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Have You Ever Been in an Abusive Church?

Updated on August 5, 2013

Fantasy based on Religious Abuse in Childhood Church

Cover Design & Illustration Mimi O'Garren
Cover Design & Illustration Mimi O'Garren | Source

My Story

I grew up in an abusive, cult-like church.

It taught racism, sexism, homophobia and practiced child-beating to "break children's rebellious spirits." I felt pretty broken when I left, but I don't think they completely destroyed my spirit.

I was brought into the church by well-meaning parents who feared to "disobey God." They heard a man on a radio program. I was 6 months old at the time, so my input wasn't considered.

The man said he was a prophet of God! He began yelling proclamations of doom, and my worried parents believed him. I suffered many emotional and physical abuses under this "religious regime."

I’ve struggled to rid myself of the misinformation and life-crippling teachings from the time I left the church, about 17 years ago.

Source
Tent at Big Sandy Texas, "Feast of Tabernacles"
Tent at Big Sandy Texas, "Feast of Tabernacles" | Source

Tell Me Your Story for future Nina's Story Books

There are many people out there who are also struggling to recover from religious abuse. If you are one, I would love to hear your story. I have written one book in the Nina's Story trilogy, and I am currently working on the second. I have created an intriguing fictional world in which to tell the secrets of cult-building. I care about what you've been through, and I want to make this your story too. I would love to weave into my books, real life experiences of religious abuse, in order to help those still mentally held captive by monstrous leaders. Just seeing the NEED to get out is a daunting task for someone (as I was) who truly believes with their whole heart, that the church leader is speaking for God. Often getting out doesn't change a person's thinking. They still carry the doubts, worries and fears around - even if they no longer physically belong to a cult.

Some confused and fearful people in my church committed suicide because of these issues. This happened close to the time that I left the church. Another friend’s suicide, years earlier when I was single, had shocked me into realizing that I should not take my own life. I had been contemplating the idea because of my misery in the church. I think an important qualification of a healthy organization is the ability to refrain from driving its members to kill themselves. Yet I know that there are many, even today in our "enlightened" world that are still trapped in churches like the one I grew up in.

After the leader of my childhood church died, changes were introduced to bring the church into the mainstream. This brought a fierce backlash from members that feared the changes. Organized religion seems to be set up for abusive situations. The nature of many churches - and the goal of so many pastors is to tell you what God is thinking. We want so much to know this, that we fall for their tricks over and over again. I admit that some of the pastors are brain-washed themselves, and are convicted that their twisted teachings are from God. Someone taught them and they are sincerely passing on the misinformation. Even so, we don't have to continue to follow them in their delusions. It is up to us to realize what's happening. When your mind has been kidnapped and held for ransom, it is often torturous to let go of the kidnapper. You have come to see him as your protector. "This sinful world" becomes your enemy. I've been there. It's a tragic shame when the movement of your mind is at the mercy of the puppeteer's strings.

The entrapment of followers is successful because of the leader's often insidious, yet charismatic and captivating way of convincing them that if they don't obey his teachings, God will punish them! An angry God may “cast them out of His kingdom" - or into Hell when they die. If they dare to leave the cult, they may be disowned (disfellowshipped) by all of the church members (even close family members). My church promised no Hell, but rather a complete annihilation of the rebellious soul. They said that the "incorrigible" would be tossed into a lake of fire and be forgotten ashes under the soles of the righteous.

I had a hard time with that as a little girl. I felt like I was living in my own private horror story. I didn't want to walk on the ashes of my "unconverted" school friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents! So I prayed all the time that they would all become "converted" like me - or that God would please change His mind about the whole terrible system. I remember asking God to please, please change His mind! I was terrified, mortified, and contemplating all of this at the ripe old age of five.

Often leaders of cults teach hatred and judgement for those who are different from you. I tried my best to be judgmental, but it didn't sink in with me. I do remember trying to warn people to change their "evil ways." When I was about 2 years old, I felt compelled to admonish one of my dad's clients with the proclamation that, "We don't eat cigarettes!" Well, I thought he had to be warned! The church preached against smoking. Oh, not because of health issues, just because God didn't allow it. (Actually, I think they were more worried that money spent on cigarettes would be money not going to the church).

I got more "rebellious" as I got older and I was told that I couldn't date people whose skin tone didn't match mine. What? The church was predominately composed of Caucasian people. Supposedly God didn't approve of "the races mingling." I didn't understand that at all, but I was lectured, punished and kicked out until I complied.

I can't help but think that it would have come in handy, if the power-crazed church leaders in my horror story had LOOKED the part! I could have run and told the proper authorities that I needed rescuing - and they would have believed me! Just one look at them would have told anyone - these are scary-ass Zombies! But instead of Zombies terrorizing me, there were these pleasant looking, friendly people, dressed nicely in suits and ties. Their obedient wives wore prim and proper appropriate dresses. Think "Stepford Wives" only dowdier because they were not allowed to wear makeup. A man's hair mustn't be too long! A lady's hair mustn't be too short! Women were seen as so far beneath men, that some husbands actually made their wives walk behind them. But they all smiled on the outside and were so proud to belong to "the only church that obeyed the true God."

It was a horror story for me. But for some, the horror is not over. The empathy for others, that I felt as a child, has stuck with me. Maybe it's gotten even stronger. I can't completely enjoy my freedom unless I know I am doing something to help others that lived, or are still living what was my hell-on-earth.

If you've come out of this type of abuse, I am relieved and happy for you! At first, depending on how deeply you believed and how thoroughly your brain had been washed, it can be pretty scary on the outside too.

You are not alone. I understand. It gets better. It often takes time, and it's important to be patient with yourself. There can be repercussions from this type of abuse that contribute to depression and feelings of being lost. A cult gives you the feeling of belonging that you may not get anywhere else. I think the price for that is too high, though. I'd rather allow myself to think for myself, rather than to "belong" and pay the outrageous dues of being controlled again.

Some people never do escape - never do trade it in for freedom - because thinking for themselves is even scarier to them than being mentally imprisoned. I don't judge them. I understand that too. Remember the movie "The Shawshank Redemption?" Many of the prisoners felt completely lost after being released. Trying to acclimate back into the outside world was too much for some. This can be just as tough when you are suddenly out of a cult, and thinking on your own. Sometimes it's just too hard to be free. But I promise the rewards are worth it - if you can get through the "detox" stages. Usually, it doesn't happen "all at once." It's an evolutionary process (oh, I'm sorry if that word makes you cringe - I still have flashbacks like that sometimes).

Even though being controlled by a cult is now a part of my past, it is still a way of life for many. I have written my story, not in the usual biographical form, but reinvented as a chilling romantic fantasy. No real names are used. It is based on my childhood experiences in a horrific mind-manipulating church. My intention is to help others who have experienced the same type of abuse.

If you want to tell me your story, I'm listening. I would love for you to be part of my research for future books. More importantly, I would like to be your friend. You can leave a comment here - or send an e-mail to the contact email address located on the website below.

Thank you! Fly, be free! It may be scary at first, but it is well worth it! Your mind is a wonderful thing to use!


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    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      I just noticed that one of the ads that pops up on this Hub is one for information on how to become a pastor. Well, if you are reading this first, and taking it to heart - maybe there's more of a chance that you will become a good one! LOL Good luck to you! ;)

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Chris, thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I very much appreciate it. After leaving my childhood church, I believed that just about any "mainstream" church would be better. What I encountered was more of the same, in different "flavors."

      It may be unpopular, but true, to say that what is a "cult" to some is a "healthy church" to others. I certainly don't want to take anyone's warm and fuzzy feelings about their church from them. I have, however come to feel that there are dangerous, cultish, mind control issues in more churches than just the ones who hole up in a compound. Any place that attempts to get between individuals and the Divine with extra rules, regulations, pet doctrines of the pastor, etc., to me, is a dangerous place. It also may be a necessary experience in our evolution toward spiritual enlightenment. So, I focus as much as I possibly can on gratitude for the lessons.

      If I can spare anyone else the agony of what I went through by telling my story - all the more for me to be grateful for.

      It helps me personally, to connect to those, such as yourself, who understand the difference between organized religion and spirituality. Thank you, and many blessings to you always! ~h~

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      I grew up in the Quaker tradition. Actually, I was in an Evangelical arm of the Quakers. There was definitely control there, but nothing like what you have described. I left high school and joined an evangelistic team that traveled church to church throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Guatemala. There was much more control there. When I left the first time (after a year) I felt like I was letting God and the "Team" down. The second time I left (after another 18 months) I knew it was time to get out. I can't say that it was like a cult, but I was not using my own mind. I was allowing myself to be led around, to be told what God's will was for me. Well, Heavenleigh, you are doing some good things through your writing. Keep it up and I'll keep reading.

      Chris

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you mom4autism! Will follow you too. Thank you for all you do for LOVE!

    • mom4autism profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Very provocative article and I am sorry for all that you have been through. Glad to see you have found a way to channel your demons and help others. Will follow!

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Snowdrops, thank you so much for reading. :)

    • snowdrops profile image

      snowdrops 5 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

      Thank you for inspiring us and for sharing this wonderful hub.

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Thank you so much Rick, for commenting! I still have fears that maybe what I write will offend those who have good memories of the church, or are still hanging on to a lot of the old teachings in similar churches. The truth is - I have lots of good memories of making friends and spending time with great people there. :) The core teachings of that church really hurt a lot of nice people, though. It is great to be FREE! I celebrate that with you! (and I celebrate Christmas and birthdays too if I want!) :) Blessings to you and your family!

    • profile image

      Rick Surratt 5 years ago

      So glad to be free!

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Kathleen, Thanks for reading! It is true - we never totally "let it go" - it is forever a part of us, but maybe that's a good thing. We understand how it works, we can help others with our experience. I'm trying to find the pony in the pile of crap. :) We couldn't have gone through all of that for nothing. Much love to you!

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Dio - Thank you so much for commenting on this! With all we've been through on this subject, we could have ended up in rubber rooms, sitting in a corner, staring into space and twisting our hair around our fingers! I decided to be the fun kind of crazy instead! ;) But I would dearly LOVE to help some people with the book - or this blog - whatever works! I had two young guys come to the house a couple of days ago - wanting to sit me down and enlighten me on their brand of God's truth. They were so young, very kind. I just smiled and told them I already had my own beliefs - and that I used to be in a church like theirs. I wished them the best of luck. They looked so disappointed - that look of - "Oh NO! We've failed God with this one." Then they asked if they could help me with my groceries. I said, "No, but thank you for asking." They were really sweet. I felt bad for them. I silently sent them lots of loving energy as they walked away. :)

    • profile image

      Kathleen Wendt-MIchel (Black) 5 years ago

      I so understand every word you said! It was a nightmare wrapped in a pretty threatening package, and it took me many years to let it go. Sometimes I wonder if I let it go at all since it was part of me since birth. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Dio 5 years ago

      What a compelling post, Heaven - I am so glad you wrote this. I hope many people see it! I am so glad we left that ugly, hateful, soul-destroying prison behind us, but sad that anyone is still trapped there.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      thanks for inspiring me - I have just started to write my new one called - Sunday communion - and have a wonderful evening - lake erie time 11:57pm

    • heavenleigh707 profile image
      Author

      Heaven L Burkes 5 years ago from The Invincible Heart of Neverland

      Oh! I love your philosophy of God! If I'd started out that way, I'd have saved so much money on therapy sessions! It took me 35+ years to finally come to your conclusions. :) Thank you for your comment! Yes, I love your FB group! Thanks for inviting me. :) Colorado time: 9:23pm

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      although I have never been a church goer or have followed any religion I respect those who do and their wishes - for me on any Sunday I see God when I walk in my park or along my beach and see the sun and the sky and the birds and feel the wind in my face and see my two cat's faces - to me that is the true nature of God and what we all love on a day to day basis - love your writing though - you are a lady of conviction, passion, compassion and great heart and intelligence - lake erie time 11:19pm thank you for dropping by in 'our' group - that was awesome.