Her name wasn’t really Francine McIntosh.
That’s a pseudonym used in the transcripts of the recording of a speech given to the Word of God Covenant Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by its leaders, Steve Clark, Jim Cavnar, and Ralph Martin. I don’t know what this woman’s name really is. I have nothing to do with this story except that I read it, after I’d escaped the Charismatic Renewal, and I can’t get it out of my head.
A Covenant Community, you may recall, is one of the little high-control groups people were encouraged to live in in the Charismatic Renewal. We were bullied into thinking that this was the only way to be safe from the coming tribulations– to give up everything and live in a Charismatic community under a spiritual leader who would tell us just what to do, what to avoid and what to believe, by the power of the Holy Spirit. My family tried to start one in Columbus. The one here in Steubenville was called the Servants of Christ the King. It was shut down by the bishop for being a cult in 1991, but instead of disappearing, it re-formed around the culture of Franciscan University.
This speech was apparently given to the Word of God Community back in 1971, to explain why a community member had been expelled and shunned, and I am paraphrasing the speech here.
The other members of the community were ordered not allowed to speak to Francine or spend time with her or show her any respect at all anymore, to protect them from this woman’s contamination and to bring the woman to heel. They were going to “deliver that one to Satan,” as Saint Paul put it, not only for the safety of the community but as an “act of love” for her.
The person known as Francine McIntosh was a young single woman who came to the community asking for “ministry” because of her struggles with asthma and convulsions. Of course, this was diagnosed as a spiritual attack. Such things often are in the Charismatic Renewal. Francine was told that she could stay in the community and receive their care if she submitted herself to the rules and did exactly as they were told. Jim Cavnar was to be her leader; she was to “[submit] her life, decisions, and guidance” to him and obey him in every particular. If she wanted healing, she had to jump when he said “jump.” This was the will of God.
Francine, according to Jim, committed two serious sins. The first was that she prophesied. Most everyone in the Charismatic Renewal tended to prophesy sometimes, but Francine wasn’t supposed to. She was the vulnerable person in need of healing, not the leader of the community. Jim discerned that her prophesies were of the devil and she must stop. He was the prophet, not her. But she wouldn’t stop.
The second sin was that, according to Jim, Francine was a Lesbian. He found out she was a Lesbian because someone else in the community told him that Francine had been having an affair with her. So Jim cornered Francine and questioned her about her sexuality for three days straight, during which time she denied it vehemently. Finally, after the questioning had gone on too long, she cracked and said that she had had a relationship with a woman, but that the other woman had been responsible for the act. Jim discerned that this wasn’t true. He got a priest to talk to Francine, and under that priest’s interrogation she confessed that she was indeed a Lesbian, and that the relationship was her fault. That was what they wanted her to say.
The leaders shamed her for her sin. They informed her that somebody guilty of such a serious sin could never be a part of their community and receive their healing care, unless she repented. They said that they couldn’t just take her at her word that she had repented, because she hadn’t been forthcoming to them about her sexuality. So they were going to impose even stricter rules.
They informed her that she wasn’t to go by the more masculine-sounding version of her name anymore. The transcript says it was “Frances.” She had been calling herself “Frances” and said that in one of her prophesies, God had asked her to call herself Frances. “Frances” was no longer allowed. “Frances” had “borne bad fruit,” detracted from her femininity and encouraged her “assertiveness.” She must become Francine again now, and would remain Francine.
They further informed her that she was to wear more feminine clothing, and nothing androgynous. This would help her to fight against the spirits of false prophesy and assertiveness which were afflicting her and causing her medical conditions. And Francine, Frances, did what she was told. For a month, she went by the name she disliked and wore dresses and skirts. Jim saw improvement in her after this. He claimed her physical health was improving.
After this progress had been made, Jim discerned that Frances needed to do even more to further her healing. She was to drop everything and move away, from Ann Arbor to a community in Houston, Texas. Frances balked at this, but Jim was adamant that it was God’s will. The pastor in Houston was willing to receive her and continue modifying her personality, if only she’d leave everything she knew and fly across the country. But after some pressing, she said “yes.”
In the time leading up to her move, Francine started behaving oddly so that Jim was properly horrified. She asked if she could go by “Frances” again, and he reminded her that she may not. She begged to stay in Ann Arbor so she could keep seeing her doctor. She went to the doctor feigning new medical problems, which the doctor told the community were made up.
And then, Frances ran away.
For three days, the community searched for Frances to drag her back to their control, but they couldn’t find her. When she finally turned up, she was adamant that she wouldn’t repent. She didn’t want to come back. She didn’t want to move to Houston. She didn’t want to submit all her actions to Jim Cavnar, change her name, wear skirts and obey. She started saying again that the relationship with the other woman hadn’t been her fault. She wanted to prophesy again.
The community went back and prayed on this. At first, they thought she was having a psychological problem. She must be, to be behaving so rebelliously. But then they decided that this wasn’t an issue of mental health, but of wickedness. Frances was in sin. The evil spirit who prompted her to be assertive and prophesy, to change her name and not wear skirts, was making her run away from the community.
That was why they decided on the shunning.
Shunning her was the only way to break her. The humiliation and loneliness would soon draw her back to the community and the beautiful healing the Lord had planned for her. So they ordered Frances not to speak to anyone in the community, nor to speak about what they’d done to her. If she obeyed that last command, they would at least keep everything they knew about her private. She refused to do so. She talked about the things she’d experienced in the Word of God Community. She tried to warn people. And so they were retaliating, by calling the whole community together to publicly state what Frances had done. They were outing her as a Lesbian to the whole group, telling the group about her mental health problems, denouncing her prophesies as demonic.
They ordered the community to have nothing to do with Frances, not to speak to her or acknowledge her in any way. They further banned the couple who had harbored Frances when she ran away from any Community functions until they repented. God could heal her homosexuality and her mental illness. The matter of false prophesy was even more grave, but progress could be made if only Frances would go back to being Francine, and being the property of Jim Cavnar. For now, though, they were to cut her off completely and make it hurt.
The members of the Community questioned this. But the leaders explained that this was the will of God. And eventually, the community agreed. They would not let Satan divide them with a spirit of confusion. They would submit themselves to their leaders. And it was decided.
I think of that story often, now that I’ve left the Charismatic Renewal behind. I think about the way I lost my relationship with my whole family, for various reasons. I think of the way Father Plow ordered me out of my Household at Franciscan University and tried to stop me from talking about it. I think of all the people I knew who got much, much worse, exponentially worse, than what was done to me. An army of wounded. A thousand human sacrifices to the prophets of the Charismatic Renewal.
Frances, whoever she really is, would be an old woman now.
I hope she wears clothes she likes and goes by a name that seems right to her.
I hope she is still assertive.
I hope she prophesies.
Most of all, though, I hope she is happy.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.