From Victim to Survivor
(Take Back the Power)
The following testimony is helpful for any who have exited Worldwide Church of God or any of its high demand offshoots or splinter groups. It is a transcription of a message given by L. A. Stuhlman, founder of ESN, at a conference on abusive groups.
NOTE: Please realize that the word "cult" (which was common when this was written) is used in the context of a totalitarian, deceitful, abusive, and mind-manipulating organization which has caused spiritual, emotional, and psychological harm to those involved.
In October of 1993, after being held captive for seven years in a jail cell in Iran, Terry Anderson told America, and I quote, "For seven years they took my life, but they never got my mind." It was that day that I decided that I was no longer a victim* of one of the cruelest crimes toward the human race, but now I was a survivor.
My husband, two boys, and I spent seven years in a Bible-based fundamentalist apocalyptic cult known during the 1970s as one of the most destructive [Bible-based] cults in America.1 My introduction to the fear-based Worldwide Church of God was similar to most cult experiences as I was at a point in my life that led me to searching for truth about God. For a year, we, as a family started visiting churches and listening to religious radio programs. One day, I picked up a FREE magazine at a doctor's office called The Plain Truth, which led me into the most sophisticated psychological entanglement of pseudo-religious cultism one could never imagine.
Within months, I was hooked into the "brainwashing" techniques that encapsulated the mounds of FREE written materials that the Worldwide Church of God piled at my doorstep. I was awed by how professional the writers appeared and how I was never coaxed to send money for all the high quality booklets I collected and studied. No minister was pounding my door; everything truly seemed so FREE. What I didn't understand through innocent ignorance on my part was what all that FREE material was doing to my heart, my brain and my life.
On the surface, the messages seemed to answer questions I often pondered, such as life, God and death. The more I read, the more my concerns and questions were answered, so I thought. Everything had to be true, because no one would lie so boldly in the name of God and Jesus Christ and put it in print. The twisted ideas of prophecy, the Tribulation, "God's one true church" and obedience to "God's government" forced conformity or threatened punishment with annihilation in the Lake of Fire dare I turn my back on the truth. This rhetoric hoisted me and thousands of others throughout the past sixty years into a funnel of destruction.
I use the term "brainwashing" along with mind control as I feel these abusive cults like the Worldwide Church of God replace the physical torture with emotional and psychological torture but the effects and results are the same. Within one year, my family and I lost control on our lives, goals, future, identities, will, self-esteem, extended family and friends. Did we have a choice? Yes, our choice consisted of responding to the "calling" of the Worldwide Church of God, or obliterate in the Lake of Fire for disobedience. The intense "programming techniques" guided our every move. We were lured into the "church," which consisted of a totalitarian, dictatorial government forcing strong legalism with mandates and laws. As in other cults, once you're in the black and white thinking system, it is near to impossible to free yourself from the fear programming and phobias that act as a psychological whip, dare you deviate from the cult leaders regime.
For seven years we wore a smile as we paid up to 35% of our gross income to "God's Apostle" out of fear of annihilation, dare we steal from God. Our entire life was wrapped around the "one true church" and fulfilling our responsibilities to it. What the members ate, drank, their sex lives, thinking, and every move was tailored to the specifications for being part of the elect. To be God centered and spiritual minded meant obeying God as he spoke through his leaders2. Sound familiar? The commune was in our brain. Big Brother was in our home.
We didn't dare question, we sacrificed, we trusted the cult leaders' words; we responded to negativity from the "uncalled" with pity as we were the only ones in the know about God's great plan. So we thought!
The real message under the propaganda was addictive, deceptive, lying, coercive and psychologically paralyzing. The following paragraph from a publication called, The Unpardonable Sin, is representative of the intense training and daily diet I had, and I know many of you have had in your respective cults:
"Repentance is a change of mind and ATTITUDE. It is a change from this carnal attitude of hostility toward God--of rebellion against God's Law, to the opposite attitude of love, submission, obedience and worship of God, and reliance on Him. It is an 'about-face' in attitude arid intent, to THE WAY of God's righteousness.
"Repentance means that you come to really SEE yourself as you ARE--as GOD sees you--as a self-centered, hostile, shriveled-up, rotten, vile, filthy, sinning hulk of rotting human flesh, unworthy to breathe the free air God gives you!
"It means to be so SORRY, not only for what you have done, but, also for WHAT YOU ARE--that you ABHOR yourself that you come, emotionally broken up, throwing yourself on God's mercy, asking His forgiveness, and His redemption! It means wanting to be made righteous.
"...For God's Spirit will dwell only in such a mind."
How's that for a self-esteem booster, or a self-worth reminder?
[Note: The above is not the meaning of repentance. The Greek word metanoia, which is translated repentance in our English Bibles, means "a change of mind."]
This type of repetitive programming, leaves us powerless and paralyzed within the cult, and when we exit the fundamentalist programming our thinking attempts to dictate our lives through repression and depression.
HOW DO WE HEAL FROM THE EMOTIONAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL-SPIRITUAL ABUSE? HOW DO WE MOVE FROM VICTIM--TO SURVIVOR?
Approximately four years into the cult, I started to think. I picked up on lies, duplicities and contradictions. I was seeing some things my family or cult-deep friends didn't see. I was unsettled to observe so much unhappiness--alcoholism, hypocrisy and depression. I could see no spontaneity or individuality with members. We were taught to overlook "the weak of the world" but the things I saw, were too stressing to bypass. I started taking a closer look at my own life; I too was part of that system. My first rebellion consisted of pursuing self-education (one of the bigger sins!). I passed the time in bookstores which led me to buying my first book on recovery, The Emotionally Abused Woman by Beverly Engle.
As I began to understand "abuse," I was able to discern that the Worldwide Church of God was nothing more than an abusive, fear threatening system with the goal of controlling my life and pocketbook. From that point on, the intensity of my research and education continued to escalate. With the knowledge and information I received, I also was confronted with the exploitation and violation of my human rights. And make no mistake about it, it hurt!! As my self-respect and esteem was in the gutter, I struggled to repair the damages. As I started to feel again, my emotions were split into two sides, one of power and hope, and the other, of despair and weakness. I studied, investigated and researched the history of the Worldwide Church of God and abusive, cultic organizations in general. I was soon able to identify the corruptive psychological techniques the vindictive controllers, commonly known as cult leaders, used to recruit me and thousands of others in effort to maintain their tax-exempt financial empires. The suicide rate within the WCG was high, and now I knew why. Exiting an abusive system such as the Worldwide Church of God's may seem impossible to those whom are confronted with the challenge. And if the psychological damage were not enough to contend with, the spiritual derailment complicates matters more so.
We who are survivors of abusive, exploitive groups, commonly known as cults, must take back the power the criminals cowardly and deceptively steal from us as they collect their millions under deceit intimidation while in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The only way, we, as a people, can fight this atrocity in our society, is to take back the FREEDOM we rightfully deserve. Our freedom of religion, freedom of information, freedom of education, and freedom to think; is being eroded away by the sleazy, slick, manipulative tactics perpetrated by those heading up organizations of organized crime, while calling it religion.
As we move from the "victim" thinking, to the "survivor" thinking we gain strength and control. We, the ones who are survivors, can and must take back the power. Collectively and individually we must turn our experiences into education and awareness to warn those whom may be the next victims. The purpose of the psychological cult programs is to control the member and erode the victim's ability, which in turn paralysis him from reclaiming his own power, or from fighting back. The destitute ex-member finds he is unable to counter those still under the mind control and the financially powerful legal teams. They plan, that we as ex-members will stumble around as if in a drunken stupor while we plow through the years of hopeful recovery. There IS a better way!
WE MUST TAKE BACK THE POWER"When human rights are violated, that's when war begins."
Knowledge is power! A survivor owes it to himself to educate and research not only his own cult but the entire cult phenomenon. If for no other reason, do it for yourself. We can recover from the damage if we know what they did and how they did it. The cult leader continues to control the ex-member as long as that ex-member succumbs to the tactics once delivered. I cannot stress that enough!
What we see occurring today with cults in our society is a spiritual and psychological holocaust. Our individual horrific experiences will mean something and have a purpose when we turn the negative victimization into a positive result. We must learn from the past and turn that knowledge into the tools we need to fight against the tactics of abuse, deception, manipulation and coercion emanating from the groups in our midst. As I observed the Simpson vs. the People trial, at times I, too, was overwhelmed at the manipulations and mind-control tactics that prevailed in our U.S. court rooms, but all along I felt that whatever the outcome would be, the Brown and Goldman family would survive because they were turning their rightful rage into a positive movement against domestic abusive violence. No matter how one views the verdict, the fact remains that Nicole Brown was a victim of abuse from the hands of a controller. Her tragedy carries a message of warning and will save lives in the future. We, too, must allow our rightful rage to be channeled into strength, not weakness, as we take back the power from the "Godfathers of today's society."
Recovery means we are survivors; we are no longer victims. We have the freedom to say and do the things our former cult contacts have lost. We were once in the spiritual compound with walls too steep to climb, but now--we--are--here. We are wiser and stronger then we were before our cult experience. That, to me is a hard earned gift.
Within the span of seven years, the Worldwide Church of God deceptively coerced $60,000 out of our pocket. They did it though horrific tactics of fear and guilt. We were not stupid people, we had education behind us; we were not sheltered or unaware of crooks out there. The point is, the techniques of coercive persuasion and propaganda have been sharpened and modified throughout the past five decades, that anyone can be caught unaware, especially when they are on a spiritual journey. My first call to CAN3 I spoke with Marty. I recall saying to him, "But you don't understand. They--got--me!" (A little elitism left over, I guess.) My previous education and work experience would lead one to think that I would not have succumbed to such gross deception. I'm here to tell all that no one is immune from this corruptive psychological virus that increasingly permeates our society and infiltrates our schools.
STEPS TO RECOVERY AND SUCCESS
Recovery from cult abuse is a humbling and life long process. [UPDATE: Recovery from emotional and spiritual abuse is possible and doesn't have to continue a lifetime.] We build on each step we take. My personal recovery consisted of reaching out to other victims and putting my rightful anger to constructive use. I started the Exit & Support Network™ two years ago. In its sixty years of destruction the Worldwide Church of God did not have a support network for exiters--now it does. The Exit & Support Network™ has affiliates throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. When a questioning or exiting member finds their way to one of us, they have access to references, referrals, exit counseling, research work, history, investigative assistance and, most importantly, connection to hundreds who have been there. Our collective research has taken us to over twelve conferences dealing with cults, abuse, and mind-control issues. We've traveled to the Library of Congress, the Archives, to other avenues of education I never would have dreamed possible. The more I reached out to other victims, the stronger I became. The most therapeutic measure for me was becoming an Activist of Awareness against this heinous crime.
The recovery process must include the understanding of the vastness of the cult problem in our society. If I had to attribute one key factor that was most significant toward my continued recovery, it would be having learned that the exploitation and victimization by the Worldwide Church of God was not a personal attack on me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also helped to know that I was one of millions caught in the tangled webs spun by these groups. I was almost immediately self-deprogrammed just by learning that hundreds of other groups were deceiving their recruits by using the same words and tactics as the Worldwide Church of God used on me. The Worldwide Church of God may have been one of the most destructive groups in society for awhile, but rest assured they are just one little pea in the pod now!There are three ABC's to recovery that have proven to be helpful to hundreds of Worldwide Church of God exiters that have tapped into the Exit & Support Network™:
- Investigate your group. Research the ins and outs, the history, the leaders, the financial holdings, the origins of the spiritual dogma, etc.
- Educate yourself on the emotional, psychological and spiritual affects. Read the many books available, use tapes [CDs], attend conferences, invest in your wellness. Recognize what aids you to overcome it. A survivor can get the "programs" out of the mental system by identifying them and uprooting them.
- Research the cult phenomenon. Get your attention off of what they did to you and on to what the cults are doing to all of the human race in society today.
I also include my "10 steps for success" program:
- Never touch anything that says, "FREE." "FREE" cost me $60,000. I humbly share that with you, so you will remember it.
- Never join any religious organization without a thorough investigation of the group, its history and its financial accountability. Persuasion by false representation in the name of Jesus Christ or God, is a sure fire way for a cult criminal to control his recruit and empty the pockets at the same time.
- Ask the leader to open his financial books to you.
- Beware of the nicest people you've ever met.
- Don't be fooled by "spiritual words" or "do good" community services. Get your antennas up and make the group stand UP to your scrutiny.
- Use your gut instinct; it's probably right.
- Pursue on-going education in the areas of propaganda, mind-control, hypnosis, abuse, religious addiction, and fundamentalism.4
- Write your testimony, even if it goes no further than your top drawer. Log your memories, share your experiences. Don't hide, there are people who will listen as you take back the power from the cult leader. Pick the side of strength. Seek counseling or therapy when needed and make sure therapists are cult smart. [Note: The therapist should also have a knowledge of complex post traumatic stress disorder.]
- Replace the past cult life, with new challenges--piano lessons, courses, exercise classes--anything. That will begin to restore your self-worth, and self respect. Keep the brain going with positive replacements.
- For those who are survivors of Bible-groups, please give yourself space before feeling compelled to jump into the next church. Your whole thinking process has been controlled by a destructive system and you need time to clear that system out before taking on new commitments, especially when done out of guilt.
In conclusion, I say to everyone here, BEWARE! The religious cults are transforming right under your eyes. The deceptive groups are getting smarter as they get politically correct. They are enhancing their storefronts, sprucing up their identities, and changing their tunes as they cunningly attempt to mainstream and infiltrate society with the most dangerous methods ever applied. As the public, for the most part, is asleep at the wheel, cults like the Worldwide Church of God, are attempting to shed their "cult reputation" and will stoop to any level to manipulate the wisest of minds. Over these past couple of years, the Worldwide Church of God has demonstrated how seductive these groups can be as they continue to deceive and enslave the people, exploit the Constitution, enhance the mind-control tactics, and use persuasive coercion as they continue to build their financial empires and self-serving power governments. Do not be fooled or manipulated by reports of "doctrinal changes," new names,5 or new leaders. The cosmetic enhancements are targeted to fool you!
The Bible-based cults of today may pose as a religion, but that religious deception translates into:
- Highway robbery
- Political agendas
- Financial empires
Lastly, I leave my ex-cult member peers with a word of encouragement. Your voice counts. Collectively, we must stand together and report the atrocity. We are the ones who must speak out. We can no longer sit back and wait for the other guy to do it. We--are--that--guy. We must not hang on to the skirt tails of the few awareness organizations available and expect them to do all the work. There is a war in our society and it's aimed at our brains. Knowledge and awareness are the powerful weapons we have as a defense from allowing this crime to continue unnoticed. We cannot sit back and allow the continued death and destruction of this cultic holocaust when we ourselves have so much annunciation to educate and warn the public with. In my humble opinion the most therapeutic measure we can do toward healing is to reach out to others by being pro-active in awareness of cults.
Terry Anderson was a "lucky" guy; they never got his mind because he knew how to protect it. You and I both know that there are thousands of others who are not that fortunate.
Thank you for listening.
By L. A. Stuhlman, Founder of Exit & Support Network™
Posted March 17, 2001
*Note: Some prefer the word "target" instead of "victim" which denotes powerlessness. Tim Field, author of Bully in Sight has this to say: "The word 'victim' allows disingenuous people to tap into and stimulate other people's misconceptions and prejudices of victimhood. 'Target' correctly identifies that it is the choice of the bully to bully, it is not the choice of the target to be targeted."
An Open Letter to Our Acquaintances in Worldwide Church of God (Very important letter by ESN founder which enabled many to question deception; shows the reason why the decision was made to exit WCG. One interesting part shows how WCG used thought reform in order to instigate their new changes.)
Outsider's Inside Update™ Newsletters (especially if you exited during the changes)
1 Around 1955 to 1956 WCG changed to a very despotic leadership.
2 While God says He speaks to us today through His Son (See Hebrews 1:2a), leaders of exploitive, totalistic organizations deceive members into believing they alone speak for God. Hence the "government" in the organization is correlated with "God" in the person's mind.
3 Today CAN is no longer a recommended resource. It was bankrupted by Scientology and is staffed by its operatives. Any mention of CAN (Cult Awareness Network) on this message is before this took place. More information on CAN is contained in this offsite report.
4 Between 1920 and 1950, fundamentalists were preoccupied with fighting theological modernism, and between 1950 and 1970 they were busy opposing New Evangelicalism and ecumenism. However, today the word "fundamentalist" has been given a bad name due to extreme fundamentalism. (Read about how extremism in abusive churches is used. ESN also recommends our readers research the origins of neo-evangelicalism and the New Age Movement, as WCG has involved themselves with such. (OIU#5 newsletter covers the Ecumenical Movement and OIU#5, pt. 2 under Communism And the Churches includes info on how fundamentalism was used to discredit religion. Also see links under Discernment & Research and our Booklist under "Special Interest" and "The New Age Movement/Occult")
5 In April 2009 Worldwide Church of God changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.)