An Ex-Local Church Responder

Steve, I was a member of the Local Church from about 1972 to 1978. We were a group of about 20 to 30 who met in the basement of the leader's home. Along with the practices you mentioned, such as chanting "Oh Lord Jesus" and "Jesus is Lord," and "Pray Reading," we participated in Morning Watch, which was a meeting every weekday morning starting at about 5:30 or 6:00. We also met on Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and usually got together more informally on Tuesday nights and Friday nights.

Something you didn't mention in your article was the constant debate over whether, at any given moment, we were "in our mind" or "in the Spirit." Any attempt to analyze something using knowledge or independent reasoning was criticized because we were "in our mind," rather than "in the Spirit." Also, acquiring knowledge was preached against as the antithesis of living by the Spirit. As such, obtaining a higher education was looked upon with disdain. Looking back, I can now see how the leader of our group was able to control us by pronouncing that we were "in our mind" if we questioned any of his or Witness Lee's teachings. Moreover, the leader, who had quite a charasmatic personality, seemed to always "know" what the Lord was saying we should do, and if we resisted, we were "in our mind." I recall adult members being being advised (and following the advice) that the Lord wanted them to quit good jobs and instead sell Shaklee products, or become involved in some other pyramid type sales venture. I have no doubt whatsoever that this group was a cult.

Ironically, although the focus of the church was always on unity, our group had a major split over church doctrine in the mid-70s, resulting in about half the members at that time moving. People I had grown so attached to suddenly left for reasons I was never told. When I think about it, the mystereous loss of a couple of adults I had grown very close to still grieves me.

Finally, I was so brainwashed by this group that I never really planned a future. The end of the world was always imminent, so going to college or planning a life was folly. Although we left the Local Church in 1978 because my father (who would have nothing to do with the Local Church) got a job in another state, it was not until my mid-30s that I really questioned many of the beliefs I was still subconsciously holding onto. I still find it difficult to think in terms of a future and I think I have a perverted idea of who God is.

Just as we were moving away and the church, the leader convinced many in our group that the Lord was saying they should all move to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Many did. This time families split over the decision. At about the same time, the leader was developing a relationship with a memeber who was a girl close to my age (and probably 20 years younger than the leader). To justify his actions, he began espousing bigamy, which I think was his own twist on religion and probably nothing espoused by Witness Lee. In any event, there were so many families and individual lives wrecked by this cult.

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. As I said, this chapter of my life still has a profound affect on me, my relationship with God, and how I see myself (since we were also made to believe we are worthless nothings).


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