By Steven Kelly (aka "Peter")
FD/MM/FM; ML#3787; June 2009
1. Mama and I love and appreciate each of you, and pray for you in our daily times of prayer. We're excited to see how the Lord is unfolding His plans for the Family as a whole, for each Home, and for each Family member, as we work together to reach the world like never before. Each day brings us a step closer to the wonderful promises the Lord has mapped out for our future.
2. This Letter will be the first of a series dedicated to the new approach the Lord wants the Family to take in our relations with those who retire from active service with the Family or choose another path in life. Although much progress has been made since the mid-1990s toward improving our relations with former members, we're sure you'll agree that there is still a lot of room for improvement in this area, both in our mindsets and in practice.
3. It will take several Letters to address this issue, as there are many facets to the topic: the new mindsets the Lord wants us to adopt, the specific needs of those who are in the process of departing, the transition process for young people born and raised in the Family, the need to shed past mindsets and perspectives regarding those who have chosen another path in life, and what the Lord's vision for the future is in our relations with our former comrades-in-arms, as we work to build a more inclusive culture.
4. If all your questions or concerns aren't addressed in this first part of the series, please bear in mind that more counsel will be coming. We will do our best to cover this topic comprehensively, and we hope you will find that your questions have been answered by the time you have read through the entire series.
5. In the Feast 2008 Letter, "The Ride of Your Life," the Lord commissioned us to go beyond the boundaries and limitations of the past so that we could reach new heights: "My commission to you is to leave the past behind, to embrace the new, to expect change and variance and adjustment—true revolution. I expect you to not be bound by what has been, but to reach beyond the bounds and limitations of what you have already experienced and know to be possible, into Heaven and the realms that I've told you are possible, but that may have never been explored before" (ML #3686:76, GN 1247).
6. He also said that it was time to "bring your farming up to date—and beyond that, you need to get it ready for the future. The future will be quite different from the present. You need to make changes now, in the present, so that you will be ready for the future. Many Family attitudes and mindsets need to change, because they won't serve you well in the future. Many ways of doing things need to change so that they will be up to date in the future" (ML #3686:90, GN 1247).
7. The Lord has shown Mama and me that He wants us all to take on a much more understanding and supportive outlook toward Family members who choose other careers or paths in life. In order to build a new inclusive culture of greater acceptance of others and understanding of people's choices and levels of commitment to the Lord and His service, we will need to make a radical change in this department. Many of our past attitudes, perspectives, and practices—even those that are rooted in past Word on the topic—will not serve us well in the future, and must be eliminated or updated with the Lord's new approach for today.
8. Exercising tolerance, acceptance, love, and respect for those who are no longer Family members will be the real proof of our inclusiveness and ability to accept people despite the differences. It can often be much easier to be understanding of friends, contacts, supporters, relatives, and others who have not shared our experiences, culture, faith, and unique lifestyle. But, as the old saying goes, "Charity begins at home," and it's time that we do our part to go beyond current attitudes, mindsets, or practices that create separation or alienation, and that make it difficult for those who choose another course or lifestyle to make the transition from one culture to another.
Tolerance is an important concept in the world today, and is often used to represent the values of religious freedom, civil rights, and human rights. Following are some definitions of tolerance, as it is applied in this context:
The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others; fair, objective attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry; interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; acceptance of different views: the acceptance of the differing views of other people, for example, in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views.
Its synonyms include altruism, benevolence, broad-mindedness, charity, clemency, compassion, concession, endurance, forbearance, good will, grace, humanity, kindness, magnanimity, mercifulness, mercy, patience, sufferance, sympathy, understanding.
These are generally important qualities for the Family of the future, not only for building an inclusive culture, but for learning to network and collaborate with people from many different walks of life.
9. (Jesus:) I have set you, My Family, on the path of change. Along the change journey road, there will be many markers that will clearly point the way in the direction I have mapped for you. It will be an exciting journey, as each new marker will indicate that you are in a new place, previously unexplored. As you journey onward, you will see new sights, experience the excitement of the trail, and breathe the fresh air. Though the path may be rugged and often uphill, it will be exhilarating and rejuvenating.
10. I am now leading you to an important marker on the trail that is part of your change journey and the inclusive culture of the Family of the future: your relations with those who were formerly your comrades-in-arms.
11. It's time for your perspectives and attitudes to change—and change radically in some cases—toward those who no longer accompany you on this journey. It's time to move beyond the boundaries in your love and tolerance for others, to more fully encompass those who choose a different path in life.
12. Many of your mindsets and perspectives toward your former members are rooted in the past, and they now need to be uprooted and cleared out altogether. Although much progress has been made over the past decade, and the Family of today is more accepting and supportive of those who leave, it's time to adopt the new mindsets and attitudes that are needed for today and the future.
13. I ask you to embrace this change and to let Me upgrade or overwrite any outdated or negative attitudes. As you let go of any mindsets anchored to the past, I will give you My enhanced mindsets for today. Just as a computer program becomes dated and eventually ineffective if not upgraded, so you must download and integrate the mindset upgrades I am sending your way.
14. As you call on the key of upgrades, you will take on My new mindsets for today that will empower you to appropriate My promises for the future. Download the new mindsets and let them overwrite any dated or past perspectives that are no longer applicable and will not serve you well in the future.
15. (Peter:) In praying about this topic, we faced a dilemma as to how to refer to Family members who choose a different path after serving the Lord with us for some time or after having grown up in the Family—particularly those who are in the process of making the transition from the Family to a secular lifestyle. In recent years, we have broadly referred to those who leave as "former members." While this term is not a negative one or one that we should necessarily avoid using, it is part of our deeply rooted culture and mindsets toward those who depart. As such, we felt it would be helpful if we used different terms in this series, particularly when referring to people in the process of making the transition.
16. The word "leave-takers" was coined by sociologists of religion, who were seeking for a judgment-free term to refer to those who depart from religious movements. Here is how one sociologist defined this term:
The leave-taker may be defined as one who decides to terminate his or her commitment and disaffiliate in a non-public act of personal reflection and deed. … In the transition to a new role and status, the leave-taker effectively integrates the biographical experience of prior religious involvement into a larger, holistic concept of self shaping one's identity. Indeed, the former commitment is often defined as a necessary or meaningful episode in the individual's spiritual and socioemotional development.—Stuart A. Wright
17. The term "leave-taker" does not infer that the person who left was at odds with the organization; they simply chose to "terminate their commitment" or affiliation for some reason. This expression is also used in the business world in reference to someone who takes an extended leave of absence from the workplace.
18. Since the Lord is asking us to take on new mindsets and perspectives toward those who retire from the Family or choose other paths in life, we felt this new terminology would be appropriate for this series of Letters. Our intent is not to eradicate the use of the term "former member," which is also an appropriate term for those who have departed from a religious movement, but we hope that this new term will serve as a reminder of the new outlook the Lord is calling us to adopt.
19. As we look to the future and the changes in our culture that the Lord is asking us to make—that in fact, we must make if we are to be successful in the future—it's helpful to understand how our current perspectives and attitudes toward former members developed and why. But before doing so, I want to make a general commentary on our history and past context.
20. The Lord, or Dad, or Mama and I in the Letters, may have led us in doctrine, practice, or perspective to address an issue a certain way in the past. The original approach may have been what was needed at that time and within the framework the Family was operating in during that period of our history. Over time, however, circumstances, the world, and the Family change. So what originally worked just fine and fit the need of the time can become outdated. If elements of our past are not in sync with today's realities, or are out of step with the Lord's drumbeat for today, then we must make a break with the past—even with the recent past if necessary—and adjust our actions and mindsets accordingly.
21. We won't be able to move forward into the future the Lord has mapped out for us of a more expansive membership and inclusive culture while holding on to elements of outdated culture, doctrine, or mindsets that are rooted in the past. Some of these attitudes are deeply ingrained in our Family psyche and culture, as is the case with our relations with leave-takers. In such cases, when the past is not compatible with today's context and the direction the Lord is leading us in for the future, we will need to jettison past attitudes and leave them behind so that we can embrace the new.
22. Today's context and game plan can't be judged by yesterday's methods and vision. We need to keep moving forward—ever forward—and in many cases, it's not helpful to try to judge or gauge the past from the standpoint of the experience and wisdom of today. Thankfully, we have learned a lot throughout our 40-year history, and we have matured and evolved on many fronts. By the grace of God, we will grow and mature even more in the years to come. This is part of the cycle of the growth and maturation of a movement, a cycle ordained by the Lord, and one that has brought us to where we are today.
23. The eagerness to change, the ability to jettison ideas, policies, or models that lose relevance or become outdated, and the desire to constantly follow the Lord as He leads us through an ever-changing future, is one of the most fundamental values that Dad imparted to the Family. This has become a cornerstone of the Family, and challenging though it may be to live it, it is crucial to our ability to accomplish our mission.
24. Some of our attitudes and perspectives toward our former members are rooted in our history. I'll review this historical background to help you to better understand how these perspectives were formed and why, as well as what the Lord wants us to shoot for today and in the future in our relations with those who retire from active service with the Family or choose a different path in life, or will do so in the future.
25. I want to preface this historical background by stating that mistakes were made in the past in the Family's treatment of former members or those who were in the process of leaving. Mama and I have published apologies to former members from 1995 onward, as we became more aware of how a number of people felt after leaving the Family and the difficult challenges they faced. (See "Mama's Letter to Former Members" in "Bridging the Gap," ML #3068:101-108, published in August 1996; "An Open Letter to All Current and Former Family Members," ML #3091:3,10h,15-22, published in December 1996.) In 2007, we also published an apology for current and former second generation members at the end of the series "The Family's History, Policies, and Beliefs Regarding Sex" (ML #3673, GN 1236).
26. Negative attitudes toward leave-takers were, to a great degree, rooted in Dad's writings, which were quite harsh in many cases toward former members, at the time referred to as "backsliders." Although Dad's interpretation was based on biblical principles, which I'll explain in reviewing the history, the application Dad presented of these principles resulted in uncharitable and unloving actions in many cases. It also gave rise to a judgmental and intolerant spirit toward those who chose to leave the Family, which did not bear good fruit in many instances. Former and current members were hurt, relationships were strained, and families were divided, resulting in bitterness and unhappiness in the lives of a number of former members.
27. Mama and I are very sorry for the hurt and difficulties that have been faced by both current and former members due to this strong position regarding leave-takers. We acknowledge that mistakes were made, and people's lives were affected as a result. Not only do we want to learn from the mistakes of the past, but we want to ensure that our future is one of greater love, tolerance, and charitable attitudes toward those who choose other paths in life.
28. This is not the first time—and will probably not be the last—that we have acknowledged that mistakes have been made and change is needed in some area of our lives and service for the Lord. In this case, however, I'm going to focus on the issue quite extensively, because our relations with leave-takers have affected, and will continue to affect, all Family members, as well as those who depart. As you continue reading through this series, please bear in mind that learning from the past will enable us to build a better future. That's our goal in covering this issue thoroughly.
(Jesus:) Remember, in reviewing your past, that every new movement, kingdom, or nation makes its share of mistakes, even grave mistakes. Maturity often comes through the road of experience, which can sometimes be painful. As your Father David taught you, revolutions can be messy; they aren't "surgical," or without their flaws, extremisms or mistakes. Revolutions are powerful, charismatic, and full of drive, enthusiasm and purpose, for that is what it takes to break away from the accepted norms and the status quo, in order to receive radical new truths. Once the movement has become more established, then the process of building, stabilizing, and balance comes into play. Of course, it would be ideal that mistakes not occur, but it's important to understand that process in order to truly understand the steps of growth, change, and evolution I have brought you through (ML #3671:17, GN 1234).
29. When the Lord first led Dad to reach out to the hippies and counterculture youth of the 1960s, he had no idea what the Lord had in mind: a revolution for Jesus! It was an amazing outpouring of the Spirit that set the hearts of many aflame for Jesus and gave them a desire to change the world.
(Dad:) It took me 49 years (God's number seven times seven!) to find my life's work! But in 1968 I found it, amongst the poorest of the poor of Huntington Beach, California, a youth capital in the richest county in the richest state in the richest country in the world, where the Lord called us to minister to the hippies!—The most hated, maligned, discriminated against, abused, harassed, persecuted, and downtrodden element in all American society!
This younger generation of America was fed up with its System, fed up with its parents, fed up with its education, fed up with its empty religion, and was seeking real reality and more lasting, eternal values to life! They had had everything and tried everything, but nothing had satisfied; so they were earnestly seeking the answers—the truth, love, peace, and meaning to life which they knew must exist somewhere!
One dark night, as I walked the streets with those poor drugged and despairing hippies, God suddenly spoke to my heart and said, "Art thou willing to go to these lost sheep to become a king of these poor little beggars? They need a voice to speak for them, they need a shepherd to lead them, and they need the rod of My Word to guide them to the Light!" I burst into tears and I cried out to the Lord and I said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!" And that night I promised God that I would try to lead them and do everything I could to save them and win them to the Lord and lead them into His service.
But I must confess that I was startled and mystified by this revelation and I wondered what it could mean, as I hadn't the faintest idea of how to go about it! I really had no idea what it was leading to, but I just knew that we had to somehow preach the Gospel to those hippies! They'd been churched to death and preached to death and hounded to death by the System and it hadn't done any good, so we just had to get out there and somehow love'm back to life!
Our militant attacks on System-addict religion and the educational and commercial system in general with invasions, sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, picketing, beach baptisms, revolutionary shouts, wild worship, and real, red-hot, subversive, radical Bible teaching with the bare and naked flashing sword of the Word of God really turned the kids on! The entire hippie generation was ready for the Jesus Revolution!
And the Revolution for Jesus was on its way! The kids ate it up and the hippies loved it! We thumbed our noses at the churches and the establishment and rolled on in a wild melee of fanatic witnessing …! The whole hip generation was going crazy—about Jesus! And it all started with a little flame of faith kindled in the hearts of a few little kids by their religiously weirdo Dad whom God and His Word had convinced that real Christians could still live like Jesus' disciples and those radical religious revolutionaries of the Early Church! (ML #1962:1-2, 8-9,18-19, DB8; 1984.)
30. It's easy to see why the Lord chose Dad to lead this revolution. It took an iconoclast—someone who was willing to break with tradition and the norms of his day, to step outside the status quo and defy the church system of the time. As he dared to follow God and attempt the impossible, he created a vacuum for a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit that reverberated throughout the counterculture youth, resulting in a movement being born almost overnight.
31. Thanks to Dad's faith to follow the Lord's call, scores of young people joined; then hundreds, and ultimately thousands of people dropped out and joined over a short period of time. The Children of God took the world by storm, and the media featured article upon article about what was perceived as a religious phenomenon of the time.
32. The Lord led Dad to open the floodgates and issue an open challenge to the counterculture youth to serve God without conditions. The results were astounding, with the Lord adding new recruits daily, just as in the book of Acts. (See Acts 2:38-47.) If Dad hadn't had the faith to obey the Lord's call, regardless of how unconventional it must have seemed to try to build a revolution with hippies, misfits, and dropouts, the Family wouldn't exist today. It took Dad's crazy faith, obedience to the Lord, and unflinching willpower to make it happen.
33. In the process of challenging people to drop out and give their lives to Jesus, Dad quickly saw the need to run the early colonies with a high degree of discipline and commitment to the job at hand. Dad let the early followers know that he and the Lord expected 100% "do or die" commitment of those who chose to be Jesus' disciples. Other people could be friends or supporters, but the disciples had to give all to the cause and realize that they were joining an army that was doing spiritual battle for the souls of mankind.
(Dad:) God will not tolerate your putting anything else first before Him and His work and human souls and their eternal salvation! Ungodly jobs and businesses and bosses and families can come or go to hell where God is concerned, for He is only concerned about you and His work of saving others like you!
So there's no choice as far as I'm concerned: God's a tough commanding officer when it comes to obedience in His army, where nothing is more important than His war against death to save lives! God's only time is now, or forget it! … The time is now! Tomorrow is too late!
For your own intimate disciples we are going to be strict, expect everything, complete forsaking, 100% dedication, absolute loyalty, and full-time service. We are the hard core, the spearhead, the avant-garde of this last great spiritual Revolution. We are the cadre, the officers and the leaders of it!—And that requires 100% dedication!—Do or die!—Amen? ("Forsaking All," ML #314A:5,9,22, Vol. 3; 1974.)
34. Most of the young people who joined in those early stages of our history had little concept of what serving the Lord would entail. Very few had any experience at all in witnessing or winning disciples. Dad and his personal family faced an enormous task of organizing, training, teaching, and guiding the new recruits, while continuing to reach the lost youth of their day. The harvest was ripe and it couldn't wait. The task was an impossible one by human standards, and that's why it took the kind of out-of-bounds, unstoppable faith that Dad had to believe the Lord would come through.—And the Lord never failed to meet Dad's faith.
35. Dad patterned the early Family after a revolutionary army, with tight rules, regulations, and expectations. Considering that many of the new recruits had come from the counterculture and had lived a very undisciplined lifestyle in many cases, it's not surprising that the Lord led Dad to have the early colonies run like boot camps, where the new recruits could forsake the System, receive training, Bible and Word classes, and prepare to change the world with their witness.
(Dad:) The discipline of Jesus' revolutionaries must be absolute "obedience to them that have the rule over them, for they care for your souls, as they that must themselves give account." ... You must obey implicitly, quickly and without question your officers in the Lord, "without murmuring." …
The rules of the Revolution are strict: Attend all classes and meetings, study and go witnessing, do your duties faithfully, arise when wakened and retire at lights out. … Absence without leave will be considered desertion of your post. You will only be given one warning, after which your place will be given to someone more deserving ("The Revolutionary Rules," ML #S:8-9, Vol. 1; 1972).
36. The task of training and preparing this army of new laborers was monumental and it had to be done quickly. Dad didn't have years to figure it all out or to come up with a course or a program. New recruits were rolling in on a daily basis, and before long, the colonies were branching out around the U.S. and Canada, and eventually to Europe and South America, Asia, and onward. There wasn't time to do a lot of hand-holding or to try to gradually ease people into discipleship. The revolution was happening then and there, and Dad knew that this harvest would not be ripe and waiting forever.
37. People were dropping out on the spot after being witnessed to, before it was possible to really know who they were, how sincere they were, or how far they would go with their commitment. This rapid expansion led to a number of issues and difficulties over time, which Dad dealt with as they arose—everything from finding properties, to figuring out how to support and feed so many people, to training and preparing the new recruits to turn around and reach and teach others.
38. Dad also operated under a sense of intense urgency—the End was coming, and the counterculture youth were lost and needed salvation right away while the window of opportunity was open. Dad wasn't planning for the distant future or thinking of how the Children of God would develop and eventually become the Family, or what we would do when our original members started to have children, etc. The vision he was living and that he imparted to the disciples was intensely focused on the present and the immediate need. Today was the day of salvation and of reaching the lost youth of the '60s and '70s era, and there wasn't a moment to lose. Dad knew he was living in a time of a supernatural outpouring of the Spirit, resulting in the Jesus Revolution, and he had to seize the day and fulfill the role the Lord had given him of reaching the searching youth and the lost of the world of that day.
39. I'm giving you this background so that you can understand why Dad had little time or patience to focus on people who decided they didn't want to be in the Lord's army, or were double-minded about their commitment to serve the Lord. Not only did he not have time, there wasn't physical space for people who weren't really committed, or who found the Spartan lifestyle of the time too difficult or trying. He was also working with mostly young adults, who, if after a short time of serving the Lord with the Family discovered it wasn't their cup of tea, could go home to their parents, or back to their hippie lifestyle, or try something new. They weren't fettered with responsibilities, and although to some extent they had burned their bridges to drop out, he knew that they could easily go home and carry on with their lives.
40. His task was to focus first of all on reaping the great harvest of that time—the greatest he had ever seen or experienced in his lifetime—and teaching and training the new recruits who were committed to following the Lord and him. Dad reasoned that the Lord's work required great haste and he couldn't allow it to be slowed down for people who ultimately weren't willing or able to fully commit.
(Dad:) We are not trying to see how many people we can pack into a [Home]! We are looking for leaders and workers who are willing to sacrifice their lives to bring the love of Jesus to other young people around the world! We are not trying to form [Homes] purely for selfish pleasure or just to prove the point that communal living works! We are banding together and spreading around the world in order to devote our full time and energies to preach the Gospel to every creature and win their souls to Jesus Christ and their bodies to His service for others!
We [need] sincere and dedicated leaders and workers to win the youth of the world to Jesus, not fearful, unbelieving and half-hearted semi-followers ("Backsliders!" ML #140:7-8, Vol. 1; 1971).
41. The young, inexperienced leadership of the time faced the dilemma of how to handle some of the new recruits who joined, but then were unhappy and discontent and yet stayed on in the colonies. They would tend to spread their discontent to the brand-new recruits who had just joined, and in some cases would end up convincing them to leave with them when they were confronted by leadership or decided to leave.
42. In addressing this problem, Dad opted for the army approach, and counseled the new leadership to handle those who left as deserting their post or going AWOL (absent without leave); in other words, not living up to their commitments and failing on the job. Those who left were referred to as backsliders, and the act of leaving was backsliding (a concept used several times in the Old Testament to refer to those who had turned their back on God). The following is a summary of the position Dad took on backsliders:
(Dad:) As you so well know, I do everything like mad: whatever I do, right or wrong, I do it furiously! I love like mad, kiss like mad, make love like mad, drink like mad, walk like mad and talk like mad—and Maria says I work and dance like mad, too! And sometimes when I talk, I talk like I am mad at somebody—and sometimes I am!—Because God gets mad too, with some people, especially backsliders, waverers and the lukewarm.
God hates to see people's backsides, and when He does, He usually gives them a good quick hard stiff kick in the butt that sends them sprawling back into the slime pit from which they came for another good bellyful of it, hoping they'll get so sick of it this time they'll never look back at it again!
This is why God goes after them so hard with such severe chastening to try to get them to repent and come back to Him before they've done too much damage. He sometimes wields the heaviest rod on the backs of His Own children when they backslide because they know better and are without excuse! Then if they will not soon repent, He usually destroys them so they can do no further harm! I've seen it happen so many times! Almost the worst things I've ever seen happen to Christians, I've seen happen to backsliders in the hands of an angry God!—And I've seen it happen so often and in so many cases, more than I can possibly number!
So I'm sorry: I haven't much mercy for the backslider while he's still backsliding: Like the Lord, I really sock it to him to try to get him to repent fast before he does himself and others and the Lord's cause too much damage, because that's the first thing he tries to do, to vindicate himself. That's why I've always said to get rid of them quick, because they often want to stay right there with you to do as much damage as possible from the inside and take others with them when they go! This is why I've always insisted on a period of probation of a few weeks before taking them in, to make sure they can make it, as the first few weeks are usually the hardest and you'll usually know by then whether they can make it or not.
It's better for them to backslide before joining than afterwards. It'll be easier on you and them both, and God won't hold them quite as responsible since they don't yet know too much and are still pretty ignorant ("Backsliding," ML #313C:1,3,7,11-12, Vol. 3; 1974).
43. Dad became upset—and understandably so—that people were allowed to spread discontent and pull other people out of the Family who hadn't had a chance to be strengthened in their faith. Because these people weren't closely shepherded and moved on when it was clear that they weren't content in the Family, at times they ended up causing disruption in the colonies. Most people were young in the Lord and they were vulnerable to this negative witness, and Dad wanted the shepherds to more closely shepherd the flocks and not allow the uncommitted to walk away with the new recruits.
44. On a number of occasions, Dad wrote some very strong words regarding people who left, and referred to them as "backsliders" regardless of whether they continued to be supporters, co-workers, or friends. On the other side of the coin, Dad also expressed his concerns in several Letters that people who were leaving were not being treated properly.
(Dad:) It's always been our personal policy, when we found someone wanted to leave, to simply ask them why, maybe answer any questions they might have or correct any misunderstandings which may be responsible, apologize for any of our mistakes which might have caused them to want to leave, but not to discourage them from leaving if they still want to.
… I've always kept sweet, loving, gentle, kind, sympathetic, and tried to be understanding with these weak ones who want to go home. I have only tried to make sure that the fault was not ours through some misunderstanding and apologize if it were…
I usually just asked them a few questions, listened to their answers, tried to correct any misunderstandings, apologized for any mistakes, explained any difficulties, rebuked any officer who might have offended them, and told them we were sincerely sorry if it had been anything that was our fault, and tried to be as understanding as possible of their reasons for wanting to go back.
This gentle, loving, and understanding treatment of those who want to leave has often paid off, not only in keeping them as a friend instead of antagonizing them so that you send them away as an enemy, but it has frequently encouraged them later to return, after having again found out that the pit was not where it's at, and home is not what it used to be, and that they have really become a different person who can no longer enjoy it, but knows they must serve the Lord! But from the tactics I hear that some of you have been using, it's no wonder that they even became all the more convinced that they were right in leaving, and have even been so turned against us by your lack of wisdom that they've been willing to publicly testify against us!
From what I hear of some of you, you're being so hard on people before they leave that you make them think that you hate them and that they wouldn't be welcome to come back even if they wanted to come back!—Or you make them so mad that you turn them totally against you so that you send them away a bitter enemy who wants to fight you and is sorry they ever joined you, instead of parting friends and assuring them that a warm welcome awaits them if they want to return!
For God's sake and their sake and your own sake, let my people go! If they're really His people, they'll come back or serve the Lord somewhere else that fits them better! The Children of God are not the only Christians in the world, and this is not the only place they can serve God! We may feel we're the best Christians and this is the best place to serve the Lord, but they certainly shouldn't be here unless they feel that way, too! Otherwise, let them go! ("Backsliders," ML #140:11-13,15,34,43, Vol. 1; 1971.)
45. The term "backslider" became somewhat of a catchall for anyone who left, regardless of their attitude, disposition toward the Family, or whether they continued to share our faith and read the MO Letters. As I said earlier, Dad generally applied this terminology to the Family in an army context, where it was unacceptable for a soldier to abandon the war for souls. Dad didn't mince words on these occasions, and he spoke strongly against backsliders throughout the Letters. But again, it's important to remember that he also spoke about the importance of love and kindness, and understanding that the discipleship life was not for everyone.
(Dad:) I am a fanatic, an extremist, drastic, and totally revolutionary and I cannot even understand people who are not! I cannot comprehend people's hesitation in serving the Lord all the way! If He's worth serving at all He's worth serving full time and all the way!—And that's just the way I feel about it and that's the way I am and that's why we're where we are and why we have a Revolution at all! How about you?
Jesus and His disciples had many undercover friends, members of the System—a great company of the priests and even some of the Sanhedrin, the rulers and the rich, who were their friends, helpers, and protectors, whom God had ordained for this ministry. You must remember this and not curse everyone who does not immediately drop everything and join you. God may know that they would not make very good full-time disciples, they would not be whole-hearted enough, sacrificial enough, and enthusiastic enough to do a very good job as one of the inner circle. But they're still for us as friends!
Where would the army be without food and clothing and ammunition?—And the people who just haven't got the guts to join can still stay home and be friends and supporters!—Amen?—Or where would the disciples have been or stayed or eaten?—We need friends in the System too.—Not all can be soldiers in the army! …
There are many concentric circles and degrees of discipleship which must be recognized and appreciated and used. As we have taught you before, this includes kings and politicians and businessmen and noble women and influential friends whom God must use to help, provide, and protect you ("Forsaking All," ML #314A:12,14,19-20, Vol. 3; 1974).
46. Although Dad reproached some of the early disciples for their unkind treatment of those who left their ranks, he spoke very strongly throughout the Letters against backsliding, and often equated it with betraying the Lord and the Family. He expressed that it wouldn't be the Lord's will that someone leave or serve the Lord in a different way or to a lesser degree. This was based on the concept of "there are no neutrals."
(Dad:) There are no neutrals!—There are only traitors or martyrs!—Which are you? Are you a so-called neutral—in other words, a traitor looking for a way out? Or are you a martyr looking for a way up? The martyr expects and wants to die for the cause as a witness. He'll pay any price, go any length, suffer any agony, make any sacrifice, "till death do us part" to obtain the crown. He's dying now and knows it. He dies daily and loves it. He suffers and rejoices in it. Nothing could possibly sway or turn him. He doesn't know how to be a deserter. To whom would he go?—"Thou alone hast the words of eternal life." "Give me liberty or give me death! If this be treason, make the most of it!" "Ready to fight—ready to die—for Fatherland!" "Here I stand by the grace of God!—I can do no other!"
The martyr wouldn't think of looking back!—He knows there's nothing to go back to. He dreads being a dead pillar of salt. He abhors leaving a plow deserted in the midst of the field. He is no sickening half-baked cake like neutral Ephraim! He knows what he wants and he is determined to get it! He has faith and vision, and determination, and the spirit of do or die, and he would not think of wavering! Unlike the double-minded and wavering and those whose eyes are not single, the doubting, the unbelieving, the skeptical, suspicious neutral—unlike these, the martyr is determined to go blindly on faith alone, because he has found the truth! Unlike the double-minded neutral who wavers and is unstable in all his ways, who will receive nothing from the Lord, the martyr is of one mind, one heart, one soul, one spirit, one purpose, and will not quit until he's made it! That's the martyr! There are no neutrals.—The neutral is a liar and a hypocrite! There are only martyrs or traitors! Which are you? ("There Are No Neutrals," ML #F:12,13, Vol. 1; 1970.)
47. As I said earlier, Dad's usage of the word "backslider" was similar to the concept of a deserter from the army. Nowadays, the word "backslider" has a few meanings, both from a religious standpoint and a nonreligious one. From a religious standpoint, backslider generally refers to someone who loses their faith altogether, and abandons the faith and practice of a religion they formerly professed. Its non-religious definitions include relapsing into bad habits or undesirable activities, or falling back into wrongdoing after having attempted to change a certain behavior.
48. Dad's usage of the terms "backslider" and "backsliding" was a combination of all of these definitions. He defined leaving the Family as departing from the faith on the one hand, and on the other hand, it also meant returning to bad habits and undesirable activities, and falling back into wrongdoing by returning to the System and all its evils. Although on a number of occasions, Dad did make it clear that many who left the Family continued to distribute our lit, loved the Lord, saved souls, etc., he tended to broadly classify everyone who left as backsliders. This led to people who continued loving the Lord, even though they were no longer serving Him full-time with the Family, being wrongly labeled as "backsliders."
49. I think that this was due in part to the fact that the harvest was so great, and Dad just didn't have the time to think beyond the disciples that he already had in his care to those who chose to leave and go back to the System. He didn't have the time at that point to invest in organizing expanded membership circles or networks of people who had a different level of commitment or were unable to keep up with the pace of full-time discipleship. His vision was to reap the harvest and move on to the next ripe field.
50. At that point in time, we believed that our destiny had a short time frame attached to it (only about 25 years, counting from 1968 to approximately 1993, at which point Dad originally speculated Jesus might return). That being the case, there wasn't time to build stable structures, to organize into a religious movement with expanded membership circles, and to cultivate those who couldn't be or didn't choose to be full-time disciples for whatever reason. In fact, in his later years, Dad even suggested that we send converts who were not discipleship material to the churches for fellowship and growth, as we didn't have time to provide that ourselves, and that was what the churches specialized in.
(Dad:) We cannot take care of all our converts ourselves! We are a special cadre of officers designed to lead the army, and that only of chosen soldiers. So what are all these souls we're saving going to do? Wouldn't it be better if we recommended that some of them go to church? We've got no place to invite them! We can't have them all coming into our Homes, we don't have the room, and it's not the kind of atmosphere that they're prepared for. …
This is the ready-made solution to our follow-up: All the folds of the old mainline religion, of which there are plenty, are almost empty with lots of room! So there you are! ("Go to the Churches!" ML #2867:51-52, Vol. 21; 1992.)
51. Over time, as the Family expanded and became more of an established movement, the dynamics of our membership changed quite a bit. In the early days, when Dad wrote the Letters that served as the foundation and doctrine regarding "backsliders," the Family's makeup consisted for the most part of young dropouts. Their adult lives were just beginning, and they had either just finished high school or were in college. Most didn't own properties or have parenting responsibilities.
52. When they decided, whether shortly after joining or a year or two later, that our brand of Christianity was too sacrificial, or not what they wanted to devote their lives to, they could return to their old lives with relative ease, in most cases, and pick right back up where they left off. Many young people in western countries take time off after school to travel and work in foreign countries, to serve in the Peace Corps, or to pursue other interim pursuits before settling down.
53. But as the years went by, new factors entered the equation, principally the fact that people had children and began raising families, and if they decided to retire from the Family, it was a much more complicated and difficult affair to pick up with their former lives. The Family had gone into all the world, and many people were living on foreign mission fields. Their children might have been born overseas, they had been out of the job market for many years, and going back to their former lives was not as simple as it had been in the early days. Many no longer had strong networks of friends or a close bond with relatives, as they had left their old lives behind.
54. Additionally, people who left had often given 5, 10, and sometimes 20 or 30 years of their lives to serving the Lord with the Family. Thus the original context that Dad had presented for backsliders really didn't apply to them in most cases, and people shouldn't have been considered backsliders or deserters after devoting years of their lives to the Lord's service. Some battled illnesses, or had family problems that had to be attended to; others just got tired and needed a break. Considering that prior to 1991 and the "Discipleship Training Revolution" (ML #2677), free days or vacations were quite scarce in the Family, again due to the context of the shortness of time and the urgent need to reach the world with the Gospel before Jesus' return, it's not surprising that some people got burned out or worn out.
55. The strong stance Dad had presented in the Letters regarding anyone who left the Family did not apply in many, if not most, of these cases, and should have been updated and reconsidered. A number of aspects of the policy, practice, and theological approach to former members was a carry-over from our early revolutionary days and had become outdated. The Children of God had become the Family, and the old approach toward those who departed had outlived its purpose and had become counterproductive.
56. In hindsight, the model Dad taught in the Word regarding leave-takers should have been updated to fit the context of the day, and it should have focused on how to assist people in their transition from the Family, if they chose to retire at any point. A new model should have been developed for that time that would have encouraged the Family to show our former comrades-in-arms that we loved and appreciated them and the years that they had invested in the Lord's service with us, as well as offering concrete ways for them to stay connected, if they chose to.
57. Dad did acknowledge at different points in our history that people got tired and needed extended furloughs, and on a few occasions, he declared Family-wide furloughs. He also touched on the approach of treating leave-takers like graduates or alumni, and was in favor of this approach.
(Dad:) Others I think really deserve a change and need a rest and you really have had it pretty hard on the field, and maybe you need to go home for a little while for a furlough while the kids are still small and let Grandma and Grandpa see them and help a bit with them. Maybe you're tired, maybe you're weary, maybe you just can't take it anymore for awhile! Maybe you really do need to go home, a furloughed soldier, till you get a little rest and a little recuperation, R & R. …
I don't like that business of calling them all backsliders just because they visit home! How do we know they are backslidden? Maybe that's the best they could do! A lot of them still consider themselves a part of the Family and are doing their best wherever they are, and still want the Word!
But even a genuine backslider who has left the Family feels like an old alumni! Once in, they're still curious about the Family and what it's doing now and all their old friends, and "What's MO writing now?—What kind of a crazy doctrine is he off on now?—What're his latest predictions?" etc. They still want the Letters and the Family News and to know what's happening ("Furlougher, Backslider—Or Supporter?" ML #756:42, 52-53, Vol. 6; 1979).
58. Although Dad touched on this topic, he didn't get around to seriously examining the old approach and updating it to make it applicable to the Family of the time. Dad was just one man, leading a large movement and pioneering every step of the way. His calling was to create a revolution and to rip the Family out of the System. This was an extreme calling, and it took extreme measures in some cases. As the Family became more established, Dad was still very busy, moving the Family forward, creating witnessing tools such as the posters, and working to make the Family a successful and stable movement.
59. It may be difficult to relate to this now, but remember, that's the nature of revolution—it hits hard and fast and has to seize the moment. There isn't time to sort out all the details or plan for the distant future. Once the revolution is successful and the new movement is underway, then comes the hard work of building structures, taking care of the children, providing education, and everything else. That stage came later, and Dad invested a great deal in moving the Family into that next stage, teaching Family members everything from how to manage finances and fix a vehicle to how to conduct a Church of Love.
60. Dad also had a certain style of leadership. He was a fiery prophet of God, a father and disciplinarian, a general of the Lord's Endtime army. He was God's instrument to create a spiritual revolution, and his writings were at times strong meat, in that he didn't mince his words. He was always looking forward, and his leadership style was built around taking action and getting things done right away. This didn't always lend itself to revisiting past doctrine or practice and evaluating whether it was suited for the present. In this case, the approach to leave-takers is an aspect of doctrine and policy that didn't start to get reexamined until the early 1990s.
61. People who couldn't keep up with the pace, or who weren't happy with how things were in the Family (and the physical conditions were quite difficult at different periods of our history), or who lost faith in the Word or the desire to serve the Lord, or who had personal matters that had to be attended to, and ended up deciding not to continue as members of the Family, were considered to have backslidden. For much of our history, we didn't have a concrete level of membership for people who no longer continued as full-time disciples, though a number rejoined later on or stayed in touch. But in most cases, the onus was on them to stay connected to the Family—we had a job to do and we kept advancing, leaving behind those who were not able to or who chose not to live up to discipleship commitments.
62. Throughout the years, we occasionally had allowances for less committed levels of membership, such as the IRF program in 1979 (see ML #757) and the TRF Supporter program in 1990. (For an explanation of the TRF Supporter program, see ML #3136:185-206.) These programs, however, were not aimed at building an inclusive culture or drawing members in these levels closer to the FD Family of that time. Dad also corrected leadership on a number of occasions for trying so hard to "keep" people, reminding them that the discipleship life is not for everyone, and that we needed willing volunteers.
63. But ultimately, there was a powerful stigma attached to leaving, as per Dad's Letters. Leaving meant failing God, departing from the faith, and possibly becoming an enemy or a traitor like Judas, and placed the leave-taker in line for God's judgments for abandoning God's work. This perspective painted the issues in a very black-and-white context that didn't allow much room for people to operate according to their faith when they no longer felt they could fulfill the requirements for discipleship.
64. Over time, the term "backslider," which originally referred to anyone that left the Family (many of whom had positive or neutral attitudes toward the Family and their time serving the Lord), often came to be associated with detractors and opponents, or apostates. As we became more established, some people left and became active opponents, and the terminology became mixed and took on an even more negative connotation.
65. In this series, I'm not going to address apostates or detractors, which we have had over the years and will probably continue to have, as long as we are fulfilling our mission and reaching the world. We have probably had less than 100 active apostates (people who have actively engaged in anti-Family campaigns with the goal of causing harm to the Family) throughout our history. Compared to the more than 35,000 people who have been members of the Family at some point, that is a very small percentage.
66. This statistic brings out the point that the vast majority of people who leave the Family will not become active detractors or apostates. We can't and shouldn't view every person who is in the process of leaving, or who has left, as a potential apostate or enemy who will attempt to harm or disrupt the Family. We can expect that we will continue to have a few apostates, as that's just a fact of life, but that shouldn't taint our perspective on people we once partnered with to preach the Gospel, or young people who grew up in our communities. Nor can we allow it to set the pace for our relations with leave-takers.
67. Treating those who are in the process of departing from the Family, or those who retired some time ago, as apostates in the making or future enemies can result in very unloving and intolerant actions and attitudes. Even if you try to be loving, but in your heart you're looking at someone as a potential detractor or someone who will be a negative influence in some way, that person is bound to sense your disapproval and distrust. I can only imagine how disheartening and disillusioning it would be to be treated like you're unwanted or unwelcome after you've given years of your life to the Lord and the Family. That's very sad, and a very unloving way to treat people, regardless of their decisions or attitudes.
68. Let's eradicate any such negative mindsets or labeling of people, and let's ask the Lord to help us to have and to manifest His love. Let's look at those who are in the process of leave-taking with the same eyes of love that the Lord has for each of us. He doesn't stop loving us because of our choices and actions. He even loves people who don't accept His love, much less ever serve Him. So let's make His unconditional love for others our guidepost in our relations with people who are in the process of leaving or who have already departed.
(Dad:) Sometimes we think that the Lord loves us more because we serve Him, because we're dedicated to Him, because we've given Him our lives. … But the Lord loves each person as if they were the only one, as if they were an only son—be they a [Charter] member, a [Fellow] member, a former member, or even the unsaved and incorrigible.
The Lord loves each one the same, with infinite, everlasting, unconditional, timeless love!—Whether they be a missionary, a church pastor, the CEO of a corporation, a musician in a hard rock band, a drug addict on the street, a homeless person, a soldier, a beggar, a prostitute, a terrorist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a president or a king or a prime minister, a hot dog vendor, a teenage mother, a child, a teacher—the list goes on and on and on!
Nothing people can do or say can make the Lord stop loving them. His love is just that marvelous and that perfect. It's superhuman and supernatural. That kind of love is God's. It wouldn't be so special, so tremendous, or so very different for God to love His children who are dedicated and doing their best to serve Him. Of course God, or a father, even a human being loves those who try to please, who try to serve, who try to obey. That is not the greatest testimony of God's love.
The greatest testimony and proof of the existence of God's love is that He even loves those who don't love Him! He even loves those who hate Him and reject Him, who refuse to believe and listen and receive Him.
Just think, He died for each person, each individual. And even after making that great sacrifice, if they refuse to believe, if they refuse to accept the gift of His death, He still loves them. He loves them just as much as He ever loved them. He loves them in their moment of rejecting Him as much as He loved them the moment He died for them. That's how great, how marvelous, how wonderful God's love is ("Where We're Headed," ML #3136:212-213,215-217; Vol. 24).
69. Of course, there are many complexities and issues that arise when someone is departing, and we'll cover those in detail in the next Letter in this series. But regardless of the difficulties or specifics of the different situations that arise, let's place love, respect for others, and kindness at the top of the list.
70. As an additional point regarding detractors and apostates, I believe that we also may have developed a tendency of associating former member activities, or the complaints of those who are not happy with their time in the Family, with the persecutions we suffered in the early 1990s. These persecutions were caused directly by the activities of apostates in many cases, and they resulted in very stressful and traumatic experiences for a number of Family members. It's to be expected that this would make you leery of people who are vocal in their negative feelings toward the Family or in their disagreement with our policies or doctrines.
71. The alienation and suspicion toward former members that was generated by the raids is a pretty normal, human reaction to the trauma and hardships Family members faced at that time. The raids and persecutions of the early 1990s played a role in shaping our current outlook toward former member relations. It took some time to move away from that negative context, and though Word was published in the mid-1990s to promote reconciliation with former members, the images of raids, children in institutions, incarcerated adults, and the trauma this produced was still quite fresh in many people's minds.
72. If you or your children or siblings suffered the hardships of the persecutions the Family underwent in that era, and these experiences continue to affect your perspective toward former members, please ask the Lord to help you to forgive and to not allow the actions of a very small number of people—a handful, in fact—to taint your perspectives.
73. When Ricky took his and Angela's lives in 2005, this once again served to polarize issues and made it necessary for us to place our focus on former members who were actively campaigning against the Family. At the time, the Lord led many of you to contend for the faith through posting your feelings and reactions on www.myconclusion.org, as the media was not giving us a fair shake and, in conjunction with our apostates, was using Ricky's actions to paint the Family in a very negative light. Mama and I were proud of you for standing up for your personal convictions about the Family. A lot of what was posted had a confrontational tone to it, and at that time it was the appropriate tone. It showed the media where young Family members stood and was a powerful testimony.
74. Thank the Lord, He helped us to weather those storms, and the media campaigns of 2005 had very little impact overall on our work. Recently, the Lord led the administrators of My Conclusion to effectively "bury the hatchet" by giving a new look and focus to the site. If you haven't had the opportunity to visit the new and improved www.myconclusion.org, check it out!
75. Although the response to the detractor campaigns of 2005 was appropriate for its day, Mama and I want to point out that confrontational debates with former members is not the way to go today. Nor do we want to equate those extreme incidences where we have had to enter into the public debate to respond to our apostates with our relations with the majority of leave-takers. (For more on debates with detractors, please see "Opposition Equals Opportunity, Part 2," ML #3783:141-158.)
76. In October 1993, the Lord led Mama and me, with Dad's blessing, to begin to work toward bridging the gap and repairing breaches in our relations with our former members, by opening dialogue with a number of them. At the time, the majority of leave-takers were from the first generation, while only a small percentage represented second generation leave-takers. This was the beginning of what later became known as the Ministry of Reconciliation.
77. In October 1996, I attended a fellowship for Fellow and former members in the U.S., and later that year, I met with several former members for further dialogue, along with some of the RSs from the U.S. (See ML #3068.) As I expressed at the time in "An Open Letter to All Current and Former Members" (ML #3091), there was a healthy and spirited exchange of ideas, grievances, and explanations, and by the end of these meetings, everyone who attended had a much better understanding of the issues.
78. One point that became abundantly clear through these meetings was that good communication is crucial to breaking down barriers between former and current members. Communication may not always be easy, but we have found that in most cases, it bears good fruit, clears the air, and helps us all to understand each other. Eventually, trust can be built, resulting in a positive relationship. This is an important goal to shoot for in our relations with former members.
79. Genuine respect for the choices others have made is a key element to building and maintaining constructive relationships with leave-takers. As I explained at the time, "Those who have left the Family had personal reasons for doing so, and their choice should be respected. It should be remembered that former members at one time were current members who lived and worked with us. Just like you, they forsook all to serve Jesus with the Family. … God loves us all the same as His children, and we should behave as brothers and sisters and treat each other with love and respect" (ML #3091:10a).
80. Here is a brief list of other points Mama and I made in that GN regarding building good relations with leave-takers:
* There are doctrinal and other issues on which current and former members will disagree. In most cases, if former members agreed with everything the Family believes, they would still be in the Family. Therefore, when entering into communication together, both parties should understand that they most likely disagree on some—or many—subjects. However, this does not need to hinder or prevent communication.
* Some former members do not hold Dad and Maria [or me] in high esteem, which is their right. So when communicating with these former members, it's best to avoid using the phrases "Dad said" or "Mama said."
* For numerous reasons, there is often an element of mistrust between current and former members. Everyone should be aware of this and be sensitive to it. We suggest that you dwell on the positive, discuss points of agreement, and seek to find common ground, so that the seed of trust can be planted and nurtured.
* If the first attempt to communicate [with a former member] does not go well, don't give up! Try again. It's inevitable that things will be said that would have been better left unsaid, especially at first when both parties might feel a little awkward or unsure of how to communicate with each other. But please don't let that close the door to your contact. There may be a great deal of pent-up emotion from over the years, or there may be fear or any number of other reasons why the first conversation doesn't go well.
* We, the Family's leadership, have acknowledged that some former members were treated unfairly, harshly, and in an unloving manner, and we have officially apologized for this in a number of publications. However, it's important to understand that not every Family member was responsible for or caused the hurt experienced by those who left the Family, just like not every former member was responsible for the trauma suffered by Family members and their children at the hands of the media and government authorities.
* Current members should understand that the vast majority of former members should not be looked upon as enemies. They are brothers and sisters in the Lord who have chosen a different way of life, but they are not enemies or reprobates. (Excerpts of ML #3091:10a-l; 1996.)
81. These steps toward reconciliation were very fruitful, and lines of communication were opened, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, with former members. In 1997, the Winepress ministry was created as a grassroots initiative (see www.thewinepress.org) that helped to provide a communication point with leave-takers who want to be connected with the Family. The focus of this ministry has been to provide a form of fellowship for those wanting to stay in touch, along with information and devotional materials in a digest of current Family publications.
82. A good deal of progress was made during the 1990s to repair our relations with former members and to cultivate a more tolerant culture in the Family. However, a number of very deep-seated practices and mindsets have continued to exist in the Homes. Despite the fact that some gradual change and improvement occurred over the past 15 years, this did not bring about the radical and far-reaching change in culture and mindset that is needed.
83. Additionally, in 2000, during the "Shakeup 2000" (S2K), the Lord led us to zoom in on the negative trends that had arisen in the Homes, and the need to become more separate from the influences of the world. From the time that the Charter had been implemented in 1995, allowing for greater autonomy and self-determination, a gradual decline of purity, dedication, and spirituality had occurred. (See ML #3257:2). This series covered, among other things, the negative influence that contact with former members could have on Family children or young people and emphasized the importance of minimizing that influence by placing boundaries on the amount of contact and limiting it to the minimum or discontinuing it altogether. Negative contact broadly referred to any kind of influence that was not in line with discipleship, or was worldly or materialistic.
(Mama:) If you feel the need to cease contact with someone, or to put some boundaries and rules on what kind of fellowship you'll allow with … former members, don't feel bad or guilty about it. You're doing what you should do, as good shepherds, to protect your children and flock. Dad explains that your primary responsibility is to your flock and children. You are under no obligation to fellowship with … former members.
However, if the Lord shows you the need to cut the contact or employ safeguards, you should do so as lovingly and sweetly as possible. Please try not to be offensive. We're still seeking to live in unity with … those who have chosen to leave the Family, but keeping the Family pure in spirit is an even greater priority at this time ("More on the Shakeup 2000!" ML #3262:196-197; GN 863).
84. As Mama explained, the goal was not to undermine the efforts of the Family to build good relations with former members. Our priority shifted to strengthening the Family, even if it had to come at the expense of our relations with leave-takers. A number of second generation members, in particular, left the Family from 2000 onwards, and from what we have heard, many of them felt cut off or isolated from the Family due to this position. Mama and I are sincerely sorry about that, and in hindsight, certainly wish that hadn't occurred. We will discuss this point in the next Letter and the importance of offering our assistance and support to second generation members in transition.
85. Today we have a new context: the Offensive. In order to meet the challenges of the future, and to grow and expand and become what the Lord is asking us to be so that we can bear fruit for Him, we can't afford to slowly and gradually change our mindsets, attitudes, and culture in our relations with leave-takers. We need to make a clean sweep and rid ourselves of any judgmental and intolerant attitudes that still exist in our hearts and Homes toward those who retire from active service or choose another path in life. We need to be a Family of love that embraces others, regardless of the choices they make, and continues to show love, kindness, and charitable attitudes toward others.
86. I was thinking recently about the word "charity," which is often used in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 13, as you know, the translators chose the word "charity" for that timeless explanation of how Christian love is manifested. The modern definitions for the word charity are very interesting and applicable to our new context: "tolerant attitude; the willingness to judge people in a tolerant or favorable way; the impartial love of other people; benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity; love, universal benevolence, good will; liberality in judging of men and their actions; a disposition which inclines men to put the best construction on the words and actions of others; a kindly attitude toward people."
87. These struck me as qualities that we as a Family will want to cultivate in our relations with others, in particular with leave-takers—even those who may not be so friendly or benevolent. May we become known, including among our leave-takers, as tolerant, generous toward others, kindly, and of a disposition that seeks to put people's words and actions in the best light.
With malice toward none, with charity for all.—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there.—Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) American minister; poet
The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example … to all men, charity.—Francis Maitland Balfour (1851-1882)
88. Now I'm going to review the concepts that have existed in the Word regarding leave-takers, including the biblical foundation on which they were built. In order to better understand why Family culture has developed the way it has, we need to look at the foundation and reach an understanding of how the Lord wants us to look at these issues today.
89. Many of the older concepts regarding leave-takers are quite dated, and have been somewhat distanced from the Family's culture of today. For example, we rarely use the term "backslider" nowadays, and it has been used very rarely in Family publications for the past 15 years. However, the underlying negative attitudes attached to the concept persist, regardless of what label is used, and it's important that we understand what they are, so that we can eradicate them and adopt the new attitudes the Lord is asking us to take on.
90. As I mentioned earlier, Dad generally took an uncompromising and stern approach in the Letters toward people who left the Family. Although he tempered this stance with exhortations to the Family to be kind to them, it was clear that he considered that by leaving the Family, people were making a wrong choice, and one that would lead them out of God's will and to the System. He also spoke of the judgments that were likely to fall on those who backslid, as the Lord wouldn't be able to protect or bless them because of their departure from His will and disobedience to His plan for their lives.
91. Some of the Bible verses this stance is built on are:
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2Peter 2:20-22).
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance (Hebrews 6:4-6).
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).
The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him (Ezra 8:22).
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).
92. The apostle Paul, for example, was very uncompromising toward those who turned away from the faith in his writings, and he obviously encountered a fair bit of trouble from apostates and detractors, who were hindering the progress of God's work. Of course, these verses are only one side of the picture, and it's important to balance scripture with scripture. Although Jesus, for example, proclaimed a strong message of forsaking all to those who would be His disciples, He also loved and had compassion on the people who didn't become His disciples, and He had many, many close friends who didn't follow Him full-time, whom He received and didn't condemn, some of whom were considered His disciples, such as Joseph of Arimathaea (Mat.27:57).
93. Paul took a tough stance toward those who departed from the faith, but he also spoke with equal force against judgmental attitudes: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" (Romans 14:10,12-13).
94. The simple fact is that these verses regarding those who depart from the faith do exist in the Bible. While the Lord said, I am married to the backslider (Jer.3:14) and His love for those who depart from the faith is manifested throughout the Scripture, He also made some very strong statements about people who go back on the faith and forsake Him. He's God and He has the right to make these statements and warnings.
95. By the same token, He's the only One Who knows the thoughts and intents of man's heart. He's the judge of all things. As such, even though God gave warnings about the dangers of departing from the faith in the Bible, we need to remember that He's the judge of others; we're not. It's not our place to project the consequences proclaimed in these verses on others.—And unfortunately we've often done just that over the years. The general attitude of the Family has been negative and judgmental in regard to leave-takers. We took on a role of judging others—a role that belongs only to the Lord.
96. Jesus lambasted the scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness in Matthew 23; clearly, He considers it terrible. Dad said self-righteousness was one of the worst sins in God's book, which includes judging or labeling people. Treating people in an unloving, judgmental, harsh or unkind way is ungodly. It's not doing to others as you would have them do to you, and that should have no place within our Family. We must all work to change our mindsets in these matters and not exercise ourselves in judgments that are way above our "pay grade," so to speak, as flawed and faulty human beings.
97. Part of the reason that Dad was so uncompromising on this issue is that he often tended to associate a person's leaving full-time discipleship in the Family to abandoning their faith. This mindset became a widespread part of our culture, and many Family members today still have a tendency of equating a person's leaving the Family with forsaking their faith altogether. This is a wrong mindset. Departing from the Family should not be automatically equated with departing from the faith. Many who retire from the Family, if not most, retain their Christian faith and many also practice it actively by witnessing and continuing to abide by godly principles. Although they are no longer members of our organization, that does not mean that they have abandoned their faith.
98. Dad was very aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the System, and how hard it is to live a life of faith in the System. He had witnessed on some occasions people who thought they could live the life of discipleship in the System but ended up having to face the reality of how difficult it was to serve the Lord while living in the System. This led to his position that "you either work for God or you're going to have to go back and work for the Devil" (ML #772:12, Vol. 6). Dad's take on this point tended to be quite black and white and made it difficult for those who felt they needed to follow a different path in life.
99. This position didn't provide much room for building expanded membership circles or finding ways to draw in and incorporate those who couldn't or didn't have the faith to serve the Lord full-time, or simply wanted a less committed or simpler form of Christianity. Ultimately, because of the stigma attached to "backsliders," the overall tendency was to distance ourselves from them altogether, which in a number of cases caused quite a bit of hurt and bitterness. This was particularly difficult when a husband or wife departed and their spouse and children continued in the Family, or when grown children departed and their parents remained.
100. Communication and fellowship possibilities were often quite limited for those who departed and perhaps would have liked to maintain contact. Nor was there a mechanism in place to maintain a connection with those who were still with us in spirit, or who needed the connection to family and loved ones to provide support as they transitioned into a life outside of the Family. The mobile nature of the Family of the time also didn't lend itself to providing the framework needed to maintain networks of friends or supporters, or offer membership on some level.
101. In summary, Dad generally applied the term "backslider" to any who left the Family, regardless of their motives or reasons, and whether they continued in the faith, despite not serving the Lord full-time or with the Family. He also associated those who left with Judas, as possible traitors who could betray the Family and the Lord, in order to be able to reinsert themselves into the System. While this did occur in some cases, it was the exception, not the rule, and should not have been applied in a general way. The term "backslider" over time became closely associated with enemies and apostates, and those who would wish the Family harm. Because our context at the time was that people who left the Family were considered to be out of God's will and resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they therefore couldn't be trusted and could become traitors to the cause, in order to become accepted by the System.
102. This was an extreme application of the word "backslider." Of course, to put this in context, Dad also called himself a backslider while he was in the U.S. army, even though he continued to love the Lord, to witness, and to serve Him the best he could. He explained that this may have caused him to overcompensate and overreact at times on this issue:
(Dad:) The bird whose pinion was once broken, by the grace of God will fly even higher than before, and the straying sheep whose leg had to be broken will have to remain in the Shepherd's bosom so long he will never stray again! He knows the price; he's been through that hell of backsliding and he wants no more of it ever again! He'll work harder than he ever did before and he'll hate backsliding more than ever and will have less patience with the backslider than ever before!—I oughtta know: I was one!—And who hasn't been at some time or other? Maybe this is why I've overreacted and gone so far by overcompensating to the opposite extreme in my revolutionary turnaround to go the opposite direction in my fight upstream against the System and all the Devil's tricks, especially backsliding! ("Backsliding," ML #313C:10, Vol.3; 1974.)
103. I want to make a clear and strong statement here on this point: Mama and I do not consider that people who choose to leave the Family are backsliders, much less enemies in the making or potential traitors or apostates. We have taken on a different application of the Scriptures over time, and for the past 15 years our publications have very rarely referred to those who leave as backslidden.
104. Mama and I don't consider people who leave the Family to be backsliders. People who chose to retire from active service after faithfully serving the Lord for some time in the Family should not have been labeled as backsliders. We don't feel that any of us are in a position to judge people or the choices they make. That is something that is a personal matter between the individual and the Lord, and we should not interfere with their God-given majesty of free choice. Nor can we presume to know what God's plan is for those people, or how He will operate in their lives, according to the choices they freely make. We don't consider that a person has to be a Family member or serve the Lord with us to be "of the faith." Again, it is not our place to judge people, to label, or categorize them. As the quote goes, "God is God, and we are not." (See "God Is God," HIM.)
105. Sad to say, the term "backslider" also came to be applied to Family-born young people who decided upon coming of age that they would pursue a different career. I will cover this point in more detail in the next part of this series, but Mama and I want to state for the record that we do not consider second or third generation members to be backsliders when they exercise their right of free choice to pursue a life outside the Family. Nor should any of us presume to pass judgment (with our words or in our hearts) on the decisions that people—young or old—make when they choose to retire from the Family or pursue a different career.
106. With this Letter, we are officially terminating the use of the word "backslider." We particularly must eradicate from our culture any judgmental and critical attitudes that are attached to this concept, regardless of what label is used. The past application of these concepts caused a great deal of hurt, discouragement, and misunderstandings, and set the tone for the Family's culture for many years. We are very sorry for the hurt that this has caused people, and the separation or alienation of families and loved ones. Our goal is to be a Family of love, to nurture reconciliation where possible, and bonds of friendship. We want to make it possible for those who retire from active service or pursue a different career to feel supported and loved, and to be able, if they choose, to maintain bonds of friendship or continue to consider themselves part of the Family.
107. The Lord is calling us to make a complete and unequivocal change in our relations with leave-takers, and to adopt a new model for today's context. We want to completely eradicate the "backslider" concept and all the negative mindsets attached to it. Our mindset for today should be one of love, tolerance, and inclusiveness, as much as possible. We are seeking to build an inclusive culture, and these negative mindsets kill inclusiveness and breed self-righteous and judgmental attitudes, making it nearly impossible for ongoing relations and friendship to flourish.
108. We will avoid judging or labeling people or their choices. While we may encounter situations where former members have taken on an adversarial or confrontational approach, we will not allow those rarer instances to set the pace for our relations with those who retire from the Family or choose another path in life. Our goal will be to embrace those who wish to stay connected in some way or continue to be a part of the Family at any level, to nurture bonds of friendship as much as possible, and to create a culture of inclusiveness, tolerance, and acceptance in our Homes. We will pray for our leave-takers—that the Lord will bless and prosper them in their lives and new situations.
109. In order to build a more inclusive culture, we will need a much greater measure of love, acceptance, and tolerance of others. It may test your people-handling skills at times, when attempting to improve relations with leave-takers, especially those who may have issues regarding some aspect of the Family or their past experiences. It probably won't be as easy as working with your contacts and friends with whom you don't have a history or haven't shared the same faith life and goals. But it's important to remember that our leave-takers are our former comrades-in-arms, and people that we have worked with, lived with, and loved for many years. The experiences and love we shared are eternal, and the Lord does not forget all that they poured into His work and others—and neither should we.
110. Many of the people who pioneered the Family are no longer with us. The Lord blessed the Family with many outstanding revolutionaries and missionaries throughout our history, who circled the globe with the Gospel, composed music that changed lives, raised many children, and struggled through the hardships and difficulties of the faith life. The Family would not exist without their efforts. The blood, sweat, and tears of these wonderful people are the foundation of our movement.
111. Many of those who once fought by our side were gifted evangelists, outstanding musicians, faithful disciple- and soul-winners, and fearless pioneers who dared to go and attempt what had never been done before. Many singlehandedly built works from scratch in foreign countries, and trained nationals who carried on the work long after they departed; they witnessed to presidents and royalty; they distributed MO Letters on the streets by the millions; they lived off provisioned donuts if necessary, and endured extremely difficult physical conditions at times. They are heroes in our book and outstanding warriors of faith, whether they are still in the Family today or not. They are part of our heritage.
112. The Lord blessed us with them for a time—some for decades—and then they left, whether it was because they got weary or had a hard time with the fast-changing pace of the Family, or things happened that hurt or discouraged them, or they lost faith in the Word and our unique doctrines, or they had obligations to loved ones to attend to. There are so many reasons why people leave, and only the Lord can fully understand the reasons behind the choices each of us make. Our brand of full-time service requires a very high degree of service and commitment, and many find it difficult to maintain that pace permanently.
113. We should count ourselves honored to have had such outstanding missionaries and co-laborers partnering with us in reaching the world with His love, for whatever amount of time they contributed to and invested in our cause. A departing missionary should never be made to feel like a failure or looked down upon—certainly not by his or her fellow missionaries. The Lord will reward them for what they were able to invest in His work. We should also reward them with our love, respect, and kindness, expressed both in words and in actions.
114. Let's thank the Lord for our former comrades-in-arms, shall we? Let's ask the Lord to help us to love, honor, respect, and accept the choices of those who either retire from the Family or pursue a different lifestyle or career.
115. We need to make it our goal to be loving and caring in all our relations with those in the process of leave-taking, or those who have already left our ranks. Please do everything you can to show your support—both practical and spiritual—to those who are in transition.
116. In summary, our goals for our relations with leave-takers are:
a) Be loving, kind, and tolerant of the life choices of others.
b) Avoid judging, labeling, or showing disapproval of leave-takers or their choices.
c) Assist, support, and do what you can to ease the transition of those in the process of leave-taking.
d) Strive to maintain good, open communication as much as possible.
e) Welcome those who wish to remain in communication or fellowship.
f) Honor and respect leave-takers for their contribution to the Family.
117. In closing, here is a message from the Lord emphasizing the key ingredient to success in all these goals: love.
118. (Jesus:) The cornerstone of your relations with those who depart from your fellowship—and anyone else in this life, in fact—is love and tolerance. The rules I mapped out for human relations were simple, and yet they hold as true today as they ever did: Love thy neighbor as thyself; owe no man anything but to love one another; whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; the greatest of these is love (Mat.22:39; Rom.13:8; Mat.7:12; 1Cor.13:13).
119. Tolerance is one of love's many faces, and it is one that I want the Family to embrace and become intimately acquainted with. My will is for the Family of the future to be known for its tolerance and love for others, manifested in kind words and deeds regardless of membership or status or religion or lifestyle; sympathy for the burdens of others; compassion for those who falter or fail; understanding for those who choose other paths in life; respect for the decisions and choices people make as they exercise their God-given right to the majesty of choice.
120. Tolerance represents generosity of spirit, fairness, and kindness toward others. It does not look upon another to judge, label, categorize, or criticize. Nor does it second-guess the choices of others, or rejoice when those choices go awry. It does not stand by, waiting for the opportunity to proclaim itself master of the truth, or to triumph at others' losses or difficulties. It hopes for the best for others. It prays for the well-being and happiness of others. It trusts in My perfect love and plan for the life of each individual.
121. Your role is never to serve as judge or jury for the lives and choices of others. That role is reserved for Me alone, for only I can understand a matter from beginning to end; only I see the inner thoughts and feelings of the heart; only I know the weights others carry, the difficulties they face; only I know how the choices each person makes will play out in the bigger picture of things. So do not presume to set yourself up as a judge of others or to know My will for their lives. Not only will you hurt others who will feel your disapproval and criticism, but you will open the door for self-righteousness in your life, which will hinder your spiritual life and walk with Me.
122. Acknowledge that you do not know My will or plan for the life of another, nor can you judge their faith or walk with Me—that is reserved for Me alone. Instead of judging the choices of others, applaud and thank those who chose to give their lives in service for Me for however long they chose to do so. If they decide to depart and take on a different role or career for their lives, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me" and My will for your life (Jn. 21:22). You should continue to be thankful for their hearts and lives devoted to My service, for great will be their reward in Heaven.
123. If you are tempted to judge or criticize others' decisions in this way, perish the thought, and certainly perish the words! Can you know what the outcome of their choices will be, or how I will work in their lives? Remind yourself that I love each of My children as if they were the only one, and My love and care for each person extends far beyond your limited ability to comprehend or understand.
124. You may not always be able to walk together with someone who has not only departed from the Family, but has departed from the faith altogether, or who opposes your faith. But you will always be able to exercise tolerance, to respect people as My creations, and to pray that I will work in their hearts and lives to help them and care for them. You may have to agree to disagree with some people on different issues, while continuing to be an example of My love that knows no boundaries.
125. Tolerance for others will be crucial if you are to build an inclusive culture. So start exercising tolerance with those who decide to adopt a new course or career for their lives—encourage, support, and assist them as they make the transition so that they will know that My love for them is unconditional. Keep the doors of your hearts open and the fires burning warmly so that they will know that there is always a place for them at your hearth.
126. That's how wonderful love is—love is always. Be known for your love, manifested in tolerance and kindness to all men.
FD/MM/FM; ML#3787; June 2009
(Peter:) The Lord wants us all to take on a much more understanding and supportive outlook toward Family members who choose other careers or paths in life. In order to build a new inclusive culture of greater acceptance of others and understanding of people's choices and levels of commitment to the Lord and His service, we will need to make a radical change in this department. Many of our past attitudes, perspectives, and practices—even those that are rooted in past Word on the topic—will not serve us well in the future, and must be eliminated or updated with the Lord's new approach for today.
Today we have a new context: the Offensive. In order to meet the challenges of the future, and to grow and expand and become what the Lord is asking us to be so that we can bear fruit for Him, we can't afford to slowly and gradually change our mindsets, attitudes, and culture in our relations with leave-takers. We need to be a Family of love that embraces others, regardless of the choices they make, and continues to show love, kindness, and charitable attitudes toward others. We need to make a clean sweep and rid ourselves of any judgmental and intolerant attitudes that still exist in our hearts and Homes toward those who retire from active service or choose another path in life.
People who chose to retire from active service after faithfully serving the Lord in the Family should not have been labeled as backsliders. None of us are in a position to judge people or the choices they make. Nor should any of us presume to pass judgment on the decisions that people—young or old—make when they choose to retire from the Family or pursue a different career. That is a personal matter between the individual and the Lord, and we should not interfere with their God-given majesty of free choice. Nor can we presume to know what God's plan is for those people, or how He will operate in their lives, according to the choices they freely make. We don't consider that a person has to be a Family member or serve the Lord with us to be "of the faith."
It is not our place to judge people, to label, or to categorize people. While we may encounter situations where former members have taken on an adversarial or confrontational approach, we must not allow those rarer instances to set the pace for our relations with those who retire from the Family or choose another path in life. Our goal is to embrace those who wish to stay connected in some way or continue to be a part of the Family at any level, to nurture bonds of friendship as much as possible, and to create a culture of inclusiveness, tolerance, and acceptance within the Family. We will pray for our leave-takers—that the Lord will bless and prosper them in their lives and new situations.
Our leave-takers are our former comrades-in-arms. The experiences and love we shared are eternal, and the Lord does not forget all that they poured into His work and others—and neither should we.
Let's make the Lord's unconditional love for others our guidepost in our relations with people who are in the process of leaving or who have already departed. Let's make it possible for those who retire from active service or pursue a different career to feel supported and loved, and to be able, if they choose, to maintain bonds of friendship or continue to consider themselves part of the Family.
In summary, our goals for our relations with leave-takers are:
a) Be loving, kind, and tolerant of the life choices of others.
b) Avoid judging, labeling, or showing disapproval of leave-takers or their choices.
c) Assist, support, and do what you can to ease the transition of those in the process of leave-taking.
d) Strive to maintain good, open communication as much as possible.
e) Welcome those who wish to remain in communication or fellowship.
f) Honor and respect leave-takers for their contribution to the Family.
Copyright © 2009 by The Family International