There are many questions one asks themselves after escaping or leaving a cult. For the survivor it feels impossible to understand how they got entrapped into such an organization. Such are my sentiments as well of those of my closest friends, after having left a cult after nearly 10 years of being in it. Having graduated at one of the best universities in the country, some even with PHDs, doing well within our professions. We still wonder how we being so intelligent/educated could be so easily manipulated. I have tried to think of many reasons why I was in a cult. What did I lack that got me so manipulated and controlled? So, I decided to look way back into my childhood.
Growing up a PK
I was brought up in a Christian household, my dad is a pastor for a charismatic Pentecostal church. So, I’m what you call a PK (pastors’ kid). Meaning the church has always been a part of my life, wanted or unwanted. Like the age old stereotype of PKs, my teenage years were full of rebellion and angst. Therefore when I started attending university I decided to turn over a new leaf. Return to Christianity and be fully devoted. Accordingly the first order of business was to find a church I could belong to. Now the one thing you have to know about me is-I do everything wholeheartedly or nothing at all. Secondly I have always been interested in not just merely learning a topic but going beyond and gaining esoteric specialized knowledge on a subject.
No good deed goes unpunished …
So, after having gone to churches around the campus, a friend of mine introduced me to a gathering of students around the campus. They gathered at ‘the glass place’. Now when I went to this gathering it piqued my interest and ticked all the boxes. The man of ‘God’ in charge spoke like no other pastor I had ever heard before. He spoke as if he knew God personally. As if he had a specialized, almost sacred relationship or bond with God. However what interested me the most was seeing fellow students just like me. Girls and boys speaking the same way, I had to have in, I just had to. I could get to know God just as they did and I would get to do the ‘works’ as they did. Now, the works were healing the sick, prophesying and talking to God. I mean, I thought I had found IT, my purpose. To be like the apostles of Old. Just like the early apostle movement of old, we soon started having services that would end in the wee hours of the morning. Spiritual experiences, going around the city praying for the sick and them getting healed, we were all hooked. However, unsuspectingly we began to mirror the early apostolic church, like the apostles we were encouraged to share all.
Acts 4:32, “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.”
How molehills became mountains…
The manipulation was all supported by scripture of course. Soon, we were taught that all our money belonged to the church, not just a tenth because ‘didn’t we give God our whole heart? Why should we give him just 10 %? ” It escalated to “your money should be available for the church whenever”. This then intensified to, if we are sharing all already, why don’t we live together? In fact why shouldn’t we buy houses together since we were in this for life?” This we welcomed of course with open hearts because how could we argue with that? It was biblical and God had chosen us? Also, if you dared questioned the pastor or leadership, you would be regarded as ‘rogue’ .I should mention by this point, you had been encouraged to leave all your former friends behind. The church members were your friends, housemates and fellow ‘chosen’, so most of your external support was gone.
The moving into houses in turn became the poisoned chalice for the church because soon the pastor and home leaders began to ‘usurp authority’ as it were. Many members began to feel terrorized, many began to feel the financial strain as some of the members were encouraged not to work professionally and just put all their time into the church, for free. As a result of this the working few were financially strained and had to provide for church services, church conferences and daily life expenses. As time went on people began to see certain inappropriate behaviour between the pastor and leadership towards some of the church members. It was in these houses that the pastor began to pick sexual consorts. Consorts who he indoctrinated privately and made them believe they were doing the service of God. These members endured this for years until they began to speak and as more and more members began to confess, the leadership had to intervene.
Things fell apart
Once confronted the pastor quickly confirmed the claims and stated he will be stepping down. By that night, he had removed his belongings from the home the church had bought for him and never apologized to his victims. Subsequently following him leaving, it was found he had defrauded the church and its members close to millions over years. He had repeatedly stolen and misused the monies made from church businesses as well as well as private loans that he had requested from members for ‘church equipment, church needs’
Finally leaving and family reaction
Upon leaving the cult, I found out that my siblings had long suspected something was amiss with the church. They have tried to be supportive as I heal. My father was the most shocked with the revelation. As a pastor he felt disappointed and failed by a supposed ‘fellow’ who he had entrusted his child to. He has been supportive and has told me if I choose no longer to be a Christian he would understand and respect my decision. My mother offered kind words and wisdom in the aftermath. All in all, I am grateful to have such a strong family of faith, who have reminded me everyday that God is good and he only has good plans for us.
On life after
It has been close to two years since we left the cult and through counselling many have made peace with it, others do not want anything to do with Christianity. Whilst others have stayed behind and tried to restore the church. For me personally and some of my friends, we are honest to recognize that the healing process takes years. Years to learn to trust not just church but people. Years to try understand what happened and how we got into such.
I would like to thank Aninomazi ( anonymous) for being so vulnerable and letting us in on her experience. This blog post has taken a year to write, I had to wait for her to be ready and respect her wishes to remain anonymous. I hope by reading this that we might realize that cults don’t always look scary with pentagrams and the leaders don’t have shaven heads or look weird. They are inviting, feel like home and answer a question we thought we might never have an answer to. Once our guard is down the insidious acts creep in. I pray we might all operate with the spirit of discernment in all our interactions.