We regularly receive requests for information on the Amway group. Many wonder if the Mormons own them, others, stirred by newspaper reports, feel that they are a cult. We hope that these notes will be both fair to Amway and help Christians decide if there is any conflict between belonging to Amway and their Christian faith. What we must make clear straight away is that we do not call Amway a cult. (However, there are others that feel they have evidence that would contradict this statement. For any who wish to invesigate this further follow this link.) Although in some instances, these notes may call into question whether individuals in the organisation have, at times, used cultic methods. We also must point out that Amway state that they have no connection with the Mormons. To their knowledge they have not received a contribution from the Mormons.
When we placed an advertisement in our quarterly magazine asking for people’s experiences with Amway, we were amazed at the number of responses we received. As you would expect there were differences in the experiences but an overall picture did emerge. These notes come out of the experiences of a number of different people from different backgrounds and in different parts of the country. We have also received correspondence from Mr Andy Norman, Sales and Marketing manager for Amway (UK) and we have directly quoted his comments in a number of places.
The beginnings of Amway are well documented in The Possible Dream by Charles Paul Conn. Rich De Vos and Jay Van Andel, both elders in the Christian Reformed Church, started to work in direct selling during 1949 with a line of food supplements called Nutrilite Products. In 1959 feeling they were restricted by the one company they took their direct selling techniques into their own company called the Amway Corporation. It is generally believed that Amway stands for the American Way and although it must be assumed that the phrase had some influence on the title, their attorneys insist it is just a coined name. One thing is certain though, it does not stand for the I AM of Scripture or anything else. Andy Norman says in his letter dated 5 April 1995, (figures updated on 9 November 1995)
“Founded in the USA in 1959, Amway has grown into one of the world’s largest direct selling businesses, with more than 2·5 million independent distributors selling Amway products in more than 70 countries . . . Amway markets it’s [sic] products via a person to person method known as direct selling. Amway products appear to be of high quality and therefore it is not surprising that it’s reported that the company is now worth over $6·3 billion at estimated retail. In Britain the turnover in 1994/5 was £42 million. Apart from big money Amway has also an impressive record of community and environmental projects. They became only the second corporation to receive a prestigious UN award for its concern for the environment. As an Independent Amway Distributor you will sell Amway products and could spend time in recruiting others.”
The majority of the money is actually made from having a number of people in your ‘downline’ [those below you] and some would aim from day one to become such a person. This is not always the case, and many would simply sell the products for extra money. If you join an active ‘upline’ [people above you] you may be encouraged to buy a number of tapes and books. Amway assures us that this is voluntary and all moneys paid are refundable. It does mean that it is possible for pressure to be put on you from your ‘upline’ .
Development & Conflict
In the 1960’s and 1970’s an unethical copy of direct selling or multi-level marketing, known as pyramid selling, came onto the scene. These types of companies caused much trouble for the genuine companies but today there are regulatory bodies to ensure that there is no illegal business. Andy Norman continues in his letter,
“In the UK, Amway is a leading member of the Direct Selling Association, the industry body that regulates the Direct Selling sector. “
The DSA has a code of practise endorsed by the Department of Trade and Industry by which Amway and all members of the DSA must abide. More recently there have been other conflicts highlighted by an article in Time Out. Two main accusations were made against Amway in the article.
1. The tapes, videos and literature used to introduce Amway to people uses a subtle form of Mind Control. An individual is so effected by the message, presentation in a charged atmosphere and ‘carrots’ that are held out to them that they do not make a free choice to join Amway.
2. Whereas Amway’s claim is to make everybody rich in fact the vast majority actually end up losing money. The article reads,
“In 1982, the Amway Corporation was taken to court by the State of Wisconsin on a charge of deceptive business practice . . . the tax records of the 20,000 Amway distributors in the state [were examined] . . . the average direct distributor was, after the deduction of business expenses, making a net income of minus $918 per year, despite a personal Amway turnover of $14,000 per year . . . Internal Amway documents obtained by Time Out show the average distributor income last year was just $65 per month gross, a figure that has actually dropped from an average $76 three years ago.”
Andy Norman responds to these accusations in his letter dated 16 May.
“No mind control techniques are used by Amway corporation. Starting your own business is a very slow process, distributors recommend books and tapes to keep others motivated. This is not unusual, many companies (especially in the USA) encourage their sales men or managers to read positive thinking manuals to help them with their job. Such books and tapes are available in any high street shop and the purchase of them is totally voluntary . . . Amway has never claimed ‘to make everybody rich’. Amway provides a business opportunity that is open to all. As with many businesses, the opportunity is there, with hard work and determination, to make money but this does not mean that everyone will be successful. The statement that the vast majority actually end up losing money is totally false. All Amway products can be refunded at any time, starter packs and motivational tapes and books are refundable under a 180 day guarantee. We do not refund travel costs or telephone costs. Some of the experiences that follow would appear to be fair criticisms of parts of the organisation. We say parts because as noted in the introduction, people’s experiences differ from place to place. The reason for this is simply the different leadership structures they come under. “
Andy Norman also mentions in his letter that,
“Amway is not affiliated with any religion. It is an equal opportunity business that is open to all, regardless of race, religion, education level, political affiliation or national origin. Though it is likely that some distributors have religious beliefs be they Christian or otherwise, no Amway information should be produced that contains any type of religious reference.”
We believe this statement but as some examples will show later, it does bring up an interesting point, how do you define ‘religious reference’? Do ‘new age’ techniques come under this phrase or are they looked upon as helps to more sales? Although officially no religion can be preached, people do have their own beliefs and these will come through. Beyond this comes the problem of enforcing the rules a point which again Andy Norman addresses,
“Everyone who decides to become an independent Amway distributor must sign an agreement to abide by the Amway Rules of Conduct which state that all distributors must abide by the laws of the land and their conduct must be in keeping with the high standards which Amway strives to maintain. Distributors are required by the Rules of Conduct to represent the Amway business appropriately. It should be understood that some of the examples in these notes may have only ever happened once but they did happen. The group in Amway that you join may never introduce some of the books and beliefs mentioned but it has happened at least once and therefore you need to be aware that it could happen again, and this time to you.“
The original letters of all the experiences mentioned here are held on file at Head Office.
Many people who are distributors are committed Christians. Others are nominal Christians. Some chose to give thanks to God for their success, their freedom from debt and their lifestyle . . . Unfortunately some people abuse the system. I know of one couple in my church who had a terrible experience where one young Christian lady just would not be upfront and honest . . . This young lady could have lost her distributorship by her actions . . . The many Christians I know in this business have been encouraged in their walk with God, been blessed by the income their business provides and have been brought into contact with hundreds of people who’s [sic] lives haven’t been touched by God, yet. Some weekend functions are run by Christians and often have an optional Sunday meeting where people are presented with the gospel and scores do get saved. – R.M.
D. and I started an Amway business in 1978 and rose to the level of Emerald direct by 1983 and were heavily involved for around 7 years. We met Christ in 1978 and through our business were able to witness to many souls about Jesus. I want to make a statement to the fact that there is nothing wrong with Amway. Amway UK and America is as clean as its products which are excellent and a company that promotes a level of high integrity and honesty. – B.R.
Impression to an outsider
My daughter and son-in-law arrived unannounced on our doorstep in their best clothes, very smartly turned out. They had the previous day left an audio tape for our son (then 20) to listen to. I played it for myself. It ran for 15 minutes. Very rhetorical, played on the uncertainties of life, wouldn’t you like to achieve, use ambition etc. Lots of words and no facts. No mention of Amway . . . The first impression left me discerning “emotional blackmail” (your families future) and “fear” . . . It seemed to me the crux of the matter is that the way to success (financial – and this solves all) lies in one’s own hands. It only needs tapping. The glory of the ultimate success goes to he who works hardest, not to God. – P.E.
Positive mental attitude
When we joined and started to go to meetings which are held quite frequently, I thought it was all rather strange. I’d never heard of a Positive mental attitude before and suddenly that’s all I heard about . . . Although, obviously you are free to leave at any time, we found there were pressures on us to stay. We were encouraged to read PMA books and listen to tapes and attend every meeting. People in Amway were winners, people that left were losers. It depends on what group you are in how you are treated but I think what we experienced is pretty general . . . After becoming a Christian my main concern was the emphasis put on the “you can make it happen”, “you can get whatever you want” . . . I became uncomfortable sitting in meetings where everyone was cheering at pictures of big houses, boats, flash cars etc. Even if you were once satisfied with what you had being in Amway definitely made you want things that hadn’t occurred to you before. People were also elevated . . . Having said all that we did enjoy most of our time in Amway . . . I don’t think having a positive attitude is a bad thing in itself, it was just taking it to extremes . . . Personally I would say that you can be a Christian and in Amway but be careful not to get caught up [in] all the hype. – R&S.J.
I was invited by a very friendly man from the church I attended, to visit his home . . . he asked me what I would most like to have in this world and I gradually realised he meant materially . . . He assured me that any ambition I may have would be well within my grasp and that his wife would give me a presentation . . . My misgivings and feelings of discomfort were growing more and more yet despite this, one evening I found myself along with another lady also from the church, in the Amway man’s car being taken at breakneck speed to a hotel [for an Amway meeting]. I said to her, “I don’t want to go to the hotel” and her reply was that she didn’t want to go either. Such was the power of this man . . . I was able to telephone someone from the hotel . . . [and] was duly rescued . . . It is my opinion that association with Amway has more influence over the characters of the couple mentioned than the Lord has. I have not been able to reason with them. The Amway experience is very powerful. – C.S.
A year or so after John and Mary [not their real names] became involved in all this another friend of mine happened to ask me if I knew anything about Amway . . . She particularly wanted to know whether it was easy to extricate oneself from Amway once involved. I put this to Mary, who assured me that it would be a simple matter, although she did say that it would involve “paying back” a small amount of money to the organisation, although I cannot remember what that was for [Andy Norman is unclear what this could be] . . . I can imagine that if Christians become involved in it, they would be drawn away from involvement in their local church, simply because of the demands made on their time by Amway. – S.F.
Joy in material possessions
I went along to a house meeting where a married couple talked through a well rehearsed presentation of “The Plan” . . . I very soon asked where do I sign and stumped up the £25 joining fee . . . After having become an Amway distributor I was encouraged to attend all of the training and encouragement seminars and rallies I could manage . . . The main focus of the teaching at these occasions was the Amway ethos . . . summed up as, “sell a product, sponsor a person and do it again,” but the unspoken message [was] of the importance of success and the joy to be found in material possessions . . . One tape which sticks in my mind is by . . . a successful distributor in America and not an employee of Amway, who said, quoting from memory, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.” He quoted from scripture to prove that there are spiritual laws working which can be ‘tapped into’, he suggested writing formulae on bedroom walls so that constant reinforcing of a theory will bring about its reality. He also suggested refraining from reading newspapers or listening to radio or watching TV so that our minds can be cleansed from negative influences . . . The most worrying aspect of my involvement with Amway was that through my Direct Distributors (distributors in the group who had become sufficiently successful to be able to deal direct with the company) I was introduced to Silva Mind Control. [Silva Mind Control is one of the New Age techniques that uses deeper state of consciousness that it claims can help you use your mind to do anything you wish. Amway have promised to investigating this incident but to date we have heard nothing.] The company was always separate from the distributors, who were self employed colleagues of the company. Any book, tape or training sales were the responsibility and initiative of the distributors with Amway only responsible for official recordings at annual rallies etc . . . I became a Christian in 1985 and shortly after renounced Silva Mind Control and curtailed contact with other Amway distributors. In my view the products for sale and the plan of selling are as harmless as any other business. However, if you have a potentially dangerous spiritual input from the top of the distributor line then the potential for mass problems are magnified as was the case in my situation with Silva Mind Control. – A.R.
As the above experience show there are differences of opinion but I believe there is enough information there and in the books written by, and about Amway, for us to draw some conclusions about comparisons with mainstream Biblical Principles. This will then help us to get out of the area of feelings into solid Biblical facts that we can make decisions on.
The Bible shows us clearly that we have free will to choose to serve God or not. God’s desire is that we will, of our own volition, give our free will to Him. Anything that takes away that free will is therefore not of God. Some of the letters above show the tendency to apply mind control among some of the people. The Time Out article mentioned above also highlights a number of aspects of Mind Control and suggests that some of the recruiters for Amway use the techniques. For instance the attempt to control what the individual hears, reads and experiences. Also the personal manipulation in the charged atmosphere of a mass recruiting rally.
Another way is what is called the ‘Demand for purity’, everything is either pure or impure. This takes place in the slogans used such as, ‘Poor people are stupid’. Wealth becomes good and poverty becomes bad. Another slogan often seen is that at 65 you will either be ‘broke, dead or dead broke’. There is certainly evidence that Mind Control has happened in some cases and we need to be aware of the potential so that any decision we take to join is made in a cool, calculated way and not because of emotional blackmail controlling our actions.
Area one that could therefore be a hindrance to the Christian walk is a form of mind control held over our lives. Andy Norman responds in his letter of 16 May,
“Amway has never tried to control what the individuals hears, reads and experiences . I am alarmed that a tape containing this information is being linked to our organisation and will investigate. We do not consider that you have provided evidence that Mind Control has happened all these letters seem to be written by very balanced individuals who have been introduced to Amway and did not like it for whatever cultural or spiritual reason. They have all made a rational decision to either not join or leave after a period of time. They may have been affected by a distributor’s enthusiasm and persuasion, but I do not think this can be classed as Mind Control.”
Clearly shown in a number of the letters above, and indeed in the reading list of Amway, is the place that positive confession plays in the life of an Amway distributor. As shown above not all of this is wrong and the following from Mike Thomas, former Amway distributor and Trustee of Reachout sums this up,
“Unfortunately the American way does, all too often, equate the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of wealth. This is an open door to the metaphysical teachings of Napoleon Hill, Kenneth Copeland et. al. and, certainly the positive thinking message is an integral part of all the Networking programmes we have encountered [and] we have experience of several. A diet of books and tapes by “motivational teachers” is seen as essential for the prospective entrepreneur. This, I suspect, is what bothers some. What is wrong with positive thinking? Well there is much that is right about it. One of the reasons I became a Christian was the influence of Norman Vincent Peale and his challenge to have a positive faith and certain assurance. Certainly if we take an up-beat view of life we will tend to have better lives, not because only good things happen, but because a positive outlook equips us better to deal with life’s adversities. The danger here is that the positive thinking message, no matter how much religious jargon we wrap around it, is a man centred ideology. The Christ centred life aims for Christ-like thinking. In so far as we are to think positively about our saved state in Him we have room for positive thinking. The positive thinking message, however, seems to have little time for Christ-like thinking in the areas of suffering, sacrifice and adversity.”
Area two that could therefore be a hindrance to the Christian walk is to use positive thinking instead of the work of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Another aspect that is seen within the experiences above is where our priorities lie as Christians. If joining Amway takes me away from serving the Lord in the local church, then it is wrong. This of course does not make Amway itself wrong because there are many other things in this world which are lawful but not necessarily right for me to do [See 1 Corinthians 11:23]. Clearly the admonition of Matthew 6:33 is to seek first the kingdom of God. If Amway or anything comes in the way of that then for me, as a Christian, it is wrong.
Area three that could therefore be a hindrance to the Christian walk is when Amway takes first place in my life before God.
Love of Money
This is the fourth on our list but is probably the key issue in many people’s lives. 1 Timothy 6:9,10 show us that those who want to get rich could fall into a snare and that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. There is nothing wrong with rich Christians but God has promised to supply our needs, not make us all rich. Those He blesses in that way have a responsibility to Him and of course can be used within the Body of Christ. If however my aim and desire is to be rich and I want possessions, and for this reason I join Amway then I believe it is not from God. I can also see however that in the right circumstances God could use it to supply needs but the key will come down to attitude. Am I here for the love of money?
That money is one of the key areas concerning Amway is shown from the following quotation,
“The type of Amway person who brings the company to the level of public attention it enjoys . . . is the . . . [one who] sees in the business an opportunity to make significant changes in some aspect of his or her life. Those changes usually have to do with money. Amway is a business, and people get into it to make money. When people say they become Amway distributors for more freedom, they are usually talking about the kind of freedom money brings . . . those people who explain that they came into Amway in an attempt to get control of their own lives are also referring to the control that money brings. And those who say that they became distributors to create a better family life are, at bottom, talking about money as well . . . they come into Amway not to chase the dollar, but to pursue some dream of a better life which the dollar will open to them. “- Promise To Keep, Charles Paul Conn
As Conn goes on to say maybe greedy doesn’t apply to most Amway distributors but the pursuit of a dream which can only be fulfilled by money. Possessions and position become the most important thing and the only way to them is to have money. This is the attitude that the Bible talks of as the love of money. Area four that could therefore be a hindrance to the Christian walk is allowing the love of money to dominate your life.
We do not feel it is our place in conclusion to tell you whether to join Amway or not. As an evangelical Christian we suggest that you take the above facts and seek the Lord as to whether it would be helpful to your Christian life or not. We realise that this may mean that some would join and some not but that would not be a contradiction. What is God’s way for one man is not necessarily His way for the next. What each one of us must be sure of is that we are living our lives according to the Word of God. We should not continually allow things, in either our attitude or actions, that knowingly contradicts the will of God for our lives as revealed in the Scripture.