I’m really glad that Debby Stevens found the blog recently. There are a lot of good people who love God who have left Stanton’s ranks, and I’m thrilled that some of them have found this blog to share their story. My prayer is that by uncovering more voices from Stanton’s past, we can show current members that (a) they’re not alone in their secret doubts about Stanton’s presumptuous “authority;” and (b) there is such a thing as a relationship with God outside of Stanton’s walls.
Debby, thanks adding your voice to the discussion here.
My Story by Debby Stevens
I first started with the Stanton group in Portland, OR in 1985 when I was baptized. In 1989 I was asked to move to Lakeland, FL to help start a congregation there. I moved in August 1989, and the preacher that came left the group that November.
A couple with 8 children were sent to Lakeland then, to preach and teach. From the start I and another Christian were constantly rebuked for all kinds of things, and the fact that the congregation wasn’t growing was blamed on us!
This couple ended up moving to Iowa and were eventually withdrawn from by the Lakeland, FL congregation. (That’s another long and shocking story, of which Donna probably remembers!). I was then the “teacher” for Lakeland, FL, but that didn’t last long. I just wasn’t able to teach the things I was told to, nor to rebuke ones as I was told to. Another couple was then sent from Memphis, TN to set the congregation straight.
Lakeland still didn’t grow. I was beginning to really notice the difference between the scriptures I was studying and what was actually being taught and practiced. The “May Meetings” went from being what congregations studied out to teachers telling us what we were going to believe now. Doctrine changed, what had been doctrine before was now something else! May meeting issues were now on subjects of “important things” such as should women wear nylons at classes and worship? Can the bread be broken more than once for the Lord’s Supper?
I also noticed that my teachers taught the same things over and over again. And I also could not agree with their “counsels” on things. For example, my husband’s father was in the hospital dying. At night I would relieve his wife, so she could go home and get some sleep. I would stay the night at the hospital with my Father-in-law, for which he was grateful. Although I missed no personal work, class, or worship, I was rebuked for this! They never said why it was wrong, just that I shouldn’t be doing this. (I still continued doing it until he died.)
The final straw came when the teachers threatened me with withdrawal. The congregation was forced to move to Tampa, even though we never understood why. It was not a decision made by us, it was made higher up. We all had to move at our own expense, too. The problem was that it was very expensive to move to Tampa-for example, the same auto insurance policy was $100 more a month!
Rent was even more expensive! My husband and I looked at the surrounding towns, and found one that was about 12 miles from Tampa and was affordable. However, my husband still sought the “counsel” of the teacher. What he was told was that not only was it ok to move there, the teacher was thinking of moving there himself! We still kept looking, but a month later decided to go ahead and move to this small town.
A month later this teacher helped us to move. That Sunday, we were both soundly rebuked for moving to this town that was outside of Tampa! That because of the move we were causing brethren to be scattered!
Confused, I went privately to that teacher and asked him if my husband had misunderstood his counsel. He said no, that he had said it was ok and that he was thinking of moving there too, but it was to save money. This confused me even more, and I asked him why he had then rebuked us for what he had said was ok to do?!
He refused to answer and ended the conversation. At the next class, I was soundly rebuked for “bringing trivial things to the teacher” and I was threatened with withdrawal. I couldn’t believe it! But what it did was to cause me to go home and to think. I took a hard look at things I had avoided thinking about for years. I’d had doubts about this group and its teachings, and I realized I’d done things I wasn’t proud of.
Gone ahead and taught things I didn’t believe, just because I was afraid of what ones in the group would say and do.
I also realized that my studies had brought me to the point that I disagreed with most of what the group was teaching, and that I couldn’t sit still and be quiet. I had already been rebuked numerous times for teaching differently than the group believed, and I knew it would only get worse. And I was being a hypocrite; I was using other versions of the bible and reading other things written by those outside of the group.
I also realized that I no longer trusted the two “evangelists” of the group. To this day I firmly believe that they know exactly what they are doing, and it’s not for God.
And so I left. I let my husband know my decision and told him that in no way would I stand in his way to continue attending there. I told him nothing of why I was leaving, I didn’t want him to have those same doubts in his mind as I had, or to be in trouble for “murmuring”. Up until this point, we had never discussed these things, as it would have been “murmuring” and therefore we would have been withdrawn from.
The funny thing is, my husband went a couple of more times and then left the group too! When we were finally able to talk, we found out we both had been seeing the same problems all along. Had a lot of the same questions and doubts!
I am glad it happened the way it did, and my only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner. But you see, I was afraid to! It’s been 9 years since we left, and we are still fighting some of that indoctrination that was instilled in us! At that time, I was afraid that God would strike me dead. I didn’t know what to do with myself now that I had TIME on my hands. It’s been a long and difficult journey, but I’m glad for it.
I believe there are brethren in the group who have their doubts, but are afraid to leave. They doubt, but don’t understand them, and may not know what to do about them. I believe there are members who have no peace, and fear gnaws at them every day. They have no one they can trust to talk to, as ones will “run go tell” the teachers.
So Kevin, I believe your blog is important. It’s a safe place they can go to, and ask questions. I wish there had been such a place for me when I left!
Oh! BTW, the Lakeland/Tampa congregation was shut down. It was about a year or two after we left, and my first thought was-at least they can’t blame it on me anymore! See, I was blamed for the congregation not growing. But when we left, there was only one more baptism and then the congregation was shut down.
In truth, it was a congregation that should never have been started, or at least not started in the way that it was! But that’s another story for another day!