One Definition of Mockery: A Counterfeit Appearance

For those of you who have read my book (or share a connection to my past religious affiliation), you already know that immediately following the scrutiny brought on by four lawsuits, subsequent media coverage and community concern, there was an abrupt change in the legalism imposed by the pastor of CGT. The four women who went public about their sexual abuse shared openly in media interviews about the control they had lived under. Each of them referred to the group as a cult.

Quite suddenly thereafter, all the "standards" of dress and appearance that were intended to set members of "the body" apart from the "religious world" were abandoned. It was not a gradual transition. It was an abrupt and dramatic, one hundred and eighty degree change. To those of us who had spent our lives in this group and had only left in recent years, it was almost incredible. It appeared to be damage control within the surrouding community. CGT needed to look more "normal" and less cultish to convincingly refute the claims of control. But those of us who grew up there knew this would create division within CGT and the GAC movement.

Unless you have experienced this level of control over your life and choices, you can't fully appreciate the oppression. We were not free to choose our own wardrobe (especially the women) or hairstyles. There were rigid rules and restrictions. Long skirts and dresses were requirements for women (no pants allowed). We were expected to wear nylons (even in severe heat), rather than expose bare legs. Earrings were forbidden. Make up was considered worldly. Elbows and knees were to be covered. Women were to grow their hair long. Even nail polish on fingers or toes was a sign of worldliness and would result in disapproving looks, comments, and even public chastisement in the form of a rebuking "testimony."

These practices were considered holiness. And the rules were not suggestions. Strict compliance was expected. Rebellion against the rules resulted in contempt and punishment. Church participation (such as singing in the choir, playing in the band, teaching Sunday School) was limited to those who came under the authority of the ministry and complied with these strict standards.

During a passionate discussion, I remember once asking the current pastor's wife (who is about ten years my senior) if she thought I looked "worldly" (specifically for wearing make up and short sleeves). She said "Yes. Sometimes you do." I was around thirty at the time. I disagreed with her vehemently, but her harsh judgment still wounded me. I never did completely fit the mold, but I tried to be "acceptable." I did not wear heavy make up. And in all those years, I never dared to wear a sleeveless blouse. My "short sleeves" were somewhere between my elbow and shoulder in length. But that was considered rebellious and worldly by the pastor. And the pastor's daughter (who is now the wife of the current pastor, following her father's passing) many times attempted to control others of us through manipulation, intimidation and shame.

I remember how I felt the night Becky stood publicly in a service and declared that anyone who questioned whether the "body" standards of dress and appearance were all that important had the spirit of Eve (rebellion against God). Her public judgment extended to anyone questioning the standards. I felt the intent was to shame me (and others like me) into compliance - or to silence me (and others like me). Around this same time, the current pastor urged my son to ask his fiance' to wear dresses instead of pants. He said it could make a difference in my son having "a position" within the church. It was explained that her compliance was necessary because of the negative impact it could have on others if she was accepted in pants. My son refused to ask his fiance' to comply and said he wasn't interested in a position. (Rebecca had never even noticed that she was the only woman wearing pants. She was new to the group and not at all self-focused. One of the things she later confessed that she did not like about the group was how it caused her to become self-focused.)

I was reminded this weekend of testimonies Becky used to give about the Native Americans; their rituals and traditions, their ways of life. I remembered her words, "We are never more than one generation away from losing our heritage." This illustration was offered to emphasize the importance of us continuing in "the old paths." The standards imposed by her father (and the GAC group as a whole) were always very important to her. And if you held a different perspective, as I did, you felt shunned and rejected; not only by her, but by the pastor and the group as a whole.

When several former members gradually began to leave CGT, it was falsely claimed that we left because we didn't want to come under spiritual authority, we didn't want to obey the standards, we were angry and disgruntled, we wanted an "easier" way. To this day, we are patronized by comments suggesting we are simply "hurt" and "disgruntled" ex members who can't forgive and let go of the past. Current members just don't seem to recognize how condescending it is to hear, "I'm sorry for your hurt." I'm not suggesting that everyone who has said this is insincere. But that response reduces everything to "hurt feelings." And it totally dismisses the conviction to stand against wrong because we are called to resist evil. If you can reduce genuine conviction to nothing more than "hurt feelings" you can - apparently in good conscience - dismiss the person completely.

I could easily get carried away with more examples of how important the rules always were. But that isn't necessary. This is not intended as a laundry list of grievances. I am leading up to a point. And those of you who are familiar with the group already know where I'm going.

It has been announced that CGT and its pastor have been officially "disfellowshipped" from the GAC movement. The pastor of CGT will no longer be allowed to speak in any of their churches or sit on their platforms. I was told the announcement also made it clear that those who continue to associate with CGT are in danger of the same fate. And this excommunication is a direct result of the abandonment of the traditionally held GAC "standards" by CGT.

Some of these same men who feel compelled to take such a strong stand and separate over women wearing pants (calling it a rejection of holiness) have turned a blind eye to more serious issues, including sexual abuse of children, cover ups, and this same pastor lying under oath. In my opinion, the leaders of this group have made a mockery (a counterfeit appearance) of God and His holiness.

I have been trying to define (for myself) what I'm truly feeling in response to all of this. The ironies, of course, are inescapable. The laws of reaping and sowing, undeniable. It has been very clear through open comments (on blogs and Facebook) that people within CGT feel sorely wronged. They are now the recipients of condemnation, contempt, claims that they are simply refusing to come under spiritual authority, and want to take an easier way. The same reason Steve gave Danny for the necessity of Rebecca wearing dresses is being given by "the ministry" for stripping Steve and CGT of their "position" in "the body." It will negatively affect others if women wearing pants is accepted by the group.

I have prayed that God would help me not to feel any sense of satisfaction in CGT experiencing what they have inflicted on others. I want to resist that. As Tim Keller points out, it takes a sense of moral superiority to hold a grudge. I don't want to indulge in feelings of moral superiority. I am superior to no one. I need God's mercy in my life and I want to have a heart of mercy and compassion for others; even those who have misjudged and condemned me.

I confess to struggling against an element of validation in all of this. I have to fight the carnal part of me that sometimes wants to ask, "How does it feel to be treated this way?" But I want to crucify the desire to be validated. Judgment belongs to God. I want to be generous in extending mercy and forgiveness. And the simple truth is that I still love those people. I strongly oppose their beliefs and priorities. But I love them. I have prayed many times that their eyes would be opened to the deception that is their spiritual foundation.

My pastor made a statement last night that is so true. He said, "You know what short suffering is, don't you? Someone else's suffering. Our own suffering is always long."

After examining my heart (which I intend to continue doing), I'm pretty certain that I am no longer suffering the pain of old wounds. So many of my wounds are healed. I've found the true gospel. I've found true friends. I have a whole new life both spiritually and naturally. What happens in CGT and GAC are fairly inconsequential for me these days, except that it affects people I love. I long for their deliverance from deception and bondage. And maybe this rejection will lead to that. I want to say "Rejoice in this rejection!" But I know that does not make sense, since most will continue to hold to the false teachings of William Sowders.

I want you (in CGT) to know I am not gloating. Although I do hope there will one day be a full acknowledgment of the many wrongs that have been done to others (including the same wrongs that are being done to you now), I do not enjoy your suffering. I long for your complete deliverance. And I sincerely hope that does not come across as condescension ... because that is definitely not what I am feeling.

Comments

Wow! Miss Oblivious you have nailed the point! Thank you so much for this post-it is exactly what I have been mulling over for a week but could not find the words to express it.
This is so powerful I am going to link it on my blog-This is a message that needs to be shared.

If you you feel the Lord's leading please write more on the subject...
Love ya!
Shari said…
Thank you, Julie! I appreciate the feedback, as always!
Jannelle said…
Shari,
I am not sure if you know who I am, but I stumbled across your blog a few months ago and I just want to say, "Thank YOU!"

My heart is so full of things I want to say, but I am not willing to post them all on here, so that more pain can be brought to my family. I would love to chat with you some day.

I read your posts and just sob. There is so much that I can relate to and I am so grateful for your courage to speak your heart. My family left CGT a year ago and it has been a very tough struggle. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and heart. I have found such wonderful comfort!
Shari said…
Oh, Jannelle! Thank you so much for leaving this comment. You have no idea how much it means to me when I hear from someone like you! I would love to chat with you personally. Please feel free to email me ANY time at all. I will give you my number and we can talk on the phone if you would prefer that to writing. I'm not sure if I know who you are. I grew up in CGT but left for good in early 2003.

My email address is ShariLHowerton@aol.com. I would love to hear from you privately! And again, thank you so much for letting me know that my blog has given you comfort. You might want to read my book.
Jennifer said…
Shari,

I am reminded of a comment Chad said on his facebook page a while back, he said, how does it feel to be treated the same way you have treated others? He made that comment in regards to what Steve and others did to Rachel when she wore pants to the soccer game. I may not have quoted him exact but its pretty close. He was able to see the irony in what they have always done and now here they were complaining that it was now being done to them after they had done it to others. At least he was able to see it even as a member of that place. They are just on the receiving end of it this time and instead of being the ones to pass judgement they are being judged.

It feels like I am watching an after school special where the big bad bully has made others life a living hell and we are at the part where the bully finally gets to find out what its like to be so abused. Now in the show the big bad bully would see how they hurt so many and would do what they could to make it right with everyone by repenting and never doing it again. But in real life it just looks like they see themselves as the victim and never the bully. Who would have ever thought this would be a result of what happened. WOW!
Shari said…
Jennifer, as you know, I respect Chad for expressing that observation. I believe there are others who recognize the irony as well, but do not feel "safe" to say so openly. I believe some of those people surely must struggle with inner conflict.
Meg and Burnie said…
Our cult wasn't as controlling about what the adults wore, but the teens and young adults were definitely targeted.

Details aside, leaving an abusive cult is extremely difficult, and we wish you all the best in your healing. We are six years out, finally able to think again for ourselves, but not been able to enter the door of another church in that time.

The internet has been great to be able to share and know other feel exactly as we do.

God bless,
Meg