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Back to the Future: Reflections on Family Reorganization

Posted by Coordinator on March 12, 2004 at 19:38:47

Zerby & Kelly just knocked themselves out putting together a plan to keep The Family going in case Jesus doesn't come back in the next two years--or maybe in their lifetime. Looks like Jesus has hired on as a management consultant in the ML titled "Forward, Always Forward! Restructuring the Family of the Future, Part 1" (January 2004)

"42. Successful Homes usually have a significant core of people who are committed to the Home, who stay in the Home and stick with the same team for a substantial period of time. When there are problems, the Home members work through them instead of turning in their 30-day notices. Generally speaking, you will find that Homes that stick together, work together, and spiritually grow together for longer periods of time are the most successful."
What is meant by “longer periods of time”? Two years? Five years? Earlier in the letter, Zerby proclaims: “Of course, to reach our goals we will each need to make changes, but that's our business--changing lives and hearts! That's life in the Family, that's life as a disciple! It's all about change, revolution, leaving the old behind, letting go of the past, taking off for new horizons, pioneering unconquered lands and hearts. That's the spirit of David, and we've still got it! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”

The general instability and crisis created by constant change, restructuring, and “taking off for new horizons,” works against group cohesion, as well as the development of community networks necessary for long-term resource development. Family income generating tactics only work for a relatively short period of time in any given community. Within three to five years, the locals have figured out The Family Home’s game plan and don’t see it as much of an asset to the community. Donations fall off, number of witnessing opportunities decline. When Homes are no longer able to pick the low-lying fruit, it’s time to move on, leave the old behind, let go of the past, pioneer unconquered lands and hearts.

This has not been a good model for building financial stability or establishing an enduring presence in the community. But lo! The Great Management Consultant in the Sky has spoken: Go back to the future!

"43. On the other hand, while teams made up of a core of individuals dedicated to making the Home work are usually successful, it's not always the case. Often the core individuals who are committed to the Home are those who opened the Home, and that's generally one particular couple or family. They are the ones who found the house, met the landlord, signed the contract, etc. Their names are on the legal paperwork and they are responsible for most aspects of the Home.
   44. Often these folks feel that it is "their" Home and they begin to act that way. The Home becomes the "property" of these individuals and they become the de facto heads of the Home, often becoming permanent members of the teamwork. There develops an "understanding" among the Home members that these individuals must be on the teamwork. This especially happens if the Home "owners" are actual homeowners‚ in that they have purchased or inherited the physical Home property."

Well, duh. The house IS their property if they own it or signed a rental agreement. They are financially and legally responsible for whatever happens TO and ON the property. If I’m legally and financially responsible for what happens on or to a property, it’s reasonable to expect me to be a member of the decision-making group that runs the Home.

But that’s just a System perspective and my silly notions of personal responsibility. I forgot that Family members who put their names on rental contracts or who own property are encouraged to run away and hide if legal issues or financial liabilities arise as a consequence of what goes on in a Home. Sorry I can’t follow your example, Karen: My conscience hasn't been seared to the point that I can live like a criminal and rationalize my lifestyle as an example of “radical discipleship.”

"45. In a case where the couple or people who opened the Home are good shepherds, wise leaders, open to counsel, and desperate to apply the New Wine, and have the gifts needed for being on the teamwork, then this situation may not be detrimental. However, that isn't always the case, and unfortunately such circumstances often lead to Homes that begin to be run by those who originally established the Home, who set things up the way they want them to run, according to their personal Home rules rather than the Family rules outlined in the Charter and the Word. People in the Home have to operate according to the wishes of the "homeowners" or they can no longer stay in the Home. This has sometimes even evolved into the "homeowners" listing their demands to people who want to join the Home, saying if they won't agree to these demands, they can't join the Home."

Karen, Karen, Karen: You can take the person out of the System, but you’ll never take the System out of the person. To suggest that people with property rights should not exercise personal control over who lives in their space totally goes against human survival instincts. It is natural to strive for autonomy and to want to exert control over your environment. You, of all people, should understand this. Why is it so hard for you to allow others set boundaries and carve out a safe space for themselves?

In real life, the people who pay the bills get to call the shots. Sooner or later, Family members who actually pay to read the crap that comes out of your conning pie-hole will figure out you’re nothing but a leach who doesn't practice what she preaches. As long as you've got the tithes coming in from the field, living by faith isn't much of a stretch, is it?

"46. Often these spoken or unspoken demands run contrary to the Charter. For example, "My young children watch TV often because we are too busy to take care of them. If you join our Home, you need to understand that's how it is." Or, "We have a certain way we discipline our children (often meaning that they don't discipline), and if you and your kids join or stay in our Home, you have to understand that we will keep our way of disciplining, and if you don't agree, we won't allow you to join our Home." Of course, such statements are contrary to the Charter, but the fact is that there are many Homes like this. They become "mom and pop shops" which often sink well below the CM standard and are in fact FM Homes with the CM title."

I’m not aware of any clear-cut standards of child discipline in the Charter. What I am aware of is this: parents have a legal responsibility to protecting their children from maltreatment. Prior to the Charter, The Family track record on this score was horrendous. There’s a difference between discipline and punishment, by the way, and I see little evidence that anyone in The Family, least of all Karen Zerby, understands this difference.

"47. Even if such Homes don't establish rules or policies that are contrary to the Word or the Charter, just the fact that they're run like little kingdoms‚ where those in charge are used to having their way and only doing things their way, is contrary to the Charter. If "mom and pop" aren't allowing the other Home members to exercise their rights of choice and self-determination, to determine by prayer‚ discussion, debate and voting, the nature, goals, direction and activities of the Home, then they aren't true Charter Homes living the CM standard."

So tell me this, “Momma” Maria and “Poppa” Peter: How is the way you run the little kingdom known as The Family any different that a “mom and pop” shop? Since when are Family members allowed to exercise their rights of choice and self-determination with regard to how they interpret their obligations under the Charter? Don’t you pretty much manage your little kingdom by telling people how it’s going to be—OR ELSE?

Evidence of Maria & Peter’s autocratic rule is found in the opening statements of the document: “Right off the bat, Peter and I want to make it clear that we are not doing away with the Charter. We are not taking away everyone's status in the Family or their membership. We are not going to institute harsh measures or discipline. We are not going to be moving people out of the Family right and left. So please don't be fearful.”

The point is, the “Mom & Pop” of this little kingdom shop COULD do away with the Charter in a heartbeat if they decided this is what Jesus was telling them to do. But it is not in their interests to alienate otherwise good tithing members, so in an effort to increase productivity, they’re taking core membership back to the future, the “good old days” of committed, communal living.

"61. The question is, if a Home is not living, acting like, or bringing forth the fruits of a CM discipleship Home, then how can the individuals within the Home be considered disciples? If the children of the Home are not getting spiritual training or an adequate education, if they don't have enough food or clean clothes, if the Home isn't witnessing, doing follow-up, winning souls and establishing a well-rounded missionary work with lasting fruit, if members of the Home have non-witnessing System jobs, if the teens of the Home are undisciplined and a reproach to the cause, if Home members are in ongoing disunity among themselves or with other Homes, if they make little or no effort to obey and apply the Word, if they don't live communally, then how can they be disciples?"

What are “the fruits of a CM discipleship Home”? Number of souls saved by a two-minute prayer? Number of magazines and tapes hawked as street merchandise? Number of photo-ops with legitimate social development projects? Number of new, well-to-do “forsake all” disciples with a trust account? Number of locals so cut off and alienated from their community that the Home becomes a major source of social support? Quality of the clothing and food donations from Egyptians who feel sorry for your kids?

Length of time the local king decides to pay for a pretty young sister to put out? Number of teens failing to do the difficult developmental task of identity formation? Number of times the electricity gets shut off from not paying your bills because you'd rather not earn an honest living from a System job?

"62. If a Home doesn't live Acts 2:44 and 45; sends their kids to System school, but doesn't spiritually shepherd and feed them as the Word and Charter say they must; can't agree on a united disciplinary standard for their kids; has little or no spiritual fellowship or devotions, no shepherding or discipline; can't discuss matters in love and come to prayerful united decisions; fails to have the required Charter meetings to decide the direction and goals of their Home regarding witnessing, childcare, finances and the well-being of the Home; makes very little effort to apply the GNs to their lives, barely witnesses, fundraises or conducts CTPs in a manner that has no connection to the Family or in some cases even Christianity, how can that Home be considered a discipleship Home? Yet there are CM Homes that fall into such a category."

It is very difficult to maintain spiritual focus & direction, bear witness to your faith in God, make an honest living, support a family, educate kids, get along with other people, set and achieve goals, and respond to the needs of less fortunate neighbors. But guess what? There are a lot of people in this world who do exactly that, and they don’t live communally, they don’t tithe to WS, they don’t need Queen Maria & King Peter, and they have no clue what GNs are.

There are also lots of ordinary, humble human beings who are completely OK with themselves when they fail to live up the demands of Christian discipleship. They understand that the Lord didn't ask them to succeed. He only asks them to try. Mother Theresa of Calcutta is the person who taught me this. When Zerby and Kelly decide to follow the Lord by taking care of people dying in the streets of a third world slum, I'll listen to what they have to say about the nature of Christian discipleship.

"66. Is the Home bringing forth the fruits of obedience to the Word? Are there tangible fruits of that obedience? It is not enough that individuals or Homes don't cause problems; that isn't sufficient to qualify for discipleship. They must bring forth the fruits of discipleship, the fruits of obedience, the fruits of obeying the Charter and the New Wine in spirit, the fruits of unity and living the One Wife vision, the fruits of using the new weapons‚ the fruits of good witnessing, the fruits of putting the Lord first and serving Him to the best of their ability. It should be clear whether a Home is living the discipleship standard by looking at their fruits, both their outside witnessing fruits as well as the fruits of the Spirit within the Home. And the only way for a Home to truly bring forth that fruit is if the individual members of the Home are disciples‚ living the discipleship life. If the people within the Home aren't disciples, then the Home won't bring forth the fruits of discipleship. And if a Home is not bringing forth the fruits of discipleship, then chances are, the folks in that Home are not disciples."

Peter Kelly seems mighty obsessed with the “f” word. MS Word counted some form of the word “fruit” 44 times in this document. Paragraph 66 contains the “f” word 15 times alone. Notice the emphasis on TANGIBLE fruits? It’s like he’s saying, “OK, folks. Productivity is the issue, and you’re gonna be busted in rank if you can’t get productivity up.”

This emphasis on productivity must be scary to older folks who are slowing down and need more time to rest and catch their breath. That's a fact of aging--you simply can’t compete for very long with the young lions who are hungry for a piece of the game. After a while, you need to get off your wobbly, old-fart legs and coast a bit.

For younger folks—those who grew up on the frenetic energy of Berg’s mania—the period since the Charter has been relatively serene and stable. I can’t imagine too many of them have the unquestioning zeal that propelled their parents to embrace a life of constant crises and upheaval. I would also expect younger adults to have some visions of the future and ideas of their own they'd like to try out.

"73. It's very difficult for individuals to live true discipleship on their own, which is probably one reason the Lord promoted communal living right from the days of the Early Church. He knew how difficult it would be to live up to the standard of discipleship, and in His wisdom knew that we would need the help of one another. He told His first disciples to leave their nets, their tax tables, their jobs and families, and to follow Him. How successful would those first disciples have been if they would have continued fishing every night or collecting taxes every day? Would they have been able to be disciples? Would they have followed all the way? Would they have spread Christianity throughout the world? Probably not."

Peter, Peter, Peter: This is a faulty argument. We don’t know exactly what the original 12 disciples did during the first 50 or 60 years of the early church. Paul, who was not one of the original 12, was not married and had no children. He appears to have done the most effective work of spreading the new religion throughout the Roman Empire. Peter went to Rome and died there. No mention of how he lived when he got there.

In any event, there is NO EVIDENCE that the 12 original disciples “spread Christianity throughout the world.” It took many, many centuries for Christianity to spread to Europe, and many more after that for it to spread to North and South America. It finally took root and spread through central Africa in the 20th century—some 2,000 years after the original 12 were long gone.

"74. They needed to be together with Jesus night and day; they needed one another's encouragement and help to keep going when the going got rough. They needed to be together in one room after Jesus was crucified and buried, so they could bolster one another's faith. And from the Day of Pentecost forward, "All that believed were together and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need" (Acts 2:44,45). They needed to live and work and share together so that they could live the discipleship life."

Communal living, as described in Acts 2:44-45, continued throughout the centuries, but not in the form practiced The Family. Early Christians figured out pretty quick that such a lifestyle was not well suited to raising children. Since Jesus was coming back any day, why marry and have kids? Within the first century AD, communal Christians moved into desert enclaves of monks and nuns who lived austere, celibate lives, praying earnestly for the Second Coming.

The early Christians who married and had children lived in large extended families and clans. There is no mention of communal houses made up of families unrelated by marriage or blood living together in Ephesus, Corinthians, Rome, or Thessaloniki. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, there have been many ways to live and work and share together as a community.

"96. Larger Homes allow for better shepherding, better teamworking, better childcare, better education, better opportunity to shepherd and supply the needs of the JETTs and teens, better outreach, better follow-up, and more fellowship. Small four-man Homes rarely have the well-rounded Home and work of a discipleship team. Larger communal Homes will have a much better chance of being a winning team. Of course, pioneer Homes will have a certain amount of time to bring their numbers up, thus still allowing for smaller teams to pioneer. (Details coming later.)"

Larger Homes allow for increased control over the membership, particularly if the increased size is a function of increased regulation. It’s very difficult and expensive to police a lot of little Homes. Bringing together large numbers of individuals without strong, immediate kinship ties will increase the likelihood of group uniformity and individual conformity--especially if they're regulated by an oversight authority.

This is how the monasteries and convents have maintained discipline for centuries. People will do what they need to do to gain approval and fit in, whereas smaller homes made up of parents and children tolerate more idiosyncrasies. They also tolerate less intrusion into their lives.

"117. While the minimum Home size is measured by the number of adults 18 and over, it is not meant to discourage taking large families or single moms into your Homes. A winning team, in many cases‚ will include large families and single parents. You need a well-rounded team in order to have a successful work and be a good sample discipleship Home. That includes mothers, fathers, young people, provisioners, JETT and teen shepherds, witnessers, teachers and childcare personnel, and much more. As Dad has always said, children of all ages are often our greatest testimony--the proof of the pudding, a tremendous witness, and they can be an invaluable asset to a fruitful discipleship Home."

There are some 1,000 adult “children” at the Movingon website who provide a powerful testimony to your experiment in “Christian” discipleship. As far as the kids and single mothers go, without a large pool of dependable domestic labor, it’s very hard to run a Home of “on fire” full-time disciples who have hours of free time to pray, read scripture, and figure out how to exploit the System with their religious dog-and-pony show.

"118. Aside from the witnessing opportunities children provide, living the One Wife vision is a foundation principle of our sample and service for the Lord. It's one of the most important spiritual concepts that Dad taught us, and it's crucial that we don't lose the loving, unselfish motives that make us a united Family. We're One Wife, and are collectively responsible to care for, raise, and train our children–-and that means providing loving Homes and supportive environments for our large families and single parents, where our precious children can be raised and nurtured in the admonition of the Lord."

There is a reason why communal living has never evolved past being a social experiment. It doesn’t work if people become too interested in pair-bonding, raising a family, and doing anything other than farming to support themselves. Even when modestly successful, the lifestyle doesn’t extend beyond the second generation without some adaptation toward greater household autonomy.

When parents don't take responsibility for their children, the state steps in and does it for them. Earlier attempts at collective responsibility for The Family’s children resulted in several thousand kids who were economically exploited and deprived, undereducated, and neglected. Several hundred of that generation claim they were beaten and raped. According to Zerby, these young adults represent a “few mistakes” made along the way while she and Berg were figuring out how to raise and nurture the Family’s first generation of children in the admonition of the Lord.

Momma, were you nurturing in "the admonition of the Lord" when you encouraged your children to watch you "share" with needy brothers?

I thought One Wife meant group sex is righteous. Now THERE’S a foundation principle that bore all kinds of fruit: broken hearts, fatherless children and orphans, financially destitute mothers, jealousy, competition, child abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, it didn’t produce fruit in the way of retirement pensions or the usual forms of social support aging parents receive from their children as their health declines.

Finally, I’d like see an example of Karen and Peter's “loving, unselfish motives.” What could they do? Maybe make a full financial disclosure to the membership? THAT would be radically loving and unselfish, wouldn't it? Hmmm, I wonder why they've never thought of that before? Maybe because they wouldn't know a loving, unselfish motive if it slapped them upside the head with a flashing neon sign?