Is Master’s Commission a Cult?

Another forum post that can be found here: In order to comment on the forum, or take the quiz, you must register as a user.

Do a quick google search for “Master’s Commission Cult” and you produce 31,700 URLS linking you to the subject. There have been forum discussions before this one about Master’s Commission being a cult, but most of them were in random forums without a larger Master’s Commission or ex-Master’s Commission readership.

I hope that this forum will be a more centralized location for people to gather together and spread the word about, because there’s nothing like feeling ALONE after leaving one of those groups. It’s so liberating to find out that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who left and feel exactly like you and I do!

Welcome to the discussion,
Lisa

The power of persuasion: 900 deaths left an unforgettable legacy

JONESTOWN: 20 years after mass suicide, new religions inspire hope, caution, fear for followers

Ventura County Star/November 18, 1998
By Tom Kisken

Dead bloated bodies were everywhere. They looked like insects to CBS newsman David Dick in an aircraft 300 feet above Jonestown, Guyana.

“People had died like moths who had fallen to the ground after a light had been turned off,” he said, reading from his on-the-scene notes. “The bodies were almost all face down. It was staggering. Sickening. Yet they looked as if they had merely fallen asleep.”

Twenty years ago today, a religious movement ruled by a drug-addled, delusional Jim Jones turned on itself in a bloody massacre that will forever stain the public view of cults. In a mass suicide that had been rehearsed numerous times, more than 900 people drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid.

Those who resisted were murdered.

Today, cult watchers not only worry about sequels but have proof of the likelihood — in the 39 members of Heaven’s Gate who linked their fate to the Hale-Bopp comet, covered their bodies with purple shrouds and suffocated themselves in March 1997.

They say similar groups, led by megalomaniacs who believe they alone have the ear of God, likely exist but closet themselves so well they will be detected only when exploding in tragedy.

Much more visible are high-pressure ministries that recruit people at college campuses and earlier this month attracted some 15,000 people to the Rose Bowl. With names such as the International Churches of Christ, the groups have no interest in suicide. But they raise concerns about the financial contributions members make and the tendency to pull people away from family and friends.

Dick argues the dividing line that turned Jonestown from a well-meaning commune into a jungle of body bags was the mix of a hugely charismatic but delusional monarch who was known to followers as Father and a quest for absolute truth.

Throw in Jones’ drug addiction and the forced, perverse sexual activities at the commune and you toss a blowtorch into an ocean of gas.

Dick talks so persistently of the dangers of Jonestown he worries about wearing his listeners out.

“It doesn’t take 910 for it to be a tragedy,” he said. “It can be one and be a tragedy.”

Dick is an emeritus professor at the University of Kentucky and runs a small publishing house. He was a lead reporter with CBS for 19 years and was in Caracas, Venezuela, as Latin America bureau chief on Nov. 18, 1978. A telex came telling him to fly to Guyana and report on the death of U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan from California’s San Mateo County.

Ryan had heard rumors of thought-control, beatings, gun-running and imprisonment in the People’s Temple. He led a team of reporters and family members to investigate.

They were greeted with beaming reports from commune leaders. But several members asked Ryan for refuge. As the congressman led his delegation away, they were ambushed at an airstrip and gunned down.

The Kool Aid suicides followed.

Dick and other journalists were guided into Jonestown by Guyana government employees. The CBS crew found Jones’ cabin, still soaked with the stench of death though the bodies were removed. The bed was upside down, the furniture strewn everywhere.

Outside, Dick found a box of letters — notes of support that Jones demanded his followers write him. Each was addressed “Dear Dad.”

Later when he was flying over Jonestown for one last view, Dick remembers writing down an urgent message to himself: “Don’t throw up. You’re the only one seeing this.”

Dick doesn’t present himself as a cult expert, just a reporter who witnessed something he’ll never shake. His only advice is to people who find themselves trapped following someone who tries to control their lives.

“I would run,” he said. “I would try to get away.”

Questions unanswered

Jonestown remains a mystery, at least in the eyes of J. Gordon Melton, who has been studying new religions since the early 1960s and is director of The Institute for the Study of American Religions in Santa Barbara.

Who gave the order to kill Rep. Ryan? How many people killed themselves and how many were murdered? Was the State Department warned of the dangers facing Ryan?

“We have a feeling the government knew a lot more about what was going on there than they let on,” said Melton, part of a scholarly delegation that will meet in Washington, D.C., today and demand the government release classified papers on Jonestown.

Melton contends the documents may show government negligence but will likely lay to rest the conspiracy theories fueled by lack of information.

Ron Enroth, a sociologist on religion at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, has studied cults and other new religions nearly as long as Melton. He’s been called anti-God by leaders of the Unification Church and was swamped with 130 interview requests the first day after the Heaven’s Gate suicides.

He heard of the People’s Temple before Nov. 18, 1978, but never had a reason to link the group with potential mass suicide. Same with Heaven’s Gate. He wrote two paragraphs on the movement in ’76, then lost all contact.

That’s the nature of the most dangerous cults.

“They’re not mainstream enough to even have a name,” said F. LaGard Smith, a Pepperdine University law professor who also studies new religions. “They’re so small you don’t notice them until they erupt like a cancer.”

The groups exist, Enroth said. He won’t give out names out of a fear emanating from a death threat already received. But he spoke of four groups from around the country, with memberships ranging from 50 to 200, that have the potential of becoming national tragedies.

They are led by instable, power-wielding authoritarians who believe they alone know the true answers and can change the fate of the world. If those leaders follow Jones’ path and step into emotional abyss, “certainly the potential for suicidal behavior is there,” he said.

In the years following Jonestown, family members would pull loved ones out of groups they considered cults and brainwash them back into the mainstream. Called deprogramming, it is a thing of the past, largely because of a $5 million lawsuit successfully filed against deprogrammers who held a member of the United Pentecostal Church International for five days.

Now, family members are left with the power of persuasion.

When Melton‘s daughter considered joining the Church of Scientology, he tried reasoning with her, explaining the group would try to run her life.

He also told her he would support any decision she made.

“It’s her life,” he said. She joined the group, then left after a few weeks.

Worries on campus

Scholars who study new religions avoid using the word cult, partly because it’s linked so closely to Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate. It seems a broad sword that may unfairly cut groups such as the fast-growing International Churches of Christ. [But are these scholars actually “cult apologists“?]

Still, the ICC and similarly aggressive groups cause their own concerns.

Spun off from the mainline Church of Christ in the early 1970s by Kip McKean, the ICC is a Christian group known for its aggressive recruiting on college campuses. Critics said members are convinced to disavow their old support systems and are pressured to empty their pockets into church coffers.

The church also asks new members to immediately start recruiting more members, said the Rev. Mark Knutson, campus pastor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. He leads a yearly session with dorm advisers on dealing with high-pressure religious groups.

“A group that does not allow people to question their tenets, I would say, is a group to be aware of,” he said.

ICC recruiting has also caused concerns at Pepperdine in Malibu and at USC.

The International Churches of Christ‘s goal is to have a church in every city with more than 100,000 people by the new millennium. A week ago, the group held a celebration in Pasadena, bringing more than 15,000 people to the Rose Bowl.

Spokesman Al Baird, of the Los Angeles branch of the church, scoffs at the harshest criticism — the church doesn’t allow interfaith relationships and marriage, and asks for unrealistic donations. They get 10 percent of a person’s income, as do many other mainline churches.

People call it a cult, Baird said, because they don’t understand.

Call the Church of Scientology in Santa Barbara, which also raises eyebrows with demands for financial contributions that range from $35 to more than 100 times that, and the answer is nearly the same.

It’s not a cult, it’s an answer.

“What’s generally not understood is what you’re getting,” said the Rev. Lee Holzinger, of the Church of Scientology in Santa Barbara. “If you donate $5,000 for counseling that you get that completely changes your life and it really does work, someone is going to say, ‘Hey, I’m never going to miss that $5,000’. ”

But Enroth, the new religion scholar, talks about the phone calls — hundreds of them — with a husband whose spouse threatened divorce unless he joined her religious group, and with parents who tell him of children who renounce their former religions and their loved ones.

“They’re incredibly sad stories,” he said. “They say, ‘Dr. Enroth, it’s like talking to a wall’.”

Warning signs

Concerned that some high-pressure religions pull students at UC Santa Barbara away from studies, family and friends, an interdenominational group called the University Religious Conference outlined the following warning signs:

  • The group claims to have all the answers.
  • New members are asked almost immediately to recruit new members.
  • The group encourages people to put their meetings ahead of all other commitments.
  • Past religious and social affiliations are criticized.
  • Recruits are told their parents and friends don’t have any answers.
  • Doubts and questions are seen as signs of weak faith.
  • Recruits are invited on retreats but are given only a vague idea of the agenda.

What is Master’s Commission?

I recently started a forum to discuss issues related to this blog in further depth. You can access this article here: http://www.mycultlife.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=9. You must be a registered forum user to leave a comment on the forum, though.

You can also read the article here:

According to the Master’s Commission International Network, MCIN, website http://www.mcin.org, Master’s Commission and MCIN are described as the following:

Master’s Commission is an intense discipleship-training program dedicated to making Disciples of Christ. There are currently 120 programs world-wide in 15 different countries. Each program is based out of a local church and comprises of students mostly between the ages of 18-25. Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) is the accountability and glue that holds these programs together. MCIN isn’t limited to any one denomination, but works with many churches.

An overview of the Master’s Commission USA program that Lloyd Zeigler currently oversees in his newly planted (as of 2008) Dallas, TX church, Relevant Church, states the following http://masterscommissionusa.com/page/overview/:

What started in 1984 as a small group of people agreeing to dedicate one year of their life to God has now grown into one of the most powerful, intense discipleship movements in the world. This one-year discipleship-training center started with just one program in Phoenix, AZ. Now it has spread to 91 affiliated programs in 10 countries and includes an international network (MCIN). Both Master’s Commission USA and Master’s Commission International Network, founded in 1995, are housed at Relevant Church in Dallas, TX.

MC USA has grown and developed each year by remaining on the cutting edge of this worldwide ministry. Between our ministry institutes: dance, drama, music, youth, children’s and evangelism, and our other ministries, including Restore community outreach, church services, travel within the US, missions, foster children mentorship, and more, you will be sure to find a place to develop your talents, pursue your dreams, and refine your desires. Last year Master’s Commission USA reached over 238,000 people with the gospel of Christ! Come join us as we endeavor to reach the world with the love and message of Jesus Christ.

You will be included in incredible Biblical teachings and ministry trainings from a staff whose calling and heart is to see you grow. To graduate our program each disciple is required to fulfill curriculum requirements, finish each discipleship obligation, and participate in all scheduled activities. Master’s Commission USA is committed to setting the pace in ‘hands on’ ministry training; therefore optional missions trips and ministry tours are available at an additional cost.

The staff is comprised of committed disciples who have lived the call and caught the vision of the Master’s Heart. Where other programs have one or two leaders for every twenty or thirty students, our staff-student discipleship ratio is better than one leader to two students. We look forward to meeting you and having you join our team. A year of your life spent ‘face to face’ with God is an experience that you will never forget, and one that you don’t want to miss!

You are eligible to apply for the year of discipleship (First Year Program) if you are of college age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. You are eligible to apply for our Second Year Leadership Program if you have completed one year in another affiliated MC program and Staff Internship Program. If you do not fall into these categories, we would still love for you to be involved with us. We welcome any help with City Lites, Youth, and other ministries at Relevant Church. Also, during the week our evenings are open to any one who would like to attend our After Hours. If you are interested in financial involvement, please visit the Master’s Society link on our home page. To be kept informed of all our major events, be sure to keep an eye on our Calendar. Master’s Commission begins in late September and ends in mid May.

 

Thinking of going to Master’s Commission? Think Again!

Awhile back, I had a potential MC student ask me about any advice I could give to her, as she was considering going to Master’s Commission 3D, now Experience 3D http://www.leadin3d.com/, at Our Savior’s Church www.oursaviorschurch.com, Lafayette, LA under the pastor Daniel Jones and director Greg Thompson. I wrote the following to her. If you’re considering going to ANY Master’s Commission or “discipleship school” please read what follows below FIRST.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight conversations I’ve had with Lloyd Zeigler, the founder of the MCIN, Master’s Commission International Network and founder of Relevant Church in Dallas, TX.

I’m also going to talk about their financial situation and details on how they spend their money.

Finally, I’m going to update you on how my letters to the MCIN and Lloyd have been handled and the details there.

It was during my senior year in high school that I decided to give up my academic scholarships and attend Master’s Commission instead of college. I regret that decision now. I didn’t start my college years until I was 25 years old, because I wasn’t allowed to go to college while I was in Master’s Commission. I also wasn’t allowed to date while I was in the program, so I didn’t have the normal young experience of falling in love, choosing a partner, getting married, etc. I wasn’t able to listen to secular music, or watch regular tv programs or watch normal movies. Essentially, all of my decisions were made for me. That’s not how God wants us to live. He wants us to live able to read the Bible and make decisions on our own. Will we sometimes need the advice of our parents? Yes! I ask my parents advice a lot! But, my parents’ advice is different from the advice I got from pastors that directed my Master’s Commission group. My parents’ advice is to tell me their experiences and then let me make up my mind. The pastors told me what to do, time and time again. That’s no kind of place you want to be–nor do your parents want you to be there.

I don’t recommend the program or any Master’s Commission for many reasons, but the following are more specific and you can find where I’m pulling this information on the top portion of my website under Helpline: Cults and Cults: Signs of an Unhealthy Group is another good one to read:

“Some of the intensive indoctrination techniques they employ (and consequently things to look out for) include
* 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 to be on the lookout for are:
* 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”).”

I’d also recommend sending your parents those two articles to read, or you can ask them to read my website. If you want, have them email me.

Finally, I realize that when I was 17 deciding on whether to go to MC or college, the deciding factor for me was that I wanted a closer relationship with God. I wish I could say that I got that, but I didn’t. What I got were people manipulating my thoughts of what God was, and placing themselves in the position of authority in my life. No human being should do that. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Since you’re asking (and since I didn’t seek you out), I’d also like to say, please talk over with your parents some of your concerns. Or if you can’t talk to your parents, please find someone you trust outside of the church to talk to. Make an informed decision, not one based on emotion, or obligation. EDUCATE YOURSELF, and don’t be afraid to read secular information. The only obligation you have is to yourself–making yourself a better person. I personally feel I’ve become a better person through my college education. I highly recommend attending a secular university and studying and working hard. I also recommend staying away from any church or ministry group that has the characteristics of a cult or an unhealthy group, and those 2 resources I recommended above can fill you in more on what that means.

To specify more, I’m going to go through and talk about each one of the above mentioned traits a bit more:

* Removing people from their normal surroundings and friends, often with weekend “trips” and “retreats”
–On several occasions, we’d have meetings or events that would happen in MC and we’d be told that our parents “probably wouldn’t understand, so it’s best we don’t tell them.” This fits in with removing people from their normal surroundings and friends. If you consider where the church dorms are, and the amount of time you’ll be spending away from your friends and family, this is just a common sense thing. You WILL be removed from your friends and won’t see them.

* Sleep and sensory deprivation
–During my third or fourth year in MC, I developed migraines due to sleep deprivation. My doctor told me that I needed to sleep more, and I told him I didn’t have a choice due to the work and time obligations Master’s Commission put on us. I was prescribed medication for it, but it often didn’t work because it had to be taken at the onset of a headache and we were working so much I didn’t keep my medication on me. I’d sometimes have to leave a project in tears because my migraines hurt so badly.

I lived in a dorm with several other girls and there was no peace and quiet for me to rest and get better. Also, during Hurricane Katrina, the tuition-paying students at Our Savior’s Church under Daniel Jones were asked to work 15 hour days and were reprimanded if they didn’t work hard enough. Talk about sleep deprivation! Also, that’s illegal. Many other Master’s Commission groups drove to Louisiana to help work, as well. They are breaking all kinds of labor laws by enslaving minors to work for the church like that while they got government grants. In addition, staff members at nearly ALL Master’s Commissions are treated as “interns” and not paid! How do you like the idea of signing up to be a life-long intern?

* Development of a deep emotional debt–this occurred any time the pastors gave us something or helped us out; whether it was one-on-one counseling or a very tiny paycheck.

* Public confessionals–we were repeatedly asked to go before the entire MC group and confess some sin were struggling with. We were also made to do private confessionals, too.

* Low-risk relationships (unconditional acceptance)–it’s very easy to enter into this group and gain acceptance but it’s very difficult to leave. if you do leave, you lose all your friends.

* Fear of punishment or damnation for even thinking about leaving the new “family”–this is actually true. you will get punished if you leave the “family.” and they DO call you a “son” or “daughter in the house” and “family.”

* Viewing all of the outside world as evil or satanic so that any desire to return to it is also evil–anyone or anything who disagrees with their theology or dictatorship can be seen as satanic. We were often told that if we questioned them we were rebellious and being rebellious was from Satan. So we were basically being satanic if we rebelled against them.

If you have anymore questions or would like me to send an inquiry to a particular Master’s Commission group (while keeping your name private, of course), feel free to email me at mycultlife@gmail.com.
Good luck in your decision!
Lisa

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