Forgiveness

A few months ago, someone shared with me that my blog was missing a section. He shared that some people might find it helpful to see how I’d recovered from this group. What spiritual journey had I taken? he asked. How had I dealt with depression? How had I forgiven? He said you guys would want to know.

I didn’t want to push any of my personal beliefs onto anyone or “preach,” so I haven’t written about this until now. I realize that sharing my own journey doesn’t mean I’m pushing my beliefs onto you, nor does it mean I want you to agree with me. In fact, sharing my journey is perhaps the most vulnerable thing I could do. I don’t trust all my readers. Some, inevitably, are out to get me. Others of you are deeply wounded, like I am and have been for years. We need to stand together and know that we can get through this together. I need this to be a safe place, and so do you.

I’d like to share with you some valuable lessons I’ve learned, from my heart, and some resources that have helped me. Perhaps they’ll offer you some guidance, like they have to me. Perhaps it will just be nice to see that we’re all getting “there,” wherever that may be.

I share a bit of my journey that began in a Religious Studies class here: http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=332. What I learned over the next few years from my professor, Dr. Campagna-Pinto, was to become invaluable to me.

In Dr. CP’s classes, there were such meaningful convicting lessons, such as: “To create change you can’t have hatred in your heart. You have to re-humanize the people who torture you.”

We read A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. I studied the chapter, I Have No Hatred in My Heart, and learned such truths as “When the perpetrator begins to show remorse, to seek some way to ask forgiveness, the victim becomes the gatekeeper to what the outcast desires—readmission into the human community.” (Gobodo-Madikizela, 117)

What I’d become was an outcast to Master’s Commission and to Our Savior’s Church. They no longer accepted me, as most cults no longer accept outsiders, because I chose to leave their “authority” and “promised land.”

My perpetrator never showed remorse. I had to live with that.

It was a difficult thing for me to face. My perpetrator never showed remorse. Nor did he ever plan to. In fact, his own son said that he looked at people like me as less than nothing.

Although he had never shown remorse, my perpetrator had committed crimes against humanity. Crimes of abuse. Crimes of manipulation for power and reputation. Several years of anger and grieving took me to the place where I’m beginning to feel sorry for my perpetrator. And I’m very thankful I’m not him.

At the same time I studied the South African Apartheid, I learned that there are different ways to think about forgiveness. I read The Sunflower: On the Possiblities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal. Simon tells the story of a dying Nazi soldier asking him forgiveness for his crimes against Jews. The dying soldier even told the horrific story of shoving Jews into a building and setting it on fire. His orders were to shoot anyone who tried to jump from the building. He shot.

After studying the Holocaust, and the amount of death and atrocity that Jewish people went through, I learned that forgiveness is a complex thing. Like Simon discusses in his book, there’s much more to forgiveness than a simplistic, “You’re forgiven.”

Through my studies, and through the years, I have come to believe that there’s a striking flaw in Christianity when it comes to forgiveness. Forgiveness in Christianity is simple: Jesus died on the cross to forgive you and I of our sins. Therefore, when you and I sin, we can “wash away our sins by the blood of Jesus.”

Right?

No. People need to be held accountable. They need to be responsible for their actions.

Thus the flaw in the Christian belief of forgiveness. When something devastating happens to a person, or a group of people, can you expect them to just “wash it away?” No. There are stages of grief that are normal and natural. I learned that Judaism takes seriously the act of forgiveness. During Yom Kippur they pray and fast, asking for forgiveness.

I began to respect Judaism for what I interpreted as a more realistic answer to the “forgiveness problem.” I knew that I had been wronged deeply. Not as deeply or as terribly as the Jews in Germany during the Holocaust, but I’d been wronged nonetheless.

I began to realize that I also felt forgiveness was a complex, serious matter and it was okay if I didn’t instantly grant forgiveness to someone.

In fact, it was more than okay.

It was perhaps responsible.

Red Flags and Warning Signs

what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

Hello readers! I’m in the process of compiling a list of specific red flags and warning signs about OUR experiences in a destructive discipleship program and/or a church that teaches unbiblical doctrine. Most specifically, what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

For example, some Master’s Commission’s applications to enter as a student ask very specific questions about a person’s sexual life (i.e., Do you masturbate? Have you ever had an abortion? Have you had a bisexual experience? Do you use pornography and when was the last time you did?). Other groups take students into a room for a meeting and forbid them to have sexual thoughts, to masturbate, or look at pornography. Other groups tell men and women what to wear, and make women change their clothing or burn it if it’s too tight fitting or revealing. Group and individual confessionals are frequently required.

These are ALL red flags of a controlling group.

in retrospect, what are some warning signs YOU may have seen BEFORE joining a group like this or a church like this?

After your experiences in a church or group like this, what warning signs and red flags can you IDENTIFY now?

Master’s Commission International Network Using Unaccredited College

According to the MCIN (Master’s Commission International Network, www.mcin.org), they’re partnering up with West Coast Bible College and Seminary:

“Master’s Commission International Network recently signed an articulation agreement with West Coast Bible College & Seminary to partner together in the training of ministers worldwide!!! Its been a few years in the making but it is finally done. Can you imagine that while attending any Master’s Commission in the world, students will be able to complete a bachelors degree…….. well now its possible and for only $1,250 per person (plus application fee & books).
However, closer inspection shows that West Coast Bible College and Seminary is not accredited through a typical accrediting program. The Transworld Accrediting Commission is NOT affiliated with the Department of Education in the United States. This information is taken from their website (http://www.westcoastbible.org/accreditation,%20Affiliations,%20and%20Credibility.html):

Transworld Accrediting Commission is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Education regarding becoming a governmentally recognized accrediting agency with a specific focus on theological schools.

What does this mean for students of Master’s Commission? They can spend money on a degree that is not recognizable in the United States to the Department of Education. When they attempt to get their Master’s Degree, they won’t be able to do so without retaking their courses for their Bachelor’s Degree.

Wonder what courses at West Coast Bible College and Seminary are like? They’re not like a typical college class! Take a look: http://www.westcoastbible.org/academics.html

At WCBCS, we are committed to providing our students with the best in academic quality, while focusing on the key principles that will be most used in their chosen field.  Students are required to complete any classes started within a six month time frame.  If a class is not completed in the given time frame, the student will receive an “I” on their transcript.  A student will not be allowed to graduate with an “I” or “F” on their transcript.

Modules – Student requirements for every level include:

1) Read one textbook and write down one personal key truth learned from each chapter and how you can implement it in ministry (our belief is that if everyone can learn one practical truth that will stay with them for life, then the reading exercise has been successful) (Read and write down a personal key truth??? This isn’t college coursework! Not even Bible College coursework. This is less qualified to be “Academic” than homeschooling from a DVD)

2) Listen to two 30-45 lectures or watch an online video and fill in the blanks of the lecture notes.

3) Complete an open book exam – (the student can complete the open book exam with reading – each exam will consist of 20 to 25 questions – however, students MAY NOT collaborate with other students to complete this exercise)

4) Find magazines articles or internet articles discussing the subject and write a summary of each article. (each article must be properly identified with the title, author, and web link noted) (Wow…really? This isn’t college level coursework!)

5) Write a final paper discussing how the subject matter is relevant to your personal ministry and what you will implement.

Students are required to purchase a 2 inch notebook to keep all assignments organized.

The Unpaid Master’s Commission Intern, Legal or Not?

Are Unpaid Master’s Commission Internships Legal or

Not? OR: How to Out Your Pastor for Not

Paying YOU!

A Little Pebble Can Make a Lot of Waves

I just read this in a fishing magazine of all places. My dad and mom love Alaska, so we have a lot of outdoor adventure magazines around the house.

What’s odd is that I always knew I’d wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, but I never thought my blog might make a big difference. What’s unique about this blog is that it’s the only place that I know of that openly speaks about the spiritual abuse people have faced in Master’s Commission.

When I was in Master’s Commission, people would come up to me and say, “You’re a great woman of God,” or “You’re going to change the world,” or “You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless.”

I honestly think that a lot of what people said was sweet, but just very generic and sometimes very hokey (you know the type of old women who come up and wave flags over your head and speak in tongues like they’re on drugs? yeah, that’s hokey to me). But, what is so ironic to me is the fact that my little pebble-self has made some big waves since July, 2010.

Waves Were Made

Not even five months have gone by and I’ve been contacted by Lloyd Zeigler, co-founder of the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) and director of my former Master’s Commission group in Phoenix (now Master’s Commission USA in Dallas, Texas). We discussed some very heavy issues for months and I prodded him to take action over a letter documenting spiritual abuse and slavery-like treatment of staff members. He did take action and the group I was part of, Master’s Commission Industries (now Elevate 3D–who operate in Pods out of Our Savior’s Churches in Louisiana), lost it’s affiliation from the MCIN because of the contacts I made with over twenty former students and staff members, and the encouragement I gave them to write to Lloyd Zeigler. They did.

The MCIN Agrees With Unpaid Internships

Lloyd and I disagreed and ended up parting ways over a variety of issues I continued to try to bring into dialogue. I found out we didn’t agree on a great many points and I was not going to stop until things were better for future students and staff members.

Now, I’m on my own and no one is here to advocate except for me. Lloyd argued with me when I told him that seven year long staff members can’t be treated as interns.

It’s unethical and illegal, even if they’re willing to stay!

I shared with him a New York Times article about how the Department of Labor has been cracking down (for several months now) on business who have interns. Trust me, they’ll catch up to Master’s Commission soon enough–even if it’s through my personal contact to them (which I have).

Lloyd Zeigler stated his case: He’s known doctors who interned for a year and weren’t paid. He knew a zoologist who interned unpaid for a year. It was ethical to him, because Master’s Commission was giving value to the students who interned (for more than a year…even for fifteen years).

I explained to him that there was a huge difference. A doctor goes into the field knowing that he will spend several years studying very demanding biology courses, and then will take a difficult MCAT exam and will spend some time training in the field so that he can make a six figure income (or more).

Additionally, I know teachers who have earned their teaching credential by spending one or two years (depending on the school they attend) taking credentialing courses and student teaching. Student teaching is unpaid, but you’re warned about it early on. You’re also qualified to teach after the student teaching, and can earn a great salary, benefits and three months off in the summer. Not a bad deal.

“Interning” in Master’s Commission is not at all like becoming a doctor or a teacher. If a Master’s Commission student or staff goes into ministry, they rarely become a senior pastor. Most, if not all, become a youth pastor and/or a Master’s Commission director. These youth pastor jobs aren’t always high paid, and Master’s Commission directors do have the luxury of getting compensated financially out of their MC budget.

Why Master’s Commission Staff Members Don’t File Complaints

Why don’t Master’s Commission staff members file complaints, speak up, or report their unpaid “internships?” In my case, I had a very difficult time finding out WHO was the proper person to report this violation to. I spent time as a staff member unpaid, and other years was severely underpaid at $50-$150 a month.

The New York Times reports that, “…It is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

I know this to be true. Many of my peers who served as staff members in my own Master’s Commission, or close-by groups in Texas complained to me about not getting paid or getting severely underpaid. However, none of them wanted to be the whistle-blower.

For good reason.

Master’s Commission carries with it a “don’t criticize” and “don’t question the authority” unwritten rule. If you do speak up about something you’re unhappy about, you’re often accused of being “ungrateful” or your spiritual life is called into question.

No “intern” or staff member would want to speak up and risk the chances of being labeled a troublemaker or endangering their chances of networking with a pastor who knows of Master’s Commission and respects the group. If your ultimate goal was to be a pastor, you wouldn’t want to speak up either.

Where To File a Complaint

The other question is where do you speak up, if you want to?

I considered several places. The “Christian” thing to do, in my mind then, was to talk to the pastors themselves. The ones I had an issue with. So, I did. That went nowhere, which left me a bit helpless.

Where else was one to go?

I went to Lloyd Zeigler, and let him know that these things were happening, and he should address them. Turns out, it took a few years for anything to change, and even then, not much has changed within the Master’s Commission International Network and their treatment of staff. I learned during those months that Lloyd didn’t even pay his staff members a fair wage (severely less than minimum wage).

I also learned that the position a Master’s Commission staff member is in it is less likely to draw attention from the Department of Labor if laws are violated because the way the groups are set up. Often, the groups aren’t set up as ministries within the church, but sort of under an umbrella. Not to mention, churches often aren’t scrutinized by the government, since they non-profit groups. They typically have to be reported to the government, by the intern his or herself.

Seek out an Employment Lawyer–Immediately

Another option that would resolve issues is for the staff member to contact an employment lawyer in the state that he or she served in Master’s Commission. If the offense happened in Texas, then you must contact a Texas lawyer who handles Employment Law.

What is the offense? If you were a staff member in Master’s Commission, or on any church staff, and were unpaid or underpaid, you have the right to file a suit against that group for back wages. You can search online for wage comparisons for the type of work you did and find the minimum wages that you should have been paid. Any job worked should have been paid minimum wage, at the very least, but jobs such as Administration have a minimum yearly salary that is required to be paid (even by churches). To ensure winning your case, you should speak to a lawyer within two years of leaving your Master’s Commission group, or church. Some lawyers will attempt the case after three years, and there are some cases where a lawyer may take your case due to the cult-like behavior of a group like Master’s Commission. In this case, a lawyer will file against the Master’s Commission group up to several years after you’ve left, especially if you can prove that you required medical attention or therapy after your years within the group.

Another place to contact is the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. In order to receive legal representation, you must find a local affiliate. You can do so here: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates.  I’ve reported my case to my local affiliate.

Find an Investigative Reporter

When Ted Haggard was outed for his sex scandal, Mike Jones (the callboy) turned to a news reporter, Paula Woodward, an investigative reporter at KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, Colorado. A news reporter, especially a local investigative journalist may be able to begin work on the story. (For more information, click here: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/how_pastor_ted_got_outed.php)

I’ve contacted several investigative reporters, and have been emailing one in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I’ve also contacted Oprah, 60 minutes, CNN, Gloria Allred, and several lawyers in Texas and Louisiana.

Every local news station or news paper has an investigative reporter. You can google to find the official newsite and then look at their reporter’s profiles to find their email address. Most journalists respond to emails sent to them.

In addition, places like CNN, FOX News, or MSNBC are very interested in hearing these type of stories. They always have a contact page on their official website, with instructions to follow. You typically have to prepare a press release write-up, which can be a lot of effort, but you can always find sources online that can help you prepare a press release with your story. Include facts, such as how much you were paid (or not paid), how many hours you worked, what types of labor you did, and any other information that you think would be relevant to a media story.

How to Report to the Internal Revenue Service

Additionally, you can report financial indiscretions (such as political contributions, which are illegal or being underpaid as a church employee) to the IRS. On the IRS website, it talks about reporting a church to the IRS:

The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if the Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity. This reasonable belief must be based on facts and circumstances recorded in writing.

The IRS can obtain the information supporting a reasonable belief from many sources, including but not limited to:

  • Newspaper or magazine articles or ads,
  • Television and radio reports,
  • Internet web pages,
  • Voters guides created and/or distributed by the church,
  • Documents on file with the IRS (e.g. a Form 990-T filed by the church), and
  • Records concerning the church in the possession of third parties or informants.

The IRS must derive the facts and circumstances forming the basis for a reasonable belief from information lawfully obtained. If this information is obtained from informants, it must not be known to be unreliable.  Failure of the church to respond to repeated IRS routine requests for information is a factor in determining if there is reasonable cause for commencing a church tax inquiry.

You can find more information on the IRS auditing Churches here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/article/0,,id=181365,00.html

Should a Pastor have a Full-time Job outside the church?

My friend posed this question to me that he’d once heard:

“How much would it change the church and Christians if the pastor worked a regular job like the congregation and what would be different?”

What would our lives be like if pastors went to work in an office, or the oilfields, or as a teacher? Did you know there are bodies of worship who have pastors with jobs?

Another question I’d like to ask: Are church members to be reliant on pastors for teaching and spiritual growth? If so, why? If not, why not?

The Discipleship Program: From Mentor to Manipulator

Have you ever ended a discipleship relationship with someone with the above traits, only to feel that you’ve backslidden in your relationship with God?

If you answered YES to any or all of these questions, you’ve been trapped in an abusive discipleship relationship.

I ran across a great article about the abusive tendencies of the Discipleship Program. What we once considered a mentor turned eerily wrong, and those discipleship program directors and mentors turned into manipulators.

Think about these questions, as you read:

  1. Have you been in a discipleship relationship where you had to agree with the discipler in order to make a decision?
  2. Were you asked to approve your decisions (small or large) through your mentor or discipler before making them?
  3. Were you ever given the impression it was sinful or wrong to disagree with the person who was discipling you?
  4. Have you ever known a Christian who gave you the impression that they heard from God more clearly and frequently than YOU did, simply by their “devotion,” amount of prayer time and Bible study?
  5. Have you ever ended a discipleship relationship with someone with the above traits, only to feel that you’ve backslidden in your relationship with God?

If you answered YES to any or all of these questions, you’ve been trapped in an abusive discipleship relationship.

The entire article can be read here.

Master’s Commission: Staff Vacation Benefits

Today is Thanksgiving.

I’m sitting near the fireplace in my grandma’s snow-covered New Mexico house. Sounds of the family playing a card game named “Hand and Foot” fill the warm air. My belly is full of home-cooked turkey and sweet potatoes.

A few years ago, I was a staff member for a  discipleship group named Master’s Commission, which was formed out of Phoenix First Assembly of God under Tommy Barnett. One of the most difficult parts of being in that group (of which I was a member in Phoenix, now MC USA; MC Austin and MC Industries–now Elevate 3D out of Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, LA) was the control they had over our lives as students and staff to prevent us from being close to our family.

Over the years of being in Master’s Commission, I missed all my younger brothers football games because as a staff member, we were not allowed to take a vacation or leave the church campus without permission. Permission for vacations was never granted–unless it was Christmas or Thanksgiving and we were obligated to be back on campus immediately after so we could raise funds for Master’s Commission.

Those football games are games I’ll never get back. I’ll never have the memories of sitting in a cold football stadium, hearing my mom and dad screaming with pride as my brother, Daniel, the star of the team, made another awesome catch and sprinted down the field to make a touch down. He was an amazing athlete–always in the newspapers, interviewed on the news stations and more than once won Athlete of the Year awards. I saw all the newspaper clippings and awards, but wasn’t at a game. I wasn’t at a game because this discipleship program, Master’s Commission, deemed the “service to the Lord”–which was really slave labor (cleaning toilets in the church and the like)– as more important. We “devoted our lives to God” for nine months, and by nine months, they meant EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I was committed to God, but that commitment was abused under the Master’s Commission director I had. Instead of being able to serve God however I felt was right, I was told what was right and what was wrong. There was no “room for the Holy Spirit.”

It was difficult, if not impossible to get a sick day, let alone a day off to see family. Even when family visited us, we often couldn’t spend time with them.

One year–my second to last year–in Lafayette, Louisiana, I worked my last year on staff for Master’s Commission. It was January and it was a slow weekend at church. I worked as Nathan Davies’ executive assistant and right hand girl, but there was nothing special going on this particular weekend.

My parents offered to fly me home from Louisiana to California to go skiing in Mammoth, CA. For those of you who don’t know, Mammoth Lakes is a wonderful skiing resort town with some of the best skiing in the state. My family went snow boarding and snow skiing in Mammoth often, and I always missed the trips because I had “duties” in Master’s Commission.

Let me put this in perspective.

I was on staff in MC, but I was only getting paid $150 at the most per month (usually $50 or $100). We worked 50 hour work weeks in the office, then about 10 hours for church services (setting up the chairs and tearing them down, as well as doing human videos, etc), and on top of that, I nannied the Davies children (cleaned their house, did their laundry and went grocery shopping, too), and finally, I lived in one of the girl students dorms as the Resident Assistant (RA) type. I was in charge of making sure all the girls got to bed on time, shut out the lights on time, read their bibles each night, cleaned and did their chores, and was there to counsel them when I could. I can’t even count how many hours I worked for $150 a month, but it was well over 80.

So, back to Mammoth, and back to my awesome parents.

They felt that if I was working a real job, I’d get vacation time. They also felt that I was getting the short end of the stick, working a job that paid pennies, and never getting a day off. (Technically, we got a “day off” but as a staff member, we were always on call and there was never a full day of rest.)

So, that weekend, they offered to fly me to California, pay for snowboard rental and ski clothes and everything else the trip entailed. Not only was it expensive, but it was family time. It’s what my family did–spend time together. It’s what I did, before I joined Master’s Commission (which I affectionately call the cult).

I had to ask permission to leave the church campus (we all did), for anything (yes, for groceries, fast food, etc.), and this was no exception. I asked Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson (assistant director at the time).

Their answers to my request were no. They said, “What if something major comes up at church this weekend? We might need you.”

At that point in my MC career, the only thing major I was needed for was babysitting and that wasn’t an emergency in my eyes.

I gave them plenty of notice, and I’d never asked for days off like that. It was a once in a seven year MC career thing that I EVER asked for any time off.

The story continues…of course I stayed behind. My family had a BLAST. And NOTHING major happened at church.

This isn’t the only story, and there is actually a much worse story surrounding Daniel Jones and the death of my grandmother. It’s awful and I’m even ashamed that I didn’t quit at that point, but I didn’t.

To be continued…

 

 

Secrets

Secrets your church leadership is hiding. Secrets the Pope is covering up. Secrets are everywhere.

It’s ironic that Christian churches and leaders try to cover up secrets every day. Shouldn’t churches be transparent and honest? Especially if they’re teaching their “disciples” to be this way?

As you may have read, a pastor that I worked for and knew intimately was fired for stealing money from the church and for allegations of physically hurting a student. What typically happens in a situation like this, is that the secrets all come out in a meeting with the senior pastors and other important staff members, and then they tell the church something much more vague. This particular church is infamous for it. I should know. I was intimately tied to this pastor and the senior pastor. I know how these meetings work, what’s said in them, and that only particular people get the real story.

Isn’t that great for the person with the secret, though? I mean, after all, you don’t want to embarrass someone publicly do you?

I honestly think it’s complicated. My opinion is this–there’s such a brutality to exposing people’s secrets in public. After all, that’s what was done to us in Master’s Commission by this very leader. But when it’s the upper echelon of leadership that hundreds, if not thousands of people look up to, is it right to cover it up like it never happened? No. I don’t think it is. I think you’re causing harm in the church if you do that for many reasons.

One, think about your own self for a minute. Of course, we all have secrets. We all have broken a law, or hurt someone’s feelings or done some level of damage to people. Maybe you’ve stolen money, maybe you’ve stolen someone’s happiness. Whatever. My point is…aren’t pastors human, just like we are? Nod your head yes with me. They are. Regardless of what you might think, or who you might put on a pedestal, they are simply human.

With that being said, they shouldn’t be exempt from laws, like we are. Let me break it down. If I go into Macy’s and steal my favorite perfume, Versace Bright Crystal, and get caught I’m going to be punished.

Many people of all backgrounds look up to pastors, priests, Presidents. When you deny things that really happened for the sake of protecting the church’s reputation and in an attempt to continue the facade of the  untouchable pastor or leader, you honestly do a real injustice to people. They’re not able to see you say the f-word in traffic, or wake up without makeup, etc. and soon they begin to believe that you are a god or something like one. It creates a false sense of reality when people begin to make mistakes of their own. Often people who look up to “perfect” pastors feel like they’re really messed up, or failures, because they can’t live as perfect as what they think someone else is living.

In all reality, every pastor or leader has a secret they’re hiding from their congregation. For some priests, it’s that they’re messing with the alter boys. For some pastors, it is stealing.

I think it’s time we all start being honest with ourselves and asking others to be honest, too.