Growing up in the Geftakys Assembly
Assembly kids had some good times together--teen outings, some of the outreaches, pulling pranks together. But most of you have written with anguish about the struggles, the limitations on your life, the crushing anxiety. There is fallout in adult life from an Assembly childhood. What most of you probably don't remember is what happened to you in your earliest and most formative years.
Child Training Practices in the Assemblies
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 ever-increaasing harsh child training in the Assembly.
With 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" in the 1980's, and the Pearl's Train up a Child in the 1990's, methods were implemented that amounted to child abuse.
In the Assembly, the basis for this approach was articulated by George and Betty in very spiritual-sounding terms, in ***workers meeting***. In
addition to spiritualizing the practices to make them more palatable, inborn
Around 1989 Ginger disseminated a Child Training Pamphlet, in which she smoothed over the Assembly practices to make them sound perfectly reasonable and loving. She avoided any mention of specific disciplinary methods - repeated hard spankings, pinching the trapezius nerve, shutting in a dark closet, etc.
Essential to implementing these principles was preparation of the mothers by extinguishing their inborn 'mother heart'.
Assembly members saw how child training was carried out, and made alarmed observations.
Critiques of These Child Rearing Practices
"(How Not) to Train up a Child," Tim Challies
Apologetics Index advises parents and others to run - not walk - from GFI and its methods. (Several links on this page are broken.)
A blog posts noted that while many have focused their critique of the Ezzo's Growing Families International on the potential health dangers to infants, others have raised concerns about possible negative psychological and spiritual effect on children’s development. Marriage and family counselor Barbara Francis said this at an annual meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors:
"The GFI model does not acknowledge God-designed levels of human development,” adding that she is uncomfortable with the Ezzo’s advice to allow a baby to cry unattended. She stressed the importance of two-and three-year-old children being given the space to develop a “sense of self.” Noting that, according to the Ezzos, a ‘no’ from from a child is not permitted, Francis says, “If a child can never say ‘no,’ that child will not develop a sense of autonomy. While 'Ezzo children' may be more obedient, that obedience will likely be rooted in fear of abandonment or punishment rather than love.”
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 study, and take the quizz yourself here.
Growing up 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 the thought reform process. The good news is that, "Like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice."
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.
Another factor is the lingering effects of intensive thought control. Before you freak out at that term, take a look at what it means. K. Gordon Neufeld spent ten years in the Unification Church. He offers an excellent explanation of mind 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.
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.
Born or Raised in High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations points out a complicating factors 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.