It is impossible for me to be familiar with individual circumstances, therefore the contents of this chapter are written in a general sense and as a guide only.
Why do some people leave an organization where they may have spent years, decades or perhaps in which they grew up?
If a religious cult is extreme enough, it may self-destruct in a very dramatic and tragic way. This has occurred in at least two cases and a large number of innocent people died as a result. The first well-known case was in Guyana and the second in Waco Texas.
The persecution complex mentioned above plays a major part in such a situation with leaders of these sects becoming more and more paranoid about what they perceive as likely outside intervention in the fate of their groups. They feel that the will of God can only be carried out if the group is completely separated from the possibility of outside interference as they see it. The death of the entire cult is of course a way of guaranteeing that ultimate separation and in a twisted way, it is felt that being a martyr to the cause will greatly please God.
Obviously anyone who survives such an experience will be greatly traumatized and would be strongly advised to seek counseling as soon as possible from a very experienced and highly qualified counselor able to assist cult survivors to rebuild their lives.
Thankfully not all cults go out in such a terrible way. Most religious sects do not survive the death or incapacitation of their leader. In such a situation, those just below the cult leader in authority are likely to start disagreeing over what path the group should take into the future.
In-fighting and a power struggle will be the case and the group will fall apart. In these cases, splinter-groups will probably form and these will disagree with the parent organization and even with each other. Ex members of the main cult will sometimes go among the splinter groups searching for “the faith once delivered”.
In 1986, the highly revered leader of WCG passed on. The cult was rocked by this event as it was felt that he and his son would be the two witnesses discussed in the biblical writings of revelation although I don’t think this was ever official doctrine.
Before his death, Armstrong appointed a successor, Joseph W Tkach. This man was in my view far more honest than Armstrong ever was. He set about exposing many of the false teachings of the group even though he new he would cause huge upheaval and enormous damage to the organisation’s income.
Many people such as me, already with doubts, followed-up on Tkach’s new ideas and the other members with questions began to learn to actually research without fear of excommunication.
Some though disagreed greatly with his new views and clung strongly to Armstrong’s old original teachings. Many splinter groups broke away from WCG and these were led by former leaders under Armstrong within the parent Cult. Each of these men wanted to be in charge and as usual when a cult falls apart, they disagreed with each other and with WCG itself.
Major confusion, anger, hatred and bitterness were the result with WCG, as is usual with imploding cults. This makes the recovery process for survivors even more difficult and time consuming. In the situation where a person is or was in a cult which falls apart around them, (hopefully without tragedy) they have no group left and have to face life outside, like it or not.
Others will sometimes struggle with questioning thoughts in their minds as I did (usually in secret) having doubts about the sect and its teachings or behavior. Such people may finally develop the courage to break away from the cult and if you are one, then congratulations. You have made a brave and rewarding decision with a major prize as the result. That is, gaining or regaining control of your life.
You may be the first to leave your particular cult but if it is a large one then chances are you are not. Cults normally teach that your life will turn bad and that you will face huge trials if you ever leave. Of course this is to deliberately cause fear and to retain membership. You are likely to hear that God will be angry with you and that he will directly punish you for disobedience. This is the ultimate fear card that any cult can play and carries enormous weight.
Please know though that over the years, thousands of people have left cults all over the world including myself and to my knowledge, none have been struck or zapped by God. This is not to trivialize very real fears suffered by many former or current cult members including the writer. Ask yourself though, would a loving God strike me down because I know longer am a member of one group or another?
You will only face problems common to all on this planet except of course for those passed onto you by the cult itself. After the right counseling and with time and some work on your part, you can go on to rebuild your life. By all means contact other former members of your group, but beware of bitterness. The other ex-members are used to being in an unhealthy group, and may have bad behavior habits. Your former co-religionists who are still in the group are trapped in a controlling system – feel compassion and forgiveness towards them, rather than bitterness and vengefulness.
The cult stole your past; please do not allow it to rob you of your future as well. If you know of former members of your group who have left and are successfully moving on, then if possible, you may wish to make contact with them as they will know exactly what faces you upon leaving. Hopefully they will be willing and able to assist you. Trust is the issue here though as I have heard of actual cult members masquerading as counselors in order to collect information on straying followers.
Be careful of telling current members of any plans to leave as they may not see things the way you do and might inform against you to gain favor with superiors within the group. Also such people will probably consider it as their duty to try and bring you “back to the fold”. If possible, select a counselor with at least a bachelor degree or masters – you are unlikely to find good quality counselors with a diploma only. Some of these diplomas are handed out with about 6 weeks of training.
My decision to leave Worldwide came as a result of increasing doubts over the teachings of the sect and due to what I saw as a major conflict between the messages preached from the podium and the actual life within it.
As I grew up, I believed wholeheartedly that the cult’s beliefs were totally true and correct and it’s a little scary to think of just how much I would have put on the line to support that view. This didn’t mean though that I was a good little boy, and I struggled much of the time inwardly with a secret rebellion. I sometimes deliberately misbehaved at school in order to prove to my mates that I wasn’t religious and was the same as they were even though this wasn’t true.
WCG didn’t officially discriminate against anyone however it was given to understand that those from a supposedly Israeliteish background were superior to people from Asia and to those with black skins – the so-called “gentiles”. It was often preached that Jesus went to the cross without blemish and although WCG also didn’t discriminate against people with disabilities, unofficially, anyone with a physical difference was treated as if we weren’t quite as good as the rest of the membership.
This included people in wheelchairs, those who were over-weight, anyone hearing impaired and of course, as I have only about 5% vision, I had a blemish too. My parents had quite a number of friends in their age-group even with their vision impairment however the young people in the sect seemed even more unwilling than their older counter-parts to try and accept a vision impaired youth.
This meant of course that I was lonely within the cult as we discussed in Chapter 5 even though sometimes I was supposedly part of a congregation of hundreds. It also lead to my beginning to question in later years how a group which constantly preached “we are family” could treat people this way.
This was the major reason for my doubts mentioned above and under the leadership of Tkach, those doubts grew and grew with less and less fear. Joan (my wife at the time) also had major questions but to her, the process of walking out of the cult was easier. This is not meant to indicate that Joan didn’t suffer within the cult as she most certainly did but she seemed to have an inner knowing that we wouldn’t suffer the anger of God due to leaving WCG.
From anecdotal evidence, men often found it harder than women to leave WCG and often had more trouble coming to grips with fear and anger issues afterwards. Eventually Joan and I left the cult in March of 1996 and I faced two major different emotions afterwards.
Firstly, I felt a huge relief that we could actually have a whole weekend without having to spend half of it keeping the Sabbath. Secondly, I felt fear of the decision we had made and kept waiting for God to “get me”. I constantly waited for my life to turn bad after leaving as we were always taught would happen to anyone who left the sect.
I didn’t know at the time just how much my thought processes were scrambled by the cultic teachings of WCG and as a result, didn’t know how much damage was done to me. Also at the time, the concept of a cult survivor support group hadn’t even occurred to me and I probably wouldn’t have believed that I needed one in any case.
Later counseling indicated at least in part how the cult had influenced me and had filled me with fear and a very low self esteem. Cult survivor support groups are filled with people just like us, that is, those who have spent years or even decades in religious cults and who are now rebuilding their lives. Official support organizations are the safest way to go especially if an experienced cult survivor counselor heads the group.
If you have the freedom to use the internet then it is a very good place to search for cult survivor information and as well as the website already mentioned, a reference list of cult survivor support groups appears in this book. If all else fails, type cult survivor support groups into your search engine. You may wish to specify which country you want to search for more locally based groups. Such support organizations will have experienced cult survivor counselors among their members or will be able to refer you to one. If your cult is or was large, then chances are that a former member is in a support group in your area.
If you need to talk with Police or other authorities in order to receive protection or to report dangerous cult activities then a cult survivor support organization will be able to help you. It will most likely be able to provide someone to accompany you while dealing with authorities if needed. You don’t have to face these issues on your own – that is what support groups are all about.
Leaving a religious group which has controlled your life for many years or decades is an enormous challenge but the rewards are even larger. Your life is yours and yours alone, you are the one who should decide on its future course, not some greedy and manipulative cult leader.