Cyberbullying: How Internet Vitriol is Damaging All of Us

Image credit: Respectu.com
Image credit: Respectu.com

It’s no news to you that I deal with a lot of cyberbullying and vitriol by running this blog. In fact, something I haven’t talked about at all is the amount of damage it did to me emotionally in the past two years. That’s why I’ve been running away from this blog, distancing myself on Facebook. The pain I already experienced in the cult just kept being repeated over and over with each bullying email or comment.

I’ve been in therapy for a few months now. I sat down on the couch at the therapist’s office and just started crying. “How could people be so mean?” I said. “Why can’t people just accept me for who I am instead of trying to change me?” But it wasn’t just that. Those were sort of the cursory issues–the deeper issue was the constant barrage of vitriol that came in day after day on every social media outlet I was on and every email account I owned. You can run, but we will find you, it seemed like they were saying.

And the one that really scared me was this bug-eyed man from Texas who started harassing me. I had every right to fear him and it wasn’t because he was just there, on the internet. No, it was because when I told him no to a request he had, he went ballistic. He attacked me every single day, anonymously sometimes, but from the same IP address, on every medium he could. A few months after I blocked him, the harassment was still going on. I noticed a Facebook “friend” profile who emailed me and asked where I worked. I went to look at her profile pictures and started to wonder if it were really the bug-eyed man impersonating a woman in order to find out my location. There were photos of women on fire, creepy pictures of women getting tortured and even a kitten with a gun pointed at it (I love cats).

It was around this time that I stopped blogging and I deleted hundreds of Facebook friends. I cut my friends list down to only people I knew online, even though most of the people I’d met online were kind and harmless. I was so scared, though, and I needed to feel safe. (As an aside: If I deleted you during that time, trust me when I say it was nothing personal. I now have a page instead of a profile and you can find it here.)

I scrubbed my Facebook of anything that would give away my location or the location of my family. I started taking extended breaks from social media and email. I went to the beach more. I went back to writing traditionally, with space and time away from the text before I hit “publish.” Maybe I’ll start blogging about something benign like babies or food, I thought. Certainly no one would bother me then. I wasn’t so sure, but I knew one thing: I missed blogging with all my heart and more than that, I missed the connections I’d made with so many wonderful people.

And then at the beginning of the summer I started interviewing therapists. I’d tried a few different things to get rid of the fear, but none of them seemed to work. When I met my therapist I knew right away that I’d feel very comfortable doing something I hadn’t done in years: tell someone how I really felt, deep down inside. I hadn’t shared anything that intimate with anyone in awhile.

It was immediately easier and easier to live without fear, and a few weeks into therapy, I let it all go. I told her how much I’d been dealing with, how I’d stopped trusting people, started hiding, and worse yet, I felt my opportunities were just passing me by because I kept hiding. I was too afraid to be in public after being harassed, so I missed out on speaking engagements and meeting new people. I was afraid I was going to be too terrified to publish my book; after all, it was fear that was holding me back from publishing my memoir even though I’d had interest from so many people. I couldn’t even write a page without being overcome with fear. I wrote and rewrote gibberish.

One afternoon I sat in therapy and recited a recent email I’d received from a pastor. The pastor had no idea the email had brought me to tears, but it had. It hurt me deeply and it also scared me. It was another reminder of how many friends I’d lost by coming out as an atheist and a reminder that even my family had attacked me and made me feel like they couldn’t love me because I’d lost my faith.

When I brought it up to anyone, the main question people asked was, “Why is this bothering you so much?” They didn’t get it.

My therapist did.

“It’s very hateful and judgemental,” she explained. “Everything you experienced in the cult–people pushing you to believe and act a certain way–that’s how these people are treating you.” She raised her eyebrows as I told her story after story of the hate people had shown me.

Image credit: Gcflearnfree.org
Image credit: Gcflearnfree.org

Of course the irony is that most of the people who harass me or who won’t accept me are ministers or religious, but Melissa Ford writes about this problem as an issue the whole internet is facing. In her post on BlogHer, Melissa explains what happened to a mommy blogger who’s come under fire for writing about another woman harassing her daughter in WalMart over a pink headband. The internet has gone crazy accusing this blogger of lying. Regardless of whether she’s telling the truth or not, she was on the verge of suicide because of the public scrutiny. Melissa writes:

According to the Orlando Sentinel in an August 6 story, [Katie] Carpenter told police that she received 11,000 emails and harassing phone calls after the post went live. Invoking the Baker Act, Polk County officials placed her into protective custody when she voiced thoughts of suicide to police. From the Sentinel story:

Carpenter told deputies, according to the report, “that the attention obtained by her story and the negative comments and communications to her had become too much stress and she could not handle the situation…anymore,” and was thinking of killing herself.

Somehow, in all the coverage online and in the media, people are overlooking that there is a very real person in pain. Or, at the very least, no one is behaving as we would if we were face-to-face with someone in emotional pain. While we know better than to jeer at someone having a breakdown in front of us, we tend to forget that when we can hide behind the screen. (Emphasis my own.)

I’ve learned a lot by being attacked online and I’ve changed the way I interact with people on the internet. I try to remind myself that they don’t deserve an ounce of my energy or time or even a response. When I disagree with a friend online, I remind myself to treat them as if we were face-to-face–even if it’s over politics or religion. I remind myself that I’m a professional writer who has an audience that is also very, very kind to me.

In many ways, these lessons have been good for me as a writer and more importantly, as a person. They’ve helped me to think twice before I write about anyone, even a public figure. They’ve made me realize that no amount of right or wrong or passion excuses being cruel to someone over politics or religious differences. I’ve realized that my friendships and my relationships with family members mean far more to me than whether my candidate-of-choice wins an election.

DSC_0308
A photo I took on a recent trip to the beach.

Most of all, I’ve started writing again and I’m reminding myself that my voice can be useful in helping shift the conversation to a smarter, more collaborative conversation; instead of a hate-filled bash session. I’ve started developing a new blog. In the summer I wrote the first draft of my novel and really feel like I’ve found what I’m supposed to write. I shelved my memoir for now and as Julia Scheeres told me the other day, “Only write what you want to write. That’s my best advice. You can always come back to the cult story.”

It’s funny, really, after I started working through my fear, I was asked to speak at two different events and other TV opportunities (with really great companies) were in discussion. My creative energy started coming back and I started reaching out to people more and more.

The internet is still a bit scary for me, but I’m diving in again and am going to kick ass. I’m trying to change my perspective some, and in doing so, I feel like I’ve found my momentum again. Whatever I lost in the past two years by hiding is slowly coming back. I’m excited to see where things go in the next few years and what new things I write. After all, I’m blogging because I love to write and I love to hit publish and I love to connect with people.

If you’d like to help make the internet a better place and educate people about the damage cyberbullying does to all of us, share this post and the post from Melissa Ford. Let’s make the internet fun again!

Why I Don’t Want to be Witnessed To

Image credit: shyjumathew.com
Image credit: shyjumathew.com

Yesterday, I received an email from a guy who’d been recently following my author Facebook page. I was online so I checked it out. I’ve been receiving quite a few nice emails, thanking me for my blog, so I thought that’s what it would be. After all, I’ve been explicitly clear on here that I don’t want to be witnessed to and even went so far as to say I’d bill people via PayPal if they kept at it (that’s a joke, but I should do it).

Anyway, he starts off nicely saying this:

I stumbled across your site because I was doing some research on MC, not to mention several people had contacted me about their past experiences within this program, that’s when I found you. So I’ve read your bio, the mess you came out of and now I see the end result. Please don’t misunderstand or mistake my contacting you as a gesture to judge you or “pray” for you (which I still will of course), but I just wanted to say that I “get it”. I get the whole anger you’ve got when it comes to religion. I “get it” when it comes to “church hurt” because I’ve been where you were at. I grew up in church, but my hurt led me to Hollywood, Larry Flynt and Rob Zombie and a budding career as an indie filmmaker and a working screen writer.

My point is, I get you. However, let me equally say that I found my way BACK to Christ and the second half has been better than the first. My work now is in China as a preacher and missionary (returning this spring to live IN Chengdu). All I will say is, one day I believe that same path will once again present itself to you and one day I’m hoping that you’ll once again find Christ, and realize that Christ is not what religion presents him to be, but what he really is – reality. (emphasis my own)

Christopher

What struck me is what strikes me everytime I see these emails (and trust me, I rarely go a week without seeing a more judgmental version of this). The people who send me these emails are so judgemental and they’re so set in their ways–wanting to convince me that I’m wrong or bad because I’m unsaved. They don’t even realize they’re straight out of a Colbert Report skit (which MAKES FUN OF THEM).

Many of you have shared with me over the years that you get these responses, too, only they come from your Christian friends and family after you bring to light abuse or rape or pedophilia that’s going on in a church you attended.

Wait, did I hear you correctly? YOU did the right thing and reported a CRIME (or bad leadership) and THEY judge you/tell you that you’re wrong?  Now they won’t be your friend?

Wow, talk about Christlike (insert sarcasm indicator here)!

Basically what you’ve shared with me is that some of the same Christian friends who used to call you family are total pricks. Man, when we start seeing the light, we see it brightly, don’t we?

I had the same experience.

Unfortunately, keeping this blog up means I’m having the same experience day after day. Mostly because these assholes don’t read and can’t follow instructions. I tell them to email hellolisakerr AT gmail DOT com for letters like this and I clearly indicate that my other email address thelisakerr AT gmail DOT com is for professional use only. That’s so I can herd all these emails into one spot and never read them. I hate sorting through these to find legitimate emails from fans or business offers. Reading these emails cause me unnecessary stress and I’m over it; unfortunately, I haven’t found a working solution for keeping these emails at bay while being able to read the good emails. I often ignore all email because I don’t want to stress out over reading someone’s judgement call. It’s sad, but true.

The more I blog, the more people want to challenge my lack of faith. Lately I’ve had a lot of angry men challenge me–some even say they love debating ‘smart atheists.’ As if there are any dumb atheists. Geez!

I kid. But seriously.

The point is, I don’t want to be witnessed to. No one wants to be witnessed to. I’d go so far as to say it’s an invasion of my personal privacy and it feels utterly intrusive. Witnessing should be banished from the church simply because it makes you a shitty, pushy salesman. And no one likes high-pressure sales tactics. Except the salesman.

So, Christopher, if you’re still reading, take a break from preaching to me. In fact, take a break preaching to those in China, too. Let them be. The world will not end if you stop preaching to them. They won’t go to Hell. They might actually live just as happy, and maybe even happier without all that fundamentalist guilt, without it.

To read my responses to Christopher, scroll down.

Christopher,
Your email was almost really nice but you pretty much failed there at the end. Here’s my take away: You want me to get saved and think my life would be better as such. Why do you want to impose your beliefs on me so much? When I was a minister I was never that pushy (well, until I was in MC and we tried saving people as a sport.) A missionary is by definition a pushy son of a bitch, intent on wrecking cultures and community for their own self serving needs; assuming that other cultures are heathen because they don’t believe the same as the missionary.

I imagine you have all Christian friends who don’t need saving so you need to find something to do and someone to save. I’m not it. I don’t even befriend people who approach me in that manner because it shows me they lack a deep understanding of humanity and society. Not to mention a lack of understanding of who I am. Reading a few blog posts about me shows you a side of me–a shade of my anger a few years ago. That’s not me. Fast forward past 2010.

I don’t think you “get me” actually because you think I should be like you and my outcome will be the same as yours. What if it’s not? What if I believe that there’s no possible way there’s a God for the very simple fact that I would never believe in a male God? But it doesn’t really matter what I believe–beliefs are private and you should respect that. Butting into what I believe or don’t believe is insulting on so many levels. It’s literally none of your goddamn business.

Worse of all, by trying to push your beliefs on me, maybe you’re missing out on a cool friendship because I’ll tell you right now, I’m actually pretty cool. I change the world, too, but by telling the world how fake certain ministries are. And guess what? I’m influencing others to bring critical thinking into the pew and question unintelligent people or beliefs that might not make sense. Occasionally, people read what I write and it helps them in some way. They see that I can get through this without God and they consider that as an option.

One day you’ll find yourself alone and feeling like God doesn’t exist. Maybe a shit storm will hit you and I hope that you will find reality. That even when life is darkest you’ll realize that you don’t need a belief in a higher power–you can be stronger without one. I hope when life is hard you find the strength that you need to get through those times with what you need–reality.

Lisa

He couldn’t leave well enough alone, so he wrote this back:

And yet God will always be there – to remind you of that one constant truth, that Christ never changes and that we will all stand before him, saved and unsaved and then reality will sink in. Again, I’m not trying to convert you back, like I said, I stumbled across your site and it required some response, (call it the preacher in me) either way, the cross has never been removed and God is gracious to offer a second chance. And you’re right, you might never repent, you might never come back to the cross, I’ll grant you that, but then whose to say this late night email was not “inspired” as a reminder God’s ever present resolve to come back to the cross? As I said, not looking to antagonize you at all, wasn’t even a consideration, it’s just that when I see you, I see what I was in some respects and while it’s true each person has a different path in life, the one who created that path still reminds us all that there is an eternity to face and what will you do then if you’re wrong? Thanks for the reply.

More is Revealed About the Dino Rizzo Affair Cover-Up

This is what we know so far about the Dino Rizzo affair with Kaycee Morgan Smith and the subsequent cover-up. More information is coming in even as I write so stay tuned for more updates.The affair between Kaycee Morgan Smith and Dino Rizzo wasn’t short-lived, nor was it an inappropriate friendship. It lasted at least a year and sources say that he furnished her with a luxury apartment during that time in Perkins Rowe.
Perkins Rowe, Baton Rouge, LA (Image credit: Apartments.com)
Perkins Rowe, Baton Rouge, LA (Image credit: Apartments.com)

perkins rowe

What about her salary? Kaycee was indeed on the HPC staff and it’s rumored she made quite a large salary; more than some pastors at the same church. Kaycee played the role of Dino’s personal assistant when they traveled the world. He requested her to go on trips. Obviously so they could feed the poor, if you know what I mean. 😉
So how did this all get exposed after Dino had clearly hidden it for a year? Someone found texts between Dino and Kaycee on Dino’s phone. The person confronted Dino about them and Dino in turn, said it was none of his business and threatened him. The person went further, though, and spoke up to the church presbyters who turned a deaf ear. It’s no coincidence that DeLynn Rizzo’s father, Wayne Austin, was one of the three presbyters that were told that day. Wayne Austin was also the marriage counselor Chris Hodges mentioned in his sermon last Wednesday that ‘restored Dino and DeLynn.’ What a joke.
Don’t think DeLynn is a victim in all this. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Sweetheart knows where her paycheck comes from–$4 million dollars a year is what Dino and DeLynn are rumored to make.
Take a look at the cars their kids drive (BMW SUV), the private schools they attend (Samford University) and the eleven trips to Disney World they’ve taken. Burberry watches for birthdays ($500-700) and a private chef for Dino’s daughter McCall’s graduation party. Or trips to Australia, like McCall talks about on Facebook:
Who's paying for this? You, HPC.
Who’s paying for this? You, HPC.
Not to mention the $1.2 million dollar home they put up for sale after the scandal was revealed.
Dino Rizzo's house went up for sale last year around March.
Dino Rizzo’s house went up for sale last year around March.

dino rizzo house

Four million dollars a year may very well be an incorrect number. I’d imagine this kind of lifestyle would require at least $10 million dollars a year. It’s no wonder they run a very lucrative School of Ministry where college age kids pay several thousand dollars to work for the church. Free labor, plus thousands of dollars? That’s a trip to Australia for five, folks!
On the day Dino resigned, he was supposed to read a prepared statement but he didn’t. DeLynn told him not to. I’ve received several reports confirming this. At this time, other staff members left the church. It’s no coincidence why founding staff members and pastors were leaving but what no one knew is they were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement in front of lawyers in order to receive their severance pay. If this church was a corporation, there’d be legal action against that.
ARC overseers got involved around this time. They tried to reinstate Dino in the spring before their ‘year of restoration’ was up but lawyers got involved. They were forced to release financials (if anyone has a copy or details, please email me) and this is when more members quit or left the church.
So what of poor Kaycee? She was paid off, too. She lives in Florida now and is clearly not hurting for money. Maybe she’s got a nice luxury apartment there where Dino still visits? I reached out to Kaycee via Twitter last year when I broke the story, but received no reply.
If you would like to contribute to this story, email me at mycultlife AT gmail DOT com. All names will be kept confidential. Tips and corrections may be sent, as well.

Here’s What People Are Saying About Dino Rizzo’s Affair Cover-Up

Dino Rizzo Kaycee Morgan Smith
Dino Rizzo with the woman he had an affair with, Kaycee Morgan Smith. The affair took place in the summer of 2012. (Image left courtesy of The Leadership Blog and image right courtesy of Healing Place Church)

In light of Dino Rizzo’s recent return to ministry this week after having an affair with Healing Place Church staff member Kaycee Morgan Smith and lying to his church about it in his resignation last year, here’s what people are saying about the scandal and cover-up:

Chris Hodges words were spin on the truth. It wasn’t a brief inappropriate friendship, she was a kept woman for quite some time. But at least Church of the highlands and ARC received spins on the truth, HPC received outright lies and cover up. I just wish Hodges and Rizzo had gotten up there and said “we made so many mistakes over this last year trying to handle this right but failing, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” –From commentor Icabod

Charisma News did a good job of covering up what really happened. Readers were outraged again from the lack of integrity of the news source and the pastors involved, just like they were last September when Christian news sources were covering up the affair.
NavyDad77 says: 

The narrative should be about the cover up and leaving the women victim out in the cold AND the church that remains in Louisiana is in trouble. All the while this guy gets off with NO questions asked. He was the former youth minister for Jimmy Swaggart so he should know how to repent. The scandal is the cover up of what happened and the subsequent mistreatment of the intern. Not a single bit of contrition or mention of that from any of them. There should be outrage and a much longer cooling off period before they let him in charge of anything.

Richard says:

An “inappropriate friendship”? What is an “inappropriate friendship”? Since when is a pastor disciplined for an “inappropriate friendship”? Is an “inappropriate friendship” when you say “hi” too many times? What is an “inappropriate friendship”? I think I know what it is…..a lie….cover up language.

A former member of Church of the Highlands, where Dino Rizzo is now on staff and gave his first sermon since the affair, hits the nail on the head with this comment:

As a former member of COTH of over 12 years, I am so disappointed w/ Chris and Dino for how they have handled this situation. No honesty whatsoever!! I feel so sorry for the people of HPC who were lied to, betrayed and told they weren’t getting any more explanation for his (Dino’s) resignation. Their (Chris, Dino and Co.) cover up only proves that they care more about Dino’s reputation and the reputation of ARC than they do about the people they serve.

More on this story here: 

Healing Place Pastor Founder Resigns; Affair Cover Up Suspected

Rizzo Resigns As Healing Place Pastor; Rumors Of Affair Surface

Dino Rizzo From Healing Place Church Puts His House Up For Sale

Megachurch Pastor Dino Rizzo Returns to Ministry After Affair

If you would like to contribute to this story, of have a news tip, email mycultlife AT gmail DOT com. All names will be kept confidential.