Friday, 15 June 2018

CULT SURVIVOR - HERITAGE OF FEAR



HERITAGE OF FEAR


I flew 2,000 miles and spent a week with an ex. I didn’t ask my husband for his consent. No, we don’t have an open relationship. Eeww!

Sarah is a different kind of ex. I became acquainted with her via Facebook. We belong to a group that’s a safe and private place where ex-Message believers and survivors can vent and cry, be affirmed, recognize how we were harmed, compare our symptoms of PTSD, and understand how scriptures were twisted to make us comply. 

The Message is a pseudo Christian religious cult that believes the leader, even though he died in 1965, was an end time prophet who will arise again like Christ, and call the bride of Christ into a rapture. Those who don’t believe this or who leave, are condemned to hell. Salvation isn’t through Christ, it’s through believing that every word that came out of the mouth of the leader is, “the voice of God.” 

What kind of individual joins a cult? The breakup of a marriage, the loss of a job, moving to a new area and not knowing anyone, being poor, overworked, neglected, having been abused as a child, those seeking meaning in their life – any of these things and more can make someone open and more susceptible. 

Charismatic people draw in the vulnerable. They are skilled on knowing who to target. Cult recruitment is as easy and as ordinary as the seduction used by a lover or an ad campaign to sell a beautiful car. The difference is that a cult is more powerful. It wants your soul, body, and mind. A cult is based on fear instead of acceptance and love. 

I joined the Message because my father did. I was fourteen years old. He dragged his family along. I believe my father was looking for an excuse to rule like God.

Deborah’s trust in people was violated when she was a child. As a young woman, she looked for a group she believed would teach men how to control their pride.  She sought healing and acceptance in a place of worship that initially, embraced her as a sister. 

The words cult and religion were once synonymous. One word could substitute for another but not anymore. The differences are crucial. Many religions may begin as a cult but eventually assimilate into mainstream society. 

A religion provides guidelines to its members on how to attain an afterlife by worshiping a higher power, achieve personal success and fulfillment in their private lives and families. There is a gathering of people with common values who perform rituals and set guidelines. Many religions may begin as a cult but eventually assimilate into mainstream society. 

A cult may begin as a religion but extreme or excessive devotion and its many rules set it apart. Members of a cult are usually bonded together by a persuasive leader who maintains a strict and central hierarchy.  Most cults require a high level of commitment to a philosophy that stresses, “We are right. Everyone else is dead wrong.” The leader creates rules that must be followed in order to obtain promised rewards. Guilt, fear, shame, and prejudice against non-members are used to coerce and encourage members to submit. Disobedience leads to condemnation and shunning by the group. 

Another defining characteristic of a cult is the belief a member must be set apart. This often includes emotionally distancing members away from friends and families of origin if they do not belong. This departure away can also be evident by living in a designated physical location - or looking, living, or being atypical within a crowd. It hurts to be different but these differences give the members more reason to huddle together and not mingle with ‘the world.’ There’s a deliberate dissociation between mainstream behavior and dress and that of the cult. 

Long dresses, sleeves, uncut hair piled in a bun, no makeup, no jewelry, no nail polish, these things set a Message woman apart. Add: neglect your education, stuff any dreams, marry young, have kids, shut up, and submit. The men preach and practice misogyny and they are in control of the rules, providing food, shelter, and salvation. 

Years ago, Deborah and I married Message men. We had children. Before long, our husbands ruled our homes with the bruises of abuse. We experienced cruelty. We were denied when we would cry out for help. We felt betrayed. 

We became disillusioned. Cognitive dissonance is a dissociation between what is true and what is not. The Message took us all the way back to the Old Testament when redemption was earned by obedience to rules and the sacrifice of animals. Two thousand years ago, Christ brought a message of salvation through His life, his death, and His grace alone. That is our heritage if we choose to accept it as true. 

Independently and apart from each other, Deborah and I sorted through the lies. We battled depression, guilt, and fear as we battled our way out of the Message cult. We risked leaving our families behind. I did. We survived the shame of being on welfare until we were able to find work. By the grit of our hungry bellies, we raised our children, earned degrees, rejoined society, and discovered the colors of joy. 


Independently and apart from each other, Deborah and I sorted through the lies. We battled depression, guilt, and fear as we battled our way out of the Message cult. We risked leaving our families behind. I did. We survived the shame of being on welfare until we were able to find work. By the grit of our hungry bellies, we raised our children, earned degrees, rejoined society, and discovered the colors of joy.






(Before and After - from prairie dresses to earrings)



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True Crime Memoir – Survivor: As Long As I Breathe
is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a religious cult based on misogyny,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.

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Joyce A Lefler is the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.
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