The Poisoning of Families

Mind Control in The Way International

by John P. Juedes

The adherents to some cults and new religions are under such firm control from their leaders that they seem to follow with an almost feverish, blind and irrational allegiance. It appears that no amount of personal pain, errors on the part of their leadership, family problems or valid criticisms of the group can sway their allegiance to the cult.

How can cult leadership exert such control on its followers? Clues can be found in the way one cult, The Way International, manipulates and controls its followers. These practices bring emotional damage into the lives of followers and cause great pain and turmoil in families. For example, one spouse will see the damage that the group causes and leave the group. Because such events can threaten the cult’s control and even its existence, leaders often pressure the believing spouse into winning back the lost spouse or divorcing him or her.

People divorced under any circumstances have been known to try to turn their children against the ex-spouse. This problem is intensified when the divorce involves a parent who has left The Way International, because The Way typically poisons the children’s minds in such a way that they reject and fear the non-Way parent. Because those in The Way believe they have theological reasons to attack their ex-spouses, the attacks are more intense and focused, and are seen as obedience to God.


One of the most damaging aspects of The Way is the ability of its leadership to control many of the thoughts and actions of its followers using tactics of mind control. This is not strictly speaking “brainwashing” (which uses physical abuse) but is the use of emotionally manipulative tactics to direct a person’s attitudes and behavior. Steven Hassan, in his book, Combating Mind Control, describes several features common to groups which use such tactics of mental coercion, including:

• making followers fearful that terrible things will happen to them if they disobey leadership or leave the group. Way leaders say that if followers disobey, they will be “outside the protection of the household,” and so they “will be a grease spot by midnight,” that they will be involved in a terrible accident, and that they will destroy their relationship with God.

• requiring followers to obey leadership strictly, even on seemingly minor issues, and even when obedience damages the followers’ lives. For instance, they are compelled to sell their homes if there is a mortgage of any size (even if rental rates are much higher than the mortgage payment), quit a job and move to a new city to be near leadership.

• inducing thought control by requiring recruits to use only approved language and jargon.

• causing followers to block out all information from outside the group. They are required to burn literature which was written by former followers of The Way who left it, even if the content of the books does not contradict current teachings of The Way. They are not allowed to read literature critical of The Way, are told not to read teaching by any religious group except The Way and are taught that even distributing the Bible without The Way’s teaching will mislead people.

isolating followers by requiring them to forsake all outside activities (including children’s school activities) in order to devote long hours to group meetings and work.

• “confronting” errant followers by yelling, screaming, cursing, haranguing and verbally battering followers until they obey leadership.

• compelling youth, as well as parents, to “renew their minds” by submitting themselves to constant indoctrination, including The Way publications, classes, taped sermons, and so forth. They are compelled to attend Way meetings several nights a week, usually at the expense of all other school, community and family activities.


The Way freely condemns everyone outside the organization (and often those in it as well) of being “possessed by devil spirits.” The parent who is a Way member considers the ex-spouse to be spiritually in error, stuck in “negative believing,” a tool of the devil to oppose The Way, and probably “possessed by devil spirits.” The Way member often tells the children to be wary of, resist, not obey or avoid the fallen-away parent to protect themselves from the influence of the parent’s devil spirits. The most common and vicious claim is that people are possessed by “homosexual devil spirits.” Way President Craig Martindale saves his most severe condemnations for those he thinks may have any homosexual leaning (including people who are clearly heterosexual), and teaches in his basic “The Way of Abundance and Power” classes that homosexuality was the first sin ever committed, and is the most heinous of sins.

Therefore, Way leaders often assert that non-Way parents are possessed by devil spirits, and warn their children to be wary of or fear their parents because of this. It is easy to find “reasons” to believe that a non-Way parent is possessed, partly because the list of potential devil spirits is so long and varied.

The founder’s “Advanced Power for Abundant Living” class, on which The Way’s current teachings on devil spirits is based, listed more than 31 varieties of devil spirits, including: Spirit of Anti-Christ, Bondage, Error, Fear (in any realm of life), Jealousy, Emulation (ambition), Envy, Infirmity, Iniquity, Leviathan (alcoholics), Oppression, Depression, Hallucination (often from drugs), Cancer, Murder, Epilepsy, Lesbianism, Sensuality, Obsession, Sadism, Lying, Deception, Python, Masochism and many more.

Followers of The Way can easily see many more devil spirits in non-Way parents, even when they aren’t actually there. Especially a Spirit of Strife (people who can’t see and entirely obey The Way’s version of truth), Whoredoms (especially not worshiping The Way’s version of God; therefore, in most anyone in any religion or church other than The Way), a Morbid Spirit (sickness), Sordid Spirit (foul language), Sullen Spirit (introvert, sourpuss, unsociable, which may well be confused with the sadness of being recently divorced and under attack by a Way ex-spouse), Spirit of Python (being critical, as any ex-Way spouse would be of The Way), and other devil spirits.

Since devil spirits can harm people, children are taught by The Way to avoid people, including parents, who may be possessed.


The Way’s current practice of “purge, mark and avoid” (which are Way terms) is another means The Way uses to put wedges between children and a parent who is no longer in The Way. The Way has taken great pains in the last 10 years to “purge” its ranks of those who do not give Way leadership their complete allegiance and obedience. Confrontation of followers considered to be weak or in error often includes verbal abuse. This aggressive confrontation has been strongly promoted in leader training, Sunday services and The Way Magazine, which is distributed to all of its followers.

However, when followers do not immediately obey leaders and respond to every one of their demands, leaders “mark and avoid” them. In other words, leaders tell them to stay away from all Way activities, and tell all “faithful” followers to have nothing to do with them — not even to speak to them. Therefore, the ex-spouse avoids the non-Way parent as much as possible and teaches the children to do the same. The Way pressures children to choose obedience to Way leadership (which to them is obeying God Himself) rather than (not in addition to) developing a relationship with the non-Way parent. “M & A” is often a factor causing divorce between spouses, and becomes a factor in children “divorcing” the non-Way parent.


Way teachers typically verbally attack anyone who is not in The Way, so as children accept Way teaching, they tend to turn against parents and family members who are not in The Way. Profanity and name-calling are typical in the language of Way followers and Way leaders. The Way President Martindale sets the example, since he peppers his conversation, lectures and even sermons with profanity. In a brief, 15-minute impromptu talk to his followers during a Sunday Night Service (May 4, 1997), he called his critics “morons,” “snot-nosed punk,” “can’t find their ---- in the dark,” full of “devil spirits,” “not have two brain cells to rub together,” etc. He identified the local newspaper as “St. Mary’s puke sheet” and mused at how wonderful it would be if all journalism and law schools were burned down. In less public settings he is even more profane. Since children commonly hear Way members and leaders call their non-Way parents profane and derogatory names, this reduces their respect for their non-Way parents.


Members believe that only they have “holy spirit” with the ability to understand spiritual things to hear from God. Therefore, everyone else is “natural man,” and can’t be trusted to have right thinking and believing about anything. Thus, children are taught not to trust, accept, rely on, or act on anything the non-Way parent says, since it is bound to be wrong and lead them away from the truth and into all kinds of harm (to The Way, physical, psychological and spiritual harm are all intertwined).


Way members are taught that the President of The Way is “The Man of God” and that they must give allegiance to and obey him in all things, no matter how insignificant, and even if it appears that he is in error. Way members are also told to obey local leadership, especially the “clergy” and “Way Corps” who have graduated from The Way’s leadership program.

Anyone who closely views the lives of Way members is amazed and shocked by how every aspect of their followers’ lives is controlled. Leadership tells followers whom to date, whom to marry (and not marry), when to separate or divorce, how to spend their time and money, when to sell their house, where to live, when to change jobs, how to discipline their children, the list goes on. In recent years, leaders have told Way members to vacate certain towns and move close to leaders (sometimes hundreds of miles away, as when Way members in Saint Louis were all told to move to Columbia, Mo., in 1998) to be under their “protection.”

Leaders control their followers mainly through fear. Leadership convinces followers that if they do not obey on every point, the followers will:

1) be “confronted,” which amounts to severe and sustained verbal attack and abuse;

2) terrible things will happen to them, such as accidents, illness or death;

3) Way leaders will convince all other Way followers to “mark and avoid” them — that is, to avoid all contacts with them, even if they are spouses or immediate family. Because children are especially vulnerable, non-Way parents are concerned that their children will be dominated and controlled by uncaring Way leadership (which will be reinforced by the parent who remains in The Way), and have little or no personal freedom.

This problem is even worse when the woman is the ex-Way parent. Way members are taught that wives must obey their husbands in all things, and many husbands use this as a reason to severely subjugate them (this autocratic and pejorative attitude intensifies when the woman leaves The Way). This is partly due to The Way’s teaching that the very first sin on Earth was Eve’s lesbian relationship with the devil.

For these reasons, many believe that children are in a psychologically and emotionally unsound environment when they are in the custody of a parent devoted to The Way. Furthermore, children are at an increasing degree of risk the more they are exposed to The Way through parents who are Way members. Therefore, in order to protect children and maintain family relationships, it is very important to consider involvement with The Way when making child custody and visitation arrangements.

Editor’s Note: Detailed information on The Way International can be found at Dr. Juedes’ web site:

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