Church and Cult-Like Qualities
"Souls Back" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
Lots of people are leaving the church. For most, it's no big deal. But for some, it's huge. It's traumatic. It's life-changing. What's the difference? For some, church was an activity. For others, church was their life. For some, church was just a meeting. For others, church was like a cult.
Even though I wasn't in a cult, I feel like I was. Do you know what I mean?
Most of us know the signs of a cult:
- one charismatic leader
- overpowering herd mentality
- use of guilt and shame to compel conformity
- insists that this community is the right or best one
- claims special knowledge
- independent thought is discouraged
- elevates the community and its leader above friends and family
- demands lots of time and money to reach the next goal
- leaving is not an option
So, even though I could say that all those signs could apply to some degree in my Christian journey, I still say I was never a part of a cult.
But is that really true? Because if all the signs are there, then why wasn't it a cult?
Look at the advice given on how to leave a cult, and it only makes me question even more. Here are the steps suggested for leaving a cult:
- recognize that you're in an abusive religious group
- list the reasons why you want to leave the group
- plan your escape
- have a place to stay in advance
- be prepared for fierce judgement and attempts to retrieve you
- remain strong in your convictions
- seek support from other people
- continue journeying
Well, these also apply to my life! What does this mean? If the signs that I was in a cult and the ways to leave a cult both apply, then was I in a cult or not?
I still don't think so. For me, it simply means admitting that the kind of churches I found myself in embraced¬†cult-like values.
I've come to the conclusion that my desire and willingness to serve and be a part of a community found a perfect home in the kind of churches I gravitated to. I did it because I wanted a strong mentor and a vital community. The price was surrendering my spiritual independence.
Now, I claim that any religion, any group, any relationship, any job‚ anything‚ can possess cult-like qualities. Remember the movie, "The Firm"? That law firm clearly had cult-like qualities, and she began getting clues that it was when she was told, "The Firm encourages children", even exercising dominion over her reproductive rights.
For some of you it understandably takes a long time to get over changing your beliefs, leaving the church, or even rejecting your inherited beliefs. You're finding it more difficult than you imagined it would be. It's taking longer than you thought it would. You are feeling afraid of the unpredictable and unpleasant emotions you're feeling as you try to move on. Believe me, I get it!
Now maybe we know why: leaving a cult or cult-like communities and relationships can take a long time to process.
But you're doing it! Be patient with yourself. One day you will not only know you are free, but you will feel free too!
(Did you know I'm a Spiritual Freedom Coach?)