Re: Christadelphian HELP PLEASE
Date: March 15, 2011 11:20PM
Where to begin. First, there appear to be two "threads" or lines of postings regarding the subject "Christadelphian HELP PLEASE." Try to read both threads, as both have insightful information and comments.
Secondly, there is plenty of information about Christadelphian doctrine / teachings on the Internet, and plenty of information about what constitutes a cult. So I won't add more language in those regards, except to say that in my experience Christadelphianism meets some of the commonly recognized criteria for being a cult.
Note that no one in a cult ever believes they are in a cult. They are always the adherents of "The Truth." If you asked the Branch Davidians the day before they died if they belonged to a cult, they would all have emphatically insisted that you were the one who was delusional -- not them.
Christadelphianism did have a central charismatic figure, John Thomas, who presented himself as being a visionary in terms of what he believed. Most cults have such a figure. Since his time, because there is no central governing body in Christadelphianism, each church or ecclesia operates independently from the others. Because of this, while the great majority of Christadelphians are gentle, peaceful and honorable bible scholars, in some of their meetings the absence of a central governing body allows zealots to assume control of a church and run it using fear, intimidation and dogmatism. This can probably happen to some extent in any house of worship, but more so in one in which there is no higher authority other than the presumed authority of God. In this context, in which personalities can so easily come into play, it is also not uncommon for discipline to be administered in different ways; a member may be harshly disciplined for the same misbehavior for which another member receives no punishment at all.
In this context, it is also easier for different forms of fanaticism to evolve. I noticed some Christadelphians were health nuts long before it was popular, some give themselves over to studies of numerology, etc. These are irregular developments, but they happen. And much, much worse.
Let me state here my following comments are based only on my personal experiences; they nonetheless occurred in the realm of Christadelphianism. I was part of a small group of Christadelphians who decided the Second Advent (the second coming of Christ) was imminent and "salvation" depended on being in Israel during the End Time (for lack of a better expression). These individuals divested themselves of their homes and possessions and migrated into Israel, and I was amongst them. We experienced discrimination, deportations, and financial ruin, but the worst thing some of us experienced was violence at the hands of our co-religionists. For real or imagined sins, or real or imagined contradictions of doctrine, some of us were beaten on a very regular basis. Several times I was beaten awake from a sound sleep during the night, for the sin of "slothfulness." After a time, the beatings were simply protocol.
In time, we all filtered back to our home country, damaged, bankrupted, and broken. Returning home, I assumed a membership in a Christadelphian church to which some of my elderly relatives belonged. My relatives had spent decades contributing funds to the group, with the unspoken understanding that the group would on some level care for them or watch over them in their old age. Such care is necessary due to the insular nature of most of the Christadelphian churches; the church is the main or even the only social and support network most Christadelphians have. You're on the inside, a member of the church, or you're nobody. A non-entity, in their eyes. And old age is no time in which to lack a support network.
Even so, I noticed pretty quickly that the unspoken promise of "care" never materialized, and the result was a vast amount of additional suffering in my family.
Would I venture to say these experiences were irregular? Yes. But they nonetheless occurred, amongst Christadelphians considered to be "strong in their faith." (That's a compliment they utter for those members considered particularly devout.)
Christadelphianism's enduring gift to me is not any particular doctrinal belief, but the emotional and physical scars that will be with me until the end of my life.
And, perhaps luckily, when you leave them, you cease to exist; that is the experience of most of us who have left. No one comes after you. You simply vanish. All of the people who told you they were your friends and comrades, who hugged you each Sunday and expressed their deep affection for you.....for the vast majority of them you have rightfully become invisible, because you are no longer a member of the chosen flock.
You become a heretic for questioning their doctrine, a leper, the original invisible man. You are written out of the Book of Eternal Life, and crossed off in your friends' address books.
Finally, let me wrap it up by saying it feels all wrong to confess any of this information, even though it is the truth. Confessing it, and leaving the Christadelphians, feels like a betrayal of my life's history. Breaking away from them feels like I've lost something that was a part of me, even though I was often very unhappy to be in their midst. Having relatives still in the religion compounds my sense of loss and brokenness. I feel like I am betraying my relatives and abandoning a legacy my deceased loved ones tried to give me. I know a part of me will always feel a desire to return, despite the things that happened.
In essence, despite my wounds, I am torn between wanting to flee and wanting to return.
Maybe that is the best description of my experience that I can provide to anyone. I will let the individual reader decide if my testimony paints a picture of a cult.