Recently, in a conversation with a friend, I told him that I had a fascination in watching historical depictions about the early struggles of our country. I told him the struggle for independence from Great Britain was similar in many respects to a Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) member deciding to leave the group. He said he could see the similarities. In an effort to explain life inside of WOFF, I will share my thoughts from my time and observation while inside.
Last night, I watched another installment of the HBO documentary series “John Adams.” The beginning of the mini-series shows the struggles of our country and the divisions which took place over the idea of independence from the mother country- England. The leaders first expressing such radical thoughts as making a Declaration of Independence were not always received with gladness. The American colonies were divided at times and there was much heated debate between many who would later end up with their names etched in our history books. England supposedly offered “protection.” The downside was the taxation without representation in Parliament as a cost for such “protection.” Yet, the King’s edicts were to be followed regardless. He spoke and those in his kingdom were to obey. Long live the King! And your personal opinions did not count and could cost you dearly, if they were contrary to the King.
After leaving the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference held in early July, I have an increased desire to learn about dysfunctional groups, the results of being involved in such groups and how to heal from involvement in them. These desires have led to searching and more time spent reading. As sometimes happens when I am reading more than one book at a time, the ideas in each resource begin to cross-pollinate and relationships are noticed between the materials. As mentioned in the previous post, I am reading- “Rebuilding Shattered Lives: Treating Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders” by James A Chu, (Copyright©2011 by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ ISBN- 978-0-470-76874-7). The author focuses on treatment models for adults who have experience abuse in their childhood.
At the same time, I have been reading – “Cult Survivors Handbook: How to live in the Material World Again” by Nori Muster. (Copyright©2010 by Nori Muster, published by Blurb.com, www.norimuster.com) Though I have not completely finished either book, I need to share the understanding that has come so far. [As a disclaimer, by quoting these works I do not assume any endorsement by either author of my conclusions or my work on this blog. ]
In this post, I will provide resources supporting the title and relate the findings to the high-demand faith group, Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF), which I departed in July of 2008. I will also quote from Chu’s work in describing the results of child abuse as seen in adults. My contention is that the perfectionism in WOFF has highly detrimental effects on its members and requires dishonesty on several levels in order to remain a faithful member.
Many times the question comes up to me concerning how people can become a member in a group such as Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF)? In answering this question, I often reflect on my own path into the group. While considering that road, I must also admit not everyone joins following the path I did, nor does everyone become a “faithful” member in the same time frame as me. Though the dynamics of influence are the same for almost everyone to be connected or drawn into WOFF; each individual has different needs and may identify with different positive parts of the WOFF presentation in order to decide to join. Some may need a job or place to live, while others need financial help, child care or just new friends. Likewise, not everyone becomes emerged in the sub-culture to the same level on a set timeline. That being said, not everyone develops the same intense dependency on the leader, Jane Whaley; but, I would contend that every faithful member develops some degree of dependency and that level of dependency determines their evolving emotional state and how they respond to the punishment for breaking the unwritten rules.
Regardless of how difficult as it is for those on the outside to understand how an adult could become so dependent on another adult for very common basic decisions, it is the state that many faithful WOFF members find themselves in– daily. Just how that happens has been discussed in previous posts on this blog. For now, let’s acknowledge that it does and that it is a common occurrence in high-demand faith groups which use mind control techniques. We will use a few resources to confirm that fact.
“Cult members are expected to surrender autonomy, and often must ask permission for routine activities, like using the bathroom.” (Releasing the Bonds, Steven Hassan, Copyright©2000, Freedom of Mind Press)
As previously mentioned on this blog, WOFF controls many aspects of a member’s private time in the bathroom, especially the males.
As I have been doing my daily deeds, I have been reflecting on the ICSA conference attended last week. There was so much good information shared and many new relationships formed. It was a lot to take in all at once. So, as happens with me and I suspect others, I remembered things said during meetings that at the time did not get my attention or make an “Ah Hah” moment. Today, I remembered a quick comment made by a speaker that has since jarred me. I cannot remember exactly which speaker said this since I believe it was in a session where a panel of counselors and experts were leading the meeting. The comment paraphrased was “Leaders of these groups have to control their members because of their own insecurities.” The manner in which it was said conveyed the speaker’s position that we all should remember this. This is where we start when understanding the motivations of a leader of a controlling group. We must get past the smoke and mirrors of any religious authority or special enlightenment. We must push through the euphemistic phrases used by the leader and even the leadership. The reason for the control of a group leader to keep people INSIDE the group is NOT healthy. The motivation is from the leader’s own insecurities. Okay, that being said, we are talking about destructive controlling groups here of which I firmly believe Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) has become one of those groups.
The statement remembered today brought me back into focus on several levels. When getting caught up in telling the horror stories of members inside and those who have left, lost in the menagerie of descriptions replete with heartache and drama is the starting point. Lost can be the reason for the leader’s profound motivation to keep people within their grasp and control. The starting point is the leader’s dysfunction, NOT the state of those recruited into the group. Time after time, people pose the question often in a sense of superiority – How could anyone get involved in a group like that? Though this question is viable in the discussion, it is not the starting point. The starting point is the dysfunction of the leader and the measures growing out of that dysfunction which trap victims in the web of control. In my opinion, the leaders of these groups are NOT mentally healthy. True some evolve into a black hole of dysfunction, but that still does not excuse the outcome nor should it cause us to begin with the victim when considering the evolution of the group.
In the previous post, I put forth the idea that faithful WOFF members keep the true inside dynamics secret from the outside family members. Secrets are also kept from co-workers and any acquaintances. This should be no surprise even for a group of that size. Today, I want to add two more concepts that will help explain why and how this could happen and how a WOFF member sees this as perfectly normal and “the will of God.”
Several months ago, I wrote on the difference between “brainwashing” and “mind control.” The post was titled- WOFF Members are NOT Brainwashed- Really? – found here . The supporting text for this was found in Steven Hassan’s book, “Combatting Cult Mind Control” (Copyright©1988, 1990- by Steven Hassan, Park Street Press, ISBN-0-89281-311-3). In short, the idea was that in a case of brainwashing, the controllers are thought of as adversarial or “… typically coercive. The person knows at the outset that he is in the hands of the enemy. … Abusive mistreatment, even torture, is usually involved.” (page 55)
“Mind control, also called “thought reform”, is more subtle and sophisticated. Its perpetrators are regarded as friends or peers, so the person is much less defensive. He unwittingly participates by cooperating with his controllers and giving them private information that he does not know will be used against him…. Mind control involves little to no overt physical abuse. Instead, hypnotic processes are combined with group dynamics to create a potent indoctrination effect. The individual is deceived and manipulated – not directly threatened – into making the prescribed choices. On the whole, he responds positively to what is done to him.” (emphasis added- page 56)
These last few days have been enlightening. I have been reflecting on the necessity for the experience in a high demand faith group to be seamless. What do I mean? For a faithful member of such a group, the experience must include all answers for all supposed problems; be the problems real or imaginary, new or old. Which high demand faith group fails to present itself as the all encompassing answer to all of life’s ills? My idea is that every one of them presents their ways, their ideas, and their lifestyle as the answer- period. It was that way during my time at Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF). Let me explain.
My time under the WOFF influence spanned 16 years. Since we started in Greenville and not in Spindale, it was a growing and gradual absorption into the WOFF vacuum. For some, they don’t get the luxury or time to be gradually sucked in. Some are lured into the intake program much quicker. Some stay and some don’t stay. But, for all, the program is sold as the only true way to walk with God and God’s people. The WOFF-life is sold as the way to know the call of God and fulfill your call and go to the Nations and have any hope to make it into the Kingdom of God. Word has been shared with me that recently Jane Whaley has teaching more on the End Times. If this is true, then I reckon it follows that those in her group will be able to make it through to wherever they need to be- if they will just submit to God and God’s authority through Jane and her message, her wisdom, her direction, her gift.
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.