I never thought I’d join a cult, but there I was neck deep in control, manipulation, and fully brainwashed. The surprising thing is that it didn’t happen over night. It took days, weeks, months, and even years to fully engulf me, and it took just as long for me to see the truth. This is my story.
For you to truly understand this story I have to go back, way back to my childhood. That way you will understand what drove me to make the decisions I did.
Now I have to say, as you’re reading this story remember that the relationship between my father and I has come a long way since my childhood. We aren’t the same people and even through the things that happened are still hurtful, I’ve healed past them and we are in a much better place. Remember that.
So, my childhood was far from sunshine and rainbows. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, poor, and lonely. My best friend was my brother and looking back I don’t think I would have made it without him. He was my anchor in the midst of chaos, even when he didn’t realize it. To be honest I think this story would be filled with more tragedy if he and my older sister didn’t play such vital roles in my life. They were a source of stability and comfort for me that was never wavering. That grounded me when nothing else could.
Now my childhood wasn’t as bad as some have experienced, but it also wasn’t filled with magical unicorns. My dad worked constantly for meager pay just to put food on our table and a roof over our head. Each year he would go down south to work their cotton season to earn extra money. Every year, without fail, he would leave shortly before my birthday. One year he was scheduled to leave a day or two after my birthday. That was the best present I could have asked for. The thought of getting to spend my actual birthday with my dad felt like someone had just told me I won the lottery.
Unfortunately, that dream was crushed with a 500 pound boulder. The day before my birthday the company called and said they needed him to come that day. He hung up, packed his bag and left. As he drove away I stood in the drive way bawling my eyes out cursing God and every man in between.
Between my dad constantly working and our money problems, his stress level was at about a million. Because of this, his anger and frustrations were usually taken out on me. Honestly I don’t know why. Was I an easy target, was it because I was a girl, was it because I was his baby girl? Who knows.
My dad isn’t one to talk, and especially because of the way and culture in which he was raised, means that your feelings aren’t up for discussion. Love and relationships seemed to be a pointless topic or action because his number 1 job was earning money and providing for the family. Everything else came 2nd or even 3rd.
I remember as a child telling my dad I love you only to be met with silence. This crushed my little 7 year old heart. As I got older I got more stubborn. (I know me stubborn, who knew.) When I would say I love you I would just repeat myself until he would say it back. I wasn’t backing down until I heard those 3 little words. I made sure I always won, but it still hurt.
On top of all this I was molested by a close person to our family at about the age of 7. No one knew. I felt too much shame or hurt to open up about it. I even thought it was my fault. How could I tell my parents what happened? They would just blame me or even hate me for it. Even though I know now looking back how ridiculous and false those thoughts where, at the time it all felt beyond true to me.
Thankfully shortly after I was molested this person (for other reasons) was never around our family again. Little did my parents know that cutting him from our life was the safest thing they did for me.
The thing about sexual trauma is that it takes years to heal from and through the process it usually causes more trauma along the way. So, the road to healing is a long and hard one to travel.
Because of all of this trauma I was left a broken and hurt child. This made me look for love in all the wrong places. Throughout junior high and the beginning of high school I dated boy after boy after boy. Maybe one of them would love the pain away. Maybe one of them would save me from myself.
Surprise, they didn’t.
If anything, they added to the trauma.
Since boys weren’t filling the gigantic hole in my heart I turned to Jesus. You see my parents weren’t religious. As a very young child we went to church as a family but after the 2nd pastor in a row had an affair and ran away with the secretary of the church, my parents decided to never go back. The hypocrisy was too much for them.
My mom always, and still to this day, believes in letting us find our own way in life, especially with religion. For those who were raised in a devoted Christian or religious household growing up may not under stand this, but I’m beyond grateful my mom didn’t push something down my throat. This allowed me to find and make my own decision in life and ultimately strengthened my faith and love for God more than I can explain to you.
Finding Jesus was a process, and over time it seemed to be the answer to all my problems. Over the following years I grew closer and closer to God and my relationships with boys lessened.
Then in my junior year of High School I met ‘The Ministry.’
Disclaimer: All names here on out are changed to protect identity and privacy.
At first this ministry felt like it was a gift straight from Heaven. I saw that they had something I wanted, and I was willing to do about anything to get it.
Looking back, I think what they had was friendship and love and that to me was priceless. I was willing to give up anything and everything to have that same level of friendship and love they had for each other, and I did.
I signed a covenant and agreed to never listen to secular music, never watch anything even mildly inappropriate on TV, never cuss, never get a tattoo, never drink alcohol, never date, and basically sacrifice all my dreams and goals for this ministry. They would say I was making this sacrifice for God but in reality I was making sacrifices to advance this ministry and their vision, not God.
One of the biggest reasons I was so willing to give up my life for this cause was because of the leader, we will call him Jack.
Jack was the ‘father’ I always thought I wanted. He was attentive, involved, interested, and loving. He made you feel like part of the group and that he truly cared for you. To have this kind of father figure in my life was, to me, priceless.
Now here’s where the cult tendencies started to show up and show up big.
After I was in the ministry for a couple years I was completely disengaged with my own family. I didn’t spend Christmas or even Thanksgiving with them. I called them maybe once a month, if that. I hated being around them because I knew they didn’t understand the ministry and, even without words, I knew they judged it.
Not only did I disconnect from my family, but I was pressured to even disconnect from members who left the ministry. I remember when I reached out to someone who left, the leader sat me down and asked me why I was still talking to them. He told me I needed to work on letting things go and that trying to hold onto that friendship was unhealthy.
While I was disconnecting from everyone who was once important to me, I was also shamed for having friends who were outside the ministry. Casual friends seemed to be fine but if the relationship started to develop any further it was discouraged. He would make us feel as if having other friends allowed them to influence our thoughts and lives. The crazy thing is that these friends were also Christians.
The control got worse the more time passed. It wasn’t so controlling for some members, but for those of us that were what I like to call ‘flight risk’ members, it seemed to be unbearable. It was as if he knew that he could lose us at any moment so to combat that he just tried to control us more and more.
I remember having to basically get permission and approval to go on a mission trip to Panama for a month and then again, a couple years later to go on a study abroad trip to New Zealand and Australia. Before I left for Panama, I was told by another leader that if I didn’t bring at least 1 person to Christ the whole trip was a waste of my time. I’m not going to explain how absurd that comment was.
When I expressed my desire to go on the study abroad trip I was made to feel guilty about wanting to leave for such a long time and that the ministry would suffer during my loss. After explaining the benefits of the trip to the leader’s wife she was on board with me going and was the only reason I was ‘given permission’ to apply.
Any time we wanted to go out of town for any reason we had to clear it with Jack. Most of the time he discouraged us to go and when we did go 90% of the time we were made to feel bad about it.
My 3rd year in college I met a couple members of the University’s drumline. When they found out I had been on drumline in High School and loved it they encouraged me to try out. After much consideration and trying day after day to find a way to make it work I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Why? Because I would have to miss every other Saturday (our services were Staruday nights) because of performances at football games and I knew missing that many services was not going to fly with Jack. So, I didn’t even try out.
The sad thing is, later that week they told me I would have made the drumline be default because not enough people tried out. This is one of my biggest regrets in college.
Dating was a big fat NO. This was because it was distracting and lead to unwanted temptations. We were taught to only court and before you even got to court you had to believe or think you would end up marring the person or it was just a waste of your time. The trick was that for us to even start courting anyone the person had to be “approved” by the leader.
One time a guy liked me, and the leader told me to pursue it because this guy was a good man with a stable job and would be able to provide for me and our future kids. After I started to purse him, Jack told me to stop because he didn’t feel like this guy was good husband material because while he was shopping, he saw this guy bump another girl’s butt with a grocery cart. Apparently, that was all it took to not be considered “husband material.”
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Another time a guy asked me to go get ice cream with him and I had to say no because I wasn’t allowed to date. ICE CREAM… that was it and I had to say no.
I tried to leave the ministry multiple times. The thing that kept me from leaving was the fact that Jack kept telling me that if I left the ministry my parents and family would never come to know the Lord and it would be my fault, so I stayed. Out of guilt and manipulation I stayed.
SHAME, JUDGEMENT, & RIDICULE
We claimed to be people who loved Jesus and followed the Bible, but we were some of the most judgmental people I’ve ever known. We judged and shamed people who left the ministry. We judged people who attended other churches by saying they didn’t love Jesus like we did because they weren’t willing to make the sacrifices like we did. We thought we were the most holy thing to walk this plant after Jesus. Everyone talked about each other behind their backs like petty teenage girls. This even includes talking about other members of the ministry. Gossip was an everyday occurrence and I’m ashamed to say I partook just like everyone else.
Most of the members were college students. A good chunk of us got financial aid to not only help pay for school but it helped support us during the semester. Jack knew when this money would come in and a week or so before it would arrive, he would ‘remind’ us to tithe because the Bible tells us to.
Now I’m all about tithing, but I’m not ok with being manipulated and guilt tripped into tithing. Especially when that leader never had a normal job outside of this part time ministry that didn’t even have its own building, spent money on trips and dinners more than a family with 2 incomes would spend, never budgeted or even tried to make wise decision with their money.
The thing that made me realize how irresponsible he was with money was one semester I got my check in after my classes were paid for. It was about $4,000. After I tithed 10% I gave Jack a separate check for $1,000. This check was supposed to only be used to pay for the girls covenant rings we had wanted and told we were going to get for over a year. Did we ever get the rings? NOPE.
This is when I started questioning to myself and realized how irresponsible our leader was with money while also telling us we needed to budget and make wise choices. If we went through our money too quick, we were talked to and made to feel as if we were irresponsible and immature. While he would take his family out to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost daily and tried to convince us it was cheaper than home cooked meals. It was hypocrisy at its finest.
About 2 years after I left, I reconnected with an x member and found out even more of what financial problems and irresponsible decisions Jack had made. Since all of that is hear-say I’m not going to write about it here, but it did confirm my already strong opinion that Jack never made responsible decisions with his money or the money we tithed to the ministry.
THE MOMENT THE VALE LIFTED
The summer after my 4th year of college my aunt offered me a summer job 4 hours away working with autistic children and I took it. Honestly the only reason I took it was because I would get school credit for it, meaning I was 1 step closer to earning my degree.
This is the summer my life changed forever.
While I was there, I visited a church and met my now current husband and his whole family. Over the following weeks I got to know them all very well and realized they had a freedom and love for God I had never experienced before.
One night while having dinner with him and his sister, his mom stopped by to drop something off. While she was there, she told a story and in it she said the word ‘bitchin’ and my jaw about hit the floor. I was lead to belive people who cussed couldn’t really love God and were misguided, but here this woman was with a strong, beautiful, and loving relationship with God and was also a pastor of a local ministry school.
This is the moment the veil lifted, and I started to see all the manipulation, control, and flat out lies.
Over the following weeks I was not only realizing that I needed to escape but I was also falling in love with Tyler. Remember dating was a No No, so this put me in a situation full of turmoil. Our love story is a story all in itself but what you need to know from that was what happened the moment they all realized I was leaving the ministry, moving away, and had fallen in love.
I was told I wasn’t being obedient to the Lord.
I was told I couldn’t hear from God and I was misguided.
I was told I was being sinful, that this was the devil’s plan for my life, and I was letting him win.
I was told my family’s salvation would suffer if I didn’t return to the ministry.
Jack called my husband “an old man after young booty.” (We’re only 5.5 years apart in age.)
When we announced our engagement about a month or so later, they all believed I was pregnant and made bets on when I would have the baby. (Little did they know our first time together was the night of our wedding.)
The sad thing is what I’ve shared with you above isn’t even the full story. To tell the whole story I’d have to write a book, but by now you should be able to see how unhealthy and toxic this ministry was to not only me but everyone who was a member or attended the services.
WHY I’M SPEAKING OUT
The thing about controlling and manipulative relationships like this, is that they happen to everyone. My hope by telling my story is that others will learn the warning signs and be able to identify and sever these unhealthy and toxic relationships in their life. For those of us that get pulled into these relationships in the name of the Lord, it can be extremely difficult to remove ourselves because we are lead to believe that our salvation or the salvation of others hangs in the balance.
Hear me when I say this….
God is bigger than your decision to cut off a relationship.
Someone’s salvation isn’t contingent on you staying in a manipulative relationship.
Having a relationship with God isn’t based on a set of man-made rules to follow it’s about a heart change and everlasting relationship with him.
Manipulation in any form by your church leaders or pastors is unacceptable. PERIOD.
No one deserves to be in a manipulative relationship. If you or anyone you know needs help navigating how to cut off or escape a manipulative or controlling relationship like this please reach out to me. I’m here for you. Email me at Laci@TheDeeplyRootedMom.com