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:
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.