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M. Potter's Story

I've read different perspectives from the personal testimonies that people have had with TBS/GGWO, and would like to add my experiences with this group.

My personal testimony is simply my experience, nothing more, nothing less. Take from it what you will. I grew up Catholic, and by my early 20's I met this High School girl who shared the plan of salvation. I accepted Jesus as my Savior. She invited me to the Baltimore Bible Speaks in May 1983. There I was transformed by the WOG (word-of-God) as it was preached by Pastor Stephen Duff, and was eager to attend the 3 services each week. I was inspired as to how the Bible was preached, taking notes, highlighting their Bibles, categorical doctrine, exposition of Greek, and the kindness of (some) others. I knew nothing of church government, and frankly didn't care about it either. There seemed to be an inner-group of people close to Pastor Duff and his wife Michelle, mainly young women. I knew of a few that lived in the home with the Duffs. Hindsight says this was a clique, not unusual for Bible Speakers. I just thought I was too 'new' for this inner group closest to pastor.

We were meeting on Harford road at that time. With some folks leaving for Lenox for the fall semester '83, I stopped going to church by Christmas.

Eventually, I found my way back to the Bible Speaks, with two other friends. I'd hear testimonies as to the convention to be held in Lenox in June '85. We three went, along with about 10 others from Baltimore. Boy, did it rain all week, and we we're out in tents. I saw the bigger and better 'body life' as was down in Baltimore. I met folks from around the U.S. and the world; it was something I could never have imagined. I remember staying up all night, helping to wallpaper the dining room. We finished before breakfast started. Go figure, my co-laborers were all but strangers a mere 24 hours ago, yet the kinship of the Lord made everyone like a brother.

Two notable events occurred while I was there. I met a godly woman from the Pittsburgh ministry. By mid-week, I agreed to have lunch. Twenty minutes later, my riend met some of us in the hallway and said "Dr. Stevens is having a private lunch in a separate room, hurry and get in, while there are still seats (available)". I said "I have other lunch plans, thanks but no thanks". With that she rebuked me with "You'd choose lunch with 'them', rather than the (rare) opportunity to sit with Pastor?" This attitude was new to me. I didn't know where she got this perspective (of pastor worship). After all, we had only been in Lenox for 3 or 4 days. I just thought she was overly zealous. From that point on, I was paying attention as to where she might have gotten this idea. I especially was paying attention to (any) pastor's message regarding pastor-worship.

I returned to Baltimore, became active in outreaches, and sat under Pastor Stephen Duff. On one outreach project we had a meeting with Duff and there were about 8 body members present. At the conclusion of the meeting I asked "So what's the plan for tomorrow?" With that Pastor Duff smiled and replied, "We'll just keep the devil guessing". He never did answer my question, he just left me guessing. Little did I know that I was 'marked', and I didn't even know it.

Over the next 9 months, I kept in correspondence with this gal from Pittsburgh. By Christmas '85 I was taking trips up to the Pittsburgh Bible Speaks to visit the "Knappers" (Pastor Knapp). I saw there the same body life that is indicative to both Lenox and Baltimore (what's not to love?!!). By early 1986, this Pittsburgh gal came and visited the Baltimore ministry. After the Sunday morning service, I was happy to introduce her to 'my' Pastor (Duff). With that he asked to be excused with her, and they left to seclusion for about 5 minutes. Upon her return, she looked somewhat disoriented, but with the doctrine of privacy, I didn't press her for what pastor had said to her. With our foundation of 'no-touch-love', marriage arrangements were made for May of '86. Only then did she confess what Pastor Duff had told her that day about me: "he has mental issues (lie #1) and is under my private counseling (lie #2), if you tell him I told you this, then you'll disrupt his progress to-date in counseling, don't consider marrying him, and don't tell him I told you this."

With this revelation as to who Stephen Duff is, and what he's capable of doing (abuse of authority, elitism, marking others), we got married under the Pittsburgh ministry and since I owned a house here in the Baltimore area, we started attending the Columbia, MD Bible Speaks with Pastor Joel Freeman. Just before we left for Columbia, the Baltimore ministry was in full swing with buying land for a new church, and phone calls were made to current homeowners as to their ability to 'help'. Presumably, for co-signing the church bank loan with our mortgages on the line as collateral. Stephen Duff ended up stepping down from the Baltimore Bible Speaks about the same time Lenox was looking for a new main campus. My new wife and I were excited about the prospect of Lenox being in our own Baltimore backyard.

In 1987, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Stevens personally, even one-on-one as to my Stephen Duff issue, and the Dovydenas court case. I was impressed with Dr. Stevens position as to Duff's negligence on Biblical church government and pastoral authority, and I became satisfied with the Dovydenas explanation. I'll explain why below.

Since seeing the pastor worship, I'd listen to pastor's messages looking for some solid reason as to why some folks would think this. Yes, pastors deserve double honor, yes, any pastor can be deemed a man-of-God's service, ie. "God's Man", yes there's delegated authority for a pastor, but as learning the Bible first, at TBS, and filtering what I heard from the pulpit with the WOG, - I just couldn't figure out where this prophet stuff, (if you've seen Carl, you've seen Jesus) was coming from. So pastor would have said 'sin unto physical death'. I took all of that in a normal perspective as to what the Bible said. I could see Dr. Stevens had "issues" from church splits, conspiracies and the like. I could see that he was gifted, both preaching and maybe healing, or of some gift of knowledge. But I also knew he discouraged the shepherding movement and left autonomy between a believer and the Holy Spirit. Now, I admit I wasn't in any 'inner-circle' or cliques, but as much as anyone can learn from a ministry that includes an abundant amount of church service, rap sessions, prayer-chain, soul winning, etc. I figured I knew something about this place. And with a sense of taking what pastor said in a 'good' way, I couldn't say there was characteristically a misuse of doctrine or authority behind the pulpit (pulpit only, I don't have any first hand experience to any closed door sessions). I came to conclude that pastor worship, generated by some, was not because of the Bible teaching at GGWO, but in spite of the Bible teaching, an aberration of the people that didn't listen to the WOG. So if someone befriended Betsy and could have easily mis-characterized or dramatized the role or authority of Carl Stevens, then I felt it wasn't the fault of the pastoral leadership at that time circa 1987. Of course, this was my perspective then.

So with Lenox in Baltimore, my wife and I started attending on a regular basis from '87 to '91. For unspoken reasons, Joel Freeman disaffiliated himself from GGWO. I rose to the challenge of a husband and father to lead my family. I sat in service and acclimated to Pastor Stevens. Ninety-nine percent of what I heard was already in the pattern I was used to (great & godly and in-depth), yet it seemed with every church service, something would stick in my craw. Whether it was the 'new-and-fresh' exposition of doctrine that pastor claimed was never thoroughly examined by others, or healing services where people are healed of diseases that they don't even know they have, or jacking up the 'body' with faux-spiritualism, the list goes on. While these were relatively minor points, there's more that follows.

I had an opportunity to sit in on some type of ACD class that CHS was teaching. There he talked about gossip, which was fine. He went on about don't gossip, don't spread it, don't, don't, don't! Then he interjected about going to your own pastor about a heart-felt concern about the brethren. He posed the question to the class, "who here thinks it's OK to tell your pastor 'things' about another person? Raise your hand." As he waited only 3 or 4 of us raised our hands, with the rest sitting there like manikins. Maybe 60 people in the class, I don't know, but it was less than 5% of us that knew the 'truth'. Here I am, merely visiting the class as a non-student, surrounding by, from what I thought, the more spiritual and progressing members of the body, and the majority of students are stumbling over a simple question, simply because pastor was leading in the counter-direction of the correct answer just seconds before. And it dawned on me that while Pastor Stevens was technically correct, the students were lacking so much in Godly discernment, initiative, and whatever else. I was embarrassed for them and as being numbered among them. I can conclude that at GGWO there can be a strange body spirit, lacking real discernment of the WOG - we've all seen it. Now some will say that Pastor Stevens was on his paranoid kick, and looking for dirt on others by wanting folks to tell him gossip. That may or may not be true, but what I saw in ACD was an active teacher, teaching correctly, and most everybody missing it.

So as the months turned into years, I felt in trepidation about approaching my wife to discuss finding another church. This was heresy, and I knew it. She didn't take well to the idea. I thought it wise to give her 'room', and while I visited a local Baptist church in the area, I quietly encouraged her to seek what was right for the family. I took no exceptions as to the friends she kept, only that, as a family, we stand together in choosing a church we can both agree on. It took her 9 months to join me at church. I was thankful for this.

Having nothing against GGWO, we 'visited' a nightly service one week in the early 1990's. It was refreshing to see old friends and remember the good times of the past. As it turns out, it was a big mistake to revisit. While I was capable of visiting and going forward in our life, my wife felt drawn (or as she would say “called') to this past. From that point on, there was more strife and contention in the home. While I had a God-given mandate to lead our family, my wife chose 'horizontal attachments', namely that of GGWO 'body-life', and rejected a believer's vertical with God. As is typical with GG people, she'd concoct doctrines never preached from the pulpit, nor found in the Bible. Phrases such as "If I didn't see you pray about it, then it must be a fleshly decision", "I should follow God whenever I think you're 'off'“, "We were married in TBS, you should have told me beforehand, that you were planning to leave". There were many more un-scriptural statements made by her.

We petitioned counseling, both inside and outside the ministry for resolution from '93 to '98. Any resolution that we agreed on, eventually disintegrated into a statement by her, such as "I never did like that idea", "you made me agree to that", etc. I could see a concerted effort on her part to discredit her husband, therefore a license to do what she wanted. Even counseling with Pastor Paul led to nothing. I discerned a spirit of immaturity as he bragged that "(I) didn't tell you what to do". The only time I ever heard my wife take the blame (responsibility) for anything, was when she was taking it to protect her 'horizontals' (GGWO). Being with this group was more precious than life/marriage itself. Attacking anything that stood in her way (including me) was not beyond her capability. One phrase during more than one marriage discussions included the phrase "Pastor Stevens is my pastor", which she used to truncate any discussion of choosing a local church. Obviously she had her priorities, and marital unity wasn't one.

With our marital separation going on for a year, my wife called me sometime around August (about 1998) to say that she had placed our 3 kids in the GGWO Christian Academy, with the school year starting in 3 weeks. While the depth and scope of a husband's direction for a wife could be contested, certainly the leading of the children is definitely a domain that includes the father. I implored her not do it. It fell on deaf ears. With that, I took it to the next level as the Bible would say, and I petitioned the dean of the school to meet with me. I fully expected that the integrity of delegated authority would be respected and that GGCA would not want kids in the school, unless the parents agreed. I met with the dean, Pastor Baker and within 3 minutes he simply said 'no, I'm not going to do it'. This encounter left a big impression on me. I realized that GGWO leadership is not interested in families and marital harmony, but simply numbers thru the front door. (Comment: For all the folks out there that count the lives helped and saved in this ministry, you should also count the ones destroyed and wounded.)

I petitioned for divorce and it was granted in Sept. 2002. I had no Biblical grounds for this, other than the spiritual adultery and the years and years of vicious attacks on my personhood that knew no limits. She left the Baltimore ministry shortly thereafter. Though she's never admitted why, I think it's from the Pastor Paul fiasco.

Again, this is just my experience with this group. I can't speak on things that I didn't have direct knowledge of. I left out the hearsay stories that are second-hand. I just thought others might glean something from this account.

M. Potter