Re: Are Many Cult Victims / Members Naive?
Date: March 16, 2012 01:52AM
The great majority of those I saw drawn into abusive cults (and I have, unfortunately, been part of two churches fitting this mold) fall into one of the following categories:
1). The Abusers - Overwhelmingly are people who suffered trauma as children, typically from a parent, usually a father who was physically violent, abusive, or a cold, uncaring hypocrite. The father figure would often put forward a hyper religious or superficially righteous face to the world, but was secretly sadistic to family, sexually deviant, etc. One elder of such a church, an enabler (described below), told me that his father had been "incredibly violent" at home, yet was a pillar of the church and I believe a lay pastor or elder. Another leader, an abuser, told us that his father, a pastor, with mother, would regularly tell him and his siblings they'd better behave in an exemplary manner or daddy would get fired and the family would be ruined (putting such a burden on small children is in my opinion manipulative and abusive). Pastor father later turned out to be a serial adulterer who carried on several affairs with women in the church; when exposed, the family was ruined anyway.
When the abuse gets acute, from what I have read it can create a personality that is unable to experience the normal range of emotions and often people are unable to feel true guilt or regret, except for regret that things didn't go their way. These are the personality-disordered, such as those with NPD or sociopathic tendencies. They abuse perhaps to try to fill a void in their lives. These are not people with whom you can reason, because you will be playing by a different set of rules than they--that is, you will be playing by some set of rules, however imperfect, whereas they only have the rule "Do whatever you will, say whatever you will, so long as it serves your ultimate goal of domination". They are often above-average in intelligence (as was pointed out earlier on this thread by figlady), but ruthless and unprincipled, so they can be very difficult to pin down. One abusive pastor made occasional reference in sermons to his own intelligence, he had an "Aw shucks", affable public persona, but in private, if he knew no one was present to be a witness or that any witnesses were part of his inner circle, he was vicious and thoroughly unprincipled.
2). The Enablers & Supporters - Many, if not most, of the inner groups in cultic churches, the elders, enablers, right-hand men and vigorous protectors of the central cult figure, turn out to be victims of child abuse as well. In cultic Christian (properly put, pseudo-Christian) churches, I've noticed they tend to be young, idealistic men, who, like the abusers, have above average intelligence. However, perhaps due to poor father-son relationships, either violent, abusive fathers or weak fathers with poor moral compasses (such as those who do drugs with their teenage children or encourage their boys' sexual exploits), they also tend to have an overpowering need for a father figure in their lives. Many are willing to sell themselves into bondage if they can only experience the daddy they never had. They look about for a teacher, a mentor, a guru (They have no use for Bible verses that admonish them that having the Holy Spirit, they don't necessarily need teachers or that they too are co-equal priests with even their leaders). They will sell all and ignore the tenets of their faith to fill their void for a father figure. Of course the abusers exploit this and are keen at recognizing this weakness.
Enablers, in spite of often being intelligent, are commonly underachievers in their careers. This is probably residual effects of the damage done in early life. But they're often ambitious, so they see the church milieu as a means of achieving their "true potential". They want power, so they're willing to come under the wing of the abuser in hopes of someday working their way up in the system. Abusers manipulate this. One pastor I saw specifically addressed young men in a sermon and told them that a "lust for leadership positions" was a "good thing", and "given by God". With "Godly" intentions, they'll overlook atrocities and even support them. Examples include the Machiavellian scheming and group abuse sessions that occur in Sovereign Grace churches or the incident that occurred at a church I attended (related elsewhere on this forum) where one young man who was planning a move requested a private meeting with the pastor to just talk about life before he left, and was told "Sure, come on by". But when he arrived at the "private meeting", he was met by the pastor and four elders, three of whom were 20-something friends of the young man. The group proceeded to attack him verbally, telling him he was ungodly and unsubmissive to his pastor, warning if he attempted to leave the church the pastor would poison the water for him by telling his new church leaders how unsubmissive he was. With the tacit approval of the pastor, they then started revealing some of his darkest personal struggles in an attempt to manipulate him into submission. Of course, those three young elders were doing an awful thing to their friend, but it was all rationalized in the name of God. At bottom, it was about their feelings of inadequacy and lust for power, merely dressed up as service to God.
3). The Victims - Are often victims of childhood abuse also. One good friend who put up with horrific abuse at a church had been a victim of a violent father (one church anecdote: her pastor refused to go to the hospital and pray for her after a bad accident had left her in agonizing pain--broken ankle, entire side of rib cage, shoulder--unless she had "enough faith to walk through the door of my church and receive it!"). She described her father as "Felix Unger to the outside world" (proper, shy and retiring) but "Mr. Hyde at home" (vicious, sadistic). She was so used to abuse and hypocrisy that it felt normal to her. I honestly perceived she was more comfortable with an abusive spiritual leader than she'd have been with a kind one--she wouldn't have known how to take, might not have been even psychologically capable of taking, the latter.
Sometimes victims are in state of (often temporary) desperation, as was well put by figlady. My wife and I, in both cases of being drawn to an abusive church, were new to the state and in culture shock. The church members seemed nice and remarkably welcoming (they always do at first). Wife and I thought "This is it, God has provided us friends in this strange place!" But we weren't listening to God so much as our desire for a quick fix to our loneliness. We never felt comfortable in either church, but so many of our newfound friends were there, to break away was painful. Fortunately, we never bought in to the twists of theology and abuse, and we were privately at first with the leaders, but finally publicly, vocal about it. But we finally left (or were pushed out, depending on perspective) in both cases only when it became intolerable. We showed what I can only describe in retrospect as remarkably poor judgment. In one church it took a year, in another a year and a half.
Cult leaders are adept at exploiting friendships, in some cases instructing people to "love bomb" newcomers to encourage them to commit to such friendships. What happens, though, is eventually the friendships become strained and superficial as the cult leader insists that more attention and adoration be paid to him. In one small cultic church we attended, when we first arrived, there were breakout sessions for prayer during the service, after-church fellowship meals every week, ample time for members to go forward during service to the mic to deliver a short message about what God was doing in their lives. In other words, it was a fellowship-dominated church. Over time, though, as his power became more entrenched, the pastor cut down the meals to once-a-month (I don't think he could've gotten away with discontinuing them altogether, though I bet he eventually did that at some point after we left), cut out the prayer sessions, and started more closely controlling the mic. One poor fellow, a kind, middle-aged family man and weekly attender (but one clearly kept outside the inner group) several times went forward to speak into the mic, virtually week-after-week, but almost invariably the pastor's right-hand man would step up and cut things off at the last moment before the fellow was about to speak--this often occurred after the pastor's young son had spoken his piece at the mic! It was obvious this guy was intentionally being humiliated in front of the group. The pastor's sermons started stretching to almost 2 hours. It became increasingly about him. The mid-week small groups, "care groups", seldom involved Bible study, usually were chat time or discussions of the sermon topic. In another cultic church we attended, the pastor cut out all outside church religious activities by parishoners, cancelling a Bible study and discontinuing the men's group.
The truth must be carefully controlled in such an environment, because it is not about the truth, it is about the leader.
Edited 13 time(s). Last edit at 03/16/2012 02:21AM by CarlKolchak.