The Way International (TWI) promotes certain teachings and practices which are generally unknown to (or hidden from) outsiders and which are harmful to individuals involved in TWI and to their families. This letter focuses on the basics of TWI practices regarding sickness, healing and medical attention. Phrases in quotation marks are actual terms used universally by Wayers (our web site offers a list of Way jargon with definitions if you would find this helpful).
TWI does allow its followers to get medical attention, and in this way differs from groups which entirely forbid it. They follow a "first aid, second aid, third aid" rule. "First aid"-- believe God that you will be healed; "second aid"-- have another Wayer minister to you and believe you will be healed; "third aid"-- go to a doctor. However, in practice, there is a risk to members (especially to children of members) in that TWI leads its followers to ignore an illness or to deny it exists as long as possible. They above all want Wayers to "believe" for healing and discourage resorting to the "third aid" of medicine. However, leadership and followers may vary widely in the degree to which they discourage medicine. This may lead to a situation in which medical attention is less effective (because it has been postponed too long) or in which more damage is done to a person's health than should have been allowed.
It is important to know the thought and beliefs that lead to this denial of illness. (Changing their thoughts to match those of TWI is very important to Wayers, and is called "renewing your mind.) This is based on the "law of believing," which states that all good things in believers' lives are caused by their "positive believing," which is an inner conviction that the good things will happen to you. "The law of believing" also states that bad things happen to you because you cause them by your "negative believing," which is an inner conviction that bad things will happen to you.
TWI's founder, Victor Paul Wierwille, on whom all TWI teachings are based, wrote: "If one is afraid of a disease, he will manifest that disease because the law is that what one believes (in this case, what he believes negatively), he is going to receive" (Power for Abundant Living, p. 38). He also wrote, "...we do not limit God, then we will not talk about worry, fear, anxiety , sickness and want. We forget those negatives for we are sons by the One who overcame...If you doubt your recovery from sickness, you will by all means slow up and retard your own progress" (The Bible Tells Me So, pp. 22, 45).
Note that he writes, "we do not talk about...sickness." In fact, they don't even want to think about it as a possibility. Therefore, even if Wayers have definite symptoms of illness, they don't want to think or talk about it (much less see a doctor), because this is "negative believing," which they believe will actually cause the illness to come to exist or continue to exist. As a result, they deny an illness exists, even if it in fact does. They also avoid telling any fellow Wayers, because other Wayers will see them as implicitly admitting that they are unbelievers, and that the illness shows that there is something wrong with their spiritual and psychological life.
I once asked a Wayer what his occupation was. He answered, "writer," even though he worked full time as a messenger and had never published anything in his life. But he "believed" to be a writer, and didn't want to admit he actually made his living as a messenger. Likewise, Wayers will avoid admitting illness to fellow Wayers, outsiders, and themselves. Since they will not even admit illness to themselves, they normally will not see a doctor promptly, either. The risk with young children is even greater than with adults, because children often cannot express well just how much problem or discomfort they are having. Plus, even if they can express it, they may be afraid to do so, because they know their parent(s) may not readily accept this. Many children tend to try to fit in with their parents desires and expectations, even to their own hurt.
Wayers also fear that if they admit illness or another negative condition, then TWI leadership will condemn them. One couple was told that their child died because they didn't tithe (give enough money to TWI). Whenever leaders blame a medical condition on a cause such as this, then Wayers are likely to try to get healing by tithing (or whatever kind of disobedience the leader asserts is the cause of the illness) instead of by seeking medical attention. This may further postpone or prevent a medical solution. Many TWI leaders actually use their followers' troubles as tools to manipulate the followers to do whatever TWI or its leaders want. They commonly treat peoples' problems as signs of wrongdoing, not of need, then respond with "confrontation" (which often includes verbal attack), not with comfort.
There is a lot of implicit pressure upon TWI followers to pretend as though all is well, even when it isn't. Wayers are afraid of admitting illness, because they fear that the illness will then appear or intensify. Wayers are afraid of revealing problems to leaders, fearing that the troubles will be used against them, and that they will be "confronted" and criticized. Wayers fear being singled out as inferior believers and treated as outcasts (Since illness and problems are seen as being disobedience or negative believing, then other Wayers will tend to keep distance from those who have such problems.) They may even be declared to be "possessed by devil spirits." Leaders are taught to confront, not comfort followers, and to induce followers to conform to the group-think mentality of TWI rather than to respond to their personal needs. As Wayers become more involved in TWI, they are expected to ask their leaders for permission to do a host of things in their lives, from asking who they may date and where to live, to asking if they may go to a doctor.
Therefore, the tendency to deny illness and troubles come both from within (a person's own need to feel they are good believers), and from inside (pressure from peers and leaders). Since almost all Way functions are in small group settings, followers can't just fade into the woodwork, but are always under scrutiny. The result is that most followers of TWI and especially their children face medical risks beyond what is safe, typical or recommended by medical professionals.
Dr. John P. Juedes C. 1998 firstname.lastname@example.org
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