I was saved in 2004. Yes, 16 years ago. Shortly after that I began to hand out tracts and engage in one-to-one witnessing. This eventually led me to listening to what was then called Way of the Master Radio. As part of that program I became familiar with Tony ‘The Law Man Miano’. Consequently, I also became familiar with a now defunct website called Answers in Christianity. Between WOTMR and AIC I was introduced to cults and how to combat them and how to answer their members.
Over time as I interacted on AIC I had occasion to share witnessing encounters and outreaches I conducted. After one such occasion I shared that I had run out of tracts and was in dire need for a cheap resource. I had several folks reply and ask for my address so they could provide materials for me for free.
Back in those days, the street evangelism community was not the amorphous hostile battle-lines drawn beast that it has become. One of those to come to my aid was the Law Man. It was in that moment my friendship with Tony began.
Well I Called it Friendship
Even back then Tony was a bit of a celebrity in the street evangelism world. He had an uncanny ability to find the most interesting people to talk to about the Gospel. Consequently, for me, meeting him through AIC was a bit like meeting a Hollywood star or politician for some.
We interacted off and on for quite some time on AIC. Eventually, as I grew in my faith and in my understanding of sound doctrine I began to run into some often self-induced problems with the church I was in. As I began to consider the need to move on, Tony was there for me by way of several phone calls and many messages. Tony helped me with the search for truly reformed congregations.
I am not sure that Tony remembers any of this or will even care too. However, I remember it with a bittersweet fondness. It will stick with me for the ages. Maybe more so now.
How do Cults Play Into This?
During this time I grew busy and my interactions with Tony grew more and more sporadic. At times we would lose contact only to meet up one way or another. Hopes to meet Tony in person at Bethlehem Baptist and then at the Deeper Conference were dashed to pieces due to travel constraints.
But then the impossible happened and Tony launched his YouTube channel I got to see him preach the Gospel in Los Angeles and many other places. I watched him interact with cults and cult members and dismantle them. Sometimes gently and sometimes not so much.
This is what I admired about Tony. He was real. He owned his errors and even when doggedly sticking to his guns in the moment he would later come back and apologize. Tony was not afraid to repent.
I learned so much from Tony then. Even though our interactions were few and far between I cherished him as one of my first Christian friends. It was because of Tony’s insight into different cults that I was able to eventually stand my ground in my own right. I am forever thankful for this.
New Friends and New Cults
After my entrance into the world of Facebook I began to make “friends” all over the world. In August of 2011 I met my dear friend Kevin (K1) McDonnell. Our friendship was normal FB stuff at the start. But as we interacted more we became quite close. We went from mere exchanges on each others’ walls to phone calls and texts.
Then I started to have some concerns with another situation and Kevin was there. However, he also introduced me to my other friend named Kevin (K2) in April of 2014. K1 and K2 began to be my counsel as I walked through an incredibly trying time in my life. They were my sounding boards. My confidants if you will.
Shortly after K2 and I met Tony released a series of videos in collaboration with two other ministries. In these videos Tony did a breakdown of the Church of Wells Cult in Texas. Tony was genuine, but brutal in his takedown. Rightly so. I admired him greatly for tackling the topic.
Little did I know…
A Strange Confluence of Events
Time went on, K2 and I had many conversations about the church he was in, Grace Fellowship of Davenport Iowa. We debated many fine points of GFC teaching. But overall it seemed solid. Eventually I was invited to come and minister with GFC in Davenport for a week-end and I accepted.
That was a great time and meeting Kevin and his family and the people of GFC was encouraging. But, (isn’t there always a but in these situations), something unsettled me about the bible-study I attended that Saturday morning. The elder, “Pastor Nick”, (It is required that all GFC people refer to the pastors and elders by their titles.) ran the study with such tight reins that speaking was almost impossible. The few that did speak seemed only to parrot specifically what was fed to them.
As unsettled as I was I tried to 1 Corinthians 13 the situation and chalked my discomfiture up to my normal disposition in new churches.
Time went on and I began to meet up with GFC for abortion ministry and campus preaching in Iowa City. The more I ministered there the more I became unsettled and began to gently (wish I learned to do this with others more often) question K2 about what I was seeing. Unbeknown to me, K1 was sharing many of the same thoughts.
Then the news broke that Tony Miano was leaving Grace Community Church of Los Angeles and coming to Davenport. Thereby, putting Cross Encounter Ministries under the umbrella of GFC. This was staggering. Tony was going to be four hours away from me. I was going to get to meet a long time friend and deeply beloved brother. Moreover, maybe I was wrong about GFC; Tony wouldn’t submit himself to dangerous teaching would he?
The Fecal Matter Hits the Whirling Blades of an Industrial Air Circulator
Enter Chuck O’Neal. Chuck was concerned enough with this move by Tony that he started sounding the alarm. Not just once but repeatedly. Accusations of overreaction by Chuck flew easily. Chuck and Tony, long time friends, were done. Chuck was accused of being needlessly divisive and jealous of GFC.
Despite this, Chuck labored on. Soon a few folks heeded his warnings and I began to hear inklings that the word cults and cultish were being used with GFC. I was still reserving a final decision. I needed to meet my brother Tony face-to-face.
Finally, the man I had known and loved in Christ from over one thousand miles away was in Iowa City on the same day as me. I wrapped my arms around him with tears streaming down my face. Here Tony was in the flesh. My friend; my brother. A man I had known longer, but certainly not better, than everyone at GFC, was finally there so we could minister to PreBorn children together. This would be the first and only time. I would see Tony one more time, at his trial in Iowa City in 2018.
As all of this was taking place K2 began to express grave concerns with the nature of GFC and the authoritarian autocratic heavy handedness of the pastors at there. I will let Kevin speak for himself in the provided links. Here, here, and here.
Cults do Damage to Relationships
Once Kevin broke free of GFC and led his family away, it became clear more needed to be done. Several of us who love Kevin and his family fiercely started to speak out. Tony immediately severed our friendship and doubled down on defending the aberrant teaching of the rulers of GFC. Understandably so.
Kevin too soon found himself disbelieved by at least a few friends of Tony and fans of GFC. Sadly, relationships were severed and much damage was done. In some instances Tony too was losing friends. Still others have recently begun to call him out. In at least one case a ministry/church has pulled their endorsements of Cross Encounters. There may be even more.
What am I Aiming For?
I want to make it clear that I have no animus towards Tony. Furthermore, I love him fiercely and there have been moments where I have wept tears of pain over how this has gone. I will also admit I am praying imprecatory prayers against GFC and her pastors. Overall, the terms used to define cults fit GFC well. I want nothing more than for GFC to shut her doors and for the current crop of men calling themselves pastors to be out of those roles. Forever!
I want to be reconciled to Tony with a heartrending pain that should be the desire of all those who love him but have seen their relationship severed. Think of Philemon here. If this essay touches even one of you, that will be sufficient. But if any of you read this and consider Tony a friend and brother, please reach out to K2 or K1 or me. There is no malice in my heart. We simply desire the good of Tony and the good of the visible church. That good, will be the proverbial conflagration of Grace Fellowship of Davenport Iowa. They fall in and amongst the cults.
For those of you out there doggedly sticking to your loyalty to Tony and therefore refusing to speak up and learn more. Shame on you! If your place as part of the in-crowd within street evangelism and Abortion abolition work mean more to you than the purity of the Bride of Christ, you are disqualified from Gospel work. Shame on you!
I am prepared to be shunned. I already lost one of the earliest Christian friends I made in Tony. But I gained my beloved brothers K1 and K2…
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sadly and humbly,