The Way International (TWI) has made great efforts to close its doors to everyone who does not seem to be completely committed to obeying its president, L. Craig Martindale. It has restricted access to its new classes, refused to sell publications, ejected many members, ended or replaced activities, consolidated its locations and increased security at its campuses
Martindale hoped that these changes would prevent potential critics from closely examining the group and would further divorce TWI from its many ex-followers and splinter groups.
The centerpiece and primary recruitment tool of TWI for nearly thirty years was the Power for Abundant Living (PFAL) class by the late founder Victor Paul Wierwille. However, the class had become well known to outsiders over the years, who published critical analyses of it. In addition, thousands who accused top Way leaders of error and left TWI still held Wierwille's class in high regard.
Martindale then replaced PFAL with his own class, The Way of Abundance and Power. He has tried to keep the class secret by allowing only people who are regular participants in a twig (home fellowship) to take the class. Nonetheless, reviews of the class (by this author) are available on the World Wide Web.
Martindale also replaced other classes by Wierwille. This has increased the division between TWI's followers and ex-Wayers in splinter groups.
TWI also has limited access to its publications. At one time TWI allowed anyone to buy any publication except Wierwille's book Power for Abundant Living, because it contained the first four sessions of the PFAL class and TWI wanted to limit the spread of the class to just paying registrants.
Currently, TWI will not sell any publication (except for subscriptions to Sunday Night Service recordings and The Way Magazine) to anyone who is not currently an active participant in a Way twig. A standard form from its bookstore reads:
"It is our policy that we sell only to those who actively attend our fellowships. Our records indicate that you are not currently attending a Way International fellowship. If our records are incorrect, please have your limb coordinator contact us so that we can update our information."
TWI probably found itself selling Wierwille's books to its "competitors"-- its splinter groups and critics-- and thought that refusing to sell the books may hinder or spite them. It also hoped to reduce the number of articles criticizing the slipshod aspects of its "research."
PURGE, MARK AND AVOID
TWI also booted out many of its followers, then closed the door on them. "Purge, mark and avoid" became TWI's rallying cry of the 1990s. It started by purging all who seemed to be homosexuals or "homo" sympathizers. (TWI seem to enjoy using "politically incorrect" terms and profanity.) Then leaders went on to purge all who seemed not to obey Martindale unquestioningly. Many seemed to fear questioning even a few practices in private, afraid word would get back to zealous leaders. Those who were purged were "avoided," and were escorted off Way campuses and utterly ignored even by long-time friends.
One result of this is increased tension in marriages. Leaders often pressure devoted followers to either induce their mates to actively participate in Way gatherings (twig, Limbs, etc) or to separate from or divorce them.
Many Wayers are also encouraged to move closer to the New Knoxville, Ohio headquarters. Those who live within 250 miles of New Knoxville are pressured to attend all Sunday night services there. Those beyond that range are expected to get a live telephone hook up to the Victor Paul Wierwille Word Over the World Auditorium during the services. This practice closes ranks, and gives leaders more control over their followers.
TWI also ended the WOW Ambassador program in 1994, fearing that nearly ten percent of that year's applicants were homosexual. A year later it began the "Disciples of The Way Outreach" program to replace the WOWs. The Disciples were to find new recruits for TWI as the WOWs did, but serve only four months instead of the year the WOWs served. But the Trustees limit the Disciples to only Advanced Class grads in order to assure that they are more entrenched in Way practices and more answerable to leaders.
TWI has also reduced its number of campuses, closing Tinnie, New Mexico and selling its Emporia campus at a great financial loss. This was necessary to reduce its debt and because it had fewer financial resources and experienced leadership due to its membership losses. This way the Trustees can keep a closer eye on TWI's more limited operations.
TWI has always controlled visitors to its campuses much more than any college or institution. Its members always use name tags so that they can instantly identify any outsiders. Since the split, its security force has become increasingly aggressive, approaching and running off anyone who is not currently active in a Way-controlled twig. (Being involved in a "stick," a home fellowship of ex-Wayers not now answerable to New Knoxville, is a quick ticket off campus.) Security personnel try to intimidate outsiders by dressing as police officers-- complete with police-style utility belt, holster, CB-style microphone, badge with the word "patrolman" stamped on it, and white vehicles with a seal painted on the door and emergency lights on top. The fact that security was busy confronting ex-Wayers during the last Rock of Ages contributed to TWI's decision to end that annual event as well.
These efforts to close TWI and circle the wagons have backfired to some extent. The increased pressure to control Wayers has actually forced many of them out, as the blatant manipulation tipped them off to the unhealthy nature of the group. These, and others who were forcibly purged, took their class materials and books with them, and passed them on to others. Those who leave then become an exit point for some of their friends or relatives still in TWI. Computers and the World Wide Web have served to allow private contacts with ex-Wayers and to provide information which was unavailable to Wayers before. Overall, the increasingly restrictive nature of TWI is showing no sign of opening up anytime soon.
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