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Spinning Leaf

September 15,
1997

Doubts about a mystery church

'Sect or cult?' is the question before an Alberta court

George Walker and Irvine

Preachers George Walker (left) and Irvine: Concluded church buildings are Satanic.

At the end of August, Duncan Dorey and Janice Steingard, a divorced Edmonton couple, appeared in Alberta Family Court to decide which of them would get custody of their two children. Mr. Dorey's lawyer, James Arends, charged that Ms. Steingard was raising their children in a cult to which both parents belonged but from which Mr. Dorey has since escaped. Known as the Two-by-twos, the Way, the Truth, the Go-preachers, or "the Church without a Name," the movement claims to be the one true Christianity. The Family Court deemed itself unqualified to settle the question and referred the case to the Court of Queen's Bench, which now finds itself in the awkward position of having to rule on the harmfulness of a religious sect.

The Two-by-twos were apparently formed in 1897 by a Scottish preacher named William Irvine. While working with the Faith Mission in Ireland, he decided Christ's instructions in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 still held: "Behold I send you forth as lambs amid wolves. Carry neither purse nor wallet... remain in the same house eating and drinking what they have, for the labourer deserves his wages." Mr. Irvine concluded that church buildings are Satanic and organized pairs of itinerant preachers or "workers." Without property or records, these workers would live among the "friends" or "professed" members of the new church. The result, a 100 years later, is an invisible sect. It subscribes to the fourth-century Arian heresy that Jesus is the Son of God but is not himself God, and counts 400,000 members worldwide, with over 4,000 in Alberta and B.C.

"We compiled a list of 47 different cult characteristics," says lawyer Arends. "The Two-by-twos meet all the points. They are extremely secretive, have no written doctrine or records, you can't get a straight answer from them, and yet they claim to be the only path to salvation. Their 'friends' must give unconditional obedience to the workers, or they're guilty of backsliding. And if they backslide, they're damned." Mr. Arends says his case is bolstered by California academic Ronald Enroth's work Churches That Abuse, Port Coquitlam author Lloyd Fortt's In Search of 'the Truth', and the testimony of a dozen former members in Alberta.

However, Gordon Melton, the California-based editor of the Encyclopedia of American Religions, argues the Two-by-twos are simply an "old-line, 19th-century Christadelphian sect," an isolated subculture of non-Trinitarian Christians. They are not a cult because "there's no real threats or violence," he says. "A good comparison is the Amish. They keep to themselves, with a minimal creed; they stress community, and their faith is passed from generation to generation. The big difference is that the Two-by-twos blend into the community, own houses and work normal jobs." Some ex-members have cited instances of sexual abuse, but author and ex-member Fortt has admitted such accusations are rare.

Ex-adherent Dale Wesenberg of Niton Junction, 94 miles west of Edmonton, insists the Two-by-twos are, "for the most part, godly people," but they are also "the most [biblically] ignorant ministers" in the world. "They feed the need for human attention, and their fellowship is unsurpassable," he says. "But they're parasites. They go from house to house, and it's deemed a great privilege to have workers living in your house, driving your car and living off you, because they're the only path to salvation. But if you ask them what they believe, they can't tell you."

Local "workers" did not return calls from this magazine. The Dorey-Steingard custody case may be heard at Queen's Bench in Edmonton within the September.



-- Joe Woodard

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