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Cult Prevention & GreaseSpot Café

1983_C&T&VPW ROA
Charlene in 1983 with Dr. & Mrs. Victor Paul Wierwille (both now deceased) on stage at The Way International’s Rock of Ages festival “celebrating” 10 years since graduation from Wierwille’s Way Corps “leadership training” program.

About 35,000 former followers of The Way International, the fundamentalist cult to which I committed myself for 17 years (1970 – 1987), are spread over the world. This post is dedicated to them. I am reminding them of The Way’s downsides and asking them to come up with ideas on how to prevent cult recruitment to any kind of cult.

Background about the current Way ministry

Recently, two reliable sources (former top Way leaders) involved during the 1980s—The Way’s heyday— told me that an estimated 35,000 people are former Way supporters. In past years, sometimes the number 100,000 was cited as being the number of active members that The Way had in its heyday, but it seems that number referred to anyone who might have attended a Way fellowship, not to faithful followers. The most would have been about 40,000 active people. Why did about 35,000 leave?

What do these statistics mean and who cares?

Due to the internet, Wierwille and the second president L. Craig Martindale are reported in an avalanche of bad publicity. Accounts of rampant plagiarism, abuse of power and of women, as well as of financial abuse abound. Some suspect that is why The Way’s website does not include Wierwille’s or Martindale’s names. Believe me, The Way cares.

GreaseSpot Café

On Saturday morning, October 24, 2015, I posted a “little essay” (see below) at the website, GreaseSpot Café (GSC), where many former followers tell their Way-involvement stories. I admire these “greasespotters” whose gumption is real as they report corruption, abuse, and hypocrisy in The Way.

As of today, the total members of GSC is 3,652. Total posts by members is 539,134.

I write posts at GSC under the name “Penworks.” On GSC’s front page, I have two articles. One is my story “Affinity for Windows,” which is also here on the Essays & Poetry page. The other is an article, “Nostalgia for TWI Research Raises Questions.”‘

Where did GreaseSpot Café get its name?

From a scare tactic made by the 2nd president of The Way, Rev. Loy Craig Martindale, which was: if you leave the ministry, you’ll be a grease spot by midnight!

That phrase meant defectors would be squashed on the highway of life like a grease spot on asphalt because they would lose God’s protection, thereby allowing the Devil to ruin their lives in every possible way. This threat was a hand-me-down from the founder of The Way, Victor Paul Wierwille, who used Bible verses as his authority.

It is ironic that in the year 2000, Martindale was dismissed from his presidency and shunned (by the fundamentalist cult he had inherited) after his second lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Currently, The Way International is run by its third president, Rosalie Rivenbark, and a board of directors.

My “little essay” at GSC, in the Forums section under the thread “Cult prevention”

“When you are in a box [destructive cult], you don’t realize it until it begins to split apart and you see specs of light peek through.

From all of our posts, it’s apparent we are well aware of the cult problem. What are solutions?

Again, last night we [my husband and I] watched a show on the History Channel titled “America’s Book of Secrets.” Season 2, “Deadly Cults” (first aired May 10, 2013). The segment on dangerous cults was pretty good.

Deadly cults

Rick Ross, a cult examiner who is often an expert witness in courts, made the point, along with others who were interviewed, that our own freedoms in the US—freedom of speech, religion, and assembly—are what pave the way for destructive cults to form easily … and legally.

Rick Ross’s “Cult Education Institute”

To most of us, the following is not news: It is easy in our country to form a non-profit and say it is a new religion and boom, a new cult is born. And it enjoys the protections under the U.S. Constitution [and Bill of Rights] that major well-known religions enjoy, including tax exemption status. That’s one downside.

Note: Remember that Europeans endured the rough seas of the Atlantic to get to this promised land so they could express their beliefs and enjoy religious freedom, and boy did they get it, for the most part, although some persecutions persisted for years until those freedoms were enforced. Give a nod here to Thomas Jefferson, etc.

Everyone goes through hard times in life, as Rick Ross pointed out on the Deadly Cults episode, and it is during those vulnerable times that a devoted follower of a dangerous cult comes along with ANSWERS. Those of us here at GSC can say AMEN to that!

We are all too familiar with the problem of dangerous cults.

What are solutions?

I wish I had one magic answer, don’t you?

As far as I can tell, all we can do is try and head off seekers at the pass that leads into dangerous cult territory.

One way is to tell our stories. GSC has had some good results in opening peoples’ eyes to TWI and to cults in general.

Let’s not fear sharing our cautionary tales whenever and however we can. In my experience, as uncomfortable as that has been sometimes as a guest with groups of students in a classroom, in the end it is worth the embarrassment and sweaty armpits, and sometimes I get choked up. Usually I find people are thankful for the heads-up.

Maybe that’s the best preventive measure we have available in our country. Tell our stories when appropriate.

Otherwise, we’d be stuck with someone “at the top of government” I guess, who would have to decide which groups are destructive cults and which ones are not. Case in point, the Branch Davidians, as that History Channel show pointed out, was a “benign commune” until David Koresh showed up. He took over as prophet and we know the rest of that terrible, devastating story.

I suppose I am rambling, but I just want to say—don’t ever stop talking, Grease spotters. Wish me luck for another presentation soon. I need new deodorant [or rather antiperspirant]!”


NOTE: If you want to read more of my thoughts on cults and fundamentalism, here on this website check under these categories: “About Cults” and “Issues with Fundamentalism.”

See you next time!

You can click on the first photo to create a slideshow with captions.


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6 Responses

  1. Frank

    I have found Internet sites besides Grease Spot Cafe where former followers of TWI have wriiten their personal stories or instances of Cult abuse:

    Way Corps Group on FaceBook



  2. Rob Ruff

    Please continue spreading the word, Charlene. And I’ll definitely keep an eye out for a repeat airing of the History Channel show.

    • Charlene L. Edge

      You can count on that! Perhaps the show is online for viewing?

  3. Suzanne Keefe

    Read your comments and am proud of what you are doing. I shudder to think of how innocent young people, who are vulnerable are recruited. One example is the way ISIS is recruiting our young folks.

    • Charlene L. Edge

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here, Suzanne.
      Yes, many young people get recruited to cults, but many older ones do, too. Why?
      One reason, I think, is that many people are looking for certainty in an uncertain world. Certainty about something is appealing. In The Way International, there were not only “young people” dazzled by the guru’s claims. That guru was convincing, and when/if a person is vulnerable enough, bingo. In The Way there were/are grown adults, including some educated professionals.

      In The Way International’s heyday I knew lawyers, doctors, architects, accountants, writers, teachers, and all sorts of educated folks even with PhD degrees. They just knew nothing about how to counter-act Wierwille’s dogmatic fundamentalism. And he was a charismatic, authoritarian manipulator who knew how to use people. And he claimed God was guiding him.

      The challenge is that fundamentalist cults (and fundamentalists in general) are so convinced about their beliefs, which often include some kind of Bible knowledge or religious belief, that it can be hard to turn away. Emotions seem to drive people to do things rather than reasoned decision making.

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