The devil inside: escaping cultic groups
The Sunday Mail (Qld)
March 14, 2010
WHEN "John" was a teenager, he was told animals were the devil's listeners, wind chimes brought demons and he should be wary of people outside his church.
His father, a former member of the controversial Exclusive Brethren, had become a minister in a Darling Downs church that believed in deliverance from demons.
John, now in his late 20s, said he escaped from what he now believed was a cult after being forced to choose between the church and his wife, who was not a believer.
Now a married father, John has cut himself off from his parents, not wanting to expose himself or his son to their restrictive church life.
"My parents believed if someone was gay they had a demon, if people smoked they had a demon," he said. "My parents even said they could see demons – they would have specific names for them."
told they were harbouring spirits
John said he was discouraged from going to non-churchmates' homes because he was told they were harbouring spirits.
He said when he left the confines of the church he had to learn to think for himself again, and he admits that initially he "cut loose".
For years he had been told not to go to pubs, because it would lead to debauchery.
"I do believe there is a God out there, but it's hard to believe the people who sell him. It's hard to trust people," John said.
He is one of more than 100 people who attended a national conference on coercive persuasion and mind control at Parliament House in Brisbane yesterday.
Those who attended included people who had left or had family involved in 15 different cults – out of thousands that are believed to operate in Australia.
techniques used to attract and trap people
The conference was organised by Queensland's Cult Information and Family Support, which helps ex-members of cultic groups and educates people about the techniques used to attract and trap people in cults.
Member and conference organiser Helen Pomery said many came out of cultic groups very ill – physically, emotionally and psychologically.
Ms Pomery said it took great courage for members to exit a cult, but there were people who could help them recover and regain their independent lives.
Once a member of Brisbane Christian Fellowship, she was kicked out in 2001 after she refused to obey a direction not to have anything to do with her daughter.
Her daughter had been excommunicated a year earlier because she had wanted to date someone outside the church.
"I had to prove my submission to my husband and the elders by cutting off my daughter, and I wouldn't do it," Ms Pomery said.
She is now divorced and has no contact with two of her other children – her son, a church elder, and a daughter who is married to the son of a church leader.
deprives people of their liberty
Ms Pomery says a cult is any group that deprives people of their liberty and their power to think for themselves. "The regime dictates how they will think and how they will behave," she says.
Emma Hodgkins, 39, was 19 and had just moved to Sydney with her sister from the country when she got caught up in a church that was part of the International Church of Christ.
Emma, who had a good job as a trainer with a cosmetics firm, was looking for a church to join and when introduced to the Sydney group she found everyone so welcoming and accepting. "Their enthusiasm became infectious," she said.
But before long, the church began to consume her life – to the point where she gave up her well-paid job to work for it full-time.
She worked long hours for little money, conforming to what others in the church expected of her.
"You feel like you're on the outer if you don't behave the same way," she said. "It's like you should be putting God first.
"They build you up, but if you do something wrong, they tear you down."
Emma found herself distancing herself from her family, including her sister, as they challenged her involvement in the church and quitting her job.
you've got to cut your family off
Then the church told her to stop seeing her family. "They'd say, 'Emma, you've got to cut your family off. They are a hindrance, they're holding you back'," Emma said.
She did as she was asked – to prove her allegiance.
Emma's mother Ros Hodgkins, who now heads Cult Information and Family Support in NSW, said her daughter's mind was absolutely changed from what she had previously believed, growing up in a mainstream church. "She eventually said to us, 'You're working for Satan,' " Mrs Hodgkins said.
Ros and her husband were only able to get their daughter back by bringing ex-members of the church in the US to Sydney to have an intensive four-day talk with Emma.
Although she had cut them off, Emma's father pleaded with the church to let her come home for Christmas.
Emma said the church told her to go home and convert her father, but first took her passport from her and warned her that her parents could kidnap her.
Over four days she freely listened to what the ex-members told her – for the first two days not believing anything they said.
I was very shocked
She said her eyes were opened when they handed her a list, asking if it described her church, and when she said "yes" she was told it was from a study of Hitler's army.
"I was very shocked," she said.
"It kind of opened the floodgates for me to look at the church's documentation."
Emma returned to the church asking questions and hoping to bring about change, but was treated as a "weak-willed" challenger.
"Suddenly I could see things so clearly. I could see the control, the arrogance, the demands on people," she said.
Emma left the church but said the first two months afterwards were very difficult. She was fearful, depressed and did not trust anyone.
"It took me eight months to recover – to being back to normal," she said.
Mrs Hodgkins says cults all have the same dynamics – behaviour, information, thought and emotional control. New members are never told up front that they will have to cut off their family.
"You join a group that is offering what you are looking for," she said.
Some cults had manipulative techniques for creating interests to suit new recruits, often at a time when they were lonely.
Emma is now a happy mother-of-three in a good job, who is passionate about educating people about cults.
"The biggest thing I learnt is that I have control over my life and nobody else can take that," Emma says.
"The moment anything becomes a must – without any options – then question it, and if people don't allow those questions, then run."
Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.