In September, 1999, our sister Jessica in Boston was sent on a weekend visit home to her family. Once she arrived, however, she soon discovered that they had something more than a social visit in mind. Although they had visited us, they remained fearful that their daughter might be in a cult. They called in the “professionals” to persuade her away from her faith. She stood firm in the truth of her faith and she spoke her heart.
After two days of their best efforts, they agreed on Monday to meet with some members of “her group.” Sharon Brosseau, James Case, Stuart Lavin, and our friend Richard Robbins (Professor of Anthropology at SUNY in Plattsburgh, NY), accompanied Jessica to her friend's living room. This is Sharon's account:
As we sat with Jessica's friends and relatives and with our opponents, preparing to respond to their questions, I noticed something. Jessica's mother and sister expressed their reasons for being there in a simple and sincere way. They were confused and concerned. But the opening remarks of the “exit counselor,” Steve Hassan, showed a different motive. His experience as a former follower of Sun Myung Moon, his conviction that he'd been under “mind-control,” and his years of studying psychology and mind control had given him complete confidence to judge us to be a “mind-control cult.” He was not going to be moved by us speaking the truth. He was not going to hear anything with his heart.
As Stuart Lavin identified himself and spoke with compassion and wisdom to Jessica's mother, Mr. Hassan made critical and divisive remarks to the effect that Stuart had “become a good advertisement, a good piece of P. R. (public relations) for the Community.” He wanted to intimidate and silence Stuart, and he wanted to disqualify him in front of Jessica's relatives.
At different times when Jessica made simple statements, he would draw attention to her words in a way that twisted the meaning and made it look as if she were oppressed and unable to think for herself. He was very practiced at planting thoughts in people's minds and powerfully directing them toward certain conclusions. He spoke with such self confidence, in such a condescending way, with such compelling reasoning, that others with less education might feel stupid for thinking differently.
Then, on the other hand, there were Bob Pardon and Judy Barba. They did not seem so intimidating, and came across as more down-to-earth type people. But they continually misrepresented our teachings, and did not listen when we gave answers to their questions. They, too, had their minds set. At one point they were even telling us what we believe, and they were quite wrong about it, but they would hear nothing from us. I finally said, “I cannot relate to what you are talking about. You may have read our teachings, but you do not understand what they are saying and you interpret them wrongly because you do not know the Spirit they are written in.”
The main point they wanted to make, the primary lie they wanted to plant firmly in the minds of Jessica's relatives, was that we are dishonest about our beliefs, concealing things that might offend people, hiding the truth about ourselves. The questions they asked were like traps laid for us. They wanted to get any little phrase or sentence from our mouths that they could jump on and make us look like liars. What a difficult situation! They did not really deserve direct answers, since they did not want to hear the truth anyway. But Jessica's relatives wanted to hear ““ they could have appreciated an in-depth conversation that would have laid their fears to rest. But if we brought out our “pearls” in front of those other people, they would just trample on what we said and then tear us apart as a people and as individuals.
They had the familiar hostile questions: “Why can we not get straight answers from you people? Like this issue of leaders. For years many of you told us you don't have any leaders ““ no leaders. But you do have leaders! Why won't you tell us plainly about this? Why do you hide the fact that you have this big leader that's in control?” It was clear they had their minds made up about us and our “big leaders.”
And there were the friends and relatives of Jessica, listening. I wanted to speak to them. It was no good trying to really answer those other people anyway. So I started, “When Messiah was on the earth, sometimes people would come to Him with questions. It could be really hard, because sometimes people who hated Him came with hostile questions. How was He supposed to answer them? If it were someone simple-hearted and sincere, like that woman at the well, He could just give them a clear answer like, “'I'm the Messiah,' because they really wanted to know. But if it was the other kind of people, that were trying to trap Him, He usually would not give a direct answer. Sometimes He wouldn't even answer at all, or He would turn it around and ask them a question instead.”
Jessica's relatives sitting in front of me were nodding their heads in understanding.
“So when someone comes and asks us about our leaders, and you can really sense their hostility, it's very hard to answer. How do we talk to them about our leaders, who live with us and eat with us and serve us, people we love, who love us, who clean bathrooms or help us with laundry?
“Of course we have leaders! How could we function without leaders? But what is all this about leaders? Everybody has to be a leader. When Messiah left the first disciples and went back to heaven, He made them all leaders, because many more disciples were coming in to be built on top of them. And then those also had to become leaders, because even more and more were supposed to come in and depend on them. My children will grow up to be leaders. Jessica's growing to be a leader ““ she is a leader, you can tell!”
In Luke 7:29 after our Master spoke about John, it says that when all the people and tax gatherers heard it, they justified God, having been humble and needy enough to have received John's baptism. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John, who was making ready a people prepared for Messiah. Then there are verses 31-34, in which our Master talks about people such as Steve Hassan and Bob Pardon.
“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another; and they say, “˜We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, “˜He has a demon!' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, “˜Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
We just can't satisfy them, no matter what we say or do, because they are not needy, not looking for Messiah. The witness of the life goes right over their heads, they don't even see that they don't have it, because they are convinced that they already see (John 9:41). So what is there to say to them?
Our Master never would “sing or dance” on command. He never responded from pressure or from compulsion, to try to dispel someone's accusations. The humble and needy of the earth will justify God when they hear us and see the life of Messiah, because they will see and hear with their heart.
~ Sharon Brosseau
I'm amazed at the stir my involvement in the Community has caused among my family and friends. They prepared a surprise meeting with me recently. Their stated objective was “to equip me with the necessary tools to make an informed choice to live in the Community.” To help do this, they invited two women who left the Community (one of whom had been here for twenty years); plus Steve Hassan, a man recognized as an expert in helping people leave mind-controlling cults; Bob Pardon, one of the most vocal public opponents of our Twelve Tribes, and his colleague, Judy Barba.
Judging from the things that were said, my loved ones are apparently convinced that I live in bondage to an unscrupulous, rigidly hierarchical group controlled by a central leader who benefits from our labor; and that I am under forced submission and a victim of brainwashing.
Although I was not interested in “being equipped with tools to help me make an informed choice,” I felt so sorry for their obvious neediness (especially my mother) that in hopes of representing our Master to them I submitted to their plan. (I had been tricked into participating in the meeting and was about three or four hours away from Boston.)
As time drew on, deceptive, unpleasant “information” was presented by these ex-Community “witnesses;” the others of my friends and family, ignorant of the deception, listened and asked questions. I still hoped to address my mother's fears, to bring her security, but for the most part I did not even respond with answers to these accusations. Obviously my mother (and the others) are pawns of the evil one, trapped in his kingdom, thinking the worst.
I was very thankful to be driven home to my covenant friends when the ordeal ended. The next day a few of us met with them, but they were still discussing doctrine and free will and various accusations. After a few hours it was obvious to me that my mother was not going to get peace. At one point different conversations had sprung up all over the room and no one speaker could be heard. I turned to my mother and asked her what she hoped to achieve by all this. She said she wanted me to know every fact there is to know about the Community, including what's written in all our teachings! Of course this was unattainable in our few hours. I told my mother after disorder had reigned for a time that I was leaving. My brother and sisters took me home.
What I learned from all this is how personally faithful our Father is. I had been praying for a long time to see how much I desperately need our Father, to be filled with His Spirit. What better answer than to put me in the perfect situation to represent Yahshua's love to those friends and relatives I care for with a deep longing? Though the pressure to believe lies about our God and our people was great I have confidence that because of grace I remained connected to the vine, not losing my peace, but even repenting when they pointed out some of my wrong ways.
I am thankful that the power of His overcoming Spirit was proven to me. I'm thankful to learn that when I am in desperate need He will not leave me desolate, for His kingdom's sake. I'm thankful to learn that powers and principalities cannot divide us from our Father's loving mercy unless we allow them to. I want my loved ones to be saved! I want, like so many who have gone before, to represent our Master's heart so that they will see that God owns our hearts, that a nation belongs to Him, that He is actively preparing His kingdom so that they will know they can be part of it too.
I know that grace abounds in every circumstance; all we need to do is humbly express our need and ask for help. I'm thankful that the bond between those who love Messiah goes deeper than family. We are connected through the blood relation of Yahshua, by an eternally enduring promise to love.
~ Jessica Barrett