Jan 22, 2018

VOX POPULI: Doomsday cult’s evils were not so far removed from society

The Asahi Shimbun.
January 22, 2018

In the year following the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult’s sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, Japanese philosopher Masahiro Morioka confessed that he might have joined the group.

“I shudder at the possibility that I could have made the mistake of joining Aum Shinrikyo,” he wrote in his book.

Morioka said he had felt excited when he found a book at a bookstore that included a picture that claimed to show the cult’s founder, Chizuo Matsumoto, a.k.a. Shoko Asahara, performing “levitation” in a Zen meditation posture.

The line between him and the cult’s followers was that he stopped short of buying the book while the followers actually bought and carefully read it, the author wrote.

He asked himself how different he was from the people who had committed hideous crimes as members of the sect.

The two-decades-long legal saga involving many criminal trials over crimes committed by the cult is now coming to its denouement.

Many indicted former Aum Shinrikyo followers have cited various reasons for joining the cult.

“I lost faith in the unlimited progress of science,” one said. “I wanted to experience supernatural phenomena,” explained another. Others cited “solitude” and “a sense of inferiority.”

The cult made itself accessible by operating its facilities as yoga centers.

Remarks made by prosecuted former cult members in the courtroom revealed various psychological factors that turned them into a criminal organization.

Ikuo Hayashi, who was involved in perpetrating the deadly sarin attack and is now serving a life sentence, said he had hesitated when he saw women and children on subway platforms. But he carried out the attack by goading himself with guru Asahara’s declaration saying, “This is a battle.”

Kazuaki Okasaki, who is on death row, said, “Feeling pity (for victims) means weak faith.”

There are ideas and arguments that look completely unreasonable and outrageous to outsiders but make perfect sense to the members of a closed group.

Such thoughts sometimes cause disasters. This is a dangerous trap into which closed groups that don’t tolerate dissenting voices among their members, not necessarily religious ones, often fall.

We heard Aum Shinrikyo followers utter many odd-sounding words, such as “guru” and “poa or phowa,” which was used to mean killing.

There is no doubt that it was a terrorist group and a religious cult.

If, however, we use these descriptions simply to characterize the group as an evil element completely different from the rest of our society, we fail to glean some important lessons from their crimes.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 21


Event: Awareness of High-Control Groups: An educational seminar re: mind-control groups

Aaron Smith-Levin, a former Scientologist whose story was featured in the Emmy award-winning television series, Leah Remini: Scientology-The Aftermath. He has a very compelling story about his years in Scientology.
Aaron Smith-Levin, Donna Backstrom

Saturday, April 7, 2018
10 a.m. - noon
Grand Opera House
135 8th Street, Dubuque, Iowa
Doors open at 9:30 a.m.

Complimentary coffee and donuts
No charge l Donations appreciated

Keynote Speaker: Aaron Smith-Levin, a former Scientologist whose story was featured in the Emmy award-winning television series, Leah Remini: Scientology-The Aftermath. He has a very compelling story about his years in Scientology.

Donna Backstrom will share her family's experience with The Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission (LHTBM), a cult-like, high-control group with followers in Dubuque and surrounding areas. 

Another speaker will share how his family life has been negatively impacted by a local high-control group.

Additional information to be shared: 
  • How to recognize a high-control group (i.e., watch for red flags!) 
  • How to get help if you think you or your friends are involved in a high-control group
Presented by Donna Spielman Backstrom McCoy 

For more information contact Donna at (563) 650-4716

How Do You Rebuild Your Life After Leaving A Polygamous Sect?

A decade ago, members of the FLDS — a fundamentalist sect of the Mormon church that practices polygamy — began leaving of their own volition. Today, they're returning home to rewrite the dark narrative that's formed around them.

Anne Helen Petersen

January 18, 2018

At 62 years old, Coylyn Pipkin is still a teenager. Women who've left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, often think of themselves in this way. They joke that their development, especially when it comes to emotional intelligence, stopped when they were young. When they leave the FLDS, they go through the same phases that every kid does: teenage rebellion, twenties exploration, thirties confidence. Coylyn left the FLDS in 2015, and has only recently started wearing her long gray hair without the elaborate front wave — a mix of '90s bangs and something vaguely 19th century — taught to all women in the church as children.

When I met Coylyn, she was dressed for the third annual Girlfriends Day Out, a celebration for ex-FLDS women hosted by the Creekers Foundation — part of a larger movement of ex-FLDS members working to wrest their narrative away from the church its members have left behind. She wasn't wearing heels, like some of the younger women, or a tightly fitted dress. It hadn't been that long since her wardrobe was entirely composed of the long, puffed-sleeve dresses that outsiders called "prairie" and those in the community called "polyg" (pronounced "plig"). When her husband teased her on the way out the door, mumbling, "Oh, you feminist women," she ignored him.

For more than a decade, the FLDS ran the small borderline towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona — collectively known as Short Creek, with a population somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 — like a totalitarian fiefdom. They owned the houses, the dairy, the farm, the grocery store. They controlled the utilities. If an outsider tried to move into town, they wouldn't give them a business license or turn on their water. If someone was expelled from the community, they'd be shunned entirely. Any visitors were tracked by the dozens of surveillance cameras positioned around town and followed by a group of church enforcers, the "God Squad," who'd drive around in SUVs with tinted windows.

Coylyn grew up with three mothers: her biological mother, plus two other women, or "sister wives," who were married to her father. Coylyn's own mother had 13 children; Mother Charlotte, as Coylyn calls her, had 16; Mother Elaine had 15: 44 in all. When Coylyn was a teenager, she and three of her sisters were married to a man named Don Pipkin. When he passed away in 2002, Warren Jeffs, then the "prophet" and leader of the FLDS, married them all to another man. When that man was kicked out of the FLDS, as so many who directly or indirectly challenged Jeffs's authority were, Coylyn left the church to be with him.

Leaving is traumatic in many ways — including realizing that you never really chose, or maybe never even loved, the person the prophet paired you with.

"People wouldn't look at me or acknowledge me," she told me. "They'd walk the other way — people I've been friends with my whole life." She has two biological children, but also considers her sisters' 31 children, most of whom have left the FLDS, her own. "I'm their mother," she told me. "I'm the one they come to, because all their mothers are still in."

Coylyn's story is typical of ex-FLDS women in many ways, but she's an outlier among those who have left the church, simply because she's still with her husband. Leaving is traumatic in many ways — including realizing that you never really chose, or maybe never even loved, the person the prophet paired you with. (In the FLDS, only the prophet can sanction a marriage.)

Leona Bateman started the Creekers, then called the Girlfriend Club, in 2013. She estimates that 90% of the women who leave the FLDS community see their marriages disintegrate. At one point, Coylyn's daughter opened up a dating app to show me just how few options for relationships there were in the area — especially if you were looking for someone you could be certain you weren't related to. Most people in the Crick, as FLDS members call it, descend from the same founding families.

"We don't have family trees," she said, laughing. "It's more like family wreaths."

The FLDS broke away from the Latter-day Saints (better known as Mormons) after the church abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890. They believe Mormons have forsaken the foundational teachings of their religion, and consider them, along with anyone else who is not part of the FLDS, to be "gentiles." The original leaders chose Short Creek for its remoteness: Zion National Park is to the north, the Grand Canyon is to the south, and miles of vacant desert lie between.

When Warren Jeffs came to power in 2002, everything that had made Short Creek feel alive was gradually taken away. Dogs, books, basketball. School. The Fourth of July. Friends and parents and siblings, especially men, were sent away to "repent" so that Jeffs and those in his inner circle could take their wives as their own. Teen girls were married off to men many decades their senior; some were taken to Jeffs and abused. Teenage boys were excommunicated for watching movies or talking to girls and disavowed by their families. Slowly, word of the inner doings of the super-insulated FLDS began to reach the outside world, largely through stories — including Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven, Sam Brower's Prophet's Prey, and Carolyn Jessop's Escape — that alternated between being infuriating and horrifying.

"At first, the narrative had to be dark," says Elissa Wall, whose own book, Stolen Innocence, details her teenage marriage, abuse, and eventual escape from the FLDS. "It needed to uncover and dig out that grossness that was going on. We allowed all that nastiness to come to the surface, and we've been successful in shining a light on all that was going on." Now, however, that narrative is changing. "We are more than Warren Jeffs and the FLDS and where we were," Wall told me. "We are better than the stories about us. We have a new narrative: resilience."

On Airbnb, you can scroll through the photos of the rentable room in the compound that hosted Girlfriends Day Out. Today, it's known as America's Most Wanted Bed and Breakfast — a deliberate mockery of Warren Jeffs's time on the FBI's Most Wanted list. There's a queen bed with elaborate pillow landscaping, a leather couch, and an expansive bathroom with twin vanities, one on each side of the bathroom wall. The unnervingly thick baby blue carpet goes halfway up the walls.

Some things, though, you can't see in the photos: the walls, almost a foot thick, that block out all sound; the door that leads into a study, which in turn leads to a recording studio, which looks, through a one-way window, onto a living space, with stairs that lead down to the back of the house. The room was intended to be Warren Jeffs's, and the suite his private lair, which would offer a way for girls, dropped off by their parents in hopes of being selected as Jeffs's next wife, to enter the house without notice.

The 10-foot wall that surrounds the compound cost an estimated $1 million. It was the white powder used to color the concrete that drove up the cost: "It was just a veil of holiness," George Jessop, the current caretaker and a member of one of the old Short Creek families, told me. "They were trying to create such a holy space, using that white — but they used the deception of that holiness to mask horrible things."

We were standing on a balcony on the second floor of the main compound, which, in addition to Jeffs's master suite, has 12 bedrooms, several living spaces, and two massive kitchens. George worked pouring concrete; dozens of others dropped what they were doing to build it as fast as possible, completing it in just 90 days.

America's Most Wanted Bed and Breakfast is a former polygamist compound surrounded by a $1 million wall in Hildale, Utah.

George pointed to the building next door. "That was meant for the holiest of holies," he said, "just like in Texas, where he'd bring girls in there and rape them."

When Jeffs was fleeing the FBI — before his 2006 Utah arrest — he'd periodically escape to the Yearning for Zion ranch in West Texas, home to over 500 of the FLDS faithful. A 2008 FBI raid of the ranch revealed documents and recordings that implicated Jeffs in the sexual assault of minors, including a 12-year-old girl he'd taken as a wife.

When Jeffs was convicted, the Hildale compound passed out of the control of the church. Today, it mainly serves as a place to stay for overflow tourists of Zion National Park, whose reviews on Airbnb communicate various amounts of knowledge about the FLDS, the area, and why it feels the specific and peculiar way it does.

Like the Fourth of July celebration that George and his wife Miriam have helped restart, America's Most Wanted Bed and Breakfast is part of the next chapter of Short Creek. But to understand the chapters that came before — how Jeffs leveraged and continues to leverage his power over his thousands of followers — you have to take a drive.

"They were trying to create such a holy space, using that white — but they used the deception of that holiness to mask horrible things."

I hopped in George's red Suburban — very few vehicles in Short Creek seat fewer than seven — and we headed into "town," an approximately five-block journey. Within seconds, he announced we'd crossed the Utah state line, over Uzona Avenue into Arizona. The proximity to the border is no accident: For a group persecuted for decades for their polygamous lifestyle, it provides a useful blurring of jurisdiction.

There's something about the area around Short Creek, and its shadowed position below the red cliffs, that makes it feel like you're hiding in a corner. Around two-thirds of the roads are paved, but others peter off into dirt or gravel. Even though many FLDS members have moved out of town, vestiges remain: in the baby cemetery; in the field filled with appliances, dropped off to be fixed by an FLDS repairman who's long gone; or, most vividly, in the occasional sightings of FLDS children, immediately recognizable in their jewel-toned prairie dresses or work shirts buttoned all the way up. Their heads bob above the fence line while they bounce on a hidden trampoline, or pump water from a cistern up in the hills, or ride a pair of Shetland ponies down the side of a Hildale street.

The ex-members I spoke with believe that most of the hundreds of leftover FLDS devotees in town are, as they put it, "coming around."

The current leadership of the FLDS is in prison or has fled — most think to South Dakota, or maybe Colorado or Texas or Canada or Mexico — along with the vast majority of Jeffs's wives and members "in high standing." Those still in Short Creek abide by the ever-evolving revelations (that they must eat a gluten-free diet, for example, which is why so many of the current FLDS are so skinny; or that they cannot even touch billing notices — let alone heed them — requiring them to pay nominal rent on the houses owned by the trust now controlled by ex-FLDS. As a result, most were evicted).

The Short Creek of today is unrecognizable to many who grew up there. During the 1970s and '80s, life was removed from and considerably less modern than the rest of the United States. Ex-FLDS describe it as deeply, wonderfully fun. The town was a de facto playground, with a sprawling zoo filled with exotic animals and an elaborate park, complete with a functioning mini train at its center. The prophet at the time, Uncle Roy — all leaders are referred to as "Uncle" — is remembered as kind and benevolent.

Back then, women married young, but rarely as teens. You could read (most) books and watch (some) movies. You could go to school. You could pick your own clothes, so long as they were modest. The community would come together to build a house in a day: pouring the foundation the night before, then working together to make it livable by nightfall. Every month, there'd be a play, operetta, or concert put on by members of the community. There were elaborate celebrations on Uncle Roy's birthday and on Pioneer Day — a sort of Mormon independence day. Today, many ex-FLDS are deeply nostalgic for that period in the community's past: before the internet, before it all went wrong. Before Warren Jeffs.

In the 1980s, a schism in the FLDS priesthood council — which advises and enacts the will of the prophet — led to the expulsion of several men, along with their families. The expelled men moved a short distance out of town, to an area now known as Centennial Park, and started their own splinter sect, unaffiliated with Jeffs, which flourishes today. The group, which numbers in the thousands, practices polygamy but, as one ex-FLDS member told me, "aren't as into the teen girl thing."

"You see all those fancy houses?" George asked me, driving slowly down a street in Centennial Park lined with brick McMansions. "They're built on land that wasn't owned by the church, which meant they could take out mortgages. And when you take a mortgage, you can get enough money to actually build your house all at once."

They're a stark contrast to most houses in Short Creek, whose primary aesthetic could be described as "Frankensteined": Houses were built piecemeal as money sporadically became available for new additions; entire sections often remained unfinished or covered only in particle board; other wings were added as families expanded. Building a house, according to George, often took years, if not a decade. Some FLDS houses are discernable by "Zion" signs; all are surrounded by thick walls, constructed, under Jeffs's instruction, to ensure outsiders couldn't see in.

While the towns of Colorado City and Hildale maintained local governments — they had to, in order to get streets paved — the church and United Effort Plan, a trust formed to shelter all church land, actually ran the towns and owned the handful of businesses, including the grocery store. They controlled the utilities and the police department. They didn't control the public school, but the vast majority of teachers employed there were FLDS.

That sort of control, under different circumstances, might be called "an intentional community." But it was also a perfect setup for financial and ideological exploitation.

The history of the FLDS is rooted in a gospel-like belief in its own persecution. That belief manifests in all corners of FLDS life, including at the edge of the town park, where a small piece of jagged sandstone reads:



The '53 raid ended in the arrest of all but six members of the then–400-member polygamist community, which the Arizona governor described as "insurrectionists" intent on producing "white slavery." At least 100 members of the press observed as hundreds of children were separated from their parents, sparking an unlikely public backlash.

The community survived, as most, but not all, of the children were returned to their parents. But the raid became a pivotal chapter in the FLDS's understanding of themselves as a persecuted people. When the state of Utah convicted Jeffs in 2007 on two counts of acting as an accomplice to rape — only to have the ruling overturned on appeal three years later — it would feed into that same understanding. When FBI members attempted to tell FLDS members about Jeffs's misdeeds, they refused to believe him. "All of it was framed to us as persecution," George told me. "It locks people up tighter than hell, in terms of ever being able to break out. Even when Texas prosecuted him for stuff he really was doing, to us, it was all still persecution."

"All of it was framed to us as persecution," George told me. "It locks people up tighter than hell, in terms of ever being able to break out."

Uncle Roy had helped cultivate that narrative of persecution, and when he died in 1986, it was perpetuated by Rulon Jeffs, who took his place as the head of the FLDS church. Rulon was 77 when he took the position, but continued to marry wives, accumulating as many as 75, even as he became increasingly disoriented and incapable of consummating a marriage.

According to those who've left the FLDS, the wives were added at the behest of Warren Jeffs, who knew that the more wives were given to his father, the more Warren could marry upon his death, thereby solidifying his rule of the FLDS. But Uncle Rulon stayed stubbornly alive until 2002, when he passed away at the age of 92.

For the ex-FLDS, Warren Jeffs's ascension functions as a cleaving point, separating one way of life from another. When Leona Batemen showed me photos of herself, she prefaced each with "before" or "after" Warren. Even without her guidance, there were giveaways: the hairdos, of course, and the dresses, both of which were meant to mark FLDS women as different, as irreconcilable to gentile culture.

But there's something else, too — a flatness, a weariness behind the eyes. Women who were listless or insubordinate were medicated with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, as were men and children. It was one of many ways that Jeffs ensured his flock would remain docile and subordinate, especially as his attempts to consolidate his power became more and more overt. He declared that the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse and forced all FLDS to gather in Short Creek, where they could be monitored closely. He cut off access to "worldly" culture. He ordered basketball hoops cut down. After a young child was killed by an aggressive dog, he forbade owning dogs — and declared that all existing ones in the community were to be killed.

All the children were pulled from school. Families whose relatives had been sent away were ordered to burn their family photos. One of the original structures of Short Creek — a sandstone house that had been turned into museum commemorating the settlement's history — was shuttered. "It wasn't centered on Warren. It was about Uncle Roy," George Jessop told me as we drove past the building. "So Warren issued a massive revelation calling for us to destroy it." He commanded that a marble stone monument, 24 inches thick, be razed. All the historical photos housed within the museum were thrown away.

George stopped the truck and stared at the building for a bit, admiring the masonry. His cell phone buzzed repeatedly, but he ignored it. "It was a mean, mean deal."

Then he threw the truck into reverse, backed away from the house, put it back into gear — and kept driving.

When George decided to leave the FLDS in 2012, his family remained in town, but became completely isolated. No one, including family, would speak to them. When Leona Bateman and her husband left, it was out of frustration: Their kids were getting kicked out or leaving of their own accord, and the church was poised to liquidate their family business. Some, like Coylyn, left to be with their expelled husbands. Others flee knowing their husbands would eventually get kicked out, and the wives forced to remarry. Ada Barlow left for teenage love — but her story nonetheless highlights just how few options were open to her, then and since.

Ada has early memories of the time before Jeffs took control — reading Anne of Green Gables, watching Where the Red Fern Grows, running around town in a swarm of unsupervised children — and says she knew, at a young age, that something about Jeffs was wrong. "My mom got upset one time when I took her bookmark with Warren Jeffs on it, because she'd be lonely without it," she explained. "That's when I realized he had become an idol."

Ada first noticed the man that she wanted to marry when she was over at his house, playing in the yard. She could've been one of his daughters. "I saw young girls get married to old guys all the time," she told me. "It was just the norm, the thing that happened." When she was in fifth grade, Ada's mom broke her back. Her other two moms were working full-time (most women with jobs worked in one of the towns nearby; some would work at construction sites or FLDS-owned properties hours away) so Ada became a stay-at-home caretaker. In the morning, she'd pick up the babies from the three mothers and take them down to the day care. Then she'd come back and start on the housework: endless laundry, endless food prep, endless dishes. She didn't have a driver's license, but back then, it didn't matter. Kids drove the cars around town; many of the women's cars didn't even have license plates, so as to prevent them from actually leaving the area.

Ada went back and tried sixth grade three different times, but it never stuck. There was always something pulling her away. When Jeffs pulled all children from school in 2000, her education was officially over. Around that time, her mom started talking about wedding dresses, and Ada knew she could be next in line.

Meanwhile, the man she had had in mind for a husband had been commanded to leave. "He couldn't even go and repent," Ada said. "Warren was on the phone with him screaming, 'I feel you have the spirit of contention! I want you out of my town!'" He had no choice but to go.

But he had a trade, setting tile, and could easily find work. He moved to St. George, where two of his sons, who'd also been kicked out, were already living. He'd drive the sons back to Short Creek to see their girlfriends, who were friends with Ada, then 17. The girls would pile into the truck and flirt; eventually, this man figured out that Ada was interested. When she left to join him, they moved to wherever he could find work: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Canada. She got pregnant and had a baby, a second, a third. One year, they ended up outside a mining camp in Canada. She didn't have a car or a license, and her husband would be gone for weeks, even six months at a time. Outside, there was big mining equipment in one direction, a train track and a river in the other, and a mountain behind them. Not a single safe place, she explained, for her kids to play. The children got so bored they tore their beds apart.

"That was my lowest point," Ada told me. "I was pregnant with my fourth and got so depressed that nothing mattered." When she needed to get one of her kids to the hospital, a friend of a friend took an interest in her, and began taking her to buy groceries, spending time with her and the children. "She wasn't in the religion or anything," she explained. "But she helped me get the things I needed."

"A lot of girls, their bodies weren't theirs. Their bodies were their dad's, or their brother's, or their husband's."

Eventually, Ada and her family returned to Short Creek, where she's become an active member of the Girlfriend Club. "This is my place," she said. "There's just something about it that I can't describe. It's my home."

Ada never actually married the man she calls her husband. But he remains, in her words, "around," currently at work building a shed in their backyard. Like most men and women who've left FLDS, it's difficult for Ada to reconceptualize what a relationship might look like. "I tell him, here's my X, Y, and Z that I need and deserve now," she said.

"But it's been a journey," she continued. "I was told when I was very young that my body is mine, and nobody has the right to it. It was the only thing that was mine. But a lot of girls, their bodies weren't theirs. Their bodies were their dad's, or their brother's, or their husband's."

FLDS women are never introduced to the concept of consent, especially as it relates to sex. Those who've left the church struggle to figure out how to say no to unwanted advances: That option, and that language, was never available to them. As a result, many have been date-raped or sexually assaulted by men they've met since leaving. It's even worse for teens who were raised using Rulon Jeffs's "Keep Sweet" training, which taught children that, as "priesthood people," they did not fight, disagree, or resist. (Their watchwords: "Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.") When men in the area learn that ex-FLDS women don't know how to say no, they become easy targets.

That's a reality Leona Bateman has been trying to wrap her head around for the last three years. When Leona speaks, she's often either raising her eyebrows or lowering her head and leaning in. Coupled with her round, quasi-Southern Creeker accent ("Crick" instead of "Creek"; "Hurricun" instead of "Hurricane") this can make conversations feel like being let in on a massive, gradually opening secret.

In Hildale, Leona's house sticks out. When I visited, the outside was peppered with Pinterest-style fall decorations. Her interior design, like her wardrobe, is distinguished by heavy use of animal print; she loves to tell people that since leaving the FLDS, she's dyed her hair every color on the shelf, but looks best as a blonde. The walls of her living room used to be filled with portraits of the prophets, announcing the family's faithfulness to whoever drove by. Now, they're covered in photos of her family.

When Leona left the FLDS in November 2012, she became a quick study in the world she'd missed. "I'd go to the grocery store in Elko, still wearing my dresses. I'd observe all the women, what they were wearing, how they were acting," she told me.

"I didn't say anything," she admits, laughing. "But I watched."

Leona also had a few decades before Jeffs's arrival to develop her taste. Not all ex-FLDS — especially those who came of age during the Jeffs era — had the same privilege. As one woman who still feels uncomfortable in non-polyg dresses told me, "Gentiles growing up get to try something on, and try something else on, and see someone wearing a different style and say, 'Oh, I like that!' But we never developed taste. There's all this other trauma when we leave the FLDS — and then we have to figure out how to dress, too."

What Leona describes as her "natural, worldly taste" others attribute to her "half-gentile" bloodline: Her father was a Mormon missionary, sent to Short Creek to try and convert the FLDS back to the Mormon faith. But instead he fell in love with an FLDS girl and married her — making him and his family "new blood." He married another wife, and Leona's two moms, in her words, "fought like hell."

Leona first met the man who would become her husband when she was 14. "I fell in love with him instantly," she told me. "So I went to my dad and said, 'I need to marry him.'" He said, 'If you stay clean until you're 16, I'll let you ask for him.'" It was a rarity, even in the pre–Warren Jeffs era, to have a say in who she'd marry.

Over the next 30 years, Leona gave birth to 12 children: 9 boys and 3 girls. Her husband ran FLDS construction crews; Leona cooked for them. After Warren Jeffs took over, he kicked out their eldest son for having a girlfriend. When her second oldest reached 18, he decided that he didn't want to remain in the religion. "We cried and thought he'd lost his salvation," she explained, "but we let him go."

Even as she and her husband lost their children — and others' were taken out of school — Leona remained faithful to the church. In some ways, her life had changed for the better under Jeffs. "Before Warren came, all the men were really abusive," she said. "It was socially acceptable to beat your kids. But then Warren banned all that. He said, 'If another woman comes in and tells me she's gettin' hit, or her kids are, then you're kicked out.'"

For many women, that felt like power — power bestowed upon them by Jeffs. But Jeffs had another way of abusing them. If a wife didn't obey her husband, there were all sorts of ways of disciplining her. Her husband wouldn't sleep with her for a year, or her children would be taken away. Or they'd be moved to the trailer park in the center of town, which functioned as a sort of disobedience holding cell. "Warren never said 'we're gonna mentally abuse them,'" Leona said. "But that's exactly what they did."

Still, Leona never thought of leaving. Such thoughts — like anything else that went wrong in a woman's life, from a miscarriage to a child breaking their arm — were considered proof that she was unworthy of salvation. It's difficult for outsiders to understand just how hard it is to break free when you believe you and your family will be literally damned if you do. "My husband begged me to leave," Leona said. "And when I actually did, I really did think I was giving up my salvation to be with him and my family. It broke my heart."

When the Batemans left, they also brought several members of the construction crew along with them. "We just locked the door on our house, took those 28 boys, and eight of our own kids, and started over," she said. They found a big house outside of Elko, Nevada, where the men could work in the mines.

"Some of these boys couldn't even read, so my husband took their tests," she said. "And I watched these innocent boys, who, before, hardly dared talk to anyone, experience all the dating, all the drugs." She started attending the local Mormon church, where the women taught her how to advise the young men in her house.

But it was too much, all at once, too soon. In 2014, she moved back to Short Creek, where most of the boys and her husband eventually followed her. Back in the Elko house, she says, she knew there had been drugs around, but she didn't know anything about them, had never seen a drug herself. Then her eldest son killed himself by overdosing — Leona never learned what, exactly, he took. He wasn't discovered for 10 days.

Today, Leona's son's death remains the great and guiding trauma of her life — but it also prompted her to start the Girlfriend Club. "Even though I knew all of these women, we hadn't really been allowed to talk for the last decade. We needed the education, we needed to socialize, we needed to forgive each other, and we needed to get to know each other again. That's why I do what I do."

Over the last three years, the Girlfriend Club has grown from a social gathering with the occasional guest speaker to an elaborate web of support groups, peer mentorship programs, and mini retreats directed at teen girls in particular. A vibrant private Facebook group connects ex-FLDS women from all over the world, and one of the dominant themes in the group is celebrating choice. Some ex-FLDS have become Mormon; others have left God behind altogether. Some have left their husbands, others still stick by them. Some choose to read the interview transcripts, circulated at events like Girlfriend's Night Out, outlining the sexual abuse that's still going on in the church; others consciously avoid them. Some feel strongly about returning to Short Creek; others can't abide it. Some still live "the principle," meaning plural marriage; others see it as too connected to the trauma of the FLDS under Jeffs.

"If a woman has an education, if they're over 18, and they want to do that, I don't care," she said. "Just call it polyamory, like the gentiles do!"

Like most of the women I spoke with, Leona is against persecuting those still "living polygamy." "If a woman has an education, if they're over 18, and they want to do that, I don't care," she said. "Just call it polyamory, like the gentiles do!"

"All I care about is making sure we have that education: With education comes the option for choice," Leona said. But education comes in layers: first, how to survive in the world outside of the FLDS, and second, how to thrive in it. Fundamental to both, Leona says, is realizing that you're not alone. As she told those assembled for the Girlfriends Night Out, "We think our stories are bad. But you know what? Everyone has a story, some good, some bad. If I find a woman who can empower us, who's overcome obstacles, here or anywhere — my goal is to bring us together."

That night, over an elaborate, Thanksgiving-style dinner, a no-nonsense, blonde-haired woman in her forties named Donia Jessop greeted the group. Many of them had worked to elect her, just days before, as Hildale's first woman mayor.

"People say this was a great win," Donia said, pausing for a few whoops from the crowd of three dozen women. "But I say this is a great win for our community. Our community won on Tuesday night."

Even after Jeffs was arrested, the FLDS maintained a stronghold on all publicly elected offices in both Hildale and Colorado City. Most candidates for local offices ran completely unopposed, and many women were not even registered to vote.

Donia knew that the only way for the community to recover was to make it friendlier to businesses, which is to say, friendlier to ex-FLDS and non-FLDS businesses. Until recently, it could take months for someone who was not FLDS to get a business license approved; today, there are still regulations prohibiting "obscene" business: massage parlors, hair salons, and nail salons. Donia's family — her husband, 10 kids, and a sister wife — recently opened a small restaurant in the center of town, and has plans to open Short Creek's first-ever bar.

Which is why Donia joined with two city council candidates — Maha Layton, an ex-FLDS elementary school teacher, and Jared Nicol, a Mormon who'd recently moved to the area — to contest the FLDS stronghold. They helped mobilize the community, putting on educational seminars at the school and working to strike 102 people who'd moved out of Hildale from the voter rolls. "One woman I was talking to, she's a year older than me," Donia told me. "This was the first time she voted. And she asked me to put a sign on her fence!"

You can still see Donia's signs scattered around town, including one, just a block away from Jeffs's intended compound, spray-painted with the word "NO." But Donia ended up winning handily, with 61% of the vote.

Still, when Donia talked to the Girlfriend Club, her theme was self-doubt: "During the campaign, I have definitely looked in the mirror and thought, What are you thinking? Who are you? You don't have a college education. You don't have all the answers. You sound like a hick from the sticks that doesn't know anything. But I knew I had the heart, and I had the desire."

"I felt like no matter what the campaign results were, it was a win for our community," Maha told me after dinner, when the women had gathered around extra servings of pumpkin pie. "I had my son come home from school and say, 'Mom, are you registered to vote?'"

"The best part is the way the children have become interested in their community," Leona said. "My little 10-year-old, she said to me, 'Mom, have you seen Donia? I think she should be mayor!' When I was 10, we were taught just the opposite: If someone's up there and doing that as a woman, they're to be avoided at all costs."

"Now that the women are taking control again, the men don't know what to do," Donia added. "An ex-FLDS man, no matter who he is, is in low ranking. Everything they were — it's all been stripped."

Which is why, even as the women themselves struggle — with the gaps in their own education, with figuring out their own sense of style and self, with concepts like consent and desire — they've shifted focus to a second task: helping the men deal with their own loss of identity. As Leona put it, "The men are in the muck and the mire, and the women are like, 'I've been there — I don't want to do that anymore. Let's go.'"

"It's hard for them to see that a woman will be with them, and love them, and be their woman because she wants to, not because they have to," Coylyn said.

"There's got to be a way to support them, too," said Elissa Wall. "The FLDS was so ingrained into their identity. All of their instincts about how they were supposed to treat a woman — kindness, gentleness, all of that — were removed from them because of FLDS culture. Now, they're so unequipped."

"I was talking to a man who's been married for 30 years," Leona added. "He said, 'I really don't know what to do. I love my wife, but I like her like one of the children. She was given to me, and I've always felt responsible for her, but I wanna know what it feels like to be in love!' That's how 50% of the men feel. They didn't actually get to go and feel love, or think through, 'Oh, is this what I want?' It was a job they were given."

"But unlike us, they don't know how to reach out for help," Elissa said.

"They could learn from us!" Leona exclaimed. "But they hate the Girlfriend Club because it's giving us a voice."

"Plus, there's nothing in their environment, inside the FLDS or even now, that has ever told them to look to a woman as an example," Elissa said.

"I know the boys need it just as much," Leona said, shaking her head. "We can forget the old men and just let them go drink until they die. But there's this whole other group, and we just need one good man to think about it."

Last summer, after years of dealing with PTSD and the suicide of their son, Leona and her husband divorced. In November, after months of talking through their future and what they want and need from each other, he proposed again.

When you meet someone in Short Creek, the first and most important question asked concerns your last name: In a community that closed, for that long, it's like a passport. If you don't have one of the dozen or so last names from the area, there's a natural wariness. Even though the God Squad is gone, Short Creek can still feel like a fishbowl. Everyone knows your business and your family's business, and is guarded against the business of anyone who's come from outside, including the Mormon Church, evangelical pastors, and nonprofit assistance groups.

"Over the years, the energy here was so heavy and disruptive. You could feel it the second you drove in," Elissa Wall told me. "You could tell something wasn't right. I used to get panic attacks as soon as I'd see those red cliffs. But it's changing."

Everyone I spoke to struggled, in one way or another, with coming back to Short Creek. But few have had homecomings quite like Elissa's. When she was 14, Rulon Jeffs orchestrated her marriage to her 19-year-old cousin, who sexually and psychologically abused her. She had five miscarriages and gave birth to a stillborn baby before developing a relationship with an ex-FLDS member named Lamont Barlow. When that relationship was discovered, Elissa's marriage was annulled, and she left the FLDS, married Barlow, and eventually gave birth to two children.

In 2006, the state of Utah pressed charges against Warren Jeffs as an accomplice to rape; when he was captured a year later, Wall testified against him. Jeffs was sentenced to 10 years, but the conviction was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court in 2010 due to "improper instructions" given to the jury. The state declined to reprosecute, in part because Jeffs's defense alleged that Wall had asked the midwife who cared for her during her miscarriages to recreate records of their conversations. What's more, Jeffs was about to be extradited to Texas, where he would be eventually sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

After she left the FLDS, Wall became the most prominent face of the ex-FLDS. Her book, Stolen Innocence, was a best-seller, leading her to appearances on Oprah and in People magazine. With her brother, she started a clothing and tutu company for children. She went to a lot of therapy. She worked with organizations like Holding Out Hands, which works with those who've fled the FLDS and other religious sects in Utah.

But she was still largely hated, even amongst those who'd left the FLDS. "I was the bad guy for 10 years of their lives," she told me. "Every bad thing that happened to them, it's because of me." When Jeffs was in prison, life got worse; when the conviction was overturned, it was interpreted as proof, as George Jessop put it to me, of their continued, unlawful persecution.

In 2016, Wall's civil suit against the church resulted in a $2.75 million property and cash settlement; earlier this year, she was awarded $16 million in damages from Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. She moved back to Short Creek, where she's transforming an old technology school building, given to her as part of the settlement, into a production space for her clothing company.

"When I first got here, there was garbage dumped in every room," she told me. "When they heard the building was going to me, people came in and smashed all the toilets." On the second floor, amid walls of tulle and folded piles of onesies with slogans like "P is for Punk" and "#HANGRY," Wall shows the space where, during the day, a handful of women assemble tutus that get shipped across the US. "I've employed some people I grew up with, some kids just out of high school who need some mentorship," Wall said. "A lot of moms, and we work around their schedules."

This sort of starter job, especially one that allows for flexible schedules, is incredibly hard to come by in Short Creek. Many women still lack a high school education; others have no job history. Driving to Hurricane, St. George, or nearby Fredonia in Arizona, requires a car and, given the number of children most ex-FLDS still care for, reliable childcare. Many women get their start with multilevel marketing companies, especially for skincare and makeup, that offer flexible, at-home work, but often little by means of profit, especially when the potential market lacks disposable income. (The poverty rate in Hildale is 44.2%; in Colorado City, it's 54.6%. Such a high percentage of children qualify for free breakfast and lunch that Hildale schools provide it free to all).

Because Wall was one of the first to leave the FLDS, she's had years more experience grappling with the challenges (fiscal, psychological, practical) of the outside world. "I always tell people that we're educating three generations here: We're educating kids, we're educating parents, and we're also educating grandparents." Earlier this year, Wall was elected head of the PTA and became central to the get-out-the-vote effort. But she's reluctant to be called, or even thought of, as a leader. People still come up and yell at her in the streets. Many ex-FLDS I spoke with had no personal problem with her, but understood why others did.

"I've had to realize that not even this place is stronger than me."

"Instead of a leader, I think of myself as having empathy in the trenches," Wall explained. "Because I really am still in the trenches. Maybe I'm a few blocks ahead, but wow, am I still there." Earlier in the year, Wall had been walking around the small reservoir on the edge of town with her kids and a few friends. A man stopped one of her friends to chat. It was her ex-husband, now out of the FLDS, who she'd been forced to marry when she was 14.

"This person had tortured me and held me captive for 10 years, and here he was, in plain clothes," she said. The sun had just sunk out of sight of the school's windows, and a sherbert sunset was taking shape over the cliffs. "He said my name. It was one of those moments when all the progress you think you've made comes crashing down. I couldn't talk about it for three weeks."

"At first, I had this fear of running into him again at any point," she said, "and I was like, What am I doing here? I've had to realize that not even this place is stronger than me. But it takes so much personal determination to decide that you're going to define it differently. After I saw him, I backed up, got all those tools and skills I've acquired over the last 10 years, and said: Is this place mine? Do I want to keep it? Do I want to feel this way?"

"Ultimately, it was a good reminder to me," she said. "This is what these women go through every day."

When I first met Elissa earlier in the week, I'd noticed an inscrutable tattoo on her wrist. When I asked her about it, she laughed, and said, "No one understands, until I explain it, and then they're like, ahh!"

Wall's tattoo emblematizes so much of the lives of the ex-FLDS, a journey whose real meaning is legible only to them. It started with an open triangle, to signify an openness to change when she first became a single mom. Then she added a chevron sign, which, in Greek, signifies creating your own destiny. The asterisk is her favorite: In all her education, she found herself fixating on footnotes and their promise of more information, more context.

"I got it at a time when I had been so sold on this story that I had been telling for so long," she explained. "Life had made it so that I had to tell it over and over again, and I was just living the drudgery of it. But I realized, over time, that the story itself won't change — but the importance of that story, my attachment to it, can."

Finally, she added a semicolon. "A semicolon means there's always more to the sentence," she said. "I could've stopped, but I chose to continue." ●


Saunas and high vitamin doses: The discredited Scientology-backed drug rehab programme slated for Meath

Scientology's new community centre in Firhouse, south Dublin.
There have been a number of protests against Scientology’s presence in Ireland.

January 21, 2018

LAST MONTH, REPORTS emerged that a drug rehabilitation clinic linked to the Church of Scientology could open in the Meath village of Ballivor.

The centre, which could feature the Narconon programme, is believed to be slated for development on the site of a former national school.

Last year, TheJournal.ie broke the news that a new Scientology community centre was opening in Firhouse and that there had been plans to bring a number of the church-backed initiatives (such as Narconon) to Ireland.

There have been local concerns that the rehab facility will open in Westmeath in the coming months.

Over 200 people protested to express their concerns over the reported plans in Ballivor this week.
But what is Narconon and why are locals so concerned?

According to its official website, Narconon “uses unique rehabilitation technology that gets to the problem at its source and provides a path for long-term success”.

But their methods have proven controversial.

Their drug detoxification programme uses high doses of vitamins along with long periods in dry saunas which it says is an attempt to flush toxins out of your body.

Narconon-providing facilities have also been involved in wrongful death lawsuits in the US. There were four deaths in three years at one Narconon facility in Oklahoma although these have not been linked specifically to the treatment administered during the programme.

The Church of Scientology offers a so-called religious version of this called the purification rundown.

A former member of the group explained what it was like.

John McGhee told TheJournal.ie: “I was put onto the “purification rundown”, also know in ‘scientologese’ as the Purif, as my first step on Scientology’s ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’.

“It consisted of me going into the sauna every day for up to 4 hours for 32 days. Immediately before each session in the sauna I was given high doses of niacin (vitamin B3) and brought on a two-mile jog so as to induce the niacin flush. Once my skin start turning bright red and feeling like I have been stung by fire ants, it was time to jog back to the mission and get straight into the sauna.

“It was absolutely unbearable and I would often fall asleep inside the sauna with my Purif twin (another guy who was undergoing the purification rundown with me) waking me up and talking about how great L Ron Hubbard was and that how the rest of the world was deficient without Scientology in their lives.

“The person supervising our purification rundown was called the Purif i/c (in-charge). They will periodically check on us in the sauna and administer to us salts to take orally, with water, and ensure that we would have brief cold showers and return to the sauna promptly.

“I was told by Scientology the purification was the first step on the bridge because one needed a clear body and clear mind to proceed with the intense auditing which was to follow.”

A vocal opponent of the centre setting up in Westmeath is TD for the area Peadar Tóibín.

He is worried that there is no legislation in place that requires private drug treatment facilities to be independently assessed. He said that the State has a duty of its care to all people here.

In an answer to a parliamentary question by Tóibín, the Department for Health admitted that there is currently no provision in legislation for the regulation or inspection of residential treatment or rehabilitation centres specialising in addiction.

He said that this causes “significant concern”.

“The Department of Health also stated to me that organisations which provide addiction services and are funded by the HSE are required to meet minimum standards in the delivery of services across a range of criteria which form the basis of any service level agreement.

It appears that anyone can set up a residential treatment facility without accreditation and regulation in Ireland at the moment. To me this is a major gap in the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people.

“People in the grip of addiction are often at their most vulnerable. Over 80% of people presenting with substance abuse suffer with anxiety, depression and have backgrounds of trauma.”

TheJournal.ie contacted the HSE to get the Irish health service’s opinion on the detox. A consultant psychiatrist in substance misuse from the National Drug Treatment Centre said that Scientology’s programme has no basis in science.

The doctor said: “Scientology’s drug treatment programme has no standing amongst medical professionals involved in the treatment of persons with alcohol and drug use disorders.

“It comprises a series of interventions (‘Narconon’) with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning and may potentially be harmful directly (with overuse of vitamins and other products) and indirectly in that persons are engaging in an intervention with no evidence of potential benefit for them.”

In response from a request from TheJournal.ie about the purification programme, which shares many similar characteristics with Narconon such as saunas and vitamins, the Church of Scientology said:

“The Purification Rundown is a part of the spiritual path a member of the Scientology religion will take part in. It has been found that drugs and toxins can take a heavy toll on the emotional and spiritual well-being of an individual and the programme enables an individual to rid himself of the harmful effects of drugs, toxins and other chemicals that lodge in the body and create a biochemical barrier to spiritual well-being.

We live in a chemical-oriented society. Virtually everyone is regularly subjected to an intake of food preservatives, pesticides, atmospheric poisons and the like.

The statement quoted a paragraph from the book Clear Body Clear Mind, authored by the founder of the Church of Scientology L Ron Hubbard:

“The Purification program cannot be construed as a recommendation of medical treatment or medication and it is not professed as a physical handling for bodies nor is any claim made to that effect.

There are no medical recommendations or claims for the Purification program or for any of the vitamin or mineral regimens described in this book.

“Contributions for taking such services are given willingly by our members and our members are well aware they are used by the Church to further our community betterment activities.”

TheJournal.ie specifically asked for a comment on Narconon but was told by the PR for Scientology in Ireland that is a completely separate entity and that he would be unable to comment.


Jan 21, 2018

TM Teacher Training 1970

Lorin Roche, Ph.D.

"My meditation teacher training involved many months during which most of the day was spent doing asanas, pranayama, and meditation. This was called a "round:" asana, pranayama, dhyan. You'd do a set of asanas, then a couple of minutes of alternate-nostril breathing, then meditate. This gets to be quite intense after a few weeks, because your muscles and nerves become too relaxed to hold back any tension, even the things you have been afraid of your whole life. Even the worst trauma you've ever experienced."

"In those days, meditation teacher training was a moveable feast. The TM organization never knew how many people were going to come, and they were just making it up as they went along, how to accommodate everyone. They would put out a notice, we are going to have a TM meditation teacher training, and then they would wait as 100, 200, 300, a thousand people would sign up. How do you plan something like that?"

"The TM organization had a guy, Jerry Jarvis, who was a kind of genius at improvisation. Jerry was the most relaxed person I have ever met and he was the main administrator of the Student's International Meditation Society - SIMS - which ran all the TM courses I ever attended – my introductory course in which I learned TM, and all my teacher training. Jerry could stand in the middle of 10 people hassling him for answers and calmly answer one at a time, giving each person his full attention for a moment or two, making a decision, and then going on to the next. While doing that, if you came up to the crowd with a sense of urgency, he would glance at you, read your situation, give you a wink or nod, and half a second later be looking at whoever was right in front of him. He just seemed to be aware of the whole sphere around him at all times."

"If I have ever met a person on this Earth who knew and lived the truth of, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. And It's All Small Stuff" it would be Jerry. He was constantly dealing with issues such as: "Jerry, we have 500 people signed up for the next teacher training course and the hotel in Switzerland has confirmed they can handle 520 maximum. . . whoops, Jerry, we now have 1200 people for the meditation course that starts in two weeks, and the Canary Islands are not available, the Majorcans are stalling for more money, the La Antilla hotels aren't answering our phone calls, and Billy was just arrested with a briefcase with $120,000 in it which was going to be used as a deposit for the rooms, and the Spanish are holding him as a currency smuggler.""

Continue reading: http://www.lorinroche.com/lorin/lorin/tt.html

Cheating and manipulation: Confessions of a gaslighter

Megha Mohan
BBC Stories
January 11,2018

Greg, a Canadian lawyer, is 28 but he's already had 11 serious relationships. He says each of those relationships ended with infidelity, on his part, and severe self-doubt on the part of the women. He is a self-confessed "gaslighter".

"Looking back it's clear that I was gaslighting the women and slowly making them second-guess their version of reality," he says.

He's speaking out now to give insight into the mind of a gaslighter, and to warn women of the tell-tale signs.

Gaslighting has been described as psychological abuse where false information is deliberately presented to the victim - the purpose being to make the victim question their own memory and perception of events.

Greg learned that he was a gaslighter recently, while in therapy.

He pinpoints the start of his behaviour to a relationship when he was a 21-year-old law undergraduate.

Paula was four years older and completing a master's degree. Greg describes the relationship as "romantic but unsteady". He soon began sexual encounters with other women behind her back.

I deliberately used demeaning language to make her lose confidence in her reading of the situation, of my infidelity - she was 'paranoid', she was 'crazy', she was 'full of drama'

But Paula was an intelligent woman and soon picked up that Greg was being unfaithful to her. Greg says that in order to continue cheating, while still maintaining their relationship, he had to "alter her reality".

He began identifying "techniques and pathways" in which he could manipulate Paula - laying the groundwork in order to make the lies that would come later more believable.

"Paula was extremely intelligent, but I was aware that I was leaving traces of infidelity in the digital world, on social media," says Greg.

He said he made jokes over a period of time pointing to her "obsession" with social media, making her feel that she was suspicious in an unhealthy, even "crazy" way.

"I deliberately used demeaning language to make her lose confidence in her reading of the situation, of my infidelity. She was 'paranoid', she was 'crazy', she was 'full of drama'.

"I'd say this all as jokes. But they would build over time, and she then started to believe."

The desired effect was achieved. Paula, who had suspected his infidelity, began to wonder aloud if perhaps she had been wrong to doubt him, if her judgement had left her. While she still had her doubts, Greg says she had started to question herself and apologised for suspecting him, vowing to spend less time on social media.

"Gaslighting as a term has been overused," says Dr George Simon, psychologist and author of international bestseller In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.

"Gaslighting is when you know in your gut that you have a situation read right, but the other person is trying to convince you that you have read it all wrong. If this happens over a period of time one's sense of reality slowly erodes. There is a scale to gaslighting, from lying and exaggerating to controlling and domination. Greg was on the less extreme part of the scale but definitely on it."

Another tactic Greg used was to discredit other women. Some were women Paula had never met - the women he was cheating on her with. Others were Paula's own friends.

From my experience it's not true that it is vulnerable or insecure women who are susceptible to gaslighting - these were successful women

"I'd construct narratives where these other women, the ones who could reveal my behaviour, were women who couldn't be trusted, where they were liars.

"And despite Paula's better judgement, despite saying she was a feminist, she would then trust me and take a dislike to women whose version she would now no longer believe, even if she did meet them and found out they weren't these terrible human beings I made them out to be.

"I was isolating her from those who would tell her the truth."

After Paula, Greg embarked on a series of other relationships. He says that the women came from a variety of backgrounds and had different personalities. The pattern continued.

"There are two traits that people - and we must say people as men are also vulnerable - who are prone to being gaslighted share," says George Simon.

"One is conscientiousness. People who have a conscience, people who generally do the right thing and are trusting, because they are trustworthy in nature.

"The other is agreeableness. You want to treat people well and get along. You don't want to unnecessarily rock the boat in your relationships."

For Greg, there was a third quality that the women he gaslighted all shared. They were all intelligent and successful. Intriguingly, he says this was a key factor in how receptive they were to being gaslighted.

"I've dated a doctor, an engineer, a well-known social media personality.

"From my experience it's not true that it is vulnerable or insecure women who are susceptible to gaslighting. These were successful women but that came with a perception of what they thought a 'successful' relationship should look like and they shared that. They gave me a blueprint to what they were looking for in a man."

The women, he says, approached relationships like they did their careers. With a checklist of qualities, often from relationships depicted in films, and high expectations.

They wanted stimulating conversation peppered with attentive charm and humour. They were also looking for men who could match them in their success - men with impressive careers who also owned property and had financial security.

This kind of checklist narrowed the field of suitable men considerably, he says, and made it easier to play to their desires.

"When you are gaslighting, you see the narrative that the other person wants the relationship to follow and you then go about setting how that fits in with what you want. As a result, you do little things over an extended period of time that increases the likelihood that the partner will accept your narrative over their own.

"In my case, I have never been aggressive, violent, issued threats, or blackmailed anyone. There has literally been nothing stopping any of these partners from telling me to get lost. But none of them ever did.

"So for a long period of time I didn't feel like the villain."

But now, he says, he is aware of the consequences of his actions.

"These women were intelligent and I felt that if they wanted to, they could have questioned the narrative I was spinning. But now I'm aware that is a flimsy argument where love is concerned.

"I wanted the experience of multiple partners and the ego boost that came with that, so I justified my behaviour to myself for years.

"I guess, as a lawyer, I was able to explain away discrepancies in my story to girlfriends and convince myself that I wasn't a bad guy."

For help, contact:

Freephone 24-hour UK National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Some tactics of gaslighting, including isolating the victim from sources of support and depriving them of means needed for independence, could fall under the "Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship" section of the Serious Crime Act of 2015, in England and Wales.

But controlling or coercive behaviour is not a crime in Canada, and the same is true in many parts of the world.

Some individuals have learned these behaviours from early childhood experiences - then there are the narcissists, the ones that have no belief in anything bigger than themselves Dr George Simon, Psychologist

Recently Greg told a friend about his behaviour and his friend confessed that he too had been a gaslighter.

"My friend is a writer, so I guess he's also good at constructing narratives."

He says that if there is one piece of advice he would give women who are being gaslighted it's to speak to a male friend about it.

"Women in friendships often tell each other what they want to hear. Or if women do have searingly honest friends, this friendship seems to come under strain when one woman enters an abusive relationship.

"For some reason women seem to accept honesty better from male friends than female friends.

"I was wary of the male friends of my ex-girlfriends. They could often see through my behaviour and good male friends don't allow a friendship to break."

Greg says there was no one thing that caused him to seek help to deal with his gaslighting - he just grew weary of his own behaviour.

He wouldn't say he's cured yet, but he hopes he's on his way there.

George Simon says whether Greg can be cured or not depends on what type of gaslighter he is. There are two types, he says.

"Some individuals have learned these behaviours from early childhood experiences. Their manipulation rose out of some kind of personal pain and this is how they operate in the world. They developed a strategy to cope in life that was borne out of some trauma. There is hope for those individuals.

"Then there are the narcissists. The ones that have no belief in anything bigger than themselves. There's less hope for them and any change usually involves a huge, life-changing, catastrophic reckoning that shakes them to their core.

"And that may never come."

Greg and Paula's names have been changed

Illustrations by Tom Humberstone


Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Those Born/Raised in Cults

Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Those Born/Raised in Cults
When: Friday 4:00 pm April 27, 2018 to Sunday 2:00 pm April 29, 2018 (Check-in time is 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm.)

Where: Guest House Retreat & Conference Center, 318 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412 (860–322–5770).  

As increasing numbers of people born or raised in cultic groups or relationships have reached adulthood, the International Cultic Studies Association has developed a program* that addresses their special needs. 

People born or raised in cultic environments cannot look back to a “pre-cult” identity. Raised in fringe subcultures, they often have educational and other skill deficits that interfere with adjustment to mainstream culture. Having grown up under the influence of irrational belief systems, they struggle with issues of dependency, self-esteem, and social conflict, and often have to deal with the trauma of physical and/or sexual abuse. They have difficulty getting help because they tend to lack finances and be wary of other people, including helpers. 

Meeting annually since 2006, this workshop addresses the needs of people born or raised in cultic environments through presentations by specialists and former members, including discussions in which attendees may participate according to their comfort levels. Special attention is paid to attendees’ needs for privacy, reflection, and working at their own pace. 

Workshop subjects include: 
  • Critical Thinking: What Is It and Why Does It Matter? 
  • Is There Such a Thing As a Healthy Family? 
  • Stages of Development: What Did We Miss and How Can We Catch Up? 
  • Now We Are Parents: What Have We Learned? 
  • You Mean I Have a Right to Boundaries? 
  • What Are Our Strengths and Challenges Building a New Life? 
  • Perfectionism, or The Inner Critic: Can We Accept Success? 
  • Moving On: What Does It Mean and Is It Possible? 
  • Postcult, How Should We Feel Toward People Who Harmed Us? 
  • Relationships: Why Are They So Difficult? 
This workshop has been made possible by special donations and the willingness of facilitators to volunteer their time. Without the dedication of these people, registration fees would be much higher than they are. Donations cover a substantial portion of the total cost. Because many people born or raised in cultic environments struggle financially, we urge those in need to apply for additional assistance. Please contact us at 239–514–3081 or mail@icsamail.com All contacts will be kept strictly confidential. 

More info: http://www.icsahome.com/events/workshopsgas

Gov. Brown reverses decision to parole Manson family killer

Gov. Jerry Brown has reversed a parole board's decision to free convicted killer and Manson family member Leslie Van Houten, shown here at her parole hearing in September at the California Institution for Women in Corona. (Stan Lim / Associated Press)
Howard Blume 
Los Angeles Times
January 19, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown has reversed a parole board’s decision to free Manson family killer Leslie Van Houten.

In September, the Board of Parole Hearings found Van Houten, 68, suitable for release. When she was 19, Van Houten took part in the brutal slayings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in Los Angeles on Aug. 10, 1969.

“The question I must answer is whether Leslie Van Houten will pose a current danger to the public if released from prison,” Brown wrote in his statement, released Friday night. He said he had to consider Van Houten’s young age at the time of the crime, her dysfunctional upbringing and other mitigating factors.

He also noted Van Houten’s exemplary conduct in prison. Supporters and prison staff have described her as a model inmate who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and, as Brown put it, “exceptional work ratings as a tutor.” Van Houten also took leadership roles in self-help efforts among inmates.

But “in rare circumstances,” Brown said, “the aggravated nature of the crime alone can provide a valid basis for denying parole, even when there is strong evidence of rehabilitation and no other evidence of current dangerousness.”

Brown cited the horrific nature of the murders, Van Houten’s eager participation and what he characterized as her minimization of her role in them.

The reversal marks the second time Brown has overturned a parole board decision in order to keep Van Houten behind bars. The first time was in 2016. Before that, the state parole board denied Van Houten’s attempt at winning release 19 times since she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Manson died in November. Another participant, Susan Atkins, died in prison in 2009.

The youngest of Manson's followers, Van Houten has been portrayed by supporters as a misguided teen under the influence of LSD — and the twisted influence of Manson — on the night of the slayings.

A former homecoming queen from Monrovia, she did not join in the Aug. 9, 1969, murders of Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others in Benedict Canyon. But Brown’s statement noted that Van Houten felt “left out” and that she wanted to participate in the carnage of the following evening.

Van Houten was part of the group that stormed into the LaBiancas' home in Los Feliz. Van Houten testified to stabbing Rosemary LaBianca in the back at least 14 times, possibly after she already was dead. The group wrote messages in blood on the walls, and Van Houten, Brown noted, drank some chocolate milk from the refrigerator before leaving.

Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argued during the trial that Manson orchestrated the murders as part of a plan to spark a race war that he called Helter Skelter. He and his followers planned to survive by living underground near Death Valley and then would take power.

Van Houten, Manson and three others were convicted and sentenced to death. But after the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, their sentences were commuted to life in prison.

An appellate court overturned Van Houten's conviction in 1976, and a second trial the following year ended in a hung jury. She was convicted in her third trial in 1978 and sentenced to seven years to life in prison.

At a 2002 parole board hearing, Van Houten said she was “deeply ashamed” of what she had done, adding: “I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson.”

Her supporters have come to include retired reporter Linda Deutsch, who covered the trial for the Associated Press.

“During her incarceration, Van Houten has demonstrated remorse and, in my first-hand assessment, she is living proof that redemption is possible even for those whose crimes are unforgivable,” Deutsch wrote in an opinion piece for The Times.

“I've learned that she has spent decades in therapy to understand how she fell under Manson's control,” Deutsch wrote. “She once told me: ‘I could not have lived without paying for what I did.’ ”

“But she has paid,” Deutsch added. “At issue is whether a person who earns her release through hard work over many years should be treated differently because her case was in the headlines.”

Opponents of Van Houten’s parole take a starkly different stand.

“Ms. Van Houten should not be paroled and society cannot trust someone who committed such a heinous murder without showing any remorse for years,” according to a statement on a Web site devoted to keeping “the Manson Family Killers in Prison.”


Hipsters of the holy: How a Toronto church became a hit with young believers

A group of young people pray together after a Christian City Church service in Toronto last month. The C3 Pentecostal movement, which originated in Australia, has spread to more than 450 churches around the world, including 11 congregations across Canada.
With slick social media, a gospel of self-help and services that look more like Arcade Fire concerts, a Toronto congregation is bucking the global trend of aging Christian congregations. Eric Andrew-Gee checks it out

JANUARY 21, 2018

Until recently, Aimee Burke was a cartoon of her generation. She cut hair on Toronto's gentrified Ossington Avenue. She partied a lot and was partial to coke. Her hookups comprised partners both male and female. She was unhappy.

Her life began to change, she said, with the appearance of an unusual tattoo. (Even her epiphany had a millennial cast.) About two years ago, a client at her salon flashed a wrist inked with an image of Christ. When Ms. Burke asked about it, the tattooed client said she belonged to a new Toronto church.

Soon after, having confirmed that she could attend in ripped jeans, Ms. Burke went to her first C3 Church service.

There was no guarantee she would be won over by a Pentecostal movement founded in Australia 35 years earlier as the Christian City Church and re-branded in the course of its rapid, worldwide growth.

"I'm pretty sure I went to the service hungover from the night before," she recalled.

But as the service wore on, she found herself weeping. "I just felt less empty."

"Everyone was within about 10 years of my age and I was 24 years old at the time. They were talking about God, but they looked like people I could party with," Ms. Burke said. "I felt like I could be myself right away."

The church had won a convert.

"As the Christians would say, I've surrendered over my life," she said recently. "I do everything. I pray in the morning, I pray at night, I read my Bible every day. … Now I'm waiting for marriage. I've been sober for almost two years."

Across the West, Christian congregations are aging and young unbelievers now outnumber their religiously committed peers in Canada, according to an Angus Reid survey last spring. But amid the general greying of the religious population, C3 has found a niche as a hipster church.

Although it will perform a water baptism if you so desire, its focus is a self-help message geared to the practical worries of young, alienated urbanites and a glossy social-media presence. It is making worshippers out of people who might otherwise have spent their Sundays scrolling through Tinder in a coffee shop. C3 has grown to include more than 450 churches around the world, including 11 congregations across Canada with about 3,000 parishioners total, and a Toronto branch so big it recently split into eastern and western "campuses."

"I think people are looking for something to believe in," Ms. Burke offered, "even if it's just themselves."

'Do life together'

On a recent Sunday, the foyer of Toronto's Central Technical School looked like the orchestra pit of an Arcade Fire concert.

Many forearms were covered with tattoos, many male faces were covered in beards and the median age was about 30.

The morning's second service at C3's western campus was about to begin, with close to 300 people in attendance.

The church does not have a bricks-and-mortar place of worship in Toronto, but in virtually every other way it presents as a thriving and exceptionally well-funded religious community.

Volunteers had placed little Christmas trees spangled with candy canes in the dank public school bathrooms.

Inside the school auditorium, volunteers with walkie-talkies in their back pockets arranged children artfully on a Persian rug in front of the stage for "Kids Takeover Service," in which the pastor's wife interviewed kids from the congregation on stage.

From the vantage point of most Christian churches in Canada, every day at C3 is Kids Takeover day. The youth of the place cuts sharply against the national trend.

"They've managed to do something a lot of people haven't managed to figure out," said Brian Clarke, a lecturer in the History of Christianity at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology. "In 1961, the United Church of Canada looked like Canada, in terms of age profile, in terms of ethnic diversity. … You look now and it doesn't. United Church is not alone in that. All the larger Protestant churches have gone through that."

C3's demographics are no coincidence. The church carefully gears its message and outreach to striving young city-dwellers. The Toronto congregation has an Instagram page and a podcast. Photographers buzz around parish events snapping deftly lit photos for diffusion on social media. Sunday services open with a Christian rock concert.

Pastor Sam Picken started C3's Toronto chapter in 2012 with his wife, Jess Picken, and it has been a family affair ever since. They and their two small children are the face of the church.

On a recent Sunday, Jess introduced the congregation to Rocco, the C3 kids' mascot – an adult dressed in a plausible-looking raccoon costume – and recounted how "dope" the church Christmas party had been.

"We crowd-surfed people at our Christmas party," she said.

The church's upbeat, easy going style attracted many of the parishioners at its west end campus.

"The big thing here is people come and they don't feel pressured to be anything other than who they are," said Jonathan Li, 30. "It's more about having people to do life together.

"I think people are a lot lonelier these days, even with social media. … I think there's a false sense of connectedness there."

Mike Sexsmith, 32, is part of a church Connect Group – like a Bible study group, but not necessarily for studying the Bible – that meets to play a game called Spikeball.

The Greater Toronto Area has millions of people, he said, "but it's like the loneliest place in the world." At C3, "Guys just invite you to hang out."

Embracing inadequacy

When Mr. Picken walked on stage to deliver his sermon, he looked like a guy just inviting you to hang out. Dressed in tight black jeans and a denim shirt, his hair shaved on the sides, he carried a Bible and an iPad in the same hand, eventually reading from them both.

"God's presence is in this place," he said, as the band played softly in the background. "Thank you, Jesus."

His sermon that day was a riff on the theme of inadequacy, drawing widely from Biblical scripture.

"God is doing something massive in your life," he said in a rough-hewn Australian accent. "God has a strong plan for 2018."

"God is higher than your thinking," he went on. "If you are inadequate, he is adequate."

Parishioners urged him on. "Right!" "Yep!" "That's good!" "Come on!"

"Nobody understands why you give your money to the church," Mr. Picken said. "They don't understand why you give your time to the church."

It's true that some parishioners are misunderstood by their friends – colleagues at the salon call Ms. Burke "crazy Jesus lady" – and also that many parishioners give generously of their time and money. C3, which has a staff of seven including Mr. and Ms. Picken, is funded entirely by donations, like many churches. Worshippers at the Sunday service were given a card indicating giving options, including PayPal and regular automated debit transfers. "Take a moment to thank God for his faithfulness," it said.

The sermon gained urgency and intensity as it went. The overriding message was that inadequacy is something to embrace, not shy away from, because it brings one closer to Jesus.

"God wants to point a finger at your owie," Mr. Picken said, using the idiosyncratic, modern evangelical diction in which giving a sermon is "preaching a word" and caring for someone means "loving on" them. "Jesus is excited … to work in your stuff."

"Dear Jesus, I thank you that you died on a cross to work in my mess."

Mr. Picken was born in Australia 33 years ago and while he was raised Christian, he came across C3 while he was a musician playing bar-band classic rock covers.

His intense, declamatory style in the pulpit seems less inspired by the great rock n' roll frontmen than by self-help gurus like Tony Robbins. He said during his sermon that he listened to the podcasts of other preachers for inspiration; asked about his influences later in the day, Mr. Picken said: "Business books."

"Just like anyone else in an industry, you want to be the best you can possibly be."

His comfort with modern, secular rhetoric mirrors the church's ease with modern forms of communication.

"We use technology to try and advance the Gospel," Mr. Picken said. "I think Jesus would have had an Instagram account if he had been alive today."

Relationship, not rules

The church's modernity also extends to its social teaching. One of C3's selling points for the young and spiritually curious is that it avoids the language of judgment and sanction.

"We don't present ourselves in any sense as know-it-alls," Mr. Picken said. "We're trying not to offer rules, but relationship."

The church's disinclination to tell people how to live their lives seems to extend even to the fraught realm of same-sex relationships, which have so bedeviled modern Christianity. Mr. Picken tiptoed painstakingly around the subject, but ultimately deferred judgment.

"Sexuality is such a personal thing that to make a blanket statement about it feels really objective and impersonal," he said. "I see my role not to tell people what's right or wrong or what to do, but to point them to having a relationship with Jesus."

Prof. Clarke suggested that C3's studied neutrality on hot-button moral issues was a canny move for a growing church.

"I think a lot of churches realized part of their legacy was that they were judgmental and that turned a lot of people off," he said. "You've got to meet people where they are."

Aimee Burke is glad the church met her where she was. At C3, she felt like she could be herself, without feeling "self-condemned," she said. All the jokes about saying Hail Marys when she swears at work are worth it, Ms. Burke insists.

"This is going to sound really Christian-y," she said, "but it felt like the chains came off of me."


Jan 20, 2018

The Second Coming Christ Controversy

David Jang has become an increasingly influential figure in Asian and now American evangelicalism. He and his followers have founded media outlets and a Christian college and are key influencers in the World Evangelical Alliance. But many say he leads a group that has encouraged the belief that he's the 'Second Coming Christ.' Is there any truth to the allegations?

Christianity Today
August 16, 2012

The good news was they had a buyer.

Glorieta Conference Center, owned by the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources, is one of the largest and best-known Christian conference facilities in the country, sitting on 2,100 acres near Santa Fe, New Mexico. But for 24 of the last 25 years it has drained money from the organization.

"There's just not a demand for the kinds of things that we do and used to do at Glorieta," said LifeWay spokesman Marty King. So, last September, LifeWay's trustees decided to investigate selling the campus. The plan was to sell to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico for the nominal price of $1. However, the convention said the cost of upgrading Glorieta and potential environmental liability made acquisition unattractive.

Then came an offer from San Francisco–based Olivet University. (The school has no connection to Illinois-based Olivet Nazarene University.) The school, founded by Korean pastor David Jang in 1992, has several affiliate ministries and Internet businesses that reportedly helped it to raise enough funds to buy and run the Glorieta campus.

The bad news for LifeWay was that Jang is a controversial figure who, according to credible reports, has been hailed by some of his followers as the "Second Coming Christ."

Over the last five years, ministries and organizations founded by or connected to Jang have gained influence in American and global evangelical ministries, including the World Evangelical Alliance. Yet in the same period, a number of mainstream Christian organizations in Korea and China have severed relationships with his affiliated organizations after investigating such claims and finding them credible. Other groups have reconfirmed their ties after their investigations cleared him. Now, as Jang's businesses and ministries have sought greater recognition and expansion in the United States, Christian leaders and ministries here are asking similar questions about Jang, his affiliated organizations, and their theology.

The 'Second Coming Christ'

The details of Jang's early life are in question, and multiple efforts to contact him for this story's publication were unsuccessful.

Critics in Korea, Japan, and China say he was involved in Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. They point to his appearance in a 1989 student handbook for Moon's Sung Hwa Theological Seminary as an assistant professor of theology, teaching systematic theology and Unification theology. They also cite a 2002 history of Sun Moon University praising him for helping to fund the school.

Jang's defenders, on the other hand, say the critics have fabricated evidence and that Jang merely joined an anti-Communist club that also included Unification Church members.

News N Joy, a Korean Christian website, reported in 2004 that it had four conversations with Jang about his career in the Unification Church after Jang objected to one of the site's articles. In the interview, Jang said the description in the Sun Moon University history book was inaccurate, but acknowledged that he had worked for the school until 1995 (he did not officially resign until 1998). "He explained that the reason he was involved in Sun Moon University was to teach orthodox theology to Unification Church members," the site reported. "In addition, he added that he led a lot of deluded people to the way of truth."

Both sides agree that Jang has long had more orthodox ties. According to a résumé Jang submitted to the Christian Council of Korea, he received his M.Div. from Hanshin University in 1990 and a Ph.D. from Dankook University in 1992. That same year, he was ordained as a Korean Presbyterian minister, and by 1999 he was moderator of the Hang Dong Presbytery.

But according to several sources with experience in Jang-associated organizations and communities, many members of the movement believed that the key event in Jang's early missionary endeavors is not in his résumé—nor, indeed, in any written source. It was believed, these sources said, that in or around 1992, early follower Borah Lin told Jang that she believed he was the "Second Coming Christ"—not Jesus Christ himself, but rather a new messianic figure that would complete Jesus' earthly mission. According to several former members, Lin became an important spiritual figure in Jang's closest circles.

Documents from teaching sessions indicate that Jang and his followers look to October 30, 1992—Jang's 43rd birthday—as the precise date of the start of their own movement. Beyond that, affiliated groups including Apostolos Campus Ministries and Olivet University look to 1992 as the year of their founding.

The years that followed were busy, as Jang recruited followers and commissioned missionaries to work on college campuses throughout Asia. The first missionaries to China arrived in 1996 and formed the core of the Young Disciples of Jesus. The Christian Post and Christian Today have dated their founding to 2000 (on its website, The Christian Postrecently changed the founding date to 2004). The Gospel Herald and the American body of the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches (EAPC) launched in 2004, and the International Business Times in 2006. By 2002, Jang had recruited adherents in key cities throughout China, Japan, and Korea, and had begun expanding into the United States.

In a paper written for the Evangelical Missiological Society in 2008, Olivet University president William Wagner wrote, "[M]inistries created by the Olivet movement occupy four of the top-ten ranked Christian websites in the United States—including the position of number one … . [M]arkedly successful websites produced by Olivet College of Journalism affiliate ministries have been developed in over 40 languages around the world … . In almost every case, these websites are top-ranked in their countries of origin." In addition to the businesses and ministries listed above, Wagner included organizations such as Crossmap, Verecom, IB Spot, Deographics, Jubilee Mission, BREATHEcast, Good News Line, Bible Portal, and the World Evangelical Theological Institute Association as "affiliate ministries" of Olivet University.

In a May 2008 interview with Christianity Today, Wagner said Jang worked with college students to "target top universities"—especially those in the University of California system—to build the student body at Olivet through transfers. Wagner said Apostolos Campus Ministries (since renamed Apostolos Missions) at the time had more than 30,000 students in 120 countries. That number didn't include another 10,000 students in China, where the organization is known as Young Disciples of Jesus.

These campus ministries would approach students who seemed to be interested in Bible studies and encourage them to take a course of 40 private "history lessons." (Wagner characterized them as intensive courses in discipleship and leadership.) Former members say that it was generally believed that these lessons had originated with Jang himself.

"These messages," a former student of the lessons in the United States said he was told about a decade ago, "are so precious that we can't give them out to just anyone, even other Christians." The lessons were only given by senior members of the community, former members said, and sometimes the final key lessons would be given by Lin herself.

What unites the movement? 'One is God,' said Olivet president William Wagner. 'But another is the spiritual leader; he's the one that has tied it all together. He had the vision for Olivet.'

The precise goal of these lessons is in dispute. Several former members of the Jang-affiliated groups told CT the lessons seemed to be designed to lead new members to a confession that Jang was the "Second Coming Christ," though such a goal was never stated outright by the instructors.

"There were many obvious implied hints for getting people to confess," said a former member of the movement in China. "As one brother said, 'As long as you're not a fool, you can use logic to hint and imply.' But no one said directly in the sermons that 'Pastor David Jang is the Returning Lord.' Usually, even in private, this will not be mentioned. It seems to be top secret."

Former member Ma Li, who says she began the lessons in China in 2002, said that when she finished, her instructor looked at her and another new member very seriously and asked, "Have you understood? All the content?"

"I answered firmly: 'Yes,'" she said. "Then she asked me separately: 'Who is Pastor David?' I answered without thinking, just followed what I heard just now and answered: 'The Second Coming Christ!' She said, 'Shhh,' calmly, and then, 'Don't tell others.'"

A former member of the U.S. branch of the movement described a similar experience:

When [my teacher] asked me, "Who do you think Pastor David is?" I was very shocked, and didn't know how to respond. At the time, I shed tears, because I didn't believe what I was hearing. I was so shocked. But then a thought crossed my mind, and I asked, "Is he the Second Coming Christ?" Because I wanted to test to see how they responded to that. But [his] response was even more surprising. "You've made a confession now." So I decided to play along with it for a while. But then he went around telling all the other leaders that I had confessed.

A Central Conviction?

While all of the former members interviewed by CT agreed that some people in the movement believe that Jang is the Second Coming Christ, they disagreed on how central this is to the group's religious identity.

One former member from the U.S. said, "It was never explicitly taught that Jang is the Second Coming of Christ or even a key eschatological figure. If that was ever stated, it was stated as a belief by those who believed. [But] the way eschatology was taught, one could easily come to that conclusion."

In fact, the same member said that although he never believed or confessed that David Jang was the Second Coming Christ, he did for a time believe it was possible that Jang was a "key eschatological figure."* He believed it, he said, "not because it was taught to me, but because there was at the time, in my mind, a fairly compelling case for the possibility. Now, of course—and for several years—I believe this not to be true. Though [Jang] is admittedly further along in many areas than other Christian leaders and pastors, I find his flaws to be too significant to ignore."

Another former member who came to the United States from China said that in the near decade he spent with the group, he had never been taught directly that Jang was the Second Coming Christ. On several occasions stretching back to 2003, he said he even heard Jang firmly deny that he was the Christ: "He always said those who said 'he is Christ' were insane."

According to documents sent to CT by Olivet officials and other Jang associates, Jang issued this denial in 2008:

A Note About Our Sources

Because CT is committed to transparency and verifiability in its reporting, we attempt to limit the use of anonymous sources except as a last resort or when identifying the source puts them at risk. For this story, we found evidence that our sources could face retaliation for speaking to CT about their experiences. These sources, all from the United States or China, gave evidence that they had been part of David Jang's organizations, ministries, or businesses, and some served in senior positions. They independently offered similar and mutually confirming explanations of the movement's eschatology, history, organizational structure, practices, and personnel. Where their accounts differ, we have noted it in the story. Most of our anonymous sources are speaking about their experience for the first time and did not serve as witnesses in the earlier inquiries in Asia.

I give praises for the grace of Jesus Christ. By the grace of Jesus Christ, I accepted Jesus as my one and only Savior, and since I was forgiven of my sins, I have never abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. Also, I have never preached any other gospel other than that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore I have never taught that I am Christ. I clearly confess that there is no other way than through Jesus Christ to receive salvation and gain freedom.

Chris Lee, a pastor at Immanuel Community Church in New York City (the flagship church of the EAPC in the United States), likewise issued a blanket denial that Jang had ever claimed to be the Second Coming Christ.

But several former members who spoke to CT found it implausible that Jang had no connections to the confessions that he was the Second Coming Christ. One said that for several years around 2002 or 2003, it was the tradition for those who had just made the "confession" to write it out and send it to Jang.

One former leader from China said that only the most senior and trusted leaders were allowed to give the eschatology lessons, and that Jang specifically denied ever teaching it.

"During a fierce debate, Pastor David Jang stood up and said that he had never taught that he is 'the Returning Lord.' The problem was that students did not know whether he had taught it or not. But it was a truth within the community. This teaching had been long preached. It was even a condition for joining the group."

A former member from Shanghai said that Jang indirectly encouraged the teaching in a sermon less than a decade ago by claiming that his relationship with Jesus was the same as the relationship between John the Baptist and Elijah, and that he would finish the work that Jesus left incomplete.

However, none of the former members CT talked to heard Jang claim to be the Second Coming Christ. Nor do any of the more than 20 online accounts supposedly written by former members of Jang's organizations (which CT is not including in this report because their authenticity could not be verified) allege that Jang himself made this claim.

'History Lessons'

Despite the group's reported efforts to keep their lessons private, partial contents of two sets of notes taken by members during training sessions have been made public.

Makoto Yamaya, a Salvation Army official in Tokyo, has been writing critically about Jang and his organizations on his blog since 2006. Shortly after Yamaya began blogging, he told CT, he was contacted by a couple whose son, Munenori Kitamura, had gone missing. They had tried to get him to leave Jang's EAPC and the Jang-owned companies he worked for, but he apparently had abandoned the apartment they had set up for him, leaving behind several months' unpaid rent. Kitamura also left behind documents about the EAPC and several pages of "Bible Lecture Notes."

'She asked me separately: "Who is Pastor David?" I answered without thinking, just followed what I heard just now and answered: "The Second Coming Christ!" She said, "Shhh," calmly, and then, "Don't tell others."'
~Ma Li

In the documents provided to CT by Olivet, Kitamura seemed to acknowledge that the notes were his, but explained, "While I am listening to messages, I am used to write down some counterheretical remarks as a comparison to the general teachings, it is a very good opportunity for me to learn about the falsities and contradictions in heretical doctrines."

Meanwhile, Ma Li kept notes she says she took during her lessons in China and turned them over to a group of Chinese critics of the movement.

The two independent sets of notes correspond extensively, and several former members from the United States and China have independently confirmed that many of the movement's members were in fact exposed to the teaching that the notes contain. But one former member, who appeared to be familiar with only the set of Japanese notes, said that it "does not accurately reflect what the large majority believe." It only represents one strand of the community, he said.

The basic content of these messages, both as contained in the notes and as described by former members, bears similarities to the teachings of Sun Myung Moon—that Jesus' work was left unfinished and in need of another "Christ" to complete it. Daniel 12 records a notoriously ambiguous prophecy that refers to 1,260 days ("a time, times and half a time"), "1,290 days," and then finally to "1,335 days." The 1,260 days, the notes say, finished when Jesus was born, and the 1,290 days were completed when Jesus began to preach and teach publicly at 30 years of age (1,260 + 30 = 1,290). His three-year public ministry, they say, advanced the prophecy of 1,290 days to 1,293 days, but because the Cross cut his mission short, Jesus did not fulfill the prophecy of the 1,335 days. There is thus a remaining gap of some 42 "days," which were said to symbolize 42 years. Multiple sources said that this 42-year gap was believed to have been fulfilled by Jang.

The lessons also taught a doctrine of "three Israels." The first was a national Israel, the second was composed of Christians, and the third was constituted by the movement Jang had founded. The 144,000 of Revelation 7 was said to refer to this "third Israel," and the Lamb who redeemed them was said to be "not Jesus, but the Christ of the Second Coming."

Closely associated with this idea of Jang's followers as the "third Israel" is a distinction between the "gospel of parables" that Jesus taught and the "eternal gospel" delivered to Jang. One of the lessons said, "Jesus speaks in parables to preach to us, but to the new era, the gospel will be explained more clearly, that is, the everlasting Gospel." This "everlasting Gospel" will be proclaimed by the Second Coming Christ.

A former member from the United States said that Lin finished her lessons with similar teachings. Among them: "Isn't the kingdom of God the body of Christ? So if someone were to create this body, if they were to start it, wouldn't it make sense to say that this is the Second Coming? And isn't it right to say that the one who does this is the Second Coming Christ?"

Controversy and Consequences

As more people learned of the teachings and Jang's influence on companies, ministries, and media, criticism mushroomed. Posts on Japanese and Chinese Internet bulletin boards warned that the Young Disciples of Jesus was teaching that Jang was the Second Coming Christ, isolating followers from their families, requiring them to donate large amounts of money, encouraging them to lie, and demanding strict secrecy. Similar reports appeared on English-language websites.

These reports led to a number of separate investigations throughout Asia. In 2008, a formal Independent Enquiry Committee based out of Hong Kong, led by a blue-ribbon panel of Chinese evangelical theologians, "unanimously expressed its serious apprehensions and concerns" about the group. The panel said it "could not exclude the … strong probabilities" that the Young Disciples of Jesus "promoted doctrines similar to that of Unification Church, including (1) the first coming of Jesus to the earth was a failure and (2) their pastor is the 'Second Coming Lord' or 'Second Coming Christ.'" The conclusion was signed by 13 well-known Asian theologians and church leaders, including Carver Yu, the president of China Graduate School of Theology, and Rudolf Mak, then Chinese Church Mobilization Director for OMF International.

(The response documents Olivet and Christian Postofficials sent to Christianity Today rejected the Hong Kong report as containing "repeated and ungrounded claims," and said it never proved that its witnesses or lecture notes were from Young Disciples. Yu and Mak, meanwhile, told CT that their concerns with Jang and his movement have only grown since the report was issued.)

Following the release of the Hong Kong report, the Beijing Haidian Christian Church, one of the largest churches in Beijing, issued a statement terminating their relationship with the Young Disciples, removing any members from leadership positions in the church, and prohibiting them from seeking membership or baptism. Similarly, two of the largest Korean denominations (both Presbyterian) launched a joint investigation, and in September 2009 both the PCK-TongHap and PCK-HapShin denominations voted to break relations with Jang's organizations.

The Christian Council of Korea (CCK), a member of the World Evangelical Alliance, came to a different conclusion.

A representative of the CCK who declined to be identified by name said that the organization had conducted four different "studies" of Jang since 2004, and that each had exonerated him. "The conclusion of each study is that he is innocent, not guilty."

Sam Kyung Chae, a member of the CCK's Heresy Investigation Committee, disputed the characterization of the investigations as having conclusively proven Jang's orthodoxy. In 2008, he and two other members of the committee wrote to clarify the committee's statement that it "was not able to find any suspicions that David Jang had any involvement with Unification Church since 1997."

"First, he had involvements with Unification Church before 1997," the three committee members wrote. "Second, it does not mean David Jang had no heretic convictions. Therefore, it is not right for him to misuse the decision of the committee to prove his non-involvement with cultic doctrines."

In an interview with CT, Chae acknowledged that in December 2010 the CCK Heresy Investigation Committee announced that "there is no evidence in regards to the doubts associated with Rev. Jang and the Second Coming of Christ and it is untrue, and Rev. Jang is not at all related to the nature of heresy." The documents sent to CT from Olivet also included letters from the CCK stating that an executive committee accepted the findings. But Chae says the "executive committees of a general assembly" rejected the report.

The CCK's report and subsequent fights (some over Jang, some on other issues) have split the umbrella group. More than 20 denominations have broken away to form the Communion of Churches in Korea (CCIK). That group plans to launch a new investigation on Jang, his influence, and his theology.

Teaching on Hold

Whatever their result, the investigations and the publicity they brought resulted in a number of changes within the movement, former members told CT. Chief among these was that Jang directed them to stop teaching the controversial eschatology messages that had implied he was the Second Coming Christ.

'By the grace of Jesus Christ, I accepted Jesus as my one and only Savior, and since I was forgiven of my sins, I have never abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. Also, I have never preached any other gospel other than that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore I have never taught that I am Christ.' ~ David Jang

"Once, almost every committed member in the group had to agree David Jang was the 'Second Coming Christ' before he or she could be accepted and put in an important position," a former senior member from China told CT. "Right now, such teaching is stopped. As far as I know, they really stopped such teaching. But I would not get rid of the possibility that someone is still spreading the idea or that it went underground. It's like an understood thing in the community—you should know it if you are a core member."

According to this former member, Jang said that as a leader, he [Jang] needed to accept responsibility for the erroneous teaching, but he also said that he was innocent, and blamed one or two misguided followers for the lessons that had intimated that he was the Second Coming Christ. Another member said that Jang removed Lin from her official positions of responsibility amid the investigations in Asia. Her husband, Andrew Lin, is chairman of the board of Olivet University. (Andrew and Borah Lin did not respond to repeated requests for interviews, but through a lawyer Andrew denied ever calling Jang the "Second Coming Christ." Wagner said Borah Lin also denied ever making such a statement.) Former members say that Borah Lin remains very influential in the group, perhaps second only to Jang himself. An April 2012 e-mail from an Olivet student calls Borah "pastor," and said she spoke at a recent major event regarding Olivet's campus planning.

Several former members believe that many of Jang's core followers probably have not changed their views. A former member from China said that at least one current member insisted that their earlier teaching had not been a mistake. A former U.S. member estimates that about 10 to 20 percent of the movement's members believe that Jang is the Second Coming Christ. Yet another former U.S. member put the percentage higher.

"It's higher than 20 percent, at least in the inner circle," the former member said. "It's difficult to say exactly what percentage actually believes it. But they've all been taught lessons where he is compared to the Christ, or he is fulfilling Christ's commission."

The extent of the belief and teaching may vary by region as well. "We all believed that he was the 'Second Coming Christ' when I was in the Shanghai community," said a member who says he left in the mid-2000s after several years. "After we signed a member card, all of the members were told directly that our pastor (David Jang) was the 'Second Coming Christ.'"

The Rescuer

In 2005, as the CCK was in its second of four investigations of Jang, it was not yet a member of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). (The WEA's national alliance at the time was the Korea Evangelical Fellowship.) But at the time, the WEA was shifting its attention from identifying and cultivating such partners to solving its own issues with finances and mission.

World Evangelical Alliance CEO Geoff Tunnicliffe Responds

World Evangelical Alliance CEO and secretary general Geoff Tunnicliffe insisted that CT reporters submit questions for this story in writing. When CT did so, he issued this response:

"At the core of your questions to us you consistently refer to the 'Jang Community.' All other questions seem to stem from this understanding. We specifically reject this presumption, as did the Supreme Court of Korea that found similar statements untrue and libelous. We would therefore refer you to the Christian Council of Korea, our member body in South Korea who has already ruled on this matter several times. The Christian Council of Korea represents 71 denominations and over 80 percent of all the Protestant Christians in South Korea."

CT found no evidence of a Supreme Court ruling, but the court did let stand a lower court's libel decision against Deulsori Times, which had criticized Jang. Deulsori Timesand others characterize the ruling as technical: The Times had reported that Christian Today was connected to Jang, and Christian Today denied it. The court awarded Christian Today the equivalent of $782.

The self-described voice of some 600 million Christians, the WEA has been a significant part of international evangelical cooperation since the early 1950s. But it had been running deficits for years. Closing offices and cutting costs had failed to stanch the bleeding. WEA leaders planned to change the organization's focus. It would give less attention to creating and sustaining partnerships and more to becoming the "global voice for the evangelical community."

Gary Edmonds, director of the WEA from 2002 to 2005, supported the shift, but said it wasn't a great fit with his gifts or passions. Several months before the end of his tenure, Edmonds was approached by representatives of The Christian Post, who offered to help the WEA's promotional and advocacy efforts. Geoff Tunnicliffe, who followed Edmonds as international director of the WEA and who had previously raised the profile of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada through public policy advocacy, took The Christian Post up on its offer to help.

Five months after Tunnicliffe's appointment in 2005, the WEA opened an Information Technology Center on the San Francisco campus of Jang's Olivet University. Several sources say that organizations started by Jang and his followers began to support the WEA financially, and in April 2007, Jang was accepted onto the WEA's North American Council. Two months later, Olivet University invited Tunnicliffe to be their commencement speaker and presented him with an honorary doctorate. Over the next four years, The Christian Postreporters also began to work for the WEA as press secretaries, and an Olivet graduate became director of communications. The former CEO of Deographics was appointed executive director of the WEA's IT Commission. An Olivet graduate from The Christian Post and Jubilee Mission was hired as their chief of staff. The WEA's website moved onto the servers that host the websites of The Christian Post, Olivet, Young Disciples of Jesus, and other Jang-associated organizations. Soon thereafter, the WEA began sharing office space with Jang's companies. Some 20 organizations associated with Jang have been accepted for membership into the WEA (composing a third of its global partners and a sixth of its associate members). However, none of the former members CT talked to, nor any of Jang's critics, alleged any wrongdoing by the WEA itself; where there was concern it was simply that the WEA had given legitimacy to Jang and his organizations by associating so closely with them.

Seeking Influence and Legitimacy

While The Christian Post was approaching the WEA in 2005, the CEO of The Gospel Heraldwas asking Thomas Wang to be the Hong Kong newspaper's honorary chair. Wang, president of the Great Commission Center International and former international director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, said he was impressed by the CEO's zeal and energy for the gospel and agreed to lend his name to The Gospel Herald's endeavors. Soon afterwards, Wang began receiving warnings from friends in Asia. After some investigation, he resigned and requested that his name be removed from the website. In 2008 he issued a statement describing his experience with the group, concluding, "I am very much concerned about the deceptive nature of the community and the fact that many evangelical leaders today are still unaware of the true picture."

Wang told CT that he has tried to warn Christian leaders in the United States and Asia about Jang and his organizations, and he is surprised that so many continue to lend their names, especially leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.

"What they always try to do is get evangelical leaders as advisers or their honorary leaders," he said.

The response documents from Olivet University acknowledge that Wang is "a well-respected pastor in Chinese churches worldwide," and allege that he has been misled by "fabricated materials from [blogger] Yamaya in Japan." The documents also say that Wang's break with The Gospel Heraldwas sparked by "different standpoints on the state-owned churches in China" rather than the Jang controversies.

Wang is right that Southern Baptists have played a prominent role on advisory boards of Jang's organizations. The Christian Post, which bills itself as "the nation's most comprehensive Christian news website," lists as its chairman Wagner, the president of Olivet University (OU) who ran for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency in 2008. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is the media outlet's executive editor.

Land declined to comment on his involvement and repeatedly referred questions to Post CEO Will Anderson and to Olivet's Wagner. But he told Baptist Press that in his job, "I write at least one column a month on current moral issues, and I'm available to advise and consult with the writers and editorial staff upon their request on issues they should cover and how to cover them." The Tennessean reported that Land's position is paid.

Southern Baptist's Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler is listed among the Post's senior editorial advisers, along with activist Mark Creech; evangelist Will Graham; pastors Joel C. Hunter, Harry R. Jackson Jr., and Samuel Rodriguez; and WEA's William Taylor. James Draper was listed on the advisory board in 2005, when he was president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In 2006, when Thom Rainer stepped into the LifeWay presidency, he similarly replaced Draper on The Christian Post's advisory board. (Neither is currently listed. Southeastern Baptist president Daniel Akin says he resigned from the board in late July.)

Other organizations connected to Jang have similarly formed connections with prominent figures and groups. Other similarities between the organizations also suggest not only common roots but close-knit ties and centralized leadership or influence. But the precise relationship between the organizations (aside from their shared connections with Olivet and their relationship with Jang) remains murky to those outside the network and, at times, former members say, even those within the network.

In CT's May 2008 interview with Wagner and Kenneth Chan (an Olivet grad who was then executive editor of The Christian Post), the two men disagreed about the specific relationship between the two organizations.

"All of these movements are totally independent. They are totally self-supporting," Chan said.

"That may be technically true. But OU specializes in the creation of ministries," Wagner responded. "Our students were used to create many ministries and businesses," he said, and noted that the school ran several of them, including Verecom, as independent businesses. "We have offices in 10 different time zones," he said. "We're doing work for Honda and HP [Hewlettt-Packard]. These ministries then contribute money back to OU."

CT asked Wagner: "So what unites the movement?"

"One is God," he responded. "But another is the spiritual leader; he's the one that has tied it all together. He had the vision for Olivet." He later added passion to the list.

In an August 2012 interview, Wagner said members of the Olivet mission movement treat Jang with reverence, but only in the same way other parts of the evangelical movement adore their spiritual leaders. "We look at Dr. Jang as a tremendous leader, not as the reincarnate Christ," he said. "I've worked with him for about eight years. I'm firmly convinced that they are not lying. I'm firmly convinced that our Christology is solid."

Wagner said that Jang has no input on school decisions and denied the rumors about the teaching. "Do I look like the reincarnate Christ?" Wagner said Jang told him. "I'm just a sinner!" Meeting with the members of the Hong Kong committee didn't change Wagner's mind, he said, and now he doesn't even have the tiniest doubt about Jang's orthodoxy. "If I did, I wouldn't be here," he said. And if Jang had ever claimed to be the reincarnate Christ, "he'd have really made a mistake turning his school over to a bunch of radical evangelicals."

One of those evangelicals is Don Tinder, a former CT associate editor and dean of Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam. He now serves as dean of Olivet Theological College and Seminary. "In the years I've been associated with Jang I've seen not the slightest indication of anything I'd consider heretical," he said. He also said he's seen no evidence that the mainstream evangelical teaching in the classroom diverges from anything the students learn in Apostolos Missions. "There's been no suggestion that [they're] learning these things to learn what the mainstream believes and have [their] own teaching."

No one CT talked to for this story claimed that the "history lessons" that allegedly encourage the belief that Jang is the "Second Coming Christ" were ever taught in Olivet classrooms, or that Apostolos or Young Disciples members have encouraged the belief among its members in recent years.

Next Up: A U.S. Inquiry Panel

The concerns which have been raised about Jang have not gone unnoticed by the Glorieta community. Over the summer, Olivet University has been leasing an unused portion of the Glorieta campus while they complete negotiations with LifeWay. Local residents say they were initially excited to learn that a Christian university might be acquiring Glorieta. But research into Olivet caused some concerns. At a recent homeowners meeting with LifeWay, one resident raised her hand and asked, "So who is David Jang, and does he claim to be the Second Coming Christ?"

Marty King, the LifeWay spokesman, said the primary condition of the negotiations between LifeWay and Olivet would be a review by the National Association of Evangelicals to determine their theological compatibility. The NAE says it is keeping the review team members and deliberations confidential. This review, members of the Glorieta community and Olivet University both say, is most welcome. "We are intending to prove our evangelical theological position through the LifeWay review," Wagner said. "I don't think we're going to have any complications."

Ted Olsen is CT's managing editor, news and online journalism. Ken Smith is an independent journalist based in Washington State.

*Note: Due to further reporting, this article has been modified to clarify what one of our sources believed about David Jang. It has also been modified to clarify that the relationship between Southern Baptist leaders and The Christian Post is not the same as the relationship between The Christian Post and Olivet.

Update: A followup article was published on September 12: "The Second Coming Christ Controversy: More Leaders Speak Out."