Close Encounter with a Modern-day Cult

“Get out of here and never set foot on these premises again!” the church elder shouted, as his finger directed Cindy and me toward the exit door.

Five years of faithful service and friendships had suddenly come to screeching halt, as we were literally being kicked out of the church. Cindy stood on the street in tears, and I, utterly disillusioned, thought, “This can’t be happening! Can someone really be kicked out of a church?” Just weeks before, these very same people had been singing our praises, and now this!

It seemed so surreal. I was disoriented; I couldn’t even concentrate on Cindy’s pain. As we walked to our car, I could hear Cindy’s voice and see her tears, but I just couldn’t focus. I was speechless. The scene that had just occurred kept replaying in my head, like the footage from those planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11. It was as if we were watching the last minutes of a really powerful suspense movie. You know the kind, where all the pieces finally come together at the end; the kind where days later your mind is still replaying and piecing the scenes together.

Moments earlier, the angry elder and another supposed brother in the Lord had walked into the youth room and towards Cindy and me. When the elder and his companion entered the room, I walked over to embrace them and bid them farewell, but all I got from them were cold stares. The look in the elder’s eyes and the tone in his voice lashed out even more vividly than his words that followed. As anger and hatred filled his eyes, his voice seemed to spit venom:

“God is going to get you!” he shrieked. “I feel sorry for your family and your future! You don’t know what you are doing!”

I grinned back at him in shock and amazement, and he went on: “I wouldn’t be smiling if I were you. You don’t realize the seriousness and consequences of your decision.”

Had you walked into that room at that moment, you might have thought my wife and I had committed some heinous or even unforgivable sin that was about to bring down sudden doom.

I stammered back that Cindy and I had carefully sought counsel from other pastors before arriving at our decision – pastors from outside the church who lived in different states. (Since leaving was prohibited, that was the only way we could get clear, unbiased counsel about our concerns.)

But that only seemed to fuel the elder’s rage. “You talked to pastors outside of this church?” he fumed. “We don’t allow that here!”

I shot back, “Doesn’t the Bible say there is safety in a multitude of counsel? I was obeying the Bible.”

“That’s not what the pastor here preaches,” he responded.

“What are you talking about?” I cried. “This is what the Word of God says,” I stressed.

He retorted, “That’s not what the man of God here teaches!”

Bewildered, I said, “What if the man of God contradicts the Word of God?”

He shouted back, “He won’t!”

And I said, “Well, what if he does?”

Just then the other brother who’d come with the elder, perhaps as a bodyguard, thinking the two of us might get into a brawl, said angrily, “Yeah, it is time for you to leave – you’ve questioned the man of God.”

It was right then that Cindy and I were ordered out of the church, and at that very moment it struck me with certainty: “God isn’t the highest authority here, the pastor is.”

The painful experience described above launched me on a search to discover the type of organization that my wife and I had belonged to for so long. The search led me to countless other Christians with similar stories. During my search for meaning of my own experience, I came in contact to numerous other individuals who had joined an organization operating under the name of “church,” who had devoted themselves to serving others through this organization and then who had realized that they were in a modern day cult! These were persons and families attending charismatic churches who had become disillusioned with the church (and some with God) because of leaders who use God as their cover, the Scriptures as weapons of tyranny, and the church as a profiting machine. These leaders spiritually oppress and financially exploit their followers while building their own personal kingdoms and platforms. I realized that the experiences that my wife and I endured in our previous church were not isolated to our town, but were prevalent throughout the nation.

I began researching and taking note of the experiences of those whom I encountered. I also began searching for information (books, websites, articles, etc) that would help me and others who were also wounded. I soon became obsessed with what I believed to be a pervasive and burgeoning trend of leaders wielding spiritual authority to garner their own followers.

I eventually knew I had to write a book, and tentatively titled my work Leading Astray. At its core, lies scripture’s prophetic forewarning: “But wicked men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and leading astray others and being deceived and led astray themselves” (2 Timothy 3:13; AMP). It provides answers to the question: What do we do when the very leaders that we trusted to lead us to God are actually leading us away from him? And if we happen to escape the bondages of men, how do we now find rest and take refuge in God and his church, when they have formerly been used as instruments of abuse and oppression?

During my research, I stumbled onto this website. (At the age of 28, I was vaguely familiar with the Jonestown story.) After reading and listening to some of the tapes available through the website, I was surprised, shocked and alarmed to learn of the similarities between some of the tactics employed by Jim Jones and Temple leaders and those of my religious organization. The information I gleaned from the site and its managers was crucial in creating momentum in my book development. In fact, I have devoted a chapter to describe the parallels between those tactics used by Jones to exert influence over and aggrandize devotion from his followers, and those employed by numerous church leaders today.

The Book’s Outlook

The outlook for the book actually reaching publication was grim for a long time. I like to say that I wrote in the dark for a while because there was not a glimmer of hope for publication. My proposal would pique the interest of literary agents and publishing houses; however, when they learned that I was an unpublished author, they declined the project. I eventually took a few years off to complete my Master’s degree in Counseling. I worked on the book periodically and kept in communication with one interested major publishing house, who eventually decided that their readership did not fit my manuscript’s audience. Recently, however, an editor from Charisma Magazine, the premier magazine for the Christian Charismatic community (my target audience), contacted me after more than a year of silence. The editor said that she is beginning to see an increase in people becoming disgruntled with churches for many of the very same reasons that I had presented in my proposal for an article in the magazine. She was extremely interested in what I had to say. We have been corresponding for a few months trying to develop an article on my work. With the prospects of this magazine article promising, I am cautiously optimistic that prospects for publication of my longer work will find new life.

(Leonard Geddes lives in Newton, North Carolina.)