“So, what’s your problem, Marie?”
In 1970, Don and I had one child. We moved from the Los Angeles area to Happy Camp, California, population 1,000. Even before we were married, Don and I had been out of organized religion, and had simply studied the Bible. A few years later, Don started his business of selling firewood, split cedar posts and rails. Don talked with the wife of a man who had ordered some posts to be delivered, and since we knew few people, he invited them to come visit us. The lady responded by inviting us to dinner. We went and were impressed by the way they were raising their children. Our friendship grew, but religion was never mentioned.
Finally, one evening when the couple came to see us by themselves, we asked them what they believed. They were very reluctant to tell us, but we persisted. They told us enough to get our curiosity aroused. We kind of invited ourselves to our first Wednesday night Bible Study! We were impressed with the simplicity of the meetings. We started taking part. This went on for months. There had never been Workers on a regular mission in Happy Camp. The Friends were a little worried about our just taking part–like it was the natural thing to do. We went only to the Wednesday night Bible Studies, as Sunday Meetings were 30 miles away, and we thought that was too far to travel.
Close to Special Meeting time, we met a Worker, Tharold Sylvester, who had come down from Washington to our area. We told him we wanted to join the church. He welcomed us in. However, because it wasn’t his area, he called Eldon Tenniswood that night. The next morning, Tharold told us that he had spoken out of his authority, and that we could not become part of the group by his consent! We were crushed. He invited us to come to the Special Meeting. Unknown to us, Eldon had told Tharold to accept us if we went to the Special Meeting. We did go and started in our walk. That was in 1975.
Shortly after, two women Workers came to our area and held Gospel Meetings all summer long. We invited everyone we could — not knowing the meetings were for us! Since no one ever explained to us about taking a stand, when the meetings were tested at the end of the Mission, we didn’t stand up, because we figured we were already in! No one stood up. The two Workers were crushed. If they had only explained!
From then on, it was a pretty hard go, because we thought not everyone was trying very hard to be perfect. Gradually, we got the picture, and fell into step —but not without periodic eruptions, even to the point of our leaving for a year in 1982 over differences of opinion with an Elder and problems concerning a friend we invited to Leo Stancliff’s Gospel Meetings.
Our friend professed, but coercion was Leo’s tactic. Our friend told us that Leo and some other Friends and Elders were going to have a meeting with my husband, Don, to disfellowship him, but they never did. Wearing ties and beards were a big issue. Don had a beard and didn’t wear a tie. Our friend quit coming to Meetings also. He couldn’t believe what they were going to do to Don. We eventually came back to Meetings when we couldn’t find any other fellowship we liked.
Over the years I could see a pattern forming that I tried to resist. I started to feel pressured to conform and “fit in more fully.” I had a feeling of no self-worth and seemed unable to be more “selfless.” The Way depressed me. The harder I tried, the more unhappy I felt. Over the years, we helped four or five families and a few individuals to profess. We never had Meetings in our home. We live 13 miles from town and were not considered a safe risk.
In 1992, a woman we had met at Orick Convention in 1975 wrote us a letter because she wanted to warn us about the origins of “the Truth.” She said she had two books she wanted us to read. We said, “Sure, we’d like to read them.” They were The Secret Sect and Has the Truth Set You Free? At that time, we were skeptical of them, although we enjoyed the history contained in “The Secret Sect.” She also mentioned a professing man who was very corrupt. We wrote, “Prove it.” A while later, in November 1992, she sent us some newspaper articles reporting that this man had been charged for various fraudulent activities.
Two years went by. I started feeling that I was carrying a burden that was so very heavy. I started hearing things from the platform that disturbed me. Moses was referred to as “a worker,” and Timothy had “professed.” I listened closely to the prayers and they sounded as though they were programmed. I caught myself starting to conform and trying to have a “safe” testimony. My eyes were opened to the lack of love in some people’s hearts within “the Truth” by an ugly encounter with three Elders and my husband. So many of the women seemed depressed to some degree. Others tried to mask it by being “too nice.” Their children reflected the hypocrisy in their mothers by outward aggression towards their moms! It was ugly and sad.
Don and I started going to law seminars which dealt with coping with abusive government employees. As I studied man’s law, I saw that the law was there to protect us although—to our detriment—those in the government were misusing it. As I studied this, it became clear to me that the same things were happening spiritually in “the Truth.” The seminar speaker mentioned Jesus never answered the questions put to Him by the Pharisees and Sadducees, but instead questioned them. In other words, Jesus answered their questions with a question. In law, this is called a “demur.” It’s like saying, “Show me.” I started observing that the Workers used a similar method with questions they were asked, and found they let many questions go unanswered. The way they misquoted and twisted Scripture, and dogmatically set up their own rules and traditions as gospel truth —they were not “showing me.” (Matthew 15:9 says, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”)
I had always questioned the belief that only people in “the Truth” are saved. I have some lovely friends outside who have never laid any burden on me, and I had a hard time believing they were not saved.
One of the Workers held a closed meeting for Friends only, sort of a pep talk and discussion of why they did certain things. Little does she know that she was instrumental in helping me arrive at my decision to leave—her talk was the clincher. She talked about the usual worship in the home, using legalistic dogma to justify their stands. It was as if we needed to be reminded of all the things we might be neglecting to do — to keep ourselves from the world. It reeked of exclusivity.
I remember the letters, articles and books our friend had sent us two years earlier. With them was an order blank from Threshing Floor Ministries. One article on the order form concerned women’s dress. I recalled being intrigued earlier when I saw that someone had written about this subject. Had I ordered the information earlier, it probably would have hastened my exit! As it turned out, it was another two years before I ordered and received the article on women, along with additional information that helped me unravel the web deceit, and started my search for more on “the Truth.”
I came to a point where I could hardly bring myself to go to another meeting. I went to a Special Meeting in February 1994, which was to be the last meeting I attended. As soon as I made that decision, the burden left me completely! I was free of man’s teachings. The peace I felt was incredible! Luckily, we have always liked meeting people inside and outside, so my transition has been very smooth. I have not been without friends.
I have read many exit letters of others, and it was a comfort to realize that I shared the same thoughts with them. With the help of those who have given me support and food to combat error, I am no longer in awe of the Workers, but welcome discussion with them. Who knows—I might be able to help some of them.
I heard that the Workers were very surprised about my leaving. They said I was the last one they thought would ever leave. I wasn’t a troublemaker. Leo Stancliff and Don Fisher visited me on October 1, 1994. The first thing Leo said to me was, “So, what’s your problem, Marie?” I told them I had no problem. Some of my comments left Leo speechless.
I think they place the greatest burden on their women and children. Conformity, not love, seems to be stressed to the nth degree. I believe changes must come from the Workers, and that is not likely to happen. I think what happens to a lot of us is that we don’t question what we believe. I told Leo that I was trying to be someone I was not. My husband didn’t feel this way.
Years ago, Don had reached the same point where I am now—but now, he opts to overlook all the bad. He understands and respects my decision while he continues to go to meetings, as do my sons. Now I can look in the mirror at a face that can smile back. This is important to me. Before, I had the feeling that I never was good enough.
Presently (in 1996), I am 49 years old, the mother of five children, and have multiple sclerosis (MS). I study my Bible privately and am sustained by the peace of mind I have. I will let things happen as they will in God’s own time. He knows where I am, and what I need. Thanks to all those who have helped me!