Letters to Nowhere: Lloyd

I was paid $100 a month for well over 60 hours of work, which is less than $0.40 an hour (40 CENTS). Only one year was my pay increased to $500 a month (and that was when I worked as a nanny for senior pastor, Jacob Aranza), which is around $2.00 an hour.

This week, I’ve posted actual letters I’ve written to the pastors I worked for. The next letter in the succession is what I sent to the co-founder of the MCIN, or Master’s Commission International Network, Lloyd Zeigler. I sent this letter to Lloyd because each Master’s Commission group is under the MCIN umbrella and has to agree to follow a set of guidelines.

I urged Lloyd (and Eric Hunsberger, who heads up the Administrative side of the MCIN) to  make note of what happened to me because I was speaking on behalf of several other students and staff members from Austin and Louisiana. I felt that was a responsible thing for me to do.

Lloyd and his wife called me as soon as they received my letter and talked to me for two hours. They apologized on behalf of Master’s Commission and said they weren’t aware of any of this until my letter came. Lloyd also told me if I felt I should pursue a lawsuit, I would have their support. I knew I’d have enough of a case to win a lawsuit, but my family has never been the type to pursue lawsuits. I also don’t think Lloyd realized that he’d be implicated in that same lawsuit, if I pursued one, because the Master’s Commissions in Austin and Louisiana were tied to his network of ministries and he might ultimately be responsible.

Lloyd said he’d be sending my letter to his lawyer to see if there were some things from it they could add into the MCIN guidelines to protect students and staff members from this type of thing happening, but he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas to start a new church after that phone call and that was never done (to my knowledge).  He also said that because Nathan Davies was the Vice President of the MCIN he’d have to stand by him and support him, and I’d have to understand that. I didn’t and don’t understand that, actually. I think my letter and my demeanor on the phone must have been too mild to really convey the type of damage that was done to me and many others by this ministry for him to take Nathan’s side. Otherwise, Lloyd wouldn’t stand by and let young people get abused. At the end of the phone call, Lloyd told me to give his cell phone number to any of the people I was writing on behalf of, if they wanted to call him, he’d apologize to them and talk to them, too. I’d like to believe he really meant this, but I’m not sure because I gave his number to one of my good friends and she said he never answered her phone call or returned her voice mail.

Although I’m disappointed that this issue was completely discarded after my conversation with Lloyd and Tim, at least they had the integrity to call me and talk to me. For that, I am extremely thankful. However, the fact that young men and women are still getting spiritually abused and that my letter fell to people who just gave me lip service and ignored the rest of my pleas, is cause for me to need to talk about my experience.

The following is the letter I sent to Lloyd and Eric in 2008:

Dear Lloyd Zeigler and Eric Hunsberger,

This letter may come as a surprise as I’ve been out of Master’s Commission Industries in Lafayette, LA for three years; however, the issues I’m addressing in this letter are relevant to the future of the MCIN.

After spending a year in Phoenix in 1998-99, I feel I developed a respect for both of you (Lloyd and Eric) and that respect has carried on into my years as a staff member in Texas and Louisiana (under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson).

My writings here are not of an offended, immature Christian, but of a burden I feel from God to speak my heart on what has happened to me because I know I’m not the only person I’m speaking for. There are many silent staff members (former and current), and students (former and current) who have felt deep, intense pain and betrayal after leaving Master’s Commission. And more importantly, there are issues of manipulation and ostracizing that need to be heard and dealt with for the safety of the MCIN and the students and staff.

My suggestions and claims below are based on my own personal experience as a staff member and student of Master’s Commission of Austin (Director, Nathan Davies) and Master’s Commission Industries (Director, Tim Wilson in Lafayette, LA), under Pastor Daniel Jones. I seek dialogue to be opened up between the offending parties (Davies, Wilson, and Jones) and the groups which govern or oversee them (MCIN). My wish is that change would come and MCIN would take responsibility for the changes that need to take place.

While I will not go so far as to say that all Master’s Commissions are cults, I will say based on my experience (and experiences of my peers), Master’s Commission Industries falls into the category of what experts call a destructive group or a cult. The reason I use these terms are based on studies that have been done on cults. The following are traits that Master’s Commission Industries has:

  • A Totalitarian worldview: A group that approves of unethical behavior while claiming goodness and promotes the goals of the group over the individual.
  • Exploitation: There is pressure to give money, to spend a great deal of money on special projects. Exploitation can be financial, physical, or psychological.
  • Alienation: Separation from family, friends, and society, a change in values and substitution of the group as the new “family”.
  • Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs; recruiting and fund-raising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure; use of “front groups”.

Additionally, some of the following are issues I have personally felt in my experiences in MC Industries (both under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson):

  • removing people from their normal surroundings and friends, often with weekend “trips” and “retreats”
  • sleep and sensory deprivation
  • development of a deep emotional debt
  • public confessionals
  • low-risk relationships (unconditional acceptance)
  • fear of punishment or damnation for even thinking about leaving the new “family”
  • viewing all of the outside world as evil or satanic so that any desire to return to it is also evil.

Other things the group leaders imposed:

  • leaders who claim divinity or special relationships with God and insist on being the sole judge of a member’s actions or faith
  • demands for total control over members’ daily lives (one of the hardest to recognize once involved)
  • isolation and exclusion from the surrounding community
  • demands for control of members’ finances
  • absolutist views toward difficult life problems and spiritual questions
  • special (exclusive) promises of salvation or keys to spiritual understanding (i.e.: “It is only through adherence to our beliefs and our rules that you can be saved”).

During my time as a student or staff member, I made effort to resolve and voice my complaints while working for the above mentioned parties. However, when I brought up certain issues, I was both rebuked and harassed, or dismissed as unimportant. Equally as important as the psychological effects, are the the financial issues.

I was paid $100 a month for well over 60 hours of work, which is less than $0.40 an hour (40 CENTS). Only one year was my pay increased to $500 a month (and that was when I worked as a nanny for senior pastor, Daniel Jones), which is around $2.00 an hour.

I am speaking up about these issues because there are many more staff members and students who are willing to give their heart to these ministries and may walk away harmed spiritually, financially, and mentally.

I am requesting that the Master’s Commission International Network and the Assemblies of God (or appropriate governing boards) investigate these issues and particularly Master’s Commission Industries. I ask that you, MCIN, take an aggressive stance toward these issues. Upon investigation, I would like to offer that they establish guidelines to benefit the future employees/students.

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the students:

  • Safe “complaint” system established that a student can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Guidelines established involving limitations on how much a director can dictate of a student’s “self-discipline.” Including, but not limited to dating, entertainment, music, clothing, etc.
  • Establish clearly that the Director or Staff Member is NOT the voice of God for the said students and staff members and in no way should exercise such grossly misguided authority.
  • Protection of the student from authoritarianism of a Director’s or Staff members by revoking a group’s affiliation with the MCIN, if deemed necessary.
  • Guidelines and hours set to protect the student from over-work, long term exhaustion or fatigue, or physical ailments due to over-work for no (or very little) monetary payment. Following the laws that the Department of Labor establishes, according to www.dol.gov
  • A board of directors for each Master’s Commission that should include parents of students or staff members. Also, a safe “complaint” system established in which a student or staff member’s parent(s), guardian or friend can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Regularly monitoring of activities, and teachings to prevent further development of patterns of cult-like teachings, destructive and harmful teachings and practices.
  • Encourage students to engage in open relationships with their parents, family and friends and not to exclude or hide anything from them. To develop an “Open Campus” policy and Parent’s Board for parents to question policies, procedures, pay scale, work load and work schedules.

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the staff members:

  • Set, enforced guidelines regarding pay scale for staff members relevant to actual work done that would be in the secular environment in the specific metropolitan area. Additionally, following the Department of Labor laws on employment and minimum wage.
  • Provide some type of minimum paid sick days and funeral leave standard to secular work place.
  • Provide access or information to health benefits or coverage, and adjust pay to appropriate for health care. (Note: Health care and health benefits do not mean the state run insurance!)
  • Provide paid vacation for full-time staff members, relevant to secular workplace.
  • Provide mileage compensation for job related driving.
  • Allow for staff members to date at their discretion, under advisement of the pastor only if the said staff member requests the advisement of a pastor. Take away the “No Dating” policy for students or staff members who are beyond their First Year. No dictating, scare tactics, or harassment of the staff member’s choices of dating.

Perhaps the greatest issue not covered is the issue of a person who leaves Master’s Commission (most groups included in this) is often ostracized. To ostracize is to: 1. exclude, by general consent, from society, friendship, conversation, privileges, etc. Ostracizing is what some modern churches do, but it’s wrong. If you don’t follow their tenants, you get excommunicated. After serving MC for several years, I followed the voice of God to go home. This voice of God that I heard was contrary to the voice of the pastors. What’s ironic here is that I followed the voice of God, but was shunned from their ‘bubble’ and my reputation was ruined within that ‘bubble’ for not obeying the pastor.

I have carbon copied a number of persons for this letter. Please know that I care deeply about the future of Master’s Commission, my former employers and their children; however, I would be doing a great injustice to the ministry itself, it’s pastors, and related friends and benefactors had I failed to bring these wrongs to your attention.

I speak also on behalf of many alumni and former staff members who did not wish to risk personal retributions or emotional trauma from resurfacing these issues. They now have a voice and I hope forgiveness and open dialogue can one day enter all of our hearts. As Pulma Gobodo-Madikizela says, “For in the end, we are a society of people and not ideas, a fragile web of interdependent humans, not of stances.”

Thank you,

L.

Cc: Nathan Davies, Tim Wilson, Daniel Jones

Resource: ACUI International Conference presentation “Desperately Seeking Community: The Appeal of Cult Leadership”, Mindy Griffith, University of Arizona. March 6, 2000, New York, NY.

Additional information on Cults obtained from Purdue University Counseling Center and
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Counseling Center.

 

Labor Laws may be obtained at the Department of Labor website: www.dol.gov

Think Like a Nazi–I DID!

“My name is Lisa and I’m a former cult member and reverend.”

“Hi Lisa,” Everyone says.

Only, there’s no “everyone” and there’s no support or recovery group for this kind of situation.

I spent five years working through the pain and anger with devoted family and friends, and now I’ve moved past it (for the most part).

What still remains are two situations:

1)      A large Christian Fundamentalist population in America which is leading Christianity down a dark road.

2)      Numerous damaged church and ministry peers who talk to me often, needing validation for what happened to them and needing resources to move on

I’m by no means an expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night (that was a joke, by the way).

I spent part of my five years away from My Cult Life getting my Bachelor of Arts degree (a degree was something women in particular weren’t allowed to get in the Cult) and I minored in Religious Studies. I studied under Dr. S.T. Campagna-Pinto, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Many of my text resources can be attributed to him, as he suggested some of the most fabulous books to read.

These pressure tactics and dictatorial pastoring happened with everything in our lives—not just dating. I was on call with him around the clock. I never vacationed. I didn’t color my hair, or buy different clothes, or stop jogging in the mornings otherwise he’d tell me how to color my hair, how to dress, and how skinny I needed to be.

The pastors under his leadership were much worse: we had to check in with them over the money we spent, where we went on our personal time, etc. The type of music we listened to, the movies and tv shows we watched, what we browsed on the Internet, and the books we read were all censored and subject to their approval. If we read a book, watched a movie or bought a CD that they disapproved of, we were subject to harsh reprimands, public embarrassment, or even getting asked to leave the group (followed by a public humiliation). Any music, books, clothing item, etc. that they didn’t like was subject to a bonfire.

At one point in my second year in this school, we were all instructed to “pray” about what God was telling us to discard in the bonfire. Then, we were reminded of things that might be included in that list of items: secular music, clothing that was too revealing, mementos from old boyfriends, etc.

I couldn’t really think of anything God had spoken to me to burn, so one of our staff leaders came around to each of our wardrobe cabinets and helped us “hear God’s voice.” I had a bikini and a hat from a mission’s trip to Burma that they suggested I burn; the bikini, for reasons that it was against our dress code in that ministry school and the hat because that staff member felt a demonic spirit upon it. I didn’t agree with either of them, but considering that I’d already been yelled at by our pastor for not following instructions of the staff members, I thought it might be best to do as I was told. I cried over the hat from Burma, because it was a special souvenir that I’d received on a trip I took in 1999 that I knew I’d never be able to replace. I’d gone to the country wanting a pointed hat, but I could never find one. Come to find out, they were Vietnamese in origin. Well, on the flight home to the U.S., I saw a man in the airport with one of them and I asked him where he bought his. He said he bought them in Vietnam and he had an extra one if I wanted one. I was so thrilled! The only souvenir I wanted was a hat, and some random stranger gave me one! And now, I was about to burn it in a bonfire in Austin, TX because some ministry leader thought it was demon possessed.

I stood around a circle later that evening with all the other students and staff members. First and Second year students stood in the inner circle, around the fire, with boxes and trash bags full of items that were precious to each of us. We knew we’d each take a turn, parting with our past lives, and each face seemed scared and pained. Tears were running down most of our faces. At the time, some people said they felt God’s presence telling them to throw the items in the fire so they could let go of past loves, past anger, past issues, but in reality, we were crying because we were confused, scared and afraid.

We were in a group with pastors and leaders who didn’t allow us to think for ourselves. Not one of them trusted us to develop a genuine relationship with God, or interpret the Bible for ourselves. Instead of love, they dictated by fear and anger. Instead of understanding that we were fresh out of high school, they lacked compassion and understanding. Most sad of all, they didn’t teach us how to think for ourselves, but threatened us and rebuked us anytime we spoke up against them or had a unique thought for ourselves.

Hannah Arendt, a well-known scholar, talks about the real evil in the world: the failure to have original thought. Arendt claims that this was something that one of Hitler’s right-hand men, and the Nazi’s did best: failed to think for themselves. Instead of thinking for themselves when an order was given to load up a houseful of Jewish men, women and children , set it on fire, and stand outside of the house with guns loaded and aimed, ready to shoot if any of them tried to escape, the Nazi’s did what they were told. At the end of the war, they said, “We were just following orders.”

How many times do we just accept something we’re told to do? How many times do we just follow orders? Is it the norm in today’s Christian Fundamentalist church to think like a Nazi? I know it was for me.

My Tragic Love Story, La Strada Style

We’re all young and dumb at some point in our lives, right? I was. I left home when I was 17, after graduating high school, convinced that I should join a traveling ministry group.

We’re all young and dumb at some point in our lives, right? I was. This is the beginning of a tragic love story.

I left home when I was 17, after graduating high school, convinced that I should join a traveling ministry group. I was recruited into Master’s Commission which was housed out of a megachurch called Phoenix First Assembly of God. After I joined, I became like Gelsomina and the pastor I worked for was like Zampano. As the famous Fellini movie La Strada had a tragic ending, so my story would also have a sad ending.

During my last year in Master’s Commission, I fell in love with a man that I can only call a Tool:  “someone who tries too hard to act cool, a poser” (as defined by urbandictionary.com). This guy, who we’ll call Tool, had convinced me that he was in love with me and proposed to me over the phone. It was the beginning of the tragic love story and here begins my story…