Myself and Amanda have decided to share our experiences of being disciples of the International Church of Christ because we both feel it necessary, if not essential, that potential recruits are made aware of the damage this cult can cause to people's lives. We sincerely hope that our testimony, like others available on the WWW, may give comfort to ex-members whose lives have been adversely affected by the teachings and indoctrination of the ICOC.
At a time shortly after the birth of our first child, when Amanda was suffering with Post-Natal Depression, she rediscovered a long-abandoned faith in God. This caused some initial friction between us because I am a committed atheist, but after a short time I could see that her renewed faith was helping her over her depression, so I became more tolerant in my attitude and this helped me to become more understanding of people's spiritual needs as a result.
All appeared to be going well, with Amanda attending a local Catholic church, until one Sunday when she was met outside church by a disciple of the London Church of Christ. This person invited Amanda to a "women's meeting". She made no attempt to inform Amanda that this meeting was nothing to do with the Catholic church and certainly did not mention the ICOC. Curious, Amanda duly attended. What then followed was to be the beginning of a long and sorry saga.
At first, Amanda would talk very enthusiastically about the Church and she appeared to have made many new friends who all seemed genuinely concerned for her welfare. I was quite impressed, if a little suspicious (as is my usual sceptical nature).
What started to bother me at first was the constant bombardment of house calls and phone calls. Sure, it was great to have new friends, but there seemed to be some other agenda underneath. When I questioned Amanda about this she said that to be a true Christian, you had to attend all Church meetings, even social occasions. I thought this rather odd but I did nothing about it because Amanda seemed to be very happy.
Then one day the subject of money came up. Amanda mentioned to me that a true Christian should give money to the Church. I said I did not have a problem with her dropping some cash into the collection plate if it was going to a good cause but she had something different in mind -- tithing. I was absolutely against the idea -- it was difficult enough to live on the money we had without losing 10% of Amanda's earnings to some weird happy-clappy church. This naturally caused some friction between us but she agreed not to give to the church. Of course, what I did not realise at the time was that the church was putting Amanda under alot of pressure to start paying her tithe once she became a disciple.
I had grave reservations about our young son attending church because I did not want him to become indoctrinated into religious beliefs before he was old enough to make an informed choice but Amanda took him along anyway, again under pressure from the Church to bring the family to meetings.
Of course, the Church were also desperate to bring me in, too, but I stood firm.
My first encounter with the Church was when Amanda persuaded me to go along to one of their church-wide annual conferences in central London. I stopped short of actually attending the conference but I did meet up with Amanda and a large group of disciples in Greenwich later on. The first thing that struck me as odd was the strange side-on hug which all the disciples greeted each other with, like some Masonic handshake. The disciples themselves seemed nice enough, if a little over-enthusiastic. Without being able to pin any specifics down, I felt quite uneasy. The whole thing, while jolly and lively, appeared to me to be quite insincere and superficial. It was as if each disciple felt obliged to greet everyone else as if they were their best friend, and in so doing, they were unable to actually spend any length of time with any one person, since most of the time was spent exchanging greetings.
Over the course once on the subject, they never gave up hope of making a disciple out f the next few months I got to meet more disciples and a few leaders. They were always very open to religious debate and appeared to be quite respectful of my point of view, but despite my obvious stance on the subject, they never gave up hope of making a disciple out of me.
My discussions with them had, however, raised serious doubts about the authenticity of their theology. Despite being an atheist, I have studied Christian theologies in my spare time and I am fairly Bible-literate. This has always helped me to deconstruct Christian arguments when debating science vs. religion, a favourite topic of mine.
My suspicions were confirmed when I talked to a couple of colleagues at work about the ICOC and they told me that they were a cult. I was quite shocked but not altogether surprised. At about the same time, Amanda had started to have reservations about the Church and had also found out that the ICOC had been labelled a cult. Armed with this information, and with the help of another disciple who had become a good, close friend with Amanda, she decided to leave the church together with her new friend.
Of course, leaving the Church did not prove to be an easy task. In fact, it nearly brought Amanda back down to the depths of depression that she had suffered before rediscovering her faith.
We were inundated with house calls and phone calls from Amanda's discipler and from other disciples who had supposedly been her friends. On the surface, they were all concerned for her welfare -- lots of "How are you's" and "We're missing you" messages. But the truth was more sinister: Amanda was told in no uncertain terms that if she left the ICOC she was going to go to Hell.
This proved to be very difficult for Amanda to cope with and she found it very difficult to resist the temptation to go back into the Church. I could offer little help other than support because I knew little of how to deal with cults. We decided the best policy was silence -- don't answer the door, don't reply to telephone messages.
Amanda's friend, Lucy, helped a lot, since both of them were being bombarded with calls, having left the Church together. Eventually, the house calls and phone calls stopped but that did not help Amanda over the feelings of despair which had now returned to haunt her.
After finding the TOLC website while browsing one evening, Amanda got in touch with a cult counsellor, who helped her a great deal in understanding the false teachings of the ICOC and she was reassured that she was not going to hell for having left the Church.
The next step was to prove difficult but necessary: our cult counsellor had been in ICOC member some time ago and was curious to know if their practices were still dubious. With a view to finding out, and a spirit of mischief in our minds, Amanda and I decided to go back into the Church in order to identify and expose any bad practices.
It was fairly easy for Amanda to re-enter the Church -- she simply told everyone that she had made a mistake in leaving and, of course, they all welcomed her back with open arms. For me, it would have appeared as very strange if I had gone to church wishing to be baptised! Many people in the London Church whom I had met knew very well that I was a staunch atheist. However, as I stated earlier, their faith is blind enough for them to believe I can still be saved.
Armed with this notion, I started to attend Church meetings, initially just as moral support for Amanda, and I appeared quite reluctant and still resistant. To cut a long story short, I slowly started dropping hints that I might be interested in studying the Bible and after that things really took off.
The church leaders and evangelists were practically falling over themselves to study the Bible with me. I tried to be fair and impartial. I tried to believe that they were keen because they genuinely wanted to save my soul, and I believe some of them did.
Unfortunately, I also believe that there are other reasons why they were so keen to recruit me. Firstly, I'm another (quite good) source of income. Secondly, there's the prestige of "converting" an atheist (and boy did they love to milk that one!). Thirdly, there's a prestige in baptising any new disciple. Fourthly, they knew I was fairly intelligent and they hoped I might make a good leader at some point in the future.
I felt very special. They heaped me with compliments and praise. They were desperately keen to meet with me. Oddly enough, the Bible studies were quite short and straightforward. Amanda had primed me for difficult and testing times -- the challenging of beliefs, the emphasis on sin and repentance, requiring you to confess of your sins or write out a sin list, "counting the cost". All these were skipped over very quickly in the rush to get me into the Church.
Part of the reason for this may have been because at this time, it was nearing the end of May 1998. Now May had been dubbed "Miracle May", and all the disciples in the Church were expecting some sort of minor miracle to happen in that month. I guess they had decided that an atheist becoming a Christian was miracle enough, but in order for the prophecy to be (self-) fulfilled, I had to be baptised in May. So the rush was on and I was duly dunked on the evening of May 31st!
Thus, I had successfully infiltrated the Church with (I hoped) no hint of suspicion. From this (high) point on, things were to go steadily downhill.
There was an initial honeymoon period, a time of friendly hugs and gushing praise, of new and renewed friendships, and even a chance to tell the whole Croydon Church about my miraculous conversion, standing on stage for 15 minutes, presenting my testimonial. Amanda and I felt thoroughly sick of it all -- too much of a good thing, like too much sugar in your tea.
This is the oft-quoted ICOC tactic of "love-bombing", their way of encouraging new recruits to enter the Church. The premise is simple: overindulge the person with "love" and praise, make him feel really special. This creates a dependence, especially if the new recruit is in some way vulnerable and is in need of praise and acceptance. The ICOC, for their part, appear to be experts at focusing on vulnerable people -- I lost count of the number of disciples I met who were single parents struggling to bring up their children or suffering some kind of hardship or suffering with low self-esteem before joining the Church. The love-bombing then serves to trap the recruit into a dependent relationship with the person who met them.
The most startling thing about the dependence relationship is the threat of withdrawal if you fail to toe the party line. This is extremely dangerous, but, of course, very effective. A vulnerable person needs constant affection and reassurance, which is fulfilled by the ICOC, but as soon as the person starts to deviate from the group norm (i.e., if they have a mind of their own), then they are threatened with the withdrawal of "love". The bottom line is, you only gain continued acceptance within the group when you are functioning 100% of the time in the way they want you to.
The first sign of the comedown for us was when we were assigned our disciplers, a young couple who were dating and fairly soon to be married. These were the people we were expected not only to look up to, but to unquestioningly obey. Therein lay problem #1: acceptance of authority.
The Church loves to quote the Bible at every opportunity. Unfortunately, around 90% of the time, it's out of context. This instance was no exception. In order to bow down to the mighty authority of a naive couple younger than ourselves, less experienced in life, as yet unmarried, with no children, we were quoted Hebrews 13:17 -- "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority". This quote, however, is not a commandment, nor even an instruction. It is merely a piece of advice given by the author of Hebrews (who remains unknown) to encourage the Jews of Jerusalem to follow the way of Christ and not to revert to the old laws of Judaism. It is certainly not an instruction for 20th century disciples to obey their peers.
In any case, Bible misquote or not, by what measure are the Church leaders qualified to hand out such authority? None of them have had any formal training in leadership and very few would admit to having the necessary skills to offer guidance and counselling with the multitude of complex problems people carry with them in this age. >From close experience, I know that they cannot help with problems of depression, other than to encourage the disciple to pray harder. In discussion with other disciples who struggle with the hardships of unemployment, single parenthood, domestic violence and every other manner of social problem, it is clear that their disciplers have little skills in dealing with such issues. The leaders ought to make it clear that their authority lies solely in what advice they can give about a person's spiritual life and that this, as in any other relationship one has, should be a matter of negotiation and discussion, not of commandment and obedience.
The discipling relationship is, in any case, not so much a teacher-pupil relationship as one of bully-victim. In my fairly short experience, I think my discipler was too timid to really challenge me and, as such, we had few discipling times together. Amanda, on the other hand, has more extensive experience with the discipling relationship, and she has found it unpleasant and disempowering, to say the least.
The problem with the discipling relationship is that the discipler almost always focuses on negative issues. Rather than using the Bible to study inspirational scripture or to explore one's spiritual nature, the discipler uses it to admonish the disciple for not being good enough. The ICOC love to quote the passage from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, regarding scripture being useful for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness".
Unfortunately, the disciplers see this as legitimising their authority in rebuking those in their charge. Amanda was constantly being told that she was not sharing her faith enough, that she was not "spiritual" enough (because she was not unquestioningly obeying the ICOC doctrine to the letter) or that her faith was weak (because she had the intelligence to question the ICOC's interpretation of scripture). Amanda wanted to explore her spirituality, but her wishes were neither recognised nor in any way met. Her discipler merely emphasised that evangelising was the primary function of the Church, rather than any kind of self-empowerment or self-improvement.
If the ICOC cared to look a little further in 2 Timothy, chapter 4, verse 2 states "Correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction". Paul knew that teaching scripture to others meant taking care about what you say and how you use it. It is clear that the disciplers in the ICOC have little depth of knowledge of the Bible. They certainly have no idea about how to read and interpret scripture, since their training, as they try to impart to us, consists of remembering passages verbatim and regurgitating them as necessary, with little regard to their actual meaning or the wider context in which they sit.
Our second and most pressing problem was the issue of money. Since we had now both been baptised we were expected to pay around 10% of our gross (not net) earnings. Altogether, this would have come to around £250 a month, an amount we could not possibly afford to pay out. Instead, after much negotiation and hard luck stories on our part, we agreed to part with £25 a week. On occasions we would "forget" to pay our weekly contribution. This was usually met with quiet scorn. We were generally required to part with our money on the Wednesday evening church meeting. In fact, the entire purpose of meeting on Wednesdays seemed to revolve around the weekly contribution. The only other thing of any use that happened on Wednesdays was the Bible Study classes (more of which later).
The emphasis on paying money was always in the forefront of Church teaching. Not only are disciples expected to pay their weekly contribution, but they are also asked to pay extra contributions from time to time, including the Special Contribution, a sum of 16 times your weekly contribution! For us, that would have meant paying £400, or, if we were paying the expected 10%, the Special would have come to £1000! That money alone could have fed alot of mouths in the Third World, although it is unlikely that the poor got to see much of it at all.
Most of our regular contributions are swallowed up by the Church itself. Donations to the poor mostly come from the collection plate on Sundays. As a matter of fact, titheing is predominantly an OT sacrifice and is hardly mentioned in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus uses the giving of a tithe by a Pharisee as a warning of pride above humility in a parable in Luke 18: 9-14. A more sensible guideline for giving is recommended by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians -- 1 Cor. 16:2. What is actually more important, and is something that the ICOC fall down on all the time, is that any gift you give is given with love. Certainly, give to the Church and to the poor if you wish, but do it because you want to, not because you're told to.
But what of the church itself? What of church services? Certainly they are uplifting in one sense, but in every other respect I felt a growing sense of unease as time passed. Initially, at first sight (and this must surely be true for all new visitors), the Sunday services seem to be very lively, with lots of singing and enthusiastic hand clapping. The congregation is whipped up into a frenzy of excitement by the song leaders and by the encouragement of speakers who seem to act as "warm-up" men, although this is billed as the "welcoming message".
By the time the evangelist takes to the stage, the congregation is practically apoplectic and, having reached such a heightened state, they eagerly lap up anything that is said by him. This would be fine if the message told by the evangelist was interesting and uplifting, but although on first impressions this did seem to be the case, after some time we noticed a depressingly familiar theme creeping through almost every sermon we heard. The themes were, of course, Pay Your Contribution and (most importantly) Make New Disciples.
And here is the real crux of the problem. It seems that the entire raison d'être of the ICOC is to Make New Disciples. In this, their clear mission statement, they are willing to go to practically any lengths to achieve their goal -- to evangelise the whole world. They have taken the Great Commission in Matthew 28 completely to heart and are unerring in their ambition to carry it out to the letter.
Their zeal and conviction toward this end is almost admirable -- they are certainly trying very hard, but to what cost? Once in the church, once baptised and one of the flock, the new disciple is often cast aside as new disciples are being sought. I have noticed this on occasions -- a potential new disciple is heaped with praise and friendship and is made to feel very special, but once baptised, that special relationship seems to fade away as the person that brought them to church in the first place eagerly goes out to find another potential recruit. The new disciple then learns that things are not so wonderful, especially when they are put under immense pressure to pay their contribution and to go out and make new disciples themselves.
The whole process seems to me to be little more than an elaborate high-pressure sales scheme, like when you're conned into buying a home improvement that you don't need. The way the evangelists talk reminds me of the High Street conmen who rope gullible shoppers into buying junk electrical goods for a fiver. It would be laughable if it were not for the fact that these people are supposedly selling your salvation. For a Christian, it is vitally important that their spiritual needs are taken care of. For myself, this was not a problem, I am not a Christian, but for Amanda, she felt that her spirituality was being woefully neglected. Now isn't this an odd way to be as a member of the so-called True Church?
Well, yes, but this perfectly illustrates the point that the ICOC are far from understanding the true meaning of Christianity. The spiritual side of Faith is almost completely ignored in favour of a relentless business-like efficiency. The ICOC do not believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, always carefully avoiding 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 in their sermons.
Other spiritual matters, such as prayer, have been turned into a travesty. For a Christian, prayer is important. The Bible does say that you should pray every day. Unfortunately, in the ICOC's business plan, this means that every disciple MUST get up early in the morning and pray for one hour (at least). The preferred method of prayer consists of a dreadfully Americanised rant, which all disciples learn by osmosis from listening to their leaders' prayers. There seems to be little thought into what actually goes into one's prayers, therefore, since it all ends up as one long, stream-of-consciousness babble. In fact, the ICOC disciples pray in exactly the manner in which Jesus instructed his disciples not to pray in Matthew 6: 5-8.
In fact, the Church likes to encourage its disciples to do everything in exactly the same way -- to pray the same, to look the same, to talk the same. This in psychology is a classic example of group conformity. Its purpose is to ensure that no-one tries to act differently or become dissident, thus nobody questions the status quo.
While we're on the subject of the business-like way the ICOC is run, the other manner in which they neglect the spirituality of their disciples is by creating false friendships. On the surface, everyone seems to be very friendly -- lots of hugs and "how are you's". Aside from that, the truth is rather more sour. Underneath the surface, true friendships are few and far between.
Now this is expected of normal human behaviour -- we tend to gravitate towards people with whom we have things in common. Amongst a large group of people, we may only find three or four with whom we can establish meaningful relationships. The ICOC, however, expects us all to be great friends together, since we all have one thing in common -- we are all Christians, and we should therefore all love one another.
This is a moot theological point, and I am not really at liberty to discuss general theology here. For my part (briefly), I shall just state that this Christian ideal actually works against most of human nature -- I believe it is impossible for us to all love one another. I have no desire whatsoever to "love" an unrepentant paedophile, for example. I might also add that the message of love from the evangelists stops short of certain human character types as well. Both the evangelists in my church were extremely homophobic.
Anyway, this is beside the point. The problem with the ICOC's expectation of us all to love one another is that we end up getting scheduled and timetabled. That is to say, if we wanted to spend time with our disciplers, we would have to fit in to their busy schedule somewhere. This does not look like friendship to me. My friends are available for me anytime (as long as they're not at work!). What kind of friendship is based on a system whereby you can meet up for half an hour on Thursday morning, in between meetings with other disciples?
The problem is, of course, that disciples are spreading themselves too thinly. If they are to be friends with everyone, then everyone only gets 15 minutes, after all, there are only so many minutes in a day. And the disciple's timetable is also crammed full with other things to do. The Church loves to keep its disciples busy by encouraging them to attend all of their social activities.
This would be fine if it were done sensibly, but if one were to seriously attend every church function, there would be no time left to do anything else at all, and the poor disciple would be utterly exhausted by the end of the week. I was told by Amanda's discipler, for example, that I should rebuke Amanda for having gone to Cornwall to see her new born niece, because it meant she would miss church on Sunday!
The bigger problem I noticed with false friendships is that when things really do get tough, you find out who your real friends are. This is as true in the church as it is anywhere else. Amanda and I picked up several times on people who had been left pretty much alone when they suffered physical or mental health problems (we are both nurses). The Church is fine if you want to organise a babysitter or if you need a lift in a car, but when you're suffering, you can forget it. I know that disciples have had to endure severe financial hardships, despite the very generous amount of cash which flows through the hands of the Church treasurers.
So, apart from the false friendships, the emphasis on money and sharing your faith, the lack of spirituality and the insincerity, what else has the ICOC got going for it? Well, not much.
Another huge bone of contention for myself and Amanda was the church's understanding of the Bible and especially its Bible studies. The ICOC's Bible study program runs for one purpose only -- yes, you've guessed it -- to make new disciples. The entire emphasis on the "Guard the Gospel" Bible studies is to show any potential recruit that the ICOC is the only true church and that their theology is the only correct one. All other churches are following false doctrine.
This is a very dangerous argument and can be extremely damaging to any existing Christian outside of the ICOC. The ICOC disciple is basically taught to totally deconstruct anyone's existing beliefs in God and to show them that they are not saved at all. This clearly implies (but is not always stated) that unless the person becomes a disciple of the ICOC they are going to Hell. What choice does a person have under these circumstances?
The way they do this is very subtle but also rather clumsy. They take pieces of Bible scripture out of context and twist their meaning to suit the teachings of the ICOC. They then back up this information with somewhat ludicrous "illustrations" -- little stories which are supposed to be metaphors for Bible teachings. The ICOC would like to see these illustrations as parables, perhaps, but they are far too clumsy and obvious to be elevated to the status of the wisdom of Jesus' teachings.
On 7th December an article I wrote about one of the "Guard the Gospel" studies was published on this site [ED: The TOLC site] (Twisted Scriptures). I recommend you take a look as I am not going to go into depth about the studies here -- the "Church" study illustrated in the Twisted Scriptures article is a good representation of the overall pattern of the ICOC's teachings. If I am to add anything on this subject, however, it must be regarding discipleship.
Discipleship is the cornerstone of the teaching of the ICOC. Without it the entire structure of the Church would fall apart. Discipleship is rather like pyramid selling. One person sits at the top, in this case, the church founder, Kip McKean. The next level in the chain of command is the senior evangelists and elders. Beneath them are the world sector leaders, then the evangelists of individual churches, then church / family group leaders, then the bottom line disciples. As each disciple goes out and makes more disciples, the new disciples go out and make even more disciples.
It's an interesting idea, using the pyramid sales technique to evangelise the world. The problem is that a piece of misinformation at the very top works its way down through the whole chain, misinforming everyone. This is especially true where there is no error correction in place, in this case, because of the unwavering obedience to authority.
Unfortunately, information can also rise to the top as well as filter down. This means that anything you do or say to your family group leader ends up filtering back up the chain of command. There is ample proof of this -- information which was given by disciples to their disciplers has reached the evangelists on many occasions. This is almost always done without the prior permission of the disciple. It has certainly been known for a disciple's confessed sin to end up being broadcast in front of the whole church by the evangelist (I must point out that this did not happen in my church, but it has happened to others -- just read some of the testimonies of ex-members on this site [ED: the TOLC site] and elsewhere).
The idea of discipleship is, of course, drawn from the New Testament. The ICOC (and other discipleship-based churches -- they are not the only ones) have taken Jesus' call to his chosen twelve to apply to all of humanity. This was not the intention of Jesus at all. Jesus was well aware that spreading the Message would be a difficult and arduous task. He wanted those who really understood to spread the Word to all nations.
I think Jesus would be appalled to learn that the Word of God was being spread by ill-informed and poorly-equipped "disciples", who have learned how to recruit new disciples almost verbatim from a series of woefully misquoted Bible studies. For example, they use Acts 11:26, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" to equate being a disciple with being a Christian, i.e. that they are one and the same. This is, of course, a fallacy. The disciples may have been called Christians, but this does not imply that all Christians are therefore disciples. You may say, for example, that all Buddhists are vegetarians, but not all vegetarians are Buddhists. The disciples in the book of Acts were many but it is not at all clear as to whether this description was applied to all followers of Christ at that time or to the group that were especially close to the apostles.
When Paul wrote his letters to the churches in Greece and Asia Minor, he did not call them disciples at all. At the beginning of each letter, he addresses his followers as "saints" (2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1) or "brothers in Christ" (Colossians 1:2), or simply "brothers" (1 Thessalonians 1:4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3). In fact, although the ICOC make great pains to point out that the word "disciple(s)" appears about 280 times in the Bible, whereas the word "Christian" only appears 3 times, "disciple" is found only in the gospels and the book of Acts, nowhere else.
Now if you choose to live your life like a disciple, that is entirely up to you, but I am certain that we are not all called upon to be disciples in that sense.
I have nothing against individuals wishing to share their faith, even though I do not particularly like being accosted in the street to be told that my beliefs are wrong, but if people wish to do this they really ought to know exactly what they're talking about and should have no hidden agenda. This is why Jesus entrusted the Great Commission to his disciples and not to the multitudes. Early in the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit came down upon the twelve (Matthias having replaced Judas) as a sign that they had been chosen from upon High to spread the Word (Acts 2:1-4). Later on, of course, Paul was chosen to bring the Good News to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). It is abundantly clear that the task of spreading the Word rested upon specially chosen people and did not rest with all those baptised. Any Christian may share their faith -- anyone can invite another person to church, but this does not equate with the whole umbrella of "discipleship" as the ICOC see it. There is no mention in Acts of "discipleship", nor of discipling, nor of any of the infrastructure of the discipling churches -- family group leaders, sector leaders etc. The origins of these are not Biblical, they come from the very secular world of marketing.
If you don't believe me, take a look at these quotes:
"We have a relative [who], during a very vulnerable time in her life, was recruited by a friend... we are very concerned... she is being drained financially."
"One of my best friends and my cousin have recently found "new religion"...It has become his life...it has strained my relationship with him and his wife. I feel like I have lost my best friend to a cult."
"Two people who I had felt very close to decided I was not worthy of their friendship."
"Perhaps the most disappointing thing that happened was Jane missing my baby boy's first birthday party. She had to go to a... meeting."
Sound familiar? No, these are not quotes from concerned relatives of ICOC disciples, but genuine quotes from relatives and friends of members of a popular US Multi-Level Marketing scheme (pyramid selling). [If you're curious to know which MLM scam is quoted, follow this link.]
As a disciple, of course, there are certain ground rules to follow. Apart from all those already mentioned (titheing, obedience, sharing faith etc), there are very strict rules governing male / female relationships, aside from the rampant sexism in the church (always backed up with quotes from scripture, of course). I am referring to "dating", a game which, as a married couple, Amanda and I were mercifully free from, but we were witness to some ridiculous scenarios.
For instance, single men and women were expected to look for dates at weekends, but these would be pretty much pre-arranged by the disciplers / group leaders and pre-approved by them. Leaders had the veto on who would go out with whom and second-dating the same person was frowned upon unless you were considering a proper relationship with that person. A proper relationship also had to be approved from upon high -- there were instances where leaders had decided that a couple would not be right for each other (for whatever reason) and they would be forbidden from dating together.
In any case, a proper relationship seemed to always be a curiously dispassionate affair. Our discipling couple, before they were married, appeared to be more like a brother and sister, and even then I felt that there was a distinct absence of any real closeness. It's hardly surprising that my discipler admitted some problems with intimacy issues to me not long after they got married.
Around the beginning of December 1998, Amanda and I decided we had had enough -- I had been in the Church for about six months and I was reaching my limit. It is not easy to pretend to be a Christian; it is much harder to pretend to enjoy being a member of the ICOC. As a Christian herself, Amanda was finding it spiritually very taxing, and had taken to attending an excellent local Baptist church as an "antidote" to the poison of the ICOC. We decided that we had gathered enough information to satisfy ourselves and, hopefully, other people, that the International Church of Christ is not the only way to God, it is not the best way, that it is in fact no way to God at all.
This is a shame in some respects, because a lot of the church members do sincerely believe in God and they believe that what they are doing is right. To be fair, some of it is. Some of the Bible teachings they follow are accurate, it is just unfortunate that much of it is also false, and, what is worse, potentially damaging. I cannot deny that some disciples, particularly the leaders and above, seemed to be blissfully happy to be in the Church. Perhaps that lifestyle does actually suit some personality types, although I'm doubtful. I feel that their happiness is a self-delusion -- many disciples I spoke to who had been members of the ICOC for a long time had been through some pretty rough periods in their lives before becoming Christians.
Now their lives seemed to have worked out for the better. I did wonder at times exactly what was I trying to achieve, but then I would always be shocked back into realisation when I witnessed where things are not so right, where things haven't worked out for people, where damage was being done, not intentional, malicious damage, but the kind of naive, well-intentioned damage, akin to an untrained helper giving the completely wrong kind of first aid to an accident victim.
If there is anyone in the Church who needs help, it is these people, the well-intentioned but misguided, the kind of heart but washed of brain. God can make a difference to your life if you choose to believe in Him but God is not at the centre of the ICOC, money and the Multi-Level Marketing Scheme is.
As I write this document, Amanda and I are being bombarded with telephone calls and house calls from concerned disciples, leaders and even my sector evangelist. I am hoping that if we ignore them for long enough they will go away, but I fear the only way to stop them calling is for them to read this article and to know the truth. The truth may hurt, but it is our truth, it is our experience and the observations and experiences of others in the Church, and if we can help just one person question their position as a disciple in the ICOC, if we can save one person from falling into the trap, then we have not wasted our time and money over the past six months.
We are all individuals, we all have free will, we all have the freedom to choose. We should not allow ourselves to fall into a position where that right to choose is taken away from us, otherwise we lose our individuality, our identity and, ultimately, our humanity. Make your choice carefully.
Andrew and Amanda Hart
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