"My Involvement With Destructive Abusive Churches"

By Wanda Mason

As I write this, my emotions range from nostalgia to nausea. There were good times as well as bad. From 1970 to 1991, for over twenty years, I was involved with churches that I now believe to be cults. This movement started with William Sowders in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. It was also known as the School of the Prophets, The Latter Rain Movement and the Body of Christ. Individual churches go by different names like Gospel Chapel, Gospel Assembly, Gospel Tabernacle, Gospel Temple, General Assembly, Gospel of Peace and etc.

Most have a central doctrine, such as two in the Godhead and no literal hell. There would only be 144,000 in the Bride of Christ. Restoration of the five-fold ministry, including Apostles and Prophets and that they would rule the world and every one would have to submit to them. That every church outside of the "Body of Christ" was a part of "Babylon." Women are not equal with men and have no authority in anything and must always submit to men. Most of them have an extreme dress code, especially for the women, but for men also.

Most of these doctrines separate them from mainstream denominations, but the different groups have a special mixture of doctrine that separate them from each other. Some believe that there is a literal devil and demons while others believe that the devil is the "flesh." Some believe you have to overcome the flesh and sex. Some go to the other extreme. Some believe in sterilization for men and women stating that children wouldn’t have time to grow up because Armageddon is coming so soon. Others encouraged members to have children so they could be trained from an early age.

My personal opinion is that it’s not what a group "believes" about the Bible--because beliefs can be a matter of interpretation, it’s what they "do" that brings them into the position of possibly being a destructive cult. If you look at the definition of a cult and compare that to many religions, you could even say that Jesus was a cult leader. But in my opinion, it’s a matter of how much control is used in a person’s life and over their minds and the amount of information control and isolation from family and friends. Cults have a black and white answer to all of life’s problems. It makes it easy for people who want to escape reality, but at the price of giving up their identity.

The first church that I became involved in for any length of time was Gospel Tabernacle in Fort Worth, Texas. I was in this church for five years. One of the doctrines of this particular branch is that "sex" was the fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden (the forbidden fruit). The pastor, Lundy Keller, who is now deceased, taught that we would have to "overcome" sex if we were to be saved! To have a child was practically a sin. Many young men, including my brother, (who is still in that church now) were told to have vasectomies, some, even before they got married.

I had two children when I got into the church and had an appointment to get my tubes tied when I became pregnant for the third time. One of the women in the church told me that Keller would want me to get an abortion. I cried for weeks, but knew that I could not abort my child. He did not ask me to get an abortion, but I did get my tubes tied when my son was born--at Keller’s request. I remember one young woman, whose husband had a vasectomy at Keller's request. She came up to me after my son was born and said, "I'd rather go to hell than to live my life without a child!" My own brother will never have a child of his own. He and his wife were crazy about my children and wanted their own desperately, but they really believe they made that "sacrifice for God"!

There was really no dress code at this branch, but we still looked to Lundy Keller for direction in all phases of our lives. He did not fellowship at any other church in the world--although he did have his beginnings with William Sowders. The world and God was so small! We were not to visit another church. My brother was even forbidden to come to our Father's funeral when he passed away in 1988. They teach that if you don't attend that church, then you're damned! Before Lundy Keller died, he told the people not to ever go to another church. They are just to listen to his tapes until the Lord returns. My father was a minister for fifty years! But to them, he was spiritually dead because he wasn't part of that church. They use the scripture in Matthew 8:22 where Jesus said, "let the dead bury their own dead and come and follow me." They twist and pervert scripture to fit their own perverted needs!

When we moved to Des Moines in 1975, the whole church in Ft. Worth disowned us. According to them we were no longer under God's covering and were to be considered "dead" to God.

I was involved with the church in Des Moines for sixteen years.

Lloyd Goodwin was the Senior Pastor in Des Moines and the only "Apostle" of all the churches he controlled. He was trained under William Sowders and then Thomas (Tom) Jolly. After William Sowders death, Jolly became the "head" leader, so to speak, of all the different assemblies. Then Goodwin separated himself and his church from all of them and started building his own following around the world. He went to India, Africa, Haiti, Canada and all over the United States. He still has followers in all these places, even though he is dead. He was a charismatic leader and a mesmerizing teacher. William Sowders, Tom Jolly & Lloyd Goodwin have all passed away, but others keep it going on.

The Gospel Assembly in Des Moines did not practice sterilization as a rule. Lloyd Goodwin actually encouraged people to have children so that the church could grow from the inside and they could be indoctrinated early on. The church was very controlled and seemed like a really safe place to be. You didn't have to worry whether something was right or wrong. They told you. You were told how to dress, wear your hair, where to live, what kind of car to drive, where you could go, what you could do and not do, what you could listen to on the radio and TV was forbidden. Our children, at that time, could not have a bicycle or go to the public library.

My sister, Sharon (Dotson) Netzer, of Springfield, Missouri, and her family had moved to Des Moines several months before we did. They wrote us letters telling us what a wonderful place it was. Sharon worked as a monitor in the Christian school. They seemed so happy. It sounded like a dream come true. So we moved to Des Moines. Not long after we got here, she went to Goodwin for counseling and as she told him her problem she started crying. He took advantage of her weakness and kissed and fondled her. She was unable to settle for an affair and keep the "secret" so he forced their family to leave. After she told me what had been going on with her, I went to him and confronted him. He, his wife and another woman in the church convinced me that my sister was lying and in fact had tried to seduce him! They said that she was just mad because he had rejected her and she was full of demons. I was not allowed to speak to her or go to her home or have her in mine. There was a tremendous amount of suffering, not only for her and I but also for our families. They moved to Missouri and ended up divorced.

She wrote me letters and I was upset because I didn't know what to believe. I talked to Goodwin about it. He instructed me to send them back unopened. He told me to write her a letter and told me what to write and gave me all the bible scriptures to show me why it was the right thing to do. I really believed I was doing the right thing. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I wrote the letter disowning my own sister. I told her that she was a liar, a whore and a Potiphor's wife (like Joseph and Potiphor's wife in the Bible), that I knew she had tried to seduce "the man of God"! I told her I never wanted to hear from her again. Goodwin asked to read the letter and said that I had done a good job. He asked if he could make a copy for his files and of course, I said yes. He was almost like God to me. I didn't find out until two years later that he had made several copies of my letter and sent them out to other ministers. He felt that if they saw a letter written by her sister, they would believe it.

One of my friends, Linda Verwers, was at our house in 1977 and told me that I shouldn't have written the letter because my sister was telling the truth! She said that it had happened with others as well. I called my sister immediately and for the first time in two years I spoke to her and told her how sorry I was. She understood. Even after all that, I stayed. I felt that Goodwin was still the "man of God". He had made some mistakes and was human. After all, as he told us many times, "remember David and Bathsheba?" The thing that he failed to mention in David's case, was that when the prophet Nathan, confronted David with his sin with Bathsheba, David admitted it and repented and stopped doing it to anyone else. (He always compared himself to King David and compared Tom Jolly to Saul.)

During the next four years, money was raised to build a new church at 7135 Meredith Drive in Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines. The people, us included, sold our homes and gave the equity to the church. We kept only enough money to pay down on another house. Some of the people ended up losing their homes a few years later because of really high interest rates. Our men worked day and night in the rain and freezing cold, mud and snow. Families were neglected. The women worked when and where they could, hanging wallpaper, sweeping and cleaning. We took turns taking care of each other's children so all could help. Our whole lives revolved around the church. This was our family. All, to build a kingdom for Lloyd L. Goodwin. He never so much as lifted a finger to do any manual labor. The men couldn't even roll their sleeves up when it was steaming hot.

The building was completed in 1980. Later an apartment complex was completed and a new parochial School building around 1993, I believe. Goodwin claimed that all this was to show people that God had blessed "his ministry." In truth, it was the result of the blood, sweat, tears, financial sacrifices, broken lives and homes of many sincere, honest, Christian people who felt, as I did, that they were doing it for God. After we moved into the new church, I became disillusioned. It seemed that no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn't do enough. No matter how much you gave, you should give more. We gave 10% of our gross income, offerings, pledges and school tuition. He would say, "you shouldn't go to McDonalds after church, put that money in the offering." Yet he and his wife and close friends ate at the fanciest restaurants. He drove a Lincoln or Cadillac and lived in a fancy home furnished with the best! They had a second home, also furnished with the very best, in Colorado. He had not worked at another job in many years, so most of it came from the church and outside offerings. We gave many thousands of dollars over the years.

In 1985, I married my present husband. We lived in Texas for a year and a half and even after six years of being out of this church, I was still mentally connected. During those years that I had been away, I had still sent all my tithes and offerings to Lloyd Goodwin. I still thought that if I couldn't get back to that church that I couldn't be saved. My husband very reluctantly, moved us back up here.

I know this sounds unbelievable, but it's true. I'm an intelligent woman, above average I.Q. People say "WHY"? It's hard to answer, except that the teaching sounds so "right." You are intimidated. You are threatened with God's judgment. We even made an oath that we would keep our own "Ten Covenants or Commandments!" This gave him even more control over our lives.

The women were humiliated and taught that they were to obey their husbands no matter what. He (Goodwin) told a friend that if her husband told her to jump off a cliff, she had to obey! When she left the church, they told her husband to divorce her, which he did. Here is an example of some of his teaching and this is verbatim. April of 1991: "The devil has made idiots out of women, they are fickle and the devil continually makes fools out of them. They are silly and stupid and many go haywire. There is no enmity between the devil and the man, just the woman. She's emotional and not capable of thinking for herself! She is used by the devil to do much, much, much more damage than a man could ever do! No man on the face of the earth could sink as low as a woman when she sinks!"

These statements were the catalysts that jarred my mind and started me thinking critically.

After four years back here, I knew it was wrong. I went to the home of my sister, Betty Edmondson, in Arkansas and she helped me through this dark, but very fruitful time of my life. Although there are good professional deprogrammers who work with victims of mind control, in my case it was her and the Lord who assisted in my "deprogramming". I was there for nine days and she gave me books to read, such as, "Jonestown," "The Perfect Victim," history and other books. It took me several hours before I could even begin talking about what was going on in Des Moines. I was afraid that God was going to send down lightening or something! Finally, I just said "God, if you want to strike me dead, go ahead and do it." That's just the point that I had to get to. Then it was like a dam bursting.

At first, I argued back with scriptures that I had been indoctrinated with and Betty finally just got the Bible and laid it on a footstool and suggested that we just start all over. We went back to the basics.

I felt like I was in labor! I walked the floor, I cried, I became sick at my stomach, I read and read and read some more. When I read about Jim Jones, I felt that I was reading about Lloyd Goodwin. When I read "The Perfect Victim," by Christine McGuire & Carla Norton, which is about perversion and dominance, and very graphic, I felt like I was reading about Goodwin. It took extremes to get my attention and make me start "thinking critically" again. When I left, after nine days, the world seemed bigger and the sun seemed brighter. I felt like a newborn baby. It was freedom that I had never in my life experienced before.

When I got back to Des Moines, I called the pastor in Texas who had been sent a copy of my letter and I told them the truth about my sister. I felt I must make it right. When Goodwin found out what I had done, he publicly threatened my life! My husband was there and heard it. He called me by name and said "If Wanda Mason is not dead within (approximately) two months, then God never called me to the ministry!" He also said, "she will not die the death of a normal woman, but will be in a horrible, fiery crash and be burned and charred beyond recognition!" The next service my husband went to, he said the same thing but said, "It will just be a few days!"

I called Bill Verwers, who had been out of the church for several years and asked him if I should take this serious and he said "absolutely." He said that the same thing had happened to a man years earlier while on his way to confront Goodwin. We heard him use this example many times to prove that God was on his side. I wrote Goodwin a letter and told him that we had gone to the authorities and had it documented and taped that he had made the threat. My husband and many other people were witnesses. I told him that if anything happened to me that he would be the number one suspect along with anyone that worked for him. I tried going to the Elders but no one would listen to my side of it. Everyone was told to "shun" me. After that, he told everyone in the church that I was a "Jezebel" and I was trying to destroy the "man of God." None of my friends would speak to me after that.

It's been eight years now and I'm still alive! He isn’t. Even if I die today, he was a false prophet. So evidently, God NEVER called him to the ministry!

At first, I just about threw the Bible away. I studied all of man's religions that I could find over the next five years. I started with Egypt and Babylon. I considered everything. I thought Lloyd Goodwin was the greatest Bible teacher that I had ever heard and he was wrong and I thought "now what do I believe?" I even got "burned" on several more occasions in my search and was absolutely amazed at the number of controlling cult like situations there are in the city of Des Moines alone! One thing for sure, after you find out what touching that hot stove is like; you recognize it pretty quickly thereafter. I also had a couple of years of professional counseling as I was suffering with Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome. I couldn’t even bear to go to a Christian counselor. I didn’t trust anyone related to religion for a long time.

There are many books out about this subject but some that were a big help to me are Churches That Abuse and Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen (see Reading). They give much insight into the problem of abusive churches (see Warning Signs).

I'm so very thankful that I'm free from it! But I feel that I can't just sit around and do nothing while there are so many honest and sincere people who are held prisoners in these abusive churches! They are not in literal cells with literal bars, but are held captive by MIND CONTROL AND BRAINWASHING. Most people, when and if they get out of a cult, choose to try and forget and go on with their lives but I feel that EVIL prospers because GOOD MEN DO NOTHING. I would like to do SOMETHING. That is why I wanted to publish my testimony. I know that ultimately God is the attorney, the judge and the jury and He deals with each of us in his own way.

Tom Jolly was arrested, charged and convicted in 1993 (St. Louis dispatch 03/26/93) of molesting three girls - ages 9, 13 and 16 at the time of the incidents. This happened at his church in St. Louis, Missouri. His charge was second-degree sexual abuse and two counts of sodomy. They didn’t want to put him in prison because he was sick and they didn’t want to have to pay his medical bills. He died shamed and disgraced a couple of years later. He was 83 years old and had been getting away with this type of thing for 40 years!

Lloyd Goodwin died on July 20, 1996 of a heart attack after giving his last sermon. He died in church. He had told the people a short time before that the Lord had "appeared" to him and told him that he had ten more years. He had preached many times that people need to start falling over dead, just like Ananias and Saphira, right at church!" He was the first one.

His brother, Vernon Goodwin, who was one of the Elders I tried to get help from, was left in charge of the church. Leander (Lee) Ray had been in Kingsport, Tennessee for several years. The split was between Vernon Goodwin and Lee Ray and many of the people moved to Kingsport with Lee Ray after Lloyd Goodwin’s death. Many more have just left. (We have been reconciled with some of them.) I’ve heard that Lee Ray has changed, but it is my opinion, because of reports I’ve heard, that he has only changed his tactics.

Vernon died 16 months later in November of 1997 from a brain tumor. He left his son, Glenn Goodwin, in charge as pastor. Years before, Glenn had gone to school to be an attorney, at Lloyd Goodwin’s request. He is carrying on his Uncle’s work and even though several former members have contacted him to try and work things out, he refuses to discuss anything concerning the allegations of former members. He and his family pretty much seem to control the five to eight million dollar property that all of us worked so hard to build. We were raped spiritually and financially. I know we gave close to $35,000 just the last four years we were there.

There are many innocent people whose lives are still being hurt and broken. We thought we were giving our children the very best, but they were definitely hurt by this and are trying to learn how to keep the good and discard the bad. There was a lot of mental abuse in the church as well as the school. When we put them in public schools, they were behind everyone else and it was difficult for them to cope. We all had a hard time making decisions after we left because they had been made for us (see Recovery ).

We don’t go to church a lot. It’s been difficult to trust anyone again. We put so much trust in the so-called "men of God" that it’s really hard to do it again, even though we have met and been helped by many good Christian friends and ministers since we left the church.

We are learning who God truly is and that we don’t have to go anywhere to find him. He lives in us and we take him wherever we go! I guess that’s why we are on this earth, to live and learn and help others as we go along the way. Our lives are not perfect, but I can truly say that I have peace in my heart and am happy and content with my life. I know who I am.

Copyright © Rick Ross

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