Christian Fundamentalism


During my first few years of undergraduate education, I decided to minor in Religious Studies. The majority of this decision came from my desire to reconcile my religious past as a reverend into my current questions surrounding that time of my life. So much of how people treated me after I left the church I’d worked for for years was not Christlike, and I wanted to better learn of the history of Christianity so as to properly senthesize what happened to me.

In 2005, I enrolled in a general education class that fulfilled a requirement to graduate. My professor was new to Bakersfield, and had formerly lived in San Francisco and attended Harvard for his Ph.D. He was far more liberal than most people in Bakersfield and was an avid supporter of gay rights. He taught us not to believe what he believed, but to be good students, to work hard, and to be open minded beyond what we may have been raised to believe. It was in this environment that I flourished and grew. My religious experiences with Christianity began to make sense for the first time since I left the cult, and I began to learn the history of Chrisitianity (both good and bad).

One class session, we watched the movie Saved with Mandy Moore. The way the “Christians” treated those who were outsiders in high school made me feel very similar to how the “Christians” I had worked with for several years were currently treating me. I started tearing up in my desk, so thankful that the lights were out and that people were focused on taking notes, and not on me.

When I left the class, I couldn’t help but break down and cry. I was in the hallway, sitting on a wooden bench when Dr. Campagna-Pinto, my professor, walked up to me to ask me if I was okay. I told him briefly about my experience with the fundamentalist cult I was part of and how several years of my life history seemed to be negated now. I explained to him how painful it was to lose hundreds of friends and what I considered “family.”

From that day on, Dr. Campagna-Pinto would meet me in the hallway when I’d be sitting on a wooden bench with tears in my eyes. He’d take the time to listen to me, and he’d take the time to explain that not all Christians are like the ones I’d had the experience of meeting. He’d also tell me that Christianity had a rich history, contrary to what the fundamentalists believed and taught.

As I learned more about Christianity in his classes over the years, I understood that Christian fundamentalism was truly very different than the historical, scholarly perspective of Christianity. Christianity was a religion that had a history of good and bad, but I was able to see the good in Christians for the first time in years.

I walked away from my classes seeing religion in a different light. I had a greater understanding of humanity in general, and a greater appreciation for religious communities worldwide. I sought to better myself by being open minded, which was difficult after being a close-minded Christian fundamentalist for years. I attempted to consider life as a journey on a path that I pave myself, rather than a road that’s already been carved out before me. And I tried (and still try) to earnestly see the good in humanity, and have hope that human beings can and will do the right thing–even when things in our future and history look bleak.

I continue to be gracious with myself, because the harder I am on myself, the more I fall back into fundamentalist thinking and guilt. I also continue to study and seek knowledge from a variety of secular sources, because I trust my own judgement and trust that my heart and mind are good things, rather than evil things.

My journey is only just beginning and like the Chinese proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

Enjoy the journey and enjoy the questions.

My New eBook – Spiritual Abuse: A Victim’s Guide to Recovery

Written exclusively for my blog readers, Spiritual Abuse: A Victim’s Guide to Recovery is now available for your Kindle.

About the eBook:

Spiritual abuse is happening in increasing numbers around the world. As Christian fundamentalism grows, so do the numbers of psychological and “spiritual” abuse victims. Spiritual abuse is becoming a common term for those harmed in churches and cults. Lisa Kerr is an ex-cult member and former reverend with the Assemblies of God who worked with a group called Master’s Commission for nearly a decade. Today, she advocates for ex-cult members and those who’ve experienced spiritual and psychological abuse in the hands of clergy.

If you enjoy the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or visit my author page for upcoming events.

Spanking for Jesus: Really?!

You've got to be cruel to be kind...

A reader linked me to one of the most disturbing articles I’ve read in awhile (and trust me, I’ve read quite a few disturbing articles on Christian fundamentalism and the abuse that’s hidden beneath the surface). It’s called Spanking for Jesus: Inside the Unholy World of ‘Christian Domestic Discipline’ and it was recently published in the Daily Beast.

Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD) is essentially a small (4,000 members) online fringe group of Christian men who practice spanking their wives if they get out of hand, or roll their eyes. In other words, Biblically justified domestic violence.

I grew up in a home where domestic violence was norm for many arguments and from a child’s perspective, it’s one of the most frightening and disturbing things a kid can witness. Domestic violence can escalate, especially in homes where alcohol is also abused or where weapons are kept. When two people are involved in an abusive relationship, anything can become a weapon.

According to the Beast, “…there are posts that are just plain disturbing: ‘My wife cries and writhes and begs me to stop during spankings, should I?'”

This should really be a no-brainer, but Christian teachings can reinforce this behavior even more. When I was a teen, I went to my pastor’s wife to ask her what a woman should do if she’s being abused by her husband. I pointed out the verse that said a wife should submit to her husband and brought up my complaints, ‘There’s no way God would ask someone to submit to an abusive husband, right?’ My pastor’s wife’s answer was disturbing: ‘She should really look into her heart and ask herself whether she’s serving and submitting her husband. What’s wrong with her attitude to cause him to react that way?’ My faith started crumbling then and there and to this day, that conversation is a cornerstone to why I’ve lost my faith in Christianity.

Women easily can justify domestic violence when it means preserving their livelihood and family, especially when they’ve been taught that divorce is sin and a threat to society:

Vera (not her real name), argues that abuse is all about intent. “He never punishes me when he’s angry,” she says of her partner. “He doesn’t yell. The worst thing I can do is disappoint him and I do that when I act on one of my character defects.” And do men have any of these defects? Who is there to correct them? “He’s not perfect,” Vera says, “but it’s not my role to point that out. He self corrects.” And as for what a man gets out of it, besides a woman who obeys his every command, Vera says her partner is satisfied by her growth. “He enjoys seeing the person he owns, his property, become the thing God wants her to be. It might sound weird, but that works for me.”

You be the judge. What do you think?

(h/t to Greg G. for the link to this article)

Read more: Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home

Stuff Fundies Like

A follower of this blog and a friend posted a link to Stuff Fundies Like today. It was my first visit to this fabulous site. How could I even call myself a blogger without finding his site?! With Darrell’s great knack of encapsulating all things Fundamentalist and letting us relive our oh-so-imprisoned days of being bound by ignorance and militaristic faith to God, I find myself laughing and grimacing at the truth on this site.

Darrell was so gracious to give me permission to repost material from his site. I wanted to include some recent posts that I find incredibly insightful, sarcastic and overall hilarious.

For example, you can’t talk about Fundamentalists without mentioning their all-encompassing love for RUNNING AND RULING THE REPUBLICAN party. So, Darrell shows us this:

Darrell writes about what he knows: Baptist Fundamentalism. In his post, Baptist Distinctives Day 6: Two Offices, he’s not just writing about Baptist Ministers, but ALL Fundamenalist Ministers. See his requirements for becoming a pastor (emphasis my own):

The requirements for becoming a pastor are stringent in fundyland. You have to be male. You have to claim to have heard THE CALL™. You have to own at least one serviceable suit. You have to not be divorced. And you have to be in the good graces of a couple other pastors. Education, wisdom, gentleness, and professionalism are completely optional.

 

About Darrell,

“I’m the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. After I graduated from a fundamentalist university, I began to become increasingly aware of problems in that movement which eventually led to me leaving fundamentalism, although I still consider myself a “conservative evangelical Christian.” In November of 2008, I started SFL on a whim, just as a place to jot down a few memories and observations in a satiric and mildly humorous format. Strangely enough, a bunch of other folks who had similiar experiences began showing up to read and chat. The site has been growing ever since.

Thank you, Darrell. You’ve made my day!

Gardner at Our Savior’s Church, or Live-In Slave?

Wow Lisa… I guess I never really knew any part of your story or why you left MC. I was only there for 4 months and during that time I was so wrapped in my own person hell and misery that I couldn’t really see that anyone else was going through the same thing. I was convinced that it was just me and my “discipleship leader” liked to reinforce that belief. I know just how you feel when you sat there contemplating how to escape and toying with the idea of ending it all. It may seem a bit crazy now but at the time, questioning everything you’ve been taught for the last 5 or more years is really scary. I remember fighting with myself and trying to convince myself that somehow everything my body and mind were telling me was wrong. It was demons, my own selfishness, or Satan himself. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was a simple case of manipulation. It was really hard on me when I came to that conclusion because at that point I had no idea who the hell I was or what the hell to believe in. I had been lied to and manipulated for a long time and accepted those lies as the truth and let that consume my life. The next several years became a very trying time of rediscovering who I am. It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that Jacob [Thomas] mentioned earlier. Maybe God created me exactly the way I was. But I’ve got to say I am thankful for that. I now know who I am because of what they put me through.

I don’t know if you knew this or not but Thai Guidry, TJ Guidry, Jordan Belt and I all worked at Our Savior’s Church the summer before Master’s Commission 3D started in Broussard. I didn’t realize it at the time but we were basically live-in slaves. We worked 8 hours a day for 5 days a week maintaining the 30 acres of land that the church sits on. That meant mowing the grass, edging, weed eating, blowing the leaves, maintaining the pool, cleaning the Lodge, prep work for any special services, and basically anything else they asked. Thai and I were pretty much the ones responsible for weeding and edging which is a never-ending task. As soon as you finish edging 30 acres it’s time to start over. I remember one of the pastors telling us he wanted the place to look like a golf course. We did all of this for absolutely NO PAY! We lived in the little pool house in front of the dorms, which flooded any time it rained and we were allowed $50 a week for food.

No not each… $50 in total.

When we finally asked for more money for food we had the same thing told to us. We were ungrateful for what we had and out of line for asking for me. I felt like Oliver Twist. Can I have some more sir?? That should’ve been my first sign of what was to come next.

But at the time it made sense because that’s how the church operated. No one was paid and everyone was supposed to be grateful for “serving the kingdom.” More like serving the money generating machine that is OSC with unpaid labor.

Told by Ryan Baudoin

www.ryanbaudoin.wordpress.com

My Second Therapist’s Diagnosis: PTSD

After my first therapist, I got health insurance that covered another therapist. My first meeting with her, she spent an hour going over my family history, my recent history, and any mental health conditions or symptoms I had. I’d recently developed anxiety and depression after leaving the cult in 2005. I spent all of 2005 and 2006 in bed crying–and intermittently going to class. When I was in class, I felt anxiety attacks coming on. My chest would start pounding and I’d feel out of breath for no reason. If I had to turn in a paper, or felt extra pressure of perfection from certain professors, I’d be unable to write my essays and classwork. I was terrified of what people thought of me and who was judging me everywhere I went.

This second therapist sat with me and ended the session asking me if I’d ever heard of post traumatic stress disorder.

“Sure,” I told her. “That’s what all the Vietnam War Veterans got when they came back, right? They get nightmares and stuff.”

She explained that war victims did, in fact get post traumatic stress disorder, but many other people also got PTSD. Rape victims and many other people could get it. She said she believed I had PTSD based on the symptoms I described to her. A lot of what she explained made sense. I would become afraid at loud noises; would wake up terrified from nightmares of getting yelled at by old pastors; and would shy away from relationships of all types.

For more information on PTSD, Depression or Anxiety, please look at the Resources I posted. I’ve included some great links. I’d also like to encourage you, if you or someone you know has suffered from spiritual or emotional abuse, please see a non-religious, professional therapist or psychiatrist for assessment. There are a lot of resources available. If you’d like to share your own story with me, please email me at mycultlife at gmail.com

Letters to Nowhere: Lloyd

I was paid $100 a month for well over 60 hours of work, which is less than $0.40 an hour (40 CENTS). Only one year was my pay increased to $500 a month (and that was when I worked as a nanny for senior pastor, Jacob Aranza), which is around $2.00 an hour.

This week, I’ve posted actual letters I’ve written to the pastors I worked for. The next letter in the succession is what I sent to the co-founder of the MCIN, or Master’s Commission International Network, Lloyd Zeigler. I sent this letter to Lloyd because each Master’s Commission group is under the MCIN umbrella and has to agree to follow a set of guidelines.

I urged Lloyd (and Eric Hunsberger, who heads up the Administrative side of the MCIN) to  make note of what happened to me because I was speaking on behalf of several other students and staff members from Austin and Louisiana. I felt that was a responsible thing for me to do.

Lloyd and his wife called me as soon as they received my letter and talked to me for two hours. They apologized on behalf of Master’s Commission and said they weren’t aware of any of this until my letter came. Lloyd also told me if I felt I should pursue a lawsuit, I would have their support. I knew I’d have enough of a case to win a lawsuit, but my family has never been the type to pursue lawsuits. I also don’t think Lloyd realized that he’d be implicated in that same lawsuit, if I pursued one, because the Master’s Commissions in Austin and Louisiana were tied to his network of ministries and he might ultimately be responsible.

Lloyd said he’d be sending my letter to his lawyer to see if there were some things from it they could add into the MCIN guidelines to protect students and staff members from this type of thing happening, but he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas to start a new church after that phone call and that was never done (to my knowledge).  He also said that because Nathan Davies was the Vice President of the MCIN he’d have to stand by him and support him, and I’d have to understand that. I didn’t and don’t understand that, actually. I think my letter and my demeanor on the phone must have been too mild to really convey the type of damage that was done to me and many others by this ministry for him to take Nathan’s side. Otherwise, Lloyd wouldn’t stand by and let young people get abused. At the end of the phone call, Lloyd told me to give his cell phone number to any of the people I was writing on behalf of, if they wanted to call him, he’d apologize to them and talk to them, too. I’d like to believe he really meant this, but I’m not sure because I gave his number to one of my good friends and she said he never answered her phone call or returned her voice mail.

Although I’m disappointed that this issue was completely discarded after my conversation with Lloyd and Tim, at least they had the integrity to call me and talk to me. For that, I am extremely thankful. However, the fact that young men and women are still getting spiritually abused and that my letter fell to people who just gave me lip service and ignored the rest of my pleas, is cause for me to need to talk about my experience.

The following is the letter I sent to Lloyd and Eric in 2008:

Dear Lloyd Zeigler and Eric Hunsberger,

This letter may come as a surprise as I’ve been out of Master’s Commission Industries in Lafayette, LA for three years; however, the issues I’m addressing in this letter are relevant to the future of the MCIN.

After spending a year in Phoenix in 1998-99, I feel I developed a respect for both of you (Lloyd and Eric) and that respect has carried on into my years as a staff member in Texas and Louisiana (under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson).

My writings here are not of an offended, immature Christian, but of a burden I feel from God to speak my heart on what has happened to me because I know I’m not the only person I’m speaking for. There are many silent staff members (former and current), and students (former and current) who have felt deep, intense pain and betrayal after leaving Master’s Commission. And more importantly, there are issues of manipulation and ostracizing that need to be heard and dealt with for the safety of the MCIN and the students and staff.

My suggestions and claims below are based on my own personal experience as a staff member and student of Master’s Commission of Austin (Director, Nathan Davies) and Master’s Commission Industries (Director, Tim Wilson in Lafayette, LA), under Pastor Daniel Jones. I seek dialogue to be opened up between the offending parties (Davies, Wilson, and Jones) and the groups which govern or oversee them (MCIN). My wish is that change would come and MCIN would take responsibility for the changes that need to take place.

While I will not go so far as to say that all Master’s Commissions are cults, I will say based on my experience (and experiences of my peers), Master’s Commission Industries falls into the category of what experts call a destructive group or a cult. The reason I use these terms are based on studies that have been done on cults. The following are traits that Master’s Commission Industries has:

  • A Totalitarian worldview: A group that approves of unethical behavior while claiming goodness and promotes the goals of the group over the individual.
  • Exploitation: There is pressure to give money, to spend a great deal of money on special projects. Exploitation can be financial, physical, or psychological.
  • Alienation: Separation from family, friends, and society, a change in values and substitution of the group as the new “family”.
  • Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs; recruiting and fund-raising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure; use of “front groups”.

Additionally, some of the following are issues I have personally felt in my experiences in MC Industries (both under Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson):

  • removing people from their normal surroundings and friends, often with weekend “trips” and “retreats”
  • sleep and sensory deprivation
  • development of a deep emotional debt
  • public confessionals
  • low-risk relationships (unconditional acceptance)
  • fear of punishment or damnation for even thinking about leaving the new “family”
  • viewing all of the outside world as evil or satanic so that any desire to return to it is also evil.

Other things the group leaders imposed:

  • leaders who claim divinity or special relationships with God and insist on being the sole judge of a member’s actions or faith
  • demands for total control over members’ daily lives (one of the hardest to recognize once involved)
  • isolation and exclusion from the surrounding community
  • demands for control of members’ finances
  • absolutist views toward difficult life problems and spiritual questions
  • special (exclusive) promises of salvation or keys to spiritual understanding (i.e.: “It is only through adherence to our beliefs and our rules that you can be saved”).

During my time as a student or staff member, I made effort to resolve and voice my complaints while working for the above mentioned parties. However, when I brought up certain issues, I was both rebuked and harassed, or dismissed as unimportant. Equally as important as the psychological effects, are the the financial issues.

I was paid $100 a month for well over 60 hours of work, which is less than $0.40 an hour (40 CENTS). Only one year was my pay increased to $500 a month (and that was when I worked as a nanny for senior pastor, Daniel Jones), which is around $2.00 an hour.

I am speaking up about these issues because there are many more staff members and students who are willing to give their heart to these ministries and may walk away harmed spiritually, financially, and mentally.

I am requesting that the Master’s Commission International Network and the Assemblies of God (or appropriate governing boards) investigate these issues and particularly Master’s Commission Industries. I ask that you, MCIN, take an aggressive stance toward these issues. Upon investigation, I would like to offer that they establish guidelines to benefit the future employees/students.

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the students:

  • Safe “complaint” system established that a student can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Guidelines established involving limitations on how much a director can dictate of a student’s “self-discipline.” Including, but not limited to dating, entertainment, music, clothing, etc.
  • Establish clearly that the Director or Staff Member is NOT the voice of God for the said students and staff members and in no way should exercise such grossly misguided authority.
  • Protection of the student from authoritarianism of a Director’s or Staff members by revoking a group’s affiliation with the MCIN, if deemed necessary.
  • Guidelines and hours set to protect the student from over-work, long term exhaustion or fatigue, or physical ailments due to over-work for no (or very little) monetary payment. Following the laws that the Department of Labor establishes, according to www.dol.gov
  • A board of directors for each Master’s Commission that should include parents of students or staff members. Also, a safe “complaint” system established in which a student or staff member’s parent(s), guardian or friend can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Regularly monitoring of activities, and teachings to prevent further development of patterns of cult-like teachings, destructive and harmful teachings and practices.
  • Encourage students to engage in open relationships with their parents, family and friends and not to exclude or hide anything from them. To develop an “Open Campus” policy and Parent’s Board for parents to question policies, procedures, pay scale, work load and work schedules.

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the staff members:

  • Set, enforced guidelines regarding pay scale for staff members relevant to actual work done that would be in the secular environment in the specific metropolitan area. Additionally, following the Department of Labor laws on employment and minimum wage.
  • Provide some type of minimum paid sick days and funeral leave standard to secular work place.
  • Provide access or information to health benefits or coverage, and adjust pay to appropriate for health care. (Note: Health care and health benefits do not mean the state run insurance!)
  • Provide paid vacation for full-time staff members, relevant to secular workplace.
  • Provide mileage compensation for job related driving.
  • Allow for staff members to date at their discretion, under advisement of the pastor only if the said staff member requests the advisement of a pastor. Take away the “No Dating” policy for students or staff members who are beyond their First Year. No dictating, scare tactics, or harassment of the staff member’s choices of dating.

Perhaps the greatest issue not covered is the issue of a person who leaves Master’s Commission (most groups included in this) is often ostracized. To ostracize is to: 1. exclude, by general consent, from society, friendship, conversation, privileges, etc. Ostracizing is what some modern churches do, but it’s wrong. If you don’t follow their tenants, you get excommunicated. After serving MC for several years, I followed the voice of God to go home. This voice of God that I heard was contrary to the voice of the pastors. What’s ironic here is that I followed the voice of God, but was shunned from their ‘bubble’ and my reputation was ruined within that ‘bubble’ for not obeying the pastor.

I have carbon copied a number of persons for this letter. Please know that I care deeply about the future of Master’s Commission, my former employers and their children; however, I would be doing a great injustice to the ministry itself, it’s pastors, and related friends and benefactors had I failed to bring these wrongs to your attention.

I speak also on behalf of many alumni and former staff members who did not wish to risk personal retributions or emotional trauma from resurfacing these issues. They now have a voice and I hope forgiveness and open dialogue can one day enter all of our hearts. As Pulma Gobodo-Madikizela says, “For in the end, we are a society of people and not ideas, a fragile web of interdependent humans, not of stances.”

Thank you,

L.

Cc: Nathan Davies, Tim Wilson, Daniel Jones

Resource: ACUI International Conference presentation “Desperately Seeking Community: The Appeal of Cult Leadership”, Mindy Griffith, University of Arizona. March 6, 2000, New York, NY.

Additional information on Cults obtained from Purdue University Counseling Center and
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Counseling Center.

 

Labor Laws may be obtained at the Department of Labor website: www.dol.gov