Steve Valentino, 35, joined the Mother of God community as a junior in high school in March 1978 and belonged for almost 18 years. He works as a computer services broker in Maryland. He and his wife, Cindy, have four children.
How did you become involved in the Mother of God community?
When I was 16 and again at 17, I went to a concert by a Mother of God singing group, Two-Edged Sword, at my high school. It was my first exposure to the community. Soon I began talking to one of my teachers, Judith Tydings, about my experiences of personal prayer, the Bible and a personal relationship with Christ. She invited me to a Mother of God prayer meeting the next week. I attended and immediately fell in love with the deep sense of joy and with God's evident blessing.
What were your earliest feelings about the community?
Initially, my feelings about the community were that it was a safe haven, a holy and secure place where people loved God and what he had done in their lives. It would become a place for me where I no longer had to be overly concerned with what others might think of me and instead could rest comfortably in the knowledge that Christ loved me, he died for my sins, and he gave me eternal life. Over time, this sense of joy and self-worth deepened and matured. The Bible became clearer to me, and I came to understand how much God loves and values each one of us as his very own.
Once you had belonged for a while, did your feelings change, and how?
Over time, my appreciation of the Mother of God community and the wisdom and insight of its leaders continued to grow. My relationship with Christ and association with the community was a "precious pearl" to me. Trying to follow the Lord and conform your life to many of the standards that the Bible teaches is no easy task for anyone, but it was always worth it. As I matured as a young adult and as a Christian at the same time, I began to experience many of the things Christ taught in scripture in ways I had never known before. For me, Mother of God evolved into a deeply satisfying and nurturing place, where the Word of God was taught and defended, where I experienced a deep understanding of God's love and direction for my life. I believed it was a place God was using to reach out across the world and eventually touch people's lives everywhere.
What was your best experience at Mother of God?
I had several that I'd say tied for first place. Through the charismatic gift of baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1979, I began experiencing joy in living my life every day that I had not known before, and an awakening within myself of the power of Christ to heal many emotional scars I had from my early years, before I joined Mother of God. Another high point was my wedding day and the conviction my wife and I share in Christ's call for our lives. Each of the births of our four children was a peak experience, as was watching them grow to know and love God. I enjoyed the ongoing fellowship and love I experienced in many of the relationships that I had and still have with Mother of God people. Finally, a high moment was being present at the dedication of the new buildings to be used for the new community school and The Word Among Us magazine many years ago.
What was your worst experience there?
My worst experience was simply, at the end of the community, witnessing the diabolical campaign of venom, slander and hurt waged by a rather vocal minority bent on assigning blame to anyone but themselves for the problems in their lives. Vicious rumors were spread by a few with one senseless aim in mind: toppling what God had blessed and raised up.
Did you ever develop serious doubts about the group?
No. The only concern I had was not for the group as a whole or for the direction the leadership was taking, but rather for some individuals I had come to know who lacked an appreciation of the history of the Mother of God community and its vision and purpose in the world. I certainly knew the community as a nice and wonderful place to be a part of, but it was also much more than just that. The world is constantly changing, and while many members and the leaders were very diligent and prayerful in their approach to seeking out God's will for the community, the indifferent attitude on the part of some members during the latter years caused me concern that they eventually would wish to water down the message of salvation in Christ that we stood for.
What do you make of the complaints that have surfaced about Mother of God in recent years?
Of the complaints that I have heard, and having been a first-hand witness to a number of supposed events in question, it may be easier if I try to answer this question with an analogy: Imagine that of an embittered, disturbed, "policeman-wannabe" seeking the death penalty for an entire city because a mayor of the city once went 60 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone on his way to trying to help one of its citizens. I'm not saying we never made mistakes, but the campaign that has arisen in the community is not unlike that of a tank of piranhas in a feeding frenzy! At least a piranha seems happy after it has torn one life apart.
When and why did you finally leave?
In my heart, I left the day that Cardinal James Hickey came and "lowered the boom" on the community, its leaders and teachings as I knew and loved them. Oddly enough, it was only because of the community that I had come to love and respect the Catholic Church and its sacraments as I did. My last position of service in the community was as an elected member of the committee writing official statutes for Mother of God. What caused me to finally decide to resign from the community was that, within the statutes committee, I and others had witnessed obvious "power plays" and deception designed to manipulate and improperly influence the cardinal, and perpetuate rumors that had already been disproven. At that point, I realized that truth itself was on trial and had suffered a mighty blow -- one that I believe saddened and grieved the Lord most of all.
What's your opinion on whether the group was a cult?
Absurd! Sorry, I won't even dignify the question with any attention other than to point out what has been obvious for all the world to see for the last 30 years. We had weekly prayer meetings open to the public; we had hundreds of thousands of people every year receiving The Word Among Us magazine, which contained the heart of much of the community's teaching; we operated under the watchful eye of many denominations and of the archdiocese of Washington, as well as many bishops and cardinals worldwide; we established outreaches in various forms all over the world; many marriages were blessed, and individuals were healed of divisions and emotional strife in their families; countless thousands came and were touched by God in some way and went back to their various locales, all of whom would testify as to the wonderful work of God present in the people's lives here.
Looking back, do you see anything Mother of God's leaders could have done to avoid the kinds of problems that ultimately destroyed the community?
I don't believe that the leaders could have done very much to change the course of events at all, because I don't believe the problem was very much rooted in anything the community itself or its leaders ever did or tried to do. I experienced many miraculous changes in my life while in Mother of God, and I thank God for the leaders' tireless service to us all. The only thing I would have suggested differently to them would be that in the end, they would not have been so cautious and protective even of the people who were obviously out to hurt them; perhaps they could have confronted some of the early rumors head-on, even if an accuser may have been embarrassed in the process. Even though all the rumors that I heard were later proved to be worthless and utter nonsense, the problem as I saw it was that a feeding frenzy ensued which gave rise to further rumors, and so on. It became a no-win situation, and a sad testimony to you, world, I know. It's even sadder to me.