Coral Anika Theill
Author, Advocate, Speaker & Reporter
"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
"The power of her life is not that she escaped from a "cult", but that she continues to serve as an agent of change. This is not a "she said/he said" tale of abuse, but rather a self-damning expose of her struggle to survive. She is not a martyr. She is a victim of the too frequent chasm between a blind adherence to an interpretation of laws and a true understanding of justice." - Bruce McLelland, Washington D.C.
Photo of "Wings of Love" half-way house on Killingsworth in Portland, Oregon where Coral lived in the spring of 1994.
Photo Credits: Debbie Dresler
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 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, “Quiverfull Movement,” NW Hills Baptist Church, Bridgeport Community Church, Marion Church of God Seventh Day, and Mr. Warner’s own “home church.”
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.Although,
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.
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. 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.
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 groups – the most damaging is the psychological and physical harm, moral injury, and disruption of family ties.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 members 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.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. Shunning is a cruel and inhumane practice within many church groups and cults. It is a form of “silent ridicule.”
Allowing others to make choices for you allows them to create your worth, and when they do, they always make it too small.
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.
Survivor of Mental, Emotional, Spiritual & Ritual abuse at Bill Gothard's Institute
& Training Center, Chicago, IL
Conservative Religious Leader Bill Gothard On Leave Following Abuse Allegations
Bill Gothard, an Illinois-based advocate for home schooling and conservative dress who warned against rock music and debt, resigned after allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases. Bill Gothard became one of the most celebrated figures in the fundamentalist and conservative evangelical segments of American Christianity in the mid 1980’s and packed auditoriums from coast to coast with a message of strict morality and biblical authority. His six-day, rally-like seminars were based in the belief God’s divine authority is passed through a "chain of command"–conflicts can be solved "if employees obey their bosses, children obey their mothers, wives obey their husbands and husbands answer to God." Mr. Gothard is charismatic, just as Jim Jones was. His organization and ideology can be classified as a cult. He is well-respected and admired by millions of Christians in America and city and government officials, but he uses oppression, brainwashing and mind control tactics to deceive.
During the period of my depression and physical/emotional breakdown in 1994, I felt that there was no hope for wellness as I realized my husband and his religious counselor’s (including Bill Gothard’s employees and staff) definition of wellness centered on my obedience and submission to my husband’s power and control over me. Obedience meant submitting to his physical, emotional, financial, ritual and sexual abuse.
Once again, (in 1994) at the Bill Gothard Training Institute, in Chicago, IL, I was told how I had not learned to submit to my husband and religious “authorities” and that God was punishing me because of my rebellious spirit. I was accused of witchcraft and they tried, through prayer and exorcism, to cast demons out of me on a daily basis.
I experienced horrendous abuses under Bill Gothard’s “re-education” techniques which were thrust upon me by two of Gothard’s avid supporters and disciples, my former husband, Mr. Marty Warner, Independence, Oregon, and Pastor Bill Heard, Roseburg, Oregon.
Bill Gothard's victims languish on, sometimes taking years to recover from the ritual abuse and trauma inflicted on them.
In an honestly motivated spiritual group or organization the individual is always encouraged to exercise free will and arrive at their own conclusions. If someone genuinely cares about your well-being, they will not try to control, manipulate, exhort, threaten or convince you to adopt their way of thinking.
For more information about spiritual abuse and "Christian" cults, please read:
I agree with author James Redfield. He writes, "A group consciousness which speaks constantly of separation and superiority (our religious and legal systems) produces loss of compassion on a massive scale, and loss of compassion is inevitably followed by a loss of conscience.”
I believe our goal should not be eliminating religion, but illuminating the tactics by which it commands obedience and discourages doubt so that people can recognize these and reject them. It is more important that we all make up our own minds, use reason to guide us, and do not passively rely on faith or authority of religious leaders. Rather than keep our thoughts in captivity, we should set them free to explore wherever they wish - to seek out different viewpoints, to question fearlessly, and most importantly, to expose all ideas to the fire of testing. The ones worth being kept will survive. Humanity has a vast potential to accomplish things as yet undreamed-of, but blind faith will never take us there. If we are to become aware of the dangers that beset us and enter into a future where we can realize this potential, this is the way we must learn to live.
As a youth I did not believe in the “us” and “them” mentality that is prevalent in American churches. I felt equal to my fellow man. The doctrines and beliefs of Christianity seemed too limiting to me. I felt interconnected to all mankind and nature. Compassion, unconditional love, peace and non-judgment were an automatic response to my personal belief system and moral code. I did not see the fruit in myself or others as we embraced the dogmas within fundamental Christianity. It was difficult for me to participate in the arrogance of the church and their teachings regarding the “lost, damned and unsaved.”
When I finally left organized religion at the age of forty, I was reborn. The world suddenly became a much larger place and the people in it more interesting and beautiful. I could breathe and smell, see in color and dream. I became less fearful and judgmental. I appreciated my body, my life and my friends more. I had no absolute answers, which opened me up to new and interesting ideas. The entire universe became my church and everything and everyone in it my friend. I can worship 24/7 -- anywhere at any time because all places are holy, sacred and special for me as are all people. I belong to the biggest church of all - the infinite universe and everyone is in it.
I relate more to what historically is known as Gnostic Christianity. Gnostic Christianity invites people to seek a deeper sense of self that leads ultimately to the revelation that within each of us is a "True Self" that is a spark of divinity. Within this "True Self" God is known. In the Gnostic approach, the world is not viewed as a good place that was driven into sin by the acts of human beings, but rather as a place that lacks the fullness of love and moral sense that is at the heart of the Divine. It is not so much that human beings are sinners, but that the world itself is deficient. Only when one touches their innermost "True Self" does serenity and love truly become known to each person.
I agree with Matilda Joslyn Gage’s conclusions in her book, Woman, Church and State. (1893) I believe that woman’s degradation is attributed to the Christian/patriarchal position that God is strictly male. The earliest religions worshipped a mother Goddess. All early religions had a female component of the divine. The loss of the female component of divinity enabled the church to lose the divine component of the female. Death by torture was the method of the Church for the repression of woman’s intellect, knowledge being held as evil and dangerous in her hands.
Gage writes, “As long as the Church maintains the doctrine that woman was created inferior to man and brought sin into the world, rendering the sacrifice of the Son of God necessary, just so long will the foundation of vice and crime of every character remain. Not until the exact and permanent equality of woman with man is recognized by the church–aye, even more, together with the accountability of man to woman in everything relating to the birth of a new being, is fully accepted as a law of nature–will vice and crime disappear form the world. Until that time has fully come, prostitution, in its varied forms will continue to exist, together with alms-houses, reformatories, jails, prisons, hospitals and asylums for the punishment, reformation or care of the wretched beings who have come into existence with an inheritance of disease and crime because of church theory and church teaching.
“The most stupendous system of organized robbery known has been that of the church towards woman, a robbery that has not only taken her self-respect but all rights of person; the fruits of her own industry; her opportunities of education; the exercise of her own judgment, her own conscience, her own will."
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.”
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