Saturday, May 24th a forum was held at the Spindale House and the subjects included information about mind control and testimonies from Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) survivors. The lead up to the meeting was intense for many of those involved. Materials were put together, videos were reviewed, meetings were held and in the end the general consensus was that it was a success. Admittedly, there is no way to recap all of what was said since I do not have a recording. The pictures taken will be added here at a later date. My goal for this post is to just hit what few highlights I remember and to give enough for those who did not attend to get the flavor and direction of the meeting.
There were no decorations, but we placed information and candy in the seats for the guests. We had waters for the taking on a table to the side. There were three tables up front for the panel and the large screen television. The attendees filed in and in that group were two WOFF members, Greg and Rita Burgeson. Several other WOFF members were spotted circling through the parking area, some waving and blowing their horns. We were prepared for more WOFF members, but they only sent two inside.
We began the forum a little late after experiencing technical difficulties with the PowerPoint® we were given from another advocacy group. This was just “warfare”, right? We had a back-up plan and were able to use printouts of the presentation. Mr. Rape began the session in prayer encouraging all that it was possible to be deceived and we would learn how that could happen through the material revealed tonight. He delivered an encouraging prayer as well.
Then it was my turn to present an introduction. I stated that with two members of WOFF announcing or seeking public office in previous months, one for a judgeship and one for Clerk of Court; this made them public figures and there was reason to examine the influences of WOFF in their life. Next, I mentioned the response there has been when sharing about the forum which gave us the understanding that a viable thirst existed for this information. No one should be shocked that I also mentioned that any faithful member of WOFF was “greatly influenced daily by their beliefs and practices.” I closed this part by mentioning Josh Farmer statement last year when being interviewed by WLOS about allegations of another WOFF survivor, “We absolutely have nothing to hide… that’s absurd…” We have taken the admission by Mr. Farmer in the public record as a welcome sign that survivor stories need no longer be hidden. After all, according to Josh, there is “nothing to hide.”
Next, I then provided the quotes below to help frame the content.
“Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join apolitical movement and you join with people you really like.” Deborah Layton, survivor of Peoples Temple. (PBD Home Video JONESTOWN- The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Copyright ©2007 WGBH Educational Foundation and Firelight Media)
Steven Hassan: “Occasionally, I am asked whether there is some kind of typical “problem family” from which cult members tend to come. The answer to that question is no. Anyone, regardless of family background, can be recruited into a cult. The major variable is not the person’s family but the cult recruiter’s level of skill.” (page 77)
“When I lecture at colleges, I usually challenge my audience with the question, ‘How would you know if you were under mind control?’
After some reflection, most people will realize that if one was under mind control, it would be impossible to determine it without some help from others. In addition, one would need to understand what mind control is.
When I was under mind control, I didn’t really understand what it was all about. I assumed that mind control would involve being tortured in a dank basement somewhere, with a light bulb shining in my face. Of course, that never happened to me while I was in the Moonies. Whenever people yelled at me and called me a “brainwashed robot,” I just took it as persecution. It made me feel more committed to the group.” (page 53)
Steven Hassan from Combatting Cult Mind Control, (Copyright © 1988, 1990 Steven Hassan, Park Street Press, Rochester, VT)
Honestly, my mouth went dry and I asked Matthew Fenner to open my water for me. I stumbled over words and felt very “rusty” when it came to public presentations. During my transitions, I could feel the deafening silence. Anyone else been there? Though I was convinced before we started that this material helped lay a foundation, I will reconsider such a tactic when or if we ever present one of these sessions in the future.
Moving on, I admitted that some in the country don’t believe in mind control. Those would include scholars who saw no proof of such behaviors and of course, those who were under mind control at this time and did not know it.
Next, I quoted some leading experts who did believe that such control over folks was possible and used some of the following to give that side of the issue.
Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo:
“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition, and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles.” (Source link- http://www.icsahome.com/articles/mind-control-zimbardo , Mind Control: Psychological Reality or Mindless Rhetoric, retrieved May 17, 2014 )
Dr. Margaret T. Singer (1921-2003):
“Thought reform is not mysterious. It is the systematic application of psychological and social influence techniques in an organized programmatic way within a constructed and managed environment (6,7,8,9,10). The goal is to produce specific attitudinal and behavioral changes. The changes occur incrementally without its being patently visible to those undergoing the process that their attitudes and behavior are being changed a step at a time according to the plan of those directing the program….
Thought reform is accomplished through the use of psychological and environmental control processes that do not depend on physical coercion. Today’s thought reform programs are sophisticated, subtle, and insidious, creating a psychological bond that in many ways is far more powerful than gun-at-the-head methods of influence….” (Source link: http://www.icsahome.com/articles/thought-reform-exists-singer – “Thought Reform Exists: Organized, Programmatic Influence, The Cult Observer Vol. 11 No. 6 1994, retrieved May 17, 2014)
Dr. Robert J. Lifton:
“…Certain psychological themes which recur in these various historical contexts also arise in the study of cults. Cults can be identified by three characteristics: 1) a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power; 2) a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform; 3) economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.”
The first method characteristically used by ideological totalism is milieu control: the control of all communication within a given environment.
Creating a Pawn
A second characteristic of totalistic environments is mystical manipulation or planned spontaneity. This is a systematic process through which the leadership can create in cult members what I call the psychology of the pawn. The process is managed so that it appears to arise spontaneously; to its objects it rarely feels like manipulation….
Purity and Confession
Two other features of totalism are a demand for purity and a cult of confession. The demand for purity is a call for radical separation of good and evil within the environment and within oneself. Purification is a continuing process, often institutionalized in the cult of confession, which enforces conformity through guilt and shame evoked by mutual criticism and self-criticism in small groups.
Confessions contain varying mixtures of revelation and concealment. As Albert Camus observed, “Authors of confessions write especially to avoid confession, to tell nothing of what they know.” Young cult members confessing the sins of their pre-cultic lives may leave out ideas and feelings that they are not aware of or reluctant to discuss, including a continuing identification with their prior existence.
…The term “loading the language” refers to literalism and a tendency to deify words or images. A simplified, cliche-ridden language can exert enormous psychological force, reducing every issue in a complicated life to a single set of slogans that are said to embody the truth as a totality.”
(These are only a few excerpts from this article that explains the characteristics of totalism or controlling groups.- please, read the entire article – here- http://www.icsahome.com/articles/cult-formation-lifton -Cult Formation- Robert J. Lifton, M.D.- John Jay College- Abstract, This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1991, Volume 8, Number 1, pages 1-6. )
After these excerpts, we reviewed the handout of the presentation given to us by the Families Against Cult Teachings advocacy group out of Florida. Their website found here. The presentation was titled “What’s the Difference Between a Church and a Cult?” The traits of a “Safe Group, Church or Leader” were listed. A few included; Will not vilify or ex-communicate former members, Will not have a negative paper trail (court cases, news articles), Will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations and Will admit mistakes and accept constructive criticism.
The second part of the presentation included 15 attributes to use as an analytical tool to determine if a group, church or leader was UNsafe. I found the source link for the information here. All 15 points to consider are listed at the source which is on the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) website. A few of note:
— Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
—The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
—The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
—The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
—The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
—Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
—Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
—Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
—The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Let me say that if I get an event out or order, it is not intentional or meant to harm. The first survivor to speak was Christina Bryant. She began by reminding the group that she had spoken at the meeting in April. Included in her testimony was the view she had early on that she wanted the things WOFF had to offer. As a common thread, I believe each survivor included the same observation, except me. (Early on, I did want the things I thought WOFF-life had to offer.) Christina went into a little more detail and expounded on her brother’s plight and treatment inside WOFF and his escape running away at night time into the woods. Her brother is serving in the armed forces and could not attend. It was a moving account as I was familiar with more details than she told in the forum.
Jeanna Powell spoke next. She also mentioned that at a young age, she believed that only WOFF members would be in heaven. Her testimony included great detail of the controls Jane Whaley uses on her members. She expressed her frustration with the constant review of her walking, talking or appearance. She recounted step by step her frustration with how her brother was treated inside the group including a meeting in which he was pulled from a service by his tie by Jane because it was too long. I was in that service. Jeanna went back down the above list and confirmed which attributes of WOFF qualified as unsafe according to the list in the presentation. I thought she was very accurate and thorough and displayed excellent recall of life inside WOFF. She also confirmed Jane’s attempt to demonstrate how young boys and men were to properly use the bathroom. Before the night was over, we would also hear about WOFF attorney’s attempting get her fired from her job. It was a blatant display of an elitist mentality. The attorneys for her employer were shocked at the attempt.
Teresa Dodrill went next as she and I switched places to allow her to sit closer to the microphone. Nancy Burnette called me into a back room to ask me about Greg Burgeson. She pointed out that he was nodding frequently and seemed to be agreeing with the material presented. This shocked her. Did he want out of WOFF?
I calmed her down and pointed out it was a conditioned response for WOFF members to nod at a speaker. I told her he may not even be aware he was giving her the wrong signals. Later, we would see how accurate I had assessed Greg. He did get a turn to speak later in the meeting. Maybe one other explanation could have been he was just bored, tired and fighting sleep?
Teresa laid out an emotional, but logical explanation of her time inside of WOFF and the confusion that lead her to leave. I had never heard her story. She conveyed the emotion and yet the reasons in a very understandable way. Her exit began over chewing gum. She had missed a service where Jane had laid down another edict that chewing gum in public was a sin and “not God’s way.” The next day, she was among WOFFers and outsiders at her job. A non-WOFFer offered gum to those gathered around and she was the only WOFFer who accepted and that done out of ignorance as no one had informed her of the new rule.
Later, in the car after the shift, she was confronted and asked why God had not convicted her heart that chewing gum in public was a sin? She pleaded for an explanation. At that time, she was told by her sister-in-law to spit out the gum into sister-in-law’s hand and find a place of repentance. Friends, even I was taken aback by the abruptness of the condemnation of chewing gum! But, knowing her sister-in-law and the attitude she carries helped me understand. I was not in the original service, but I remember the rule being passed on and touted as the new “don’t” until the next one came along.
Teresa had worked as a nurse for some time. She worked third shift and one Sunday she decided to skip the humiliation of being singled out in service as falling asleep. If one was caught nodding or sleeping during a WOFF service, they had to stand –up and pray or shout or stand up in the back holding their Bible and not fall over. One Sunday, Teresa decided get the sleep she knew she needed and attend in the evening. Before the evening service, she was contacted and told that since she did not consider coming in the morning important, she could stay home in the evening. And so, she did. She did not go back. (If I remember right…) About a month later, Jane called or met with her to go over her grievances. When Teresa began to lay out the list, she was told she was an “attacker” and from then on labeled such to her family still in the church. She was also accused of improper behavior with another man outside the church. All of this led her to not return to WOFF.
After her separation from WOFF, she did attempt to reach her parents and let them know that regardless of what they had been told, she loved them. There was no response. She reiterated that to this day, family members inside the church have no contact with her.
About this time, I took a couple of questions. The first fellow in the back of the group asked where Jane lived. He wanted to go “talk” to her. Immediately, I did not want to be a party to divulging her address and Matthew and I answered real quick- call or go by the church. For legal reasons, we would not give up her address. To which he replied, “I can go to that church?” We then warned him that visitors were greeted by the security team and he may not be allowed in.
The next person I took a question from made it a statement. She wanted to mention WOFF lawyers attempt to intimidate and cause Jeanna trouble enough for her to be fired from her job. This lady refrained from mentioning Jeanna by name, but later it came out. She expressed her deep shock and disgust that WOFF attorneys would attempt such a feat. At this time, Greg Burgeson was silently and persistently striving to get my attention. Later, I gave him his chance to speak, but not at first.
My turn had come and I fumbled my way into some sort of beginning. I recounted by first contact with WOFF in 1992 and explained the Greenville migration and went into my exit in 2008. I began telling that my experiences were on my blog and gave the address. Several nodded their heads and later I learned these were some regular readers. My testimony included my starting the blog for my own therapy and the ability to process the experiences and the emotion. However, I added that I now get emails from all over the world from former members or family members of present members. The consensus is this blog helps them understand how their WOFF relatives think about matters and events.
I felt no need to repeat a lot of what was on this blog. I did include a few statements about the destruction of my family as following the typical WOFF path. Also, I included details about my involvement with the Faith Freedom Fund and how that allows me to help other survivors. After those statements, I attempted to read the letter I posted to my daughter, Sarah. I began the letter and could not finish it for the emotions that washed over me. Turning to Teresa, I asked her to finish it. I choked up and came close to balling like a baby. Why had I melted like that? Afterwards, I remembered another event from a public meeting this past Wednesday. A child of a co-worker had called me a “Grandpa” because I had some gray hair and looked old to her. I relished the thought of one day being given that privilege of playing with my grandchildren. Right now, that time looks as far away as the moon. The incident Wednesday had an effect on me while reading the letter to my daughter.
Before Matthew Fenner took the microphone, I may have recognized Greg, I don’t remember the order, but I do recall doubting if I should have given him access. To his credit, he was polite and asked if he could speak, he stood up and began to roll on about how no one had mentioned Jesus or talked about being saved…?
I said this was no place for a dissertation and asked what his question might have? At some point, another person turned and reminded him this was not a church service.
He then said, “None of this stuff you are talking about goes on inside of Word of Faith.” No one threw anything, but he received a couple of comments. One was about his daughter who has left WOFF. He said she made her choices. He then blurted out to me, “I know how you treated your son.”
To which at least one other survivor said, “You know what you were told!” The inference was you are done, sit down and he did. See, I was right. He was nodding earlier out of a reflex born of his WOFF days, not that he was agreeing. He had done his bit and could go back to Jane and be cleared of any doubt that he had “taken hold” during the forum.
Greg’s outburst unleashed an impromptu rebuttal from Nancy Burnette. Nancy went on to explain her initial involvement with WOFF through her role as a guardian ad litem for two boys who were being considered for adoption by a WOFF family. She told her story of being let go from that position by Jane’s admission of her negative opinion of Nancy. She went on the explain Matthew’s attempt to warn the Department of Social Services in Rutherford and Cleveland County. No one listened and stepped up to complete any complaint forms. Included in this explanation was more understanding of the Federal Injunction and how it has affected the officials in Rutherford and now Cleveland counties. It was compelling to say the least.
Matthew Fenner began next and explained his first contacts with WOFF. He admitted that much of what he said in the video posted recently by a WOFF source was true. He did enter the group at a low point in his life and enjoyed being there – for a while. He was treated to the best living arrangements and had what many may think were enviable surroundings. He expressed his passion for the truth and his relationship with God as being alive and well. Matthew cited his recent acceptance into the University of North Carolina on a full ride as evidence of direction from God. Then he began to tell events where the attractive and supportive environment of WOFF began to unravel.
He announced he would demonstrate how he was treated during a prayer session near the end of his time at WOFF. One lady on the second row exclaimed, “This is what I want to see!”
Greg Burgeson whipped out his phone to record and Matthew told him to put it away. Greg said it was “bashing”. Matthew corrected him and said no- this is truth. Greg put down his phone. (Previously, the group had agreed if children were in attendance there would be no prayer demonstration because of the fear it would unleash.)
Nancy sat in the chair and Christina Bryant and Tim Cornelius walked around the table to help Matthew. Christina warned people that this would be loud and they might cover their ears and that there would not be the normal words included here out of respect for those in attendance. I saw several apprehensively put their hands to their ears. Matthew demonstrated on Nancy a muted version of the physical aggression shown to him. Then the three of them began to “pray” loud. This only lasted maybe thirty seconds. The effect was enough to shock many in the room. I told them I wore ear plugs during my time there and that this “prayer” could last as long as two hours. Clearly, the desired effect had been achieved.
Matthew came back to finish his exit story and Nancy added some more reference points including information about the Federal Injunction and the hazards it has created for the children inside of WOFF. When Matthew left with another survivor, Patrick Covington (who was in attendance, but decided not to speak), it was in the middle of the night. A couple days later, Jane Whaley pronounced that the cancer Matthew had at four years old would come back and kill him. Does that sound like the words of a “Safe Church” leader?
There were videos set to play, but the hour was so late we were not able to give them the proper attention. The session ended as many stayed to talk and make comments of appreciation. Two more events to note, Nancy’s husband, Chad, was talking to the city worker who was in attendance to unlock the building for us. He first grabbed Chad and told him that a van full of folks was slowly driving by taking video of the license tags of everyone in the lot. Chad assured him it was WOFFers and the worker was not happy. With this event, he launched into stories about his time at the local prison and seeing WOFF effects on the inmates- not all good. As they were talking downstairs, the short prayer demo was heard and the city worker jumped! He was shocked and concerned, but Chad assured him it was okay. This served to pique his interest in our meeting only more and later he came to request a set of the handouts.
This has been a long read and I know I left out some of the testimonies, my apologies to anyone who may not be happy with that. Tim Cornelius, also a survivor was present. By the end of the meeting, he felt like he did not have anything to add to what had been said. Afterwards, he did demonstrate for me the physical force used against one WOFF member during prayer. I was shocked.
Overall, there was a general sense that those in attendance (except for two) were pleased at the content delivered and left believing they knew more about mind control and its effects on victims. Thank you, WOFF for circling the parking lot and filming the tags, this showed us you were more concerned than you let on and upset the city worker. There was a lot more that could have been shared by the survivors, but time constraints prevented that.
Please, use the comments section below for your reactions and questions.
Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me and Josh confirmed it.
Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.
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Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 480.