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Signed: Deep Pain

SPIRITUALLY ABUSIVE CHURCH

Groups that are considered to be "orthodox" or "evangelical" can become cultish.

I was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian family. My parents were great, loved me, hugged me, never abused be. I did not have any problem with authority. I was not very prone to think about religious things or God or Jesus even though I had "accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior" I believed in the Bible and never doubted for a second that Christ was my only way to be saved.

When I was 15 I had an experience that can only be termed "Charismatic" at a Christian Rock Concert. It changed my life. Suddenly God mattered. My relationship with him was very personal. I began to read the Bible voraciously. I felt like I was called by God to go into ministry. I was a good kid, and made it all the way through college at Baylor University with a degree in religion. I was a virgin, never drank, did not lie, steal, etc. I was easy to confront and was involved with many bible studies and stuff that challenged me to be about prayer, evangelism, bible study, etc. I served as a youth minister for awhile. Yet while I was in college I got involved with a church called Highland Baptist in Waco, Tx.

I really like the people I met there. They were "commando" christians-- intense about God. And I noticed that they did not seem to judge based on appearance but on what I thought was devotion to God and the local church. Yet a lot of them were a little goofy. For many it seemed like their whole lives revolved around the church. Highland had undergone a charismatic revival in the 80's. Then it had a scandal. Then it came back from it strong. It seems the mindset around the church was "we were cocky, then God humbled us, so now--we are REALLY SPECIAL"

They constantly taught some contradictions. They always said that they loved the rest of the churches in town. But in reality, they see themselves as specially gifted by God.

It is a unique place with incredible contemporary music, many intelligent and intense people, and a track record for growth and miracles occurring there. While I was there they taught me that in order to truly be a minister I needed to submit myself to their authority.

They said that I should listen to God first but in reality, what I experienced was that they had formed an exclusive idea of how to follow God and be a Christian. To be outside there church (and control) they would just say "bless you" but if you opened yourself up and listened to them, they really wanted control of your life. But it was sneaky, so sneaky I am not sure if they realize it. They would not tell you "You must submit or you will get no where in ministry and life" They would get up and give positive stories about people who submitted and how they became "in the center of God's will, men and women of God, etc"

They constantly stressed being different from both the world and most Christians. R movies? no way. Not for "serious" Christians. Do you have to pray all the time and not think about dating much at all? if asked they would say "No!" But their actions and who they favored showed that if you dedicated your life and time to the church and dropped out of other organizations, you would be awarded with moving up the ranks. I had always been a creative, sometimes radical, "life o the party" guy.

I was systematically counseled to change my personality and style to fit theirs. It reminds me of some churches in Houston in which some psychologists did a study. They took three churches and did a personality test on the members. One of the churches was very much moving towards a cultic style. People spent their lives around the church. Originally, all three churches tested as having all 16 personality types. Over a few years, the two normal churches still had all 16 types. The people at the last church had all changed to fit the personality of the pastor. Spooky.

After I left Highland I was told they did a similar test there and almost all those in leadership tested to be like the type of the college minister (the one who really ran things) and the type most suited to take orders from his type.)

The year after college I spent in a training school at the church. I began to experience panic attacks and what I know now was a chemical depression. When I came to them, they basically told me "I you want to be a really spiritual Christian, you must have God break you."

To quote James Fowler, the author of Stages of Faith, "Nothing is sadder than to ask someone to deny themselves when there is no self to deny.

During the lowest and most difficult of times, I was told by the college minister (Jimmy Siebert) that, "I had born more fruit than I ever had before." He then asked me to go on missions staff. My first thought was, "The reason he thinks I am bearing more fruit is because everything I do know is known by him, whereas before my ministry was on campus, at the BSU, overseas on mission field, etc. They continually promised me that they would help me through my struggles. I had a complete nervous breakdown that April. I was very suicidal. Within two weeks my sister and I had left the church and I had quit the school and left the staff I had just joined.

I can only say that in my five years there I feel they took God away from me. A Christian fiction author told me later that in her experience with Highland, they taught you to be dependent on their style of things and the church itself. One girl recently said, "if I am not involved with a small group at the church, I am vulnerable, open to anything." It is a case of the church trying to be the parent. To their credit, they have tried to change things some. But it is tough to change something when it is your idol.

I feel really sorry and scared for them, for I think that they will be surprised when they realize that they may love God but that they love their own way of thinking and their own group too, too much. They are somewhat affiliated with the Vineyard Christian Association, a group that, while not institutionally abusive like Highland, has a ministry style and philosophy that can sometimes become very negative. Incidentally, some vineyards are healthy.

HBS got its teachings on growing your own leaders in a hierarchical, controlling manner from the group People of Destiny, and the base what is normal in life on the most radical and strange Christians out there, the Christian mystics and missionaries who were most "over the top" but still orthodox. This style only works for those few who are like or similar to those it is based on. It is a church based not on the gospel but on men who try to live the gospel but ultimately force others to be like them.

The only person in leadership I can speak well of was the one who came to me and apologised. He said that he realized how they had ignored my cries and my pain until it was too late.

Signed DeepPain