There come times in every human being's life that decisions are made Some are as simple as deciding what to wear, some are as far reaching as a decision regarding one's spiritual health, conscience, and beliefs. I have recently arrived at the conclusion that I cannot, inside a good moral conscience, support or be a part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus, part of the International Churches of Christ.
The church has mishandled and distorted Scripture to support church doctrine, revised of church history, damaged family relationships, engaged in "spiritual prostitution", and practiced ideological totalism. All of these charges have been proved beyond shadow of any doubt in my mind to the point that I can safely say that the International Churches of Christ a mind-controlling cult that is not worthy to associate itself with my beautiful Savior Jesus Christ.
My caustic accusation is not without foundation.
The church has mishandled and distorted Scripture to support church doctrine. The most brilliant example is the corruption of Matthew 28:18-20. This verse, known as the Great Commission, is the kingpin doctrine for the church. The church teaches that this says that one must be a taught everything about discipleship before one is baptized. If the church leadership was to really read the verse, this doctrine would be found to be without foundation. The verse reads: 18 "Then Jesus came to them and said 'All authority on heaven and earth has been given tome. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'" Look carefully at what the verse says. First you make a disciple. By the definition of the word, this is a believer in the teachings of any teacher. After you make someone a believer in Jesus and his teachings then they are !to be baptized and taught. A simple grammatical examination of the Scripture reveals this:
"Baptizing" and "teaching" are participles that modify the verb "go make." They tell a believer how to make a disciple. This is contrary to the church doctrine that one must be a disciple and know everything before baptism. The order of the participles modifying "go make" says that; one is baptized, then one is taught. The church teaches Disciple=Christian=Saved. If this is true, and the church follows its own doctrine, a person is a disciple before and after baptism; the doctrine collapses on itself. If the church leadership were to have studied grammar and applied it to the Scriptures, this confusion could have been avoided.
The Church has revised church history. The most shining example is that the church says that the Chicago church was planted by Boston. This is nothing more than a revision of history.
The Chicago church was not planted by Boston as the church insists, but indeed was planted by a different church that had recently joined the Movement. Also the truth about the Indianapolis Church of Christ was hidden. The movement did not choose to reveal that the evangelist had discovered the holes in the Movement's doctrine, presented this to the church and the church decided to leave the movement. Neither did they say that Kip McKean spent an estimated$200,000 to fly in top-notch members to try to recover the fleeting church. This was not revealed to anyone, but rather, in a recent edition of KNN (Kingdom News Network) the Indianapolis church was praised for work during a membership drive. Now it is painfully obvious why the membership drive was initiated.
The church has damaged family relationships. The stories of such things were long hidden and repressed by those in the church. When it was discovered that such things were happening to my family I was shocked. Communication between my family and myself had grown more and more infrequent, communication by Internet (a favorite means of communication) quickly slowed to a trickle and then ceased. It became more and more difficult for them to contact me and the time I might have used to contact them was consumed by the machine of the church "to save souls." This was a result of the excessive time demands of the church. What communication did take place (either by phone or in person) either solely discussed the church and my growing involvement in it or my attempts to bring my parents into this oppressive system. Any conversation outside of this was contrived and artificial. This obliterated any productive family bonding time that my parents and I could have had for the past five months. All this was given up in the name of God. I was discouraged from spending too much time at home or "apart from the body" because it might be "harmful to me spiritually." Little known was the fact that what I was doing in the name of spiritual health, was destroying the precious relationship I have with my parents.
The church practices "spiritual prostitution." That is to say that the unconditional love found in Christianity is given only at a price. The infamous hug of greeting of the church is one simple example; one can only receive that if you become a member of the movement. I was even told by a member "...some people who have been around disciples long enough think it is right for them to do it too. Not yet." True, once in the church, people are willing to do a lot for you, but this is only after jumping through the hoops commonly known as "studies" Even then, you cannot be baptized until the leadership thinks you're "ready." Show me once in the Bible where it was required to go through the Word, Discipleship, Kingdom, Light and Darkness, Cross, Church, and Counting the Cost studies. It's not there. In Acts 2:38 when Peter said "Repent and be baptized."
He didn't say "Repent and be baptized after you've completed the studies." For a church that in its own material claims to be Bible-based, this is a questionable doctrine. After someone has paid, in full, the price of confessing all their sins, being emotionally broken, and agreeing to give up everything, then can they can receive the gift of salvation. This selling of the free gift of salvation not only amounts to "spiritual prostitution" but then in turn makes God a "cosmic pimp.": a God whose love must be continually bought and rebought by deeds. This is neither the God nor the church described in the Bible that the International Churches of Christ claims to use as its model. Either the Bible lies about the nature of God, or the church has warped people's views of God. Only one of these is true.
The church has practiced ideological totalism. Leaders manipulate members thinking and thought processes by controlling what material is read, written, spoken or experienced. They make events seem to have come out of nowhere or by The Hand of
God or Holy Spirit. In short things that to the outsider are spontaneous and perceived as divine or mystical are carefully rigged in advance to seem that way. It is for this reason that certain sermons seem directed to everyone in the room individually. They manipulate by calling for an impossible "black or white" standard. This is demonstrated by the call for all time to be devoted to God to evangelize "everything that moves", to have an unattainable level of purity. Anything not focused on God or church-related things is construed to be impure and sinful, thus you must rebuy God's love with some more deeds and tears. Whether these actions are true sin or otherwise it is a requirement to confess all to someone higher up on the authority chain. It is also believed that any unconfessed sins are still present before God, and that behavior not completely in line with the ideals of the church is a result of these unconfessed sins. This negates the concept of a God an individual can talk with and instead makes another human a "functional God." This principle is the basis of the discipling doctrine. The church also believes that they are the only organization that can dispense the Gospel under license from God and that they are the only saved number.
Members are made to feel that if they leave the church that they leave God, thus the movement makes the organization yet another "functional God." These points, used together effectively are the basis for the mind-control the International Churches of Christ are notorious for.
When "Counting the Cost" I was told by Maurice Hooks that some people on the outside believed that this group was a cult and that now I knew better, because a cult wouldn't let you leave and that there was nothing stopping me from leaving. In it's most basic and most superficial level this is true. There was no one on guard at the Branch Davidian compound constantly telling people not to leave, but if someone left, they were shot. True, there is no one standing with a rifle at the door of a service to kill you if you leave, but the ever-looming threat of walking out of the church and into Hell is worse. Thus by a leader's own definition of a cult, the International Churches of Christ is one. It is a cult that warps the Word of God and denies that they do it. It is a cult that damages and often destroys families and family ties. It is a cult that practices "spiritual prostitution" and in effect portrays God to be a "spiritual pimp." It is a cult of mind-control. If even one of these accusations is true, this church no longer has any right to bear the name of the Man who came to earth to set us free from all of it. There is freedom in Christ. There is oppression in the International Churches of Christ.
Do not warp my words as you warp the Gospel. For once, my mind has been introduced to something commonly known as truth. This letter is the manifestation and reaction to it. I know that you will not show this to others as you regard it as "spiritual pornography." By not doing this you only work on perfecting the oppressive system of which you are a part and seek to advance. If as you teach, God is more powerful than Satan, good more powerful than evil, and truth superior to lies, you have nothing to lose by reading the entire membership this letter in its entirety. Because, if this letter is from Satan, is evil, and a lie, as you believe, you have nothing to lose. But, by keeping it secret you are not letting the "truth", which you claim to be the sole possessors of, work. Jesus never once forbade his critics from speaking while his followers were in earshot.
I am a critic and speaking through this letter.
Do not read the anger expressed in this letter as bitterness. I know what has been said about other people who have left the church. It has been said that they wanted to be immoral, that they were never really disciples, that they weren't really committed I have no desire to offend my God nor myself by engaging in immorality. As the leaders who had my confessions from Light and Darkness shared with them know, I never engaged in sexual immorality before I joined the church. What is there to say that I will now that I am free from the church's burden?
My convictions on that issue were formed before I was first met. I am still a disciple of Jesus Christ, son of the living God. Even though I am healing from the wounds inflicted by the cult, it is my mission to bring the Gospel to those who do not have it and to come to know and love the God who loves me. Only now I can introduce people to Jesus instead of to Kip. Even though the cult may not say that I was committed I !know how committed I was to bringing souls to know Jesus. That's what I thought I was doing.
God knows that's what I thought I was doing. I am still right with God and know him better than I did even at the highest of my "spiritual highs" in the movement.
I count many people still in the International Churches of Christ as friends. I still wish to maintain the friendship we built over my short period of time that I knew you, but I know that because of your continued devotion to the system and your deception by it, this may be impossible. I do not wish to be contacted by anyone in the International Churches of Christ about rejoining. If you want to discuss God or the Bible or any secular matter this is fine. Note that these are separate from the International Churches of Christ. If anyone violates this, and approaches me about returning to the church, it will be considered harassment and pursued as such through the proper legal channels.
It is my prayer and hope that the leaders of the church will wake up to what they are doing and to look at the facts instead of calling them Satan. I hold no regrets about any consequences of my decision to leave. If those who are considered "weak" leave, this is great. They are free from the oppressive force of the system. If leaders fall, this is better, the masses will be unsettled and more will leave. In the end, good will triumph over evil; light will replace darkness; truth will devour lies; and the kingdom of Kip will be replaced by the Kingdom of God.
May the truth in this letter set you free.
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Current as of October, 1996
To those of you all over the world who have read my story, I thank you very much and wish you the best in your free lives. If you compare this version of my story with the previous versions, you will notice that more details have been added. As time marches on and the more and more I talk with others about my experience, the more and more I remember. This is the most up-to-date version for now. Thank you for reading (Acts 17:11).
In a letter dated May 20, 1995 I made my break with the Dallas/Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus, the local affiliate of the International Churches of Christ (see attached letter). The five months before were an experience that at the time were the five best months of my life, but looking back on them were a waste of time, money and energy and a monument to the effectiveness of mind control and manipulation..
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My name is Ian Charleton and I'm from College Station, TX and play saxophone in the Jazz Studies department at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. I was raised in a Methodist home where I got basic instruction in the fundamentals of Christianity and considered myself less than vulnerable to recruitment into a cult. The word "cult" brought to mind shadowy figures dancing around fires sacrificing animals to strange gods. "Cult" did not mean something I would want to join.
On Thursday, January 19, 1995 a tall, slender man invited me to a party that he and some of his friends would be having that weekend. I had had this guy in one of my classes the previous semester and I was struck by his kindness and warmth, but something in my mind equated "Christian party" with "lame time" so I bluffed my way through, said I might be interested in going to church sometime and said I might stop by the party if I wasn't busy. I never went to the party and didn't give the guy or his church much of a second thought until the next Tuesday evening.
I was sitting around my room about to start working on transcribing a Cannonball Adderly solo when the phone rang. It was Steve Corns, the same guy who had invited me to the party.
He said that the same folks who had been having the party on Friday were having an informal Bible study that night and asked if I wanted to come. He was quietly persistent in his asking. Something in my mind said "Maybe God is trying to tell me something" so I agreed to come.
We went to a woman's apartment for the Bible study. I was more than a little apprehensive about going to a Bible study, but this was quickly relieved when I walked in the room. Everyone there had this glow about them and they were as warm and as friendly as anyone could be. "This must be the right place." I thought to myself. A well-built man named Maurice Hooks was leading the Bible Talk and his opening question to everyone in the room was something like "How many of you think that you will remember this night in 20 years?" I don't remember much about the rest of the lesson, but I still remember that night and will for at least 20years. Afterwards Steve and his friend Ben Doke asked me if I'd like to get together with them and study the Bible sometime. At that time I had a little knowledge of the Bible and I agreed looking for an opportunity to flaunt at least a little of my knowledge.
Wednesday we got together and studied the Bible. Ben was taking notes so afterwards I could restudy what we studied. Steve led the lesson and soon I realized that this was not a study for mutual information but was instead directed especially at me with pointed questions after each verse we looked over. First off we decided that the Bible should be the standard for living my life. At the time this was more than appealing to me. The previous semester I had done a little bit of drinking and had fallen in with a rather seedy bunch of people. I was not ready for the second half of the lesson. At the end of the second half of the lesson I was convinced that I was not a Christian and that I was on a one way road to Hell. Coupled with my desire to leave my old ways and the uncertainty of a new semester this was like getting blind sided by a semi. They asked me if I would like to become a disciple (their word for Christian). I said I needed some more time to think about it to which they answered that I already knew everything I needed to make the decision. This made me a little uncomfortable, but I attributed it to the fact that I had just been told I was going to Hell. If I had been paying more attention or had been a little more rested, warning bells should have been going off in my head. I still did not make a decision and went back to my dorm room with some notes, a new Bible and some disturbing thoughts.
That next night we went to a "Jesus Night." This was also led by Maurice Hooks.
Present at this were college-age members of the church from all over Denton and the people that were studying the Bible with them. We all watched various videos the most graphic of which were the crucifixion scenes from various Jesus-oriented movies. The questions that Maurice threw out for discussion became more and more scathing and more and more probing until I decided I had one option, and that was to "become a disciple" and save myself. Somewhere during all this poking and prodding I thought to myself, "If this isn't brainwashing, I don't know what is." Then I answered myself, "This is a church, Ian. They wouldn't do that!" I put the thought aside and affirmed my decision.
We studied the Bible again on Friday night and reaffirmed my decision to make the Bible my standard. I agreed to come to church with them on Sunday and that we would study again at that time. The church service was one of the most electrifying events I had seen up to that point in my life. People were singing simple spiritual hymns and seemed genuinely interested and excited about being in church. This was something new to me. During my senior year of high school, church was something that I got rousted up for after having played a late gig on Saturday night.
Waking up voluntarily to go to church was a new experience for me. I was more than a little excited. The sermon was intense and spoken (and often shouted) with conviction and authority.
The preacher's thoughts ran off on long tangents and ended up places that were new and exciting. New lessons that I had never heard and found interesting surrounded me; the whole sermon kept me spellbound. This seemed like a really good church.
Steve and I got together with Ben again and studied again that afternoon. This study used both the New and Old Testament and was designed to "show how the Bible fits together" and that the International Churches of Christ was The Kingdom of God. The way the proving was done, it was very convincing and made good sense to me. I was really beginning to trust what these people were telling me and I started to stop asking questions. They gave me a little quiz at the end of the lesson to make sure I had gotten it. I started to get the idea that there was more here than just some Christians learning more about the Bible. I put these doubts aside, however. This was the calm before my next study which I already knew was entitled Light and Darkness and was the sin study. I was a little apprehensive but went. That was to be on Tuesday.
Tuesday night Steve and I got together with Maurice after Bible Talk (what the organization called it's Bible study). This study lasted for about an hour and a half. They told me that God saw me as an evil wretch and would smite me to hell in an instant if I didn't shape up and fly straight. I wasn't saved and forgiven until I was a disciple and I wasn't there yet. Here they told me that I was either in or out, black or white, going to heaven or hell, saved or damned. Along the way everyone in the room confessed freely of anything they'd ever done, feeling compelled to do the same, I followed suit and spilled my guts of just about everything I'd ever done. The result of truly being penitent of my sin was to be "broken " about it. I didn't know what this was, but being broken about one's sin seemed perfectly acceptable as that was the only way to be forgiven. After all, what's wrong with simply being remorseful?
The whole time I was studying the Bible with these people I had gotten started reading the Bible in mass quantities each morning and having "quiet times" with God where I would read about three chapters and then pray about them. This would become a morning ritual. I was told that God would point something out to me that I needed to change every time I opened the Bible.
From that point forward, every time I opened the Bible I was expecting to be beaten down, but this was okay. Right? Later on, one of our leaders would verbally correct this teaching in a Midweek Service, but actual practice never changed.
Thursday, the same group got together to study again. This time we were studying The Cross. We did a quick recap of the sin study and started pressing on through the account of the crucifixion in Matthew's account of the Gospel. We took turns reading aloud. Then we read a coroner's account of the crucifixion and looked at the physical, spiritual and emotional pain that they said I had personally caused Jesus. They said that every time I had looked lustfully at a woman, or poured a bottle of beer down my throat or even broken the speed limit that I might just as well have been standing there with the whip beating my Lord and driving the wrought iron nails through his wrists. Maurice played the role of Jesus off and on during the lesson pantomiming the blows being dealt him by me and crying "I love you, Ian. I'm doing this just for you. This is for your lust, your...." This had the desired effect. At the end of the study I was in tears crying like I had never cried before in my life. It had been a successful study, I had "gotten broken" about my sin. When Steve was praying, he even mentioned this in his prayer about "how awesome" it was "for Ian to be broken about his sin." I didn't feel too awesome; I felt humiliated, physically and emotionally exhausted. But if it meant I was on the road to recovery from my life of sin that had killed my Lord it was an acceptable and permissible thing. Steve and Maurice both said I would never forget the day I was broken; I will never forget February 2, 1995 as long as I live.
The following Saturday afternoon we got together to do the Church study. Here is where the church revealed some of its inner doctrines. I was told that this was the only true church, that everything else was false. Not only were these other churches "false" but they were from Satan because they were trying to lead people away from "The Kingdom." This sounded a little funny at the time, but after everything else I'd seen happen, this could be legitimate. Their proof texting also added to the power of the presentation. Later in the study I was asked "What is your conviction on dating?" I didn't really perceive that as a spiritual issue, but since I could become "yoked to an unbeliever" it was. Therefore, I would be allowed to date only within the church, but I would be guaranteed a date every Saturday night (whether I wanted one or not I would later find out). This sounded very appealing to someone who hadn't had a steady girlfriend since early August. This final part of the study was led by Maurice alone. He and I "counted the cost."
Questions I was asked included, Are you willing to give up your saxophone for God? Are you willing to leave everything and go where God wants you? Would you be willing to marry and Asian or a black woman if that's what God called you to do? Do you surrender everything to God? Your desires? your money? your time? Would you give your life to God? "Some people outside the church think this group is a cult," Maurice said "you now know that not to be true, right? A cult won't let you leave, here you're free to leave whenever you want." Just the fact that he mentioned the word "cult" was surprising to me, I had seen nothing of what I perceived to be "cultic." After sustaining this barrage for several minutes and repeating how to "make a disciple" ICC style, I was declared "ready" to be baptized and to become a disciple. I was thrilled.
Maurice said I should take a good 45 minutes in prayer that night and the next morning to be sure that my heart was right and that I was really ready to make this commitment. I prayed that night for what felt like an eternity but when I checked the clock afterwards it was only about ten minutes. I was mildly disappointed.
I woke early up to go to church. It was a good sermon given by Maurice, but my mind was set on the baptism that lie ahead. After the service, people I didn't even know who seemed to know me almost as well as Steve and Maurice did were congratulating me on my decision to "come into the kingdom." the outpouring of love entranced me. I was shaking with excitement as I stepped into the warm water of the baptismal at The Building. On February 5, 1995 at a little after 12:30pm I confessed "Jesus is Lord" and was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of my sins. I went to lunch at CiCi's Pizza with my new friends beaming about what I perceived as my new salvation.
I do thank God for how He used my experience in the ICC Movement. I read almost the entire New Testament while I was in (and finished after leaving), and gained a knowledge of the Scriptures to surpass anything that I had before and I now know more than ever that He does exist and that his love for me and all mankind is not comparable to anything human that we can create in our own minds.
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I had a quick indoctrination into the recruitment of new members. I started with my roommate, Tony, and any other friends I could talk to. But, the thought of approaching strangers terrified me. Steve, who was now my discipler, gave me advice on how to overcome this. The word "bold" came to have special meaning now. I was lacking in "boldness" or "zeal" whenever I felt timid about approaching a stranger about coming to church. This was usually punished by extreme amounts of guilt with phrases like "If Steve had felt timid when he saw you, you would still be going to hell. Don't you love the people that are damned right now?" These were wont to come from Maurice. But I was still scared and still didn't recruit up to the standards the church set. I fell into "legalism" as the church called it. I would meet my recruitment quota and then stop. I was not going beyond. Even though the church outwardly says that it doesn't practice legalism, numbers are very important, and their own rules more often than not take precedence over Scripture. At this time I noticed a discrepancy between teaching and practice. They taught(and told outsiders) that you couldn't earn your way to heaven, but that you couldn't be a disciple(and thus be going to heaven) unless you were recruiting (they called it "reaching out" or "sharing your faith"). I put this aside and chose not to think about it much. After all, questioning a teaching might be considered doubting or being divisive.
When I had been in the church for three days, everyone in the campus ministry got together early one morning to have a meeting in the student union. After we had been given a brief message by Maurice we split up to have quiet times together. I had mine with a Malaysian computer major named Tze-Loon Yep. I read the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). After I got done Tze asked me where I had been planted. I said "I don't really know. If I'm planted I couldn't move anyway." I proceeded to get a lecture on how this was not being a good disciple and how a good disciple always knew here he was planted and if I thought I was planted in the wrong place that I needed to "repent and change for God." I was an emotional mess for the rest of the day as I thought about and wrestled with this. Now, because I have left the church I am considered to have been planted in the rocky soil: one who "fell away" because of persecution.
One of the first sacrifices I made to the machine of the church was practice time.
Obviously, part of being a music major at a high-class music school like UNT is a lot of practice.
I was used to at least four hours a day maybe as much as six when I had something really difficult to get done. Now I was lucky to get in three. But, I told myself, giving this up for God was much more glorious than anything I could accomplish alone sitting in my practice room. The way I had planned my schedule back in the fall had me getting out of classes late in the afternoon and practice time in the evening. Prime time for recruiting was early afternoon and all church activities happened during the evening. There went all my time.
The man who had recruited me became my discipler. We had daily contact either in class or over the phone and got together at least once a week to study the Bible and discuss our weeks and how they had been. A key part of these discipling sessions was my confessing of any sin I had committed during the week. It was taught and believed that any unconfessed sin was still before God and resulted in less-than-fruitful behavior or as much as a return to my previous damnation.
Thus, if you weren't bringing in the numbers (of visitors either to church or Bible Talk) you had some unconfessed sin in your life. The big three sins for men were lust, laziness and lying. Lust was anything beyond simply looking a woman in the eye or even letting your eyes wander and letting your thoughts naturally go with them. Laziness was a good excuse to not sleep. Many people I knew in the movement at this time were getting anywhere from three to six hours sleep a night maximum. I myself was averaging about five. Lying was just that, lying or hiding the truth or anything you just didn't feel like sharing. I was told that when I wasn't being "open" about my sin, that I was essentially lying. This lack of openness was especially "spiritually harmful" because it would lead to a "hardening of the heart." Steve was constantly praying that we be kept open about our sin.
I didn't particularly like any part of this confession ritual any time during my experience with the ICC. After a month or so in the church I justified this methodology in my own mind. I determined that since sin was bad and it was embarrassing or humiliating to confess it, that confession was good because the embarrassment or humiliation was a sufficient motivator to keep you from sinning.
I remember one specific week when Steve and I got together for our discipling time together. I had been making a conscious effort that week more than normal to fly straight as a narrow and to be the righteousness of God. When Steve turned down the alley of Lust, Laziness and Lying, I was ready. I told him I'd had a great week and that I'd made a lot of improvement.
Instead of the healthy congratulation I was looking for I got a pointed question: "Brother, what are you hiding?" He poked and prodded until he found something that I had not confessed. I was then chastised for not being "open about my sin." Large amounts of guilt were injected into each discipling session and shame was used to keep me obedient. This was often given in the form of "advice" or "how Jesus would do it" or other loaded phrases like that.
I tried very hard to look forward to my discipling time, trying to convince myself that this was for my own good. However, it got harder and harder to make myself do it. A tiny part of me wanted to completely rebel and tell Steve how ludicrous this whole thing was, but fear kept my mouth shut. Fear of Steve, fear of Hell and fear of not being good enough for God kept me in the church.
One week, I "accidentally forgot" about my discipling time with Steve. Our time was at11:00 in the morning on Fridays, and I conveniently forgot about it and did something else instead. That Saturday there was a clinic for saxophone players and Steve was there. During a break he said "I missed you at 11:00 yesterday, where were you?" I stammered out something about how he hadn't reminded me (he hadn't) and some other excuses. he said "You don't forget about your practice time do you? That's important to you isn't it? If getting discipled was important to you, you'd remember that too." I stammered out an apology and promised never to miss another one ever.
Two weeks after I was baptized my parents were scheduled to come up for a weekend visit. I had told them about this incredible church that I had joined and they were looking forward to coming with me. It was the classic sermon that I was getting used to by this time, but my parents keen ears detected something amiss. Nick Young (the evangelist for the D/FW church) preached about the "storms of life" and how "the storms of life are coming." My mom would later say "Little did we know then that he was the storm." This weekend would eventually. bring about my exit from movement and entrance back to the world of the living.
In late February I went to a Single's Retreat with church people. We had some classes Friday evening and a whole day of classes on Saturday. We were all running on about 3 hours of sleep and very little food. These are prime conditions for brainwashing. I was expecting this to be like any other church retreat I had ever been on, where meals were provided. So, as a result, I didn't bring either my checkbook or hardly any cash. I soon discovered that any and all food had to be bought at the outlandish hotel prices. I borrowed some and ate very little that weekend.
For that retreat one of the people staying in my room with me was a blind man named John Cardy. He'd been in the church for several years and we had a discussion that night about my time and how I was spending it. We made out a time schedule that seemed to fit in all that I needed to do, but with even less practice time. I asked him why it was so important to give up my practice time or if it was best to give it up completely. "Ian," he said "you're going to meet and baptize someone that you wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet unless you were a saxophone player." This assuaged a little bit of my fear about losing my horn.
Everyone was expected to make a decision of some variety as to their relationship with God after the weekend. After the retreat I was determined to be more bold when recruiting. I was paid for my perseverance. I got a few visitors to come to Bible Talk and sat in on several studies as well as leading a few of my own. Steve told me that my production was sign of great spiritual growth. This was great news for me to hear. I had friends now. I was accepted by God now. I was bringing other people to know God. I was going on dates that were good and friendly with no fear of "going overboard." Who could possibly ask for anything more?
Occasionally, I found myself missing my time with friends from high school, or just running around staying up late with my friends outside the movement. I had no desire to return to my former lifestyle, I just missed my old friends. Every time my mind would wander there I would beat myself up about it and reconvince myself that they were all going to Hell anyway and that any time I spend around them needed to be to try to bring them into the church.
Dating in the church was a big deal. They were occasionally strange and often coerced.
When in the church as a single you are expected to have a date every weekend if not more often.
You are not to date the same person for consecutive weeks even if you're "interested" in them. If you are interested in them, you are to date them once a month for a while, then every other week, and once your discipler approves you can become boyfriend/girlfriend. This is usually only approved when there is the possibility of engagement. Even then, before a couple is allowed to be "exclusive" the leaders must determine that both are ascending the proper ladder of leadership. A dating couple is next to permanent and is also based on the man's "ability to lead" his girlfriend.
You were not allowed to break off a relationship unless you two were "falling into sin" or were "growing apart." Even then, the people who made these decisions were often times the respective disciplers of both halves of the couple. The most creative way I've seen yet for breaking up a relationship is sending the man on a mission team to plant a church and leaving the woman behind. In this situation, the man has now left the movement and is doing very well. The woman, unfortunately, is still in the movement after a failed intervention attempt. I never had a monogamous dating relationship while in the church and am glad that I did not have to put a girlfriend through the heart-wrenching emotional trauma of a breakup over my decision to leave.
It was an unwritten rule that you were not supposed to "spend more on the sister than you gave to the plate." This is a good rule. So to make a good date I would stretch it as far as I could. I was giving $10 to the plate, so that balanced out to about $30+/week spent on church activities. When you're living on $160/month it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that once plentiful cash gets pretty thin, pretty quickly. January 1, 1995 I had roughly $750 in my checking account. I bounced a check that May. A quick calculation says that I spent nearly $660 on church related activities during the time that I was in. This does not take into account dates when I exceeded my $10/person limit, or the occasional week with more than one date.
Towards the end of February, we would have a special guest speaker at midweek. It was Steve Brown, a high-up in the Dallas/Fort Worth church. He would give us a blistering message and announcement. One of the sisters in our sector named Amy had been in the sin of sexual immorality. Steve told us that she had been warned individually, by two or three others and by the elders in accordance with Matthew 18. Now he said "We still love Amy, but tonight we must mark her. You are not to speak to her, call her or have any contact with her at all. We have turned her over to Satan. If she wants to come back, she has been instructed to call the elders."
After I left the movement I found out that the reason she had been expelled from the movement (and in the movement mindset, effectively sent to Hell) was that she had gotten pregnant.
That next Sunday evening there was an emergency meeting of the Outer North sector at "The Building." Steve Corns was my ride there and didn't tell me what it was about, he just told me "Wait and see, it's important." We had a meeting with Nick Young and his wife. Nick explained to us that it was obvious that there was a problem in the Outer North or the incident with Amy wouldn't have happened. He then told us that Maurice (the sector leader at that time) and his female counterpart Monica were going to be moved out of the sector to "other parts of the Kingdom" and that we would get Damon and Terrin Pabst as our new sector leaders. I was hurt.
I didn't see why Maurice was personally responsible for something he didn't do, but I accepted what Nick said was the Will of God and went on. He held up a man named Ward Davis as the example to follow in this time. He explained how Ward had been through so many leadership changes (Nick named them) and how he grew through them and thrived on them and that he should be what we strive to be like during this transition period. Ward has since left the movement.
The week before spring break I brought a young woman named Kimmy to Bible Talk. She was a saxophonist like me, friendly and looked like a good recruit. She studied the Bible with some of the other women in the church as the rest of us continued our business. Much of that business consisted of much door to door recruiting most of which was at night. This had formerly been good practice and study time. My grades bore proof to this, my GPA fell from a 3.8 to a 3.3in a semester. After spring break she continued her studies and I baptized her one Wednesday after midweek. This was a fulfillment of John's "prophecy." I thought that he was really in the Spirit. I knew that I was supposed to be feeling great and happy because I had just been "fruitful" but somehow I felt false and plastic and empty. I buried these feelings deep inside and put up the happy facade that had become so common now.
The Sunday before Kimmy was baptized, my friend Mary Beth Jacobsen and I had started on a fast. We had determined that our hearts were not in the right places or we would be having visitors coming to Bible Talk. We decided that we would live on nothing but cereal until we had each had two new visitors to Bible Talk in the same week. I was not allowed to break my fast until she had fulfilled her end and vice versa. This was greatly applauded by my discipler Steve. He said that be "denying yourself" in the same ways that Jesus did (not eating) that we would become more like him. Therefore, being hungry, poor, or sleepless made one more Christ-like. However, Corrine [and I] both secretly broke our fasts. I broke mine after I baptized Kimmy. Never before had food tasted so good.
All during this time my circle of friends outside the church had been shrinking. Soon all my conversations took place with people in the church and any conversation with outsiders was directed in one way or another at bringing them into the oppressive machine. Luckily most of them were well-founded in their beliefs (either theistic or atheistic) and were not sucked in. My parents were the best witnesses to this. As they tell it, every time I would talk to the phone with them my world view got smaller, and that I was harder to get a hold of because of the excessive time demands of the church.
One of my friends outside the movement that I kept in touch with was a very talented alto sax player named Jenn Mazziotti. I tried tirelessly to recruit her as soon as the evening of the "Cross Study." In March or April she had had a kidney stone removed and some of the drugs she had taken in connection with its treatment had caused her to become mentally unbalanced. One Saturday evening after a date I get a call from her that "Ian, you have to tell me how to be saved!"
This was exactly what I had been looking for. I thought that God had finally shown her the error of her ways and that she was reaching for Him. Even though my logic was telling me that there was something terribly wrong because of her extreme paranoia and other fervor, and erratic thought processes, my devotion to the church pushed her through many of the studies that night and probably got her more unsettled than she was already. After hearing her story after she regained her sanity, it was incredible what an impact that my bringing slanted Christianity into the equation had.
One night after a date I read the Book of Revelation completely. I knew that it was supposed to be a very confusing book, but I thought that with my new and growing spirituality that I might have some new insight. I thought I got one. After reading the part about the 144,000 sealed, I thought I knew when Jesus would come again. Since we were the only true Christians, when the worldwide congregation grew to 144,000, Jesus would come again. I kept my revelation to myself, however.
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In the middle of April it became necessary to start making plans for the summer. It was an established fact that being "apart from the body," (another term for being away from the church and the members thereof) would be spiritually harmful. It was advised that everyone get back to the church as quickly as possible. People who lived as far away as St. Louis, Missouri were making plans to come back to Denton after only two weeks at home. That summer, my grandmother was moving to Bryan, Texas from Longboat Key, Florida. My mom and I were going to drive her car back and then I would get it. Giving all this time to take place, I estimated that I would be at home for about four weeks before I could come back to the church. Deep inside I was looking forward to the opportunity to be at least a little of myself again and to have a break from the non-stop evangelism, but to appease Steve, I told him that I would attend the Houston church. After I came back to Denton, I was going to move in with a man in the church whose roommate had left the Movement. I had not yet cleared this with my parents who would be paying for it. Since I was planning on attending second summer session this would also make good housing. I planned on showing it to be more financially stable to hide my true intentions. It didn't matter that this was the sin of deceit, it was for the right reasons.
Steve also rather strongly suggested that I consider moving in with a church member for the fall semester. One of the great benefits of living in Bruce Hall (my dorm) is that it has practice rooms in the basement, for a music major this is often a necessity. He had advised that I consider switching dorms or moving to an apartment. Much to Steve's chagrin I decided against this. I have never been happier for being a music major in my life.
Later that month I would talk with my parents regarding the summer. I told them of my plans and had a hard time telling them all of why I was staying in Denton instead of spending my summer at home like a normal college student. After having explained it to them using terms that I thought people outside the church could understand they didn't bug me about it anymore. I thought I had won a great victory. The whole concept of living away from my parents in an apartment with my own car was a fascinating thing to me, and since I was going to be living with another member of the church that made the whole thing all the better.
For the past month my curiosity with the leadership had been growing. I had been leading impromptu Bible Talks on campus with some of my friends when we would just round up whoever happened to be nearby. This was also a good recruiting vehicle. I started talking with some of the Bible Talk leaders about how they went about preparing the Talks and helped one of the leaders prepare a few of them. I had decided that I wanted to be a Bible Talk leader. I started mapping out in my head how I would run my Bible Talk and how I would make it the most fruitful in the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus. I had been inspired by a message I had heard at the single's retreat about how one person could make such a huge difference. I had decided that this was going to be me and my future Bible Talk. I had no intentions of going into the full time ministry, but the prospect of going on a mission team was also fascinating. The Bryan/College Station planting was going out about the time I would graduate from UNT, so the timing couldn't have been better. I decided that I could still be on the mission team and still practice enough to be a good musician.
April 22, 1995 was the College Station Jazz Festival. My old high school jazz band was playing and the festival had always been a lot of fun. My friend Josh Shapiro (he was outside the church) and I went to College Station. This was much to the chagrin of my discipler, Steve. We were supposed to give our Special Missions Contribution that Sunday and I wouldn't be present to give it. I gave my $200 dollars that Wednesday instead. When we got home that evening I was expecting my parents to be there waiting for Josh and me. They weren't there, this seemed a little strange, but I didn't think too much about it. Much later, I would find out that, not ten minutes away, they were meeting with the chief counselor/minister that would eventually show me the other side of the ICC story.
At midweek towards the end of April, our sector leader Damon Pabst asked me to come to the leadership meeting on Sunday. He said it was important for me to come to one because then I would be able to start leading in the fall. I was elated, I was going to get the chance to show my ability to lead a part of God's Church and make a difference in the world. Since about March it had been my dream either to get a "Disciples Band" together or to eventually lead the music ministry of the Dallas/Fort Worth Church.. That Sunday evening I went to the leadership meeting.
In that room were the big workers of the D/FW church. The Bible Talks are the main recruiting tools of the church and in this room were the people who were in charge of running them. Nick Young, the evangelist of the D/FW church, spoke for a little bit and it was very loud, abusive and thought stopping. I wasn't exactly looking forward to this kind of a meeting every Sunday, but I was just so excited about the chance to have my own Bible Talk and to have my own little group of followers. I had been saxophone captain my senior year of high school and had been told by many people that I had the best squad on the field. I decided that I was going to put those same qualities to work for the church. My love of music was being sold to the machine of an abusive organization. I had gotten my first taste of the corrupt power and it was addictive.
On Saturday May 13, 1995 I had a meeting with Steve and Damon to discuss my "plan of attack" for the summer. The idea was to give me a plan for spending my summer apart from the church. Their concerns were me getting self-centered in my practice and getting lazy since I wasn't going to be able to have constant contact with Steve or anyone else in the church. Damon also said that he would get me a little quiet time book so that my quiet times would have a plan.
All this would ensure my "spiritual health" from the moment I left the fellowship of the church.
As we were about to leave the meeting Damon asked "How do your parents feel about the Church?" I told them that my mom wasn't really hip on the whole thing but my dad seemed at least a little in favor of it because it had made my faith grow. Then he asked "Would your parents have you deprogrammed?" I had heard horror stories of people being deprogrammed, how they had been brainwashed, how their faith had been shipwrecked, how they had been fed to Satan on a silver platter, how they had been surrounded with so many lies about the church and what it did, that they chose Hell over God. Even though my mom wasn't really into the church I knew they loved me more than to send me to Hell in a hand basket. I said "No. My parents wouldn't do that to me. They may not like the church 100% but they wouldn't hurt me like that."
On May 14, 1995 I would have my final Sunday with the Dallas/Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus. This was mother's day and I was expecting the sermon to be on the greatness of mothers and how the world wouldn't be here with out them. When Nick called out Acts 11:26-27I knew the service was in for a powerful twist. That scripture is the first scripture in the church's Discipleship study where they will prove that unless you are a part of this church, you are not a Christian. Nick delivered a powerful message that at the time I wished many of my friends had heard. Instead of my usual cursory notes that I would take during sermons, I took copious notes so I could share it with my parents and save them.
I got a ride home from the church service that afternoon from a friend of mine in the church named Sarah Prather. She was going to Houston, so College Station was not too far out of the way in the grand scheme of things. I got home, sent Sarah on her merry way and got ready to dive into my challenging summer. I was prepared to fight with demons at every turn and to keep myself "pure." Damon had told me stories about stuff that he had done when he went home for the summer when he was in college and how offensive it had been to God. I was scared into obedience of a strict schedule when I should have been making up for lost time with friends, catching up on sleep and doing a little bit of relaxing. But, as Damon had told me, these were not in God's plan for me. God's plan for me was to show my parents how much I had changed by serving them at every turn so that they would want to join the church and be saved. How he knew what God's plan was for me baffles me to this day!
Soon after I got home I told my parents what an "awesome" message we had heard on Sunday and how much I would have liked them to have heard it. They asked what it was about and I told them it was about the definition of a Christian. They agreed with me that this was an important thing and my Dad even seemed especially eager to hear what the sermon had to say.
My mom was quick to point out that my church was probably the only one that didn't preach on the greatness of mothers. Somewhere in here my parents told my about a trip that they were planning to San Antonio just to have "some good family time." This sounded good.
That Wednesday I shared my notes about Nick's sermon with my parents. It was obvious that they were very uncomfortable with the whole idea. We looked over the scriptures that Nick had mentioned and I explained them the way that "they were meant to be explained." I had tried my hardest to show them that they were unsaved little demons and were going to hell. After I resigned myself to failure the discussion died down and we went to bed. I was disappointed by my parents lack of enthusiasm after having been told they were on a one way road to hell.
Apparently they didn't take their salvation very seriously.
The next day we would leave for our trip to San Antonio to spend some "good family time" together. My friend John Pruitt was going to meet us down there because his parents were supposedly going out of town for the weekend and he was in trouble with them. What could make more sense? Thursday night was spent on the River Walk eating great Italian food, listening to good jazz, and having a really good time.
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I woke up Friday morning all ready to go to Fiesta Texas and the other touristy spots in San Antonio. My first hint that something was amiss was when I asked John if we should take our bags with us or if we were going to come back to the room after breakfast. He didn't answer me and just suggested that we go to breakfast.
Friday morning was one of the most hellish experiences of my life. After a good breakfast at the Ninfas adjacent to the Holiday Inn we were staying at my Dad started asking me some questions about the church that sent me into a "spiritual funk." Finally in the ultimate state of emotionally sore and confused I asked what was up. "We've met some people that have left your church for what they feel are legitimate reasons. We'd like you to listen to what they have to say." I was infuriated. This whole trip had been an elaborate hoax to send me to Hell. I asked to call Steve to get advice but dad used his knowledge of the English language to his advantage.
"Ian, if your faith is really that of a true disciple, is it really that fragile as to be damaged by what someone says, especially if it's a lie?" That left me very little place to turn. Finally I consented to go in and listen to what these dangerous agents of Satan had to say. I had quietly resolved in my mind that I was going to just listen and gather up all the lies that these folks were going to tell me and warn the whole church about it. I memorized names on Bible covers and tried to soak in everything about this experience. I was expecting these people to give in to my stone-faced silence after a hour or so at most and I could go home and then back to Denton.
I soaked it all up just like a sponge. I listened and discovered that what these people were saying really was the truth and that they were right, more importantly that the Movement was very skewed when compared to the Bible. It wasn't so much what these people themselves said, but what I heard my own leaders say on tapes and through old newsletters. Three days later I was thoroughly angry, feeling spiritually raped and much wiser than when I had gone into the weekend. When I got back to College Station I wrote a letter to the leadership of the D/FW Church telling them that I had left, why I left and that any attempt to recruit me back would viewed as harassment and pursued as such through the proper legal channels. The other letter I wrote was to my friend Mary Beth who at this moment is still captive in the D/FW Church of Christ Jesus.
Wednesday of the next week my dad and I made the jaunt to Denton to get some of my belongings from the apartment where I was to have been staying and to deliver the letter that would officially set me free from the bonds of the oppressive organization. This cult that had so cleverly disguised itself as a church would have one less life to wreck.
The next day Mary Beth called me at home. We talked for a little bit and I found out that the girl I had baptized had also left the movement. They had gotten her letter on Tuesday and mine on Wednesday. The leaders had made the connection that I had talked to Kimmy after leaving and had decided to bring Kimmy down with me. This was not the case. Mary Beth was making noises like she was looking to leave the church. She had already tried to leave the church once while I was in and had been convinced to stay. When she told me this she told me that it was "the biggest mistake" she could have made. I believe she will discover the truth and free herself from the bonds that hold her.
When I got back to UNT in the fall I started to have e-mail correspondence with Mary Beth.
The conversations were friendly and I thought that perhaps she might be beginning to wake up to the fact that I was not this evil satanic person that her leaders were telling her I was. However, in the early hours of December 6, 1995 I received a message from Mary Beth that left me in tears. She told me that I had "slandered the Kingdom" and how I was not "helping her with her relationship with God or encouraging [sic]" her at all. She told me that we once had a good friendship but that that was all over. This is testament to how manipulative the leaders in the ICC movement are. When I was in, Mary Beth and I were close enough to go on a fast together, however now all the rules have changed and our "good friendship" no longer exists.
I had hoped that this chapter with Mary Beth would mark the end of the D/FW Church's influence in my life. This however was not the case. One Wednesday in January, 1996, I was sitting in my dorm room talking with my girlfriend, Margo, when the phone rang. It was Steve Corns, my former discipler. He was inviting me back to the church and said he had a letter from Nick Young to give me. In a few minutes he and his friend Dirk Nielsen were at my door making quite a conversation and giving me the letter. This action is completely contrary to the wishes I expressed in my farewell letter (see attached). However, I had been talking on friendly terms with some other members and was very hesitant to damage these bonds by following through with the threat of my farewell letter. This encounter wasn't so bad anyway, so I decided against doing anything official to these people, but I did marvel at their bravery based in ignorance.
The Friday of the following week was very cold. After getting our mail in the student union, Margo and I were approached by Richard New (the guy I had been planning on living with) about coming back. I dismissed his invitation and went on about my business. A few hours later on the way to practice I ran into my former discipler Steve again. He persisted in asking me back to church and asked what I was thinking. I told him that I was really wondering why he persisted in asking me back when I had specifically asked not to be contacted. An hour-long argument ensued in the cold and wind of a North Texas winter. I presented my views and Steve kept urging me to come back and see the changes that had been made. When we finally parted ways I was an emotional wreck. After regaining my sanity and emotional balance I proceeded to follow through with the threat of my letter. Since Steve was a student a the University of North Texas, I filed an official complaint with the Dean of Students Office and he was summoned and reprimanded. I have had no further troubles with the ICC members or leadership.
It is regrettable that my involvement with that group would ever come to the point of filing disciplinary complaints. But, this proves again what many people already know: this group will stop at nothing to achieve its own destructive ends. Any group that is this willing to do anything needs to be carefully watched and avoided.
Since I have left, some of what I have written has ended up on the World-Wide Web.
This and e-mail contact has resulted in one man in California leaving the movement and one person in Atlanta deciding not to join. The truth will always prevail.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that the leaders of the church will wake up to the fact that what they are doing is not only contrary to the very scriptures that they say they promote, but is also quite destructive and contrary to the message of love that they teach. I believe that with the current corruption and shortfalls within the ICC that it will eventually collapse from the inside out.
I feel great heartache for those devoted Christians that have sold their entire lives to this machine and that get caught up in its collapse. My current information yields itself to the interpretation that the Movement is ailing. The Dallas church alone is having around 100 members from the St. Louis church moved in to shore up its numbers. This is in addition to an equally large movement from Kansas City only a few years prior.
There is a life outside the movement and it's not as bad as the leaders tell. I now know God better than I did at the highest of my "spiritual highs" in the movement and have a greater respect and reverence for those people in the world that make the most devoted efforts to follow Jesus wherever He may lead.
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©1995 by Ian E. Charleton Ian's email no longer works (verified 2005/12/01). All rights reserved.
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