New Covenant Publications - A Counter Cult Ministry

 

The Truth Finally Comes Out

(Vindication For Many Former Members)

By
Timothy Greeson

 

Who would've thought that a man like Kip McKean, founder and, until recently, lead evangelist of the International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement) world wide, would ever change enough to relinquish the reins of control he so tightly held over the congregations of the ICOC since its creation in 1979? And who would've ever dared to dream that in the process of doing so he would admit to the existence of overbearing, authoritarian (legalistic) leadership on his part, to self glorification, to causing others in leadership to operate from wrong motives, to fostering an environment where people were "shut down" and were "afraid to speak up", and to wide spread spiritual damage which was the fruit of what he called his own arrogance and sin, fruit that he and many others in the ICOC leadership had denied and continued to cover up for nearly 20 years? Ironically, their willingness to go along with the denial and cover up (possibly due to their strong teaching of imitating one's leaders) for such a lengthy period of time sheds light on the corruption of the leadership system as a whole.

Well, dreams do come true and God does answer prayer. A thick veil of oppression has been "rent in twain" from top to bottom and thousands of former members around the world now stand vindicated. As though released from a muzzled exile they can rejoice with renewed freedom proclaiming, "God is good....God is truly good." Let me explain.

Since I first began to research the International Churches of Christ in 1994, I found that the increase in the number of ex-members (people leaving the ICOC) was twice that of the increase in membership each year. In 1994 the membership of the ICOC increased about 10,000 worldwide. The number of ex-members, however, grew about 20,000. This means that for every 3 people who joined 2 people left. By 2001 the increase of ex-members each year had grown to the point that for every 5 people who were joining 4 people were leaving. These numbers were taken from ICOC documented statistics. For more detailed statistics read our article What the Stats Reveal. Based on these statistics there are currently estimated to be around 350,000 ex-members.

According to conversations with members and ICOC articles printed over the past 8 years leadership had created a mindset within the membership that all ex-members had left God because of leaving the ICOC. Many members still believe that. Although this may be true for some who leave the ICOC, the stock reasons given by leadership for ALL (upwards of 300,000) people leaving the ICOC is that 1) they couldn't live up to God's expectations 2) they didn't want to put God first in their lives or 3) they just wanted to go back to the sin they used to live in. In every case, the mindset created by leadership was that these people had walked away or had "fallen away" from God. In fact, during an email correspondence I had with Al Baird (elder and spokesman for the ICOC) in Aug of 1999, Al wrote,

"If the ICC is the Kingdom (which I believe it is), then a person who leaves it, leaves God. In my experience as an elder in the church who talks to many people who choose to leave, I find that the vast majority who leave do so because they no longer want God to be first in their life."

Occasionally I would hear a member say that a person left because they had unresolved issues with another member. Even in those cases the mindset was that it was not the unresolved issue or the other member who had wronged the ex-member that was the problem. It was the ex-member's "anger", "hard-heartedness", or "lack of being humble" enough to work out the issue with the other member. It was never that the other member was unwilling to work out the issue or that they needed to apologize for what had been done to the person in the first place, especially if that person was in a position of leadership. And God forbid someone actually admit that it was due to abusive leadership.

What was amazing to me is that very few current members were willing to take an open-minded look at the claims by thousands of ex-members of abusive practices, flawed teaching, and unbiblical authoritarian leadership as the reason for their leaving the ICOC. And some are still not willing. Most members wouldn't even consider (at least not openly) the idea that even a few of these claims might be valid. But why would they consider it when these claims or anything critical being written about the ICOC was branded by leadership as "spiritual pornography" and "divisive"? Why would they consider it when these people were being branded by leadership as "former disgruntled members" spreading false accusations? Why would they consider it when they, themselves, were being raised in an environment that conformed people to the same arrogant, insensitive and elitist attitudes as that of the leadership they were taught to imitate? Why would they consider it when leadership had reduced human beings to numerical statistics and catch phrases such as "fall aways", "casualties of war" or "prospective baptisms"?

I wonder how some of these members would react to learn that hundreds and hundreds of people were removed from membership roles simply because the man-made leadership decided that they didn't measure up to "Kingdom" (man-made) expectations? Remember that in the ICOC mindset, being removed from membership is synonymous with being removed from the Kingdom of God, thus no longer considered a disciple. This equates to being removed from one's relationship with God and, therefore, spiritually lost, unsaved, going to HELL! Some people have even been disfellowshipped (kicked out) because they disagreed with or stood up to leadership when they believed that leadership was involved in unbiblical practices, something we now know to be true.

One example is what happened in Indianapolis in 1994. Almost 600 people were removed from membership by top leadership simply because their consciences would no longer allow them to adhere to certain unbiblical man-made expectations that the leadership was forcing on the congregations. In an attempt by Indianapolis lead Evangelist Ed Powers and staff member Roger Hendricks, to speak with Kip McKean concerning these issues (because of the futility of their discussion with others in top leadership positions) they were arrogantly "shut down" by Kip McKean and those top leaders, the entire congregation given an ultimatum to "submit and obey" ICOC leadership or perish (be removed from membership), and nearly the entire congregation "marked" because they chose to obey the word of God instead of men. Kip then threatened the salvation of any member who would violate this "marking" by attempting to contact or speak to any of those who refused to submit. In the address to membership, however, ICOC leadership (not just Kip McKean) asserted that these people had voted to separate from the ICOC, a bald-faced lie. (Read: WHAT HAPPENED? and "The truth about what happened in Indianapolis" ) That is what was told to the membership worldwide. And since contact with these almost 600 people was forbidden, the majority of the membership never questioned what leadership had told them. The "marking" meant that members were commanded to have nothing to do with any of these nearly 600 people under threat of being "marked" themselves. Well, with my salvation threatened, I wouldn't either. Is it any wonder the majority of the membership never looked at the facts? Many of the members still refuse to look at the facts, dismissing it all as "ancient history" (another great catch phrase created by the leadership). Unfortunately, this mindset has blinded them from recognizing the continuing existence of these same abusive practices and false teachings, and paralyzes them from taking any action to rectify these things.font>

But because of the overwhelming amount of claims by the increasing flood of former members each year, some in the ICOC have been forced to admit that it is possible that some of these former members might actually have been telling the truth and treated in a wrong manner. Several members that I have spoken to who were bold enough to look at the facts even agreed that those in Indianapolis were treated extremely unjustly. But, again, they dismiss it as "ancient history". And the majority of members I have spoken to are quick to dismiss any wrong doing by anyone as obviously propagated by an "over zealous" disciple partner or Bible talk leader or a rare mistake by those higher up. They are also quick to add that these incidents are few and isolated, and do not reflect the usual pattern or official practice of leadership in the ICOC. With that, it is dismissed from being any real concern.

In the last 8 years, we here at New Covenant Publications have printed many articles on the ICOC in an attempt to expose the abusive practices, flawed teaching, and unbiblical authoritarian leadership that so many former members claim exists. We have also tried to show the abusive and hypocritical character traits which appear to have been running rampant through many of those in leadership by printing hundreds of outlandish quotes from their speeches and sermons made over the past 15 years. (Read: Quotes, Additional Quotes, and Still More Quotes) Since the creation of our web site we have received e-mails from time to time from current ICOC members accusing us of taking the quotes out of context and printing false information about their church and those in leadership. We have been called liars, slanderers, etc. Some have even claimed to have proof of the inaccuracy or falsehood of some of our information. When invited or challenged to produce that proof all communication with us was abruptly halted.

Finally, just a few months ago, Mike Leatherwood, a well-known and respected person in the ICOC leadership, suddenly left the movement after 25 years. He had served on staff in the NYC church for the past 17 years, founding the emotional recovery ministry. In an open letter to leadership and staff, Mr. Leatherwood stated that he could no longer turn a blind eye to all of the abusive and legalistic practices going on in the ICOC. Being a counselor he had counseled scores of members who had been victim to abuses of various types in their past. What he found very disturbing, he wrote, was that "the majority of these people have been exposed to more trauma at the hands of many leaders in this church." He also stated,

"Seeing 30-40 disciples each week has allowed me to see a pattern of trauma, abuse, and oppression that is appalling."

He went on to say,

"I see very little resemblance of Jesus in the leadership. What I do see is an emphasis on works and a legal system created by Kip and fostered by you as leaders. Legalism breeds religious pride, cruelty and oppression. I don't think that it was or is your intent, but intent or not, it is the fruit of 20+ years of works righteousness....Your religious pride and arrogance coated by a thin veneer of false humility makes it hard to detect the hatefulness and harshness that only the weak will ever be subjected to. You have missed the heart, the compassion, and the empathy of Jesus."

I have no idea if Mike Leatherwood's letter actually struck a chord in the leadership or not, but shortly thereafter, Kip McKean resigned from his position as World Missions leader and leader of the world sector leaders. Kip wrote a letter to the membership admitting the fostering of a leadership that damaged the ICOC. He admitted causing others in leadership to operate from wrong motives and to stumble because he was more focused on numeric goals than on pleasing God. He admitted allowing himself to be glorified more than God. He admitted being arrogant, thinking he was always right, shutting people down and fostering an environment where others were afraid to speak up. He admitted to being insensitive to the needs of weaker Christians and churches. And he admitted that he had caused many of the churches to be spiritually weak and embittered.

The one thing that bothered me most about Kip McKean's letter is that at no time did he make an apology to or even acknowledge those who have left the ICOC because of the environment he created. And to date (Feb 12, 2003), I have not found any evidence to suggest that he apologized to any former member or that leadership has made any attempts to reconcile with anyone who was kicked out, marked, or abused in any way. I have found no evidence to suggest that the almost 600 people in Indianapolis that Kip and the other leaders treated so arrogantly and harshly have received so much as a phone call. In addition, according to Al Baird (elder and spokesman of the ICOC) the condo that Kip McKean was living in was purchased by the LA church as a parsonage for the lead evangelist of the LA church. Since Kip is no longer the lead evangelist of the LA church, has he vacated the condo? Has he taken a cut in salary? Personally I cannot comprehend a man, who has admitted to the things that he has admitted to, continuing to accept any kind of salary. My conscience wouldn't let me take money from the very people that I admit to abusing or causing spiritual damage to. Until I see the fruit of true repentance, I have my doubts about the sincerity of Kip's apology. And I find that I am not alone.

Now, on the eve of this article being published, yet another open letter has come to light. Henry Kriete, an evangelist in the London church, and who has served in levels of leadership for many years, has written a 45 page letter outlining in detail the wide-spread abuse and leadership corruption of the ICOC. The letter, motivated by his love and concern for his church, is an indictment of the leadership system of the ICOC worldwide. He calls for full scale repentance on the part of leadership, full acknowledgement for the sins of the past, full disclosure to both members and critics of financial books including salaries of leaders, and open forums where members can feel free to express themselves without fear of condemnation by those "over" them. Among the many abuses of authority and erroneous practices that he cites in his letter, Mr. Kriete writes:

"My criticisms and concerns are not merely about ones personal style of leadership, and cannot be dismissed as the actions of a few rogue leaders or over zealous, but immature evangelists. These are the sins and weaknesses we all share-movement wide."

"By and large, as a movement, and by that I mean the sum total of our global congregations, we have slipped into serious error, if not apostasy. The devil has his fangs deep in our neck, and I am afraid that unless we repent many of our churches and thousands more of our Christians will be devoured."

"In various capacities, Marilyn (his wife) and I have lived and served on four continents, two world sectors, ten churches and about 15 different ministries. I say this for one reason: we have seen enough, experienced enough, heard enough and done enough in the last twenty years to believe, with great agony but deep conviction, that we are entangled in several systemic evils. Evils that are all encompassing, affecting our entire fellowship of churches"

"We have become a religious hierarchy that has created, fostered and sustained a culture of control and dependence on men, rather than freedom.... Why we have chosen this model and sought to crystallize it when the apostolic church has no such model is the big question."

"As 'lead evangelists', we have routinely forced our administrators to 'get in line' or be 'loyal to us' as plans and programs and pet projects are railroaded through to the dismay of all. Administrators have admitted to deceit in the name of compliance, and to 'smoke and mirrors' with finances. Some of the more intimidated have been involved in wholesale financial mismanagement."

"We have routinely humiliated and marginalized those members who speak out as 'critical' and 'disloyal'.... We reward outward conformity."

"We have built, by design, a culture of control and intimidation that shuts down and marginalizes men and women who 'disagree'. This is an absolute abuse of power and total betrayal of our freedom in Christ."

"We accuse people of having bad hearts or bad attitudes or independent spirits, when very often, they have every right to feel as they do. When anyone does leave the church they are automatically categorized as a 'fall away'. But why? Many have left because of conscience issues or harsh treatment or by feeling trapped and guilty by the way they've been led.... Others choose to stay, but live in constant fear of being branded as divisive or disloyal if they disagree, and will routinely follow bad advice for the sake of submission. Others simply go numb, suffer in silence, sit at the back or just roll over and play dead."

"We have assumed, wrongly, that the sheep are stupid. We have trained them to depend on men, on us in fact, and not on Christ. 'Did you get advice?' for the most part means 'Did you get permission?'"

"Many of our discipling guidelines are nothing more than 'rules taught by men', condemned by Jesus as burdensome and legalistic."

"In our misguided zeal to make certain churches the biggest and best we have plundered the ranks of sister congregations. This man-made, humanly engineered 'growth' formula is just not Spirit led."

"For the most part, we have surrounded ourselves with loyal men - not those necessarily loyal to God or their own conscience, but loyal to us - very much like tribal kings. Those who make waves are not tolerated."

"Selfish ambition and humanism have led to the systematic abuse of stats and stat-taking, goal setting and goal making. This has ruined countless lives in the process, damaged our integrity and trustworthiness as ministers and leaders, and has fostered a climate of manipulation, fear and men pleasing."

"'Stats are a tool', we have said. I agree, but what kind of tool? A hammer and a knife for bashing and inflicting pain on those we are over. They have become the means to satisfy the secret ambitions of unscrupulous men. They are routinely used to cajole and threaten, or appease the anger of those over us. We have used them to lift up men, and to boast and brag.... I am talking about using stats to measure our worth before God and one another, preaching Christ from false motives, using the numbers to compare and compete, and to boost the ungodly egos of insecure and selfish men."

"We have practiced and even theologically defended the wholesale write-off of members in the name of 'pruning'. Not only is this phenomenon repugnant, it is completely without biblical precedent. Jesus commanded- 'Leave them alone' - 'let the wheat and the tares grow together'. Are we stronger or wiser than He? How arrogant of us- it is Christ's own church we have pillaged, His own body we have mutilated.... We have taken off, prematurely, the very weak or very discouraged because we want a 'tight ship'. Entire families have been ruined by this conceit and immaturity. We have, in short, slaughtered the innocents."

"London's so-called revival in the early 90's, with 450 - 500 men and women being pruned from the membership, has deeply scarred or embittered hundreds of members to this day. To say nothing of all the souls that were ruined because of this folly."

"The more baptisms the more glory, the more speaking 'rights', the more respect.... In earlier days we have 're-baptized' hundreds and claimed them on our stat sheets as 'baptisms' - as if trying to fool everyone. I know this practice has ceased, but it reveals an ominous foreshadowing of our present obsession/validation by numbers."

"We are constantly bragging about our 'fruit' and our 'numbers' and our 'impact' and then reflectively declare, 'And to God be the glory!' In fact, the entire concept of 'personal fruit' as we know and have taught it a thousand times is Biblically irresponsible. How many of us have compromised our conscience and baptized someone just to make a man-made goal or to keep ourselves from being 'yelled at' or publicly shamed, or to please a man?"

"Our Christians routinely study hard with our converts until baptism and then do almost nothing afterwards in terms of consistent, mature follow up. We make babies and then let them die of neglect because we want to make more babies! In the world, we would be imprisoned."

"There is now so many questions about the special contribution, salary compensations, wasteful spending, and the misappropriation of funds that it is frightening. As the 'clergy', we have allowed for incredible retreats and pet projects: we have harbor retreats, mountain retreats, castle and Hawaiian retreats, deep-sea fishing expeditions, five star hotels, presidential suites and the like; we have purchased unnecessary business class tickets and even season tickets to basket-ball leagues; we enjoy robust salaries, houses and perks.... and truthfully, have these retreat expenses and the like been made public? In detail? Or only from a generic 'pot' mentioned in a slide show?....We have no choice but to open the books and be utterly transparent in our expenses, especially those that might convey even a 'hint of greed'."

"Justifiable or not, inherited or not, the fruit of great stewardship or whatever - as ministers of an eternal kingdom, if our salaries or lifestyles are criticized by more than a few disgruntled members, or are a stumbling block to the rank and file in any way, we have to make some serious decisions.... What is the rationale behind 'more sphere of influence, more money'?....this kind of salary model is the exact inversion of apostolic teaching and example.... Should we as leaders not exemplify the spirituality and sacrifice we call others to make, in fact, demanded that they make?"

"We commend the Bereans for questioning Paul, but not if they question us. We love the radical spirit of Josiah, unless he digs up our bones for exposure. We want opinion leaders, but not if their opinion is against us. We love to denounce the blind Pharisees, but refuse to see the Pharisee in us."

"We have insisted, thoughtlessly, and to the continuing hurt and dismay of many, that anyone who leaves our ranks, for whatever the reason, have fallen away from God. This just cannot be, and in truth, borders on the immoral. We know, even if we don't admit it publicly, that we ourselves have mistakenly 'pruned' hundreds away!....Let us admit the truth - thousands were marginalized, rebuked, misunderstood, wearied, or forced to follow their consciences out the door. Others, scattered by harsh and brutal leadership."

"The teaching and belief that we are, or have ever been, the 'One True Church'. This statement is patently arrogant, and necessarily offensive.... We are the church, I agree.... But to equate the 'One True Church' with the ICOC membership list and our organizational boundaries is wrong, even heretical.... Although we may publicly deny that we teach this as such - at least to the press and our critics - many of us, especially the rank and file believer adhere to this conviction as a matter of life and death. I hear it said again and again, but it cannot possibly be proven, it is utterly arrogant, it cannot be theologically defended, and it must be repudiated."

"Coercive giving is practiced wide-scale.... When a Christian is cajoled into a 'multiple', tracked down for their tithe, categorized on official spreadsheets for everyone to know so that sector leaders 'can be on top' - all to maintain budgets that we have created, this is coercive. Whether our plans and spending practices are noble or not, this type of contrived and controlled giving is utterly foreign to the spirit of the New Covenant.... Once our giving is 'set', our budgets must be coerced, not the other way around. Some have even had the nerve to even discuss the possibility of 'taxing churches' for late special contributions."

"We have burdened our members with special contribution goals and financial budgets that could be dramatically reduced if we did not waste so much, or stopped spending so lavishly on things we really don't need."

"The concept of discipleship partners as presently practiced in most of our churches has failed. Perhaps more than all else, our discipleship hierarchy with all its 'little leaders' has caused more damage, heartache, and criticism than any other thing. Among the tens of thousands of untrained and 'unspiritual' disciples, advice has become permission, opinions have become orders, and the dignity of our God-given freedom has been denied.... Intrusive interference in matters of opinion is simply unacceptable. Pulling rank is a sin."

"By and large our preaching is man oriented, works oriented, mission oriented, duty oriented, and law oriented. A works oriented gospel is no gospel at all. A constant barrage of 'got to, have to, should and must' are wearisome at best, grace killing at worst.... The sheer grace of the gospel, the good news of it all, has been drowned by this kind of preaching and teaching."

You can read the entire letter on our website at Henry Kriete's (London evangelist) Letter

The two letters by Mike Leatherwood and Kip McKean verify the atmosphere of wide-spread abuses, and corrupt practices that have existed in the ICOC for many years. The letter by Henry Kriete, however, authenticates and validates almost every single claim or accusation I have personally ever read about or heard spoken by thousands of former members. Although I pray that these letters are just the beginning of a flood, the first utterances of a much larger voice waking to a new freedom, these three letters, alone, prove that a continual pattern of abuses, legalism and corruption existed as official practices (and still exists in some measure throughout many of the congregations), and that thousands of people were spiritually damaged or their lives and relationships devastated by those abuses.

The letters prove that thousands of former members were telling the TRUTH and that most of those in leadership lied about their reasons for leaving. The letters prove that leadership attempted to control the information that members were privy to. The letters prove that every word that we here at New Covenant Publications have ever written about the ICOC was TRUE. We have been vindicated. More importantly, thousands of former members have been vindicated. No longer can members dismiss the truth of what has been going on for such a long time. Although I fear some may try, they will be hard pressed to hide behind the same rhetoric that had trickled down from leadership for so many years. They will be hard pressed to look on ex-members with disdain for leaving.

Unless they are in deep denial or are guilty of the same arrogance that Kip was guilty of, members will have to reassess the condition of the ICOC as a whole and take a long hard look at the individual role they played in a legalistic regime that continued for so long and damaged so many. May God give Mr. Kriete, and others like him, grace in the eyes of the membership. May He convict their hearts to heed the words of these letters.

It is our hope and our prayer that the truth coming to light will bring about great change for the ICOC and spiritual freedom for it's members. It is our hope and prayer that the truth coming to light will bring about an abundance of spiritual and emotional healing, and true revival. It is our hope and prayer that this will bring about true, sincere and lasting repentance throughout the many levels of leadership. It is our hope and prayer that apologies and reconciliation be orchestrated by the leadership toward the thousands of former members that were abused and spiritually damaged by their handiwork. And it is our hope and prayer that the leadership will reassess many of their teachings so that the atmosphere of elitism and arrogance can be eliminated, allowing fellowship to occur with other Christians. And it is our hope and prayer that the need for web sites such as ours will soon be a thing of the past.

May truth always triumph and to God be all the glory.

Amen                

for more information contact New Covenant Publications at our e-mail address: or write to: New Covenant Publications, P.O. Box 167, Radio City Station, NY NY

 

Copyright 2003 New Covenant Publications