I asked some recent commenters to share their accounts of life within a fundamentalist/cult group. Here is one reader's story:
"Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to find a good church for his family to go to in order that they could all worship and serve God together. One would not expect this to be a problem in the Southeast United States but the fact remained clear that there were a bunch of organizations that called themselves a “church” that were little more than social clubs. There was a heavy emphasis on meeting felt needs and little if any emphasis on really studying the Bible.
However, after looking for a while, the man and his family found a church that seemed perfect. The Bible was taught exceptionally. There were no fluffy Sunday School classes with trite prepackaged lessons that were superficial. Rather, the teachers taught straight from the Bible. The man was a Calvinist and this church held to the doctrines of grace. The church wasn’t huge but it was big enough to have something for all ages of the family to learn and serve. This should have been the “Happily Ever After”.
Such was not the case, however. About a year or so after they had joined the church, the pastor began to make pleas from the pulpit for increased faithfulness in giving. He said the church was going through a budget crisis. A few months ago, one of the elders had left with some of the congregants to form their own church. About 10 families left. A few other families left for various other reasons. Now, with the pastor making a plea for funds, the man’s “Spidey sense” started to tingle.
No financial reports were ever released. It was really the first the man had thought about it or realized it. Most churches he had been in had business meetings. The financial reports were laid on a back table where everyone could get them. This church didn’t do that. When the man asked the pastor, he was told you had to ask for the reports and they would be mailed to you. So the man asked for the reports. Being an auditor by trade, as soon as he opened the Excel file, he knew where the problem was.
The church’s budget was going to run about $50,000 short for the year if subsequent months ran like the month he looked at. So he started to look at the various categories to see where the problem was. Long story short—the pastor’s salary was better than 50% of the budget with the mortgage being another 30%. When this $100,000 a year salary and $60,000 a year mortgage payment were paid, there was hardly anything left to pay for maintenance, utilities, or anything else. Now the man’s “Spidey Sense” was REALLY tingling. However, he forced himself to keep his concerns to himself. They are the elders, he said, and it’s their job to make these decisions. Besides, the pastor seems to be a man of integrity.
However, that integrity was only a veneer and a thin one at that. About 6 months later, several more families left the congregation. There was a big meeting to explain what had happened and why. Basically, the families left out of concern for the pastor and what they perceived was a greedy attitude on his part. He had taken time out of a sermon series in Ephesians to begin to preach on stewardship and the need to tighten our belts. However, he was still making $100,000 in a church with about 120 people on Sunday Morning. He would make comments that “The average salary in this area is $60,000 per year, we should have no problem with the finances in this church”. After this meeting, the man had an occasion to talk to the pastor and some of the things the pastor said caused the ol’ “Spidey Sense” to start ringing again. Particularly, “I’ve got 20 years experience and a doctorate”. His doctorate was from a diploma mill. However, he seemed to be saying “I deserve this salary”. It also came out that he was able to pay considerably more on his mortgage than the payment every month. This man, in every respect, was becoming quite wealthy. Further, he told the man that he hasn’t taken a raise in 3 years. With his salary I should certainly hope not.
Anyway, the man pushed these concerns down again. He and his family liked the church. They liked the people. Then, the Holy Spirit began to convict him that staying silent was wrong. He began to question the financial decisions of the church and was rudely rebuffed. He finally asked to meet with the elders. You see, anytime someone had a problem, the elders wanted to meet with them individually. They didn’t want people to compare notes and see that others saw the same problems in the church. They also felt it easier to intimidate the person. The man met with the elders and it was like Pink Floyd’s song “The Wall”. They blew off his concerns and basically said that to leave the church without a valid biblical reason was to leave without God’s approval.
A few months went by and some things started happening that violated what the elders claimed were things they’d never do. They had a woman lead music on Wednesday night because the two guys who would usually do it were not there. The elders claimed she wasn’t leading because she was standing with the instrumentalists rather than on the platform. In other words, we’re going to claim that we would never do something but if it becomes necessary we’ll just change the vocabulary, call it something different, and do it anyway. That was the final straw.
The man went to tell the pastor that he would no longer serve in any ministries in the church. The pastor asked why. The man cited the incident above as proof that the elders had no integrity. The pastor was irate. He began to raise his voice. The man told him he didn’t come there to argue but to inform him of a decision. At this point, the pastor blew his stack and said, oh and I’m quoting here, “Don’t you DARE walk away from me!”
The man laughed. He told the pastor “You have no authority over me”. As he turned to walk out, the pastor said “As pastor of this church I certainly do”. He rudely told the man that his resignation was accepted and if he wanted to talk to the elders they would meet with him. The man thought to himself “Alan and the Yes-men”.
He and his family left the church and, after a few months of looking have found a church where the leaders are men of integrity and they can feel safe. Leaving was hard. Staying, however, would have been a greater sin. Supporting a church where the leadership do not have the character qualifications the Bible says they should have is dangerous and potentially damaging. If you find yourself in this situation, you’re not alone. The above story is real. The people in it survived through God’s grace. You can too."
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photobucket picture by:kmlapham