Walking Away From Spiritual Abuse

Walking Away From Spiritual Abuse

The most difficult phase of a spiritually abusive experience is usually the exit process. This is where victims of spiritual abuse usually suffer the greatest losses. Walking away from friends and possibly even family members when exiting a religious group is never an easy process. What makes it even more difficult is when these relationships are damaged or destroyed due to the tendency of spiritually abusive leaders to blacklist and demonize members who leave the church or group.
Many people never leave their spiritually abusive church or group due to the fear of losing a large portion of their life that they have invested into the group. Most of the people who contemplate leaving a spiritually abusive environment have seen an unhealthy pattern of what happens when someone exits the group: Loss of relationships, loss of time and money invested, loss of their reputation, and even fears of losing their relationship with God and being turned over to the devil. These fears are very real, and pose a hurdle for most people who want to leave a spiritually abusive group. Many victims of spiritual abuse wonder what will become of their lives if they decide to escape their spiritually abusive church or group. They have most likely been taught that if they leave the group it is equal to leaving God. They don’t know if they can cope in the real world without the help and support of their church group.
The question then becomes: Should I leave my abusive church? That question can only be answered by you. There will most likely be losses involved. However, you have to decide which is worse – suffering the losses, or continuing to suffer from the spiritual abuse? Let me use an analogy to help you see your situation from a different perspective. Let’s say you were taken prisoner of war in a foreign country. In the prison you become removed from old family members and friends, and develop new relationships with your fellow prisoners and even some of your captors. You spend 10 years in the prison, and then are offered a way of escape. You are then faced with the same decision: Do you leave the relationships made in the abusive environment, which may be very dear to you, to go back to your old friends and family members? The next question becomes, will your your old friends and family members even remember you or want you in their lives again? Are you willing to suffer the grief of leaving friends and possibly even family members behind in the abusive environment after you escape? These are hard questions to answer, but only you can make this decision.
As far as “leaving God’s will” goes, I personally believe that this is the biggest hoax that is used by spiritual abusers. Most spiritually abusive groups create a codependent dynamic in the group that causes followers to become emotionally and spiritually dependent on the group in an inordinate way. The tactics that are used to create this dynamic usually include fear, guilt, shame, manipulation, and brainwashing. Verses of scripture are twisted and used to make members fear losing their salvation if they exit the group without the leader’s permission. It takes a lot of willpower and inner strength to cross the hurdles of these fears and leave the spiritually abusive group.
Members who do end up deciding to leave spiritually abusive groups are usually blacklisted and demonized by the leader, being cut off from association with the group’s members. This becomes another huge hurdle to cross when trying to determine if it is best for your emotional and spiritual health to leave the group. Most members who leave these groups suffer great heartache and grief due to the lost relationships that were left behind in the group. This grief is usually the most painful part of leaving a spiritually abusive group, and can even be the cause of depression in members who leave the groups. This grieving process is not exclusive to leaving a spiritually abusive group, but is common whenever leaving a group of loved ones in a traumatic fashion such as a divorce or death of loved ones. The grief becomes multiplied when you lose more than one relationship at once. Some have even likened it to losing your entire extended family in an airplane crash.
I am not trying to tell you about the grief and loss you will suffer when leaving a spiritually abusive group or church in order to scare you into staying. Personally, I believe it is always best to leave any type of abusive situation if at all possible. You won’t be able to heal and recover from the abuse until you get away from it. However, it may cause you more grief and heartache in the short run to be able to experience a healthy emotional and spiritual life in the long run. If you decide to leave your spiritually abusive church or group, you will find the resources on this website of great value in your recovery process.
It is possible to recover from spiritual abuse. It doesn’t happen overnight, and the recovery process can last a lifetime. There are a handful of books available on the subject of spiritual abuse, but very few if any that provide methods of recovery and healing from it. I have found the best way to recover from spiritual abuse is to find a group of people that can relate to your experience such as the members of the church abuse forum on this website. When you can share your hurts and pains in a safe environment with others who can understand and are sensitive to what you have been through, it can help the recovery process along tremendously.
I hope that you find the resources on this website helpful in your journey through the process of recovery from spiritual abuse.

The above article was quoted in it’s entirety from: http://www.churchabuse.com/articles/spiritual_abuse_articles/healing_spiritual_abuse_001.html

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

Letter to Lloyd and MCIN from former MCA Member

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

July 26, 2010

RE: Spiritual Abuse in Lafayette, Louisiana

Dear Lloyd and MCIN Board:

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Sean M. Mitchell


 

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