Assembly Kids Were Controlled

Assembly kids grew up in the cult of a narcissist. Babies and toddlers were at risk of social and neurological harm.

− Assembly Child Training Methods
− Effects of These Methods
− Neurological Implications
− Recovery from an Assembly Childhood
− Assembly Instruction that Produced this Abuse
− Critiques of these Methods

Assembly Child Training Methods

After the Assembly demise, child training methods were raised as a serious issue. Observations were submitted to this website, on the Assemblyboard and on a blog, and by Brinda McCumber in her history of the Assembly in Tuscola

• Examples of infant abuse in the Assemblies.
• Observations of a Former Member
• Child Training Incidents
• Excerpted conversation about 'mother heart' includes an example of a fictional family
• Observations from second-generation adults
• More observations from the Assemblyboard
• The "No Fuss" Method thread
• A detailed blog post by an observant former member
• Excerpts from a thread on better ways of child training
• Cornerstone Academy

Former Assembly kids tell their own stories.

Effects of These Methods

• Some children may have experienced developmental deficiencies or gaps.

• Long-term effects in adult life are researched by someone who grew up in the Exclusive Brethren, which is very similar to the Assembly. She speaks on You Tube and has written (PDF) about her preliminary findings.

• Cognitive distortions, like black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing, and others, were firmly embedded by the thought control process.

road block

• The effects of the intensive thought control continue to throw up mental roadblocks.

• Everyone was pressured into three unhealthy roles - victim, perpetrator, rescuer. Healthy communication was not modeled in the Assembly. This conditioning continues to be a major challenge after the Assembly.

Further Reading

• The 'Exit & Support Network' has a section devoted to children raised in the World Wide Church of God that is very applicable to Assembly kids.

• Impact on Children of Being Born Into/Raised in a Cultic Group points out a complicating factor for those who grew up in aberrant groups: they have no “pre-cult identity” to go back to.

Neurological Implications

Dr. Bruce Perry was the psychiatrist who treated the children who survived the Waco cult disaster. At Wellspring Cult Recovery Center former Assembly members watched videos by Dr. Perry to understand the trauma cults inflict on children. One of his books has this observation about how traumatic discipline affects the development of the nervous system in young children:

As we discuss in Born for Love and in The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, startle responses and skin conductance offer insight into what's going on in the brain's stress response system.

While there are genetic tendencies that affect these systems, they are also highly responsive to early life experience. If that experience is nurturing and empathetic, the system will wire up one way; if it is harsh and frightening, the same genes will produce a very different wiring....

....If you discipline your children in ways that are stressful to them, their stress response systems will change. Children may become more fearful and often, they will have a more easily triggered startle response.

• Assembly kids experienced a high level of anxiety most of the time. As adults they may be plagued by constant low-level background anxiety, but then sometimes something perfectly ordinary to most folks suddenly escalates the anxiety. What is going on?

• Stress has physiological effects on adult brains, too.

• Joe Sperling posted an insightful piece on phobias people have as a result of their Assembly experience. There is a blog post on Post-Assembly Musings on this topic, as well.

God reaching for man

• In the 1950's symptoms characteristic of an anxiety disorder were identified in studies to be the result of lack of unconditional love in early life. If the child was abused or emotionally rejected by primary caregivers or failed to receive uthentic affirmation early in life, it resulted in stunted emotional growth. Today we call this an attachment disorder.

• ACEsAdverse childhood Experiences (ACEs) produce long-term effects-- chronic health problems, negative impact on education and job oppoprtunities, and substance abuse, among other things. A 10-point quizz identifies 10 types of negative experiences. Assembly kids experienced several of these.

Recovery from an Assembly Childhood

Recovery for My Children and Myself In Recovery for My Children and Myself Gretchen Ward details the steps she took toward recovery after she and her children left the Omaha Assembly in 2003. She had been a stay-at-home mom, her children ranging in age from 9 to 20. She had a huge mountain to climb to learn independence and find resources to help herself and and her children recover from 25 years in the high-demand Assembly cult. For the first couple of years she and I talked on the phone almost every week as she scouted out every possible source of help and support. What Gretchen accomplished is absolutely amazing! Her story was published in the professional ICSA Journal of Cultic Studies and is republished here by permission. I can't recommend it highly enough!

Assembly Instruction that Produced This Abuse

Damaging principles were laid down by George and Betty in Workers meetings.

A pernicious 'Cycle of Training was introduced by Ginger.

Does Stimulus-Response Produce Godly Character?

George and Betty framed child-training in very spiritual-sounding terms. This is from my notes from a Workers Meeting:

"It is through the family that God constitutes Divine Government, reproduces a godly generation, demonstrates destiny. Therefore the children are important to God, because without them you're never going to demonstrate any of these things. If they don't do God's purpose, then God's purpose is going to fall by the wayside."

That is incorrect doctrine, but, as with so many aspects of the Assembly, the constant barrage of twisted scripture and spiritual-sounding language served to hide the real purpose of Assembly child training. A little history will show the original motive.

Even before the official beginning of the Geftakys Assembly in 1971, when George was conducting Bible studies here and there, he wanted everyone present to be focused on what he had to say. He didn't want mothers off in another room putting children to sleep. He insisted they learn to sleep in the meetings. I had to teach my eighteen-month-old to sleep on the floor during George's Bible study. He was smart, and he was tired by evening, so with some coaxing and spanking he eventually learned to sleep there. It makes me so sad to think about that now.

By the time the Assembly began meeting for worship at Hillcrest Park in 1971, there were more babies and children, and it was a more difficult situation. We mom's began hanging out in the ladies room with our little ones. This was not acceptable to George--he wanted us all in the meeting, paying attention. Betty began her child training instruction.

Initially Betty used James Dobson's book, Dare to Discipline, to instruct mothers. Dobson's idea is that children are rebellious; toddlers, "Terrible Twos", have to learn proper limits to their self-will. Betty distorted Dobson's teaching into something he never intended. Based on the doctrine of "death to self," childish disobedience was the sin of self-will, which had to be throughly crushed.

This conveniently provided a seemingly-Biblical basis for the strict measures required to keep mothers and children present and quiet in the meetings. This principle resulted in a trajectory of increasingly harsh child training in the Assembly.

With the introduction of Richard and Virginia Fugate's What the Bible Says about Child Training and the Ezzo's program "Growing Kids God's Way" (Growing Families International) in the 1980's, and the Pearl's "Train up a Child" in the 1990's, methods were implemented became abusive. Many Assembly children lived with multiple spankings every day. Bruising was such a problem that parents worried it might be discovered by their pediatrician and reported to CPS. Apparently a few families were reported.

To protect the Geftakys ministry from liability, Ginger eventually disseminated a pamphlet, "Child Training for God's Servants", in which she smoothed over Assembly practices, making them sound perfectly reasonable and loving. She avoided any mention of specific disciplinary methods - repeated hard spankings, pinching the trapezius nerve, shutting in a closet, etc. This served to make it look like any abuses were the parents' fault for taking things too far..

Betty gave instruction on child training in Mothers Meetings, at Parents Meetings, at baby showers, in one-on-one counseling sessions. Wives of Leading Brothers reinforced her teaching in the local Assemblies.

Not only were the parents instructed, but also the single women who babysat, the teachers at Cornerstone Academy, the leaders of children's ministries, and everyone who lived in a household with children. Many people were delegated to discipline the children. The "death to self" doctrine, which was uppermost in everyone's minds in the Assembly, included the childen.

Assembly teens were pressured to perform. An example from the last Teen Conference in 2002 included the message that it takes all our desire and intense exertion to get into the Kingdom of God. Notice the Big Question: "Am I getting into the Kingdom?" 2 Peter 1:10-11 is given as the justification for this question and exhortation, completely ignoring the context, which is about growth in grace as evidence of knowing Jesus.

Critiques of These Methods

The concept of 'first-time obedience' is critqued by many, especially as it is taught in the Ezzo and Pearl programs:

• A pastor comments on the Ezzo's method, "Growing Kids God's Way--Not the Ezzo's"

• First Time Obedience, Really? Sally Clarkson, mother of four adult God-loving children, co-authored with her husband the book with the intriguing title, The Lifegiving Parent: Giving Your Child a Life Worth Living for Christ,(as opposed to, say, "Putting Your Child's Self to Death for Christ".)

• "How (Not) to Train up a Child," Tim Challies

• CRI (Christian Research Institute) published Christian Families on the Edge, an in-depth study on the negative effects of parental authority principles based on shame.

• Apologetics Index advises parents to run - not walk - from GFI and its methods.

More about current concerns  » »

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