Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Might Be In A Cult-Like Group If . . .

Here's an interesting article from by way of the Covenant Communities Blog: Sifting the Wheat from the Tares: 20 Signs of Trouble in a New Religious Group. It deals with how to tell whether a Catholic or other religious community could be problematic. I'll extract the 20 warning signs here and speak about whether they were involved in my experience as part of the Lamb of God (covenant, shepherding/discipleship) Community in Baltimore:

  1. “Total” obedience to the pope. Not applicable to my experience, since LOG was inter-denominational, but in fact, I had the opposite problem:
  2. No sense of belonging to the local church. Very true: the community became more important than the Catholic Church or my parish.
  3. Lack of true cooperation with diocesan authorities. Hwat diocesan authorities? It was only when the Archdiocese intervened in 1993 that the abuses in LOG were addressed. Until then, the community had little to no dealings with the Archdiocese at all for fear of alienating the non-Catholics. Come to think of it, most of LOG's activities were done out of fear of alienating the non-Catholics.
  4. Making use of lies and falsehoods to obtain approval. For years, we learned that the LOG compound farm in Timonium was a "miracle in green." Legend had it that there was no way that this group of young hippies-turned-charismatics could obtain a mortgage for the farm and pay it off. Well, it wasn't so hard when the mother of head coordinator Dave Nodar put up her house as collateral for the loan. Also, while LOG proclaimed itself as merely a "light to the churches" and not a church in and of itself, it filed for tax-exempt status as . . . a church.
  5. Too soon an insistence on placing all goods in common. This is a tough one to deal with, given the examples of communites in the Book of Acts where this was the regular practice of new groups of believers. Fortunately, this never really came to pass. There was once a community food co-op, formed out of a belief that the "dark times" would force us to have to be self-sufficient. All I remember of it was the tubs of peanut butter that would have made wonderful epoxy.
  6. Claiming special revelations or messages leading to the founding of the group. The article refers to submitting such revelations to Church authorities for investigation. Well, when those getting the messages are an entity unto themselves, who needs investigation? One famous "message" included how we had to "cross the Jordan" and move to the other side of Baltimore. We celebrated this "crossing" with a mid-summer "Jordan festival" at the farm . . . back on the side of town where most members moved from. The LOG school band playing the specially written song "Jordan" sounded like the Pat Metheny Group's "Forward March."
  7. Special status of the founder, or foundress. Who watches the Watchmen? Dave and Cheryl Nodar's house was completely paid for with LOG tithes. Dave would give talks about the evils of the media and TV, and then all the neighborhood kids would be found in his house watching . . . the large-screen TV. Finally, his favorite word at community gatherings: "Let's."
  8. Special and severe penances imposed. That wasn't my experience, but this may have happened.
  9. Multiplicity of devotions, without any doctrinal unity among them. Not applicable: see #1.
  10. Promotion of “fringe” elements in the life of the Church. LOG had plenty of questionable associations, such as evangelist Larry Lea, "prophets" Bob Jones (not as in the university) and Paul Cain, and the Vineyard with John Wimber and Mike Bickle (more here; for a while, I thought LOG was going to become a Vineyard church). The founding of the community stemmed from the Marxist aims of Steve Clark, one of the founders of LOG progenitor The Word of God. Eventually, five Protestant covenant community leaders--Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Ern Baxter, Derek Prince, and Don Basham--who devised the shepherding/discipleship movement helped mold LOG into part of that movement while remaining affiliated with Catholic-based communities like WOG and eventually the Sword of the Spirit. More about the "Ft. Lauderdale Five" here. I could go on and on. (BTW, The Sign of Jonah looks to be a good blog about debunking the false prophets of Kansas City and the Vineyard.)
  11. Special vows. I was one of many LOG members who pledged a covenant (lifetime) commitment to the community, which Archbishop (later Cardinal) Keeler later dissolved. In fact, there was an elaborate commitment process that took a number of years.
  12. Absolute secrecy imposed on members. I wouldn't say there was absolute secrecy, but LOG was incredibly inward-focused.
  13. Control over the choice of confessors and spiritual directors. Everyone in LOG had a "pastoral leader" who had zero, zip, nada training in pastoral care. Of course, being at the bottom of the food chain, I wasn't anyone's pastoral leader. Oh, and ask my sister how sensitive personal information about her got disclosed to community leadership, information intended only for her pastoral leader.
  14. Serious discontent with the previous institute of which certain members were part. Not a factor, although the practices of individual churches were often derided.
  15. Any form of sexual misconduct as a basis. The only criterion I can safely say LOG had nothing to do with.
  16. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. True for LOG, but only certain new members, ones who were to some degree needy. Nothing wrong with wanting to live in community, but it provided too much of a social structure.
  17. The group is preoccupied with making money. Huge problem, as alluded to above. Another "word" that we received was about the need to build or obtain a community center, and at one community gathering, we members were asked to come forward and empty our pockets. Most people, including myself, did so out of peer pressure and guilt. I never heard what happened to that money, as no community center was ever built. Also, what became of the $1.5 million garnered from the sale of the farm is a mystery.
  18. Elitism. I bought into LOG's "us against the world" mentality. With community life being at the center of my personal life, I sometimes felt awkward getting together with friends or family, or doing other non-community activities. Perhaps that's part of the reason why I so easily slip into hyper-judgementalism.
  19. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members to control them. See the collection for the center above. Also, shortly before I left LOG in 1991, Dave Nodar gave an angry talk to the community called "Let the Leaders Lead." He could just as easily have called it "Stop Questioning Us." I even wrote him a letter saying how I supported him. Three months later, when I left LOG, I wrote Nodar another letter in which I retracted the earlier one.
  20. The group completely severs its members from the outside world. I've alluded to this already. In practice, we weren't "in this world, but not of it"; we were in our own little enclave that was merely missing a fence, gates, and a guard tower. Also, members who had dared leave were shunned. And here's one bizarre incident: in college, I notified my men's group leader that I would have to miss the next week's men's group meeting because my dad was throwing a 50th birthday party for my mom. He replied, "Can you get him to reschedule it?" And I, like an idiot, actually asked my dad! You know what his answer was . . . and he too was in LOG.
I have much more to say about my LOG experience, and I hope to get to do so here. It'll explain a lot about where I've come from.


Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

I have a great concern for this issue. I have neighbors who are very into apparition chasing and hoarding for the end times type stuff.

dragonflies said...

Ok, when did you get so verbose?

Cygnus said...

DF: You haven't read my summaries lately, have you? ;-)

And I'll say it again; the one good thing that came out of my Lamb of God was meeting Ladycub.

Anonymous said...

Still processing LOG? YES, it was a cult. I was a member from 1975 to 1978. And the great spiritual truth my experience taught me? There is no spiritual authority.

lisa a. said...

Hi Cygnus,

It's been a long time since we've conversed and I finally posted your post on the covenant communities blog. My husband has been very ill.

This is very good material. Thanks for these comments.


Anonymous said...

I was a LOG member from 1971(?) through 1977, along with my mother. In the beginning, it was a blessed experience for ALL who came. It was during those years that the group became a community. Too quickly, however, rules were created, then the rules became dogma, and many individuals were given no choice but to leave because the didn't fit the right "criteria." I didn't know that Christ has such criteria. I will say that during those years, David Nodar was a gifted and blessed leader, gentle with his folk, and honest in his humanity. Other leaders of the group were much more dogmatic; I think some of them really wanted to have us all go live in the desert and eat locust. In all, I am glad I was with the group for some time, and I am glad I was not around later to see all the problems.

Cygnus said...

Thanks, Anonymous. You likely left LOG before my family and I got there, so I probably don't know you.

You bring up a good point: While Nodar, Lessans, and O'Meara have a lot to answer for, they probably had no idea that what they were doing was wrong. I think it's a corollary of the frog in hot water truism. Not excusing what they did, but in a way, they too were harmed by the whole experience.

Anonymous said...

I too was a member of LOG in the 70s and find your comments interesting and enlightening. I moved away and it took years to make my own decisions.

Rolig said...

Cygnus, I just want to say thanks for posting this, and other comments and blog entries, about the Lamb of God Community. I joined the group in 1971 at the tender age of 15, when it was still known simply as the Timonium Community and ties with Word of God in Ann Arbor were still fairly loose. Most of the group had been hippies just a year or so earlier, and much of the hippie spirit of love and acceptance and joy was still powerfully present, now compounded by the sense of celebration that we had found meaning in life, were loved by God, and had a mission to bring his love and peace to the world. Those were halcyon days. But I remember vividly when the first "teachings" about headship (as it was called) came down, when ties with WOG became firmer, when we adopted the name Lamb of God, and the hierarchy of spiritual guidance was formalized as cell groups. I remember clearly how intelligent women with sparkling personalities, woman I admired and looked up to, became "submissive", dull and reserved; in several of them the light seemed to go out almost overnight. I remember how people started changing their names: Freddie (Lessans) became Fred, Norby became Francis, Bernie became Bernadette (I think), M.A. became Mary Agnes, and Mickey became Martha. At the same time, I kept wondering why we weren't actually trying to have an effect on the world, why we weren't volunteering to help the poor and homeless (a problem that exploded in Baltimore in the 1970s), but were becoming more inward-focused, more "us against them". I wondered what had happened to the gospel of love and joy and peace. Serious doubts about the group set in for me around 1975, and I actually left but then came back. The community was still a home for me, and I felt strong bonds with the others, and this was where my dearest friends were. Eventually, however, what drove me out was the feeling that honest questions and concerns were not welcome. In fact, questions were not possible, because all the necessary answers were revealed through prophecy (from the leadership), or if they weren't, then this was a mystery we were not supposed to wonder about. I called this intellectual agoraphobia. I finally wrenched myself away, for my own sanity, in the spring of 1979, and set off on a wonderful if often scary journey, knowing that I did not have all the answers and may never have them, but it was exciting and important to look for them myself and not merely receive them from someone in authority.

But LOG left its imprint on me, for good and for bad. Eight years ago I moved to Europe, and perhaps living in a foreign country caused me to remember things I had long forgotten. In any case I started having dreams about the Community. And this morning I did again, which is what took me to Google to see what I could find out about it, and so came upon your blog.

By the way, my name is Rawley, and I wonder if we know each other. I am sure I must know some of the other commentators on this page (e.g. the ones who mention Michael Miller and Martha Lohrmann). I would love to hear more from you and others about LOG experiences and simply to know what people are doing. I think I still feel a special bond with those who were members when I was. You can write me, if you wish, at ljumedo (at) volja dot net.

John said...

My emancipation from LOG was Holy Saturday, 1981. I was rebelling and mentioning the LOG in a "negative" and truthful light when I received a call from my "head" T.V. inviting me to a meeting with Mr. Joe O'Meara at his Pigtown (St. Jerome, I think) parish. T.V. and I sat, I was lectured to by Mr. Joe who ultimately gave me a choice to shape up or ship out. I opted for the latter and told both men: "I'm outta here!". It took me years to walk into a bar on my own to simply order a beer. I didn't marry until I was a week shy of 35.I left the catholic church.I went to a meeting at St. William of York in 1991 or '92 and Mr. William Keeler, then Archbishop of Baltimore, attended to hear people voice their complaints of the abuses of Lamb of God's authority. As LOG members were present as well as former, shouting matched ensued and Keeler, ever so weak as a Godly man, justified the communiy's postion. This meeting tore at my spirit as it was exhausting. A friend and "head" I loved attended as well! In earlier times we talked about girls; this guy loved the Mickey who became Martha and I once had a crush on Martha's sister. We also shared many laughs. At this meeting, he pulled open his coat, pulled out a flask and asked if I wanted a drink. I was crushed as I saw this guy was drunk. My soon to be wife worked at a seminary headquartered in the manse of the grounds of St. Timothy's in Catonsville. I arrived, choked up and wept in my beloveds arms. I second everything Cyg has shared as I've witnessed them myself. I've also witnessed the damage done to others by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Nodar, Lessans, O'Meara, Buck). Since the LOG experience I've become a proponent and recepient of God's abding grace and formly believe there is just one mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ. I could go for hours and hope to post again soon. Blessings.