Brisbane Christian Fellowship:
Cult survivor relives history of servitude
March 20, 2010
Helen Pomery and David Lowe remember a former life of servitude.
"I had to submit and be obedient to my husband," Ms Pomery, a 60-year-old Brisbane mother, claims.
"I had to submit and be obedient to the church elders and I had to cut off my daughter."
This, she was assured, was key to her eternal salvation.
"We lived at Samford on acreage. We were ordinary. We just happened to go to an extraordinary church..."
The church - the Brisbane Christian Fellowship (BCF) - nestled in the Samford Valley in Brisbane's north, has a loyal following.
Church elders preach sacrifice, submission and obedience, she says.
To the church faithful, they are God's messengers.
But beyond the public face of the church, strategically hidden from the congregation, is human devastation.
Families have been torn apart, and psychological counselling required by former members.
Not that Ms Pomery could see the potential for damage when she arrived with her husband and three children in Maryborough from South Australia.
"We were Christians, we were looking for a new church.
"Then the Brisbane Christian Fellowship sent a pastor to our house.
"They present well; they had a lot of credibility. They are very kind and responsive people. You get embraced by the fellowship and you think `this is lovely.'"
But as her husband became more involved with the church's elders, demands became more strict.
The BCF demands followers attain sinless perfection.
As part of this, female followers are expected to sacrifice their free will to men, Ms Pomery says.
"The elders held a men's sexuality seminar out here and they said that my body was not my body it was his body, so my husband had every right to demand that whenever he chose.
"I know of wives whose husbands said that they couldn't use the car to go out other than to the shops. So the husband wrote down the (odometer) reading in the morning and checked the (odometer) at night.
"I know of other wives whose husbands gave them a list each morning and said, `You will complete the tasks on this list today.'
"The women have to keep submitting and obeying. They are not allowed to have a voice."
Yet women are not the only victims of emotional abuse here.
Mr Lowe, an electrician by trade, joined the church 13 years after his wife.
"After 13 years of not having my family home on weekends and during the week...I went in," he says.
"I slogged my guts out, gave all my money to the church...and what for, for nothing?"
"They preach you are a slave and you should be happy to be a slave."
Rosanne Henry, a specialist in cult recovery in the United States, says the directives are the classic fruits of mind control or thought reform.
Cults, she says, exploit normal needs by extraordinary means.
The first is `love bombing'.
"We all want to belong and feel loved and valued," she says.
Ms Pomery shared her journey at the Cult Information and Family Support Group Queensland Conference held in Brisbane last week.
Her church life became unbearable when her eldest daughter married a leader's son.
The family was in the inner-fold.
"When you're closer to a cult leader he has to have (you) under his complete control. He will make sure that the elders have their allegiance to him, above their allegiance to their wife and children," she says.
"Those men (elders) will sacrifice their marriages; they will sacrifice their children; and they will do anything they are told to do.
"It's an acid test."
Helen was first targeted because she dared to write a journal.
"The elders said to my husband that my journalling was part of my rebellion in that I was having private thoughts and I was not submitted to my husband.
"I was disciplined. I had to write confessions. I was banned from taking communion. In the end, I was banned from going to the church. I was kept home to write assignments. This is in a marriage of 30 years."
Women in the congregation receive their orders from the elders in writing.
"My daughter - she was 26 at the time - was given a letter to leave the house," Ms Pomery says.
"She was given a week to leave the house, because she dated a boy outside the group. Dating, courtship and marriage are all tightly controlled.
"The conditions put on me were that I was not allowed to phone her. I wasn't even allowed send her re-addressed letters that came to the house. I was to cut her off as if she were dead.
"I submitted to that for six months, but I heard via other family that she was feeling ill and she was sick, so I reached out to her.
"A year later, in 2001, I was given a letter to leave the house.
"I left. I was only allowed back if I could fulfil three conditions: I had to submit and be obedient to my husband, I had to submit and be obedient to the elders and I had to cut off my daughter.
"I couldn't fulfil those conditions. I would have gone back and tried to submit, but I said I wouldn't cut off my daughter. As a result of that I was never allowed back to my family home.
"To them, I was unsubmitted, wicked, and despicably evil."
Helen was excommunicated.
"I was suicidal. They had taken everything I love, everything I hold dear."
"There have been several suicides in the group because people are just tormented, isolated, hounded, bullied. You name it, they do it."
Helen found her salvation in a close friend - not a church member - who recommended she seek psychiatric treatment.
"I have been out for nine years, but I would still say that I am in recovery."
Mr Lowe says the elders wore him down to breaking point.
"If you're subservient and doing what they want they build you up, but as soon as you start to express doubts you become a target and they put the boot in," he says.
"I just couldn't jump through their hoops anymore.
"Eventually I thought, blow it, I will lose my salvation, that's my problem. And I did leave.
"But I didn't want my family to lose their salvation, so I didn't try to get them out.
"Once I came out and people began to shun me, wouldn't talk to me, had nothing to do with me, wouldn't even come to my home."
Mr Lowe compares himself to a cancer patient, now in remission. He longs to see his children again.
"If I had known then, what I know now, I would have tried to get my children out. There is a chance I will see them again."
Rosanne Henry says education is key to the recovery process.
"The experience was extreme psychologically and emotionally and spiritually for most people [who leave religious cults] - ... and so they need to understand how that happened.
"Psycho-education about thought reform and mind control is critical because that was what was used on them in the group. They need understand what happened and why it happened.
"That was their world and they need to understand it so they can get rid of it."
She says, normalcy may never be attainable.
"But there's ways to get a good life back."
The Brisbane and Melbourne Christian Fellowships did not respond to requests from brisbanetimes.com.au to comment on the allegations made by Ms Pomery and Mr Lowe.
The woman who answered the phone at the church in Brisbane told us she was not authorised to comment.
"It's up to the men to decide. We can only pass on messages to them."
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