Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Boiling The Frog - When Churches Turn Into Dangerous Cults


Yesterday blogger Libby Anne wrote a very disturbing piece titled "I Was in a College Cult".. Why was it disturbing to me? Because it was highly triggering because it almost described my last three years at my old church. I was awake much of last night ruminating on the supernatural cult the church turned into after turning to healing ministries.

Like Libby Anne I'm going to ask you to stop and read this first before proceeding onto my story of how weird the church and I got towards the end - The Seven Signs You're in a Cult in The Atlantic Magazine

Got it? Yep.

What happened was sort of like that old story about putting the frog in a big pot of water and the frog not realizing till it was too late that he was being boiled alive. Our church turning into a cult happened a lot like that.

Our church was a typical part-Quiverfull, part-Evangelical, part-Fundamentalist non-denominational church that pops up in the Bible belt area like mushrooms in the forest after a hard rain. I'm not sure exactly who brought into our church the ideas of healing and healing conferences but it happened. I seem to remember an East Coast evangelist/profit/healer that used the phrase "Wow Mom" while applying football jargon to spiritual issues, like the retired high school football coach he was. He ushered it in I think.

We started studying books like "Christ The Healer" by F. F. Bosworth and our pastor preached that healing was for everyone, that Christ took all sickness to the cross when He was crucified and that as a result the Devil had no right to put sickness on anyone. It had been paid for on the cross.

The church cycled through healing teachings from The Healing Rooms and other Evangelical churches. There was a man brought in to teach healing that said that most illness was the result of spinal misalignment. I was told my severe asthma was because one of my arms was 3/4 of an inch longer than the other one. They prayed and manipulated my arms until both were the same length. I was told to go home and throw away all my medicines, take that step of faith to prove I trusted in God to completely heal me.

And the ideas pushed about healing became increasingly strange: If you talked negatively about your body or paid much attention to your illness or the symptoms you were putting a curse on your own body and opening a door to Satan to make you sick. Your thoughts, actions and words had to profess that you were 100% cured. Very, very close to what is being pushed in the story told in the book "Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood", the same sorts of horrible stories about people that didn't change their attitudes or embrace their healings the right way, coded Christian-ese language spoken only.

Even as I ended up at the hospital a number of times with my breathing problems, woke up once entubated in ICU from an attack and ended up having to have a complete hysterectomy to help with a bleeding disorder I have, I still talked the talk and walked the walk enough that I was selected for the healing team and the altar ministry

Then things got very weird.

During the altar ministry training the books we started to read morphed into the supernatural - things about being a spiritual warrior, demon-chasing off, cleansing houses and individuals, casting out demons, discerning evil spirits and dealing with them, claiming God's favor for and in everything.

Example? Once we did an outdoor soup kitchen ministry in the poor part of town and it was threatening and spitting rain. I stood up in the middle of the square and ordered the weather to clear in the name of Jesus because we prayer warriors were there to feed God's people and the rain was "Satan's PLOT" to keep us from going about our Father's business. The rain stopped and I proudly strutted off thinking, "Wow, it's all so simple, why haven't we been doing this all along? Taking authority over Satanic plots and actions and forcing them to yield." I cringe thinking about that moment now. Talk about deluded. But I wasn't the only one...

Every Saturday we opened the church tor healing prayer and ended up doing a lot, and I mean a lot, of exorcism rituals along with prayer and proclaiming God's desire was to heal everyone, if the healing didn't happen, then there was some open doorway to the Devil that prevented the healing. We asked probing and prying questions of the of the prayee and led them through prayers of repentance over whatever opened the door and firmly closed it. We made people denounce all sorts of things as idols, like televised sports or even focusing too much on one of their children. It all led back to the Devil and his imps.

Only once in those years did I see what looked like a full fledged "Exorcist" type encounter - and I wrote about it and the church's unnatural obsession with demonology several years ago in the post titled "Exorcism"

From that post:


But on the other hand I clearly recall an evening about eight years ago when I was one of the chaperones at our Old Church (referred to from now on as OC) during a teen worship all night lock in. We were doing creative worship when I heard a growl, looked to my left just in time to see one of the youth slam to the floor, growling and foaming at the mouth. The kid began to speak in weird demonic sounding voices. It took six young men over six foot tall and big to hold him down. As I watched my friend Lynda she performed a several hour exorcism on him. The things I saw and heard that night will always be with me. I have no explanation for it at all except to say if that kid was acting then he should receive an Academy Award. I didn't participate in the actual exorcism even if I was trained, I shepherded the rest of the kids to the other end of the sanctuary and lead them in a prayer circle while the screaming, thrashing, barfing and animalistic behaviors were going on and they were holding him down praying. What I witnessed seemed to be genuine but... I don't know what to think.
Looking back I'm so glad I didn't jump right in and help remove the 'demon' but things just spiraled from there. We started to prayer walk the streets and make a concerted effort to drive the tarot card readers, I Ching people, palm readers and others that were not Christian from the Charlottesville, Virginia historic downtown mall area by prayer walking, setting up to give prophesy over folks and act not too much different than those we were trying to pray away.

By the time my husband dragged me out of the old church we would routinely have knock down drag out verbal fights about the issue of God's healing, depression, demons, anything supernatural. Once we on the prayer teams started to take dominion over and cleanse houses of demons it was a weirdness too far for Jim. We left shortly thereafter.

I look back, thinking about the words I spoke, my believing in a demon under every bush, the arrogant ways I would pray to bring about what I thought God's will was and how much time we wasted on demons and spiritual strongholds, and I am ashamed of myself.

Sure, Jesus healed folks and He drove out demons, but... he didn't go off the deep end into exorcisms, demonology, looking for evil, being inwardly proud of his praying these things away. But we did all that.

We were a cult and I helped bring that about. May the victims of our cult forgive me.



1 comment:

Ahab said...

"There was a man brought in to teach healing that said that most illness was the result of spinal misalignment."

This sounds a lot like chiropractic pseudoscience, but I wasn't aware that some people blend it with Christianity. Weird!

"...the books we started to read morphed into the supernatural - things about being a spiritual warrior, demon-chasing off, cleansing houses and individuals, casting out demons, discerning evil spirits and dealing with them, claiming God's favor for and in everything."

This sounds a lot like the rhetoric of the New Apostolic Reformation. Did your church have a Charismatic/Apostolic slant, by any chance?

Unfortunately, NAR practices are spreading, so your church was hardly alone. I don't think NAR-type superstition is healthy, since it encourages delusion and magical thinking.