Four Primary Conditions that Result in People Leaving Abusive Churches and Cults

Spiritual Abuse: Leaving Abusive Cults and High-Controlling Churches

 

I have been very moved by many of your stories of abuse in the recent article, Spiritual Abuse: What Was the Last Straw That Caused You to Leave Your Abusive Church?

Spiritual abuse is obviously not isolated. It’s happening all over and crosses denominational lines. Several people have said that they could only read through a few comments at a time because the accounts were so painful.

Thank you to the many who shared your personal accounts. Many people don’t have an idea of what spiritual abuse means. You helped define it for them and now they will be able to have greater understanding, empathy, care for those of us who have experienced this harm.

My friend and fellow spiritual abuse survivor, Ken Garrett, posted in the comments what made him leave with his family:

 

spiritual abuse, cults, ken garrett

 

Later, Ken posted another comment which I “hijacked” for this article (with Ken’s permission) because I thought it was a good topic to explore.

A little background on Ken:  Ken has done extensive research on spiritual abuse after he and his family were in a cult (living communally) in the Portland, Oregon area.  Ken is also currently a pastor in Portland and has a heart for the spiritually abused. Ken and I accidentally (Providentially) connected when people confused his church for my abusing pastor’s church (similar names).  The background story of how we met is kind of funny, but we’ve been friends ever since, partly because we share the same desire to help those who have been harmed by spiritual tyrants.  ~Julie Anne


Four Primary Conditions that Result in People Leaving Abusive Churches and Cults

by Ken Garrett

 

spiritual abuse, ken garrett, cults

 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the exit process from abusive churches and cults, and one observation really stuck out to me. There were four main conditions that resulted in people leaving these abusive groups:

Physical distance and time away from the group, (and the group’s control.)

This really is simply chronological time spent in the company/presence of other people who are not a part of the system, and who extend friendship, kindness, etc. This is why cults and abusive churches don’t want their members leaving for long vacations, visiting distant friends and family, etc. The brain starts to clear and heal when it isn’t subjected to the immediate lies of the abuser.

An “unapproved/unmonitored” friendships.

This might be an old friend who, knowing that you’re in an abusive church/cult, etc., still extends kindness, love, acceptance, though clearly not agreeing with the views and behaviors of the cult/abusive group. This is why cults work tirelessly to sever members from old friends, and family relationships.

For me, these two conditions were found in my friends and co-workers who, though they felt I was in an unhealthy church, still respected and cared for me, and invited me to do things with them (fishing, hanging out, etc.) My family also made great efforts to stay in contact, and communicate respect and love for me.

A persistent, growing conviction that the assertions and views, doctrines, etc., of the group do not square up with truth/reality.

The cognitive dissonance finally starts asserting itself. For me, this was when I realized that our leaders were speaking as experts in areas that they were untrained in (such as medical issues, financial management, athletics, etc.), or areas that truly were issues of personal opinion and conviction (such as politics, international relations, local government, etc.) I can clearly recall our pastor explaining to us why the Republican Party was the most correspondent to Christianity, etc. Also, theologically, it became apparent that our leaders were either uninformed or were purposefully withholding legitimate, valid, views and conclusion that they simply disagreed with, but were unable to refute.

Finally, a revelation of moral/ethical failure of the leader.

This is usually the top dog–and usually in the area of sex, money (theft/embezzlement), dishonesty, or selective abuse of fellow members. Our pastor’s crimes in this area became public–but before that, the secrets, veils, justifications and excuses began to wear thin in the minds of those who left the group.

Do these four areas ring a bell at all?  They’re written by Michael D. Langone, PhD, from his book, Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse. Now, I’m doing some research in how the thought reform mechanisms used by Communist China in the ’40 and ’50’s surfaces in the environment of cults, abusive churches, etc. I know it sounds weird, but it is fascinating stuff! I come from a very severe, extreme Christian cult, but wondered if these areas might also apply to those who have exited groups/churches that were abusive, but perhaps less so.


 

Questions for discussion:  How was your exit process?  Does your story fall under any of the four conditions Ken described above?

58 comments on “Four Primary Conditions that Result in People Leaving Abusive Churches and Cults

  1. Spiritual abuse is the worst. It leaves you feeling isolated. The love factor is superficial, these people ate wolves in sheep clothing. Pride is the root of it. So beware.

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  2. As I was reading through the 4 conditions, I found something in each of them.

    I think the biggest for me was the isolation from “outsiders” or anyone whom Pastor Chuck O’Neal did not deem as a true Believer, and then seeing blatant lying, pride, and obsessed way of trying to control his image at all cost (#4).

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  3. My own experience of being part of a cultic group was the subtle undermining of my ability to trust my own thoughts and convictions. Everything I said was dismissed or put under scrutiny although this didn’t apply to others especially some of the leaders. Favoritism was transparently shown towards some members of the group in that their short comings were overlooked, a blind eye was turned regarding their relationships with the opposite sex. I was isolated to the point of having no way out for two years. I left disillusioned and suffering severe depression. After I left I tried to redress some of these issues with those who offended me and was basically cast as the black guard and they were the victims.

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  4. Number 4 was my trigger to leave. I had enough of being talked down to, especially from the pulpit. I was taught that whoever spoke from there was speaking for Christ. The sheepdog of the house church criticized my love of rock music, my long hair, and supposed lack of faith because my eyesight never got any better. No matter how I tried not to doubt and made positive affirmations, my vision didn’t become better.

    That sheepdog woman also was in love with the minister. He’d often sleep overnight at her place. The minister’s wife was in love with a former member who declared himself to be the the prophet like unto Moses spoken about in the book of Joshua. When I dared question this arrangement, I was told that nothing untoward was going on and I didn’t understand.

    That sheepdog also condemned me for buying a radio with the TV sound channels included in it. Thirty-five dollars was, in her opinion, a waste of my money. Two years later, her and her daughter bought a colour TV. The sheepdog said her angel said it was all right for her to buy it.

    Like many ex-cult and former spiritual abuse members, I want to do whatever I can to stop this sort of manipulation wherever it happens as well as to help wounded believers recover. May God use my efforts greatly to help fellow sufferers of trust abuse.

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  5. An “unapproved/unmonitored” friendships.

    My employers filled this role when I was single. I still stayed close to some of them after I married. My former cult is a Holiness church, but I could never get over the fact that my women employers, who wore pants and makeup and cut their hair, were kinder and more generous than the people in my “church.”

    A persistent, growing conviction that the assertions and views, doctrines, etc., of the group do not square up with truth/reality.

    Definitely. It was like a slap in the face when, after being taught to spank our infants and that our children should get the majority of their spanking before they’re three, to listen to an elder in the “church” stand and say that they would never tell us to use corporal punishment. They were probably catching some heat about it at the time.

    Finally, a revelation of moral/ethical failure of the leader.

    Not so much about the founding elder/leader, but that something just wasn’t right in how they managed their finances. They spent thousands of dollars on audio/visual equipment to make videos, yet asked heads of households for an offering to feed the church draft horses which were supposed to be part of the ‘vision” of the church. Also the founding elder and his older sons drove new vehicles every year.

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  6. Yes, I can relate to all four of these- and with more than one church, unfortunately. The outward circumstances were different at 3 different churches but the way it works out is so similar. I.e., the charismatic abuser uses the same tactics as the fundamentalist abuser. It strikes me how similar these points are to abusive relationships.

    The hardest part after my exit was not that I lost every “friend” I had made at these churches but that my relationship with God was shredded. I had a very hard time separating God from the church and its people- if these people, who are sinners like me, disapprove of, reject and shun me, how can God, who is holy and perfect, really accept and love me? Secondly, I began to wonder, when the pastor and elders are outright lying and manipulating people, when it’s revealed they are only playing a game, is it all a farce? Is God even real?

    Beginning at a new church is very hard because at the abusive church, the people seemed friendly and nice at first, too. Can I trust these people? Are they just wearing masks? What would these people do under the situations I’ve seen?

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  7. sigh

    3 and 4 at the same time.

    #3
    They were teaching works righteousness. Analysing everyone’s salvation based on their service/lack of works (being on the dishwashing/toilet cleaning roster, I guess) yet they claim to be GRACE preachers.

    Go figure.

    #4. We went to lunch at the head guy’s house on the Sunday before we left. His wife was pregnant with number 5 baby and this guy was telling us how he gets up at 5am on Sunday mornings to go to the office for ‘serious prayer’ and Bible study before the gathering of the saints.

    I remember thinking immediately, “What a douchebag”. (sorry Lord)

    I thought this because every Sunday she would arrive at the Club House Temple about 15 minutes late looking really ‘under the pump’ and stressed out. It’s because she had to get 4 small kids ready for church whilst pregnant.

    I just found this “I’m so spiritual I don’t help my wife” attitude in incredible.

    It seems that all these Comp. husbands really have no idea what it means to be a servant leader.

    I always tell my husband, “if you want me to do something (cook, clean, whatever) I’ll need you to show me how to do it properly and lead by ‘example'”. hahaha (ie: you need to help me do them too). and he does, without asking. Because he isn’t a douchebag!

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  8. Oh my, Ken’s experience sounds so similar to mine! I think I will have to respond in installments because I don’t want one post to be too lengthy.

    #1 – Physical distance and time away from the group.

    I really didn’t have much time away from the church per say. Like Ken’s experience, I also lived in a communal situation, and I distanced myself from my family and friends immediately. Early on the leader/pastor taught us to mistrust just about anyone outside of our group. That meant mistrusting parents & family members, teachers in public schools, police, pastors outside of our group – you name it. Everyone OUT THERE was to be mistrusted! The leader compiled his views in a pamphlet entitled, “The Cow Homily.” You may be wondering just why it was given such an odd name. Well, cows were a term primarily given to older people, because apparently the behavior of cows was similar to older folks who were lulled to sleep and deceived by the world. (Yes, we had all kinds of loaded language known only to us – a sort of secret coded language that made us feel so unique.) So, we had to be protected from all those evil forces OUT THERE who were in the power of the evil one.

    The leader would use the analogy of a shepherd (which of course was him) and sheep. He would say, “The shepherd makes the door of the sheepfold high so that the sheep cannot escape.” And naturally this was the most loving way for any shepherd to treat his sheep.As time went on, we were told that the most loving thing we could do for our family and friends is be faithful to Jesus. Hence, anyone who went home for the holidays was caring more about their physical family than their spiritual family. For this reason, members were instructed to forgo attending funerals of family members because it was best to “leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

    While I seldom had a chance to get away from the oppressive influence of cult communal life, there were others in the group who did. Some would go home to visit family and never return. Those were the ones labeled as “backsliders” who preferred to follow after the cares and riches of this life. However, when our group began to establish fellowships further away from the home base where the leader lived, those members began to experience a freedom away from the heavy handedness of the man in charge. So, when they would be assigned to another fellowship closer to home base, they couldn’t handle the control over their lives and left.

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  9. #2 – Unapproved/unmonitored friendships.

    Honestly, I would say very few members in the Christian cult to which I belonged had friendships outside of our circle. One of the reasons is that we were instilled with an urgency to work for the kingdom, and any pursuits outside of building up the fellowship were viewed as being worldly and selfish. Eventually we started many “church businesses” so that members would no longer have to work for “Pharoah, building bricks for Egypt” as we used to say.

    Oddly enough, I was speaking recently with an ex-member that I’m quite close to, and she mentioned that one of her co-workers was a Moonie. She told me that when this co-worker would speak, she recognized the same unhealthy patterns of thought that we had in our group. Slowly it began to dawn on her that our group was very much like the cult of the Moonies. The brainwashing and mind control within our group was so powerful, that a Christian Counseling Center where many ex-members went to get help, called it “one of the most toxic Christian cults” they had ever encountered.

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  10. #3 – A persistent , growing conviction that the assertions and views, doctrines, etc., of the group do not square up with truth/reality.

    Yes, I most certainly can recall the cognitive dissonance which could no longer be ignored. One of the things that was hammered into our thinking was that other Christians were blind Laodiceans who were shallow and uncommitted. We labeled them C C’s, which stood for Church Christians and Contentious Christians all in one. They were contentious because they didn’t trust our group, in particular the man who was leading us. They called him a “false shepherd” and warned us to flee from him. We, on the other hand, had true Bible interpretation and were like the five wise maidens with our lamps full of oil. However, this view was dispelled when I encountered other Christians outside of our sphere. I recognized their kindness and love for Christ and a freedom which they possessed for which I longed.

    There were so many destructive views within our fellowship it’s difficult to name just one or two. However, one of the most dangerous assertions was that we could not be faithful Christians anywhere else because we would be “playing church” due to the greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible that we possessed. We were told that in leaving the truth (which was synonymous with leaving the fellowship) we were destined to become drug abusers or prostitutes or fornicators, and that our lives would be ruined. After all, we were the Christians who were “given much” and therefore had the greater responsibility to be faithful to what we had been given. This kind of pressure caused people to stay in the group much longer, because they feared they would suffer the anger of God in leaving. Many ex-members since leaving have said they actually thought God would strike them dead. However, the reality was that as one member after another left they weren’t stricken. Many went on to live fruitful, productive lives for Christ.

    Looking back, I recognize that so many of the teachings were meant to keep members under the control of the leader. I lived in a fear-based Christian cult that was designed to keep me naive and compliant, completely trusting the leader and his demands upon us, no matter how absurd. Sadly, no matter how much members tried to follow the rules and be faithful followers, we were never quite good enough. Instead, we had to listen to rebuke after rebuke of how faithless were were, and the judgment we would suffer at the hands of God.

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  11. #4 – A revelation of moral/ethical failure of the leader.

    Our leader/pastor who was so quick to call members faithless and uncommitted Christians, turned out to be the biggest phony of all. While many members worked long hours in the church businesses – receiving only pitiful allowance – the leader would be enjoying the fruits of our labors. He lived in a comfy home in an upper-middle class neighborhood, while members lived in squalid conditions. Many of the fellowship houses were in neighborhoods infested with crime. If we would complain, the leader said we were whining and unappreciative. As time went on the overworked member’s money was going to airplanes which the leader/pastor would fly to various locations, such as the Bahamas. Eventually, he moved to a luxurious mansion in Florida. (This was after I had already left.) Shockingly, members were told that they were lazy, even though it was their strict work ethic that allowed the leader to live so comfortably.

    As is true of many leaders who are in positions of authority, with no outside checks on their behavior, the downfall can be in the area of sexual immorality. Our leader/pastor was no different. While he had the nerve to upbraid members, with terms such as “dirty old men” and “dirty old women” (even though many members were in their 20’s), he was viewing pornography and sexually molesting some of the female members. It should have been obvious that something was awry with this so called leader when he divorced his first wife and married his secretary. He claimed she committed adultery and had every right to divorce her. It was only many years later that I found out his first wife was not unfaithful to him. He lied so that he could marry a younger, prettier woman. But the irony is that his second wife was not enough to keep him from coveting other women, and so he cheated on her. As members were awakened to his hypocrisy, they left by the droves. What remains now is a pitiful handful of followers who are burnt out and hopeless.

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  12. What an eye-opener this has been for me. Though not having been part of an abusive church, and having never considered the signs of such, I hadn’t considered the following: “For me, this was when I realized that our leaders were speaking as experts in areas that they were untrained in (such as medical issues, financial management, athletics, etc.), or areas that truly were issues of personal opinion and conviction (such as politics, international relations, local government, etc.).”

    I even see this in mainstream evangelicalism — a lot. Not good.

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  13. Physical distance and time away from the group, (and the group’s control.)

    I was involved in that Fellowship(TM) only a couple days a week; otherwise I was living at home. However, they were always pressuring me to “come out from among the Heathen” and move into what I called “the barracks” (literally racks of bunks excavated in their basement) with all the others. And the pressure went high-pressure after Dad remarried.

    An “unapproved/unmonitored” friendships.

    At the time, I had just discovered Dungeons & Dragons and had got plugged in with a pretty good gaming group. So I had a bolthole.

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  14. @Darlene:

    #2 – Unapproved/unmonitored friendships.

    Honestly, I would say very few members in the Christian cult to which I belonged had friendships outside of our circle. One of the reasons is that we were instilled with an urgency to work for the kingdom, and any pursuits outside of building up the fellowship were viewed as being worldly and selfish. Eventually we started many “church businesses” so that members would no longer have to work for “Pharoah, building bricks for Egypt” as we used to say

    And you’d only drink milk if it came from a CHRISTIAN cow?
    (h/t Steve Taylor)

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  15. @Darlene:

    There were so many destructive views within our fellowship it’s difficult to name just one or two. However, one of the most dangerous assertions was that we could not be faithful Christians anywhere else because we would be “playing church” due to the greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible that we possessed.

    As in your Speshul Occult Gnosis?

    “Gnostic” is Koine Greek for “He Who KNOWS Things”.

    And “Illuminati” means “Illuminated Ones”, i.e. those with Greater Knowledge and Understanding(TM).

    (And both of these can describe Conspiracy crackheads as well.)

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  16. “A persistent, growing conviction that the assertions and views, doctrines, etc., of the group do not square up with truth/reality.

    “The cognitive dissonance finally starts asserting itself. For me, this was when I realized that our leaders were speaking as experts in areas that they were untrained in (such as medical issues, financial management, athletics, etc.),…”

    This was huge for us. Also, part of Ken’s comment read:

    “…and couldn’t imagine allowing our kids to end up like us.”

    For me that was the final straw. I’m still in the midst of a slow moving spiritual crisis after 15 years in the reformed world, and I pray none of our kids end up like me in that regard. We knew the doctrinal drift the church was in, and were starting to see that played out for the teens in the congregation (especially the girls). I want each of my kids in a church that preaches the real gospel, not the gospel of patriarchy.

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  17. Darlene, Thank you for sharing your story! I would love to hear your opinion on what attracts people to these “exclusive Christian clubs”? Do you believe that as the world becomes more complex people will be drawn even more into authoritative and high control groups? I worry about family members who are sucked into 9Marks churches. Some of the congregations seem very fear based and judgement oriented. Thanks!

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  18. Ken, I’ve never been part of an abusive church but your four points help me understand how I can come alongside those who might be in that situation, and those who have come out of one. Thanks for the analysis.

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  19. At the end of the article, Ken notes: “Now, I’m doing some research in how the thought reform mechanisms used by Communist China in the ’40 and ’50’s surfaces in the environment of cults, abusive churches, etc. I know it sounds weird, but it is fascinating stuff!”

    For newcomers, eventually you’ll run across the work Robert J. Lifton did, analyzing Communist China and thought-control tactics they used. It’s foundational to studies of various kinds of high-demand “cults” and cultures. I posted a series with an overview of his eight criteria of thought control a few years ago, along with some personal reflection and group discussion questions for abuse survivors.

    https://futuristguy.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/the-hunger-games-trilogy-5a/

    There’s also a link at the beginning to a PDF that compiles the posts into one document.

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  20. @Ann:

    Darlene, Thank you for sharing your story! I would love to hear your opinion on what attracts people to these “exclusive Christian clubs”?

    My two cents is that it’s the Lure of the Inner Ring, God’s Speshul Pets, the Only Ones in the entire world who Got It Right. (“Have Fun in Hell, Lukewarms!”)

    “Gnostic” is Greek for “He Who Knows Things”. Especially Things that are Hidden (“Occult”) from the Unwashed Mundane Sheeple on the Outside. “Ours is a High and Lonely Destiny”, secure in our Occult Gnosis and Righteousness.

    Do you believe that as the world becomes more complex people will be drawn even more into authoritative and high control groups?

    You see that same pattern with Extreme Islam — a refuge from Future Shock where even what to think is spelled out in detail — so why not?

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  21. Darlene – your examples of each of the 4 conditions were excellent. Of course, I’m very saddened that you understand and experienced them all too well, but you really helped those who haven’t experienced abuse to understand more clearly.

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  22. I would say that I have limited experience with being in a spiritually abusive church. We did have one pastor who exerted authority and used teaching time to yell and belittle. That was the tipping point and lead to #4. We visited different churches in the area with different eyes and saw red flags wherever we went.

    As far as our exit plan, we simply walked out.

    At our first church where we were members for 8 years, we did have a conversation with the pastor and after realizing his vision was for a mega church we told him that we did not want to be a part of that vision. The yelling pastor required that everyone talk to him prior to leaving the church. We sent an email. We had not desire to engage in his demand.

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  23. Thank you, Julie Anne, for giving attention to my blog comment, and crafting it into another post! And to all who have responded, thank you for reading! My family and I have been out of our Christian cult for about 20 years, and we have come to a couple of realizations that have helped us, as we continue to heal.

    1. Guilt and Shame. Almost every survivor of spiritual abuse (and often sexual-physical, I am told), carries a unique brand of persistent guilt/shame over their abuse. “Why did I do that?!” “I let that happen?!” “What kind of father (or, mother, friend, etc.) am I to let that happen?!” “Am I a sheep, and destined to be ruled and abused by anyone who comes along and deceives/tricks me into following them?!” It is also routine for a person (like me) to feel great amounts of shame, simply for having contributed to, and been a working part of, the cult. It took me 18 years to begin to consider that perhaps I wasn’t to blame, and was a victim of evil people. (I was a junior leader, who was being groomed to represent and emulate the leadership styles and the abuse of the pastor.) A solid starting point in recovery is to meditate on, and embrace the statement, “IT IS NOT MY FAULT–SOMETHING WAS DONE TO ME, AGAINST MY WILL, THROUGH DECEIT, COERCION, AND ATTACK.” Which leads to the second realization…
    2. You were recruited, you didn’t join. No one would ever join a group that promised to ruin their lives, take their families, steal their money, alienate them from their families, etc! Of course not! The use of deceit, double-talk, and secret policies, etc., come into play here. No cult/abusive church ever leads with the truth of what they are, and what they fully intend to continue doing to their members. Instead, they present the sales pitch, which is always a good idea/purpose, etc., that will be soon found to NOT represent the true motives and policies of the church. I’ve heard a great statement, “No one every joins a cult–they just take a long time to leave it.”
    3. Resiliency and wisdom is often (not always) the residue of cult/abusive church membership. Ex-members, while spending the rest of their lives processing through the abuse they’ve endured, do recover, and go on to highly productive, satisfying lives. Not all–but many (maybe even most). One of the primary tasks counselors face in caring for the adult children who grew up in cults (and thus, never joined on their own accord or choice), is pointing out to them the extremely high degree of resiliency that was developed as a natural response to growing up in a cult (with all of its uncertainties, neglect, lack of love and healthy family relationships, etc.). These folks (SGA’s: Second Generation Adults) suffer post-cult recovery in a much different way than their parents, but they also can have genuine hope for a safe, healthy life.

    4. To Christians, three words we need to learn, understand, and use more: Cult, Narcissist, and Totalism.

    CULT: I’ve begun to suspect that we use the term “abusive church” as a way to protect our pride, and in a way that serves the very groups that hurt us and others. We’ve got to face the fact that even though our doctrine in the “abusive church” was allegedly orthodox, biblical, correct, etc., the group was, in fact, a cult. Secular counselors and psychologists pull their hair out over our (I speak as a pastor, Christian) inability to simply call spiritual abuse what it is: cultism. When we wholeheartedly decided to only assign the name “cult” to those groups that denied some aspect of the deity of Christ, we set ourselves up for every narcissistic leader to simply read a bit of theology, say the “right” things, align himself/herself with an orthodox moment, theologian, or denomination–and get to work abusing people.

    NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER: Abusive groups almost always trace back to a very unhealthy, self-oriented, abusive person finding out that the church is a perfect place to set up shop, and start sucking the life out of people. They all follow the same patterns of abuse, pretty much (see Brad’s reference to Lifton, above), and secular therapists are better schooled and acquainted with this species of predator than the church itself is, although reading the leadership writings of Paul, Peter (2nd), and Jude will serve as a brutal introduction to them, too.

    TOTALISM: This word is lived out often by discipleship-based ministries. This is a word that describes an orientation of life in which a person is an “all or nothing” type. They do everything to the enth degree, all the way, no compromise, all in, etc. They do nothing halfway, and are deadly serious about living their lives with total abandon, zeal, and full-on commitment. They get all A’s, stay late to do homework, stay after practice to practice, sell homes, live in community, etc. While none of these things in and of themselves are horrible–they are often the symptoms of an unbalanced, unhealthy life in which a person is trying to gain by effort the things he wants–even the good things God has already given. Often, he/she is simply living out what was learned early in life: “There is not free lunch–I’ve got to work hard to earn the air I breathe…” The totalistic person is prey for cults, since the “speak his language.” That was me in 1984, when I joined a Christian cult.

    Sorry for the long comment, again, thank you!

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  24. It strikes me that issues #1, #2, and #4 are outpouring of #3 many times. That is, if you’re trying to defend positions you don’t have evidence to defend, you will tend to try to isolate people from their other friends, which is why distance from the church is often the turning point. Suddenly you can’t isolate anymore. For that matter, if I have a position that I’ve got evidence to defend, I don’t need to turn on the pressure tactics.

    (rule of thumb for me; if a man uses personal attacks or other genetic fallacies, I automatically know he’s unable or unwilling to make a real argument….sometimes noting that to him wakes him up, sometimes not)

    #4 comes in when the pastor/abuser has isolated those around him and he thinks nobody is watching.

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  25. @KenGarret:

    The totalistic person is prey for cults, since the “speak his language.” That was me in 1984, when I joined a Christian cult.

    Somehow the year seems appropriate.

    Secular counselors and psychologists pull their hair out over our (I speak as a pastor, Christian) inability to simply call spiritual abuse what it is: cultism.

    I’ve been pulling my hair out over that one since my time in-country in the Seventies. Back then there were all these Christian Cult Watch groups (Beware Thou of the Cults) who defined Cult ENTIRELY in terms of Correct Theology. While they were parsing theology literally letter-by-letter and mote by mote, all these abusers and abusive totalist groups were slipping under their radar because their beams of Theology/Ideology was Correct. (Of course it helped that their Theology/Ideology was the same as the Cult Watchers: American Fundagelicalism/Jesus Movement.)

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  26. I didn’t leave a comment on the earlier post because I was still reading the comments, one small chunk at a time, and pondering.

    I think the last straw for me was meeting with our elders as a cry for help for our wounded, reeling, disintegrating family, and being told that their help would consist in guiding us to double down on all we were already failing at.

    We were the problem. We were doing it wrong. We just needed to do more of the same, and just do it righter.

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  27. It wasn’t totally about doctrine back in the 1970s, HUG, at least not in my parts. I remember being a young skull full of mush, very impressed that the local IFB church was getting kindergartners to read, when my mom noted that she was aware of people deprogramming people from there. This would have been when disco was (horrors!) popular.

    Certainly there is a “majority” position which describes “cult” as Walter Martin did, mostly in terms of doctrine, but the 1960s gave birth to a movement as well that described things in behavioral terms.

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  28. My exciting process was very confusing ….took a process of outside council and going to other churches experiencing and hearing something different and noticing the difference I felt. The church I left had different issues ….but mostly it was the shaming,blaming,beating up from the pulpit, and different rules for different people.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Wow. Physical distance and outside perspective was huge for me. I started cheating on our church with my girlfriend’s church, and eventually that, along with other factors related to the 4th cause listed here tipped me over the edge.

    A lot of truth here.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I dont know what size church or organizations that people ate talking about here….but there are these very small back woods churches that are not attached to denominations. They believe their belief is true. Most of the members, and I dont mean members who officially join, because they dont believe in that. Anyways they say they came out of other churches that did not preach the truth. They condemn make up on women, pants on women etc. Preach hell fire and brimestone. They repeatedly ask for love offerings, people who attend regulay for healing end up dying anyways…..( they are under David Terrells ministry). There are things that go on that I will not elaborate on. I felt an outsider the entire time. I am separated from my husband and his family runs one of these churches in the deep south. They have gathered together against me many times. I wonder why God allows these things to go on. How many lives must be destroyed. I am trying to get away, since I am without funds because my husband has control, I am having to just do what I can. Pray for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I just wanted to add something about my experience with the exiting process. It wasn’t just one thing, but many, that led to my decision to leave that Christian cult. After the love bombing and honeymoon stage (yes, there were actually some good experiences), slowly it began to dawn on me that something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, because I was too close to the situation – deeply embedded into the cult life existence. At some point an uneasy feeling began to emerge and that was when the inner conflict began. The uneasiness gave way to thoughts that I couldn’t trust this leader/pastor who had sold himself as some sort of True Bible Interpreter. However, simultaneously I would have thoughts that would counteract the uneasiness, such as: “Of course you have been taught true Bible understanding – just look at how successful our fellowship is compared to all those dead churches.” Success was gauged by numbers, specifically how many people were getting saved and coming to faith in Christ.

    For me, one of the first tipping scales I can recall is when the leader/pastor privately approached my husband expressing his intentions to divorce his wife and remarry a much younger and prettier woman. I was repulsed by the idea, thinking him to be a dirty old man. But so many other members readily accepted his remarriage that I shelved my disgust thinking perhaps it was I who was wrong.

    The second tipping point (the one that sealed it for me) came several months later. The leader began teaching on John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Basically we we were told that none of us had actually died to ourselves, and therefore we were spiritually weak Christians. He went on to say that we had lost our first love and because of it, we had no love for the brethren. At that point I knew these were lies because if one thing was true about us, it was that we were willing to sacrifice our lives for each other for the sake of the gospel But the kicker was, we needed special training; training that we could only get one way. This is when members were informed that it was time to move to New York City, where a training center was being established. Those who were the most spiritually sick among us were voted on to leave immediately. My husband was one of them. So the next day he left the Detroit area and hitchhiked with another member all the way to NYC, with only a tooth brush in his back pocket! Approximately six weeks later I followed, riding in a van with seven other people, with only one suitcase and my one year old child – leaving all my other possessions behind.

    It was upon arriving at the center in New York City that I knew with certainty God was not leading and blessing our fellowship. I had a spiritual encounter (which I will not elaborate on) that convinced me of this. However, my husband was not yet ready to leave. And so I stayed for three more years until he was finally ready to exit. As we drove away from the city, I heard a voice deep within me say, “You are free at last! You are free to love God!” Over and over again….”You are free!”

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Ann, you asked: What attracts people to these “exclusive Christian clubs? People’s life experiences differ and so the reasons are many. For me, as a young person barely out of high school, it was the attraction of other people my age united together with a love and zeal for God. There was a certain excitement among us that was palpable. It was the 100% commitment to the cause of Christ. It was a sense of belonging to something much bigger than myself.

    I’m not sure if I think that as the world becomes more complex whether or not there will be an increase in people getting involved in controlling, abusive Christian cults. I do think, however, that the United States in particular is a breeding ground for such cults. Our laws are such that just about anyone can claim to be a church and have a 501 C3 status. Then voila…gain many followers. Just look at Mark Driscoll. The man is already on the move in starting his own church (sic) in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is a man who has been known to verbally abuse and mistreat hundreds of people at Mars Hill Church, the church he founded in Seattle. Not only that but his misogynist views on women are quite obvious from his sermons and books. To add to that, he bought his way on to the Times best seller list through his book, Real Marriage. So he can’t be trusted to do the right thing with money. But here he is, less than two years later after the collapse of Mars Hill, reinventing himself. And there are sure to be many who will follow after him again.

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  33. I left the “c”hurch I attended due to false teaching and the fact that they were endangering my and my kids’ lives by siding with our abuser. They only sided with him because they were likewise abusers. All about power, control and entitlement. When I left they came after me threatening me, putting me on trial, trying to force me back under their power. You know – no one leaves an abuser or an abusive system that calls itself a Church. They did all of this but not until after they shared my personal intimate details of incidents of abuse at the hands of my abuser. This pastor and his wife denied that there was any abuse, but all such abuse was later determined by a licensed psychologist, to be true, based on evaluations of the abuser, my kids and myself, which we were forced to undergo at the hands of my abuser. I reluctantly shared that personal abuse information with them during private counseling. These so called pastor/wife counsellors were unlicensed and untrained, but self proclaimed “counsellors”. They shared it through every means they had available to them including email, passed around on I-pads during fellowship meals and eventually hung them on the walls of their cult. In the end they excommunicated me, but I am glad they did. It proved to me that I was excommunicated by the legalistic and unbelieving Pharisees of the day, for my true faith in God.

    I consider it a privilege to be thrown out of their cult, even though I had already left them. I cannot tell you how many other people have contacted me these past years, asking for prayer and help because they too have tried to leave this abusive place and no one seems to be able to break free without the wrath of the gods who have seated themselves in positions of power there, breaking out against them in pursuit and threat of excommunication. I tend to tell them to leave and not look back. Break free and don’t fear the abusive bullies. They hold no real power or authority from God. It is all satanic. I was already in a new true Church when the cult leaders came after me. I am still, years later, in that true Church and active in ministry there. John 9.

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  34. The article makes mention of leaders speaking as experts in areas that they were untrained in. In my experience it became increasingly obvious that this was true even in the areas of Biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, Biblical languages, and theology. Even those pastors with formal training beyond Sunday school had at best only received the opinions of others–opinions they proclaimed as carrying all the weight and authority of Scripture itself.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Katy, you might do well to get a hold of our gracious hostess. In my view–and I am emphatically one of the more conservative people who comment here–if your husband is refusing to support you, and has done things that would legally qualify as abuse, then there are a bunch of people out there who will help you figure out what to do. If you don’t have the time or ability to contact Julie Anne, just hail a police officer or doctor. He’ll connect you with county social services and help you sort things out.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Katy, please contact me if I can be of help to you. I will speak for Kathi and say that she and I would be happy to look up resources that are available in your area that you could utilize. Or if you just want to talk. I’m very sorry to hear that you are alone in this. You are not alone here. The SSB family will keep you in our prayers. Thank you for sharing your situation with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Katy, that’s awful. You’re by no means alone here. I spent almost 20 years in one of those back woods places. They can be truly awful because of lack of accountability and isolation. We feel you here. =[

    Liked by 2 people

  38. For me, as a young person barely out of high school, it was the attraction of other people my age united together with a love and zeal for God. There was a certain excitement among us that was palpable. It was the 100% commitment to the cause of Christ. It was a sense of belonging to something much bigger than myself.

    That sounds very much like the Jesus Freaks I knew in the 70s.

    Liked by 3 people

  39. Thank you, JA. It was painful to live through.

    My dh is distressed that, after a year in our new church, I still don’t “trust” the elders. And I don’t! I refuse to tell them my most intimate secrets and thoughts that distress me, in order to ask for prayer. I refuse to come to them (with him) for counseling regarding our sometimes-troubled relationship. They are comps. He’s right. I don’t trust them to offer healthy advice, even though everything that comes out of their mouths can be traced back to the bible in one way or another.

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  40. Refugee – I fully understand the mistrust that you have with church leadership. Stick with your gut intuition. It’s more often right than wrong.

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  41. @Ann 12/16: You wrote: “I would love to hear your opinion on what attracts people to these “exclusive Christian clubs”? Do you believe that as the world becomes more complex people will be drawn even more into authoritative and high control groups?”
    That’s a very great question, and I’ve thought about it. I do think that people are not so much attracted to abusive churches, as they are attracted to what they believe to be healthy, good, positive churches–that end up being abusive. In that sense, it might be more true to say that people are never attracted (knowingly) to abusive churches, cults–but they are often, aggressively recruited into those groups.
    BTW, I’ve thought more about my assertion that Christians need to own the descriptive “Cult”, applying it to their own churches. I think I would qualify that statement, though. The “C” word is loaded, rarely understood, etc., and even defies a consistent definition. It just might be a dialogue killer that results in some who feels misunderstood deciding to remain in an abusive church–simply because they are convinced that their friend who told them they are in a “cult” certainly does not understand their situation, or their church. In that light–I think I see the need to be very, very careful with the word, and perhaps not even use it until the member himself/herself uses it, and grant me permission to do so. I’m in process, but wanted to throw that out there!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. That’s good insight, Ken. There’s a danger in trying to show people the light on these places that we can just alienate ourselves from those who need our insight most, by speaking to them from the place of growth we’re in, instead of reaching them where they’re at. In hindsight, I know my previous churches were cults, but at the time I left, I didn’t see the situation clearly – only that I had issues with what was going on and no longer wanted to be a part of it. A year or so before I left, when I was starting to be uncomfortable there, if someone had referred to the place as a cult, I’d have shut them down instantly.

    It’s about being a light for people such as I was. You have to live the light, be patient, tactful, and when the opportunity arises, be there when they fall.

    I’m terrible at it, as recent interactions with my family have shown me. =/

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Ken Garrett said:

    I do think that people are not so much attracted to abusive churches, as they are attracted to what they believe to be healthy, good, positive churches–that end up being abusive.

    That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Deborah Layton, former member of People’s Temple.

    Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they think’s gonna hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political movement, and you join with people that you *really like.*

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0762111/quotes

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  44. @ Gov Pappy–well, you’re not alone in batting less than 1.000 in interactions with family and friends!
    I’ve heard that unless a person (who is in an abusive group/cult) is in a “contemplative” phase–a mindset that is open to considering, though privately, that his/her group is inconsistent, flawed, etc., then it is pretty much useless to try and “get them out,” or convince them that their group is unhealthy. The speaker I heard say that also said that once a person has made an “inner contract” with themselves to join the group and support it, they are then “pre-contemplative,” unwilling to consider the evidences and suggestions that their group is not what it claimed to be… That seems to apply to addicts, too, come to think of it. Unless an addict is willing to consider that he/she is in deep trouble because of their addiction, they simply will not address it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  45. At one point, I remember people in our former church joking about others calling us a cult. They’d shake their heads in pity. It was obvious those others didn’t know what we were all about, and were speaking from a misunderstanding, and didn’t care to talk to us about the whys and wherefores.

    Never knowing that we were the ones to be pitied, after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Possibly it is the search for community and belonging, which seem to be offered by the abusive church/cult. It’s only after being in for a while that the person finds that real acceptance is a carrot that one can never actually reach, by then the person has become invested into pursuing that carrot. Persons who have grown up in families with similar dynamics may be more at risk?

    It seems to take something jarring to wake the person out of the fog they’ve ended up in.

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  47. katy2,

    I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. We’ll pray for you.

    They repeatedly ask for love offerings

    Which he apparently got into trouble for not paying taxes on.

    The likely source of appellant’s income was money earned through his ministry. Terrell preached daily at branches of his church and traveling tent revivals. At each service, in addition to collecting church offerings, appellant collected personal contributions known as “love offerings”. Typically, a bucket would be placed in front of the congregation for church offerings, and Terrell would make an appeal to his audiences to help him personally by handing him money directly or placing it in one of the pockets of an apron that he wore at the time of the offerings. In addition, contribution envelopes were distributed at services resulting in the receipt of substantial sums of money through the mail at a post office box in Waco, Texas. . .

    Terrell had been advised by his accountant that the money he personally received during services was taxable income.

    http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/754/1139/319080/

    What is the deal with Waco?

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  48. katy2: What a wonderful thing that you can recognize the unhealthy environment of that fake church. There are many in the Christian community who are willing and able to help you. As others have said here, contact Julie Anne and Kathy who are the moderators of this site. They will be able to connect you with some viable solutions. Whatever you do, do not go back to your husband for financial reasons. You would only be placing yourself in a situation to be manipulated all over again.

    Liked by 2 people

  49. HUG said:

    Back then there were all these Christian Cult Watch groups who defined Cult ENTIRELY in terms of Correct Theology. While they were parsing theology literally letter-by-letter and mote by mote, all these abusers and abusive totalist groups were slipping under their radar because their beams of theology – Ideology was Correct.

    I would say you are on to something here. The Jesus Movement began in the 60’s and was growing strong in the 70’s. The group to which I belonged was birthed during this time. Yet, many Christians didn’t quite get it that this Movement was a breeding ground for all kinds of spiritual abuse in the name of “loving Jesus.” Before I ever met the group to which I belonged, I encountered the Jesus People. They live communally as well and were know for their evangelism and zeal. Then there were the COG’s, i.e., The Children of God (otherwise know as The Family), and The Way Ministry. All of these groups, plus the one to which I belonged had commonalities. All claimed to love Jesus, be zealous for the Truth, stressed evangelism, and targeted young people. On the surface, they all seemed harmless enough. It wasn’t until one dug a little deeper that the underbelly of such groups became exposed. The Christian community at large (those that weren’t abusive cults) first tried to address the aberrant theology of these groups. But what they failed to do was address the aberrant mindset, the disturbing, warped worldview of the leaders of these groups. It was the sociological aspect of these groups that needed to be denounced. However, I think because these kinds of groups were just springing up out of the Jesus Movement, the Christian community was in an infancy stage in trying to understand the real underlying problems. Today, however, there is no excuse for churches not to be informed, especially those who hold responsible positions. So much has been written on the topic of spiritual abuse and churches that abuse that all Christians should be well-informed so that they do not fall prey to these kinds of groups/cults/sects.

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  50. #3 and #4. I got involved as a child through my parents. We had always struggled some with the rules they enforced, but for a while we actually were deceived. The breaking point was at a conference to go over the rules. This group was a “denomination ” with 100 churches. They were voting on whether or not to allow use of the Internet. The leadership wanted to ban it, but the members were split. They manipulated the vote to go their way. My mom said this was the last straw, she realized they had just blatantly lied to them. It still took 2 years to get out as we took the whole church with us. We were determined to leave no one there that we had brought.

    Liked by 2 people

  51. I think that learning to say “cult” is difficult for most of us, but I also think that it may be one of the most important steps in your self healing.
    I suppose that’s why I feel quite comfortable calling groups “cults” NOW–whereas, it always used to make me flinch, before….I owe enormous thanks to my late mother & grandmother, who always “called ’em as they saw them; it was great modelling for me.

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  52. @zooey111 (1:56am) “I think that learning to say “cult” is difficult for most of us, but I also think that it may be one of the most important steps in your self healing.” The same is true for me; breaking through to honestly evaluate my (aka) abusive church experience as a “cult” was/is an important part of my own recovery. However, the word itself is so powerful, and so diversely defined, that when indiscriminately used it often stops a good conversation/discussion in its tracks, simply because the images of Jonestown, Waco, or Krishnas, etc. come to people’s minds. One alternative I’ve found is to describe my actual experiences, instead of the name (cult) of those experiences. So, instead of saying, “I was in a cult,” I might say, “I was in a church led by a narcissist who basically took over everyone’s lives, money, time, etc, and made life hell for everyone who didn’t toe the line–before he kicked them out of the church. He’s in jail now.” That usually paints enough of a picture to people. That’s where I’m at now with it all…

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  53. There’s really no easy place to be when you speak the truth. I have had just as much persecution outside the walls of church as inside. A book was recommended to me called ” the subtle power of spiritual abuse”‘and that helped me understand greatly what I thought I was imagining.
    I turned to a christian blog a friend recommended and I received just as much persecution as in my old church. There were emergents coming on the scene and I spoke out about one pastor in particular and the blog host came down on me harder than anyone in my church. I guess because it was a denomination he supported. Five years later the pastor fell. I still have not found a church and stupidly i commented on that blog, and He won’t even let my comments in. I’m civil, no arguments just a different point of view. I know it’s because the enemy doesnt want the truth anywhere. It is very lonely when you have discernment..recently I spoke out about that new best seller ” Jesus calling” which I believe is an old book renamed. (“God calling”). I didn’t like god calling because the authors are speaking as if it they are God. I have a problem with that…maybe no one else does. this woman now has a whole line of merchandising, and the original book God Calling is so old most don’t even know about it to know that the format was copied. i do bc i was given it from a very old believer i knew years ago…This is Sarah Youngs book. Well every womens bible study is reading from this book and women are swooning over it..so it is very hard no matter where I go so I just stay away..very isolating. When I spoke out at my church I was shunned, when I prayed in a womens group the majority didn’t like my prayers…. I guess I’m doing something right..friendship with the world is enmity against God… Sorry or the long post. You have to conform to any group you are in. Facebook, blogs, church….

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  54. I left my former church 1 because of their treatment of my daughter, she was pulling away from the church kids, and they shunned bullied and started rumors about her, not only with church people but her teachers and secular friends. when I started there, I was lonely! Everything was fine until my husband formally joined, then they started meddling in our real lives, and tried to shut me up. We never could drink the kool-aid. My former church 2 came right out and said that because I was a woman, I could never be in the music ministry. God gave me the gifts of music and memory and discernment when I was very young, so that’s how I measure the worth of any teaching. Anyone who crosses those boundaries I know are false teachers.

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