Problems with Frank Viola Part 2
Problems Handling Crisis’, Counseling, And Disciplinary Action:
I was part of an Organic Church:
I moved to be part of an Organic Church (OC) started by Frank Viola (FV) and Milt Rodriguez (MR) a while ago, and ever since I did, it was almost pure misery, and despair nearly every single day. I must say that I was greatly disappointed. In my opinion it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I’m glad I left. Being there in this group (in my opinion) was as bad as being in the wilderness with nearly no fellowship, if not worse, and it did not seem that much better than the Institutional Church (IC).
I left this group in 2012.
It is with much sadness that I feel I must share these things, because I liked most of what Frank Viola would write in his books, and blog. I liked to check out alternative views of people that were outside of the IC.
I write this article, NOT in any attempt to verbally assault Frank Viola, but to warn others that there may be some big problems in these groups that they may want to avoid.
Now that I am out of the group, I have tried to do some research into the situation and why it seemed like such a bad experience. The following is based on my research and first hand observations.
First of all I would have to say that a lot of the bad things I saw at first were bad behaviors, but I would say the true problems were much deeper than people being flawed people. I will give a few short details here and more details on the deeper problems through this whole article series
Some of the behavioral problems I saw were as follows:
- Judging and condemning attitudes…
- Bad counseling and advice– such as telling suicidal people to go right back into situations that were already making them suicidal. This could have led to some people being legally and finacially liable for peoples suicidal deaths.
- Excessive rebuking over minor problems where nothing really needed to be said or should have been said.
I kept wondering why these behavioral problems never seemed to go away or get fixed, and this is why I wanted to do this research. I wanted to figure out what was wrong. I began to realize that these behavioral issues were common in Frank Viola’s and Gene Edwards groups. Seeing these problems is what prompted me to look deeper into these matters and do this research and reveal my research.
I want to warn others about these problems and help them avoid the same problems and pitfalls.
A plea to Frank Viola:
Unfortunately I must make a plea to Frank Viola (FV) and his associates to please stop trying to plant churches in the style that they have been doing, due to the deeper problems that I have seen and am revealing in this article series.
This is part 2 of this article series where I am going to show problems with the way FV handles crisis’ and disciplinary action and how it is nearly identical to how Gene Edwards (GE) handled these types of problems. I will once again be refering to the on-line article “Gene Edwards – the good, the bad and the ugly” and then make my comments in blue lettering.
1. Keeping control over groups: GBU – subheading “Do they practice what they preach” – see paragraph 10.
Gene Edwards and his workers say they “leave.” But do they really? Aren’t they constantly present in the form of email, phone calls, visits, books, tapes? Ask yourselves when you examine Gene Edwards’ churches: Are the people free to operate only within worker-prescribed boundaries? Are they knitted together tightly into a system which brooks no deviance from the will of the church planter? Are they free to question the authority of the church planter? Are the members usually younger than average and thus more likely to follow and less willing to challenge excessive authority?Are the believers ever told “not to talk about” certain things? Are all the believers given all the facts concerning important issues, so the brothers can make an informed decision, or are they merely given diktats from on high? Would any of Gene Edwards’ churches ever be given the freedom, for instance, not to have separate Brothers and Sisters meetings?
– I have seen people told not to speak of the details of certain matters of discipline. Even the person disciplined was told not to tell anyone about it. I could understand a counselor or psychologist not revealing confidential material, but people getting counseling can tell other people details if they want to, so it seems like things were being covered up. I think FV and his associates were handling things badly. It seemed suspicious.
– I have also seen some people disciplined but most others in the group are told not to talk about it or question the church planters decisions on how the discipline was to be carried out.
2. Church planter gurus and techniques: GBU – Is the Church Planter Absolutely Necessary for a Church’s Existence? Paragraph 2 and 3.
The Gene Edwards literature is replete with exhortations for the reestablishment of the authority of the church planter. Representative quotations may be found in Rethinking Elders by Gene Edwards. “‘But if elders don’t deal with a crisis who does?’ The man most needed, but the man nobody wants: the church planter” (p. 49). “The church planter and elders are inseparably linked… True eldership exists only in the presence of the itinerant church planter” (pp. 73-74). “the itinerant church planters, and they alone, are the one consistent influence in the decision of who elders will be and when elders will be. They are the ones who lay hands on these men. No itinerant church planters, no elders” [emphasis Edwards] (pp. 35-36).
Now we hold no brief for the extinction of the church planter. Apostles exist today, and we need more of them. However, there are several problems with Edwards’ approach. First, such heavy-handed emphasis on the function of the church planter derogates from the authority of the entire church. Edwards does a great job in his book Rethinking Elders in pointing out that the New Testament is utterly silent about the authority of the elder. He also correctly points out that ecclesiastical authority is rather in the hands of the brethren collectively.However, his left hand takes away what his right hand has granted. When he says that “itinerant church planters, and they alone, are the one consistent influence in the decision of who elders will be, and when elders will be,” what has Edwards thereby done to the authority of the brethren collectively? Shouldn’t they have a say in who and when elders are to be? We ask our readers to examine for themselves the practice of Edwardsian churches to ask if Edwards’ erroneous theory of apostolic preeminence has not indeed played out in practice. In a Gene Edwards church plant where is the real authority, in the brethren collectively, or in the church planter?
– This heavy handed approach to a crisis by the church planters is how disciplinary actions were carried out in FV’s group that I was in. No one was allowed to question it (or other people in the group would have angst toward them or would give strong verbal rebukes). No one in the group seemed mature enough to carry out discipline and the heavy handed church planter technique kept the group from learning to properly discipline on their own. Thus the planter and the planter alone is allowed to do this and thus the planter is set up as an authoritarian leader.
– A church should be able to handle its own problems by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and should not need to rely on a church planter. If they do rely on a church planter, they will never be able to mature to a state in which they will be able to handle it on their own. It apeared that neither GE or FV are willing to trust the church groups on their own, so they feel the need to step in with a heavy handed approach and force a conclusion to the matter at hand. This often leaves people hurt and seems to be done in a way that the church planter tries to make themselves look good and will not bring any questionable appearance to their character.
– I have seen some of this stepping in by these church planters and how truth is manipulated, misused, and how sometimes confidential information is wrongfully brought out into the open without permission. If a proffesional psychologist had broken confidentiality they could loose their lisence to practice and would open themselves up to law suits. In some states this could apply to clergy or spiritual leaders also.
3. Church planter ideology, gag orders, and spin – GBU Subheading “Conclusion”, paragraph 2.
The sobering truth is that the terrain of the house church movement is strewn with the wounded bodies of those left bleeding in the road as Gene Edwards’ troops have marched through with their church-planter-centered ideology. Over the years precious saints in assemblies under Edwards’ control have been left bewildered, confused, and deeply hurt by the orchestrated manipulation of events, by the intimidating gag orders, and by the slanted spin given to issues and problems that arise. Problems are handled in terms of how Gene Edwards and friends can be protected and preserved, not in terms of any objective attempt to find Christ’s mind. It is time for such spiritual carnage to stop.
– I have seen FV and his associates rush into some disciplinary decisions with spin and manipulation without fully informing people as to the whole truth of the situation, instead of working in the situation to work things out in a more amicable manner.
– Not only do the planters rush people into disciplinary actions, but they try to rush other people into making decisions to go along with their ideas without giving the full information on the situation so people can make an informed decision, nor are they allowed to take time to pray about it and think about it. It seemed very strange and suspicious when I saw this with my own eyes. Yet if some of us in these groups are suspicious of this questionable behavior, we were told not to be, but take it to the Lord (so to speak) or just stuff it down and be quiet about it.
– As far as disciplinary actions that I have seen, I would say (in my opinion) it was carried out in a hypocritical manner since I noticed major problems (such as fornication / pre-martial sex) were allowed to linger while minor disagreements were met with brutal attitudes, excessive rebuking, and condemnation from people in the group. Sometimes when people were rebuked about something, they could get counseled by others in the group and come away with a totally opposite opinion on the matter. Some would receive counseling about reconciling with a person, and would go to the person with the counselor and the counselor would then say something totally different which left the person greatly confused on the matter. These things left some people feeling betrayed, and like they were needlessly given far too much condemnation. Some also felt like counseling was given by people that did not know what they were doing and did not know what they were talking about. Seeing all this left me in a position where I could no longer trust anyone in the group, nor could I trust anything that was said by the church planters either.
4. I also offer this paragraph from the addition to the GBU article Jon Zens (JZ) titled “Devastation to Christians”written about GE that is aplicable to FV and his groups:
Devastation to Christians. At one time, Edwards had over 20 churches in his network. Today, we can count only five and most of them are extremely small. Each of the former groups have their own sad story of disintegration, but the pattern is the same. Edwards is said to be the source of the dissolution in every case. People felt betrayed, lied to, manipulated, controlled, used, and even pitted against one another by Edwards.
– I personally have already begun to see FV’s groups have severe problems and that they are falling apart. People are being hurt, lives are being devastated and as JZ stated – they feel “betrayed, lied to, manipulated, controlled, used, and even pitted against one another.”
– From my observations, some people are being hurt and mistreated in these groups in several ways:
(1) Some people are mistreated by others in these groups (by turning disagreements in major arguments, shunning, excessive rebuking over minor incidents, bad attitudes, condemning attitudes, spiritually prideful attitudes etc.).
(2) Some people are also hurt by misleading wording in disciplinary actions.
(3) I have seen some counseled to go right back into situations that they previously said would make them suicidal (thus creating a greater risk of suicide).
(4) I have seen some of the worst excuses for advice and counseling given to people as if it was great advice, and then if you point out how the adviced is bad, those who gave the advice then get a bad attitude with you.
(5) I have also seen in at least one case where a person got counseling from these church planters and their confidential information was shared with others without the persons permission. This would cause most psychologists to loose their license to practice and would open them up to major law suits (and in some states this applies to clergy and spiritual leaders also).
(6) Some other people cannot think clearly for months after they leave these groups (similar to detoxing from cults).
My opinion is that I will NOT be able to trust FV, his associates, or anyone in his groups unless I see major changes, such as getting rid of all the Gene Edwards ideology, techniques and practices, I would also like to see them get some post-cult counseling, and I would like to see them all get in a more healthy group like a simple church group.
Any advice or counseling that they give, in my opinion, is suspect and should not be trusted due to my findings with the GBU on-line letter and how I have seen with my own eyes that (in my opinion) FV and his associates still go by the same ideology, techniques and practices as GE.
You should also check the nature of the fruit produced by FV and his groups, and see that some folks are now coming forward and saying that they were hurt and their lives were devastated by their experiences in these groups. If you don’t believe this, you can check with one man who claims to have encountered many of these people (his name is Jim Wright of the blog Crossroad junction – crossroadjunction.com/). I do not necessarily agree with everything Jim Wright states, but he has clearly encountered many of these people, he has seen the problems, and has noticed some of the danger signs and pointed them out.
You should also check to see if the fruit of the Holy Spirit is present in these groups, and check to see if the fruit can be seen over the long haul, to which I would say that, in my opinion, it is not there over the long haul.
I strongly suggest you do your homework before you move to be part of one of these groups. Be prepared to think critically, and closely examine everything. If anything does NOT seem right in these groups, I suggest you scrutinize it carefully, and you might want to run away from them as quick as possible.
I would strongly suggest avoiding FV, his associates, and the groups that they have planted, due to the many problems that I have seen, experienced, and that I have listed here.
Could FV have pure motives and actually be trying to do what he thinks is right? Possibly. However, anyone trying to do the right thing should take an honest look at these facts, lay aside their pride, and be willing to stop doing these problematic things, and should be willing to make some big changes for the better.
I would suggest that since GE’s groups were either cultic or close to it, that FV and MR should get post-cult counseling. This will likely help them get away from GE’s ideology, techniques and practices. I hope that they can get back to a healthy status in life again. I would suggest starting with books that help such as “Healing spiritual abuse and religious addiction”.
If any of this comes across as harsh, I apologize, because I do not wish to be unkind, but instead I want to hopefully give FV, his associates, and those in his groups a chance at something better, and give the chance to meet the true Jesus Christ who is full of love and grace. I also want to warn other people, and help them avoid these difficulties in their own lives, like I experienced when I was in one of FV’s groups.
There is more to come in this article series.
The comment section is closed on this post due to the sensitive nature of this subject, and to protect victims from further spiritual abuse.
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