December 12, 2007

Matthew Murray and Youth with a Mission: Did YWAM Help Create a Monster?

I received the following comments from blogger Wanderin' Weeta, one of the regulars here, yesterday. I've reproduced it in full here with her consent and included a couple of definition links for those (like me) who might be unfamiliar with some of the terminology used:

Having had quite a bit of involvement in my fundie days with YWAM, I can see a few more angles to this story.

Basically, YWAM takes young people, mostly in their teens, after intense round-the-clock training, sometimes for months, on short-term mission trips around the world (paid for by these kids or their families and churches). They are away from their families, home communities, and comfort zones for months at a time, under a constant barrage of prayer sessions, sermons, "ministry" training, "discipleship training", etc. They have no privacy, no time alone; everything is done as a group.

And, of course, their leaders have great authority, and are looked up to as "men of God".

In many respects it is similar to the "brainwashing" by so-called cults like the Hare Krishnas.

In this atmosphere, it is not surprising that problems arise, either from the kids themselves, or due to actions by the leaders. These are either hushed up (wouldn't want to "hurt their testimony"), denied outright, or attributed to outside causes, notably "the world" or demons.

Looking at the present events, I would surmise that either,
(1) Matthew went off the deep end, was disruptive in some way and was kicked out, leaving him angry at the leadership; or
(2)complained about something done to him or to another kid, something that could not be allowed to be talked about, and was kicked out for any of a dozen excuses ready made for the occasion. (I have seen this happen many a time in mission organizations and churches. It is the common response to allegations of abuse; accuse the victim, silence him if possible, and get him out of sight.)

Either scenario could easily lead to a series of "hate mail" messages, which, it is alleged, MM had been sending.

Probably we will never really know.

But I would take anything coming from YWAM with a couple tablespoons of salt...

I can confirm that description of YWAM's practices, including the "territorial spirits" hogwash and the so-called "deliverance ministry". [NOTE: this was in reference to an article on LiveJournal's "Dark Christian" community.]
I don't know much about this stuff and, unlike Weeta, have never crossed paths with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) before. Still, having received a note from someone who has had experience with this group and having learned just a bit more about what they believe in, particularly the part about believing that everything outside their group is demonic and Satanic and whatever other spooky concepts such a clatch might use to help cut themselves off from the outside world, I had to poke around a bit further. What I'm finding isn't pretty.

Before I go on, though, let's get something out of the way up front. I'm not trying to condone anything that Matthew Murray did, nor am I looking to place blame on all of Christianity based on one cult-like, extreme group. If I have something to say about Christianity as a whole, or all of religion for that matter, I'll be as clear as glass that this is what I'm doing. Also, in case there are those who are already thinking that this is something that only some "wicked evilutionist" would write, be advised that those devil-worshipers over at Fox News have also begun asking some questions about YWAM:
Several former missionaries have accused YWAM (generally pronounced "Why-Wam") of being a cult that uses brainwashing methods.

Rick Ross, founder of the Ross Institute of New Jersey, which tracks cults, does not agree.

"Youth With a Mission is not a cult," he said. "However, I have received very serious complaints about Youth With a Mission from former staffers, family members and also others concerned, such as Christian clergy."
As we know by now, Murray was either kicked out of or otherwise had to leave YWAM. If a group has drummed into your head that everything outside of their socially-constructed walls is demonic, doesn't ejecting a member equate psychologically to condemning them to hell? It would seem that way logically (to use the word very loosely here) to me. So where do you go when you've been sent to hell? Well, how about joining an occult group that conjures spirits and was founded by Aleister Crowley, a man who dubbed himself To Mega Therion (the Great Beast)?
Steve Mariner, the president of Denver's occult group Ad Astra Oasis, says Murray attended group meetings for about a year before being asked to leave in September.

Ad Astra Oasis is an officially chartered body of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a ceremonial magic order based on the teachings of English poet and mystic Aleister Crowley.


Full stop again right here, because at this point there's a danger that some Christians, particularly fundamentalists, are going to try to pick up on this and accuse the OTO of having something to do with the shootings. While I don't buy into any of the occult religion stuff the OTO peddles, I can say from personal experience with members of the group that I have known over the years that they may be a bit odd but they don't hatch plots to shoot up churches and the like. Not to sound too cliché, but some of my best friends have been in the OTO and I've probably spent time in the past telling them what a bunch of bull the whole thing is and nobody put me on a hit list. They threw good Halloween parties, too. At the very least, we can surmise at this point that Murray, having found himself in a sort of hell after ejection from YWAM, found another group that, according to their doctrines, could give him a map for navigating the Inferno and perhaps even knowledge and conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel. Wouldn't you want that if you woke up in hell one morning? In fact, if you'd been taught all your life that demons were lurking around every corner, I'd imagine it would be a necessity in your mind.

Murray was asked to leave that second group from which he had hoped to obtain salvation and so was ejected back into hell. The preconditions for all of this, aside from a likely mental disorder whose origins we can't be sure of as yet, come from rather strict and oppressive religious training. People outside of this kind of Dominionist thinking, after all, don't generally go about believing that the world is hell (unless you're a graduate student, perhaps...)

Let's get back to YWAM for a bit, though. This group has been around for better than 40 years, and we've already seen some hint that something isn't quite right about them. Since Rick Ross was quoted in the Fox article, we can certainly look at why he's said the things he said and it was easy enough to find an item that Ross has previously written about YWAM — all the way back in 1990, in fact. A few passages that stand out in my mind in the context of the Murray tragedy:
...Christian Research Institute of California sent a report dated November of 1987. YWAM was described as "basically sound". However, the report did raise some serious concerns. It questioned the value of "imposing legalistic standards… this heavy-handedness appears to express itself in some form of the 'sheepherding' error. The report also criticized the group's repentance as "one-sided" and the way by which they "open their Bible at random and ask God to speak to them from the passage so selected" as an "abuse of the Bible". This report concluded that "involvement…can be good, as long as those involved are aware of the problems and do not accept uncritacally [sic] the errors or imbalances in their teachings".

The Cult Awareness Network national office in Chicago had several letters on file concerning YWAM. One such letter by Nancy Brown dated March of 1984 from Ithaca, New York stated "that Ywam has many elements of a destructive cult". A major issue cited was "the authoritarian control by the elders". Allegedly YWAM depicted the "world" as "Satanic". Members were told that "Satan comes into an idle mind" and were advised "Whenever you have a spare moment memorize. Elders gave out cards with Bible verses to carry and use"...

One YWAM brochure stated "DTS (Discipleship Training School) is the Foundation upon which all study programs are structured" . Those who wish to become YWAM staff are required to attend this multi-month intensive course of instruction with "a strong emphasis on character development".

One former DTS student sent a report to Cult Awareness Network regarding her experiences within such a program. She believed that there were "similarities between cult mind controlling (brainwashing) techniques and the DTS program instituted by YWAM"...

These sessions were called "Openness and Brokeness". The author of the report felt that "this confession emotionally exhausted us, made us feel self-conscious , and extremely vulnerable. I was taught to think of my mind as the enemy. Intercession also played a role in undermining intellectual reasoning. Step 3 Instructs: 'Die to your imagintation'…the lecturer reasoned that there are three kinds of thought; Yours, Satan's and God's. f you die to your thoughts and bind Satan, then anything left in your mind must be God's thoughts. Foolproof." During one lecture entitled "The Spirit of Independence Peter Jordan said that independence is a deception, and ultimately it can lead to suicide and abortion…a cause of disunity..."

Many rules were observed at DTS; "dating was forbidden" unless "confirmed" by leadership. "Students should not leave the general area." "Singles are not allowed personal cars." "not allowed to watch T.V." Students could receive "counseling" only from DTS staff because "God anoints those over us to bless us in many ways"...
I strongly suggest reviewing Ross' page on this subject; there's a lot more there dated long before this terrible turn of events in Colorado that perhaps gives us a window into some practices of this group that may have contributed to Murray's eventually snapping and turning into one of the very "demons" he'd been told all along existed out there in what the rest of us like to call "the real world."

In the course of searching around, I also came across this exchange dated to November 2004, initiated by a user calling herself "frightened_mom." She writes:
Has anyone had any dealings with an organization called Youth With A Mission. I'm scared to death they are a cult and I'll never get my daughter back. I've been researching on the internet and have read where they brainwash the kids that go to their discipleship training course and mission work. I'm so afraid that once they get her she'll never come back, or worse, she'll be scared for life. Please...If anyone knows anything PLEASE help me. She wants to drop out of college for this and has scholarships. I'm at my wits end!!
A reply eventually comes from lindsey374 that probably tells us more than the author intended:
YWAM is awesome! I have many friends whop have worked with them or gone to theyre schools and they are amazing tools for the kingdom.

One thing you have to understand is america doenst usually understand what it takes to be a Christian.. for some it will cost theyre lives...
This person does say that she wasn't a member of YWAM, but she certainly endorses them in the view that it might cost them their lives to be part of the group. But then we get another warning from a former member, "kt1":
I spent 2 years in a YWAM greenhouse,being brain washed and programmed to follow and obey their rules and teachings.I was forced to wash feet as a repentance for my sins!!!!!
Don't [s]end her there. Sure she will be thinking she is having a great time whilst there, but as soon as she leaves she will realise exactly what had happened to her there and will spend the rest of her life trying to undo the damage they cause.
Again, that message board contains a good number of entries from former members and parents of members of YWAM dating back several years. It's worth a read, and there seem to me to be some foreshadowing of the Matthew Murray incident there. Hints... just hints that this group isn't exactly all sweetness and light.

Just a few months ago, flyers started appearing in San Francisco warning that the group was a cult. Here's some info on that from the Cult Awareness Information Centre.

Lastly (for me, anyhow; I encourage anyone who reads this to do their own research on Youth With A Mission), DailyKos did a series of articles about YWAM's political connections back in 2006. Moreover, here's an article about connections between Ted Haggard and YWAM (perhaps this sort of thing is why Murray also shot up Haggard's former church?) and the charming story of YWAM member Paul Huberty who, according to the article (which links to the case documents):
...was convicted by officer members of consensual sodomy, fondling his genitals in a public area, indecent acts, and adultery, in violation of Articles 125, 133, and 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 USC §§ 925, 933, and 934. On February 11, 1997, the convening authority approved the sentence of dismissal, confinement for 6 months, and a reprimand, and the court below affirmed.
So what happened to Huberty after this conviction? Why, he became a YWAM Youth Pastor!
While in the Air Force Academy he married a girl who was in the youth group where he was part time youth pastor...maybe she was pregnant. He was courtmartialed in Germany and after serving 6 months in prison, he moved his family to Hawaii where he entered, get this, Youth With A Mission. He became a youth missionary and "served" in several places such as the Philipines while based in Hawaii...
And Huberty's last known whereabouts as of August 2006?

Colorado Springs, Colorado. Sound familiar? Did Huberty and Murray ever meet up? Hmmm. I don't know. Does anybody?

I want to stress, once again, that Murray's victims still didn't deserve to be shot down. If anything, they were very likely victimized twice — perhaps once by YWAM and again by a monster that YWAM may well have had a hand in creating. That may be the greatest tragedy of all. In the end, it really did cost them their lives to do what they thought it took to become a Christian, at least by the standards of one slice of American Christianity.

Now that Youth With a Mission is in the spotlight, though, perhaps we'll see them investigated by the appropriate authorities as the investigation of the horrors in Colorado moves forward. It doesn't seem to be the case that this group is one that's all about public service and simple missionary work (which I'm no fan of, I will readily admit). There seems to be a lot more here and all I've done in this article is barely scratch the surface. Maybe, just maybe, if this organization is doing all these things that former members and researchers say that it does — going back for at least twenty years now — looking into these practices and putting an end to them if they exist could work to prevent another Matthew Murray from picking up a gun and looking for revenge against those who cast him into the Pit in his own mind someday.

As Weeta said in the comment that opened this long, long article, there do indeed seem to be more angles here than we're currently being shown by the media. When some madman goes on a rampage, it's our nature to ask, "Why?" It's an important question. Knowing all of this, I hope someone out there will dig deeper and see if part of the answer to it is right there among the carnage left behind.

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