Wednesday, 17 October 2012
A little over a year ago, on July 21st 2011, I left the church I'd been part of the entirety of my life. From birth I'd gone to church, the congregation were closer to me than my own family. For thirty one years, the place, the people, the ministers and their ministry were part and parcel of my existence.
Yet 2011 brought about a huge change that was difficult, frightening, caused anxiety, stress, discomfort, added to fear and worries yet possibly the bravest, proudest thing I'd ever done. I removed myself from out of the bonds, chains and fears that for most of my life had held me as a prisoner.
It would be so easy to explain life in that place as simply being part of some cult. You say the word cult to anyone and instantly people think of Jonestown or The Moonies or Scientologists -- large organisations driven and controlled by very manipulative, powerful people. The church I was part of was a cult, a sect, a place so heavily controlled psychologically, mentally and emotionally. But we were a tiny, insignificant place, the congregation never more than forty to fifty people.
Even so, on July 21st 2011, after a week of coming to a decision and utterly despairing that I was going to hell for it, I sent a text -- because I was too terrified to call -- saying I, with my younger sister, were leaving the church to my, then, 'leaders'. I then lived a month of anxious fear, with them sending numerous texts, trying to get in touch by phone and through other people, thinking they were somehow going to 'get me back' into the fold.
At this point, I hadn't even begun to pick apart or analyze what I was going through and how wrong that place had been under their control. What is so desperately sad is that there are people who remain under the leadership’s clutches, people I haven't spoken to for over a year because they are not allowed to contact me or speak to me for fear I'll abscond them away also. People who were family -- people who have such a love for God, who so eagerly seek to serve him and the kingdom that they remain in fear, like I did, that to leave the 'protection' the ministry provides, to veer away from the path God has set them, will remove them from his protection and bring terrible things upon their lives.
Over the last year I've come to see for myself the dangers of such a place, the issues and setbacks I carry now with me as a thirty two year old woman, born of the control I was under. At the moment I don't attend church, but as a friend once said to me, 'I do God, but I don't do church'.
For the moment, I believe in God, I believe in my salvation, I believe in Jesus, Holy Spirit, I have faith. But my trust in churches and especially in leadership makes it hard to find a place I am comfortable being in. I felt guilty about this for a long time but now I think each to their own, every church is taught differently, every minister and person interprets God and his teachings in their own way, according to their own faith. Right now I am on my own path, discovering what my faith means, how strong it is, my love for God and how I shape it and mold it into the 21st century.
My intent is to share with people the experience of growing up and living within an abusive 'church' or cult or sect, whatever label you wish to put upon it. Because for a long time, you feel you have to keep it a secret; even now, few people outside of very close friends who went through the same experience as I know the truth of that place that was my life for so long.
But it was part of my life, it is my history, it shaped me into the person I am and made me witness to the kind of dangerous people who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If I cannot tell the truth, if I can't share that with people then nobody truly knows me, who I am, who I want to be.
I also hope to bring hope to people, because it's never too late to begin again, that you learn and heal and grow despite the difficulties. My life was abused not physically, but I am scarred yet I am healed, I am damaged yet I am whole -- because of my strength in the face of utter fear and weakness. And I put testament to the fact that is not just borne of me, but an inner strength that I know is something God plants within each one of us.
Do you or does someone you know have experience in cults or dangerous church sects? What can we learn from those experiences, and how can we help those who have escaped from unhealthy church environments?