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THE CULTURE OF CONTROL:
INSIDE GREAT COMMISSION (Part 2)

By Matthew Dickerson

In the first part of his two-part article, former Great Commission recruit Matthew Dickerson chronicled his gradual disillusionment with a campus group called “Great Commission International” (GCI). After a period of indoctrination, the writer spent five years, starting in l985, when he was an A&M freshman, recruiting for GCI. In the process he found his own life being taken over by the cult. While never physically coerced, he was told where and with whom to live, what to read, how to spend his time and money. When his Elder tried to control his relationship with the woman he loved and wished to marry, calling him “disloyal” both to the Elder and to God, Dickerson began a gradual retreat which culminated, after two years, in his resignation. The series concludes with Dickerson’s personal account of his falling out with the Great Commission. The group is now called the Fellowship Community Church which is a part of the Great Commission Association of Churches.

Ron Tewson, the Elder when I joined the group, claimed that it was useless to look at any options after one had found The Truth since there was only one “truth”. But if one does indeed have the truth, does one need fear looking? Ron also claimed that “the trouble with deception is that you don’t know that you are deceived” (true by definition). How do the GCI faithful know whether they are in fact deceived? Unless they look at the other options, they don’t. GCI has tipped its hand.

The recruit is not aware of the demands that will be made of him. He must be prepared by facing a series of crises that attack his integrity, his selfness. He becomes an iron cadre, a “lifer”. Notes from a leadership meeting at Fellowship Community Church declare GCI’s three-fold strategy: (1) invitation, (2) assimilation, and (3) leadership development and structure. The first two are among the charges of GCI leadership. An examination of leadership is vital.

The cult leaders cannot spend all of their time indoctrinating and watching over the recruits. They delegate these chores to their disciples. Thus is created a hierarchical structure, from Apostles (now called National Leaders) down to cell-group leaders. The church level runs vertically from Elder(s), Deacons, homegroup leaders to the cell leaders. The Elder’s deacons and homegroup leaders typically represent his most devoted subjects.

“I don’t think Christians should use birth control. You consummate your marriage as often as you like and if you have babies, you have babies.”
-- Randall Terry, one of the men behind the current campaign to blockade health clinics and humiliate women.


The cells are sexually segregated and have a designated cell group leader. I was a cell leader for several years and answered to Ray Muenich. The cells represent the organ of hard-core indoctrination and recruitment. Sunday services are cream-puff teachings to get the “new ones” ready for assimilation. New ones who are excited about the fundamentalist vision become the focus of action for a cell. The cell’s goal is to “grow and divide,” and it grows by recruitment. Thus do the Saints (at Fellowship Community Church, 1700 Kyle S.) come marching in. The saints usually live together. The proselyte will be encouraged to move in. The warm affection of the cell members is passed down. Compliance is a priori. Non-compliance means expulsion. Once I was asked by our cell leader to ask two recalcitrants to move out. Elders Ron Tewson and Lee Jarrell wished me to play a kind of enforcer’s role while they would not be implicated.

Cells apparently were fashioned after the Communist model. “Dedication and Leadership,” a book written by a former Communist, was strongly recommended to me. It explains how the church can benefit from Communist tactics. At the level with which I was involved, an explicit link to Communist methods was taught. The cells are being emphasized as much as ever during the few years since I left.

2

One major task of the cells is a process called “follow up”. As its name implies, this is the process of keeping in touch with potential recruits. The “contact” is invited to cell or homegroup activities. A cell group activity might be a dinner followed by a video. The cell members are lavishly friendly at these follow-ups. Cultists commonly call these overtures “love bombing”. No one who has been love-bombed is likely to forget the pasted-on smiles, the targeted eye contact, the rampant solicitude. A good time to get love-bombed at A&M is during the monthly A&M Christian Fellowship rallies. If you are a newcomer to A&M and from a home in which displays of affection were not commonplace, you may not be prepared to be smothered by have-a-nice-day to the -nth power. If you come across as a solid prospect for GCI recruitment, you will be killed with kindness but with burial delayed. By semester’s end, the prospect will have moved into one of the cell households and be already taking part in the process--providing another smiling face during dinner.

I think contraception is disgusting --people using each other for pleasure.”
--Joseph Scheidler, Director Pro-Life Action League


Despite hard-core intentions, indoctrination within the cells is subtle.. The goal of the leader is the production of replacements. How does one produce leaders? First one must make followers. These must be given some notion as to why they should submit. The leadership is from God. End of argument. Submission to authority is a way of submitting to God.

GCI has long insisted that submission occurs without any sort of response control. When an Elder at a GCI wedding declares that the wife must yield to the “authority” of her husband, he is simply saying that she is under the husband’s control. No amount of obfuscation, cant, and spiritualizing can change this GCI fact of life. In like manner, GCI leaders have demanded the control of their churches, claiming it is against God to oppose it.

GCI leaders preach against what they call “robotry” while practicing a gospel of control. One begins to see a kind of Faustian pact: do what the leaders ask. What price selling your soul if that great sugar plum--admiration--can be yours? The leaders are quick to praise the ones who go along. Stooges for Jesus become display cases of sycophancy. You find yourself mouthing paens to the Elders as the instruments of your rebirth.

Thus the culture of control is generated. Naive young men and women--looking for a cause to serve their idealism--allow themselves to be manipulated or cast off into a social slag heap, unworthy of the group.

3

My mother now tells me that she suspected I was in dangerous waters by my behavior when home from A&M. I seemed too emotional, tightly strung. I had become what they wanted me to be: a child or, better, childlike. I recall Ray saying of another prospect. “If we could just direct this guy’s emotions--for God.” With me, that had been done. I had become one of theirs--humble, teachable, malleable.

I could not understand why they were asking me to do a number of plainly unethical things. I was torn between instinctual revulsion and loyalty. The usual way the leaders maintained mind-control would be clinically interesting if it wasn’t so insidious in retrospect. We in GCI thought of the process as the capture and destruction of any sort of critical thinking. That would be subversion, and as such it would be eliminated by a kind of double bind. This double bind comes into play with the exercise of a “purity” often demanded by cults. Case in point: sexuality. A natural--a basic--feeling, sexuality was to be denied until marriage. Fantasies--let alone, sexual relations--were to be ruled out as evil until they carried the sanction of wedlock. A sexual urge was demonic, the devil’s handiwork. When I could bring myself to discussing this double bind with others in the cult, they acknowledged having, like me, to struggle with it unendingly.

A version of George Orwell’s double-think is applied to everything. Any reading material critical of GCI was satanic; anyone who criticized the Elders was manipulated by the devil. We were instructed to go about “capturing” naughty thoughts by consigning all critical ideas to the demonic. I found myself in constant war with myself. The Satan I jumped at--tried to jump over--was my own shadow. Any kind of search for counsel would bring bibliodolitry into play. Whenever anything challenged the GCI worldview, we were taught to answer with scripture--in our heads or, better, aloud.

4

Getting out of a group like GCI is difficult. How scared you are at the prospect depends on the level of indoctrination and leadership to which you have been subjected. The higher you have gone, the harder it is to come down. For me, it was simply realizing I had to think for myself and not let them think for me. As you learn the ropes, the balance tips; the ends cannot justify the means forever, especially the mythological ends of GCI. You can even start making up your own mind. You begin discovering the world anew. What the world is really about is growing up and taking responsibility for your life. I have discovered friends who proved to be real people--fine the way they are, different.

When I was getting out of GCI, I began to make new friends, some of whom were libertarians (seed of my free-thought), others socialists. I would find myself laughing again--laughing so hard that the unused muscles in my jaw hurt for days. As H. L. Mencken put it, a horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.

[Matthew Dickerson would like to thank Dick Costa for his editorial assistance.]

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