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Date Posted: 01:52:47 05/31/18 Thu
Hello, I’ve been watching this forum from a distance for quite a while now, and I feel at this time I am finally comfortable enough to share my own experiences from my time growing up as a child within the AOY.
First and foremost I want to establish that my family and I were not part of the greater Bethel congregation. My parents were, and still are, members residing on the general west coast. We did, however, travel out to the larger congregation every year for the feast of tabernacles and had a considerable amount of interaction with those members at those times. My purpose in writing this is to perhaps provide a differing perspective on the AOY and how their doctrine and climate is a dark, toxic one that breeds abusive behavior, and has extreme potential to damage the development of children (such as was my experience.) The environment of the AOY is one that is so deeply problematic that issues seep away from Bethel and into the lives of people thousands of miles away from the headquarters.
My entire childhood I grew up terrified of my father. He was the type of man to rule with a harsh iron fist, and he rarely took kindly to any sort of behavior that he perceived as insubordination. His abuse ranged from binding my hands and mouth with duct tape out of anger at my compulsive fidgeting to various forms of excessive corporal punishment, including once becoming so enraged at me, while on the Bethel campgrounds, that he lifted me up by my shoulders and slammed me against the wall of a building to scream in my face. My father was incredibly stifling in my development and even to this very day I still have an extreme, almost instinctual violent reaction to others attempting to control my life or my actions. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to look upon my father’s behavior and begin to understand him. My father takes his biblical perspective, wherein he is the head of the household, as a de-facto validation of any and all of his actions as correct, and just. His abusive behavior effects not only myself but my siblings and my mother as well, and yet my father is absolutely content to sit in blissful ignorance as his family falls apart around him while he clutches to his biblical justification that nothing he does can be wrong or ever challenged. A perspective that he is enabled in by the AOY’s teachings.
Along with the abuse I suffered at the hands of my father, my childhood was largely stunted due to my parents overbearing attempt to shut out all “worldly influences”. Anything that didn’t immediately co-opt their beliefs was shut out from my life and I was chastised for even attempting to learn about things outside of my very small, warped perception of the world. In retrospect I was living in what essentially amounted to a propaganda bubble. Unable to learn for myself, make any of my own decisions, or even be aware that there were world perspectives other than the one that was constantly shoved down my throat against my will.
As I grew older, I began to question more and more about the AOY, about myself, and everything I knew. I began to ask questions to my parents regarding the AOY’s doctrine and problems I had with it. They directed me to give my questions to one of the deacons in the Assembly, to which I did. I wrote a long letter regarding various issues I had with AOY doctrine, and at the next feast of tabernacles, I was able to discuss in person my concerns with Solomon Meyer (This was approximately a year or so before his departure.) I was able to discuss not only with him but various other leadership members including Nathaniel Meyer, and Gary McAvin. My questions were met with almost universal dismissal and indifference from all parties. It was here that I realized the AOY’s entire religious stance is predicated on not questioning the faith. Questions on doctrine or scripture is interpreted not as an opportunity to educate someone, but almost as a form of sin. Questioning is always assumed to be in bad faith, and the leadership would rather shame someone for asking questions than attempt to answer them. Whether this is due to laziness or an inability to explain their beliefs when put under actual scrutiny is still unclear to me this very day.
Another observation I made upon growing older was the incredible inconsistency in the AOY’s stance on certain topics from member to member, and incredible hypocrisy in what the Bethel leadership taught and what actually occurred within the immediate Bethel assembly.
On the topic of inconsistent beliefs between members, being a child growing up in the early 2000’s, I remember that pokemon was a huge deal with children my age, however I was consistently banned anything pokemon related as a child, because my parents claimed that it was something that encouraged pagan beliefs. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise then when upon arriving at the feast of tabernacles one year, I found many children, including the children of leadership members playing pokemon. Yes, I’m fully aware that the pokemon stance is almost painfully insignificant in the grand scheme of things regarding the AOY. However, I think this anecdote is representative of the fact that the AOY in many key areas doesn’t set up boundaries for it’s members, leading to may direct contradictions between members that have no clear resolution. And if I, a young ten year old who just wants to play pokemon can notice the discrepancy, they have a problem.
The Bethel leadership also would constantly make many ridiculous claims and take stances that they themselves wouldn’t keep. The leadership would constantly preach about how “gossip” was not allowed in the AOY, and yet a sort of red scare-esque gossip ran absolutely rampant throughout the AOY. To the point that people began spreading false rumors about my family for seemingly no discernable reason, other than to just cause a spectacle. Add on to that a litany of absurd and outdated rules such as the banning of “all rock music” for no other reason than what would seem to be Jacob O Meyer’s lack of understanding of the genera.
All of these issues culminated in either the FOT of 2012 or 2013, the last one I attended.
The last FOT I attended was an absolute train wreck of the highest proportions. Things ranged from Solomon and Nathaniel Meyer getting into open, public arguments during services. Gary McAvin solidifying himself as to complete unstable madman he is by bringing a knife up to the pulpit and essentially threatening other people. To Solomon and Nathaniel’s apologies at the end of the feast. All of these only solidified in my mind that if Yahweh, God, or any deity existed, then this was surely not the place that they resided.
Since breaking off from the AOY I have had no contact with anyone I knew there, excluding my immediate family. Between my father’s abuse, justified by the doctrine of the AOY, the uprooting of everything I had believed in since I was born, and various other personal issues either separate or tangentially related to the AOY, I’ve suffered from severe depression issues over the past five years. I’m often struck with moments of absolute terror and panic that I may be on God’s bad side so to speak after leaving the AOY before I can bring myself back to reality. These feelings and beliefs were so deeply instilled in me from my early childhood that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully overcome everything I’ve been through.
In conclusion, the AOY is a horrible, toxic environment that encourages nothing but a monolithic ideology, to which any deviation from their path is considered abhorrent and evil, while somehow maintaining a miraculous level of hypocrisy as to how that path actually works.
To any members, children, or anyone else in the AOY at this moment: Do not be afraid to break away. Do not let others tell you what or how to think. Things may seem like they will get worse if you break away but ultimately things will be better.
The devil you know is not always better than the devil you don’t.
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