The Story of Marci Hooten Parker

The Story of Marci Hooten Parker

I first came in contact with the ICC through my work place. A family that I worked for knew that I was looking for a church and they had a relative that went to the Phoenix Valley ICC. They themselves were not involved with this church and therefore did not know much about it, but knowing that I was looking for a church, they asked if I would like to have this person give me a call. Not knowing what I was getting into, I said yes.

When this member called me, she was very friendly and really seemed to want to get to know me. This was great for me. At the time, I was longing so much to have a closer relationship with God and, also wanting to build more friendships, something I felt I was lacking at that time.

She came out to the home where I was working, and we began some “studies” of the bible. At that point in my life, I admit that I did not have the kind of close relationship that I truly wanted to have with God. I desired it, but simply felt uncertain just how to make the kinds of changes that I felt I needed to make in order to experience a deeper walk with him, so when we began to study I was “broken” easily. She suggested more studies and we set up another time to continue with a few other people who would be involved.

By now, I was attending the Sunday services along with my mother and sister. During my studies, I was “encouraged” to reveal my sins, in the most intimate of details (and I DO mean DETAILS!) — EVERY sin I had ever committed, or even thought I had committed, in my entire life.

I was rushed through these studies pretty fast. There were several studies that went late into the night. If I tired and felt that I wanted to continue on another night, I was informed of the importance of continuing in spite of my exhaustion, since — if I really wanted a relationship with God, and if I was really serious — I would press on. It was, also, impressed upon me the dire circumstances that I was in, since I could have a car accident on my way home and die and go to hell. I needed to hurry and complete the studies so I could be baptized and become a member of the ICC.

Once I finished my studies, I was baptized. I was now officially a member and “officially saved”. The “honeymoon” period was wonderful, but very short lived. I quickly began to run into problems.

There are so many things that happened. Some were very subtle things that, alone, would probably have not caused me much alarm. Everyone knows that nothing (even a church) is perfect, even the ICC. So, in the beginning I guess I was still trying to ignore some of the problems I was seeing because I wanted this “church” to be everything I hoped it was.

Reality begins when the loving relationships that you first experience become more “intense”. You become increasingly aware of how dependent these relationships are on how “humble” and “obedient” you become. You develop the understanding that others are watching what you do and expecting a certain level of “commitment” and performance. You hear the gossip and rumor that abounds about those who are NOT doing well “spiritually”, or those who are “struggling” with sin. You prefer not to be included on the list of these “struggling” brothers and sisters, so you really try to work hard to do the things that people expect you to do.

Peer pressure has many subtle ways of “encouraging” you to move in a particular direction and “helping” you to think about things in a certain way. You learn that if you “move” and “think” like those around you, you reap the benefits of the friendships that you have developed and you enjoy the “respect” of your peers. If you have difficulty in submitting to and being obedient to all of the many rules and the “advice” and opinions of others about every area of your life, or if you are not satisfied with the answers that you receive to your questions, you become aware of a side of the ICC that you had not previously been aware of.

Rather than write pages of all of the things that I experienced and saw in the ICC, I recently made a list of the things that caused me the most difficulty as a member. This is not by any means complete, but consists of merely the particular issues that began causing me to rethink my initial beliefs about this group. I began to question whether or not the things that were being said and done were trul, what God expected of His church and the leaders of His church.

Troubling Things

  1. My Bible Talk leader defended my being told that I should get no more than 6 hours sleep by pointing to Matthew 8:20: “Jesus replied: ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.'”

  1. My Bible Talk leader laid a heavy guilt trip on me for not feeling well and wanting to leave my Bible Talk group early one night.

  1. I was so broke most of the time that my roommate and I had difficulty eating properly. (Can you say Ramen?) I would then come home to find a message on our answering machine that we had to prepare and deliver a meal to someone else. I am happy to help someone else whenever I am able to, but we were struggling to feed ourselves, and no one (but my mom) was ever there with an offer to help us. It would also have been nice if we had been asked to help with a meal for someone, instead of it being assigned to us.

  1. I drove a beat-up old car that had no air conditioning. (We live in the desert) It also went through gas and oil like there was nothing in between the cap and the tailpipe. When visitors came to Phoenix from LA, I was assigned as official chauffeur for them. I took them to and from church, to social functions and anything else that they wanted to go to. One evening they wanted to go to a late movie. My room mate and I did not want to be out that late and declined their offer. Of course, we were suppose to provide the transportation, so I was “rebuked” by another disciple for “not denying” myself and not being a “good servant” to these girls. No one ever offered to help with my expenses by paying to put some gas in my car.

    I particularly remember a Sunday service where Joe Fields was on the subject of why we should increase the amounts of our tithes. He pointed out that the parking lot of full of “nice” cars, so he didn’t see anyone “hurting” in the “church. I wondered how he had overlooked my poor, beat up car that appeared to be leaning on the curb just outside. I began to wonder whether he really saw anything that didn’t fit into his vision of how great everything was in the ICC.

  1. After Sunday service, everyone goes out to eat in groups. I had invited a guy from another sector to join us for lunch. We ate and talked as a group and I thought everyone had a good time. After this, I had another member “rebuke” me for trying to “sneak in a “Weasel Date”. I had to have this explained to me, since I had not been aware that something, done so innocently, could have been labeled with such devious intent. I was left feeling utterly confused, hurt and “in sin”.

  1. I was told repeatedly that I should not listen to Christian music, something that I dearly loved. The explanation was that I could not know that they were REALLY Christian, therefore I should not listen to them. Oddly enough, someone in the Music Ministry loved to listen to hardcore violent rap music, even playing it during double dates with other couples. This was acceptable, but my Christian music was not. I guess it is okay to listen to murder and rape, but not good to listen to anyone talk about God and morality when you cannot know whether they are truly Christians or not.

    I now believe that the real problem lies in the threat posed by the lyrics, and the true ministry that exists within much of contemporary Christian music. The message of “grace” in CCM is loud and clear, maybe TOO loud and clear for some in the ICC.

  1. I was continually told that I should not act and react on my emotions, yet when I dared to take a question to someone in leadership, I was blasted for “going over the heads” of those in the “chain” and, therefore, “hurting their feelings”. They can act on their emotions, I guess, but I cannot.

  1. I struggled to pay the tithe that I was REQUIRED to pay. I was told during my studies that I MUST give ten percent of my income to the church — there was no room for debate on this issue. I have heard current members say that there is no requirement to tithe. I am amazed every time I hear this, since it was made quite clear that this is what would be expected of me. Since my roommate and I struggled just to survive, eat, pay for gas to get to work, church, meetings, and to chauffeur others who needed to be driven places, and pay our rent, etc., tithing was truly a sacrifice for both of us.

    I recall one week, when my bank account was empty, requesting a couple of days to collect my paycheck before writing my check for that week’s tithe. I was immediately told of the problem that I was causing. I was told that I was “interfering with the process of gathering, counting and depositing the tithe for the week”. I was made to feel so low, and I was angry. I have to acknowledge that my discipler in this case told me not to worry about it, but it did little to alter my feelings that something was very wrong with the focus on money in the ICC.

  1. I had real questions from the start about the “One True Church” issue. I asked many others whether there were other Christians outside of the ICC. The answer I got was like a tape recording rewound and played by each member: “There may be others out there, but we haven’t met them yet”.

    I did get one different approach from my Singles Leaders. They added that, “if there are others out there, they would desire to become part of the ICC”. No one would acknowledge even the possibility that the ICC was not THE CHURCH, or that Christianity could exist without the ICC.

    To this day this is a puzzling issue for me. I cannot understand quite how I internalized this particular doctrine. I had difficulty accepting that the ICC was “The Only Church”, yet there was a part of me that, also, lived with a question that I could not erase from my mind: “What if it is?” I think it was such a difficult thing for me to deal with that I simply tried not to even think about it. The fear that my relationships with Christian friends and family outside of the ICC might be affected by whatever conclusions I might have to reach seems to have created a “blank” space here that I simply avoided dealing with during my membership.

    It was only when I made the decision to leave that this issue suddenly became hauntingly real, again. Leaving meant HAVING to deal with this, since I was now preparing to make a decision that could effect me in the most “eternal” way imaginable.

  1. I had been asked out on a date by David, and we went out. Two weeks later he came to me and asked me to go out with him again. I told him that I would like to go out with him again, but we did not set a date or time to do so. I was talking to some other members about this, and was told that I was to go to his discipler and tell him that David had asked me out again before he was allowed to do so. (We were not allowed to date the same person twice in a month). I was amazed that I was instructed to do this. I could not understand what the problem was. I knew that if I followed this “advice”, it would only cause David grief from his discipler, so did not mention this to anyone again.

    Another time, a “brother” in the church and I, walked around in the mall together (with hundreds of other people), and then sat in the evening service while Joe Fields blasted the whole church about the “sin” of even riding in the same car with a member of the opposite sex alone together. This certainly put a “chill” on the innocent afternoon that had included a walk, in a public place, by me and a (gasp) brother in the church. Be assured that we never let THAT happen again.

    I am still amazed at the measure of control that is expected and assumed over the lives of members. I guess it is safe to say that my membership was one of much unresolved turmoil over issues that never made a lot of sense to me and questions that I could never get satisfactory answers to.

  1. I was involved in a weight loss class run by a member that required a very rigid schedule of diet and weigh ins. The “goal”, according to the “instructor” was to work toward eating “raw vegetables” ONLY. This person pointed out (in error) that the only meat that God ever provided to people was “fish”, which she considered to be the only possible exception to the stated goals of the class. I was given a sheet to fill out daily on every thing that I ate and how I felt when I ate it.

    I was especially impressed by a comment made by the Singles Leader that we should attend this weight class to make ourselves look better. Her remark was that we should work to make ourselves look more attractive because, “Who wants to go to a church full of fat people?” The class was set up to work in stages. The “message” was that “cooked” foods were not good for you and should be gradually, over time, eliminated, or allowed only in very small amounts. There was a list of scriptures that we were given to justify the ideology of the class.

    When I look at these today, I am amazed that I did not see then how unbelievably out of context these verses are, and how many of them relate more to obedience and submission than to any need to do something that is good for you. It makes one question whether or not there was a dual purpose involved in the way these classes were designed. It is hard to imagine anyone sticking with it for long unless they are particularly “submissive” and “obedient” to the teachings of the ICC.

  1. There was my “sin” of being nervous about praying aloud in a group setting. This really disturbed me. I confessed this nervousness in my studies, and was told that I was being sinful. The “cure” for such sinfulness seemed to be to continually put me on the spot, at every opportunity and “force” me to pray aloud in a group of people. I cannot tell you how stressful and hurtful this was to me. This resides as a very painful memory of the kind of “loving support” that is available to those who are not extremely extroverted in the ICC.

  1. Finally, I was told that if I found it difficult to come up with the money that would be required of me at Missions Contributions time, I should sell my car.

There are, of course, many other things that I could add, but this is supposed to be a short summation of my experiences in the ICC, not a book.

It is fair to say that I was deeply troubled by much of what I saw, and found myself increasingly at odds with others about what I thought were serious questions that required answers. As time passed, I began to realize that satisfactory answers were not forthcoming, and much of what I had been told was true by ICC leaders became harder and harder to accept.

I discussed some of these things with my mom when we managed to get together, which was not very often. My time was filled with activities that I needed to attend and “family night” meant time with my ICC roommate, not my flesh and blood family. We hardly ever even found time to talk on the phone, much less face to face.

Not being allowed to sleep more than 6 hours (and sometimes not even that when there was a singles function that I was required to attend during the week and work to get up for each morning) took a physical, mental and emotional toll on me. I began leaving work, going to my mom’s and collapsing on the couch to sleep whenever I could. It soon became apparent that others in the church were aware that I was doing this, and I began getting calls from them, within a short time of arriving, every time I went there.

My mom and I spent more time looking at Scriptures, when I was at her house, and in the process I was seeing more and more that simply did not “jive” with what I saw being taught and practiced in the ICC. I began leaving my mom’s with more questions that I took to my leaders and other members. The answers that I got did nothing to bridge what was becoming a larger gap between what I was reading in the Bible and what I was seeing in the ICC. I was really wanting them to give me answers that I could accept, I WANTED them to be right, yet in my heart there was the voice that just kept telling me that the answers I was getting were WRONG.

When an opportunity arose for me to visit relatives in Texas, my mom began to encourage me to go. Though I did not encounter opposition to taking a week from Phoenix, my discipler and others went to great lengths to make sure that my trip did not mean taking a “vacation” away from the ICC. They even made a long distance call to Austin to make certain that I was expected at the Sunday service while I was there.

I got a couple of calls from Phoenix while I was in Texas — one was from a guy who wanted to set up a date for when I returned.

This time, away from the Phoenix “church” and discussions with friends and family, and without the time constraints imposed by my ICC involvement, I was able to look at a lot of things from a different perspective. This vacation allowed me the luxury of enough time to sleep, to eat well and to enjoy making choices about how I would plan each day, without being made to feel guilty and selfish for everything that was not accomplishing something “for God”. (That is, for the ICC.)

I understand now why members face such restrictions on where and when they are allowed to be away from “the Church”. When you retreat from an environment where everyone is telling you what is right, what is wrong, how you must think about and do things, how “selfish”, “unspiritual”, “unsacrificial”, and “prideful” your are, and that everything that you want to do that others don’t agree with is selfish, you have time to listen to your own heart and thoughts and to consider the questions that have not been answered.

By the time I got back to Phoenix, I had already made my decision. I was, however, filled with fear about how I was going to manage leaving without everything that I feared this would entail. There was also this heightened concern about the “One True Church” and whether or not I was condemning myself to hell for the decision I had made.

I told my mom first and was surprised at her response. She made it clear that I could stay at “home” and that she and Rich would have me moved out and back into “our” house as quickly as I wanted them to if that is what I wanted. I did.

I decided to move out quietly, and THEN confront the members and leaders about my decision. I felt this would give me a little more control over the process that I expected would follow my “announcement”. Once I had moved out (in a matter of hours) the word spread that I was “leaving”. The phone calls began, .from everybody. There were tears and there were questions of why I wanted to leave. I was treated like a condemned person approaching the gallows, while everyone was scurrying around trying to get a last minute “pardon” from the Governor.

I was invited to numerous functions, which I attended, making it quite clear that I wanted to remain friends with everyone, yet did not intend to return to the church. I repeated this desire to my Bible Talk leader, who told me if I wanted to remain friends I needed to “come to church” and to others, who I felt closest to, in the ICC, who told me that they just didn’t have a lot of time to spend outside of the church. We had a discussion, at my home, with my BT leader (who just happened to be in the neighborhood with another member) that lasted a couple of hours. We discussed the Scriptural problems that I had with the ICC doctrines and practices and invited him to return if he wanted to talk some more. He didn’t.

I was told, by many of the members, that I wanted to leave because there was “sin” that I wanted to indulge in. I was also told that because I did not go to every single member in the church and get them to see the scriptures the same way I did, I would stand before God on the Day of Judgement carrying the salvation of every ICC member on my head. According to them it was my responsibility to “convince” them that I was right and they were wrong. The Scripture of choice for this was Matthew 18:15-18

After I left, I was told, by another member, that they were no longer allowed (by their discipler) to talk to me because of the 2 Corinthians 6:14.

I was recently informed by a current member, that the rumor going around was that I had left the ICC to be with David Parker. I think this must have been made up by someone well after I left in order to give my departure that usual “left for sinful and selfish reasons” interpretation. This practice of assigning sinful and selfish reasons to all people who leave allows those who remain to believe that there are no truly Scriptural or just causes to leave the ICC.

The funny part of this is that I didn’t even know David well at that time. We had been out on ONE whole date. As everyone knows, the ICC does not encourage men and women to socialize outside of their formal Saturday night dates. When I left, he was still a member, and he was as surprised as everyone else when I left. He was not really “sold out” to the ICC either, though, and we began to talk about some of my reasons for leaving. He defied the ICC’s authority by asking me out on a date. This is not exactly permitted in the ICC — members do not date non-members — but we even made it a “double date”. The “date” was a disaster. I was treated very badly by our dating “partners” and I wound up calling Rich to come pick me up after a none-too-nice “encounter”, with the other girl on the date in the hall to the bathroom.

I didn’t hear from David for about a week after this. I had no idea what he was feeling about all of this. When he finally called me, he apologized for how I was treated and told me that he, too, had decided to leave the ICC. He said his last straw had been seeing how I had been treated by these people who called themselves “Christians”.

After dating for about 6 months, David and I got married. I guess the fact that we are married plays well to those who do not know what really happened and has become another twisted truth told by the ICC to justify why anyone would even think about leaving the ICC.

I left the ICC because of serious problems that I have with their interpretations of Scriptures and how they put their doctrines and beliefs into practice. I realized that I could not believe what they believed, and that I could not change anything if I was “obedient” to the leaders in all things as was expected of members. Other voices are not encouraged or welcomed in the ICC.

This means that you are not supposed to question your leaders and, as I discovered by trying to get the answers to the questions that I had, there is simply no way that you can hold beliefs that differ what is taught in the ICC unless you are willing to keep your mouth closed about them and follow the ICC’s rules whether or not you believe they are right.

I believe that I have been able to do more good for God from outside of the ICC than I was ever able to do inside. Knowing the problems that I had, as a member, and knowing the struggle with doubts and fears that I had after making the decision to leave, allows me to understand some of the fears shared by other members and former members.

I felt intense and immediate relief from a lot of the stress when I left, but struggled with depression and doubts for some time. I went through a period of serious confusion and made some mistakes that I wish I had not made when I first left. A lot of this, I believe, is due to the extreme control the ICC exerts over your life and your consequent need to regain some measure of control over your life, and to start trusting your own ability to make choices and decisions for yourself again. It took me some time to regain a sense of balance.

I talked to Sarah Bauer and Rick Krugg, both of whom were able to help me search the Scriptures for a better understanding of what grace is and that God is not confined to a small group like the ICC. They reminded me that leaving the ICC is not leaving God, and that His grace and mercy are not bound by any denominational walls a group may try to build. They gave me information that helped me to see for myself that the decision I had made was the right one. My mom downloaded info from REVEAL and TOLC even before I left the ICC, and had some info for me to read when I left.

Everyone involved in ICC ex-member support has been wonderful and has done nothing but encourage me to search for the truth, never telling me that I should not read information from any source, or that I should not talk to anyone.

I think the good that came out of this experience was that I learned to rely more on what the Bible says in context. I learned that we all have an obligation to add something to the churches that we go to, instead of simply expecting them to meet OUR needs. I learned that there is NO perfect “church”, or even any one group that can label itself THE church, because all of those who have made Christ their savior are a part of the Church Body and THAT membership role is known, in its entirety, only by God.

I have also learned to listen to someone without judging them for having beliefs that may differ from my own and, most importantly, that you can have a great relationship with Christ without having to jump through man-made “hoops”. Your relationship with Christ is not a performence test, let alone one that you can never get a passing grade on.

I understand better why God in His wisdom made us all different and that we all have different roles to play in His service, and that is good. We are not all required to be the same, think the same and perform the same things to be a Christian. I appreciate friendships more, and NOT as a tool for being “fruitful”.

I enjoy going to church because I want to, and not feeling a heavy guilt trip and expecting rebuking phone calls if I miss a Sunday. I enjoy being able to sleep in sometimes when my year old son allows it, without thinking how selfish and sinful I am for doing so.

I “struggle” many days in my walk with the Lord, .I’d like to find someone who never “struggles”, but God has placed some wonderful people in my life (like my best friend, Kippen, who is more christlike than most anyone I ever knew in the ICC) whom I can lean on when I need support. I no longer feel that a “discipling” relationship means I am required to confess every single detail of my sins, thoughts and struggles to anyone unless I choose to. Accountability is something that we can structure, in whatever way we feel comfortable, or led by God to, with people that have developed a record of honesty and trust with us, and who can respect what “confidentiality” means.

I have one Lord and only one person who I need to confess my every sin and thought to and He has made it so easy because he already knows everything in my heart and in my mind. I have no fear that he will ever question my motives or accuse me unjustly.

I now talk to current members of the ICC who want to discuss my reasons for leaving and to former members who are seeking discussions with someone who can understand the confusion that they have gone through when they made the decision to leave the ICC.

For anyone who would like to talk, I would be glad to help in any way that I can. Feel free to contact me.

Marci (Hooten) Parker

©1999 by Marci Hooten Parker <>. All rights reserved.

Back to other articles about the International Churches of Christ.