My Crazy Journey in Search of God, Faith, Reason & Truth

Was I Part of a Cult?

Updated July 22, 2016:

In July 2009, I began writing about my former church and the reasons it has been called “a cult” or “cultish.”  I quickly password protected this entry soon after posting it for a multitude of reasons.  This month- 7 years after my original post- I am re-posting this without the password.  *Yay!!!!!*  I have tried to delete the identifying info for my church.  I am no longer passionately possessed of the need to determine the Cult ranking of the church where I was “radically born again.”

In July 2009, I wrote the following entry:

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Is [My Former Church] a cult? [Links, critiques, criticism of my former church have been removed in addition to identifying information!]

I was part of a church which was once part of a denomination until the denomination disbanded in the 1980’s.  I was a very zealous, dedicated member of this church from about 1994 to 1999.  I am still processing my experience there and how it affected me.  I write this blog to process the experience and find some healing for my soul.

My church was part of a group of churches that used many different names but was essentially different parts of the same organization.

During my time there, I was encouraged to learn from these teachers and schools of thought: Bob and Rose Weiner, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Derek Prince, Dick Mills, Winkie Pratney, Rusty Russell, BILL GOTHARD and his ATI group (the Group that is intricately enmeshed with The Duggars, Richard Fugate- Train Up a Child (Spank your child or he/she will “Take Dominion” over you, the parent”, Gary Ezzo’s “Growing Kids God’s Way”, among other Pentecostal, Word of Faith, and fundamentalist teachers.

Was my former church and its group of related churches a “cult?”  It has been criticized as such many times.

From my experience, there is no way I could fairly generalize about all the groups or churches involved.  What I do know is that there were major problems with the denomination before the breakup and that many critics and former members allege that some or most of the ministries continued to utilize the same problematic practices which they disavowed.

As for my experience, when I was 18 years old, I joined a church that had been part of the denomination but that continued on as a campus ministry after the denomination disbanded.  This was in the 1990’s.  I was an active member for 5 years, after which time I left.

I have stayed on pretty good terms with many people who I knew there. (At least that is what I would hope is true, perhaps the people I know feel differently.  I do know that there have been a few key people who I reached out to on Facebook that ignored me completely, which felt like a rejection to me since I can see they seem to have remained friends with just about everyone else.

I feel it is fair for me to speak about the things that I, or others close to me experienced, as well as my perceptions and thoughts about everything else I witnessed.  While I was there, there were many times that I was uncomfortable with some things and in the later period of my time there, I knew there were problems and I was trying to separate myself slowly from the group because I felt that some of the culture had a very negative effect on me.

I cannot say that the group as a whole, or the particular church I attended, was a “cult.”  However, in my opinion, the church I attended had and has some very dysfunctional, unhealthy, controlling aspects, some of which are characteristic of sociological cults, so I guess I could say it had some unhealthy and cultish beliefs or behaviors, but I wouldn’t label the church I attended as a “Cult.”  However, although I always had great reservations and even anger about some of the things there, it is only now, many years later, that I am revisiting this issue and trying to analyze it better.  I do know that at many times, and especially recently, I have spoken of my experience as if I was recovering from being part of a “cult-like” group.  At this time, I do feel like a cult survivor, and though it was over 10 years ago that I left, my experience there still affects me greatly and I feel like I can’t shake free from this.

Which is why, though I should be sleeping, I am up late blogging about my experience.  I cannot sleep and as I go back and think about my experiences, I feel anger, embarrassment, shame, and a feeling of having been lied to, used and violated.  I feel that my personal dignity and privacy was completely violated.  I have a nagging feeling of, “How could I be so stupid?” or “What was wrong with me psychologically that made me want to join this group?”

I feel taken advantage of because I was an 18-year-old kid who wanted to follow Jesus and these people told me that they knew Jesus personally and that they would teach me to follow Him.

Also, being part of this group at such a critical time in my life had life-altering consequences and affected the course of my life.

I cannot say that there was no “good fruit” that came out of my participation there, however at this time I am trying to process why I still feel so much pain and anger about my experience with them.

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Comments on: "Was I Part of a Cult?" (5)

  1. Cyrus Mohammad said:

    You hit the nail with a big hammer. I was part of the Tallahasse, Fl (Florida State University) church back in the mid eighties. I lived in the “house” for three years. I was in my mid teens. Very impressionable and they had me scared.

    My whole perception of Jesus changed for the worse. Till this day, at 44 years of age, I am stilled pissed off and scared of God. I still live in constant fear of a drill sergeant mad God.

    Several of the members are torn till this day. The way I see it—Crying won’t help you…praying will do you no good.

    To me, Bob Weiner is the anti-christ. From what I understand he confessed to being controlling and acting “in the flesh” during his reign of terror in Maranatha. May God have mercy on his soul. He does not realize the damage he did.

    Forgiveness? I have tried and failed. Oh well, life is nothing but pain and misery.

    Thanks for your comments,

    Cyrus

    • searchingtraveler said:

      Thanks for your comments Cyrus. I am so sorry about the bad experience you had. Also, sorry for not responding sooner. I was having some medical issues since last posting, so needless to say I had a hard time getting back here. I hope that you find healing somehow. I don’t think Maranatha, or any one church completely represents God, but I do know there are other churches out there that focus much more on the unconditional grace and love of God. IF you are interested in trying out some other forms of Xianity, please let me know and I would be try happy to help you find a better house of worship for you . .. . Since my last post, I have been able to branch out to more grace based houses of worship and it has been a healing experience.

  2. I’m not sure anyone within a cult thinks of it as a cult. “Church” sounds fairly safe, but there are those of us, like you, Cyrus and I, who have experienced otherwise through Maranatha.

    I know for a fact that this group and its teachings are thriving in places like Brazil, and growing even in Europe. Continuing to take advantage of vulnerable people (to a lesser extent, this is a quality of all evangelical systems), surrounding them with “love” and charisma, gradually becoming more and more controlling…

    Cult-like? I would say cult, but the semantics aren’t important really. It’s dangerous, harmful, damaging… the isolation from and destruction of families seems to be a clear enough signal of something not being quite right.

    So yes, nowadays if I hear the words “trust and obey” (did you sing that song?), or other hints at “submission”, “the body of Christ”, the idea that there’s a slightly malevolent, punishing, all-powerful, but oh-so-loving being that watches your every move… alarm bells go off in my head. I can certainly understand your being gun-shy; it’s for very good reasons.

    I don’t have any answers or solutions, or ideas for preventing this kind of thing from happening to people. But I’ll commiserate, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • searchingtraveler said:

      Thanks for your response Paracusia! As I told Cyrus, I have been away from this blog for a long time. Yes, I hear you on hearing alarm bells when you hear things like “Trust and Obey.” In fact, for a while I would hear a “fundamentalist” voice in my head- always giving the fundamentalist argument to everything. I am hearing that voice less and less these days and it feels good.

  3. Every Nation (EN) Ministries and the teachings of Winkie Pratney ring a bell to me. I was part of a church that joined EN Ministries for a few years, until the higher up leadership got in trouble for making too much money. Once they were under investigation, my pastor, Jacob Aranza (whom I worked for-in his home, as his nanny), left the group (or was kicked out). I’m not sure under what exact circumstances Jacob left (there’d been talk that he was too independent spirited for EN, but he left at an odd time (when they were getting in trouble).

    I say all this, because Jacob made a LOT of money. Too much money for a pastor with his size church. Yeah, the church was large, but he had a million dollar home (or more) in Lafayette, LA.

    Winkie Pratney would come to our church and Jacob’s best friend’s church (Tim Dilena in Detroit, MI) to do “War Week.” In 2010, I wrote a letter to Winkie Pratney, Tim Dilena, and Dino Rizzo asking them to intervene on the behalf of those who’ve been abused by church. I got no response. It all makes sense now.

    Having entered an Every Nation church, I had no idea about this background with their ties to Maranatha. Since leaving and starting to blog about Aranza, I’ve had people comment or email me saying that they’ve had experiences with Maranatha which are very similar to yours. They label it as a cult or as a toxic environment. I believe there are Rick Ross forums dedicated to Maranatha. If not, there’s forums dedicated to Every Nation which talk about their ties to Maranatha.

    This part is exactly what I’ve been feeling the past few years:

    I have a nagging feeling of, “How could I be so stupid?” or “What was wrong with me psychologically that made me want to join this group?”

    I’m still evaluating myself and calling myself stupid. I have friends who keep trying to dig into my childhood to relate it to my experiences with seeing domestic violence as a kid. While it might be true that seeing my mom get abused as a child/young adult made me more vulnerable, I don’t think it’s directly related. It might be…I wouldn’t close it off completely, but I think it’s much more complex.

    Now, having networked with and met dozens of people with our similar stories (being in and leaving a cult-like group), I think we’re all from very different backgrounds and there doesn’t seem to be a common thread of psychological issues or stupidity. In fact, those who’ve left, who share our stories seem pretty intellectual, and capable critical thinkers.

    I read a book called I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan which opens with this quote: “Remember that none of us is beyond being manipulated by an intense, dedicated, and persistent persuader who meets us at a time when we are vulnerable, needy and lonley.” This quote is from Margaret Thaler Singer, who is the author of Cults in Our Midst.

    We often blame ourselves because we’re one person, who isn’t famous, who doesn’t have a following and after all: Who would believe US?

    And we typically have had a relationship with the “man in charge” of the cult-like group, and we know that they’re pretty decent people, speak on God’s behalf and have a ton of followers. We don’t like to think of them as “intense, dedicated and persistent persuader[s].” That would be contrary to EVERYTHING they taught us and everything we believed.

    The hard part about this is that I don’t think they realize that they are manipulative persuaders. Maybe they do, but in my experience, they think they’re doing the right thing–the godly thing.

    But, here you have these powerful, wealthy men who are haughty enough to speak on God’s behalf…that has to be a red flag right there.

    Also, as I was going through therapy at my university, I realized that a lot of college aged kids get snatched up into groups like this. It’s not that we’re stupid–in fact, much of the reading I encountered in my research stated the opposite. For one, there’s not a ton of information readily available naming actual destructive groups like this one. Unless you’re looking specifically for it for months, you may not find it. Two, we see a group that’s publicly admired, looks pretty fun and of course, we think it’s okay to be part of it. I mean, if all these people were involved, it must not be too terrible. Third, we start getting almost attacked by all these loving, caring, super nice people who want to be our friends. It’s kind of awesome at first.

    I’ve found that most of us think we’re alone in all this. Most of us feel how you feel–like it’s still effecting us years and years later. For me, it’s 5 1/2 years since I left. It affects my self-esteem, my relationships, etc. I try to tell myself one day at a time, “at least I’m still alive”, and this might be with me forever but I’ll make it somehow. I don’t know why it is still here, lingering.

    I’m hoping one day there’s a movement toward education about spiritual abuse, just as we’ve had domestic violence abuse, etc. I hope that we can make people aware of the secret abuses that have gone on long enough, and maybe open up people’s eyes to be a little more critical when choosing a church. I dream of networks of bloggers, public service announcements on tv’s, magazines, and documentaries all educating people about the abuse. Maybe one day. 🙂

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