am angry with myself for not having read the “spiritual pornography” a lot earlier in my involvement with the ICC. It amazes me that a once-avid reader would suddenly stop reading per someone else’s advice/command. The fact that there is information out there that could “damage your faith” calls into question the validity of that faith. I slowly realized that, for far too long, I had not only listened to, but followed, man.
The price I paid for this was years of my life. Thank God I got out before it cost me my soul! The Bible teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to,”Test everything. Hold on to the good.” Since ICC members are denied access to material critical of the ICC because the leaders term such material, “spiritual pornography, they are forbidden to follow this Scripture.
What seems so obvious to those on the outside is not at all clear to those on the inside. Mind control is real. I hate to think that I had succumbed to it, but indeed, I did for ten years. It helped me to understand how Hitler could have gained the control that he did over the German people. He had charisma, gave them a greater purpose and a cause, made them feel like an elite group, etc. — all of the same ingredients are there.
The ICC is just as destructive and detrimental to people, but on a spiritual, emotional and psychological level. Thus it is much more difficult to see the “walking wounded,” or fathom who is in bondage in the spiritual concentration camp, let alone be able to ascertain the true “death count.”
Another thing that I would like to point out — everyone is susceptible to mind control groups at some point in their lives. People are conned all of the time, and cults are just another con game. Con artists actually play on a person’s intelligence and benevolence — smart and good people get conned all of the time. Whether you are conned to give away your money, get involved in some multi-level marketing or get rich quick scheme, or whatever, everyone, at some point in their lives, is vulnerable.
What I find particularly insidious about this group is that it uses the Bible as a vehicle for the promotion of mind control. Everyone in the group goes through the same studies, undergoes the same process and once baptized, attends the “First Principles” class. Members are indoctrinated on a continual basis through mandatory “meetings of the body”, constant demands on their time, thought stopping language and meaningless sermons. Even the messages are punctuated by “Amen’s” and “You go, brother’s” shouts from the audience, which serve to reinforce the indoctrination process through interruption and validate meaningless drivel. This kind of thing also carries people along emotionally, but not intellectually. The fact that these leaders can use the Scriptures and twist them so badly (and so effectively) is frightening indeed.
This is what makes it so difficult for the member to detangle himself from this web of deceit. The Bible is used and abused to make it appear that God sanctions all of their actions, their teachings, and their practices. Members are taught to believe that the Bible is God’s word and to accept it at face value. Members are taught to obey and submit to their leaders. Once these pieces are in place, the victim is under their control.
Moreover, since one is given very little free time for actual study and most of us are not biblical scholars, we accept these teachings without question. I am amazed at how quickly I forgot to “be a Berean” and search the Scriptures to test what I was being told.
It was by remembering this Scripture and doing it that I was able to detangle myself from their grip.
Another frightening aspect that I have observed amongst the members and particularly those in the full-time ministry, is the lack of actual thought. Everything and everyone is relegated into thought stopping labels, such as “prideful, not open, not teachable, great heart”, and a million other stupid phrases like, “awesome, unsubmissive, independent, etc.” In the ICC, everything is based on quick and very superficial judgments. Actual thought and reasoning are dead.
Whether we choose to realize this or not, all of us are subjected to information control. A good example of this would be President Kennedy’s assassination. Thirty-five years have passed and we still don’t have the full story. Having control of information gives one a lot of power. If the information that you have has been controlled and manipulated by another than how could you possibly ever learn the truth? Indeed, the truth is elusive. At some point in time, all of us have been victimized by some form of “information control” be it our government, media and/or another entity that propagates information. Thus, my involvement and that of thousands of others in the ICC is not as far-fetched as it seems.
I cannot convey to the reader how profoundly wounded I feel. I feel raped spiritually. I feel pillaged and abused. The psychological damage is also profound for many other former members. I am one of the more fortunate escapees — I was able to get healed through lots of “bibliotherapy.” I read everything that I could get my hands on regarding the Crossroads Movement, the International Churches of Christ, the Boston Movement and any other information regarding cults, mind control and destructive groups. Thank God for organizations like AFF and web sites like REVEAL and TOLC. These organizations were instrumental in my recovery.
God says, “My sheep know my voice.” I have come to the conclusion that those who are truly spiritual, those who earnestly hunger and quest for the truth, are able to ascertain whether or not they are on the right path. I recently finished reading a book by Nansook Hong (a former Moonie). Her story greatly comforted me because, although she was raised in a cult, she was able to ascertain that what she was a part of was one giant lie. Thus, “my sheep know my voice” rings true here. Nansook knew right from wrong, and her conscience could no longer tolerate the giant travesty.
My hope is that the children of those in the movement will also arrive at the same conclusion, and see the ICC for what it is.
As time passes, I am struck by the increasing hypocrisy of the leaders in the International Churches of Christ. I believe that as the hypocrisy gets worse, more and more people will leave. The pharisaical behavior of the leaders is getting worse — it would take an ostrich with its head in the sand to not see it. Kip can scamper and hide; the leaders can demand absolute obedience and submission; more purges can be called for and more recruits can be added in the revolving door of the ICC, but at some point all of it will catch up with them. The truth always comes out.
In the end, the leaders will bring about their own demise. Led to the slaughter by Kip McKean, they willingly follow him. As angry as I am with some of the leaders, and as hurt and abused as I have been by some of them, part of me feels very sorry for them, too. They are merely willing sycophants fulfilling scripture that warns, “Evil men and impostors go from bad to worse deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13) Matthew 23 is also an accurate description of the leaders of the ICC and their plight. How sad, how terribly sad, all of this is. Indeed, the road is narrow and few find it.
Reading Matthew 23 gave me great insight into myself. I realized that through my decade of involvement that that is exactly what I had become — a Pharisee. Since discipleship works on the theory of imitation, and the leaders are supposed to be the most worthy of imitation, it stands to reason that those involved in the ICC end up becoming like the leaders — Pharisees.
Kip McKean himself said, “I’m the leader of the movement. I’ve got a lot of the Pharisee in me.”
In examining the outcome of my involvement with the ICC, I was faced with the brutal truth that there was absolutely nothing Christian about me at all. I was neither giving, generous, kind, gracious, loving or caring. (As Jesus said, “You make him twice the son of hell that you are.”) I viewed the entire world through a very narrow and pedantic lens — “saved” equaled “member of the ICC” and “lost” equaled everyone else. The fact that I could view my family in this way, and after a while not really much care, goes to show the type of vile human being I became. To not even feel a tinge of compassion towards their supposed plight is disgusting — completely psychotic and anti-social. I had to ask myself, “What have I become?”, and, “What have I done to others in the name of Jesus?”
The constant challenge to reach out to the sharp and prominent is so contrary to what the Bible teaches. (How could I have bought into it?) It is perverted and sick to focus only on the “sharp” because “we need leaders to move the Kingdom.” The gospels make it clear that Jesus focused much more on the “sick and the sinners.” He focused on anyone willing to get well either physically or spiritually.
Being involved in the ICC meant that I limited who got well. I chose those who I deemed “open enough” to have me “share my faith” with them. Since I focused on the “sharp,” my outreach was even more limited, since I rarely focused on the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the homeless or any other under represented group in society. (Jim and I once brought a homeless couple to church and got admonished for it). The entire premise that I embraced is by its very nature satanic. There was nothing Christ-like about me and nothing Christ-like about the group.
I was so sick of the constant deception. For years, my deceit plagued me. It bothered me that I “could play the game”, “talk the talk and walk the walk”, but God was not deceived by my antics nor my hypocrisy. Not once did I ever tell anyone who I was reaching out to the real story about the church. I lied and told them how “awesome” it was. I even withheld this information from my own mother!
What is even more frightening is that I actually believed what I was saying; I can remember telling Catherine that she shouldn’t run off and get married because she’ll miss the blessings of getting married “in the Kingdom”! (How quickly I forgot the “blessings” I received!)
I am grateful for the very small seed of conscience that God allowed me to retain. This tiny voice kept plaguing me all of these years. I questioned the gossip that went on in leaders meetings; I disliked the apparent factions that leadership created between leaders and non-leaders; I was disgruntled by the cliques that emerged within sectors and zones; I challenged the leaders on the favoritism and glaring worldliness; I wondered what the costs were for the World Missions Leadership Conferences in Manila, Johannesburg and Istanbul and how they were funded; I questioned everything that didn’t sit right with me or went against scripture.
It takes tremendous courage to admit that the group that you have been a part of is not at all what it pretends to be. For years you try to drag people you know into it, and then you are faced with explaining why you left. The group also provides a strong core of support and is a very secure and somewhat safe cocoon. One is cut off from society; your time and life’s events are planned for you. Many find a sense of security and comfort. It is hard to break free.
Others feel oppressed by such constraints, but for the most part, there is something wonderful about being in “God’s Kingdom.” It makes you feel special, as if God personally sussed you out for His purpose. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that?
You are also made to feel like you are part of a wonderful family and all of the members worldwide share a commonality with you. There is a unique and spiritual bond. We even have our own language and code of doing things. It is kind of like belonging to a secret club that is very elite. You are also made to feel that you are spiritual since you had the insight and wisdom to join “God’s kingdom.”
There are also other benefits with being involved. You are exposed to a lot of people so it is easy to make friends. Dating is easier because you are not worried about the person’s ulterior motives, but you can actually date and get to know a person. For the introvert, being in the ICC helps them to become more extroverted. People help you (whether you want it or not) with social graces, your appearance, and a panoply of other things. People who are generally meek learn to be leaders. There can be and are benefits to being in a group, albeit a destructive one.
I am actually grateful for my experience in the ICC, for it has taught me a great deal. Perhaps I am a bit more cynical and jaded now (as gone are the naiveté and idealism), but it has been replaced by experience. Experience is the best teacher, provided that one actually learns from it and gains wisdom. It would be unfortunate to stay angry and grow bitter over what has happened. I see all of my experiences as part of a path that leads me to God. I have a greater understanding of who God is, and how kind and gracious He is.
I was never able to see this before I left because, while in the ICC, I viewed Him as being disappointed in me all of the time. Now I am able to accept that I will never be perfect, and that I will never be able to live up to the standard of the Bible; but that is why we have Jesus. I am finally able, at long last, to accept God’s gift of salvation and be grateful for His tender mercy and everlasting kindness. At long last I am able to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, without the choir of critics “discipling” me on what I should change. It’s nice to know that God loves me and accepts me for who and what I am — something I rarely felt while in the ICC.
I am also grateful for my experience in the ICC because it has taught me how to have compassion and empathy towards so many people who suffer. How often have we watched in utter amazement as a wife goes back to her husband after he has beaten her, and ask why? I now know why, although I am no longer in a position to judge whether or not the choice was stupid. I understand to what depths you can love someone or something, as misguided and idiotic as it may seem to those on the outside.
I hope that anyone who is reading this, and is trapped in a web of deceit, will find the strength and fortitude to get out. For those who have never tasted the bitter and acrid fruit of a destructive group, I hope that you will feel mercy and compassion towards those who have. Cults, destructive groups, con games, abusive relationships (whatever you choose to call it) are the social menace of our times. All of humanity stands as a potential victim; only the enlightened can overcome.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
— Proverbs 16:25
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
— Luke 8:8
©1999 by Athena Higgins <[email protected]>. All rights reserved.
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