Assembly Kids:

Growing up in the Geftakys Assembly

Assembly kids had some good times together--teen outings, some of the outreaches, pulling pranks together. But many of you have written with anguish about about your Assembly childhood. There are long-term effects from it even in adulthood. A closed high-demand system has effects that are beginning to be researched. In addition, in the Assembly there were harsh child training methods that affected children's developing brains.

− Child Training Practices in the Assemblies
− Neurological Implications
− Assembly Child Training Instruction
− Critiques of these Methods

Assembly Child Training Practices

After the Assembly demise, there was discussion about the child training on the Assemblyboard.

TH in SoC blog by a former Assembly member posted  Daddy Hammer and Mommy Chisel, an overall description of child training in the Assembly.

A Mother Describes Child Training in the Omaha Assembly

Observations of a Former Member

Child Training Incidents

Conerstone Academy

Discussion on the Assemblyboard

Does Stimulus-Response Produce Godly Character

A researcher who grew up in the Exclusive Brethren speaks and writes about some preliminary findings in her study of the long-term effects in adult life.

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.

Growing up in the Assembly you experienced a high level of anxiety most of the time. Now as an adult you may have constant low-level background anxiety, and not know why. And then sometimes you run into something that seems perfectly ordinary to most folks, but it suddenly sets you off. How do you understand what is going on with yourself? Coping With Triggers addresses an issue that comes up for many Assembly 2nd Gens.

Cognitive distortions are errors in thinking. This brief article lists ten types of cognitive distortions that are firmly embedded in a thought control process. The good news is that, "Like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice."

road blockAnother factor is the lingering effects of intensive thought control. K. Gordon Neufeld spent ten years in the Unification Church. He offers an excellent explanation of thought control that discards the image of "mindless robots" and incorporates instead the very helpful concept of "mental roadblocks". Here is the introduction to Neufeld's book.

Healthy communication was not modeled in the Assembly. Everyone was more or less forced into three unhealthy roles - victim, perpetrator or rescuer. Dr. Ron Burks who counselled Steve and me at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, used a model from psychology to describe what goes wrong with personal interactions in a cult and how to make changes. "A Guide to Healthy Communication," is a partial summary of Dr. Burks' material.

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.

Born or Raised in High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations points out a complicating factor for those who grew up in aberrant groups: they have no “pre-cult identity” to go back to. This in-depth article is well-worth reading.

Neurological Implications

Dr. Ron Burks at Wellspring laid out very clearly how the the stresses of a high-demand group have physiological effects on the brain.

Emotional Deprivation Disorder was first identified by a Dutch psychiatrist in the 1950's. Dr. Terruwe found that a person could exhibit symptoms characteristic of an anxiety disorder as a result of a lack of unconditional love, authentic affirmation and emotional strengthening in early life. The child was criticized, ignored, neglected, abused, or emotionally rejected by primary caregivers, which resulted in stunted emotional growth.

In the mid-1990s the CDC conducted a major investigation into the long-term consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), using a 10-point questionnaire. Tragically, several of the points are applicable to Assembly practices. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education and job opportunities. You can read our comments about the ACEs questions as they relate to the Assembly, and take the quizz yourself here. 

taking a pulse In "Stairway to Heaven" Dr. Bruce Perry describes treating the children traumatized by the Waco disaster. One striking fact he brings out is that children in traumatic circumstances have a resting heart rate elevated above the normal 70-90 beats per minute. Cornerstone Academy science classes in 1987 and 1990 demonstrated that students there had resting heart rates over 100 bpm.

Assembly Child Training Instruction

The role of early childhood training is something that is not taken into account in the studies of the Brethren. In the Geftakys Assembly, training in 'death to self' imbued every aspect of life from he cradle to the grave.

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 it 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 spanking he eventually learned to sleep there.

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 she 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 the strict measures required to keep mothers and children present and quiet in the meetings. This principle resulted a trajectory of increasingly harsh child training in the Assembly.

Book CoverWith the introduction of Richard and Virginia Fugate's What the Bible Says about Child Training in the 1980's, 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. Bruising was such a problem that parents worried it might be discovered by their pediatrician and reported to CPS.

Interestingly, around 1989 Ginger 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 official statement would serve to protect the Geftakys ministry from liability.

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.

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. 

Readers' comments on the Fugate method

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

First Time Obedience, Really?

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

First-time Obedience and Development of Analytical Thought

Revisiting First Time Obedience

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 and others to run - not walk - from GFI and its methods. (Several links on this page are broken.)

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