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Churches that Abuse #10

Leaving Abusive Churches

                         CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #10

by Ronald Enroth (1992)


Abusive Churches Make Leaving Painful

     "I feel lost. I don't know where I'm going; I don't know
what I'm supposed to do; I don't know what I want; I don't know
who I am, and I want to know who I am ... it was just like one
morning I woke up and collapsed ... I don't understand why it
seemed to work before, and why it's not working now. There's a
lot of confusion ... And I want to tell you something about my
husband - he's gone. There's not anybody there in him - he's a
void. He just can't communicate ... A lot of my life's gone ... a
great portion of it is gone ..."
     As Beth Farrell described her exit process from Hobart
Freeman's Faith Assembly, it almost seemed as if she was trying
to retain her grip on sanity. Having lived for several years
almost entirely enveloped in Freeman's anti-intellectual,
isolationist, name-it-and-claim-it subculture, she, her husband,
and their tenyear-old son were in agony as they attempted to
return to normal society and regain some sense of themselves. Her
son, having been born and raised in Faith Assembly, has never
known anything but spiritual legalism, and, consistent with the
group's beliefs, is deathly afraid of physicians.
     Hobart Freeman began Faith Assembly (not affiliated with the
Assemblies of God) after both his dismissal from the faculty of
Grace Theological Seminary and his excommunication from the Grace
Brethren Church in Indiana in 1963. Holding a doctorate in Old
Testament Theology and Hebrew, Freeman was a successful minister
of a large congregation and the author of several books. However,
he held some variant positions on doctrine and practice that
became increasingly extreme over the years.
     Of greatest significance was Freeman's position on medicine
and physicians. He referred to doctors as "medical deities" and
claimed that medicines had demonic names and, if taken, opened
one up to demonic influence. Members of Faith Assembly were, and
still are, strongly discouraged from seeking medical attention
for any maladies suffered. As a result, at least ninety persons
of Faith Assembly have died of preventable and treatable
illnesses. One report indicates that the church has averaged
about one preventable death per month since 1978. These deaths
include forty-two infants, ten children between the ages of one
and seventeen, seven mothers who died of complications related to
home births, and numerous adults who suffered illnesses that were
inadequately treated.
     According to Freeman's "faith-formula theology," God is
obligated to heal every sickness if a believer's faith is genuine
- so that Faith Assembly members felt they could actually avoid
death. After a "positive confession" is made concerning the
healing, symptoms of illness or injury that remain are viewed as
deception from the Devil. If death occurs in spite of this
positive confession, it is seen as either discipline from God or
a lack of faith, or even, as in Job's case, a testing of faith.
Freeman himself died of severe cardiovascular disease and mild
bronchopneumonia in 1984, an embarrassment to his church. No
Faith Assembly folks attended his burial. Leadership has been
passed on to his sons-in-law. Although Faith Assembly is most
noted for its positive-confession approach to healing, where
believers must "claim" healing by acknowledging that it has taken
place before any indication of the fact, its members also follow
a number of other questionable doctrines and practices. They are
discouraged from reading newspapers, watching television, and
meeting with members of other churches. They buy no insurance,
wear neither glasses nor contact lenses, and remove the seat
belts from their cars, preferring to "live by faith alone." Wives
are expected to be submissive, obedient homemakers who practice
no birth control. All members are to put the "Body" first and
their familial relationships second (Beth's own husband and
another Faith Assembly elder caused her to be disfellow-
shippedshunned - for months). Higher education is strongly
discouraged, and, because most members give the bulk of their
income to the church, they live in relative poverty - in contrast
to the allegedly wealthy life-styles of Faith Assembly leaders.

Now this should be smashing some of you ex WCGers b etween the
eyes, although I will say even the WCG under HWA dod not go to
some of the extremes just noted above - Keith Hunt

     Celebrations of Christmas and Easter, considered pagan
customs, are forbidden. 

There is always SOME truth..... why even the Roman Catholic
church has SOME truth in its Mystery Babylon teachings - 
Keith Hunt

     Freeman's teachings are to be accepted without question, no
matter how twisted the scriptural basis. To question Freeman, a
self-acknowledged "prophet of God," is to risk the charge of

Wow indeed that was also part of the WCG under HWA - Keith Hunt

     Since Freeman believed that the Trinitarian formula of
Matthew 28:19 is improper, although he held to a traditional,
orthodox view of the Trinity, members are baptized in the name of
Jesus only. Members are told to pray only once concerning a
matter to avoid "vain repetition." Married individuals should not
have sexual foreplay, or sex for pleasure, so as to avoid
inciting "lust." Members are not to swear any oaths in a court of
law, and they are prohibited from consulting attorneys.

     This is only a sampling of the types of strictures under
which Faith Assembly members live, but, looming above them all,
is the constant need to have a "positive confession." "We were
taught to practice thought control... to deliberately empty our
minds of everything negative concerning the person, problem, or
situation confronting us."

     Out of this maelstrom stepped Beth and her family. Already
having experienced the pain of the break up of their house
fellowship in 1975, they are now devastated by this most recent
event in their pursuit of faith. Ten years of study and work had
enabled them to become leaders and teachers in Faith Assembly.
They learned Hebrew and Greek for Bible study and a whole
theological system interpreted according to Freeman's personal
beliefs. Having left Freeman's fold, they were in a quandary. No
other fellowship of Christians could possibly measure up. Other
believers do not show the same sincerity and seriousness about
their faith. Consequently, Beth and her family do not know where
to go. The mainline denominational structure is what drove them
to an informal home fellowship and then to Faith Assembly in the
first place. However, they realize there is no going back to a
group where dead newborn babies are secretly buried by their
parents for fear that the "Body" will find out and their lack of
faith become evident to all.
     Beth had never been able to attain "the faith" as did her
Faith Assembly leader models, and therefore she was unable to
garner the benefits of a fulfilled life. Even though at the
beginning of their involvement, she and her family would buy
Freeman's tapes and books before they would buy food, her zeal
never measured up to the standard. At this point she feels as if
she is "leaving the truth... leaving the Word of God... leaving
everything, and there's no Christianity outside. I guess that's
why I feel lost. I don't know where I'm going; I don't know who I
     Beth now feels extremely, guilty for having minor surgery,
for getting contact lenses as soon as she left Faith Assembly,
and for being "sentimental" about her son. In Faith Assembly,
showing strong affection and protectiveness toward one's children
is tantamount to idolatry. She feels guilt because of the number
of physical ailments her son has had to suffer over the years -
without treatment - and for the fact that he has never visited a
dentist. She harbors guilt for feeling angry toward the Faith
Assembly leaders and toward herself, and most especially for
having left the only anointed work of God on earth.
     Unfortunately, not only is guilt a terrible burden, but
there is a lack of trust toward anyone who is a religious
authority figure. Having been leaders and teachers in Faith
Assembly, Beth and her husband now have no one to turn to for
guidance and support. All of their significant relationships of
the past years are still within the group. Who counsels the
counselors? Beth wants to speak with someone who is "safe," but
she is unable to trust her own abilities of discernment and
evaluation since they were so long labeled as unspiritual.
Consequently, she says she "goes into these periods where all
I'll do is feel like I've died."
     Beth's husband is also having great difficulties. Although
capable of functioning at work, all emotional moorings are gone
in other aspects of his life. He and Beth have very little
relationship, and he has lost what she terms "aspects of his
personality." No longer having a context in which to place
himself outside of his work, he is emotionally isolated and
unable to sort out his experiences with Faith Assembly. He is in
     Beth's son is also having a hard time. The context of his
entire life has changed. Having grown up within Faith Assembly,
nothing is familiar or comfortable now. He had to have all of his
childhood shots in order to enter the sixth grade at a public
school and went into hysterics during his first physical
examination. He refuses to take vitamins or medications, and has
had great difficulty socializing at school. Because his parents
are still emotionally unstable, he has a tenuous and shaky home
life. Many childhood ailments, including a broken foot, have gone
untreated and are still in need of attention.
     Beth, having stifled all of her maternal, affections over
the past ten years, is not even sure if she knows how to love her
son. Within Faith Assembly, she says, "your children are under
subjection to you and you teach them that. If they don't submit
[appropriately] ... if you don't take care of your children, then
the church will ... It breaks you all up!" Beth is confused about
how to raise her son within a new and entirely different world -
the world outside of Faith Assembly.
     Beneath the insecurities of all the sociological and
psychological changes that Beth and her family have experienced
are the shaky underpinnings of a faith in God that is no longer
firmly anchored. Theology, doctrine, and works have been ends in
themselves over the past years. Although the Faith Assembly motto
is "God is faithful," the outworkings of that motto required an
unswerving and unquestioning obedience to Freeman's doctrines and
beliefs. Members, not God, were required to be faithful. So the
"overcomers" and "manifested sons of God" of whom Beth and her
family were supposed to be a part, have experienced neither
freedom in Christ nor liberation from the oppressive
works-not-grace orientation.

     Restoration, after experiencing the effects of an
abusive-church situation, can be a long and painful process. This
can be true even if the exposure to that influence was only of
short duration. Individuals have even been devastated after only
a few short months. Much assistance from family, friends, and the
church is needed.
     Beth and her family were for over ten years exposed to toxic
faith - the sort of abusive religion that made them sick. But now
they are beginning to receive the help that they need. They are
rebuilding relationships and addressing such practical issues as
insurance and health care. And they are in the process of finding
God again - in a new and different light.

And frankly it is so for many ex WCG people. They need to be able
to wash away many false attitudes drilled into them under the WCG
leadership when it was all under the leadership of HWA. Such
people need to re-read the Bible with a cleaned-out mind.
Hopefully this Website will assist - not throwing out the baby
with the bath-water, but throwing out the dirty bath-water and
having the baby lovely and clean - Keith Hunt

     As one can see from Beth's case, leaving an abusive church
situation can be extremely difficult, calling into question every
aspect of life members may have experienced for the period of
time they were involved. I want to discuss the range of emotions
and issues that exmembers may face when they exit an
abusive-church situation. Then I will provide a general overview
of the changing experiences, feelings, and needs that emerge over
the course of weeks, months, and even years after departure.

     Leaving a restricted and abusive community involves what
sociologists call the desocialization process whereby the
individual loses identification with the past group and moves
toward resocialization, or reintegration into the mainstream
culture. There are a number of emotions and needs that emerge
during this transition process. How one deals with these feelings
and affective experiences has a significant impact on the overall
healing that is required.
     Many have described the aftermath of abusive church
involvement as comparable to that of rape victims, or the delayed
stress syndrome experienced by war veterans. It is recovery from
what might be called spiritual rape. You feel like something has
been lost and you will never be the same again.
     Initially, victims may have a total lack of feeling
regarding their experience. They may not evidence pain, anger,
sadness, or even joy at being free. Such lack of feeling may be a
protective mechanism from the strong surge of emotion that is
sure to come. Victims need a safe and secure environment in which
to vent their emotions. Such venting was often labeled as "sin"
in their previous environments, and it may take some time until
they give themselves permission to allow these feelings to
     Whether or not they show any emotion, victims are in great
need of empathetic, objective individuals who will not treat them
like spiritual pariahs or paranoid storytellers. The events they
have just been through are as unbelievable to them as they are to
their listeners. They have experienced great social and
psychological dislocation. An open attitude on the part of
friends, family, and counselors greatly assists the healing
     Feelings of fatigue are common among people when they first
disengage. It is not unusual for them to need to sleep for long
periods. As one former member recalls, "Emotionally drained, I
was often physically impaired ... As a result, it was sometimes
difficult for me to function ... I was frequently emotionally
unavailable to my husband and children, and much of the time I
simply wanted to be left alone."
     Victims are extremely vulnerable at this point. They have
come out of an all-embracing religious environment where there
are no grays, only blacks and whites. While members of
authoritarian groups, they have had to put aside their old
relational and coping styles and learn the ones acceptable to the
group. Often these are antisocial and confrontational. And coming
out of a context where they developed strong dependency needs,
they are extremely suggestible and vulnerable to those whom they
feel they can trust, whether counselor, immediate family member,
or pastor. Betraying that trust can wreak havoc on them, only
validating the warnings of their previous leader concerning the
"outside world," and perhaps driving them back into another (or
even the same) regimented environment where they feel they can at
least control some of the variables. Lack of control can be
     Having been in an environment that frequently includes
spiritual manipulation, emphasis on experience, and focus on
demons, victims of abusive churches may experience a lack of
reality upon leaving the group. They may believe that they can
easily pick up where they left off before entering the group,
regardless of the changes in the larger society and in their
friends and family. They soon discover that reentry does not
involve simply returning to one's previous life-style. In short,
they can't go home. The future may appear to be unrealistically
bright or ominous, depending on the condition in which the person
reentered the mainstream. As one ex-member of the Church of the
Great Shepherd states, "It is an extremely important factor
whether a person leaves an abusive-church situation knowing that
the group was wrong, or believing that he was wrong and is now
sinning against God."

     Vague and undefined anger is common at this point. Victims
may be easily upset and frustrated, yet they have no focus for
their anger. They may also be strongly repelled or fascinated by
spiritual issues, either completely rejecting or consuming
literature that might explain and give reasons for the ordeal
they underwent.
     A letter I received from a woman in the midwest describes
some of these feelings. "It's only been a year since we've left
and there are days when I still feel I have had the air punched
out of me. The cult books really don't address the issue that I
find hardest to reconcile: I can't dismiss these people
completely because, while they are 'cultic' in terms of
psychological control, they still claim Christian doctrine and
therefore they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ."
     Feelings of isolation can be devastating, especially for
those who have walked out of abusive churches on their own
without any support. Victims may feel a sinking sense of loss and
be unable to relate to other people, even in the midst of a
crowd. They are lonely and alone. Very few can understand what
they have been through. As one woman describes it, "The
complexity of the experience is so great that it is impossible to
adequately communicate it to someone who has not gone through
it." Vietnam veterans have expressed very similar feelings.
     If the group from which they defected was tightly
structured, and the victims have cut off all previous ties to
friends and family, they may come out into the real, cold world
without any support systems whatsoever. Consequently, they may
have great difficulty trusting those with whom they have no
history. They have left behind their best friends, their
spiritual family, with whom they have shared intimate, daily
experiences for years. Those same friends now shun them and treat
them as enemies and traitors. Without help, victims may become
suicidal or severely ill, either physically or mentally.
Depression is almost inevitable.
     As one ex-member of a small, East coast church stated, "When
I left the group, I experienced hell. I felt an unbearable
separation from God. I felt that God had left me, that I was
divorced from someone I was deeply in love with. My whole life
was over. I felt like a floating cloud. I felt extreme guilt over
leaving my 'family' and betraying those I loved. I felt that God
would kill me ... I used to take long drives and just scream as
loud as I could, the pain and the guilt were unbearable."

     It is possible, though difficult, to come through such an
experience without a support system of any kind. However, victims
who have not had the opportunity through a support system to sort
through their varied emotions, thoughts, and spiritual confusion,
may end up with deep, unresolved hurts. The development of a new
social-support structure, therefore, is crucial.

     I have had the opportunity to follow the progress of one
young woman who left an abusive-church group on her own. She has
finally reached a point where she understands what happened to
her, but it has taken her several years to sort it all out. "The
majority of my recovery took four years," she writes. "It took me
two and a half years of continual searching for the truth,
gradual healing, encouragement, reading the Bible, and spending
much time alone with God before I was healed and renewed in my
mind enough to face the fact that I had been deceived. The
mental, emotional, and spiritual hold that the group had on me
was not broken until I personally renounced them and divorced
myself from them. It took two and a half years to be ready to do
that. When I did, I was able to see that they had gradually
become my God and took the place of my relationship with him. It
was so painful to face the truth. I remember feeling like God was
watching me and longing for me while I was pouring out my love on
someone else. I'm so glad that he never left me, but was waiting
the entire time for me to come back to him even though I was
convinced while in the group that I was serving him with my whole

How many former WCG people have done that? Sadly to say many just
left and went back into the unconverted world - threw the Bible
and God out of the window and far away. Some have moved into the
off-shoot groups of the WCG, and are still blinded to what they
were once part of, and have never come to see or admit they were
decieved in many ways, especially over believing that organ-
ization was at the time the ONLY true church of God on earth. It
is sad to say that most did not do as this lady above that you
have just read about. On this Website you can read about Jesse,
and how she had to work her way through the experience of the WCG
under HWA leadership. It took her years also, but her love for
God and the Bible won out in the end. So if you are needing to do
a private personal connection once more with God, then I can tell
you He is there. He will help you; He will give you the strength
to work your way through whatever you need to work your way
through. You CAN find a PERSONAL relationship with Him and with
Christ Jesus. You need to find that personal relationship, the
rest will come in time. You need to WALK with Him first, cry out
to Him for help and strength; He will give it to you. You can be
free from deception. You can be healed from doubt, confusion, and
bewilderment. The TRUTH is in God's word (John 17:17) and if you
will hunger and thirst for it, if you will love the truth, you
can find it! Then in time God will lead you to others that also
love the truth and the freedom that truth brings. Then in time
God will lead you to those that He has called to minister in His
work. Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of hell
(death) would never prevail against it. Jesus also said His
disciples would be the "little flock" - "the salt of the earth" -
but His church is out there, scattered maybe, some here and some
there, a few here and manybe more than a few there. God and
Christ STILL have their faithful ministers who are there to feed
the flock; not rule over the flock; not beat down the flock; but
lovingly teach and guide and lead the flock into the sheepfold of
God. If you are in doubt about where God is, then I ask you to
right now get down on your knees and cry out to Him for help and
for guidance and for strength to search for Him, the true light,
and you will find Him and you will find the light - Keith Hunt

     Every person exiting an abusive-church situation has a
different story to tell, and they have differing needs and
emotions. The immediate post-involvement phase may last for weeks
or months, depending on the trauma experienced and the amount of
assistance received. Although there are no clear-cut boundaries
between one wave of experiences and emotions and the next,
exmembers soon begin to have a secondary set of issues to deal
with, particularly as reality begins to set in.

     The real world of conflict, bills, crime, diapers, inlaws,
auto repairs, and employment may have been very far removed from
some victims. Upon their return to life in the "real world,"
defectors will experience a variety of emotions - the strongest
being depression, frustration, and alienation. The world often
appears to be cold and uncaring.
     Individuals exiting after a span of years may come out in
completely different life contexts, bringing with them an
entirely different set of experiences and values. Single persons
may exit married, or, conversely, married persons may leave
divorced. Couples may exit with children, some of whom may be
damaged because of exposure to the group. Parents may have no
idea how to care for their children. They have guilt feelings
over holidays missed, birthdays overlooked. There is a mourning
over lost years, and a desire to return to life-as-it-was. One
ex-member, reflecting on Joel 2.25, told me that he would pray,
"Lord, return those wasted years."
     Along with the need to recapture the past and rebuild
relationships, the ex-member experiences a growing level of
anger, frustration, and powerlessness. The vague anger associated
with first leaving becomes more focused and intense. There may be
strong desires for revenge along with guilt and self-condemnation
for having such feelings. The frustration and powerlessness of
knowing that one has been taken advantage of, and the awareness
that there is little that can be done about it, are very
difficult emotions to handle.

     Questioning one's past experiences also becomes more acute.
Victims begin to experience guilt over a variety of issues. How
could I have let this happen to me? How could I have treated my
parents that way? Have I really left the Lord? Am I in sin and
committing blasphemy at this moment? How could I have let my
children be so abused? What's wrong with me? Was it really all
     Alternatively, ex-members may assume a posture of avoidance,
desiring to retreat from their painful experiences in the group
and wanting to maintain a certain level of anonymity in their
life circumstances. They are not yet ready to handle all of the
issues that seem to be assaulting them. They do not question the
past, and they prefer to lose themselves in harmless and
engrossing diversions like sports, shopping, crafts, novels, and
     If they have been able to maintain employment independent of
the group, ex-members might use their careers as anchors,
something in their lives that has not been turned upside down.
They will throw themselves into their work with abandon, getting
"lost" in their jobs for a period of time in order to sort out
the many problems of transition. Some will seek an entirely new
identity by acquiring a new occupation with its attendant
opportunities to gain new friends.
     During this phase, professional or pastoral counseling can
be of great benefit. Victims begin experiencing a growing
awareness of their own needs. They are not as confused as when
first exiting, and may very well be in need of more than just a
listening ear. Complicated issues need to be addressed and worked
through. Relationships are in need of repair. A safe environment
is essential for venting their feelings, doubts, and questions.
Therapists who blame them for their involvement in the
abusive-church situation, or, who attempt to focus on the
dysfunction that led to their victimization, may hinder the
process of reintegration.

     I have found that individuals often experience great
embarrassment at being so "taken in" by the leader of the group,
and for acting so foolishly during their time of membership. A
Baptist pastor from Massachusetts, the Reverend James Wood, has
counseled at least twenty former members of the Community of
Jesus; he has noticed the same phenomenon. "There is also a sense
of shame, an embarrassment for the things they allowed themselves
to be manipulated into doing." Reverend Wood also observes that
ex-members have a difficult time committing themselves to
anything again. "They feel betrayed. Their commitment was abused
and now they are reluctant to commit again."
     A caring and competent counselor can help sort through these
post-involvement feelings, as well as the anger, frustration, and
depression. It is important for the counselor to keep in mind
that the decision to join probably came out of a sincere desire
to love and serve God.
     However, the ex-member may very well be doubting the
existence of God at this point, and may have focused his or her
anger at God. People should be permitted to express that anger.
They may also be ambivalent about their past commitments and have
mixed feelings about their past membership. One former member
described a canopy of diverse feelings during this phase of her
readjustment, including "intense humiliation, guilt for leaving
loved ones, condemnation, hopelessness, confusion, fear, lack of
purpose for living, deep depression and despair, distrust of
other Christians, abandonment, and betrayal by God."
     The experience of a former member of the communal Emmaus
Christian Fellowship in rural Colorado illustrates many of these
feelings and is typical of the many accounts I have documented in
various groups during years of research. "Two of the elders
yelled at and talked to me for four hours," she reports. "I was
told I was a stubborn, rebellious woman, that I was throwing away
my salvation, hanging onto pagan holidays [Christmas and Easter],
and wanting my boy to play baseball." One elder also told her
"that when he stood before Jesus Christ on judgment day, he would
tell Jesus that I didn't really want to make it to the kingdom of
     Like so many of the ex-members of spiritually abusive groups
that I have interviewed, this woman left with a heavy load of
guilt, somehow feeling that she was to blame and at fault for
what had transpired. "I doubted my salvation. I had lost all my
best friends whom I had shared my life with for five years. I was
literally devastated. I was pregnant at the time, and I lived in
mortal fear that something would be wrong with the baby, that God
had cursed me and my child."
     This woman lived in a very small town. Following her
departure from the group, she found it difficult at first to
confront her former church members in public. "I just couldn't
face anyone. I dreaded going to the post office or the store,
afraid I would run into someone." Then, when she was able to
reach out to them, her efforts were rebuffed, "with either
excuses or by their outright ignoring me." The reason: "I had
broken covenant. I had turned my back on God. I was the worst
kind of heathen there was. I was lost and there was no hope for
me in their eyes."

     As we have already seen, this kind of spiritual intimidation
was also commonly used in Maranatha Christian Churches. "If you
leave without the leader ship's approval," states one former
Maranatha member, "condemnation and guilt are heaped upon you. My
pastor told me he thought it was satanic for me to leave and he
wondered whether I could continue in my salvation experience."
This kind of teaching was used as spiritual leverage to keep
people in the church.

Many were taught this in the old WCG under HWA - if you left you
were putting yourself out of salvation with God, cutting yourself
off from the only true church of God on earth; you were looked
upon by the remaining membership as something to aviod, as
something dirty and contaminated by Satan the Devil - Keith Hunt

     In a now-defunct ultra fundamentalist group in California,
members were informed in writing of the only acceptable way to
leave their church and remain "in God's will":

"1. Pray about the matter alone for three months (husbands and
wives only may consult each other during this period).
2. Bring the matter to the superintendent and leaders for their
guidance. They will pray over the matter for another period of
one to three months. (You are not to mention your desire to leave
to anyone other than your husband or wife during this period as
3. You must abide by the decision of the leaders whether to leave
or not at the end of their deliberation."

     As one former member of this organization commented to me,
"Why bother to pray; the leaders make the final decision in any

     Former members of extremist Christian churches often compare
the process of leaving to marital separation. As one ex-member of
a church in the South describes it: "We who left were labeled
'rebels against God' and cut off from fellowship with those who
remained, those we had worshiped, worked, and prayed with as a
close-knit family for five years. It was like a divorce."
     In a 1985 report about past practices in Great Commission
International (GCI), an organization founded in 1970 by "apostle"
Jim McCotter, former member Jerry MacDonald noted that the group
compared its leadership structure with a marriage. "GCI elders
frequently refer to ones that have left the church as divorcing
themselves from their family. They twist Scripture on God's
hatred of divorce and use it as a coercive technique to keep
people from leaving their churches. Thus, ones who leave are
taught that they have actually left God and sinned. What it
really means is that the elders have usurped the loyalty and the
devotion that is due Christ alone and refocused it on

The exact same thing was done in the WCG under the leadership of
Herbert Armstrong - "the apostle" and his "right hand men of the
ministry" were where your loyaly was to be directed. People were
taught loyalty to the organization. The "apostle" and the elders
had usurped the loyalty and the devotion that is due Christ alone
and refocused it on themselves - Keith Hunt

     MacDonald pointed out that the proof-text for the idea of
"marriage" in relation to elders and leaders in GO is found in
Ephesians 5:22-6:9. The group cited 5:22 ("Wives, submit to your
husbands as to the Lord") as the key to its hierarchical system
of authority. "Just as wives are to be in subjection to their
husbands, so the church is to be in subjection to the elders. It
seems that the elders are the physical manifestation of the
authority of Christ. Just as a family mirrors the church's
relationship to the elders, so a wife and husband in the bond of
marriage reflect the subjection the congregation should have to
the elders."
     In the Great Commission International, much emphasis was
placed on "trusting God's leading through others" - the "others"
being those in leadership. In reality, that meant surrendering
one's independence, obeying in all things, and submitting to the
leaders. As numerous ex-members of GCI have told me, it amounted
to the subjugation of members to the leadership. Failure to
comply with the authoritarian dictates of the group led in some
cases to excommunication, at one time a common practice in GCI
and still a common practice in many abusive-church groups. As
MacDonald noted in 1985:

     If you do not give up your independence and follow in
     harmony, you will be reproved for "sowing discord in the
     body," and if you still do not "harmonize," you will be
     excommunicated for faction-since, according to GO,
     there is no difference between trusting God and trusting a
     GC1 leader.

Those who have gone through the experience of the WCG under
HWA....well this should be ringing home to you, if you can admit
to thinking back on how it all went down as they say, before HWA
died - Keith Hunt

     Many people have told me that excommunication is almost
always accompanied by shunning behavior instituted by the
leadership. For example, whenever members were disfellowshipped
from Community Chapel in Seattle (and that was a regular
occurrence), this action was mentioned in the Sunday bulletin:

"The pastor requests that members of our congregation have no
further contact with [names of the persons involved are listed];
they have been disfellowshipped from this church. Do not call
them for advice or ask their opinion about spiritual and soulical
[Pastor Barnett's own term, equivalent to "fleshly"]
relationships, the church leadership, or any other matter. If
they call you, politely hang up as quickly as possible. These
people are not - and never have been - in a position to give
direction or advice regarding the move of God in our church. Your
cooperation in this matter will help you, and is greatly
appreciated by the pastor."

Wowwww..... sounds very much like the leaders of the old WCG
under HWA. This indeed was what was taught to the congregations
under HWA if anyone left - Keith Hunt

     One need not have psychological training to understand that
such a procedure also operates as an effective control mechanism
within a church. Those who are the "boat-rockers," those who
raise uncomfortable questions and who challenge the leadership in
any way, are prevented from sharing their legitimate concerns and
criticism with other members. Dissent is muffled, and
disinformation can be "spiritualized" or manipulated by the

My oh true this is, and how effective it was used by
the WCG under HWA - cast out anyone who "questioned" anything
about "the apostle" or how the "ministry" was ruling and
governing things - mark then and cast them out quick as the blink
of an eye, that way the rulership keeps tight rule and keep
"loyalty" to them and the top leader - Keith Hunt

     Even while admitting how badly they have been treated by an
abusive church, former members may vacillate between rejecting
the past and defending the group they have left. In the latter
instance, they may feel like they are betraying their old
"spiritual family." Many times while talking with ex-members I
have heard them speak positively about the close, interpersonal
ties that they developed while in the group and how difficult it
is to recreate that intimacy on the outside. Or they defend the
worship style of the group.

     Another common response I have noticed among former members
is the feeling that they were alone in their struggle - even
thinking they were perhaps "a little crazy" for having had such
experiences. "Am I the only one to have experienced this kind of
thing?" many would ask. Discovering a published article on the
phenomenon has also benefitted some victims greatly because they
realize that they are not alone. Even more effective is
encountering someone who has experienced the same abuse. "There
is actually someone else out there like me who understands!"
     The best persons to reach out to church abuse victims are
former victims. As one ex-member puts it, "The two main things
that helped me more than anything were reading the Bible
frequently and talking to people who had had similar
experiences." I am aware of several informal support groups that
have formed to serve the needs of individuals leaving specific
organizations. The Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in
Albany, Ohio, is a unique, residential counseling facility that
provides professional assistance to victims of spiritual abuse.
Its capable director, Dr. Paul R. Martin, psychologist and
evangelical Christian, was once a member of Great Commission
International (GCI), an organization mentioned in this book.
     It may take victims years to sort out experiences, begin to
make definitive choices for themselves, and reach a point of full
integration into the mainstream culture. This is especially true
if they have received no support or assistance. One ex-member of
the Church of the Great Shepherd reports, "During the first year
after leaving, all I did was hide from everyone. I grew a beard
and a moustache, let my hair grow long, and took nondescript,
low-paying jobs. I didn't see my parents, my brother, no one.
And, I thought God was going to kill me. The second year, I
planned on leaving for Alaska, but then a job dropped into my
lap, and I took it. I started looking around for a church to
attend, but I just couldn't take it. I moved into my friend's
garage, remodeled it, and just lived day-to-day. This is my third
year out, and I feel like I can finally look back on the
experience and say that God is using it to teach me wisdom about
the world. I know that God is not condemning me and I can go on.
I am attending a church now, have made some new friends, and feel
like I can live again."

It took Jesse (her experience on this Website) many years to "get
it sorted out" but she finally did, and she finally came to God
and Christ and the Bible with a new heart and mind. She still
loved truth, did not throw out the baby with the bathwater. It
was my pleasure to have her as a friend and co-worker in the Lord
for the last 5 years of her life. I hope the reader will take the
time to go to her Website (which is here on my Website) and learn
about Jesse - Keith Hunt

     Even as victims begin to assimilate their abusive
experiences and adjust to normal life, certain problems may
persist, stemming from the programming they experienced while in
the group. There may be difficulty relating to supervisory
personnel in the workplace. Understandably, religious authority
figures represent a major source of uneasiness on the long road
back. Victims may also have difficulty trusting new friends,
workmates, and acquaintances, all the while feeling guilty for
having a judgmental attitude. There may be deep fears -
abandonment by a spouse, death of one's children, or never again
having a date--that are triggered by certain circumstances.
     Additionally, healing may need to occur between victims,
friends, and family, including spouses who were pitted against
one another by the church leader, children who verbally abused
their parents, and friends who were rejected when they expressed
     As confidence grows and decisions become easier to make, the
reawakening of spiritual needs and desires will occur. After
months or years apart from conventional Christianity, former
members may again want to ask questions like, What does it mean
to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? How do I
love God more than my own life? Can I really live out
discipleship without being hurt again? Can I share all things in
common with others and not be part of an abusive church?

     The idealism and zeal for God that initially drove these
persons into abusive-church situations is now coupled with
insights on distorted spirituality and human manipulation that is
more than academic. They feel "wiser for the experience."
     However, a benign naivete on the part of both old and
potentially new friends regarding spiritually abusive churches
often makes it difficult to establish understanding
relationships. By this I mean that ex-members often sense that
they are the objects of uncertain acceptance when they try to
share what they have been through. Unstated though clearly
communicated sentiments like, "There had to have been something
wrong with you to get involved in a church like that," can be a
real discouragement to those hoping to regain normalcy.

     A bit of advice for those of us who have been fortunate
enough to avoid any experience of spiritual abuse: When you
encounter someone from an authoritarian church background, listen
to them with an open mind, and don't perpetuate unkind
stereotypes. Above all, they need our love and acceptance.

To be continued


You will find a lot more information and help regarding the
experience and work-your-way-out-of and move on from abusive
churches, on Jesse's Website located on this Website.
Keith Hunt

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