Thanks for taking time visit this site. I hope my story will serve as a warning to those tempted to join a group that professes a singular and special relationship with God, or one that claims to be a chosen élite.
I also hope to show how a normal and well-educated person can entrap themselves in a sociological cult.
One common misconception about cult members is that they are uneducated or unsophisticated. The truth is just the opposite. For a cult member has a higher IQ and higher socio-economic status than the average American according to experts.
Some may read this because they were in Maranatha Christian Ministries and are affected by those experiences even after so many years.
Others might be curious to understand how sociological cults snare members and, more importantly, how they keep people in the group; despite the abuse heaped every day onto these very members.
I would invite all of readers to consider my experience and, perhaps, I pray, learn from my very human mistakes.
For years I considered my experience wasted, but now I pray that God turn what was evil for His good and gracious purposes.
This blog recounts of my personal experiences in MCM and conclusions about such.
One may legitimately question my recollections and conclusions since I was emotionally involved in each situation with this account penned some twenty years afterwards. Having said this I invite the reader to carefully consider what I have written.
If you are up for it please join me for a journey back in time almost 30 years ago to a group called Maranatha Christian Ministries.
Please note that most names are changed unless they are in “bold” in which case they are the true names of the people (almost always the well-known or public leaders of Maranatha or unless I obtained written permission from those so named). In addition, as is my habit, I used prayer and devotional journals to help me with my recollections as well as interviews with former members of MCM. However every human effort is prone to error and these writings are certainly no different; despite my efforts to tell the truth as I experienced it.
High School Late 1970s
I played football as an All-State football player and was selected as a national honor society member and served as vice president of my student body during high school. My parents raised me as a Southern Baptist. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve our local church. Our family almost lived in this church including attending Sunday morning and night services, Wednesday prayer night services and Thursday night new member visitation. At the age of twelve I professed faith in Jesus Christ using the Baptist tradition of walking down the aisle and standing in front of the congregation as a show of faith. Afterwards, as Baptists do, I found myself being dunked in the water filled baptistery in front of the entire congregation.
I guess my faith was typical for a Baptist boy raised in the South. I tried to live my faith; reading the Bible daily and trying to practice Christ’s teachings every day.
However, by my senior year of high school the dichotomy between what the members of my church professed and how they actually lived everyday life weighed on me.
Now some thirty years later I understand that these church members were just being people with all the foibles, problems, self centeredness and sin of, you guessed it, church members.
in 1975 my Baptist church seemed blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a very idealistic and good-looking youth pastor. He sharing the gospel while walking the halls of our high school. He managing to convert a number of kids, including athletes and student government leaders, to Christ.
The youth pastor appeared a devout Christian; both sincere and humble. But during my last two years in high school I saw my church in Alabama refuse to allow African-Americans to attend worship services; much less allow them to become members. This even though they numbered among the converts of our youth pastor. The deacons, who enforced church segregation, smoked cigarettes in the parking lot and huddled to laugh at dirty jokes after church services. My father, a super role model and a straight as an arrow business person, would talk to my mother during dinner about the crooked dealings of the chairman of the board of deacons. Late one night I overheard them whispering about an affair between the Minister of Music and the church organist.
But the youth pastor, with idealistic zeal, continued to encourage the members of our church youth group to, “Live like the first century Christians.”
And all the while he taught us I attended a church whose only purpose seemed to be socializing, gossip and business.
For what I saw, in the only church I knew, contrasted sharply with the vision our youth pastor gave us. In my youthful zeal I saw my home church as being full of nothing but hypocrites; none of whom seemed to give one thought to living the teachings of Christ. To top it off the church deacons banned integrated Bible studies causing our youth pastor to quit at the end of my senior year in high school; just as I was leaving to attend Auburn University in 1976.
All of this helped set the stage for what was to come at the beginning of my junior year in college in 1978.
Only in retrospect I did understand Paul’s admonition that God used the weak and the foolish to show His glory. Now I understand youthful arrogance and my know it all, but understand nothing, attitude.
You can see, then, that I was no different from 90% of all American teenagers!
Auburn University 1978
Acceptance into engineering school came in 1976 and once again my habit of over achieving kicked in. I approached every activity not only to do my best but to do it better than others; whether it was in sports, socially or academically. I have thought often about what drives me to try to out do others and myself. Part of this is my wiring but also I think it was the only way to get my very busy father’s attention.
Regardless, I made the dean’s list my first two years in engineering school, I became part of the student government, joined a fraternity, and in September of my junior year, won the presidency of my large social [Greek] fraternity.
With my parents’ encouragement I became active in the Baptist Student Union and attended the local Baptist Church when possible. Still despite, or perhaps because of, my accomplishments I felt a calling to make a real difference in the world.
But at Auburn I saw kids who professed Christianity, attend Rat Riley’s Bible Study (a large Cru study) and then get drunk and stoned and/or have sex on Saturday and Friday nights. The idealism of my former youth pastor and the Christian revival I experienced in high school continued to affect my perception of these Christian groups.
And it also continued to affect the way I viewed my own life.
If I really was a Christian, like the idealistic first century church members I dreamed about, then why did I not lead people to Christ ? Why did I not stand in the market corner and preach like Peter and Paul did almost two thousand years ago? Why did I not seem to have the power of the Holy Spirit that fueled these early Christians?
It seemed obvious that my Baptist Church back home had little of the things I read about in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters. They had no on fire passion for preaching to non Christians nor any evidence of the spiritual unity, or life style, of those first century Christians that I longed to emulate. Neither, it seemed to me, did any of the Christian groups I hung around at Auburn University.
Could anyone possibly live the Spirit Filled life of the early first century Christians?