Fighting for Hope: Elliott Grace Harvey’s Story – Part Two

In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Conclusion


Orthodox Presbyterian Church – 18 years
However imposing, formal, and elitist you might imagine “Orthodox Presbyterian” to be, it’s all of that and then some. At first impression however, your experience with church members will likely be warm and welcoming, though distant and non-committal.

I want friends so desperately and I’m not going to have any if I don’t do anything. I think that’s a big part of my problem, I’m very lonely. I’ve been at my church 16 years. No one calls me when a group of kids are getting together. No one picks me to kills time with. No one wants me. I just want want friends, people to love with, laugh with, live with, grow with. – Journal entry

The following is a direct quote taken from The Book of Church Order of the OPC. It contains in alarming detail the measure of control they expect to exact over their members:

“All governing assemblies have the same kinds of rights and powers. These are to be used to maintain truth and righteousness and to oppose erroneous opinions and sinful practices that threaten the purity, peace, or progress of the church. All assemblies have the right to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline reasonably proposed and the power to obtain evidence and inflict censures. …They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. Evils which they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the notice of the session.” – The Book of Church Order

My own OPC leadership regularly sent out letters to all parishioners if there was a “sin issue” involving a church member. These so-called sins included eating disorders, mental illness, unmarried pregnancy, marital struggles, and so forth.

This shaming effectively silenced the victims of the sexual, physical, and psychological abusers being harbored in the church.

I’m confused. Completely and utterly. People are so hard to figure out. I want to be real. But who people really are and what they tell you is so different. How do you know who to trust? – Journal entry

My mother asked for help from the leadership regarding her abusive husband. Little was done, arguably nothing legitimately helpful, and she was discouraged from seeking outside help.

The last month has been hard. Finding out that your church family isn’t what it seems is difficult. Lying, secretive, untrustworthy, unchanged. – Journal entry

When I was kicked out by my father, I was expressly instructed by a pastor not to tell anyone.

I was told they would help me find housing, and this kept me from going anywhere else for assistance, waiting for help that never materialized.

What I’m feeling: Scared. Alone. Scared of what I might do. Scared of messing up. Scared of Sundays. Scared of falling apart. Scared of admitting it, admitting anything. Scared of loving and not being loved back. Scared of disappointing people. Feeling trapped by my own walls. Afraid of the solution. Tired. – Journal entry

Much later after leaving the church, I detailed for all the church leadership my parent’s history of abuse, and abuse being currently committed against minors in their home. My appeal was based upon their current membership in good standing with the church, but after formal meetings and pleading for help nothing was done.

After roughly a year at the fabric store, I came home from work to a letter from my father giving me a few weeks to get out:

“The time has come young lady for you to leave our home, and move out on your own. Though I had hoped for better circumstances under which this transition could occur, it can not be helped or avoided at this point. As you will remember, this was my position a year ago. But after talking with several of our elders, I decided to exercise deference towards their counsel and allow you to remain in the home. I have in all sincerity young lady endeavored repeatedly to express my love for you, to show you grace and forgiveness in spite of your repeated rank disrespect, animosity, and bitterness towards me. I have appealed to you for forgiveness for my known past sins against you, but you have refused to forgive me, and have chosen rather to harbor this hatred against me, as well as any effort I have made to repair and restore our relationship, and now as you can see, it is affecting your other relationships, including the ones in this home. Hatred is toxic, and it will destroy your other relationships with sound Christians. I have told you that hating me is not worth this, but you have rejected my counsel in this. I have tolerated this toxic influence in this home long enough, and in light of your continued obstinance in this regard, it’s time for you to move out.
Now if you behave yourself during this transition, you will have till the end of August to be moved out. But if you continue this same nasty pattern, and continue to neglect the few duties you have in this home (it’s your week for dishes, make sure they get done each day), you will be out much sooner. Please do not test me on this, my mind is made up, I will not be moved.
If you have a change of heart and truly desire to seek to repair and restore our relationship that would be great, and I would be up for moving forward under the proper avenues of restoration with competent counsel and mediation. But your residence here is not required for that to happen. In fact, I believe it would be detrimental to the process.
Please don’t blow this off or procrastinate with this move, please seek all available avenues in the church for help in finding a new permanent residence, if you choose not to I will help you in this regard.
I am truly sorry that it has come to this young lady, but this is a choice that you have made repeatedly and finally over the past several years. As I told you before, I am not worth hating. You will and are ruining your life over these unresolved issues. Whether you believe me or not, I do love you, and it grieves me deeply to see you to make the choices you’re making. Now I have to make some choices, please act wisely and accordingly. Sincerely, Dad.”

I had nothing I could do, nowhere to go. My mom asked if I wanted her to say anything, I told her not to, I didn’t want her fighting with dad about it and making things harder for them.
A series of excerpts from my journal at the time:

– I’m so tired. Confused. Lonely. Lost. Down. I feel like the truth I’m looking for is somewhere staring me in the nose and I just can’t see it. I wish… I even just knew what I was looking for.
– So supposedly dad is bringing a complaint against me to the church. This is going to be a big ugly mess.
– I’ve never felt like I really could be myself or belonged anywhere but my family. Now I don’t even have that.
– I didn’t know I wanted someone who would stick with me even if I wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t perfect. Maybe there’s a person out there who could love me for me, but why not a christian? Is there such a person? Someone I could trust that much? I’m just so tired. Tired of this place.

Nearing my deadline to move out, I still had nowhere to go, and I had been abandoned by the people I thought would help.

In a moment of hopelessness was honest with my coworker when she asked me what was wrong. She shares about that conversation:

“Grace started to withdraw a bit which was concerning. …One day I came in to work and found her cross legged on her car hood eating lunch. She looked upset, so I stopped and chatted her up a bit.
She confessed the most heartbreaking situation- her dad was kicking her out. Her? WTF? Hard working, sweet, talented, that made no sense.
I never hesitated. You can move in with me.
Her big green eyes widened, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Well, I have cats and a stressful job, but a spare bedroom and you are welcome to it.” – A

I accepted her offer, and moved in within a week. I was running on adrenaline, doing everything I could to keep it together and just survive. I was starting to deal with the impact of my childhood:

“We settled in, her coming and going when ever she wanted… When I had a minute, I cleaned out the kitchen so she could be comfortable this was *her* house. I came into the living room after work that day to find the girl curled up in a fetal position on the corner of the couch. Apparently, cleaning the kitchen set off ptsd. Her father ‘cleaned’ when mad, and the whole family pussycat stepped around when that was happening. We had a long talk after that admittance about how she lived with me now, she was her own person and could grow and set her own rules. She seemed to relax after that, and settled into her new life.” – A

I spent two wonderful years living with her. She was my angel in disguise, giving me a place to start to heal and move on. My parents were critical, but at this point I couldn’t afford to care.

My PoliSci Professor Has a Potty Mouth – and I Like It: Savannah’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Savannah” is a pseudonym.

If you’re not going to go to a Christian college, you have to make sure your faith is rock-solid by the time you graduate high school. Because college—especially professors of the humanities like psychology and social studies—hates you. College is the epitome of “the world”. The second you mention that you’re a Christian, the non-religious students will mock you. Perhaps even ostracize you or censor you. Perhaps have you thrown out of school for your beliefs if you’re not “liberal” enough for them. Professors will openly mock your beliefs in class, even calling on you personally to make fun if they know you’re a Christian. They may even assign you projects that violate your religious beliefs and you will be obligated to do them, because colleges will give a free pass to other religions, but not you. If you’re not Superman-strong in your faith by the time you go to college, you’ll probably cave to the pressure and fall away.

This is what they told me.

Homeschooled for my entire life, I had no exposure to a classroom environment. Before anxiety got the best of me and made it impossible to deal with, the curriculum was religious. I’d never had a secular education—never even knew what it was like. And so I believed them. I believed the preacher who told me his professor declared in class that no gods were real and anyone who believed in one was delusional, and I believed him when he said the professor called upon him and other Christian students to berate them for their beliefs.

It would be even worse for us now, he said, in the 21st century. Our society was getting more and more liberal. Colleges, the Liberalest Places on Earth, were Ground Zero for trying out these new liberal measures, among them the normalization and acceptance of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities and the stifling of free speech—for Christians and conservatives, of course; liberals could say whatever they wanted. We were on the front lines. We were, perhaps, five years away from the beginning of the end of the world, and it was soon to be open season on Christians.

When you are the victim of spiritual brainwashing, thought control, and other individuality- and critical thinking-quenching measures by your local church, a religious education, whether formal in a Christian school or informal at home, is utterly exhausting. When your genes predispose you to anxiety disorders and depression, a religious education combined with spiritual abuse can make you suicidal. So when I finally won and got to be taught from a secular homeschooling program for high school, half of that weight was lifted. And I excelled. Before, I had been an A-B student, but in my “worldly” curriculum, I had a 4.0. I still had to suffer through Sundays, but I could push it all from my mind as soon as we drove out of the parking lot. Eventually, I was even able to push my limits and leave the church.

But there was still the problem of college.

When I tasted the freedom of secular education, I knew that I could never go back. So after I took my first SAT and began receiving brochure after brochure from colleges in my state, I examined each of them for any hint of religiosity. Any college that even looked Christian got its brochure recycled. I memorized their names and blacklisted them. I’d heard about Bob Jones. I’d heard a story from a visiting youth teacher who said he got in trouble for touching his then-girlfriend’s head because opposite sexes were not allowed to be near each other. I remembered the frustration, the panic attacks, the nightmares I had at the beginning of high school. I could not even take the risk that I would suffer through that again.

The “excessive”, as the pastor called it, liberalism of secular colleges might have scared me if I’d been the same little girl that he frightened into believing I’d be vilified just for who I am. But I was not. The two years of secular high school education that I got changed me immensely—not that I wasn’t already changing before, but now I was allowed. The curriculum wasn’t constantly contradicting my own views, or guilt-tripping me. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I became exactly the kind of thing he’d warned me against becoming—one of those dirty, worldly liberals. And I love it. I love myself. I love the people around me.

As I write this, it’s the Friday of my first week of freshman year and I’ve already had several conversations on privilege and intelligent critiques of religious culture. Half my professors swear in class. I’m taking two classes in the social sciences right now, and I’ve yet to hear any mockery of any religions or their followers—in fact, the only religion-related degradation I’ve seen or experienced came from a street preacher who hangs out just feet from campus property so that he can scream at students without repercussion. (Seriously, dude, don’t you have some feeding the poor to do?) Had I not gotten, as a friend of mine says, “out of the box” two years before my first experience with such a free environment, where everyone I have encountered so far is radically different from the people I grew up around and the expectations I would have been held to if I had stayed, this might have seemed like a little hell. Instead, it’s a tiny piece of heaven. I feel no pressure to conform to a religious or moral standard too high to reach, or follow rules I don’t believe in.

Still, to my own surprise, I’ve retained some faith, in spite of the abuse, the nightmares, the panic attacks—despite not setting foot in a church in two years. Retained, by my own standard, anyway. Not by that of the preacher of my old church—my newfound liberalism would disqualify me from any sort of legitimate religiosity; I am delegated to the ranks of “fake,” “halfhearted,” “lukewarm.” But I have found many more interesting people here in the ring of second-class Christian citizens. And a hundred times more love.

And I can never see that as a coincidence.


My Church Tarnished Homeschooling: Leigh’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, James Lee.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Leigh” is a pseudonym.

My home schooling education started in high school, but even before that I was raised in a church that believed it was the best form of education. All of my close friends were home schooled; my pastor regularly preached on the subject.

About how good it was to home school, how the government was using the school to warp our minds.  My home was like any conservative Christian home: God came first. Democrats were bad, gays were bad, and anything that was not agreeing with the Bible was wrong.

Anything to do with traditional white America was good.

When it came to homeschooling itself it first started online, which made me happy. I could do the work how I wanted to- history first, and the rest later. Then my mother was handed used books from my closest friend’s mother. Instead of learning about the Civil War, or World War 2, everything related to the Bible.

I truthfully wasn’t upset; I planned on going to my church’s Bible school, which considering I was the daughter of a single mother I would have gone to for free.

I lost myself in it. I stopped speaking to the few non church-going friends I had.

I regularly stated I would court instead of date. For the only boyfriend I had ever had, it upset him. He himself was a conservative Christian, but he began to state that I was no longer myself. I only wanted to be a good Christian wife and mother. It upset him to the point until I left the church, we stopped speaking. His last conversation before me leaving the church was, “he wanted his future wife to be more than a wife, more than a mother, he wanted a equal, and I wanted to be less.” The friend’s mother who was teaching me stated this was for the best. That boy is not good. And she muttered something in relation to his Spanish heritage.

As I look back, I don’t know how I could have been that person.

I was raised in Florida, not some odd Midwestern state. I wore jeans, boots, and these things did not change.

My mother was a high school dropout, while my teacher was a military wife. A college-educated woman. When I would question why she made that statement, she said “because I don’t want you to make the mistakes I did.” And when this former nurse saw and was told the mental health problems I was having, I was given vitamins, and told that I needed to ask God to take it away.

I went to what can simply be called fundamentalist Pentecostal church. We believed in healing, and crying and laughter in the spirit.

I don’t know how much was real, and how much was fake.

I am isolated from my family because of what I now believe. I am still a Christian, but I still question things. I want to still learn about science. I don’t believe our president is a Muslim, nor do I feel the world is ending. Something that my former church holds onto firmly.

Homeschooling, and what it could have been, was tarnished for me because of my former church. The isolation, not getting my formative years, other opinions. I was raised to believe “hate the sin not the sinner,” but when it is someone who is gay, or another religion, or anything the church rejects, it’s “hate the sinner not the sin.”

We went out soul winning, as it was called, many times instead of school work.

My church was called a cult by many from the town I am from.

Before I woke up, I wondered how someone could be a member of Jim Jones’s church. The fact is, what many don’t understand, when you are a part of a controlling church you don’t see what it could be.

You see the healings, the hope, and even the love of God. I was the frog put in the pot and then someone started to boil the water. If I would have been put in at the end I would have ran, but like many I was given time to get used to it. Healing a woman, a man claiming that he, after being prayed for, finally feels the love of God?

What would be so wrong about that? Nothing, but when the same pastor states he has a witch in his church? Would that cause many on their first day to run? I would have.

He has talked about farms, K through 12 schools, and even building apartments.

The only reason I think I am out is because a former friend told me about a school involving horses. Because while I didn’t end up staying, it gave me some time to see there was a world out there. Where I could be anything I wanted to be.

You Are Their Child, But You Are NOT Their Property: Rose’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, JosephB.

HA Note: “Rose” is a pseudonym. The following was originally published as “When Generosity Becomes a Bribe” on February 27, 2015 and modified for HA.

I was having a conversation with a, yes a homeschooled-patriarchy-fundamental friend, who I normally can be pretty open with, but I know my boundaries with what I can say and not say. So anyway, we were talking about her getting a job or some kind of income, but being this typical friend, she claimed she was too busy! Bible study, other studies and can any other (ex) homeschoolers guess what else is taking up most of her time. Well if anyone said “help around the house/her parents” then you got it!

I know how manipulative parents can be (whether knowingly or unknowingly), but it doesn’t change a thing. The sub-culture I come from, the Christian homeschool-patriarchy movement, has parents at an advantage, see because they have total control of what their children know/see/hear/do, basically they have total influence over their kids, because of how closed off this sub- culture is. From the start they had the upper hand and us children had the lower ground, as Effie Trinket WOULDN’T say the “odds were NEVER in our favor” and the “odds were ever in their favor.”

What almost all the parents that I know said, including mine, was that “we have no right to complain,” “we have it so good,” “we had nothing to complain about,” “we were being rebellious,” it goes on and on and on, to no end. And since we didn’t have anything to cross reference or cross analyze any of the information our brains were being fed and because we were told that our parents were our sub-ultimate authority, they were always right, they ALWAYS knew best, basically they were God (I feared my parents more than I feared God himself) so we believed it all, every little thing they told us or in some cases what they DIDN’T tell us. And there are some other contingencies, like in some parents cases the need to have control over their children, or the need for people to work for them (as in my dad’s case).

So combine the COMPLETE innocence, being told our life was PERFECT, and the stupidity to believe it all, the control factor, and the result is you’ve got children who are too afraid to do anything outside of what their parents approve of or outside of what their parents need them to do and are too afraid to ask their parents because then they will think we are all ungrateful and rebellious, or they guilt us into thinking we should be happy where we are.

Let me tell you a little of what my experience was growing up:

First off some background. My dad has an anger issue, my mom was totally controlled by fear my entire growing up years. So consider that when I tell my story.

My family didn’t know how to communicate at all, like 0% of the time, so talking about anything of worth was out of the question every time, no matter the subject or topic, thus leaving us children (who had no knowledge or any sense of how to process or think through things, because no one was teaching us) to figure out life and some of the traumatizing things we had been through and all the stuff we didn’t understand on our own. The only talking my family did was when my dad would “preach” as we called it, it’s basically my dad just rambling on (don’t get me wrong, everything I know about politics and well basically my belief system as far as everything but religion goes I got from 20 years of listening to my dad talk) but the “preaching” my dad did only enforced the saying “children should be seen and not heard,” as well as inadvertently hindering our communication/social skills, we grew up listening, NOT talking, so of course communication with other people was extremely hindered and for some of us completely non-existent, which in turn hinders our social skills and then affects our self-esteem. If our self-esteem is impaired and we don’t feel confident with ourselves, then it affects our decisions to do stuff on our own, thus making us more dependent on our parents because we don’t know how to communicate.

Another aspect that plays a part is also a result of the non-existent communication, because we didn’t communicate, the life skills, beliefs, morals, boundaries, etc. weren’t passed down from my parents, we weren’t taught how to figure that stuff out on our own. Which leads me to my next point that plays a part.

My parents believed that part of Bill Gothard’s teachings that children are inherently evil and that they will if given the chance turn away from what you believe or whatever his teaching is. My parents TOLD us what to believe, not how to figure out what to believe, so we only knew it in our heads not our hearts, and since we were told EVERYTHING there was no need to even consider finding out what we personally believed, until someone challenges one of us on what we “believe” so we realize we don’t have the answers, just a bunch of words, that’s when we start questioning what we believe, because if we don’t have answers to questions about what we supposedly have believed for our entire life, we as human beings will start to question our beliefs.

My dad owns his own business, its more like a family business, with the rest of the family being used as “slave labor” as I like to call it. Basically, that means us kids worked for my dad for no pay, most of us didn’t want to be in the business for various reasons, but the connecting common reason was my dad, he gets angry, he has a different work ethic than what I think is right, and does things that don’t make sense to even the most experienced business person. I don’t know where it came from or how he got into doing this but my dad has this manipulative way of getting his way, getting people to do things. I’m a good example, from the time I can remember I always wanted to be a secretary, and I verbally said it, too. What I didn’t know was that I was laying the groundwork for five + years long battle with my dad about working in his business, what I didn’t know at the time was that my mom was encouraging my dad to get me more involved in the business, she helped ruin what potentially could have been a good father/daughter relationship. I’ve always had this strange connection with my dad, it has influenced a lot of my decisions regarding my dad, but most of the time its a blessing but these past years its been more of a curse than anything! I hate hurting my dad, maybe because I’m afraid he conditionally loves me and if I hurt him he won’t love me, idk. but one thing that drives me to do a lot of things is my attempt to measure up to get his approval for him to be proud of me, because I’ve never been able to get anything right with my dad, in business and in life, I’ve never chosen a career path that he agreed with that he approved of, I’ve never been able to understand what he wanted done when I did work for him, therefore never completing anything and that equals failure in my dad’s eyes.

What I’ve realized over the past couple of years is that my dad has these standards that are impossibly high and there is no way in heaven that anyone could possibly meet them (not even God).

And my dad has a specific way he wants things done, he likes them done perfect and his way, I think what I’ve heard him say before is that saying “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” Well, I think maybe my dad could have come up with that saying because he practically lives by it, which makes it hard for those of us who work/live with him because then we are never measuring up never getting it right, and for me with the connection I have with him it’s especially hard and discouraging! Because all I’ve ever wanted was to get one thing, ONE THING right with my dad! But it seems to be an impossible task because I’ve been trying for over a decade now and its only gotten me more discouragement, more self loathing, more self-condemnation, and more reason to run!

I just have one thing to say to YOU. NEVER let someone else’s opinions/views/words affect how you live your life, how you look at people, how you choose to walk that path.

And NEVER let your parents make you feel like crap when you want to do something for yourself, for your future. NEVER let them use you for their benefit while hindering your dreams. NEVER let what your parents say about your life affect your choices, your lifestyle, or your beliefs…..but….remember this is coming from a girl who has lived with controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical parents, I know that not all parents are this way, but a lot of you homeschoolers (ed) know what I’m talking about, and those of you who are in denial, I hope that someday you accept the reality that your parents aren’t perfect, never were, never will be, that maybe they didn’t get everything right with you growing up, I hope that someday maybe you will accept (if applicable) that your parents may have screwed you over.

My parents used their generosity as a weapon, when it was brought up about us kids not getting paid to work, they would always say “you work for meals, room and board (NO I’m pretty sure that comes with being a parent, that is a requirement when you have children not something the children work for, that the children work for) stuff like that was always said when we brought up injustices or things that weren’t right. AND when parents say stuff like that about the child, like working for room and board or for food, eventually it will make the child feel like they are a burden or that maybe the parents didn’t want them, and in my family’s case (with no communication) this could be a very, very dangerous thing, something that could be deadly.

Not all are as obvious as my case, (even though at the time it wasn’t) there are more subtle ways of parents manipulating and using their kids. It goes like this, they make it (knowingly or unknowingly) so that you are the one choosing to “help out”, choosing to “work for them” willingly helping with the younger ones, willingly helping with cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc, it becomes a crutch that the parents maybe knowingly or unknowingly will use, if you still deny it then ask yourself this question: “what if I left, what would they do?”




Are You My Enemy?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Olivia Greenpine-Wood’s blog, When Settles The Dust. It was originally published on July 17th, 2015.

Imagine that you are growing up in a culture that believes it is fighting a war. From infancy you are taught the dangers of the enemy. You are taught what you must look out for and what you must say. You are taught what you must be aware of and from a child you are taught to be a good soldier. You are taught to be brave and to fight the good fight. You are taught that if need be you should even be willing to die for your cause. You are taught that all outsiders are against your cause. That those who don’t believe as you do would seek to overthrow all you hold dear and do great harm to all of you. Your culture must be defended at all costs.

Time goes on and you grow older. You prepare yourself for battle and you dream of your first encounter. Oh, how you will vanquish your foes when you finally meet in glorious combat! Oh, the acclaim you will win for the cause! And finally you venture forth shakily brandishing your rhetoric only to find that no army awaits. You try to convince yourself that a few encounters with strangers were skirmishes but as time goes on you realize that the most hostile participant was yourself. You are stymied. You expected to find an army in grand array but instead you found a civilization of people. People who loved and laughed and cried and lived freely.

And after sometime you begin to accept that this is real. And you begin to wonder and hope. Maybe you, too, can live this free life. Maybe you can lay down your weapons. Maybe you can live without fear of attack. Your spirits lift. You begin to feel joy. You want to rush home and tell your family and friends and community the wonderful news. There is no war. You don’t have to fight. You can be free. But if you tell them suddenly you become everything they have prepared all their lives to defend themselves from. You become the outsider who would tear them down and who seeks to destroy them.

You become the enemy.

But all you wanted for them was freedom and the peace of knowing that they don’t have to fight.

Can you imagine this? If you can then maybe you can understand a little bit of what it is like to convert to atheism (or simply relax your views a bit more than is “acceptable”) after growing up in a conservative religious environment. Maybe you can understand the nausea and pain and fear of those who leave their faiths but cannot retain relationships with those they love and care about. Some persons who leave behind a deeply religious faith face actual physical danger. Others face only the opposition of attitude and perception but don’t underestimate the power of attitude.

It hurts to realize that you are now the nightmare about which people tell their children.

It hurts to realize that suddenly your point of view has become invalid because you disagree on theology. Suddenly you are a non-entity. Everything you do or say has become suspect. Your actions will be judged based on the new perception that you are enemy and no longer based on who you are.

It hurts.

If there were a Hell this is what it would feel like.

Lightbulb Moments: Small Glimpses, Part 2

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.


Some of us, when thinking about our “lightbulb moments”, didn’t have long stories to tell. Maybe there wasn’t an exact moment we could pin-point. Maybe it was one, very simple event. Maybe it was a decade of dominoes, falling one by one, each knocking over another piece of our former belief systems. We compiled some of these comments here, no less important stories merely due to brevity. Small glimpses into the journeys of the people who told them.

Continued from Part 1



I was struggling with depression and looking for answers, so [a friend] took me out to lunch. He was the first person who understood when I told him my background. He was able, in a very gentle, kind-hearted way, to cut right to what my doubts were. “The problem with ATI and the Basic Seminar, Levi, is that in that system you would never have to have an intelligent thought for yourself. You just ask the next authority what to do and never do any thinking for yourself.” That statement was the beginning of the end for me.



I asked one PCA pastor some questions about communion and Sunday services not being in the Bible. He said, “Oh, we made it up.” And I could accept that because there is something calming and safe about an organized time to grieve, which is what services were for me. Then I asked other pastors later and they bullshitted about how I just didn’t understand and their way was in the bible.

If it’s honest, self-awareness that church is made up of, then I can participate and get something out of it. If the leaders are bullshitting themselves that their way is prescribed in an ancient, divine book, then I can’t participate.



When Debi Pearl spoke of their daughter, Rebekah, it was with much adoration — she is a musician, composer, author, missionary, etc. Debi attributed Rebekah’s passion and drive to the fact that R. had never been sexually molested. She then followed up by stating that no one who has been sexually molested can live up to their spiritual potential.

After I was raped, I realized with great clarity that this was an enormous lie. A lie so large I couldn’t even see the end of it. Then I realized that the entire premise of their teachings was a lie. Finally, I came to the conclusion that my entire belief system was based on lie after misconception after hypocrisy after more lies… and I needed to throw it all away.



But in many ways it was my bully father himself that made me question things. There were certain people I either liked, thought were nice or intelligent, or at the very least good people, and then I would hear him tear them apart, either behind their backs to whatever family member or audience he was addressing, or to their face in quite a few instances.
His unchecked rage and hatred of seemingly paltry details and character traits or actions made me double-check my unquestioning obedience.


I am writing this from the mind/viewpoint of who I was then, not necessarily who I am now.

I was a senior in high school sitting in my first “Worldview Academy” with Bill Jack. He was doing one of his infamous “Q&A with a Non-Christian” sessions, and this one was him pretending to be a “gay guy”. As soon as he started talking the entire front row of teenage boys jumped back and moved their chairs, to get away from him. Everyone was laughing at Mr. Jack’s over the top interpretation and “effeminate” behavior. When he finished I expected him to scold the boys for reacting that way, but instead he applauded them and told them that was the right response. I felt sick to my stomach. Sure, it was a “sin” to be gay, but that didn’t mean we had to treat gay people as gross or vile or make fun of them. Did we?

I remember this was one of the first times I started to think that maybe we had it wrong. Maybe Jesus didn’t act like a conservative Christian.

There were definitely many moments over the next 13 years of my life up until now, but that was one of the first times I looked at an adult who I was supposed to respect and take his word as “truth”, and I just knew in my gut he was WRONG.



It was my parents. They were hypocritical and abusive. They had impossible standards for me to meet and didn’t even meet the lowest of bars for themselves. My dad sexually molested me as a pre-teen and into my teen years, but that was no big deal according to my Mom, because “God Forgives!”. Yet I held hands with the man I was in love with as a 20 year old, “Shock and horror!!”

My dad would watch porn, and he would make lewd comments about actresses bodies while we were watching movies, but I wasn’t allowed to “give my heart away” because that was emotional impurity!

As a teen I jumped through all their hoops and followed all their rules, and they still didn’t trust me, didn’t respect me, didn’t believe me. My word was mud and yet I had never given them a reason not to trust me. I was living under a microscope. My father told me he could see my Heart (funny, I remember reading in the Bible that only God sees the heart?)

When I met my husband and fell in love with him, they were so angry because I didn’t submit to their will to marry the son of their long-time friend. They tried to control everything, including my heart. They thought they could tell me when to give my heart away, and to whom.

I remember watching The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring and Arwen says (about her necklace) “It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart” and I suddenly woke up from the courtship crap I had been fed for years. A movie taught me that my own heart belonged to me!

While I was growing up, each of my older siblings in turn would have strained relationships with our parents because of “rebellion”. My parents would badmouth the “rebellious” sibling and I resolved to never be like that, never be rebellious. Then I grew up and it was my turn to be the Black Sheep and I realized “rebellion” was code for “Becoming their own person”.

I was in my 20’s when my mother turned my entire family against me, because I was in love with a man my parents didn’t approve of. I wanted to make my own decisions in life and I was an outcast for it.

After my wedding, I got pregnant and my child was born, and I fell in love. How much I loved my child made me realize how little my parents cared about me. They didn’t ever care about me, not really. They liked me when they could parade me in front of their friends at church, how respectful and useful I was, how devoted I was to my faith. I was their trophy daughter, the one that followed all the rules. They liked me when they could control me. But once I found my mind, and my spine, I was less than nothing. So if Christians, who are supposed to be the Salt & Light, can’t even treat their own children with any respect and anything resembling real love, why should I look to them as being morally superior? Everything I experienced in my childhood and teen years has shown me that they are not. I would be willing to believe that my parents were an isolated case, if I didn’t know for a fact that they told many others in our churches about my father’s abuse, and nobody lifted a finger to help. They had lots of grace for the molester but not so much as a second glance for the victim. And Jesus wept.

Lightbulb Moments: Small Glimpses


CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.


Some of us, when thinking about our “lightbulb moments”, didn’t have long stories to tell. Maybe there wasn’t an exact moment we could pin-point. Maybe it was one, very simple event. Maybe it was a decade of dominoes, falling one by one, each knocking over another piece of our former belief systems. We compiled some of these comments here, no less important stories merely due to brevity. Small glimpses into the journeys of the people who told them.



I spent four plus years in Josh Harris’ church, and his teaching wasn’t terrible but it was the people in my care groups who really made me start questioning things. Then I met my now husband and the reactions we got from our parents and people around us and the shame they all tried to heap on us for simply loving each other really pulled the plug for me.

My dad was really into the whole arranged marriage “I have to choose your spouse” thing so for him he really fought my choice because I chose and didn’t give him any say in the matter. I also just realized my dad was the literal catalyst for me when I found out at 14 that he was/is a porn addict and has been addicted for 40 years, and then I started seeing how hypocritical he is and that started all the questioning about my faith, I just didn’t know it then.

The biggest thing for me was when he kept trying to get me to do what he said while he did the complete opposite. He told me it didn’t matter what he did, it only mattered that I did what he said to do.



I realized how many things I had never considered, or questions glossed over with religious speak. The real kicker for me was the lack of honest church history, where the Bible came from, how it changed over the centuries, and what has been added or subtracted from it. Then I realized that the church’s only focus is on devotion; no history, no context, and no questions please. I decided I couldn’t walk that any more and left.



There was an event that started everything for me. I fell in love at 17. And thus the hold of Purity Culture loosened a little as I realized everything Gothard and others taught about purity and courtship was ridiculous and didn’t add up in the real world. That was the beginning of the end. I started questioning all of the teachings of Gothard that our family operated under. I threw out modesty and embraced Christian rock music. I was still stuck on the Pearl’s though, both their child-training stuff and their “how to be a godly doormat” book. When those things didn’t bring about the promised results, I realized they were crap too. I embraced Christian egalitarianism and peaceful parenting. I stopped praying years ago when I realized how strange the notion was. We were poor and one day our home burned to the ground, taking everything we owned with it. I begged God for a week to help me find our wedding rings that had been in a bathroom drawer. I had perfect faith that He would do this one little thing for me because he loved me. But the days wore on as I dug through the ashes and I didn’t find them. I realized then that prayer was bogus, people’s excuses for why prayer did or did not work were illogical, and maybe God didn’t care about the little things in my life after all. Then I started studying theistic evolution and examining flood geology and one more belief system fell. In the past 13 years, one by one, I realized everything I’d believed was a lie or at the very least, completely unproven. The Bible as God’s word was one of the last things to go, and actually it was a history of western civilization class that started that one. Last year, looking back over my life, I realized that anyone could make the Bible and God approve or condemn anything they wanted it to, and that I had no more reason to believe in any of it and couldn’t logically reconcile in my mind or life anything involving the Christian religion.



I was already having problems with the Old Testament as it was, and [John Piper’s] justifications for the OT atrocities and his view of god as being this cruel creature who rules on a whim (and we should not only accept that but marvel in it and praise him) just repulsed me even further.

Phillip:   I thought it was just good inside jokes about BJU/PCC at first, but they were the first to link me to the Les Roloff/Hephzibah House/Chuck Phelps scandals and I soon saw there were major issues under the Fundy facade.


The thing that started my wheels turning was a missions trip to Nicaragua when I was 18, but after that everything just snowballed. The first person I can remember really edging me along my path of waywardness is probably Mark Driscoll. Way back before he was disgraced, when, if you didn’t like him the problem was you and the biggest controversy surrounding the man was that he swore. We watched his video series on Ruth in my YA Sunday school class and he kept making these super sexist jokes (one of them was about Ruth/women offering herself/themselves sexually to Boaz/men in godly submission, he said “We’re putting the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundamentalism,'”), and laughing at his own jokes, and it was sickening and nobody else was bothered and that upset me just as much.

The final straw was a guy who occasionally taught the YA class at my next (and final) church who convinced a room full of naysayers that sometimes god asks us to commit genocide and he might ask it of us today and that’s okay. I’ve always had a huge problem with people who need to be told what to do to such an extent that they’ll bend over backwards to justify the worst of atrocities simply because they’re in the bible and it says god commanded them. I’d been reframing such events for years already (Abraham failed whatever test he thought he was taking; it’s easy to mistake what you want for the voice of god’s approval if what you want is to do something morally unconscionable), it’s NOT HARD, but I was surrounded by people who would apparently rather take up a call to mass murder than try to think about the text a different way. That was literally a terrifying Sunday.



Mine wasn’t a negative. Nor was it a celebrity person. It was the witness of gay Christians. When I couldn’t deny the legitimacy of their spiritual experience, I had to broaden my own understanding of Christianity. Of course, the fear-mongerers were right; once I started questioning, all sorts of things fell apart. Except they were wrong about me losing my faith. Now my conservative friends and family don’t quite know what to do with a progressive, Bible-loving Christian.


The Wave Crashes: Hannah’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Hannah’s blog Phoenix Tat Girl. It was originally published on July 2, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

My Personal Story About Growing Up Religious and How That Ended

I currently live in a sunny, tropical location where I feel privileged to be able to daily observe the waves crashing as they roll in to shore. I use the waves as a metaphor for how I came to be the person I now am. I grew up in a conservative, fundamental, patriarchal, Calvinist, creationist, quiverfull, single-family income family. All of the -isms and ists and such slowly grew into our family until they reached their peak right about a year after I finished my 12th year of homeschooling/co-op/independent learning/community colleges.

At first, my family wasn’t too radical about religion. My parents knew they wanted to homeschool us from the beginning. I was the oldest, and with my father an officer in the military, I’m sure our moving around every 2 years probably played a factor in it. They wanted to give their children a religious up-bringing. I loved my childhood. My mother would take us on great and unique field-trips. We lived on the east coast then, and visiting Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived and invented, and running on the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane, and seeing where George Washington carved his name in a natural bridge in the Appalachian mountains brought American history alive to me.

Then, when I was around 12, a new pastor was brought in by the church, and my dad started to become even more “religious”. He started leading bible studies, and every drive to church would quiz us on Bible trivia. He insisted we have personal devotions every morning as soon as we woke up, and we’d have family devotions every night after dinner. I enjoyed learning about the Bible; I didn’t mind memorizing long passages and worked up to memorizing entire books of the Bible (his requirement before we could learn how to drive). A few years later, when I was around 16, he started taking me to creationism, evangelism, and worldview seminars. I enjoyed going to the seminars because I learned new things. I’d read the Bible countless times; I knew what it said, so different material was fascinating. I thought I wanted to be a missionary, so we took in-depth Islamic studies similar to what missionaries would learn. I went on a couple short-term mission trips, and I realized I loved traveling. I made lasting memories meeting the local people in third-world countries. I particularly loved hearing their stories and seeing how they lived their life, trying to understand their culture.

My father believed everything built on each other, and the Bible and God should impact every part of your life. Christianity was the one thing that my dad and I shared.

I was a “rebellious” child, so I was in trouble frequently, but religion was the one thing that I knew I could talk about with my dad. Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christianity and A Case for Christ made a huge impact on me. I liked having all the answers to life’s toughest questions tightly sewn up in a book. Lee’s life story, that he used to be an atheist and he turned to Christ, was powerful and spoke volumes to me. I was baptized in my late teens, and while I had the occasional desire to “be more worldly” for the most part I was content with my faith.

***Far from the ocean shore, a small ridge forms past out-cropping of rocks. It didn’t know it, but the ocean behind it is telling it it’s going to do something big, eventually.***

Fast forward to the couple years after I graduated. My family (prodded on by my father) switched to a new church. The smallest church we’d ever attended. It was 40-50 people total I believe. My dad liked the pastor because he was staunchly Calvinist, patriarchal, and believed in hard-core evangelism. We became even more religious with church all day Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday night evangelism. I had mixed feelings about the church. Since it was super small, there wasn’t an eligible guy in sight (let’s face it, every good Christian daughter gets married sooner rather than later). But I did get on board with the evangelism. I told myself it was preparation for the mission-field.

But still, asking pure strangers “Are you good enough?” never quite sat well with me.

I felt like I was guilting them into something. Shouldn’t a genuine faith not require guilt and fear? I preferred an exchange of ideas, friendly debate, explaining flaws in people’s logic.

I was able to go to community college, and I had a few part-time jobs that kept me out of the house a few days of the week. I loved working and earning a paycheck. Babysitting was easy for me, and better yet, when the babies went to sleep, I could try to catch up on the social culture that I felt so far behind in by watching cable TV, and even an occasional R-rated movie. I’d listen to current music on the radio, and even a couple late-night shows that I knew my mother would never approve of, so I never told her.

***The ridge of water gathers strength, and form. It grows higher and seems to move faster. Even it doesn’t know where or when it’s going to break. It doesn’t know if if it’s going to be majestic and break cleanly, like glass, or tumble over-itself in a mass of foam.***

It starts in a worldly place, with a Christian friend. Of all things, I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating to her. A tall, dark, handsome and mysterious man who has a couple of classes with me walked over and joined the conversation. He was obviously one of the “others”. The non-believers, the worldly people. We begin conversing, he starts asking me questions, and I tell him I don’t know, but I’d like to do more research. He’s very clear that he doesn’t want me to lose my faith; he just wanted me to think and explore some more. I tell him I don’t mind. It’s a good thing. I like researching and expanding my knowledge. So I go home and pull out every single book in our library that might possibly have to do with creationism apologetics. I read the sections on Carbon-14, and then, like the good scholar I am, I look at the reference pages.

I am shocked to find the vast majority of the references were from obviously other Christian scientists who obviously believed in Creationism.

I had a hard time accepting what I saw there, plainly. The books had been there the whole time, but I hadn’t seen the obvious deception. Their circular and erroneous logic.

***The wave quickly peaks, its crest perfectly formed in the crescent and the face of the wave crystal clear for a nano-second before it crashes and the rest of the wave folds into itself.***

Looking at that reference page was the beginning of the end for me. I’d decided that I’d need to move out. I had to reassess everything that I thought about my life, especially my spiritual life, and I couldn’t do it while living with my family, so I told my parents. My dad arranged for an intervention for me. They took me against my will to his pastor where they guilt-tripped me until I gave up my cell phones. The pastor wanted me to give up my “worldly” jobs, and quit going to a “worldly” school.

He pushed for no internet, no phone, no friends, only family and church until I stopped doubting my faith and returned to the fold.

That was when the wave crashed for me. I viewed it as essentially brain-washing. I told my father “If all you say is true, why do you need to brainwash me? Haven’t you always said the Truth is there? If I dig more, are you that uncertain that Your truth won’t hold?” It was a wave crashing. Because my father had taught me that everything depended on each other, every spiritual belief I had crumbled into a wide swath of bubbles and foam and nothing-ness. And it crashed fast and hard – I had moved out of my family’s house within 6 weeks of looking in that first creation apologetics book.

Then, because my spiritual beliefs vanished, my life choices adjusted. I realized what I truly loved: learning and adventure. Traveling and meeting people and seeing how people lived their lives from their eyes, their culture, their values. I was free to work on my career because I sincerely enjoy earning a paycheck and providing for myself. I realized I could enjoy an intimate relationship without the vows of marriage, because, I reasoned, someone who’s not sure of themselves personally, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually should not commit themselves for a life-time to someone else.

But most important, I was free to be me, and to figure out what life meant to me, not someone else’s interpretation of something that I should live by.

My wave crashed. Because it crashed, my life changed, but it was necessary, I believe it would have happened sooner or later. The ocean that is my life had the tremors all through my childhood. But it opened me up for my own personal journey, and that’s what matters in the end.

Words From God: Danica’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: Danica is a MK and homeschool alumni. She blogs at Ramblings of an Undercover TCK.


In this seriesPart One |Part Two


As Nancy slowly became more and more enmeshed in the prayer group, things started to shift.

I don’t know if it was the shift was so slow it was imperceptible to me, or that by that point I was so caught up in Nancy’s paradigm I didn’t notice it, but either way, the end result was that after six months, the prayer group had lost half its members, and the ones who stayed were sold out to Nancy’s vision. It was a vision handed down by God’s Apostle and Prophet Chuck Pierce, who Nancy had traveled to see at one of his conferences.

Chuck Pierce was someone I had never heard of. Looking like Santa Clause on vacation with his snowy head of hair, matching beard, and penchant for colorful Hawaiian shirts, Chuck is a top apostle and prophet in the New Apostolic Reformation movement. The NAR is based on a hierarchy pulled from the list of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4:11. The so-called ‘Five-Fold Ministry’ places apostles first, followed by prophets, then evangelists, pastors and teachers. Devotees promote a strict adherence to this order, saying that this structure must be in place for a church to be properly aligned.

The year that Nancy went to his conference, Chuck and Dutch Sheets, another NAR prophet, had traveled around the country and received what they said were words from God for each State in the Union. Prayer warriors were supposed to ‘pray the words in’. At his conferences, you could count on the blowing of shofars and the waving of banners as the praise team sang prophetically, coming up with songs on the spot (inspired directly through the Holy Spirit, they said) that they recorded and sold to conference attendees. Nancy came home from the conference with CD’s for all of us, which she encouraged us to play in our homes as we ‘warred with praise’.

She said she had received a ‘mantle’ from Chuck’s team to do the work of ministry in our area.

(Interesting side note: Chuck Pierce also gave a ‘mantle’ to Mormon talk show host Glenn Beck when Beck and his wife attended a service at his Global Spheres Center, later playing it off to critics as a ‘mantle from Israel’, not from Chuck himself).

Nancy also came back with the year’s Vision for America, handed down by God’s prophets to us lower prophets to ‘pray in’. There was a Kingdom Shift coming, apparently, where a New Door would open into a New Season. Those who had Ears To Hear would answer the call, forsake king and kin, and enter into the New Season.

But there was a catch. Nancy had a vision foretelling our church and pastor weren’t going to enter into the New Season. They had welcomed and embraced the anti-Christ spirit.

If I, or anyone else in the prayer group, didn’t leave the church and join the home church Nancy was starting under the leadership of Chuck Pierce, then we would be partnering with the anti-Christ spirit and would be left on the other side of the closed Door, missing out on God’s New Season.

A Season that would surely usher in the End Times. As part of this new season, Chuck had issued a call for people to start up home churches, and Nancy was answering that call. She was sending her tithe to his ministry, she said, and encouraged us to send our tithes to her so she could pass them on to Chuck as well.

Now let me stop for just a minute. Writing this all out, it sounds like utter horse bologna. It sounds, literally, crazy. It’s honestly embarrassing. I mean, I had been raised to be able to spot cults coming. I knew the scriptures. I prided myself for my entire life on my critical thinking. So how was it that I couldn’t see this fledgling cult for what it was?

The simple answer is … I ignored my intuition.

My intuition warned me several times that something was off, but each time it reared its head, I firmly squashed it down again, misidentifying it as criticism and judgement.

The turning point for me was when she said I must leave the church and join her. I cried and prayed and agonized over this for days.

By that time, I had completely given away all autonomy of thought, relying on her to interpret any words or visions I had and give me understanding of scripture.

I was terrified of partnering with the anti-Christ spirit, but something in me, something very deep down at my core, said, NO! so loudly and so adamantly that I came up against an internal brick wall. I literally couldn’t follow her, even though I desperately wanted to.

The last contact I had with Nancy was on the phone when I told her, “I can’t leave the church. I probably am partnering with the anti-Christ spirit but I just can’t leave.” For about a month prior I had felt a change in my ‘inner circle’ status. Instead of the loving acceptance and happy understanding we had shared at the beginning, I increasingly felt a subtle but growing disapproval. It caused me to ever more frantically try to figure out exactly what to say, how to curry favor, to discern what it was I was doing wrong in her eyes.

I hung up from that phone conversation with my soul in splinters.

Time passed.

Without constant exposure to her presence, Nancy’s influence over me started to wane.

One day I woke up, like Edmund in the White Witch’s palace, to see with devastating clarity the web of lies she’d woven around me.

I made an appointment with my pastor, sitting broken and crying on his couch, to apologize for my part in misleading the people in the prayer group.

My faith, it was shattered.

I have since spent hours researching what it means to be pulled in by a narcissist. Every first-hand account I’ve been able to find follows a predictable pattern.

1. The Enchantment – The narcissist seductively woos you through fantastical stories that are tailor made to appeal solely to you. Narcissists have an uncanny ability to read their audience, intuiting exactly what that audience wants and needs to hear. Since they see their audience as a mirror, reflecting their own grandiosity back to them, the narcissist will choose what image to project depending on their audience, in order to communicate, See? I’m exactly like you … only BETTER. Thus they pull their audience in.

2. The Enlisting – Now that they have you, the narcissist enlists you into their Grand Scheme. This could be as a romantic partner, business partner, cult member, band member … the manifestations of a narcissist’s Grand Scheme are as varied as the people creating them. But the common thread is that the narcissist will have an image they want you to spend yourself for, and since by this time you’re fully under the narcissist’s enchantment, you’ll do so willingly and wholeheartedly.

3. The Execution – Everyone has a shelf life. I really don’t know why narcissists cycle through people, but it is a recurring pattern. Some people are willing to stay on the ‘outside’ long enough for the narcissist to cycle back to them and eventually start over again with Enchantment. Others get ‘executed’ and are left, bleeding and hopeless and alone, like I was.

My faith, it was shattered.

Everything I had ever known and believed to be true, I now second guessed.

I had so completely surrendered myself to Nancy that I couldn’t think critically for myself anymore. Like we’re warned about in junior high youth group pep talks, I had checked my brain at the door. Nancy had become, in essence, my Holy Spirit.

I was wholly and thoroughly brainwashed in the most insidious way possible, because the entire time I was thinking I was learning something new and different. A revelation of a higher order. Something not to be entrusted to just anyone. A Truth that only those who were called and set apart, only those who really had the discernment to see, could comprehend.

How does a person even come back from that?

My head had become so twisted that I had to shelve everything, in order to examine anything.

I started with God. For the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to doubt if he was real. And if he was real, was he good? And if he was good, was his word true? And if it was true, what did I do with the things in it that had been used to hurt me?

It was a long, slow, painful journey, this dark night of my soul. And yet somehow I have come out of it a better, more complete and truer version of myself. My faith I can hold with mystery and wonder and joy and sadness, knowing that the God I trust gives me the freedom to be honest and ask difficult questions. The swirling winds of doubt and pain that surrounded me in the aftermath of my involvement with Nancy and Chuck Pierce’s NAR cult have blown away the chaff that had grown unquestioned for my entire life, and now only the wheat remains – some of which I never knew was even there, some of which has grown up now that there is room since the chaff is gone.

The thing about a cult is that you don’t know you’re in one until you’re out of it.

The good news is that once you experience the pull of a narcissist, have sacrificed your intuition and your very self upon the altar of their cultish, narcissistic image, then you are able to more easily recognize when the next one … and then the next one … and then the one after that … come along.

Words from God: Danica’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: Danica is a MK and homeschool alumni. She blogs at Ramblings of an Undercover TCK.


In this series: Part One | Part Two


The thing about a cult is that you don’t know you’re in one, until you’re out of it.

Like most kids raised by Born Again Baby Boomers, I grew up hearing about cults from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Jim Jones, the Branch Davidians and Charles Manson were all intriguing villains whose manipulative and destructive exploits peppered my childhood story times with appropriate and delicious horror. The New Age cults in This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, Christian horror books by author Frank Peretti, were held up as examples of what to look for lest my siblings and I be led astray when we got out ‘in the world’.

What nobody told me was that cults can happen within Christianity, in good churches, under the noses of diligent leadership.

My first experience with Nancy was her vociferously shouting, “Amen! That’s right!!” in agreement with our senior pastor’s sermon. Although our church is Assemblies of God in denomination, it is very moderate on the charismatic spectrum. It’s definitely not, as I heard a pastor in Texas once put it, a “Woo-Hoo Church”. So Nancy really stood out from the incongruously orderly sea of former Catholics, military members, and recovering addicts that make up our congregation. A teeny, tiny little voice at the back of my head thought cynically, when I first heard her hearty agreement with the pastor’s words, Who does she think she is? But that voice was immediately quieted and overridden by an inner admonishment to quit being so judgmental, followed quickly by admiration of how strong her voice was. How dedicated she was to hearing the sermon. How unafraid she was to speak truth. I became a little star struck.

A few weeks later, Nancy showed up with her kids to the midweek prayer group I led.

She prayed eloquently about strongholds and principalities and hinted at ‘words’ from God.

I’ve always had a heightened awareness of all things mystical, so this excited me. I thought, Here is someone who knows my language!

She stayed that first night after everyone had left and chatted some about how they’d just moved into a ranch they’d bought. My dream was to own a ranch. She told how they used to be missionaries. I was a missionary kid. And her kids were homeschooled. I was homeschooled and planned on homeschooling my own kids. The pull I felt toward her was powerful. It seemed like so much of her story paralleled my own, almost like she was telling my story back to me, but a better, shiner version. One that was lacking even a hint of the mundane. Like Edmund offered a plate of Turkish Delight, I ate it up.

Over the next few months, Nancy and her kids continued to come to prayer group on Wednesday nights. She began bringing words from God she had printed off of the internet, sent out by prophets I had never heard of. Dutch Sheets. Chuck Pierce. Cindy Jacobs. Peter Wagner. I was encouraged because I was learning to hear from God, too. Here is someone who can disciple me, I thought.

Nancy, herself, also got words from God – long ones that she’d write down on pieces of pink paper and keep folded in the front of her bible.

She invited us all out to her ranch and showed us where she was keeping supplies ‘just in case’. “You mean like, the End Times?” I asked. Her ranch was going to be a way station, an End Times refuge. It was exciting to think about all of us up there, living off the land, a community. Nancy and her kids already knew how to live off the grid, she told us, because she had lived with the Amish for a while.

“The Amish don’t usually take to people on the outside,” she said, “But they loved my kids. They taught us lots of things they don’t normally share with non-Amish.”

This was becoming a recurring theme. It seemed that Nancy had experienced a lot of things in her life.

Her experiences were always ‘special’, things nobody else could ever hope to do.

They either had to do with normally unattainable insider information, like living with the Amish, or they were wildly exciting and somewhat dangerous. She had been married to an arms dealer, she whispered to me one night when we were supposed to be in a worship service with the rest of the church. He was exporting weapons under the guise of missions work. Another time she and the kids narrowly escaped in the dead of night from an armed compound where a cult leader tried to keep them captive. She’d once fasted for 40 days, and at the end of the fast had a vision where she was leading a group of children during the End Times through dangerous roadblocks to the safety of a cave.

I had the thought, once or twice, that her stories sounded a little too fantastical. I mean, what are the odds that so much would happen to one person? But I pushed down these doubts as judgmental thoughts.

Besides, Nancy made me feel special.

By being on her inner circle, I got to share in her reflected glamour.