ESCAPE FROM THE CULT
The cult leader burst through the door of the small room where I was being held prisoner. "Are you ready to repent!" he shouted, his face red with anger. "Are you ready to come into our meeting and admit you were worshipping at the altar of Baal!"
I fell back on my bed, emotionally cringing at the thought of another encounter. After nine months of his tirades and charges of being a traitor, plus disillusionment over beloved doctrines and believing I’d never see my family again, i didn’t care if I lived or died.
Sick, and fighting waves of nausea, I had no strength to reason with this man . . .a man whom I once thought held special favor with God. "All I want to do now, is die," I said weakly.
"No way!" He moved closer, his body towering over me. "Wouldn’t you just love to have something happen to you so the police would come in! There’s no way you’re going to bring a murder charge down on me! You’re going to stay alive so you can repent!" he shouted. "You’re a traitor, not only to us, but God! You must denounce the God you found in that Christian church!"
He stormed out of the room yelling, his footsteps echoing through the empty building. I heard the front door slam shut, leaving me in the silence.
I stared at the bare light bulb dangling from the hole in the ceiling above me. Looking continuously at bleak unfinished walls day after day was almost more than I could bear.
Captive in that room for nine months, I suffered through crushing disappointments, mental and emotional agonies, unanswered questions, depression, and failing health. At times it became so bad, I thought I was losing my mind. All I wanted to do was die. Little did I know that a week later my death would nearly become a reality.
I lay there wondering, How did such a noble venture on my part turn into such a nightmare? I prayed to be led to more truth! I hoped to serve God more fully by joining the Order!
My mind retraced the steps of how I had landed in such a frightful situation. Dissatisfied and bored in the main-line Mormon Church, to which I had belonged to for thirty-four years, but spurred on by their teaching to strive for perfection, I discovered its secret underground movement, Mormon Fundamentalism. It seemed like an answer to prayer, although anyone having interests in it could be excommunicated from the LDS Church.
I learned about United Orders taught by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but no longer practiced. In these orders (or communes called a United Effort for those operating on a smaller scale), everyone equally shared goods and finances. Since the New Testament saints had tried it in the Book of Acts, I believed God had restored it to Joseph Smith. By participating in a system where everything was held in common, it would be a good method to purge out any hidden selfishness, perfect myself, and grow closer to God—it was the opportunity of a lifetime! I envisioned everyone loving each other in Christ—a virtual paradise! My husband had passed away a year earlier, my children were grown, so I was free to go.
I put my home up for sale, ready to give the proceeds to the Order. Since it didn’t sell by the time I was ready to leave, I left it in the hands of a realtor. With stars in my eyes, I took off for the "United Effort", a farm in Montana.
It was a tough adjustment. Drinking-water had to be hauled in because too much iron was in the well water. The brownish-red water we bathed in was like taking a bath in root-beer—a novelty at first. In the main house, there was only one bathroom for fourteen people and the toilet was clogged most of the time. There were shocking conditions which I preferred not to think about. But, I didn’t mind. I was living a principle I believed was right!
My first shock came when I realized everyone didn’t love each other. After being showered with love and attention when I first entered, attitudes soon reverted to strife, jealousy and contention.
As the months dragged on, life in the Order grew progressively worse. Stricter rules were added. Robot obedience to the leader’s religious authority was demanded. If I had to drive into town to the laundromat, I was obliged to say, "Please, may I"—and then only if I said it just right and in a humble enough tone.
In addition, the violent temper and sharp tongue of the leader’s wife left me in tears. Devastated over her jealous hatred toward me and shocked at the Order’s unexpected demands, I began to withdraw. The joy I experienced at the beginning of my venture was gone. I felt empty and desolate.
Although most of my activities were curtailed, I still had one freedom—that is, if I asked permission nicely enough. Since church services were held in the afternoons, early Sunday mornings I was allowed to drive to a nearby lake. I told the leader I wanted to pray and meditate on the principles of the Order. But, the real reason? I needed to get away from what seemed like a dark cloud over the farm. It never entered my mind to take that opportunity to flee. I had covenanted before God to enter the Order, and felt a sacred obligation to obey the leader who held the priesthood.
One morning, by the lake, I poured my heart out to God asking him to lift my depression. I prayed for humility so I would be more submissive to the leader—for charity, so I could become immune to his wife’s verbal abuse.
Winter soon set in and the snow became too deep to drive to the lake. Determined not to give up my Sunday mornings, I pretended to go to the lake but, instead, drove aimlessly over the barren plains. One morning, noticing a small country church, I decided to go in knowing I dare not be found out by the Order.
Entering, I quietly slipped into the back row. The singing and atmosphere of peace and love was in such sharp contrast to life on the farm, that my spirits immediately lifted. The song leader and pastor spoke so many kind and loving things that I began to gain a clearer perspective of how wrong things were in the Order. However, it was the song leader that mainly influenced me. Before every hymn, he took the time to explain what the verses meant.
For the first time, I learned what "grace" really was-something that was never talked about in the LDS Church. I also learned that "works" would never get me into heaven. This sent me into a whirl of confused thinking! He also explained what Calvary and reconciliation really meant. I began to get a new perspective of what Jesus really did for me. This, of course, did not mean I thought of leaving the Order, nor giving up my belief in Mormon doctrine. I simply added the new concepts into my Mormon thinking.
I returned to the farm, able to cope with the abuse for another week; for it seemed that all depression was lifted as I thought about the new concepts about Jesus.
Eagerly, I looked forward to the next Sunday.
But, after attending four Sundays, my worst fears were realized. I had been followed! When I returned to the farm, the leader confronted me.
"Have you been attending that church!" he shouted.
"Yes," I replied timidly. "But, let me tell you about Jesus..." I got no further. In times past I had seen individuals lose their temper, but I had never seen rage before. I was shocked as all hell literally broke loose.
"Didn’t you know you were worshipping at the Altar of Baal! he screamed. "Attending that Christian church now makes you guilty of spiritual adultery!"
"Why are you treating me this way?" I cried. Don’t we believe in Christ?"
"Of course," came the retort, "but you found him in a Christian church instead of through me! I’m your spiritual head!"
He demanded the keys to my car which I dutifully handed over. I was cut off from all communication and members were forbidden to communicate with me. I could no longer be reinstated with members or leave the farm until I came into their Sacrament meeting and publicly repented of my sin of attending the church and denounce the Christian’s Jesus. Bible verses my Christian grandmother used to repeat went through my mind—special verses about God’s love. I thought of my unselfish reason for entering the Order and my love for Mormonism. Why was God letting all this happen to me?
Alone, in a small 8 x 10 sheet-rocked-only room in an unfinished building at the back of the farm, I was miserable. One bed, a small dresser, no running water or modern toilet facilities-only a thunder bucket.
To keep from going crazy in my solitary confinement, I began reading books and unpublished manuscripts handed down from early Mormon eras, which the leader had given me earlier. In them I discovered strange and shocking doctrines of Joseph Smith’s as well as different temple rituals than I had known. I read of sealing men to men, instead of men to woman, and suggestive innuendoes of how the sealings were to be consummated-even between men. In addition, although I was familiar with the doctrine of plural wives, I was not prepared for plural husbands! How could I belong to something that believed like that! Even though not practiced by the LDS Church now, surely this couldn’t be what the Mormon Church was founded upon!
Through the months, the leader periodically came into my room to revile me. He told me that if I ever got into heaven, it would be because he would decide whether to reach down and pull me up or not. "Repent!" he yelled. I refused.
As my health deteriorated, my thinking processes became more sluggish. At times it was difficult to even make my mind work. At other times, I found myself doing mental gymnastics in an attempt to rationalize my circumstances. Soon I actually had myself believing my situation was what I deserved.
I grew very thin and slipped in and out of deep depression. I had so wanted to live like Joseph Smith taught, as well as the New Testament Christians. Willing to share everything I had with others, I had given the leader practically all of my life’s savings, believing I was giving to God. In addition, I was shattered, suspecting that the doctrines I had believed in for so long, might be wrong. I felt let down...cheated. But, in spite of it all, I was determined never to renounce the Christian Jesus.
Surprisingly, I never tried to escape. Although I decided the leader and his rules, along with a gradual awareness that Mormon doctrines could possibly be wrong, I was concerned about the commitment I made when I went into the Order. I had promised before God, to share everything I had. Whenever I briefly thought about leaving, the leader’s words resounded in my mind over and over again: "God doesn’t like a covenant breaker—God doesn’t like a covenant-breaker"-something he always drilled into members. Not wanting God to think I was a covenant-breaker, I resigned myself to my fate. Come what may, I wouldn’t try to escape and become that! I would be faithful to whatever promise I made to God, believing that release from any
kind of promise made to Him would always be binding, even if done in error.
Seven months passed...eight . . . nine. My health grew worse. I lost all incentive to live. I finally expressed to the leader on one of his abusive visits, my desire to die. His only response was that he was determined to keep me alive so nothing would come down on his head with the law.
I wondered, in my weakened condition, how long it would take to actually die. My answer came sooner than I anticipated.
One afternoon, a small child wandered into the building and found me unconscious on the floor. As was told to me later by the leaders oldest son, he told the leader and he and others rushed into my room. They began praying and anointing me with oil, while at the same time calling upon the authority of their Holy Melchizedek priesthood to raise the dead. They feverishly worked over me—not because they were concerned about me, but because their worse fears might be realized—I might die and their leader could face a murder charge.
I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but when I finally came to my body felt so horrible, that I weakly raised one arm and looked at it. I had never before seen anything so grotesque! There was no pink color at all—every bit of my flesh was a solid fusion of black, gray, and purple. My other arm was the same. I had to assume my whole body was that way.
Seeing I had rallied, they left me alone. But, the leader made sure his wife brought better food in to me. She did it with malice, extremely angry that by my nearly dying I had almost jeopardized the legal safety of her husband.
To my relief the leader, seeing I was not going to repent, finally quit coming to my room.
During the next two months I slowly regained strength, but not without growing health problems. Crippling pain spasms shot through my neck and back, striking without warning. In addition, I had a completely paralyzed colon (as diagnosed later by a doctor) as well as other complications which, after I escaped, required surgery.
One day something strange, but marvelous happened. Kneeling and praying aloud-entertaining no thoughts about asking for help to escape—I was right in the middle of a sentence when I was interrupted with these words: "I shall deliver you." I sat back, shocked.
Recognizing that it had to be from God, a surprising peace totally filled me; then, sudden elation. Wow!, I thought. God must evidently approve of my leaving! That must mean He won’t consider me a covenant-breaker if I leave!
Then I began to wonder how? When? Although extremely thin and still suffering from physical problems, I became excited about leaving-simply because I truly felt God had spoken to me through his Holy Spirit.
My thoughts turned to my furniture and personal belongings stored in another building. I didn’t want to leave without them, since my house in California had not sold and I would need them. Suddenly, my plan of escape began to form.
I watched out the small window of my room on the day I knew the leader and members always went into town. After they piled into their cars, I waited about twenty minutes; then left my room, walked through the vacant building, and out the door.
As I crossed the yard toward the main farm house, my heart suddenly stopped. Two men came out of the house heading towards the corral. They were about 150 feet across the yard and glanced in my direction. But, miraculously, it was like they didn’t even see me as they continued in the direction they were going. Then I hurried to the back of the farm house, my heart in my throat.
Quickly slipping through the back door, I reached for the kitchen phone and fumbled through the telephone directory. I dialed a moving company, making arrangements for them to come the following week. I then hurried back to my room.
The night before the van was due to arrive, I waited until dark. When everyone was in bed, I crept out of my room. I knew the leader kept the keys to my car on a nail just inside the back door of the main house. I was glad for one thing—they had been using my car the last nine months, so the battery wasn’t dead. Quickly, I grabbed the keys and crept back to my room.
The pre-arranged morning arrived and I saw the Mayflower pull in. Hurrying out of the building, grateful for what strength I had, I waved my arms motioning the driver down the long dirt driveway.
At the sound of the huge truck, the leader and others came rushing out of the main house. They can’t stop me now, I thought, not with strangers on the property!
I began talking with the drivers, a husband and wife team. Signing the papers, I wondered why a large white dove was painted on the door of their cab, not realizing at the time that they were Christians.
I pointed them to the building where everything was stored—then stuck to them like glue. The leader and other members stood their distance silently fuming, daring not to prevent me with outsiders present.
When nearly finished, the driver and his wife asked, "Is everything all right?"
"Yes," I said, sensing that although they were puzzled, they knew I was in some kind of tense situation. How much did they know?
"I’ll meet you in three days at my California address," I said. "But, just before you leave, do me a favor and let me pull out in front of you." They seemed to understand.
I nervously walked to my car and climbed in. Then, suddenly, in the side-view mirror I saw the leader start towards me. I panicked. Turning the key, I jammed my foot against the accelerator and took off. Momentarily losing control of the car, I side-swiped a pile of railroad ties piled along side the driveway, bashing a huge dent in the passenger side. I gunned the car down the long dirt driveway and onto the open highway. Free at last!
I immediately headed towards town to wire my bank for money—I had just enough left to finance my trip home. Other than that, I had nothing. But for now, my dominant thought was, I’m free!
As I drove, I began to cry. First, I cried out of relief. Then I cried because my body felt so terrible. Next, I cried because my Mormon beliefs had been destroyed. But, lastly, I cried because my dream of finding a community sanctioned by God, with everyone wanting to live, love, and share, had been a delusion.
But now, at least, it was over! ...or so I thought, unaware of the length of time it would take to overcome all the physical and emotional aftereffects.
I was left with prolonged health problems. A neck brace controlled crippling pain spasms in my neck and back; a severe hemorrhage required six blood transfusions; and, with a paralyzed colon, I was facing a possible colostomy. Spared that (because of the focused efforts of new Christian friends praying for my condition), I however underwent surgery for other related matters.
I was also facing three to eight years of flashbacks, conflicting emotions, and nightmares. Plus, after nine months of isolation, I had to learn how to communicate all over again as I grappled with disorientation and an inability to relate to people. Plus, I had anxiety attacks and fear that the cult leader would find me and either force me back to the cult or carry out the doctrine of "blood atonement" on me.
Although I had no desire to return to the Montana group, I would also be plagued with Mormonism itself. What if the Book of Mormon is really true! What if Joseph Smith was really a prophet! What if I become a daughter of perdition by leaving! All typical concerns of ex-Mormons, I later learned. Everything effected a critical sense of tragedy, and I underwent one psychological crisis after another. Dealing with the emotional aftermath would prove to be the most soul-wrenching, excruciating, experience of my life (detailed in a book described at the end of this article).
Nevertheless, I knew that God had watched over me. He had also seen to it that my house didn’t sell so I’d have a home to return to. Further, He protected my house from four fires started in the basement by children breaking in.
But, at that moment, all I knew was that I escaped from the cult alive—and was headed home - to my new life as a Christian!
EPILOGUE: Trying to adjust to a Christian church, as well as deal with the difficult aftermath, I and another ex-Mormon friend searched all the Christian book stores in Salt Lake City, hoping to find a book which would describe and explain the problems we were grappling with. Finding that no such book existed, I decided I would have to be the one to write it.
Therefore, in 1994, Kregel Publications published my book, "Out of the Cults and Into the Church". It is the only book on the Christian market, to my knowledge, which describes and explains these problems in as much detail. At the end of each chapter is a section on "How Christians Can Help". It is designed to help the ex-cultist understand "why" they are going through their problems—problems which they often won’t share with Christians working with them. It is also a good book to help Christians understand what ex-Mormons are going through.
In 1995, Kregel Publications published my second book, "The Mormon Missionaries: An inside look". It will also be released in a Spanish translation (1999) for Latin America.
Written like a novel for easy reading, it is a good book to hand to an ex-Mormon who will receive confirmation that he or she made the right choice in leaving the LDS Church (a thought they are often plagued with).
Further, because it is not a "bashing" book, it can also be handed to an active Mormon without offending. Heavily endnoted with Mormon references it is, as one reviewer said, "A researcher’s dream!" and authenticates all beliefs-even the bizarre ones—so that the Mormon cannot say, "That isn’t so".
The backdrop of the book takes place at a Christian Bible College where I taught for a while. When two Mormon missionaries bravely ventured on campus, my book spring-boarded from there.
The story involves Susan, a young student, who falls for one of the Elders. She then takes the missionary lessons, thinking she will convert him to Christianity. But, she soon finds herself in deep waters and nearly ready to join Mormonism because of him. She then struggles between her strong romantic feelings and the realization that she must choose between Christianity and Mormonism. The book also describes the lessons the missionaries give, their deceptive methods, and how to refute them.
My e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
END OF SUBMISSION
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