I was born and raised in a small communal Bible-based cult in the US. I was a part of the cult until I was 27. Daily life revolved around a church and the pastor's wife, who ran the cult. The children were raised to be workers in the church and to give their lives for what the leader wanted. My siblings, mother, and I were once one of 9 families and other single people when the group originally started, but that has now dwindled down to roughly 3-4 families. We were not allowed to have friends outside the church, to live anywhere except a church-owned house, or leave the church without escort or express permission.

As kids grew up and went to college, they were discouraged from getting jobs to pay for school, but instead heavily encouraged (coerced) to max out student loans and give the money to the church. Student's class schedules were denied or approved, as the leadership saw fit. The single family unit was destroyed and everyone was pressured into viewing the group as one big family.

I have been out now for 4 years and it has been one interesting ride thus far. Learning how to live in the real world has been difficult but the independence and freedom I now have is irreplaceable. My entire family, except for my father, still attends the "church". I still believe in the Bible and I attend church. Needless to say I am extremely skeptical of dogma and religion and I do my best to seek out truth and reject lies.

*Edit: Just sent the moderators proof. Hopefully they can verify soon.

*Edit 2: Moderator verification: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/oh07m/iama_former_religious_cult_member_who_spent_27/c3h8h65

*Edit 3: Thank you all for your comments and questions. If I haven't responded to your questions yet, I am working on getting to you.

*Edit 4: I've been doing this now for about 11 hours and I am too tired to do any more tonight. I will return in the morning to respond to any questions or comments I haven't addressed yet. Thank you all again for your interest and participation in the thread. It's been a great conversation!

Comments: 2151 • Responses: 67  • Date: 

Londron407 karma

I'm going to be called an asshole for asking this but whatever.

Why reject their teachings but keep believing in God? What makes you think they lied about one thing but not the other?

not_your_normal_girl492 karma

I won't call you an asshole. It seems like your questions in an honest question, and I don't mind it. When you find out that someone is lying to you about something, what do you do? I like to go back to the beginning of what they told me and look at everything for myself, and that's what I have done and continue to do with the Bible and my belief in God. I've found that what these cult leaders, and many religious leaders the world over, do is add or take away things from the Scripture and teach their ideas about God as fact. These cult leaders twisted Scripture to make it say things it never said and taught as fact ideas about God that are not found in Scripture. So, I rejected everything that was not found or based in Scripture and I have based my belief in God only on what I have found to be true. I hope that answers your questions.

starsweeper72 karma

It sounds like you've basically deprogrammed yourself. Good for you. That's an unbelievable feat after 27 years.

not_your_normal_girl21 karma

Thank you. I'm definitely still working on it.

rtillaree196 karma

Glad you've found reddit. From one life-controlling force to another...

not_your_normal_girl60 karma

Lol, could be.

aWickedGangAreWe182 karma

What made you finally get out? Why did it take so long in the first place?

not_your_normal_girl309 karma

I tried to get out when I was 19 but I was talked in to returning. They use a lot of manipulation techniques, make promises they don't intend to keep. They told us that if we left God was going to kill us. We were raised in fear and completely surrounded with fear constantly. As a result I grew up very fearful of just about everything. We were also taught that the leader was God's anointed and we could never question her or her teachings or we would be killed. This was reinforced by stories from the Bible where people questioned authority and God punished them. There were several really bad things that happened when I was in my mid-twenties that culminated in my leaving. One of these things was the pastor trying to have an affair with one of my older sisters. When she refused him, his wife and other leaders painted my sister out to be a whore and told the church that she had tried to seduce the pastor. I watched them drive my sister into deep depression and break her as a person. Every time I tried to say something or talk about the truth I was punished or told I didn't know what was really going on. Eventually I had to get a job, met a guy who became my best friend and husband, and together we talked through many things, studied the Bible together, and prayed that I would know what the truth of my situation was. I actually had a day when I had an absolute revelation of what was happening and what that place was, so I left.

kintu162 karma

How is your sister now?

not_your_normal_girl188 karma

Thank you for asking. She is recovering slowly and continues to get better with every passing month. She has a long way to go but I am hopeful she will fully recover one day.

[deleted]176 karma

did you come back looking for revenge.. after training in the hills with shoalin monks .... this time with it being personal?

not_your_normal_girl64 karma

Lol, sure.

TosTosT36 karma

Was your sister excommunicated from the church? If not, is she still in the church or did she leave as well?

not_your_normal_girl63 karma

She was asked to leave the church and decided to stay as a way of annoying the leadership. I urged her to leave, as it was not a healthy environment. She is currently in transition (I hope), and it seems she will leave soon.

not_your_normal_girl19 karma

She was asked to leave but decided to stay. Currently she is close to leaving and I hope it happens soon. She needs the chance to heal.

not_your_normal_girl18 karma

Sorry about the double response. My internet has been buggy today. The incident started in early 2005 and went until this past year.

option_i110 karma

Hug. Man, I am sorry. I am glad you still have faith in God and humanity. I almost wish religion never existed.

not_your_normal_girl156 karma

Thank you! I appreciate your comment. I have many times felt that religion has done more to harm faith than any other thing. It's truly sad.

dafreeboota91 karma

I'm not a religious man myself, but i was raised in a catholic household and i clearly remembering jesus saying that he didn't need a church, that he was on every stone and wood piece. Good luck with your freedom, and fuck those guys hard

not_your_normal_girl46 karma

Lol, that's kinda funny. Thanks for the well wishes. :)

option_i57 karma

I know, I am a Catholic, and, honestly, I believe the world would be better off without religion. (Religion is not some moral compass; even priest commit horrible crimes. So that argument as to why we need religion becomes void.)

not_your_normal_girl70 karma

It is so sad what had been done in the name of religion. Much evil has been propagated because people chose to twist a beautiful thing and use it to harm and control others.

Eurotrashie39 karma

From a former cult member: fear is the bond.

not_your_normal_girl10 karma

Very true.

doctorBenton20 karma

I apologise if this is out of line, but i really do intend this as a serious question.

Reading your answer to aWickedGang, where you talk about living in fear and the authority of the leader, all i can think is ... how do you not see the self same process - albeit on a much smaller and less sinister scale - in all organised religion? And from there, in religion in general ... how do you not see all of it as a scam?

not_your_normal_girl58 karma

No worries, I don't mind the questions. I have asked myself many of these same questions. Many times it is hard to not become cynical and view everything as a scam. That's why I was trying to make the distinction in some of my other posts between faith and religion and how religion is used. I don't see a relationship with God as a scam. I do however see the use of religious beliefs to control and manipulate others as a scam.

kajunkennyg150 karma

Isn't it fraud to make them max out student loans to donate to the church? That just seems highly illegal...

not_your_normal_girl134 karma

I've often wondered that same thing, but I haven't been successful in finding a way to do anything about it. The real problem is that the students who took out the loans would deny having done it for the leaders and they would claim that the money went to living expenses. It's hard to prove in court when it's one person's word against another that those "living expenses" included putting a new roof and new carpet and tile in the pastor's house. My dad tried to have the IRS get involved but they told him they weren't interested. I guess it was too small for them.

boomfarmer48 karma

Did the student loans get paid? You could take it to the banks providing the loans, if they weren't repaid.

not_your_normal_girl207 karma

I am currently trying to repay my loans. It's a very daunting task and it is hard not to be bitter about it. But, bitterness never helped anyone succeed in life, so I am doing my best to eat the whale one bite at a time. Thank you for the suggestion, but my experience with banks has been that they couldn't care less about the how's and why's of you loan, just that they get repaid. I will look into it though.

spiro_the_dragon283 karma

bitterness never helped anyone succeed in life

Keep this up and you'll go far.

not_your_normal_girl100 karma

Thank you. I appreciate that.

[deleted]11 karma

To be honest, that kind of "okay.jpg" attitude is probably what made it really easy to control people in the cult.

Not trying to be rude or anything, but I definitely think that's one of the side effects of your experiences.

not_your_normal_girl3 karma

Actually, it has nothing to do with my previous experience. I've looked into ways of getting some restitution for the student loans and I haven't found a viable way of doing yet. I have a life I'm trying to live and I'm not sure that I want to pour hours of time and energy into trying to sue these people.

GaSChamber126 karma

Did they just let you leave, or did you have to sneak away from it? Thanks for the IAMA

not_your_normal_girl260 karma

I had to sneak out. If you told anyone you were leaving they would throw you out on the street with nothing and not allow you to get your things. Also, I knew my family would try really hard to talk me into staying, and because I love them so much, it would be hard to resist their pleas. So, I packed 4 bags with as many important things/necessities as I could and took everything to work with me that day. Actually, I took 2 bags with on the bus that morning, returned around lunch time and took the other 2 with me when I went back to work that afternoon, lol. After I got to work, I called my oldest sister to tell her that I was not coming home and that the only reason I was calling was so they wouldn't worry about me. I then told her that I didn't want anyone trying to contact me for a few weeks while I sorted everything out. I then had my co-worker drive me to a friend's house. I had met this girl in college and we had staid friends, how I'm not sure. Fortunately (Providentially?) for me, she owned a house and had a free room that had just become available. She let me stay with her for 6 months until I could find my own place.
Thank you for all the comments! :)

Shearur145 karma

Great friend you have there. If you didn't have a friend to stay with, what would you have done?

not_your_normal_girl110 karma

I have no idea. I have thought about that many times and I still don't have an answer. I might have staid with my now-husband, who was the one who drove me to my girlfriend's house. I know I would have found a way because I was determined to leave.

ClearlyClaire70 karma

How did you meet your husband? Did the other members of the cult know about him or did you have to keep it secret?

not_your_normal_girl101 karma

I met him at work. He actually attended the church for a few Sundays and met several of the members. They never liked him and started the campaign early to malign him to me and make sure I had nothing to do with him. I was always honest with them about my husband and our friendship. The things he saw when he attended prompted him to talk with me about what that place really was. While he is not the reason I left, his friendship helped push me towards facing the truth about that place and ultimately making the decision to leave.

MishterJ71 karma

First off, as a Christian who believes the Bible and attends church but is also extremely skeptical of dogma and "religion" and who seeks out the truth and rejects lies (long intro), I want to say that I truly admire your courage and faith to still be a Bible believer after the horrific situation you went through. Seeking out truth is often the hardest but most rewarding thing that one can do. (I hope that all made sense to you!)

Some questions: I'm interesting in the amount of freedom verse non freedom you were allowed. Clearly they had huge control over everyones lives but I find it surprising they even let the kids go to college. Also, what about jobs? Did they have to approve of jobs you applied for? You clearly had coworkers who you considered friends at the time too, were you given any time to interact with them outside work?

Great AMA!

Under_no_name12 karma

second the question. there was no problem for the children to go to college? could it have been a residential college in a different town?

not_your_normal_girl21 karma

I've posted quite a bit in other responses about the amount of freedom we had but basically our entire schedule every day had to be approved by the main leader and if it wasn't we had to change it. Our time was spent largely in service of her and doing jobs at the church. I am not sure how it happened that we were allowed to go to college, but the leader strongly urged it for everyone. I think she figured it would help us get good jobs and pour more money into the church. The funny things is that she also discouraged us from getting jobs and anyone who got a job had to have a schedule that allowed for all the events at the church. This meant that most people ended up working the night shift. We were not allowed to interact with coworkers after work. That was seen as being "unequally yoked" with nonbelievers. We could not attend colleges in other towns.

pissflap120 karma

did they ever make you have sex and stuff?

not_your_normal_girl139 karma

No, but there was a lot of twisted stuff that went on.

pissflap110 karma

like what?

not_your_normal_girl251 karma

Well, there were a lot of reports of child molestation and growing up, I had to sit in a lot of "meetings" where they made adults confess all their sexual sins to the group. It was really hard to hear people you were taught to respect tell everyone that they wanted to rape young girls or sleep with other people's spouses. All the girls in the group were constantly made to feel that they were sluts and were being accused of trying to have sex with just about every guy around. There was a lot of emotional and psychological abuse around sex and they tried their hardest to demonize it as much as possible.

IvanTheDominator115 karma

i hate when people do things in the name of god like they know what god would actually want. i am sorry you had to go through this. i was raised mormon and molested as a child. although i was never in this deep of dogmatic control i know how it feels to have your life all fucked around because of crazy religious people. thanks for the AMA.

not_your_normal_girl85 karma

You're welcome and thank you for sharing. There's far too much damage done to people in the name of God. I am so sorry for the experiences you had and I wish you luck in your future recovery process. It's a long road but one worth traveling.

digeridude18 karma

Hope it's not too personal: Have you ever had sex?

not_your_normal_girl32 karma

Haha, yes. I've been married now for 1.5 years, so that is a definite yes. :)

Kat788781 karma

Are the cult leaders harassing or perusing you for leaving? I heard that is the case with some cults. Also, are there things you miss in a cult type living?

not_your_normal_girl189 karma

I have become Public Enemy #1 at the cult, a place my father used to hold. I'm actually pretty proud of that. The cult leaders hate me and continually malign me to the members there. They are constantly coming up with lies about me and propagating those lies to both acquaintances and members of the cult. I have done my best to address every lie they spread about me in a loving, truthful way, and most times it ends of coming back to bite them. Thus, my infamous reputation at the "church". There are many things I miss about living there, which is perhaps the strangest and most difficult to comprehend fact for many people. The closeness and sense of security that is developed in these places leaves you feeling empty and scared when you leave. It takes a long time to get over that. I guess what has helped me most is realizing that the type of closeness you feel is not a genuine experience, but rather an effect of the trauma you go through. In addition, that type of closeness is not meant to be shared with a large group of people in the way it is shared in a cult. Although it may feel great, it is ultimately detrimental to your health. I also miss my family, a lot.

King_Of_Crotch49 karma

It seems like you've already come a long way and have done well at reflecting on the whole situation. Props to you. I understand that I nor most people on here will ever be able to understand where you are coming from and it's quite awesome of you to do this AMA. I'm curious:

How does your family react to the lies the cult leaders make up about you? Do they believe them? I'm assuming that they don't so from my position, wouldn't that lead them to begin questioning the integrity, for lack of a better word, of the cult, as in if they are lying about you, why wouldn't they lie about other things?

not_your_normal_girl69 karma

This is a very interesting question and I'm not sure that I can answer it sufficiently, but I will try. Sometimes, they do believe the lies the leaders tell and then I have to go in and do damage control and provide tons of evidence to show they have lied. At that point things have become so out of control that my family sort of shuts down and doesn't know what to think. At other times they know what the leaders are saying is false so they start making excuses for them and defending why they might be lying. Or they try to gloss over the issue and act like it's not really a big deal. That's what is happening outwardly. Inwardly, I have to believe that these experiences cause them to questions their leaders, and that's why I make sure that whenever possible I show the the inconsistencies of their leaders.

IthinktherforeIthink37 karma

What's the story with your father? Can you meet him now on the outside?

not_your_normal_girl71 karma

So, the story of my father is a whole different story that could probably fill another link on here. He remarried my mom 2 years ago and works every day to encourage her and my other siblings to leave the church. He has made a lot of progress in the past year, but it is a very tough fight. He is one of the best men I know and I respect him immensely for everything he has done.

tristanater78630 karma

Personally, I'd love to hear about what your father went through to get out. Did him leaving influence you into leaving as well?

not_your_normal_girl41 karma

I don't know everything he went through; just bits and pieces. I know he spent a few months in a guest room at an old friend's house while he tried to regain his sanity. It was a tough time for all of us. He was heavily maligned by the church and the leaders consistently told us he had stolen money from people and abandoned his family. Since the time my father left the church, the cult leaders took every opportunity to paint him as a bad person to his children. I wouldn't say his leaving influenced me, but wanting to understand how he came there in the first place and then decided to leave definitely spurred my own departure.

pinkLaceThong19 karma

If you wouldn't mind, I would be interested to hear the backstory on your father. It sounds like he was in deep shit with the cult, and I'm interested to hear why he and your mother divorced in the first place, and then why they got remarried.

not_your_normal_girl42 karma

I don't mind talking about my dad. His story is a little complicated, though. He was definitely "in deep shit" with the cult. When he left, the cult leader sent people out to visit his business associates and his employers and tell them that my dad was a thief. They tried their hardest to destroy my dad. He tried to make the marriage work but my mom was pressured by the church and made the decision to file for legal separation. After 10 years that defaults into a divorce. My dad, feeling at the time that reconciliation was impossible, completed the divorce. He had tried multiple times to reconcile with my mom and he continued even after that to reconcile, but my mother always said it was impossible unless my dad returned to the cult. After I left, my mom became more open to reconciling with my dad. After a lot of talking with my dad and conversations with me where I confronted my mom about divorcing my dad for no good reason, she started talking about remarriage. 3 years after I left, my mother asked my dad if he would be willing to try again. My dad agreed, and they got remarried. Since then, my dad has worked hard to help my mom and my siblings see the truth about the place they have given their lives for.

SPOL48 karma

How did you do to get out of the cult, did it take long and how did the "cult leaders" (if that's the word for it) react? Also, how does people react when they get to know that you have been in a cult? Thanks for the IAmA.

not_your_normal_girl83 karma

See my other responses in answer to some of your questions. I realized what it was one day, spent 2 weeks wondering if I should stay and fix it, had something really terrible happen that caused me to realize it was never going to change, and left in one day. My grandmother had passed away out of state and my whole family went to the funeral the weekend I decided to leave, so it was kinda complicated to just leave. But, I knew I had to do whatever I was going to do right away because if I waffled at all I would loose my opportunity. As far as people reacting, most look at me like I'm an alien with 3 heads. They don't know how to respond to that or how to treat me. Things usually become very awkward. It's not something I have been very comfortable sharing with many people. I'm thankful for the opportunity to do it here. Thank you for your questions. I really appreciate them.

SPOL33 karma

Thanks for the answers :) By the way, I especially liked the thing about you being Public Enemy #1, I guess that's always something to aim for when it comes to cults!

not_your_normal_girl72 karma

My husband would agree with you! :) I have made it my mission to shed as much light into the darkness that holds my family as is humanly possibly. The tricky part is doing it in a way that shows love to your family while addressing the issues at hand.

SPOL27 karma

I can see why that would be hard yes, one more question: do you have any hope that the part of your family that are still in the cult also will leave it anytime soon?

Edit: Red it through and it sounded a bit harsh, sorry about that :)

not_your_normal_girl46 karma

I do, actually. There is currently something going on with two of my sisters and I am hoping it will end with their severing ties with the group. From what I hear, this is a very likely outcome. As for my other siblings, I am honestly not sure. It doesn't look very good.

beglium11 karma

So if there was a case of abuse with your older sister, why is she still in the cult? The fact that she's older than you, and you DID take steps, wouldn't that make her question her point of view on the cult? Isn't there a chance of just plainly telling your siblings how you feel about the whole cult-situation. Like REALLY telling how you feel. I understand that you don't want to hurt them, but I see 'telling them how you feel' as the greatest act of love. Also; the sooner you tell them how you feel, the better. Everyone deserves a clean slate, a second chance if you will. They didn't do anything wrong so they deserve it double. Were you completely blocked from the outside world? Like did you watch television, did you have internet, etc.?

not_your_normal_girl34 karma

Thank you for your comment. It reflects a lot of my own feelings about this situation. As for my older sister, she was really in a bad place when I left. I have encouraged her multiple times in the past 4 years to get out, and I think she is now in a place where this is very likely to happen soon. I have told my family on several occasions exactly how I feel about that place and what I think it is doing to them. Usually this sparks anger and a severing of ties for a while. I work hard to reestablish the ties and then we start all over again. The tricky thing is that if you are ever to direct or honest with them, they shut down and then you are having no impact on them at all. It's a tricky dance between giving them enough truth to get them thinking and enough love to keep them from walking away. I have not done everything perfectly, but I have also not given up, and I will keep at it as long as I can. I wasn't completely blocked from the outside world, but it was always put in a context such that it seemed like an alternate reality. It's kinda strange actually, because we were involved in a lot of ministries in the community but were never really a part of the community. We were allowed to watch a limited amount of TV, mostly old shows. My first experience with the internet came in college but we were discouraged from using the internet a lot. Mostly just email. We were never allowed to have FB or MySpace accounts.

beglium14 karma

No! Thank YOU for replying!

One last thing :)

Did the cult-leader have internet, and did she have television. I've read some pretty crazy stuff about cult-leaders just manipulating people for their own profit.

Also; were they really controlling about everything? For example if you DID have a facebook account, would they search you on facebook to be able to punish you if you did?

And (you don't really need to answer this if you don't want to) how was your sexual life before you left the cult? Did they try to control this also, or did they preach something like 'stay a virgin until you're married'? Did you break a lot of the church's rules while growing up?

While being in college, did you still live at your parents house, or in a dorm or something? If you did, and found renewed freedom there, maybe that's the reason why you left the church?

Also, did your siblings go to college?

not_your_normal_girl22 karma

The cult leader didn't use the internet but her husband did. She did however watch a ton of TV. Movies were her hobby. I have stories you wouldn't believe about the number of VHS tapes she had with movies on them.
Yes, they were very controlling about everything. If you did have a FB account they would publicly shame you and put pressure on you to get rid of it and repent. If you defied them they would threaten you with various things to get you to do what they wanted. Abstinence was taught and in a very strict way. The girls in the church were always in trouble for what was perceived as flirting or being a "brazen whore". I was a virgin when I got married, so there wasn't a sex life for me while I was in the church. :) No, I didn't break a lot of rules growing up. I questioned them a lot, though, which made me pretty unpopular. While I was in college I lived in a house owned by the pastors where all the single girls lived. There was less freedom there than when I was living with my mother because the cult leader controlled our living situation much more closely. However, the living situation wasn't that different from my mom's. Everyone in the church lived together, so I grew up living with multiple families in one house. Yes, all my siblings went to college and all but one have a degree. Crazy, I know, but true.

[deleted]45 karma

You said your dad has supported you, so I'm assuming you still have regular contact with him. What about the rest of your family? Would you ever go back to visit them?

not_your_normal_girl89 karma

I talk to my dad probably once a week. He and I are very close. I talk with my other family members every few months or so, depending on what's going on. In the past 1.5 years my relationship with my family has gotten much better. I have to take a lot of crap from them, but it's worth it to maintain my family. I do go back to visit them but I have a policy of never going to the church. I broke this only this summer to attend both of my brothers' weddings. It was a hard decision for me to make, but I felt it was important to show them what real love looks like. I have put myself in several uncomfortable situations to make a point to them that I love them and I am not attacking them, I am attacking the lies and wickedness that is that "church".

[deleted]19 karma

Thanks for answering, few more. How long after your dad left did you follow? Were you in contact with him while he was out and you were still in? Was he the reason you left?

not_your_normal_girl55 karma

I left about 18 years after my dad left. My parents were legally separated about a year after he left and a huge custody battle ensued. The end result was joint-custody for us kids, so we split our week between mom and dad. So, yes, I had contact with my dad when he was out. However, this contact was always very strained and we kids were always being put under a huge amount of pressure to reject our father and embrace the cult. As a result, I moved back in with my mom full time when I was 15 and my relationship with my dad became even more strained. To give some perspective, I was involved in activities outside the cult when I was with my dad, but these were very small in comparison to my activities in the cult. Also, my dad was no match for the manipulation and coercion that was going on when I was with my mom at the cult. My dad is not the reason I left, but he did foster and allow in me a sense of curiosity that led me to question things and search for truth in a way that eventually led me to make my decision. And he spent many untold hours in prayer for all of us.

calw18 karma

Do you know how much information about the cult was in the custody case? If it was proven I'm surprised it didn't lead to your Dad getting full custody.

not_your_normal_girl28 karma

They tried very hard to keep the cult out of the custody case. There had been an earlier case with another family in the cult and it did lead to the mother, who had left, getting full custody. I'm not sure why it didn't go that way in my parent's case. I was very young at the time. I do know, though, that my dad used the financial angle to get my mom's wages garnished in an attempt to cut off some of the cash flow into the church. It was a pretty messy custody fight and I am still trying to piece together everything that happened.

[deleted]38 karma

You should hire the A-team to get the rest of your family out. I'm pretty sure they have experience with cults.

not_your_normal_girl43 karma

Lol, I would love that! Of course, Hannibal would have to agree to my riding along. :)

FidelCastrator38 karma

Where there threats of violence once you left?

not_your_normal_girl69 karma

Not physical violence, but my family cut me off and said really hurtful things to me. They also threatened me with calling the police and having me arrested for trespassing if I returned to the house where I had lived. I went back to get the rest of my things and they gave me 2 hours to get everything. Anything I didn't get out in that time, they said I couldn't have. Of course, I was not allowed to bring any help and they refused to help me. It was one of the hardest things I ever experienced.

Busted24052 karma

That sounds like an awkward two hours.

not_your_normal_girl48 karma

Unbelievably awkward and painful.

thegraymaninthmiddle6 karma

What did you wind up grabbing?

not_your_normal_girl2 karma

I grabbed everything I could. I didn't have too much, thankful.

Tron1629 karma

What was your church called? What religious sect are you?

not_your_normal_girl52 karma

I'd rather not give the name of the church at this time. They started out Baptist but were kicked out of the convention in the early '70s. They were not affiliated with any denomination when I was growing up. They call themselves simply Bible-based Christians. I am not a part of a religious sect. I attend a church that has a Messianic Jewish pastor and I have really enjoyed learning how much the Jewish religion has influenced and is a part of the Christian religion.

[deleted]44 karma

It sounds like you might find Karen Armstrong's book "A History of God" interesting. The Bible has a rich and fascinating history that for some reason most people avoid talking about.

not_your_normal_girl24 karma

I might check it out. Thank you for the suggestion.

seteex14 karma

Christianity is a jewish sect (word used not in the bad way) actually. That's a fact, not trying to be a dick here. Jews just didn't think Jesus was that big a deal. Christians did and therefore built the new testament on the old jewish one in order to honour Jesus.

not_your_normal_girl22 karma

I agree with you, actually. Early Christians were a Jewish sect. Christianity as the Western world knows it today is a result of changes introduced by the Roman emperor Constantine. That is when most of the Jewish traditions and culture were removed, sadly.

JoeEstevez23 karma

I'm a film maker, and my next project is about "deprogramming".

Have you heard of the term, and did anyone possibly deprogram you, or did you use "exit counseling"? And did the cult warn you about deprogrammers?

not_your_normal_girl32 karma

I have most definitely heard the term deprogramming. My particular cult never warned about deprogrammers, but they did talk very badly about counseling and warned the members constantly about how bad it was. I think this was, in essence, a similar strategy to warning about deprogrammers. It basically kept you from wanting to get any kind of counseling when/if you left. I don't think I had any one "deprogrammer". I think my life experiences, my husband, and the counseling I did receive have helped me to deprogram myself. It is still an ongoing process. When you leave a place like that you don't realize how much you need to be reprogrammed until you start living life. As you go along you start to realize it and I've found that it's best to address each thing as it comes up. That being said, it's a very long hard road, as my husband can attest to. It's been 4 years and I still have a lot to work on

JoeEstevez13 karma

May I suggest reading this book? It's written by Ted Patrick, the man who coined the term "deprogramming" as well as creating the technique. It's a bit dated, but you have to remember that it was written in the 1970s, a time in America where new age religions were a lot more common and got a lot of media attention. In this book, Patrick talks about his deprogramming sessions, and how different cults have different holds on people. It's a short read, just under 300 pages, as well as a very entertaining one. It could help you out.

I also suggest, if you haven't looked into this already, checking out Rick Ross. He's an anti-cult activist, and now runs a blog where he tracks many cults throughout the country as well as his own personal website. I've called him before, regarding deprogramming, and he returned my call. I'm not sure if any of this will actually help you, since everyone is different, but after reading Patrick's book, I feel it would.

not_your_normal_girl18 karma

Thank you for the suggestions. I will look at the book. I have been on Rick Ross' website and read a few of his forum threads. It's a great resource for a lot of people. My problem has been that because the cult I came from was not mainstream, it is hard to find people who have had experiences just like mine. I know this going to sound crazy, but, when you are recovering from a place like that, you don't want to listen to someone unless they have been through almost exactly what you have. You somehow feel that their experiences are not applicable to you because your experience was a little different than theirs. It takes time before you can really start to see the similarities and not allow the differences to keep you from seeing the truth that transcends all these situations.

[deleted]21 karma

In a lot of the cult situations I have heard about, there were alligations of sexual abuse.

Any truth to this for you?

not_your_normal_girl32 karma

There were multiple allegations of sexual abuse in the church but the police were never called and no charges were ever filed. It's hard for me to know how much of it was truth and how much of it was not. This is still something I struggle with today.

PancakeTune19 karma

Welcome to Reddit. Thank you for choosing to be free. Now believe everything we believe or we will downvote you!

not_your_normal_girl41 karma

Haha! That's OK. Downvote away!

bromobile17 karma

What was it that drew your parents to the cult? Did they restrict or filter information -- ie, control movies watched/music? How was the general interaction like within the cult? Thanks.

not_your_normal_girl31 karma

My parents were drawn to the cult separately, my dad when he was just out of high school and my mom when she was halfway through college. I think the initial draw was having a genuine experience with God. At the time my parents joined there was another man and wife leading the church and they were not at all cult leaders, from what I hear. It was after they left and this woman took over that the church started becoming a cult. This woman is very manipulative and can read people really well. She used her abilities to control people and things just got worse and worse. Growing up, they restricted everything. I remember when I was a kid that a couple of the boys in the group rigged a desk with a secret compartment for a radio in it. We would turn the radio on and listen to music when there were no adults around. We weren't allowed to listen to anything non-Christian. We weren't allowed to watch rated-R movies unless the leader gave permission. I've heard that some of these restrictions have loosened a lot in an attempt to keep the next generation from leaving. What do you mean by general interactions?

jargonista16 karma

Do you consider mainstream religions cults? Or at least cult-like? Does your past exposure make you more sensitive to instances of blind faith/group-think?

not_your_normal_girl49 karma

I think there are several mainstream religions that operate in cult-like ways. The Mormon Church and Jehovah's Witnesses are two mainstream groups that use many cult strategies to control their members. I also believe there are many large Christian churches whose leaders use methods similar to those employed in cults to control their followers, and honestly, it makes me ill.
I would say my past definitely makes me more sensitive to blind faith/group think situations. I never like it when someone tells me I should believe something because they told me to or because a lot of other people believe it. Any idea, program, or method of doing something should be accepted or rejected based on its merits and not on its ability to collect followers.

crypt0graph14 karma

You sound like you're handling this reeeeeaally healthily, from at least my (also Christian-but-annoyed-with-many-churches) perspective. My eyes were swelling up with tears reading about halfway down through the existing questions/answers, and if I could give you many hugs I would.

I have more of a theological question: what do you think is the purpose of church? What do (more mainstream/normal) churches today tend to do well, and what do you think they get wrong? How could they be better?

Also: the same questions, but replace"church" with "family."

edit: also, a friendly warning to you because your account looks new and I'm not sure how used to reddit you are. There are some very vocal, obnoxious atheists on reddit who might (honestly, probably accidentally... but that doesn't make it any less harmful) ask a lot of very insensitive questions because you said you still believe Biblical stuff. With any luck, they'll see this and get indignant and decide to spite me by being polite :p. If not, though, you might want to brace yourself emotionally a bit so that you're not upset by it.

not_your_normal_girl8 karma

Thank you for the questions and the warnings. My husband is an avid Redditor and he tried to prepare me for what might come my way. I will try to answer your questions as best I can but I don't know that I have great answers for them. I think the main purpose of the church is two-fold. First, it is there for fellowship so that we can grow together as believers and encourage each other. All throughout the Bible God demonstrates His desire for and love of relationships and I think the church helps us have great relationships. Second, I think the church provides believers with a great opportunity to show the love and grace of God to those around us. I believe the church should be actively responding to the needs of those around them, whatever those needs may be. I don't know that I've seen many mainstream churches do much of anything well. That may be due to the fact that the church never started as a mainstream movement, but rather as an offshoot of believers who gathered together to share their joy and love of God. Worship was still lead by the family and obligations to the Torah were fulfilled through the family. I don't know that I have an exact answer as to how churches could be better, but I do know they would benefit greatly from actually living what Jesus taught and not just talking about it. Modern day Christianity more closer resembles early Roman religions than is does is more pertinent Jewish roots. It would do the church some good to examine that. As for the purpose of the family, God created family as the first relationship between humans, so I think it's probably pretty important. The family should provide a safe environment for a person to learn and grow, a place where you can make mistakes and ask questions. Anytime a family is not providing this for its members there is something wrong. Honestly, though, I don't have a great view of family, because of the things I experienced in my past and my lack of family growing up. So, please take everything I say with a grain of salt.

[deleted]13 karma

You mentioned your dad. Is he no longer part of the cult? How did that happen? Was he supportive when you left?

not_your_normal_girl34 karma

My dad left the group 23 years ago. He is an accountant and was the treasurer for a while at the church. He started noticing some of the shady stuff going on with the money and tried to rectify it. As a result he was removed and the cult leader told the congregation that he had been stealing money from the church members. He staid for a little after that but financial pressures kept building, the church was demanding more money but refusing to let him work enough to get the money and he finally told my mother that he wanted to take his family out of the system. When that happened, she refused to leave, sicced the cult dogs on him, and filed for legal separation. It was a very messy battle for about 5 years, with the major casualties being us kids. He was very supportive of me when I left and helped me get on my feet as quickly as possible. He supported me in going to grad school and has been there for me every step of the way in this amazing journey.

dylanrush10 karma

Just so you know, "staid" is a word, but the word you meant to say is "stayed". But, thanks for the AMA, you have an amazing story and an excellent command of the English language.

not_your_normal_girl10 karma

Thank you for the comment. I've addressed this in my messages but I guess I will have to do it here as well. I was typing "stayed" and kept having trouble with my auto correct. I looked up the word on dictionary.com and they said I could spell it "staid". While not my first choice, I used in order to keep up with the posts here and not waste time trying to figure out what was going on. However, I have fixed the problem and can now use stayed. :)

benm3144 karma

What are/were you in grad school for?

not_your_normal_girl13 karma

Neuroscience and speech language pathology. Fascinating stuff!!

TurtleneckEnthusiast12 karma

What is your favorite part of living in this 'new' uncontrolled world? Also, is there anything you miss about being in a cult?

not_your_normal_girl29 karma

My favorite part, hmm. That's a hard one. There are so many things I love. I love that I can make a daily schedule and do it without having to check with someone as to whether or not it's acceptable. I love that I can talk freely with people about anything and be restrained only by the dictates of my own conscience as opposed to the dictates of a mad woman. OH, and I love the music!!! The thing I miss most is my family and feeling the closeness of having people you love surround you. I also miss having enough history with someone to share inside jokes and knowing smiles.

ManaSyn10 karma

I'm sorry for asking this, but did the cult do anything to your close family after you left? Is it still your family or they too have disowned you?

not_your_normal_girl22 karma

For a while they did disown me, but I kept pursuing a relationship with them and I am happy to say that I do have somewhat of a relationship with all of them. Things could definitely be better, but there is still time for improvement. To my knowledge the cult leaders did not punish my family members when I left. However, the way it works is that your family members are usually the ones dealing you the harshest blows, and the cult leaders are urging them to do so. It's yet another way that they try to manipulate and hurt you. For example, the cult leader had one of my sisters be the supervised guard who watched as I picked up the rest of my stuff. When I asked her for help in loading everything, she refused and just sat in her chair, watching me struggle to get everything loaded.

ManaSyn3 karma

Ouch, I can't even imagine one of my siblings not helping me do anything I ask. Was she by chance a kid, or an actual adult?

On a related note, do you think the cult leaders are watching your family closely in order to prevent more withdrawals or, again, they did it so the family does that on itself? I'm curious because you do say you're talking to them again, but that should be scaring those control freaks.

not_your_normal_girl9 karma

No, she was an actual adult. My older sister, to boot. I think the cult leaders have tried very hard to keep my other family members there and they have put a lot of pressure on them to reject me. They tried hard to pressure them into not attending my wedding 1.5 years ago. My family resisted the pressure and came, but them my sisters and mom walked out of the reception when we had a champagne toast. So, there is definitely some pressure to reject me still. My family is trying, but they are still controlled by the leaders.

IEnjoyCornbread9 karma

Did breaking free from the "church" and seeing it for what it is cause you to question your faith at any point? Was it challenging to continue to accept the bible and your religion?

not_your_normal_girl30 karma

Absolutely! I questioned everything when I left. It was very challenging to continue to accept the Bible and, honestly, for a long time the only thing I trusted was what I experienced for myself. I think questioning things is healthy and I still questions things today. I believe what I do because I have had my own personal experiences with God that I believe are real and true. I constantly read things and talk with people. I am always seeking. I don't know that I will ever know the perfect truth until I die.

boomfarmer10 karma

Are you a creationist?

not_your_normal_girl30 karma

That depends on how you are using that word. Do I believe that God created the world as it says in Scripture? Yes. Do I believe the strict guidelines that many Christians have outlined for how He did that? No. At this point, I am not completely satisfied with the answers that science has provided, but there are no complete answers in Scripture either. I choose rather to look at it as a puzzle and continue to search for complete truth. I certainly don't have good answers for the many questions out there, but I enjoy looking for them.

TheArsenal9 karma

Have you seen Martha Marcy May Marlene?

not_your_normal_girl11 karma

I have! I thought it was a really great movie and that we need more like it to make people more aware of this topic. Interestingly, though, I was really shaken my her turmoil in the movie. What was shown was so benign compared to what people really go through. My husband, who saw it with me, left the theater completely drained. For me, it was just another day in the life of a culty.

not_your_normal_girl3 karma

I have! I thought it was a really great movie and that we need more like it to make people more aware of this topic. Interestingly, though, I wasn't really shaken my her turmoil in the movie. What was shown was so benign compared to what people really go through. My husband, who saw it with me, left the theater completely drained. For me, it was just another day in the life of a culty.

ImJustSomeDude5 karma

Congrats on getting out and still keeping your faith in God. I was in a situation where I went to a church that, looking back, I believe was a cult. Though much less extreme than what you went through. I was a leader in the church, a Deacon, and very close to the pastor and his family.

There was a lot of fear tactics there as well. I tried to resign from leadership once and the pastor told me, he who puts his hand to the plow and turns away is not worthy of the kingdom of God. So if I resigned my leadership I'd go to hell.

I hope you continue to find healing and are able to enjoy life to the fullest!

not_your_normal_girl3 karma

Thank you for your comment! What you posted sound so similar to what I grew up with. The leadership was constantly quoting Scripture to browbeat and punish people or to keep them in line. For example, you couldn't say anything about the main leader, a woman, because on the Old Testament David lifted his hand against Saul and it was considered a sin. So, if you said anything against the leader, you were in sin. They always quoted, "Thou shalt no touch God's anointed". It took me at least a year after leaving before I could really rid my mind of this false ideology and the fear that accompanied it. I hope that you have found healing in your own journey. Thank you for the well wishes!

Shearur5 karma

Are you now closer with your father since you left the church?

not_your_normal_girl7 karma

I don't necessarily think we are closer, as we were always very close, but our relationship is now allowed to be what it always wanted to be. We definitely share more and are much more a part of each other's lives.

Lobin4 karma

As an (amicable) atheist, I'm fascinated by the thought processes of those who take the time to consider religion and/or faith and end up choosing to believe.

Could you please sum up which aspects of the cult's religion you rejected, which denomination (if any) you belong to now, and what led you to choose that one?

I know the answer is likely to be long and complicated. Please feel free to do it ELI5 style, bullet point the highlights, whatever you find the least headache-inducing. :-)

Thanks for doing this AMA, and I wish you and the rest of your family the best of luck.

not_your_normal_girl8 karma

Sorry, I was responding to your post and my internet went wacky and deleted everything. I basically rejected anything that was taught that was not in the Bible. I then rejected any ideologies taught that did not line up with what I found in the Bible. I did a lot reading both of the Bible and other commentaries to try and sort out what was true and what was not, and I am still working on this today. The church I attend today is anything but typical. The pastor is a Messianic Jew who combines Jewish heritage and traditions with the Bible. I've found that understanding the roots of Christianity have helped me understand the intent behind the Christian faith better, and honestly, there's a lot of junk that is taught as part of the faith that is just junk. I like my church because they allow people to ask questions and have doubts about things and they don't tell the members that they have all the answers. There are some things about God that I'm not sure we will ever have all the answers to or fully understand on this earth, and that's OK. I know that probably didn't fully answer your questions, but it's a simple start. Hope that's alright.

spillpop3 karma

Where does this cult operate? Is it in the USA?

not_your_normal_girl3 karma

It operates in the Western United States.