Self-portrait © 2010 Marlene Dunham
Lured To the Cult Part 2
No one was standing by the door telling me I couldn't leave. No one was forcing me
to stay. Nothing was standing in the way, except the fear I had been indoctrinated with
all these years. Leaving the group was tantamount to putting a bulls eye on your back
for the devil.
Steven Hassan, in his book, Combating Mind Control,(1) describes several features of mental coercion used by groups like this. One of which is making followers fearful that terrible things will happen to them if they disobey leadership or leave the group. “ Leaders say that if followers disobey, they will be "outside the protection of the household," outside the protection of God. they could be involved in a terrible accident, and the reasoning would be that the person walked away from God's protection. Anyone who (dared to) question the teachings of the leader was thought to be possesed with devil spirits. ““Mind control is a slow process that involves intensive indoctrination while instilling guilt & fear – victims are unaware of the process.”
So life goes on. I’m caught up in the day to day of my life, job, and “the work of the ministry”. Running classes, sometimes 3 to 4 nights a week and not taking too much time to “doubt”. The devil loves a doubter, you know. If I am out from under the protection of God, something awful could happen to me. Life as it was wasn’t so bad, right? It could be worse! There were good times! These were the conversations in my head.
The fact that my marriage was bad from the start didn’t help matters. Divorce was definitely frowned upon. Breaking a commitment like that (made before God) would not only ostracize you from the group, your friends, the only “family” you had left (assuming you had alienated all your real family by now), you would be “walking away from God” and as Rev LCM* loved to point out, that meant that you’d “be a greasespot by morning”..On the night of June 23, 1987, my husband and I said “I quit” to the State leader of “The Way”. I remember the date because my first daughter was born the next day.
One of the definitions of a cult is that it is a group that falls apart when the leader leaves or dies, because the group was actually based on the man and his teachings, not on God.
Dr, W. died in 1985, and almost immediately stories started spreading throughout the Ministry of inappropriate behaviors over the years by Dr. W., Rev LCM and many of the top leaders of the group. Inappropriate sexual encounters, because he, and his top leaders, being the “men of God for our day and time” as they liked to call themselves, needed to have their “needs” met (sexual or otherwise) and, as they were often traveling around the country, their husbands and/or wives were not always available to meet those needs. Kris Skedgell, in her book (2) states that Dr. W. “explains that a man of God needs many women to satisfy his overwhelming needs."
Along with these types of stories came stories of woman who become pregnant, forced to have abortions, a few who were so distraught they committed suicide, etc. Although I, thankfully, did not experience any of this first hand – except for that cute leader back in the Bronx in the beginning – I personally knew many well respected, personal friends, top leaders, who repeated the same stories to us. Most of whom had experienced this first hand. Leaving was a hard decision to make, though much easier in 1987 because “believers” were leaving by droves. We didn’t have to worry so much about being ostracized, because we were all being ostracized together.
I have recently come across some material that I wasn’t privy to back in 1987. These were directives put out by the #2 “man of God” to try and mitigate the exodus. A lot of procedures were put in place in the following years that you would have thought would have proved to the remaining faithful what a hoax it all was. But, I know, you are saying the same thing about me and my 15 years.
In an excerpt from a speech given on Dec 13, 1989, by the Rev. LCM, to “The Way Corp” He exhorts his leaders and followers (regarding those of us who have left)"
…“we must make up our minds to eliminate the contamination and move the vicious, unsalted ones out by departing from and avoiding” *The word says don’t wish them godspeed , God’s best, God’s blessings…don’t be glad to see them. What communion hath light with darkness?…get rid of it, don’t put up with it…and don’t tell me it’s loving to let this kind of counterfeit people infiltrate our lives. It’s stupid. It’s not loving, it’s contrary to the word of God…I don’t welcome them into my heart, life, fellowship. It’s God’s property. Don’t bid them godspeed. You have no responsibility to allow that contamination in your home..and they’ll try to tell you you’re unloving – tell them to read the book and go home…“For he that biddeth him godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds” How do you like that? That’s God’s Word and the Word of God is the Will of god, and if you love God you keep his commandments…“Avoid…you don’t try to coexist with gangrene – you cut it out.” ,(3)
The first time I read this letter was just a few weeks ago as I was researching for this article. There are many web sites and message boards for ex-cult members, including ex-Way members out there. This letter was written 21 years ago, and 2 years after my husband and I and hundreds, perhaps thousands of others across the country left the group. But it just became crystal clear. The message, the mind control, so to speak, was that with every class, with every course, we were taught and wound up believing one simple premise. “The Word of God is the Will of God”. That’s not so bad, right? That doesn’t sound evil. “The Word Means what it says and says what it means”. Since most of us didn’t know shit about the bible to begin with, and were mostly counter culture ex hippy types, and the fact that some of the fabulous things this dynamic teacher was teaching, just happened to go at cross purposes with “organized” religion, even better. God had told Dr W. that he would teach him the Word as it had not been taught since the First Century Church if he would teach it to others. We were the chosen ones, so to speak, to sit ht his feet, to learn that Word that Dr. W. was teaching us.
As the years past (and before the honeymoon was over) there was excitement, fun, we were high on God, we would see people healed, we would drive that extra 25 miles with no gas in the tank and not run out. There are a lot of things in this world that are unexplainable. BUT, that one simple premise that “The Word of God was the Will of God”, along with believing = receiving (if you believe negative, something negative will happen to you) sunk in so far, that we didn’t question whether or not the “word” was being interpreted correctly or for the manipulation of the masses. Once the high wore off, we knew better than to question authority, or question the “Man of God”. If we didn’t understand what the bible was saying, we just had to study it a little harder. If we doubted it, well, we’d better watch out. that was negative believing. We had better pray harder and study longer. We gave up one critical element. The ability to think for ourselves. I can see that so clearly now.
Statements like those made above by Rev LCM were not made in the 70’s & 80’s (at least not in my circles) but I can definitely see how we were being set up for this type of blind following. And when (excuse the pun) all hell broke lose around 1987, they had to separate us quickly from those they still held in their grip.
There was a huge spread in Life Magazine, May 14, 1971. A report entitled “The Groovy Christians of Rye, New York”. As quoted from this article by Jane Howard,
“(they) see the bible as the irrefutably accurate word of God, containing no contradictions and solving all their problems, from the cosmic to the trivial”. These children feel invincible, Howard goes on to say, “so long as we keep our shield of believing up, our cars won’t crash and we won’t get cancer and if they’re drafted and sent to Vietnam, they won’t get killed.” “The father (God) wants us to prosper. That’s why we give 10% or more of our money as love offerings, and its mind blowing how it comes back to us. Poverty, see, is just satantic stuff. Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to pray”.
It’s hard for me to read these above lines and realize that 30 years ago I actually believed this crap. Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to pray?
Well, its been a long, strange road to be sure. I married a man just because he was in the Way and any two “believers” could make it, it was taught, as long as they believed God. Leaving my marriage and breaking my commitment to God was probably the worst thing I thought I could do, so I’d pray harder and try to “be” better, try to submit like the Word of God said. That accounted for the first 15 years of my marriage. The next 12 years = 3 kids, no means of support and nowhere to go! Can anyone relate?
I take full responsibility for my decisions. I made the decision to continue going back to the Fellowship meetings, take the classes, marry the man I married. I learned a lot along the way. Perhaps the biggest thing I learned was to think for myself and if it took 15 years for that, well, that’s ok. Some people never learn.
I previously did a post called “Losing My Religion” which compares “my cult” to my Jewish father’s conversion to Catholicism…if you're interested.
(1) Combating Mind Control, Steven Hassan, Park Street Press (October 1, 1990
(2) Losing the Way- A Memoir of Spiritual Longing, Manipulation, Abuse and Escape, (Bay Tree Publishing, Point Richmond CA 2008) Kristen Skedgell
(3) 2 John 1:10-11
Rev LCM = Reverend L Craig Martindale. Became President of The Way after the death of Dr. Weirwille in 1985. His presidency ended in 2000 when he faced his second law suit for alleged sexual harassment and rape. He was also the “man of God” that performed my wedding ceremony at The Way College in Emporia, Kansas in 1977