My life there and afterwards

Posts tagged ‘Physical abuse’

News story – must-see

Channel W5, on Canadian TV, has just done a 4 part investigation into Grenville Christian College and this report includes the connection with The Community of Jesus, Orleans,MA. Here is the link:
http://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/former-students-allege-psychological-physical-and-sexual-abuse-at-ont-christian-school-1.2766446
It is a must-see. Finally the abuse is becoming known and the class action suit is going forward.

One person said that her faith was not affected by the “Christian” abuse she endured there. I am truly glad for her, but many others did have their faith shattered, as I had mine shattered by the C of J. When you believe whole-heartedly that the leaders you trust are speaking for God, and interpreting scripture as it was meant to be understood, and then realize the hypocrisy and harm that is going on, it is devastating. It takes time to heal, but I am also very glad that I can now sort things out for myself. No one knows the ultimate answers for sure, and anyone who says they do has too high an opinion of themselves. Now I am free to embrace the journey of life for myself, and to seek for the answers that work for me.

Love is the only thing that transforms the human heart. If a group is Christian, they will see Jesus as fully revealing this divine wisdom, which takes the shape of gentle understanding and radical forgiveness–which is just about all that Jesus does. Jesus, who Christians believe represents God, does not tell the vulnerable how bad they are. Look at Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He doesn’t belittle or punish Zacchaeus; instead, Jesus goes to his home, shares a meal with him, and treats him like a friend. He does not submit him to a “light session”.

Anyone who thinks fear, anger, divine intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love is on a power trip. Show me where that has worked. You cannot lead people to the highest level of fulfillment and creativity by teaching them they are the scum of the earth. The leaders at GCC and CJ were/are on a power trip and, from my experience, do not show any care for the lives of those they are supposedly caring for.

What to do about Cults?

How does one grapple with the phenomenon of cults, and the harm that they do?

We are all human, and if we are going to try to live in a larger sphere than our own self-seeking, there seems to be a call on our lives to care about others, and this is indeed the case. Everywhere you see people helping people. Many professionals give most of their lives to the service of others, and bless and are blessed in doing so. I am in no way saying that nothing is being done. However, I do wonder how we are to grapple with the situation we find ourselves in, in regard to cults.

I want to start this discussion by focusing primarily on religious cults, and even to narrow the field further, Christian cults. Those who know me find that as no surprise, for it was a Christian cult that I lived in and have been affected by. What responsibilities do the individual players in this scene have? What is my responsibility as an ex-member. What responsibility does the cult carry, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not? And to cast the net further out, does the rest of the Christian world carry any responsibility? Do other churches have any responsibility for harm done by a group that calls itself Christian? And if so, what form would that responsibility take?

When I talk about responsibility, many images come to mind. It probably is not realistic to think that mainstream Christian groups are going to set up a task force to monitor and “watch-dog” other fringe groups that call themselves Christian. Not only do thay have their own lives to live, but what moral standing would they have to do that? And yet, without that kind of responsibility for our “neighbors”, where does that leave the victims?

One answer, and a very good one, is that the victims have recourse to a lot of very good help for recovery. I have been the recipient of such help. And yet, I long for a world where we could go a step further. I would like to see two things happen. Prevention, and Accountability.

Prevention: ICSA and other groups are very visible, and do fantastic work. But how visible are they? To themselves and those who know of them, visible. To an ex-member fresh out of a cult? I did not know about them. I did not know recovery groups existed. As far as I knew, I was on my own. I finally did hear about a support group, but I long to make this a well-known issue that everyone knows about. I think every college campus needs a cult awareness course. Every town hall should have a flyer up.

Accountability: I realize the court system is not set up to judge cases of emotional or psychological abuse. However, the abuse is real, and in some cases is worse than physical abuse. If the country’s law system cannot deal with this kind of abuse, can other Christians raise their voice publicly, and bring public opinion to bear? Can people, and perhaps the media, become those who seek for accountability?

Responsibility: I feel a responsibility to speak out. If I remain silent, I am saying in essence that what goes on in the daily lives at the Community of Jesus doesn’t matter, that what happened to me and my family, and many friends, and continues to affect those who live there, doesn’t matter. If I remain silent, I am turning my back on harm being done, and ignoring it. I cannot do that. It would be no different than walking past a rape or robbery and not at least calling the police. I may not have much power, but I have a voice.

BITE: Impose Rigid rules and regulations

We had a very strict schedule and there were no excuses for not being at every service and meeting. Any disobedience was noticed and addressed. You couldn’t get away with anything. Telling on each other was encouraged. It was considered obedience to report any variation from the rules that we noticed. If we did not tell on someone breaking the rules, then we were considered to have joined them in their sin, and would receive the same correction or punishment. Sickness and exhaustion were not considered good reasons to miss, as the meeting or the service was considered to be the spiritual food you needed to get well. In the case of Band, I foolishly ignored my pain and was on the field when I should not have been. When I did go to the Field leader and said I could not continue, he said I was needed and that I could just stand on the sideline if I needed to. Once out there, however, I did more than I should have, and injured myself further. No one checked up on me to see how I was doing.

Absolute obedience was expected and demanded. If we were told to not watch the news, that was that. Anyone caught disobeying was brought before the group and humiliated. The same was true of the dress code.

Every aspect of our lives had a rule, a right way to do it, and we were expected to follow the Mothers instructions to the letter.

BITE: Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time

Vacations were unheard of for the first 3 decades. When people did start taking them, it was a shock to me. How could they get to do that when I never could? We had no leisure time. You were considered lazy if you read too much, or sat around. No hanging out in the backyard, even on weekends. You always needed to be “accomplishing” something. No watching movies for the fun of it. We even went through one year where TV at all was forbidden. Even when our kids were young, it was rare that we ever took them out for a fun time anywhere.

It was when the richer people started becoming members that vacations were slipped in. The rich were catered to, and I suppose they weren’t about to give up their vacations. When word finally got out that they were going on vacations, some of the rest of us started to ask also. Of course you had to have money to do that, and for a long time Jeff and I did not save enough to pay for a vacation.

In the ’70’s we went through a full year where we were not allowed to leave the property. There were designated shoppers for groceries and necessary items like clothing. All of my stamps, envelopes, underwear, anything I needed was bought for me. We were not allowed to go to movies or miniature golfing or even to the public beach. We were not allowed to watch TV except for the news, and then only on specific days that the leaders told us we could. We were not allowed to read books unless they were the spiritual ones the leaders gave us, no recreational reading. By the time that year was over, we were all well indoctrinated into believing that the outside world did not have anything to offer that was godly.

In the sisterhood, we worked just as hard on Sundays as on any other day. There was no day off. It wasn’t like clergy in some churches that take Monday off because they work on Sunday. We were expected to serve God 24/7. When we did have leisure or fun times, it was as a group. The leaders would decide that we would all go to Nickerson Park for a day of picnic and swimming. Of course we were thrilled and felt this was a generous and loving gift. It felt so good to have some fun that we didn’t dare complain or even think that we should have it more often. In the last year I was there, the leader instituted a weekly recreational hour for the sisters and brothers where we all had to gather in the refectory (dining hall) and play games or talk or knit together. Then we had to take a walk together, and it had to be on a public road. She wanted the town to see that we were “normal”. Believe me, we looked anything but normal. A group of 60 women in beige habit like dresses straggling along the road. I had enough sense to be embarrassed. On one of these walks, I told the senior sister that I couldn’t go because I had sprained my knee and foot and could hardly walk. She said I did not have a choice. Even if I lagged behind I was to come on the walk. They stood next to me to make sure I went. I consider that to be cruel and unusual punishment. I really was in pain. They finally gave up watching me and I took a shortcut home and collapsed on my bed.

Emotional and Mental Abuse

Emotional abuse is worse than physical or sexual abuse. This was news to me. Inside my own head I have been protesting that what I suffered is as bad as anyone else’s suffering, but haven’t been able to say so. One, I don’t think many people will agree with me that emotional and mental suffering are as bad as physical suffering, especially sexual suffering. Two, I don’t want to get into comparing, because everyone’s suffering is unique and painful to them. Three, I have been thoroughly conditioned to downplay my own suffering for the sake of the group. Unfortunately that is still strong in me because I think there is some truth in it. I don’t want to become the other extreme. I work with someone who is always complaining. That’s one reason I go to a therapist. That is my time to talk about me, and I can talk about what I have suffered, or continue to suffer, as much as I want, and it is in a healthy context.

Rape is a violation on the most intimate level of one’s personal being. Mental conditioning is also rape. Your body is who you are physically, and your mind is who you are cognitively. To have either one invaded, manipulated and used for someone else’s means and ends is rape. Both are rape.

I think it is a shame on modern society that the justice system does not recognize this. I think our society does not recognize that a person’s free will can be taken from them. Americans have put free will on such a pedestal that society does not realize how valuable and how vulnerable it is. It is so easy to be manipulated. Only vigilance (and unfortunately experience) can make us watchful of this.

BITE: Manipulation and deprivation of sleep

We were overworked all the time and we had a lot of sleep deprivation.

For the whole 40 years I was there it was considered a spiritual necessity to deny yourself sleep. At first it was for spiritual growth. All night prayer vigils were frequently called. Around the clock prayer times, where you had a late night and then an early morning time every day. I remember in particular one stint of at least a year where I had an 10:00 pm prayer vigil time, so it was not worth it to go to bed beforehand, and then a 5:00 am prayer vigil time. By the time you walked back and forth, dressed and undressed, I was getting at the most 4 hours of sleep a night. No naps the next day, no days off. I was raising young children and working in the audio/visual department. It wore me down so that I didn’t have the energy to question or even think very hard about anything. I got to the point where I was in a daze, and just following the crowd.

We were taught that any kind of sacrifice we made like this, any kind of stress we could take on physically, would purify our souls. We were sacrificing for God and for His Kingdom to come down onto earth. We were working to make the Community of Jesus a bit of heaven on earth, and so any work and sacrifice now was worth the prize that awaited us. Funny how the devil used the promise of heaven to shackle me to the whims of narcissistic leaders.

We were encouraged to work late nights in order to get the office work done. We were not paid for this work, so they did not have to worry about paying us overtime.

The Orchestra and Band rehearsals went late into the nights. You worked until you fell exhausted into bed at night. Often times “retreats” were called. These could be for teaching, or for the Orchestra or Band to search out your sins so the performances could be perfect. If some activity was not perfect, it was because the members were in sin. Sigh.

In the early years no one went on vacations. After some of the richer people joined, they were allowed to keep their vacations, so then us poorer folk were gradually allowed to go on vacations also. They were welcome respites from the daily grind.

BITE: Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting

The leaders loved to be spiritual. And they put into practice for us a lot of spiritual practices. Fasting was one of these. They said they also did the fasts, and in public they did. I never had any reason to doubt them, especially since I wanted to believe that they were the special, holy role-models, but what I have heard since leaving makes me doubt how much they lived what they put on us.

Every year we had to fast during Lent, the whole 40 days. It started out with each of us choosing what we would give up. Then they started reading up on spiritual practices. One year we could eat only bread and water. Several years we went on the grape fast – only grapes, grape juice or raisins. This was supposed to be healthy and cleansing as well as a spiritual purging. I was sick through most of it, and starving for protein and vitamins. Others would get so thin it was scary.

The second year we did bread only, some of us started adding extras to the bread like cheese and jam. Someone even invented a spaghetti bread with tomato sauce and meat in it. The leaders found out about it of course, and everyone who had done this had to start all over again and do an additional 40 days on bread, this time with someone watching and reporting.

Then we had the cytotoxic years where you had to get tested and you could not eat the foods you were allergic to. In my family we had milk, wheat, soy, sugar and other allergies, so it was extremely limiting. In each family, we had to cook what everyone could eat, so none of us could eat what the others were allergic to. It was crazy. We were sending the kids to school with peanut butter and honey sandwiches on homemade rye bread. They would throw them out and beg from the other kids. We also had to eat only 3 foods a day, and not repeat a food for 5 days. Over the top.

At first we were told not to drink any alcohol. It was that way for years. Then it started to be served at the special holiday dinners, then at personal parties. By the time I left, I knew of several people who had serious drinking problems. It was hidden, not spoken of, but they were my friends, and I knew. Also the younger generation would get drunk when they went to the local park for camping or dinners out. Drugs were too far out for our legalistic minds, but for some reason alcohol was an escape that many could rationalize away. Because it would blow our image, the leaders kept these problems hidden and did not help the people who were in trouble. A lot of people also were taking anti-depressants.

One of the members, before they joined, were in a church in another state. They started a Christian diet program. The leaders got all excited about this, and started “helping” her run it. They would fly out to this state and do their teaching. It was making enough money that they hired a private jet and pilot. I was told by someone who knew and talked with this pilot what he had to say about them. He had flown many business men on their trips, and there was always a certain amount of drinking that went on. He said he had never in his life seen so much booze brought onto his plane before. They brought cases of wine and beer and hard liquor, and drank the whole flight. He said the leaders were drunk the whole time. It was so excessive, he had never seen anyone put down so much booze in so short a time, and this continued for the whole year or more that he was their pilot. This is how our spiritual leaders acted when we could not see what they were doing.

We went through a lot of teaching about “healthy” eating, growing our own vegetables, preparing for the end times; buying food that was vacuum packed, buying wood stoves. We even had one year where they found out that a local weed was edible. Someone from Holland said that it was a pot-herb over there. So that whole summer we had to pick the weed, wash all the sand and dirt off of it, and cook it. Every household was required to do this. If you didn’t, you faced public “correction”. Every family had to have a garden and grow their own vegetables for years. If someone’s garden looked neglected, they were publicly dressed down, and given a deadline for getting their garden up and running, bigger than before.

So this gives you an idea of how even our food and drink were controlled by the leaders.