'Denise Sanford' - The Story of George's Secretary
Single women viewed as a problem
Denise Stanford unwillingly George's secretary from the beginning
Denise severely reprimanded in a Fullerton Workers meeting
Denise's required letter of repentance read
Denise's prior decision to resign as secretary
George informed regarding her decision
George's and Denise's version of events differ
Denise deceived into meeting with fifteen Workers present
Denise persuaded against her will to comply
Denise pressed to publicly confess in a Workers Meeting
Denise discussed by Workers who support George.
Single women had a very difficult time in the Assembly. Partly because they were encouraged to live together in what Betty Geftakys (George's wife) had called "answerable sisters' apartments". Sisters were expected to be "answerable" to another sister (usually a worker) in the home. In the following quotation, George Geftakys bluntly states his opinion of single women.
We have more problems with single women than we have with single brothers. Because we find that the main problem is stubbornness, rebellion, bitterness, they don't like anybody telling them what to do. That's the problem we have around here with single sisters. That's the main problem we have. Even among themselves they can't get along. Single sisters in the main don't live like single brothers do in a home. You can get brothers to be entreatable, but single sisters, they just fight amongst themselves and, "Don't you tell me what to do. Who do you think you are?" We hear this all the time.
We have sisters here in the assembly, single sisters who have been here for years and they still have problems living with one another. They get catty and they snipe at each other and they will not take direction and "Don't you tell me what to do." Really, they're wretched. And you wonder, you know, the guy they're going to marry. Boy, he's going to be led to the slaughter.....Instead of putting a ring on their finger, they're going to put a ring into his nose.
Without doubt, George made these remarks to the Workers with a certain single sister in mind who that day was going to be removed from both her responsibilities as George's secretary and as editor of his publications, because she wanted to do more editing for the publishing ministry, instead of being his secretary.
Denise Stanford had been his secretary for eight years already and had graciously asked George again and again to find someone else to do his secretarial work for him. At one point, she even wrote a formal letter and took the time to show the letter to Bob Ford and myself for our comment before giving it to George. We both felt her request had merit, because she was very skilled at editing, writing, and overseeing the production of the magazine and George's books. In fact, it was Bob's initial acknowledgment of her skills and recommendation that George brought her into "the work." Denise's desire all along was to edit and write for the publications; she did not want to be George's secretary. When she first started out as his secretary, George made her believe that the position would be temporary (at most two weeks) until he could find someone more permanent. The two weeks stretched into years.
George repeatedly denied her requests to be relieved of her secretarial duties, telling her, "You don't like anybody telling you what to do." He made her the problem, when all she wanted to do was something more suited to her skills.
The situation was aggravated when George would embarrass her publicly for a Scripture passage incorrectly referenced on the seminar notes Denise had typed for him. If Denise would attempt to show him the error was his by showing him his own written notes, he would not take any responsibility for his error, he would not apologize for blaming and embarrassing her. In fact, he would further demean her by comments such as "You're always defending yourself, you're not humble, etc."
As time went on, she became increasingly frustrated and distressed, so she left the Assembly. Her leaving was short lived, however, for within a week she returned, realizing that it wasn't the Assembly or her other responsibilities or the Lord she wanted to leave, but only her position as George's secretary.
The Saturday after her return was to be a joint Workers' meeting with the Workers coming from all over California even as far north as Humboldt County. Before this meeting, George had Denise write a letter of repentance and apology to the Workers.
George began the Workers' meeting with ministry about the awful sin of walking in pretension and its inevitable demonic consequences.
When you're walking in religiosity, you're walking in externalities, you're walking in pretension...there is a veil that lies on your heart... If you will get real with God and you call sin for what it is, you will find, if you are open with God and your fellow man, your life will be flooded with light... Start giving the glory to God instead of pretending to be something you're not. And if you continue in that way, you're going to end up being a demon. You're going to be possessed by unclean spirits. You're going to be a demon...You'll be like the man who had one demon in his house and he went out and he swept and garnished his house through his self‑reformation. Then he went out in the wilderness because he had no reality. When he came home he brought back seven demons worse than the first... I see people living today demonic lives. Now why? Because you live pretentious lives. Because you pretend to be something you know you're not.
This is George's usual method of dealing with a problem. In ministry, he would make horrendous statements about the person on the "hot seat." In this case, he was preaching to Denise, who was present in the Workers' meeting. In George’s thinking, Denise was inwardly harboring resentment towards him and at the same time covering it up (pretending all was well toward him when in actuality it was not). Hence George announces that she was living a demonic life. And if she continued this pretext, she would become a demon. In actuality, Denise was not pretending outwardly; all along she openly admitted she did not want to work with him.
At the conclusion of the ministry, he tells the Workers that he believed "in discussing things out in the open." This had been his practice all these years and that he was not going to change. He then proceeds to read Denise's letter of repentance. When he's done, he addresses the "toxic poison" which was apparently coming out of her.
I'm sorry to have to read a letter like that. We could sweep it under the rug I suppose and don't say anything and then afterwards it erupts out like a bad boil because someone has a lot of toxic poison in their body... Every so often I hear someone say, "I want to tell you something, but don't talk about it." Now when you meet that in the work, my dear friends, and you listen to me, when you meet that in the work, you tell that person if you can't tell the others about it, then don't tell me. And you stop this -- whoever does it. You know, "There's something I don't like. There's something that's bothering me. Or whatever, but don't tell anyone about it." If you have something to say, you say it to the individual that's bothering you or what's bothering you or say it before all the Workers. You speak it out. Because when you do that sort of thing you're just doing the work of the devil. And what you don't realize is, especially if you say to people outside the work. It's bad enough you say it to other Workers.
Are you listening, friends? Listen, I want your attention. I want you to listen to what I'm saying, because I'm talking to all of you. Now one of the commitments we make in the work is that we don't talk about things in the work outside. Are any of you ignorant of that? Do you all know that? You all understand that? And things that are said -- if you've got a problem in the work, you know you're in a school in the work, my friends. You're not in the work because you've arrived and you're suddenly perfected and you're canonized. You're in the work, my friends, to be perfected.
And there are things you're not going to like. Especially, some of the things I say and do, you're not going to like. But the Lord is trying to teach you.
He tells the Workers,
This is not the first time this has happened. And that's the reason Denise is not my secretary any longer. This is the second time, and the second time is two times too much already. This summer we had a big donnybrook up at the Workers' conference. And at that time she was supposed to be very repentant and gotten over her problems, which she hasn't.
Then he addresses Denise.
And I'm going to tell you personally, Denise, I want you to know and the rest of you, I still don't think you're over it. Now you say you've been broken. And I don't believe it. A person who's broken doesn't behave the way you behave.
He describes to the Workers the "donnybrook." According to George, she was "kicking her heels over Bob Ford and Dan Notti." Actually, she had no issue with Bob or Dan. Her issue was the same issue of not wanting to work any longer in close association with George. She had spent the two days prior to the seminar alone, praying for direction and strength to confront George with her lack of desire to continue with him. This was a critical turning point because there had been talk all summer of Denise discontinuing her outside job and working full time in George's ministry. She came to the Workers' seminar convinced in her own heart that she needed to be true to her own convictions and make known how she felt God was leading her.
She made the "mistake" (because, later, George accused her of talking to all the Workers) of asking several other women Workers who were aware of her struggle to pray for her as she planned on talking to George. Before she got a chance to talk with him, these "confidants" had already informed him. George stormed to her cabin, asked the other cabin roommate to go for a walk, and began an hour or so of verbal abuse and insults. He was visibly angry and said, "You're fired! Go look for a full time job!" He could not handle the fact that she did not feel called to serve him personally, so he turned the tables and "fired" her. He made demeaning remarks such as, "You're inept anyway." She asked, "Why, if I'm inept, were you planning on putting me full time in the work?" and "Why would you employ an inept person for 8 years even against my preference?" His reply was, "You were the only 'thing' we had around." At that point she did become angry with him.
In contrast this is how George tells the story to the Workers.
And I told her I wasn't going to put up with it. And then I got up to camp and found out she was talking to other people about it. And I called her in and I gave her a good talking to and then she blew up at me. So I told her as long as you're going to behave this way you're no longer my secretary. I fire you right now. You're finished. [He laughs.]
The next day he asked her through a messenger to come to his cabin to talk with him and Betty. She agreed, encouraged and hopeful that he was going to respect her wishes. Instead, he had deceived her. When she walked in, there were about 15 other Workers sitting in a circle, all of them rallied to support him. For the next two hours, she was persuaded to repent. And she attempted to do so. Everyone was "rejoicing" at the end that Denise had seen "the error of her ways." She was reinstated from being "fired." She was told again there was a need for her to be in the work full time. In essence, Denise left the seminar "convinced against her will," as the saying goes.
She tried for the next 3 months to accommodate George's idea of God's will for her life, yet had no peace in her heart. By December the only option to Denise was to leave fellowship without telling anyone. As was mentioned, she was back within a week because she realized she did not want to leave fellowship, only her association with George on a daily and close basis.
At the special session with the 15 Workers, George had come up with a list of things that she needed to stop doing. He goes over this list again in the presence of all the Workers to make his point that he had problems with her all along:
(1) She needed to better handle her frustrations "and not to work an angle to get out of it."
(2) She needed to "build trust in working together," because she "has a problem in telling the truth. When she gets in a tight spot she lies."
The "lie" he refers to was actually the lie of someone very closely related to George who in order to avoid an open confrontation with George regarding her own issues with him, made it appear to George that Denise was lying to him. When Denise's story conflicted with this individual's story, George automatically and conveniently added to his repertoire of Denise's faults: that of lying. Never before in 8 years had she been accused of this by George. Now, before all the Workers, she is labeled a liar when "she gets in a tight spot." She attempted to set the story straight when accused publicly of this, but George quickly quieted her, as the individual who actually lied was complimented and encouraged to "help" Denise in this matter. George goes on with the list of issues.
(3) She was not to "give place to the enemy."
(4) She was to "stop justifying yourself. No self-justification. You don't go to people and say, 'Yes, I did this but the reason why I did it...' What difference does it make what the reason was? You did it, didn't ya?"
(5) She was not to resent George's control on her life. "So when you're in the work and people tell you what you can do and what you can't do and you build up resentments. Now you stop that. If you don't like it, then get out of the work. Leave."
(6) She lacked "yieldedness to the Lord," because she was unwilling to do what she was told.
No one mentioned the fact that she had for 8 years "done what she was told," by assisting George as his secretary. Nevertheless, George continues to distort her desire to not be his secretary.
You be willing to do whatever we ask you to do and even if its a menial task (you think its below your dignity), do it anyhow. And stop kicking with the self-importance that you have in your mind of who you think you may be and what you think you can do... We don't have time to stand on our dignity. And so we say, "Hey, lend a hand. Do this. Do that." And you do it. Isn't that what a worker is? -- a worker?
When George is done with the list of issues, he says to her, "You either repent and you straighten out, or you can leave. One or the other." If this was said frequently enough to her, it is understandable why she did leave.
Because Denise had spoken to others about George's unwillingness to let her go, he demands that Denise stop saying anything "bad" about him, calling on the Workers to not make their ears "a garbage pail for that kind of talk."
I want these things, Denise, to be out in the open and I want this to stop. And if any of you hear Denise talking anything about any of the brothers or sisters -- about anybody -- you help her. And don't you make your ear a garbage pail for that kind of talk. And you say to our sister, "Now look, I'm going to help you right now...you stop that. And I'm going to pray with you that this stops." Because she has a weakness in her life along this line. So let's help her. What do you say?
The Lord has blessed us in this place very much because we're open, because we have a lot of light here, and we stand in unity. And we're not going to put up about bad speaking about any -- particularly -- any of the Lord's people -- but particularly, any of the Workers. We're not going to put up with it. I don't care who it's about.
I often say, "The biggest mistake you can do is to come to me and start talking against one of my brethren. I'm not going to listen." Now, if you got something they did that's shameful and disgraceful in the mouth of two or three witnesses let's do something about it. I'm not talking about that. But just because you don't like the way Dan combs his hair, or the way Steve twists his mustache. What did you do with your mustache? [uproarious laughter] Then its too bad.
I'm not going to listen to it. I'm just not going to listen to it. I stand with my brethren and I don't take sides against them.
[Read Brent T.'s article about the Code of Silence for an in-depth treatment of this don't-talk principle.]
He finally gives Denise an opportunity to respond to what he's been saying about her for the last hour. Painfully, she manages to voice in very few words how she was "covering up the fires [of resentment] in her heart." There was no justifying of herself, no expression of anger, simply, "I don't know what else to say, except that I need your prayer."
After her public confession, admitting that she harbored resentments toward him, George tells her,
You have a lot of resentments. So this comes out in whatever relationship you're in. And I think this is what you need to deal with. It's a root of bitterness... And what you need to do is not only acknowledge that you have this, but you need to go and ask forgiveness to the people you do this to. And that's not just me, that's a lot of other people. And you've got to stop this. Now I want to say this and I want to say it before everybody so that they hear it. If I hear that you talk anything about the Workers or the work to anyone, you're going to leave the work. You're not going to stay in the work. I'm not going to have this any more.
In the next hour, George has Bob Ford and Dan Notti talk about what will be the extent of Denise's responsibilities in the publishing ministry now that she has left "the work" once already. George's concern is that she might leave again and they will be left without anyone to do the work in the publishing ministry.
Unless she gets real recovery in her life, she's not going to be around here. Now, I'm telling you the honest truth. I'm not going to get rid of her, she's going to get rid of herself... If Denise decides to take off three weeks from now, three months from now, six months from now, or a year from now, we're not going to be lying up in a tree somewhere with our feet dangling down over the boughs. [He laughs.] We're going to be standing on the ground. Right, Bob?
Bob was highly complimentary and grateful for Denise's contribution in the publishing ministry. His plan was to gradually work her out of her responsibilities, handing her responsibilities to others. Then Dan Notti speaks,
The Lord in His goodness has foreseen this situation. I think all of us in the work recognize our responsibilities... we recognize the significance of those responsibilities in some measure that our lives and the lives of others may affect what the Lord is doing here in the work.
But the other thing that I think is important to see is that none of us are expedient. We're all expendable. The Lord can do very well without us. The ministry will go on very nicely without Denise. George's work will go on very nicely without Denise. But the thing is that for Denise there is, as for all of us, the privilege of our involvement cannot be underestimated or if we devalue it, it's to our great loss.
Dan unequivocally recognizes that the work of the Lord is really Brother "George's work." In response to Dan's statement, George gives a heartfelt, "Amen. Thank you, Dan." He goes on to say,
And that is needed, because let no one take the view that it's a small loss if you're not doing something any longer. Friends, the Word of God is very clear, "He that having put his hand to the plow and looks behind is not fit for the kingdom."
George adapts the words of Christ to instill in every worker a sense of loss should anyone be removed from "the privilege of our involvement" in "George's work."
Over time George damaged Denise emotionally and spiritually as she struggled to accept his railing and distorted perceptions of her true motives. He falsely accused her of "bad mouthing" him because of built up "resentments", "lying" to him, unwilling to do the "menial task" of being his secretary, "kicking" with "self-importance." He would not "get rid" of her but she would "get rid of herself." He goes so far as to label her "a demon." These distorted interpretations of her inner motivations and dispositions produced in her a sense of shame and guilt. Under this kind of pressure together with other individuals looking on and siding with George, (people whom she respected and listened to), undoubtedly, caused her inner doubts to give way to her public confessions of wrong doing. Perhaps she asked herself, "Is the reason why I don't want to be George's secretary is that I am 'rebellious'?" "Am I being resentful towards him because I want to do my own thing?" "Am I unwilling to do even menial tasks for the Lord?" George's attack on her personal integrity and standing as a child of God constitutes emotional and spiritual abuse. Such abuse produces in a person a normal God-given response of anger. Scripture does not instruct us that anger is wrong, but it warns us not to sin with it. George zeroes in on this normal response, which he produced by his abusiveness, to turn the tables on Denise and present her as the offender instead of himself.
George used his power as a respected leader to get his own way. He presented the Workers with a false view of Denise's attitude towards her work, her relationship to him as his secretary, and her actions. And thus he predisposed the Workers how to look at her. He used Scripture to support his claim that Denise was "walking in pretension" and that she was "not fit for the kingdom" because she turned away from the privilege of being his secretary. He used the 15 Workers at the seminar to force Denise into submission to his wishes. He then dominated several hours at a Workers' meeting to justify his "firing" of Denise, presenting to the Workers false statements about Denise's character based on his own point of view.
The truth of the matter is that she was not the problem. George created the problem, by not allowing her to do what she felt called of the Lord to do. He insisted on having his own way at the expense of Denise's emotional and spiritual well-being.
- Tape transcription of Workers' meeting, Dec. 27, 1986
September 1, 2008, R. C.: "Denise", I wonder if it ever occurred to you that you have a few apologies of your own to make? Your articles never mention the spiritual damage you caused to numerous housemates. I can't speak for the one who attempted suicide after you kicked her out of the house, or the one that you harassed until she nearly did the same, but I know what your behavior and harassment did to me. All of the things you accuse George and Betty of doing to you, you turned around and did to me. Living in the same house with you was worse than living in a prison camp. The details of your departure from the assembly (not that it matters) were not accurate. I was there, remember?
Editor's note: What is not mentioned in Denise's story is that like most other "saints" who attained a position of authority, she was trained how to handle the women who lived together under her direction. She passed on to them the same treatment she received, as did most other leaders. It is reported that in Denise's case, this was particularly galling because the women paid her household bills, since she did not earn enough. They laughed and shouted for joy when she left, but their relief was short-lived when she returned in less than a day (not a week, as was incorrectly reported).