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By Matthew Dickerson

“What is gained through fear lasts only while fear lasts”

When I came to A&M in 1984, I did not come to join a cult, but to get an education and to make some new friends. Within a few weeks I met some friendly people from a campus group called “Great Commission International” (GCI). I had no idea really what these new friends represented.

After a period of indoctrination, I spent the next five years recruiting for GCI. I was told where and with whom to live, what to read, and how to spend my time and money. I was not physically coerced. Guilt, fear, and indoctrination are the troika of GCI’s indoctrination program.

GCI’s ideology can be described as a messianic vision: biblical fundamentalism. Many GCI recruits begin as Born-Again Christians. The Bible, including typographical errors, is accepted as infallible and inspired by God. The World is damned and all will perish unless they accept Jesus as Saviour. Members of GCI are indoctrinated to believe that it is their duty to “share” this message with every human being, their motto being “every nation, this generation.”

It should come as no surprise that GCI is but a species of fundamentalism, the difference being not of kind but of degree--GCI pastors simply exert far more control over their congregations than most other fundamentalist churches, a control appropriately known as shepherding.

Fundamentalism is a bloody rheum seeping from the eyes of a blinded Christ. Freedom and knowledge are but snares. A “good” man is a well-policed man. Persecution of Christians occurs when they are not allowed to force young children to say prayers in school. “The blind eat many a fly.” And so fundamentalism consumes its own seed. It is a bizarre subculture of bottom-feeders.

Those of us, who by bitter experience, oppose the fundamentalist world view, or, by now, simply fall over with laughter when we are introduced to it, constitute the Enemy, that divinely confected punching bag of the Faithful. It is a black and white world, a kind of inverted fairy tale. The mundane act of going door-to-door to give a sales pitch for Jesus is transformed into a superhuman contest that pits all the demons of hell against the Saints of God.

In a fairy tale, the world becomes larger than life. Harmless, it does not pretend to reconstruct the world. The fundamentalist vision shrinks the world and inflates its champions. Those who disagree are duly demonized; those who question internally are threatened with the fires of hell.

Given the terrible consequences of disbelief (damnation) and the sweet bounty of credulity (heaven), just about any means are to be harnessed to secure the divinely ordained ends. Thus, when Lee Jarrell, formerly a pastor at GCI’s local church, Fellowship Community Church (FCC), said that it was righteous to “lie for the sake of the gospel,” he was giving a synopsis of GCI’s world view and history. It is also a fine specimen of “divine deception”.

A cult is characterized by the coexistence of two differing creeds, the exoteric and the esoteric: the lie that is told and the actual state of affairs. The exoteric image is the public image projected for potential recruits and new adherents (in GCI, called “contacts” and “babes,” respectively). It is a picture of warmth and acceptance. The pastors characterize the church as a family, and members call one another Brother and Sister. On an almost unconscious level, there are touching and hugging (usually with the same sex), echoes of familial relations.

This exoteric picture of acceptance has its flip side: if you do not do what they want you to do, you are attacked on a number of different levels. Not going to planned activities results in a retraction of the warmth that the recruit formally received. Questions follow (what’s wrong?), and finally open rebukes. (A leader goes to the disobedient member and shares a biblical passage that demonstrates the sin of the person who is out of lock-step with the group). Next comes expulsion, known as “church discipline” or excommunication. Here the sin of the person is publicized to the entire church, and the person is cut off. In GCI, merely disagreeing with Jim McCotter--the founder of the cult--results in expulsion for being “fractious”--basically, just disagreeing. I was told by Ray Muenich, the current Elder (pastor) of Fellowship Community Church, that the “test of authority is when we disagree.” How far does this “authority” extend? Ron Tewson, formally a pastor at FCC, once gave a teaching on this. After the teaching, one of my roommates, perhaps noticing the all-encompassing nature of this authority, asked if this concept extended to the absurd. Say, to jumping up and down on one foot all day long. Ron said yes and went on to warn that even as he was speaking, Satan was seeking to tempt some from the pure light of his teaching and from unquestioning submission!

When, without Muenich’s prior approval, I told the woman I love that I had feelings for her, he was shocked (the Elders had long taught that dating was “not trusting God”, and therefore wrong) and openly questioned my loyalty (i.e., submission to him). I pointed out that there was no reason, even scripturally, for his insistence on controlling my personal relationships. Muenich reacted with more talk about my failing the “test of authority.” I now had a full picture of what the leaders of GCI were up to. Thus I began my slow retreat from the group (nearly two years later I was out).

It is important to note that the new recruits have no idea that this kind of submission is going to be demanded. This is the fundamental lie of GCI, the Big Lie. But control, they say, is for “the sake of the gospel,” thus justifying their methods. This is the so-called “halo effect”, or what one writer called “guilt by association”. GCI’s actions have been called into question by cult researchers, evangelical leaders, and its own members. GCI’s response has been to claim that they are doing “the work of the Lord,” and insisting that “if we are in a cult, then so were Jesus and Paul.” Thus the leaders of GCI are safely ensconced in their own cocoon of invincible ignorance and self-righteousness.

Matt Dickerson’s personal account will be continued in the next issue

The Touchstone, April 1992