A narrow escape from a religious cult

2010-10-09 16:52

Irecently attempted to take on a very ambitious assignment, which served only to expose my naïveté and idealism about other people’s spiritual beliefs.

As a broadcast journalist I’m interested in what makes people tick spiritually.

I recently invited a number of mainstream churches – which in essence believe their members are the only true Christians who will make it through the pearly gates – for a panel discussion on my radio show.

The topic under discussion was: “Is there such a thing as the one true church?”

I had no idea this topic would lead to war. With hindsight I understand why all but one of the churches turned down my invitation – when you are convinced that you have the key to unlock the deep mysteries of the spiritual realm you do not want to be ­challenged.

I should know. I once belonged to one of those churches.

I was recruited on campus as a young unsuspecting first-year university student.

I am a preacher’s daughter and I grew up in a Christian home with strict Christian teachings, so I had a soft spot for what seemed to be harmless spiritual engagement.

I was lured in under the guise of attending a “non-denominational lunchtime ­Bible discussion”.

I was 18 and vulnerable. My first serious relationship had just gone horribly wrong and, coupled with my religious background, I was the perfect candidate for recruitment.

Before long I had started a series of Bible studies, all intended to induct me and other recruits into the organisation’s operating system.

One Bible study session titled “Denominations” denounced all other Christian denominations, from the orthodox to the charismatic, as fake.

It declared the “Kingdom” (as the church was called) as the only true blueprint for God’s modern-day movement.

In my fragile state I thought this was great news. Wanting to be a true believer as well, I was baptised into the church to the sounds of fellow members reciting: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

What unfolded over the next four years was a horror story.

The deeper I got into the church the more convinced I was that everyone had to be saved into “the Kingdom” or be banished to hell. I denounced my Methodist upbringing to my mother and told her that if she didn’t join the movement she was going to hell.

My mother was deeply hurt and it’s the only time I ever saw her weeping uncontrollably.

Our preacher’s wife was sent to our home to do damage control, but I was unrepentant, sure of my convictions.

I eventually did apologise unreservedly to my mother, who came to terms with my “weird church” and we maintained a close relationship until she passed away.

But three years after my mother’s death some cracks started to show in the movement.

In my spirit I knew that something was not right, but I could not quite figure out what it was.

I’d always been someone who asked questions and challenged systems, but the church discouraged questions. Instead, I was told to pray against the devil who was sowing the seed of doubt in my mind.

But the questions just got louder.

Eventually I was put in “spiritual recovery” – a class for those who were weakening in their faith and needed to be re-educated into the movement’s ways.

Only I was beyond the re-education. I wanted out.

When I finally made the decision to leave, one of the movement’s leaders met me for an exit interview.

She asked if I knew that if I left I would be leaving God as well, as He existed only within the movement.

I was so desperate to leave, I opted for a Godless life if that is what it took to leave.

The psychological damage I suffered after leaving was deep. For a while I wanted nothing to do with God or any religion.

It took me years to come to terms with what had happened to me and to fully reconnect with God again. I had to recondition my post-cult mind.

I now use my public platform for discussions on faith, religion and similar ­experiences.

I’ve discovered that while I managed to get out and move on, many other religious people are still stuck in that toxic way of thinking.

During a discussion with a pastor from the only church that was interested in being on my panel discussion on the possibility of there being one true church, he asked me earnestly: “There are 22 million members of our church across the world: do you seriously mean to tell me that it is possible to brainwash so many people?”
Sadly, I believed it was. It was all too scarily familiar.

I later called him back to cancel the panel discussion.

» Magubane is a journalist, radio broadcaster, writer, poet and social commentator.
She hosts a gospel and Christian spirituality show on SAfm titled Living Sounds every Sunday from 6pm to 8pm.

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