I learned something last weekend. I learned why I hardly ever hear from old brothers and sisters from my time with Gene Edwards. I gave my life to them and to Gene for 10 years, and somehow I seldom even hear from them. Oh, and I also learned why they never hear from me. And I think I figured out how to stop some of the bleeding.
Step one is to realize most of us are bleeding.
A couple hundred lovers of the Lord in a dozen or so cities across America and Europe stepped into the glorious unknown. We all hoped to advance the glory of Christ by restoring the testimony of the church. We wanted to work together to bring a deeper, truer, simpler way of fellowshipping with each other and with Christ. We wanted the Christian life to move into our living rooms, where it was so sorely missed. Gene Edwards gave us a vision, and we fell in love with each other pouring out our hearts and souls and climbing that highest mountain. Gene welcomed us into his plans and in turn, we embraced him and each other whole-heartedly.
All those churches died under Gene's tutelage. Their deaths and our wounds were ugly affairs, each stage-managed by Gene personally. Each of the deaths had a unique fingerprint, but I've noticed one consistent outcome. Nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows what happened to the other brothers and sisters. Nobody knows what happened to Gene. Nobody knows what happened to the brothers who were supposed to bail them out. Nobody even really knows what happened to them. Everything that mattered was a secret.
John and Jane Doe were members of a church in Jonesville, and they know how that church died, but they don't know what really happened. They know about "The Incident" and the "Emergency Meetings" and "Who left first," but they don't know "Anything that Matters."
John and Jane don't know why Joe and June quit talking to them about anything that mattered. They don't know why Jim and Jody were always Gene's favorites, or why Jack and Jan thought Gene hated them. They don't know why they don't hear from anyone any more, and they don't know why they think about calling but don't quite pick up the phone.
Secrets work like that.
We need to tell our stories.
We need to hear each other's stories.
This weekend I heard a couple stories, and things that plagued me for ten years melted away. In one evening and an afternoon, ten years of loneliness made sense. I began to feel reunited to my brothers and sisters. I did not hear what I wanted to hear, and it was still healing. In one case, I heard almost the opposite of what I wanted to hear, but I heard the truth and it was perfect. I heard what actually happened. It was just the truth, but the truth changes everything.
Gene taught us to hide the truth.
That was all well and good while I believed he was trying to protect people who deserved a second chance, but I don't believe that any more. After all these years, and after talking to the people who were there, the only thing Gene ever deeply cared about protecting was his work.
That explains why Gene never told anyone the truth, but it leaves an open question about why no one else told what they knew of the truth. We were all silent about the things that mattered. What did our brothers and sisters think as they were bleeding? Or as they watched others bleed? And why did they do what they did? None of us knows because no one talked, and that's no accident. Gene repeatedly and forcefully indoctrinated silence into us. He taught us that speaking of anything that matters is undermining the worker, and that undermining the worker was a grave sin.
Gene once told us, "I consider you to have neither honor, nor integrity, nor honesty, nor trustworthiness if you in any way undermine another man's work. Nor can I personally extend my fellowship to one who does."
We learned this lesson well.
We honored Gene and we honored God to the best of our abilities in refusing to undermine Gene's work. When we doubted, we spoke to no one. If one of us disagreed with any brother, even the most or the least disagreeable brother, we'd wrestle through to a satisfying conclusion. We grew close that way, and it was beautiful. But you could tell right away when a brother started disagreeing with Gene. He'd grow agreeable. He'd start going along with anything, and grow silent. He'd start having secrets. Then he'd announce he was leaving, and reserve the reason why. We'd all mollify each other with kind words and friendly smiles, and one day we'd help him pack and he was gone.
Gene warned us repeatedly of the power of words to destroy, and that only silence could glorify God. Only in silent suffering could a man not undermine the work of God. Only in silent suffering could the man with authority know how the Holy Spirit would measure his work. Only in silent suffering could the man without authority know the Holy Spirit would guard him. If a man spoke, he was hindering the Spirit. Gene taught us it was the Lord's church, not ours, and the Lord would defend it.
Silence, he told us, was the route to safety.
But that was all a smokescreen.
It was a lie.
Gene, himself, did not practice silence. I know it for a fact.
I sat and listened as Gene lied about practicing silence in the middle of a church crisis. I listened to him tell the leading brothers of a church he would never defend his work with words. Hours earlier I'd I heard him plotting and describing to us how he would defend his work with words. His promise to not defend the church with words was one of the things he'd told us he'd say to defend his work in that church. I listened while he patted himself on the back for his own cunning.
Three times I was personally ordered by Gene, face-to-face, to find a way to get three different churches to quit listening to three different brothers in those churches. Gene perceived a threat from them, and he told me to take them out. (In Scotland, Romania, and Florida. If any of you brothers wonder what I did, just ask. Gene rated me a failure all three times.)
In Gene's books and personal appearances he always advocated silence, but behind closed doors he undermined his own words. Why would he do this?
It's a pattern familiar to any woman or child who's suffered abuse.
An abusive husband relentlessly presses for control of his victim (don't call her a "wife" - that's a dishonor to the word.) Whether he gains control through seduction or battering, through flattery or belittling, through bribery or deprivation, he will have control - whatever the cost. The first thing he must do to win that control is isolate his victim from anyone who might help her.
We who gave our lives to Gene were already well isolated. To varying degrees, and sometimes to a great degree, we were isolated from families, from outside friends, from Christians who didn't follow Gene, from leaders in other churches, and even from great Christian writers and thinkers who had the misfortune of not being promoted by Gene.
Gene was isolated, too, but in a different sense. Gene reported to no one, except his secretaries and his wife. No one knew the whole counsel of Gene's heart and no one could speak with gravity into his life. Gene consistently claimed to be under the oversight of someone, but who that was changed on a regular basis and I never heard of that oversight making any difference in his plans. For a brief period my name was on that list, and I can certify he never heard anything from me that made him change his mind about the least thing. Maybe others fared better.
So far as I know, there was only one thing that impinged upon Gene's total control over his churches - those same churches.
Individuals in the various churches sometimes had opinions of their own, opinions that could spread and create tension and raise difficult questions . And Gene was never happy with difficult. If a brother in Timbuktoo loved everything Gene said and loved Gene, but questioned whether there might be a better way to do some little thing, Gene would shut him down.
An accountant in our church once recommended Gene let us handle our donations to him a little differently, so as to make our tax records more audit-proof. His suggestion was good for Gene as much as for the churches, and as we all listened to him we were all impressed and happy. All but Gene, that is. Gene came down on that brother like a cornered animal. He fired that brother from all responsibility in the church, and did everything in his power to discredit him to us. We were not to tell that brother anything; we were to treat him as someone who had a hidden hatred for Gene. He made our rejection of that good brother a measure of whether we loved God's work.
We were already isolated from everyone on Earth, but Gene still needed to isolate us from each other.
Over the years, Gene did two things.
1) He invented the doctrine of silence.
It's not quite true Gene invented the doctrine of silence, of course. Search for "code of silence" and you'll find it's been around for a long time. You might just notice it's been polished and perfected largely by two classes of organization: the mafia and cults. One thing is sure, though. Gene's idea of silence was invented by someone, because it was never revealed by God in scripture. It's not there.
2) Gene made sure we always were afraid of each other.
I was not the only brother sent out to "take down" another brother. Whenever Gene felt a threat from a young brother, one thing would not happen and another thing would, just like clockwork. Gene would NOT talk to that brother at all, and he would send another man to teach the church to distrust that brother. It was brilliant, because it didn't just isolate the brother Gene found threatening. It also isolated the man obeying Gene by doing something we all found frightening and questionable, and it isolated everyone by creating an environment of distrust in each other.
When Gene put a knife in one brother's hands and required him to use it on another brother, everyone was wounded, the brother who felt the cut, the brother who dealt the cut, and the brothers who knew their day would come. He isolated all of us. It was a double bind. We knew any man who respected Gene could not be trusted, and any man who did not respect Gene could not be listened to.
It's also good old, traditional, spiritual abuse 101, and we bent our minds like pretzels trying to make sense of it.
Gene was either practicing something so holy that his methods were justified, or the thing to which we'd given our lives was a garden-variety cult. From here it looks like an easy decision, but when you've sold everything and fallen in love with brothers and sisters, even brothers and sisters with whom you are sharing terror, it's a big investment. It's hard to walk away from that investment. Still, given what I witnessed while I was allowed "behind the curtain" my doubts eventually became certainties. Following Gene was a corrosive force on every life I knew.
Gene's work is most destructive to those saints who most give themselves to it. It has to be, because his work is glued together with lies and manipulation. Truth would bring his house down. The day that truth "undermines another brother's work" is an ugly day indeed.
I am not breaking silence to bring Gene's work down, though. Gene's already done that himself. A thriving community of a dozen churches has been reduced to a single church diminished by splits. I'm breaking silence because this weekend I saw a little healing come to some of brothers and sisters, and I felt a little healing myself.
For ten years I've wondered what really happened when I left. I've wondered what damage I did when I followed Gene's orders. I've wondered whether the brothers and sisters I loved back then could still love me after all the water under the bridge.
Gene's teaching of silence isolated me for ten years in his church and for another ten years after I'd left, but this weekend I ignored that teaching. For the first time, I sat face-to-face with brothers and sisters and heard little bits of their stories and told little bits of mine.
It was good.
A few pages up I said I have an idea what we need to do to heal.
We are isolated because we were systematically taught to isolate ourselves. We all loved the exciting, deep, and happy bonds we formed with brothers and sisters, but there was one area in which each of us was isolated. On any question of Gene's control, we each stood and bled alone.
If we're going to heal, we need to break the silence. We need to tell and hear each other's stories.
I don't think there's a formula for how it has to happen, but an awful lot of us need it. Face-to-face, email, phone, or web posting all work for me, but I know they don't all work for everyone equally. Let's find something that works.
It's been a long time. I think it's time we stopped bleeding and told the truth.
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