A Family Divided (Part 1)
An account of our experiences at New Song Community Church
By M.J. McFalls
About the age of 16, in 2001, our youngest daughter A.J., right before her junior year in high school, began to rebel. The change was sudden, including social, academic, and spiritual issues. Socially, the girl who couldn't keep her nose out of a book, practiced piano and cello, now sought to "fit in" to a new group of friends. Academically, the former honor student with a 4.0+ GPA began to struggle to get C's, D's and F's. Spiritually after 17 years in an evangelical church, she decided that she was an atheist. At home she became all but unbearable to live with. Most times she wouldn't speak to us at all, and when she did, it was cursive, abusive language. Throughout this time we were involved with a psychologist in family counseling. As her senior year approached, instead of things getting better, the worst was yet to come.
A.J.'s GPA had dropped to a 1.35. (Consequently, she was not allowed to walk down the isle with her classmates for graduation, but had to complete credits over the summer to attain her diploma.) A.J. had become involved with smoking cigarettes and marijuana, alcohol, sex, and as we later found out, Wica. In December of her senior year, and before her 18th birthday, she became consumed with her therapist (transference) and the relationship had to end. By this time, we had begun to attend a small, non-denominational, community church called New Song. (The Evangelical church we had attended for most of our married life had lost its spirit, especially for teens). New Song Community Church had a successful youth outreach group, and a co-pastor/leader who seemed to really be able to reach the kids. It was at this time that we did a "tough-love" move on A.J. We dragged her "kicking and screaming" to a Shining Light (the name of the out-reach group) concert. We told her that she must be in counseling with the female pastor, she was not allowed to drive anywhere, and had to be with either her dad or me or the pastor at all times for a three week period. The move seemed to work, but only temporarily. Initially," we got our daughter back" but by January her behavior at home returned to that of the former months.
Although A.J. was miserable to live with, some changes in her social life had begun. Jeffrey and I were hopeful that other positive changes would occur. This was not to be. Her grades were still dropping. A most terrifying day occurred when we got a call from the school nurse saying that self-inflicted cutting wounds were found on her arms and legs. (We also found out later that pot was still a part of her every day life). Even though she was now involved with a Christian youth out-reach group, singing praises to God in front of prisoners and homeless people, she was still on a downward spiral.
During the touring with the Shining Light group throughout the New England states for three weeks in June of 2002, A.J. finally (we are told) made a decision to follow Christ. Her father and I were delighted to hear of this good news. We were told however that we were not to say anything to her about it. The most monumental decision that a person can make, and the people who love her the most are not allowed to celebrate it. Unfortunately, if any changes were seen in A.J we did not see them. She struggled right to the deadline to get the graduation requirement course completed. We were also by this time seeing less and less of our daughter. A.J. spent many nights away from her home at her friend's house. As a result of counseling with Jeff Bohn, (co-pastor) A.J. made a decision to not attend Millersville University in the fall but instead, to go to our local community college part time. Both Jeffrey and I were O.K. with this, as she sighted drug temptations as her reasoning behind the switch. On retrospect, I now believe that we were being systematically removed from all details in our daughter's life.
As the first semester approached, A.J. was hardly ever at home. I also started to notice a change in how both pastors related to me. A. J. was with Jeff Bohn much of the time. When she didn't come home at all one night without telling us, I was frantic. As it turned out she was with a girl friend, but when I tried to talk with the female pastor Barb (Jeff Bohn's wife) about it, I got criticized for being upset. This sentiment was shared to me, by a phone call from my daughter.
By October 2002, A.J. was doing fund raising speeches for Shining Light. These speeches were filled with personal character assassinations about her parents. The speeches were successful because a result, many highly influential, wealthy people gave thousands of dollars to help Shining Light with its outreach to" abused" teens like A.J. I did have anger management issues that I dealt with both in therapy and spiritually, but Christ had forgiven me of the sin in my past life. We were later to learn that being forgiven by God was not enough, (according to the leaders) that any and all mistakes could and will be used against you.
November 2002,in cooperation with the pastors and perhaps Jim Zimmerman, A.J. decided that she needed even more space from her parents to sort things out. In a meeting with Jeff Bohn, in which he did all the talking, Jeffrey and I were told that our daughter would be moving into the Bohn home. Our response was surprise, curiosity and perhaps embarrassment, and concern, it seemed we were being told that we were inadequate, and that they can do a better job of parenting. At this point, A.J. was 18 years old. From here on, attitudes, communications and responses to Jeffrey and me went from strained to horrid... not just with A.J., but also with the church leaders.
December 1, 2002, I learned of my mother's impending death. December 3, I was attacked for all of my past mistakes in parenting our two daughters. This was a personal attack. Jeffrey was attacked for being complacent in allowing me to be the kind of parent that I was. I was struggling emotionally at that time as you might imagine, and therefore was not prepared to fight my case as a forgiven person. I was especially shocked that my church leaders were attacking me in such a way and at such a time like this. My mother passed away on December 8. Later I was to learn that the leader who attacked us thought it was a perfect time. There was no consoling in my time of bereavement over my mother's death. At this same time, we were prohibited from seeing, talking to, or corresponding with our daughter in any way. Every time that we did, it was a strike against us. There was a series of three meetings, which included, Jeff and Barb Bohn, Jeffrey, me, and a man who claimed to have the spiritual gift of discernment named Jim Zimmerman. (Barb stopped her involvement after the first meeting) The meetings were devoid of any prayer. Jim Z. yelled, accused, bullied, and berated us relentlessly. We were not allowed to answer any questions slammed at us. He took passages out of Biblical context, such as yelling at me in regards to my mother's recent death,
"LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD, M.J.!!" and,
"If your mother is in Heaven, then you have nothing at all to be sad about. We would be happy to grieve with you, but we can't, not until this situation has been dealt with."
This, statement lead me to believe that there would be reconciliation, and an ending to the inquisition. Nothing could have been further from the truth. There were many personal attacks on us every time we tried to work things out with the leaders. There were times when I was called into the office and twice was asked by Jeff Bohn if I ever look in the mirror... "Do you practice that look?" I was criticized repeatedly for my countenance. I became totally self-conscious of everything about me. We were baffled and confused; we were under the impression that these meetings were to help reconcile and restore our daughter to us. In reality, they never had that in mind at all. They tried to separate our other daughter from us as well (age 20) but she would have nothing of it, and in the early months of 2003, was encouraged by Barb to leave the church.
As if not allowing us to have any sort of relationship with A.J. wasn't painful enough, the leadership still had an ace up their sleeve to throw at me. I had been involved with the art team at New Song for over a year, in fact since the church was so small I was the art team except for my best friend Lindel. It was my service to God. When in January, for A.J.'s 19th birthday, we gave her a new coat, I was told that as a disciplinary action for such a violation I was no longer allowed to serve on the art team, and my husband and I were not allowed to speak with any one in the church about anything. We were told that we were allowed to still attend services but could not arrive early, and had to leave just as soon as Barb stopped talking. It was at this same meeting when I was accused of "being a bad influence on A.J. her entire life". One Sunday after that mandate, Barb had just said her final remarks, when Jim Z. got up out of his seat walked directly back to where we were sitting, and as I was just putting on my coat, he said to us,
"You people can leave right now, there is no one that you need to talk to, just walk out the building and leave."
It seemed we had been actually speaking to a few people on our way out the door and Jim Z. would not tolerate any violations to his mandates. One time we were requested by our friends to attend an after service party. My friend Mike went ahead and got "permission" from Jeff Bohn for us to stay after the service, but Jim Z. hadn't been asked, and since (I guess) Jeff Bohn didn't actually have the "authority" to give such permission, I was in trouble again.
Still we hung on, hoping and praying for restoration to begin. By now we were almost totally separated from the community. My best friend Lindel and I were business partners as well as spiritual partners, we still saw each other outside of church, but that was soon to change. Jeffrey also had a close friend in the church, his friend made a different decision than Lindel.
There were four meetings over a period of five months. We were told that we had to meet with Jim privately, to resolve this. Every time we called Jim to meet with him, we were told that we were not complying with the structures that they had in place for us to follow. "When you can start to follow the rules M.J., we'll talk." Our daughter was never present in any of the leadership meetings at the church. The last meeting was in February 2003. We were accused of sexual abuse. As with all of the previous accusations they refused to discuss it. Most of the other times that we were accused of various sins we were just told, "You know what happened in your house, go home and think about it!" This last meeting was attended by six church leaders. We were flabbergasted that someone could come up a with sexual abuse accusation on us. Then the labeling started, I was called manipulative, deceitful, and best of all, I had a "spirit of divisiveness"! (Even though they were the ones who were separating us from our child).
In March of 2003, we stopped attending New Song, because we were told by Jeff Bohn that this would help our daughter progress towards reconciliation with us. Learning that the pastors were planning to send our daughter to a mission field in Central America, I attempted to give anonymously to our daughter a pair of good quality sandals for the trip. They figured out that the sandals were from us. The results of this terrible deed were that we were banished from the church. Our calls and letters were not welcome "In 6 months we will talk about it to see if you have changed" [Jim Zimmerman] That same day Jeff Bohn advised my husband that
"If you ever want to have a relationship with your daughter, you will have to leave you wife!!!"
We later found out that in spite of what was told to us by Jeff Bohn, in regards to A.J. impending trip to El Salvador, that, "A.J. feels called to the mission field." This was not even close to the truth. Our friends M. and L. actually confronted Jeff Bohn on his obvious physical attraction to our daughter. His response was that was that
"A.J. will be leaving for Central America in a few weeks, I know that there is a problem, other church members have pointed out the inappropriate nature of our relationship"
So, in essence, Jeff Bohn convinced my 19 year old untrained, uncalled, ill-equipped daughter to go to a third world country, alone, to get himself out of public scrutiny.
On June 24, 2003, we received a short, curt phone call from our daughter informing us that she would be leaving the country for 10 weeks. That was the last we heard from her. We did learn through some friends, of her safe, albeit early return to the U.S. (the conditions must have been abominable). When A.J.'s sister attempted to tell A.J. to read a letter from her mother, A.J. replied,
"If my mother wants to contact me she knows the proper channels, she know that she has to go through Jim."
We are told that any one else telling her to resolve the differences separating her from her parents, she just blankly stares and doesn't reply.
My best friend Lindel, was given an ultimatum... the community or M.J. She chose the community. My husband's good friend and his wife were made to feel so uncomfortable with sermons bordering on fascism, ("Anyone who does not agree with the leadership of this church, with decisions that have been recently made, can leave right now.") They felt they could no longer attend. I told no one how awful we were being treated but some people sensed an evil change in the church and left. One person saw how they disciplined me and left churches in general. Jim Zimmerman made life so difficult for my two employers who served on the worship team with him, that they too had to leave. They eliminated anyone who had any ties to Jeffrey and me.
The last thing I want to add here is that neither Jeff or Barb, nor Jim Zimmerman has any sort of formal theological training. As such they seem to rely solely on Jim's "Gift of Discernment"' for all of their problem solving issues. I feel that Barb and Jeff's immaturity and ignorance of Biblical truths has destroyed our family.
There was never any of Christ's forgiveness allowed. When I pointed out that I had confessed my sins to God and man, it fell on deaf ears. All of the legitimate pastors I've spoken to about our situation have called New Song (consequently) legalistic, Pharisaic, and a cult.
We are currently attending Lancaster County Bible Church (L.C.B.C.). We are beginning to heal spiritually but psychologically we have a difficult road ahead without our daughter in our life. Most people seem to be surprised that we are still attending any church.
Thank you for taking time to read this letter. We also appreciate your prayers on behalf of our family.
March 23, 2004:
This is an update to the account written in early December of 2003. Right before Christmas 2003, Pastor Dave from L.C.B.C. made contact with Jeff Bohn, in an attempt to bring all the parties together. The idea was to start the reconciliation process, or at least try to. His call was met with considerable disdain, and Pastor Dave was told that
"It is an extremely complicated situation.... and I will have to consult with the elders" (This is as interesting statement since there are no "elders" at New Song. Perhaps what he actually meant to say was that he has to consult with Jim Zimmerman) When Jeff Bohn got back to Pastor Dave the next day, this is what his "elder" had advised him:
A.J. is not ready to meet with her parents. We will revisit the topic in 6 months. When the time comes for us to talk about the situation again, these are the criteria under which we will be willing to discuss it.
- M.J. needs to improve. We feel that she still has not changed at all. (Another rather interesting statement since they hadn't been in contact with me for 9 months at that point. I might add here too that, what they really mean to say is that I still haven't submitted to their authority)
- M.J. and Jeffrey's marriage needs to be "better" (This statement following the advise received last spring for Jeffrey to leave his wife)
- There are to be no expectations on M.J.'s part as to what kind of relationship will transpire between her and her daughter.
All three demands are arbitrary and unattainable. This is very typical of the kind of power they wish to wield on people. We've heard this type of response before.
Please note here that Pastor Dave informed Jeff Bohn that we will not be meeting under any sort of arbitrary demands.
Jeffrey e-mailed A.J. last month asking her if she could meet for coffee sometime. She actually replied back saying that she wasn't ready for that yet... but "soon".
Our other daughter, Kelsey, stopped by the Bohn house on Saturday, March 20, 2004. It was an unannounced visit. A.J. appeared extremely agitated that Kelsey had not first called to let her know that she was coming by. A.J. repeatedly said "you really must not stop by here unannounced... please call first" A.J. was obviously uncomfortable with Kelsey even giving her a hug. Kelsey was not allowed into the house. A.J. was cool and reserved. There is no reason for this kind of treatment, or reaction to a sister simply stopping by to see her. I would like to add here that in addition to A.J.'s obvious disconcerting attitude, she has lost even more weight. Kelsey said that she looked awful. That the skin on her face was just "hanging on her". Kelsey said that, "she looked like those people dying in Ethiopia where their teeth look too big for their faces" This is not simply a young person "needing space" from her parents. She's been brainwashed and this is obviously a very unhealthy place/situation for her to be in.
Update, January 2005
Aside from placing a few small items on her car from time to time, we'd had no contact with our daughter for over a year. In August we heard of something called an intervention. Both Jeffrey and I thought that it sounded like a good idea and we were sure that the Lord's hand was in the timing of it. It's a long story but it didn't work. A.J. would not meet with us. Then New Song turned off their phones, we text messaged to Jeff Bohn, and when later he was confronted by Jeffrey, Jeff Bohn hid behind the fact that "your daughter is 20 years old."
We received a letter from a lawyer within two days, stating that we would be charged with harassment if we contacted the Bohns or our daughter in any way.
Our attorney dismissed the letter as a scare tactic since we hadn't in any way harassed any one, including A.J. It was a professional intervention and we acted appropriately the whole time.
In November 2004, we received another letter from A.J.'s lawyer in which she wrote about all the terrible things I had ever done... including the August intervention. While the letter was difficult to read, we had finally heard directly from our daughter for the first time in over two years. It gave us insight as to how she perceived her childhood and the problems that were in our home. It was obvious though, that much of the memories had been filtered through the New Song leadership, as many of the thoughts were exaggerated. She wrote, that only thing that I had ever done right was to, "take her to New Song Community Church, where they only wanted to make all of our lives better."
We wanted to reply via her lawyer, but thought it best to wait until after Christmas. We got godly advice as to how best to respond.
It was the first week in the New Year, I'd been
working on my part of the letter, (it was suggested that we
each of us write to her separately). January 10th, Jeffrey
and I were coming home from church and decided to stop at a
restaurant for the salad bar. Cutting through the bar area,
to wash my hands, I glanced at one of the tables on the
way, to see Jeff Bohn sitting right there with his family.
I didn't know what to do. I got into the restroom and
prayed, "Now what Lord?" Going around 'bout way, I got back
to the table. "Jeffrey, do not go to the salad bar, sit
down. I have something that I need to tell you." Jeffrey
went white. I could see the anger come up from inside. We
changed our order to a sandwich, ate it, and were preparing
to pay the bill and slip out the back door, when I thought
to ask our waitress to describe to me who was sitting at
the table in front of the bar. (We had told her that there
was a problem, with brief synopsis of the situation). Her
description was, "A husband and wife, two young boys and a
teenage girl who looks to be about 14, maybe 16 years old
"Does that 'teenage' girl look like me?"
I don't think that the server was finished talking, I looked at Jeffrey, and he was looking past me, I turned to see what he was looking at with such a strange expression, to see A.J. standing there.
She was so thin that I hardly recognized her. Her pants were very, very small and barley staying on her body (anorexia). Her hair was dull, her hands red. She kept her hands folded in front of her body, or in her pockets. She would not sit down beside us, though I'd invited her. She had a smile, but it looked more pasted on than real. She spoke clearly to us, as if we were just friends that she'd not seen for a while. We must have looked shocked; it was as if she was laughing at our reaction. Jeffrey did most of the talking, trying to say something to a daughter who we hadn't seen in nearly two years. He spoke of how we were treated at New Song... things that they'd said to us, how that they aren't following the scriptures. She simply replied that she knew exactly how we were treated and denied any wrongdoing on their part. Jeffrey got a little exasperated but A.J. remained cool and controlled. I just tried to agree with anything that she said about me so as to minimize the confrontation, and to keep her there talking. I asked her if she would simply hold my out-stretched hand, (she had kept a distance of three or four feet from us).
"Why, Mother?" (She has NEVER called me "mother.")
"Well, how about... that it can be my Christmas gift."
"I don't think that would be appropriate."
"Can I send mail directly to your home instead of through a lawyer?"
"No, I would prefer that you send any thing to me through my lawyer."
This was a long shot, but I just had to ask, "Will you come to the farm sweetheart?"
(Smiling sweetly,) "No Mother, I won't come to the farm."
She made an excuse that they were waiting for her, and walked away. We hung our heads and cried. Got up, and left the restaurant. That night we called Mary Alice Chrnologar, the author of Twisted Scriptures, she said that the fact that she was allowed to come over to our table to talk to us was a miracle, albeit upsetting for us. I revamped my letter and sent off to the lawyers Friday 14th, 2005.
Please pray that the letter is read by her and her alone, without the cultic filter of her leaders. They corrupt everything that we say and do into something evil and manipulative. Please pray that her heart will be softened enough to at least read the scripture references sighted in regards to forgiveness. Please pray for a break through. She couldn't have been colder to us. I thought that if I could just touch her hand, that the ice would melt off her heart. I think that is why she refused to let us near her, she wants the ice.