Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Moving Forward


I have been stuck for a while when it comes to the Community of Jesus.  While I am glad that the journey thus far led me to a place where I can really understand the depth to which the COJ damaged our family, I haven’t really felt like there was anything else I could do with that knowledge.

I know that the COJ’s teachings deeply impacted my life and family but what I do with that is up to me.  I truly know that I have no ill will towards my parents in regard to their involvement.  They are humans, who like me, longed for deep connection and community.  There are people out there in this world like wolves ready to take advantage of our deeply human needs.  Mostly my heart hurts for the young parents that my parents were – out in the world without a lot of family support and trying their best to love and raise three kids but emotionally ill-equipped to do so.  I grieve for the little girl I was and the young girl I grew into without the kind of support I really needed.  But the thing is, that little girl did find what she needed.  She might have already been fully grown but she grew strong, smart, and I would even say, a bit fierce.  I like her quite a bit.

So for me after much time to think and let it sit dormant, I have decided not to actively write about the COJ.  I will allow the truth of my experience to help me as I continue to move forward with my life.   As I work on my memoir I find that a focus on the COJ makes the story less authentic.  I have different work to do and stories to tell.

Yet there are people out there who are still embattled and still need the validity of their story to be honored.  For those people I will leave my blog up and hope that others on the same journey towards understanding will find it helpful.


My purpose continues to be to be a part of building truly empathic communities by being a part of the growth and development of young children.  I will tell them stories, teach them love, and show them the power of TRUE community.

Thank you to everyone who followed this sojourn of mine.  I do encourage you to visit me over at http://www.chickenhatdancing.com.  I have some plans to get that moving along soon.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Past Keeps Coming Back


I have not been blogging lately, but my research and connection to the issues at the Community of Jesus are still quite active.  While the community still actively pursues its agenda of pretending they are something other than the are, the hurt they cause continues to haunt them.  Last week a Canadian television station aired this show about the issues surrounding the closing of Grenville Christian College in 2007.  While "college" is in the name, Grenville was actually a high school that for a period of time was run by leaders from the Community of Jesus.  It has been a community practice from the beginning to spread their reach beyond Orleans, Massachusetts to places around the world and have had ministries in places like Bermuda and now, Italy.  There is currently a class-action suit underway in regard to alleged abuse of students at Grenville.  The practice of "light groups" plays a big part.  My parents were members of light groups and I am quite convinced that my mother suffered significant emotional harm as a result.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/former-students-allege-psychological-physical-and-sexual-abuse-at-ont-christian-school-1.2766446

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why I Write: The Power of Truth

"Truth is not an answer.  Truth is more powerful than an answer because the truth has the power to lie amongst the questions while an answer demands that the questions go away."  - Ada Moreau Demlow, 2003

I have decided that today I want to share the powerful reason I decided to write this blog in the first place. I have touched on it earlier in my postings, but not quite in the way I want to put it today.

After my mother's passing, our father discussed the possibility of moving to the Community of Jesus, I was sparked to do some research on the place. I stumbled across a number of sites that I known about and a new blog that had been started in 2010 (mylifecoj.wordpress.com).

As I read through this blog and more in-depth on the sites I had previously known about, some of the puzzle pieces of my life fell into place in a way that gave me a sudden burst of new understanding about the pain and turmoil of my childhood and youth. The best way I know to describe it is this.  Suppose you had grown up with an alcoholic parent but you didn't know they drank.  All you knew is about the behaviors that resulted from the drink.  Puzzling and confusing things would happen for seemingly no reason.  Then suddenly one day you find out that your parent was an alcoholic.   It doesn't make anything that happened better or even ok...but it does bring a new clarity and understanding that allows you to move forward.

That is what has happened for me these past couple of years.  Some of the places where I was stuck came unglued.  And I confess that in the process I came a bit unglued myself. I am at a place in my life where I don't feel anger towards my parents for the chaos.  I actually have not been in that place for a long time.  When you become a parent and make a myriad of your own mistakes, it doesn't make you feel any relief to hold up a magnifying glass to the mistakes of your parents or any other parents for that matter.  But I have more understanding and that feels GOOD.

I also realize that the CoJ is not responsible for all of it.  It was a perfect storm or witch's brew, if you will.  My parents, in their young years, had a lot to overcome and needed support.  My mother had a powerful connection to music and spirituality that I deeply understand because I have it too.  My father had a similar connection to music and the arts and is also drawn in by larger than life charismatic personalities.  They found what they were looking for with Mother Cay and Mother Judy way back in the 1970's.  Only they found a whole lot more.  Our 40 year plus family connection to the CoJ not only deeply impacted our immediate family, I see the impact spreading to the next generation who will have even less understanding than we did of the way CoJ negatively impacted our family life.

I wrote this blog because I wanted it to be a light to others the way the sites I found were a light to me.  This blog won't be updated every week, or even every month but I will keep it as an active project.

I want to  share the reality that while dwelling in the past is not healthy, learning about can bring your life more clarity.  I hope for a day when my family will own its story because until we do we will remain a fractured lot.  This wish of mine extends to all families.

I want to provide a warning for others who may be lured into this group or others like it.    God is love and love does not demand that you do anything emotionally harmful to others.  

Although I won't have lots of specific CoJ stuff to add all of the time, I want to keep this blog live because of the power I have experience in truth-telling.  I have made some new friends in this process.   I have connected with relatives in new ways.  I have also been contacted by a less than friendly person from my childhood who I suspect was sent to silence me.  Truth has a way of working in the world in surprising ways.   I want truth to do its work.

What this blog won't do is be a recounting of all the wrongs that happened in my life that are connected to the teachings and practices of the CoJ. That kind of storytelling has a context, and that context is face to face.  Or at least one to one.  There may be ways that sharing these stories will be healing to me or to others, but not in the context of a blog.  Some may appear in a memoir (or not) at some point in my life.  I may share stories on this blog from time to time, but not as a record of wrongs.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The One-Directional Nature of a False Community

Others writing about the community have spoken of the way the community rules are one-directional in nature.  In other words things like the command to be brutally honest with each other about faults only applied to those in authority. Leadership is allowed to criticize followers and the followers are allowed to criticize each other but not the leaders.  Everyone can criticize the children and I guess they are left to deal with the resulting pain in their own various ways.  This one-directional nature of relationships was definitely a part of our family structure and I still struggle with its effects.

One experience in which the one-directional nature of COJ relationships is easy for me to see in the response to my mother’s illness and death.  My parents spent parts of every summer and Christmas holiday at the Community of Jesus for most of their adult life.   And for a span of more than 40 years they made regular financial contributions to the group.  Many people will only make commitments like this to people who are like family. And maybe you could argue that for COJ members they are like family.  But it is also important to note that these visits and contributions were required to remain members of the group.  And membership of the group was deeply connected to deep favor from God.


When my mother got too ill to make their regular trips to the Community, the response from the COJ was to chastise my father for not coming for their required trips.  And when their finances got tight due to her medical needs, they were unhappy with his reduction in giving.  There didn’t appear to be any obligation of the community leadership or members to reach out to our family with any kind of support. When Mom passed away in 2012 they made no acknowledgement of her death to our family.  You might expect a member of the COJ to have actually come down to Mississippi to be there with our family during her final days, or at least for her funeral.   Some might say that this lack of response is easily justified by the distance between Orleans, MA and the small town of Decatur, MS where Mom spent her last days.  Okay, I will give them that.  But no card, flowers or other acknowledgment?   That’s right.  The COJ’s response to the death of a long-time committed member was crickets. I feel nothing but sadness for anyone who could believe this group is Christian.  I feel the same sadness for those who think that the word “community” in their name means anything.  Or the word “Jesus”.   Jesus is God, God is love and when we lost our mother true love wept.  The so-called Community of Jesus merely adjusted their membership records and resumed its relentless pursuit of my father’s “obedience”.   This sounds harsh when I read it, but I don't know any other way to put it.

(After publishing this I realized that I needed to be clear that I have NO way of knowing if the COJ made some kind of private acknowledgement to my father only.  He mentioned getting pressure from them during her illness, but never said anything about their response to her death.  The CoJ is not a subject talked about much at all in our family in any kind of open forum.  But our family was very present in my parents home in the months and weeks around my mom's death. My post here is reflecting that while as a family unit we were given love and support from many family members and MANY people from the churches where my father served, the family received no such acknowledgement and support from COJ or COJ individual members. An organization that claims to be about building Christian families should not care so little for the families of its members.) 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Revisiting Basic COJ beliefs

Well, if you read my post on May 9….you would see that I was planning to do a post on May 24.  Clearly giving myself one week off to travel from Boise to Newnan was not enough.  It was enough for the traveling part, but not enough to allow time for all that happened next.  In the weeks I have not been blogging I have unpacked LOTS of boxes, secured a full-time professional library job and allowed myself some fun and frolic with family and good friends.  

So I guess it is safe to say that you can ignore my proposed schedule of posts.   I have also realized that while I am going to follow that typical outline, some of the proposed topics may take several weeks to cover.

Early on in my blogging process I talked about how the Community of Jesus (COJ) has very little of their “belief” system written down and that we really determine what they teach by finding others with COJ stories and connecting the dots.  I had found an excellent posting on a Facebook page that I shared on a page I created:Core Community of Jesus Beliefs.  The person that had written the original post was doing it from the perspective of someone involved in Grenville Christian School, a boarding school run by COJ leaders and ultimately shut down over accusations of abuse. I went back to that posting and did some rewording to make it present tense and take out references to GCC.  For those connected to GCC using past tense to talk about things the school taught might make sense.  But when bringing these teachings back to their source, I feel the present tense if most correct.  The COJ still exists under the same leadership it had during the Grenville years, and based on stories of people who have left the COJ in more recent years, the doctrines are still alive and well.  Besides making it present tense and pulling out references to the school and students, I left everything else as it was because this is an EXCELLENT overview of both the teachings and methods of the COJ.  

Even as oblates, my parents took vows to the COJ, vowing a lifelong commitment to the COJ and the life of obedience to their teachings. My mother’s commitment ended when she died on May 20, 2012.  My father’s commitment continues to this day.   They were/are required to attend a certain number of retreats a year, spend a week a year “living in”, and write monthly “notes” of a highly personal nature to the leaders of the COJ.  Teachings were/are learned at retreats and “live-in” weeks at the Community of Jesus, personal counseling sessions, and from listening to “teaching tapes.” (Teaching tapes were discontinued when leadership passed from Cay and Judy to Betty Pugsley, the current prioress.  Betty is much more shrewd and secretive about letting teachings get out to the public.)

As oblates, I can see that my families’ experience does have some key differences based on the fact that we did not live on site. However, what is most striking to me is how many of the beliefs did dominate our lives despite the fact that my siblings and I never really spent much direct time at the COJ.  With the exception of the time we lived with the Montgomery family and a few other random visits to COJ, I have no credible experience or knowledge that any leader of the COJ even knew my name or anything about me personally. (And trust me, I am not interested in making any kind of connection!)  Their relationship was almost entirely with my parents.  Yet, the damaging teachings they presented to my parents have presented me with struggles for most of my life.

What I am going to do tonight is just share my edited version of the previous post.   Next week I am going to examine these beliefs through the lens of my family experience. I also want to look at a few of the big ways oblates had a different experience than full-time COJ members.  One of these is that while those living at COJ have more limited access to other spiritual leaders and teachings, my parents were free to do other exploring as well.  This means that a few other unhealthy belief systems were added to the COJ brew.  This included the seed-faith gospel of Oral Roberts and the “rapture” theology espoused by films like “Thief in the Night”.   Recovery from this poisonous mixture has been difficult.

This post is WAY longer than I usually want them to be, but I really hate to divide this really well-done description of beliefs into several posts, so I just ask your patience with the length of this.  My upcoming posts will not be nearly this long, I promise!

CORE BELIEFS OF THE COMMUNITY OF JESUS:

Obedience
Obedience is first to God. Following God’s will for your life is a common modern day evangelical teaching. However, for the COJ “God’s” will was determined by those in charge.  After the initial contact, the decision to join is encouraged through a combination of both fear and enticements. The initial impressions of the community for a person considering following “God’s” will there are not unlike initial impressions for any other person:  the place is beautiful, the people were thoughtful and “caring”, etc.  Once numerous bridges are burned, you are more privy to statements that included the statement that making the commitment to join the COJ is the last decision a person ever makes. Spiritual authorities speak for God and are to be obeyed always. Disobedience to them is disobedience to God. The expectation of obedience is extended to children. Children are stripped of any parental protection (see the teaching of the sin of idolatry), are subject to daily corrections by any adult and are expected to be obedient in particular to those in leadership positions. In addition, they are taught that they are called by God to live this life of obedience at COJ (see call of God) because they are children of people called to COJ. It is a life long call.

Call of God
COJ members see their work and life as a “vocation”, a lifelong call to serve God in one place. Members take lifetime vows of obedience to their authorities and also vows of “stability” that they will continue to serve God through COJ.   This sense of devotion and purpose give members a feeling that they are special, or at least they are part of something special (which amounts to the same thing in practice). “Many are called, but few are chosen”. 

Cross life and “Living in the Light" 
This teaching states that each individual’s cross is his or her sin. It is each individual’s responsibility to deny his sinful nature by aggressively crucifying his own sinful nature daily through confession to others of those sins. It is also each person’s responsibility to speak against the sin of others. In essence this is an aggressive policy of policing behavior, since behavior is the expression of sin. Everyday mistakes can be interpreted as the result of sin. Confessions are randomly used to control individuals through public humiliations and at other times to manipulate them. This teaching starts with a belief in the radical sin nature of everyone, even Christians, expressed in self-will, wanting one’s own way, own things, own will. This shows up in the every day events of life – choosing simple things that you want or like. The only way to solve this is by the breaking of the will. This comes about through deep repentance, but members were taught that because of sin they are blind to their sin. The only way to see the truth is to have others speak it to them. This takes the form of direct confrontation, person to person, or in a group (light groups).  If a person “resists the truth”, the heat is turned up, bringing in more people, multiple meetings addressing his/her sin, changes in living arrangements or job, assigning disciplines to the individual, until he or she “repents” (has their will broken). This is usually followed by “love-bombing”. Affection is then showered on the person who is in a very vulnerable emotional and psychological state. The person by that time is so grateful for affection, approval, love….that this experience tends to cement their dependent relationship on the group and the leaders.  The other effect of this is that if it is done publicly, as it usually is, bystanders and correctors are also traumatized by witnessing or participating in breaking down the offender. So repeated traumatizing instills in all members a knowledge of what resistance means. After many of these over a period of time, most community members become experts in self-censoring actions, movements, and even thoughts. The end result is a large group of people who were very good at “presenting” the correct image: smiling, cheerful, caring, obedient, ready to jump into action to serve the greater good.

This whole process or lifestyle is called “living in the light” and is a large part of COJ members’ commitment to each other. Brutal honesty is the expected norm in almost all cases. If they feel someone was guilty of sin (or even if you just have “a bad feeling” about someone), you are expected to tell them, pulling no punches, not “sugar-coating” it, or “softening the blow”. Only real (brutal) honesty is helpful, as anything else would not have the desired effect of breaking the will. If you “sugar-coat” something you said, you run the risk of giving them something positive about themselves to cling to, which will only delay or stymie their eventual healing (breaking of their will, repentance). If you are the recipient of this brutal honesty, you are expected to reply in kind and “tell all”. This means exposing other “sins”, related or unrelated. If you withhold information, self-accusations, etc., you are accused of being “hidden”, in itself a terrible sin. The antidote to this is to expose the person as much as possible, as publicly as possible, in front of as many people as possible (in some cases the person’s children). However, the unspoken exception to this rule is that this “brutal honesty” only flows downwards. Taking it upon oneself to be brutally honest with anyone in authority is to open yourself immediately to an accusation of one of seven deadly sins, almost always accompanied by intense light groups or disciplines. In other words, it is only done if you have a death wish.

If you ask why people would go along with this, there are two good explanations. The first is use of the tactics of brainwashing.. They work! Even with very intelligent people, which answers the question how smart people could be trapped in a group like this. The second and more powerful reason is the belief that ALL community members have, that they are called by God to this life, that disobedience to COJ leaders is rebellion against God, and the result of that rebellion is eternal damnation. On the plus side, they believed that they are a special group, chosen for a special job by God. That combination of fear and pride is extremely powerful.

COJs list of Sins
Sins are often discerned when “someone else” interprets a person’s failure to perform perfectly in some responsibility and then diagnoses which sin caused it. Otherwise it is determined by a lack of heartfelt compliance with a given mandate, either verbally or in their behavior. There is a strong focus on changing a person’s work performance, their beliefs and behavior by sanctioning heavy-handed disciplines or random life changes that are primarily declared to target the root sin that was the cause of all. The result of constant “sin surveillance” is living in fear of being caught in some sinful behavior over which one had little control. In the short term, the “discipline” is really a form of punishment as it really has no actual benefit except that of producing fear. In the long term, a person internalizes the beliefs and unknowingly learns strategies to avoid the resulting pain of “sinning.”

Seven Deadly Sins

Idolatry
The biblical teaching against idolatry (worshipping someone/something more than God) is applied to the dynamics of human relationships in such a way that natural family relationships and friendships are considered idolatrous if there is no evidence that each party within the relationship would "stand against" the sin of the other. To be "in idolatry" with another person, someone would typically be blind to another person's specific sin and/or unwilling to confront that person about his sin. This sin is typically thought to be acted out, often in some obscure way that is pointed out by one of the community leaders. The battle against this sin is played out in everyday life in some of the following ways: close friendships are nipped in the bud; spouses are pitted against one another; parents are told that they were blinded by their natural love for their children and so are incapable of being a healthy influence in raising their children. All adults in the community are responsible for the oversight of the children and are "responsible" to correct the sins of the children in everyday contexts. The specific sins of an individual may be discerned by the more spiritual people in the community, but confronting that individual with that sin is often delegated to friends or spouses. This teaching against the sin of idolatry leads to power play dynamics within the community as individuals are "safer" if they are on the giving rather than the receiving end of corrections. Thus there is  a lot of sucking up to those in charge and betraying of all others to protect yourself. It also is destructive within the family framework as parents are often publicly humiliated and disrespected in front of their children, children are encouraged to correct their parents, and parents are taught that others are better at deciding what was best for their children. Children are often randomly removed from the homes of their parents to live with another family. Parents are often corrected over and over for not discerning what is good for their children, losing any internal sense of parenting. Playing the idolatry card gives those in charge leverage to achieve control and the ability to manipulate a situation to their own purposes, if they so desire. It is the trump card.

Jealousy
This is one of the worst sins for which to be corrected. In any situation that is played out less than perfectly, someone is bound to be randomly corrected for being jealous of someone else. This means envy of another person’s looks, possessions, talents, status, family.  It is generally considered that the best cure for jealousy is to have the person of whom another is jealous to correct the person that is deemed jealous. An even better cure would be to have that person be in charge of the other person's spiritual journey out of the muck and mire of jealousy. Such a journey might include changes in the jealous person's everyday routines, change of their job, change of their living situation, and undergoing disciplines as well. Jealousy is seen as an actively destructive force if not eradicated. To be known as a jealous person carries a heightened degree of shame. 

Control
The desire to control one’s life or his immediate situation is considered a sin. This sin often is noted when a person is unable to accomplish unreasonable goals that have been expected of him/her. That person’s anger (see below) within the situation is considered the reason for not accomplishing the task at hand successfully. When random changes that were decided for a person’s life are met with resistance, the sins of control and rebellion are named in an attempt to bring a change of heart. If there is no change of heart, more pressure would be applied in an effort to create repentance. Being “out of control” is thus considered a virtue and a desirable emotional state. So random changes in policies, living situations, jobs, etc. all have the benefit of helping people stay “out of control”.  Resisting such things is interpreted as being “controlling.”

Rebellion
As it says in the Old Testament, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. This includes not only outward acts of disobedience to the many rules, disciplines, etc. but also any inward attitudes of not wanting to comply. So in many cases, simply obeying slowly is an indication of rebellion. To be labeled as “rebellious” is a terrible judgement, and those who are labelled as such often go to great lengths of outward obedience to try to escape the stigma of being considered rebellious. Allowing rebellious acts and attitudes to pass unchecked is also considered a very grievous sin, as that was often seen as “opening the door to Satan”, who was the original rebel!

Pride/Haughtiness
Reserving the right to have your own thoughts and opinions shows pride and haughtiness because you are saying that you are as good as, or better than, those in charge. And because those in charge have a direct line with God, you are in essence putting yourself above God. If you are corrected for something and you disagree, your pride or haughtiness is added to the list of sins already named. If you engage in critical thinking (wondering why some people get “special treatment”) that shows extreme haughtiness, since you are essentially saying you are on the same level as they were, or should be anyway. Of course, the antidote for pride and haughtiness is humiliation. So public humiliation, which can include a group of people pointing out your faults, or even mocking you, is a very good thing, because it is seen to kill your pride and haughtiness.

Lust (SEX and other things!)
Sexual lust is considered the root of much evil, so much so that community members are not even allowed to talk about anything related to the topic of sex or sexuality.  This topic is OFF LIMITS and was all encompassing in its boundaries. No specific point is too insignificant to be included. The arousal of sexual thoughts and feelings in men are considered the fault of the female gender. For this reason, there are very strict mandates in place to keep “inappropriate” behaviour and thoughts under control. We are taught that sex was for procreation, not pleasure. 
(Our corporate busyness was one deterrent to marital relations.) Also, men have needs. Personal counseling related to sexual abuse was straightforward-sexual abuse was minimized and declared “a garden variety sin.” This “teaching” or lack thereof is a strong force in everyday lives. Its implications are wide ranging and insidious. It appeared righteous but is really a very strong control mechanism for those in charge. The bottom line was that everything about human sexuality is evil, not just lustful desires/thoughts.  Lust for other things-any complaints about working for pittance and having little materially is deflected by enforcing the mantra that “others may, but we can not.”


Anger 
Anger is generally viewed as a sin. If you get angry at someone or a situation, that shows that you didn’t really agree with it, that you think you know better than those in charge, that you lack love, etc. The exception is “righteous anger”, the anger at sin. This, however, is only sanctioned if it came “top down”, or from a peer. Anger at anyone in charge can never be seen as righteous anger.  People are often “encouraged” to display or “get out” their anger. This usually leaves them in a vulnerable state, since all can see what they really feel.  Although releasing pent up anger may bring momentarily relief from emotional pressure and internal guilt, that person’s real feelings and perspectives are typically used against them at some point. For the moment, “love-bombing” is their reward for being “honest.”

HOW THINGS WORKED

CLOSED SYSTEM --The vow of obedience to this way of life and the breaking down of ties with family members outside the community, as well as any friends outside the community, results in a very isolated, closed system. Other influences are cut off or discouraged, and the business of everyday responsibilities (which includes things like daily chant services, daily prayer vigil, and regular light groups) effectively closes all members off from the “outside world” and ensures that almost all personal interactions are constrained by the above values.

RANDOMNESS - The “icing on the cake” is the way in which things were enforced. Even though the above categories seem clear and delineated, in practice ALL beliefs and policies are applied randomly. Some people can do almost anything and never receive any disciplines. Others only have to look sideways to call a staff meeting down on their heads. Since the “discernment” of all of these sins is up to those in charge, punishments are often meted out in what seemed like arbitrary fashion, depending on the current “party line”. The result is  that those not in charge (almost everyone) are kept in a current state of emotional disequilibrium, never knowing what could happen next. Most tried to gain some measure of balance by currying favor with those above them, hoping that if something drastic happens, it wont happen to them.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why the Word "Cult" Doesn't Tell the Whole Story: Spiritual Abuse and My Formative Years

After a week of scratching notes, reading, and pondering while I lay in bed on Friday May 8 an outline of my story started to evolve in my mind in a cohesive way.   I sat down this morning and organized my thoughts into outlines for four blog posts.  I have a feeling these are going to help form a cohesive structure for the memoir I really want to write.  But I hope that by sharing at least the overview of the story it will help me as I try to develop in further and fill in the details.
Connections with other survivors of the COJ have really been encouraging and I believe will be an important part of this journey.

For those who love a preview of what is to come, here is the general outline of my next four posts. I could write a book on each of these topics, I am sure - but I promise not to! 

May 9  General thoughts on cults and religious abuse
May 17 (I will be traveling so no blog post)
May 24 The beliefs of COJ and other groups that largely shaped my life and a few stories
May 31 Witches Brew - the way these beliefs transformed me
June 7 Sparks of light in the darkness - people and things that continue to help me find my way in the dark

I have been referring to the Community of Jesus (COJ) as a cult and I do believe that they can be accurately described in that way.  But I have decided that for the most part in this blog I would rather talk about these groups as spiritual abusers instead of cults.  As I thought about the things I wrote about last week I realized that when we make the focus too much on cults and offshoot groups we make it easy to forget the abuse that is happening not in some group that has separated itself from society, but in the churches and groups that operate right in the midst of our communities.  It is accepting the presence of these “houses of worship” that teach a scarring form of self-loathing and fear without argument that makes people even more susceptible to the fringe groups typically brought to mind when the word “cult” is uttered.

It is precisely the word cult, I think, that kept me for the longest time and even considering that I was struggling with the effects of spiritual abuse.  Even after I recognized that my parents were involved in a “cult”, I didn’t see myself that connected to the whole thing in a tangible way. I also tended to think about the other beliefs that came into our family system from many other places as abusive.  I may not have agreed, but I still accepted them as valid.  But spiritual abuse is never valid and you can’t call it a belief and make it okay.

As I have read stories from other survivors of spiritual abuse, I see some common things about spiritually abusive groups:

1. They look for the vulnerable.
  • Children (my post about the Good News Clubs is an example)
  • Adults recovering from addictions or other destructive behaviors or who just have broken spirits 
  • Senior Citizens who are isolated and lonely (television ministries really exploit this group)

2. They teach you that you are untrustworthy (note that unworthy is contained that word).

3. They put you under the authority of something or someone and connect the authority to God.

4. You are supposed to trust this authority without exception.

5. Any feelings you have against this authority are not valid and are rebellion against God.

Crazy?  You bet.  Try sorting out something that is happening to you when you have been convinced that your very feelings on the matter DON’T matter.  But once you are in the cycle it is so hard to see how crazy it is.    You can’t hear your own voice and you have someone else’s voice mixed up with God’s.

The journey to find my voice has taken decades, but I have been blessed along the way to hear a lot of voices that have made the journey rich and meaningful.  I look forward to keeping on keeping on as I add my voice to the chorus of those saying enough is enough.

In two weeks I am going to travel back to the post I found early in this journey that outlined the specific beliefs of the COJ.  The first time I read it through all of the vocabulary  of the faith that shaped my formative years came jumping out at me and it was hard to process:  rebellion, idolatry, pride, jealousy, untrustworthiness and the need for total control and obedience came jumping out at me like a nightmare of days gone by. I want to try to tell you a little bit more of those beliefs and a few others that my parents picked up from other groups along the way.  Because the COJ allows for very little written “documentation” of their beliefs, the collective stories and posts of survivors is the only way to begin to get a clear glimpse of their twisted theology.  But the stories that keep emerging from people who do not know each other are amazingly consistent.


Next week I be on the road traveling and won’t be able to blog, but I hope to be able to post/tweet some of my reading.  Plus, I have decided that as a librarian I want to make this blog include some resource sharing.  When I get home and settled, I plan reread this gem that I read many years ago.  It is worth a look. Check the holdings are your public library they may have it!

Peace to you and yours.