PEOPLE OF PRAISE Cult: Spiritual & Ritual Abuse - Marks of a Christian Cult
PEOPLE OF PRAISE Cult: Spiritual & Ritual Abuse - Marks of a Christian Cult – by Coral Anika Theill
I had learned as a child that if I didn’t do as I was told, my personal safety would be endangered.
My experiences in my marriage, numerous Christian cults, fundamental Christian organizations and groups reinforced these experiences–isolation and emotional and mental pain would follow any questioning of others’ motives, power and control of me.
During my marriage I was required to be a "helpmeet" in a world like the one from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel "The Handmaiden’s Tale."
My abuser used coercive control, isolation and intimidation tactics to strip me of my personhood, safety and freedoms as a United States citizen.
For nearly twenty years, I was married to a man who ruled his household with absolute authority. His personal justification for his behavior came from Biblical scripture. During the course of our marriage, I bore him eight children. My firstborn children were identical twin girls. I also suffered three miscarriages. I home schooled the oldest children for several years, renovated three houses, baked, canned, gardened, etc. I was treated as a possession (slave). In the course of my marriage I was drawn, against my will, into several extreme fundamental churches and cults which emphasized patriarchal authority, the extreme oppression of women and children and the obedience of women, i.e., Mr. Bill Gothard of Basic Youth Conflicts, Catholicism, People of Praise Catholic Charismatic Covenant Community, Corvallis Christian Center, Assembly of God and Pentecostal Churches, The Sacred Name Movement*, The Yahweh Movement, “The Quiverfull Movement,” NW Hills Baptist Church, Bridgeport Community Church, Marion Church of God Seventh Day, and Mr. Warner’s own “home church.”
Coral Anika Theill in the News: National Catholic Reporter "Prospective Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Barrett puts spotlight on People of Praise" July 6, 2018 by Heidi Schlumpf
I shared with reporter, Heidi Schlumpf, that the People of Praise community was similar to the Jim Jones cult, "The Handmaiden's Tale", "Netflix Keepers" documentary and the "Spotlight" film.
Members of the People of Praise marry one another for life and believe they are the remnant of Christ - and of course, the rest of us are LOST. Members turn a blind eye to abuse within the community - in their minds it is just "business as usual." Judge Amy Barrett is on DONALD J. TRUMP'S short list for Supreme Court Justice. She is a member of the PEOPLE OF PRAISE community/cult.
I asked too many questions while I was forced to be a part of the PEOPLE OF PRAISE community for 5 years and was abused, interrogated, humiliated, shamed and then shunned. It hurt me to tell Heidi Schlumpf about incidents such as being forced to sit on the floor outside the People of Praise cult meetings at St. Mary's Catholic Church in 1984 because I would no longer submit to the abusive leaders in the community. At this time, my husband was still a member of the People of Praise community.
I miscarried in 1984 and had to have D & C surgery. After I returned from the hospital, I was forced to attend a "People of Praise women's meeting." They wanted to go shopping. I couldn't due to just returning from surgery and feeling weak. I left the meeting to go home and rest. I was met by my husband and forced into the car where I was driven to the cult leaders home. I was interrogated and psychologically abused until early morning. The next morning the community was informed to SHUN me. I would never allow anyone to treat me this way today and it traumatizes me to admit this was my life at that time.
The trauma experienced by cult members results from being powerless and abused day after day, year after year, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually – souls are literally emaciated. The Word of God is used like a thrust of a knife, constantly reminding the cult member (victim) of God’s displeasure and eternal damnation.
Spiritual and mental bondage is often soon realize by those who are under submission. Invasion of privacy is a signature feature of cults.
Spiritual abuse is the use of spiritual knowledge to deprive, torture, degrade, isolate, control, or (in rare and extreme cases) even kill others. It is used by evil-minded church and cult leaders, to gain advantage, dominate, or exercise control over others. The type of trauma individuals experience from cults and their leaders is similar to that described by POW’s.
You are welcome to read more about the PEOPLE OF PRAISE cult in the first two chapters of my 2013 published memoir, BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark.
During and [after our marriage] my husband befriended several pastors, Christian leaders and men and women who also condoned the crimes of domestic violence, rape, child abuse and molestation. These leaders did not believe I had a right to "safety" or a divorce, i.e, Pastor Bill Heard, Roseburg, Oregon, Pastor Ron and Marijo Sutter, Monmouth, Oregon, Pastor Steve and Kay Dixon, Salem, Oregon, Elder Brian and Kathy King, Independence, Oregon, Jesse and Rachel White, Ben and Sarah Bobeda, Monmouth, Oregon, as well as many others. My husband's family also supported his abuse of me and my children. Related article: "Are You Being Used as a Flying Monkey for a Narcissist?"
The most powerful emotional control tool cult leaders use on its members is fear. The leaders create phobia indoctrination. A member will have a panic reaction at the very thought of leaving the group (cult) . A member will perceive that it is almost impossible to conceive that there is any life or spirituality outside of the group. There is no physical gun held to the member’s head, but the psychological gun is just as, if not more, powerful.
Religious cults use covert induction, a type of hypnosis induced without the individual's awareness or consent. Spiritual and mental bondage is often soon realized by those who are under submission. Invasion of privacy is a signature feature of cults.
Besides the doctrinal concerns of these Christian cults and legalistic church organizations and groups – the most damaging is the psychological and physical harm and moral injury, and disruption of family ties. There are families that also operate as a "cult" using coercive control, bullying, threats and the tactics below. There are families that also operate as "cults" using coercive control and the tactics below.
The wordings in cults are often a visual delight of paradoxes and double negatives. Their teachings are fully presented half-truths and cleverly disguised lies mixed in with a good helping of people’s hopes and dreams.
Cults: One definition is “small groups” which break off from the conventional consensus and espouse very different views of the real, the possible and the moral.
They are authoritarian, manipulative, totalistic and sometimes communal. Christian cults include such factors as authoritarian leadership patterns, loyalty and commitment mechanisms, lifestyle characteristics, and conformity patterns including the use of various sanctions [shunning] in connection with those members who deviate.
Here are common characteristics of a cult:
1. Authoritarian – there is always a central human leader who commands total loyalty and allegiance. The leader exercises authority over both doctrine and practice and his interpretations of the “truth” are accepted by the members without question. The members’ self-identity and life goals are re-defined and have meaning only in relation to the leader and the group.
2. Oppositional – their beliefs, practices and values are counter to those of the dominant culture. They often place themselves in an adversarial role vis-a-vis major social institutions. (Community teaches that you will be persecuted for your beliefs and for being a part of “community,” but that we would have to oppose them because you know this is God’s will for you.)
3. Exclusivistic – elitism and exclusionism. The group is the only one which possesses the “truth” and therefore to leave the group is to endanger one’s salvation. Inside one can begin to feel mentally isolated because you feel that nobody “outside” was walking in as much truth as you were and thereby their opinion was not valid. You become cloistered in a world of Bible meetings and spiritual pride. You can feel that you have the only right truth and that no other people have anything to offer.
4. Legalistic – tightly structured autocratic groups operate within a legalistic framework which governs both spiritual matters and the details of everyday living. Rules and regulations abound. The specifics of a member’s life are controlled by policies and procedures originating with the leadership.
5. Subjective – cultic movements place considerable emphasis on the experiential – on feelings and emotions.
6. Persecution-conscious – perceived persecution is one of the hallmarks of virtually all new religious movements. They believe they are being singled out for persecution.
7. Sanction-oriented – cults require conformity to established practices and beliefs and readily exercise sanctions against the “wayward.” Those who fail to demonstrate the proper allegiance, who raise too many questions, disobey the rules or openly rebel are punished, formally excommunicated or merely asked to leave the group. (I experienced shunning from the members, even to this day.)
The more extreme cults regularly employ fear, intimidation and guilt to manipulate members. Frequently, members are inculcated with the fear that something terrible will happen to them or their loved ones should they ever leave the group. “Rebelling” members are sometimes subjected to emotional public confessions and humiliations including physical “rebukes” like slapping.
The signing of covenants and loyalty oaths is another means to achieve control. (The cult we were involved in had a “marriage ceremony” that all members participated in and signed a “life covenant agreement,” in 1984. They believed they were all married and could never leave. I did not participate in this ceremony, but was forced to attend and watch. Members of this community are professional engineers at Hewlett Packard, teachers in the Albany and Corvallis community, carpenters and contractors, secretaries, etc. Many of the women suffered mental breakdowns and or/severe depressions and experienced other serious health problems.)
8. Esoteric – cultic religion is a religion of secrecy and concealment. There are levels of secrecy within the organization. After being there for a while and partaking of the regular services, one is then introduced to what is termed “deeper truths” at special meetings. (The cult we were involved in had “open” meetings once a month for new members - the rest were “closed meetings.” No one but members could attend.)
9. Antisacerdotal – cults tend to be organizations comprised of lay people. There are no paid clergy. Cults may tend to have spiritual hierarchies. They often choose to hold their meetings in centers, meeting halls, private homes, meditation rooms and sometimes even barns. (The cult we were involved in paid the lay people who were the leaders by our required tithes. Tithes were expected each month – at least 20% of your income. A retired priest was one of the leaders of the "People of Praise" cult in Philomath, Oregon.)
10. Shunning -- Shunning is a cruel and inhumane practice within many church groups and cults. It is a form of “silent ridicule.”
Members will associate primarily with each other, but usually do not establish a separate communal existence.
Studies have determined that cults are detrimental to an individual's mental and physical health. Emotional effects include overwhelming feelings of fear, guilt, anger, humiliation, hostility, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, violent outbursts and suicidal tendencies. Mental disturbances include disorientation, confusion, nightmares, amnesia, hallucinations, delusions, depression and the inability to break mental rhythms and patterns associated with group practices. Many of the women I knew in cult and fundamentalist circles suffered from depression, anxiety disorders and/or mental breakdowns.
The most powerful emotional control tool cult leaders use on its member is fear.
The leaders create a phobia indoctrination. A member will have a panic reaction at the very thought of leaving the group (cult). A member will perceive that it is almost impossible to conceive that there is any life or spirituality outside of the group. There is no physical gun held to the member's head, but the psychological gun is just as, if not more, powerful.
Photo of "Wings of Love" half-way house on Killingsworth in Portland, Oregon where the author, Coral Anika Theill, lived in the spring of 1994. Photo Credits: Debbie Dresler
"During the period of my breakdown/depression in the spring of 1994, my husband, Mr. Marty Warner, and his pastors left me at the "Wing's of Love" half-way house on Killingsworth in Portland, Oregon, to punish and "break me" (their words) to the will of God. "The house was a shelter for ex-cons, street people and prostitutes. It was filthy and infested with rats and lice. My husband’s debt-free estate, at this time, was over a quarter- of- a million dollars. It was a frightening experience during the period of my illness/breakdown for my “abuser” ex-husband, his Christian cult leaders and religious supporters to be in charge of my “recovery program.” Three months earlier, I had a D & C due to my 3rd miscarriage from being raped by my husband. I was helpless and physically and mentally incapacitated during this time due to my breakdown and partial stroke." - Coral Anika Theill, BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark
Cults are a product of fear.
Neale Donald Walsch writes these beautiful words, "Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hoards, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing; love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have; love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends. Love never says no."
I have noticed one underlying theme for many individuals who become involved in extreme fundamentalist and legalistic groups and cults. They have been involved in one of many life’s scenarios and/or tragedies, whether it be as the abused or the abuser, infidelity, unwed mother, runaways, loss of job or loss of a loved one, etc. Cults appear to attract these people at vulnerable times in their lives and project shame, guilt and fear. In other words, cults capitalize on an individuals’ experience of crisis, shock and trauma. They are proselytized by cult members, indoctrinated into rigid/legalistic thought patterns through covert induction.
I have many painful memories and experiences from my 20 years of exposure to legalistic fundamental Christianity and Christian “cults,” I am comforted knowing that my soul was on a journey of remembering who I truly was. I believe we all long for freedom from oppression and bondage – that was what my spirit secretly longed for and hoped to experience. I am grateful for each brand new day and the experience of being.
I no longer embrace the ideological rigidity and doctrines of patriarchal religions and “fundamental Christianity,” but wish to help those who are being abused “in the name of God.”
Allowing others to make choices for you allows them to create your worth, and when they do, they always make it too small.
Woman Church and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Woman Through the Christian Ages with Reminiscences of the Matriarchate Published in 1893, reprinted in 1998 by Matilda Joslyn Gage
BONSHEA Making Light of the Dark by Coral Anika Theill
Shattered Scriptures: The Bible through the eyes of a former Christian by Linda J. Patterson
Spiritual Abuse by Coral Anika Theill
Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems by Valerie Tarico Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.
*My former husband, Marty Warner, purchased a Hewlett Packard printer and shipped the printer from Corvallis, Oregon to Africa for a Yahweh cult to publish a new Bible for the world. The new Bible did not include the words "God" or "Jesus." I saved a copy of this publication for documentation of his extreme religious view when divorcing him.
Two hundred years ago a system of legal slavery allowed for the ownership of human beings as if they were livestock. Children were ripped away from their mothers with as little consideration as separating a calf from a cow. In this country today, extreme forms of paternalistic religion promote an institutional form of slavery where a woman must be totally obedient to a husband who has absolute control of her life. The wife’s lot is to obey and bear children. If she rebels and chooses to save herself by escaping from this life, the father—supported by the church community and often by the court system, can forcibly strip a child away from the mother.
On March 10, 1996, I was forced, by an Order of the Court, and by my ex-husband, Marty Warner, his attorney, his family and religious supporters, to do something that raged against my good conscience, my common sense and against all my motherly instincts. After a temporary custody hearing, a Court Order signed by Judge Albin Norblad forcibly removed my nursing baby and two youngest children from me. I obeyed the Court Order and gave my children over to my ex-husband. I drove to the hospital, rented a breast-pump and later collapsed and went into shock. I could not understand what had happened and why. I have not yet recovered from the shock; perhaps I never will....
The price for my own safety and freedom in 1996 was an imposed, unnatural and unwanted separation from my eight children. The injustice committed against me is not just the physical separation from my children, but the willful desecration of the mother-child relationship and bond, a sacred spiritual and emotional entity.
Many mothers who seek safety from abuse are routinely prohibited from having even the most basic contact with their own children, not because they were unfit parents, but because they were outspent, out represented, and out-maneuvered in a court atmosphere not prepared to understand the needs of families dealing with domestic violence.
Battered women may lose their babies and children, their homes, their friends and their livelihood. Survivors of childhood abuse will often even lose their families. Rarely does society recognize the dimensions and long lasting effects of this reality for the victim.
Forcibly taking a mother's children, and then controlling her emotionally by withholding contact must be publicly recognized as one of the greatest forms of 'mis-use' of the American justice system and one of the greatest hidden vehicles for wide-spread socially approved physical and emotional abuse and control.