The Way International: Carol’s Story Part Two

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What follows is Part Two of Carol’s story about her involvement with The Way International and her journey out of it. I thought it would be interesting for readers to read the story of someone who journeyed out of a non-orthodox Christian religion.  I hope you enjoy Carol’s story.

Seeking: Life Along The Way

I began reading and rereading Acts and the Pauline epistles, mainly Ephesians through Colossians. I drove over an hour one way to attend church services where I had been led into tongues. The message at this church was different from what I’d been exposed to at the Baptist Church. The theme was love, grace, mercy, and understanding; not to mention they had good music! I was full of questions and wanted to understand the Bible, to be able to reconcile at least a majority of the contradictions. I decided to attend college focusing on biblical studies and counseling. I also had an interest in service work with either VISTA or The Peace Corps.

I chose a college that had “spirit-filled” connections, Montreat Anderson near Black Mtn., North Carolina, in the heart of Billy Graham country. During my few months at Montreat, I attended Montreat’s Presbyterian Church services along with various flavors of Charismatic meetings in the local vicinity. However, the same insecurity and shame that I experienced in the Baptist Church again haunted me. I couldn’t seem to find satisfactory answers to my questions nor a remedy for my shame.

I became friends with some students on campus who were considered to be spiritually mature. We met regularly for prayer meetings. Talk went on qualifying who was spiritual enough to be allowed at these assemblies. Looking back, these meetings mainly served to achieve an emotional high with some participants being slain in the spirit and speaking in tongues in an uncontrollable manner. During one of these sessions I had to leave because I felt like I was tripping; I felt paranoid and dirty. I don’t think I went to any more prayer sessions after that one.

On one occasion Ruth Graham visited the campus. I attended a small gathering with about 20 young ladies and Mrs. Graham. We met in an informal living room setting, attired with a few upholstered chairs for seating and the rest of us on the floor. It was very comfortable. I asked Mrs. Graham questions regarding speaking in tongues and the holy spirit field. Her answer was that she simply didn’t know the answers. I thought to myself, If Ruth Graham doesn’t know, who does? Around this time is when I found The Way.

Friends from the prayer group at college warned me that The Way was a cult. I considered their words and read about The Way in cult literature that was around at that time. It appeared to me that those who claimed The Way was a cult, based that conclusion mainly on the fact that The Way did not believe in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. Until shortly after starting college I never realized that Christians believed that Jesus was God. At that time I was stunned that anyone would think such a thing, that a man could be God. Therefore the main thrust of The Way being a cult because it was non-trinitarian didn’t concern me, much.

Fellowship meetings with The Way were tender and welcoming and didn’t involve the frenzied spirit-filled confusion I was experiencing at some of the Charismatic gatherings. At Way fellowships I witnessed what I had read in sections of Acts and the Pauline epistles: all things common, decent and in order, fruit of the spirit, greeting with a holy kiss, etc. I enrolled and took The Way’s Foundational/Intermediate class. For once I was getting answers to many of the questions that plagued me. I learned that I was righteous before God and that I had “sonship rights.” I began to “retemorize” King James scriptures, repeating them over and over in my mind convincing my self of “the truth.” I was finally learning God’s will for my life.

In my college Old Testament History class I wrote an answer in response to an essay question on a test asking to compare Old Testament faith with New Testament faith. My essay was based on research from The Way. I received an A+ on that essay with a note from my professor, “Excellent research. I have questions about some of your findings.” Having been warned The Way was a cult, I felt uncomfortable and never approached the professor on the matter.

The same friends who warned me about The Way subjected me to a type of interrogation with an emphasis on the Trinity. I was seated in a classroom. About five of them were standing with one at the chalkboard writing. Their examination included questions, authoritarian proclamations, and accusations regarding The Way and its “devilish doctrines.” I recall a couple of them raising their voices at me, I think in an attempt to wake me from what they considered my delusion and to save me from the “cult.” I felt attacked, cross-examined, and fearful.

Not long after that incident my college roommate exhibited mental illness and was found in the parking lot trying to pick up sparkling diamonds out of the pavement. She had also recently begun using the window instead of the door to exit and enter our college dorm room. The same friends who led the prayer group and who had interrogated me, blamed me for tainting my roommate and causing her to get “possessed with demons,” all because I was attending a Way class and fellowships. I was the only student at Montreat involved with The Way.

These were the people warning me that The Way was a cult? I guess it takes one to know one. Jesting aside, I want to believe these friends’ intentions were good. But their approach, for obvious reasons, sent me running in the other direction. I finished my first semester at Montreat College and then dropped college to study and serve with The Way.

As my manner was, I got 100% involved with The Way. In January, 1978, at the age of 18, shortly after dropping out of college, I moved in with Way believers and got a job in the laundry department of a local hospital. In February, 1978, I met the president and founder of The Way whose charisma and fatherly demeanor left an indelible impression on my young heart and my desire to serve. He signed me up for the next wave of Word Over the World (WOW) Ambassadors to be commissioned in August, 1978. [WOW was The Way outreach program and involved a one-year commitment, the volunteer serving wherever assigned by The Way.]

Prior to that August WOW commission, I jumped on board and served with one of The Way’s volunteer summer outreach programs, Word Over North Carolina, from latter May until the end of July. Somewhere between January, 1978, and July, 1978, I made the commitment to enter the Way’s leadership training program, The Way Corps. Members of the Way Corps volunteered for a “lifetime commitment to Christian service” with The Way International. My August WOW commission began my apprentice year for the Way Corps. That apprentice year, I served as a WOW Ambassador family coordinator.

Comments (15)

  1. NeverAgainV

    Fascinating. It has to be something to look at and recall the events that leads one to a certain path in life.

    It is what it is, but do you ever wonder that maybe you would not have run to the cult had the girls at the bible school been more open minded and not so accusing?

    I too had a similar experience. When I began listening to the tapes of the Detroit church (cult) basically Calvinism was taught, which made more sense to me than Arminianism, at the time anyhow. LOL But several people spoke very negatively about those teachings one girl was very nasty to me and I remember feeling shamed and ran the other way, right into the arms of the cult. Also, since the leader tells people in advance that “the truth will be hated & believers will be reviled” then people DO treat you badly it makes it appear that the leader MUST know what he is talking about because it’s happening!

    The manipulation…wow. To them, they think it’s being persecuted, but people see that it’s whacked out! LOL

    Can’t wait to read more my friend.

    Reply
    1. Carol

      Hey NeverAgainV …

      Oh yes…I’ve wondered what my choices may have been had the small clique at that college not been so confrontational and accusatory. And (like most folks, I think)…I’ve had lots of other “what if” thoughts.

      Funny…in my Way daze I “knew” (*cough*) the Bible didn’t teach that unbelievers would burn in hell forever; but rather, I “knew” that unbelievers would die a second death…so they’d be dead, not burning. That is what The Way taught (teaches) but I don’t recall being taught the specific terms Calvinism or Arminianism. Though the words were probably mentioned in some teachings. (Since leaving The Way, I have learned about those schools of thought.) It’s just interesting to me that as Way believers we weren’t taught those two specific words in regard to church movements…at least that I recall.

      I had not idea anything like Christian Universalism existed at all…until after leaving The Way.

      Reply
  2. Steve

    I’m glad to see your story, Carol. I was also involved with TWI, most heavily through the 80s and then the off-shoots through a good part of the 90s. Can’t wait to see more of your posts.

    Steve

    Reply
    1. Carol

      Hey Steve,

      Nice to meet you….or maybe we have met before?

      Since folks’ experiences can differ in The Way according to when they were involved and where they served, it would be interesting to read your perspective too….I mean if you want to chime in, of course.

      :-)

      Reply
      1. Steve

        I would love to, Carol. I’ll keep my comments in line with your discussion though.

        I remember the first time I saw TWI described as a cult, in a book at a Christian bookstore. (I was buying my first wide-margin bible and got a little distracted.) I was flipping out a little even though I didn’t really know what that meant. Biblically, my twig coordinator said, the Greek word for cult really just means a group of people with a certain set of beliefs.

        No problem. I was still getting questions answered and the fellowship was good, so what the heck–onward Christian soldier.

        I do remember the abuse I would catch from other so-called Christians when I got back to college. It’s kind of strange hearing you’re possessed from people you were told are possessed. Somehow it was easy enough to get around those little mental “gotchas.”

        But hearing the founder and president teach was, and sometimes still is, amazing to me. Yes, I confess I still listen on occasion, mostly to wonder how I ever got sucked in. He truly was mesmerizing.

        Steve

        Reply
        1. Carol

          Thanks Steve for sharing a snippet of your TWI experiences. I’d love to read more.

          Yes…that “cult” label worked for and against TWI. Once I became loyal and would witness to people, if the witnessee brought up the “cult” question/allegation, I would often respond with the question, “What is your definition of a cult?” Depending on their definition, I’d answer with a “Yes” or a “No”…and then usually extrapolate.

          “Mesmerizing”…a good term for these con artists.

          I still have much of my Way materials…thinking that some day I’ll go through them for learning and analogy purposed. But, I’m pretty random so not sure if or when that will happen.

          I am most interested in my thoughts at the time and I have reams of personal notes, etc., from my time in The Way. (In light of that, I wish I had not tossed my bio “From Birth to the Corps” which the Way Corps was required to write at one time.)

          In 2009, I transcribed online one of my personal journals from when I was in-residence in The Way Corps in 1982-1983. Reading that journal was more eye-opening into the indoctrination process.

          Here’s a link to that transcription: http://soulfeet.wordpress.com/

          Thanks again Steve! :)

          Reply
          1. Paula

            I have bookmarked this to real more of later. It looks really interesting. I must admit I find it difficult to comprehend how people can so totally turn themselves over to the will of another human being. My own makeup includes an inborn stubborn streak that really becomes evident if I think someone is trying to play me.

          2. Steve

            Thanks, Carol! I’m looking forward to reading it.

            I tossed my stuff quite a while back. On occasion I wished I still had some of them but for the most part they’re available in PDF format online. Funny though, I’ve never actually gone back except for once to “Jesus Christ Our Passover.”

            I wish I hadn’t tossed my wide-margin bible though. That would be good for extensive flashbacks as I wouldn’t be able to recreate those notes if my life depended on it.

            Paula, I’m that way by nature too. But at the time they were fulfilling a real need in my life and it was difficult to see any danger. Then it becomes part of your everyday thoughts and actions and much hard to break free of. Your mind wants to justify your decisions. It’s amazing what you can talk yourself into sometimes.

  3. ami

    I guess I was sheltered, because until now I hadn’t heard of The Way. Or at least not as an organization. We did have a bible with those words on the front when I was a young teen. Interesting story so far.

    Reply
    1. Carol

      From the late 70s and into the 90s, I recall folks I would witness to ask me about that Bible, “The Way.” Of course, TWI had nothing to do with The Way Bible.

      Thanks Ami!

      Reply
  4. Alice

    I read your story on your blog, but it’s nice to see it here, too. I hope many former Way-ers can find you and relate to your story:)

    Reply
    1. Carol

      Thanks Alice!

      Reply
  5. Carol

    Paula stated: “I must admit I find it difficult to comprehend how people can so totally turn themselves over to the will of another human being. My own makeup includes an inborn stubborn streak that really becomes evident if I think someone is trying to play me.”

    That stubborn streak is a good thing . :-)

    As a Way believer when I’d get into cult discussions with folks I was witnessing to and the subject of free will would come up…I’d laugh. In my mind, I wasn’t being controlled by a doctrine or group or person…In my mind I had chosen of my own free will to believe “the accuracy of God’s Word.” It came down to “making the Word my own.” (Quotes are Way phrases.) “Making the Word my own” really boils down to doctrine over person…turning my senses off if those senses do not line up with the doctrine….which I know happens (at least in varying degrees) in most all, if not all, totalistic systems.

    And I (like others) complied…desiring to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not until close to my final years in The Way did I realize I had committed (as I term it) soul suicide…or soul murder.

    The Way was (i imagine still is) pretty big on teaching free will…and if a person of reasoning age with decent faculties is not acting out of free will…well then, that person is (most likely) “possessed with devil spirits.” The Way taught to never let go of your free will because God never possesses; only the devil possesses. Meanwhile, the giving up of our will was happening right in front of our free-willed blind or blurred eyes.

    Glad I (and others, of any true believer brand) found some Visine!! ;)

    Reply
    1. Paula

      Even though I grew up in a fairly strict church going family, it was still with the idea that good people can disagree, and that you may not always agree 100% with the pastor, and that that was fine if both sides were following their own conscience and understanding of the Bible. My parents loved and respected our pastor, but they did not blindly accept his every word as gospel. I guess I took my cue from them, and then some.

      Reply
  6. Steve

    Hey Carol! Thanks for the posts by soulfeet! I was touched by how much you shared of yourself. I remember vividly many of those same thoughts and feelings even never being part of the Corps. Seems they bred it in people!

    Good point on the free will. They preached it incessantly. Unfortunately, your choices had better line up with TWI doctrines and practices or you’d never hear the end of it! Sadly, I didn’t realize that until much later on.

    Reply

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