“Religious Cults and How One Tried to Ensnare Me” is the last of my three-part series on cults. You can read Part I here, and in order to get a good grasp on what’s going on now in Part III, read Part II, “How Cults Work,” here.
Encouraged, I sped off in that direction, arriving three minutes later. As I drove closer, I felt that little check in my spirit. I ignored it. I pulled into the parking lot and felt it again, ignoring it a second time.
Then I noticed the serious-looking dude at the door, impeccably dressed in a dark suit. Uh-oh, I thought. Doesn’t look like my kind of church. I can’t stand those formal churches that seem to think God doesn’t want you there unless you’re all dressed up. I like those come-as-you-are churches, because God is a come-as-you-are kind of God.
By now, the little check had become a shove, along the lines of, “Wake up, dummy!” But the guy at the door had spotted me and smiled in what I’m sure he thought was a welcoming way. Oh crap, now what? He’s seen me…it might be rude to get back in the car and leave now…oh well, even it’s too formal for me, I’m sure it’ll be fine this once. I can always go somewhere else next week.
Of course, I regretted my decision. I should always listen to that inner voice.
Everyone was warm and welcoming. And dressed to the nines, all the women (except me) wearing dresses. They wouldn’t let me bring my well-sealed, impossible to spill water bottle in with me. Strike two. Oh well, it’s fine. I’m already here, and I won’t be coming back. No big deal.
The music was old-school hymns, which was okay with me. I like most of those oldies, as long as they’re not played on an organ, and although there was no band, there was a young lady who could play piano like nobody’s business. The opening hymn was one I knew and enjoyed, yet as I glanced at the lyrics in the hymnal, I realized they were completely different from the original. As were the others – same music as the original hymns, but with the lyrics rewritten to suit themselves. Strike three.
I knew I should leave but again, I didn’t want to be rude.
Then the preaching began, some of which was biblical, some that left me thinking, wait, that’s not in the Bible! What the…? Sprinkled throughout were shouted references to “devil-vision” (television) and the “sinner-net” (internet), as well as numerous mentions about, “…checking up on you…some people don’t like it, but you need to realize, we check up on you because we love you.”
Well, that’s a giant load of mule manure, I thought. It’s obvious you check up people because you’re trying to control them. I think we’ve got ourselves a genuine cult here. I noticed another oddity as well – although people seemed friendly, no one sat together, except a few couples. The congregation was sparse, so there was room for almost everyone to sit completely alone. And they did.
By this time, I wanted nothing more than to get up and leave, but this time it wasn’t a ridiculous concern about being rude. This time it was fear. I knew – just knew, with every fiber of my being, that if I got up and started to walk out, the pastor would shout accusations and insults at me. I briefly considered turning around and innocently asking, “Is there a problem with me using the restroom?” if he did so, but I really didn’t want a showdown in the middle of the church, as I was there all alone with no backup.
It was creepy; I could almost feel the evil emanating from the pulpit. But I sat tight, smiled, and even managed a short, pleasant conversation with a lovely lady in a daffodil-colored dress who came up to me as soon as it was over. She seemed genuine, and may well have been one of those sweet souls who loves God and people and means well, but was deceived.
Or… maybe not.
Whatever, I wasn’t about to stick around any longer to ponder that question, so I tried beating a hasty retreat. When I had come into the church, Mr. Serious Doorman had politely asked me to sign their guestbook, which seemed strange, as I’d never been to a church with a guestbook – and stranger still when I saw that the book asked for more than names – there were fields for addresses, phone numbers, and email as well.
I had signed my name but left the rest blank. I don’t want them calling or emailing me.
Now as I attempted to leave, Daffodil Lady approached and asked if I had signed the guestbook. “Oh yes,” I smiled at her, “I did that when I first came in. It was nice meeting you. ‘Bye.”
”Oh wait,” she called as I headed for the door, “You only wrote your name. We need your other information as well so we can check up on you.” I skidded to a halt. Check up on you — there it was again. Eyes wide and heart turning scary flip-flops, I slowly turned in her direction. She was gazing at the guestbook, then looked at me expectantly and stepped aside as she held out a pen.
Turn around and leave, NOW, part of me urged. But now everyone in the foyer was staring at me. I felt like a deer not in the headlights but in the crosshairs as I approached the table that held the guestbook. “Oh,” I chuckled nervously, looking at what I’d written, “I guess I forgot, or maybe I was in a hurry…yeah, I was a little late,” I babbled senselessly as I took the pen from her.
I bent down low over the book, making sure my shoulder-length hair covered what I was writing and scribbled out the email address for an account I hadn’t used in years, thinking, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna’ give these psychos any more information.
I straightened up and put down the pen, smiled sweetly and declared, “There you go! Now, I really do need to get home, because I told my husband I’d be home by one, and I’m going to late.” This was met approval as I knew it would be, as they were obviously a pretty sexist bunch. A good wife doesn’t tell hubby she’ll be home at one and then be late. Better get going, sister.
I raced out of there as fast as I could without looking like I was running for my life. Because for a moment there, it seemed as if I was.
I threw myself into my car and nearly burned rubber getting out of the devil’s parking lot. Churches like that should always have a sign over their doors that reads, Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. I felt somehow sullied from my brief time there.
As soon as I arrived home I headed for my computer and closed that email account, thanking the good Lord for getting me out of there in one piece and repenting of having ignored his obvious warnings to stay away from that little earthbound fiery pit.
That done, I began to research the chilling church I’d stumbled upon. There wasn’t a ton of info about it, but enough. There were a couple of websites run by ex-members (who call themselves “exies”), a Wikipedia page, and a couple of news articles.
I found the usual cult-like descriptions of an extremely money-hungry, controlling organization who didn’t allow their members to watch “devil-vision” or use the “sinner-net” (they might get some much-needed info on their cult that way). They had to get permission for everything from dating (only approved people, always with chaperones) and marriage (only approved matches) to blowing their noses and everything in between.
There were allegations of forced marriages within the church, with girls as young as 13 being married to men well into their 20s. And then there was the military.
According to the church itself, they love and support our military, providing housing and more to those members of active military in need. Which is strange, because where I live, active military are never homeless, but many vets are. Yet nothing was said about the church extending their hand of brotherly love to any of the local homeless populations, veterans or otherwise.
The focus was on the young, single, active military men.
Of course. Like the college students, they’re young and in a strange place, far from home. They know few people and often have even fewer, if any friends, being so new to the area. But these young guys have two advantages for the cult that college students don’t: they’re used to structure, strict rules, and taking orders; plus they get regular paychecks.
The near-perfect group to scam, extort, and shakedown. And it’s happening not only in my area, but in military towns all over the country.
These cultists will stand before God one day. And it won’t be pretty.
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