Ministry kept me "captive"


The Sacramento Bee Final/March 16, 1988
By Dale Vargas

A 39-year-old Sacramento woman is suing Free Love Ministries, claiming the unorthodox Christian group held her captive for six months last year, took away all of her possessions and turned her family against her.

In a suit, filed Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court, Maura Schmierer is seeking more than $20 million in damages from the communal group that operates in four barracks-like houses on X Street.

Schmierer, who had been a member of the group since in 1982, was virtually imprisoned last January after the group's leaders deemed that she had "fallen under God's judgment" and was forsaken, according to the suit.

"They said they could see in my heart," Schmierer said Tuesday of the group's leaders, Jim M. Green and Lila Green, during an interview. "They told me I was a witch, that I was a whore." But at the time of the banishment, she said; no specific reason for the judgment was given.

Schmierer said she was forced for the next six months to live in tiny quarters and do menial work at the group's compound.

According to the suit, she signed over her house, unknowingly gave up legal custody of her three children and unwittingly agreed to a divorce during her captivity.

During that time, her diet consisted of small, stale peanut butter sandwiches, she said during the interview in her attorney's office. For six months, she said, she was not allowed to bathe or have any hot water. Frequently she did not have access to a bathroom.

Ministry leaders Tuesday did not respond to phone calls or a bell at their X Street compound. Schmierer said she had opportunities to leave the compound, but didn't.

"I was afraid to walk away," she said. "They told me this was my last chance&if I didn't stick it out, I'd go to hell."

She said she was convinced that if she stayed and followed orders, she would be reunited with her family, which lived at the compound.

"I was just mentally under their control,' she said. "I guess you'd call it brainwashed." When the judgment was passed, the suit said, Schmierer was separated from her family and all the members of the group, including her children, were told "her name now was 'forsaken.'"

Schmierer spent part of her time in a 5-by-12-foot wooden shed with a low ceiling that prevented her from standing upright, the suit said. At times, other women also spent time in the shed, it said. In February, the suit said, Schmierer signed divorce papers because she thought ending her 13-year marriage was "a test," and two months later she blindly signed over custody of her children to her husband, Steven.

Steven Schmierer, the Greens, the ministry and other leaders are named in the suit. In July, the suit said Jim Green ordered Maura Schmierer to leave permanently and refused to let her take any of her children with her.

Schmierer said Tuesday that Steven Schmierer, who has changed his name, still lives in the compound, as does the couple's oldest child, 12-year-old Nathaniel. Schmierer since has regained custody of Lilly, 6, and Steven, 5.

Schmierer said she how feels embarrassed and finds it hard to believe she was a devoted member of the group and actually believed she was damned.

She said the communal group, which consisted of about 25 members last year, draws people who have had problems. They stay - and believe - she said, because "both Jim and Lila have charisma, strong personalities."

The group, also known as the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, has become quite militaristic, she said, and "very unorthodox." The members wear uniforms and have military-like ranks. The Greens are brigadier generals.

"They claim everything they say is direct from God," she said. "They believe God is building up an end-day army. They believe they are the leaders." The soldiers expect to be put in charge (sic) after judgment day.

Schmierer said she is basically unskilled and now is taking business courses so she can go to work. In the meantime, she would like to see her older son, but cannot contact him - "Except by knocking on the door, and I'm too frightened to do that."

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