I SPENT THE EVENING LAST NIGHT REVIEWING A MANUSCRIPT. IT WAS THE STORY OF A JEWISH BELIEVER WHO, EARLY IN HIS LIFE AS A JESUS FOLLOWER, WAS DRAWN INTO A CULT, A CHRISTIAN CULT, WHOSE LEADER USED SCRIPTURE OUT OF CONTEXT TO CONTROL AND MANIPULATE.
Whose “pastor” regularly shamed and shunned members who questioned his authority. Whose “Master Disciple” lorded his authority over those beneath him, where emotional and spiritual abuse was the order of the day.
So many similarities to my experience… the story always seems to be the same. The abusive behavior is never displayed early on. In fact, it is well hidden until the followers have determined to be “all in.” Then as the leader’s true colors come out, scriptures are used out of context to justify the bad behavior and teach the followers to call good evil and evil good, to keep them captive to the deception.
It’s intriguing to see the similarities in relationships that have been defined by domestic violence. I have a person in my life that I love dearly, and while she’s never been in a cult, she has experienced the same at the hands of an abusive husband. Smooth charm and perfect behavior enveloped their whirlwind romance, but then, once the marriage papers were signed, the real person emerged, and literally, all hell broke loose.
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Prov. 14:12
As I began my healing journey after my twelve year detour into deception, I was reminded that there were red flags that I chose to ignore… that there were people who warned me, but I refused to listen to wise counsel. I had become convinced that the message this “pastor” was preaching was birthed of God and any opposition had to be the enemy’s work. But the truth be told, there was something more to it that I believe was the turning point that opened up the gates wide to deception.
Ever notice that when you pray for patience, the Lord answers that prayer by bringing trying situations in your life? Or if you pray for His compassion, you’ll find Him bringing someone into your life who is completely unloveable? Well, I know at that time in my life, I’d been convicted that I trusted more in myself and my abilities as a business person than I did in the Lord. My resulting prayer in repentance was, Oh Lord, teach me to trust You!
Of course, hind sight is 20/20… I can look back on it now and see how He answered that prayer, but I failed the test. People I trusted warned me. The editor who critiqued the “pastor’s” manuscript said, “Don’t publish this book…it’s a destructive doctrine!” But I’d already been taken in to a degree, and believed that anyone who didn’t agree with his controversial stand wasn’t really on the narrow road to life. But here’s the other thing. I was being tested. Could I trust God and refund the deposit he’d made on the publishing contract? Could I trust that God would send other authors whose manuscripts taught the truth and glorified His name, in His timing, and in His way?
To my shame, the answer is no. I didn’t want to hear the wise counsel, or see the red flags, unless they affirmed what I wanted. I wanted the project to move forward as it met some real financial needs in the company.
Hmmmm. Reminds me of Psalm 106:15:
And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.
Yes, there is a way that seems right, but in the end it leads to death… God allowed me to have what I wanted, the funds to pay my business expenses, instead of learning to trust Him to provide, and the consequences of that sinful choice was leanness in my soul for twelve long years. Not only that, the result was the exact opposite to what I tried to accomplish. In the end, the very company I was trying to keep in business was hijacked by the enemy and suffered complete destruction.
So I cannot claim to be a victim of the cult leader, although I was. I cannot blame anyone but myself for the consequences of my sin. That’s a hard truth, but there is life in embracing it. As I take responsibility for my part, I am able to heal and grow and warn others who may be headed down a similar path and ignoring the red flags. I’m able to encourage those who’ve been emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically ripped to shreds by a toxic church or cult, or an abusive husband whose anger rules the household while he holds a position of respect and leadership in the church or community.
Someone reading this post may be in the middle of a very toxic church or relationship. You might be wondering how in the world you gain the courage to stand up and say “No More” to the hypocrisy and intimidation? Sometimes we are so battered that having the emotional bandwidth to make healthy decisions in our lives can seem like so much work it’s easier to just isolate, stay quiet, and endure the abuse.
But, may I encourage you? Ask the Lord to show you your part in the mess you find yourself in. As He will surely be faithful to do so, repent and ask for His wisdom and discernment on how to get help. You need those standing with you who no longer fear bullies who use scripture to justify sinful behavior, be it a “pastor” or a Christian husband. Ask the Lord for those who are willing to do life with you as you make the difficult decisions to stop the toxic situations in your life and commit to walk in Truth and authentic healing.
Yes, there was a way that seemed right. You made a bad choice. And it has ended in death in some ways in your life. But it’s never too late to repent, and ask for His forgiveness, to walk away (or better yet, FLEE!) from the abuse and seek healing and restoration. He will be faithful to use your experience to help others. I guarantee it.
I thank You, Lord, for the opportunity I have every day to model how, in all of our brokennesss, in all the consequences we live with for our own bad choices, that we really can learn to trust You again. You are faithful, and You are worthy of our trust. As we do our part in taking responsibility for our sin, repentance and willingness to take steps to walk in Truth, I pray that You would increase our courage and commitment to living by Your Word, in context, and in Truth. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.
Additional resources for toxic churches and abusive marriages.