Saturday, December 5th, Great Expectations Books and More owner, Mary, was kind enough to allow me time for a book signing. My first book, “Locked in” was the topic originally. The excitement for me built during the days leading up to the event. Efforts to stop the event made the anxiousness all the more real. Who would show? Would members of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) show and cause a scene as was the case in April of 2014 just down the street? The event that day was the National Prevention of Child Abuse Awareness vigil. Who wanted to repeat that fiasco? Though the decision was made ahead of time, if any WOFFers came in they would be allowed to stay as long as they were respectful, no present members entered the event.
My family members from South Carolina and I arrived early to help in anyway needed as well as partake of the lunch menu. Salad and sandwiches were enjoyed as people began to file in and take the seats either at tables or chairs placed in the space between the book displays. Samples of the sandwich choices were provided for those who wanted to try the cuisine. The flurry of activity ebbed and flowed as the room filled. New friends arrived to join with ones I have known for years.
Mary asked for everyone’s attention as she explained the provision of the sample sandwiches and upcoming events on the calendar for the store. Then, after a quick intro, she turned the meeting over to me.
Okay, so I froze for just a few seconds. Emotion overtook me just for brief moment as I reflected on the content of my book and the truthful, but tragic events I was about to explain before many who had copies of my book. Thoughts races through my head… Hey, Buddy, this is no time to wimp out! Get a grip! Don’t cry here, save it for a movie.
Suddenly, as if turning a switch I began explaining some aspect of “Locked in” which I had not planned. It was a start. The original agenda ideas included me reading a portion of the book, taking and answering questions and then signing books. In previous public meetings, I read the “Prologue- Winds of Destruction.” Knowing that many in attendance had copies of “Locked in” in their hands, I began by explaining the difference between blogging and writing a book. Next, I explained the three parts of the book. I choose to read the Toilet Paper Revelation narrative sensing it may provide some levity to begin a session that could potentially contain some more serious topics. Well, I was right about that. For a second selection, I read and explained the “Don’t List.” The look of confusion on some folks let me know legalism was not in their future.
At different points, I added insight to rules and how they may have been applied or changed. On the subject of blue jeans, I explained my own transition and there were some chuckles in response. Yes, I now wear comfortable blue jeans and have no qualms about it.
Before finishing the rule list, I opened the floor for questions. Honestly, I don’t remember the order or what was the very first question. During the session, I fielded many questions I have heard before. The subjects ranged from how many folks lived in WOFF households to what will happen to the group when Jane passes on. How old are your children? Are you still married and do your wife and children speak to you? I explained my position as a regular member, not every attending the leadership meetings behind closed doors where strategies and conundrums were discussed. Some asked about who determines where WOFFers live, in which neighborhoods? Some answers came easy, some did not. More questions came.
And then a young man asked a sensitive question which most would have asked in private. He asked about the regulation of private activities between a husband and wife. I actually did not hear the entire question as he either trailed off as the silence in the room exploded waiting for my reply. Maybe, I only heard the parts of the question I knew I could answer with my 13 year old nephew in the room. I explained some of the differences in the level of controls over marital relations understanding younger folks married inside the group were subject more detailed control than older folks who were previously married before joining WOFF. I fit in the second category. Don’t be confused, there was enough control exerted over both groups to supersede any assumed privacy. I explained in WOFF there is no privacy. WOFF members are asked- “What do you want to hide from God or God’s people, minster or your god? Everything is open before Him and we are His leaders, open your heart.”
In reply to my answer concerning my relationship with my wife, the follow-up came, did you ever have times where you were alone and could say hey- isn’t this crazy? My response drew more confused looks. I explained that spouses were required to tell on each other if the other strayed from the chosen path of faithful WOFF members. The replacement of marital bonds with religious rules and severe sanctions for breaking those rules confused many and drew looks of astonishment.
Then I admitted to my thoughts just this past week. I had written my reflections on the subject- after WOFF- what is love? I expressed my confusion as to just what is love after having the trust which love is built on, betrayed within WOFF. The honesty of the moment went further than I intended. So, I pick it up there.
My confusion over love does not reside with familial bonds such as my parents, my siblings or extended family. There is no confusion for me in regards to loving my children. Now, I cannot express my love for my children directly to them right now. But, the existence of that love has never been in doubt in my heart or mind.
The love which confuses is love between a man and woman. Where will the ability for trusting come from after life inside of WOFF? Song after song has been written about the many aspects of love between a man and woman. You would think millions of folks struggle with this love. Honestly, the love between a man and woman can help them overlook many things which may keep them otherwise apart. Climbing high mountains, swimming wide rivers just to be with the one you love… well, you know the song lyrics. I struggle with things I don’t know are a struggle until the situation presents itself. Why? What happened in my previous marriage to cause such infirmity? These questions are deep and can’t be solved in a blog post, but for a brief moment I shared these questions on Saturday.
Regret? No, not really. For me the evidence of my struggle is a testament to the hidden damages which cults bring to members. See, I was never physically beaten inside of WOFF. I was not isolated without food, water or a bed. The damage inflicted towards me and many, if not all other members on some level was the emotional destruction resulting from the dangerous practices inside WOFF. Damage to the heart and soul inflicted under the guise of “holy living” covered over with spiritual terms and legalism.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were and are victims of WOFF who have suffered physically as well as more severe emotional damage then me. I have no doubt. My point is these internal damages can’t be measured statistically and may not be proven in court with great accuracy. The victims may not know of their hurts for months or years after separating from WOFF. Some may even refuse to admit their plight or seek help living in firm denial of their injuries- considering them as “just what everyone goes through…”
In regards to relationships, I found this article informative. Lorna Goldberg discusses her observations while working with former cult members. “Marriage After the Cult” – I had to read it more than twice to follow it, but this quote stuck out to me:
“While they are in the cult, members usually begin to identify with some of their leader’s personality characteristics and attitudes. These identifications tend to supplant previous aspects of their character and previous identifications they have made with and in reaction to parental figures early in life. Because cult leaders generally are paranoid individuals, they tend to indoctrinate members into a paranoid vision of the world (Tobias & Lalich, 1994). Leaders can display their paranoia through a tendency to ascribe the worst possible motives to the behavior of others. When they leave the cult, some individuals who have incorporated this attitude may continue to see their world through a paranoid lens because their cult leader’s influence doesn’t evaporate the minute they leave. For most, “losing” the influence of their cult leader’s personality can take a great deal of time.” (emphasis added)
Saturday, I was as honest as I could be talking about my life with new friends. I don’t regret admitting my weaknesses. After all, pretending to be unaffected by my time in WOFF keeps me and others from being able to address the problems. “Love” inside WOFF was conditional on your acceptance of the basic unspoken beliefs explained in “Locked In.” Only Jane hears God and to doubt is to turn your back on God (god). Upon my exit, my family said you can’t love us if you are not serving God. The unspoken, but clear meaning was you must stay at WOFF. Was this a sign of paranoia taken from Jane’s world? Loving them was only possible by staying a part of WOFF. Why? Is it practical or reasonable to require eternal attendance to a church as the basis for “love?” Does this requirement in fact show an obvious disconnect from the reality most of us live in? Does this requirement to judge others if they leave WOFF prove that Jane’s reality becomes the reality for faithful WOFF members? If you leave WOFF, are you truly leaving God? If this is true, why do other folks even try to live as Christians? Is there hope for anyone who does not attend WOFF and worship at the feet of Jane? Alas, all who came before Jane and all who come after her are condemned for eternity for not knowing and worshiping her. Oh, yes. This sounds reasonable, right? And I am the wacko?
One day, I will find the ability to love and trust again. Knowing the problem is half the battle, right? This does not mean I don’t love people. I love people and love helping people. In that, I find hope. The desire to help others and be a service tells me good things are ahead. I have hope the journey for healing is not over. Do you?
For those that missed the event on Saturday- here is a podcast where I give answers to some great questions. Podcast #30 Thank you, Becky and Steve Lyles for providing this podcast. They interview me about time in WOFF and “Locked in”
Season of Changes is upon us. When will there be snow in Spindale?
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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 554.