ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Blog Series - Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery, Recovery Process, Spiritual Abuse

Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett, Wk 3

Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Okay, we’re back to our ongoing series on spiritual abuse using excerpts from Ken Garrett’s dissertation on spiritual abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery. We will use excerpts from Ken’s dissertation as a springboard for discussion.

Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery
Pastor Ken Garrett

In the Introduction, Ken offers helpful definitions. Here is Ken’s definition for cult:

Cult – While most of the terms and ideas that I introduce are simple and easy to grasp, it is apparent in the project that I struggle greatly with the term cult in describing a Christian church. I will better explain and seek resolution to the struggle in subsequent chapters. But for a basic, consistent definition of the word, cult denotes a small, religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.

While ideology and doctrine always have a role in the health or dysfunction of any religious group, increasingly a group’s status as a cult is derived solely from its actual treatment of its members, and not from its creeds, beliefs, and theology.

I agree with Ken’s definition and note that the treatment of members is key. When I looked at my church, the stories I read about Sovereign Grace Ministries, Doug Phillip’s church (Boerne Christian Assembly), Doug Wilson’s Christ Church, this is the pattern that has been explained to me. The people adopt a culture created by the cult leader, aka pastor. Not only do they adopt this culture, but they cultivate it, endorse it, enforce it, even to the extent that sometimes the pastor/cult leader doesn’t have to do all of the talking. He has raised his faithful devotees to model his expectations. Since all members are “on board” with this culture, any new person who comes to the group and questions it will be the odd man out.

spiritual abuse, Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery
Pic by Ken Garrett, taken on recent trip in Europe.

It does not feel good to swim against the tide, so there is pressure to join the group in their way of doing things. Next thing you know, that new person has become one of them and will also spread this culture and group think to additional new members, forgetting that at one time, they, too, had once questioned aspects of it.

The following excerpt comes from the first paragraph of Chapter 1:

What is a cult? What is an abusive church? Are they the same, or are there distinctions between the two that are important to bear in mind as the reader interacts with the issue of spiritual abuse in churches today? To introduce the word cult into a discussion regarding abusive, Christian churches often ends any meaningful discussion with survivors of such churches, as many Christians feel that the words cult and Christian are mutually exclusive. More than one survivor of a spiritually abusive church has told me, “I know I was not in a cult, because my church believed in the Bible, and the full deity of Jesus Christ.”

Through the years, I have come to wonder why it is that survivors of spiritual abuse in Christian churches draw solace from the notion that their church could not have been a cult, as if that assignation makes the abuse they suffered in their (allegedly non-cultic) church in some way less worse than what they actually suffered there.

When I first started blogging about my abusive pastor and experience, I did not call the church a cult, but rather, cult-like. Later, after much studying on the topic, I changed my wording to cult. Interestingly, I don’t remember Ken calling his abusive “church” a cult when we first met. Slowly, over time, he too, changed his wording to cult instead of church.

I remember when Ken asked me about the wording, and he shared with me how he had begun to use the word, “cult.” It seemed we both had had come to the same conclusion about the word and our experience on our respective personal journeys. (And this process also validated for me that even though we both have been away from our cults for years, the process of understanding what we went through continues. It was cool to be able to share those insights with each other.

It felt weird to use the word, cult, at first. In my mind, the cult word was reserved for Jonestown or David Koresh or The Moonies, you know, those weird groups. But in looking at the definition of the word cult, the behavior of the cult leaders and its members, there is no doubt that what we experienced was thought reform – the same kind of thought reform that people in cults experience. That was a tough pill to swallow.

Let’s talk. Here are some ideas for discussion:

Have you come to the conclusion that your spiritually abusive church was a cult or cult-like? What about the pastor? Do you think the pastor behaved like a cult leader?

If you use the word cult or cult leader, did you find it strange to do so? How has your response been when you tell people that you were in a cult or abusive church?

Do you notice that your thoughts about your abusive church/cult have changed as time has gone by?


115 thoughts on “Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett, Wk 3”

  1. Regardless of whether the organization – church or otherwise – is conducting its affairs in an abusive manner, if it feels wrong to you, then you need to leave – ASAP. It is possible that a group of people hold values in common and these are outside of the mainstream. The people may be perfectly happy abiding withing the morays of this particular community. If any given person finds themselves uncomfortable in that setting, they need to remove themselves from the group. I am not so sure why the topic would warrant extensive discussion. If you feel the group norms and practices are not right for you – for whatever reason – you need to leave that group. The fact that the group is a church is not relevant. The only thing which matters is that the community and the shared values are not right for you.


  2. I was thinking about this just this morning as I researched a nearby cult I had recently been informed about, an independent Baptist “compound” of sorts. To my fascination, the leader of the cult had written a piece on cults. This reminded me that growing up Independent Baptist and studying cults at fundamentalist schools, I had learned that cults were the ones with aberrant doctrine–the Mormons, the JWs, etc. But as I looked at this cult teacher’s teachings, I began to think that the “aberrant doctrine” definition of cult was a red herring designed to get us to “look over there” and miss the cults under our noses that always have to do with abuses of “authority.” (This is aberrant doctrine too, but not in the ways they talk about when they teach!)

    I also recently had tea with a daughter of patriarchy who referred to her family as a cult and listened to her own process of coming to the place where she was able to use that word to describe them. It sounded to me like a similar process to what you’ve described here.

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  3. One thing about experiencing spiritual abuse: you know exactly what it is and are very sensitive. It’s like a vaccination, you’re not as susceptible the second time because you’re looking for it. Note that I didn’t say immune, the shape of abuse can morph from place to place.

    My husband used to call it a cult when we were still going there, and yes it created cognitive dissonance. I never fit into any group, so to me the ‘outsiderness’ was normal. Since I know a lot of atheists and nominal Christians, they think church is a waste of time. It got more oppressive and legalistic as time went on, and when the attacks started on my family as a whole, the abuse was obvious and it was easier to leave.

    I don’t really know if the pastor did all this intentionally, because when I was the only member, things were fine. He was forced to step down after we left, he has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. But the church should have made an attempt to at least explain or apologize. I often wonder what that would look like. I wonder if they are ashamed or even aware of the damage they did.

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  4. It felt weird to use the word, cult, at first. In my mind, the cult word was reserved for Jonestown or David Koresh or The Moonies, you know, those weird groups.

    That’s because in Christianese the word, CULT, is defined entirely by theology and doctrine, NOT in abusive/controlling behavior towards their people.

    Convenient, that.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for reading, and posting this! One very important thing I picked up as I studied the issue of recovery from cults/abusive groups/churches: When relating to a person who is in, or has left, a group you suspect might be a cult, do not use the word “cult” to describe the group until and unless they also use that word. It’s a loaded word, and not worth placing a roadblock to civil, honest discussion–esp. when a person is sorting through issues of recovery from such groups. Also, it’s empowering and respectful to allow a person to define their group, since they (presumably) were the member, and therefore more knowledgeable. Seems like Julie Anne and I started using that word for our groups/churches about the same time–but it took me a few years longer to get there!

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  6. I began college in 1975. I was a fairly new believer, and I wanted to find a church. One I was contemplating seemed a bit off. I went to a couple of Bible studies, and they were very eager to know everything about me so that they could help me find God’s will for everything in my life. Something seemed off. I had been exposed to similar people in high school who were involved with Sun Myung Moon’s cult. I ran from what turned out to be s heavy shepherding cult. My friends who became involved with them had no existence outside of the group. They lived together, signed up for classes together, had activities each evening, and were shamed if they were not committed to everything. About the only way to leave was to change to a different school or have a major parental intervention. The group eventually fizzled out,

    The people I knew who belonged to this group could not find their way out. They were young and wanted to do the right thing by their faith. Promises of being spiritually superior to others and protected from the immorality on campus were very appealing, as was always having friends in a place where it could be difficult to make new ones. After the group fell apart, very few of the people in it continued in the faith.


  7. Yes about not using the term “cult!” It really puts people on the defensive as part of their job is to defend their faith at all cost.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s because in Christianese the word, CULT, is defined entirely by theology and doctrine, NOT in abusive/controlling behavior towards their people.

    I tend to think of cults as small, living somewhat communal general and very difficult to leave, to the point of being physically prevented.

    Which is why I prefer to say things are ‘cultish’ as I think that makes the point without bringing in the jim jones angle.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. do not use the word “cult” to describe the group until and unless they also use that word. It’s a loaded word, and not worth placing a roadblock to civil, honest discussion–esp. when a person is sorting through issues of recovery from such groups.

    Oh, so true, Ken. I noticed the same thing with people from my group. It does take some time to get to that point where you are looking at the evil group without blinders. Using it too quickly could make you seem as untrustworthy with the survivor. There is such a battle in the mind during this time.

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  10. On the other hand, perhaps if people called a spade a spade when it first occurred, a whole lot of people who died in Jonestown might be alive today. I see no reason to pussy-foot around with these people. If they are stepping out of line and crossing over acceptable boundaries, they need to be called on it. Worse if you are associated with such persons, you need to loose them and, the, do so fast. I see no virtue in being “gentle” nor patient with such organizations. You all need to vote with your feet. They need to be told directly that their behavior is unacceptable and such is the reason you are leaving the group. And if the shoe fits, they need to be told that they are a cult. I wish more people would have called Jim Jones for what he was. How about Marshal Applewhite, the Halebop comet idiot. Look at all the people he took down with him. Why are you all advocating humoring these jerks? What am I missing?


  11. It is very easy to call people out and lose any opportunity to dialogue. I was a teen in San Francisco during the years of the Peoples Temple. Many of those who joined were the poor and disenfranchised or those who thought Jones really would create a heaven on earth. Jones’ privacy was protected and few knew who he really was.

    Jones was courted by the San Francisco mayor and supervisors for his seeming ability to really help the poor and addicted better their lives. He fled to Guyana with his followers after the news articles about his fraud with city funds began to appear, but his followers couldn’t believe it. Calling them out only made them more defiant. Unfortunately a number of my neighbors died in Guyana: they could not accept that their preacher wasn’t perfect.


  12. Linn, but the bottom line is that these unfortunate souls died anyway. Playing gentle and “nice nice” with them failed to save any of them so what is the virtue of advocating that approach? These folks are now all dead. While I agree with you that calling him out may have caused some of the people to become defensive, what did you have to loose? They all fell prey to this maniac. It is not like taking a more gentle approach resulted in any of them being saved.

    I was not aware that Jones operated originally from SF but all I can say is “so what else is new?” San Francisco has a reputation for supporting the most bizarre causes imaginable. Code Pink comes to mind. It is tragic that the most vulnerable of people fell prey to him and his lunacy.


  13. There was plenty of calling out once the word got out, but by then it was too late. One of the distinguishing marks of cults is their secrecy. Most of us only see the “good” sides. By the time a cult is confronted, the members are so brainwashed they truly believe it is the enemy trying to destroy their entire way of life. What do you lose? Your entire future, any chance at heaven, the new order-whatever Dear Lrader has promised.

    People often make very poor choices, but once some are sufficiently deluded, it seems that no amount of confrontation or truth revealing can change their minds. I don’t understand it, but it does happen.


  14. Sadly, some people simply cannot be saved from themselves. On some level it is the laws of genetics at work. We try hard for everyone to have an equal chance in our society and we do not like to live by the laws of the jungle meaning only the most fit survive. Here is a good example of how, in spite of our best efforts, weak-minded people have perished. We hate to see it happen but it does. We want to protect everyone, but, sadly, one cannot always do so. They perished because they lacked critical thinking skills, essential for survival.


  15. Hi LEB, how has your very direct approach to people in cults worked for you so far, practically, in terms of your efforts to intervene and help them escape their cults? The in-your-face approach never really worked with me, or with those whom I’ve worked with, but then again, different approaches can work for different people. But your approach of direct confrontation and accusation would not have worked with me when I was in the cult. I would have simply assumed that you knew nothing about what was going on in my life, and probably hadn’t studied the issue very much.


  16. It does not work at first but it seeds some doubt in their minds which works (sometimes) over time. It is sort of incidious. I take the approach in life that you advise people and warn them of danger but if they go ahead and do stupid things anyway, well, then, so be it. I believe in guiding and educating people but I also believe they have every right to destroy themselves if such is what they are hell-bent on doing. I advise patients re the hazards of what they are doing and point out the consequences. If they are going to do it anyway, I say so be it. I lose no sleep over it and do not feel I need to “save” anyone – just help show people the way and guide the willing down the right path.

    I am very direct in my approach but I make it clear that I will provide them with services no matter what is their choice – just not sympathy if they make the wrong choice. I respect their free will. Direct approach works over time. They resist initially but it erodes their faith over time and sometimes they come around – and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom before they climb out of the pit and sometimes they just never make it out. You are there for them either way but the choice is theirs to make AND you do not foster dysfunctional behavior. You don’t coddle them but you don’t whip them either.

    Now, apparently you were in a cult and you got out of it – thankfully. So what motivated you to leave? How bad was your cult, in the first place?


  17. Garrett, I think it all boils down to how much do you protect people from themselves. Surely, we need rules within our society for the safety of people and we need laws to prevent people from being harmed by products and/or services. A certain amount of regulation is good. However, we must be careful not to cross the line. When it gets to the point the NYC is regulating how much soda people may buy via banning soft drinks sold in large cups, we are crossing the line. Sometimes it is hard to decide what is truly warranted in terms of public safety and what is impinging on their civil liberties and freedoms. Same with cults – protection to a certain degree, yes absolutely. But people do also have civil liberties and we must be careful not to violate them.

    I have not studied the Jim Jones scenario so I cannot say where he crossed the line. Certainly in gathering people’s passports and keeping them prisoners but then he did that in Guyana so it is not like the US had a whole lot of control over that. We’d have to look at everything he did which led up to that tragedy and see where he crossed the line and where he could have been restrained by law from doing so. The cultists are another matter. You cannot legislate people’s minds and people’s beliefs. At best you can pass laws designed to protect them, like the FDA does to prevent persons from selling snake oil from the back of a truck. There is not much you can do to prevent people from buying into blatant idiocy. You can’t control how they think or, more accurately, the lack thereof. How did you decide to leave your cult?


  18. Linn, that’s awful!

    LEB, if you are going to have such strong opinions on cults like jim jones maybe you should read up on them.

    The saddest part to me on that was that people were trying to get out, and being prevented. So many people did not just drink the koolaid, they had to be forced. I believe it was his wife who had to be restrained as they killed the children, and then just gave up after.


  19. Today I read an article in “Quartz” June 26, 2017 by Sandra Knispel titled, “Understanding these three principles will help you develop true intrinsic motivation. ” The psychological research the article discusses is being used to drive all kinds of changes, from forms of educational policy which are implemented to company environment and motivational policy. One of the researchers on the subject made the following observation: “When people have their basic psychological needs satisfied and difficult decisions to make, they have more access to the areas of the brain where self-knowledge is located, which is needed for effective decision making.”

    This statement jumped out at me in regards to this Sounding Board topic. The studies literally prove through brain activity scans that certain things can inhibit a person from actually being able to access making decisions because they cannot access their own inner voice. The things that inhibit access include “needs being satisfied”. Cult activity and repetative training is all about sublimating your own needs and longings and relinquishing them to the demands of a leader or a covering. “Decision making” for major life events are often hijacked by cult authorities as well. After the same wagon train rolls over the trail enough times, deep ruts are formed. It becomes physiologically harder to access the part of the brain that helps you to evaluate your own truth and reroute. So it isn’t just a simple matter of “genetics” or unwillingness to walk away. New pathways actually have to be relaid and that arduous journey begins slowly.

    I was intrigued by the discussion redefining what makes a cult from that of a theological basis to a control basis. That makes soooo much sense. And the struggle between saying “cult” or “cult-like”? Well, I’m often still in the “cult-like” phase. Its hard to call people I know and still love “cultists.” So many good things define them too. But cult redefined as “control” helps to put the term into perspective. Jesus set the example when He set the woman caught in adultery free, when he released others to preach (including women) and be in the foreground instead of himself, when He served rather than expecting to be served, when he explained to us that the truth would set us free (thus also implying what it would not do, which is put us into bondage) Once again, he showed us the difference between kingdom living and kingdom building.

    So, in the critical thinking process, we need to teach one another the vibrant reality of Jesus’ words. If the kingdom is within us (and not an external rule-construct made by men) then we must learn how to turn to our own inner resources where the Holy Spirit lives and lay down a deep pathway to His heart. We must learn to trust the truth that He has put there. So much of what I was taught when I joined an organizational kingdom-cult was NOT to trust the truth in my own heart because it was deceitfully wicked. I could only trust the scripture AS it was interpreted by the leaders…. who I must submit to as the voice of God for me. There it is! Trained not to “access the areas of my brain where self-knowledge is located”….where “effective decision making” could rescue me.

    I questioned many times over the years, but the agony of dissonance was too great. It actually took a power grab over our lives that was so unloving and blatent, we were forced to leave. It has taken years of scripture searching and processing to begin to understand where authority begins and where it ends. It began with, “Hello Jesus, my first love! Tell me more about who you are. Untangle these webs within that may not lead to you”, and then to follow His gentle voice out of the ruts and into an open place. I love it here!

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  20. The in-your-face approach never really worked with me, or with those whom I’ve worked with

    I’m curious Ken, and others who have been involved in what they consider to have been cults, what would have worked?

    When I first started blogging about my abusive pastor and experience, I did not call the church a cult, but rather, cult-like.

    Apparently I missed this earlier!

    I have not been involved in anything I considered to be a cult, so maybe I’m coming from a different perspective, I think I tend to refer to things as ‘cultish’ because it keeps focus on the bad behaviors maybe? So, this person has said you must do X, that is cultish behavior. It leaves off the pressure of determining what is and isn’t a cult, which I don’t generally feel qualified to do unless they fit my cult stereotype (compound in the woods, etc.). But you can point to this behavior and say this is wrong. This is what cults DO. IF that makes any sense.

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  21. Wow, Falene! Your comment provides a ton of fuel for contemplation. I’m going to look up the article. Thanks for sharing!


  22. It is impossible to convince someone that they are in a dangerous, destructive group (or relationship!) as long as they continue to perceive a benefit from belonging and continue to think they are doing the right thing.

    An internal justification has occurred in the follower’s mind that cannot be reversed by facts or logic from an outsider; that justification needs to be overturned and replaced with a new understanding by the individual themselves.

    This can happen IF and WHEN the pain and wrongness of the belief system starts to overshadow the benefits of being part of the group.

    Adamant confrontations, no matter how lovingly done, do not work. I’m not saying it is wrong to lovingly confront (I have done this), just that it doesn’t work in my experience. If a person is certain in their mind that they are doing the right thing, they only become more defensive…and less interested in relating or dialoging later.

    Confrontation (telling them they are misguided, misled, wrong) is too much like what they have already been subjected to in the “cult” group or relationship. They have already absorbed beliefs that have been imposed by the cult leader or group.

    The way to REAL freedom is to find the truth themselves. And we can help them by giving them freedom to think for themselves by asking relevant questions, listening, showing love, support, and acceptance….helping them to think objectively and find their strength and independence.


  23. If a person is certain in their mind that they are doing the right thing, they only become more defensive…and less interested in relating or dialoging later.

    SoJ, I was reading an article earlier regarding how to disagree with complementarians without getting their dander up (my words, not hers). I see some similarities there with what you’ve said. (her conclusion was to be Kind, blunt, and subtle.)

    I know I was struggling with some doubts a while back about someone (who turned out to be lying) and a friend gave me her opinion in a question…’are you sure he isn’t [lying]’. And whether I wanted to accept it at the time, I thought about it. But of course that was someone close who I had shared details with, not a stranger on the internet.



  24. As much as we may love these persons and want to save them, the bottom line is that you can’t control for – lack of a better word – stupidity and gullibility of the persons involved. At some point, people have to make decisions for themselves and realize the absurdity of what they are doing. I don’t like the concept of survival of the fittest when it comes to my fellow man but, sadly, if often boils down to exactly that. I want everyone to be equal but it is not the case. When it comes to something like the Halbop comet cult lead by Marshall Applewhite, you have to come to the conclusion that these people were simply to stupid to survive. I hate that notion but the reality is that is exactly what they were. No rationale person above the age of 10 could swallow such ludicrous ideology. They did not have the minimum thinking skills needed to survive in the world. You want to reach out and help them but, truthfully, how long can you continue to protect such persons once they become adults within a society. Even if you saved them from the Halbop fiasco, how long before they would fall prey to the next scam artist who capitalizes on their gullibility.


  25. Truth be told, I find the dogma of Christianity equally ludicrous and I often wonder how rational persons can swallow such notions. The difference is that said ideology does not put anyone’s life in peril. Believing what is classically taught in terms of Christianity may well be equally irrational as compared to what any cult teaches but the key difference is that no one is endangered or worse off for believing it. The exceptions might be persons who beat their children in the name of God or give money to churches when they can barely afford to meet their own essential expenses. Of course, in the past, persons murdered and tortured in the name of Jesus.

    In my own views, mainstream religions are, in fact, cults of sorts but the difference is that they typically – in modern days, anyway – harm no one to any significant extent. They even do some good in the world. My own view is that people should do good and avoid evil for its own sake regardless of whether their are rewards or consequences from any “God” who will approve or disapprove of the actions. If such is not sufficient motivation to do the right thing, then there may be a need for religion.


  26. I’m uncomfortable with putting down and name calling people who got involved with cults. That’s not acceptable here, nor is it helpful in the discussion. People who left cults and are on the road to recovery are already feeling guilty and ashamed. Heaping more coals is not going to help resolve this issue or encourage anyone.

    What other comment can you provide that would be insightful and helpful without causing harm?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Groups are really powerful forces. What makes it so hard for people to leave cults is that they don’t want to leave the other people in the group. There’s a real powerful human connection in groups that even in bad groups can be hard to let go of.


  28. That’s right, Avid Reader. In these groups, they usually work hard at making the newcomer feel welcome and connected. And in the process, the newbies begin limiting their time with their old friends/relatives, so that, too, makes it more difficult to leave.


  29. Julie Anne, I do not believe we are maligning the people who got out. Clearly, they are the people who had enough brains to see what was happening and leave. It is, sadly, the people who remained in the setting who perished. I am not intending to malign them, either. I am simply saying that there reaches a point where the natural order of things takes over and you cannot “save” them. There is no need for any former cult member to feel “guilty and ashamed.” It is absolutely unnecessary on their part. What they did is make a mistake just like any other person does – just like we all do in life – and when they saw the error of their choice, they got out. Such a scenario is no different from anyone making a mistake in choosing the wrong job, the wrong contractor, the wrong anything. Who has not made mistakes in life?

    The point I was making is that some people simply cannot see when they have or are making an error, even though the fact is glaringly apparent. We absolutely DO want to save them but we can’t do so. They have to come to the realization themselves.

    There is no need for former cult members to view themselves as “on the road to recovery.” If I make a bad choice and hire and incompetent contractor only to later see the error of my way, I am not subsequently “on the road to recovery.” I am simply wiser for my experience and will know how to pick a better contractor next time. These folks made a bad choice, saw the error of their thinking, and got out of the situation. There is no need for guilt or shame unless they harmed someone in the process i.e. flew a plane into the World Trade Tower or blew up the Federal Building in OK or some other atrocity. Unless they did something which harmed another, why is there any guilt or shame? They made a bad choice and they subsequently saw the light – end of story. We move on. We are all human and we all make mistakes.


  30. LEB, while I think I am following your sentiments and on a certain level agree with where you are coming from (i.e we cant control peoples choices, rescue everyone, and not all folks have the same frame of reference others have to be able to make healthy decisions) may I point out that when you refer to those individuals who were cult entangled with the statement, “you can’t control for stupidity and gullibility” ….you are making this reference about many of the readers here who were once involved in cults and are now free and reevaluating the world. I don’t think I’m stupid. (97th percentile on SAT and 4.0 student. So many other things maybe, but at least not that). Very intelligent people can get ensnared in a cult and IQ has nothing to do with it. You seem to be viewing gullibility as a natural byproduct of stupidity.

    But it really is more complex than that. It can come out of emotional need related to an abusive or neglected upbringing, curiosity or a sincere desire to become the best person they can be. It can happen when folks grew up in an authoritarian system; consequently, the cult feels familiar and normal, but has a banner of love and belonging over it. An individual may not even have another frame of reference at all if they haven’t been exposed to it. Most cults don’t expose the truth of how much control they demand right up front when recruits are being groomed. By the time a victim begins to see and question things, they are entangled via marriage, finances and many other ways which can make it frightening to question things because you might lose everything. We lost family, friends, job, income, reputation, identity, our childrens school, and had a major shaking of our framework of faith. It is, far more complex and insidious than just stupidity or gullibility.

    As for not feeling any responsibility for helping others because they are basically digging their own hole; many of us just can’t go there. Compassion drives us to reach out. “They” were once “us”. It isn’t fear of hell that motivates us. It is love. Our new world view, that God is love and that truth that sets us free, teaches us about how to love others. While we can’t make their choices for them, we can be there for them with truth and love. The antithesis of this kind of compassion is when one can absolve themselves from any concern for others by using devaluation so that the only remaining obligation is to serve self. This is exactly what the cult did. We are not so gullible anymore. We are too smart for that.


  31. Falane, But you just proved my point. In spite of all of these obstacles you mentioned – you got out. You had the brains and the skills needed to get out and so you survived. You were “fit” I don’t like the survival of the fittest paradigm any more than you do but, unfortunately, it governs the world. I don’t want to see the “unfit” perish, either – I want everyone to be saved – but unfortunately such is not reality. Some will perish whether or not I like it. I am going to suggest that there is a correlation between your IQ – as evidenced by the facts you cite – and the fact that you got out. It was not a coincidence. It has everything to do with why you escaped and why you will pass those “intelligent genes” onto your offspring, if you have not already done so.

    You just made the very point I was trying to establish – your unfortunate circumstances in life is what got you into the cult and your brains got you out. The genetics which govern these brains are going to be passed onto your children who will, in turn, have a competitive edge in life because of said IQ. For the young people who perish in cults – like Halbop, as just one example – sadly, many of them did not live long enough to even have children. The genes which governed their irrational behavior perished with them. Again, I don’t like it – I don’t like anyone perishing – but it is what it is. You are here today because of your IQ and your children will inherit those same genes.


  32. I was involved in an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church for thirteen years. I go back and forth between calling it a cult and cult like. Not too long ago, I read an article about the characteristics of a cult and my former church fit nearly every description. I think it’s so hard to actually call it a cult, because I have a difficult time admitting that I fell for it, and was extremely involved for so long. I always thought I was too smart to get caught up in that kind of environment but as we all know, it happens so slowly and subtly, you don’t realize it until you’re in over your head. These churches /cults /whatever you feel comfortable calling them, are very good at deceiving people and offering what you feel you need or searching for. For us, it was a sense of community and family. In some cases, these organizations prey upon the poor and uneducated. They all have a way of finding your soft spot.

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  33. I was thinking about this just this morning as I researched a nearby cult I had recently been informed about, an independent Baptist “compound” of sorts. To my fascination, the leader of the cult had written a piece on cults. This reminded me that growing up Independent Baptist and studying cults at fundamentalist schools, I had learned that cults were the ones with aberrant doctrine–the Mormons, the JWs, etc. But as I looked at this cult teacher’s teachings, I began to think that the “aberrant doctrine” definition of cult was a red herring designed to get us to “look over there” and miss the cults under our noses that always have to do with abuses of “authority.” (This is aberrant doctrine too, but not in the ways they talk about when they teach!) Rebecca I was a member of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church for thirteen years. I would be happy to talk to you about my experience and answer questions, at least as best as I can!


  34. There is no doubt intelligence is a gift from God and those who have a good portion are blessed (and intellectual capacity certainly isn’t by any merit of the person themselves.) I’m sorry that I must disagree with you and disappoint your theory that only the smart ones get out, but we didn’t get out because we were smart. We got out because we were cornered and compelled in a fashion that would have destroyed us and our family. There was no other choice. Believe me, we tried to find one.

    The truth is, many, if not most of the people who remain in cults, are both intelligent and strong. Cult entanglement and disentanglement has more to do with emotional and social development than mental development. When the Catholic church approves contemplative/cloistered applicants for final vows, they don’t accept those who have no intellectual capacity or strength of character because they are more malleable. Those people will often fail and eventually leave. They choose the intelligent and strong charactered. Those persons will remain. I’m not saying, by this comparison, that choosing a cloistered life is joining a cult. The point I’m making is that the Darwinian approach doesn’t really work with this issue. It certainly may on others, but not here.


  35. Falene, Of course, not only the smart ones get out and the less intelligent stay in. It does not have to be 100% to work. It just has to be greater than chance meaning greater than 50%. Apparently, not everyone perceived that there was “no other choice.” Some thought that the best choice was to remain. Farlene, realistically, how “intelligent and strong” can they really be and remain in the cult. What are the parameters you are using to define these terms. I agree that the reason you fell into whatever cult you did has to do with emotional and social development. How and why did you get out. What were the circumstances? You evaluated those circumstances and how you interpreted your options would be due, at least in part, to your ability to critically think. Without knowing more about specifically what you are referencing, it is hard to see if you have a valid point. What would you feel comfortable sharing?

    Before we can say whether your theory re the cloistered persons has merit, we would need more data. We would need data re the IQ of persons who stay and persons who leave. I am not certain such data even exists. Basically, they “choose” who they can get and pickings are mighty slim these days. Please share whatever you can and what you feel comfortable sharing and we will examine our respective theories further. We have reached a point where we can’t evaluate our notions only in the abstract. We need to look at an actual application to see which theory best fits i.e. explains the facts at hand. Of course, if you feel you can share nothing, that is fine also. We are not here to invade your privacy. It is just that without knowing more, we can not test our respective theories.


  36. Falene, I agree with you. It’s not as simple as just being smart enough to walk away from a cult /spiritually abusive church. Unless you have been in the situation, you don’t really understand how complicated it is. There are so many reasons why it’s hard to leave. For some, they’ve formed relationships with people and it’s not so easy to leave those behind. For others, it’s all they’ve ever known and it’s scary to think about stepping out into the unknown. For some people, they face isolation and being cut off from their families. Like any abusive situation, it’s very complex and confusing and it’s easy to look at it from the outside and say, “Why don’t you just leave? ” I always thought I was too smart to get caught up in that kind of environment and there are a lot of people I know who are still there, who are extremely intelligent and well educated. Everyone has their own reasons for staying.


  37. @Headless Unicorn Guy

    That’s because in Christianese the word, CULT, is defined entirely by theology and doctrine, NOT in abusive/controlling behavior towards their people.

    That is a very astute observation. So here is how it works

    Please a great deal of importance on “solid teaching” and “sound doctrine.”
    Trust no one outside your system because everything outside your system.
    Dismiss all criticism leveled at your system. They are jealous of your “solid teaching” and “sound doctrine.” Haters are gonna hate.

    So when I was in John MacArthur’s system, here was my thinking. There is always going to be a fine point of doctrine that I am going to miss, which is a grave sin. But here is one of the world’s most renown teachers. He not only has years of seminary education under his belt, he still diligently studies 30-40 hours on his own so he can feed his flock. On my own, I can probably get 31% right. It’s not bad if this is a batting average, but for doctrinal purity, it’s heretical. But MacArthur is easily up in the high 90’s. So it would be prudent for me to piggyback on him and just buy everything he sells. I get to get my own batting average to the 900’s just by sitting on my ass. What a deal!

    That is how a cult is born. When you see the whole world as a cesspool of cults except for your insulated system, you are a cult. No amount of projection and deflection will change that.


  38. David C, I had honestly never heard of John MacArthur before you post so I looked him up. The first thing I encountered was is “young earth” thesis. Now in spite of overwhelming hard core scientific evidence to the contrary, this man believes the earth is 6000 yrs old or some such nonsense. When we are talking age of the earth, we are not talking theory or opposing theories. We are talking hard core geologic evidence which stands up to all manner of rigorous scrutiny. So when I hear that some man dismisses these facts in favor of his own notion, that is all I would need to know to tell me that this individual is certainly not worth following. If one could be so wrong about something this major, how could anything else he says have any manner of credibility. He may well “study” 30-40 hours on his own but apparently he does not have sufficient mental capacity to interpret and synthesize anything he reads so what difference does it make. He could study 80 hours of week and lacking the ability to correctly interpret what he reads, his efforts serve no one saver perhaps his own pocketbook. Many of these radio and celebrity ministries are hugely financially profitable for the perpetrators.

    You say you could likely get 31% right on your own. I say that is a bargain in comparison to him. Even if you studied diligently and achieved only a 10% accuracy you would be better off than someone who has it so wrong in the first place. I think what you were looking for is free lunch. I will maintain that there is no such thing as free lunch.

    So what made you leave his “ministry.” I did not have to do anything more than read the first paragraph where he discusses the age of the earth to know that this man is full of ____. I would also not call him a “cult,” however, ” – nor his followers “cultists” – in that I did not read anything which suggests that he commands the faithful to do perform any specific behaviors save for perhaps supporting him in terms of contributions. I did not read where he commands anything of them.


  39. Thank you for this observation, David C. You just clarified one of the main forms of “thinking” that I repeatedly bumped into when I would question a theology or action. I would almost certainly self-doubt, reasoning that I didn’t grow up in the faith or have the doctrinal background that others had. Consequently, I would accept that I would be more prone to error and the influence of false teachings or demonic whispers.

    My Story has been a long journey, because becoming free from cult-like influence was a stair-step learning experience over much of my lifetime. I was born into an extremely controlling and criminal non-Christian cult. When I embraced the teachings of Jesus and stepped out of that world, I unfortunately stepped right into a Christian cult environment.

    For me, Christianity (even though it began in a cult-like environment) was an amazing freedom experience. I no longer feared for my life if I didn’t comply. It was all a matter of relativity. I thought I had left the cult. I didn’t have the knowledge or even awareness of my need to evaluate systems of oppression or mind control methodology or the theology of religious control because the theological foundation of Christianity was completely different than the theological foundation of my former group.

    On the one hand, I was already conditioned to acceptance of control structures and so my new environment was familiar and normal. On the other hand, there were disturbing moments where I made a comparison with my growing up experience and would think, this feels the same. Should it? Sometimes I would chalk it up to the fact that all religion had parallel practices and the difference must be the motivation behind them. Either that or I would do exactly as you mentioned, and think that I couldn’t possibly understand or view things correctly because I didn’t grow up as a Christian. For me, to step away from the group when you are told you will most certainly shipwreck if you leave, was huge. What if it was true?

    My one indescribably beautiful experience and thing of value was encountering God as love through the story of Jesus. Would I lose that if I left? Of course not, but the “solid teaching” and “sound doctrine” of the system wanted me to believe that so that they could keep me in the fold. Whether one is super intelligent or not, that has powerful holding power. Actually, I think that the more that one thinks and analyzes, the more one can actually convolute, rationalize and doubt your own self-perceptions and remain trapped. I also observe that the primary quality of character that most often holds people in a cult is the desire to be a faithful, genuine and humble person who serves others and endeavors to do what is right. While these are actually beautiful traits to have, that sincerity can be manipulated by others with less pure motives.


  40. I began to think that the “aberrant doctrine” definition of cult was a red herring designed to get us to “look over there” and miss the cults under our noses that always have to do with abuses of “authority.”

    Rebecca, spot on. I too was taught that cults have bad, dangerous theology, so our church couldn’t be a cult because we thought we had it all right. Better to look at the harm a system does to people than at whether they hold “biblical doctrine” or not.

    Maybe someone has already said this, but in my experience people can go to a church “cult” for years and not even start to suspect it because they are not rocking the boat and aren’t the questioning type. Only when they begin to question something close to them and get an authoritative abusive response do they realize they might be in an abusive church.

    Moreover, as the classic book Toxic Faith spells out, there are 4 personalities in cults. The Abusers, control freaks who think God is giving them authority, Co-conspirators, who actively help the Abusers, Enablers, who are nice people who don’t abuse themselves but enable the Abusers to get a way with it by their silence, ignorance, naivety, or refusal to think ill of the church (indirectly help Abusers), and the Victims, who actually get abused.

    Julie Anne, yes I changed from calling such churches “cultish” to cults. I think people don’t call them cults because at first we don’t want to think we got sucked into one or we are in partial denial. Then when we get out, it becomes more and more clear it was a cult. Don’t have to have some dramatic suicide koolaid story to be a cult. Cults actively seek control of members’ thinking and behavior through manipulation, intimidation, and fear with the guise of God’s authority as the source. That can cover a lot of abusive churches.

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  41. Hi Lea, you wrote: “I’m curious Ken, and others who have been involved in what they consider to have been cults, what would have worked?”

    I honestly haven’t ever gotten anyone out of a cult, although I’ve been a resource to people who are in them, and who have left them. I’m not sure anyone can really do that. But there are generally four reasons people start moving towards leaving a cult (and almost everybody does leave):

    1) Time away from the cult.
    2) An unsanctioned friendship with an outsider.
    3) Loss of faith/belief in the ideology of the cult.
    4) The discovery of a moral/ethical flaw in the cult leader.

    All of the above four were a part of me leaving the cult, but the “outsiders” who were my friends–many who did not share my faith and beliefs, but who were kind and committed to me, despite my being in a cult–these relationships served as life-boats for me to jump to when I finally decided to leave. Those friends never would have dreamed they were so important to me while I was still buying the cult line, but once I left, it was very powerful to know I’d been accepted and loved despite my weird, cult-influenced behavior and speech.

    Lea, in answer to your question, I think it’s really a matter of you using whatever gifts and strengths you possess to make deep, non-judgmental, gracious commitments of friendship with people in cults, without the demand that they discuss the cult, argue about the cult, or even listen to your opinion about the cult. It’s a matter of letting them know that you’re available for friendship and respect, regardless of whether they are in a cult or not. That’s powerful stuff, and will result in you being one of the first phone calls they make when they finally escape.


  42. “Promises of being spiritually superior to others and protected from the immorality”

    That’s a big thing, those feelings of superiority. That and fear are what drive most cults. Superiority over other nominal, uncommitted or phony believers and fear that you’ll become one of them or be judged unworthy of the distinction of being in the One True Church.

    Of course, some cults are more subtle in their approach, but at bottom, virtually all will try to convince you that there’s just something special about the group and something exalted about the leaders–and will use fake nice, passive-aggressive–or, eventually, brutal–methods to enforce these “truths” upon those who are recalcitrant. There will almost always be secrecy, almost always a feeling that something is amiss, almost always things that you just have to overlook: “Did Pastor Dave really just say THAT? I must have heard wrong, NO WAY would a kindly guy like Dave say THAT.” Or, “Oh my gosh, Pastor Dave just said THAT. Hey, I know Pastor Dave is well meaning, I mean he’s so nice, it’s just that he’s a little quirky is all, maybe he’s under pressure.” By the way, my new rule is the third time I have to furrow my brow at something Pastor Dave has said, I know that Pastor Dave is a first class creep, I tell him so to his face, and I never go back.

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  43. My only experience with cults was a visit or two to a place called Kripalu in Lenox MA where I took a few programs which were open to the public. Now THAT is a cult. The programs were interesting enough and some of the content was quite good. The “groupies” aka the disciples of this character named Amrit Desai were something else. They literally worshiped this man. I have never witnessed such moon-struck people in my entire life. They were positively smitten with him and swallowed up every word. Much of what he taught was actually solid wisdom for improving one’s life. I would say 80% fell in that category. A good 20% was off-the- wall stuff which, to be fair, probably worked better in India (his ethnicity) vs the US.

    I could not see what they were perceiving in him. Falene is absolutely correct in that many of these people were seemingly highly intelligent. Many in leadership positions held PhDs and master’s degrees. A huge percentage were college graduates yet they bought everything he taught and commanded hook, line and sinker. They never questioned anything and he put forth some edicts which would be difficult for the residents (vs the guests, like myself) to actually implement. They worked for slave wages – not even minimum wage – while he grew very, very rich from their efforts. They were paid something like $35 per month and they lived in an overcrowded setting where it seemed to me they were crammed in like sardines. Some of the disciples living there had families with children although I do not know what sort of living arrangements were provided for them. Many wasted literally decades living there accruing no benefits other than a roof over their head and 3 meals per day. He was their guru – they were his disciples – literally thousands of them both in residence and throughout the world. What ever they saw in him, well, it escaped me for sure. I sought for the longest time to understand exactly what was the hold this man had over them and I could never come up with anything which made sense. Eventually I gave up trying to understand it and simple decided it was going to remain inexplicable to me.

    Eventually said guru “fell” i.e. he fell from grace. While he was preaching strict celibacy among the disciples, it seems he was ‘sampling” the services of some of the women living therein – not withstanding the fact that he was married with children. He also had a long term mistress of 20 some years in addition to dallying with many of the youthful and devoted women. It seemed that for these select women, he had “special” duties for them to perform in the interest of their spiritual growth. These women were “privileged” to attend to his own sexual gratification. When it all finally came out and the ____ hit the fan, all manner of pandemonium broke lose. People were absolutely besides themselves. People were so distraught that the place had to hold special tuition free seminars for persons to attend so as to deal with their rage and anger. This whole thing went on for weeks on end – people beating pillows, crying out in anguish and primal screams. Eventually the whole thing died down and the place broke all ties with Amrit Desai. He got kicked out. Kripalu became simply a conference center where persons could go to take courses in the interest of spiritual development and self improvement. It exists, as such, today.


  44. mwcamp, something I’ve realized since I got out is that your mind can play some nasty tricks on you when you are in an abusive environment. You see or hear something that seems a little wacky or ridiculous and because you’re drawn to something you feel like you need, you go through these mental gyrations in order to make sense out of nonsense and all of a sudden, that crazy thing doesn’t seem so crazy. I never heard or understood the term “cognitive dissonance ” until recently. Once I realized how blind and confused I was, it scared me. I have a hard time trusting my own judgement anymore because for so long, what I believed (or thought I believed) was just a mirage or a distorted image in a fun house mirror.

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  45. That is true, Sunshine. Sounds like the process of brain washing. One small step of irrationality at a time. The part of this that makes it so easy for churches to become cults is when they teach you not to trust your own judgement, but that is of the world. That is a very dangerous teaching that can lead to what you speak of. Also, if the people are so loving and nice and you need that, like you say, you overlook the red flags to get your acceptance fix.


  46. Exactly mwcamp. It’s easy to look at it from the outside and say how crazy it is and wonder why and how people can fall for it. I used to be one of those people. Now I know how it happens. It’s a slow, subtle process. We can look at a Jonestown situation after the fact and think “Those people must have been really dumb or crazy to believe that stuff.Why didn’t they just leave? ” The thing is, Jim Jones didn’t start out acting like a lunatic. No one would have followed him if he had said right off the bat that he was going to abuse people and eventually kill them. He started his ministry preaching to poor African American people, providing the poor and elderly with food and housing. Slowly he started taking over their lives and things got crazier and crazier but by then, most people were so deeply entrenched and in a lot of cases, downright terrified, they couldn’t leave . The human brain is a very complex organ and it’s not as simple as just saying that someone must be stupid to stay in such a situation.

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  47. Truth Detector, I struggle so to understand all of these postings just like I struggled so to understand what the people at Kripalu saw in the Guru. I finally gave up and decided it was simple not going to be understandable by me. Now I am reading all of these posts and, once again, I struggle to understand.

    Maybe I am simple too aggressive and outspoken but when someone tries to influence me or get me to do something which I feel is out of line, my reaction is to simply tell the person to shove it sideways. When I am in the mood to be less rude, I simply tell the person pushing me that “this matter is not open to discussion.” I am a big believer in assertiveness – without necessarily being hostile. I will admit that I sometimes cross the line between assertiveness and aggressiveness but most of the time I try to stay within the bounds of assertiveness.

    It seems to me that as I read these posts, much of the problem stems from a lack of assertiveness on the part of the persons being so pressured. People need to get more comfortable with the act of saying “no” when others try to pressure them. They also need to get comfortable with the notion of telling persons that a given matter is not open to discussion. They are not free to press the issue any further. They need to know that your decision on the matter is now final and they are not at liberty to continue the discussion any further. Why and how people humor door to door evangelists is simply beyond me. I am very polite with them the first time and tell them that there presence on my doorstep is unwelcome. If they return, I get very nasty with them and advise them that they are trespassing on my property. If they do not leave immediately, I will summon the police and press charges.


  48. Sunshine, A fascinating story is how my parents, staunch Calvinist evangelicals, attended an Evangelical Free church for 16 years. Even after reading my first book with a chapter on the dangers of “Churchianity,” they never had a bad word about their church and always tried to get visitors to attend if it was a Sunday. Then, the men’s group, led by the control-freak pastor, began to spiritually abuse my father — long story why — but mostly thru writing “corrective” letters accusing him of having an unrepentant, rebellious heart. It was like suddenly they woke up and realized the church was abusive… (Mom confessed later she knew all along but didn’t think it was that bad and “trusted the Lord” to work it out). They even saw how they had done similar things to others… and my Dad as an elder even took part in signing some abusive letters to members for the most ridiculous things (e.g., someone stopped attending church for the summer). When they were the brunt of the abuse, suddenly they woke up and saw there was something terribly wrong. They finally got out after a few last ditch efforts to “reconcile” to no avail and lost quite a few friends who Mom said some of them “stabbed me in the back.” It amazed me how it took them so long to see it clearly enough to call a spade a spade. A lot of denial going on.


  49. I can assure you, LEB, that I do not lack assertiveness.

    This quote says a lot to me: “Maybe I am simple too aggressive and outspoken but when someone tries to influence me or get me to do something which I feel is out of line, my reaction is to simply tell the person to shove it sideways.”

    You seem to think that it is going to be obvious when a cult leader tries to lure you. That’s where I believe you have it incorrect. Even the Bible uses words like “creep in unknown” when referring to false teachers. We are talking about highly manipulative people who know how to lure you in without you even realizing it. That’s why so many educated and smart people fall in the trap before they realize what’s happening.

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  50. LEB, I understand what you are saying, but there are churches that teach people to be submissive and defer to leaders and actually teach people it’s ungodly to be assertive. When you are in that environment for a long time, one either loses what defense mechanisms they had (having been taught that it’s sinful to question authority or think for yourself, etc.) or they never develop them to begin with.


  51. Julie Anne and mwcamp, I will be the first to tell you that I tend to be too aggressive. I need to practice more restraint in dealing with people who try to impose their will on me. I am sure these cult leaders and/or church leaders are, indeed, very manipulative and skilled at luring people in. I have had it tried on me many times. Ironically, neither of my parents are esp assertive and neither are/were at all aggressive at all so I don’t know where it came from (yes, I do look like both of them – no mix up in the hospital). God help any pastor who ever tried to send me a “corrective letter.” I guarantee it would happen only once.

    One of my missions in life is to teach people how to be properly assertive and deal with persons who put them in uncomfortable situations. I don’t support aggression but, in general, people are not assertive enough. Proper assertiveness nips the problem in the bud so that it does not escalate. I am absolutely not faulting anyone here and neither am I suggesting that anyone here is weak or stupid. Far from it. I am suggesting that many people did not properly handle the individuals who tried to manipulate them. A whole lot of the problem stems from caring what other people think about you. In order to not fall prey to these unscrupulous persons – and they abound – two things are essential.

    You must genuinely not care what they or anyone else thinks about you. If they don’t like you or whatever it is – that is there problem
    You have to assertively put them in their place when they step out of bounds – which they ever do.

    My favorite way to illustrate this point is the response to give to someone who asks why you don’t dye your hair because the grey hair makes you look so much older. Nobody should be asking that question in the first place. It is none of their business. So what is the correct reply? It is: “You don’t like it; don’t look at it.” It is a trivial example and certainly not worthy of the magnitude of an manipulative pastor but the principle is the same.

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  52. Here is yet another thing to keep in mind for those of you who wish to participate in a Christian church. The pastor needs you far more than you need him. There are zillions of Christian churches where each one would like more members and esp members willing to pay dues to support the church. Church membership is down everywhere. If this turkey does something inappropriate or abusive like sending out a corrective letter, it is time to remind him that you can easily take your business elsewhere. Dozens of other ministers would be only too happy to have you join their flock and contribute to the support of their church. When a pastor acts inappropriately he gets one warning – after that, it is time to vote with your feet and take your (much coveted) business, elsewhere.


  53. LEB, I can genuinely see how it would be hard to grasp this since you were made with a more assertive personality. (Can we clone some of yours?) Yes, assertiveness and freedom from the fear of others is something that we each have had to rebuild after leaving the cult systems. Our own stores have been slowly picked away over the years and it eroded our self-boundaries. I hope I don’t sound exclusive when I say that I expect it would be really hard for someone to grasp the power of mind control tactics if they had escaped from any personal experience of it. Honestly, when many of us finally get out, we look back and we are sometimes at a loss to understand it ourselves. It’s seldom overt erosion (like the cult you visited). It’s far more covert. And what makes it even more insidious, is that in a largely Christian nation, it is easy to think that it is the norm.

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  54. Falene, Yes I do understand. Sometimes I look back at some of the relationships I had and how I tried to make them work. In retrospect, I say “what was I thinking?” Today a few of them would have been given the boot very early on but I kept thinking that with a little more effort, we could work it out. It is not that the men were abusive – just unsuitable and not wanting what I did out of the relationship. Today, I would have dumped them at the first hint of incompatibility of goals and/or what we wanted from one another. So, yes, I can understand although not so much the cult part. I understand the “what was I thinking” part.

    If Christianity is what you want and what you value, it is good to keep in mind that you, the congregant, are in the driver’s seat. More churches want you because their numbers of dwindling. I would imagine each minister has his own style and each congregation its own flavor. Not so different from finding the right man in your life. If one does not work out, there is another one with a different attitude who might be a better fit. Just as I wasted too much time trying to pound a square peg in a round hole, some of the folks here wasted too much time with one pastor and church when another would likely have met their needs far better.

    Churches today are hungry for parishioners so there is no need to limit the field to only one where that one is not so suitable. It is my understanding that people interested in joining a Protestant church actually interview the pastor and meet the congregation before they officially join that church and become a contributing member in terms of paying dues. Sometimes they consider several churches before selecting one and they are not limited to only one sect e.g. Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever. They are free to jump around, so to speak, in the interest of finding a good fit – at least that is the way it was explained to me.

    PS. My story had a happy ending and I finally found a very suitable husband who is compatible with me and who is overall great. i lucked out big time. That being said, some of the folks here who were victims of cultist churches with abusive pastors can very well find a good church with a nice pastor who will meet their spiritual needs. Having been the victim of one bad experience does not mean you cannot find a better fit down the road. I am very sure that there are lots of “nice” churches with great pastors which people can join if that is what a given person wants.


  55. I started taking a social psychology class this week and this quote is relevant in this discussion:

    “The tendency to explain our own and other people’s behavior entirely in terms of personality traits, underestimating the power of social influence.”

    Liked by 1 person

  56. LEB, I agree about assertiveness. Very important. Good for you teaching others that. The thing is that, in my experience in evangelicalism, churches are about control and authority and uniformity — no matter how much they claim they are about loving others. So churches attract people who are “addicted to approval,” like I was. These people can’t make decisions on their own, they need someone else to validate them. Then for people who grow up in the church, they are slowly taught to crave approval, from the Bible, church leaders, the group-think of the movement, etc. To them, being assertive is being rebellious and having “a problem with authority.” So, you have to correct the fallacy of that thinking before you can teach them to be assertive and stand up for themself.


  57. mwcamp,
    Absolutely correct. You have presented the crux of the matter. Usually parents teach children values but if the parents have bought into this sort of thing, then they would not be in a position to teach. So the job falls to others – like we here on this sounding board – to reinforce the principles involved.

    The first step would be to convince them that they do not need to be in this sort of church in the first place. Even if a person wants to be a church member and practice Christianity, there are so many churches to choose from. Places like this forum and also one-on-one interactions with persons drowning in this mindset are good avenues for helping people climb out of the abyss into which they have fallen. What is needed is to help get people into a mindset wherein they vote with their feet.

    Whatever little good I may have done here in preaching assertiveness can be multiplied by many others who speak the same message. If your pastor is abusive and oppressive toward you, then find another church! You have many good options from which to choose. I am a secular humanist but I do understand that many persons want more structure in their spiritual life. Many people want Christianity in their lives. For those persons, I say shop around for pastors until you find a good one. You have many options.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. One more thing which I do want to emphasize is that if anyone is planning to change churches, it is important not to get into an argument with your current pastor. He does not really need to know all the gory details and you need not fall into the trap of justifying yourself. If you can slip out noticed and join another church, that would be ideal. If the pastor does notice that you are gone and confronts you, the best course is to simply tell him you have joined a different church – one which is Christian (if such is the case) and that the new pastor is fully ordained and certified. That is really all the old pastor needs to know. If pressed, you need to assert that you do not wish to discuss the matter further with him.

    What you don’t want to do is to give the old pastor room to argue and confront you with how and why you are making a mistake. You simply thank him for all the services he has provided thus far (which hopefully you have paid for with your monthly or weekly dues) and that the matter is not open to further discussion. No matter how many times you are confronted or asked, you simply repeat that you thank him for all of his services to date and that the matter is not open to further discussion. If you have been supporting your old church all along (I believe these types of evangelical churches advocate tithing) then he has been paid for whatever services he has previously provided for you. You owe him nothing further in terms of money or explanations.

    The very last thing someone who is not very assertive needs to do is to get into an argument or discussion with an evangelical minister. Doing so would be like matching a pit bull against a fox terrier. You are not going to win any argument against someone like that hence you simply decline to discuss it. “Thank you very much for everything you’ve done for me; I have another appointment waiting and I am running late.” Then out the door, you go. Do not, under any circumstances, try to explain to him why you are leaving.

    Liked by 1 person

  59. One of my big ideas, LEB, is that church is optional, and that’s based on historical evidence. Our modern concept of church is not what was originally envisioned. So finding a loving community is the best way. So I am right a home “fellowshipping” with a secular humanist who understands the power of love and have no need to be with people who only call themselves Christians, unless they understand that church is optional and loving community is optimal and can be found in many places.


  60. mwcamp, Absolutely so. It is not that I am opposed to all of the Christian dogma. I like the love and do-unto-others as well as the service/duty aspects of the teachings. I just don’t need all the packaging with goes with it. I am all about service and leaving the world a better place. That is my whole mantra and philosophy. I just don’t like all the ancillary stuff which goes along with being a Christian so I have totally disassociated from it.

    I believe I extracted the good and (try to) implement it while leaving the nonsense behind. Also, it is important to remember that our society has evolved. Church once played a very central role in the community and was the glue which held everyone together. It was the main means which people met and socialized with one another. In short, it was necessary. Now we have other avenues so the central role it once played is not crucial. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water, however. We can keep what is good about the dogma and principles while we discard that which is no longer useful to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  61. I am wondering if I could take the conversation to a slightly different place.

    There has been a batch of research findings that show that church goers tend to be happier than non church goers. This article is one example.

    These findings note that what makes church goers happy isn’t necessarily religiosity (belief in God), but “close church relationships.” In other words, it is the social, not the spiritual aspect of attending church makes people happy and satisfied.

    That gets me scratch my head. I personally had lots of trouble making friends. Yeah, I tend to be socially awkward, but I found that church could be the loneliest place on earth. It was easier to make friends outside of church.

    -Christianese: I never got used to it. It seemed that one had to be proficient in it for social acceptance. It isn’t conducive to intimacy with anyone on earth, let alone God. It’s soul crushing.
    -In the same vein, “spiritual relationships” both with my equals as well as leaders felt phony. I felt like I died a little inside every time I went to an “accountability” group study.
    -And of course, there was that spiritual abuse coming from leaders that served as an impediment for close friendships.

    So many studies are showing that close church friendships make church goers happy. Who are where are these people? Do they really exist? How can I get in on it?

    Also, the barrage of messages about sin and condemnation coming from the pulpit can’t possibly lead people to be happy.


  62. Does WordPress hate bullet points? I try to list things in a readable format, but neither HTML tags nor listing things with asterisks or numbers works. WordPress just strips out all efforts to list things.


  63. I found that church could be the loneliest place on earth. It was easier to make friends outside of church.

    I grew up in one church and still know people from it, some of whom are lifelong friends even though we’ve all left. But I’ve had the experience of going to church and feeling lonely.

    I did join a new church last year and I feel like something clicked after about a year and I all of a sudden felt like I knew a lot of people, and they hug and talk in the hall…I can’t say how it happened though. I can’t say they are best friends or anything, but there is definitely a communal feel that wasn’t there before and a warmth. And the longer you stay, the more people you get to know, generally. I know that’s not an answer, but I didn’t feel that way until I had been there about a year and there are probably churches where I would never feel that way.


  64. David – I guess WP does hate bullet points for comments. I looked at your comment and guessed at where you were trying to put them. Please correct me if I was wrong. WP does have some quirks. I can post bullet points in articles, so it’s strange you can’t comment using them. Sorry!


  65. David,

    Church participation probably exaggerates what is already there in terms of underlying personality. If you are bubbly and outgoing, it provides yet more fodder to be so – more people with whom you can interact. If you are naturally socially awkward then it is yet another unwelcome challenge which you must meet – more people with whom you must put on a social front and interact. It brings out whatever is there in the first place. Whatever is your basic world view and whatever is your style of social interaction will be magnified in this setting. In fact, it might be even worse because you will perceive that you are “suppose to be” feeling connected and establish intimate social relationships with other members when such is the very last thing your personality would lend itself to. It is yet another challenge in terms of dealing with others which the person could have well done without. It is yet one more “cocktail party” he is forced to attend when his preference would have been to stay home and do xyz activity he prefers. To the socially outgoing “people person” it is “Great, here is another “cocktail party” I have gotten invited to.” They get to dress up (which they love to do, anyway) and now socialize with others – something they also would like to do anyway – more people, more friends, more activities. It is another opportunity to do that which they already want to do.

    My own experience is that people who buy into the whole dogma and philosophy believe they have it all down pat and they have nailed it, as it were. They do seem a bit “happier” to me (for lack of a better word) because they believe they have discovered the key to all of life’s problems. They “put it all in God’s hands” thus absolving themselves from worry or the need to make critical decisions about their life. “God will take care of it or them.” Such is not necessarily the best approach to problem-solving but it is one with an element of “I don’t have to deal with this issue.” People with a less naive vision of reality know that much is riding on the decisions they make. They may well have to get themselves out of whatever mess they encountered. Worse, if they make the wrong decisions, problems could get worse. The faithful who attend church may well be “happier” with the notion that “God loves me and will take care of everything for me.” They may feel less stressed at times of adversity because they believe that there is a God and he (it is never she or it) will personally look after them and see them through whatever they are experiencing. God will “take care of me.” There is not the sense of “If I screw it up this time, there will be all hell to pay.”

    Liked by 1 person

  66. It is yet one more “cocktail party” he is forced to attend

    I actually feel like church is completely different from a cocktail party socially in that if you don’t want to talk to someone you can just come late, sit, leave. If you do that at a cocktail party you would stand out. I have never felt that social pressure of meeting strangers in that church setting is similar to a party at all.

    You can dress up though!


  67. For those of you who grew up or still maintain membership in evangelical Protestant churches, I would like to educate you about how much easier it is to have grown up in a Catholic setting. My husband grew up in a Protestant faith; I grew up in a Catholic family. We often compare notes. Both of us are secular humanists today.

    With Catholicism, your only obligation is to attend Mass on Sudays and, if necessarily only, go to confession on Sat afternoon. You only need to go to confession, if you committed major sins i.e. “mortal sins.” If you have committed venial sins, well that is no big deal (NBD). You can just work them off or whatever in ‘purgatory” should you die unexpectedly. Now for Sunday mass, well this is no big deal, either. It is usually a 30-35 minute affair- 45 minutes tops – where the main goals are that you listen to what the priest has to say and, most importantly, you put your money into the collection basket. That is the key. If you do these things, all is right with the world and the priest. Masses are scheduled at multiple times on Sunday morning or even Sat early evening so you can surely find one to fit your schedule. Big churches run masses every hour on the hour from 7 am to 12 noon and the folks are in and out in a little over a half hour. You pick what is convenient for you including Saturday masses so you can have all of Sunday free. If you attend a church-sponsored function on Saturday, the priest can reward you by excusing you from attending mass the following day.

    There is none of this several hour long services on Sunday morning and then coming back yet again in the evening for “fellowship”or whatever else the pastor has in mind. Absolutely not. None of this bible study or other such time-consuming required activities and none of this summer bible camp. Frankly, Bible-study is not all that encouraged, anyway. Basically, you are too stupid to read and interpret the Bible so you should just listen to what the priest says on Sunday. There is a book published – called a Missive – with a page for each week of the year. The faithful can follow along with what the priest will be saying that Sunday. That information, with quotes from the bible and explanation from the priest, is all you need to know. You don’t need to be doing any study or reading the bible on your own; you are not smart enough.

    If you want to do extra activities besides going to confession and mass, there are all manner of novenas you can perform and saints with whom you can become involved. You have the opportunity to make stations of the cross, pray the rosary and attend daily mass, if Sunday services are not sufficient for your zeal. There are some social activities like the Knights of Columbus and some groups for women. Certainly there are catechism classes for the youth but none of this stuff is actually required. You MUST be baptised, make your First Holy Communion and Confirmation and you absolutely MUST be married by a priest. Other than that, there is not a whole lot of life commitments to make. You may not practice birth control as you are suppose to reproduce like rabbits and you may not get divorced. If you have sufficient monies, however, (like $6000 or more) you can get an “annulment” of your marriage and marry someone else. Money talks in this religion but then it probably does so in the evangelical religions as well. No doubt the high “tithers” get some notice (and privileges), as well.

    Basically, it is an easy deal. Go to confession if you need to do so, go to Mass on Sunday (35 minutes) where you are to pay attention and – most importantly – put your money into the collection plate. If you do all of this, you are A-OK. The last thing the priest wants is to get to know you on a week by week basis. He has enough to do so as to keep him busy. He is a busy man who has a great many important matters to tend to. He does not have time to deal with you on a personal level or get involved with running your life. If you need something like an annulment, well you cough up the requisite amount of money (its very expensive) and you get it. Basically, you pay for services you need – marriage, funeral services, child education, what ever. Money talks and the priest understands that language. Now there are churches which cater to the poor and they are funded by the more wealthy parishes. There are churches in inner cities which run soup kitchens and they are funded largely by the parishes in the suburbs. There are also missions and missionaries where they “save the savages” and these get funded by the wealthier parishes. They are right on up there with the evangelicals in “saving the savages.” The evangelicals have no edge on them in interfering with other people’s cultures.

    If you should happen to commit a major sin, even that is no big deal (NBD). You simply go to confession, express the intent not to re-offend and all is well. You are forgiven and the slate is wiped completely clean until the next time you do something “sinful.” If you don’t want to reproduce like a rabbit you can have a sterilization procedure THEN you go to confession and you are forgiven for this great sin you have committed. You can then have sexual relations with your spouse without producing yet more and more children. You may NOT, however, use birth control so as to limit the number of children you produce to only those which you can afford to support. That is a big no-no. Either you get sterilized and,then, confess your sin or you pump out children regardless of whether or not you can afford to support them.

    In summary, you show up weekly for 35 minutes when you are suppose to do so and (very importantly) pay your monies weekly in the collection basket, confess your sins when you commit them and, in turn, all is well. If you do need the priest, well you pay for his services and he is there for you (weddings, funerals, whatever). If you want a more intensive religious experience, you can attend mass daily and get involved with all manner of activities of religious fervor (novenas, rosary, stations of the cross, lighting candles). There are those options available. There are zillions of saints dedicated to all manner of causes and one them will surely be right for you. If you need something from God, any of these saints will intercede on your behalf and you will get what you are seeking. The saints are there for you and they get results. I can personally attest to this phenomenon. You can practice all of these activities without taking up the priest’s time. It is between you and God. In short, it is a very good deal for those who want hassle-free religion AND guaranteed salvation. They offer the same guarantees of eternal salvation as the evangelicals. They can save you from the fires of hell, just as well. Better yet, you get it all without any guilt or a big commitment in terms of your time. For those of you disillusioned with your evangelical church, I would highly recommend trying out your local Catholic parish. You will get a much better deal for far less effort …….and all without guilt!.


  68. HI, LEB-something that I think is missing from your understanding of evangelical churches is that those of us who are really committed (I being one) truly believe that we have had a life-changing experience through relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior from sin, who also transforms us from the inside out. We are involved with our churches because of our love for God. I have been an evangelical for 43 years and, although many churches have serious issues, the majority of my time in churches has been positive. I was a missionary for a decade and a half, and now participate in a cross-cultural ministry sponsored through my local church.

    My time and financial commitment, not to mention my emotional investment, are because I love God and His people. I left two churches because of serious problems with the leadership (think sexual sin). Other churches I have been in, including my current one, have overcome issues because they had checks and balances and looked seriously at the Bible to find solutions to their issues. I have been with my current church for 16 years.

    My church often has more volunteers for projects than can be used, and much of what we do is for the good of our community. We do share the Gospel, but it is not a requirement for participation, ever. We have worked hard with the low-income neighbors just down the street, and they are learning English, improving their community, and the kids are going on to college. We are not heavily staffed, and we always check with our volunteer base before we hire anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  69. Linn, My post is not intended for persons like yourself who are happily invested in their evangelical church and/or happily involved in their personal relationship with Jesus. You fit in quite nicely with the evangelical paradigm – for 43 years no less – hence there is no reason for you to change course. Many, however, are not so satisfied with their status quo as are you. Many are burdened by it and finding that the leadership of said churches is having a negative impact on their lives. Not everyone swallows the whole thing hook, line and sinker. Many of those who raise questions or contemplate other avenues of faith are made to feel guilty about anything and everything they question. These persons are not well served in the settings wherein you feel quite comfortable.

    For persons who find an evangelical church to be a poor fit for their personal spirituality, there is no reason for them to remain within that construct. Other avenues of spirituality may better serve their needs. I will say, however, that your typical evangelical pastor does not view “straying” from the flock with any favor and will implement all means of strategies – including heaping tons of guilt upon the persons – if they seek to explore other avenues of faith-based spirituality. The reason you are happy in your current setting is because you “buy the whole thing.” There is no dissonance for you and, truthfully, no reason for you to change course. Many are not so fortunate and some of those folks have voiced their concerns here on this very forum. Others have voiced them elsewhere. It is a common theme which runs throughout the evangelical community. Not all are “happy campers.”

    I would hope that you would not stand in the way of persons who seek other avenues to express their spirituality. I would also hope that you are not so steeped in self-conceit as to suggest that yours and your type of church is the only way for spiritual expression. Most assuredly, it is not. So, while I join you in celebrating your finding a good fit and encourage you to participate to the fullest therein, I would also encourage you to afford others the freedom to leave your church, as they see fit. I would hope you would afford them the freedom to pursue spirituality in other forms without making them feel guilty or fearful about doing so. Please do not condone badgering them or making them feel that they are evil about their need to break free of what you so enjoy. Too many evangelicals use manipulation, coercion and guilt to keep members within their fold and those tactics have extracted a high price on the persons so affected. If you tried such tactics on me, you’d do it once and wish you never did. Many are not so blessed, however. They are more timid, more fearful or more easily pressured. They are just learning to find their way as they cautiously put one foot in the water and work up the courage to leave. They are good people. Please do not step on them and please do not abuse them. Most importantly, please do not allow your pastors or elders to do so, either. It is not as though you folks do not have a track record for having done so. No one is doing “God’s work” who forces his will on others.


  70. LEB,

    We appreciate you sharing personal experiences and what you’ve learned from them. But somewhere this discussion began to become a lecture. Your last comment felt like you were lecturing us, instead of giving us the benefit of the doubt. If you are going to lecture us, then fairness requires this discussion to be a two way street where you would be willing to receive some lecturing in return.

    No one is perfect. If you want to keep telling everyone what they’re doing wrong and what they should be doing, then apply those standards inward as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  71. Avid Reader, Absolutely and if you have any suggestions for me or what I have put forth, I would welcome hearing from you. If anything I have posted would seem to be in error, I am very receptive to learning an opposing point of view. I offer my perspective and people are free to take if it is helpful or reject it, if it is not helpful. Similarly, I learn from others so if you can offer suggestions or corrections to anything I have put forth, I am very interested in what you have to say. Concerning what I have posted, where do you feel I am in error an, thus, should revise my position on that point?

    Liked by 1 person

  72. Linn,

    Testimonies like yours have been a big source of frustration for me. Simply put, I have seen very little or none of what you describe in Evangelical churches in my 25 some years as a committed Evangelical. From your description, these wonderful things are happening everywhere. To me, it’s almost like a holy grail. I found Evangelical culture to be shallow not just spiritually, but intellectually as well.

    Please don’t take it a challenge to your credibility. Besides the bloggers, we commenters are mostly anonymous Internet handles, so I don’t even know you to question your credibility.

    I see glowing accounts like yours in a lot of places such as Christian magazines, missionary letters and church literature, but no much of that in action in people that I have come across. Am I blind? Or cynical? Or insane? I don’t know. What you describe sounds wonderful, and I want to get in on it, but it remains very elusive. I live in Orange County, California which is a hotbed of Evangelicalism.


  73. mwcamp @ 8:07 AM wrote:
    “LEB, I agree about the assertiveness. Very important. Good for you teaching others that. The thing is that, in my experience in evangelicalism, churches are about control and authority and uniformity – no matter how much they claim they are about loving others. So churches attract people who are “addicted to approval,” like I was. These people can’t make decisions on their own, they need someone else to validate them. Then for people who grow up in the church, they are slowly taught to crave approval, from the Bible, church leaders, the group – think of the movement, etc. To them, being assertive is being rebellious and “having a problem with authority.” So, you have to correct the fallacy of that thinking before you can teach them to be assertive and stand up for yourself.”

    Alleluia and Amen to this mwcamp. You stated so eloquently of your experience that resonates with me, and perhaps many out there reading this conversation. The last church I ran out of (and thankfully never looked back), did in fact, place the assertive, bossy, nosey, controlling and manipulative, and secretly destructive personalities in their leadership positions, including that of the pastor.

    On any given Sunday, I would hear within earshot, “Oh, so and so left this church, now they are out of the will of god and experiencing bad things in their lives.” Often, when people leave a church cult, they are confused and in a fog, and yes, due to that confusion, poor choices are made, and yes, bad things sometimes happen. Then I see these sniveling, prideful church goers mock and delight in the hardship of those who finally ‘saw the light’ and left. And I want to vomit, literally, not figuratively.

    These strong personalities that hold these leadership positions year after year, dominating committees and sweetly telling us how much more ‘spiritual they are,’ in fact, are the first ones to complain incessantly of how “the workers are few who want to serve the LORD, so they have to toil and toil, to get the work done.” When secretly, they are the ones desiring all of the worship and praise (they love having their names printed in church bulletins and they really love it when the pastor mentions their names from the pulpit – they crave attention and adoration from others – for doing the lord’s (?) work, and actually not allowing any of the rest of us to do anything. In fact, these power hungry individuals do not want the rest of us doing anything because it may take the congregations attention off of them and serving them, instead of serving the LORD Jesus. And also, I became tired of hearing from these manipulative people, the griping, “We have to do everything because there’s just not enough workers for the Lord.” I believe this is a double standard in the hearts and minds of many a church leader, and frankly, I find it troubling.

    Also, mwcamp, I firmly respect your statement, “The thing is that, in my experience in evangelicalism, churches are about control and authority and uniformity – no matter how much they claim they are about loving others.” This is a loaded statement. The word “accountability” was worshiped in the last cult church I attended. When a new family began attending, one or two on the church board “were assigned” to get to know these families on an individual basis “coming alongside of them” were the exact words. It was their job to extract information concerning their beliefs and their personal lifestyles, then report back to the pastor and his leadership minions (church board members, elders, deacons and deaconesses.” These families and individuals were the “pet projects” of those whom considered themselves “spiritually evolved on a higher plain of Christian doctrine.” This whole church charade was a set-up for the unsuspecting people who wanted to serve the Jesus that saved them in the first place.

    This is getting long, so I will close with my personal experience, “Ye shall know just now much that church actually “loves” you, the moment you decide to leave their “fellowship.” All of that “love bombing” you received when you first began attending, will turn into snake oil and viperous venom when you choose to not follow their pseudo Christian party line any longer. The masks come off, and that “love for the saints” turns into ashes when these dangerously powerful and manipulative individuals learn that they no longer can control you and how each believer chooses to serve Christ through the power of His Holy Spirit.

    Jesus promised there would be freedom and liberty in Him, and that His burdens would be light.

    Liked by 1 person

  74. Katy, Your points are all very poignant and heart-rendering. I do want to emphasize that there are good ministers out there and they are full-fledged seminary graduates ordained with credentials to serve the faithful. It is important to find one of those churches and join said church as part of the transitioning away from a more abusive one. When you do so, it is less an issue of “walking away from God or Jesus” or what ever they are inclined to say. Now, they are directly impugning another minister and his flock which is a bit more difficult to do. Now, the “straying” flock member is joining the flock of a certified minister so it is necessary to criticize him and his (or her) competency before saying that the congregant who left has fallen into ill-repute.

    Try to remember that good and bad events will occur in everyone’s life regardless of whether they join or leave a church. Try not to conflate a bad event which is going to happen anyway with the fact that someone has changed churches. It has no relationship. It is simply coincidental in time.

    Not having ever been a member of an evangelical church, I am at a loss to understand how they even know what you are doing, in the first place. How do they know you have started attending another minister’s services? Do they have a method for tracking the activities of the congregants? Do they take attendance? How do they even know you are gone? Surely Minister A does not have spies attending Minister B’s church to see who, if anyone, is “jumping ship.” Again, it is one thing to criticize YOU and your “sinfulness” for straying and quite another thing to turn around and say that Minister B, a fully ordained clergyman, is not qualified and competent to manage your spiritual growth. That action, now, is taking the whole thing a step further than Minister A would probably like to go. I hope your realize that the real issue in any of this is that the congregant’s tithe is now going to another minister and his church.


  75. LEB,

    I’m not sure how long you have read here before commenting, but going along with Avid Reader’s comment, I’d like to offer you some suggestions so that this place remains a safe and welcoming place for all. especially survivors of spiritual abuse. I think your comments will be better received if you “listen” to the comments, rather than be quick to offer suggestions. In your last comment, you mention not having ever been a member of an evangelical church and list questions, yet you come across like an expert with answers in your comments. This is a place where we allow others to share their experiences and connect with others who share similar experiences. If people are asking for advice, then sure, give advice, but I’m not sure that has been happening here.

    I believe you mentioned earlier that you have not experienced spiritual abuse. So this would be a great opportunity for you to learn about it from the real experts: survivors. People who haven’t experienced spiritual abuse can have all sorts of suggestions, but only based on their frame of reference. Those who have experienced spiritual abuse and are on the “other side” are real experts.


  76. Julie Anne,
    You are absolutely correct and everything you posted is quite true. However, I will say it is difficult to watch people suffer when the solution to their problem is so obvious. It is difficult to see people suffer and not offer any help esp when the fix to their problem is obvious to you. It would be sort of like watching someone drown and not trying to save them or else me seeing a patient experiencing a great deal of post-op pain and not offering them any medication to relieve the pain. Similarly, I don’t always wait for the patient to ask for pain relief meds because some of them never will. It is difficult for the strong swimmers of the world to sit on the bank and watch the weaker swimmers get carried away but the current and potentially drown.

    What you say is absolutely correct – there is no doubt about it…..and you have said it very well. We are suppose to help others, however, and it is difficult for those of us to are inclined to help persons in distress to stand by and do nothing. I discovered the power of assertiveness against a bully long ago when I was a teenager. I came upon it by accident because I was not taught it by either parent – neither were esp assertive and certainly neither was at all aggressive. I then watched how it renders bullies helpless through the years esp if you identify the bully’s (hidden) weak spot and capitalize on it. It is so easy to do once you get the hang of it.

    So, then, where I agree that you are absolutely correct and I take no issue with what you are saying, please be aware that for stronger persons who care about other’s suffering, it is not so easy to watch them in distress and do nothing. It is not easy to watch people drown, esp when you are holding the life raft. Also, you never know who reads these posts or how long they will stay up online. Perhaps sometime, somewhere a spiritually abused person will read what I have posted and take action to address the problem. What I have put forth will work if implemented. The pastors and elders who are behaving in the manner described are, indeed, bullies and they can be effectively handled with some of the tactics I have suggested.

    In my world view, when a person is blessed with gifts and talents which make is life better, it is not for that person to enjoy such blessings all to himself. You don’t get a box of chocolate covered cherries as a gift and then eat them all yourself. Such is wrong. You are suppose to share them with others esp others who never get any themselves. Julie Anne, you are absolutely correct but it is much harder than you think to watch people suffer while you sit on your hands safely enjoying blessings and good fortune which have been bestowed upon you.


  77. Wow, LEB, I hear what you are saying and I don’t even doubt the sincerity of your self-perceived rescue mission. But what struck me as I read your last post is that the words could just as easily have come from the mouth of one of the authoritative cult leaders we have been talking about; notably, hearing how you have the power to rescue others. You continually are making the distinction that you are a notch in wisdom above others who are struggling and that you have the authoritative answers and solutions to all their difficulties, even if you haven’t walked in their shoes. An assertive personality, while a gift in many ways, is the very thing that can easily make others feel put down, ridiculed and controlled when it isn’t coupled with good listening, empathy and humility.

    I also observed that you delight in identifying the “weak spot” in bullies and grinding them down with it. That is also what cults do with others to control them. No, I can’t see you easily getting entangled in a cult, but I could sure picture you leading one. You would do so under the auspices of rescuing others from sinking and drowning in their own ineptitude. Your intent might be totally sincere, but the minute it wasn’t working, because others would have different personalities, methods, processes or ideology, I anticipate you would get frustrated and use their weak spots against them to grind them down and prove your point. Because you are the authority, you have the superior moral ground and by gum you are going to rescue people from themselves whether they like it or not. Honestly, you sound like a sincere person. I’m just not sure you are actually listening. It seems more important to you to be right. It appears that you have learned the fine art of agreeing with others first, then standing on the platform of that agreement to continue to spout your superior view point.

    Well, how about that! I was just assertive! Poke a stick down a hole long enough and something comes up. I’m wondering how that felt to be analyzed and found wanting…That’s certainly how I have felt throughout much of your commentary. I’m not trying to be mean-spirited- I’m just trying to make an observation.


  78. JA, please feel free to remove my last comment from the thread if you feel I was too inappropriately blunt. I just felt like it was time to exercise a little of that assertiveness we are all so clearly lacking.


  79. LEB,

    I’m asking you to give us the benefit of the doubt. Listen to us. This is a good group of people who genuinely care about others.

    No one is perfect. Of course we all need to drink eight glasses of water, lose weight, eat vegetables, wear our seatbelts and get at least seven hours of sleep. In a perfect world we would but we live in the real world which is a lot more complicated.

    It’s easy to look at someone and say “that person needs to lose weight.” But then you get to know that person and find out that they are a single mother working two jobs who doesn’t have time to take care of their own needs because they are taking care of everyone else.

    Of course assertiveness is good, but there’s deeper issues that have to be addressed first. People who have been brainwashed for years to be passive and submissive can’t just undo all that training overnight. They need to take one step at a time to grow in assertiveness. It takes time and love and compassion from people outside the group. Besides, if people could change overnight then we all would be perfect by tomorrow. Then we would all lose twenty pounds in twenty days or something like that!


  80. Avid Reader, I can certainly do as you suggest. It is reasonable enough. Just so you also realize that it is not easy hearing about how you all are getting beat up by these abusive evangelical church leaders and resist pointing out how you can shortcut their . It is hard not to try to help folks experiencing distress. I will try to be less heavy handed and let you all express your distress about the abuse you are experiencing without jumping in and offering solutions.


  81. Good for you Falene. You are making progress. Yes, what you say is true. I suppose I COULD have been a cult leader or else tried to force my will on others. I am now 67 years of age , however, and I should think that if I was going to be domineering and controlling, I should have done so by now. I am more the “wise grandmother in the background” sort of person who looks out for you and not the “domineering parent” type of person

    I know this is going to be hard for you to believe but I don’t have much of an ego. It does not matter to me whether you follow my recommendations. It does not even matter whether you like me or not. So long as I tried to help you, I have done my duty. I live by the philosophy that to whom much is given, much is expected. If you reject everything I say, that is OK. I am going to offer the help but if you don’t want to accept it, it is fine. I am not going to think less of you because of it. I am going to like you anyway and simply conclude that you were not ready for that particular help at this time.

    Apparently, however, you ARE benefiting in that you just stood up to me. Now the next step is to do so with your abusive church leaders. You don’t know me so your conclusions are valid. I will tell you, however, that I only go into attack mode when attacked myself or when someone else is being attacked by a bully. That is pretty much it. I don’t initiate hostility. Yes, it is also true that I am quite adept at going for the underbelly but, truly, Falene, it is only used in self-defense or the defense of others. I never initiate hostility and you have only my word to take for that. Maybe you and I have crossed paths and I put a little seed into your brain which blooms many years later. I never find out about it but you are better off for it. You, in turn, help someone else and show them the way. If that happens, then my mission has been accomplished.


  82. Good for you Falene. You are making progress. …..Apparently, however, you ARE benefiting in that you just stood up to me. Now the next step is to do so with your abusive church leaders.

    LEB, I have known Falene over 15 years. I still find your comments quoted above condescending. You did not teach her assertiveness, she already knew that. She is responding to the way you treat abuse survivors here. How you would respond to spiritual abuse when you have not experienced it is not helpful to the discussion. It only shames people and makes this place unsafe. Please take it down a few notches and try to “listen” and understand.


  83. Julie Anne, Indeed I will but there is no condescending commentary intended. People need not feel “shamed” or threatened. I do not feel superior to any of the people here. I simply know how to handle bullies better and would like to show people how to do so. It is fine to coddle each other and share one another’s pain. Such is all well and good but what does it change?

    I think I did “listen” and what I heard was that persons were intimidated into submission. They felt shame. I want them to fight back and put the spiritual bullies in their rightful place. The only persons who should feel shame are the bullies not the victims. How is teaching someone to do something which you do well, being condescending? No one knows it all. We are all suppose to help each other. Some of us do some things well; others of us do other things well. I am sure Farlene can do a whole lot of things better than I. If I am struggling with something and Farlene comes along and shows me how to do it, is she condescending toward me? I don’t think so. In fact, I want Farlene to show me how to do things in which she excels and I struggle. Trust me, there will be a whole lot of those things.

    Spiritual abusers are so easy to deal with because they are such pompous asses. I think when we feel defensive and hurt, it is because we let our ego get in the way. To anyone who was made to feel shame by my remarks, I totally apologize. No condescention and no shame is intended. I am very sorry if I added to your pain. I am simply trying to share a few tricks with you guys so you can end the abuse and end the pain. Again, shame goes to the abusers. Lets all not be victims. Let’s deal with the abusers.

    You know who I really feel badly for? It is the children of these evangelical Christians who get beaten up, humiliated and shamed by their parents. I read such horror stories online as these smug self-righteous Christian mothers post and brag about the pain and humiliating punishments they inflict upon their unfortunate children – all in the name of God! Some of the posts are from the children who describe the humiliation and evil punishments they received while growing up in these families. It disturbs me to the core. Now these folks are true victims. What can a helpless child growing up in such a family do against this kind of a parent. It is sickening to read about what these parents do (they post extensively about it) and there is absolutely nothing which can be done about it save perhaps reporting them to DYFUS. Where is the justice in this world when some children have to grow up with these parents? Where is the justice in this world when innocent pets suffer at the hands of these people, as well? I am sorry and I apologize to you all but Evangelical clergy and their staunch followers REALLY hit a raw nerve with me. They perpetuate such evil upon others. What they do to innocent victims makes me so distressed. I want people to stand up to them and stop this evilness.


  84. I simply know how to handle bullies better and would like to show people how to do so.

    Do you know what this sentence says? It says spiritual abuse survivors did it wrong. It’s blaming the victim. The implication is that because you know how to handle spiritual bullies better, and you are above being spiritually abused. This is not how spiritual abuse works. Some of the most strong, assertive, brilliant people have been sucked into cults. No one is exempt. I’ve warned you as well as two others. If you continue to comment in the same condescending fashion, your comments will be moderated before they are approved.


  85. Julie Anne,
    It does not say that at all. I am NOT blaming the victim. I am NOT saying they did it wrong. I am simply saying that I have discovered something which can help them. If they were children growing up in these households, they absolutely could not help their fate. It was NOT their fault. What is wrong with trying to teach people some tools to help them combat the persons who are now still trying to oppress them?

    I am not superior to any of the victims. I was LUCKY. I lucked out in the parents I got and I lucked out in the religious training I got – neither were abusive. My parents were very loving and they never, ever hit me. They never humiliated me. My church, when I was growing up, never abused me. The priests and the nuns I encountered were also nice. I can’t think of a single one who was abusive. I simply no longer believe what they taught but they were very nice people. I want to help some of the people who were not as fortunate as I was. I am trying not be condescending. I am infuriated by the evilness I have read about – both on this site and others. I simply want to help people to fight back.

    Cults are one thing. Yes, anyone can be sucked into a cult. But abusing innocent people in the name of God is quite another. Physically beating up children and humiliating them in the name of God is evil. Psychologically beating up congregants in the name of God is also evil. I am not blaming the victims. I just want to help them feel empowered to stand up to their abusers

    There is little which can be done about the physical abuse of these children who have and still do grow up in the self righteous abusive Evangelical families. The posts their mothers put online are absolutely revolting. Also revolting is the posts by some of the children – now adults – who speak about what they endured growing up. It literally makes you want to vomit. The mothers who post invariably reference their “Christian” values as the basis for this behavior. They are actually proud of what they do and they share it with one another. They compare notes. I am all too painfully aware that it was not the children’s fault. I know many are going to bear the scars for life. Some of these folks are STILL victims only now it is their clergy and church elders who are the abusers. Why is it wrong to want to help them break free? You can’t choose your parents but you can certainly choose your church.

    You are probably right. I probably don’t belong here.


  86. LEB,

    It’s not wrong to want them to break free. But we have to consider the audience here. People in cults most likely won’t be reading my site. But many who have gone through spiritual abuse read here. It’s a little late to tell them what to do now. They are already dealing with tremendous guilt and shame. Some have lost families/marriages over the abuse.

    I guess what I’m saying is wait and see what is going on in the comments. If someone asks, then tell. Feel free to ask people questions, try to understand what they went through. It’s not our job to fix people. We use this place to walk alongside people who have been harmed.

    You are new to posting here. It’s helpful to take a step back when reading a new blog and get a feel for the community. Perhaps this particular series is not a good fit for you, but other articles here might be. 🙂


  87. Indeed, Julie Anne, you are correct. I am too heavy handed for this site, at least for this discussion. I have been poking around your site to get a feel for what it is all about. I may not be capable of helping or even understanding the folks here. I have been reading some of the stories you have posted and I am flabbergasted by what I am reading. I can’t believe what I am reading and how these abusive pastors could do such things.

    I do believe I need to take a deep breath and just step away from this thing. My personality and my approach is too heavy handed and it may well be making people feel worse than they already do. I am sort of the German Shepard dog type of person who wants to attack the evil doers when what may be needed is more of the loving collie who gently leads the people to where they need to be. I am going to take your suggestion and step back. I am not going to post unless someone directly addresses me. Wow. You are correct.


  88. LEB,

    I think we connected. Yea! When I say take a step back, I’m not meaning for you to leave, just watch how people engage with each other.

    This part that you wrote here was very validating and is an encouragement to any survivor.:

    I may not be capable of helping or even understanding the folks here. I have been reading some of the stories you have posted and I am flabbergasted by what I am reading. I can’t believe what I am reading and how these abusive pastors could do such things.”

    The reality is that many of us dismissed what we went through because we were in survival mode. So, those kinds of comments are perfect! Thank you!


  89. Julie Anne,

    You said I could ask questions. OK so when the people where being bullied by these abusive pastors (Boy was THAT an eyeopener to read about), did they stay in the church because they had family and friends in the church and they wanted to stay connected to these people as part of a community? I know about ‘shunning” because I read about the Amish and they use this method.

    So then if the abused person, stood up to the pastor and he then kicks them out of the church, wouldn’t that be sort of a relief to the person being kicked out? Wouldn’t he be glad to be out of the control of this abusive man? Now he has the perfect excuse for not attending this abusive church i.e. the pastor kicked him out. If a person was not happy in the church, it seems like it would be almost worth it to provoke the pastor just so that he DOES kick you out. Abusive pastor/ abusive elders -> provoke him/them -> get kicked out. Now you are free of the abuse. You now have the perfect excuse for not going back to that church, no? What am I missing?


  90. What you are missing is the long-established relationships with people in the church community. Also, many times, people who belong to these churches have been so busy with church-related activities, or have isolated themselves from the outside world, there is very little support for them when they leave. It’s a very lonely place when all of your support system is still back at the church.

    Sometimes people leave everything behind, even their friends and family. And the shunning you mentioned is real and insidious.


  91. Yes, that would make a lot of sense. Growing up Catholic, people did not get overly involved in the church or at least not any people I knew. I am sure some did but mostly, if religion was very important to a person, it was more of a piety thing. They would go to mass all the time or else do rosary praying or novenas or what not. I grew up in an Italian-American family and family comes first – church can’t begin to compete with that. It is something you did before Sunday dinner. There is not a whole lot of fellowship stuff. It is a whole piece which we can’t well relate to. There is some social activity and community service which takes place but only a small percentage of people participate in it. Mostly people go to church because it is a “mortal sin” if you don’t meaning you will go straight to hell if you die before going to confession. It is that sort of thing. They would be only too happy if the priest kicked them out and they did not have to go to church. But, of course, the priest would never do that because you never interact with him in the first place. It is really an easy religion to follow, all things considered

    What you say makes perfect sense. Taken in that context, it would be a big deal. I know it is a HUGE deal for the Amish. They take shunning very seriously. So if an abusive pastor expelled a person from the church – for say refusing to violate the building code with the sewers (to use your example) would his friends and family then refuse to continue to socialize with him? I am thinking, based on what you are saying, the answer would be yes. It might be a very be a big deal for the expelled person. Probably, less of a big deal if the church was only a small part of his circle of friends.

    I think I am understanding this whole thing a little better now. He has some measure of power over these people because they invest so much of themselves in the church. I know evangelical churches take up a whole lot of the person’s week – church, bible study, fellowship, community service, Sunday school, ladies meetings, mens’s meetings, etc. etc. Hmmmmmm…….I understand better now. They sew up your whole week.


  92. Julie, one more thing. I read online about these Christian evangelical mothers who beat the daylights out of their children for every little infraction as they brag about the punishments and humiliation they enforce online. Between the parents beating the children into submission – all in the name of Jesus – and the pastor abusing them once they grow up – also in the name of Jesus – no wonder some of the folks are so traumatized. I can see where it is hard to learn to be assertive in these circles. Beating up your children and humiliating them does not really well prepare them to stand up for themselves in life.


  93. I grew up in an Italian-American family and family comes first – church can’t begin to compete with that.

    I hope it’s ok for me to butt in here, but this made me smile. There were several former Catholic, Italian-American families in my former cult. They migrated with the church from “back East” when the church eventually settled in Texas. There were most definitely some regional differences in the way they related to others, and especially in how they expressed themselves.

    One Italian-American woman would playfully(?) slap me on the cheek sometimes. It was hard enough to sting! We just don’t do that here in the southern US unless you’re picking a fight. lol

    I think sometimes we have to “get to know” each other through a medium that doesn’t allow us to see the other person’s expressions or hear their tone. Plus, what goes on in some religious circles can be almost inconceivable to someone else.


  94. Dear LED,

    I know this is my first time joining this exchange. Still, I hope I can shed a little light on why you might be getting pushback on this thread.

    I think your insistence, on meeting every act of bullying and abuse with forthright assertiveness, is faulty in two ways:

    1) You seem to assume that assertive behaviour is equally easy for all people, or in all situations. Having lived in Japan for many years, I’ve heard numerous stories of people being bullied and taken advantage of (especially on a recent popular variety show). And I often think that most of these situations could have been resolved quickly if the bullies’ targets had just spoken up for themselves more forcefully.

    However, I also know the social pressures that people are under here. Direct confrontation is typically frowned upon, and there are fairly strict protocols for dealing with people (particularly customers and employers), no matter how pushy or unpleasant or even abusive their behaviour is. Most Japanese people simply wouldn’t find much encouragement to deal assertively with bullying behaviour. That’s changing somewhat, due to better understanding of how abusive personalities operate, but only slowly.

    Please try to accept that not everyone knows how to be assertive, or would necessarily have much support to do so.

    2) Julie Anne has already addressed the question you asked re: why some people would choose to acquiesce to abuse from the pulpit. I would add that for some parishioners, not only their social networks, but also their livelihoods might depend on refusing to rock the boat.

    One case that was covered last year by The Wartburg Watch involved just this situation. Shauna’s special needs son “Billy” was forcibly sodomized by an older boy, and their pastor Ken Ramey went about handling the situation in all kinds of wrongheaded ways. Shauna stood up for herself and her son, refusing to do everything just as Ramey demanded, and eventually leaving Lakeside Bible Church. When she did, all the remaining members cut her off, including those who had hired her to clean houses and care for horses. As a result, Shauna’s only source of income dried up, leaving her desperate to pay for Billy’s recovery in addition to all their other needs.

    You can read the full story here: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2016/02/26/john-macarthur-and-9-marks-supporter-ken-ramey-of-lakeside-bible-church-has-a-disturbing-response-to-a-young-teens-rape/

    I imagine this cruel treatment by the congregation was directed by Ramey and his Elders, in order to prevent anyone else from standing up to them again. So please keep in mind, that this is the kind of power some pastors manage to have over their flock.


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