© 2001 ~ 2007

CHAPTER 7    pp123-137

The Children of ISOT



In Search of Truth (ISOT) is a Christian-based communal new religion located in Canby, a small, rural town in north-eastern California. It is particularly well-suited for a study of religiously based childrearing because it has created a special communal environment for children and families. Its members agree that God has "called" them to care for children. Although they believe it is essential to their unity to emphasize the whole group as a spiritual entity over separate families, they value highly the parent-child relationship. They have developed strategies to socialize their own youths, who number over fifty, in an effort to ensure that when these children reach adulthood, they do not become absorbed into the larger social fabric. But ISOT members also feel a calling to care' for children sent to them from outside. For many years they ran a child care facility for the state of California. Other affiliated religious communities show a high regard for their reputation as child care specialists by sending them families who need special help with their children.


This chapter explores the conditions that contribute to the success of this intentional religious community by concentrating on their methods of socializing children. Rodney Stark (1987 :25) asserts that to explain the success of some new religious movements, "much more needs to be known about socialization and its connections with effective mobilization [as they relate] to demands for sacrifices [that are] crucial to building and maintaining commitment." I address this issue by describing how the children of ISOT are educated into ISOT values, but I also explore it further. Socialization can be adequately understood only in relation to six other conditions, enumerated by Stark (1987: 11-29), that affect the future success of new religions: "cultural continuity," "a medium level of tension," "a normal age and sex structure," "a favorable ecology," "dense internal network relations," and a resistance to "secularization." Thus, by identifying the presence of these conditions throughout the history of this community, I demonstrate that the ISOTs have always made efforts, through their childrearing, to enhance these other conditions, thereby ensuring their members' commitment.


Even though Stark's theoretical model is useful, his measurement of success is not applicable here. He (1987:12) weighs "the degree to which a religious movement is able to dominate one or more societies. . . [and] influence the behavior, culture, and public policy in a society." Rosabeth Kanter's (1972) classic measurement of success (as lasting twenty-five years or more) is more appropriate to ISOT because it takes into account those small groups whose members create a satisfactory lifestyle for themselves that they then are able to pass onto future generations. The ISOT community can be considered a success because it has maintained a small, but stable population of approximately two hundred members for over thirty years. Many of its original members remain, as well as most of those who as children were raised in the group. Although not financially independent from the wider community, ISOT adequately supports its members and continues to attract new converts.


My exposure to ISOT was initiated in 1981 when 1 drove through the area and saw women who wore handmade dresses to the ground and men with beards and overalls operating the only available store in town. I went into a nearby hotel filled with mill workers and ranchers and they informed me that their town had been taken over by a "cult." I then sought out members of the group who directed me to their two leaders: Joseph, a confident, articulate man in his late thirties, and his wife, Marie, who was in her early fifties and possessed clear, penetrating blue eyes. They introduced me to their community with warmth and pride and provided a tour of its facilities, most of which were trailers and small structures that, while simple, were well tended with fresh paint and flower gardens. Families lived together in six clusters of buildings, each consisting of a main house that served as a dining and living area and associated structures providing bedroom quarters. Nearby were a ranch, a park with a lake, and a large Quonset hut that housed work areas for auto mechanics carpentry, maintenance, laundry and storage. Trai1ers provided classrooms for the community school near a central  "meeting house," where everyone assembled for social and religious activities and for at least one meal a day.


I returned to work with the group in the late 1980s and periodically returned for visits until 1994. Most of the information presented here is my perspective of their childrearing during the late 1980s and some of the changes I noted during my last visit in 1994. [1]


The Community

The members of ISOT consider themselves Christians and therefore exhibit Stark's (1987:13-15) condition of cultural continuity. Although they have developed an autonomous community, their roots are in an earlier charismatic, neopentecostal movement. This movement began in the late 1940s when evangelists spread a "Spirit Based” Christianity that differed from traditional Pentecostalism. In 1951, a meeting of the Full Gospel Business Men’s International was held in California to provide outreach to non-Pentecostals searching for charismatic fellowship. By the mid-1950s, an umbrella organization called "Christian Growth Ministries" had formed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Through teaching conferences and then a traveling ministry, charismatic pastors were trained to be leaders. Some of these leaders demanded a commitment from participants that was expected to be stronger than that of regular church involvement (Burgess and McGee 1988:130-137). They formed a scattered network of communes and congregations loosely assembled in an organization that eventually became known as The Body. One of these communes is ISOT. Although many of the original groups affiliated with The Body no longer exist, the ISOT’s claim that there are still over two hundred active communities in North America. Differences in beliefs caused them to stop interacting with The Body in 1974, but they had reinitiated contact by 1990.


The members of ISOT share the religious beliefs taught to them by Marie. Followers claim that she is a prophet with the ability to foretell events because of a direct connection with God. She tells them that we are approaching the final days of a one-thousand-year period preceding the end of the world as we know it. Unlike other millennialists, ISOTs place little emphasis on the notion of a catastrophe at some specific time; instead Marie points to major global events as indicators that it is already in the process of occurring. Unlike other Pentecostals, but like many Neopentecostals, Marie does not teach about a "rapture" when God's "chosen" will ascend to heaven. Instead, God is expected soon to call on a " Body” of people who "manifest Christ" to prepare others for the new world…..a heaven on earth.


Marie's followers learn that they could be among those who have been chosen to fulfill this covenant, but they must prepare themselves. Their primary goal is therefore spiritual progress, demarcated by a series of revelatory experiences, both small and dramatic. Such progress can best be fostered, they believe, within a community that heightens social relations, so that religion becomes a part of everyday life. In this way, they are able to dedicate themselves to spiritually heal those around them. They hope that as they transform their individual "natures," they will become interdependent parts of a whole with others in the community. At some point a spiritual level will be attained when they will transcend themselves and become that Body of people who manifest Christ. [2]


The community originated in the mid-1960s on the central coast of California and in 1972 moved to its present location in the northeastern part of the state. Marie began the community by holding religious meetings in her home that attracted mostly young, troubled people from the streets. They enjoyed the familial atmosphere, Marie's clarity in her interpretation of the Bible, and her support of spontaneous religious experience. As members accumulated, they bought a hotel, began to live communally, and became licensed as a nonprofit religious organization. A core group worked in various low-income jobs to support the others who were either too young or unable to work. When ISOT relocated to the rural north, it had to support a burgeoning birthrate and a substantial number of foster children. Community gardens, labor to local ranchers and the Forest Service, and ventures in small businesses helped them succeed. In a short period of time, with help from members' inheritances and loans from their families, ISOT was able to purchase a large number of the buildings and most of the land within and surrounding Canby.


Stark (1987:19-22) might say that the ISOT community fits another condition for success because it has occupied a favorable ecology for new religious movements. Some conventional faiths responded to social disruption during the 1960s by moving toward secularization. This caused schisms within these churches which resulted in a proliferation of new religions in central California, a region with an unregulated religious economy. Spiritual leaders like Marie offered the transient youths of California new social and spiritual ties. But ISOT did not find such an accepting environment when the members of the group moved north. Their new neighbors viewed them as deviant. In response, the ISOTs intentionally developed boundary-maintaining behaviors, including the wearing of distinctive dress and the creation of a private school for their teenagers. These behaviors increased hostility from the members of the wider community who had few opportunities to come to know individuals in the commune. Many believed the group was trying to take over their town and subscribed to the cultural myths that were popular at the time about brainwashing by leaders of new religious movements. On occasion, a. vocal minority would create problems for ISOT, calling the sheriff about petty incidences and in general attempting to sabotage the group's activities. Neighborhood children mimicked their parents' hostility toward ISOT children who attended the public grade school. Their principal at the time described them to me as "unmanageable," "undisciplined," and "culturally deprived." Eventually the ISOTs were forced to withdraw their children from this public school. In the late 1970s, a local minister picked up a foster child who had run away from the ISOT compound because she claimed she had been handcuffed to a bed. The incident led to public accusations of child abuse, but the group was never charged.


This withdrawal from the wider community created some problems for the group, but it also contributed toward later success. The ISOTs believed that assimilation would diminish their distinctive values and roles, and they therefore resisted secularization (Stark 1987:23-24). Membership continued to increase, so the tension experienced with neighbors, while disruptive, apparently allowed the ISOTs to feel different enough to enhance their internal network relations (Stark 1987:22-23). They partially isolated themselves completely from society but continually evaluated and adjusted their boundaries in an attempt to maintain their religious beliefs.

Child Care Business

By the 1980s, the members had come to believe that God wanted them to take care of troubled youths on a full-time basis. To accommodate this calling, the ISOTs had to reduce the ongoing tension with their neighbors by lowering their boundaries and opening themselves up for scrutiny. They began to provide lodging and counseling services for seventy-odd chi1dren, called "placements," who were wards of the state of California. These "group home" activities allowed the ISOTs previously unknown financial success but also created conditions that jeopardized previous successes. The state required that they separate the placements from all religious activities unless they specifically requested to attend religious meetings. Since these children lived in the clusters with ISOT families, religion could no longer be practiced or discussed in these homes. The ban on spontaneous everyday religious expression moved the ISOTs in a secular direction. Moreover, they lost access to new converts because a primary source, the children they cared for, were no longer included in their religious life.


The ISOT children were affected by the presence of placements. They had always slept and lived with their own age group, but their parents frequently resided with them. Now, many parents had to live in clusters with placements, which proved uncomfortable environments because these wards of the state of- ten had severe social problems. ISOT children found that they had to compete with the placements for attention. Any hope that the commune would provide an environment offering their own children more attention was impeded.


The ISOTs responded by creating new organizational boundaries within the commune, so that the presence of nonbelievers would have minimal impact on them. Religious activities were formally held in separate places at specific times. Their children over the age of preschool were moved into a separate cluster designed especially for them. These children considered this move a privilege. It served to strengthen their identification with their peer group, and it allowed the adults to concentrate on particular aspects of their socialization that promoted the communal lifestyle. At around twelve years of age, children moved to a cluster on the outskirts of the community supervised by Marie and Joseph. The adults intentionally attempted to make this move meaningful because they wanted it to be considered part of a "rite of passage." In this separate environment, they were socialized to "exhibit and build commitment" (Stark 1987:24-25). Religious instruction and communication skills were emphasized, and confrontation (described later in the chapter) was intensified there, since the children had reached the age where they were expected to gain insight into themselves. This separate housing cluster also prevented their mingling with the Placements who already went to a separate, county-funded school. Contact was allowed only during group activities and under strict supervision.


Harsh accusations of child abuse forced the ISOTs to relinquish their control of the group home in the early 1990s. On this occasion, the formal charges included psychologica1, physical and sexual abuses directed toward the well-established senior members of the group. The accusations came from children they had cared for in the past and a man hired by a state regulator to find evidence to close down most group homes in California. [3]


But the most damaging and painful accusations were those that came from some disgruntled ex-members. They had left on bitter terms because they had forfeited the personal investment they had made in the community over the years. A few also happened to be closely related to central figures in the group, including Marie. Three choices were available to ISOT. A plea bargain would allow the group to retain the group home, but the accused would have to assume guilt and have no future contact with children. A lengthy trial would allow them to defend their reputations but would also force a public airing of family matters and ruin any possibility of a future reconciliation with their relatives. ISOT choose the third option: to close down the group home and start over.

This crisis may have saved the ISOT community. Despite effort to reduce tension with neighbors, so that the ISOTs would be considered credible child care providers, the child care business served to focus regional attention on the commune and opened it up to criticism. ISOT lost some members be- cause of this crisis, but social bonds among those who remained were strengthened. They also began to realize that, after almost twenty years of estrangement from the rest of the communities in The Body, they needed to make amends. By 1994, the community was supporting itself through a variety of other financial endeavors, such as building contracts with the federal government, and yet its members had not lost their interest in child care. The focus shifted to working with the families sent from other communities in The Body, who recognized ISOT's success in helping children. The communities that sent dysfunctional families expected that after a period of counseling, they would return home. Some did, but others stayed with ISOT. This recruitment of family units helped to normalize group demographics, another of Stark's conditions for success.


Once the group home no longer existed, children's living arrangements were once again based on their individual needs. Some continued to live in a children's unit, but many moved back into clusters with their parents. Elders and parents sometimes decided that a child would benefit from a separate residence because the child had problems with a parent or needed the influence of another adult; in some cases the adults listened to a child's request to live in a particular place. For example, teenagers often wanted to move in with Marie and Joseph and would put their names on a waiting list for this privilege. Although the Elders were fairly flexible in their decisions about who lived with whom, these considerations were made very carefully. Some young adults raised in the group hoped that in the future the children would once again have their own, separate household cluster. Most of them recalled their experiences in homes apart from their parents as rewarding.


Religious instruction was once again part of the children's everyday lives by 1994. Religious books appeared in every home, beliefs were discussed, and religious meetings were resumed. Children mimicked their parents in singing, clapping, and occasional dancing and were sometimes handed tambourines or rattles. Special peer group meetings were held that taught them how to apply religious tenets to daily life.

The Commune as an Extended Family

The members consider themselves part of the "ISOT family." They contend that, a strong "extended family" unit is the best environment in which to raise children. It teaches them to trust the viewpoint of people who are not their parents. Children are involved in most adult activities and are expected to sit quietly in one spot for long periods of time learning from adult conversation. One woman spends time each week with a child whose parents have various difficulties. Another may tell a young adult with a newborn when she should feed her baby. This emphasis on the extended family is reinforced by the use of kinship terms. Children are taught to call adults in the group "Aunt" or "Uncle"; Joseph may be called "Papa," and Marie is called "Mom" or "Grandmother." As children reach their early teens, they make use of these fictive terms in a more discriminatory fashion conditioned by both the situation and their persona1 relationship with the adult. One young adult says that she believes that her aunts and uncles belong to her as much as they belong to their children.


ISOT mobilizes its members effectively through a hierarchy of leadership (Stark 1987: 16-17). Titles signify the order in a hierarchy composed of "Elders," "Timothys," "Members," and "Affiliates." Most of the Elders have been members for a few decades, including women. They offer spiritual guidance, supervise various aspects of community life, and have the final say on everyday affairs and childrearing. A new status, "Timothy," was created to provide training for future Elders. "Member" is the title given to most others not considered ready, or simply unwilling, to take on much responsibility. Affiliates are recent arrivals who must prove to the Elders that they are committed enough to become members. The community has created strong governance, and it expects strong commitment.


An emphasis on the extended family does not mean that the ISOTs deny the importance of the nuclear one. Like many in the charismatic movements described by Mary Jo Neitz (1987:133-134), they believe in "the primacy of the family as the fundamental social unit. . . but these are 'trying times' and marital and parental roles are seen as impossible to fulfill without the support of God and a Christian community." When the group home occupied much of the parents' time, free time with their families was often limited to a few evenings of the week. As a result, a few children appeared to have a problem identifying with their family unit. If a child had difficulties in this regard, the family would receive counseling from others in the group. Now, children see their parents much more frequently because they are more apt to live with them. They learn that the Bible also guides their position in this smaller family unit through a "divine order in which authority passes from Christ to the husband to the wife to the children" (Neitz 1987:137). The husband is considered "the law," the wife is expected to submit and implement that law, but the Elders make the final decision if she believes her husband goes against God. [4]


The Development of Commitment

Stark (1987:24-25) emphasizes the important role commitment has in the success of a group. Members of the second generation tend to have different reasons for committing to a communal group than their parents did. Kanter (1972:69) outlines three different types of commitment in communal life, "instrumental,", "affective," and "moral" and she finds that "they have different consequences for the system." Certainly, children may find it easier to remain with family members who help them instrumentally and to whom they are affectively bonded. But these reasons alone do not bode well for the future success of the group. Members of the future generation must also be socialized to believe that they can only truly uphold their values, their self-identity, by living the life in which they were raised. According to Kanter (1972:73), "The person making a moral commitment to his community should see himself as carrying out the dictates of a higher system, which orders and gives meaning to his life."


Spiritual transformation is the primary concern of ISOT members. An environment has been created in which emotional and spiritual change is emphasized on a daily basis, with a focus on the importance of conformity, open communication, the development of social responsibility, confrontation, and transitory rituals.


Children are taught to surrender their individuality through conformity and a responsibility to others' needs. They are told that if they insist on worrying about their "self-image," they will be sacrificing community goals at everyone's expense. Therefore, any behavior that exhibits personal autonomous reclusive behavior, is not only detrimental to self-transformation but also, makes community goals, or God's purpose, secondary. A person who wants to be alone is believed to be avoiding "accountability" and avoiding the communal responsibility to develop a concern for the needs of those around them. If an argument with someone develops, the person is forced to interact within a support group and resolve the issue. She or he is also taught to make sure all members are included in activities, even if it means that the activity must be changed to accommodate them.


Part of social responsibility involves openly communicating with others, developing a vulnerable countenance, and being accountable for members of a peer group by denouncing them if they do something wrong. Children are told that personal secrets are unhealthy because if someone is not totally honest, "deluded thinking" may develop. They are rewarded for being completely open about their problems. They also are taught that they are unfair to others if they help them to keep things hidden. When I questioned some youths about this, they concurred that morally, if they believe in principles and then let their friends controvert them, they are hypocrites. Furthermore, it is their duty to make sure that those who commit themselves to God not be tempted to go against Him. A distinction is made between "tattling" and telling on others. The latter is a gesture of concern, or of being "held accountable," and helps the deviant person confront the problem. In contrast, tattling is done with a "mean spirit" and is an attempt by the tattler to improve his or her own self-image.


According to ISOT beliefs, transformation often takes effort and elicits pain and all members must allow themselves to experience it. Children learn that everyone moves at his or her own pace through the stages of spiritual development, but occasionally someone will become complacent and not progress. Adults will then attempt to cause the individual a certain amount of discomfort, so that he or she can move forward. It may be elicited through confrontation, such as a public, verbal attack by Elders directed at a number of children or an individual one. Confrontation corresponds to what Kanter (1972) calls "mortification." Indeed, charges by ex-members of the group of psychological abuse may have much to do with the confrontation they experienced while in the group. Members in ISOT admit that, whereas in the past they thought of themselves as a "confrontative community," they now are more apt to first consider gentler methods of promoting change.


Children are encouraged to have transformative experiences during rites of passage and when they receive prophecies from Marie. Around their eighth year, children are expected to ask the Elders to be baptized. The Elders decide which ones have reached the appropriate level of reawareness, since baptism is supposed to coincide with the first level of spiritual progression. Children go through another meaningful ritual passage at puberty. Initiates receive symbols at that time that convey their responsibility for the community and remind them of their covenant with God as a chosen people. Many hope to receive the "gift of tongues" during one of these rites. They may also receive prophecies that warn the community about the child's upbringing and convey information about a child’s talents, weaknesses and responsibilities. Prophecies may also be given outside of the context of a ritual when a message is needed. Thus, everyone must learn how to make a distinction between insightful advice and prophecy (as when God speaks through Marie). Her son admitted that when he was young he was at times unsure whether he was arguing with his mother or with a prophet. He began to understand the difference by noting her "emotional emphasis." When she began to speak very fast and, unlike the prophet, her voice became emotional, high pitched, and demanding, he knew he was not arguing with his mother.

Learning to Live Communally

The foregoing socialization methods not only encourage moral commitment to a religion but also help the children adapt to a communal environment.


Adults in ISOT generally agree that, although they do not want the children to be totally insulated from the world, their exposure to it must be regulated. Children learn early to respect these boundaries. Life beyond is considered "dark" and disturbing; it is reflected in horror movies, certain books and magazines, and certain types of music deemed inappropriate. Children are not permitted to wander around by themselves unsupervised.


Activities are highly structured to enable regulation of the large number of youths. Beginning as toddlers, they are divided into peer groups, which then share all activities outside of the immediate family. All children experience a stringently scheduled day made up of school, called "experience time," during which they practice music and do special projects. Showers are timed, and a rotation system gives everyone an opportunity to take care of personal needs. Daily chores are posted on a bulletin board. Preschoolers are assigned small chores, which expand when they reach grade-school age.


Children have most of their needs taken care of in the community, but the community accords stipends to individuals based on their age. The stipend is regulated by the individual's parents, although the community specifies where the money should go. The ISOT children hold some things in common, but they do have their own toys and clothing. Simple gifts are given at peer birthdays celebrated every five years with the group and also when parents celebrate privately with their children each year and during Christmas. Children learn in pre-school to share, for selfish behavior is punished. Clothing remains a constant source of contention among teenagers because of the community dress code. Males wear long pants but may swim in shorts. Females, unless they are exercising, must wear dresses to the knee, and their shoulders cannot be exposed.


Anyone who breaks these rules is admonished by others because it is considered a rebellious attempt to separate themselves from the group.


Although the parents ostensibly have the final say in their child's discipline, they are expected to follow community rules because the goals of the community surpass that of the individual. The group shares a code of behavior, and any adult disciplinarian expects to be supported. But disagreements do occur, and then the Elders must work out a solution. The type of discipline a child receives depends on the "spirit" of the action. Unfortunately, this strategy leaves the doors open for a variety of disciplinary inconsistencies. To alleviate this on-going problem, only one person is supposed to be responsible for a peer group at any given time. Yet in practice, children continue to be told what to do by a large number of people. On a more positive note, the children are exposed to people who have special skills with different age groups. One young adult said  that because other adults disciplined her during her teenage years, she was able to maintain a friendlier relationship with her parents.


Social separation has always been the most common form of discipline, although in the past physical punishment did occur. In the 1980s, preschoolers who lied would have a string tied around their arm; at the end of the day the strings were counted to determine the amount of paddles they would receive from their fathers in front of the rest of the household. Children more often were removed from social contact and forced to stand in one spot. A four-year-old who was normally never left alone found it devastating when told to stand against a wall for over an hour at a time. Most adults now agree that physical punishment is ineffective and have changed their tactics in separating a child. Children are forced to sit and talk about their problem with an assigned adult. One child sat all afternoon with an adult when I arrived and still sat there when I left ten days later. Because his punishment was lengthy, a parent or older sibling was expected to be present.

Retaining the Young

The ISOTs deliberately socialize their children to make a moral commitment to the group by the time they are eighteen. Some groups, such as the Bruderhof (Zablocki 1980) and the kibbutzim (Shenker 1986), encourage their teenagers to learn about the outside world before they make this commitment. The ISOTs consider the desire to leave simply normal rebellious teenage behavior, but they also believe it is not possible to live in accordance with their religious beliefs outside of the context of the community. Adults encourage early marriage and procreation among the youths, who rarely discuss college because their parents consider them insufficiently spiritually mature to combat the ill effects of secular education.


Romantic relationships are taken very seriously by the whole community. Those in the same peer group who were raised together do not desire to date, and there is little opportunity to meet others their age. Therefore, single new- comers to the community are very popular. A group of teenage girls became excited when Marie discussed her plans to take them on a trip to meet boys from another community that is part of The Body, They all knew that these boys would be considered appropriate partners, since they shared similar religious views. Two teenagers who wish to date each other must ask permission from the Elders, who then discuss their maturity and compatibility. If permission is granted, the two are strictly supervised until they go in front of the Elders and ask to become engaged. Girls may be considered ready for this serious step at seventeen and boys at nineteen. The period of engagement is expected to last at least a year or more and is called "walking it out". Elders watch the relationship, and any inkling that either the boy or girl is not committed to the community and may eventually leave will hold up the process. Premarital sex is not allowed, but marriages have occurred because of early pregnancy.


Although retention of the young is high in this new religious movement, most who were raised in the group admit that they thought of leaving at one time or another. In the late 1980s, life was particularly hard for the teenagers because they were forced to separate themselves from the placements of the opposite sex. The rural environment and the community's separation from everyone created a sense of isolation, One teenager declared that no one could imagine what it was like to graduate in a class of two, having no girls to date, no privacy, living in total isolation. Many of these teens left. Most who leave believe that it is only for a few years. Usually they enter the military or move in with relatives or ex-members of the group. Those who leave and return usually agreed that loneliness was a key problem but said they also felt guilty because they would not be available when God calls on them as a "Christly Body" to help others make the transition to the new world.


Those who were teenagers during my visit in 1994 exhibited far less dissatisfaction. Their parents' renewed relationship with The Body created a steady influx of newcomers and visitors. It not only increased the number of teenagers they came in contact with but also expanded their relationships with other adults who reinforced the beliefs of their parents. A young adult described the joy she felt when she found out after introductions to these other religious communities that the ISOT community was not alone.


The ISOTs have managed to retain their youth by encouraging a moral commitment to ISOT beliefs and way of life. They have maintained a normal demographic balance in their community, without relying on the conversion of nonbelievers, by attracting new families from affiliated religious communities. In fact, they now claim to turn some away. Joseph contends that he would like to increase their numbers to about five hundred, the maximum number that would be manageable in one community. But they must first ensure that they are able to support these numbers in their rural environment. Their exposure to the wider community through work hours outside ISOT to support themselves could threaten the group. Yet members explain that exposure to the outside world and time spent away from the community only reinforce their commitment to the lifestyle they have created at home.


Marie's vision has created this community of people who do not aspire to become a dominant religion and do not claim to know when they will be needed to fulfill their role as God's chosen people. Problems may arise when Marie is no longer able to direct the future of the group through her prophecies. Yet others who were raised in the group are also believed to have strong prophetic powers and have already been allowed to assert themselves in decision-making. Certainly, they have learned from Marie's lessons, which they now pass on to their own youths. These include maintaining an extended family environment in which everyone has responsibility for one another. The ISOTs take pride in the maintenance of very structured lives for their children that are enriched by the presence of many different people to whom they are strongly attached. ISOT members support the emphasis on behaviors, such as social responsibility, that force them to internalize their religious values and that determine the unity of the group. Most important, they expect a moral commitment from their cohorts < to focus on their transformation, so that they are worthy to be called as God's chosen people. These are not abstract precepts; they are practiced every day. Life in this environment where members are taught that they are different from others, may sometimes be difficult for both children and adults. Yet it also has its rewards because the group has so far been successful in perpetuating community goals through the community's youth.


Burgess, S. M., and G. B. McGee, eds. 1988. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing .

Kanter, R. M. 1972. Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Socio- logical Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press .

Neitz, M. 1. 1987. Charisma and Community: A Study of Religious Commitment Within the Charismatic Renewal. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.

Shenker, B. 1986. Intentional Communities: Ideology and Alienation in Communal Societies. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Siegler, G. 1992. "The Structure of Anti-structure: The Development and Organization of a Religious Community in a Small Western Town." Ph.D. diss., University of Nevada at Reno .

Stark, R. 1987. "How New Religions Succeed: A Theoretical Model." Pp. 11-29 in D.

Bromley. and P. Hammond, eds., The Future of New Religious Movements. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press .

Tolbert, E. M. (aka White, M.). 1970. Responsibility in Eldership. A1turas, Calif.: ISOT Press . .

1974. Cursed or Blessed: The Dichotomy of Man. Alturas, Calif.: ISOT Press .
The Children of ISOT
1976. Articles of Faith. Canby, Calif.: ISOT Press .
1979. A Family Called ISOT. Canby, Calif.: ISOT Press .
1982. The Prophets Foretell. Canby, Calif.: ISOT Press .
1988. New Covenant Celebrations. Canby, Calif.: ISOT Press .
1990. Of Our Faith. Canby, Calif.: ISOT Press .

Zablocki, B. 1980. The Joyful Community: An Account of the Bruderhof, a Communal Movement Now in Its Third Generation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


[1] A number of people and organizations contributed to this study over the years. I especially want to thank the members of ISOT for all of the work they have done to help me understand their life in community. Robert Winzeler, professor at the University of Nevada in Reno, and aresearch grant from the National Science Foundation guided me through the study until 1992. At that time, I completed a dissertation on the topic (Siegler 1992). The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and a Weyher Sumtner Grant from Westminster College of Salt Lake City provided sup- port for subsequent visits and analysis.


[2] More detailed information about these beliefs can be found in Marie's pamphlets, which are published by the community. See Tolbert (1970, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1988, 1990).


[3]  I was told by this state employee that a new government policy in California was to abolish group homes and send children directly to juvenile hall. The state regulator had hired this man, who had closed down other group homes, to investigate the commune covertly by expressing his intentions to join the community. I was researching ISOT at the time and, like the members of ISOT, did not suspect his intentions.


[4] A number of scriptures describe this hierarchy, including Eph. 5:21-33 and 1 Cor. 11:3-10. Except when God speaks through Marie, she is expected to follow this order in the position of a woman. (Emphasis added by isotsurvivors.info)