UPCI ISN'T A CULT!
Date: March 17, 2006 06:20PM
I understand and agree with the reasons for the UPC not being called a "cult" on the Rick Ross site (and other sites, too). But, I agree with it when it is said in this form: The UPC is not one large cult organization. However, I know, within myself and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a UPC church I was forced to have an experience with was best described as a "cult". No one can ever convince me otherwise, because I was forced to see it all while not functionally being brainwashed for much of the experience. It may be an interesting story for you all to hear, actually, and I don't mind naming the "church" or the people either.
My mom and stepdad became involved with a UPC church named "Antioch the Apostolic Church" in Arnold, Maryland, around 1982 or so. I was, maybe, 12 years old. My real dad got involved too, and so did some of my neighbors (it was a neighbor who introduced my family to it).
I and my family were initially brainwashed by them. We were baptized, and spoke in tongues, and so on. I recall experiencing a "honeymoon period" most vividly, and remember exactly what it felt like. But then, after a few months, I spontaneously began coming out of it. I was standing on top of their "hill", looking down to the left into what really was a beautiful forest surrounding the airplane-hangar looking church building, and I just kept thinking to myself. There's more to life than this. I don't think this is right. I don't think I want to spend my life this way.
So, after some thinking, I decided to tell my stepdad and mom. I said something like, "I don't think I want to go to church anymore." Despite the fact that my stepdad was a bully and habitual child abuser, somehow I had expected my decision to be respected. I was surprised to hear him say, loudly and threateningly, "Oh! You're GOING to church!"
I was taken aback. The realization that I was going to be physically forced, under threat of violence, to continue participating in this "church" hurried along the process of un-brainwashing me. And here began a saga, to go on for some of the longest years of my life, where I was living within the UPC but was not actually one of them.
Because of the constant threat of being beaten up by my stepdad (and my real dad too, actually), I had to act like one of them at the times when it counted. I could even speak in tongues when necessary. As abused kids will do, I learned to adapt and look just like all the others in order to feel safe. I knew when to stand up and applaud, when to walk up to the altar to be prayed for as though I had a problem, and so on, but the simple fact remained that I was just not one of them. I knew that the day would come when I would be able to make a good escape, and even though that day felt like an eternity away, it would come.
Spending my life from 13 to 16 years old like that was a horrible experience. Chester Wright, the pastor of the church (who I now believe is a bishop within UPC?), encouraged beating people as punishment up until they were 18 years old. In one of his sermons, he even personally offered to help beat people's kids if a single mother needed help with a large teenager whom she could not physically overpower (Chester Wright had the sound person turn off the tape recorder for those kinds of statements). Wright was a physically large man, and when he said this, he made a little body language show out of it.
With my stepdad already a natural bully and child abuser, Wright's aggressive language in his sermons helped turn my home life into a hell.
This individual UPC absolutely used brainwashing as I understand brainwashing to be defined, and for me, that pops it into the "cult" category as opposed with "church". I have no doubts about this, I lived their life day in and day out, while fully aware, and remember vast portions of it. For example:
-The Easter Sunday church services, where we would tend to get a lot of people who were simply showing up or were otherwise more willing to be brought to "church", were always done carefully, with all of us being coached on how to handle what was seen as an opportunity to get some new people to permanently join us. We were instructed on how to love-bomb after the service, for example, and advised that the sermon would be geared toward bringing them in, not toward us. The service was always done in a more stately way, with none of the screaming, spontaneous prophecies being shouted out, or other insanity that accompanied many of the other services. To a more limited extent, other Sunday morning church services were managed similarly.
-Glossolilia (speaking in tongues) was represented to be a special type of crossing-over into a special spirituality. They believed that you were "Filled with the 'Holy Ghost'" when this happened to you, and that it would change your life (the reality is, however, that glossolilia is practiced in other religions as well, not just Christianity or UPC). When there were new people in the building, especially on Sunday mornings, the whole church service would be a build-up where, at the end, the goal was to pressure those new people into coming up to the altar and being prayed over. We were told how we should do everything we can to prevent the people from walking out of such a service, drawing the line just before physically stopping them. If the efforts worked and the person came up to be prayed for, Wright would be right there with a crowd of others in a dramatic scene of babbling and emotion, with the goal being to induce this glossolilia and subsequent catharsis. It would not always happen on the person's first time to the altar, but if the person was intrigued enough by the first experience and showed up for a later one, most especially if they ended up there on a Sunday night or Thursday night service, it was pretty sure to happen. People from the Sunday morning service who seemed interested but not all the way into the "church" mindframe would be specifically encouraged to come to the other services, with the stated reason that during those services, people were able to be more 'into the spirit', if I recall the language correctly.
-The people who went all the way through this and became brainwashed would experience a classical honeymoon period. The person's extra fevor during the honeymoon period was used to get the person to come into line with the "church" anti-worldliness standards. They were told to destroy worldly items such as non-compliant clothing and collections of secular music (which my stepdad did with much vigor, violently destroying my mother's extensive collection of Elvis records as well as some paintings by my grandmother he deemed as satanic).
-When all was said and done, the person seemed more like a drone than a thinking person. There was a specific, identifiable, blank look on their senselessly smiling, happy faces. After each church service, they would walk around in the large lobby and hug anyone who came along. I was literally forced to participate in this, being told by my stepdad that I would be beaten up if I was ever reported to have refused to hug the smiling, roving hug machines that meandered around in the lobby after each service.
In addition to being forced to participate in the "church", my sister and I also went to the "church's" own school, "Antioch Christian School". As time passed, the school's treatment of the children became unbelieveable, culminating during a time when Jason Wharton became the lead supervisor for the high school room. He was a Naval Academy graduate, if I recall correctly. Our school correspondingly became a "boot camp for Jesus", as Wharton referenced it. There were several occasions where we had to stand in front of our desks for, literally, hours, not moving and not speaking, while he ranted. He said that he had deliberately made us stand for that long and he knew that it was uncomfortable. We really were made to act in a way that reminded me of a boot camp, but without the physical exersize. All speech and interactions were strictly controlled, all behavior, all group walking, all uniforms, virtually everything.
During those worst school years, we were also forced to not eat lunch on Wednesdays (fasting), and were made to kneel at the altar and pray for a while each day. I knelt as required but I certainly didn't pray. I was doing what I had to do.
Certain students in the elementary school were physically abused through severe paddling sessions by a team which consisted of Wharton and the elementary school supervisor, Jerry Humphrey. Corporal punishment was even introduced into the high school, but not as a response to any behavioral issues with the high school students. We were told that if we forgot to say "Sir" or, even, hesistated in saying it, we would be taken into the next room and paddled. We were told that if we refused to be paddled in that kind of instance, we would be expelled from the school. I was actually pretty careful not to do anything that might let that happen, but it was not for the same reasons as the people around me. I did not want to deal with the outcome of the situation when I would refuse to let him touch me in any way. Abused kids don't like being touched, and the kind of abuse I had experienced for much of my life made me psychologically unable to accept physical punishment without fighting.
At the beginning of each school day, Wharton would inspect all of our uniforms individually. We had to stand up straight, waiting silently, as he would go to each of our desks and look our bodies up and down. His eyes moving up and down my body that way made me distinctly uncomfortable.
The nightmare began to end when my mom suddenly broke up with my stepdad, which meant that I could refuse to go to "church" and have it stick. In another surprise development, I was accepted into a performing arts school. Because I had already been unbrainwashed for years, I did not have a problem seperating from the group and in fact never spoke to my "best friend" from the "church" school again. However, my younger sister had no such luck. She suffered for years with fears that she was going to hell, could not cope with public school, and had a lot of recovery to do and received no help or exit counseling.
The things I wrote above are just the tip of the iceburg. I happen to have a keen memory in regard to my childhood, and I probably have enough stored here in my brain to form the material for a decent book.
So. Having said all of that. It doesn't matter to me what different arguments anyone will apply to UPC as a whole. I have 100% certainty that the things that were happening in the UPC church I was forced to attend from about 1982 - 1986 defined it, individually, as a cult. It absolutely crossed the line, it was absolutely not a church.
In closing - - I expect that some UPC person will at some time read this post and it may seep back to the people who ran that "church", or perhaps its current members. In that event, I wish to say to them: DO NOT CONTACT ME, EVER, FOR ANY REASON. End of statement, there's no "unless" or "if" or other conditional phrase at the end of the sentence.