Walk Away Interview: exit-counselor Rick Ross By Skipp Porteous Countless thousands of Ame

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Walk Away Interview: exit-counselor Rick Ross By Skipp Porteous Countless thousands of Americans have submitted their lives to the control of unscrupulous leaders who claim to be ordained by God. The leaders of these destructive Bible-based groups entice the unwary with their vain promises. In turn, individual lives are disrupted and families are divided. While many people have simply walked away from harmful groups, others have resorted to the aid of exit-counselors - sometimes called deprogrammers. Rick Ross is among the most successful of these counselors. In dealing with oppressive religious groups, the term "destructive Bible-based religious group" is sometimes used. Please explain. A destructive Bible-based religious group is typically highly authoritarian. The leader or leaders assume total control over the followers, who abdicate their individual autonomy - their ability to critically think and evaluate circumstances for themselves. There may be a system of discipleship, or so-called headship, by which the leadership of the group assumes authority/control over their followers. That may be part of a pyramid scheme, or it may be manifested more in a shepherding type of situation, where the pastor of the particular group, or the elders, belive that God has delegated all of his authority to them to shepherd their flock or sheep. Then they govern every aspect of individual members' lives. This may include their finances, their dating, their personal sex life, their interaction with their extended family, and their interaction with society at large. And, typically, the members of a destructive Bible-based group see the world in very black and and white terms, and a kind of a we-they mentality. Those within the group are the spiritually elite, or elect, and everyone and everything outside is wordly, evil, carnal, or even satanic. The group may have a very legalistic approach to governing individual members' lives, by excluding such things as television, the media, radio, the cinema. They may even have a blacklist of books that may not be read and periodicals that may not be subscribed to. This also may include a dress code, such as the United Pentecostal Church International, where women members may not wear dresses above the knee, may not have sleeves above the elbow, must have dresses that are buttoned up to the neck, may not cut their hair, may not wear makeup or jewelry, may not wear certain types of swimsuits, and so on. Another outward symptom may be disfellowshipping or shunning - which is done by Jehovah's Witnesses - where members may not talk to ex-members who have been disfellowshipped or shunned. This limits the Witnesses' access to outside information about their own group. Excessive tithing is also a typical symptom - where members are tithing at least 10 percent of their gross income, and up to as high as 40 percent. And, typically, in a Bible-based destructive group there's little, if any, accountability for the funds. You mentioned the United Pentecostal Church. What are some of the other dangerous groups that are active today? They include the Boston Church of Christ, many different independent Pentecostal churches, and Baptist churches that have no denominational accountability. Essentially, the members in those churches, in regard to their safety and well-being, are involved in shooting craps. They, in a manner of speaking, roll the dice and say, "Please God, give me a good leader, a good pastor." And frequently they come up with snake eyes. They end up in a position where the pastor is not an ethical or moral person. And there is no denominational accountability, no one they can look to and say, "Bishop, or convention board, help me! My pastor's out of line. He's abusing funds; he's abusing members." In the independent church there's no outside accountability. Do you think that people fall into these traps because they pray for God to give them a good pastor or leader, and when someone comes along, they automatically think it's God's answer to their prayer? Well, that certainly is the way the pastor is going to sell the members on his control over them. They frequently say that they are anointed of God, or they are called by God, or that they have received a word from the Lord. Essentially, these leaders claim that they have a hotline to heaven - that Jesus or God speaks to them directly. The members are told that they may not question the leadership because "thou shalt not touch God's anointed." They quote obscure scriptures that have very little to do with contemporary leadership. What has really happened is that individuals have abdicated their ability to make any decisions regarding leadership, or critical decisions regarding their lives. From your experience, what are your recommendations for parents? What should parents look for? Has the young person entered a group where questioning is discouraged, or a group which sees all Christians outside of the immediate fellowship as being unsaved or lukewarm? Has the family observed radical changes in behavior, specifically all the old friends are being thrown aside, there's a new group of friends, and they all belong to the particular church.Parents may also observe an obsessive-compulsive kind of behavior pattern in their child. Specifically, there's a total lack of balance in their lives. Church has become the total focus. They're going to three, four, five meetings a week. Their studies and grade point averages are falling down. Other things, such as hobbies they cared about, athletic endeavors, clubs that they may have belonged to - everything else is falling apart. And the church and its leadership have become the total, obsessive focus of their lives. When parents begin to observe these symptoms - and again, the black and white thinking, the total, uncritical acceptance of anything told to the individual member by the leadership - then the parents should realize that this could be a Bible-based destructive group. Warning flags should be going up. Now, if they decide that this is the case, they should consider professional intervention, where they retain someone like myself who will sit down and talk to that individual on a voluntary basis and inform them, talk to them about the type of group they've become involved in, and allow them to have a period of time where they can make some objective decisions about their future involvement and commitment to the group. For example, the group may have a track record they're unaware of, such as Jehovah's Witnesses or the United Pentecostal Church, where there have been ex-members who have gotten out and who have stories to tell that would lead a member to pause and question fruther commitment to the group. Re: the Jehovah's Witnesses - there's a wonderful book that's been written, _Crisis_of_Conscience_ by Raymond Franz. Very few members of the Jehovah's Witnesses have been exposed to this book. I dealt with a very destructive church associated with the UPCI in York, Nebraska, where children who belonged to the church were removed from a parent's custody, because the judge deemed that the church as a destructive Bible-based group that would do harm to the children emotionally and psychologically. The UPCI knew about that church, they knew about the abuses of that pastor, and yet they continue to this day to allow his credentials to remain in effect. He was involved in a very destructive form of the Pentecostal movement I'm sure you're aware of, called deliverance ministry. I've worked with many, many people who have come out of deliverance ministries emotionally and psychologically scarred. I have worked with people who have, as a direct result of a deliverance ministry, been placed in a psychiatric hospital and medicated by psychotropic drugs. And of course, when we're talking deliverance ministry we're talking about people like Kenneth Hagin the Pentecostal movement - and many of the Assemblies of God churches distribute this literaure. A deliverance ministry basically tells their members that any type of negative feels they may have - negative things that are occurring in their day-to-day lives - can be ascribed to demons or the devil, or that they are demon-possessed, and that they need to be delivered. They got someone in the group who's a self-styled exorcist who then joins together with others and they cast demons out of that individual. This can traumatize a person and cause almost irreparable psychological and emotional damage. I worked with one young man who was hospitalized as a direct result of a deliverance ministry that was a small prayer group within an Assemblies of God church. And I worked with a 30-year-old housewife who was also victimized by a deliverance ministry. She also was involved in an Assemblies of God church and was hospitalized. Now, these prayer groups were small cell groups that were within the church. The church knew they existed, but they were not necessarily functioning within that pastor's ministry, but they were under the umbrella of a particular Assemblies of God church. One of those churches was the second largest Pentecostal Assemblies of God church in the United States - Pastor Tommy Barnett's Phoenix First Assembly, a huge church. This was a prayer group under the auspices of Phoenix First Assembly. Do you counsel people against their will? I've been involved in involuntary deprogramming in extreme circumstances - two involuntary deprogramming of adults in the last eight years. I've been involved in numerous involuntary deprogrammings of juveniles who have been legally but involuntarily deprogrammed at the request of their parents or legal guardians. One example was demonstrated on CBS' "48 Hours." Another example is a case I was just involved in in Milwaukee, where a mother and father were very upset that their daughter, without their consent, had been recruited into a Pentecostal prayer group led by a woman who was a self-proclaimed prophetess of sorts. The woman had broken away from the UPCI and formed her own little group. She claimed to be hearing from the Lord and led a Bible study - it was a hyperactive group. They were meeting five, six, seven times a week. This 16-year-old became involved and the parents ultimately had to have restraining orders against this woman. Then they called me in. The deprogramming was involuntary but successful. Is your work load increasing? Yes. Is that because you're becoming more well-known, or is it because there is such a great need? Well, I think there's a very great need. Let's face it, in the Pentecostal movement there are rougly 13 million Americans. In the fundamentalist fold there are millions more. So, the born-again movement comprises anywhere from 50 to 70 million Americans. There is a substantial percentage of that movement that has become fanatical, a fanatical fringe. That involves millions upon millions of American citizens. There are very few people available who have a track record of successfully deprogramming people from these fanatical groups. I am one of those people. I find myself receiving more and more calls each month. Last month, for example, I flew more than 20,000 miles. And this month I'm already booked into the middle of the month. I'm constantly being called about groups like this. I'm not restricted to Arizona or even the Southwest. I work all over the United States. I've been called on cases from Florida to New England to Alaska to California to Louisiana. How do you describe a walk away? A walk away is a person who, for whatever reason, looked at the group and decided, "Something's wrong. I need to get out of this group." They're not quite sure why they've left. Somtimes they feel that they've betrayed God, that they've sinned by leaving the group. But for wahtever reason, they decide, "I must leave. I can't take it anymore." Perhaps the leaders or elders of the group have done something that conflicts with what the walk away sees as proper reasonable moral conduct. They may even notice that even though the group preaches from the Bible, their actions are unscriptural, unethical, in conflict with what they supposedly preach. So, in the mind of the walk away, there's this conflict, this dilemma - the group does not act like they preach. Or, from a biblical perspective, how can they be a good tree if they're bearing corrupt fruit. And the walk away says, "Hey, they're a lot of rotten apples growing on this tree, and I've seen a lot of bruised fruit, and I need to get out of here." As a matter self-preservation, or to protect loved ones - they worry about damage that may be wrought on their family, their children, spouse - they've left. Many of the groups I've dealt with are involved in child abuse. That is, the beating of children. Chidren have died in some of the group I've been exposed to. Adult members have collapsed from nervous exhaustion, and sometimes have been literally worked to death. So walk aways have left as a matter of physical, emotional, psychological preservation. When walk aways leave the group, unlike the people I've deprogrammed, there are many loose ends, many unresolved issues. As I stated before, walk away often feel that they've betrayed God, that they are a sinner, but nevertheless, they had to leave out of self-preservation. So frequenty they leave with feelings of guilt and anxiety. I've frequently been retained to work with walk aways just so they can sort through a lot of the loose ends, have someone to talk to, and recognize, "What did the group do to me? I've lost this time in my life. I feel terrible about it. I want to make some sense out of it. I want to get rid of these feelings of guilt and anxiety. I want to get on with my life and I feel like I'm still caught up in a lot of the group thinking." And part of what the whole deprogramming/exit counseling process is about is recognizing the mind control and thought reform techniques used by the group. And by recognizing them, release the person who has been victimized by them. Do you find a lot of people who have walked away now lead healthy, productive lives? Yes, but I find a lot of the walk aways go through a longer period of readjustment than people who've gone through deprogramming. Keep in mind, the people that have gone through deprogramming are frequently approached by the deprogrammer early in their commitment to the group, within the first year. They have not been damaged by the group as severely as a walk away because they've only been involved for a comparatively minimal amount of time. They come out fairly whole, having recognized what was wrong with the group, and have dealt with it specifically and thoroughly. Often, they've had follow-up care at a rehabilitation center, or worked with a mental health professional clinician in follow-up care. A walk away is someone who has been a group typically longer. Perhaps two, three, four, five years - or ten or twelve or fifteen years. They have literally been abused by the group. They left the group because they've been burned out by the group. We're talking about people who've been depleted, burned out, abused, taken advantage of. They may have been physically abused or sexually abused. We're talking about peple who have a lot more problems and residual effects coming out of the group. They've been in longer, and the reason they left, typically, is because they've been abused. Also, they may have been abused financially. I've worked with people who've been taken for tens of thousands of dollars and financially stripped. They've been stripped emotionally, psychologically, financially. They may have been abused sexually. So we're talking about a group of people that have left, often times, in desperate situations, where they never really confronted the basic issues of thought reform and mind control about the group, and sorted through all of those issues. It's much easier for someone who's gone through deprogramming early on to sort through these issues, than it is for someone who fled the group with a lot of emotional, psychological baggage. What would you say to the person who is in a group, and say, happens to pick up this newsletter and wants to get out? Walk away, seek professional help. That may come in the form of a rehabilitation center. There are three in the United States: Wellspring, the Cook Home, and Unbound. Wellspring, in particular, deals with people walking away from Bible-based groups. They're located in Albany, Ohio. The Cook Home in Enid, Oklahoma has also had extensive experience with this. There are two cult clinics in the United States, both run by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services. One in New York, the Madeleine Borg Counseling Services in Manhattan; another in Los Angeles. There are support groups all around the country, such as Second Chance in Phoenix, where you can get together with other ex-members. Or Life After Potter's House in Flagstaff, Arizona, where ex-members get together to talk about their common problems. I would say don't do it alone. Look for support through your family. Look for support through mental health clinicians and professionals who have a track record, who have dealt with this problem in the past, who have a track record of helping other ex-members. But don't stay in and keep suffering. Find a way out and get help. Do these people ultimately reject religion, or do they find a more balanced religion of some sort? What happens to their religious beliefs? Many feel that they cannot attend a church or be involved in any organized religion because they feel burned out. It takes a while for them to regain, first of all, a sense of themselves and their individual autonomy, and get into a place in their lives where they're making their own decisions again and critically thinking on their own. I think the most important thing for a walk away to realize is, do what you feel comfortable doing. Don't allow anyone to pressure you into another church, be it your family or friends. Do you find that many people try to use their own experience to try to help others get out? Some do. There are support groups where people become activists. And they at least wish to share their testimony or their stories about the group with others. There are others who feel they just want to be done with it, that they don't want to deal with the group anymore. They don't even want to hear about it. And that's all right. There are many people, that by opposing the group that stripped them emotionally, psychologically, financially, they feel like they have retaken their personal power. And that's important to them. Others just feel, "I've got my family, I've got my life, I've got my career, I need to get on wit hit. I want to leave this bad experience behind me." [ref001][ref002] Return to table of contents Copyright 1995 IFAS Walk Away / ifas@crocker.com [ref001] articles.html [ref002] ../uparrow.gif This file is copywritten by the Institute for First Amendment Studies. Subscribe to The Freedom Writer and Walk Away news letters by writing to or telephoneing the Institute for First Amendment Studies: Post Office Box 589 Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 01230 Telephone: (413) 528-3800 E-Mail: ifas@crocker.com Web page: http://www.crocker.com/~ifas


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