GlassTexan, are you out there?

I came across this post on the Rick Ross Cult Education forum. Since this post was from 2006, it’s highly unlikely this person will find my answer, but in response to your question, “GlassTexan,” yes I’ve had a bad experience in Master’s Commission. Come find me and let’s talk!

“Has anyone had a bad experience with the Master’s Commission program(s)? It is generally based out of Assembly of God churches. I believe the “main” group is in Phoenix.
If led by the wrong sort, this group can be very dangerous. I had an awful experience and have heard others have as well.
The group I once attended was removed from the church after a change of pastors. The leader of the Master’s Commission left the state and many of the MC students–and even some of the church!–left with him. He is still running a MC group.
If anyone reading this went through something similar (in an MC group), I would appreciate hearing about it.
Once again, I don’t believe all MC groups are bad–but the wrong leader can do serious damage.
Thank you.”

Read the original post and respond to GlassTexan here: http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,17907

I’m Coming OUT!

Today was Spirit Day in memory of several gay students who committed suicide from homophobic abuse they experienced.

What’s great is that there has been a rally of support for gays and lesbians all over the place by people today wearing purple to show their love and respect for them. Things will get better. One day, we will live in a world where it won’t matter what your sexuality is. There won’t be someone telling you you’re a sinner or a “fag” or a queer. There’s hope for humanity.

In the same spirit, I’m coming OUT today.

I’m not coming out in the, “I’m a lesbian” kind of way. I’m not a lesbian. I’m straight. I’m a straight woman who has a lot of gay and lesbian friends, and supports their right to fall in love, get married, hold hands, kiss, have sex, etc. without enduring intolerance or judgment.

I also have a lot of gay and lesbian friends who love God, who love Jesus and don’t have a place in the Church. But more on that later…

Back to me coming OUT:

I’m pretty sure a lot of people already know this, but I’m not a Christian Fundamentalist anymore. I once was. I sort of fell into it as a teenager and young adult. I walked away from it around the age 24.

Now it’s time to come out and be proud.

I’m standing with Anne Rice and those others who just can’t side with a religion (in this blog, Christianity, but any religion or group) that calls itself loving, but is hateful and judgmental. I can’t stand with a belief system that denies science, evolution, and the promotion of contraceptives, when I so believe in all those things–not because they are trends but because I have worked hard to find answers of my own. I can’t be feminist, intellectually evolving, and growing and listen to those who will call me wrong for thinking the way I do, simply because I’m using my own God-given brain. My brain isn’t smaller because it’s in a female body. I can be a woman and teach, preach, run a church, business, corporation, country as well as a man. It’s not a sin “equal to pedophilia” to ordain a woman as priest (to quote the Pope). I’m not anti-Christian, baby-hating, or a child-killer because I believe in abortion as a woman’s right to choose. I’m not even anti-Christian because I believe in all of the above.

I’m simply responding finding that after years of being a “Christian,” there isn’t a place for me after I changed.

The woman I am today isn’t welcome in the church I once attended because the church I once attended didn’t allow me to think for myself.

Is Master’s Commission a Cult?

Another forum post that can be found here: In order to comment on the forum, or take the quiz, you must register as a user.

Do a quick google search for “Master’s Commission Cult” and you produce 31,700 URLS linking you to the subject. There have been forum discussions before this one about Master’s Commission being a cult, but most of them were in random forums without a larger Master’s Commission or ex-Master’s Commission readership.

I hope that this forum will be a more centralized location for people to gather together and spread the word about, because there’s nothing like feeling ALONE after leaving one of those groups. It’s so liberating to find out that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who left and feel exactly like you and I do!

Welcome to the discussion,
Lisa

Rape Victim: Who Me?

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

I sat on the couch across from my therapist during one session in 2005. She worked out of the California State University, Bakersfield campus Counseling Center and she was free, which was in my budget at the time.

I’d decided to see her after being referred to her by two professors: one professor witnessed me break down in front of a lecture class of over 100 students during my Freshman year when he asked me why I was attending college. He had no idea that for me, I was attending college fresh from a cult where I was brainwashed and taught that I was less of a human being because I was a woman. After my sob-fest in Freshman Shakespeare class, my professor kindly suggested I see a therapist. I took him up on his suggestion, and am happy I did.

I met with her once a week, on Thursdays. I went through about half her box of Kleenex and left with a runny nose and puffy, red eyes. One hour a week was enough to bring up enough pain to bring me into hysterical fits of crying. Sometimes I couldn’t even talk about my memories or pain.

Sitting across from her one day, she went to her desk and she pulled up the Counseling Center website. She gave me links to the resources to Cults that I have listed on this website. It was only the second time I’d ever heard anyone tell me that they thought my ministry experience sounded like a cult. I was shocked. I was horrified. I felt cheated. If this was true, then how could I have been so stupid? What about those people I loved? There was no way they’d run a cult!

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

Years prior, a good friend of the family from our home church in Taft, CA had come to visit me on a motorcycle road trip through Texas. He stopped in our church in Austin and took me to lunch. He visited the offices of Master’s Commission there. When he went home, he told my parents, “I think the place Lisa is in is a cult.” This coming from a life-long church member and deacon shocked my parents and me.

The next thing my therapist told me was even more shocking, though. As if notifying me that she thought I’d been in a cult wasn’t shocking enough, she then told me, “I’ve counseled many, many rape victims and you sound exactly like a rape victim. You have many of the same symptoms. I don’t know if it’s possible to get spiritually or mentally raped, but that’s exactly what I think has happened.”

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.

Suicidal Tendencies

It was the summer before my 24th birthday. The summer everything changed.

In nearby Lafayette parish, a Catholic priest had just been accused of molesting a young alter boy. The country wide scandal took several months to reach the Deep South, as most progressive things took longer to reach here, and the day it hit the news the pastor of our church preached an angry sermon on Catholics and how they were doing wrong not letting their priests marry. Our Pastor thought his church was the only one who did anything right, because he thought he was the only doing right in “the eyes of God” and that our church were the only Christians going to heaven. I think he was just trying to get members in his church, as Catholics were the largest religious majority in Louisiana, but that was neither here nor there. Pastor Daniel had a God-complex and a hideous ego. Although it was true that Catholic priests had been molesting young boys, and it was a scandal, no one found out about our church and our scandal that Pastor Daniel was leading. There were no physical marks of rape, no DNA evidence to make a case on, but there was plenty of psychological damage among those of us who left the cult before “they” said we could. We’d been mentally raped, brainwashed, made to “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak, and yet we didn’t have any physical markers to take to the courts, and technically we’d come there to the cult of our own free will.

None of us knew it was a cult when we went there, and few of us struck up the courage to leave. Those who did leave were made outsiders, and cut off from all their friends and all acquaintances. We were the “spawn of Satan” or “rebellious” if we left…if we disagreed with the Authority of God, our Pastors.

On the night I contemplated leaving, I replayed my dad’s words to leave. He called me a month after his trip to Louisiana to meet my boss, Pastor Daniel. My dad didn’t like Pastor Daniel. “Lisa, I don’t like the way he spoke to me about you—as if he’d assumed the role of father in your life. That’s just not right,” my dad’s anger could be heard through the phone line, “I mean, what right does that arrogant man have to tell me that he’s going to pick out my own daughter’s husband? He doesn’t have faith that you can meet someone decent on your own? I know I’ve never told you what to do in your life, but Lisa—you need to get out of there. Come home.”

My dad was right. Pastor Daniel just wasn’t right. But my life had become wrapped around these people, and saying good-bye prematurely meant ripping away seven years of my life’s history away and becoming invisible, or worse yet, rebellious and unfit.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, parked on the dirt road that was flanked with sugar cane and fireflies on either side of me. Tears poured down my cheeks as the thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I couldn’t get out of here, without my life falling apart, and I was afraid of the only other option—but it seemed like the only way out.

The frog-filled swamp stretched out long and ominous before me: calling my name, and beckoning me to enter. Just gun the car and drive into the swamp, the water spoke to me like an old friend who had my best intentions in mind. I reached for another Kleenex from the passenger seat, as my whole body shook violently with sobs and my head pounded with pain. I tried to search for any other options, but there just seemed to be no other way to escape.

I looked around for anyone in sight. To the south of the road where my car sat were the dorms where all the students slept. I was supposed to be asleep, as well, making sure there was someone responsible watching over them. My fellow staff members were there, tucked into their single beds and surrounded by the students in their bunks, peacefully resting, unaware of my desire to escape, and the misery staying here was causing me. I was the only one awake that piercing dark black night. I was the only one deliberating how I could rid myself from their negativity. I was the only one trying to get the hell out of there. I was also the only one sitting alone by the dense fields of sugar cane, under the dimly lit star-filled night sky, thinking about killing myself.

The term killing myself sounded so harsh, but I guess in reality it would be a harsh thing to do to my family and my friends, those I had left that is.  My family, however, lived in California and I lived in the blasted mosquito infested hellhole of the U.S. Swamps and gators; frog legs and crawfish. Yes, the Deep South. Louisiana. The only good about Louisiana was Tim, and he wasn’t allowed to speak to me anymore because Pastor Daniel felt he was unfit for me to date, unfit to be a pastor and Pastor Daniel said God spoke to him that I should be a pastor’s wife.

My story obviously didn’t end here…but the concept of it was true. While I was in the cult, I did want to kill myself. I had reached the end of my rope and I’d asked the directors of my ministry group for vacation time to gather myself together after serving selflessly for about seven years with hardly a break. I was burnt out and breaking down. I’d never felt so low, so depressed, and never before that point felt suicidal.

When I finally made it out of the cult and home, I told my dad that story and he hugged me so tightly and said he was so sorry he didn’t get me out of that cult before, and that he’s sorry he let me stay there so long.

It wasn’t my parents fault. I’d become so tightly connected to the director of my ministry training group that I felt they were my family, my life, my friends.

I was wrong…when I needed them most, they let me down. More than that, their brainwashing, mind-control, yelling, belittling and abuse left me with PTSD and after effects that I’m still working on recovering from to this day.

As a 17 year old girl who was a high school honor student, 10th in her graduating class, active in her church youth group, never smoked, drank, done drugs with a real future in front of her to a nearly thirty year old woman who has to see a therapist who specializes in cults for the anxiety, depression, and fear that rules her life due to the abuse done from the directors who mentored her for years…it was not the transition I thought would happen when I first left home to join the ministry.

 

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We were taught that you didn’t make a decision without first making sure it was approved by our appropriate Pastor, Master’s Commission Director, or Staff Member. Anyone in an authority position on church staff or ministry staff was clearly way more qualified than we were to make decisions–at least that’s what we were taught. We even had a hierarchy of leadership that were our assigned leaders who helped us make decisions and who we had to go to talk to make a big or little decision, or even to go somewhere as simple as the mall.

The inability to make decisions on our own became a problem for many staff and students leaving, including a few friends I’ve talked to recently. One friend, James*, shared the story of events surrounding his wedding. He had left Master’s Commission years prior and hadn’t seemed to face too many huge decisions until he was getting married. Even though he had met and dated a beautiful woman who was lovely inside and out, James told me he felt like he couldn’t even process on his own after being subjected to the authoritative teachings and life-management we’d been subjected to. For James, it wasn’t a question of whether his future wife was “the one” or not because he loved her more than anyone he’d ever met before and he knew she was who he wanted to marry—it was that he felt that he should be approving major decisions through his Pastor or Master’s Commission Director. He felt the need to get approval for his decision for the first time since leaving, and that realization made him feel that he couldn’t process things on his own.

The reason the teachings we were subjected to were wrong is because they fall into the category of what a destructive group (or cult) displays as characteristics. When a group is defined by professionals and scholars as being destructive or cult-like, they typically have this mind-controlling trait and many others traits working for the leaders of the group to secure loyalty and obedience. The leader uses this decision-approval process to set the levels of hierarchy in the group, and also to set up loyalty tiers within the group.

Recently, a former Master’s Commission student called me to ask me my advice on what decision he should make. It was a personal decision, something related to dating, and honestly wasn’t that huge of a deal. However, I’ve faced the same personal crises over decisions I’ve had to make over the past five years since I left Master’s Commission and my abusive relationship with the pastors of Our Savior’s Church. So, I knew exactly how he felt. I’ve been faced with big decisions like whether to move to Northridge, CA and pursue a writing career, and small decisions like what time of day to take a class that’s offered. Over and over, I’d find myself unable to make decisions or coming to a moment of crisis when I had to make those decisions without someone’s advice or approval. I’d go to my parents or friends and ask them and they’d all say,”Well what do you think you should do?”

That was the BEST advice ever!

My advice to my friend who called was to go with HIS instinct and his heart on the matter and not to listen to anyone else. I think that in order to practice making decisions, you have to just do it. You have to jump out there and see what choices you’re going to make and what effects they have on you—good or bad. The bottom line is that you and I are responsible for ourselves and we’re fully capable of making decisions. We are adults, after all.

No pastor or ministry staff should take away your ability to make decisions. Nor should they ASK for that right. They shouldn’t coerce you, rebuke you or try to silence you. They should allow you to think for yourself, teach you how to search for knowledge (if anything) and allow you to be human.

Making decisions isn’t always easy. Sometimes we do need to ask our parents or friends what to do. But, what I’ve learned in the past few years is that whether I make a “good” or “bad” choice in life, it’s not that big of a deal. So what if I choose something that’s not quite the best choice? Life goes on. I still have to wake up and go to work. I still have a great family who loves me and cares about me.

Most importantly: I’m a smart, capable adult woman who can make decisions on her own.

*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any names that have not been changed may be left intact at the author’s discretion, so that the reading audience gets a full picture of the events that occurred/are occurring in the ministries of the named parties.

What would Anne Rice do?

Original article found here, written by Carolyn Kellogg: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/08/what-would-anne-rice-do.html

Anne Rice, the author of “Interview With the Vampire” and its sequels, has decided that her Christian faith no longer fits with the Christian church. She announced this very personal decision on Facebook on Wednesday, generating more than 2,000 comments on two posts that went up within five minutes of each other.

In the first, she wrote: “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

“I quit being a Christian,” she continued. “I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

In addition to the attention it drew on Facebook, Rice’s declaration was circulated widely on the Internet and by the mainstream media; even the Associated Press picked it up. She may have created more of a media splash with her departing-the-church announcement than she did when she showed up at a booksigning in a coffin.

Rice’s Christianity seemed an awkward worldview for an author who so thoroughly imagined evil vampires — sexy evil vampires, even.

In 2008, Rice sought to illuminate her journey in faith with the memoir “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.” She had an inner voice, she wrote, that said, “Write for God. Write for Him. Write only for Him.” Her recent books include “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” (2005), “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana ” (2008) and “Angel Time” (2009).

Yet despite this focus on Christ and angels, Rice, who was brought up Catholic, said in her memoir that the church’s laws caused her pain. “How was I to become a card-carrying member of a church that condemned my gay son?”

If I were more of a religious scholar, I could find a church for Rice that is dedicated to Christ and not anti-gay or anti-feminist or anti-birth-control or anti-Democrat or anti-secular-humanist. I’m sure people who know more about this than I do have tried to help Rice find her way to a church that might fit her beliefs.

What I do know is that, sometimes, causing a stir can help spark interest in an author’s work. So in case you’re curious, Anne Rice’s next angel book, “Of Love and Evil,” is due on shelves in November.

— Carolyn Kellogg
twitter.com/paperhaus

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.”

Grief and Other Hideous Effects

Every morning I go to the French doors at the back of my house and I look upon the wide expanse of desert that surrounds me. I look down at the patio, and I don’t see Ella so my gaze runs out to the East, where my mom and I set a cat trap with salmon. I lost my cat two weeks ago, and although I know her likely destiny was prey to a California desert predator, I keep looking for her to show up.

Grief does funny things to people. It’s an emotion that I didn’t clearly recognize I was going through the years after leaving the cult I was involved in. Some people said they thought I felt rejected and that was why I became depressed. Of course there was rejection upon leaving.  Upon disagreeing with the senior pastor, he cut me off from communication (like he’d done to so many others in his past). Why?  He became disappointed in me because I was unwilling to come back to Louisiana and I was unwilling to live my life according to his rules. Fragments of conversation trickle down the chain of command there in Louisiana, where eavesdroppers at household conversations and bystanders at after-church discussions mix truth with lies with assumptions about why people leave the church. Eventually, the game of telephone dilutes any truth of why anyone left and people are left to their own assumptions mixed with he-said, she-said which is never generous to the person who leaves the “place of blessing” or “out of the anointing” or “House of God.” Negative assumptions breed rejection, and what I felt was rejection from people I’d grown close to for much of the history of my young adult life.

More powerfully than rejection, though, was the grief I experienced from an amalgamation of losing my friends, people I considered close (like family), and discarding and deconstructing the teachings I now disagreed with.

During a journey of grieving and depression, I allowed myself to be expressive, angry, searching and honest.

I began to grieve and mourn the loss of people I’d considered friends for many years of my life, and I began to grieve the loss of what I thought was my “faith” and what turned out to be a need for people’s approval. As I began to intersect the faith I’d been taught in the cult with the faith I’d felt in my heart was right my entire life, I began to see a great chasm that needed to be reconciled. So, I set out to find my own truth—the things I believed about love, people, dreams—without placing pressure on myself to meet someone else’s approval.

I felt that to become a blank slate was something that would help me ascertain what my own beliefs were, as opposed to what I was taught in the cult.

I deconstructed the idea of Christianity completely.

I took it all apart, piece-by-piece and was left with a sort of artists table with a clean canvas and materials to construct with. I had paints of all colors and tones, magazine cut-outs, fragments of books I’d read, pictures I’d seen, people I’d known, and experiences I’d had. With a clean slate in front of me, I took my old materials and examined them. I turned them to the right and the left and looked at them from the back, and the front with a critical eye. I read from experts in the field of religion, feminism, humanitarianism, literature. I compared them with human beings in history and the present time who were models of exceptional citizenship, who treated people fairly and respectfully.

Many of my old materials needed to be discarded. They came from a long line of historical violence, a present day close-minded manner and an anti-intellectual path that I no longer wanted to walk on.

As I felt more liberated, I acted more liberated.

The years of grief were mixed with years of feeling buoyant, vibrant.

There were years I’d sit at a writing desk and feel like a dried out old pen, because I was worried what the people from my past would think. How would they judge me? What gossip sessions would occur because of what I was about to write? What prayers of concern would go up to God from them on behalf of my soul, because I was now changed from the Lisa they knew? I had no voice to speak—only fear, yet I had words that were jamming up in my head and twisting like pretzels to get out. When I would begin to write, the nightmares would come. The mornings I’d wake up with fear that they were real. I was back there. The women were coming for me—ensuring I didn’t escape.

Grief isn’t something you navigate out of like short river boat ride. Grief is complex and misunderstood: the outer shell of humans experiencing it often not showing signs and other times causing people to fall apart, lose their ability to reason and calculate and concentrate.

Grief can also be like a painting:

grey,

black and hazy,

with a few strokes

of white

and blue

lighting up

the picture.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to

be…Grief is different.

Grief has no difference.

Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden

apprehensions that weaken the knees

and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking