Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Did He Die For?

Please Note: After a number of angry threats (on my eternal soul) for committing the unforgivable sin of mentioning the name of someone who had died, I have replaced references to this person with initials in my blog post. Unfortunately, I cannot edit the comments of others.

Too many young people die – not just the children under eighteen who make the news – also young adults. Twenty- and thirty- somethings. Having a baby can be terrifying, knowing that if something goes wrong – say the baby’s head is too big for a vaginal birth – well, hello martyrdom. There was a man, a year older than me, who was well-liked by all. He married his high school sweetheart when they were nineteen and seventeen, and had two children. When he was in his 20’s, he was injured while water skiing. I believe he hit his head. After several months of suffering, he died. The letter below is from one of his good friends, who (like most members of this group) could not sign his name for fear of retribution.

* * *

Circa 1998

Why did Walter White (from what I hear and read in Tom Nichols’ letter) believe you need a preacher and baptism? Also you who believe the Bible and what Walter preached get your mouths open or else the gunk will take over just like what you people who are baptized are doing now. The gunk and what the elders taught you people who turned themselves over to what you see now and hear, like T.C., said you don’t need a preacher. He (T.C.) believed that faith would heal him, raise him up. It did not work. So the men in this church are wrong. He truly did to believe the men’s teaching in this church faith in God, that he would heal him. But it did not. He died.

He was sick over six months. Prayer to God to heal him and everyone anointed and laid hands on him from all ages from six years old to sixty years old. Baptized ones and ones that were not baptized. Now what do his friends and the young people do? Live some more years under this gunk and joke teaching of the elders and men in this church or get back to the truth of the teaching of Walter White and the bible? Or continue this way because when T.C. died there was no happiness of seeing him again, but a sorrow of why did he have to die and suffer and not have his faith heal or raise him up? Because he has two children and a wife.

There has to be a better way of living. This ten songs and bull shit religion that these old men have backed and taught for thirty years. We do need a preacher and baptism and why should we have to wait on God for thirty more years, because for thirty-five years he has not answered any one of these men in the church for waiting on God.

They say do not counsel God. Don’t piss God off. He might get mad. How all you big men tell us young people more of what to do. We will try and believe our faith in God and get sick and let everyone lay hands from ages one year to eighty years old and get what T.C. got by practicing and playing church. With his faith in God and the truth and he died. But now I can see after more will die while they are playing church not baptized or need a preacher. All the old men and women will still argue they are all right.

Not Jesus Christ or what Walter taught. So do we continue in sin so God may abound. Do the old men and women (forefathers) have the right to teach us and tell us young people we do not need baptism or a preacher? Who in the world or anywhere reads this in the Bible? Can anyone in this church down through time say the old preachers and even Jesus Christ say what we are doing is all right and a lie is okay? We are believing a lie. This church is wrong the way it is playing church.

Friend of T.C.

Please check back on Sunday to read another letter ...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Maggie's Story - Part Two

Last week, my sister-in-law, Maggie Smith Shumaker, wrote about her experience with my marriage to a “worldly person.” This week, Maggie writes about the birth of her first child, just four months after my jailbreak.

* * * 

November 27th came, and I woke up needing my mom. We drove over to my mom and dad's house, expecting my labor to pick up and birth this baby that was making me feel like a bus had parked itself in my lap. The day dragged on and on, the house filled with my grandmothers, aunts, sisters, his brother's wife, and the labor completely stopped. No pain, no cramps, so instead of going home, we just went to bed that night, in my mom and dad's room. Settling down around 10:35pm, Oh boy! "MOM" I yelled, he went and got her. I needed to deliver this baby! Oh the pain! Oh make it stop!

His mom had just pulled into her driveway, got into bed, and the phone rang...she was being summoned to the birth of her grandbaby. I hoped she wouldn't call Suzanne, I didn't want her around. She just caused problems for me and my own sisters. The midwives were called back, and I got to push for eleven and a half hours. Finally, at 11:35 am, this large, "boy" appeared in my husband's arms.

His head was pointy. I'd never witnessed a birth. I had no idea what was next, what was expected of me, other than the books that I checked out from the library the day I had the positive test in my hand. What To Expect When You’re Expecting did not prepare me for eleven and a half hours of pushing, and nor did it say my eyelashes and fingernails would hurt. But, our family had been born. All 9 lbs. 15 oz, & 22 1/2 inches of him. There is still debate on my husband's part that the scale actually said 10 lbs. It could have said 15 lbs for all I didn't matter.

For days I fretted as the conversations and whispers from his mom and him talked about Suzanne coming to see the baby. On a Friday night, while the rest of the church was at a wedding, or maybe it was a Thursday night, during church service, we snuck Suzanne in to hold her nephew. I had to convince my parents that the house wouldn't burn down to hell, or that none of them would suffer from her visit...(not literally, but almost) so, they allowed it. The fact that I had to even talk to them about it, sickened me. From then on, my thoughts toward Suzanne were different. I had utter sympathy for her that she would never walk the aisle I did; she'd never be accepted as she was...if she were ever accepted.

We weren't around her much, but there were times we were. Guess what? Our children loved her. She was the best birthday present giver.  She got our kids giant teddy bears. Not being a mother herself, she just thought of the child, not the parent. She thought of the child's face when they opened her gift. She had everything a nephew or niece cold want in an aunt. Too bad we had to be so sneaky about her being their aunt.

I mentioned children. Prior to the birth of our second son, our relationship with Suzanne had developed more frequently, as she'd came back to sit on the hard benches and sing. She wasn't "worldly" anymore. However, there was no way my oldest sister would be at the birth of my second child. She said her husband told her she couldn't go if Suzanne were there. Although her and her husband associated with couples in "church" that were living unbiblical principles. Suzanne was not. She was married. That was apparently her sin.

So, he got on the phone, and called my sister's husband. He denied telling my sister that she couldn't go to the birth is Suzanne was going to be there. Nonetheless, Suzanne was not allowed at my parent's home during the birth of our second child. His brother's wife, however, was late to the birth, as she had been picking up her kids from her sister's house (who was also "worldly" by marrying outside of the church). It was said that she was afraid that someone would ask about her kids and she didn't want to lie about where they were, as they'd been spending the night at her "worldly" sister's house. Oh the double standards going on, oh the charades we play, just to keep the peace.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

M.E. Anders: The "C" Word

Today's blog was written by M.E. Anders, a former member of another controversial group. As with all of my guest bloggers, the opinions and statements of the guest do not necessarily reflect my own beliefs or opinions. Please read with an open mind and feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment.

* * *

M.E. Anders’ life reads like a tale of escape from a modern-day Jonestown. Born the preacher’s kid of a burgeoning fundamentalist society, M.E. battled critical thinking as the unforgivable sin. Mining those experiences for storytelling, M.E. Anders pens psychological tales exploring the difficult questions of the human condition.These sagas excite the mind and stop the heart. Weaving webs of twisting plots are her specialty, horror tempered by mind-bending drama. Her passion is to shed light where all is darkness. To bring hope to those living in shadows. Fiction and fact blur seamlessly into her gripping thriller novels.

What Makes a Cult a Cult

What images come to mind when you hear the word, “cult”? For me, it’s a sickening series of images from the Jonestown massacre. Though cults come in various types, I will be discussing what characterizes a religious cult in this article.

My cult enthusiast friend, Peter Saint-Clair, defines universal cults as such:

CULT - Any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at the top. The group will claim to be the only way to God; Nirvana; Paradise; Ultimate Reality; Full Potential, Way to Happiness etc, and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members.

This definition covers cults within all major world religions, along with those cults which have no OBVIOUS religious base such as commercial, educational and psychological cults. Others may define these a little differently, but this is the simplest to work from.”

Steve Hassan, the cult expert author, says that destructive mind control can be understood in terms of four basic components, which form the acronym BITE:

I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control

Let’s examine each of these components to discover what makes a cult a cult.

  1. Behavior Control

Cults are not necessarily isolated compounds in the middle of nowhere where members are not permitted to leave the property. Modern cults are clever in their attempts to control their members. Manipulating members’ behavior is their clever tactic. Each one of these aspects could be present within a cult.

  • Cult members may experience strict dress codes, restricted food choices, limited sleep hours, and financial dependence upon the leadership.
  • Major time commitments for indoctrination sessions take precedence over free time.
  • All major decisions should be run by the leadership staff.
  • Group think is the standard of excellence. Individual thought that differs from the group is punished.
  • Trust and obey is a common theme in behavior control.

An example of behavior control from my religious cult, the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, would be that strict dress codes were imposed upon both male and female members, but especially females. We were forced to undergo surprise “dress checks” where one of the female leaders would examine us individually from head to toe. If our outfit did not meet their lengthy list of modesty requirements, then they issued us a demerit slip. This forbad us from attending classes until we changed our outfit and had our appearance re-approved.

2. Information Control

Cults are masters at manipulating the information their members receive about the outside world. The leaders consider themselves to be filters for the “worldly” infiltration of evil intent upon destroying their members’ lives. This control is exhibited in the following ways.

  • Information may be forcefully protected and held back from common knowledge.
  • Any access to outsiders’ information is preached against and often punished severely.
  • Leaders control who gets to know what about the inner workings of the group.
  • Members are usually sent out in pairs or groups when leaving the campus to prevent contamination from the world.
  • All types of video, audio, and printed media are prohibited by the leadership unless they are affiliated with the cult.

An example of information control from my past attendance at my cultic alma mater was that women who lived on the college campus were not allowed to leave the campus unless they had a group of three or four females, in addition to an “approved girl.” This approved girl was an upperclassmen, who had proved herself to the leadership as loyal to the college. This “buddy system” ensured that the innocent college girls were not exposed to outside influences.

  1. Thought Control

Cults use thought control to internalize their doctrine as the one truth. Black and white thinking is common. It’s either their way to heaven or the high way to hell. An antagonist attitude prevails amongst the members: the us versus them mentality.

  • They also use a “loaded language.” These are words that only cult insiders know. The lingo distinguishes the inner circle members from newcomers and outsiders. A cult member cannot rise through the ranks until he or she becomes fluent in their language.
  • Negative thoughts about the group, the leaders, or the doctrine are not tolerated. These thoughts are either of the devil or the members’ sinful nature. Therefore, they are to be suppressed through cult techniques: chanting, meditating, prayer, evangelization, praising God, speaking in tongues, singing, listening to sermons, or calling an accountability friend.
  • No differing belief systems are allowed to be positively discussed within the group. Only the leaders can explore belief systems and interpret how members should act accordingly.

An example of thought control from my cult-church was the invitation time after every sermon. Members were expected to respond to the sermon by “going forward” or “walking the aisle” to “get right with God.” If not enough members came forward, then the pastor would verbally express his displeasure. He might be angry or upset that members had not listened to the voice of God. He used the altar calls as a cathartic reassurance of his “man of God” status.

  1. Emotional Control
Cults manipulate their members feelings about topics and identity. Members are never perfect enough, no matter how much they change to fit the cult’s “ideal member.” If there ever is a problem in a member’s life, it is never the fault of the group ideology or the leadership. It’s the individual’s fault every time.

  • Members who feel negative emotions are berated and told that the devil is after them. Only happy and positive emotions are cultivated. Each cult has different traits they prize above all. If an individual differs from these emotional identities, they are belittled.
  • Guilt is used excessively to pressure members to meet the cult’s agenda. Many experience resulting psychological damage and depression because of the relentless guilt trips. Every sermon is purposefully packed with guilt-inducing language.
  • Fear is the most commonly used weapon against breaking the will of the members. Thinking critically is a sin. The outside world is evil and unhappy. Enemies are constantly trying to penetrate the members’ homes. Ex-members are treated with outright hostility and shunned until they repent.
  • In the cult’s ideology, there is never a legitimate reason to leave the group. Once a member has been inducted into the inner circle, they are expected to meet cult expectations for the rest of their lives and raise their children to do the same.

An example of emotional manipulation from my former cult-pastor was that he preached about his being chosen by God himself as our leader. If we ever defamed him in any way, even if he sinned, God would strike us down. God might even kill us and our children because we “stretched out our hand against the man of God.” He told us horror stories of people who God supposedly maimed and murdered because they did not accept our pastor as God’s authority.

Final Thoughts

Steve Hassan, the cult expert author, explains the vital aspect of cult mind control.

It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind controlled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.”

Cults are prevalent in our society, often cloaked beneath the guise of mainstream religion. To determine whether or not a group is a cult, use the BITE Model above. After leaving my cult, I actually recorded an audio taping of the BITE method for my personal use. I went through every point and gave an example of how my prior church met the cult criteria. This solidified my suspicion that my former church assuredly was (and still is) a cult.

What say you? Have you ever experienced traits of a cult in a religious group or secular organization? How did you leave that unhealthy environment? I’d love to hear your stories. Just leave a comment below.

For further resources about cults, I recommend Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer and Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What My Family Thinks

Maggie and Suzi
September 1993

Some readers have wondered what my family thinks of me. In today’s blog, my sister-in-law, Maggie Smith Shumaker, writes about her courtship with my brother, and how his annoying little sister (me) affected her. Maggie and I grew up together in the FOC, but rarely associated with each other. We were fire and gasoline from the start.

* * *

It kind of started before we were married. We had conversations about men in church doing things that were not legal. With some research, he found documents that gave titles to men that weren't all together true. I was freaking out that he didn't want to get married in the church by any of these men. After much consideration of feelings, he agreed that we didn't have to have a courthouse wedding. There were supporters of going to the courthouse, and I argued against the whole thing. I am very proud of him, for putting up with me.

We followed the church rules: we got engaged, went to the bookkeeper's home and set our date. Wow...six months down the road. That was forever in our days! We were supposed to have a short, maybe three mont engagement, but since everyone wanted to be married that year, (17 year old girls mainly), and we were "older" at the ripe age of 19 and 21 respectively. We just wanted to get married!

The men and boys of the church had a meeting about whether or not there could be double weddings, so some of us could be married sooner. Several of us couples were agreeing that it would be kind of fun to get married on the same night. My parents had a double wedding, and I was fascinated by looking at their wedding pictures. However, the rule was every two weeks. No one would budge. Partly because the older men thought it would put too much of a financial strain on the families that attended, having to give two gifts every two weeks. I thought that was a stupid reason to base their decision on. So, six months it was. We'd wait until September 10, 1993 to walk down the aisle and be husband and wife. It seemed like an eternity in March.

"Rumors fly when you're in the spotlight." Those were the thoughts of my dad as he and my mom questioned us one evening in my living room about not acting appropriately. Someone had seen us doing something in a parking lot, or somewhere. All they said, was it was outside of the truck...first off, if we wanted to be "inappropriate", why would we act that way outside of the truck? Really? There were some gossipy women saying things to relatives and then they would in turn go to my mom. Weird, but that's how this place ran...on he-said-she-said. Horrible to be called a Follower of Christ and this is the behavior that was going on. We put that rumor to rest, as neither of us could think of anything we had done that matched that description. I did teach him to waltz one evening outside of his truck, in a dark parking lot, down by the river.  I'm such a tramp! It was at my mom's request that I make sure he would waltz at our wedding. Therefore, I was doing what she asked! 

The days got closer, and it was finally time for his bachelor "dinner". The only food to my knowledge was donuts and vegetables. This tradition was typically all the males over 14 in the church, gathering in the "old church" back then, to watch a movie, or slideshow. The men would put money into a big dish or box for the guy getting married.                         

He walked away with a small chunk of bills that wasn't nearly the amount most guys had been getting those days. Guys would tell or talk about how much they got...or maybe it was their moms on the phone that Wednesday morning. Who knows how it got out how much each guy got in his box. Well, it was going to be enough to do something with anyway, and I was thankful he got any at all.

He and his best man came up with a slideshow of older pictures from when the church began, old baptisms, and played those for everyone at the bachelor dinner. I wondered if that's why his pot wasn't as much? No one liked people "causing waves" as my mom called it. He was a ripple maker, and I think that freaked her out. There was even one conversation where my mom asked me if he was a wave maker. I just laughed at her and thought, if she only knew! Of course he was! But, I smiled, and said, "What do you mean?" knowing exactly what she didn't want him to be.

None the less, we walked down the aisle, dad tripping on my dress the whole way...but finally, he took my arm and we walked up the four or five steps to the pulpit to face my cousin. He was the "man" marrying us. Traditionally, after kissing the bride, there was a song. They mixed up our songs. We were supposed to have "Let it be Me" first, THEN "Battle Hymn of Love" but "Battle Hymn of Love" was shorter, so they played that second, as the wedding party waited on the pulpit watching the crowd below. I was ticked off because I planned it that way according to the lyrics of the songs. It was MY wedding! Whatever, I was married, I didn't care about the rest of the, dancing, cake, present stroll, and the going away!

So, after the song ended, the guy and his bride walk up to the podium and microphone, and "traditionally" thank the man for marrying them, thank everyone that helped, and whatever else needed to be said to make people feel good.  However, as you probably gathered, I didn't marry a "traditional" church boy. I married HIM...the guy I couldn't stand to date...the one I tried to hide from at parties so he wouldn't dance with me...until my prayers had been answered, and I knew God had shown me the father of my children in HIM.

He started by thanking everyone that had helped with the wedding that day. He knew what went into this gala of an event...he showed up for some reason at the church that afternoon, and I was told not to go out front because he was there. You know, traditionally, the groom isn't supposed to see the bride before her walk down the he saw all the ladies in church that had been working on flowers, pressing dresses, hanging ribbon and what not. That impressed my groom. It's probably why as my mom drove me into the church parking lot that morning, I started bawling uncontrollably...she didn't understand why I was sobbing. They were all there for ME...and HIM...Why? Why would all of these "volunteers" come out and work the whole day, or four hours maybe, on getting MY special day ready?? Well, bless their hearts for it. My wedding was fabulous (ly over the top) in his mind.
The Wedding 1993 (with Maggie's parents)

So...he expressed he was thankful for everyone's help on the wedding that day, the gifts, for people singing, everyone who came out, but he neglected (on purpose I'm sure) to not mention the mere man that married us. Why should he get glory? He wasn't even supposed to be up there was he? Well, that didn't make very many people very happy. What a rebel! And so, more rumors flew. That was the story of our marriage for the next several months, if not years.

Seven months into our happily ever after, a blessing came upon me. You guessed it, we were starting our family. We'd tried to conceive, hoping for the first try, but it took a couple of months to actually get the positive reading. What were we to do? Our apartment would not hold the both of us AND a baby and all the baby comes, we broke the lease on the one bedroom we were renting, and moved in with his mom and dad...and little sister, who was only nine months older than me. Oh joy.

Suzi and I could barely get along, now I was going to be in her house.  Well, we'd have to save somehow, and this seemed like the most logical way. Shortly after two months, we'd had enough for a down payment on a single wide mobile home in a park on the outskirts of Maple Lane Road.

Then, I got to start calling everyone to "tell" that we were expecting. I'd witnessed my friends become mothers, now it was my turn. I was so excited! It was all planned, we'd go to my moms, as tradition would have it, and birth the baby there...given I survived, we'd have a sweet little family just before Christmas time.
Oh the hormones, Oh the turmoil that came with being big and pregnant, and the hurt feelings it caused on mine, and other's parts in preparing the "in-laws" for this addition to our family.   When you hear things like, "She said this, and such and such" while you're pregnant it doesn't always sit right with the lady carrying the baby, or maybe it was just me.   So, with a sickened stomach, I made the dreaded call to his brother's wife letting her know that her kids were not the only ones that were going to have them as grandparents. My child, and hopefully children someday, were going to have just as much right to them as her kids did, and there wasn't anything she could do about it. It was the first time I felt like I stood up to her, and it felt good.

During heat of summertime, in our tin can of a home, I sat whining to my husband about how hot it was and how much of a heater I was carrying around in my abdomen. He said to go to Sears and buy an air conditioner and he'd install it after he got off work. I love him.  The emotions built and built as the pregnancy went on. I remember sobbing to my husband recollecting the incident that happened at my nephew's school. I had been standing next to my mother, who looked just as pregnant and I did at 7 months. Whatever the reason for it, she had a huge swollen belly most of my married life. For all I knew, it was some kind of a tumor. But, to elementary kids at the school, we were both having a baby!  "No," my mother corrected, "I'm just fat." That was her comment to everyone that asked, "No, I'm not pregnant." she say, as she climbed on the back of my dad's Harley Davidson. It was embarrassing, but also sickening that I had to watch the persecution she faced for not going to doctors our whole life.

But wait...let's throw a "worldly" wedding into the mix! Why not? There wasn't enough controversy already surrounding this, being 5 mo. pregnant, cried as I was told my sister in law that was 9 months older than me ran off and married a "worldly guy" she met at work. How could she do this to our family? My baby will never see her. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. No! We loved her. We wanted the best for her. She was a pest. She had a brain, that's what threatened people. This man found her, she found him. Where is the sin? Why was she blackballed? Why couldn't my baby see her, know her, or her husband? Oh, because he wasn't born in the church like us righteous ones. That was the difference. I don't believe this man lived much differently than some of the attendees of the FOC.  That's beside the point that Suzanne would not be allowed at my baby's birth...she was married, which was a requirement mostly, so she COULD attend, BUT she was now worldly. This was a big contentious problem with my mom and sisters. And it kept being a problem for years down the road.
Maggie Shumaker 2012

 Please come back next Sunday to read part two of Maggie’s story.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Darren Russell: What's In A Name?

This is a continuation of last Sunday’s blog, by Darren Russell. The Followers of Christ, in Oregon City, claim that the Church of the First Born is not the same church and theology. That is not what the history of the church tells, as Darren so aptly explained in his last post.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

 It's an oft repeated phrase from one Shakespeare's tragedies, the words of Juliet to the thought of Romeo who may have to give up his family name to be with her. Stripped of his name and family fortune, he still would have been the man she loved.

So what does the Bible say about names?

When God created Adam, he left it to him to name all the animals of the garden. God knew each and every one but had no need to name them to distinguish them. There were times when he gave people names, and they were always significant. He named Abram Abraham, Jacob Israel and gave the words of the prophecy to Isaiah that the messiah would be called Immanuel. In fact he gave his Son a better name than any of the angels. (Heb. 1:4) Before his birth he sent an angel to name him Jesus, a name meaning savior, a name he lived up to.

He has also promised a name to his people and to Jerusalem:

Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken.
Isaiah 62:11-12

Jesus established his Church while here, and simply called them “my disciples” (John 13:35). Luke said in Acts that the disciples were first called “Christians” at Antioch. Apostle John in his vision referred to the church as “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 3:12; 21:2,10) and this is confirmed by Paul (Heb. 12:22) and is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Paul goes on to describe the “city of the living God” as a “general assembly and church of the first born...” (Heb. 12:23). Of course the first born is none other than Christ (Col. 1:15), and so it is just a flowery way for Paul to say the “Church of Christ” (Rom. 16:16).

The most common way for Paul to address believers was as “The Church of God” which he uses a dozen times with slight variations. He also referred to this same group as “the churches of the saints” (I Cor. 14:33) but for the most part he simply said “the church”, and all the believers who read his letters or heard his voice new which church he was referring to, there is only one, that of “The Redeemed of the Lord”.

So many names to choose from, so many good names, and people like to hold on to one, as if it had a magical charm to it that will save you in itself. God gave his Son a multiplicity of names (Isaiah 9:6) to describe him more fully, and we should not be surprised that the church, his “New Jerusalem”, the “Bride of Christ” is known by as many different names. As followers of Christ we just need to keep in mind the reputation he earned with God, the name he inherited, and “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” ( II Tim. 2:19)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Darren Russell: Monikers of our Faith

Darren Russell, is from Tulare, California and is related to Marion Reese, Charles Calvin Smith, and the Morris family. On January 25, 2012, Russell contributed his first guest blog on Early Church History. Today Russell addresses the question of church names. Please come back on Wednesday, February 8 for a continuation of this topic.

* * *

A good name is better than precious ointment.
Ecclesiastes 7:1

When our faith hit these shores the predominant denomination was Congregationalist, but Rhode Island was home to the Baptists, and Pennsylvania to the Quakers. For lack of a better term they called us “Quaker Baptists” of which we were neither. Among ourselves we used the term “The Brethren.”

In the early 1700s there was a group that moved to New Jersey and created their own farming community. No name has ever been learned in which they called themselves, they disdained all creeds except the Bible, they abhorred denominationalism and so never hung a sign on their meeting house, and they hammered upon paid clergy, lawyers and doctors. They also were very upright citizens but opposed to war, especially those with political objectives. As a people they suffered greatly through the Revolution, losing much of their estates, because many suspected them of being treasonous closet Loyalists. 

This set off a migration and many fled to British Canada, Long Island, Western New York and to an area called Redstone which was on the border of Kentucky near Fayette, PA. Some returned to Connecticut from where they had originally moved.

The American Revolution had served a godly purpose of scattering the Faith all over the land reminiscent of God's dealing with the Apostles who refused to leave Jerusalem. They still considered themselves solely “Christian” and refused to organize as a religion.

By the early 1800s we find these different groups referring to themselves as “True Followers of Christ” and “Free Brethren.” It was never conceived of as a name as much as they were describing themselves in ways that communicated to the different sects they wanted no part of them. Bro. Elias Brewer was one such New Englander living in Western New York until 1826 and then moving on to Michigan. In Superior, Michigan he held meetings in his home for the “Free Brethren” and a few years later two members of his congregation, his son, John, and Judge Parkhurst erected a “Free Church” next door to him. He died there in 1870 and is buried in the Free Church Cemetery, which belonged to the church.

New York was also where Brewer baptized Jacob McDonald, where an infernal prophet created and organized a near replica of the Church, and the Brethren first received the name “The Kissers.”

The rising of the Mormons in the same place initiated confusion for the church, they were very similar in doctrine at that time and the followers of Joseph Smith referred to themselves also as “The True Followers of Christ” and “The Church of the First Born”. Smith later had a revelation that changed their name to something similar to what they are known by now, and added temple and priesthood doctrines which stretched the doctrinal differences. Many of the Faith were among the first converts of Mormonism which created much friction in future generations.

McDonald moved to Wisconsin in 1842. There were Brethren in Missouri as well, and one of them in 1850, Johnson Wright deeded his land to “Christ....and to the General Assembly and Church of the First Born”. After the Civil War the Wisconsin group led by McDonald joined those in Missouri. McDonald would move one last time to Smith County, Kansas where he died in 1891.

In the 1870s calling themselves “The True Followers of Christ,” McDonald, Marion Reece, John Annis and others preached the gospel. They were in the newspapers of the day slandered to be Mormons, but usually called “McDonaldites” from their leader, or “Faith Preachers” from their doctrine. These brethren were among the first that took up stakes in Oklahoma Territory in 1889.

In 1906, before Oklahoma was granted statehood, a letter was written from Stillwater, OK to Governor Frantz on whether or not “The Followers of Christ or Church of the First Born” were a State-recognized body and capable of performing their own marriages legally. Stillwater is where Bro. Lawrence Webb was from, and where he returned after Oregon.

In Indiana about the same time, the Church there became known as the “Viners”. This was because of the preaching to the people that they should repent and be baptized into “The True Vine.”

When WWI came about many of the people of the Faith refused to enter the war effort for conscientious reasons. A few were imprisoned and many investigated for draft evasion. The Church was even investigated for harboring German spies! The Draft Board was having issue with the Followers because they lacked an organization, formal creed, permanent building, or even so much as a uniform designation. This led to the Church being denied conscientious objector status for its members.

Two congregations in particular seeking to alleviate the situation filed petitions with the authorities to be recognized as legitimate assemblies for religious exemptions. “The General Assembly and Church of the First Born” of Indianapolis, Indiana and “The Church of the First Born also known as The Followers of Christ” in Homestead, Oklahoma. The story passed down was that both groups sought the designation “True Followers of Christ” but it was rejected by the authorities as either already taken or too vague for the purpose of identification.

When WWII hit most groups opted to fall under the umbrella of Indiana's group, homestead no longer being an active body, for purposes of the impending draft. Most at that time used the expression “Followers of Christ” to denote who they were as a group.

Since then many congregations, seeking tax exempt status, have been incorporating under different variations of these names. Personally it seems a mistake to me, if not sacrilege, to register a church's identity for tax advantage, or to incorporate and treat the “Church of the living God” as if it is merchandise. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jerry Patton: Everything Is Gray

Jerry Patton is the grandson of Oliver Smith (a preacher from the Oklahoma Followers of Christ). He and his wife of 27 years, Paula Renee, live in Arkansas. He is a software engineer by day and an Elder/Shepherd for his church. Patton has written two previous guest blogs: Oregon City Baptism and Who Can Baptize? Here, Patton recounts an unforgettable event from his time in the Oregon City FOC Church.

I am nine years old.  It is a typical gray day in Oregon City – a Saturday I think.  As your typical nine-year-old boy, I’m a bit oblivious to grown-up things.  I’m thinking about what I’m going to do after we get done with the church thing.

I’m holding my mother’s hand as we walk into the church building with my Aunt Syb and Uncle George.  We pass through the wood paneled foyer and into the auditorium.  Everything seems so gray – the carpet, the walls, the clothes, the faces – some with tears, some with red eyes, some with nothing.  We’re walking down the center aisle towards something.  There are some folks ahead of us.  They stop.  So do we.  They move on, out of the way and then there it is – a light pearl beige periwinkle casket.

Walter White.

I am absolutely horrified.  Terror.   I cannot breathe.  My blood runs cold.  Mother moves a little closer, but I’m frozen – I’m close enough.  I’ve never seen death – real death.  After what seemed too long, we go sit down.  We are sitting about 15 rows back and to the right of the casket near the far end of the pew.  Everything is gray.  The florescent lights make his eye- glasses glow.  I sit there and gather myself – glancing over at the two lenses glowing in the lights and then my eyes move smartly back.   After ten minutes or so my Uncle asks me if I need to go make another visit to the body.  Are you kidding?  I’m good.  I’ll make it right here.  I really don’t even care to be in the same room with that thing over there.

We go to the cemetery; Carus cemetery.  It is gray and gloomy and raining one of those typical not-about-to-stop-raining-buckets showers.  The pall-bearers unload the casket and take it to the grave and sit it before the family.  Someone says some words.  People are crying.  They sing a song.  I look over at my Uncle Dale and Uncle Ivan – they are struggling not to cry – and barely succeeding.  A man steps forward and stabs the metal grave marker into the ground.  I glance at the faces and listen to their grief.  I look at the casket and back to my uncles as they sing.  When it’s over, folks visit with one another and then leave.  We went and ate somewhere, but I don’t remember where it was.  I was still processing what I had just seen.

For the next – the rest of my life – I think about that day here and there and never forget:  something natural, something ghastly and how gray everything was.