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Jim Kennedy

Jim Kennedy Speaks

Dear Friends, members, ex-members, former friends and current leadership. Sorry for the pun in the subject bar, but it is time for me to begin to talk about my experiences in GGWO/The Bible Speaks. For those of you who don't know me or don't remember, a brief bio:

Attended TBS/GGWO 1981-1993
Graduate Steven's School of the Bible, 1986
Graduate Maryland Bible College and Seminary 1992,BA Christian Ministries
Ordination, June 1987
Faculty Member MBCS(Part Time)1989-1993
Director of New Attendee Visitation (unofficial title) 1989-1993
Staff Member full time, 1993
Missions: Missionship LaGracia, assistant pastor, pastor, deck hand, chief mate, 1986-1987
Part Time Foreign Missions including Sierra Leone, West Africa; Morrocco, England, Ireland, Honduras, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Haiti.

I plan to share my testimony regarding my experience with GGWO and in particular why I quit. There is no malicious intent on my part in sharing this information nor is it my intention to defame or influence anyone's decision in relationship to GGWO. This is my story about what happened. It is my sincere hope that this will be of great help to all involved. I also hope this will aid those in the thick of the current leadership crisis at GGWO.

"God is Love. He who does not love does not know God"

Part I - The Main Thing

It's Sunday night and service has started. The congregational singing, as usual, is inspiring. The band sounds good tonight, and everyone seems to be in great spirits.

I'm standing in the front row on stage, taking it all in. I've got one of the chief seats tonight, right next to Stevens. There was a disturbance at the a.m. service when someone walked up to the stage during the message and started talking to him, and since none of our gun toting security people knew how to handle it, I walked over and put the guy in a seat. So now we're on some kind of alert and he's asked me to sit next to him.

I'm more excited than usual about this service. There's a couple here for the first time, I met them when I painted their kitchen. A couple from the church had befriended them, helping them through various things including the death of their dog. They're nice people, sitting up front on the far right side.

The soloist finishes her song, Stevens strides to the pulpit, and it starts:

"Hell, satan, conspiracy, evil, demons using your vocal chords, loss of all rewards, bema seat, judgment, don't listen to evil..." I look at the new couple and I want to leave the building. I'm not the only one: an overweight woman who has difficulty walking is headed for the restroom. He's yelling now; "I DON'T WANT PEOPLE WALKING AROUND DURING THE MESSAGE." It gets worse, he's explaining that Heb.13:17 means he'll be there with God, judging us. Carl Stevens on the throne with God, handing out rewards. He goes overtime. That nice new couple exits at around 9:30; we'll never see them again. He finally stops at 9:50. All I can think is, "What am I doing here?"

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The good news. The resurrection. No more penalty for sin, your sins are paid for. "He that hears my word and believes on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation." What ever happened to all that?

There are those who will contend that Stevens taught them the "finished work", and may still be clinging to a message he preached 15 years ago about "no condemnation." It's my contention that those messages are the exception and not the rule. Of course you've got to give them some hope once in a while or only the very serious masochists would attend. Since when is the gospel drawing a line in the sand and saying 'you're either for us or against us?' When does following Jesus mean talking about the devil all the time? When does the love of God include teeing off on someone who doesn't want to go to your church any more? How could we be so blind?

Having a pulpit is a powerful thing. Add an audience of true believers, innocent sheep hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and you have a perfect vehicle to control people’s thinking and further your personal agenda. It's about power, money, and keeping people in the seats. Reading the stories of people about how difficult it was for them to break away from GGWO, how fearful they are that God isn't pleased with them, and some of the problems they have, I can only conclude that it was done intentionally. It's 12 years and I'm still haunted by it.

A visiting speaker from another denomination spoke at graduation one year and I'll never forget what he had to say: "The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing." Yes, its true, God is love. Yes, its true if you believe you'll be saved. Yes, despite all the difficulties, pain, and loss, God was with you when you walked out of that church. And if you're still stuck there He's with you too.

"But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life through His name."

Part II - Confess

"In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established...In a multitude of counselors there is safety...Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another."

The world of Carl H. Stevens will always be a mystery to most of us, there's no way to determine what his motives really are. But one thing is certain, he is the absolute king of that world. One way he maintains this is with the "no talk" rule.

It has never ceased to amaze me how in such a large group of people I just never heard a conversation where anyone disagreed with Stevens. We were literally programmed to never voice any doubts, fears, or misgivings. It gets kind of strange then, like it's just you and him... Of course when you leave then things really swing into motion. People won't listen because they don't want to be "defiled by listening to an evil report."

The last meeting I attended with Stevens at GGWO took place in the cafeteria before grace hour. It was a small group, mostly pastors. He came in and just went off. He started talking about some gifts of knowledge he had received and started giving names and details.('God told me so and so is doing this'...can you imagine?) He also said that if you don't tithe you're not spiritually covered, and if you didn't submit to his direct authority you'd never be blessed. He tore into us about our schedules and then it was over. (So was my tenure on staff; I quit that afternoon.)

Two pastors who attended the meeting approached me at different times to talk about it. "I think pastor was way out of line...I don't know what to think about that meeting." I was the one who then said "I don't think we should be talking about this." I really regret that. I quit because I couldn't take it any more, but I should have spoken up. The irony is both of those guys let me know how off I was for leaving when I really hadn't discussed it with anyone but Stevens.

You have a right to communicate your thoughts and feelings concerning your walk with God. Especially when you see red lights going off all over the place. Maybe someone else caught that abuse of scripture you heard. Maybe someone else feels like they're not being fed any more. And it's especially important to tell your friends why you're leaving. How many times did you not say anything because you thought 'I don't want to hurt the work of God.' Or worse because you thought God would punish you. That's no accident so many of us felt that way: we were wired to do it. It's taken years for me to get over it.

The other sad thing is we were always afraid to just be ourselves. We didn't want to appear weak by telling someone things weren't as great as maybe they appeared. It's important to have someone to talk to when you have problems, doubts, fears, or sins. It's normal, healthy, and yes, scriptural. And why does that person have to be a pastor?

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"

Part Three - Wreckage

"I've been swimming in a sea of anarchy,
I've been living on coffee and nicotine,
I've been wondering if all the things I've seen,
Were ever real..."

It's a beautiful October morning in 1997. I'm sitting in a tree waiting for a deer to come by. It's almost 4 years now since I walked out of GGWO. The sun came up big and beautiful, casting its color across the cloud line. It's unusually peaceful in the woods today, I haven't felt this at peace in such a long time...I look at the arrows in the quiver of my bow, each tipped with three sharp razor blades. And all I can think is: "I could climb out of this tree, sit down on the ground, and cut my wrists... and that would be just fine with me."

When people check out of GGWO damage control begins on several fronts. First, Stevens marks that person. The statement "we don't mark people" is total baloney. I've sat in many meetings with a group of pastors and the pastor who is leaving is discussed in great detail. They're "deceived, leaving God's will", their doctrine is off. I saw pastors dispatched to have a talk with the guilty party and Stevens tells them exactly what to say. That way he won't be blamed for it. Another tactic is to bring up some problem or sin the person had discussed with him in confidence..."he's always had a bad marriage...his wife is against authority, etc." That's enough for any query concerning why so and so left; one of these pastors will get the word out as needed.

Next are messages and raps. Stevens will discuss it from a "doctrinal position", twisting scriptures to make his point. No names are mentioned, but those close to the situation can usually figure it out. Sometimes this backfires, especially at raps...I can think of at least one branch pastor who left and took his people with him when he found out what was being said about him.

Third, an effort is made to give the appearance of trying to get the person back. I wrote Stevens in great detail explaining the problems I had with the message and the way he slandered people behind the scenes. He responded with a letter of his own, stating basically that he would run the church "as directed by God" and that I shouldn't "let satan come in." Pretty specific. He knew why I left. Later, I got a note saying "I am not aware of saying anything that would hurt you" with an apology attached. So now everyone thinks he apologized, they just never see the other links in the chain.

Time doesn't permit any more discussion on all the particulars. We lost all our friends. The people we were closest to came at us the hardest. I was fielding those phone calls from assisting pastors that I mentioned earlier. I went from being gifted to growing horns in the minds of most concerned.

Barbara had it the worst. She was working for Michael Marr at the time. She liked working for him, he paid and treated her well, even doing some legal work for us at no cost. But once we left she was under constant pressure from him and his ministry clients, telling her how off I was. I could usually deflect any charge by hitting the person over the head with scripture, but she just couldn't handle it. She'd visit friends and come home in tears. Our best friends were calling us evil.

Three years later Barb woke up one Sunday morning, drove to the church, and walked into Stevens office. She got down on her knees and in tears asked him why he was doing this to us and begged him to stop. The next morning (1-15-96), Stevens got on the radio and stated that if people leave the will of God, he wounds them by making them mentally ill.

It was all too much for Barbara. Things went downhill for her from there. I don't have her permission to go into any more detail, it's her story to tell if she chooses. We separated in Oct. 1996 and divorced several years later. Yes, I blame the ministry.

People who go through difficult situations often suffer from a condition called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, otherwise known as Battle Fatigue. It's very real. When I explained to my doctor about how we had been ostracized, he made and interesting comment: " Solitary confinement is what they do to prisoners to break them."

Somehow I survived that deer hunting trip.

"God is love, he who does not love does not know God"

Part IV - Small Man Complex

Sycophant, n, [L sycophanta, informer, swindler fr.Gk sykophantes, informer](1575): a servile self-seeking flatterer, syn see parasite.

Next time you're sitting in church at Frankford Plaza take a good look at those guys sitting up on the platform. I was one of those guys. Bible open, notebook out, laughing at his jokes, applauding. As with everything at GGWO, there's more to the picture than meets the eye. Stevens can't exist in a vacuum.

These are the guys who know beyond any doubt that what I'm saying is true. They are the hand picked yes men, the sham of an elders committee. Their ministry is to support anything and everything Stevens says. They will never leave, and they will never admit to anything he or they have done wrong. In exchange they get his attention, something as dear to them as life itself.

I attended meetings with Stevens and these guys all the time. We should have worn T-shirts...on the front "yes pastor" and on the back "I'm just happy to be here." We sat and listened to gossip, rumors, and casting of suspicion on an almost daily basis. And don't think it's just about people who leave, his most loyal followers are not immune from the constant stream of criticism which flows from his mouth:

Schaller doesn't run his ministry right, Dan Lewis is insecure because of his relationship with his father, "I don't know what George Robertson does, all we do is pay him". I heard him sarcastically refer to Steve Schibelli as "the apostle." "85% of the church is carnal." Missionaries are constantly maligned, particularly the pastors. With all the emphasis on missions you'd be amazed at how mad he gets when people go, its almost like they're leaving the ministry. "Is Scott Robinson going to do any work this week...Michael Marr is ok for an outsider." Even a sweet man like Dick Colby was not spared. He actually criticized Steve Nordfors for dying! All the time, effort, and money, all the sacrifices you make, he couldn't care less. And the yes men sit and nod their heads, applauding his messages about sowing discord.

Two of my best friends at GGWO were Butch Veader and Brian Costic. Stevens called me in his office one day and said they were "out looking at prostitutes" on their trip to Japan, that one of them had unzipped his fly and pulled it out on the bus. A very serious accusation. I said: "did you talk to them about it?" The answer is no, he doesn't have the guts to confront anyone. He'll just send one of his yes men. (I knew both of those guys pretty well, there was nothing in their behavior that gave any indication that they were capable of that kind of behavior, and I told Stevens that.)

But no one around him does anything to stop it. They just sit there on the platform, laughing at his jokes, taking notes, applauding. They are sycophants. And they know every word I've said is true. You guys make me want to vomit.

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things"


"It isn't over 'till it's over."

It's not easy for me to evaluate everything that's happened to me re. The Bible Speaks/GGWO. Like a lot of you, I dropped out of college (Berklee College of Music) to join the church. There's no way for me to know what would have happened if I hadn't done that. Sometimes I feel shortchanged. Honestly, I can't point to some positive experience or relationship that would make it seem worth it. I honestly feel I would have been better off if I'd never set foot in that church. I feel like I was hustled.

I do have one really close friend who's still at GGWO. We put our friendship ahead of all the stuff at the church. I know he was sticking his neck out. I am so thankful for him and I hope he got to read all this.

I also apologize for anything I said or did that hurt anybody while I was there. I'm sorry for judging and holding the party line. The thing that we all have in common is that we are only responsible for the information we have: we really didn't know what we were getting into. When the picture cleared up, we got out.

My boss is a friend I know from high school. He's a great success and maybe the smartest person I have ever met. I heard him counseling a victim who had been conned out of some money. I thought what he said was profound: "Questions that begin with WHY rarely have answers."

Why did God allow this to happen to me? We've all asked that one. Maybe something yet to happen will show us. Maybe it's just the reality of the world we live in. I just know its not over for us yet. Some of you are doing so well in your new lives, you should be proud of yourselves! Some people never get out.

"All things work together for good to those who love God.”