Ex-members label GCI a coercive environment

The Sunday Journal, Wheaton, Illinois/November 6, 1988

By Frank Callahan

Former members of Great Commission International (GCI) describe it as subtle, dangerous and destructive.

Larry Pile, a Wheaton College graduate now living in Ohio, was a GCI church member for 5½ years.

He joined the evangelical group in 1970 in Arizona. "I liked what I saw," he said. "They seemed to have a lot of good spiritual traditions."

But his years inside the church gave him a different perspective. "I left when I saw the handwriting on the wall, that it was becoming more and more authoritarian and more and more cult-like," he said.

He and other former GCI members tell of church elders increasing control over such basic aspects of day-to-day living as dating, employment and education.

"They put this heavy guilt on you," said Keesey Hayward of Wheaton, a GCI member from 1984 to 1986. "You don't want to cause waves, and so you just go along with it.

"If an elder said something, it was really God speaking," he said.

"Anyone questioning was wrong," he said. "It's a very subtle but extremely strong way of squelching."

"I myself was cautioned about listening to anything negative about the group," said another ex-member of GCI, now a Wheaton College senior. "Leave the room if you have to. Change the subject. Just don't listen to it."

A DAILY schedule of church activities left little time for outside activities, and members who missed a scheduled meeting or activity were made to feel guilty, ex-members said.

"It was a coercive environment," one ex-member said. "The mindset and the environment demanded of me that I give my all.

"I wanted to," he added. "I was so sold on the vision. I was ready to commit all of my reserves, my time, my money ... even to the point of yielding my will to the elders."

He also was taught that "you should be willing to die for your leader," he said. "You should be that committed to him."

Hayward stops short of calling GCI a cult.

But, he said, "This is something I'll do anything to keep out of my neighborhood. This is not of God."

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