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.


Cygnus said...

I think that's a great definition. Was my covenant community (Lamb of God) an out-and-out cult? No. But it definitely had hallmarks of cult-like activity, especially spiritual. And there was plenty of groupthink going on in non-community affairs, especially politics.

Steve Clark . . . #shudder# I never met the guy. I hope I never do.

Adrian said...

Lamb of God is familiar. I used to know who the head coordinator was and I may even have seen of met him. My impression had been that they were a pretty good group. I'm sorry (but not too surprised) to learn that they aren't much different.

There is a lot of group-think in these organizations. In 1992 Marie and I were talking with a woman in Steubenville--former member of that community--who intended to vote for Clinton just to protest against the community's political group-think!

livingfree said...

I agree with Adrian that the problem is that, for Catholics, the problem is heresy. For Protestants, this is course would be an open question based on their denominational ecclesiology and faith tenets.
While many or most of these groups are not cults in the classic sense, there is a somewhat similar affect on the individual. Fear, anxiety, inability to make personal decisions,over-emphasis on submission to the leadership of the group, excessive subordinate role of women, secrecy about some teachings (reserved for those who have reached a 'higher'degree of perfection), secrecy about community finances, etc.
We have also noted that it is difficult for people to leave, however, unlike in a classic cult situation, your life or physical well being is not jeopardized as with some more classic cults. Everyone is usually free to leave. The barriers are in one's own mind.
I would like to recommend a book to anyone interested in this whole question. The book is by Father James J. LeBar and called "Cults, Sects, and the New Age". It was published by Our Sunday Visitor in 1989. Father LeBar has a section on the Shepherding and Discipliship Movement with a brief section on the Sword of the Spirit and the Lamb of God Community. In Appendix VII of the book, there is a letter from Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, who at that time was the President of Secretariat for Christian Unity. The letter is to Archbishop Peter Gerety, Archbishop of Newark, NJ. The letter is an explanation of the proper relationship of Catholic people who are members of non-Catholic organizations to their bishops.
I think that part of the dynamic that makes the effects on individuals similar to those of the more classic cult is that there is usually a charismatic leader or leaders who, through their ability to connect with people, gain their trust and admiration. In religious cults (their are other ones, too), this person is usually seen as the messenger of God, a saint or some other more highly spiritually evolved being who has a clearer understanding of the truth and God's will. The charismatic leader often has new revelations that God is sharing only with this person for the purpose of enlightening those priveleged enough to be part of "what God is doing now". Failure to listen and obey could put one's very immortal soul in jeopardy. In other words, God gets pulled into it and God is then used as the hammer to keep people in line.
Adrian has given me permission to share this experience of his as, I think, it makes my point.
Adrian was at one point (among many) having a difficult time with the appointment of new coordinators in the community. He was placed under one of the new coordinators, a Lutheran. It was strongly "encouraged" that one be in "full life submission" to the person placed over you (your "head"). Adrian asked his new "head" why he hadn't also been chosen to be a coordinator as he had been a good and faithful member of some time. His head responded: "It isn't us that have rejected you, Adrian, it's God who has rejected you." Pretty powerful stuff.
It should also be noted that, for a Catholic, full life submission to a Protestant is part of the ecclesiological heresy.
Anyway, the covenant community may not be a cult, in the classic sense, but the effects on the individual are similar. This is much like the similar effects of eating bad Mexican food and having an intestinal virus. Same outcome, different cause.

L said...

Well, Marie and Adrian, this sure is pretty "powerful stuff" as you say--and so full of error I would not know where to begin. What an incredibly harmful thing to say. I would imagine that it was at this point that you began to question the validity of "headship" and the pastoral structure of POP (if not before). Would you care to comment?

Adrian said...

Actually, this comment did not play a big role in weakening the POP hold on me. It had to do with humility. I was perfectly aware that I had weaknesses. I believed that I was not ready to be a leader.

What is truly humiliating -- something I still find embarrassing -- is that for so long I accepted such men as our community leaders as teachers, that I believed they had wisdom to give me. Now I can see that they really did not have any particular religious wisdom. In many ways, they were poorly formed. All along I had a sounder understanding of the faith. But I followed them. believing that God really had chosen them to lead the people of God in this area.

Perhaps I should do a post in a couple of days on what it was that actually drove me out of the People of Praise.

(Note that I say "I" and "me". Marie smelled the corruption long before I did.)

Cygnus said...

Mr./Mrs./Miss "I",

Care to give any specifics and not just a whitewash of what Adrian had to say? You said you didn't know where to start. Well, find someplace; there's plenty of room here.

Meanwhile, I concur with Adrian; The covenant communities were definitely in error with their teachings. I still remember Dave Nodar in 1991 having a hissyfit at a Lamb of God community gathering at which he said, "Let the leaders lead" (translation: "Don't question us"). And I, like a dummy, praised him for it in a letter. A few months later, when I'd had enough of LOG, I retracted that letter.

Miss L. said...

Actually, Cygnus, I am agreeing with what Adrian was saying. The "harmful" thing that was said was to Adrian by his "head". "God is rejecting you?????" I can see in rereading that my post could have been misinterpreted. Sorry.

Adrian said...

In response to "I", I (not in quotes, but my personal self) put up a post on this site with what it was that led me out of POP. My "head" comment about God's rejecting me was not one of the immediate causes of my leaving. Perhaps I should be ashamed of that (rather as Cygnus is ashamed of his letter supporting Nodar). Clearly it was an arrogant and false thing to say.

These groups are destructive, in part because they subvert our rightful freedom as God's children.

Adrian said...

In response to "I", I (not in quotes, but my personal self) put up a post on this site with what it was that led me out of POP. My "head" comment about God's rejecting me was not one of the immediate causes of my leaving. Perhaps I should be ashamed of that (rather as Cygnus is ashamed of his letter supporting Nodar). Clearly it was an arrogant and false thing to say.

These groups are destructive, in part because they subvert our rightful freedom as God's children.

Colin said...

Adrian, I have a different take on the challenge of being Catholic in a covenant community. There are some members for whom the community is experienced as their church. Their experience of the Catholic Church was so empty that the experience of community was so much more spiritually effective that for all practical purposes church=community. But that is not true for many members such as myself. My involvement in covenant community was a major factor in becoming a Catholic 35 years ago. I love the Church and see my community involvement as one among many ways in which I live out my Catholic faith. It is an expression of the 'spiritual ecumenism' that Cardinal Kasper writes about. I relate respectfully, but not blindly, to my leaders. The community doesn't tell me that it is the Body of Christ. It tells me that we are one local expression of the Body of Christ, but then so is my parish and Archdiocese. But in reality, we are a group of clergy and laity who have joined together for several specific purposes. I am involved in a number of groups where clergy and laity have joined together for specific purposes. Each of them is an expression of the Body of Christ.
Of course they are not all the same, not all in the same relationship with the Catholic Church, not all eucharistic, not all directly connected to the hierarchy, but unless we are claiming to be the fullness of the Body of Christ (which we are not), none of these groups are a problem.

All of the above is only addressing your concern about the ecclesiology issue.

I fully grant you that many people have had a very negative experience of covenant community and for some of them it was so bad that they lost their faith in God or in the Church. This does not automatically invalidate the covenant community movement just as the clergy sex abuse crisis which has produced exactly the same results in some people doesn't invalidate the Catholic Church. But it is tragic nevertheless.

Colin LaVergne
People of Praise member
and sometimes internal critic

Anonymous said...

i met stephen b clark in 1976 & hie little trick was to remember everyone's name. he's a little guy, like nodar, somekind of napoleon complex or something
got ahold of them both as they are major control freaks. btw LOG was a cult. belonging led to becoming and colored all of conscoiusness, or, as my friend michael miller used to put it when you walked down the steps into the basement of st joe's parish hall in texas, md in the late 70~~~Walk Down Those Steps And It's A Whole Different World !!!~~~there are many, many strange and horribly twisted tales of those who thought themselves leaders or wounded followers. we were stupid spiritually, for there is no spiritual authority, and SPIRITUALLY and CONTROL have no relationship. truth is a pathless land, and LOG turned the razors edge walk of the polgrim into a lighted stroll down a well worn path. the destruction these two spiritual idiots caused taught all who even touched their handiwork~~~how NOT to live. in essence my experience in the log taught me the ways of the world.
at best? just negation. definately NOT the Way.

Adrian said...

This in response to Colin: I must disagree. Although Colin may never have heard the claim that the POP was the Body of Christ, I did. In late spring of 1984, during a special set of meetings on the community's direction, Overall Coordinator, Paul DeCelles stated: "We are the Body of Christ. Our mission is to renew the face of the earth." The covenant of the POP is that members agree find within the community "the essential core of out life in the Spirit." These are strong ecclesial claims.

I provide further support for this position in my Not Reliable Guides, at http://nd.edu/~areimers/Reliable.pdf.prn

To my mind, most of the other problems people have had in POP flow from the flawed leadership implicit in a false conception of Church.

So, sorry, Colin, but I disagree.

Anonymous said...

ok, so I know this is a long shot this this was posted so long ago, but does anyone know about the Lamb of God in Maryland durring the 80's? I don't know if we're tlaking about the same lamb of God. If anyone knows anything about it or where I could find something about it please help, thanks!

lisa a. said...


Get in touch with Cygnus who is a regular here as he was in Lamb of God.

Adrian said...

To "anonymous:

Cygnus has a comment on the very topmost post in this blog, and his comment is linked to his own blog, which tells a lot about Lamb of God. So you might check that out.

Where_the_heck_is_the_guidebook said...

I came upon this blog after searching the internet on some info about The Sword of the Spirit as a cult. My parents were covenant members of the Work of Christ in East Lansing for a number of years, which is a satellite group of Sword of the Spirit. In fact, they met as a part of University Christian Outreach, the campus group for Sword of the Spirit. In typical 'women are subservient to men' style, my mother was pressured into marrying my dad, and although I'm happy that they were married (I'm alive today as a result) to me that situation represents just one of many ways in which that covenant community acted in a cult-like manner.

Similar to how Adrian describes the pressure to believe things happened because God didn't want them to or how he wasn't chosen by God, the Work of Christ repeatedly told people how to live their lives, in very specific ways, because it was "God's will" for them. It was for this reason my mother left college early and did not finish her education. Each family had a pastor who made spiritual and other decisions about the family with the husband...imagine being a wife and not having a say in matters that concern your family while another man has been given authority to do so? You'd think that she would have done something about it, except that everything was being fed to her as "God's will". And when you're in a community of people that you trust and have been placed on a pedestal of authority and insight to "God's will", who might even "prophecy", it's a little bit more difficult to disagree or believe otherwise. She did finally disagree and do otherwise, and she and my father both left the group in 1993 and 1995, respectively.

This kind of community is harmful because although my mom's physical well-being was never compromised, her spiritual and emotion well-being were thrown down the toilet. The WoC required members to donate time and money, so my family gave more and more each time they asked. Was it to help the poor? The needy? The sick? No, it was for the "community". The teaching's were a load of crap too- the leaders were given leadership by God and no one else could contradict them. Rules were made, such as women had to wear dresses or skirts (my mother had just given birth when that one came out), certain foods were restricted (at one point we didn't have any sugar in our house), my family was required to request and seek approval for any absence from the community, even if it was for vacation or a family visit. My mom even missed her father's funeral- craziness! Like many covenant communites, the WoC replaced God with itself- the community became more important that God. Loving the community became more important that loving one's family, and responsibility was for the community, even if it meant long hours away from ones family. Such was the case with my father...in order to run the yearly summer camp, he spend hours and hours away from my family, all because it was his "duty".

The definition of a Christian becomes skewed as well. After my parents left (literally and figuratively, since the WoC required members to "cluster" and my parents bought a house they could not afford because it was required and took in young singles to create a "household"), I fished some papers out of the trash that they had thrown away. I was curious...after all, much of this I had only heard. At that point I knew what I had experienced, such as not being allowed to have hardly any friends outside the community, being made to wear skirts instead of pants on certain occasions, being separated from boys on many occasion, including for different worship times (even at a young age), having instilled in me the idea that times reserved for the community, especially worship, was of utmost importance. This held even if I was sick with the flu and running a fever (perhaps it was for my own good...not being able to pray aloud in tongues with the other members while certain people prophesied and were slain in the spirit just that one time would have had an averse affect on my spiritual life and relationship with God no doubt, even if I was just youngster and a wee too sick to pay attention).

So when I knew my parents were throwing away old manuals and papers I went dumpster-diving. One of the pamphlets that I remember the most was written the neighbor family's dad, and it was for men on the topic of "How to Know You're Being a Good Christian". Inside were different categories, and included ridiculous things like remembering to bring one's pencil and paper to bible meetings, being on time to worship. Other things were more serious, such as making sure that one gave the appropriate amount of money to the community, that one controlled one's wife, that one rebuked her with scripture if she challenged one's authority, that one controlled one's children, etc.

I think being a "good" Christian is acknowledging that I'm a sinner and accepting Christ's suffering and death on the Christ as payment for my sins. By doing this my relationship with God is righted and I am free to love Him as his child and the Holy Spirit lives in me and helps me grow. One of the things that strikes me most about covenant communities is that many times they are so inward focused that they don't reach out. Obviously they want to recruit new tithers and bring more people into their "elevated knowledge" of God (or rather, the leader's special knowledge since they are typically the ones with special gifts like prophecy and withhold certain information from the general community). Yet I found that they community was a very closed knit group and did not share itself with anyone else. The great commission wasn't about forming special communities that are so "special" that one must make a covenant to join, and while I understand that we must love each other and have Christian fellowship to grow covenant communities often take this idea to the extreme and close themselves off from the world.

The issues were not just related to my parents, however, as there was a mass exodus of those in the communities around the time my parents left. Some had left before, and I remember my mom's regret at treating some of those that had left before her as she was treated when she left, with disgust, disapproval, and an accusation that they were no longer following the will of God. Because they had broken their covenant, they were sinners. In fact, my older sister was in the 5th grade when my mother left, and her best friend told her that my family would be outside of God's protection should we leave the Work of Christ. Whhaaaatttt??? Chances are she overheard or was told that by her parents, and it is the very mind-set that makes covenant communities so dangerous...if you're in you're under the protection and blessing of God. If not, then God save you from breaking your vow.

One last thought...the old leader of the Work of Christ in the 80's, Greg, lost his license for practicing psychology in the state of Michigan after he was taken to court for abusing some of the women he counseled. Many of these women were a part of the "single-women" households held up by the community for those who were "called" to lead lives of singleness...that is before the community leaders decided to marry them off. Seeing the rottenness that was growing in this particular leader's life, I am curious to know what other "rotten" things went on behind closed doors. All shall be revealed on judgment day, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Where the heck is the guide book-thanks for your post. So similar to life in Alleluia! Helps one to keep realizing that it really did happen and was not just me who imagined it that way. There really ARE misguided people out there leading others down a primrose path. I was one of the misguided ones. But some who were leading me, I believe, were not misguided. They knew exactly what they were doing. They seemed very concerned with attracting and keeping community members with a dependable paycheck coming in and/or who would have clout in the community (thus giving the community a good image by association). More later...

Adrian said...

This in response to "Where-the-Heck...":

I am familiar with Work of Christ. In fact I remember meeting a young couple about 15 years ago who told my wife and me about their arranged marriage and coping with the facts that (1) they were now married and intended (as good Catholics) to remain so, and (2) left to their own devices, they would never have married, never having been in love.

I remember hearing from a WoC leader about their 'smart' approach to campus evangelization (at MSU). Basically it involved deceptively representing themselves as simply doing a sociological survey on religious attitudes.

I checked out your own blog. It looks as though you are getting on well with your life. Good for you! Auguri!

RecoveringPOPer said...

I think People of Praise is best recognized as a cult. I don’t think the criteria of freedom to read the newspaper, freedom of political views, etc. and the lack of physical restraint are significant enough to conclude that the POP is not a cult. If these criteria are sufficient, than many groups such as Scientology and other notorious groups could not be identified as cults. The ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) offers the following definition of a cult:

“A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.”

POP member Colin LaVergne, who has previously posted on this blog and has contributed to the POP Wikipedia page has himself offered the above definition and conceded that the POP at times has been a cult and other times has not. I think that if we accept this definition we have to conclude that for certain people and at specific times the POP has met the criteria for a cult and at other times and for other individuals they have not met the criteria. I really dislike taking a relative stance on the issue but I think we have to until a valid and reliable scientific tool for indentifying cults is developed.

For instance, the POP board of governors is a charismatic unit that has ultimate authority and control over the community, tactics of manipulation such as, guilt and fear arousal, excessive persuasion, dissonance, pressure to conform, etc. have been consistently employed by lay leaders within the community and this has caused psychological distress and has spiritually mislead members of the community. Therefore, although mostly benign, the People of Praise is a cult.

Adrian said...

This in response to "RecoveringPOPer":

You might be right. Not being a sociologist, I can't present a strong argument against you. In any case, I don't think it's the central issue. When we were thrown out of the POP, we realized that one of our principal tasks was to repent. Nobody is completely a victim. Yes, we were lied to, but we wanted to believe. This was my chance to be "God's man of faith an power", to be on the cutting edge of what God was doing in the world. I wanted to believe the leaders who told me that I had an important part in God's plan. (I do, actually, but it has more to do with being a good husband and father, friend, teacher, etc.)

Quite independently of each other, Marie and I took our membership in POP to confession. (We just heard that someone from POP recently told our bishop that he belongs to the group, to which Bp. D'Arcy replied, "You should go to confession.") It was praying the rosary, reading the Vatican II documents, and drawing closer to the Church the got me out and healthy. This is, ultimately, what I have to recommend to anyone else.

With this, I bid "farewell" to visitors to this blog. All I really have to offer is this one truth: To find a healthy, vibrant life, draw close to Christ in his Church.

Anonymous said...

The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.


lisa a. said...

Thank you, Anonymous. We'll keep it around as long as we need.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys, i was a part of one of the Sword of Spirit communities in Europe. Anyone has an opinion on those?

Anonymous said...

I was part of The Lamb of God Community for 4 years in the late 80's--we had a good time together.There was definitely some spiritual pride. However, my pastoral leader was awesome--she merely served as a listening board--I made all my own decisions about career moves, money, and marriage. I will say that some people took the community way too seriously but I don't blame the leaders for that--I blame the individuals who didn't know how to set appropriate boundaries.q

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Sword of the Spirit community in Belfast. I'm 19 years old and currently doing a gap year in the community in London and living with the Servants of the Word, the covenant community of single men which is essentially where the Sword of the Spirit came from.

Just this past week Steve Clarke was staying in the house. I took some time to talk to him about the history, how things had started and about the big split that had happened in the 90s.

From the time spent with him i realised a few things. Number one is that he is a genuinely holy and decent man who has dedicated his life to serving God. His gentleness and willingness to serve is incredible.

Secondly he is an extraordinarily intelligent man, he knows the scriptures and has interpeted them well into practical life. This year i did the psalms course by steve, and the material is solid and formative, really good stuff.

Thirdly talking to steve it is apparent that some mistakes were made in the early days of community, but that is hardly unlike the church itself, which has made much more numerous and drastic mistakes than the Sword of the Spirit has in its short existance.

However the SOS is recognised by the catholic church as a legitimate body of followers who are living the call of christ to a different level than most church goers are in todays modern era.

From my own personal experience the Sword of the Spirit has been far more influential and formative in my christian growth. The church i grew up in was spiritually dry and was quite frankly boring. The life in community is pioneering and radical which is exactly like the call that is given to us by Christ.

This year i have been involved in student outreach. The approach promoted is relational evangelism. Getting to know people on campus instead of just thrusting the gospel in their face on the streets with a sandwich board on, which does more damage to the spread of the gospel than good.

It also promotes unity within Gods people. Something that christ and Paul call followers to but is something the church is absolutely horrible at following. The teaching and life in the sword of the spirit is scripturally sound, recognised by the church and led and lived by extraordinary men and women whom i am privileged to live along side.

Anonymous said...

The Work of Christ is a good place to live out your Christian Faith. It does have it's flaws like any church or Christian group. Some of the old school leaders like Rick Comstock have never matured in their personal life to be able to really love others. He is a leader whose time has come to step down from leadership. His legalistic approach to life has caused many good Christians to leave the Work of Christ group. It is refreshing to see younger leaders emerge. I hope the days of judging others because they make mistakes is over. Many folks in the Work of Christ have a superiority mentality. They do their best to look and act like a perfect Christian. However their personal lives don't often line up with their outword appearances and holier than thou perspectives.
We should pray for their members to grow and change.

Miguel Martinez said...

I am part of a Sword of the Spirit Community in Mexico and I have talked several times with Steve Clark and to many other leaders of the Sword of the Spirit.

I don't know about what type of covenant communities or what Sword of the Spirit are you talking about, but in the Charismatic Covenant Community of the Sword of the Spirit is way different of what you are writing here.

I take all my decisions (financially, practical, state of life, you name it). All the catholics I know in our communities are well committed and radical members of their local parishes and archdioceses.

Steve Clark is great man and one of the humblests and holiests man I have ever met. All of his books (or many of them) have the "imprimatur" and "nihil obstat" approvements.

We have very close relationships with many priests and bishops. Many vocations to priesthood have come out from our covenant communities.

I have visited many communities around the world and all what I have seen is a bunch of free and mature men and women in Christ giving their life fully to him.

I know many people (even friends of mine)who have freely left community and are serving God in a different part of his Body. Well, those men and women, still love coventant communities.

Miguel Martinez said...

I am part of a Sword of the Spirit Community in Mexico and I have talked several times with Steve Clark and to many other leaders of the Sword of the Spirit.

I don't know about what type of covenant communities or what Sword of the Spirit are you talking about, but in the Charismatic Covenant Community of the Sword of the Spirit is way different of what you are writing here.

I take all my decisions (financially, practical, state of life, you name it). All the catholics I know in our communities are well committed and radical members of their local parishes and archdioceses.

Steve Clark is great man and one of the humblests and holiests man I have ever met. All of his books (or many of them) have the "imprimatur" and "nihil obstat" approvements.

We have very close relationships with many priests and bishops. Many vocations to priesthood have come out from our covenant communities.

I have visited many communities around the world and all what I have seen is a bunch of free and mature men and women in Christ giving their life fully to him.

I know many people (even friends of mine)who have freely left community and are serving God in a different part of his Body. Well, those men and women, still love coventant communities.

Adrian said...

Miguel, I am happy that your experience has been positive.

Paul said...

For more about covenant communities, see:


where numerous documents from these communities have been posted.

Paul said...

Miguel, a Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur is a good thing to have for a publication, but it doesn't mean "those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions, or statements expressed in the document." In other words, they often aren't the pieces of paper they're printed on.

I don't believe most of what you say, as it flies right in the face of Clark's own teachings. If he's such a "great man," have him come on here and defend himself, instead of you doing it for him.

Trish Sanford said...

I understand that anyone can post as an expert on anything, but people really should use their judgement in who they believe and why. I am a member of Alleluia Community, and unlike many negative reviewers, I don't need to be anonymous. To start with the basics of writing untrue things as though you are a journalist - Alleluia doesn't have an exclamation point as "explained" in this blog. A tiny error - but a red flag for people looking for accuracy.
Alleluia has been building Christian community for 40 years. We're ecumenical (Catholic and protestant). As to the implication- if not out and out slander - about us not being under Church authority, each of the 3 bishops who have come into office in the last 40 years has read and approved all of our teachings and documents. Our current bishop has visited us and praises us for being faithful to the Church while answering the Church's call to build unity with other Christians. The majority of the seminarians to come out of our deanery - and probably diocese - are young men raised in Community. They too are "praised" for being true to the Church and to God.
You know what other groups "sound" like cults when you look at their rules? The Catholic Church and especially the early Christian Church. Alleluia - and many covenant communities - follow as closely as possible the early church. We raise up leaders who we trust, prophesy to the church, and practice all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as defined in the New Testament. We pray over each other. I was with a group praying for a woman with a class 4 brain hemorrhage who was flatlining. I saw with my own eyes her wake up -healed without permanent brain damage. As Jesus said to the hatemongers who called Him evil - would God allow miracles to be worked in His name if it were from Satan? I know there are frauds, but I was there in person for that and many other miracles.
People talk about the evil of headship/handmaids - sorry, but those naysayers are people with a spirit of pride and the fierce individualism that goes against the teachings of Christ. The way not to fall into serious sin is to be in the light with one another. "To be quick to forgive and ask forgiveness" as the Alleluia covenant says.
People are completely free to come and go - Covenant members make a choice to become lifelong members after years of discernmennt.
I believe most people who leave Community and feel a need to spew hatefulness, feel guilty for breaking an agreement they freely made. Just as one who leaves the Catholic Church or divorces a spouse tends to do.
Are there members who say or even teach the wrong thing -sure. But I don't spew slander at the Catholic Church because I encounter a "bad priest".
Also, what is this baloney about "group think" in politics? If you don't group think on issues that are deeply held beliefs of Christianity - such as abortion and marriage - then you are not truly a follower of Christ.
To say you would go against the Church teachings, which so close-mindedly forbids voting for a pro-abortion candidate, just to prove you won't be "told" by a community how to vote, is evil. That person needs to to confession and get right with God rather than brag that he "showed them".
I rarely respond to bloggers - it is usually meaningless to get in a fight with people who preach against the teachings of Christ - but here is my long response summed in a few words:
"I have tasted and I have seen." 20 something years in Alleluia has made me a better Catholic and a Christian than I would have ever been on my own.
Those who live partial Christianity may get into Heaven, but they do not know the fullness of Christ that can be found when you give all 7 days of the week to Christ. I am not recruiting in anyway, but unlike any cult, Alleluia is an open book with public meetings and all teachings available. As Mother Teresa would say, "Come and see."

Anonymous said...

I was a member of the WoC community in the 70's when it first started while I was in college. I was in a singles household where I was told what I could buy, where I could live and where to work. I was "volunteering" at the Goods Room where members brought items for common use in the basement of a men's single household. One night, one of the leaders of the community came down and said that he would be in his bedroom upstairs if I would like to come up there and "visit". I was a little shocked at this supposedly spiritual man. As to Greg Gavrilides, I was at a conference sitting across the table from him. He had little to say to anyone around the table. As we finished eating, everyone got up to throw away their plates. He spoke to everyone at the table, "I don't think that I should have to throw away my own plate". All of this finally contributed to my waking up and leaving the community who had so much control over my life. They actually said that if I or anyone left that I would die, literally and spiritually. A very strong and intimidating statement. I am here today, at age 60 to say that I left and survived. I am still alive and living my Christian life to the fullest and still love Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I can see that this group is still very much about mind control. How sad.

Paul said...

Miguel, "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur" merely mean the book is free of doctrinal error. They almost never mean those who give it have reviewed the contents of the book.

Did you know Steve Clark regards you as the "null set" and himself as the "dictator"? I seriously doubt he has ever renounced this. Read his own document for yourself, and you'll find he is not whom he appears to be. http://www.scribd.com/doc/55907854/Steven-B-Clark-Dictator-SOS-Community-Null-Set

mjjones35 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JudyD said...

Wow. I had no idea this problem was so universal. As a teen, I was a member of a covenant community in the Philadelphia diocese, Ephphatha Prayer Community, led by Fr. Richard Jones. At first it was helpful, in that it allowed me to know Christ in a very real and personal way, something that had somehow escaped me in my Catholic upbringing. I went for it hook, line, and sinker, considered myself to be "sold out for Christ". Unfortunately, the dark side eventually manifested. I was told by my "older sisters in Christ" that I hd to change my college major from agriculture- which I really loved- to nursing, because it was "more practical" (They told me this after a dinner which relied on agriculture to produce, but hey, it was not a practical field of study?!?) What they really didn't like was the fact that my studies would take me to the main campus at Penn State and away from their "direction". Well, I changed majors, changed to a local college for nursing, and was a great student, but hated nursing, so I dropped out. I regret I did not take advantage of my parents paying for college by doubting my dreams and submitting to the opinions of others.

The spiritual control became really rough. We were forbidden to date, and when I did date someone, the priest took him aside and told him he had to be "single". (after a short time, Fr. Jones set him up with another "sister" more fitting, and they married) One of the other leaders once took me aside on another occasion and pretty much trashed me, said I was full of "spiritual pride", and needed to submit to authority from the community....The trauma of that encounter set me up for many years of spiritual confusion. I became too severe with myself, too other-worldly.

I did leave the group because I just could not ignore the sick feeling in my gut. I now know I had discernment that something was terribly wrong. Still, it continued to affect my spiritual growth. After years of confusion, which even affected my married life (I met my husband at another less organized prayer group), I learned that Cardinal Kroll had disbanded the group, labeled it a cult, and that the priest had been sexually abusing the "brothers" as teens. Many of them needed therapy when their marriages (which had to be approved by the priest) were messed up and they finally confided in their wives. One young adult male had the courage to bring all these things, which were hushed up by the controlling leaders, to the attention of the diocese, which, thankfully, took swift action.

To this day it is a wound in my life that can break open at any given time. The older I get, the more I realize this cult controlled my personal choices even after I left. I entered into a marriage that was very controlling, but never saw the signs until a crisis fifteen years ago triggered things in my husband that made him even more controlling and cruel. I realize I would have chosen VERY differently had it not been for those years of twisted "formation" I received at Ephphatha. Still, I have four wonderful children, have managed to have some happiness in the first half of my married life. Right now it can be a real cross, especially since I am no longer blind to the control and the emotional abuse. My older son's life was destroyed by this control and abuse he saw in his dad and in himself. He has to pick up the pieces of the train wreck, and in a way, we are doing it together, as we both carry our crosses and trust God to heal and to renew our lives.

Bill Baer's gay friend said...

I stumbled across this blog years after leaving LOG in Baltimore, after Dave Nodar caused its implosion. He did this by focusing totally inward on the group/cult, not being open or honest, and in selling the cult's main asset, a piece of property worth $2 million that was bought with many members donations. No one ever knew where those funds went. Other 'leaders' were similarly not candid in answering basic questions about anything of substance. These were not leaders but males who took a good thing (real community and sharing) and exerted so much control that it imploded. I remember a young adult leader from another related cult group, who preyed on the young girls in the group. It was all hushed up, leading anyone who questioned anything to feel bad or disrespectful. Even Dave Nodar's wife left him, and he continues to troll for weak people to prey on in Catonsville MD. I'd love to hear about other member's experiences as a way to bring healing to many others.

Unknown said...

Thank you! We are all gods children and we are supposed to love everyone! no judgements beacause we have no right to do so! If you have restrictions for being a woman is not equal! Its like... If it looks like a pig acts and sounds like a pig its most likely a pig! Sooo if it looks like a cult acts and sounds like one well you get what im sayin! This world is so corrupt we should focus on sharing the peace and love of God thats in us all! No force,no guilt,and judgments for leaving a church!it could be the Lord changing your path for the better!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to have found this blog- thank you! Where-the-heck-is-the-guidebook is SPOT on, and it's noteworthy that she is a woman. The Work of Christ Community destroyed my family; my children were very damaged, especially my son. I wanted to send him to a special school for learning disabilities, so my then-husband discussed it with our "head". He said no- without asking me my input, talking with my son, or anything. After ten years in the community, and without having made the public commitment, I left, having gone through the "correct" and burdensome process that they laid out. My husband was furious with me, and his abuse ramped up several notches (abuse that, when reported earlier to our coordinator, was dismissed). One of the topics of a community men's conference was How to Deal with a Strong-Willed Wife.
We are now divorced, and my children and I are still recovering from this hellish experience.
Thank you again for giving us a voice!

M said...

It has taken me many months of reading and re-reading the comments on this post before I've mustered the bravery to add my story. Some of these comments have nearly brought me to tears.

I cannot speak to any other groups than POP (although my parents met in a house for young adults in Sword of the Spirit in which there were many attempts at arranging marriages from the leadership). I also must acknowledge that while POP does have a hierarchy of leadership, different communities were more extreme than others and some may have exhibited less cult-like behavior.

My early childhood was spent in POP, fully immersed in the community. I may not have been witness to the politics and decisions that occurred at a higher level, but my entire childhood experience centered around POP, and I feel that I can speak to the life of a child in this type of situation.

It was only until years later that I realized the profound negative impact those early childhood experiences had on me and how POP (in the branch that I was) exhibited many cult or cult-like characteristics. While all members were technically allowed to leave it was never that simple. This may be hard for people who have not experienced it to understand, but to leave was like abandoning your family, your faith, and your way of life. There were so many psychological, emotional, and even financial controls to keep members from leaving. Shame was a tactic often used to control.

Most members lived in the same neighborhood, many of the members worked in businesses together, almost all the children were home schooled together, clothes/ toys/ etc. were often shared among families, meals were shared weekly, meetings were held several times a week. All these elements of community on the surface were great. Everyone took care of each other. Yet, it often just served to further control members. The more dependent they were on the community the more barriers there were to leaving.

POP was the family and there were often efforts to separate individuals from their biological families if those individuals were living "lives contrary to the community". There was a clear hierarchy among the families that I felt even as a child. I often heard the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child", and that idea was prevalent among members. I spent nearly as much time with the other members of the community as I did with my own siblings.


M said...

(Continued from previous post because apparently I wrote to much for one post)

There was a clear hierarchy within the community, and "guidance" was given with a no questions asked attitude. If you were disobedient it was likely just the devil tempting you. Men were the clear head of everything. There was an expectation that the father was the head of the household and should be respected because of that. (Something that damaged my relationship with my father and led to several abusive romantic relationships in my teens)

One reason that I truly believe POP to be a cult is there was far less actual doctrine and religious teachings as there were community practices. In fact the community, meetings, worship sessions, etc. became the main priority.

There was a secretive element to everything. Outsiders may be welcomed in partially, but those who had a covenant with the community (which might take years to attain) were the only true members. There was a great deal of mistrust about anyone not within the community.

There were strict standards for modesty, behavior, and masculinity/ femininity.

There were often long, intense prayer sessions involving tongues, dramatic movements, dispelling of "demons", and the laying on of hands. these occurred even for very young children.

Punishment for children was often severe. Parents were directed in how to discipline and raise their children (something my Mother later told me). I know some of you may question whether this was just my family but it is actually something I witnessed more in others then my own.

Based on flashbacks and early memories I believe there was physical and sexual abuse happening on a smaller but still noticeable scale in some families.

There was an expectation for children to remain in the community for their entire lives (one of the reasons there were so many programs for young adults). Something I noticed at a young age is that the other children who went away for college or just to get away often were simply moved to other branches of POP to maintain some level of control over them. In the same way we would occasionally have young adults stay with our community for a few months to years. I never really felt that I would be able to leave.

I know everyone's story varies, but I think the most powerful testament to POP's cult qualities was in the story of when my family chose to leave the group. Although the members had been an integral part of my life for over 12 years, after leaving the group absolutely no one would speak to our family. Suddenly all my friends and the adults in my life (who all still lived within a block or two of where I lived) would barely acknowledge us.

My parents warned my siblings and I of this before they formally let everyone know that we were choosing to leave. My Mom tried to reach out to several of her friends in the group to continue friendships, but she was shunned completely. This is not something that any other normal prayers group would even dream of doing.

At the time it was hard for me, but looking back I am so glad that we left. My parents had finally come to terms with the misguided things that were happening at a higher level in the community, and they knew it was the right thing to leave.

It was hard to transition out of the group, and it's only years later, still often finding psychological scars from POP, that I feel comfortable sharing my experience. For years I hid it and to this day almost no one in my life besides my immediate family knows anything of this. I do not blame my parents for their involvement with the group. They both "found Jesus" through the community and it just took them a while to realize the mess that they had slowly fallen into. What I wrote today only partially covers what I experienced and honestly skims over some of the darker elements. I hope at least a few of you find my story useful and may be able to relate to my experiences

Lisa Kreis said...

I would appreciate any help processing an involvement with the Ann Arbor community that connected myself and children to Word Of God, Word Of Life, Sword of the Spirit, through membership at the Christ The King. This actually destroyed my family in ways in which I am still baffled about. I came into the the Church through Christ The King. It was just one month later that I took my children leaving an abusive marriage with 4 children and no family support. We moved to a an affordable community in Ypsilanti where my neighbors were members of at least one or more of these groups. The people of each group rallied around our family with provisions on every level. Some of these individuals would always remain stellar Christians. Many, I would discovered were not. I had no way of evaluating the cost that each provision that would amount to but eventually I would become enslaved. The first hiccup of trouble came while attending CTK prayer meetings. A man from Argentina began to follow myself and other women around. I discovered that he had lost a Catholic wife and two children to a serious porn addiction. This man named Daniel, was teaching classes at CTK. When I reported his behavior I was told by a Deacon I was shut down with an admonishment to consider my own sin. This man was still married. I then sought the support of Ken Cousino (a prominent figure at CTK who attended Daniel's classes). I did not know that Ken was great friends with Daniel, as Ken assured me not to ever speak with this naive deacon that was once his house mate but let him handle it. At Ken's suggestion I called him one week later. Ken asked me why I called. He then said that he spoke to the deacon that he warned me not to speak with who assured him that Daniel was a good guy. I was furious! I called Ken after speaking with some friends to tell him that I was angry and he put Daniel on the phone to mock me. Anyway, Daniel moved in with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter although community members offered to take her in. I reported Ken to the head Deacon at CTK-Daniel Foley. During this time I worked at a homeschool community in which Ken was on the board. I had an argument with the Administrator of this group as many did. I called her priest who confirmed that she was trouble. This priest called Father Ed of CTK to let him know that Rita the Administrator was trouble to many. I sought this support because both Ken and Rita kicked my children and myself out of the homeschool group. During this time I discovered Ken lying at least 3 different times. I also discovered a man dressed up as a priest at CTK that recruited young women into an order that did not exist. Father Ed recommended this man to me claiming that he knew him very well. This imposter also claimed to be creditionaled as a psychiatrist. He was neither a priest or a doctor. Father Ed did nothing about this. Anyway, I was really furious as I drove to the Diocese of Lansing to open up an investigation

Lisa Kreis said...

Part 2 of 2:
. Dcn Daniel Foley was put in charge of this alleged investigation which proved to only feed the Diocese information that prevented a law suit. The outcome of the investigation proved myself to be the problem according to Dcn Dan. I had a witness of a woman that he repeatedly spoke to about sex. Yet I was the problem. From the point Ken's wife Patty, excluded me from another homeschool group that she was in charge of. Father Ed volunteered to "get to the bottom of this," calling people, constantly calling/emailing me. I later learned from the staff at CTK that Father Ed told a few people that he thought that a satanic ritual was performed on me which was the root of all of this and that I was not mentally stable. Later a nun told me that Father Ed was in love with me, I must be careful. I was so thoroughly confused as members of CTK as well as the communities listed above began to avoid me. I sensed that driving forces such as Elitism along with extreme religious beliefs were at the root of those who both alienated me as well as drove my children away from me. Each person seem to fear that they would be in the hot seat if they admitted that any of these individuals were wrong. Also, I believe that everyone thought that each individual that I had an issue with had Divine experiences that most do not have. Each individual (except Dcn Dan) claimed to regularly speak with The Blessed Mother, see Warrior Angels, and operate in the gifts of The Spirit-especially Prophecy. Ken, often speaks in the first person of God. Sadly, I found Father Ed to have lied at least 4 times.

Lisa Kreis said...

May I speak with you about my experience? Kreis.lisa8@gmail. Com.

Lisa Kreis said...

Can someone please tell me if my posting will be published? Lisa Kreis

Thomas Grimm said...

to Bill Baer's gay friend....
my name is Tom Grimm and I was an underway covenant member of LOG from 1975 to 1978
if you are on Facebook there is a group to share your experiences with....

Jason Koval said...

To the "Anonymous" person. You say the WOC is still about mind control. You say all kinds of slanderous and inflammatory things. You have been hurt, and you have seen Covenant Community at its worst - when there were very serious problems. Leaders were "out of control" in their "over-control" of people. They preyed on truly humble and holy people who were vulnerable and searching for God. These leaders will be judged very harshly I think at the final judgement. There has been a huge change in the leadership approach since those days, and as a member of the Work of Christ I do not defend any of that stuff. But it is very hurtful for you to spew forth all kinds of negative things as if things are still the way they were. If you took the time to "come and see" as someone said, things are very different. The WOC is not without our problems and issues - an attitude of spiritual superiority and favoritism within the leadership is sometimes evident at certain levels, as well as a resistance to ideas that are not within the current consensus of the body of coordinators, is a challenge I think all groups have which are subject to the influences of the twin challenges of human frailty and character imperfections that are still in the process of reformation in Christ - none of us is perfect and none of us claims to be - however the egregious errors of the past are no more. I also know Steve Clark and he is a truly humble, loving and wise man who continues to love and serve God with all his heart - there is no guile in him. If you think that then you do not know him. I think that you are "anonymous" says a great deal about you - and the credibility of all your statements is really minimal when cloaked by anonymity. Why not identify yourself and let those whom you continue to attack and slander discuss these things with you. By remaining "anonymous" you continue to let sin and wrongdoings of the past fester within you. One more thing - someone was talking about how they went through the trash and found all kinds of papers with all kinds of old "rules" and "handbook" kinds of things in them - just why do you think your parents were pitching them into the trash? I think they were purging the things that they (and the particular community) knew were in serious error. Someone else mentioned Rick Comstock as an old-school leader, etc., well nobody has been a perfect leader, and Rick himself would be the first to say so, if you really know him as I do. Folks you can air your old dirty laundry and that of the Work of Christ and other communities, but just think about whom you are really serving by doing so. Are you trying to "help" others or are you really just trying to justify yourself? I for one have an ongoing sort of up-and-down relationship with the Work of Christ as a committed member - but one thing I know for sure - we love Jesus and we do our best to know, love and serve Him. We do that to the best of our abilities with only the best of intentions to spread God's love to the world. This is and has always been an imperfect process carried out by the earthen vessels that humans are.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Sadly I can relate all too well. Still suffering a lot from my experiences.

Anonymous said...

Jason, I agree with some of your comments and would like to apologize to the Community and Greg Gavrilides. He did his best while he was there and so did the Community. I have no hard feelings for anyone. Your comments are quite harsh. It shows me that if you do indeed reflect the new Community that there is still a rigid, strict approach to people rather than forgiveness. Your attempt to judge what is in our hearts is most disconcerting. What they experienced can't be changed and trying to silence and slam those who were broken won't help. Isaiah 42:3 "a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench". Please help these people heal by praying for them. You weren't there so you can't know what these people lived through. Showing the love of Christ will. Otherwise, you are no better than the person you are criticizing. By the way, there are multiple anonymous comments posted here meaning there are several people posting. Can you maybe see it in your heart to forgive and pray for the healing of those who were hurt? We are all on this journey together and growing in our walk with Him. Please don't take it beyond that.

Lisa Kreis said...

Any more personal experiences shared within the context of anonymity would be appreciated

Lisa Kreis said...

It seemed irregular to punish someone for an argument and pride but not for adultery, fornication, lying, seduction while married. This is what I experienced. Pretty convenient

Todd Bass said...

Jason Koval, You accuse Anonymous of slanderous comments and an attempt to "justify themselves." I would like to know where are the documents and published statements that repudiate the crimes of the past (yes, crimes!). What is the current policy regarding headship and submission. In the past the teachings were clearly heretical (comparing the relationship among the three persons of the Trinity with the personal head and the submissive member). Furthermore it was clearly taught that even if the head made a mistake, etc., if the member submitted anyway that God would bless it! What diabolical and ridiculous teaching! Please prove that real change, as opposed to the excuse (Oh, we don't do those things anymore), is now in place. Where are the open apologies and repentance by the current leaders (some of whom were leaders that taught the stuff you say has change. These days some people are not going to be easily intimidated by the threats and manipulations that were routine in the past (and in your case, the present). How was it possible that the headship by a coordinator could direct many women (both single and married) into having sex with him? And in the case of the Work of Christ, the silly "food teachings" that were imposed and "pastored" is another cultic sign. The "men's and women's roles" teachings are too rigid by many miles - resulting in the imposed humiliation of any man who went jogging with his wife (How terrible and wimpy he must be!) Jason, I am not impressed with the so-called changes in policies that were exceedingly cultic and the "fake prophecies" that backed up the system. Where is the public record of changes? They always denied the "arranged marriages" in the past even while they did it. What is the evidence in the present that they are telling the truth now? Is your attitude that people who have been hurt or actually had their lives ruined should just "move on" and let the Cultic Christians continue to do their thing? Remember, that "you can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I am sure that many of the people in the WOC "love Jesus." I believe that you are included in number. However, the WOC has a bad record (as do virtually all of the Covenant Communities) of living in the freedom of Christ as opposed to a secretive cult.

Todd Bsss said...

Jason, in the service of God and Christ I have learned the "good intentions aren't good enough." The love of Christ is not exhibited by shunning and slandering those who voluntarily left a CovCom because of the corruption they experienced.

johnflahertyma said...

"Anonymous said...
Jason, I agree with some of your comments and would like to apologize to the Community and Greg Gavrilides. He did his best while he was there and so did the Community."

I would suggest that you read up on the exploits of Greg Gavriledes before hastening to judgement. Documents released from the State of Michigan via a Freedom of Information Act request indicated that Gavriledes was unable to be reinstated as a psychologist because of his sexual exploitation of single and married women while the leader of the Work of Christ. These documents are online at https://www.scribd.com/document/341868469/The-Work-of-Christ-Covenant-Community-And-Their-Troubles

Lisa Kreis said...

Do any of my comments ring familiar? If so, in what way?