(This originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2001 edition of the MCOI Journal, Beginning on page 8)
Back in the late 1980s, Joy and I were discussing a personal issue and felt the need to get some solid spiritual advice. We thought the input of a godly Christian professional would be helpful, so we asked our senior pastor for the name of a good Christian counselor outside the church. He referred us to Bill Fields, president of a small parachurch ministry called PeaceMakers, International. A few years earlier, Fields had cohosted a local Christian radio program to which I had occasionally listened, and since our pastor now recommended him, I assumed he was trustworthy.
We arrived at Fieldsâ€™ office and explained why we were there. In short order, he declared himself a â€œprophetâ€ and spoke and acted as though he had special knowledge far superior to the insights of average Christians like us. Joy is intelligent (but she married me anyway)â€”smart enough to resist people who force their opinions on herâ€”and doesnâ€™t have much patience with prophet â€œwannabes.â€ Fields was clearly irritated when she questioned his confident â€œinsights.â€
Perplexed and dissatisfied with Fieldsâ€™ so-called â€œservices,â€ we obviously never went back, and thought that was the end of that. It wasnâ€™t.
Soon afterward, Fields spoke with our pastor and shared specifics of our confidential â€œcounselingâ€ session with him. Fields said we were â€œvery dangerousâ€ people who needed to be watched. (Those who discourage independent thinking often say that about independent thinkers.) Our pastor didnâ€™t know what to make of this. He knew us quite well. Weâ€™d attended his church for four years, were very involved, and were part of the lay leadership.
So, we met to discuss the matter, and I expressed concern about Fieldâ€™s integrity as a counselor. He not only deliberately violated our confidence, but also broke state of Illinois confidentiality laws regulating counselors. I pointed this out to our pastor, and asked, â€œIs this the kind of person to whom you want to refer people in your church for counseling?â€
He was obviously concerned, but he had no immediate answer.
Over time, we learned heâ€™d referred others in the church to Fields, and we observed a pattern emerge. Vibrant Christiansâ€”whoâ€™d been active in the churchâ€”gradually became increasingly withdrawn as Fields â€œcounseledâ€ them. They resigned from responsible positions where theyâ€™d exercised their gifts and often disappeared altogether. Wonderful believers, once so happy, were now mired deep in depression, wallowing in guilt, and gradually fading out of our congregation after linking up with Fields.
Eventually Fieldsâ€™ relationship with the pastor soured, and he stopped referring people to Fields for counseling. We were relieved about this and assumed weâ€™d heard the last of Bill Fields.
We were wrong.
Back to the Future
In 1994, cult researcher Dave Moore was surfing through an electronic Bulletin Board Service (BBS) run by the Jesus People USA (JPUSA) and moderated by Eric Pement. The World Wide Web was so new that few people used it. For those with computer telephone modems, BBSs like JPUSAâ€™s were a popular way to communicate with others around the world on a variety of topics.Â Â
Moore noticed an ad on the BBS for Aaron Communications (which he knew was Fieldsâ€™ side business). He also knew about with PeaceMakers, International (PMI). Friends of Moore had a daughter who had joined PMI and subsequently cut off family ties for years before finally leaving the group. Moore sent Pement an email charging that Fields was a cult leader. Pement wrote back requesting evidence.Â
Since Mooreâ€™s conducted internal investigations for the U.S. Post Office, this was right up his alley. He contacted the Fewell family in southern Indiana who put him in touch with their daughter Missy. She was still so traumatized from her years in PMI, she wouldnâ€™t talk to Moore, but she gave him the number of another former member, Ron Henzel (now a senior researcher at MCO).Â Â
Henzel hesitated cooperating with the investigation, so I called him to reiterate what Moore told him: JPUSA would probably refer people to Fields for counseling if he remained silent. Understandably, Henzel wanted to put PMI behind him and get on with his life; but he knew, if he didnâ€™t help us, more people would suffer what he had.
Tip of an Iceberg
Henzel relented and put us in contact with other ex-PMI members and relatives of then-current members. Their tragic stories followed a typical pattern: someone would go to Fields for â€œcounseling,â€ join PMI, and eventually cut off all family ties. When relatives pursued the new member, he or she would refer them to Fields saying all communication had to pass through him, and/or the only way to re-establish contact would be to arrange a â€œfamily counselingâ€ session with Fields in charge.
When relatives contacted Fields to get their loved ones back, Fields harangued them with charges of â€œabuse,â€ sometimes implying parents had sexually molested their now-adult children. Families who went the extra mile and met with Fields and their estranged relatives found the endeavor totally futile.
Reconciliation through Fields is always elusive. Thereâ€™s always something else that must be done, something â€œwrongâ€ with the families, something keeping their children, grandchildren, and siblings in PMI and just out of armâ€™s reach.
Separation from truly abusive families is appropriate. However, itâ€™s odd that nearly all Fieldâ€™s clients require separation. Does he have some special talent that causes only abused people to seek his â€œcare,â€ or is he just good at persuading people theyâ€™ve been abused?Â
We presented our evidence to Eric Pement and waited.
Why Canâ€™t We All Just Get Along?
Fields teaches that Christians shouldnâ€™t take other Christians to court. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I answered my telephone and heard a booming voice declaring, â€œI should sue you!â€
It was Fields. Pement informed him of our investigation. From that promising start, we launched into a conversation about the proper way for Christians to handle grievances with each other.Â
â€œNo one has ever taken me through the Matthew 18 process,â€ said Fields, speaking of the Gospel passage about how to pursue reconciliation.
Â â€œAre you saying no one ever tried to take you through it?â€ I asked him.
Â Fields paused. â€œIâ€™m not saying that,â€ he finally admitted.
We eventually discussed the meeting Joy and I had with him years earlier. I confronted him with his breach of confidentiality, and he retorted, â€œYou signed all the same agreements giving me permission to talk to your pastor I had everyone else sign!â€
â€œNo I did not!â€ I replied. â€œNeither of us signed anything.â€
Henzel later informed me that Fields didnâ€™t begin asking people to sign such documents until at least a year or two after we met him. Even if we had signed them, under Illinois law itâ€™s impossible to relinquish oneâ€™s right to counselor-client confidentiality. The statute is extraordinarily specific. Before counselors can divulge private information, it must be put in writing with the identity of the person to whom it will be sent, and the client must give written permission to send it. The law also provides for damages, and has no statute of limitations.
While itâ€™s humorously ironic that someone who threatened me with litigation was more legally vulnerable to me than I was to him, ex-PMI members find little to laugh about when they recall Fieldsâ€™ intimidation tactics. But, I had an advantage they didnâ€™t: I never confessed any of my deep, dark secrets to him.
Fields requires members to confess their sins in his group, no matter how personal, including those already confessed to God years earlier. He even solicits explicit details. In one case, he asked the women in the group what they fantasized about when they masturbated. Although embarrassed, many of them told him. He also told one of the women that he thought of her when he masturbated.
â€œI recall the whole episode,â€ remembers Henzel, â€œbut I certainly donâ€™t recall him asking this question of us men. I hid my shock, but in the end, I did what we all did in PeaceMakers: I assumed Bill was so spiritually advanced that I shouldnâ€™t question him.â€
In Henzelâ€™s case, Fields demonstrated his willingness to use the information heâ€™d collected on him as a weapon before Moore contacted him.
â€œBill takes the same approach to sins we confessed to him that Harry Truman took to the atomic bomb: what good is just having it if you donâ€™t show youâ€™re willing to use it?â€ says Henzel. â€œWhile in PeaceMakers, I confessed things I thought Iâ€™d take to my grave because I thought I could trust Bill, and he convinced me it was a beneficial thing to do.â€
Then Fields divulged one of Henzelâ€™s most embarrassing confessions in a railing letter that he copied to someone in Ronâ€™s new church.
Henzel recalls, â€œI requested a meeting with Bill and someone he called his â€˜spiritual authorityâ€™ to address some issues, and he sent this humiliating letter. I tried to follow biblical procedure, only to see my extremely personal information copied to a third partyâ€”someone I saw every Sunday. It was devastating.â€
It was also a fresh memory when Moore called Henzel asking about PMI. Henzel knew sharing with us meant risking further betrayals, but didnâ€™t want this to happen to others.
Unfortunately, his cooperation wasnâ€™t immediately rewarded. After conducting its own follow-up investigation on Fields, not only did JPUSA leave his personal ad on their BBS, they gave him his own â€œPeaceMakersâ€ sub-BBS!
While disappointing, certain factors made this understandable. First, Fields claimed to espouse a brand of practical theology similar to JPUSAâ€™s, which made him seem trustworthy to them. Second, through his business sideline, Fields got JPUSA a deal on computer equipment, and they were appropriately grateful. Third, because Fields was convincing enough during JPUSAâ€™s investigation, they decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.Â
Before long, Fields used his sub-BBS to violate the confidences of other people and generate ill-will among Chicago-area Christians. No discernible â€œpeacemakingâ€ took place, and things eventually got so out of hand that Pement posted a message rebuking Fields. Finally, in early â€™95, JPUSA received a letter it couldnâ€™t ignore from a PMI memberâ€™s brother. JPUSAâ€™s leadership met in a lengthy session. Within hours, they removed Fieldsâ€™ sub-BBS and replaced it with a terse statement indicating the removal was by mutual agreement.
Peace At Last?
At that point, we couldnâ€™t see much reason to take further action regarding Fields. His group was tiny, and heâ€™d alienated so many people in his Wheaton, Illinois area, it seemed unlikely to attract new members.
Fields also thrived on controversy, displaying a high aptitude for manipulating it to his own advantage. We thought writing about him could give him a platform for recruiting new members, and so we decided against it.
By the mid-â€™90s, Fieldsâ€™ group was so small it no longer could support him financially. He had to get a regular job. He interpreted his increasing isolation as evidence of his â€œprophetâ€ status, although his concept of prophet-hood was closer to the crude, in-your-face style of trash-TV Host Morton Downey, Jr. than to Scripture. Using 20/20 hindsight, it seemed obvious heâ€™d been heading toward self-imposed exile from Christianity for decades.
Fields (now age 55) claims he worked for Bill Gothard during his early 20s, until he was fired after confessing to adultery. Neither Gothard nor anyone else with whom we checked among current and former staff at IBLP remembers him.
In the early â€™80s, some breathed a sigh of relief at Youth For Christâ€™s (YFCâ€™s) national office when Fields left and took his confrontational relationship style with him. While there, however, heâ€™d earned a reputation for successful fund raising. This attracted the attention of the executive director of Metro Chicago YFC (MCYFC), where Fields relocated until he was fired during a dispute with the leadership. He portrays the executive directorâ€”who later was forced to resignâ€”as the villain in the conflict, but MCYFC was experiencing a great deal of turmoil back then, and assessment of blame varies greatly depending on who offers it.
Gary L. Gulbranson was chairman of the MCYFC board. He now pastors Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington. â€œWe had staffers who were dissatisfied with the executive director, and this created a void in the leadership which Bill [Fields] tried to fill,â€ says Gulbranson.
Fieldsâ€™ attempt to exploit the situation led to his termination. The way he explains it, he was the scapegoat until the board later realized the executive director was the real culprit, and they then forced him out.
â€œNo,â€ says Gulbranson. â€œThose were two completely separate issues.â€
However, Fields claims the following on his web site:
â€œWithin weeks the Chairman of the Board, other board member(s) and several staff representatives came to my home and before me and my wife, repented of their firing of me, cleared my name and gave me a check for my continued caring services to staff at Metro Chicago Youth For Christ and told me they had fired/forced the resignation of […] the Executive Director.â€1As Iâ€™m writing this, this is located at http://www.peacemakers.net/answers.htm, under â€œAnswer: #2.â€
â€œNo,â€ says Gulbranson, â€œIf that actually happened, Iâ€™d remember it.â€
He noted that if the board he chaired had â€œrepentedâ€ of firing Fields, they would have hired him back. Just to be sure, Gulbranson asked us to check with another long-time board member, Bob DeJong, who was a board officer when Fields was terminated.
â€œAbsolutely not!â€ said DeJong of the meeting Fields described, â€œIt never happened.â€
Regardless of whoâ€™s right about his termination, Fieldsâ€™ authoritarian style was clearly headed for more trouble. Stan Lambert, a Judson College student from 1978 to 1982, worked part-time at MCYFC. â€œBill helped me work through some very difficult issues,â€ said Stan. â€œBack then, he was a powerful and positive influence in my life.â€
Over the years, Lambert occasionally contacted Fields for advice or to offer support. â€œNot until we met in 1999 did I detect trouble,â€ said Stan. â€œI wanted to renew our friendship and offer significant financial support, but got more than I expected.â€
Throughout the meeting, he sensed Fields trying to manipulate him into self-doubt. Afterward, Lambert e-mailed him expressing concerns and offered to work together to address them. Fieldsâ€™ answer was a curt, â€œNo thank you.â€
â€œBased on all he taught me years ago, I knew what he wanted,â€ said Lambert. â€œHe used to say, â€˜The first person to respond in a challenge loses.â€™ Iâ€™m sure he wanted me to pursue the conversation, but that would have played into his game. He also said, â€˜Once I find a personâ€™s vulnerability, I control the relationship.â€™ Thatâ€™s what he was looking for, and I didnâ€™t want to help him.â€
Lambert adds, â€œBill â€˜winsâ€™ arguments through exceptional cleverness, and claims itâ€™s a biblical victory. For years, I wouldnâ€™t believe it, but the abundant evidence and my own experience leave no alternative. It saddens me deeply. Billâ€™s preeminent ability to manipulate conversations and relationships makes him his own worst enemy. He â€˜winsâ€™ battles but loses the proverbial war. He dismisses those who can help him as insincere, incompetent, or ungodly. If he canâ€™t dominate, he wonâ€™t participate.â€
After MCYFC, he used his fund-raising abilities to support his new PeaceMakers, International organization (incorporated December 10, 1984). Heâ€™d attracted a devoted following at MCYFC and brought some of them over to PMI.
Fields played football in college and his large frame and distinctive speaking voice give him a commanding presence in any room. Some find him exceptionally charismatic, which he encourages by allowing his followers to praise his â€œgreat discernmentâ€ and do much of the work of promoting him.
Even after the Wheaton Evangelical Free Church excommunicated him in 1986, he retained loyal supporters. The church ejected Fields in a congregational meeting after he renounced the elders as spiritual authorities because he was dissatisfied with their response to yet another dispute he was having-this time with the pastor. A staff member recalls that at one point, Fields proposed the pastor and elders resign and the church come under his â€œauthority.â€
Some close to the situation believe the church badly mishandled itâ€”that it became a turning point in Fieldsâ€™ life and marked the beginning of his descent into cultism. Others believe it simply made obvious the path heâ€™d already chosen.
Giving PeaceMakers A Chance
In the late â€™80s while he did not attend church, Fields lured Christians into one of several â€œcounseling groupsâ€ he operated. As his alienation from the evangelical community increased, his groups shrunk, eventually merging into one. He still had contacts from his days in mainstream evangelicalism who served as an informal referral network. When people they knew needed counseling, they unwittingly referred them to Fields.
Ron Henzel was referred to Fields the same way I (Don) was: through my pastor. In mid-â€™87, he left a church ministry position and looked for counseling help for some friends. He and his wife met with Fields, and within an hour Fields persuaded Henzel he was in need of counseling.
â€œIt was a depressing time for me, and Bill has a remarkable ability to read peopleâ€ says Henzel. â€œMy ministry job ended badly, I had some heavy spiritual struggles, and now I realize this made me a prime target for cult recruiting. To Bill, I was a â€˜bird in the handâ€™â€”easier to get than my friends. Soon I was attending my first group meeting.â€
Under Fieldsâ€™ direction, Henzel and other group members cut off ties with their friends. Fields told one woman to drop out of a volleyball league where she had supportive friends. When a local pastor disagreed with Fieldsâ€™ advice to a couple from his church, Fields got them to leave the church and treat his group as their â€œchurch.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t a church in any biblical sense,â€ recalls Henzel. â€œWe sat in a group therapy-style circle, read books on co-dependency that were popular then, and were supposed to bring our â€˜issues.â€™ In the beginning, this meant stories of how weâ€™d been â€˜abusedâ€™ in our families.â€
Sowing Discord Among Brothers
On weekdays, Fields â€œcounseledâ€ church members, deacons, elders, and pastors. Some were struggling with serious sins. While Fields usually didnâ€™t name them, he didnâ€™t hesitate to share their stories in evening group sessions, portraying the people in the most negative light.
â€œBill constantly gave the impression that the church was so corrupt there was nowhere for us to go,â€ says Henzel. â€œHe used the word â€˜evangelicalâ€™ in a disparaging sense-as though it signified something evil. It took time, but eventually we all started thinking like him.â€2At http://www.peacemakers.net/unity/caution.htm, Fields writes, â€œSince 1983 when both the professing Church and Para-church organizations were so filled with corruption Bill Fields founded PeaceMakers International …â€
Fields was prone to angry outbursts, and the accompanying cuss-words also took some getting used to. If â€œevangelicalâ€ was a bad word to him, four-letter words werenâ€™t. One pastor referred parishioners to him, and one-and-all were outraged by his use of â€œthe f-word.â€ PMI members jokingly referred to the extended middle finger as â€œthe PeaceMakers salute.â€ All this further contributed to a sense of isolation from the rest of evangelicalism.
Soon Henzel noticed that others in the group were cutting off ties with their families. In a one-on-one session in mid-â€™88, Fields used the â€œsaluteâ€ to indicate to Henzel that he should do likewise.
â€œI was one of the last people to go along with this,â€ says Henzel. â€œBill called our families â€˜dysfunctionalâ€™ and â€˜abusive,â€™ but in most cases, heâ€™d never met them.â€
During one group meeting, Fields wrote â€œHeavenâ€ on one side of a dry-erase board and â€œHellâ€ on the other. He then drew an arrow going from â€œHellâ€ and toward â€œHeaven.â€
Pointing to Henzel, he said, â€œUntil recently, you were moving in this direction.â€
Then he put a U-turn in the arrow, pointing it back toward â€œHell,â€ and said, â€œBut lately youâ€™ve been moving in this direction.â€
â€œIt upset me to hear that,â€ admits Henzel, â€œbut I sat there quietly, waiting for him to explain. He finally did.â€
In slow, measured words, he confronted Henzel; â€œYou have not said one negative thing about your family!â€
â€œThis confused me at first,â€ said Henzel, â€œbut deep down I knew what he meant. It seemed everyone in group was following his example in this area except me.â€
In January 1989, Henzel yielded to the pressure and wrote a letter to his mother (who lived only a few miles away) that informed her he would no longer attend family gatherings, call, or write.
â€œNot Peace, But a Swordâ€
â€œItâ€™s one of the worst things I ever did,â€ Henzel now says. â€œBill justifies family separations by appealing to Matthew 10:34-37 as if those verses were about turning your back on family to follow Christ. Thatâ€™s an absurd interpretation. Verse 21 shows itâ€™s really about non-believing family members turning their backs on believersâ€”not the other way around.â€
Henzel was fortunate: he was only separated from his family for about three years. As of this writing, there are some in PMI whoâ€™ve been separated for nearly 15 years!
At that time, members went through a process of increasing isolation that paralleled the one in Fieldsâ€™ life. While they were cutting off their family ties, Fields was alienating his last shred of true accountability: his board.
Until 1989, his functioning board consisted of four people who struggled to hold him accountable on various issues. Fields practiced marital counseling, but his own marriage was in shambles. He taught that people with eating disorders had â€œundealt-with issues,â€ but he was dangerously overweight. They were concerned about his involvement in a dispute between Focus on the Familyâ€™s James Dobson and his former co-host Gil Alexander-Moegerle. In addition, they had a lot of questions about what was going on in his groups, but found him very stingy with answers. When one board member expressed his fear that the groups were becoming a cult, Fields exploded in rage.
During this tumultuous period, Fields added two of his MCYFC cronies, Russ Knight and Pete Sjoblom, to the PeaceMakers board. They met with the other board members only once, for introductions, but discussed no official business. Knight and Sjoblom say Fields shared nothing with them about the problems the rest of the board had with him.
Finally, the other four board members resigned in frustration on the same evening, after Fields accused them of harboring sin in their lives. Fields persuaded one of them to remain so he could satisfy Illinois requirements for non-profit corporations; but a year later, he was gone, too. So were Knight and Sjoblom.
Fields re-staffed his once-legitimate board with group members he controlled. He told the group little about the resignations. What he did share cast the departing board in a poor light. When Knight and Sjoblom finally left, he informed the group â€œthey werenâ€™t really my friendsâ€ because â€œthey didnâ€™t want a real relationship.â€ Of course, Fields definition of a relationship involved them confessing their sins to him.
Before they left, the Dobson versus Alexander-Moegerle dispute attracted the Christian mediaâ€™s attention. It appeared resolution was possible until Fields wormed his way in as the Alexander-Moegerlesâ€™ advocate. Since then, Fields has milked the dispute on the Internet, denouncing Dobson for refusing binding arbitration. Thatâ€™s ironic since Fields now denounces arbitration.3â€œBiblical Rebuke,â€ http://www.peacemakers.net/peace/peacemakerministries.htm, under â€œA Brief Summary of PeaceMakers Internationalâ€™s practices …,â€ point 4 Sam Ericsson was with the Christian Legal Society at that time and worked hard to get both sides to the table.
â€œBoth sides insisted on their way or no way,â€ says Ericsson.
Ericsson cautioned everyone involved against legal action, but Fields supported the Alexander-Moegerles when they sued Dobson. A writer for The Door magazine interviewed Fields, Knight, and Sjoblom about it.
â€œI sat through the entire interview,â€ says Henzel. â€œA lot happened that didnâ€™t make it into print, including instances when Bill dug into the interviewerâ€™s personal life. I wonâ€™t say the man compromised his journalistic integrity, but if I was him Iâ€™d have thought twice about writing anything critical after Billâ€™s interrogation, considering what Bill could later use against him.â€
Henzel notes the irony in what Fields told The Door.
â€œEverything he condemned in the interview, he did in PeaceMakers,â€ he says. â€œHe complained that his YFC director controlled people by keeping them divided, which he did with his own board! He charged Dobson with violating the Alexander-Moegerlesâ€™ confidentiality, which he did to us in the group! He complained about Christians who sacrifice people on the altar of ministry, but heâ€™d publicly rip the heart out of anyone who questioned his ministry.â€
At the time, however, it all sounded so good. Fields knew how to say things that appealed to Christians who felt something missing in their Christian lives. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a classic bait-and-switch with horrific results.
â€œI sat by and watched Bill drive people into nervous breakdowns,â€ says Henzel. â€œThen it was my turn.â€
Â Iâ€™m Okayâ€”Youâ€™re Not
Chris G. now has his own computer business, but at one time doctors told him heâ€™d probably never work again. Thatâ€™s a serious diagnosis for a man in his early 30s.
â€œI canâ€™t blame Bill for my breakdown,â€ says Chris, who quickly adds, â€œbut he certainly didnâ€™t help.â€
Chrisâ€™s roommate introduced him to the group. As soon as Fields saw him, he knew Chris was in trouble. He hadnâ€™t slept for days and was experiencing anxiety attacks. Fields arranged for Chris to visit a local doctor who prescribed tranquilizers for him.
â€œIf thereâ€™s one gift Bill has,â€ says Henzel, â€œitâ€™s crisis counseling. Some say heâ€™s one of the best theyâ€™ve ever seen. The problem is, thatâ€™s the only way he knows how to relate to people. He always kept us in some sort of crisisâ€”a family crisis, guilt crisis, a crisis of self-doubt, or what-have-youâ€”so weâ€™d always need him.â€
After the typical honeymoon period for newcomers, Fields tightened the screws on Chris.
â€œMy psychiatrist prescribed medication, I saw a psychologist for therapy, and I also attended the group,â€ Chris says. â€œAfter a while, I was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions I didnâ€™t know what to do with and became increasingly frightened and paranoid, so I pulled back from sharing thoughts and feelings with others to the extent I had been. To my psychologist, this was a normal reaction to the stress overload, but Bill treated it like some kind of sin. He gave me an ultimatum: either stop seeing the psychologist or leave the group.â€
It wasnâ€™t a good time to lose any of his personal support system, but Fields forced Chris to choose, and he chose his psychologist.
â€œThen Bill told my roommate not to talk to me,â€ said Chris. â€œIâ€™d come home, and heâ€™d be totally silent. This just confirmed in my mind that I was terrible and made me go downhill even faster.â€
Chris soon found himself out of the group, out of a job, and homeless. After an excruciating ordeal spanning several years, heâ€™s now doing fine. Itâ€™s a good thing he got out before it really got bad.
Â â€œThe Beatings Will Stop When The Morale Improvesâ€
Missy is glad she got out of PMI and restored her relationship with her family, especially because both of her parents have died since then. But, her departure came at a terrible price.
â€œToward the end, I was like a zombie,â€ says Missy. â€œI had two children to take care of, including a blind son, and I could hardly take care of myself.â€
â€œWhen Missy finally left groupâ€”or should I say, crawled out?â€”Bill came unglued,â€ says Ron. â€œHere weâ€™d all watched him accuse and browbeat her for months on end about something for which he never gave a shred of evidence, and now he acts like he canâ€™t figure out why she left!â€
Once Missy was actually a leader in the group. Fields had put her in charge of group meetings in the rare event of his absence. However, when the winds of his caprice shifted, so did his treatment of Missy. He verbally pummeled her until she was a shell of her former self, dropped out of the group, and moved to southern Indiana to be near her parents after separating from them for years.
â€œBill whined endlessly in the group, saying â€˜I spent thousands of hours with her on the phone, and this is how she treats meâ€™!â€
Henzel says. â€œRecently I asked Missy, â€˜Was Bill exaggerating about that? Did he really spend thousands of hours on the telephone with you?â€™â€
â€œI didnâ€™t have to think about my answer,â€ volunteered Missy, â€œâ€˜Sure!â€™ I told Ron, â€˜It could easily have been thousands of hours.â€™ He was astounded.â€
Little wonder. Henzel pointed out that just one-thousand hours spread out over a year is nearly 20 hours per week.
â€œI think some weeks it probably did come to about 20 hours,â€ says Missy.
â€œI asked Missy, â€˜Doesnâ€™t that seem a little inappropriate?â€™â€ Ron continued, â€œâ€˜I mean, youâ€™re single, heâ€™s married. His marriage is miserable. You live only a few blocks from him â€¦â€â€™
â€œOf course, now I clearly see how itâ€™s wrong,â€ clarifies Missy, â€œbut everyone in group trusted Bill implicitly. He convinced us we were all messed up, but he was this model of righteousness.â€
Then one summer day, Missy made a mistakeâ€”although she still canâ€™t figure out how. She sat her blind son, Tyler, in a red wagon, pulled him along the sidewalks over the few blocks separating her house from Fieldsâ€™, and rang his doorbell. Fields answered, but he told her he was busy. In the next group meeting, however, he accused her of trying to sexually seduce him during the visit.
â€œOver the years Iâ€™ve gone over it so many times,â€ says Missy, â€œI have no idea how he read that into it. It was the farthest thing from my mind!â€
Yet, one thing all members know: when Fields charges you with a sinful motive and you deny itâ€”well, thatâ€™s just evidence youâ€™re â€œin denial.â€ So no one came to her defense, but watched passively over the following months as she roasted under the hot light of Fieldsâ€™ accusation. The pressure mounted until one day images came to her mindâ€”images of a family member raping her as a childâ€”and she shared them in the group.
Fields welcomed this. He, too, claimed to have â€œrecovered memoriesâ€ of being sexually molested in childhood. He said Missyâ€™s â€œrecovered memoryâ€ explained her sin, though such a notion is more consistent with the Pelagian heresy that we sin because of othersâ€™ sins than with the biblical teaching that we sin because weâ€™re sinners by nature (cf. Rom. 3:23). Eventually, Missy started questioning these â€œmemories.â€ â€œNow I realize they were caused by Billâ€™s intense pressure,â€ confides Missy.
When she expressed her doubts to the group Fields went ballistic, intensifying his pressure on Missy. The only person to stick up for her was a woman named Beth.
â€œI just donâ€™t see how Missy did anything wrong,â€ Beth told Fields and the group one night after Missy left.
At which point another woman lashed out at her, faithful to Fieldsâ€™ training: â€œThatâ€™s because youâ€™re guilty of the same thing!â€
Beth never returned.
Fields harassed Missy by telephone until sheâ€™d no longer talk to him. He reminded her of troubles heâ€™d helped her through. He listed favors heâ€™d done for her. He shoved her nose in sins sheâ€™d confessed.
â€œYouâ€™re nothing without me!â€ Fields bullied Missy. For a long time after she left, she wondered if it was true.
Â Healing the Wounds
â€œWhen I finally contacted Missy in early 1994, she, my wife, and I were still basket-cases,â€ says Henzel. â€œWhen Missy answered the phone, I was afraid sheâ€™d hang upâ€”so I quickly assured her I was no longer in group, and I was terribly sorry for watching silently as Bill abused her. She broke down and wept for a while. So did I.â€
Henzel told her how Fields turned his guns on him. After Missy left, Fields accused him of harboring â€œanger against women.â€ He later accused him of â€œadulteryâ€ after Henzel discussed a real estate transaction over the telephone with another woman in the group.
â€œI donâ€™t want to be mean or anything,â€ clarifies Henzel, â€œbut I wasnâ€™t even remotely attracted to her.â€
It was an impossible situation. Fields was the â€œprophetâ€ with â€œgreat discernment,â€ and it was up to Henzel to figure out how his accusations were true. Fields wouldnâ€™t helpâ€”that would only “encourage hypocrisy.â€ If Henzel didnâ€™t â€œrepent,â€ Fields would suggest he probably wasnâ€™t really a Christian, per his usual pattern.
â€œI got really sick,â€ remembers Henzel. â€œI lost 20 pounds in six weeks. My wife Wendyâ€™s non-Christian co-workers expressed concern for my health, but the group didnâ€™t. Sweat poured down my back in my air-conditioned office as I cried out to God to let me â€˜see my sin.â€™ My biggest fear was that Iâ€™d make a false confession.â€
Fields placed Henzel â€œunder discipline.â€ He could only stay for the first 15 minutes of group meetings, and then he had to leave so the rest of the group could â€œenjoy real fellowship,â€â€”as Fields put it. He repeatedly showed up to be repeatedly sent away. This humiliation lasted several weeks until Henzel found a way to â€œseeâ€ his sin. Only then did Fields lift the â€œdiscipline.â€
â€œBut I still felt I was on a spiritual treadmill,â€ recollects Henzel. â€œSo I asked Bill to let me take a â€˜time-outâ€™ from group, something I and others had done before. He gave permission on a Monday but withdrew it that Friday without explanation. Iâ€™d already made up my mind: I needed a break!â€
Wendy stayed in the group, and Fields tried to drive a wedge between her and Ron. He told her she had â€œa marriage problemâ€ and sent a letter to Ronâ€™s new pastor accusing Ron of spouse abuse and fleeing from â€œchurch discipline.â€
â€œIt was surreally absurdâ€”like a Kafka novel,â€ recalls Ron. â€œHe really believed he could put me â€˜under disciplineâ€™ just for leaving his little kingdom, and that somehow, God took it seriously!â€
Wendy finally left in March 1993. She still struggles with the spiritual scars Fields inflicted on her.
Â A Tangled Web
For years, Fields and his followers receded into the black hole PMI had become. Membersâ€™ relatives received little news about their withdrawn loved ones, who also shunned ex-members, thus sealing their isolation.
Moreover, just as celestial black holes emit violent blasts of radiationâ€”although no light escapes from them, so also Fields hurls ferocious streams of denunciation over his web site (www.peacemakers.net). From this virtual soapbox, he continues his quixotic crusade against Dobson, occasionally charging at other evangelical windmills along the way.
Fields was one of the first to jump onto the Web, causing no small amount of confusion among people looking for the excellent and widely respected Peacemaker Ministries, of Billings, Montana (www.HisPeace.org). Fieldsâ€™ web site also proved an effective replacement for his informal referral network. In the mid-â€™90s, it didnâ€™t seem PMI would grow, but the Web changed that.
Fortunately, some have learned that a web site with Christian literature on it is no substitute for good personal references. In one recent case, a man suffering emotional problems discovered the PMI site and eventually met with Fields. His family had reservations about Fieldsâ€™ methods but thought he might be able to help their relative. After â€œcounselingâ€ with Fields, the man cut off ties with his family. A short time later, he signed over his family inheritance to PMI. Fields then sent a taunting e-mail about it to the manâ€™s family.
Eventually, the man rescinded the gift, but the tragedy continues. As Isaiah wrote concerning the PMIs of his day: â€œThe way of peace they do not know â€¦â€ (Isa. 59:8a, NIV).Î©
Â© 2015, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.
|↑1||As Iâ€™m writing this, this is located at http://www.peacemakers.net/answers.htm, under â€œAnswer: #2.â€|
|↑2||At http://www.peacemakers.net/unity/caution.htm, Fields writes, â€œSince 1983 when both the professing Church and Para-church organizations were so filled with corruption Bill Fields founded PeaceMakers International …â€|
|↑3||â€œBiblical Rebuke,â€ http://www.peacemakers.net/peace/peacemakerministries.htm, under â€œA Brief Summary of PeaceMakers Internationalâ€™s practices …,â€ point 4|