Last month, Chris Vogel of the Houston Press penned a disturbing article regarding the dark side of the New Warriors Training Adventure. New Warriors is a growing part of a movement which emphasizes rituals and initiation to promote a vision of masculinity. The New Warriors' website describes the training:
The ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure(R) is an intense, transformative men's initiation which invites men to forge a deep conscious connection between head and heart. The NWTA offers men a powerful, challenging opportunity to look at all aspects of their lives in a richly supportive environment.
New Warriors is recommended by some who attempt to assist people change their sexual orientation via healing childhood wounds, or reparative therapists (e.g., National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)) as a means of getting in touch with lost masculinity. Richard Cohen, in his new book Gay Children, Straight Parents, published by Christian publisher Intervarsity Press, recommends New Warriors as a "powerful life changing weekend." If the Houston Press article is accurate, such recommendations seem misguided for anyone, especially evangelical Christians.
Vogel's article is a chilling expose' of secret activities conducted by a secret organization. The group does not disclose in advance what takes place on the weekends and the participants must sign a promise not disclose the activities. The Houston Press article provides interviews with some who have attended, as well as descriptions via attendees families.
Here are some of the activities described:
- Blindfolded walking tours in the nude;
- People blowing sage smoke in his face while 50 or so naked men danced around candles;
- Men sitting naked in a circle discussing their sexual histories while passing a wooden dildo called "The Cock";
- Naked men beating cooked chickens with a hammer.
Some participants swear by it. Said spokesperson for New Warriors, Les Sinclair:
"This is the best thing on the planet," he [Mr. Sinclair] says from his home in Las Vegas. "The initiation is a real wake-up to life. We teach men to be accountable for the choices they make or the actions they don't take. We look at the emotional wounds that have taken a man's power away-He may have low self-esteem, he may feel like he doesn't measure up to other men, he's afraid of men or he's afraid of women, or he's afraid of life in general. We look at what was that key emotional wound that took his power away and set up some form of psychodrama for him to overcome. It is a very powerful process."
Healing masculinity is a bit pricey with the weekend costing $650, plus more cash for weekly group sessions. And some believe the participants are really getting a form of therapy.
"What it boils down to," says Rick Ross, head of the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, which studies cults, groups and movements, "is that they are doing group therapy, although they won't admit to that, and they are not qualified to do group therapy. They are not licensed and they are not accountable."
Norris Lang, who chairs the anthropology department at the University of Houston and is a former therapist, agrees. He took part in an initiation retreat in 1997 and then attended several Integration Group meetings before deciding to leave the organization.
"Some of the exercises that they had us engage in," he says, "were fairly traumatic and normally, as a psychotherapist, I would have only engaged in some of those activities-in the security of a hospital or psychiatric facility. If you get somebody to get in touch with their feelings from, say, 30 years ago, a time when they were abused as children, that can be fairly dangerous territory for an unprofessional. It's kind of group therapy without any professionals involved."
From what I have seen thus far, I would agree that more oversight would be beneficial. It certainly looks like attempts at therapy to me. For one Houston man, it was bad therapy. Michael Scinto killed himself after attended a New Warriors session and his family is suing the Houston area branch, alledging that New Warriors' experiences led to his demise.
Some rituals described are odd. I encourage readers to examine the entire article but here is one example:
At one point, says Mary, her husband and the other men were blindfolded and marched into a large room, where they were told to take off their clothes. Drums were beating in the background, and when the men were told to remove their blindfolds, "he saw 50 or 60 naked men dancing on a stage in a circle," she says. "They call this 'The Dance,' and my husband said they started playing rock and roll music and some of the men were just dancing like they were obsessed." and then disturbing:
"They were all in the sweat lodge on Sunday," she says, "which he actually enjoyed. It was the first moment he had to relax in days after going through such a high-drama weekend where they pound you to reveal your deep, dark stuff. So, everyone was sitting Indian-style in a big circle in the lodge when the man leading the group said, 'If you wish, you may reach over and grab your brother's dick. If your brother doesn't want your hand there, he can remove it.' Well, my husband told me he just froze. And from that point on, he just wanted out."
Mr. Sinclair denies that such an activity would ever take place at a training adventure.
Regarding Christians attending, it does not appear that supporters reinforce a Christian worldview. The same Mr. Sinclair stated in a letter to another man in the men's movement:
We are living in a time of great change on our planet. The conflict now is between three mythic belief systems, the technological-economic myth of progress and growth, authoritarian patriarchal religion, and the emerging spiritual world view that we are all connected and life is sacred. The challenge we have is: How do we live a spiritual life in the material world?
Whiel the nudity and rituals are disturbing and unnecessary for true masculinity, what may be more problematic for evangelicals is the New Age, shamanistic element to the weekend. The Catholic diocese of Houston was concerned enough to issue a statement of condemnation. The Vogel article noted:
Bishop Joe Vasquez then issued a statement condemning the organization. In an e-mail, he wrote that the archdiocese became aware in late 2005 that priests were members of The ManKind Project. The then-archbishop, Joseph A. Fiorenza, "was concerned that elements of The ManKind Project and its New Warrior Training weekends seemed to reflect a New Age philosophy and were not in harmony with traditional Roman Catholic belief and practices," Vasquez wrote. "Archbishop Fiorenza issued a letter in January 2006 asking priests to refrain from being actively involved in the group or promoting" it.
As with any type of self-help approach, some people will report benefits. However, when the same benefits can be gained via other means, it seems risky at best to promote a secretive organization which may lead men away from the foundations of their evangelical worldview.
Dr. Warren Throckmorton, Columnist, Speaker, Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College.