Letter to Lloyd and MCIN from former MCA Member

The following is a letter from Sean M. Mitchell, who was one of my best friends during my years in Austin, TX. Sean was a wonderful friend and support during those years in Austin, and has remained a true friend as well as the voice and face of kindness to me when I was in the darkest moments of my life. Thank you Sean for never turning your back on me, always reminding me of the goodness that lay inside me when I couldn’t see it, and supporting me through the years. Thank you, also, for allowing others to read this very heartfelt letter that many others will be able to relate to.

July 26, 2010

RE: Spiritual Abuse in Lafayette, Louisiana

Dear Lloyd and MCIN Board:

I am writing in regards to my growing concern for the practices by high leadership at Masters Commission 3D and Our Saviors Church (OSC) in Lafayette, Louisiana. I spent over four years at Masters Commission of Austin under Nathan Davies in Austin, Texas and know everyone who went to Lafayette very thoroughly. I have strong reason to believe that there is spiritual abuse and potential cultic practices taking place at OSC.

Since many of my friends moved to Louisiana, I have had multiple conversations with over ten former staff members who have been personally manipulated, controlled, and ostracized by Daniel Jones, Nathan Davies, and Tim Wilson. I have heard from multiple friends that disagreement and questioning of leadership is strongly condoned. Any staff member that questions executive leadership on a decision is often brought up in front of staff meetings for the purpose of embarrassment and isolation. Staff members are told to unconditionally obey leadership in order to stay under the covering of their spiritual authority; not obeying authority is said to result in affliction by the devil. The type of tight-lipped control executive leadership has on its staff members characterizes some of the symptoms of well known cultic groups like Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidians, and Mormon fundamentalist.

Additionally, the control that executive leadership has over day-to-day life decisions of staff further concerns me. In the name of Godly submission and shepherding, I have heard that staff is required to ask permission for things like having babies, buying new homes, receiving permission to court someone of the opposite sex, and divulge details of personal finances. Failure to submit to these controlling practices would require those in high power to disown and dismiss those on staff, justifying their actions by stating that the staff member has chosen to no longer be “a son or daughter in the house.”

I can personally attest to similar dealings during my time as a staff member at Masters Commission of Austin (MCA) under Nathan Davies. The many manipulative and controlling practices at MCA are undoubtedly from the influences of Daniel Jones over the last 20 years, not a reflection of the leadership at Glad Tidings. While I was on staff, Nathan Davies often used strong, coercive language to manipulate members of his staff to do what he thought was the will of God. For example, after telling Nathan that I was not traveling to Louisiana with others but moving to Norway to be apart of a missionary organization, he told me that he was very “sick to his stomach” about me leaving. It took the encouragement of the, at the time, Senior and Associate Pastor of Glad Tidings to convince me I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit myself. After departing MCA, I was faced with a long journey to deprogram my thinking from the toxic teaching that everything had to be approved by a leader or else it was sin. I realized that I could make my own decisions without asking permission for every single action.

I am asking that Masters Commission International Network investigate the abuse of my dear friends who have left OSC hurt and confused. Furthermore, I fear that some of my closest friends still at OSC will incur long lasting mental and spiritual damage if nothing is done.

Sincerely,

Sean M. Mitchell


 

If the cult was so bad, why didn’t you just leave?

Questions I’ve received over the years and now:

  • If it was so bad at the cult, why didn’t you just leave?

  • Why did you stay for so long under the conditions you’re describing?

  • You’re a really smart girl. How did you sucked into an abusive place so easily?

A reader answered some of these questions really well in a comment. I’m going to share her answer with you below:

As a social worker I hear [these] comments often. He asked you why you just did not leave? I want EVERYONE to know that it takes an abused person 7-8 attempts to leave before they actually leave their abuser. Some of the reasons that it is hard for people to leave is because they are threatened with death (in your case spiritually), when they leave, they leave behind friends and family, also in your case the power difference. When someone has power over another person it makes it harder to go against what they say. I know how hard it was for you to leave and I am glad that you are speaking out and trying to assist others. –Blog comment from “Leah” on 7/22/10

Not only is Leah a social worker, she’s a survivor who comes from this same ministry group and has dealt with many of the same issues I’ve dealt with. For her and I to speak up takes a lot of courage. To talk about issues we had with people of power and authority over so many people takes great courage. Thank you Leah.

The following song is a powerful statement about abuse, also. Eminem is known for alleged domestic violence and Rihanna was the recent recipient of some alleged abuse from Chris Brown.

Relationships don’t have to be romantic in order to be abusive, and abuse doesn’t have to be physical for it to hurt and cause pain and destruction.

Emotional abuse is just as destructive as physical abuse, yet it’s intangible and often hard for the victim (and law enforcement) to measure, so the victim often stays because it’s so hard to define. Add to the abuse, threats of death (physical or spiritual) and threats of taking away all of a persons reputation, friends, etc. Add to it a perpetrator who is a person of high and notable position of power, who’s reputation is well-known nationally and you have a recipe for a normally healthy person to get sucked in easily to a group like this and stay in a spiritually abusive relationship with that person for years–holding them in by the web of relationships, their current or future career goals, and spiritual death if they leave.

I mean, who’s going to believe someone like me when I’ve just scrubbed toilets for someone who was the Chaplain for the New Orleans Saints, who was invited to Governor Blanco’s (the former Louisiana Governor) mansion for private dinners and to the White House when George Bush was in office? I just folded the man’s laundry: he spoke with Billy Graham. He MUST be anointed and I must be offended and sinful and wrong.

Right?

Absolutely WRONG! More people are coming out to dialogue about the abuse they’ve received under the ministry of this man now than ever before. Abuse is abuse, plain and simple. Emotional abuse that causes mental trauma, hospitalization, medication, therapy care, etc. is also something that I don’t talk about lightly and those are not light implications to put on a person. They’re serious accusations that everyone should take seriously–if you are a good friend of this person, a ministry partner, etc. and you KNOW about this abuse happening, I’m holding you accountable for this information now. May you have a guilty conscience from here until eternity until you stop protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons!

Listen to this song and think about the victims of abuse who’ve yet to leave and why:

Love the Way you Lie by Eminem ft. Rihanna


Bubble Boys and Girls: There’s LIFE Outside!

One day, many years ago (five or six, to be exact), I was driving from a small, bayou filled town named Broussard, Louisiana that just contained our church, an Albertson’s and a pizza place to Lafayatte, a slightly larger city. I remember turning the corner of one street, the clouds hazy over my car looking like it might rain, thinking, I really hate living here. I hate the weather. I hate this city. Nothing is appealing to me here…But I feel like I can’t leave.

There were many times I didn’t feel fulfilled at my cult life. I felt my dreams were stripped of me, while I was forced to do a job that would get someone higher up their dreams. It was a sad place to be for someone who dreamed a lot–like me.

There are some readers who are still in that ministry group, or in that church, who read this and want out. I know how you feel. I felt that once. At that point driving, I thought of leaving, but I wondered, What options do I have? What would I do with my life? What ARE my dreams?

I’d never given myself full liberty to think about MY own dreams and ambitions, while I was “serving my pastor.” I didn’t think about my options in life, either. I just assumed I’d wasted seven years of my life in ministry and if I left now, I’d leave everything I’d built my life around.

One afternoon, I told my sister I wanted to leave and how the pastor had told me he COULD send me to India to do missionary work (which was at the time, my dream) but he wouldn’t. He didn’t think I could handle it.

My sister said, “You know, Lisa, there are so many groups you could work overseas with. It doesn’t have to be them. The Catholics have missionaries, the Seventh-Day Adventist groups, etc.” She went on to list various groups who did missionary work similar to what I’d wanted to do.

It gave me hope. If someone was going to stop what I thought was God’s will and MY dream for my life, to abuse me for their own, then I could do something about it.

I also started thinking about college. I’d been thinking about college for years prior, and had asked to go, but the answer was always, NO!

In high school, I’d always gotten good grades and been very academic, so I knew I wanted to go to college. I finally started looking into it during my last few months in Louisiana. I even filled out an application to University of Louisiana, Lafayette. I was going to stay and work for the pastor, but he said he didn’t think I could work for him AND go to school at the same time. It’d be a lot for me to handle.

Instead, I ended up moving home to attend a California State University close to my parents. Within weeks, I was accepted to the school and to the Helen Hawke Honor’s Program based on my high school GPA and SAT scores.

Over the next few years, I finally decided that creative writing was something I’d always wanted to do–since I was a little girl. I said good-bye to the dream of becoming a “missionary” but didn’t say good-bye to my humanitarian nature. Instead, the more I learned in college, the more dedicated I became to humanitarian crises and awareness of how to help. Mine was not a religious calling, I found. It never was.

My writing developed over the years. For years, I knew I was a writer, but felt people would judge me and I just felt mute. I couldn’t show anyone anything and worse yet, I couldn’t even type things out for fear someone would read them and judge me. I cried in class when anyone would criticize my work.

Then, I moved cities and took some writing classes. I was published and had to read to around 300 people. I made friends with a great writing community of wonderfully creative, smart people whom I miss. I was surrounded by writing professors who believed in me.

I’ve also taken up painting, drawing and photography. My writing is often realistic and unapologetic but my paintings are lively and show life as eternal springtime.

The point of my post? There is LIFE and DREAMS and AMBITIONS in this great, big world out here. Come out and play! It might just be the best decision you’ve ever made.

It was MY CULT LIFE, too.

I received this email last week and since I had this person’s permission to post it, I thought it would be a good time to share it. I have changed a few minor details to protect the identity of this person, because no one deserves to be harassed the way I’ve been harassed for speaking up. Please read on:

Dear Lisa,

Just wanted to drop a quick note and let you know I’ve been following your blog. Thank you for speaking out, I feel the exact same way but I never understood the importance of confronting it until I recently read everything you’ve been posting. 

I spent years at MCID (now Master’s Commission 3D), and it took me a year or two to realize what had actually happened: that I had been in a cult.

God bless you, L! I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me.

I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t believe it for a while. I’ve spent the last several years being content to say to myself, “Well I know that a lot of things that took place were wrong, but I’m just going to hold on to the good things that God did in me and forgive and forget the rest.” Boy, a lot of good that has done for the naive ones that have followed our footsteps, eh?

I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with another one of my former peers who has not regarded our time at MCID with contempt.

Thank you for sharing, I’m reading and pursuing my own path of healing and desire for justice. I don’t want this to continue to happen, and I pray that the Lord will move on their hearts as they read and hear about those who have been hurt and scarred under their leadership.

Signed,

“It was My Cult Life, Too”

Dear “It was My Cult Life, Too:” What a beautiful letter! Thank you (you and I know who you are). I hope you know that you are a valuable, wonderful human being and are not responsible for what happened at that place. You are a child of God. Keep your head up and keep smiling. I wish you the very best life has to offer.

Think Like a Nazi–I DID!

“My name is Lisa and I’m a former cult member and reverend.”

“Hi Lisa,” Everyone says.

Only, there’s no “everyone” and there’s no support or recovery group for this kind of situation.

I spent five years working through the pain and anger with devoted family and friends, and now I’ve moved past it (for the most part).

What still remains are two situations:

1)      A large Christian Fundamentalist population in America which is leading Christianity down a dark road.

2)      Numerous damaged church and ministry peers who talk to me often, needing validation for what happened to them and needing resources to move on

I’m by no means an expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night (that was a joke, by the way).

I spent part of my five years away from My Cult Life getting my Bachelor of Arts degree (a degree was something women in particular weren’t allowed to get in the Cult) and I minored in Religious Studies. I studied under Dr. S.T. Campagna-Pinto, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Many of my text resources can be attributed to him, as he suggested some of the most fabulous books to read.

These pressure tactics and dictatorial pastoring happened with everything in our lives—not just dating. I was on call with him around the clock. I never vacationed. I didn’t color my hair, or buy different clothes, or stop jogging in the mornings otherwise he’d tell me how to color my hair, how to dress, and how skinny I needed to be.

The pastors under his leadership were much worse: we had to check in with them over the money we spent, where we went on our personal time, etc. The type of music we listened to, the movies and tv shows we watched, what we browsed on the Internet, and the books we read were all censored and subject to their approval. If we read a book, watched a movie or bought a CD that they disapproved of, we were subject to harsh reprimands, public embarrassment, or even getting asked to leave the group (followed by a public humiliation). Any music, books, clothing item, etc. that they didn’t like was subject to a bonfire.

At one point in my second year in this school, we were all instructed to “pray” about what God was telling us to discard in the bonfire. Then, we were reminded of things that might be included in that list of items: secular music, clothing that was too revealing, mementos from old boyfriends, etc.

I couldn’t really think of anything God had spoken to me to burn, so one of our staff leaders came around to each of our wardrobe cabinets and helped us “hear God’s voice.” I had a bikini and a hat from a mission’s trip to Burma that they suggested I burn; the bikini, for reasons that it was against our dress code in that ministry school and the hat because that staff member felt a demonic spirit upon it. I didn’t agree with either of them, but considering that I’d already been yelled at by our pastor for not following instructions of the staff members, I thought it might be best to do as I was told. I cried over the hat from Burma, because it was a special souvenir that I’d received on a trip I took in 1999 that I knew I’d never be able to replace. I’d gone to the country wanting a pointed hat, but I could never find one. Come to find out, they were Vietnamese in origin. Well, on the flight home to the U.S., I saw a man in the airport with one of them and I asked him where he bought his. He said he bought them in Vietnam and he had an extra one if I wanted one. I was so thrilled! The only souvenir I wanted was a hat, and some random stranger gave me one! And now, I was about to burn it in a bonfire in Austin, TX because some ministry leader thought it was demon possessed.

I stood around a circle later that evening with all the other students and staff members. First and Second year students stood in the inner circle, around the fire, with boxes and trash bags full of items that were precious to each of us. We knew we’d each take a turn, parting with our past lives, and each face seemed scared and pained. Tears were running down most of our faces. At the time, some people said they felt God’s presence telling them to throw the items in the fire so they could let go of past loves, past anger, past issues, but in reality, we were crying because we were confused, scared and afraid.

We were in a group with pastors and leaders who didn’t allow us to think for ourselves. Not one of them trusted us to develop a genuine relationship with God, or interpret the Bible for ourselves. Instead of love, they dictated by fear and anger. Instead of understanding that we were fresh out of high school, they lacked compassion and understanding. Most sad of all, they didn’t teach us how to think for ourselves, but threatened us and rebuked us anytime we spoke up against them or had a unique thought for ourselves.

Hannah Arendt, a well-known scholar, talks about the real evil in the world: the failure to have original thought. Arendt claims that this was something that one of Hitler’s right-hand men, and the Nazi’s did best: failed to think for themselves. Instead of thinking for themselves when an order was given to load up a houseful of Jewish men, women and children , set it on fire, and stand outside of the house with guns loaded and aimed, ready to shoot if any of them tried to escape, the Nazi’s did what they were told. At the end of the war, they said, “We were just following orders.”

How many times do we just accept something we’re told to do? How many times do we just follow orders? Is it the norm in today’s Christian Fundamentalist church to think like a Nazi? I know it was for me.