Monday, December 29, 2008

Who is Geoffrey Botkin? A Vision Forum Recruit from the Cult of the Great Commission

Updated 02Feb2013

A few years ago, this mysterious figure appears at Vision Forum with many insightful visions of his own. He had a family of seven children, and he put them to work immediately. He and his sons started directing films for Doug Phillips, and his daughters started writing a book that Doug Phillips would publish. No one really knew who he was. Geoff Botkin seems very mysterious and is presented to us as a wealth of wisdom. 

The most we, the public, were told initially is that he had experience making documentaries, ones with which we should all be quite familiar, with all the wonderful and impressive we are told about him. His daughters speak of all the university students that their father brought home, these Westerners, that circulated through their home. They spoke as though they were neither American nor New Zealanders. Where were they from? None of them sounded like they were from anywhere near down under – they spoke with a non-descriptive American accent. We hear about Capitol Hill consulting and documentary film making prior to the venture to NZ, the rental in the San Antonio, TX area to film The Return of the Daughters, and setting up a new home in Tennessee.  

Well it turns out that Geoffrey Botkin came from one of the most spiritually abusive cultic Evangelical Christian groups around: the shepherding/discipleship "submission doctrine" touting Great Commission Ministries (GC). Following this narrative, I’ve prepared a timeline in the form of a table that maps out a brief history of the Great Commission group, also noting Geoff Botkin’s activities and references to him in the media (and links noted in the table).

Geoff Botkin, his brother, Gregory, and both of their spouses were recruits in the Great Commission Christian evangelism cult that formed on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman during the ‘70s where Jim McCotter participated directly for many months during his “Blitz” college campus evangelism effort. The GCM group called themselves by a host of names but primarily referred to themselves as “The Saints,” encouraging group members to work at local businesses they founded which also bore the name. Please note that like many of the groups now affiliated with Vision Forum, they followed a very strict arranged courtship process (forbidding traditional dating and punishing “factious/fractious” group members who pursued unapproved romantic interests), a process ordered and overseen by GCM group leadership. At these OU affiliated GCM groups, women were not permitted to speak at gatherings that integrated them with men (save to sing), and they were also required to wear head coverings.

During the ‘70s, the OU group boasted an active member who former members report to have had a powerful testimony about his conversion to Christ after his parents fled Communist Latvia.  It is curious to note that in his capacity as a mouthpiece for Vision Forum, Geoff Botkin boasts that he was raised as a committed Marxist, but those who are familiar with the family from Tulsa and the Botkins did not know them to be Marxists but were Charismatic Evangelical Christians.  (If you are family or friends of Geoff's parents, please realize that these are claims that Geoffrey has made, not me.) Former group members have speculated that Geoff Botkin may have absorbed aspects of the testimony of another former member of the Norman group in order to embellish his own. Like many members of the Oklahoma group, former group members do not recall that Geoff Botkin completed his degree program at OU. Many of the active members in the OU group also followed Jim McCotter to the Washington, DC area in the ‘80s, just as Geoff did.

The newspaper in Montgomery County, Maryland calls Geoff Botkin an administrative assistant for the Silver Spring church in 1986. His mysterious consulting in Washington, DC seems to describes his work for the Great Commission’s political lobby group, Americans for Biblical Government (ABG), that existed only during 1986, lobbying for the Nicaragua Contras on the steps of the US Capitol. On his NZ employer’s website, he states that he was a “former chairman of an American policy think tank” which I assume refers to the GC’s ABG. In this interview, Botkin says that he took his son to Capitol Hill and to college campuses to show him how America’s youth were being deceived and defiled. Well, GC did do much very aggressive recruitment on the campuses of University of Maryland at College Park and Towson State University at this time. Geoff Botkin took his son to these campuses to do recruiting into the cultic Great Commission. His church also organized 19 GC church members’ campaigns for civil government in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1986, in an attempt to take dominion over the county government.

Though I exited from my unrelated shepherding and discipleship (evangelical Christian) group ten years after all of this newsworthy GC activity, I was exit counseled by the same people who were involved with countering this aggressive and virulent cultic “Bible-based” group in the Baltimore area, especially in the 1908s. Over the dozen or so years since I first met my counselor, they shared some of their experiences with me, equipping me to carry on by helping others in the way that they so critically helped and comforted me. Two counselors related an interesting account of their visit to the home of one of the Towson State GC activists and how terribly odd their children behaved. They observed small children who did not fuss and were not busy as they just sat for hours while (the exit counselors) went on conversing with some of these leaders in the Great Commission group. They recalled a young infant who did not cry and who sat quietly and still in a high chair in the room with the GC activist for an extended period of time. They found that this was quite inappropriate and disturbing behavior for young children. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the case, considering the Pearls methods and the ATI "blanket training." Note these quotes from this article from former members of the Towson GC church.   (Sound familiar?)
"Delithia Gross said she was encouraged by church members to discipline and spank her children until they stopped crying...The wives of the church elders would tell us that you could know you’ve broken a child’s spirit, that he has repented, by the sound of his cry, like he is almost out of breath,” Gross said...They would say, ‘You can tell, you can tell,’ when the spirit is broken. They would recommend that you use a wooden spoon,” she added...I didn’t go to discipline night because I thought it was disgusting,” said one ex-CGI member who asked that her name not be used. “The elder’s wives would tell us to keep spanking the child, even if you left black and blue marks, until you break the spirit,” she said...Crying is called rebellion. The idea is that if the child is crying, you beat him, discipline him until he stops crying,” said former GCI member Keith Cingel."

But I digress... Back to Geoff Botkin.

And from there, it was rather easy to find out how and why Botkin ended up in New Zealand. He became business partners, according to several sources, with Jim McCotter (member of the Council for National Policy --see note below), the founder of the cultic shepherding/discipleship group. They went off to NZ and purchased an ailing newspaper and television station to continue what McCotter called the “Media Mandate.” McCotter bought a seaside mansion in Christchurch, and Botkin named his home “Seven Arrows Ranch,” presumably for his quiverfull. Botkin became CEO for this group which also eventually acquired a magazine, that which the Western Conservatory (Botkin’s current "group" in the US -- see note below) calls an “international media conglomerate.” They published a newspaper three times per week and aired Christian programming. Within two years, all but the magazine did poorly, McCotter left New Zealand, and Botkin resigned his position in 2002. Though the archive for the New Zealand Media Group states that the Botkins emigrated to NZ, Botkin returned with his family to the US to appear among the reigning ranks at Vision Forum and Boerne Christian Assembly.

So Vision Forum recruited for themselves a former business partner, political activist and a zealot who wants to take over the media for Christianity for optimum milieu control, someone who worked for a well-known, well-documented shepherding/discipleship/submission doctrine cult (so called because it employs thought reform techniques and/or meets the criteria for spiritual abuse). Big surprise? Not at all. This group has been cited as a cult or as a totalist, thought reform group in Ronald Enroth’s “Churches That Abuse,” in Paul Martin’s “Cult Proofing Your Kids,” in Lawrence Pile’s “Marching to Zion,” and in more than 25 other newspapers all over North America including the Washington Post who published at least three articles on the group. You can read about the group HERE or on other sites like GCM Warning. And that is where the mysterious Geoff Botkin came from. He is a documentary film maker who ran a TV station and a newspaper, both endeavors that failed for a company who apparently did not value their employees or treat them very well. Jim McCotter apparently does not perform much better than this in his other media and business endeavors, something fairly well-documented on line as well.

Before the timeline to follow which traces the history of Great Commission, I would like to offer Dr. Paul Martin’s description of Geoff Botkin’s business partner. Then, please note the condensed history and activities of the Great Commission on the timeline table. (Note links to pertinent references.)

From the Preface of Cult-Proofing Your Kids, by Dr. Paul R. Martin.

Ironically, however, I was being swept away by an evangelical Christian movement that was growing more and more cultic itself. In the early seventies the group was known informally as "The Blitz." Later it gave itself the name "Great Commission International" (GCI) and "Great Commission Church." A few of the cultic practices I began to see exercised by GCI in 1977 were the use of deceit, the claim that our group had discovered the only correct way to evangelize the world (a practice that was lost after the first Christian generation and then was rediscovered by the founder of our movement), and the suppression of any sort of questioning or confrontation of the leadership. Nothing I had read prepared me to see the warning signs when I joined.

Ultimately, by 1978 the lack of ethical standards I perceived on the part of GCI's national leader finally woke me up. He was able to justify veiled deception and outright misrepresentation as effective means of getting out the Gospel. To question this was to be divisive. For seven months, I struggled in vein to get this leader to listen. The experience for me and my wife was like being interrogated in a Communist Chinese prison. During that time she suffered a miscarriage, and I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. My father, an evangelical pastor, heard of these discussions and was enraged. Normally a calm man, his anger flared. I will never forget what he said about my leader: "Paul, I have met thousands of people in my life, but when I met your leader, cold chills ran down my spine. He is the most evil man I have met in my life. . . . He is a false teacher . . . he throttled you."

At first I dismissed my dad's words; I was still loyal to my leader, in spite of being rebuffed by him. But because of my dad's concerns, I began to question more things. A few others in the group began to open up. We compared notes. We discovered that we saw the identical problems -- the suppression of questioning, inaccurate interpretation of Scripture, and the use of deceit. Because of troubling issues like these, I left GCI in the summer of 1978 to begin a teaching job at Geneva College.

But as I related my story to my Christian brothers and sisters, I could sense that few really understood. Talking about it became painful. I grew embarrassed and withdrawn. The notable exception was the elders at my new church, who listened in quiet support and refrained from offering either quick fixes or judgment.

Later, Barbara and I began to hear of others leaving the group. We heard painful stories of hurt, betrayal, broken health, broken dreams. Often I wept. I still do when I hear of the pain. Those who left became a needed support for each other.

Much prayer and counsel convinced me to switch careers. I wanted to learn more about psychology and religion, in the hope of being able to help others victimized by groups such as Great Commission International.

Barbara and I opened Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center two years after I received the Ph.D. degree in psychological counseling. To my amazement, I learned that there were innumerable groups around the country like the one we recently left. Hurting people were everywhere. We found it typical that both the ex-cultists and their parents usually had gone through an agonizing search for help. For some, it was years before they found someone to explain the psychological dynamics of cultic mind control phenomena.

As I reflected back on my extensive reading of evangelical Christian literature, I realized that I was not one "who understood the times" and knew what he should do (1 Chron. 12:32). I was unprepared to see the dangers of cultism even within evangelical circles.
In 2011, Geoff appears to have purchased a compound for his family (and followers), as they seemed to have tabled their plans to lead an exodus of faithful homeschoolers to New Zealand to escape the coming perdition prophesied by Gary North as opposed to making a stand and taking dominion in the U.S..

Botkin – Great Commission Timeline

1965 Jim McCotter moves to Greeley, CO, starts activism on University of Northern Colorado campus *link
1967 McCotter drops out of college for full-time ministry but gets drafted; Discharged in 1970. *link
1970 Starts “The Blitz” evangelical movement on college campuses *link  *link
Geoffrey Botkin, his brother Gregory and both of their spouses were recruited into the Great Commission group on the campus of The University of Oklahoma at Norman. Botkin participated in the authoritarian religious group and their communal homes operated by "The Saints" as they were most commonly known.

NOTE:  Geoff and Gregory Botkin were raised in Tulsa, OK in a family that was not commonly known to be "Marxist" as Geoff would later boast in his capacity as mouthpiece for Vision Forum.  The family attended a Charismatic Evangelical church.  The Norman group of "Saints" did have a member who had a powerful testimony of his conversion to Christ which other members report to have involved Communism, a man whose family immigrated from the USSR. Former members suggest that Geoffrey Botkin absorbed aspects of this former member's testimony in order to embellish his own testimony.
1972 The Blitz culminates in Ames, Iowa on the campus of Iowa State University; ten years of efforts there serve as a model for CGI strategy *link
1978 Iowa student hospitalized for lengthy and repeated psychiatric treatment after leaving a GCI group *link
1980 GC operations moved to San Clemente, California. *link
1983 GC base of operations moved to Silver Spring, MD near College Park (U of MD) and gains tax exempt status as “Great Commission International” Also very active on campus of Towson State Univ *link *link

Shares an address with “Valley Brook Community Church” with a reported attendance of up to 800 *link

Conducts summer long leadership training in discipleship *link *link
1983 “Media Mandate” preached at GCI conference

Christians must secure the media to reach every home via the “US Press” newspaper; provide neutral material of interest to general consumers, in order to draw them in and make them available for indoctrination with the religious and political viewpoints of GCI

Uses the analogy of programming a computer to convey his notion of how the media operates on consumers. *link
1985 Major expansion with efforts on 50 college campuses *link
1985 Former members establish an inpatient cult recovery center *link
1986 Forms “Americans for Biblical Government” (ABG) lobbyist group; rally on Capitol steps in support of Nicaragua Contras; disappears that same year (ABG never incorporated nor registered as tax exempt) *link *link
Nineteen GCI members in Mongomery County (12 from the Silver Spring church; Seven from the Damascus church) decided, almost simultaneously, to run for election to the Maryland Republican and Democratic Central Committees. Thereafter, political activities confined to distributing “media kits” on political topics *link *link *link *link *link
Geoffry Botkin, an administrative assistant at Great Commission said, “Great Commission doesn’t endorse, or sponsor, or contribute to any candidate.” *link
1986 Alpha Capital Corporation (ACC) formed, a for-profit publishing group in Maryland; GCI owned 100% of stock *link

Purchases and sells multiple radio stations

Allegations made that donations to GCI by membership channeled into ACC *link *link
1987 McCotter resigns from GCI to pursue entrepreneurial efforts in order to influence the secular media in accordance with the “Media Mandate.”

(One report states “McCotter has been sent away by the church to conduct church business incognito”) *link

Relocates to Orlando, FL

Questions and accusations of diversion of funds and other financial improprieties reported *link *link
1989 Changes name of to Great Commission Association of Churches (“GCAC” or “GCC”) *link *link *link
1989 CG activity banned from Univ of Guleph, Ontario, Canada *link *link
2000 Jim McCotter and “business partner” Geoff Botkin move to Christchurch New Zealand *link *link *link

Set up a media group (NZMG), bought ailing regional station Canterbury Television (CTV), registered 14 new media-related companies and launched newspaper and a weekly magazine *link

Christ church publishers: Waterford Press, Metros Publishing Group and Academy Publishing confirm they were all approached by McCotter and/or Geoff Botkin early in 2001, with various business propositions. *link

Late in 2001, McCotter returns to the US and does not return to NZ *link *link
2001 6,900 GC members active on college campuses *link
Geoff Botkin resigned as CEO* of McCotter's New Zealand Media Group *link *link

“Personnel lists show 26 out of 58 staff disappeared off the payroll between September 2001 and February 2002 and of the 17 editorial staff working a week after the launch, only seven remain” *Comment 1 link  *link

“McCotter and his henchmen have the audacity to claim this country and our city as their own and yet talk of getting rid of our government, etc. They talk of destroying certain businesses and engineering the destruction of people’s lives.
“Do they work for or are they being funded by a christian organisation? There is obviously a lot of cash in-volved as these men and their families stay in expensive hotels and recently McCotter has bought a very expen-sive home in Christchurch.
“They live the lives of the very wealthy, and talk in terms of money being the great reward.
“Please, who are the people behind them?
“The men who are involved locally are; Jim McCotter (American), Roland Ripamonti (American Italian) and his 15 year old son, Andrew and wife Marizia, Geoff Botkin (American) and his son, David, Louis de Beer (South African), Shannon Hunt (McCotter’s daughter), Jonathon Hunt (English)(Shannon’s husband), Simon Hunt (Jona-thon Hunt’s brother and his wife), Holly LeFors (American). *Comment 4
2005 60 GCC churches in the US with 40,000 members *link
2009 And the saga continues; GC is still very much alive and dysfunctional

I do not distinguish between the various Great Commission divisions and groups which some refer to as GCI, GCM, GCAC, etc. I prefer to use GC, but because of drawing from other sources, there is some variance in this blog post. I'm only interested in the fact that all of these organizations originated with the Great Commission group founded by Jim McCotter. All divisions or entities thereof, according to my information, follow the principles of the original group. Anyone interested in pursuing these specific entities further can refer to the copious references to the group online or in the literature.