Help! My Family Member or Close Friend is Trapped in a High-Controlling Church or Cult. How Can I Encourage Them to Leave?

How to help a family member or friend leave a high-controlling church group or cult: spiritual abuse, trapped, thought reform, mind control, freedom


 

“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.”
Steven Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults

***

I’ve heard it said that losing a child to death can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine having lost your adult child and their family, not to death, but to a high-controlling church or cult. Imagine not being able to celebrate birthdays or major holidays together. Imagine having only limited contact with your adult child and their family. How could your loved one entirely dismiss you, act like you are a stranger or enemy when you did nothing to them?

The other day, I watched a video by Dr. Steven Hassan. He was in the cult, The Unification Church, also called, The Moonies. After he was deprogrammed, he went to school and became an expert on cults. When listening to his story, something resonated with me about his story.

When he was 19 years old, he fell asleep at the wheel (he was allowed only 3-4 hours sleep each night while in the cult) going 80 mph and crashed. He was hospitalized for two weeks. Although estranged from his family, he reached out to the only family member who had not said to him that he was in a cult, his older sister. This struck me as I reflected on my experience at Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC), which I view as a cult.

How did I respond to people who knew I was in a cult and wanted me out? How did I determine whether someone was a threat to me, or if they were going to support me no matter what, even if it meant I remained at BGBC? I think the answers to these questions might help people to understand what happens in the minds of people trapped in a high-controlling environment. I hope my experience will help others who are trying to help get their loved ones out of abusive cult environments.

These high-controlling environments aren’t limited to the “weird” cults like The Moonies. I’ve heard from people whose adult children are connected and emotionally trapped with churches pastored by graduates of John MacArthur’s, The Master’s Seminary. This has also happened in Doug Wilson’s churches, Harvest Bible Chapel, Mars Hill Church, etc. Emotional and spiritual entrapment is not remote.

I’ve heard the heartache from some of these parents via e-mail and phone conversations. They just want their kids and their families free. They want to snuggle and spoil their grandchildren. But their hands are tied, and they desperately want to know what to do. How can they get their loved ones out of their spiritually abusive church? Is there something they can do?

 

trapped, spiritual abuse, cult, high-controlling churches

 

It’s important to understand the dynamics of these types of groups. The leaders of these high-controlling church groups or cults are spiritual and emotional bullies. In order for them to have a functioning group, they must maintain control of the group. There are a number of ways they do this. They keep group members so busy that they are not able to do many outside activities. They are elitist. They teach that their way is the only right way and anyone who does not believe like they do are off. Anyone outside the group is viewed as suspect.  Why is that?  Because the guru leader does not have control of them. Consequently, not only are they  (outsiders) viewed as suspect, they eventually will be called enemies because if they believed as the group leader believed, they would be part of the group, right?

Just as one cannot question leaders who have all the “right” answers, group members will be taught  — even without words being said — that anyone who questions them is against them, and thus, against their guru leader. There is no allowance for differing opinions. If someone does not like the group or the leader, they are the enemy. Group members will be told Bible verses about enemies, how there can be no light in darkness, etc. Consequently, group members will distance, and then shun the outsiders who are really family and friends who care about them. The bully leader does not have to directly say, “do not associate with your family.” The implication in his messages and teachings does this. And when one is that enmeshed in the high-controlling system, members play their part in keeping the group pure from the perceived “enemy.”

For those who have loved ones caught in a high-controlling church or cult, it is very important to learn what is going on in the mind of someone trapped in that environment, and to be a bridge to that loved one. By bridge, I mean someone who still has access and a relationship with their loved one(s). In high-controlling churches, sometimes all access is remove. If you still have access, albeit limited access to your loved one, I’d like to share with you what helped me maintain access with my good friends, as I was in such a high-controlling group.

I remember having at least five friends who were concerned about our family and group of friends attending Beaverton Grace Bible Church. These five friends were not pushy, but asked genuine questions about the teachings and about the behavior of our pastor, Chuck O’Neal. Some had attended a service, heard him preach online, heard him preach at a graduation ceremony. Many had watched us change. They did not like what they saw and wanted to alert us that we were not in a healthy place. Their heart and intentions were spot on; however, sadly, unbeknownst to them, their method may have sabotaged their efforts. I distanced myself from those who reached out to me in this manner. I removed that bridge in our relationship.

Important Lesson 1:  Your loved one is not being physically chained to their high-control group. They are chained emotionally and spiritually. Your most important job is to keep the bridge between you and your loved one.

If you are in the beginning stages of making connections with your loved one and they are still solidly in the cult, do not tell them they are in a cult. Do not ask questions about what is taught. Do not try to reason with them. They are there because they believe it to be true. If you challenge this, you may lose all access to them. You will no longer have a bridge to connect with them.

Now imagine this. I didn’t like attending BGBC from the first time I heard O’Neal preach. Yet, at the same time, I did not care for someone challenging why I was at this church. I had already bought into some of the teachings and actually defended Chuck O’Neal, the church, the people, and my involvement there. It bothered me that my old friends were challenging me this way. I remember thinking that they just didn’t understand. They were missing out. They were trying to prevent me from becoming pure and holy and were the enemy. I needed to separate from them because they were interfering with my spiritual walk. I perceived them to be shallow Christians and I distanced myself from these folks. I didn’t want to be tainted by their weak religion (this was another lie I believed).

If you have a friend or family member in a cult or high-controlling church, you are probably going to want to show them what you see, how the teachings are wrong. You are, in fact, probably correct. As tempting as it is to say those things, it usually won’t work. They will sense that you are trying to control them, and/or lead them away from what they are defending as truth. In their minds, you will be labeled as untrustworthy or even as an enemy and lines will be drawn. You are no longer safe with them. Remember, they are in an environment in which they are being controlled. It will not feel safe for them to go from one person (guru leader) who is controlling them to another person (friend) who is telling them how to think.

Now, there was another group of old friends that I met with to knit regularly. I later learned that Chuck O’Neal had told a church employee (my friend) that he did not like me meeting with them, but O’Neal never told me personally. I continued to knit with my friends, but I had a sense that O’Neal didn’t approve. These ladies constantly showed me love and grace. They did not question why I was at BGBC. They shared what was going on in their lives and I shared what was going on in mine.

A couple of these ladies would later become my safe people. Through them, without them saying any words directly to me, I was able to see that I was being held captive spiritually and emotionally, and that my “church” was a destructive and hostile spiritual environment. I saw the freedom they had to follow the Holy Spirit and engage themselves with others outside the church. I saw how they ministered to people who came their way and didn’t need to run anything by their pastor for approval. The stark difference in how they lived their Christian walk and mine was very apparent. It’s something that stuck with me and helped me in my process of leaving BGBC.

Important Lesson 2: Extend love and grace, without judgment, to your loved one.

These two things will be lacking from any high-controlling church. This is what Steven Hassan had with his sister whom he trusted. This is the relationship I had with my knitting friends. Because trust is such an important issue with people in high-controlling groups, maintaining a trust relationship is crucial. You will continue to have that if you show love and grace.

It is so important thing for those caught in a high-controlling environment to have the freedom to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions. They are not getting that in their abusive groups, but you can help them experience it outside the group if you still have a connection with them. This can only happen in an environment with love and grace.

Important Lesson 3: Recreate what used to be normal with your loved one. Avoid talking about the destructive group entirely.

If there is any contact at all, remind your loved one of special shared memories. Talk about friends and family members. Make them their favorite meals. Bring out pictures and family videos. Make new memories together. Give them opportunities to make decisions: where would you like to go? what movie would you like to see? what would you like to eat? In some groups, they are not allowed to make decisions for themselves. You are showing them normalcy, something that is missing in their current controlled life.

It took a while for loved ones to get involved in a high-controlling group. It will take some time for them to get out. There is a chance that loved ones will remain. That is a very sad reality for some. However, I think the above suggestions will be the best way to show a trapped person light in their oppressive darkness. Hopefully it will appeal to them and when their group experience hits new lows, they might come to you and eventually escape from their spiritual and emotional captivity.

 

 

 

51 comments on “Help! My Family Member or Close Friend is Trapped in a High-Controlling Church or Cult. How Can I Encourage Them to Leave?

  1. This is really helpful. My former church was not as controlling, but still has some of the cultish tendencies that you mentioned. As a “leaver”, I’m trying to figure out how to connect to people within the church that see the issues but haven’t left, figure out how to maintain a bridge with family members, and yet heal myself from the abuse.

    My new church has been very helpful. They teach that you need to leave room for the Spirit to work. If you are constantly in someone’s face and solving all their problems, you are trying to do that work. It’s better to perhaps ask a question and leave it at that. Having grown up in a Spirit-less church, it’s hard not to be the problem-solving debater.

    I get interesting responses from people:
    “All churches have problems”
    “I know I’m not growing spiritually, but no other church practices ”
    “All my friends go there”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good post, Julie Anne! Brava!

    Mark – That’s a very good point to ask a question and let it sit there. Much better than pushing someone away.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this great post. A lot to think about here. I’m wondering if this same line of thinking would also apply to a friend who has gotten into an abusive, controlling relationship/marriage?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi JA and Shy1,
    at A Cry For Justice we have a large resources section, and one of its sub-sections is for Supporters of Victims of Domestic Abuse.
    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/supporters-of-domestic-violence/

    The links on that page I would particularly recommend for people who are trying to reach out to or maintain contact with those in Controlling Cults or Controlling Personal Relationships are:

    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2012/12/04/converting-statements-into-questions-a-skill-for-bystanders-who-want-to-help-victims-of-abuse-4/

    https://www.calgarywomensshelter.com/images/pdf/SocialResponses_Handbook.pdf

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent article, Julie Anne. Having been a member of such a cult I recognise this. My own sister kept the bridge open for me.

    Like

  6. Maybe I read the article wrong, but it seemed like you were saying to keep problems you see to yourself, in order to keep bridges open. If that is what you were saying, I respectfully disagree.

    I believe you can say the truth from a real place of love and concern, without beating a dead horse. While I would have turned my back (and did) thinking the truth-sayer “just didn’t understand”, their words came rushing back to me in certain moments when I realized they did understand, and they were right.

    Typically, it isn’t the person outside of the cult who burns the bridge, but the one on the inside who thinks they are protecting themselves. I just wanted to emphasize this last point. I don’t want anyone to feel guilty if they tried to talk to a friend or loved one who was/is in a cult, and got walked out on. The flip side of that coin is, if you try to talk “at” a person over and over, which, as you said, will shut them down quickly.

    Like

  7. Loura, as I said, this was based on my experience. The friends whose words I rejected came to me in love and concern. Sure, I mulled their words over in my mind, but I also distanced myself from them and labeled them as not safe. I knew their ultimate goal was to see things their way.

    Again, remember the struggle for control is so prevalent in these environments. I had already relinquished control to my pastor and was having challenges there. I was not about to renege on that and relinquish control elsewhere. Trust had already been violated. I needed to be in control.

    The main point I was trying to say is that you (general) are taking a risk when you put the subject of the abusive church on the table. I think it is better that the subject come from the person who is in the abusive church first.

    But as always, your mileage may vary 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t recall thinking of control in those terms, but I was also very young(er). My first cult wall didn’t come down one false brick at a time, but all at once in a tremendous crash.

    My other walls have been with the bulk of traditional Christian teaching and have been a one-brick-at-a-time deal.

    “Your mileage may vary,” I like that. 🙂 Even having been on SSB so long, it was scary for me to write my comment. Thank you for always making this a safe place to ask and be heard.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks, Julie Anne! Wonderful points and observations. I believe that Christians are only just now beginning to view abusive church/cult involvement as a genuine expression of psychological abuse and traumatization, and not simply the result of bad choices or a lack of spiritual maturity/knowledge on the part of a believer. Through their unconditional, respectful love for me in the midst of my cult experiences, my family and friends subtly presented the assurance to me that there was life outside the cult, and I would not be alone when/if I left it.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. JA, What a spot on article!! I have learned to try and never put a loved one in the position to “defend” his high-control group or its leader. This only serves to reinforce their position. Many people are sucked into such groups when they are in an emotionally vulnerable time of life. Between the love-bombing, group consensus and a need for “life’s answers”, vulnerable people may initially feel relief from having to make “grey area” decisions.
    I got involved with a cult when I first left home for college. I understand the attraction and the false security a high control group initially gives. Often members do hit an emotional or cognitive wall and start to question some of the teachings. At that point a safe person can help as a sounding board as the cult member starts to recognize some of the abuse and control they are experiencing . When they ask your opinion, then you can gently reflect back their distress in a non-threatening way. A slow process.
    Unfortunately, members who either achieve high status in the cult or are extremely passive have a smaller chance to break away. A cult can be a very destructive force on a family.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Loura, there are varying degrees of control that a guru may have over someone. Also there are varying degrees of attachment a member has to a cult/church gruop. For those who are deeper and more committed to a controlling group, it’s much more difficult to reason with them.

    I thought about another thing as I was stewing over your comment this morning. If a member brings up the subject of their cult/church and the issues they are facing, I would take that as a green light to carefully discuss their concerns. In this case, asking questions that make them find their own answers will be helpful, like the following:

    Do you feel you your thoughts and opinions are respected? Are you able to have differing opinions?

    The minute the member starts defending the church/leader, I’d back away from that topic and talk about neutral topics.

    The important point is that any conversation must be done very carefully. As long as someone remains with one foot in the group, they still have allegiance to the group and leader to some degree. It wouldn’t take much for them to shut the door and remove the bridge if they feel control is being taken from them. This is very heady stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “Through their unconditional, respectful love for me in the midst of my cult experiences, my family and friends subtly presented the assurance to me that there was life outside the cult, and I would not be alone when/if I left it.”

    Ken, whenever I write posts, I base my words on my experiences and/or experiences others have shared with me. You can be sure I was remembering your story as I wrote this post. You’ve taught me so much. Thank you, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “Often members do hit an emotional or cognitive wall and start to question some of the teachings. At that point a safe person can help as a sounding board as the cult member starts to recognize some of the abuse and control they are experiencing . When they ask your opinion, then you can gently reflect back their distress in a non-threatening way. A slow process.”

    YES, Ann!!! I just commented nearly the same thing before I read your comment. That is how it worked for me. My workout partner and close friend became my sounding board as I struggled with conflicting thoughts and observed my pastor’s controlling ways.

    PS – This is why the blog is named Spiritual Sounding Board. We need (I needed) people to help us get out of destructive environments by listening to us. Being someone’s sounding board can be life changing.

    Like

  14. Great post, Julie Anne.

    I also am out of an abusive church. I had to see godly people quietly leave without explanation, founders of the church leave, staff leave, friends get excommunicated and shunned, threatened myself by pastors/elders for me to just finally say “No”.
    And then they did it to me.

    Now when people in the church contact me with questions, as the safe person,
    I ask them to tell me what troubles them. Instead of criticizing the church, I ask
    them to tell me about other churches they’ve been to and how they were treated
    at those churches. The answers come…from inside of them and not from me.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Velour, thank you for sharing your experience. You mentioned seeing “godly people quietly leave without explanation.” This is exactly what we saw, too. This helped me to question what was going on and look deeper.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. The article is excellent and, from my own experience, the suggestions are spot-on with it comes to both a cult relationship and an abusive one. Both relationships are centered largely on control, confusion and isolation. Our willingness to submit to overt control and prescribed behavior reflects our loyalty with the goal of receiving love and approval from those who seem to have the power to extend it – even if they don’t. The relationship is confusing, because the expectations put upon us that are supposed to be “right” create stress and unhappiness in us. So we must decide whether the people to whom we are submitting are doing the right thing or they are purposely trying to squeeze into a mold into which we will never fit. It hurts too much to consider the second option, so we convince ourselves that they mean well, and we just need to fix ourselves. Thirdly, we tend to view the isolation as a means of protection from the other hostile or contrary voices. For these reasons, the outsider who openly criticizes the victim’s situation will be quickly cut off.

    Accepting the victim in his or her present situation and keeping those lines of communication open is the highest priority. (Bravo, Julie Anne!) When the victim dares to doubt or seek support on the outside, he or she needs to know that there is someone they can trust out there, an accepting, listening ear and a safe place to go.

    Deep down we know that something is terribly wrong, because we are miserable. If there is one question of loving concern that we might ask the one in a cult or an abusive relationship given the opportunity, it might just be, “Are you happy?” It is a question that might just plant a tiny seed of doubt, allowing the victim an opportunity to acknowledge the truth about his or her terrible bondage.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Cindy, “Are you happy?” is an EXCELLENT question. Thank you! It’s just perfect because it shows sincere love and concern, but doesn’t condemn. It allows the loved one to question themselves. They may respond quickly with a “yes,” but it’s the kind of question that sticks with someone long after it is asked. Perfect!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Julie Anne, thanks for this article.

    One thing is puzzling, though. You said,

    Now imagine this. I didn’t like attending BGBC from the first time I heard O’Neal preach. Yet, at the same time, I did not care for someone challenging why I was at this church. I had already bought into some of the teachings and actually defended Chuck O’Neal, the church, the people, and my involvement there. It bothered me that my old friends were challenging me this way. I remember thinking that they just didn’t understand. They were missing out. They were trying to prevent me from becoming pure and holy and were the enemy. I needed to separate from them because they were interfering with my spiritual walk. I perceived them to be shallow Christians and I distanced myself from these folks. I didn’t want to be tainted by their weak religion (this was another lie I believed).

    It’s the second sentence: “I didn’t like attending BGBC from the first time I heard O’Neal preach.” My question is, how did you get hooked if you didn’t like his preaching from the start? Were you attending reluctantly at first because of a family member, and got hooked over time? That’s unclear, but it would make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ted, I was being a good submissive wife. That could be a whole other discussion on why my voice didn’t matter, huh?

    Spiritual abuse is very difficult in marriages, some ending in divorce. I have a category on the side bar on articles and personal stories on how spiritual abuse can affect marriages.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. There were many wives at my former, abusive church who did not like the senior pastor, the elders, the church, thought something was terribly wrong, and like you Julie Anne went with their husbands. One wife who repeatedly warned her husband they should not go to the church and should leave was right! The pastors/elders excommunicated and shunned her husband a doctor on some trumped up charge. The couple are personal friends of John MacArthur’s and his wife’s — who were outraged! (My ex-pastor was a JMac seminary graduate.)

    Other families reported that they were warned by relatives who were long-time Christians (and conservatives) not to go to our church. The Holy Spirit leaned on one husband during prayer time at home and told him “no” and for their family to leave the church. He did not have peace about being at that church. His wife didn’t like it. Their children didn’t like it. Family vote: let’s leave!

    Here’s my YELP review of my former church, to nutshell what I learned.

    https://www.yelp.com/review_share/NRludu8GpH-whAaHYKH3uA/review/UUoFssBlpdkTkHyte0ps2w

    Like

  21. Ted, I was being a good submissive wife.

    Say no more. Ephesians 5:22 is one of the most abused verses in the bible.

    Everybody: insist that verse 21 be read along with it: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

    I find Paul remarkably balanced if we zoom out and read the whole context of his letters.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Steve Hassan mentioned in the video several good books by various authors.
    I will try to post some later. I know he mentioned Lifton’s work on Thought Reform,
    which Brad/Futurist Guy has written about Lifton on his blog.

    I’ll go back later and post the other books/authors Hassan mentioned.

    He also recommended a book against spanking children called The Holocaust Lessons on Compassionate Parenting and Child Corporal Punishment by David A. Cooperson a long-time child rights’ advocate.

    “History, science, public policy, and personal experience all come together to form a compelling argument against physical punishment of children from a former child protection social worker who has made this advocacy his life’s work.

    David A. Cooperson, MSW, MA, LCSW, has long witnessed the consequences of corporal punishment on children through his social work and in his personal life, but it was the findings of a Holocaust survivor and scholar, Samuel P. Oliner, that brought his mission for compassionate parenting into focus. In Oliner’s study of non-Jews who harbored Jews from Nazi persecution, he found that the group’s common denominator was a childhood free from corporal punishment.

    Scientific study has since backed the claims of negative consequences from the use of corporal punishment on children, yet social policy lags woefully behind: all fifty states have anti-bullying laws, but many remain in the past when it comes to corporal punishment in our schools and in the home.

    Cooperson asks us to once and for all take a stand for children’s rights, and to ensure that the “never again” lesson we learned from the Holocaust truly means “never again.”

    Like

  23. Steve Hassan just mentioned in the video, above in Julie Anne’s article:

    Molly B. Koch
    has been teaching parenting workshops for more than 40 years on how to raise healthy kids (which many people coming out of cultic environments will have to learn how to do for themselves)
    http://www.mollybkoch.com/

    Her book:
    27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children is all about respect—what it is, what it is not, how to give it and how to get it. Beginning in infancy and throughout life, respect is one of the key steps to building close and lasting relationships. It can even mend broken relationships.

    Many readers report that the ways of respect prescribed for the parent-child relationship apply to any relationship. In addition to the true-to-life anecdotes in the book that show how to respect children, you will find clear definitions, explanations and guidelines. You also will find your own highest ideals and values among the pages of 27 Secrets.

    This book cannot give you what it takes to be a good parent, you already have that. But what it can do is show you how to practice your own ideals and values in everyday living.

    See what people are saying about the book

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    http://www.afirstlook.com/docs/hierarchy.pdf

    http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

    Like

  24. Steve Hassan, video above in Julie Anne’s article, also discussed his BITE model which is how high-demand groups/cults/cultic groups-churches gain control of members’ minds.

    I. Behavior Control
    II. Information Control
    III. Thought Control
    IV. Emotional Control

    “Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Cult Mind Control
    Many people think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms. In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought- stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Like many bodies of knowledge, it is not inherently good or evil. If mind control techniques are used to empower an individual to have more choice, and authority for his life remains within himself, the effects can be beneficial. For example, benevolent mind control can be used to help people quit smoking without affecting any other behavior. Mind control becomes destructive when the locus of control is external and it is used to undermine a person’s ability to think and act independently.

    As employed by the most destructive cults, mind control seeks nothing less than to disrupt an individual’s authentic identity and reconstruct it in the image of the cult leader. I developed the BITE model to help people determine whether or not a group is practicing destructive mind control. The BITE model helps people understand how cults suppress individual member’s uniqueness and creativity. BITE stands for the cult’s control of an individual’s Behavior, Intellect, Thoughts, and Emotions.

    It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mindcontrolled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.

    Destructive mind control is not just used by cults. Learn about the Human Trafficking BITE Model and the Terrorism BITE Model”

    Steve Hassan explains them in detail here:
    https://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php

    Like

  25. Velour, one of the things that has amazed me about being in the cult was how sometimes words were not spoken, yet we all knew what was expected. We knew when we weren’t supposed to discuss certain topics. It is very creepy to think about giving one man that kind of power and control intentionally turning it over. Seriously creepy, and I feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thank you again JA for another thought provoking article. I am so grateful for the loving women in my home school group support group that lived out the gospel in a non-judgmental way. Their grace and love were the catalyst to me getting out of the controlling church/Christian cult I was involved in since childhood.
    I remember one Sunday evening being told by pastor’s wife that my Christian homeschool support group friends were “dangerous” to my children and myself because “they were not of LIKE-PRECIOUS FAITH”, and we would become confused about the truth. That was a buzz phrase that they were not as holy as us because they were not holiness Pentecostals. My first immediate thought was ‘these women are accepting of me, and their families reflect more of the love of Christ than I see around here!’ We would have the strength of mind to leave 2 years later. This past June marked our 14th year of freedom from the control and fear!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. I was raised in a holiness, cultic-like church. When I started dating the man who would become my husband (I was such a rebellious girl, I dated instead of courting!) he realized quickly how messed up the church I was in was. He didn’t say anything though, instead he made it his mission to get me around healthy, free Christians. As I spent more time with them, my eyes slowly opened to reality. It wasn’t until several years after we were married that he told me what he had been doing. By then I had changed so much that I was extremely thankful when he told me. I know, and he said this too, that if he had simply attacked the church I grew up in, I would have raised my hackles and fought him tooth and nail. Instead he gently showed me what Christianity could be and my life has never been the same.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Yea, Cathy, for 14 years of freedom!! It’s important for readers to consider that with your friends’ unconditional love, it still took 2 years for your brain to sort things out enough to have the emotional strength to leave. This truly is a difficult mental process. Thought control is so powerful!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. @Cathy

    I always enjoy seeing your comments.

    That was a buzz phrase that they were not as holy as us because they were not holiness Pentecostals. My first immediate thought was ‘these women are accepting of me, and their families reflect more of the love of Christ than I see around here!’

    I had the same experience with people that I worked for outside the church who were so kind to me. I finally realized that long hair and a dress do not necessarily make one a nice person. This wasn’t enough impetus to make the break, but it helps me to keep things in perspective during the recovery process.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Julie Anne wrote- “…it still took 2 years for your brain to sort things out enough to have the emotional strength to leave. This truly is a difficult mental process. Thought control is so powerful!”

    Most definitely! Thought control IS so crippling! The first time we visited a healthy church with one of my safe friends, I got physically sick on the ride up. When we went back to our church that evening, I was so afraid they would have found out we visited another church and the “open rebuking” would start.

    I do beat myself up on occasion that I didn’t have the strength or mindset to get out earlier before a few of of us had to go through several years of therapy! We have come out on the other side, with our faith in Christ intact, maybe a bit more cynical, and we can smell legalism or a cult like group a mile away!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I really appreciate posts like this.

    Something I’ve been chewing on is how difficult it is when your “concerned” family is highly dysfunctional. My family made their disdain for my former “church” very clear, but they were part of the reason I joined to begin with. The love-bombing was very effective on me. It’s almost as if our leaving was more of an “I-told-you-so” moment than anything else. I know some are genuinely glad we’re out, but they don’t have the slightest idea how to support us. It doesn’t help when they now feel entitled to the time that the church once encompassed.

    In some ways, the church shielded me from having to deal with my family. The church became my family. Being jettisoned from the church forced me to learn how to deal with the dysfunction. And it was commenters on SSB and The Wartburg Watch who pointed me in the right direction.

    We made have come out of an abusive system, but circumstances haven’t allowed us to fully fill the empty gaps that the church once filled. We still grieve the loss of friends and having something to belong to. That doesn’t mean we want to go back. It just means that life isn’t anywhere near “normal” (whatever that means) for us yet.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. “Velour, one of the things that has amazed me about being in the cult was how sometimes words were not spoken, yet we all knew what was expected. We knew when we weren’t supposed to discuss certain topic.” – Julie Anne

    That was so true of my ex-church as well, Julie Anne. I asked a few people about the good doctor who was ordered to be excommunicated and shunned from our church on some trumped up charge. I knew him to be a good man, a good Christian, a faithful and loving husband to his wife of nearly 50 years, a loving father who was close to his grown children. We weren’t supposed to talk about him any more because he “wasn’t one one of us”. Hundreds of church members – those who worked in high-tech in Silicon Valley, those who were undergraduate and graduate students at the nearby elite Stanford University – were told to never speak to him again.

    I asked a few members and they defended the pastors/elders “decision” on some trumped up charge, which I knew was all lies. Many people secretly taped the excommunication and shunning on their smart phones. And many families quietly left.

    Like

  33. “In some ways, the church shielded me from having to deal with my family. The church became my family. Being jettisoned from the church forced me to learn how to deal with the dysfunction.” – BeenThereDoneThat

    Ken Blue, pastor, noted in his book Healing Spiritual Abuse that many times people are set up for spiritually abusive churches by abusive families. While that’s not always the case, he and other counselors saw it frequently in people coming out of abusive churches.

    Like

  34. @JulieAnne, @Velour, @BradFuturistGuy, everybody:

    Since Steve Hassan, in the video that Julie Anne posted with her article above,
    discussed Dr. Lifton’s work in thought reform/cultic mind control, here is the article that Brad/FuturistGuy wrote about it on his blog as well:

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

    When I went to that page and read it down to the bottom, at that bottom was a random political ad with Hillary Clinton in the Great Leader pose over a thoughtstopper-like slogan.

    Now searching under my desk for Rod Serling and/or a long skinny dragon made of mismatched animal parts with the voice of John DeLancie.

    Like

  35. Sorry for my spotty comments, I have to post on breaks-

    JayD, What a wise and loving husband!!

    BeenThereDoneThat, My husband was won over with the lovebombing at our old church because of the dysfunctional family life he had at home too. Because the toxic personalities have done a lot of damage, we still do not have a real relationship with his family. My heart goes out to you!

    JA mentions the unspoken expectations/rules – that was my old church to a “t”. Most people I speak with and have never experienced don’t understand the power that held over us.

    Like

  36. I suppose it depends on the situation I’ve been in two abusive, destructive cults and one church that was generally healthy but led by a pastor who was abusive and destructive (he was treated something like the mean dog in the corner that everyone gives a wide berth–why they put up with him–and still do–is a mystery), but I was never part of the inner core such that I became a true believer. I’d have welcomed someone slapping me across the face and asking me what I was thinking hanging around, trying to be “light in the darkness”, letting the kids be part of this vicious cult. But everyone’s different and every situation is different.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Cathy – It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over staying in a bad place for too long. The most important thing, though, is that you did leave! And, you now have a chance to heal and offer support to others.

    And, the same to everyone else who often wonders, “Why didn’t I….” I know I’ve dealt with the same thoughts over many different situations. Again, give yourself credit for getting out, gaining new perspective, and having empathy and compassion toward others in similar situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. I loved the point about asking their opinion and giving them freedom to choose. Cult groups lock you in group-think: To have no other wishes, opinions or preferences of your own. For a person trapped in a cult, having the right to make their own decision will feel refreshing to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Hi Julie Ann

    Just checking in again after a couple of years away.

    Our attention shifted from abusive church to managing mental health services, schools, social service authorities etc. on behalf of our High Functioning Autistic daughter (16) who went into meltdown for much of last year and couldn’t engage with anyone. A bit of a nightmare time for all of us.

    Given space away from school for several months, she has made an astonishing recovery and is ready for College to study Art, a huge talent of hers.

    We are still unable to form any bridges with the friends we left in our cult-like church three years ago now.

    Having attempted a local, very informal charismatic-evangelical Anglican church for a few months (which allowed us to heal somewhat), I now find I have drifted – what the church offers is far too simplistic and there are complex issues to address which church seems to fail at, quite miserably. My view of the Bible is much, much looser now than it ever was, although I think I am still some sort of Theist.

    I dread to think what counsel, what implied (or explicit) condemnation we would have received as parents, had we stayed in our former church. Our daughter needed, and responded best, to being given all control of her life in order to help her manage anxiety. That included allowing her to spend 8 months out of school, recovering. It worked. She is not rebellious, but we would have faced accusations of inconsistent parenting and failure to discipline had we stayed. Even the secular authorities who don’t understand autism gave us a hard time on that one!

    Our older daughter (17) has just separated from an abusive, charming, controlling, cheating boyfriend. She still wants him, such is the charm. We have had to play it very carefully so as not to distance ourselves from her while she was in the relationship.

    Liked by 2 people

Thanks for participating in the SSB community. Please be sure to leave a name/pseudonym (not "Anonymous"). Thx :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s