I am using a pseudonym because I am still a member of the ICC
The following is an account of some of the disturbing experiences I encountered within the ICC, especially from the view of someone who worked with the disabled/ill members of the church. I am using the pseudonym Dana Scully because I am still a member of the ICC. To protect the identities of those in this story, all places and peoples' names (with the exception of one) have been changed (some of you savvy readers may recognize the title of this story and the pseudonyms I use as characters from the X-Files).
I first joined the Anytown CC when I was a freshman in college, in late 1988. Unlike many other members of the church, I was not "recruited". Rather, I was looking for a campus Christian group to join and contacted several on my campus. A few weeks later, I was invited to visit the church and study the Bible. I was very excited about it at the time because I had always thought I would live a committed Christian life when I became an old woman, but the scriptures I studied came alive to me and at the time I was eager to join a group of people whom I thought were sincerely following the Bible.
My experience in the church was good or at least decent most of the time, but a couple of situations opened my eyes to some of the gross imperfections of the church and drastically altered my view of it.
First, I was in the campus ministry for about 5 years. During this time, I transferred schools to a larger university in my city that had what was considered the "hot" campus ministry. I became very bothered by what I saw as a recurring pattern among the campus ministry leadership: students who were sharp, had a dynamic personality, or were good friends with the campus leadership became leaders themselves rather quickly, sometimes in as little as 3 months after joining the church. My observation of this pattern caused me great frustration, self-doubt, and anger at God because I felt I had the qualifications to lead, but despite all the advice I sought, all the evangelization I initiated, all the money I raised for walk-a-thons, etc., I kept getting passed over for leadership. Once, I invited to church a very nice and beautiful girl who belonged to a sorority. Renee Davenport had a good heart and even contributed money to the church offering the first time she visited! Later I was told by church leaders that because Renee was a sorority girl (she didn't act like one), she should be studied with by another member of the church who was a former sorority girl. I was completely left out of Renee's Bible studies, and soon had little contact with her after she became best friends with other new church members who were sorority girls. Renee lasted only a few months in the church. She went on a canoe trip for the college members of the church (I did not go on that trip) and must have had some bad experiences because when she came back, she said, "is this how a church that claims to love everybody acts?" Soon afterwards she left the church, and I cried because she had written me a letter telling me how special I was when I was struggling with low self-esteem. I still have that letter.
When I finally became a leader of a Bible study group in my third year in the campus ministry, it was because there were no other non-leaders around who were sharper than me to succeed to leadership. This pattern has continued until today. I was never one to smooze with important people, but rather, I like to prove myself by my work, and I had a quiet, more introverted personality. I have since learned to be more "sharp" and "outgoing", and noticed the attention and acclaim I have received as a result, and it has pained me because I did not want to believe that other members would think of me as being more spiritual because I was sharp and outgoing, but so far it seems to be true.
The main thing that really caused me to become disillusioned with the structure of the ICC, though, is what happened when two of my best friends in the ICC became ill. One of them, whom I will call Emily Sim, came into the ICC about the same time I did. A few years ago she started having uncontrollable seizures and bodily jerking, and she would get physically fatigued and require assistance to walk. These seizures could strike her at any time, and while they did not make her unconscious, she did find it hard to speak or move when they struck. Some days would go by where she would have one or no seizures, and other days she had to stay in bed because they were so intense. A definitive diagnoses of the cause of her illness has not been made to this day, except for an indirect diagnoses of possible head injury, with attention deficit disorder. Prior to her illness Emily worked hard in the church, often giving people rides in return for no help with the gas money, even though she drove an old gas guzzler. There are many other things she did out of sincerity for the church, and she never expected what happened after she became ill to happen.
What happened after Emily became ill was this: instead of receiving encouragement and support from her brothers and sisters, she received a lot of berating from them for not making it to all the church meetings. Since Emily had days when she had to stay home, and her seizures struck while she was at work, she was unable to hold down the job she had for several years at a library, and consequently, was soon unemployed. Her seizures sometimes struck her when she was in church, and she was told by a leader, Elizabeth Pollidori, to "sit in the back" because it might scare the visitors (Elizabeth and her husband, Francis, led Emily's church zone at the time). She was also told by various other church leaders and members that she was making her illness up, she was not committed, and was making excuses. The few times when she asked her Bible Talk for money to help with her medication needs (as she was broke from having no job), I or my friend Samantha were the only ones who helped her. Everyone else ignored her request. Emily once even went to Catholic Charities for some help, and they immediately gave her some money to help with her needs. Eventually, Emily had to move in with her mother, Roberta Sim, because she could not keep her own apartment. She had applied for government disability benefits, but the process was slow and they told her she was sure to be rejected the first time.
During this time another event occurred that caused Emily great pain. She was close friends with a brother named Michael Sloan, who was very helpful to her after she got sick. Although he felt overwhelmed at times, Michael was very serving to Emily, giving her rides and helping her when her seizures struck. A short time after Emily became ill, Michael became a Bible Talk leader, and one day, when he was helping her, Elizabeth Pollidori told him, "you're a leader now, you have more important things to do, let someone else take care of her!" Naturally, as Michael was eager to please the church leaders, he stopped helping Emily, and virtually stopped speaking to her. This hurt Emily a great deal and made her feel like one of her best friendships was torn apart.
Keep all this in the back of your mind as I introduce my friend Samantha Mulder. Samantha had come to the conviction, a few years after being in the church, that her first conversion was not valid because it was all in her head but not in her heart. After studying the Bible study series again for about 4 months, she was told by Elizabeth Pollidori that she was not repenting and needed to leave the church for awhile until she did (Samantha later found out that the evangelist and many others in the church were surprised that she was ever asked to leave). She left moved back in with her parents. It was during this time that she started having disturbing memories of childhood abuse which included satanic ritual abuse.
You may or may not believe in repressed memories or satanic ritual abuse, but there was evidence to support that Samantha had been abused, as in some revealing photos taken of her as a child that she found in the family archives. In either case, she started to experience the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and sometimes the intense fear she experienced from remembering those painful memories literally paralyzed her so she could not speak or move for minutes. She later came back to the church and got re-baptized, and was studied with by a wonderful sister named Sarah Kavanaugh, who instructed her in a godly way. But Samantha's memories and the physical and emotional distress they caused her continued. Unfortunately, Sarah moved to a different ministry, so I became the principal person who helped Samantha. In fact, sometimes when I complained about how I felt useless in the church, I was told, "oh, but if you weren't here, who else could deal with Samantha?" Some of the more open-minded members helped Samantha out, but in general she was regarded by the leadership as a freak or weirdo. Samantha's memories alerted her to an aspect of Christianity that most "Christians" nowadays neglect, namely, spiritual warfare. She tried to discuss what she remembered and the importance of distinguishing between good and evil to other church leaders, but was not taken very seriously. It was not until a former evangelist of the church came back to visit that she got a piece of advice that was to change her life forever. That evangelist, Isaac Luria, and his wife Ariel were known for their strong convictions throughout the ICC, and for their efforts with the ICC charitable organization, HOPE, which got the attention of government officials in the country where they were serving. They had led the Anytown CC for a short period of time, and came back to visit on occasion. This time when they visited, Samantha attended the event, but was soon feeling unwell. The Lurias, however, did not have an arrogant attitude but went over and talked with Samantha, and with Emily as well. After Samantha explained to Isaac what she was going through, Isaac Luria told Samantha this: "pray to be delivered from demonic possession or oppression". This was an eye-opening piece of advice to Samantha, but it certainly made sense since she remembered being ritually abused. However, I believe that none of the other leaders in my church, to this day, would have given that advice. In fact, I have even heard of some members of the church who profess that the devil doesn't exist, even though the Bible says otherwise. The only other place Samantha was able to get help was a hotline in California with counselors who often heard from those claiming to be ritual abuse victims.
Samantha and I eventually rented a tiny apartment together, and while I worked a job full-time for a very modest income, for awhile Samantha was forced to rely on her parents and temporary work to pay the bills. She was also berated by the church leadership for not making it to all of the church events and was told she was uncommitted, etc. She took Isaac Luria's advice and prayed accordingly. In the meantime, she tried to find out more information on spiritual warfare, but found few in the church who were even open to discussing it. Eventually, she found some materials written by people who saw their churches destroyed to an empty shell because of false brothers and even Satanists who infiltrated the church and systematically destroyed the faithful through manipulative means. If this is starting to sound like an X-File to you, it certainly does to me, and for awhile I felt like I was living the X-Files, but the Bible does warn us of "false brothers" infiltrating the church, like wolves in sheep's clothing. For a time Samantha and I got over zealous, even trying to identify those in the church who might be false brothers, and I confess we sinned while doing so, but we found that there certainly were members who were merely posing. Later on, a few other members of the church agreed with Samantha, that there were some members who certainly did not love God who were in the church. However, when this issue was brought to Francis Pollidori's attention, he asked Samantha and I, "why would God tell you this and not the leaders?" to which we replied, "sometimes God uses non-leaders too". He was satisfied with that answer, but nothing was done about the situation, and I felt the way he asked that question implied that God only spoke to the leaders about important matters of the church.
This is how Samantha and Emily and I came together: Emily found living with her mother very difficult, because Roberta was handicapped herself with severe arthritis, and was a very controlling woman. Stuck between a controlling church leadership and her mother, Emily was nearly driven to insanity. She was even told by 2 psychiatrists that she needed to move out or else she was endangering her mental health. The government had provided her with food stamps, but that was all the assistance she received. Samantha sympathized with Emily and proposed that she move in with us. I proposed that if possible, another family in the church should take in Emily, and we were to be a last resort. This was discussed with Emily's new zone leaders, who were rather understanding. However, they were unable to find anyone who could take her in, even though it was spiritually the best thing for her. So after asking us about our finances, and despite our shaky finances, Emily was allowed to join our household. It was supposed to be a short-term arrangement until Emily got federal aid, or, my hope was that the church would help.
My hopes were dashed rather quickly. Emily was denied federal aid, and the church did not help. In fact, the berating from leaders increased. Once, I went to my discipler Holly's house and was ambushed by her. She pulled out a bunch of verses on discipleship and told me that I needed to challenge Emily and Samantha to "live up to the standard", because they were not meeting the strict evangelism goals the church had set at that time. I told her that each person could only do their best, but she did not understand that concept. She told me that all numerical goals set by the church leaders were God's will and that not meeting them was tantamount to rebellion against God. The whole meeting was very frustrating and I left Holly's house shell-shocked. I called the women's ministry leader, Sara Biddle, about the talk I had with Holly. Praise God Sara was gentle and listened, and even asked me if Holly had been abusive in the way she treated me. At the end of that conversation I was encouraged, and soon afterwards it led to another meeting with the zone leaders where things were more reasonably discussed. However, I felt like screaming at all of the zone leaders at the time.
Emily sought encouragement and advice and found it from other members in the church who were ill or disabled, and also from Bill Sullivan, who started the physically challenged ministry in the Boston CC. Bill was a little flummoxed by Emily's situation because all the disabled people he had ever dealt with were already on government support. He had never dealt with anyone who was in the process of applying for disability benefits. However, he could relate to how Emily was treated, because he himself is still told to this day by some unbelieving people that he is making up his illness (MS). He told Emily he always quoted Matthew 25:31-46, the scripture about the sheep and the goats to those people. A few other brothers in the church, like Mike Frohike, supported us. Mike was not afraid to speak up to the leaders and repeatedly tried to talk to them about our situation, but was repeatedly stonewalled. I am grateful to all those who supported and continue to support Emily and Samantha and I in spirit. Unfortunately, none of our supporters are leaders in the church and we don't have any advocates for us in the high up leadership of the church.
For awhile Emily and Samantha lived in almost constant terror that they might be rebuked at any moment by the leaders for "not living up to the standard", and I shared their pain since I supported them, and was likely to be "discipled" also. Our zone leader, Marita Covarrubias, was the cause of a lot of this fear and pain. She was rather legalistic, as was the rest of the leadership in the church, and never supported my household emotionally or otherwise, even though she always acted "nice" and sincere. After Emily had lived with me for about 6 months, I asked Marita if we couldn't raise money to help Emily out. Marita replied in her usual nice manner that she would not feel comfortable supporting Emily financially because Emily was not making it to all the meetings of the church and was therefore, an "uncommitted" member. This time I had had enough with her response and was determined to have a "showdown" with Marita, so I left a long message on her answering machine telling her how disappointed I was with her response, because after all, she had knocked on so many doors that summer and walked miles in the HOPE walkathon to raise money to help people across the world she did not know, who were not even members of the church. Why, then, would she not support her sister in Christ? I quoted many scriptures about helping the needy, the sheep and the goats, and doing good to those in the family of God.
All of my scriptures were disregarded. Marita never directly answered any of them, but told me I was being disrespectful to her. Evidently, she must have either regarded Emily as a bum, or at least, like an outsider who could not be trusted (I am speculating here). I also wondered why my evangelist, Sullivan Biddle, did nothing to help the situation. In fact, I heard from a reliable member of the church that Sullivan had made a reference to Samantha as a "fruit cake", and when Samantha heard this she was very hurt. Sullivan later confessed in front of the whole church that he had exaggerated the church membership and evangelism statistics to make the church look good. Despite his transgression, which was considered minor by most of the congregation, he was allowed to continue leading the church until he was transferred to another city a few months later. I felt both pity and anger towards Sullivan. Pity, because the pressure to perform had driven him to lie, and anger, because his pursuit of performance at all costs led to the legalistic leadership that tormented me and my roommates.
Soon afterwards Marita was also transferred to another church ministry, and the Anytown CC got a new evangelist, Walter Skinner and his wife Sharon, who had been members of the Anytown CC for a long time before moving to another city, and then coming back to lead. I wrote a long letter to Walter detailing my household situation and my solution: if each member only donated $0.50 - $1 a month, there would be enough money to help Emily. After a month I received a large card from Walter in the mail. I opened the card and read a very simple reply to my long letter. Walter said, as the church grew in numbers, more needs would be met. He also enclosed a check for $20 to help with Emily's needs.
I thanked Walter for his heart, in that he was willing to shell out his own money to help, but I did not want to take from him since his salary is paid for by the members of the church. When I tried to explain this to him in person, he declined my explanation and ran off, so I simply never cashed his check.
More time passed and I became more depressed. I felt unappreciated and unrecognized by the church, and I cried often. I slowly began to realize that all these years I had literally thought the ICC was God's kingdom on earth, yet all that had happened should not have happened within "God's Church". One day, during one of my crying episodes, Samantha told me bluntly, "Dana, the Anytown CC is not the kingdom of God." I disagreed with her, detailing how even the New Testament churches had major problems, but could not deny that the structure of the ICC and some of the practices done were not Biblical. Another day, when Emily was trying to encourage me, she reminded me that "the ICC is not God."
It was hard for me to accept that what the ICC wanted was not necessarily what God wanted. I had been told in church a lot that God was in control, and that He appointed the church leadership. I remember once, in hurt and anger asking my former discipler Holly, "if the church leaders were from God, how could they treat Emily the way they did?" Holly was troubled by my question and finally said, "because of sin " Eventually I decided that the members of the ICC and its leadership were mere human beings, that's all. I did not need to fear them. I came into the ICC as a volunteer, and I could leave if I wanted to, although the thought of leaving brought up very mixed emotions and thoughts of where I would go if I left. Would I go to hell?
For awhile my greatest frustration was seeing the leadership of the church treating, and being treated in a worldly manner. We were urged to reach out to "sharp" people so they could become leaders in the church. There were very few poor, homeless, or disabled people in the church. Bill Sullivan even told Emily that generally half of the people he works with eventually leave because they cannot deal with the pressure to perform. The leadership meetings in the church were changed to "shepherd's meetings", because the leaders were to be called shepherds. The thought of this made me cry, because how true it was that the leaders were to be shepherds, yet in my house were a couple of hurting sheep that were not being taken care of.
One time when the Pollidoris were still leading my zone, I brought a couple from South Africa, the Diabiras, to church as visitors. They were of East Indian descent and had just moved to the US and were excited to come to church with their little boy. I introduced them to the Pollidoris, who naturally invited them to study the Bible. What later happened disturbed me very much. Mrs. Diabira called me and told me that they had just got done studying the Bible and that Mr. Diabira was so angry he had vowed never to let the Pollidoris in their house again. She said she didn't think I was a judgmental person, and she didn't know if the American visitors to her house just didn't understand that the Diabiras were Christians! Mrs. Diabira explained that in her country, for her and her husband to become Christians, that meant giving up their Hindu background and possibly cutting off all ties to their families. She and her husband had counted that cost and went ahead, deciding to believe in Christ. How then could Elizabeth Pollidori say she wasn't a Christian? Apparently, Elizabeth Pollidori and other leaders were studying the Discipleship study with Mrs. Diabira, and was trying to convince her that she was not saved because she had not been evangelizing daily. The whole incident did not go well, and luckily, Mrs. Diabira was more calm than her husband. She remained friendly with me, but the Diabiras never came to church again. I do not remember if I asked Elizabeth about what happened at that study, but in either case, I knew what she was going to say, namely, that Mrs. Diabira was just being "prideful". I knew that because that's what we labeled anyone who resisted the Discipleship study. It was really too bad because I really liked the Diabiras, and I tried to keep in touch with them, but my contact with them soon ceased.
Eventually I came to decide that the church was only one step away from the world. They were no better, but I didn't want to treat all of them like I would treat the pagans, because there were still many wonderful individuals in the church. However, I realized the verbiage that you could "be open, sister, with everything! Trust your leaders!, etc.," simply was not true. Unfortunately, just like in any other group of people on this planet, there are those you can trust and those you cannot trust.
Emily still lives with me, and everyone in the church I have gone to for help almost always seem to expect an instant solution to resolve her problem. In fact, when a sister recommended that Emily enter a program for mentally ill people, the benevolence deacons of the church were the first to heartily endorse it! Emily was reluctant to enter that program for several reasons, among them the fact that although she was head injured, she didn't think she was mentally ill. On the day Emily went in to take the test to determine whether she was mentally ill, we prayed for God to have it proven that she was not, and the test results came out negative. She was not mentally ill and therefore did not qualify for the program. Emily and I cheered that day because now the deacons could not say anything more. One of them had even chided Emily for being slow to get into the program. Now they had nothing to say. My household did receive some financial assistance for one month last year when a friend of mine spoke to the church financial administrator, but I quickly realized that it was only meant to be for one month, and it was a disappointment when I saw all the bureaucracy I had to go through just to get that one month's help!
What gets me is that from time to time there are church members who know of or have jobs available, but no one has tried to help Emily get a part-time job she can work at, or employ her. Emily and I had suggested this several times to church leadership as an idea, because Emily prefers to work for money, but nothing has ever been done about it. Recently, Emily got part-time work for 2 weeks and then was fired because she wasn't learning "fast enough". But the 2 weeks on the job really boosted her self-esteem and raised her spirits and belief that she could do something. She is still appealing her application for federal disability, and may know something by the end of this year on whether she gets it, but the government is known for its stinginess in this area. I shudder to think what would happen to the ICC if we were in the first century, when the government opposed the Christians? Who, then, would have helped those Christians in need? Would Acts 2:42 still have been true? The first century Christians were forced to help each other out, and help they did, until nobody was in need of anything. But the deacon of benevolence at my church told Emily, "it's okay to get help from the government in your situation." In my view, I thought he missed the point. The point was that if the members of the church were acting like first century Christians, Emily wouldn't even need the government help! It would only be a supplement to what the church was giving to help out.
Now I understand why scripture says, "many men claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?" For awhile I thought the best way to end my membership in the ICC would be to move away to another city, and not go to the church there. I wanted to be righteous, like Joseph, who was going to quietly divorce Mary. In the same way, I still think the best way for me to leave would be to move away quietly. However, I expect that God may work something out even better for me.
In the meantime, I am still participating in the church because I want to help the people there. There are many people going through things similar to what I and other former members have gone through. In fact, recently, a good friend of mine, Max Fenig, was kicked out of the church because he steadfastly refused to put evangelizing before Jesus Christ. Max told me at first Walter listened and tried to persuade him to the church point of view, but when it became evident that Max was not going to back down, Walter and the other leaders with him became nasty and some unspeakable things were said. Sound familiar? There are people within and outside of the church suffering these things. I think part of the problem is that men and women put in church leadership are not necessarily people of integrity. They may look like they are, but the heart is deceitful above all things, and history has shown that they are not people of integrity by the way they have treated others. Unfortunately, too few in the church, still, see what is going on behind the words, even behind the energy and enthusiasm they perceive. That is why I thought my story would aptly be called, Folie a Deux. Those of you X-philes who know that episode know how it relates to my story.
I have invested too much energy and time during my involvement in the church to just walk out without a fight. I believe when the time comes for me to leave, God will make it clear. In the meantime, please keep Emily, Samantha, and me, and all those undergoing the same kinds of things in your prayers.
©1998 by "Dana Scully". All rights reserved.
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