Cult Following

Joshua Brent grew up in one, and recounts abuse of several kinds.

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I remember being in a bar and hearing a group of people my age agree that the appropriate response to homosexuality is burning at the stake, or stoning. There’s a friend of a friend who (it is strongly alleged) rapes his sister on an ongoing basis. This is never discussed.

A friend’s parents tell him he is a constant disappointment and hide him from their friends because he decided to tell them he doesn’t believe in God.

A boy in my class sexually assaulted several people, including to a lesser extent myself, on semi-regular occasions in school. When this was raised as an issue, the student was told ‘boys will be boys’.

I remember being on camps and seeing people literally lost in the power of group thinking, through music and community, and it is sad. Completely absorbed in prayer and adulation.


“Islam is a religion of hate. Homosexuality is the worst sin because it’s a sin that you are, not a sin that you do. Women have their place in the home, as they have always done, and as man and the head of Christ it is your job to uphold this. The sinners sin and God hardens his heart against them, their blood is on their own heads.”

From covered up rape to the mental anguish of inescapable sin, cults are all-consuming. And I’m not really sure when it’s supposed to end. I don’t really know how to get away from it, or how to get out of it, without a cataclysmic end to my life as I know it. That might not be a bad thing, but it’s hard.

The thing about cults is that they’re literally in your blood. I’m about eighth generation, from one of the oldest families in a protestant Christian sect which leans more to the vehemently but quietly condemnatory than the radical, but which is just as damaging to the individual.

It’s incredibly insular. They have private land on the coast used for camps and weeks of seclusion for bible study. Having attempted to quietly slip out over the past eighteen months I field constant questions asking where I am and why I haven’t been around. I tell them my work needs me on Sundays.

The only real way to enter the cult is by birth, and the only way to leave is by death, in one form or another. A friend recently married outside of the cult, and was told by many people in no uncertain terms that they would have no further contact with her. Another person I know came out as queer, and his parents left the country to avoid the shame of birthing an abomination.

The Catholic Church tends to get more attention, but abuse of children is widespread. I know a senior member of the church who was formally accused of six counts of molestation of a minor, which took place on camps over several years. The charges have been dropped and the man remains a prominent and important member, with an open secret which does nothing to damage his reputation.

It is impressive that hymns can stick in the mind. I’ll hear a chord progression and suddenly Crown Him is ricocheting for days (the wormwood and the gall), or the awful trash (crown Him, crown Him,) that is Hillsong and Matt Redman (crown Him, Lord of all).

The cult has an obscene amount of money. It is almost exclusively high socioeconomic white people who patronise the developing world by sending young people (like me) to ‘help’. The fact that they all have more money than they know what to do with doesn’t stop them embezzling funds from supposed charities and community organisations, the accusations about which quickly disappear, if you’re important enough.

I and two or three friends are the last unmarried in our early twenties from my entire age group. I regularly get elbowed and asked why I haven’t found the right girl yet. I’m told it’s my turn next, that I’m getting too old to not have settled down, that God is in the bond between a man and his wife.

A friend of mine is very affectionate, and it took me months to get to a place where I could allow him to hug me for more than a second or two. The concept of men touching beyond a firm handshake has always been sin, and I still have trouble with it.

I can barely stand being unclothed around people, and I’m only now (years after beginning to move away) able to interact sexually with people without considering it deep sin. I remember almost vomiting the first time I kissed someone (only last year). The concept of sin is still so ingrained I can’t do anything without Leviticus and damnation singing in every fibre of me, I just have to push it away. It usually is ineffective.

The cult has a fascinating, but not unexpected, idea that they are the only ones who Jesus loves enough to save, and that if you’re not in, you’re out, as it were. Way out if you’re a Muslim or any other variation on the Abrahamic faiths. Unless you’re a Jew, whom they fetishise as the Chosen (capital C included).

Women are subservient to their husbands, or if unmarried, considered warily (there has to be a reason). Their place is in the home, caring for their husband’s children, and to be educated in the church on Sundays—with their heads covered, of course, as a symbol that their relationship with God and their ultimate salvation is through their husband.

Everyone from my dentist to my mechanic is in the cult. Many of them will communicate politely, but not really interact with anyone from the outside. I went to a school run by the cult. I was related by blood to all of the teachers at the school bar three, and about half my classmates.

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If you mess up, you’re out. If you sin big enough (and your family isn’t old enough), you’re out. If you’re queer, you’re out. If you dissent on theology, you’re out. If you’re outspoken, you’re out. If you associate with someone who’s out, you’re out too.

One of the things I resent most is that I have to consider not just myself in my choices, but everyone I know and to whom I am related. To walk away is to die and that death is contagious: my parents would be as ostracised as me, not to mention the shame it would bring my grandparents, who are too old and well-to-do to withstand this sort of thing.

I don’t think there is any place for organised religion any more. Religion is disgusting. I wish I had never come into contact with it. I regularly have conversations about religion with people who find it to be supportive and a positive part of their life.

I find this idea repulsive.

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