Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daddy Hammer and Mommy Chisel

This post will explore the goals, methods and effects of child-training as taught in an unhealthy fringe church. But first, it is probably helpful to understand the methods used to mold individuals in general to the group's aims and agenda.

The Geftakys assemblies prided themselves on having a deeper understanding of the Bible than other churches, and boasted that this understanding was a key in producing more serious, sanctified Christians than could be found in mainstream evangelical churches. The centerpiece of Geftakys teaching on sanctification was the teaching of our identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Now I want to be clear that the Bible clearly teaches that it is by the death of Christ and His resurrection that we Christians are able to walk as those who are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Acting as those who are alive to God means giving Him the first place in our lives. And living the Christian life means that we rest in what Christ has accomplished for us, rather than trying to make ourselves perfect by living by a bunch of rules. How it all works is beyond the scope of this post, however.

But the Geftakys ministry subtly screwed up the teaching of the Cross. We were taught that the evidence of our putting God first was that we put the demands of the Geftakys groups first. We were taught that having wishes, aspirations and goals that contradicted the direction of the leaders was a sign that “self” was in the center of our lives instead of Christ. We were taught that someone who was really “going the way of the Cross,” as the leaders put it, would not insist on his own rights or object when those rights were violated by the leaders. We were taught in public that holy character is experienced through faith in Christ. Yet the leaders at every level were taught a behavior modification approach to holiness, or in other words, “change the person by changing their behavior.” This was seen in the way the group's ministries were run, the way the communal “training homes” were run, the way the leaders related to those who were led, and the use of negative reinforcement or “consequences” to discourage behavior that the leaders deemed undesirable. In short, the Geftakys teaching on the Cross was merely an expression of the group's war against independent individuals, their campaign to turn us all into unquestioning supporters of the group's agenda, perfectly trained servants of George Geftakys. (See also, “George Geftakys’ Heavenly Vision”.)

So how did this work for Assembly children? The Geftakys ministry, citing 1 Timothy 3, taught that the “ideal” Assembly child was to be a validation of his parents' spiritual maturity and authority. A child who was less than fully, enthusiastically devoted to the activities of the group reflected poorly on his parents. The group also taught that one wasn't really “getting on with the Lord” unless one was rising through the ranks to positions of ever greater responsibility. Thus great pressure was brought to bear on Assembly children to force them to conform to the group standard.

The “Assembly child training” began almost from birth. Assembly meetings were long, and involved sitting still for long periods listening to men preaching. The perfect family was to sit quietly, without such distractions as children wiggling, talking or crying, for periods lasting over two hours, sometimes for two or three two-hour sessions per day. Mothers were taught to start training their children from three months old and onward to sit quietly on mats, and to swat them if they moved from the mats. These mat training sessions were to be done in the home, so that the training would be perfected by the time children were brought to the meetings. Older children were to be trained to take notes during the preaching sessions, and to prepare Bible study “chapter summaries” for the weekly Bible studies. The wife of one of George Geftakys' sons wrote a pamphlet entitled “Child Training for God’s Servants,” encapsulating this training approach (, ChildTrainingPamphlet.htm). When children reached adolescence, they were strongly encouraged to do the following:

1. Ask to be baptized.

2. Start a campus Bible study at their middle school or high school.

3. Start praying out loud in the prayer meetings.

4. For males, start preaching at the beginning of the prayer meetings.

5. Start volunteering (or, perhaps more honestly, competing) for a position of ministry.

Children who did not do one or more of these things were considered to be failures.

The primary methods of child training taught in the Assemblies can be summed up in the statement, “Change the person by changing the behavior.” This involved both positive and negative reinforcement, including the excessive use of spankings. But when children came along who did not fit into the mold of the ideal Assembly child, the methods used to deal with them often became draconian. Even though such children were often guilty of nothing more than being uniquely-made individuals, a war was waged against them to “break their wills” and enforce compliance with the Assembly ideal. If for instance, there was an introverted child, perhaps athletically built and good in sports, but easily distracted because of body chemistry, he was still expected to sit quietly in long meetings while taking notes, to volunteer for things like “open-air preaching” in public places in front of total strangers during the yearly “Teen Teams,” and to “bring a word of ministry” (stand up in front of people and talk, for the uninitiated) during Sunday and Thursday meetings. Those who did not, or could not meet this ideal became targets. Evidently the targeting was too much for one kid in an Assembly in the Midwest, who committed suicide shortly before the revelations of George Geftakys' criminal activities became known.

A former Assembly kid said it best when he wrote, “Basically, an AK with fully involved parents (especially those who were leading brothers and workers) could expect in a normal day to wake up to morning devotions (both private and household), morning stewardships, school, afternoon stewardships, a meeting, homework. They were expected to prepare a chapter summary, eat dinner properly and in relative silence, recite memory verse or share a thought from a devotion, attend pre-prayer, set up chairs, perform and behave properly during the meeting, take down chairs, go home and do homework if there was time, sleep, do it again (the only variation being the type of meeting to attend-- prayer, chapter summary, tape, witnessing, all night of prayer, etc)...The bottom line was that an AK was required to be an Assembly adult. Any attempt to be a child and enjoy childhood was forcefully quashed.

“AKs were not taught to make choices (good or bad) on their own. They were not taught to relate to people outside the Assembly. They were taught that the Assembly was more important than family. They were taught that they must to be prepared to survive a horrible period of persecution before the return of Christ in the year ________ (depending on George's latest revelation). They were not in any way prepared to be autonomously functioning adults in the real world...These things AKs learned on our own: Our parents preached joy and were miserable. They preached freedom and were slaves. They preached Christ first and worshipped the Assembly. They preached love and looked down their noses at their fellow man. They preached humility, piety, sexual purity and truth, and bound themselves to an arrogant, lying adulterer.

“And then we bolted. Wonder why?” (Source:, “Being An Assembly Kid”)

Those who are reading this may well say, “What a bizarre, fringe group!” Yet I have to tell you that such teaching and practice regarding children is not confined to obvious fringe church groups. George and Betty Geftakys and their lieutenants often cited works written by others in supposedly “mainstream” evangelical circles in order to legitimize their aberrant handling of children. Within the larger evangelical world there are those whose teaching expresses a hatred of independent individuals, especially independent, competent young adults. In my post, “A Tour of the Fringes,” I mentioned the Ezzo's and the Fugates, and the strict, legalistic, conformity-based methods of child “training” which they teach. Material from the books and tapes produced by these two couples were used as reinforcement and validation of the child-rearing methods taught by the Geftakys assemblies.

But there are yet more bizarre teachers to consider, people whose teaching would have been quite at home in a Geftakys assembly, even though their names were never mentioned. There is Bill Gothard, founder and head of the “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts,” who teaches that God has set up an inviolable “chain-of-command” in which God holds in His hand a hammer (a man, a husband) with which He strikes a chisel (a woman, a wife and mother) in order to chip away ungodliness from a stone (a teenager, presumably the son or daughter of the hammer and chisel). His authoritarian teaching includes stating that a woman is to submit even to beatings from her husband; the teaching that sons and daughters are to obey their parents in entire submission even after they are legal adults; and the teaching that a person is not to leave his parents' house until he is married. Accordingly, Gothard has lived with his parents as an adult, although, since he is now in his 70's, his parents may no longer be alive. (Source: “Obey Thy Husband,” TIME Magazine, 20 May 1974; Wikipedia)

Gothard's prohibitions have extended to forbidding Cabbage Patch dolls and public school education, including higher education. Instead, he offers his own homeschool curriculum for parents to use. He has also become known for being above scrutiny or financial accountability, and for running his organization with an authoritarian, iron fist. (A few years ago I met a couple who had been involved with Gothard's ministry. More on that in a later post.) He formulated a teaching series on “character development” mirroring his teaching on “Biblical character”. That character development series became mandatory training in 2003 for personnel in the Florida Department of Children and Families under Gov. Jeb Bush (, “Character Training Riles DCF Workers”). Also, some sources point to ties between recent Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and the Gothard organization (

There is also the dominionist, reconstructionist teaching on “courtship” which is now being popularized through the efforts of men such as Jonathan Lindvall and Steve Schlissel. The tip of the courtship “iceberg” can be seen in books such as I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I am not saying that Mr. Harris is evil, or that his book is evil. But there are those in the courtship movement who take such ideas to radical extremes, teaching as Gothard did that children are to unquestioningly obey their parents in everything even when the children are legal adults. According to these men, parents have the duty and right to arrange every aspect of their children's adult lives, including whom they will marry. Adult children who disagree with their parents in these matters are to be shunned. One source cites how a 21 year old man whose family became caught up in “Lindvallism” wrote to Mr. Lindvall in protest, only to be answered by a quote from Deuteronomy about stoning rebellious sons to death. (See

Steve Schlissel is a Reformed/Calvinist pastor who has been featured on St. Anne's Pub, a podcast produced by Joost Nixon, Pastor of Christ Church, Spokane, Washington. He has boasted of how he has taught his children that they are to be an absolute reflection and extension of himself. In fact, Sarah Schlissel, one of his daughters, has written a pamphlet instructing daughters to consider themselves to be quite literally their fathers' property. This attitude, though, is typical of some of the more radical teachers on family and parental authority. (See also

And what does this teaching and approach produce? While it can, on the surface, produce thousands of smiling, outwardly conforming young men and women, it is well known that it also produces many, many wounded, violated people, because of the absolute, unchecked exercise of power by fallible men against young victims. Two names come to mind: David Ludwig and Matthew Murray, both of whom were raised by parents who employed Bill Gothard's child-rearing methods. Matthew Murray was also homeschooled using Bill Gothard's curriculum. Both suffered mental breakdowns and wound up murdering other people. Matthew Murray's last victim was himself. (


Anonymous said...

I was one such child.
Born and bred AK.
My question--- you said that a Midwest youth had committed suicide... is this true? I heard of one but I thought that was long before the end.

TH in SoC said...

My memory of that time is a bit sketchty, but I believe the suicide occurred in 2000 or 2001. We heard about it in a Thursday night prayer meeting. I don't want to go into great detail online, since I believe that even now it would reopen old wounds in the kid's family.

Anonymous said...

I was a friend of his. I wish I understood why he did what he did.

I was an AK. I have PTSD and depression.
Parents thought they were doing the right thing... they couldn't have been more wrong.

TH in SoC said...

All I can say is "Wow." I have no words that I consider adequate. I empathize with your struggles with PTSD. In defense of your parents (albeit in a small way), I'd just mention the mindset I described in "Un-Heavenly Ladders." Many of us "Assembly grown-ups" believed on a certain level that we were doing the right thing. Yet we were guilty of becoming religious jerks. Many of us are now truly sorry. I truly believe that God has healing for the repentant and the suffering.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reflections. It is very healing to read them. I married into the assembly, and always regretted not listening to the still small voice that made me uncomfortable in my first observation of the group: the children. But naively giving this group a chance resulted in a very painful 5 year span. The thought flashed into my mind on my very first intro to the group... I wonder if this authoritarian, behavioristic child training is any indication of this group's theology. I learned the hard way that yes, it was. Not only that, it's adult training, as well, only not with a mat... with our very lives. I am sad and sorry for the way you had to grow up. I hope that our Sovereign Lord has used evil for good in your life. I am trusting that the Lord will work all things for good in mine. Keep clinging to Christ alone. ~peace.

Anonymous said...

I was an assembly kid too. It isn't until now that I realize the detrimental effects it had on my family, the other families and myself. I was randomly searching George Geftakys today and came across all of this. I was young then, unaware of how dangerous this all was. I have no idea when all of this was written, I'm guessing years ago. The suicide is a very sensitive topic, as I grew up with him. My childhood was closely intertwined with his and his death was absolutely devastating. Words cannot describe the feelings that I had and still have... my feelings do not even begin to scratch the surface of the feelings I assume his family has.

Anonymous said...

Another poster mentioned seeing the assembly children & how that was her first warning sign. YES! So true. On the surface, many kids were smiling, obedient "servants" but sadly they were really trained to be mind-numbed robots. The leading brothers' kids had it worst of all, especially the "workers'" (as if we ALL weren't working enough in that cult!) children. After devoting 10 years to "the work", I suffer painful flashbacks & depression. Spiritually, I trust almost no one in a church environment.

Anonymous said...

How very sad. I was terribly naive when I was a part of that group. I didn't even think to question until I went to a seminar during Easter weekend of 1987 and heard George for the first time. He sounded gleeful when describing the horrors of hell, and I thought of all those wonderful folks I loved who (according to him) would end up there. It was very depressing.