Author Who Spent 17 Years in Cult Tells About Sinister Side of ‘The Way International’

charlene l. edge

Charlene Edge is the author of the award-winning memoir, Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International. She was in The Way International from 1970 to 1987. Charlene lives in Florida, with her husband, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Rollins College, Dr. Hoyt L. Edge.

By Charlene Edge

This is in response to Frank Report’s Former Member: The Way International Biblical Ministry Was Rife With Sexual Excesses Just Like Other Cults

I’m responding to the information about Craig Martindale, the 2nd president of The Way International, who resigned/was dismissed after a second lawsuit for alleged sexual misconduct.

In my view, based on my 17 years of experience in The Way and on research I’ve done since, The Way was fraudulent primarily because  Victor Paul Wierwille, the founder of The Way International, asserted two things.

1) He claimed God told him He would teach him The Word like it had not been known since the first century if he would teach it to others.

“The Word” is a phrase Wierwille used to refer to the Bible.

In my view, that claim to special revelation from God was bogus (fraudulent).

It was bogus, because the New Testament, the contents of half the Bible, (the Bible is what Wierwille meant by The Word), was not established until AFTER the first century. It evolved between 250-300 A. D.

So, if God really had spoken those words to Wierwille, either God forgot those facts, or Wierwille was playing fast and loose with them.

The second reason The Way was fraudulent, in my opinion, is that Wierwille plagiarized the work of others and passed it off as his original work.

For instance, his book, “Receiving the Holy Spirit Today” is a very close reproduction of a book by J.E. Stiles titled, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

You can do an online search for more examples and you’ll find them.

I have published a memoir of my experiences in The Way.

I show how I was recruited and how Wierwille used psychological manipulation to gain and keep followers. My book is a very personal story of how Wierwille personally trained me, and how Craig Martindale, the second president of The Way International, eventually betrayed me.

These topics and more are in my book titled, Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International.

It’s available in paperback and eBook at major booksellers. Read about it at

IMAGE: Charlene’s confirmation day, age 14.
1966. Charlene’s confirmation day, age 14.


About Charlene Edge’s book

Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International(TM) is Charlene Edge’s riveting memoir about the power of words to seduce, betray, and, in her case, eventually save.

After a personal tragedy left her bereft, teenaged Charlene rejected faith and family when recruiters drew her into The Way International, a sect led by the charismatic Victor Paul Wierwille.

The Way became one of the largest cults in America. Charlene gave it 17 years of her life. Believing that God led her to Wierwille, she underwent his intensive two-year training program, The Way Corps, designed to produce loyal leaders.

When Wierwille warned of a possible government attack, she prepared to live off the grid. She ignored warning signs of Wierwille’s paranoia and abuse – he condemned dissenters as the Devil’s agents, he required followers to watch pornography, he manipulated Corps into keeping his secrets in a “lock box,” he denied the Holocaust, and he surrounded himself with bodyguards.

She married a Corps graduate and they served across the United States as Way leaders, funneling money into Wierwille’s bursting coffers and shunning anyone who criticized him.

As obedient Way Corps, they raised their child to believe the doctrines of Wierwille, the cult’s designated “father in the Word.”

Eventually, Charlene was promoted to the inner circle of biblical researchers, where she discovered devastating secrets: Wierwille twisted texts of Scripture to serve his personal agenda, shamelessly plagiarized the work of others, and misrepresented the purpose of his organization.

Worst of all, after Wierwille died in 1985, shocking reports surfaced of his secret sex ring. Amid chaos at The Way’s Ohio-based headquarters, Charlene knew she had to escape – for her own survival and her child’s.

Reading like a novel, Undertow is not only a brilliant cautionary tale about misplaced faith but also an exposé of the hazards of fundamentalism and the destructive nature of cults. Through her personal story, Charlene Edge shows how a vulnerable person can be seduced into following an authoritarian leader and how difficult it can be to find a way out.

Here is some praise about the book:

Gold Medal Winner for Autobiography/Memoir, 2017 Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA)

“While a variety of controversies ended up surrounding The Way, the author’s most astute portrayal concerns her participation in its research branch. … A frank, in-depth account of one woman’s struggles in a controlling organization.” – Kirkus Review

#78 on BookRiot’s “100 Must-Read Books About Life in Cults and Oppressive Religious Sects”

“…more gripping than a mystery, Undertow will sweep you away.” —Janja Lalich, PhD. Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, Chico, author of Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults

“A tenderly written, intensely personal narrative about being swallowed alive by a cult. Charlene Edge’s encounters with the abusive Victor Paul Wierwille and her firsthand observation of how The Way’s Research Department twisted the Scriptures are enlightening and chilling.” —Karl Kahler, author of The Cult That Snapped: A Journey Into The Way International

“How could a smart woman join a cult that asked of her everything, and took her all in the process? … There is something in this book for anyone who has ever wholeheartedly embraced a questionable theology, only to find that what was meant as a salve eventually becomes a sword.” —Susan Campbell, author of Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl

“Charlene Edge’s heartfelt and heartbreaking memoir takes us behind the scenes to reveal how easily a handful of religious charlatans betrayed the trust placed in their hands. The pain is palpable as Edge walks readers through her seventeen years of virtual imprisonment by cult leaders who twisted the Word of God to psychologically and even physically abuse thousands of young people at The Way International. Undertow is a disturbing reminder that abuse of power can and does happen anywhere.” —Robert Ruff, Emmy Award-winning television news producer

“In Undertow Charlene Edge has written a brilliant and engrossing warning to the future by dissecting the past. … What she exposes to bright liberating daylight is just how our political and religious worlds actually function based on the mesmerizing enticement of belonging to an ‘in-group.’ —Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and New York Times best-selling author of Keeping Faith

“Charlene Edge writes with clarity and sensitivity. This memoir on her experiences in The Way International will help readers understand the subtleties and complexities of cultic groups.” —Michael D. Langone, PhD, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association, Editor of Cultic Studies Review, Editor-in-Chief of ICSA Today, and Editor of Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse.


About the author

Frank Parlato


Click here to post a comment

Please leave a comment: Your opinion is important to us! (Email & username are optional)

  • After getting involved with the way group, I finally had realized that it was no doubt as a cult. Watching how they especially the founder had manipulated the facts. In 2002, I’ve studied Theology for five years and realized that the founder himself was a con and money hungry. Watching porno as they said of course was considered as a art form. Thats not true. The founder had also scandal thousands of dollars for his own gain. Brain washing was also part of the deal. Plus they’re very extremely abusive by any means possible. One account I faced was verbal, mental and emotional abuse. Facing harassing phone calls was also part of their forceful behavior. Also look at the way his teachings was false doctrine. Making threats then denying it to the police was also part of a royal scam that made it nearly impossible to escape their harassments.

      • i dont know what was going on with Wierwille and the porn. but i was active for a couple of years and took some classes. something in the orginization seemed odd, like when Wierwille died the members were told that he went off to heaven, almost denying that he actially died of illness. After leaving, we realized how wrapped up we had been in the cult as every holiday, every birthday, every Sunday you were sourronded with the same people and after leaving you realized how much of your life had been wrapped up in the group.

  • I was a branch leader in Rochester, NY. Then I was a Limb leader in Kansas. We met VP when he came to our house in Novato ,Ca after Look magazine did an article about Hippies getting saved. We were those hippies. We got hooked immediately by his knowledge of the scriptures. We all spoke in tongues after 2 days. He invited us to go to Ohio for the Power for Abundant Living Class. The Intermediate Class, and the Advanced Class. From there his ministry took off. We made California and New York explode with Way fellowships. That was the beginning of the expansion of the Way. The Way Corps was formed a few years later. On our next visit it was obvious the VP had a great vision of expansion with his Way Ambassador program. His inner circle keep him distanced from us. Once I became involved in a leadership position the true workings of VP’s vision became clear.
    His sexual appetite for young girls became obvious. A number of girls from the Bay Area were seduced in his private RV where he invited girls in to massage him. The Way Corps was like the Gestapo . Loyalty , silence, betrayal. Craig Martindale was VP pet. He groomed him to take over when he died. That guy was a vicious bastard then and obviously his true nature was finally exposed. The doctrines they have now about tithing and money grubbing are really demented. VP was always about money and control. Drambuie and Cool unfiltered cigarettes were VP’s constant companion. Howard was his flunky. Totally worshipped VP. All of the early people who built the foundation of his ministry left because VO was discovered to be a charlatan in the disguise of a sincere believer. God does deliver people from the enemy . Trust in Him and He will lead you into all knowledge. Jesus Christ came to free us from the world. VP will be judged.

  • I was part of The Way International Ministry from 1993-2006. It is NOT a cult. I have never felt so close to my Heavenly Father. The people are great, friendly, and helpful. The teachings are straight from the bible, God’s Word.

    In 2006, I met my X husband who attended a different church. We found a church we both liked. That’s why I left The Way. Now divorced, I’ve been attending a community Christian church since 2014. I’m ready for a change and will probably go back to The Way. I’ve been reading articles that The Way is a cult. That’s just crazy. Charlene Edge, as well as others, bad-mouthing The Way is not nice. She was not a prisoner and could have left anytime. 17 years is a long time! Adultery by The Way leadership is nothing new to any church/society. Catholic priests got nuns pregnant and molested young boys. Does that make the Catholic church a cult? No. Well, that’s my perspective and I’m sticking to it!

    • I was in The Way for 5 years. It had a seal of approval for sex in which leaders who do their Bible research said it was OK to have plenty of sex before marriage. Guess they missed the part about what Jesus and Paul had to say about it. I lived in a Way house. Theft was a common problem. When I told them I was leaving, I was condemned big time. Not to mention profanity was a common thing. Anyone who continues to say G D all the time and not think twice about it, I have to wonder if you are really born again. The list could go on and on. But enough is enough. Just wished I had left sooner. Thank God I’m out of that cesspool.

    • Ummmm yes it was. I was involved and was a Twig Coordinator. Spending much time with leadership. The closer one got to the “higher” leadership, the more corrupt it was. LEAVING Destroyed my life. But I couldn’t take the hypocrisy, brainwashing (repetitive teachings, 3 to 4 times a week hearing Martindale’s voice), threats, and SO much more. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I left and was “marked and avoided” by my very controlling now ex-husband, my kids were scared to death to be near me for years (lost them too, but figured things out themselves and came back to me with MUCH regret), and there is so much I could say, there is not nearly enough time or space to write it. I met some truly amazing people who loved God. I am grateful they were in my life for a season. But the long term affects for me have cost me a lot… to include a lot of therapy. I’m glad you had a better experience, but it is not the experience of many. I feel you are being very judgmental of Charlene which is very ungodly. The fear I had in leaving my ex, was something I could not describe. It was a mentally and verbally abuse marriage that was, in his mind, “based on the Word”. He really loved the wive’s “obey” and “submit” to heart. And so did many around me. It’s like my brain didn’t matter anymore and I was only good to meet his needs (in every way). You have the right to your opinion. But please don’t think your experience was all there was. If you were just a regular “believer”, you were shielded from much of the inner workings. Abuse (to include sexual abuse) was rampant.

  • VP plagaruzed.
    Keith plagarized.
    Hubbard plagarized.

    They all steal from others, repackage, rebrand, put their moniker on it and sell it as some divine revelation either from God or they are just so much smarter than the rest of us mere earthlings.

    Everyone is selling something.
    This chick is selling her book.

    • This “chick” is my friend. She’s not stealing from anyone. She wrote a memoir. HER story. Yeah, if you want to read, you might find it in a library, or you could buy it.

      • Steve, had you actually read what I wrote you would readily see I was referring to the leaders of these groups who claim special knowledge but actually plagarised others work.
        And no, I will neither purchase nor read her book. Why not? I was in the Way so none of this would be news to me.
        Like any good author she is selling her product and Frank has given her a forum to do so.
        As I said I wish her well.
        Now put your anger on the back burner.

  • g, don’t you wish you had disclosed the cult you belonged to when I first requested it several months ago? Think of all of the people you could have saved from joining and even helping people quit. Of all websites, the Frank Report should be known for this benefit. But better late than never.

    • Oh, please, Scott.
      You’re an attention seeker, nothing more.

      By the way, her article is not “in response” to mine. What it is is her long-time experience in the Way and to publicize her book, nothing more.

      Frank relishes contention, even fabricated contention which is ridiculous.

      I wish the woman well.

      • Oh, please, g.
        I’m not an attention seeker, I am seeking more people put more attention on MLM scams and cults, nothing more.

        If it wasn’t for your very tardy admission regarding which cult you were in, I and many others would never have heard of her. It’s a good thing she and her book have received more attention and I’ve invited her on my radio show/podcast to provide her even more exposure.

        Frank is similar to me, in that he relishes the truth, not fabricated contention. It’s people like YOU who relish contention and drama.

        I wish you would THINK for a change.

  • Pastor Wierwille? Are you f’ing kidding me? Wierwille???

    Jesus cults. First of all, I think anyone who believes the Bible has got a screw loose, so small wonder they’re susceptible to charlatan for-profit Prophets. The Bible, like all religious scripture, is a collection of fantastical tales. Folklore and superstition. Might as well believe in unicorns and flying saucers. Like any set of folk tales, it’s not without interest, there are even some nice stories in there, once you skip the smiting and the incest. But how any sane adult can take any of it literally is beyond my ken.

    • Actaeon,
      We belong to a minority still. Fortunately I came across statistics over the past two years, indicating religions’ influence has been steadily declining albeit not by much. We must conceed however, it is also useful to control the masses. Their thought processes hardly differ from that of a well trained dog. You wouldn.t let stray dogs run amok would you Actaeon?

      There is not much point in treating them with any more respect than a house pet or a street pole. Would you get upset at a street pole? No, because you know it’d be irrational. Maybe I should have used a life form as an analogy. A stray street dog going across your car’s direction of travel.

      • Your unbelief is a belief in itself.

        As I do not denigrate your unbelief. have the courtesy to respect others’ belief’, whatever that may be.

        Otherwise, you come across as intolerant and a belief cop.

        • Unbelief is a belief in the same way that not playing golf is a sport. Or “off” is a TV channel.

          As for not respecting religion being intolerant, “respect” and “toleration” mean very different things. People have every right to practice their own religion, people can practice whatever silly superstition they like, just like they’re free to listen to bad music. I don’t have to like their music and I don’t have to respect their silly superstition.

          Respect is earned. Toleration is a social necessity. They’re not the same thing; not even close.

          • I agree respect is earned.
            How about live and let live as long as the other doesn’t attempt to abridge your belief or unbelief?
            Did I now state it better, hmmm?

          • Respect isn’t earned! You just proved that! If you respected others you wouldn’t take the name of Jesus as a swear word! But you don’t use others gods as a swear word. If you knew God you would never take his name in vain. Look around you. Do you really think all life evolved from one cell creature? Try to create life! You can’t do it. It would take billions of perfect mutations to change from one cell to a totally different species! Biologically impossible!

      • Do you think murder is wrong? How about adultery? Or how about if someone lies to you? Is that a light pole talking to you? Ever have regrets? Why is that? It’s because man knows what evil is. Ask Jesus to prove that he is real and he will

    • That’s what I thought! But Jesus healed my body and my soul. Now instead of doubting I see people healed and give prophetic messages that God would only know. The wisdom of God will seem like foolishness to those that are living in the world 🌎

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” He also appeared in "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM, and was credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premieres on May 22, 2022.

IMDb — Frank Parlato

Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083