I participated in the 2023 RESTORE conference hosted by The Roys Report.
The first talk from the conference is now available. It’s from Ken Garrett. He serves as a pastor after coming out of a Christian cult.
His talk is here:
One incredibly vulnerable point he made is that it took him many years even to name that he had been in a cult. The repercussions were intense - struggling to trust himself even to pick out a pair of jeans or select which kind of eggs to buy at the grocery store.
Here are some of the red flags he mentions to watch out for in joining a religious organization:
Elitism and thought control.
Violation of your private life.
Fear of leadership.
Absence of grace.
He shared two elements of recovery:
The renewal of trust - trust in yourself and trust in others. To find people of integrity and kindness.
The renewal of truth. Understand the dynamics of how the cult hurt you. Get the vocabulary to explain your story to yourself and to others.
In light of what Ken shared, how would you define spiritual abuse?
What mechanisms have you observed or learned about by which abusive leaders control members?
What does “grace” feel like in a community?
How can religious organizations develop safeguards against spiritual abuse?
What did you find most helpful from Ken’s talk?
Its interesting @Carson that you posted this today. I have been reading about this topic the past few days as I have tried make sense of an unhealthy home church experience our family had a few years ago, as you know. Thanks to this ministry of UP, I was able to see the red flags and our family was able to step out of it before it was too late. At least the emotional, financial and spiritual damage was minimized. The red flags we noticed was not that much different from what Ken Garrett shared.
One of the things we found is that the controversial doctrines are not revealed until trust and commitment of new members is fully gained. Initially, we found much in common in their beliefs with historic Christianity, familiar pastors names were quoted, and we truly felt we finally found a group of Christians who were committed to strong Christian community, set apart from the world, and living a simple life for the Lord. We felt overwhelmed by their affection and understanding but all that changed slowly after we began trusting them and got committed to the church.
Scripture was often twisted and made to say what it doesn’t actually say. They preferred only one Bible translation and believed others were corrupted. They did not believe in bible study groups with other Christians outside of their church. Other churches were seen as being less than their church spiritually. Involvement in other Christian ministries was discouraged. The church kept members too busy to be able to maintain good connections outside of the church.
After church meetings, there was a sense that the leader was praised even more than Jesus. Anybody who opposed the leader’s ideology was considered automatically spiritually immature. Critical thinking was discouraged and sources that didnt agree with their ideology were dismissed without proper reason. Loving God meant worshipping him exactly as they interpreted the commands/traditions. Any grace or love shown to members was conditional on commitment to their church. Anybody who left the group was viewed as displeasing God. The leader never shared any weaknesses and was authoritarian in style. Over time, we also felt the leader raised some members to be more loyal to himself to oppose those who disagree with the leader. It reduced the freedom to freely express and share what we understand from the Word. All in all, there was a sense of division, fear and lack of genuine love and grace in the community.
The recovery process of betrayal of trust is always a slow one. Multiple meetings with genuine Christian believers who extend love without expectations has been very helpful in healing.
This online platform is a great opportunity for anyone with similar experiences and to explore our stories.
I wonder how common your experiences are to others @lakshmi. Identifying them and giving a vocabulary to these experiences, as Ken Garrett said, will be a help to others. Thank you for sharing.
@Carson the other thing that I’ve identified in off-shoot Christian cults is the use of salvation as a hold over the members. I’ve recognised this in discussions that I have with various cults, that salvation can only truly be obtained by believing the gospel and membership in the cult as the only “true” church. They always seem to be some variation of the ‘Gospel plus’ message, or a reiteration of the ‘restoration’ of the true gospel. For example, I have been recently chatting with members of a Christian cult called Twelve Tribes that is very communal. They teach that you have to give up everything to be in the community and the only true salvation through Jesus (whom they call Yashua) is when you become a member of the community. In the Watchtower organisation you’re only saved if baptised into a local congregation. In my conversations with cult members, my faith in Jesus and a life of following him does not qualify me for salvation until I accept their terms. No matter what cult I speak to, they consider me only a seeker, rather than a true believer.
With all these types of cult, the spiritual abuse occurs when leaving them is not only a hideous process in itself, but they then use the loss of salvation as a manipulative tool. For some individuals wanting to escape the spiritual abuse, the incredible torment of leaving is intermingled with the idea that they may really be losing salvation too. Their desperation to leave the oppression is really worth the potential cost of eternal security.