How was April, a religious cult survivor, traumatized by a pastoral death threat if she left her church? Sounds dramatic, but these threats are all too common in extreme fundamentalist groups.
It's our next installment from April G. about her religious cult experience. Each Wednesday, tune in to the blog for a new episode. She will answer three questions weekly about her 19 years within the religious cult of an Independent Fundamental Baptist streak.
If you're new to the series, here's a synopsis: April and I met through the blog and exchanged several emails before we met in-person. Both of us were members of the same cult affiliation, but different leaders. While I grew up in a mega-church cult, April was recruited into a smaller town operation. As opposed to my growing up in a cult, April was recruited in her early twenties from a Catholic upbringing. She and I enjoy getting together for coffee and exchanging stories.
Cult survivors often feel alienated from the rest of society, because most cannot fathom the verbal and emotional abuse that survivors carry with them for years afterwards. Though April and I have only known each other a couple months, I count her as one of my real friends.
If you missed her prior episodes, you can read them here:
- April Belittled by Fundamentalist Pastor - Part 1
- April Burns Irreligious Artwork - Part 2
- April Forbidden Critical Thinking - Part 3
- April Manipulated to Relocate - Part 4
- April Forced Into Cultural Isolation - Part 5
- April Haunted by Church Secrets - Part 6
- April Attacked by Love Bombing - Part 7
- April Imprisoned by Belief System - Part 8
- April Imprisoned by Belief System - Part 8
Q & A with April - Part 9
Question #1: Would God really kill you just for leaving this cult church? (That's a death threat, if I've ever heard one.)
Extricating ourselves from that place was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Putting it mildly, it was really painful. In the back of my mind, I asked, “Would God really kill me just for leaving a church I no longer wanted to be a part of?”
Keep in mind we were transplants to this church, and we had only a limited emotional support system locally. Our emotional, relational, and even physical investment was with a group of people. They were now told by their pastor not only to shun us, but also to rebuke us to let us know we were “sinning” for having left the “fold.”
"This church! This church!" was hammered from the pulpit. If some self appointed leader screams it from the pulpit, it must be true, right?
They all seemed to believe, without thinking, without questioning. Sad...
Because I was totally a true believer, it was devastating for me to come to terms that my being a member of this church was NOT right and NOT good.
It seemed to me that the group was not about God or love. It seemed to be more about our doing religion better than anyone else!
Question #2: What type of sermons reinforced the pastor as "the man of God"?
In the group we escaped from, the pastor was considered the “man of God," and who would want to displease the “man of God”?
Notice the titles of his sermons: Pastoral Authority, Submission to Authority, and Pastor: the Ruler and Judge.
Question #3: Did you experience any anxiety due to the dogma preached from the pulpit?
There was anxiety planted deep inside through the dogma. One example was a cult teaching called “Total Depravity.” This doctrine promotes that as humans we have absolutely nothing good inside of us. You start to believe this, then you begin to question your every action and every motive. I was often reminded how I was totally depraved. How “no good thing dwelled in me.” I was told I was saved by grace, but my sinful nature was constantly being brought up making me feel defective and unsure of myself. I just could never do enough to please the leader, let alone the leader’s “god.”
The constant teachings that have been planted inside of you grow to where you fear thinking anything outside of the religious box that you have been crammed into.
So, you capitulate and try to believe what you are told to believe. Continue trying to do what you are told to do. When I actually began to wake up from what seemed to be the terrible nightmare of my life, I began to see a pattern. First, the guilting of people. Next, breaking them down. Lastly, pressuring them for conformity.
April, I do remember similar sermons preached at my former church-cult (First Baptist Church of Hammond). Our pastors tried to appear selfless, but they often used the pulpit as an outlet for self-serving catharsis. They needed us to reinforce their dogma to boost their narcissistic beliefs in themselves.
Next week, we'll ask April about her re-learning how to think for herself, experiencing freethought for the first time in 19 years.
Readers: Do you have any questions or comments for April? If so, leave a comment below.