Breaking My Silence: My Story of Religious Abuse

For the past year and a half, I’ve written a blog about escaping what my therapist and I ha

    For the past year and a half, I’ve written a blog about escaping what my therapist and I have called a cult; the tedious and emotional recovery; and then the admittance of the diagnosis my therapist gave me: depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (all from my cult experience). Yesterday, Robin Morgan wrote a wonderful piece of satire on the Women’s Media Center blog called Exclusive: Faith-healing: A Modest Proposal on Religious Fundamentalism where she proceeded to examine fudmantalists against the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). What’s funny is that this piece of satire struck home with me, a recovering fundamentalist, who has been diagnosed with mental conditions based on my seven year long participation in a fundamentalist cult. Morgan’s joke was more serious to me than I wanted to admit. Upon further studying, though, I began speaking with college professors who were cult experts (some of whom were involved in very prominent cases and in communication with well-known, but now dead, cult leaders over the years) and talking to hundreds of people on the web asking them to share their personal stories. I’ve now started to consider this: perhaps my group and many others are so difficult to categorize (as cult, or new religious group) because they are so similar to the modern fundamentalist church. Maybe the modern-day cult is just your neighborhood fundamentalist church. And maybe that cult, or destructive group, or new religious group (pick a term, whatever term) with abusive teachings, public humilation, and totalitarian hierachical power structures has long been invading our politics, our schools and our doctors offices. Fundamentalist churches, often known as evangelical churches, are very common in America and globally. The only trouble? They look absolutely normal. They’re often not easy to spot from the outside, at least for people looking for an upbeat, contemporary place of worship with solid family values. Fundamentalist churches typically are very vague about their system of beliefs and sometimes they have very little accountability structure. They may be led by a preacher or pastor who has almost no one he has to report in to or be held responsible to for his words, teachings and his finances. Worse yet, sometimes this preacher or pastor has very little academic training and little understanding about historical and cultural norms in Biblical days (thus the homophobic rage that comes from those pulpits).  Read more here…

Soldiers for Christ

I’ve been speaking to a friend of mine almost nightly about some deep topics–you know, letting someone into some of those secret caverns people haven’t really gone in awhile. He spent years in the military and after I’d explained some of my feelings to him about my cult experience (and yes, cried, which I haven’t actually done in awhile), he shared some of his military experiences. It was sort of comforting to know that we related so well.

He spoke to me in particular about some intense combat training he received in order to keep him and his team hyped and going, running on adreneline and getting revved up easily. He said it served a purpose in combat situations because they’d be up for days at a time, operating on little to no sleep. What happened when he left the military and resumed civilian life was that he realized he could easily get really amped up over something and it was hard to mellow himself out or not find himself reactionary.

I could certainly relate. On a much smaller, less intense scale, there are similarities to my cult experience and some aspects of military life.

For example, when we joined we went through a few intense weeks where we were emotionally stripped of certain barriers and rights, and we were checked into dorms with a strict set of rules and guidelines to live by each day. Then, each day was regimented as if we lived in barracks (they were dorms) and we had dorm leaders coming in each morning and night making sure we were in bed and out of bed on time (on the dot), dressed in something suitable (our uniforms), in prayer (on the dot), at breakfast, cleaning up (to perfection), and so forth to a specific schedule.

Our training was not combat, but it was all about hype and getting prepped emotionally for a “spiritual battle.” We were soldiers for Christ and we trained like such. When a conference would come up, we’d spend a month prior to the conference fasting and praying intensely, on top of studying, marketing, networking, planning and rehearsing our performances. Our rehearsals were labor intensive, because we were putting on an entire production–a creative representation of Christ–and those productions could last for hours, but typically the conference success or failure landed on us so we were hyper aware of every detail from the sound equipment and microphones to the lighting set up and placement. At any moment, I was on call with the speaker information, his or her whereabouts, their car and hotel information and their personal assistant on the line, if needed.

We’d stay up for days on end before the conference getting ready for “spritual battle” and by the time the actual event rolled around, we’d be operating on very little to no sleep. Coffee and energy drinks became our constant companion, and so did the smiley-happy-hyped up Christian sales persona that we were known to be. We had to pull the smiles out because we believed what we were pushing onto these teens. We believed it intently. We believed we were at war for their souls.