Trigger Warning: Mention of Sexual Abuse.
Sometimes the lines between religion and cult can be distorted… for sometimes their similarities are unwavering. However, it is true that leaving a high-control group will give a greater sense of clarity. My story is not one that will end up on the NY TIMES.. it won’t even turn heads. I was a mere follower, a devout Christian in a Pentecostal church in its start up.
As a queer kid from a non-religious background, I found a sense of purpose in Christianity after being bullied and ostracized in high school. I had attended a mega-church, and than started attending a “new church” that broke off from them. Run by young adults, there was no sense of professionalism from the get-go.
Initially my devotion was “Luke-warm” as they call it. But after a suicide attempt that landed me in hospital saw members (excluding the leaders) visited me, I was eventually brought in at my lowest. I eventually ended up doing church activities including working for free every single day. The control grew, and the religious manipulation set in. From running extreme recruitment campaigns to being “called” by God to donate large sums of money. From misconduct including fraud, to brainwashing. Using spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues was normal to make judgements of people’s lives. Soon it became spiritually weak to experience anxiety, depression.. it became selfish to have suicidal ideation.
My sexuality was preventing me from the promise of God.. we saw people as profit. Our food outreaches attracted the wrong people (homeless/low-income)… we started having systems set up that dictated if people were “right” or “wrong”… asking questions was strongly avoided. We were taught so many messed up things. The leader wanted to be the most famous pastor in the world.
He manipulated a mentally ill member to donate $20,000 on the spot during a manic episode. We built the new church building from scratch for free. Working illegally, with no permits or safety… without food or showers.. no beds… it’s all too common. They ignored my plea to help somebody in a sexually abusive relationship who was a member… they allowed the abuser to continue coming and serving in the church despite the allegations.
At the end of the day… It’s just another church. But coming from a high control group, I am so messed up psychologically after leaving. I’m banned for life. I feel like I lost everything. I still am deprogramming my thoughts. I still feel innately sinful for leaving. They made me out to be evil.. to be disordered. there’s so many things that just hit too close to home between Keith [Raniere]’s theology and character, and the leader of this church.