Excuses Cult Leaders Use

Cult leaders, and manipulative pastors, have a way of making up excuses for their behavior. If Christians aren’t careful, they’ll find themselves (and we’ll find our friends) making up excuses for their behavior, too.

You’ve heard it before. Church members and Christians essentially start excusing abuse and torment that their pastor (or another “man of God”) has done to others by saying, “Well, they’re just God’s mouthpiece,” or “Whoever got offended just wasn’t devoted enough to God,” or even, “It was all part of God’s plan. They must not be close enough to God.”

Some I’ve heard about myself and my situation:

“Lisa was just overly sensitive.”

“Lisa was just an immature Christian.”

“No one else was hurt.”

“It must have just been your Master’s Commission. We didn’t go through that. We had a great Director.”

“God told me to do it. I was just following His orders.”

“We fired that person. They’re not here anymore. Things have changed.”

What they really mean is a) we don’t give a shit b) we’re going to try to intimidate everyone in our church to believe us and not you c) we’re doing everything in our power to discredit you so you shut up and go away.

They don’t give a damn.

Pastor Daniel’s son has told me this about his father time and time again. “He could care less about you. In fact, he looks down on people like you.”

The bottom line is, (most) everything you hear from a controlling pastor or a cult leader after someone leaves and decides to speak up is an excuse.

An excuse for their behavior–their abusive behavior.

I remember being in Master’s Commission, when a student’s parents would complain about something we did. Nathan  would shut them up and the other students by saying, “Things have changed. We don’t do that anymore.”

It was a lie. We never changed. We attempted to, but the truth is, Nathan ‘s ways were set in stone and wouldn’t budge. He taught all of us to disciple those under us with an iron fist, just as he did. Nothing was going to change. But, we had to live up to “expectations” and so we tried to tell people what they wanted to save our reputation.

Questions:

Have you ever heard any of these excuses? In what context?

Have you ever met a pastor who was humble enough to admit his wrongdoing? If so, how did he present it? Did he apologize to the person he wronged?

What makes a religious group a cult?

Waco Tribune-Herald/May 6, 2007
By Cindy V. Culp

When it comes to cults, there’s an old joke among religious scholars: A cult is a cult is a cult — unless it’s my religious group.

That jest highlights the tendency many people have to treat the identification of cults almost like the pinpointing of pornography. They don’t have a good definition of what makes a cult, but they’re sure they’ll know one when they see it.

Experts’ approach to the subject is far more complex, whether discussing the Amish, the Branch Davidians, the Mormons or Homestead Heritage. Only a few scholars use the word “cult.” Most say it has become too loaded of a word and prefer terms such as “new religious group” or “alternative religious movement.”

Experts also have differing opinions about what puts a group into the question mark category. A few give the label to any religious group that doesn’t hold a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. Others say the only reliable dividing line is whether a group obeys the law. A lot linger somewhere in the middle.

Rick Ross, who heads up a religious research institute in New Jersey, is one expert who sees no problem in using the word cult. To him, there’s no reason not to use the term except for political correctness.

“Whether they call them cults, new religious movements or whatever, you see the same structure in behavior, the same structure in dynamics,” Ross said. “Groups that fit this pattern are very often unstable.”

Ross differs from some cult-watching organizations in that he doesn’t label a group a cult simply because of its theological beliefs. Rather, groups should be judged by their behavior, he said.

One classic sign of a cult is that it is personality-driven, Ross said. That means it has a charismatic leader or group of leaders who hold a tremendous amount of sway over members.

Another common characteristic is isolation, Ross said. Sometimes that isolation is physical, with members’ comings and goings being restricted.

But most often, isolation takes the form of members becoming completely absorbed in the group and its activities, Ross said. If members work, go to school and socialize only with each other, isolation is a real possibility. An especially troubling sign, he said, is when members are asked to cut off contact with family members.

“I call it discordant noise,” he said. “Anyone or anything that would raise troubling questions about the group is marginalized to the extreme, cut off.”

Also common is a persecution complex, he said. Members often have an “us- versus-them” attitude, perceiving simple disagreements as attacks.

“They say criticizing them is to go against God,” Ross said.

Another giveaway, he said, is when groups teach that anyone who leaves is flawed. Healthy groups generally believe people can have good reasons for leaving. Not so with cults, he said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas. Not only does he not use the word “cult,” but he takes issue with the characteristics that have been attached to the word.

The problem with them, Miller said, is that they don’t distinguish between good and bad expressions of those characteristics. For example, some of the most successful mainstream religious organizations have charismatic leaders.

The anti-cult movement often acts as if there are easy answers to the question of whether a group is dangerous, Miller said. But things are rarely black and white. Most involve judgment calls and points of view. What may seem sinister to one person may be perfectly normal to another, he said.

“I don’t know where you draw the line, frankly, except at the law,” Miller said.

William Dinges, a professor of religious studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said one question he asks when evaluating religious groups is what kind of fruit they produce. That’s helpful because while the customs of some groups could be called cultic under the criteria of anti-cult organizations, they don’t truly fit that mold. The Amish are one example, he said.

One term that can be used to describe such groups are “radicalized expressions of religious commitment,” Dinges said. Characteristics include having a distinct boundary between it and others; being demanding of members; being galvanized around a charismatic personality; and having an intensified sense of mission.

Like Miller, Dinges says determining whether such groups are dangerous is subjective. Among the factors to weigh is whether they make it emotionally impossible to leave, whether they maintain members’ dignity, the amount of freedom they give members and whether there is a structure for airing and addressing conflict.

People also must consider how accepted certain behaviors are within that particular religious tradition, Dinges said. For example, becoming a monk may seem strange to many people, but it’s a very accepted part of the Catholic tradition.

Such factors also must be weighed in evaluating the stories of people who have come out of a group, Dinges said. In some cases, people’s horror stories stem from truly bad things that happened to them, he said,

In other instances, though, stories are tainted by a change in ex-members’ viewpoints, Dinges said. People can have mistaken or highly romanticized notions about what life in a particular group will be like, then become bitter when reality doesn’t match expectations.

Sometimes that happens because a group engages in false recruitment activities, he said. Other times it’s because people jump into situations without thoroughly understanding them.

“You have to educate yourself and, in a sense, know yourself. Trust your intuition.”

Ron Enroth, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in California, says all the spiritually abusive groups he has studied share common characteristics. They’re so similar that when he talks to ex-members and starts hearing details of their stories, “I almost feel like saying, ‘Stop, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ ”

One feature of such groups, Enroth said, is control-oriented leadership. Communication with outsiders is limited and questioning isn’t allowed inside the group.

Sometimes the control extends into intimate areas of followers’ lives, he said. In such cases, members are expected to ask permission to take vacations or switch jobs. Lifestyle rigidity is also common, with some groups having an almost unfathomable list of rules. One he studied outlawed striped running shoes because they supposedly were connected to homosexuality, he said. Another forbid members to use the word “pregnant.” Instead they were commanded to say a woman was “with child.”

Such groups are also spiritual elitists, Enroth said. They use arrogant or high-minded terms to describe themselves and often have disparaging descriptions for other churches, he said.

“They present themselves as the model Christian church or the model Christian organization…and say they provide unparalleled fellowship and superior spirituality,” Enroth said.

In addition, such groups are usually paranoid and perceive any criticism as persecution, Enroth said. They paint people who leave as defectors and say attacks against them are ultimately the work of Satan.

“By describing criticism as slander, they can almost be shielded from criticism,” Enroth said.

Enroth believes the number of spiritually abusive groups is growing due to a spike in the number of independent churches in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. People like them because they are less formal and less hierarchical than traditional churches, he said.

But with that independence also comes the potential for trouble, he said.

“They are, in a sense, spiritual Lone Rangers,” Enroth said. “That’s where the potential for sliding off the cliff comes into play.”

Preserving Your Faith

A few weeks ago, I came out and said I wasn’t a Christian anymore. Some of you still are a Christian, though, and life has taken you on a different path. I’d like to hear from you.

A good friend, Aaron Gates, told his story here. Aaron shared that he’s still a Christian but had some struggles after he left ministry feeling like he was mourning the loss of friends and the people in ministry that become his family. He also shared that his relationship with God had been formed on what he “had been taught and told and made to experience.”

Aaron entered a journey similar to my own, where he had to decide what he believed, and where he stood on the core issues of life; including where he stood with God.

You may not realize it now, but even in your moments of pain and hurt, you’re on a similar journey.You’re deciding what you believe in (or don’t believe in) and where you’re going to go from here in life.

Now for you to answer:

How has your journey begun, evolved and continued?

Do you still believe in God? If so, how has what you experience strengthened that relationship with God or perhaps allowed you to be more skeptical of that belief?

Did it cause you to be more skeptical of church? If so, what parts of church are still painful to you? Have you found one that you feel comfortable in, or are you still searching?

Who or what has helped you along this journey?

I’m Bitter and Angry

Recently, an old church friend from Austin, TX deleted my Facebook Fan Page.

Her comment was simple, but really condescending (see Beth’s comment at the top of the thread):

So, of course, I had to email her to ask her why she deleted me. Usually, I don’t care when someone deletes me. After all, I know who I am, and how feisty I am, so I expect it. However, if someone says I’ve “gone over the edge” and calls it “sad” it makes me curious.

Here’s my message to her, her response, and what I had to say after finding out why she deleted me:

I think my main problem is this:

Why is it a crime for someone who’s been abused from a pastor and a ministry to be bitter and angry?

Is being bitter and angry part of a natural grieving process? I thought it was. In fact, professionals say over and over that anger is a natural part of the grieving process. In my opinion, to criticize someone for going through the grieving process is incredibly unkind.

Also, let’s discuss my going “over the edge.” In the past few months, here’s a recap of how “over the edge” I’ve gone and what she means:

I’m not a Christian anymore. What that means to my former “friends” like this lady is that I’m “going to hell” or “walking with the devil” or any number of other ridiculous terms. It also means I’m not obsessed with what she thinks, including the fact that I may cuss, support the #prochoice movement, and by all means hope that abusers of young adults and children go to jail, where they belong.

I post videos on YouTube speaking my mind. Back in the day, I was in a church where it was frowned upon for women to speak their mind. When I lived there, it was also shunned to speak your mind against a PASTOR who did wrong. I’m breaking both of those unwritten rules. People who leave cults are often discouraged from doing so. They’ve been taught for so many years that pastors can do no wrong, and that if they think their pastor is wrong, they’re of the devil. I’m going against the way I was taught, and the way these people believe by speaking my mind.

I’m less conservative than I used to be. Some even call me liberal. I don’t vote Republican anymore. I don’t carry a gun. I don’t like Sarah Palin. I don’t think having sex is a sin.

I read academic sources more than I listen to a pastors sermons. I haven’t been to church in years and am a happier, better rested person for it. I love my non-church life. I have free time to pursue my real love–writing and trashy reality TV shows. Or, having sex.

So, have I gone over the edge?

No.

Unless you’re a fundamentalist Christian. And then, I probably appear to have gone over the edge. In fact, I’m probably going to go to hell for blasphemy and sin. But, luckily, I don’t believe in hell, so it’s cool.

I’m happy in a new world with a new way of thinking that includes loving myself and others, believing in the best in people, thinking for ones self, appreciating those around me who care about me and pushing away those who don’t care about me.

These days, I’m a huge fan of respect. I respect others. I even respect others who find their religious beliefs sacred. I respect others who are very different than I am.

All I’m asking for is the same thing in return. I don’t have religious beliefs anymore. Respect that. If you want to delete me on Facebook, I don’t mind. Just don’t be an asshole about it and make a big stink. It won’t change me.

The Cycle of Abuse: Discipleship Programs

This blog deals nearly entirely with Master’s Commission abuse and recovery, but since December or so I’ve maintained a friendship with some of the Recovering Alumni from Teen Mania who’s stories are so similar to mine.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Teen Mania and Master’s Commission are both abusive discipleship programs. After all, they both take students away to be discipled away from their family and friends, and focus on militaristic rules, rituals and leadership, and force prayer and Bible study on their students.

When I first entered Master’s Commission, I’d heard of Teen Mania but didn’t know anyone who attended nor did I have access to seeing them or meeting them. Later, in my first year in Master’s Commission my roommate Tiffany kept trying to set me up with her friend who was in Teen Mania. She told me stories about all the missions trips he’d gone on and I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous–missions was my thing at the time.

Today I read Keith’s story on the Recovering Alumni site, and was (again) surprised how similar Keith’s story was to mine in ways. We had an unrelenting loyalty and obedience to our leadership. If they told us to jump, we’d say how high? Keith was obedient like I was. Keith always tried to be moral and do the right thing, and I was a lot like that when I entered Master’s Commission. My mom taught me to be respectful to people, and I interpreted that as obeying my teachers and elders.

Part of Keith’s story really hit me:

Other than these two minor things, the trip was going great and I was making good friends. Then one day, out of nowhere, while we were in the town square preparing to share the Gospel, my team leader came up to me and told me I was no longer allowed to speak with my closest male friend on the trip, Shane. I couldn’t even respond to my team leader because I was so taken aback. Shane seemed like a good guy and I thought we had a positive influence on each other. My team leader asked me if I understood what he was asking me to do and I said yes. He never told me why I shouldn’t talk to Shane but I just figured he would tell me later. For the rest of the day, I kept my distance from Shane as I was told.

Keith describes this incident and how he reacted in a way that I consider accurate to how I reacted every time I was told what to do in Master’s Commission. If I was told to do something that didn’t make sense, I was sometimes too shocked or scared to ask WHY and I assumed that (like a normal person) my leader would tell me later.

That talk, reason or excuse never came later.

Because we’d get rebuked or punished if we questioned our leaders, many of us were too scared to question our leadership. Like Teen Mania, Master’s Commission had a set of rules that were to be followed and if not, the ultimate punishment was being told to leave the program. However harsh our leadership was, we never thought that it would be a good thing to be kicked out. Such shame and disgust was surrounded with getting kicked out and we were taught that we’d be completely out of the grace of God (and walking with Satan) if we got kicked out.

And this is how the cycle of abuse held it’s power over us as new students. Eventually, we came into a position of leadership and the same tactics were used to make us behave in a way that was sometimes threatening to the students. We were threatened if we didn’t rebuke the students harsh enough.

Please read Keith’s Story and if you are a Master’s Commission Alumni please consider checking out Recovering Alumni. The site is a great resource for recovery.

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.

Finding a Therapist

Today, I’m back at the therapist search. After moving, I ended up losing a great therapist who specialized in cults and destructive groups. She’s not accepting new patients, so that’s a bummer.

Searching for a therapist is HARD work. Right now, I’m fortunate to have two things I didn’t have before: a job and health insurance. This makes the search WAY easier.

Up until now, I’ve had to search for a therapist who offered a sliding scale (they offer you counseling services for as little as $10 a session based on your income) or attend therapy at my University Counseling Center (which were free, up to 8 sessions).

I’m now searching for a therapist who specializes in cults, PTSD or anxiety. How do I know to search for that? Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a psychologist and psychiatrist in my days (thanks to Kaiser Permanente and CSUN’s Counseling Center), and those have been the diagnoses. So, I try to narrow down my search to someone who deals primarily with those issues. Also, take time to familiarize yourself with terms such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) which is what your therapist will most likely use.

If you haven’t already done so, check out International Cultic Studies Association. They provide resources, articles and this helpful page on How To Find a Therapist.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers some information on PTSD, including Finding and Choosing a Therapist. Here, I went to Anxiety Disorders Association of America, where you can do a local search for therapists who specialize in anxiety disorders. Also recommended by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is Sidran: Help for Post Traumatic Stress and Dissociative Conditions. There’s an article on the site called What to look for and how to choose a therapist.

After looking at various resources from NAMI to Psychology Today, my advice is simple.

  • If budget is an option (if you have little to no working budget for therapy), ask around for referrals from a University or a city/county mental health office. If you can’t find individual therapy free or low cost, consider group therapy or classes in your area.
  • Look for someone who specializes in your specific issue. Do some research. Know what your symptoms mean, or at least have an idea before you go.
  • Be picky. If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist you chose, there’s nothing contractually binding you to stay in that relationship. If they’re not qualified, or tend to give you the impression they’re not a good fit, feel free to ask them for a referral.
  • Go as often as you feel comfortable, or as often as you can afford.
  • Remember that attending therapy is good for us (cult survivors) but it’s also something that can reopen existing wounds. Make sure you have a good support system of friends and family members who understand that this may be an emotional time for you. Sometimes an hour session can bring up emotions that last hours, days or weeks. Don’t be afraid of this, but just realize it’s normal for this to happen.
  • You might find it helpful to write things down. I keep notes of events I remember that I want to speak to my therapist about. I journal after visiting the therapist about what we talked about and any thoughts I had about it.
  • TIME HEALS and time changes things. Sometimes it takes years of therapy, years of talking about something traumatic, and even medication or alternative treatments to see improvement. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect change to come over night, but do keep working toward it and preserve your energy for positive improvement, positive relationships and a positive future.

Who Died and Made You King?

There’s a relatively new song out called King of Anything by Sara Bareillies, which you’ve probably heard. I heard it today on the way to work.

There’s a part of her lyrics that really stand out to me.

Who cares if you disagree? You are not me

Who made you king of anything?

So you dare to tell me who to be

Who died and made you king of anything?”

I don’t really think this needs explaining. I think it’s pretty clear that I love these lines and if I had a “life” motto, this would be it. 🙂

AAAWBVVG5EM3

I Can’t Hear God Anymore, A Review

In Wendy J. Duncan’s book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, she tells an eloquent and heartbreaking story of when she first joined Trinity Foundation, a cult in Dallas, Texas led by Ole Anthony.

She opens the book with a quote from Margaret Thayer Singer: “Remember that none of us is beyond being manipulated by an intense, dedicated and persistent persuader…”

I’m already won over. Not only is it true, but it’s asserting that we, those who’ve left cults and abusive churches, are as normal as anyone else and our story could have happened to anyone. I already feel at home with Wendy’s words.

Duncan acknowledges the hours she’s spent researching, interviewing, and reliving her past, which is something I immediately can relate to. The amount of behind the scene hours that go into a blog seem tremendous, but to tackle the subject in a book is more than double. Duncan has quoted some well-known experts in field in her writing, to her credit and our benefit. I was introduced to several new books and experts that I knew nothing of before reading I Can’t Hear God Anymore.

The Same Ol’ Jargon

Some of Ole’s lingo is immediately recognizable to me, and it creeps me out and comforts me. I’m creeped out because Duncan’s description of Ole is so similar to my former pastors, Daniel Jones and Nathan Davies. For example, Doug and Wendy wanted to marry after dating for seven years. Ole took the same position that Davies and Jones took with me and many others: it’s the pastor’s job to be a “spiritual covering” and counsel you on who you should date or marry. As with Doug and Wendy, my leaders convinced me over and over that it was my sinful nature that wanted to date a particular man or think about marrying another one. The Trinity Foundation even uses the term “rebellious spirit” which is something that many of of us female former Master’s Commission students identify with. We were all told we had one.

I’m comforted, though, upon realizing that what I went through really is what I’ve assessed it to be: a cult. Over the years, I’ve shared with Master’s Commission friends that my therapists have said Master’s Commission was a cult, and upon further research, I determined it to be a cult. They looked at me really funny and some of them even said, “I thought you were crazy.” Many friends have given me the impression that I was dumb, or over reacting. Yet, I persisted in my research, and found more and more evidence of it being a cult. What Duncan does in her book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore, is map out the characteristics of a cult based on Michael Langone’s book, Recovery from Cults:

A cult has some form of excessive authoritarianism, but they’re different from the military because the military explicitly states the authoritarian structure and there is an accountability to an authority outside of the group.

A cult also exhibits excessive devotion to some person, idea or thing.

Uses a thought reform program to persuade, control and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices.)

Systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members.

Exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals.

What makes Duncan’s story even more reliable, is an article written about Ole Anthony, in The New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger in 2004. Televangelists were afraid of Anthony, because “over the past fifteen years, Anthony ha[d] waged a guerrilla war against televangelism—”a multibillion-dollar industry,” as he describes it, “untaxed and unregulated, that preys on the elderly and the desperate.'” (Bilger)

Already, I realize that Ole Anthony is a dichotomy. He’s got some common ground with some of us who believe that televangelists are a fraud who prey on people. He also later began ministry to the homeless, which he was praised for.

Anthony was described as an “evil child” by his Lutheran minister when he was six years old, and according to Burkhard Bilger, the writer for The New Yorker, the evil child continued into young adulthood where he stole cars, shot up heroin and lit a cross on fire.

After starting The Trinity Foundation, Anthony had been accused of leading a cult. “At one point, a man named Bob Jones (name changed at his request) brought in a list of pointed questions from the organization Cult Watch, and read them out loud at a meeting. “You know what a cult is?” Anthony told him. “It’s a place where someone tells you what to do in the name of God. If I ever tell anyone what to do around here, they should shoot me.'” (Bilger)

Anthony was confronted with his cult like characteristics and like the true charismatic leader he is, he denied it and put his life on the line to back up his claim.

Another interesting similarity to Daniel Jones and Ole Anthony is their recognition for community service. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jones joined the PRC (Pastor’s Resource Council, under the Louisiana Family Forum, a strongly Right-wing conservative group, who’s anti-gay, anti-feminist and pro-life) so his church could do some relief work. They received congressional recognition. Anthony began taking homeless people into his church community and his efforts reached the White House. President George H. Bush wrote to him, “Word has reached me of your outstanding record of community service. Barbara joins me in wishing you every success as you continue to set a fine example for your friends and neighbors.” (Bilger)

Duncan explains in her book why Anthony and leaders like him are so well-praised by prestigious groups such as Congress and the White House: “Cults depend on strong charismatic leaders. Without a charismatic type of leadership, cults cannot develop. Charismatic leaders have a strong need for power, enormous levels of self-confidence, and an unshakable conviction in the correctness of their beliefs. When a leader has the quality of charisma, he is able to arouse an extraordinary level of trust and devotion from his followers.

A Psychoeducational Approach to Recovery

To recover from the abusive environment of the cult, Duncan shares from Captive Hearts Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich. To promote healing and transitioning, Tobias and Lalich recommend a psychoeducational approach: ” a process of gathering knowledge and understanding of the cult experience and is a critical part of working through the shame and humiliation of finding yourself in a spiritually abusive group.”

Duncan also recommends professional help (as do most cult experts), and the support of former members. The group of former members she and Doug met with gathered to heal and provide support. They also identified words and phrases that were specific to The Trinity Foundation and “reclaimed” those words and “unload[ed] the language” of it’s cultic meaning so that the words and phrases that once triggered unpleasant memories would now hold new meaning.

I think what’s on most of our minds, and what was on Duncan’s was reestablishing her relationship with God. She examines how the groups such as The Trinity Foundation and other cults “uniformly distort God’s grace and character” and how it was most difficult to recover her relationship with God. Wendy and Doug decided to try a liturgical church such as Catholic or Episcopal, since Doug felt that evangelical churches were ruined for him by Ole.

I’ve often felt very similar, actually. On my departure from Master’s Commission and Our Savior’s Church, I attended a few different churches alone or with friends. I tried the Chi Alpha group at my university, the local Foursquare church, a few non-denominational churches, and some others. I felt most at home in a quiet Catholic mass my friends had invited me to.

I went with two friends, who “showed me the ropes.” They told me when to get on my knees, what page the song was on, and how to hold my hands to receive communion. The only thing I had trouble with, was that I was on the verge of a break down anytime I went. Anything church related made me want to sob in the middle of service, and this Catholic mass didn’t fail to make me cry. But, when I went, I cried in a different way. I cried because it was different than the evangelical experience I’d had. It was quiet, and reverent, instead of showy and loud. I could hear my own thoughts and prayers, rather than hear the person next to me praying out loud or yelling to God. When the priest gave his message, he read from the Bible and gave limited personal interpretation. It was thematic, but not contrived or full of personal opinion.

Wendy Duncan’s book is one I’ve enjoyed reading, and one that brought me to tears. More than that, though, it’s smart, genuine and encouraging. I’ll leave you with her discussion of Matthew 18 (a passage of the Bible which deals with a brother sinning against a person): “Much later, we were discussing this Matthew 18 issue with another former member, and he observed that if you do not feel safe to go to someone to discuss with them how they have offended you, then that person probably does not qualify as your brother. He has a point. I would not advise a friend of mine who was leaving an abusive husband that she was obligated to go meet with him to explain to him why she needs to leave. Once that sense of covering is broken it is broken, and the task for someone who has been abused is primarily to find a place to be safe and to heal.”

In Wendy’s words, let’s “go find a place to be safe and to heal.”

For more information about I Can’t Hear God Anymore visit: Dallas Cult or purchase on Amazon.

You can also read an article The Dallas Observer did on the book here.

If you live in or near the Dallas area, you can attend Individual Counseling Services with Doug Duncan, MS, LPC a professional counselor licensed in the state of Texas, or their FREE Support Group held on the fourth Saturday of the month.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.

 

 

 

 

Definition of a Cult

You’ve heard my definition of a cult, and some supporting evidence (though not exhaustive…yet).

  • How would YOU define a cult?
  • What characteristics would you say leaders of cults have?
  • What groups would you place (or not place) in that category?