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Responding to the Boston Movement / International Churches of Christ


Table of Contents

Introduction

In the nearly two years since my wife and I have left the Boston Movement / International Churches of Christ (hereinafter referred to throughout this article as ICC), we have received numerous telephone calls, visits, and correspondence regarding our affiliation with the group. On average, six to eight people call us per week with questions or comments about the ICC. Many who call are current members of the organization, seeking answers to questions that are troubling them. Others have read my book "The Anatomy of Calvary: An In-Depth Study of the Cross" (still a best seller within the group), and are angered or curious as to why one of the movement's leading scholars would have left the group. Still others are parents, spouses, and in some cases children of members of the group, frightened and dismayed due to the impact of a loved one's membership in the group. Occasionally a member of the media will call, seeking answers to questions or sources for further investigation.

Generally speaking, the questions raised by these various individuals run in several predictable cycles. While many of the individuals speak of personal matters and wish to hold their conversations in strictest confidence (many who are members know that if they are "caught" speaking with me they will be punished in some manner, especially those who who are in leadership positions), many of the questions they ask are similar. In this article I will attempt to address several of the most common questions regarding the ICC.

It is important to bear in mind that often the individual is still quite hostile to those outside the group, and so great tact and care must be employed in responding to these questions. At times, the individual may need to be challenged to study the scriptures on specific doctrinal issues before he or she would ever admit that it is even possible for the group to err in other matters. Many times, one aspect of the ICC's teachings or practices will elicit the need to do a complete and detailed analysis of a matter that is not contained in this article. The following are the general questions and my responses to the ICC.

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Why Did You Leave?

"Why did you leave the Boston Church of Christ / ICC Movement?"

Although I had observed many abusive practices and questionable doctrinal positions taken over my 15-year affiliation with the ICC and its predecessor at Crossroads, until the summer of 1992 I believed that the good intentions of the group outweighed the bad. With time and the growing maturity of the leaders, I held for years the hope that such abuses would be corrected. Especially after the demise of the Crossroads Church of Christ (where evangelist Chuck Lucas was fired after it was discovered he had been involved in several homosexual affairs that had previously been covered up by several leaders in the group), I felt that the leaders would surely have learned the folly of one-man authoritarian rule and unaccountable leadership. Sadly it seemed that, far from wanting to learn from the mistakes of Crossroads, the leaders at Boston were more interested in trying to convince new members that they had never been affiliated with the Crossroads movement. Instead of honestly admitting their origins (in fact, a recent letter from the Boston leadership asserts that Chuck Lucas has had nothing to do with the Boston Church / ICC, despite the fact for five years he spoke at the Boston-directed seminars and his children were actually on the staff of the Boston Church of Christ!), theirs has been one one continuing attempt to play down or deny altogether the source of much of their abusive teachings and practices. Since so much of the Crossroads ministry has been repudiated over the years (even by the remaining Gainesville church leaders, who have taken steps to cut off all ties to the ICC), the ICC quite understandably does not want its members to know the problems that have always been a part of her history.

My wife and I were recruited from the Denver Church of Christ (a mission planting of the Crossroads congregation, which started after Lucas was fired), where I was serving as an evangelist for the congregation, to join the staff of the Boston Church of Christ. In addition to fulfilling a life-long dream to earn my doctorate in Biblical Studies (Kip McKean promised me that I would have that opportunity, a promise he later would break), I thought that my being closer to the center of the movement would allow influence and opportunity to bring more scholarly depth to bear on what I had thought was a serious lack of depth on the part of the leadership of the group (most of the current leaders have no formal training in either Bible or preaching or theology, and while this is not a disqualification for ministry, when matters of original doctrine or what the original text taught were being addressed, few of the upper-echelon leaders had the training to truly be confident in anything except their own opinions, and generally deferred to what Kip McKean wanted). In short, I thought that moving to Boston would be helpful to not only me but to the group as well.

While my four-year stay at Boston was not without its good aspects, the opportunity to closely observe the inner workings of the group was a tremendously troubling experience. I was forced to either stay in the ministry there or resign if I wanted to continue my education, something about which Kip McKean had given his word (I had been enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Biblical Studies at the University of Denver, and would never have left Denver had I not been able to continue my education. In retrospect, I now feel that Kip promised me whatever it would take to get me "out of the way" in the leadership of the Denver Church, so that Boston could take it over. In a later conversation with another ministry staff member, it was reported to me that Kip said "we promise them [meaning ministry leaders whose churches the ICC wants to take over] anything to get them to move to Boston."). I was eventually forced to resign from the ministry at Boston to pursue my education, and had to find other sources for funding this considerable expense.

Personal matters aside, I had become increasingly concerned about doctrinal and ethical problems in the group. I resigned my editorship of "Discipleship Magazine" (which I had helped to found with Marty Wooten, and in which had served in various capacities for nearly 6 years), and attempted to register my concern about doctrinal and ethical matters with the Boston leadership and personally with Kip McKean (copies of two letters, my resignation from "Discipleship Magazine", and my letter attempting to arrange a group meeting to address doctrinal matters, are available). In trying to address biblical objections to the ICC (the issue of the thousands of rebaptisms and the misunderstanding of Matthew 28:18-20, a works oriented salvation and lifestyle, the pyramid leadership structure, and the role and authority of Kip McKean), I wanted to organize a group conference of leaders to discuss these issues.

I spoke of these matters with Kip McKean initially, in the spirit of Matthew 18. Kip wanted my wife Sarah and I to visit his ministry in Los Angeles, but I wanted to resolve the doctrinal matters first in an environment where my character was not the focus (often in the ICC, the person bringing a question or problem - even a matter of doctrine - generally becomes the problem, resulting in a character assassination; I had witnessed the spectre of someone walking into a meeting (presumably a personal meeting with a leader) and being confronted by 8 or more leaders, all of whom are united in making the individual's character or previously-confessed sin (regardless of how little it may have to bear on the problem) become the issue. While I had no problem with discussing my character failings and sins with Kip, this was not the time, and I did not want to "walk into an ambush". I wanted a meeting with the issues up-front, on the table, with the comments and positions recorded for all to know and understand (the letter, again, describing this type of meeting is available for your understanding). In short, I wanted the kind of meeting as is described in Acts 6 and in Acts 15, where Christians (both leaders and non-leaders) addressed issues both of practice and of doctrine. The atmosphere there was free from acrimony and personal character assault; such was what I wished to see occur also in meeting together with the Boston leadership.

Several of the leaders of the group were open to the idea initially, but it did not take long for the message to come down from Los Angeles and from Boston. After refusing to apologize for anything related to the request for a meeting (Gordon Ferguson, one of the Boston elders, had insisted on nothing less than a signed confession, to be printed in "Discipleship Magazine/Upside Down"), both my wife and I were "marked" by the Boston Church of Christ eldership for:

  1. "Not joining the Washington, D.C., Church of Christ". This group was the ICC-affiliated group in our area. I asked elder Gordon Ferguson if that group was the only "saved" group in the entire 6-million plus metro Washington/Baltimore area, and if it were possible that one could worship somewhere else and still go to heaven (my wife and I had joined another Church of Christ at this time; we visited the ICC branch in Washington but it appeared to be even more harsh, immature, and legalistic than the Boston congregation we had just left). He stated to me personally that for this decision alone, both my wife and I were "going to Hell."
  1. "Sending out the letter to other leaders in the ICC". For this we were accused of "being divisive" and "causing others to question their faith." To this day I do not know why wanting such a meeting would be considered "divisive" or causing leaders to struggle in their faith. To my mind, I would think a group that refuses to accept that it has serious disagreements and refuses to meet to discuss them would cause more people to "question their faith" than the meeting I was proposing. I challenged Gordon Ferguson strongly for his cowardice in not standing up to Kip McKean and insisting on the meeting. Like many other leaders, Gordon knows that to challenge Kip is to risk one's position and security.
For these reasons, the Boston leadership "marked" us and told people to have nothing to do with us, to not read our mail, to rip up even our Christmas cards! I did not see this response as indicative of a healthy religious group, and my decision to leave any affiliation with the ICC (followed after several months by my wife Sarah) was finalized. The progression was from my seeing serious doctrinal problems to seeing ethical and moral problems as well, both of which resulted in no longer being able to support the ICC in good conscience. The manner in which we were shunned, however, led me to conclude that many of the actions of the ICC leadership were similar to those described the practices of mind-control groups and cults. What to me seemed a paranoid and defensive reaction on the part of the ICC leadership led me to conclude that it was in the best interests of any current ICC member's spiritual and mental health to immediately leave the group.

Since that time, I have not ceased to speak out against the unbiblical, unethical, and psychologically damaging practices of the group, and particularly the practices of the leadership. Nothing less than a full-scale repentance and repudiation of these doctrines and methodologies would be necessary for me to encourage anyone to remain in the group.

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You Had the Problem...

"Basically, you had the problem. Anyone who leaves the Boston Movement / ICC leaves God. Because you left the group you showed you had the problem."

First of all, I never set out to leave the ICC. I wanted the group to change its course and to not repeat the same patterns of failure that had been seen at Crossroads. Because there was widespread disenchantment on the part of many Boston members, something needed to be done (a recent study shows that, while the group has certainly baptized thousands over the past decade, when one counts up those who have left the group or who have moved away from Boston, there is a net growth of only 16 people in the past ten years!). In some ways I felt that the ICC left me, in that it had departed from its commitment to bible-based authority, and had embarked upon a methodology that seemed to be based on the oldest and shallowest shortcut, "the end justifies the means".

In short, the ICC leadership has no available process by which either their doctrinal deficiencies (for example, the group's teaching on baptism, its pyramid- based one-over-one structure, the role and function of "apostle" Kip McKean, etc.) or its ethical problems (diversion of funds, deceitfulness by leaders in regard to financial matters, cover-up regarding the sexual sins of its leaders, to mention but a few matters that I had personally seen) can be addressed or corrected. The person wanting to discuss these matters or seeking to redress these problems becomes the problem, in my experience. The fact of the matter is, I did not cause these problems, and neither did my being silenced from this group result in these problems being addressed or resolved. What does one do when the group he is involved with refuses to change, and refuses to even address the possibility that there could be a problem in the first place? There is a self-defeating logic of sorts in this matter: if one leaves, one is leaving God (or so the group teaches). Hence, if someone had left, they had left God, and therefore could not have ever been correct in the first place! Because of that position, virtually no one who has left the group could ever be correct. It is important to remember that, according to the group's teaching, there is simply no valid reason for ever leaving the ICC. If you leave the ICC, you're leaving God.

If I may be permitted a brief literary allusion, there is a moment in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" where Huck has to make a decision. He has been taught all his life that it is a grievous sin to help a runaway slave, yet his best friend, "Nigger" Jim, is nearing freedom as the two travel up the Mississippi. He is torn between his deep friendship for Jim, the inherent evil of slavery, and the corrupt ethical system that teaches the "evil" of helping a slave become free. In a poignant moment, Huck finally decides, "all right, then, I'll go to Hell," and does not turn in his friend. Similarly, if one has to adhere to the ICC teachings, practices, and ethics to get into heaven, I would rather be somewhere else. That could not be a heaven by any stretch of the imagination.

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It Never Happened To Me...

"Well, the things you've described have never happened to me. I've had a rather pleasant experience in my affiliation with the ICC. Many of the things you describe have taken place only in Boston, New York, L.A., or the bigger churches; our group is different."

First of all, I am not seeking to indict the entire ICC membership, for I know that there are many good and sincere members in the group. The central problems, in my observation, lie at the upper-level of the group, in the power structure of the group, and concern both doctrinal and ethical matters. If one is going to take credit for the good experiences, one has to acknowledge the existence of the bad if they are clearly demonstrated. Because something has not been personally observed by a member of the group has no bearing as to whether or not such a matter occurred or is objectionable. Such reasoning would permit every evil except that which was directly observed by the individual. If a group's leaders are successful at covering over both ethical and doctrinal errors and sins, the rank-and-file members would never know the existence of such problems unless a leader spoke out about these issues. If leaders who spoke out against these issues are silenced, banned, and cut off from other members of the ICC, it follows that very few people would ever be aware of the problems of the group.

My advice for those who have experienced a benign relationship with the ICC leadership is this: ask the same kind of questions that I asked, seek for the same kind of information which I sought, and stand for the same biblical truths for which I took my stand. Then see what happens. If past history is any guide, the response of the leadership of the ICC to these questions will clearly demonstrate the attitude toward any critique of its leaders.

What is more, the central hierarchy of the ICC is supported by every local group. While one's own congregation may be less harsh or legalistic than the Boston congregation or the Los Angeles congregation, all financial support eventually flows to Los Angeles and helps to continue the abusive and corrupt practices in the upper- echelon leadership. Until local groups cease to financially support the hierarchical headquarters, they must bear some measure of responsibility for the error and corruption in those places. In short, every member has to answer to the charges brought against the ICC, and should therefore make it his or her business to become informed and studious of these matters.

I understand there are groups within the ICC that have a much more Christ-oriented view of their membership, and whose immediate leaders (ministers, local evangelists, etc.) practice a "kinder and gentler" version of the ICC doctrines. For the most part, it has been my experience that such individuals don't last long within the ICC leadership, because they are either not able or not willing to practice the harsh dictatorial dogmatism that the upper echelon ICC believes is necessary to generate large numbers of converts. At any moment, it is important to realize, a local leader can be removed, fired, shifted, etc., without any input or approval from the local congregation. The leadership is intentionally tenuous, with Kip McKean making all the decisions to hire, fire, move, and force the resignations of leaders who don't adhere to his program.

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The ICC Has Responsible Leadership...

"Well, although the group has been criticized doctrinally by people like you and Dr. Jerry Jones, at least they have a good record in matters of ministerial use of funds and sexual ethics. In other words, nothing is going wrong in those areas."

First of all, if these activities were going on, could one trust that the leaders would be candid and forthcoming about admitting their problems? If they have demonstrated a defensive posture toward other allegations, blaming the accuser, would it not stand to reason that they would deny any of these allegations as well? Would they also not seek to discredit both the accuser and accusations? How could one ever know that these practices were going on, unless one was a leader, privy to the activites of the upper-echelon, behind-closed-doors policy discussions of the ICC leadership? In point of fact, I have been involved with the leadership at that level, and have documented and witnessed examples of financial misappropriations of funds, deceit and fraudulent financial practices, as well as the covering up of sexual sins of several ministerial leaders.

In one case, a minister continued to lead even after he had been caught in several affairs with younger women's leaders in his zone -- he was later put in charge, of all things, the youth ministry!

I have both the name of the minister, and the testimony of two witnesses on the ministry staff who personally witnessed this situation. Another matter regarded the activities of a Boston sector leader / evangelist. Although he walked into a Bible Talk meeting in New York City and passed out intoxicated on the floor (in front of all the members of the Bible Study), he was permitted to continue to lead the Boston church's sector.

Another former evangelist for the Boston congregation had been caught several times in sexual sin in several cities, over a period of years. When finally the problems could not be overlooked (he had been transferred rather than disciplined several times), he was allowed to resign, with no word given to the congregation other than the assertion that he was "having marriage problems".

In regard to the handling of finances, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collected for benevolent projects throughout the world, and the funds have been appropriated for such matters as Kip McKean's travel, ministerial hotel rooms, and other administrative expenses, without ever telling the congregation where the money was really going. Kip McKean has even admitted that millions of dollars that were collected for Russian humanitarian relief efforts (much of the money was donated by members, but a significant percentage was solicited and donated in the secular community as well). People thought that they were giving "to help feed the poor Russians", but in reality they were giving money to further the administrative and travel expenses of the Los Angeles church. (Would having Kip McKean's admission of this activity in McKean's own writing be sufficient evidence of this matter? Such is what I have, and I would be willing to produce a copy of the letter to any interested party. What more evidence is needed?). To this day a full accounting of these funds has never been made.

The leadership of the ICC has not released any financial data (to either its members or other interested parties) regarding the salaries of its upper-level leadership. Claiming that the salaries are "on a par" with other clergy, they have not made known the true nature of the combined salary package (which includes such off-the-record matters as housing allowances, travel and entertainment, etc.), which often double the total compensation package. If the ICC were truly willing to let its books be open, it would release this data. Recently, several of the ICC larger groups amended their by-laws so that only officers of the corporation (usually the evangelist or elders of the local group) could have access to key financial data. After for years insisting that their "books were open to any member", the ICC has recently taken steps that could only be characterized as limiting the access to key information about the financial affairs of the ICC.

It is hoped that this brief litany of problems would appear grievous enough to warrant anyone reading this article to seek out an explanation of these activities from the leadership of the ICC. I stand by each and every one of these allegations, and if I am shown to be mistaken, I will gladly correct this record and these allegations. It is not my intent to defame or make libellous accusation, and I recognize full well the biblical injunction against bearing false witness. The fact of the matter is that there is no way that I can ever be allowed to investigate or even discuss these matters fully, as the ICC leadership has closed its financial records to all but those who already agree with and do not question its practices. The ICC is not a member of any religious agency that practices any accountability function (like the EFCA, an organization that holds religious groups accountable for sound and ethical business and financial practices), and so there is no way that the ICC can ever be challenged to open up its records so that all can investigate these matters.

If there are really no problems in these and other areas, why is the ICC so reluctant to open up its records? Why not tell the congregation why ministers are being "transferred" or are "resigning", or about the "marriage problems" of ministers? The sexual dalliances of Crossroads minister Chuck Lucas were also covered up in a similar manner. (In fact, the Boston/ICC leadership continued to financially support Lucas after he was fired from Gainesville, and maintained the coverup regarding the reasons for his being fired.) At one point, I wanted to speak frankly about the history of Chuck Lucas and his being fired to his daughter, who was serving on the staff of the Boston Church at the time. Tragically, two years had gone by since Lucas was fired, and she had still not been told the true reason why her father had been fired. Understandably, she had blamed both myself and other members of the ministry staff at Crossroads for making the decision to fire her father. Not knowing the true extent of his sexual sins, she had assumed that we had been harsh and unforgiving towards him by firing him at Crossroads. Knowing that the truth of his termination would result in the repair of not only our relationship but of her family, I discussed whether to discuss these matters with Leigh Ann to Kip McKean. He absolutely refused to allow me to speak about any of the situation to Leigh Ann; I was puzzled at the time by his strong reaction to my suggestion. Looking back, however, it is my observation that this "silencing" of any adverse publicity about the moral lives and failings of the leadership was repeated in the treatment of others who would use their leadership positions for the fulfillment of their own sexual lusts.

If the group's leaders have been deceitful or less-than-forthcoming about their doctrinal positions, why should we assume that they would be truthful about their finances and personal morals? If a man cannot be trusted in small areas (where he is accountable), should we expect him to be trustworthy in larger areas in which he answers to no one? Where does that logic come from? Does that not go against everything Jesus said about personal integrity and faithfulness? One simply cannot isolate or insulate one's dishonesty or corruption, claiming that "well, there may be doctrinal abuses and personal abuses, but at least we're clean in the area of sexuality and finances". It simply does not wash, and is simply not true. A lie repeated often gains credibility among those who have not the means for disproving the details; if there were nothing at all in these allegations of sexual or financial misdeeds of the leadership of the ICC, why are they not more forthcoming in providing the documentation that would presumably exonerate them?

"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", the 19th century British Lord Acton once said. It is my opinion that the unaccountable and ever-increasing power that the upper echelon of the ICC wields over the ICC membership is resulting in a greater and greater corruption at that level. We were confronted by problems that have no means of ever surfacing to the knowledge of anyone outside the inner circle. If there were serious problems going on in the ICC, the members must hope that someone, somewhere, would speak about them, and would call the other leaders to repent. The fact of the matter is that those problems do exist, former leaders have spoken out about them, and they have been disfellowshipped and silenced for their boldness and courageous decisions. Does this speak of the manner in which these problems are addressed by the ICC?

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Is the ICC a Cult?

"Are you saying that the ICC is a cult?"

This is the one question that I am asked most often, and so I have the opportunity to do a great deal of reflecting before answering. The answer is always more detailed than a simple "yes" or "no". Some personal background and clarification of terminology is in order.

The term "cult" is used an understood in a variety of ways, both in our world today and throughout religious history. It is important to know how someone uses the term before using that definition with the ICC. One of the prevalent uses in the general media for the term "cult" is a Jonestown, Guyana-like group led by a crazed paranoid like Jim Jones, or the Charles Manson "Helter Skelter" group in Southern California a few decades ago, or the Branch Davidians, a violent religious cult headquartered in Waco, Texas. Another usage is by religious historians or theologians, who use the term to describe an off-shoot group or splinter faction from an orthodox Christian group, usually advocating some heretical teaching or departing in a significant manner from an accepted core teaching of the Christian religion. By this definition, such groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) would be classified as a "cult".

When ICC members hear their group referred to as a cult, their frame of reference is generally to either of these two understandings of the usage of the term. Not having personally observed any outrageously corrupt or wicked behavior (mass murder, suicide, etc.) and not knowing the nature of which the group has indeed departed from orthodox Christian teaching in several key areas, they reject out of hand the assertion that the ICC could ever be considered cultic. Additionally, the term is such a visceral, "red meat", or flash-point term that it usually evokes an immediate (and often emotional) denial on the part of a loyal ICC member. Thorough indoctrination from even before the point of time when an individual joins the an ICC group insures that they are predisposed not to ever entertain the possibility that they have joined a cult. Generally speaking (and I have been on both sides of the argument), the discussion that ensues after this question is raised becomes an emotional denial, with a great deal more heat than light generated! Clarification of terms is essential. The simple question, "What do you mean by a cult?" would go far in diffusing the emotions in the discussion and looking more objectively at the possibility that the individual has joined a group that could be considered cultic.

Although the ICC is not thought of as a cult by the previous two defining standards (although the recent decision to describe Kip McKean as an "apostle like Paul" and "undisputed leader of the Movement" may cause some to grow in their concern that he is appropriating Jim Jones-like power in an uncontested pyramid-style organization), there is another standard definition for the term "cult" that must be considered before answering the question about the ICC and cultism.

It was only after reading Dr Robert Lifton's pivotal work, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, that I became convinced that who made a group a "thought-reform" group (Lifton's term), or cultic, was what a group practiced, not what they believed. If a group practiced several or all of Lifton's criteria, they would by definition be considered a cult. His criteria included deceptive recruiting tactics, the employment of phobic indoctrination to keep members in the group ("if you leave you're going to hell"), a false theological stance, information control and manipulation, the separating and elimination of all ties to the individual's former relationships and environment, to name a few. The particular ideology or religion advocated by the cultic group would not be the determining factor. Indeed, there could be cults of all different types and beliefs, ranging from commercial and business-orientated to religious and politically-driven. It is generally agreed by those scholars who have studied current cult phenomena that thousands of such groups do indeed exist and are considered cults by Lifton's criteria.

By Lifton's process-oriented and behaviorally-driven definition, the ICC must be considered to be a cult. In my own experience and based upon my own research, it is my opinion that the ICC is a harmful cult directed and dominated by Kip McKean. Until the ICC discontinues and disowns the cultic practices and tactics described not only by Lifton but by others who have studied cults, it must by definition be considered to be a cult. My father used to say to me, "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, you can call it a girafe, but it's still a duck". If any group practices those behaviors that dispassionate experts in the field have generally agreed upon as being cultic, we should at the very least entertain the possibility that that particular group could be considered a cult. The ICC vehemently denies that they are a cult by any definition; one has to simply ask the question, "Has any cult admitted that they were a cult?" Would we naturally assume that they would own up to their own identity, if it were true? If we rely on the ICC leadership to determine whether or not they are a cult, we by force of logic naturally determine the answer - denial. If we look to others who have studied not only the ICC but hundreds of other groups, we find a different answer.

It is not my business to tell people what to think, or what conclusions to reach. I do, however, want them to think, to read, to study, and not reject out-of-hand and emotionally the possibility that they may have unwittingly joined a group that practices mind-control and cultic behaviors.

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Things are Getting Better...

"Well, I know that there have been problems in the past, but recently things are really changing, I know it's going to get better."

It's always the nature of a Christian to be optimistic, to hope for the best, and to believe in the possibility of redemption of any situation or person. Certainly, the grace of God should teach us that there is indeed no situation that, so long as we have life and breath, is completely irremediable. I certainly agree with these beliefs.

Somewhere down the line, however, optimism and ideals must have a rendezvous with reality. People in the ICC need to have the same committment to truth - no matter where it leads them, into or out of the group - that they had when they first affiliated with the ICC. Generally speaking, the ICC has not specifically apologized for any major doctrinal error and/or any widespread abusive practice, and the leaders have consistently demonstrated a less-than-candid response to any allegations of wrongdoing on their part. In my own experience, the typical ICC response to allegations of wrongdoing is usually "well, those things may have happened in the past, or a few people may have done those things, but we don't advocate them anymore". The problem is, the same problems and doctrines and errors continue to be practiced.

In one classic statement by Randy McKean that has been characterized as an "apology" for wrongdoing by the ICC, he stated that "mistakes were made... things have been taught... things have been written" [in regard to the abusive practices of one-over-one authority in the ICC] and then he goes on to lecture the audience about "their attitude when someone else is in the wrong"! McKean never states his confession in the present tense, and never gets specific about who taught the error, who wrote the article, and what was specifically wrong about it in the first place. What is more, he never states what the new ICC position on authority is. The only critique is directed at those who have been wronged or sinned against; they are again put on trial, this time not for their actual wrongdoing, but for their response to the wrongdoing and false teachings of their leaders!

This kind of episode is typical with regard to ICC "corrections" or "admissions" of error - usually vague and unspecified, with promises of change, but woefully lacking in detailed statements or clarified doctrinal positions, etc. Usually the critic comes in for his share (whether earned or otherwise) of abuse and character assassination. I think this is due to several reasons, including a lack of any well-thought-out or clearly articulated study of these issues by the leaders of the ICC, as well as a general evasiveness when it comes to admitting any wrong.

For the most part, members are evasive or unaware when it comes to informing potential recruits of the ICC about its problems. This stems from a lack of honesty among the leadership of the ICC in admitting their own historical background, and a steadfast refusal to truly "come clean" and admit that theirs is a group with a rather checkered past. For this reason, most people who become members of the ICC are not exposed to all the information surrounding the ICC. It has been my experience that the majority of people, upon receiving both sides of the story regarding the ICC before they make the decision to join, usually opt out of any affiliation with the ICC.

For these reasons, it is hard to trust the ICC leadership for either an accurate assessment of the organization's problems from the past, or in their promises that they are going to change problem areas in the future. ICC members who rely only on their leaders' versions of both past history and current problems need to clearly understand that they are not operating with all the facts. Such a practice goes against biblical admonitions to search all things and to test things against the scriptures. If the leaders were ever being deceitful in their statements toward the ICC membership, there is no accepted way of ever squaring their statements with any other source or record. Since former leaders of the ICC, parents, other non-members, or any othe rperson outside the ICC are not accorded any credibility when it comes to speaking about the problems of the ICC, members are forced to trust their leader's version of reality. If the ICC leaders ever became corrupt, there is no acceptable mechanism for either knowing or correcting them. I do not see this present structure as either healthy or unintentional.

Are things indeed getting better? There are several questions that immediately come to mind: Better than what? How does one rely on the ICC leader's view of "how things were" or "how things are right now"? If the judgement is based on empirical data (the number of people leaving the ICC, upper-echelon leaders being replaced or resigning, etc.), it would be difficult to assert that things are getting better for the ICC. If the sheer numbers of people who have left the ICC in its 13-year history is taken into account (that number conservatively estimated at about 15,000), it is indeed difficult to maintain a cheery outlook. If dramatic, foundationally-altering decisions had been made to radically recast both the structure and the leadership of the ICC into a more biblical model, then such confidence could be justified. The question remains - what has really changed about the ICC? Its leadership? Its structure? Its major doctrine? Its relationship with other Christians outside the ICC membership? Its view and treatment of those who leave or who have serious questions about it? What has really changed - foundationally - about the ICC?

It takes a greater leap of faith than I am presently capable of making to accept that a group that employs a deceptive historical portrait of the past, a present punctuated by dissension, desertion, and doctrinal departure, maintained and protected by a rigid and insular authoritarian structure that brooks no opposition, will in the future somehow change and evolve into a biblically-structured and doctrinally sound organization. If real change were ever to take place in the ICC, it would have to include the ouster of Kip McKean and a radically restructuring of the entire ICC organization from the top down. Such actions do not appear remotely possible in the forseeable future.

ICC members who agree that there are problems need to employ the same thought processes that lead them into the ICC to lead them out of the ICC. Is it right? Is it biblical? Who is the true authority for my life, Jesus and His Word or the ICC teachings? Those ICC members who remain in the group "waiting for a change," invariably subject themselves to years of disappointment and frustration, hoping against all hope that the kinds of serious changes that need to take place will ever occur. Life is too short, and eternal life in Christ too precious, to hold both hostage to a brutal legalism, and doctrinal departure that have remained unchecked and uncorrected for years within the ICC.

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You're In It For the Money...

"People like you and Jerry Jones are only speaking out against the ICC for the money. I bet you make a lot of money; isn't it true that those of you former leaders who are involved in exit counselling people out of the ICC have become wealthy because of your stance?"

This is one of those questions that grieves me to even answer, and I generally have to pray not to lose my patience or temper while answering. Let's consider the facts. For me to leave the ICC, it meant that I had to give up my employment with the Boston Church of Christ, my career as a minister (as no congregation outside the ICC would employ an ICC minister - for some pretty understandable reasons.), my education, my home, my ICC friends (most of whom obey the ICC edict not to speak to me or read my letters), and quite nearly my marriage (at one point my wife had been advised by ICC leaders to leave me and take her stand with the ICC; it was one of the very things that made her reconsider her own involvement with the group). My livelihood as an author, a traveling lecturer and teacher, and a scholar were instantly destroyed, without any severance pay, insurance coverage, or so much as a simple "thank you" from the organization I had served at great sacrifice for eleven years. Financially, I had no savings, no investments, and no resources (we had been pressured to donate anything of value to various ICC fund-raising promotions, and had foolishly even donated the one item of any great value to us, my wife's engagement diamond; to this day she has but the wedding band). By making the decision to oppose the ICC, I realized that I was cutting myself off from any future hope of employment in the ICC as a minister or teacher.

At present, I work full-time in the computer field in the Washington, D.C. area, at a job that quite frankly was created for me by my father, who had formed a company with my brother ten years ago. He hired an ill-prepared, and untrained man with few skills in the field - only because I had no place left to go. I hesitate to think where my wife and two children and I would be were it not for the graciousness of my parents.

My personal dreams have been radically changed, as my plans to receive a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies have needed to be placed on hold due to the demands of a full-time job. My wife is also working full-time. Mind you, we're not complaining, and are truly counting our blessings, but the claim that "we did this for the money" is patently absurd. I have a standing offer: I'll compare paychecks and bank accounts with Kip McKean and the ICC leadership anytime.

With regard to Dr Jerry Jones (one of the most vilified men by the ICC leadership), I can personally attest that his character and lifestyle are not that of one "living off" the ICC. Jerry supports his family by itinerant preaching and lecturing, as well as the sales of several books that he has written. I can personally attest to his modest and sacrificial lifestyle, living far below the living standards and income of upper-echelon ICC leaders. The ICC leaders who recklessly hurl such allegations at former leaders like Jerry Jones need to be forthcoming themselves about their own financial status first. Many leaders who leave the ICC are threatened financially if they speak out against the ICC. Even the meager severance pay that the ICC provides a few former ICC leaders when they are terminated or forced to resign is used as a club to intimidate them into silence about both the way they have been treated and the overall problems in the ICC. Former ICC leaders who speak out against the ICC are in many cases risking everything to take that stance.

The notion that an individual would seek to be compensated for his or her time and expertise in helping others leave the ICC needs to be examined and evaluated. I can personally attest that it often takes days of discussion with an individual, counseling, doing in-depth Bible study, and going through an emotionally wrenching process to not only demonstrate the problems with the ICC, but help the individual redirect his or her spirituality into a more healthy Christian group. It's not a simple five-minute chat! When one considers the psychological problems inherent with the group, and their practice of phobic indoctrination (" if you leave the group you're going to Hell", etc.), as well as all the programmed misinformation directed against former ICC leaders like Jerry Jones and myself, there is quite a bit to discuss with an individual who is seeking to leave (or even question) the ICC. If a person devotes hours and in some cases days to this activity, should he not expect compensation? Where does he or she get the funds to put food on the table?

The criticsm by ICC leaders that ex-members are being compensated for their position against the ICC is almost humorous. Where do the ICC leaders derive their financial support? Do they hurl such invective at people like Jerry Jones and myself for free? No, they are supported, and quite well I might add. What is more, who really has the vested financial interest that they are protecting? Is it former leaders who have in most cases been financially wiped out, or those ICC leaders who derive their lifestyle from the contributions of their unknowing flock? In fact, the only secularly-trained counselor of the ICC charges church clients in excess of $100.00 per hour for his services, are the fees charged for those who are counseling those who leave the ICC really that exorbitant? None of the ICC leadership is self-employed in any secular pursuit, and all of them realize that their continued financial support is contingent upon their supporting "the party line". I know that there are several ICC leaders who privately oppose their own groups teachings and practices, but their precarious financial position (wives and children to provide for, etc.) makes it impossible for them to consider leaving the ICC.

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You Just Couldn't Cut It...

"Well, I guess that you and other former ICC leaders just couldn't 'hack' the lifestyle of a true disciple, the 'cutting edge' mentality that is necessary to survive in the ICC. That's the real reason why you left."

I recently took part in a radio talk show where an ICC leader leveled that charge at me, and I have often heard it applied to others who have left the ICC. Since ICC members are prohibited from communicating with excommunicated members such as myself, the ICC leadership is free to give just aboput any reason to their members about the reason why someone left. Such statements are usually made by those who are completely unaware of the immense sacrifices made by ICC leaders who decide to leave the organization. In addition to the financial hardship, the emotional hardship of being separated from close friends, people who leave the ICC know what it means to be slandered, ostracized, and rejected because of their spiritual convictions. They have decided to leave a legalistic shell of religion for true Christianity, whatever the personal cost. They remind me far more of Jesus than the safe and comfortable ICC leaders who criticize them.

Personally, it is hard to describe just how much it hurts to be misunderstood, to have your motives questioned, your character assailed, and your family maligned by those who once claimed life-long friendship, gratitude, and allegiance to you. The price for the stance I have taken is quite costly in every area. Truly, it would have been much easier, in a sense, not to ever oppose or leave the ICC. It is precisely because I am a disciple of Christ, not of a corrupted and legalistic religious system, that I have had to make this decision.

What is more, it must be kept in mind that the ICC leadership threw me out, excommunicating me and sending me to Hell, so how could I stay in the group in the first place? Those who glibly assert that mine has been the easier course have never entered upon it.

Those who have opposed or left the ICC know far too well the personal price they have paid to ever equate their decision as some sort of abandonment of Christ's call to discipleship.

Christ's same call to discipleship now calls me to "bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." I know of no one group who produces more people in need of mended hearts, freed souls and consciences, and lives lived by grace, not law, than the ICC. In addition to my responsibility to lead both myself and my family to heaven, I endeavor to try to bring as many others with me as possible. I regularly teach and preach in my local congregation (unlike my ICC involvement, I do it without any financial support. I boast about not receiving any money for it, but I cannot boast about preaching, for, like Paul, I am compelled as a disciple of Christ to preach the gospel), and strive to project a Christian example at work and in my neighborhood. Although I don't feel the need to justify myself in the eyes of the ICC. most people who know me and observe my life see it as consistent with that of a Christian.

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"Is there life after the ICC?"

Quite simply, yes! Although it is often an emotionally traumatic process to leave the ICC, there is the guarantee by the Lord that He will not leave us alone in a situation we cannot bear. Spiritual reserves of courage, strength of conviction, and understanding are provided by the Lord in this transition. The help of other former members and former leaders of the ICC is an invaluable aid, during this time. Having been programmed to think that your life will end if you ever leave the group, it is often a struggle to resist those mantra-like accusatory voices that the memory recalls. With time, with prayer, with the conversation and understanding of family and other Christians, the wounds and scars of the ICC lessen. Life does indeed go on after the ICC; perhaps not with the happy, carefree bliss of ignorance, but nonetheless with an attitude of now "overcoming evil with good".

I can't claim to have completely put the ICC behind me (I'm not sure I've ever met any former member who can truthfully say that either), but with every passing day the pain lessens.

With the perspective of time and further study of the scriptures, I now appreciate some of the good things I have learned from the ICC. What has not killed my spirit has only made it stronger, and I am grateful for that. For the rekindled love and appreciation for my parents and formerly-estranged brothers and sisters in my family, there is also profound gratitude. For the patient understanding of mutual commitment to love and hope that my wife has provided, our marriage has emerged through this challenge only the stronger for the experience. All things considered, life indeed does go on after the ICC!

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There's Nowhere Else to Go...

"I'm staying with the ICC because there are no real churches that are on fire evangelistically, or are as committed in their membership, than the ICC. In short, there is no viable alternative to the ICC."

This statement is usually made by someone who realizes that there are serious problems within the ICC. Unfortunately, the constant bombardment that members receive within the ICC has caused the person making this kind of statement to conclude that there are virtually no acceptable Christian groups outside the borders of the ICC.

Think about this observation. Did this mean that before the ICC came along (in either its Crossroads form - the mid 1970's - or the Boston incarnation - beginning in 1979) that there were no Christian groups in the world? Do we really believe this? This observation needs to be discussed in detail, for it reveals a lot of what the ICC leadership has conditioned their members to think. They have so constantly inveighed against other churches, particularly the mainstream Churches of Christ (from which founders Chuck Lucas and Kip McKean originally came from, and from which many of the older ICC leadership originally became Christians), they have convinced their membership in large part that there is virtually no spiritual life outside the ICC membership. The son of an elder in the San Diego chapter of the ICC decided to leave the group and attend another Church of Christ congregation in the San Diego area. Initially, the elder stated to his congregation that his son's decision was acceptable, and that he thought his son "was still a Christian". If the ICC was consistent in their statements to the media and concerned parents of ICC members that "we don't believe we're the only Christians", this stance would be the only rational one. The decision of the elder's son, however, was not interpreted in the same manner by Kip McKean and the ICC leadership, and illustrated the group's honest assessment of other churches or Christian groups. The elder in San Diego was summarily removed from the San Diego leadership (in spite of the fact that he had been one of the founding members of the congregation), and he and his wife were forced to relocate out of town (in spite of the fact that the man is 65 years old, and his children - and grandchildren - all live in the San Diego area!). This incident illustrates just how vitriolic the ICC leadership stands against any and all churches or Christian groups. Although when cornered in a discussion, an ICC leader might say "well, we don't believe we're the only group, the only ones saved, etc.", in reality their actions betray their true thoughts - they firmly believe that they are the only group that is going to heaven, and once you leave the ICC, you can only be headed for eternal damnation.

For this reason alone, I consider membership in the ICC to be spiritually harmful and dangerous. They are proclaiming an exclusivity that goes far beyond the bounds of accepted orthodox Christian doctrine. What is more, the internal control structures of the ICC keep the general membership from learning about the true problems in the group. Hence, the frame of reference that most members have is generally not an accurate one for evaluating whether another group may or may not be Christian in the first place.

The ICC has done a remarkable job at keeping their membership unaware of the structural problems inherent in the group. Cosmetically, most people are fooled by the veneer of excitement, the fiery preaching, enthusiastic singing, and overall level of adrenaline, and make the mistake of equating these elements as the crucial identifying marks of a New Testament congregation. Unfortunately, these aspects of the ICC dull members from ever considering whether below the surface there are more severe problems.

The ICC has been compared to a dysfunctional family, and in many aspects, the comparison is a valid one. Although many dysfunctional families have serious problems of abuse and/or addiction, the members of the families have become adept at masking these problems from outsiders and being able to put a veneer of respectability over their serious problems. Such is the case with the ICC. Hence, members of the ICC who are unaware of the serious doctrinal and ethical problems in the group are then forced to compare their "perfection" with the magnified problems "out there in the denominational world". In sermon after sermon, the ICC members are bombarded with accusations that all the other churches outside the ICC are dead, that the only hope for the gospel to spread in the 21st century will be through the efforts of the ICC, etc. Having no valid basis for comparison, the ICC member is phobically indoctrinated into thinking that if he or she leaves the ICC, they are leaving God.

The ICC claims to be the perfect church, but such a reality is belied even in the New Testament. There were no perfect churches then (we would not even have most of the New Testament epistles were it not for glaring imperfections in both structure and practice in the New Testament-era congregations), and there are no perfect churches in our present day.

In the cases of other churches, errors and ommissions are more openly recognized and accepted, and members realize that they are but sinners saved by grace. They are more open about their imperfections, and in that manner can work to improve or change. This is not to assert that all groups are the same, or that doctrine and practical matters do not matter, but the basic observation in this area is that I would rather be part of a group that is honestly facing its weaknesses than one who is running away from them and denying them. The neurosis of the ICC leadership, its practices and teachings, amke it a far more dangerous group in which to live as Christians than a group which may not have vibrant singing, hand-clapping, or frenzied preaching.

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Conclusion

This is certainly not all that one could speak of when discussing the ICC, but these questions should be sufficient for laying the foundational issues. Other resources exist whereby the concerned individual can learn even more about the history and teachings of the ICC (the three volumes of Dr Jerry Jones, What does the Boston Church of Christ Teach?, immediately comes to mind, as well as Steve Hassan's foundational Combatting Cult Mind Control. The educated parent or loved one is the best asset in helping an ICC member leave the group. Information, prayer, Bible study, and open and honest discussion are nothing to be afraid of, unless a group has a vested interest in keeping their members in the dark about the issues.

Rick Bauer

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©1992-2001 by Rick Bauer. All rights reserved.




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Опубликовано на: 2003-09-26 (4403 Прочтено)

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