Bad From the Start?
This question poses a number of issues when trying to understand if MCM was off track from the beginning.
For what do we mean when we ask the question, “Did MCM (or any group) start out well and go bad, or were they bad from the beginning?” Are we asking about good intentions, or are we asking about something else?
Most abusive groups started out with worthy goals. For example The Family International (formerly Children of God), now considered one of the most abusive US sociological cults of the twentieth century, began, unsurprisingly, with a vision that “…all Christians should model their lives after the first century church, living a simple life, and devoting their life, time, and money to sharing the Gospel of Christ with as many people as possible.” What is to not like about that?
Another group, considered almost unanimously by experts to be the most difficult sociological cult to break free from, Scientology, started with the goal of “true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for the individual.”
In fact, almost every authoritarian group in the late 20th and early 21st century, with few exceptions, started with good and worthy objectives.
Therefore, such a question should really focus on whether a group was destined, by dent of its founding, organizing principles, and tactics, to become an abusive sociological cult.
For example, the body of work on the history of Scientology, including such books such as Barefoot Messiah and Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky, make it clear that L. Ron Hubbard’s real goal was to actually create a closed system that would isolate members from suppressive people (so-called SPs) who would prevent members from being enlightened. We can safely answer the question above with, “Yes Scientology, because of its founder’s paranoiac personality, and the groups organizing principles, was bad from the start, despite, or perhaps because of, (alleged) good intentions.”
With these criteria in mind let’s explore whether MCM was bad from the beginning, or started well and went bad over time. I believe such an analysis can be applied to any authoritarian group.
MCM: Founders, Organizing Principles and Tactics
I, and scores of others heard Bob’s sermons that focused on the story of the founding of MCM.
He and Rose, fresh from California’s Jesus People revivals of the late 1960s, landed in Paducah, Kentucky where Bob led a series of revival services in a traditional mainline church. His preaching, and teaching, resulted in scores of kids from the local high school committing to Christ. He and Rose left for a trip shortly afterwards. When they came back, after a month’s absence, they found most of their converts had back-slidden without, in Bob’s words, “A shepherd to guide them.” Bob then told of how he and Rose prayed earnestly for God to show them a new way.
Just about the same time Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, and other charismatic leaders, formed Christian Growth Ministries (CGM). CGM gave the shepherding movement both its theological, and practical, playbook. Bob and Rose gave full credit to Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Bob Mumford for the shepherding teachings used within MCM.
Later, Bob Mumford, speaking about the CGM’s Shepherding Movement in Christianity Today said, “People took something that began in the spirit and attempted to perfect it in the flesh. Ends began to justify means. The attitude became, ‘I’m going to help you walk straight, even if I have to coerce you.’ This is not the spirit of the Gospel.”
However, Mumford’s comments came much later in during the late 1980s. In the early days MCM’s use of these shepherding tactics seemed to address the issue of commitment that both Bob, and Rose, found lacking in their early converts.
In the early 1970s they immersed themselves in CGM’s teaching, while adding their own version of total commitment and baptism. With this teaching Bob and Rose re-energized their converts who had stumbled from the faith. Within a few months the Weiners not only had more converts than before their absence,but they found that new Christians were completely, and selflessly, dedicated to MCM and to Bob’s vision. These first converts went on to become the inner circle of leaders around Bob and Joe and assumed leadership roles through the ministry.
Bob and Rose had absorbed, and codified, CGM’s, teaching that, “Without a shepherd the flock will be scattered.” More than that they saw that these new shepherding tactics worked. Their flock was not falling away, on the contrary it was growing quickly.
“The old dead mainline congregational churches were the problem not the solution,” Bob later stated. The pastors of the mainline churches in Paducah, from which many of these new converts came, voiced concerns of the fanatical and total commitment these young people demonstrated. Parents also grew concerned as well at the hours their children spent on the cause of MCM and the affect on their grades.
Because of this mainline church opposition Bob and Rose took the then bold step of starting their own church. Bob would quote Christ often when telling this story saying, “Can we put new wine into old wine skins?” In fact, Charles Simpson, one of the founders of the shepherding movement, published a magazine during the 1970s and 80s called New Wine.
With this bold step MCM functioned as a church, not a para-church. The MCM church not only included elders, but also, like the early church, prophets and apostles. Another benefit was that Pastors and deacons independent of his control were interfering with Bob’s mission and vision. For Bob’s vision was to create a church equal to that of the first century, and to create Christian leaders who would go on to build God’s Kingdom prophesied in Revelation.
Personalities matter for group founders, whether we are talking about Bill Bright or Bob Weiner. Studies suggest that these founders are typically entrepreneurial-minded, extroverts by nature (although not always), and in many cases are rebels. Bob, a former vacuüm cleaner salesperson, said that for him a, “No solicitation sign on a door almost forced me to knock on that door”.
Bob, hyperactive by nature, had to have something to do, a mission, if you will, to occupy his time. He was always proud to say that, “I am always on the go,” and the story I heard him tell often about the non-solicitation sign pointed to someone for whom man-made rules mattered little. That is why when the Methodist church in Paducah (and I believe Rose’s father was the pastor) refused to support Bob’s radical view of Christianity, he started his own church.
Bob also used to regale members how, as a sales person, he simply would not take no for an answer. He told funny stories about how people would literally throw him out of their house as a he pitched his Electrolux cleaners to them. But, according to Bob, more often than not they would hand him a fist full of cash for his product, even after telling him no, no, no repeatedly. And this was his message in relating that story. He never took no for an answer, and neither should the members of MCM.
When young people left the ministry, to Bob, they were like the people in his sales stories that said no. I met behavior this when I tried to leave MCM. Bob was as happy and chirpy that day as an Electrolux door to door sales man trying to close a deal. For it was the sale that mattered most (selling MCM vision and the member’s role in it) to Bob not the people! The people were a but a means to an end for Bob, that end being God’s Kingdom being built here on earth.
Combine Bob’s self-centered and goal oriented (not people oriented) hyper active personality with:
- Rose’s mystical and nonlinear approach to scripture interpretation, where a verse could take on any desired meaning to support Bob’s objective; and combine it with
- an improved hyper-version of Derek Prince’s shepherding process;
- add in the God-like certain prophetic utterances of Joe Smith,
and you have the essence of MCM.
Then take impressionable young Christians, with their zeal to make a difference, and throw them into MCM. Anoint them as elders at ages ranging between twenty to twenty-seven years, give them power, the carrot of being a top elder within MCM, the stick of being dis-fellowshipped if they did not produce or toe the line, and it is not surprising that one finds a classic sociological cult created.
Bob’s plan to evangelize the entire world by the year 2000 included recruiting and training the leaders required to make this a reality.
And incredibly Bob was able to recruit many top student and athletic leaders into MCM at almost every campus that he went to. MCM also brought the non-sharps into the fold but relegated them to servant like status. Humans, with weakness and frailties, did not fit into Bob Weiner or Joe Smith’s plan. Weak people were obstacles and stumbling blocks that slowed MCM’s march to build God’s kingdom in one generation. This was Miltie’s argument to stop accepting non-sharps, for which he faced demon exorcism, during a leadership meeting at Auburn in 1980.
In the end, instead of having a first century church and dedicated world-class leaders to build God’s Kingdom, MCM exploded in the end leaving scarred and damaged people behind. And like a toxic dandelion in the wind, the explosion of MCM scattered elders, many who never repudiated the tactics and means of MCM, who then moved on on to found or kick-start new imitations of MCM around the US.
Of course Bob and Rose, before starting MCM, would have done well to read 1st and 2nd Corinthians where Paul addresses the very human failings and sins in a church he not only founded but clearly loved. The sins and failings in the Church at Corinth including incest, intoxication, and extortion among other sins. For all humans are frail and weak and they are who make up Christ’s body. But this did not fit the Weiner’s preconceptions of how God’s Kingdom and His churches actually work. Rather Bob used the law, and MCM is owed the chastisement that Paul gave the church of Galatia, a New Testament example of how the law kills.
These very human frailties that MCM hated are what prompted Paul to write that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Since leaving MCM I have held positions of deacon and elder in both the Baptist and Congregational Churches. I can tell you these churches were full of flawed and sinful people (with me being among the chief of sinners!). Being a deacon at a Baptist Church is like being the hog killer at meat a factory. Messy, disturbing, but necessary. However, Christ is able to use the messiness of his flawed church to His Glory.
As my friend Sheila said told me almost 40 years ago, “Tik you want a perfect Church you are going to have to wait a long time.”
She was right.
Bad from the Start?
In 1978 I found what seemed a perfect church, but, in reality it was a terrible imitation of the true Bride of Christ. MCM governed using the leadership’s insatiable egos and willpower; who equated their desires with those of God.
MCM was nothing more, or less, than anti-Christ.
Built on foundations of human will, human desires and the plans of sinful man, rather than the Grace of God, MCM was destined to be bad from the beginning. The same was true for Kip McKean’s ICOC, CJ Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, The Family International, The Way International, and other abusive sociological groups.
 Bromley, David G.; Newton, Sidney H. (2001). “The Family (Children of God)”. In Lewis, James R. Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy. Prometheus Books. pp. 160–164
2 Hassan, Steve “My Appearance on Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” https://freedomofmind.com/my-appearance-on-leah-remini-scientology-and-the-aftermath-and-other-updates/ accessed September 9, 2017