By Christopher C. Geer
Review by Dr. John Juedes
Perhaps the most pivotal speech given in the history of The Way International (TWI) was "The Passing of a Patriarch." Just after founder Victor Paul Wierwille's death, Christopher C. Geer presented this speech several times to stunned groups of Way leaders and clergy.
In essence, Geer claimed to present Wierwille's own condemnation of every high level Way leader and of the organization as a whole. This led to great conflict, stress, infighting and struggle for control among the leadership. That period of several years came to be known as "the fog years."
The Way did not release the text of Passing..., since the content was embarrassing and threatening to the Trustees and other leaders. While notes of the talk initially circulated privately, Geer published it about 1986 through the European Christian Press of The Way of Great Britain, which Geer headed. In time, the Trustees won the power struggle and Geer was removed from his position and moved to Maine. Since Passing... was presented primarily to Way leaders (and is so embarrassing to them), thousands of Way followers have never heard, read, or perhaps even heard of it.
Passing... is a rambling account of Geer's memories of his conversations with V. P. Wierwille in Scotland over the span of 22 days near the end of his life. While no one else was present during most of the critical talks, Geer asserts that Wierwille authorized him to record them, and that Geer can recount conversations point for point well after the fact. However, there is no way to verify the accuracy of Geer's recollections. The title refers to the "passing" (death) of a "patriarch" (V. P. Wierwille, Geer's "father in the Word" and founder of TWI).
(Note to reader: when this review quotes Wierwille, it does so assuming that Wierwille actually
said these things to Geer, though this may or may not always be true.)
ONLY GEER CAN GET THE JOB DONE
It is apparent to even a casual reader that Passing... is a self-serving document. Geer repeatedly says that ALL Way leadership is ignorant, corrupt or unspiritual, and that only he, Geer, has enough spiritual integrity to save it. (Of course, being self-serving does not necessarily mean that it is completely false.)
Geer quotes Wierwille telling him, "Right now there is only one man who can save the Ministry, that's you" (p. 58). This was Geer's claim to authority-- that "Father in the Word" Wierwille appointed him to save TWI.
When Geer speaks of the Corps in Europe, he repeatedly says how inept they all were, and how only he (and his wife) was able to do anything right, whether it was cooking a meal or teaching a key Way class. (If this was true, it shows that one thing Geer couldn't do was train people to minister well, which was supposed to have been his central mission.) He concludes that he had to do everything, because only he was capable of doing anything well.
Geer believed that his immediate mission was to present Wierwille's final words to Way leadership
in order to convince them to change their ways. He says that Wierwille wanted him "to draft the
gist of a statement to be released to the Ministry around the world," and that Geer reproduced
Wierwille's words point for point. Wierwille added, "Son, you are the only one I have to come to,
to talk about this. (p. 16).
THE WAY IS FAILING FAST
Geer complained that the Way's research was not vital or effective (p. 52). He said that the Trustees essentially killed the WOW Ambassador program in Europe (p. 30), were responsible for closing the Corps (p. 87) and caused the work in many countries to grind to a halt (p. 29, 85, 88). He noted that TWI was downsizing, selling assets, and that tape and magazine distribution were down. He said the Advanced Classes were not taught well and that translations were bad (p. 39, 55).
Wierwille talked of "the infection that has so deeply cut into the life of the Ministry (p. 17). He
worried that it would become a "denomination" (a terrible tragedy in his mind). He complained of
legal problems with the IRS brought on by Way leaders. He added, "I have not been able to stop
this Athlete of the Spirit thing. Let me tell you, it may well end up costing us the Ministry. When
you forsake God's Word for the imagery of that Word, you lose the power of God" (p. 59).
THE TRUSTEES ARE THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Much of Passing... is a direct attack on the three Trustees who control TWI at all levels. (Since that time, one trustee, Donald Wierwille, has been replaced by Rosalie Rivenbark.) V. P. Wierwille attacked his own son, Donald, saying, "...he is not a spiritual man.... He is governed by facts, sense knowledge, and has basically neglected the spirit of God in his life. Perhaps he has done more to harm this Ministry than any other single man in its entire history" (p. 16).
V. P. Continued, "...when I am gone what will happen is that Don will really 'flourish....' He may even start to talk like a Biblical man. Son, it won't be true; don't believe it, it will just be a lie.... there will be no one to stop him from running things with sense knowledge and without God....it has cost me my friend and will end up costing us the Ministry" (p. 18-19).
He added, "Donnie has no right to be involved in the research; he hasn't got the spirituality or the integrity to touch it. His kind of management will kill it" (p. 51). V. P. went on, "I sure don't know why Donnie isn't blessed and thankful; we bought him his doctorate" (p. 61).Geer said that when Don was told of problems, he was "really not interested in cleaning up but in covering up" (p. 33).
The little Wierwille says about his youngest son J. P. is also critical: "...I have two earthly sons. Today I cannot really talk to either of them. J. P. Is a nice guy, but spiritually he just doesn't have it; he's weak" (p. 16).
Wierwille also attacked another Trustee, Howard Allen, saying that Allen "...lost his spiritual perception. Today he is not the man he could have been if he had stayed faithful. The infection that has so deeply cut into the life of the Ministry has taken my only real friend from me, too" (p. 17). He added that The Way's finest men "have been systematically destroyed. Today there aren't many left standing for the truth....What I never would have expected was for Howard to be the first" (p. 30). Geer faults Allen for not obeying Wierwille on every issue, including small ones.
Geer also reproduced a letter in which Allen admits his wrongdoing and his part in Wierwille's
death, "I read it all and it is true. I've felt it and didn't know what to do. So I will change to do
my best for the man I helped kill" (p. 75, 78). Geer also faults both Allen and Donald for not
making the changes he recommended.
WIERWILLE VERSUS MARTINDALE
Wierwille and Geer don't spare "the Man of God," President L. Craig Martindale, either. Wierwille said that only Geer and Martindale could handle the presidency of The Way, but that Martindale "is fading fast." He did not treat Christianity seriously, but as though it was "just a game" (p. 59). He added, "If Craig does not come back to the integrity of the Word then before too long he will begin to blame others around him for lacking spiritual perception....He will start to lash out wrongly.... error is error" (p. 60).
Wierwille criticized Martindale as being an inept president whose chose to dance in The Way's ballet, "Athlete of the Spirit," rather than fulfilling his office: "But, he chose to discipline himself for the Athlete of the Spirit thing and not for the presidency. Today, the seat of the President is basically vacant. Craig took a portion, the authority, without the responsibility." He added that Craig "didn't stick to what I taught" (p. 61).
Craig took time out from his dance rehearsals to see Wierwille on his deathbed, but fainted after a few minutes (p. 67). Martindale signed a handwritten note saying that all the criticisms in Passing... were true. He, Allen and Donald sold ministry assets to allow them to keep up their lifestyle (p. 84) and refused to make the changes they promised.
Geer believes that Wierwille indirectly spoke of these problems in his last public teaching, "The Hope."
Although The Way Magazine promoted "Athlete of the Spirit" as a triumph, many rank-and-file followers were uncomfortable with its contents, and were disappointed that Martindale would cut back on presidential duties in order to learn dance almost from scratch and invest hundreds of hours in rehearsals. Although they couldn't criticize the President aloud without repercussions, many felt this way.
Wierwille's prediction that Martindale would blame others for ministry problems certainly happened in greater measure than he imagined. To this day, Martindale has attacked and "purged, marked and avoided" thousands of followers, asserting that their weakness and disobedience was sapping The Way of strength. Martindale has verbally attacked "weak" and disaffected Wayers, calling them a wide variety of belittling names.
Wierwille and Geer also attack ALL other Way leadership. He calls the Corps "devilish" (p.81) and criticizes their bad attitudes (p. 7). He emphasized more than once that NONE of the Way leadership could be trusted (pp. 23, 25, 38, 39).
Not surprisingly, Geer's attitude didn't earn him many friends among Way leadership.
THE UGLY SIDE OF "THE MAN OF GOD"
Geer describes V. P. Wierwille as an often disagreeable person, strongly contrasting the kind and friendly image he promoted.
Wierwille was "...often lashing out at those closest to him.... when things went wrong." "I often took the brunt of his frustrations." "Often questions were in my heart about things that I saw or heard. Through it all I tried my very best to remain loyal and loving, succeeding when I did often by sheer determination and renewed-mind commitment alone. Emotionally it was a very taxing time. In fact Howard ...(said) that Doctor was much harder to live with through the years that I lived with him.... Howard also said he didn't know if he could have done it." Geer added that when he lived with Wierwille "I was often hurt" (p. 34). Wierwille was demanding and "difficult to live with" (p. 68).
In these sections, Geer sounds much like an abused lover describing her hot-and-cold relationship with an abusive husband or boyfriend. Geer would have been wise to listen to the "questions... in my heart." Perhaps the questions would have shown him that the character Wierwille showed was quite different from that of Jesus Christ, and from the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. The questions were likely danger flags which Geer ignored, since he had been programmed not to question "the man of God."
Wayers were in the habit of not holding "the man of God" accountable for imbalances or sinful ways. As Martindale became implanted in the presidency, he apparently wanted the same lack of accountability that Wierwille enjoyed.
Wierwille was upset that the Trustees excluded him from decisions after his retirement (p. 36). To Wierwille, when Allen and others disagreed with him, even on minor matters, it was the same as refusing to be his friend and the same as disobeying God (p. 44). While Wierwille spoke of getting little income from The Way, Geer implies that Ministry funds were used to buy things for his personal interests such as hunting and dog training (p. 48).
Although TWI sought to hide Wierwille's increasing health problems, Geer talks openly about Wierwille losing his eye to cancer (p. 18) and his strokes (p. 27).
Insiders had talked privately for decades about how Wierwille sought to control every detail of The Way. While the introduction of the "Way Tree" was promoted as being a Biblical way to move The Word, its real purpose was to give V. P. Wierwille absolute control of every aspect of The Way. Several people taught Power for Abundant Living in the early years, but Wierwille put a stop to that by putting himself alone on tape. The Way West was once a separate organization with separate finances. But its leaders remember the day when Wierwille literally swept them aside in public meetings and forced all finances and decisions to pass through New Knoxville. Although The Way prided itself on having no members (except for three Trustees), they hid the fact that this meant that only three men (including V. P. Wierwille and his brother) had absolute control of all Way finances, activities, teachings and every other minute facet.
With this history of manipulative control, it is no surprise that Wierwille felt left out when the new
Trustees made some decisions without following his instruction. Wierwille couldn't stand to lose
control. What is worse, he seemed to think that sidestepping his leadership was the same as
sidestepping God's leadership.
WIERWILLE KILLED HIMSELF
The Way has long taught the law of believing: that negative believing (fear) produces evil, illness, injury and problems, while positive believing produces good things, like health, long life, and prosperity. Wierwille said in Power for Abundant Living that he no longer had fear in hi life.
Followers must have been shocked when "the Man of God" who was the master of believing had strokes, lost an eye to cancer, and then died of cancer at an early age (68). How could they reconcile this shocking contrast between belief and reality?
Geer tried to reconcile this problem by concluding that Wierwille chose to die, and actually used believing to cause his own death!
Wierwille concluded that the reason he was dying was that he knew of severe problems in TWI, but did not know how to do anything about it (p. 38). He even blamed his death indirectly on the Trustees, "If even one of them would look at me and say...'Is there anything you want to tell us about the Ministry before you die?', I think that I could believe to be healed" (p. 52). In Power for Abundant Living, Wierwille blamed a child's death on his mother's fear that he would be injured. But when Wierwille was ailing, he was quick to blame someone else rather than his own negative believing.
Geer thought, "There were two points when I felt he might change his mind and decide to go on living" (p. 67). In both cases, he had hoped the trustees might be ready to get and obey Wierwille's advice, but they weren't.
Geer said that Wierwille "...wanted to die rather than compromise. I saw how hard it was for him
to die....I am fully convinced that he believed to stop the functions of his body." Incredibly, Geer
seems to be saying that Wierwille used the power of his believing to commit suicide because he
had lost hope-- which is the ultimate act of fear, not of faith.
TRUSTEES ADMIT THEIR ERROR
Passing... includes handwritten notes by the Trustees in which they admit their error and the truth of what Geer wrote in Passing... Martindale wrote: "I've read this several times. I believe it to be the truth. It must be adhered to for the survival of this ministry. I stand with The Teacher and the truth of his last words. I love you."
Allen wrote: "I read it and all is true. I've felt it and didn't know what to do. So I will change to do my best for the man I helped kill." This reflects the idea that Geer apparently promoted-- that the Trustees had essentially killed V. P. Wierwille.
Donald wrote: "I've read this and am thankful for the revelation. I apologize for not having followed my 'man of God.' I shall be a doer of the Word more and more as I renew my commitment to God's Word. Thank you Chris for having eyes to see and ears to hear."
Geer also includes notes of a meeting held in 1987 in which the Trustees admit to other Way
leaders that the Trustees were not spiritual, had not adhered to God's Word, and were not moving
the Word. It is difficult to accept that the Trustees would so openly admit such severe error.
PASSING... PRESENTED "LIVE" TO WAY CLERGY
John Lynn, a prominent ex-Way leader, gave his interesting memories of Geer's live readings of Passing... to groups of Way clergy in his tape "Overview of Events." It was first read April 23, 1986 over a span of two and a half hours. He read it a second time at Corps Week before the Rock of Ages at which he emphasized that the Trustees murdered V. P. Wierwille.
Lynn recalls that Geer read Passing... another time at a clergy meeting Nov. 22-24, 1986 at New Knoxville. This time Geer added that he had revelation that 50% of Limb coordinators were possessed by devil spirits. He also condemned the paper by John Schoenheit which summed up the Biblical teaching that physical adultery, sexual relationships outside marriage, is sinful and that anyone who read it should turn themselves in and be fired.
John Townsend and Ricardo were installed as Trustees, beginning the brief-- and only-- period in which there were five rather than three Trustees. Presumably they were installed with the intent of reforming the board of Trustees. The "yak" fellowship of 11 men was formed to study Passing... and save TWI.
Lynn recalls that Geer carried a 45 caliber pistol under his suit and checked his car for bombs, seemingly fearing an attack by Way clergy. Lynn reflected that Geer had the same paranoia that Wierwille had. (Passing... itself recalls that Geer and Wierwille practiced scenarios in which Geer would save Wierwille from assassination attempts. This also seems to show fear, rather than positive believing on Wierwille's part.)
Great confusion followed the reading of Passing... Hundreds of Way leaders were fired and tens of thousands of leaders and followers left TWI to start their own regional groups. While the most intense of the "fog years" have passed, Passing... brought about permanent and pervasive effects, including widespread heartbreak, fragmented groups of followers of V. P. Wierwille, ongoing suspicion, and abrasive condemnations by current Way leaders.
Review c. 1997, John Juedes
Back to "Reviews of TWI Pubications"