Thursday, January 7, 2010

Nothing New

It seems that we have saturated the blog with enough information for people to question and inform themselves on the realities of Covenant Community Life. I will continue to post comments but will, in all likelihood, not post any new articles unless I encounter something interesting in the media.

Thanks for reading! Send your friends here. Send covenant community members here. Enjoy your freedom!

In Christ,

Lisa A.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Community and Culture

The recent post and comments by "anonymous" concerning Alleluia! Community in Augusta, GA, are especially enlightening. Reading the covenant of their community, I can find little that is directly problematic. The subordination of the community covenant to the primary obligations to marriage, celibacy, and church really should provide a safeguard against being abused or misled. The proverbial devil lies in the details.

Like so many of these organizations, Alleluia! (the exclamation point is part of their name) was founded and led by untrained lay persons, relying, as they thought, on the "leadings of the Holy Spirit." Members of this and many other communities learn what the Church teaches (including how to interpret Scripture) not from their bishop or parish priest, but from the community leaders. So Paul DeCelles of the POP interpreted Acts 2:42-47 not in terms of the teaching of the successors of the Apostles and the celebration of the Eucharist ("breaking of the bread") but in terms of the teaching of the coordinators, weekly community meetings, and sharing meals in households, especially on Lord's Day.

What I think is especially important is the culture that "anonymous" describes. These groups not only have formal teachings, which "anonymous" has shared, but also practical applications. So I can imagine an Alleluia! leader responding to "anonymous" that no one was ever punished for failing to attend the annual RTL march or something of that sort. And this is probably true. But that's not the point. The member knows that her behavior is not acceptable, that she will have to explain—possibly before others—why she seems unwilling to work with her headship to get her priorities in order. She will be expected to take extra steps to manifest her commitment to the life of the community.

"Love" and "commitment" become bullying words in community. You are obliged to make clear to everyone that you really do love your brothers and sisters. Single people love their brethren by freely letting go of material things and then trusting in brothers and sisters and in the Lord to meet their future needs. And the culture of the community is such that you dare not question this love. If you can't trust your head and the leaders God has raised up for us, is there anyone you will trust?

Our POP leaders always insisted that everyone was free to choose about their own lives. But although we often heard in community meetings about members' trusting in and obeying their heads, we never heard people sharing about taking unexpected and creative initiatives. The culture was one that fostered an, indeed, exalted obedience.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Alleluia Community Covenant

A previous member of Alleluia! has graciously given us the text of the Alleluia! Community Covenant so that we might comment and discuss the various implications of this covenant on the average member.

The Alleluia Community Covenant
JESUS IS OUR LORD!
The Lord has called us to make a solemn covenant with Him and with one another to be a people of praise. We accept the Lordship of Jesus in our lives, individually and as a people. He has destroyed our isolation and joined us together.
We commit ourselves fully subordinate to our primary covenants to marriage, celibacy and the church, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, entrusting our lives to Him and to each other in Him. We promise to build up, exhort, admonish and listen to one another; to be quick to forgive and to ask forgiveness; to assist each other in seeking His perfect will in all things.
In His joy and peace, therefore, we yield our lives to Jesus; everything past, present and future and we agree to:
1. Love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Be faithful to our commitments to community prayer, fellowship and service, seeking always the vision and the growth to which the Spirit is calling us.
3. Accept responsibility for community order.
4. Foster the growth of the community by accepting responsibility for a program of Christian initiation and formation in community life.
5. Recognize the headship of the coordinators and agree to obey, correct, and pray for them.
6. Accept our financial responsibility to the community.
7. Be held to this covenant and hold one another to it.
We promise to love one another and to call each other to holiness. We believe that this is the way God has chosen for our sanctification. We willingly ask Him to use it. We regard this as a solemn and serious commitment which we enter in good conscience, freely, and in faith.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Alleluia!

Although I have never been a member of Alleluia! I have had experience with a family from that community. In fact, it was this experience that spawned my research into covenant communities and, thus, helped form this blog. We are thousands of miles from Augusta, Georgia and this poor family is a fish out of water as they adjust to life in the "real" world. They left unwillingly for employment reasons and are still full members of the community. I know the mother would like to return.

I would like to comment on this idea of codependence that a former Alleluia! member addressed in a comment on this blog for that is what I experienced with this family. I was, essentially, a covenant community substitute when they moved in. As I didn't know what I was dealing with and I was trying to be a good neighbor and help them to adjust, I found myself called upon again and again to do things for them. The normal boundaries between neighbors did not exist. Unfortunately, when I finally had to address the problem with them the relationship was over. I do hope, however, that the mom is adjusting to life outside of the community. I know her children want no part of that community life again and are enjoying the liberation attained by their move.

The thinking of this community pervades their thoughts and language still. A mutual friend (female) who works with the father in the RCIA program called me trying to understand the father's comments to her when she asked his opinion on a theological aspect of the RCIA formation they were teaching. He said that he could not answer her as did not want to interfere with her spiritual relationship with her husband. I could not at first understand this comment but it dawned on me that he thought she and her husband had a (or should have a) headship relationship and that her husband was her ONLY spiritual advisor and no one could substitute or augment that. This happened just a few months ago which was 2 years after their move here. So this strange thinking continues AND it seems that this community member believes we should all have that same headship relationship in any good Catholic family. Hooey!

Let us pray that their experience outside the community will open their eyes to the Truth of this community way of living. It is not liberating. It is not Truth.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Canon Lawyer's View

A very solid article by Fr. Francis Morrisey lists twenty danger signs to be aware of when considering participating in a religious group. It is worth checking out. To my mind, what he says is right on target.

The article appears at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1353184/posts. There is also a lot of discussion, which I haven't read and therefore neither endorse nor repudiate. (Given the nature of the medium I would probably do both!)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Leaving People of Praise

What drove me out of the POP wasn't the coordinator's telling me, "It's not the coordinators who have rejected you, Adrian. God has rejected you." Although that was a painful thing to hear, I was at that point prepared humbly to accept criticism in order to grow. (There was also a certain amount of common sense to what this leader said, however cruelly he may have put it. I am not an organizational leader. I don't have that kind of personality or those gifts.) I can point to three principal things that helped to push me out.

1. At a meeting of charismatic leaders that I was administering, Fr George Kosicki kept going on about Our Lady. His Marian devotion didn't make much sense to me, so during a break I asked him how he could be so devoted to Mary. He responded, "Just ask Jesus to introduce you to his Mother." That sounded fair enough. Shortly thereafter I started praying the rosary as I went in to work. I also found the reports of apparitions in Medjugorje strangely exciting. At this same time I began to have growing doubts about some of the things going on in the POP. Since one of "Satan's tactics" is to sow sees of doubt to undermine our covenant commitment, I prayed hard to renounce these "bad thoughts". The problem is that the more I prayed the rosary the more these thoughts bothered me. My new Marian devotions was leading me spiritually away from POP.

2. At this time (early 1980s) I was working for the conference department of the POP's outreach, Charismatic Renewal Services (CRS). Since we were into renewal of the Church, I thought I ought to read the Documents of Vatican II. There, in Lumen Gentium, I read that the Eucharist is the source and sign of unity in the Body of Christ. That was disconcerting, because in the POP the Eucharist played no role. So how could we have a covenanted unity without the sacrament of unity? It was wrong. Also, if Christ comes to us in the sacraments through the ordained ministry of priests, how could our lay leaders fulfill the role of pastors? Our community order and spirituality did not fit with the vision presented in Lumen Gentium and other Council documents. Then in 1984 CRS sent us to Rome for three months for me to work on a Worldwide Priests' Retreat. There I simply fell in love again with the Catholic Church. Love for the Church was important to our being free from covenant community.

3. Live in POP was becoming increasingly burdensome to Marie, who could not accept what she saw going on. But to give it one last try, she submitted to counseling from a "Handmaid". This woman (who had no formal training or qualifications) gave Marie advice that I recognized to be counter to sound spiritual teaching and to the express teaching of the great masters of Catholic spiritual advice. But, I figured, this isn't a big problem. I could just let our coordinator know so that he could correct the Handmaid. I was not prepared for his response. He said the problem was not with the Handmaid, but with Marie, who was subverting God's plan for her life, throwing up theological smokescreens. My job as her husband and head was to call her on it and bring her back into submission.
Initially I was dismayed, dreading the scene that obedience to Dan would result in. But then I had a moment of grace. "Wait a minute," I said to myself. "Marie is a grown woman, mother of four children, all well cared for. She is baptized and loves God. Her favorite saying is, 'I want to be the Lord's nickel,' to spend wherever he wants. She has always tried to listen to him and do what he wants." But if this is true, then it's God's job to convince her of things, not mine. I can say what I think, but if she doesn't go along ... well, she's a grown-up too. And she loves God. So I decided not to do what Dan told me.
When I got home, the atmosphere in our home had already changed. Our relationship was dramatically improved. And -- equally important -- I had decisively broken the bonds of headship by rejecting what was supposed to be vitally important direction for my life (and Marie's). As I moved further from community leadership, Marie and I drew closer together, largely because I was now free to respect her. (Interestingly, she was able to respect me, to. I was no longer the coordinators' toady.)

Of course, there were many other things that happened, but these three are principal and paradigmatic factors

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Are They Cults?

Since my article "Covenant Community: A failed promise" was picked up by Cultic Studies Journal several people have asked whether I thought that covenant communities such as People of Praise, The Word of God, Alleluia!, Sword of the Spirit, etc. are cults. Even though there seem to be 'cultish' aspects to them, I doubt that they are. Members are free to read the papers, go to the church of their choice, vote Republican or Democrat, work for secular firms, and join Rotary or Kiwanis. There is no physical restraint.

The restraints are spiritual. Members fear spiritual consequences if they leave -- loss of faith, falling into the hand of the devil, the moral corruption of their children, and so on. (And many legitimately fear the loss of friendships if they leave.)

The problem is not that these communities are cults but that they are founded on a heresy, specifically an ecclesiological heresy. I don't say that they teach heresy. Because these communities don't teach any Christian doctrine, they don't explicitly teach anything heretical. What they do teach, however, is based on a false understanding of the Church, the people of God. In fact their failure to teach any doctrine, heretical or orthodox, is one sign of the underlying heresy.

What is this heresy? The covenant communities falsely believe that the people of God, the Body of Christ, is constituted by the decisions of individuals to join into a 'fellowhip of the perfect'. They do not claim, of course, that members are perfect, but they do believe that Christian perfection—holiness—is achieved by living fully the life of the community under the direction of charismatic leaders, leaders whose authority flows not from ordination but from their own gifts (See Steve Clark's book Unordained Elders and Renewal Communities).

We see this manifested in a variety of ways. Steve Clark once stated (in writing) that members of the community can be holy only to the extent that their leaders are holy. The Word of God in Ann Arbor was named so because they believed that their community was to a just that—God's word spoken to the state of Michigan and to the whole Church. Paul DeCelles, overall coordinator of the People of Praise, said in 1984, in response to the questions 'who are we and what is our work?': "We are the People of God. Our work is to renew the face of the earth." These are claims only the Church can make. In his community's publication The Vine and the Branches, he once explained that he did not want the oversight of the local bishop, because it would not be helpful to have an "outside organization" involved in the life of the community. The Church is an "outside organization"?

So the fundamental problem with these covenant communities is not that they are cults but that they are heretical.