Challenges Facing Former Assembly Members
People who left the high-demand Assemblies of George Geftakys after 2002 found themselves in a unique situation. They did not leave the group of their own volition because they saw problems. They were caught unaware by G. Geftakys's excommunication and the subsequent disbanding of most of the Assemblies in 2003. Betrayal suddenly pulled the rug out from under them.
The fallout of this train wreck is across the board, from denial that anything was wrong with the group, to denial of the Christian faith, and everything in between. The accounts in Peoples' Stories express many different reactions.
For those who have come out of denial, it has been a nightmare to wake up and realize that something they unreservedly gave their lives to has turned out to be deeply flawed. Sorting through all the facets of the experience, throwing out the bad and trying to find the good, is incredibly difficult and takes a long time because the Assembly belief system seemed so plausible and was so deeply ingrained.
The articles If You Have a Loved One in a Deceptive, Exploitive Group, by Exit and Support Network, and Recovery From Spiritual Abuse, by therapist Sharon Hilderbrant, M. A., are recommended reading. Steve Hassan's book, Combating Cult Mind Control, has many good suggestions for concerned family and friends.
Listen a Lot and Become Informed
The most important things a friend or loved one can do are listen a lot, and become informed about the Assembly and the dynamics of a totalistic high-demand group.
People who have left the Assembly experience depression, grief, anger, guilt, shame and loss of spiritual connection. Most of them are facing life issues such as financial deficits, career deficits, social awkwardness, cultural alienation, and lack of trust in relationships.
They are dealing with spiritual betrayal, and many have had traumatic experiences in the Assembly. Most will exhibit symptoms of PTSD to some extent. One common result is an aversion to elements of their faith they once held very dear, such as the Bible and church. Bible studies may not be helpful for awhile.
Not everyone from the Assembly relates to all the issues listed above. There are differences, depending on which Assembly people were involved in, their level of involvement, whether they lived communally, and especially whether they fell under disapproval or not. A few have made a relatively smooth transition, some feel fairly stable after a year or two, but many have ongoing struggles for years. Ask questions and be sensitive to how the information presented on this website may be applicable.
The Wounded Pilgrims section of this site addresses many of the issues listed above. The best book for an overall picture of the dynamics and fallout of a group like the Assembly is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by Jeff Vanvonderen. A summary of part of this book is available on the web. Churches That Abuse, another excellent book, by Dr. Ronald Enroth, professor of sociology at Westmont College, uses the Assembly as one of the examples.
Learn About Mind Control
The Assembly was a totalistic, authoritarian, high-demand group. "Totalistic" means the rules of the system encompassed one's whole life almost 24 hours a day. "Authoritarian" meant in the Assembly that both beliefs and everyday life were controlled by and dependent on the leaders. "High demand" means there was continuous pressure to perform to extremely high standards.
As such, the members of the Assembly were subject to "thought reform". One very helpful definition of mind control/thought reform is "mental roadblocks." Most Assembly folks do not realize they have mental roadblocks. Assembly beliefs, perspectives and assumptions seem valid, until they are challenged. The brief article, Cognitive Distortion, lists ten habits of thinking that are deeply ingrained through the thought-reform process.
We strongly recommend that people who have left the Assembly get counseling and find a support group. What is needed is a therapist with awareness of the cult/high demand group issues and understanding of the spiritual damage, as well as standard clinical training regarding relationships and family of origin. Two weeks at Wellspring Retreat would be the ideal option.
Articles about mind control include "Definition of an Abusive Group", adapted from Dr. Janja Lalich; Five Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Church, by Mike Fehlauer; How Cults Work; and "Robert Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform Applied to the Assemblies," by Brian Steele, a former Assembly member.
Spiritual issues are perhaps the most difficult to understand for friends and family. They are also extremely difficult for former members of abusive churches to sort out. Spiritual healing will most likely take a very long time, because the betrayal by George Geftakys was very deep. Don't be surprised if former Assembly members don't read the Bible or attend church. It is more important to rebuild a correct view of God through books, media, and relationships with individual Christians.
Jeff VanVonderen has many good articles on the dynamics and recovery from spiritual abuse: When Religion Goes Bad--Part I, Part II, Part III, and "When You Are Ready To Try Again: Going Back To Church." A blog post on phobias is also pertinent. Jeff's book, Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life, is invaluable. It addresses the issue not only for former members of abusive groups, but former leaders as well.