business, careers, law, LDS, YouTube

I discovered a fascinating new YouTube channel…

Based on the recent topics I’ve been covering on this blog, some people might come away with the idea that all I care about is abortion, Trump, and COVID-19. But, the truth is, I have a wide array of interests. I am really interested in cults, and before the mess of the pandemic and Trump’s disastrous presidency, I wrote a lot about toxic organizations.

Before I revised my commenting policy, I heard from someone who had read the story of how I almost got sucked into a multi-level marketing business. Well, actually, that’s probably overstating things. The truth is, there was never any real possibility that I would ever get involved with an MLM. I did, however, get roped into seeing a presentation by people involved with the now defunct group, Equinox. It was a bizarre experience that was also surprisingly educational. I’m glad I went, although I am even more glad that I didn’t get sucked into the business.

As I discovered yesterday, when I found NOT THE GOOD GIRL’s YouTube channel, some people are not so fortunate. I found her channel yesterday, when YouTube suggested a video she made, interviewing a former Mary Kay director. It was late afternoon and I had time to kill, so I watched the whole thing, which ran for over two hours. I have to give her props. I very rarely have the patience to sit through a two hour video that wasn’t made by TV producers or movie makers. But I did watch the whole thing… and I found it thought provoking on many levels.

I watched this entire video… Elle could have been me, although she’s a lot bubblier than I am.

What I really thought was interesting about this video is how the two women talk about the culty tactics used to keep people in the business. At one point, they both mention that they used to be religious. Elle says she went to a Bible college. And Josie, the woman making these videos, also mentions that the tactics reminded her of being in church. I don’t know which religious bent either of these ladies followed, but I definitely could see the parallels.

I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which was pretty benign. But Bill was involved in the LDS church, thanks to his ex wife. I have been studying Mormonism for years, and I recognized a lot of the signs and symptoms of “cult abuse” in this video that I’ve also seen in Mormonism. In fairness, those same signs and symptoms exist in other religious organizations. Mormonism is just the organization that directly affected me. They aren’t the only ones, nor are they necessarily the worst offenders. Actually, Elle mentions that being in Mary Kay reminded her of Scientology. I could definitely see that, having seen some of the videos showing members rallying, with Tom Cruise and his ilk at the helm.

Reminds me of some of the video footage of MLM rallies I’ve seen.

In the below video, Josie talks about her own experiences with MLMs, and how she got indoctrinated by multi-level marking companies. So many of the techniques used by culty religions and abusive people are used by MLMs. Josie talks about being “lovebombed” and groomed, sucked into the business model that so often preys on people’s hopes and dreams of prosperity and being their own bosses.

Josie explains how she got hooked by MLMs…

I noticed in both Josie’s and Elle’s stories, both women joined the MLMs when they were feeling desperate and/or trying to escape a bad situation. In Elle’s case, she was a new college graduate who had a degree in English. She was look for a “real job” and was not having much success. Mary Kay made it seem like she could be a legitimate business owner and build “experience” that might make her attractive to employers. She didn’t realize that a lot of people don’t like people who are involved in MLMs, because they are always looking for sales leads– either people to buy their products, or people they can recruit. Because recruiting new distributors is how people in MLMs make money, and most people are not successful.

In Josie’s case, the decision to be involved in MLMs followed a divorce when she was in her early 20s. She thought the MLM would help her change her life. But what it really led to was the loss of friendships and the loss of herself. She and Elle both describe incredible toxicity that occurs within these types of organizations. I can’t help but notice that a lot of people who join demanding religions also tend to lose friends and family members as they get more indoctrinated within the group. Maybe that’s less true with a religion like the LDS church, as many people identify as “cultural Mormons” and associate with non-LDS people. However, people who initially join and radically change their lifestyles often do lose contact with people who don’t want to join the religion.

Now, I know that some people join MLMs, not because they want to make money, but because they like the products and want discounts. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. What Josie and Elle are talking about are people who think they’re going to make a lot of money in MLMs. Some people do make money, but the vast majority of people never make so much as minimum wage. And they often end up exploiting people in the process of trying to succeed.

Josie also points out that some MLMs do offer good products. I remember that even Equinox had some good products that people wanted to buy, even after the company fell apart. I know a lot of people swear by Avon and Mary Kay. The issue isn’t necessarily the quality of the products. It’s the fact that the products aren’t where the money comes from. The money comes from getting people to basically join a cult, where toxic measures are used to keep people slaving away. The toxicity includes being told you’re not good enough; you don’t work hard enough; you aren’t positive enough, or sharing the company’s image in the best light.

I have visited this topic before. In my original incarnation of The Overeducated Housewife, I wrote several posts about LuLaRoe. I know a few people who were involved in that company, and some swore by how comfortable their leggings are. Deanne Brady Stidham and Mark Stidham are the founders of LuLaRoe, and they are LDS. People in the business referred to Brady as “Aunt Deanne”. I’m sure that was by design, as I pointed out in one of my posts that on the surface, it sounds good to be calling her “aunt”.

If you’re family, you’re supposed to be “loved” and cared for, in a sense.  Family members are supposed to have your back.  We love our family members and don’t want to disappoint them.  That’s what makes it easier to trust family members, and more devastating when family screws you over.  Lots of people think of a business that treats people like “family” as a good thing.  But there is a downside to being a figurative “brother”, “sister”, “aunt” or “cousin”.  Sometimes when you think of someone as “family”, you let your guard down when you really shouldn’t. And, in fact, some of the worst abuse and most toxic relationships happen at the hands of “family” members.

Family members have that advantage of being in the group… they have access to you that other people generally don’t.  They know you better than most people do.  And when something unpleasant needs to be done, family members feel okay about asking other family members for help.  If you go against the grain, you run the risk of being cast out… lovingly, of course, because you need to see the error of your ways.  While I don’t know for sure, I get the sense that LuLaRoe and some other multi-level marketing businesses are kind of culty like that.  You toe the line so you won’t be towed outside of the group. 

If you watch the video with Elle, the Mary Kay director, you’ll hear her talk about the $400 suits she felt compelled to buy for the sake of her business. She talks about how, as a Mary Kay consultant, she was expected to wear panty hose, even when she was on a plane going to a convention. She talks about all of the gear and merchandise she was pressured to buy, all in the name of promoting the business. Below is a screenshot I took of a now defunct blog post about a woman who got burned by LuLaRoe. You can see how appearance and dressing for success is very heavily promoted. But it also has the effect of creating a “uniform”, which psychologically gets people to think they’re part of a larger, more powerful group. While there may not be anything wrong with being in a group, I do think it’s important to understand how being conditioned to look, think, and dress a certain way is a conduit toward being a part of a cult.

LuLaRoe dress rules.

I loved this lady’s hilarious anti-LuLaRoe video. It bears another share!

She gets it… and is spilling the truth.

I’ll probably spend some more time watching Josie’s videos today… or maybe even a few by other people who have learned the truth about being involved with MLMs. I know some people think MLMs are great. In fact, I remember one acquaintance got very defensive when I shared a negative news article about LuLaRoe. However, I could not help but notice that less than a year later, she was trying to unload her entire inventory after LuLaRoe got very publicly sued. Amazon even has a new docuseries going on about LuLaRoe.

I don’t like MLMs, and it’s sad to hear and read stories of people who get caught up in them. On the other hand, I find that topic less depressing than COVID-19, Trump worship, and abortion… So, since it’s Friday, I’ll probably explore some more. Josie’s channel on its own has hours of content! I could totally fall down a rabbit hole. I’m watching the below video now.

High drama!

I notice that Josie’s early videos get very few views. But now that she’s exposing MLMs, she’s probably making some legitimate bank on YouTube!

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LDS, religion

Yes, Mormonism is a cult. But so are a lot of religious groups.

This morning, I noticed that The Atlantic was rerunning an article about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I read the article the first time it ran, back in January, so I didn’t read it again this morning. Instead, I went directly to the Facebook comments. Many people posted that the LDS church is a cult. I happen to agree that it’s a cult. If you go by the strict definition of a cult, Mormonism fits nicely. According to Dictionary.com, the noun usage of “cult” is defined:

noun

a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

the object of such devotion.

a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

I notice that there’s nothing really negative implied by this definition. In fact, based on the dictionary’s definition, just about any religious group could be called a cult. But many Americans see the term “cult” as negative, so when a group is called a “cult”, some people become defensive. Such was the case this morning, when an obviously LDS church member took on the many people who were calling the LDS church a cult. I chuckled to myself when I came across this exchange:

The same guy had similar responses for those calling his church a “cult”.

I thought about responding to him, since the original poster hadn’t. I was going to ask, “Are you sure you want us to spell it out for you?” Because again, if you look at the official definition of a cult, Mormonism and most other religious groups fit quite nicely. But Mormonism also fits nicely under the more sinister meaning of a cult as it’s defined by famed cult expert, Rick Ross. In a 2009 article published by The Guardian, Ross explicitly spells out the “tell tale” signs of a cult . He quotes psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who taught at Harvard Medical School and wrote a paper titled Cult Formation back in the early 1980s. Below are the three main characteristics of cults, according to Lifton.

1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.

2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called “brainwashing”].

The culmination of this process can be seen by members of the group often doing things that are not in their own best interest, but consistently in the best interest of the group and its leader.

3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Ross goes on to provide a list of ten signs of an “unsafe” group or leader:

Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement.

Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

There are records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group/leader.

Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.

The group/leader is always right.

The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

As I look at this list, and consider what my husband experienced when he left the LDS church, as well as many of the other stories of what people who have left Mormonism have gone through, I recognize a lot of the signs. The LDS church has a “living prophet”. Right now, the prophet is Russell M. Nelson, who is 96 years old. True believing Mormons consider Nelson to have the ability to receive special revelations from God, although they do realize that prophets are human and sometimes speak “as men”. In other words, the prophet is only a prophet when acting as such, which provides a convenient explanation when a prophet says or does something that is distinctly un-Godly.

However, although the church has a living prophet in Russell M. Nelson, they also have Joseph Smith, who founded the church and is considered the prophet above all LDS prophets. Mormons believe “the teaching and writing of Joseph Smith was the result of revelations from God, and they believe that the teaching and writing of their present-day prophets are similarly inspired.” So that means it’s the only true church, and in fact, many Mormons will outright state that the LDS church is the “one true church.” They’ll also stand up once a month during fast and testimony meetings and share their testimonies as to why the church is “true”. Small children will be held up and spoon fed the words, “I know the church is true.” by their parents.

I’m with her.

People who are in the church but question it are often told to “put it on the shelf” or “doubt their doubts”, meaning that they shouldn’t think critically or worry about any niggling thoughts they have as to whether or not the church is true. Members who are too vocal about their doubts will surely be called in to talk to the Bishop, at the very least. They are not encouraged to talk about their concerns with friends or family, especially if those people are also church members. And every member has home and visiting teachers– church members who come by other members’ homes to teach them a “lesson” or have a look at the books and movies on display in a person’s home… or maybe check to see if there’s a coffee maker.

Drinking coffee, tea, and alcohol, you see, is forbidden. So is the use of tobacco or recreational drugs. Mormons are very scared of “addictions” and many believe that ANY use of a forbidden substance, masturbation, or viewing pornography is a full on addiction. My husband’s younger daughter, at age nine, visited us ONCE. She saw two beers in our refrigerator and actually slapped Bill across the face for having them. She even called him a drunk. It was quite a shock for me to see that, since I actually was raised by a drunk. And I can tell you that Bill isn’t an alcoholic (thank GOD). But he does like to drink alcohol.

I don’t have much to write about the church’s financial dealings, other than to state that the church invests in a lot of businesses. Members are expected to tithe ten percent of their gross income, and every year, there is a “tithing settlement” meeting with the Bishop. If members don’t pay a full tithe and follow the rest of the rules, they can lose their “temple recommend”, an actual ID card that allows believers to visit temples, where they put on weird clothes and go through religious ordinances sometimes involving films. This might not be a big deal, except that most faithful Mormons get married in temples, so if you don’t have a current recommend, it might mean you’ll miss a family member’s nuptials. Recently, the church was in the news for misleading members about how donations were potentially being misused.

Bill stayed an active member for several years after he and his ex wife converted. Part of the reason he stayed in the church was because it was used as a tool to keep him in line. He was afraid that if he resigned from the church, he would lose contact with his children. That did end up happening, although it was happening before he finally resigned. Many people told him that resigning would lead him to ruin, although as you can see, his life only improved exponentially after he got divorced and quit the church. An added bonus was that he no longer had to wear the underwear with special symbols on it. If dictating to members what kind of underwear they wear isn’t the sign of a cult, I don’t know what is. And members will often “garment check” other members, checking to see the telltale signs that a person is wearing the proper underwear and is dressed “modestly”.

The very first video I ever saw by Weird Wilbur… I definitely don’t agree with his politics, but I totally agree with what he says in this video, which many people will find very offensive. But, if you stop and think about what he says, he makes a lot of sense.

Hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism board, and you will read many stories from former church members. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Sadly, a number of people who used to post on that board are no longer with us. I can think of at least a couple of folks– bright, sensitive, intelligent, and talented people– who took their own lives because of church bullshit. Many times, it’s because they were homosexual and their families couldn’t accept that and disowned them, but other times it’s because they don’t believe anymore, and their families rejected them. There is one frequent poster who has had many problems with his family because he doesn’t believe and won’t conform. Yes, he could go through the motions in order to keep the peace, but why should he have to do that? It’s not an authentic way to live, and it leads to misery.

Here’s a great video by a former member who explains how her LDS upbringing and the associated indoctrination still affects her today, years after leaving.

The above video is just one of many similar stories about the lingering aftereffects of growing up Mormon. And a lot of people who are in the church will not explore other belief systems. Why not? Because it may shake their beliefs! They don’t want to hear anyone offer criticism about the church and will be very threatened by negative commentary about the church. But if the church is true, why does it matter what other people say? How can a testimony be shaken if church members are so certain the church is “true”? I have gotten many comments from offended Mormons about posts I’ve written. It always perplexes me, because if a person is that sure that they have the truth, nothing I write on a little visited blog should have any effect on them.

I really like Jimmy Snow’s videos. He’s an ex Mormon and he lays it out pretty well as to why the church is pretty “culty”.

I personally don’t care what someone’s religious beliefs are… and, in recent years, I’ve become a lot less interested in Mormonism. I don’t write about it as much as I used to, mainly because Bill’s younger daughter, who is a devout Mormon, is finally speaking to him again. I no longer feel as much anger toward the church as I used to… although I still think the church is pretty culty. As Jimmy Snow points out in the above video, the church takes up a lot of time. Members are kept busy and invested– financially, emotionally, and literally, as young men are expected to go on two year missions, often in other countries. Young women can also go on missions, but it’s not expected of them the way it is for the men. And while plenty of people leave the LDS church after serving missions, it’s my guess that the mission experience is likely to bind people to the religion.

Seriously… it’s sad, but often very true.

I have also noticed that a lot of members don’t actually know that much about their church’s history… or they only know the whitewashed version taught by the church’s leaders. For instance, they don’t dwell on the fact that Joseph Smith had a habit of marrying girls as young as fourteen or the wives of men who were sent away. Church members will explain that we shouldn’t judge Joseph Smith by today’s standards. But what about the wives of other men that Smith married? Many modern Mormons are descended from polygamists, although mainstream Mormons don’t practice polygamy anymore. It is still practiced among FLDS (fundamentalist) Mormons. Fundamentalist Mormons claim that their version of Mormonism is the “truest” one, since plural marriage is still practiced.

That all being said… the LDS church is not unlike a lot of religious groups that fit into the “cult” definition. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Scientologists, members of The Way International, and any number of other belief systems that are unlike more mainstream faiths. And, in fact, most churches are culty. I have some respect for Catholicism, but it’s a pretty culty belief system, too.

I could have spelled all of this out for the guy on The Atlantic’s Facebook page, but I figure other people with more patience and energy can take it up with him. What matters to me is what I believe, and I doubt I could change the guy’s mind, anyway. His beliefs don’t affect me personally, and if he’s happy as a Mormon, good on him. But I see that the longer the post is up on the page, the more arguments ensue. Some active church members are bound and determined to defend the faith, and they resort to lectures and insults to get their points across. Again, I see that as a waste of energy, since most people aren’t going to be receptive to changing their minds when someone berates them. Calling someone a “bigot” is unlikely to inspire them to hear what you have to say, right? I know I’m rarely interested in listening to someone who chastises and namecalls.

Anyway… here’s another video by Jimmy Snow. Again, he’s a great source for information about culty religious stuff– not just the Mormons, but other groups, too… as well as Republican wingnuts like Kaitlyn Bennett, the gun toting college grad who made the news a few years ago for posing with her weapon while wearing a cap and gown.

And if you have time, look up what the Mormons think about masturbation… you can even find it on my blog, if you like.

I’m hoping to get my second vaccine today, which may mean that I won’t feel like writing tomorrow. We’ll see what happens, but if there’s no post tomorrow, it’s probably because I’m bedridden.

Edited to add… Poster sunbeep on RFM has offered this entertaining parody of church membership…

Posted by: sunbeep ( )
Date: June 01, 2021 05:13PMThe new resturant across town

Have you tried the new restaurant across town? Two nice young kids stopped by my house to tell me about it. They said the food was delicious to the taste and very desirable. I listened to them for a while and then they promised to come back and show me parts of the menu.

From what I hear, this isn’t just any old restaurant. This place is special and offers a fare that you simply can’t find anywhere else. You don’t need a reservation, but you do need to pass two oral exams. Once you have been recommended, you can go inside. After you have eaten here a few times, they will assign you a night and expect you to eat here on that night every week. Someone will even call you to see if you went.

This is not a cheap place to eat, in fact it’s rather expensive, but the rewards are out of this world and they promise you that you won’t be disappointed. Soon you will be asked to tell others about this place as the owners want all to receive it. Oh, one more thing; the patrons who eat here will also be asked to help clean it once a week. It’s only fair, you help dirty it, you help clean it.

If you eat here long enough, they will even let you be a server, a cook, a dishwasher, or maybe the bouncer to make sure nobody gets in who couldn’t pass the exams. One of the things that makes this place so special is that everyone is welcome and everyone pretends to love it. Isn’t that a marvelous work and a wonder?

One more thing, and this is verily important. What makes this place even more specialer than other eating places is that you don’t actually eat very much here. You come, you quietly sit, you pretend to enjoy the small morsel of bread and the tiny sip of water. But remember, you can only use your right hand to eat with. Then when your meal is over, you get to take a short nap while someone tells you stories about how blessed you are to find this restaurant.

If you eat here long enough you can even pay to send your children to third world countries to get intestinal parasites and malaria and tell far away peoples about this restaurant. There’s more, much much more, but we don’t want to confuse you with minor details. So, bring your checkbooks, credit cards, or hard earned cash, and dine at the one and only restaurant worthy of praise.

Or, if you like… but this video could apply to a lot of different “culty” groups.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, by Charlene Edge…

I just finished reading my latest book, Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, written by Charlene Edge and edited by Ruth Mullen. This was the first time I had ever read anything about The Way International, a a global, multi-denominational, Christian organization based in New Knoxville, Ohio and founded by Victor Paul Wierwille in 1942. Wierwille had started his ministry as a radio program, and it eventually grew into The Way, Inc. in 1955. The Way is now officially known as The Way International, and is now widely regarded by many as a religious cult.

I was curious about The Way after seeing some viral videos a few years ago. You may have seen them yourself, as they are quite hilarious. I’ve shared them on my blog, but I’ve also seen them on Facebook. Behold…

This is from The Way International’s 2007 Concert Series… but as cheesy as this is, it’s not as famous as the video below. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for days. That choreography is enough to make me cry.
Oh my God… They sure look happy, though.

I discovered these videos in 2014, while visiting Nice, France. My cousin’s late husband shared a funny post about Christians making cringeworthy music videos and the one directly above, along with “Jesus Is a Friend of Mine” by Sonseed, were the best of the lot in the most embarrassing ways. Sonseed was a Catholic group, though, and not as intriguing as The Way was. I say “was”, because I’ve just finished reading Charlene Edge’s book, Undertow, which, at 475 pages is a pretty substantial and informative read about what she, herself, now defines as a cult.

Who is Charlene Edge, and why did she write this book?

Charlene Edge was, for many years, a dedicated member of The Way International. She was raised Catholic, mostly by her father, because her mother died when she was a teen. She has an older sister, Marie, who at seven years older was never very close to Charlene. When Charlene was suddenly left without a mother, she became disenchanted by the religion in which she was raised and went looking for something new. As it so happens with many future cult members, Charlene was basically a sitting duck when she first encountered recruiters for The Way. They found her when she was young, inexperienced, and weakened by misfortune and tragedy.

Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, when Charlene was a young adult, she had a Jesuit boyfriend who liked to surf. She really liked this guy, but bristled when he pointedly told her that The Way is a cult. She lost touch with him, and seemed to regret that they didn’t marry or at least have more of a relationship. She went to college at East Carolina University, but could not focus on school as she became more and more involved with The Way. Soon, she dropped out of college, blowing off her exams and leaving school with a 1.8 grade point average.

Against the objections of friends and family, she got a job working for The Way, researching the Bible and learning Aramaic. Her work led her to spend a lot of years studying the Bible, and even reading ancient texts in libraries around the world. I don’t know if she’s ever visited Armenia, but I do know that her enthusiasm for reading ancient Bibles would make her a prime candidate for visiting the Matenadaran, which is a museum in Armenia where ancient Bibles and other manuscripts are displayed. I visited there myself when I was in the Peace Corps.

Speaking of being of service, Edge eventually joined The Way Corps, which she made sound like a cross between Sea Org (in Scientology) and the Peace Corps (which isn’t a cult, but does have kind of a churchy/missionary vibe, even though it isn’t a religious organization). It was an intensive two year program, designed to make followers of The Way even more dedicated and loyal to the ministry. Edge also had to raise money so that she could join The Way Corps. Naturally, that experience bonded her more to the ministry and its followers. She found friends and, at least at first, the church gave her what she needed. But it wasn’t long before that sense of belonging turned into a form of slavery.

Based on Edge’s story, I got the sense that joining The Way Corps was the kind of thing the die hard cult members did. She legitimately worked for the organization and was paid about $30,000 a year– enough to live on, but not enough to save much of, particularly after she married her first husband, Ed, who was also a cult member. Edge writes that she and Ed were not all that compatible in 1973, when they married. They just felt it was what God wanted them to do. Soon, they had a daughter named Rachel, but she didn’t bring them closer together.

Charlene Edge becomes trapped in The Way…

For seventeen years, Charlene Edge was a devoted employee and follower of The Way. However, she didn’t seem very happy in the religion. Little things bothered her– lies she was told and asked to promote. But she’d put her concerns aside, believing that following the tenets set by The Way was truly the best way to live life. She diligently did all that the church asked her to do, ignoring the cognitive dissonance.

The church’s founder, Dr. Victor Wierwille, was called “Doctor” by everyone. He had German Shorthaired Pointer dogs and basically made himself the king of the compound. Like all good cult members, Edge listened to her leader and did what he commanded. When Wierwille warned of a potential government attack against the church, Charlene prepared to live off the grid. As her charismatic leader grew ever more abusive and paranoid, and increasingly asked his followers to do more and more bizarre things, Edge continued to ignore the signs that she was deeply entrenched in a cult. Wierwille denied the Holocaust and began promoting his personal false interpretations of the Bible as truth.

Meanwhile, Charlene’s marriage was continuing to decay. Ed was drinking more and more, and he was unfaithful to his wife and daughter. They were constantly trying to make ends meet with the meager compensation they got from the church. There was never time to make plans, to think straight, or to enact changes that would get them out of the predicament they were in. Although it was clear that the couple wasn’t happy together and the marriage wasn’t working, they stayed married for 18 years, finally divorcing in 1991.

The shelf collapses…

One day, Charlene heard something that might have seemed banal to her colleagues. Wierwille was trying to put out literature about a Bible verse of which he didn’t agree with the official interpretation. He wanted his researchers to ignore what the Bible verse actually said and promote Wierwille’s false interpretation as the truth. Although she had been able to ignore Wierwille’s crazy shenanigans for years, for some reason, on that day, Charlene Edge suddenly gained awareness. And it happened when one of her colleagues leaned over to her and whispered that he liked Wierwille, but “sometimes his Greek isn’t so good.” Somehow, that simple comment– so mundane and trivial– had made Charlene realize that her leader wasn’t sent by God. He was a simple, narcissistic, power-hungry, greedy man, who had taken them all for a ride and swindled them out of everything from money to their precious youth. Later, toward the end of her time in the sect, Edge discovered that Wierwille had a sex ring, and female church members were stroking more than his ego.

Then, in 1985, “Doctor” died, supposedly of a stroke. Later, Edge found out that Wierwille’s death had actually been caused by cancer. He’d never let it be known that he had cancer, since he had told his followers that cancer was caused by the Devil. This was just another lie that Charlene Edge could not reconcile. She soon noticed other deceptions that she could no longer ignore… and each lie that unfolded made her angrier and less supportive of The Way’s teachings. And yet, she had to keep up the facade, because her livelihood depended on appearing to be faithful to the church… as did her housing, at one point. She had rented a house that belonged to a member of the ministry who had let her have it at a discount.

My thoughts

I have read a whole lot of books about people who have escaped cults and abusive religious organizations. Much to my surprise, The Way International is not among the worst of the religions I’ve read about. I don’t, for instance, think The Way is worse than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of The Way aren’t encouraged to shun their family members who aren’t involved. They aren’t told what they can drink, not to smoke or use drugs, or have to wear special underwear.

The Way International does have a “missionary-esque” organization in The Way Corps, but it doesn’t sound to me like it’s akin to what the Mormons do. I don’t think The Way is as extreme as Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists. It’s promoted as a research based religion, but as Charlene Edge discovered, some of the research was shoddy, and the inner circle of researchers were pressured to ignore facts and promoted untruths that propped up Wierwille’s (and subsequent leaders’) egos.

Edge’s writing is jam packed with similes and metaphors. Sometimes, they were clever, but after awhile they became noticeable and somewhat annoying to me. She often would describe people in animal terms, writing things like “He paced like a caged dog.”, then turning around and using another animal simile to describe someone or something else. On the other hand, her style does have a pleasant flow to it, which made getting through all 475 pages somewhat easier. I do think some of the manuscript could have been pared down a little bit. There seems to be a lot of minutiae slipped into her story that made getting through it tougher going, although another positive is that Charlene includes a lot of photos.

I still don’t feel like I know as much as I would like to know about The Way International, even though Undertow is so long. Again, there’s a lot of mundane information about Charlene Edge’s life that could have been exchanged for information about what the ministry believes and how it recruits members. I think I would have enjoyed reading more about the organization as a whole. For example, Edge only mentions the music groups in passing, but as you can see from the above videos, they do have a musical ministry that is no doubt intended to lure new members and entertain existing ones. She could have added that information and deleted about 100 pages of the minutiae, and I think the book would have been better.

Charlene Edge mentions that she lost a lot to the “cult”. She joined at such a young age, which caused her to delay her education, lose precious years of her youth and time with friends and family members who weren’t involved in the cult, and hamper her own aspirations for her life. However, I would suggest to Edge that she did get something out of those years. She got her book, which has no doubt had an impact on many readers in some way. For instance, I know more about The Way International than I did a couple of weeks ago. That counts for something. I see from reviews on Amazon that her book has been well-received by others, too.

As I was describing Undertow to Bill this morning, I was reminded of Elizabeth Smart. Before she was kidnapped in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was on her way to becoming the perfect Mormon “Molly”. She majored in music at Brigham Young University, which I suppose would have led her to doing work with the LDS church’s music ministry. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. My point is, Elizabeth Smart’s life’s work is toward activism and the prevention of children being abducted and abused the way she was. If she had not been a victim of a deranged man who had warped ideas about religion, she would not be doing the important work she’s doing. She probably would have been Mormon royalty, living a posh family life in Utah instead. I’m certainly not saying I’m *glad* Elizabeth Smart was victimized. What I am saying is that she’s chosen to turn that ordeal into something that benefits people all over the world, and if not for her personal experience, I doubt she would have chosen her activist career path on her own.

Likewise, in her own way, Charlene Edge has turned her negative experiences into something positive and beneficial for other people. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Charlene paid such a high price to gain this knowledge. She fell victim to the predatory methods of a cult, who swept her up when she was young, naive, and heartbroken. It happens to a lot of people. Bill joined the LDS church when his marriage was failing, thinking it might help him save his family. All it did was make things worse… and cause his life to be much busier and more complicated than it needed to be. I think the same thing happened to Charlene Edge.

Anyway… I’m glad Charlene Edge has found her own way… and gotten out of The Way of her own success. I would give this book a rating of four stars out of five.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult by Fleur Beale

Alright… so I’ve had my nap and finally finished Fleur Beale’s fascinating book, Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult. Neville Cooper, who died of cancer at age 92 in 2018, was the founder of the Gloriavale Christian Community currently located on the West Coast of New Zealand. Many people regard the Gloriavale Christian Community as a religious cult. I had not heard of it until recently, when I got a message from a lawyer in New Zealand who invited me to write about it. This book, originally published in 2009, is about Phil Cooper, one of the sons of Neville Cooper, and his first wife, Gloria.

I recently reviewed Daughter of Gloriavale, which was written by Lilia Tarawa, one of Neville Cooper’s granddaughters and one of Phil Cooper’s nieces. Before I get going too far into this review, I have to explain something. Due to a revelation Neville Cooper got from God, he later went by the name “Hopeful Christian”. Many of his followers have also changed their original names, mostly to adjectives that describe a “Christlike” quality. For instance, Neville has children named Hope, Faith, Miracle, and Charity. Lilia Tarawa is one of Miracle’s daughters. Sins of the Father is about Phil Cooper, who is Lilia’s uncle, and six of the children he had with his first wife, Sandy, who was later renamed Prayer. Sandy/Prayer also has another daughter by Phil. Her name is Cherish, and at the time the book was published, Phil had never met her in person. Phil also has a daughter named Jess by his second wife.

Phil Cooper was born in Australia in 1962. His parents moved him and his then ten siblings to New Zealand in 1967, when he was five years old. At the time, Neville Cooper was a traveling preacher who had developed a following and was invited to speak around the country. However, his teachings were at odds with mainstream Christianity. He was considered a fundamentalist. So Cooper decided to start his own community at Haupiri, located on New Zealand’s West Coast. He eventually named the community Gloriavale, in honor of his first wife, Gloria, who had predeceased him by many years. At this writing, several hundred people still live in Gloriavale. The women wear long blue dresses with white headdresses. The men wear blue shirts and blue trousers. The women of the community do what’s commonly considered traditional women’s work– cooking, cleaning, childcare, teaching, and the like. The men work in Gloriavale’s businesses or do manual labor such as farming or construction.

As he got older, Phil Cooper decided he wanted to leave Gloriavale. He chafed under his father’s oppressive rules, as well as his narcissistic and controlling behaviors. When he was sixteen years old, Phil ran away from Gloriavale, eventually landing in Australia. He had nothing, but managed with help from kind strangers. At one point, having landed in Brisband, he met Mormon missionaries who helped him out by giving him a ride. He ended up converting to the LDS religion, knowing that his father would disown him if he knew. Neville Cooper considered Mormonism as “false religion”. But as a sixteen year old, free from the compound, Neville wasn’t that worried about temporarily being Mormon. He bought himself a tape player, something that was forbidden in Gloriavale, and became familiar with the contemporary music of the late 1970s. Eventually, he was tracked down by his sister, Charity, who tried to talk him into coming home. Although he didn’t want to go home, he realized he missed his family, and he returned to Gloriavale to face his father.

When he first arrived home, Phil’s father welcomed him and he was allowed to return to his apprenticeship. But being on his own had given Phil a bit of an attitude that Neville didn’t like. Phil wore a watch, which Neville considered “worldly”, and he didn’t like that the young man had a tape player and listened to worldly music. So Phil was subjected to his father’s discipline. There he sat in Neville’s room, where 25 to 30 of the community’s men were also gathered. Neville severely chastised his son, demanding that he change his name because he didn’t want to be associated with him. Neville took Phil’s beloved watch and smashed it. Phil didn’t react, so his father got his mother and sisters to lay on the guilt, pressuring Phil to give in to his father’s demands for compliance and obedience.

Neville tried to threaten Phil with stories about how terrifying and dangerous the world was, but Phil had just come from the world, so he knew it wasn’t true. Then Neville told him that God would do terrible things to him and he would die a gruesome death if he didn’t repent. Finally, after hours of berating and extreme pressure, Phil cracked because he was exhausted. And then he took that precious tape player that he bought in Australia and threw it on the floor, breaking it. Meanwhile, Phil’s older sister, Faith, and her husband, Alan, had decided to leave Gloriavale with their five children. Like Phil, they found the community’s rules stifling. Moreover, Neville Cooper was a sexual deviant, who dictated just about everything in his followers’ lives, from who they were allowed to marry, to what they named their children, to what they wore and ate. Unlike Phil, Faith and Alan were successful in leaving permanently the first time they left.

For awhile, after he ran away, Phil became an obedient, model son, working very hard to win his father’s approval. In 1981, he decided he wanted to marry a young woman named Sandy, so he asked his father’s permission and Neville agreed. Phil was 18 and Sandy was 21 when they got married. They had plenty of time to make many children, so that’s what they did. Neville constantly reminded his followers of the importance of being Godly and obedient. However, he and the other men of the community used pornography. Young women who put on weight were forced to fast and were verbally abused. Sandy was fondled by Neville, and some of the girls in the community were forced to join the elders in hot tubs. Children grew up living in one room with their parents and witnessing them having sex.

Neville also believed that once girls hit puberty, they were ready to be married and start having babies. Pregnancy was an opportunity for the women not to work as hard, since they were allowed to rest more when they were having babies. Children in the community were involved with overseeing births, most of which took place at home, unless there were medical issues. Childbirth was considered totally natural and something that should not take place in a hospital unless there was a medical need.

In 1995, Neville Cooper went to prison for about a year on sexual abuse charges. His son, Phil, and some of the girls who had fled the community testified against him. His followers remained steadfast in their loyalty to their leader.

Before long, Phil Cooper was once again at odds with his father’s strict rules and abusive methods. When he was 27 years old, with help from a couple of his brothers, Phil left Gloriavale for good. At the time, he had five children between the ages of eight and sixteen months. After he left, he was told by a community elder that he would no longer have any communication with his children. Phil was heartbroken, so he decided to abduct his children, and his wife, Sandy. Again, he was able to pull off his plan with help from a couple of his brothers. Phil and his family eventually landed in the United States, where Sandy gave birth to Phil’s sixth child, a boy named Andreas. Sandy was never happy outside of Gloriavale, though. She went back twice, despite Phil’s protests, because she didn’t think she could live a Godly life without being in the Gloriavale community. After the second time, Sandy stayed, and later granted him a divorce.

But unbeknownst to Phil, when she left him the second time, Sandy was pregnant with his seventh child. He did not know about his daughter, Cherish, until she was much older, and at the time this book was published, had never seen her in person. One of his other daughters, Dawn, also willingly went back to the compound. The rest remain happily outside of Gloriavale. They have been able to go back a couple of times, but with every visit, there is both the pressure to stay and conform to the community’s culty standards, and careful minding of their visit so that they don’t influence anyone else to leave.

Phil and the other children eventually left the United States, having spent some time in the Hutterite Community in Minnesota. One of his children, Andreas, was named after one of the Hutterites who helped Phil. That group was apparently a much nicer one and more Christlike, and they treated Phil and his family with kindness. But they needed to go home and be closer to their family. So Phil and his kids moved to Australia, even though Andreas, having been born in the USA, was an American citizen. They had to get him Australian citizenship.

My thoughts

Fleur Beale has done a fine job with Phil Cooper’s exciting and amazing story of escaping his father’s cult. She’s a good writer, and her style is engaging and interesting. I liked that she included photos, some of which are in color, and is careful to explain some of the more complicated aspects of this story.

Oddly enough, aspects of this story and some of the methods used to get Phil to comply with his father’s wishes reminded me a lot of my husband Bill’s ex wife’s methods. One of the ways Neville would get his children to fall in line was to get other family members to put pressure on them and employ abusive methods like shunning, lovebombing, and group or family pressure. Bill’s ex wife also does this. Younger daughter has said that when she left home, her sisters would call or email her, berating her for being on a “high horse” or being “prideful” and telling her she should humble herself. Incidentally, when Bill was freshly divorced and leaving Mormonism, younger daughter also accused him of being “prideful”. Ex resorted to extreme measures to get her way and always punishes anyone who goes against her wishes. Neville Cooper was like that, too.

Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian is often described as a very charismatic narcissist. Everything had to be done under his conditions; it was his way or the highway. Bill’s ex wife is the same way, and he has described her as “charismatic”– the type of person who can sell ice to Eskimos. Or, at least she can if they are unaware of the type of person she is.

Neville Cooper sounds like he was the same way, controlling and convincing people to do everything in exactly the way he wanted it done. A wide variety of abuses were employed to keep everyone in line, to include ostracizing members of the community. It’s no wonder Phil Cooper couldn’t stand it anymore. He recognizes that he has some of his father’s qualities, too, although he does his best to temper them. The children who left the compound with him are grateful that he got them out, even though they had to grow up without their mother. Neville Cooper was addicted to power, and he was ruthless in his quests to get it.

This is an excellent book about Gloriavale, and a young man who decided to risk everything to escape it, even though his father was the leader of the cult. Phil Cooper’s story is very interesting, and I think Fleur Beale has done well in writing the tale. I would definitely recommend Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult to anyone who is interested in learning more about this community, especially if it’s paired with other books about Gloriavale. It really is an interesting cult– and a reminder that the United States is not the only place where dangerous and charismatic leaders get into power and enslave people.

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religion

Gloriavale Christian Community…

A few days ago, I got a message from a lawyer in New Zealand who’d read my review of I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichterman. He alerted me to the existence of the Gloriavale Christian Community, otherwise known as the Cooperites, an obscure and isolated Christian group living in Haupiri, on the west coast of New Zealand. The lawyer asked me to write about this group in a means to spread awareness of it.

When I first read the lawyer’s message, I didn’t recognize the name “Gloriavale”. But then this morning, I was reminded of an awesome TED Talk I watched on YouTube a few years ago. I realized the young woman who spoke so eloquently must have been raised in that group. Sure enough, she was.

Fascinating… well worth watching if you’re interested in Christian religious cults. This video was made in 2017.

Lilia Tarawa is an excellent speaker. Thanks to the lawyer’s message, I have ordered her book and will be reading it after I finish the one I’m working on now. I don’t expect my current book will take as long to read as the last one did. It’s considerably lighter material.

It will take me some time to review Lilia Tarawa’s book. In the mean time, I think the above video is an interesting introduction to the realities of life in the Gloriavale Christian Community. It’s hard to imagine this beautiful young woman, so stylishly dressed, strong, passionate and compassionate, being raised in such a community.

Gloriavale Christian Community doesn’t have a long history. It was founded in 1969 by Neville Cooper (hence the group’s nickname “Cooperites”). Cooper, who was also known as “Hopeful Christian”, was born in Australia and invited to New Zealand. Although some people refer to the group members as “Cooperites”, the group members themselves simply refer to themselves as Christians.

I’m looking forward to reading what Lilia Tarawa has to say about her upbringing. I will try to keep an open mind, although I tend to take a dim view of religious groups that employ shunning and other egregious abuses to keep members in line. And, on another note, it really is gratifying to know that people around the world read my reviews and think enough of them to reach out to me and spawn more discussion. Thanks very much to the lawyer who brought this subject to my attention and dropped me a line. Stay tuned for the review!

The featured photo is a screen grab from Lilia Tarawa’s Ted talk video.

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