People From Around The World Share Their Cult Experiences

People From Around The World Share Their Cult Experiences

Cults are a terrifying psychological phenomenon. The level of control one person, or a few, can have over many is nothing short of horrifying. People indoctrinated into a cult often obey their leaders' most insane commands without question, willing even to harm their old friends and family. Cults create their own culture of alienation in order to separate their followers completely from the outside world. While those in a cult often feel like they are safe, members of a family that will protect them and do anything for them, people on the outside can see that cults are frighteningly controlling and often contain dangerous beliefs. While outsider encounters with a cult are relatively uncommon, here are some stories from people who have had their own fearful cult experiences.


35. Weight Loss Cult

I lost an aunt and cousin to Weight Down Ministries. It’s run by this woman named Gwen Shamblin. A real nut job. She lives in Franklin, TN, in this huge mansion where she broadcasts live church webinars multiple times a week. People all over join in and host these “church gatherings” at their homes. They get you in by introducing it as a weight loss program. Simple. Lose the weight quick and easy and never gain it back. Eat what you want! So you go, "Wow this sounds great!" Then they slowly introduce the Bible and she’ll preach to you through online videos, then you get recruited to a church in someone’s home near you where the service lasts for FOUR hours. So anyway, my cousin and aunt got sucked into this and now they moved away to live in Franklin, TN where they worship every breath this Gwen Shamblin woman takes. Everyone that joins ends up marrying someone else inside the cult. My cousin's sister wasn’t allowed in her wedding because she wasn’t part of the cult.


34. "Church"

I was a part of this “church” for almost six years as a child. I left when I was 17 and was kicked out of my house because of it. My mom and little brother are still a part of it and moved to TN to be closer to all the “saints”. My mom has been 100% brainwashed by those people and it’s just so insane to me because I can remember believing every word of it.


33. Work For Them Now

My step-aunt, uncle, and their daughter are Scientologists. My step-uncle had a drug problem when he was younger and Scientology said they could help him. Surprisingly enough they did and he got clean but he got roped in. He and his family work for them now. His daughter works on the cruise ship they have. They seem pretty normal but they occasionally send us DVDs to try and convert us. Also when my rather wealthy grandfather died they wanted to take some of his possessions to sell to Scientology.


32. Crazy Fundamentalist

My aunt became a born-again Christian and joined this crazy fundamentalist church. Within a few months, she had married a man she met there and pulled her kids out of public school and enrolled them at the church's tiny private school. The church doesn't allow women to cut their hair so she quit her job as a hair stylist. She started wearing ankle-length skirts and made my cousin do the same. My cousin wasn't allowed to wear normal clothes. When we went on our annual beach vacation, my cousin couldn't wear a bathing suit, she had to wear knee length board shorts and a tee shirt.

Joining that church completely changed my aunt's personality. She used to be a really cool person, she would take me and my cousins to do all kinds of fun stuff when we were kids. I remember her being my "fun aunt". She was also a talented painter and extremely creative. She doesn't paint at all now. She became completely submissive to her new husband, who is super manipulative and a compulsive liar. I don't think she's being physically abused, but she's not allowed to leave the house alone. She can only go to places with her adult son or her husband. My mom tried to convince her to leave and now she is banned from talking to my mom on the phone unless her husband supervises the conversation. He works from home, so he is literally always around micromanaging her life.

Joining that church also changed my cousin's life. She was probably about 12 or 13 when this all happened. She wasn't allowed to cut her hair and she was only allowed to wear full-length skirts and long sleeves. They wouldn't let her see her old friends, she was only allowed to associate with people from church. We lived in different states, but we were extremely close and she used to come to visit my family several times a year. Those trips stopped. I could only see her when we drove out to where they lived, and even then she wasn't allowed to be unsupervised with my mom (who was deemed a bad influence because she called my aunt and her husband out on their bull). It was really hard on my cousin. She ended up legally emancipating herself at 16 and moving in with our grandparents. It was an ordeal. The church "school" she had been going to was unaccredited and essentially useless, so she had to repeat a lot of high school online.



31. Not "Pure Of Heart"

It was called New Life Church.

My best friend got super into this church and she would invite me to their youth group and it seemed okay. We would eat chicken burgers and watch Sister Act 2. One day she asked me if I wanted to have a Saturday sleepover and attend Sunday service with her family. My parents were okay with it because they assumed it was like a normal church.

It was no normal church. It was a new wave Christian church and their minister was a faith healer. I mean people speaking in tongues and he would perform healing ceremonies. People would come up to him and he would use his palm to smack them on their foreheads and they would shake on the ground. He told people that he could use God's power to heal cancer.

It was scary and the people attending fully believed that this man could save them. On the way home from the service my best friend's mom asked me what I thought. I was honest and said it was weird and nothing like my church. She asked if I would go back and I said it wasn't the right fit for me.

After that my best friend was not allowed to hang out with me. If her mom saw her talking to me around town she would yell at her. My best friend told me that it was because her mom said I didn't have a pure Christian heart.


30. Xenos

Here in central Ohio, we have a cult called Xenos. They market themselves as a Christian home church group. In reality, you will be pressured into moving into a home where you share a room with others of the same gender in order to prevent premarital sex and masturbation.

You will be forced to shun all non-Xenos friends and family you have. It's pretty baffling how people keep falling for it. I lost a friend to it years ago. Haven't heard from her since. I saw her at the store once a few years ago and she refused to even acknowledge my existence.


29. Rehab Cult

I went to a drug rehab that turned out to just be a front for a cult recruitment center, with some tidbits of drug rehab stuff thrown in randomly (but with their culty spin).

It’s scary how good cults are at appearing great. It took me about a year after I left the rehab to realize how they completely brainwashed me into being a sheep, and how manipulative and awful they were.

I’m actually sober now and my life is much better once I cut all ties to them. They work hard to stay in contact with everyone that leaves the rehab and give them a “therapist” to work with that continues the cult’s teachings after they leave the center. It’s not actual therapy mind you, they just call themselves therapists though now they call themselves educators instead


28. Squeezed Friend

I worked with a guy when I was in my 20s at a gaming company. We were both artists. He told me he went to church. He got pretty insistent about me checking out his church. I had gone to church when I was younger but wasn’t anymore. Anyway, I went. I thought it was a Christian church since he called it Church of Christ and he carried a bible.

Well, no. It was a big congregation in some big meeting room but it was wacky times. There was a little bit of religious talk but a lot of money talk.

I found out he lived with like seven other members of that church. He had to break up with his long-time girlfriend even though she was also a member of the same church. Then they all had to date each other every week— keeping it hetero of course. And then maybe an elder would tell them to get married. Fuzzy on that detail.

But I ended up seeing enough red flags to look them up. The International Church of Christ is a cult masquerading as a Christian church. They squeeze their members dry of funds. Very similar to Scientology except using the Bible instead of Dianetics.


27. Confusing Relations

So I got out when I was 20-21. And by got out I mean was demonized and disowned by my mother who then married the cult leader after he divorced his wife "for having an affair". A big old pile of bull. Cult leader's wife was my ex-step-grandmother (long story, my mom's not great at picking men). But she's still in it now and won't talk to me, though she did try to make me see the error of my ways a couple months back (I'm in my early 30s now). Apparently, the cult leader is dying of cancer to the mouth, which is incredibly appropriate.


26. The Message

My father’s side of the family is part of “The Message” cult. My grandmother, aunts, and most of my cousins believe that a man named William Branham was a prophet that spoke to God and he could perform miracles. Branham was part of the post-WWII healing revivals. Apparently, he also had some role in the Jonestown massacre.

Branham died in the 60s but his followers do some crazy stuff. I’ve gone to my grandma’s church and the service is usually them listening to a tape recording of one of Branham’s sermons. It’s weird. Women are not permitted to wear pants, cut their hair, wear makeup, or practice birth control. Women are encouraged to stay at home and care for children— it’s seen as shameful if a woman has to work outside of the home.

Other rules include no alcohol, men cannot wear shorts (only pants), no “secular” or “worldly” music, no playing card games, people are encouraged to “date within their own race.” Many strict families won’t own a television or computer. Reading books is not encouraged.

Most children are homeschooled and not encouraged to attend college or learn on their own. Young men often learn a skilled trade usually taught by a father, uncle, or family friend.

My father is not a believer and is only tolerated because he helps provide for his mother (my grandmother). Even though they’re only a phone call away, the church encourages them not to engage with non-believers. It hurts.

It’s hard to visit them sometimes. I’m a short-haired lesbian who wears mostly cargo pants. While nobody ever says it, I feel judged and excluded. I live several states away and nobody calls to tell me about family news. My uncle thinks I’m possessed by a demon. When my grandmother opens photo albums, there’s a lot of faces I can’t recognize. Family members I will never get to know.



25. From Sailor To Cult Member

My older brother joined a cult. He had a huge drinking problem most of his life, and drug problems in high school. He joined the Coast Guard after high school, but he was getting into trouble at work, coming in hungover all the time, not really caring about his job. One of his superiors, despite the trouble at work, really cared about him and wanted to help him. He recommended that my bro start going to church. So he did and it really turned things around for the better. My family and I were all so proud of him, he was really happy for the first time in a long time.

And then it just progressed from there, what first seemed helpful started to get out of control. The cult that he’s in he found online. Obviously, they don’t outright say they’re a cult, my brother saw it as an online community that supported his religion, made him feel like he had others to talk to. At first, we just thought he was taking this whole religion thing too seriously, but then he went AWOL for one of their meet-ups/functions. He ended up getting discharged from the military and then he began calling my parents less and less. He moved to the city where the cult is based out of and got some job using connections from the church. He and I were still close and we called/emailed a few times a week. Starting before his discharge from the Coast Guard, in just about every conversation he would bring up doomsday, punishment, and hell. Eventually, he began telling me that God told him that he can’t change me and that unless I decide to accept Jesus as my savior, he could no longer contact me.

We haven’t talked in years, I was the last one he cut off. He still talks to our biological dad once every few months. My brother told my dad that God spoke to him through prayer and told him he’s still got a chance to save my dad. I honestly think he’s just too afraid to completely let go of his old life and his entire family, and that’s why he still keeps in contact with my dad. He gets updates on me through him, but I’ve come to terms with the possibility of never seeing my brother again.


24. God WIll Provide

I had this friend in college. This happened just a couple years ago.

She started off totally normal, as far as I knew. She was a freshman, on the soccer team, an outgoing person. We had this preacher guy for some fringe Christianity religion who dressed in brown robes and frequently came onto campus and yelled stuff about how we’re all going to hell. You know, typical hateful campus preacher stuff, he usually got taunted by the students. He was in his late twenties, sometimes he brought women in their early to mid-twenties with him. They dressed kinda like Amish women or Mennonites (not sure what exactly) but they only ever sat silently to the side while he ranted and strutted around in front of the library.

Well, my friend paid too much attention to him and somehow his bizarre hateful beliefs resonated with her. She started hanging out with him and his cult group. Over the course of a semester, she dropped out of the soccer team, started writing religious poetry, and eventually dropped out of school altogether. When her parents found out they tried to intervene. They blocked the preacher from her phone but when she found out she threw the phone away. She cut contact with her family and spent a few months following the preacher around, homeless, hitchhiking around the country, and living off the generosity of strangers.

The last time I saw her was when I went out for dinner with her and our mutual friend. It was bizarre, to say the least. My friend and I discussed grad school and life after college, while cult girl had nothing to contribute to the conversation except her plans to wander around spreading the word of God and witnessing miracles. When asked how she planned to survive, she said: “God would provide.”


23. Eventually Came Around

So my mother was the one in my immediate family that originally gravitated towards the thoughts and ideas that the cult generated. Then she got her three sisters, her mom, and dad and subsequently there family's as well. The Cult was convinced that modern Christianity was flawed in it's thinking. I was young enough to follow suit in my mother's beliefs, partly due to having grown in Christianity from since before I could talk (Monday night bible studies, Wednesday night youth service, Friday youth camp, Saturday service, Sunday school). My father wasn't truly that enthralled in the teachings of these people my mom had gotten into, he was more concerned that he was making nothing in the housing market during 2008. So eventually I started learning that this group was taking Proficiency that would have small subtle hints in them that the world was ending (books outside of Revelations) and then use these prophecies to show what had come to pass and what hasn't yet. Eventually going as far and calculating the aunt and moon cycles for what year the return of Christ was coming. This is around maybe four years in, my grandpa started to get these "visions from God" telling him to invest in lottery tickets. He believed that that year was the beginning of the end and that we needed to stop all connections to the outside world, and that we were going to be blessed with riches in order to prepare for the end times and prepare a place for those that come searching for safety in the aftermath.

This is when my father decided that maybe he should step in, he started pulling me aside and instilling me to think for yourself, question everything, and to read. Read a lot. I eventually got hooked on the Joe Rogan Podcast and read as much as I could on the founding fathers of America, I read everything from the Communist Manifesto to John Lock's social contract to Twilight (I know gross). I and my dad began to resent the rest of the family and found a few sympathetic to our way of thought (mostly the husbands of my mom's sisters). My mom eventually came back around after her father never did win the lottery, and had to choke on his words. It breaks my heart to see a man be broken by misguided thoughts but he kinda had it coming. It was around 2013 she finally gave up on the belief, but she still has trouble with falling for things. Last month she tried telling me the Earth was flat.


22. Smear Cult

I was in what I, personally, deem as a cult. They had a ruse of being a very "hip" non-denominational Christian Church. You may know of them— the pastor wears jeans and high fashion button-up shirts, the band plays alternative Christian rock, there's a coffee shop, etc. However, I think the church sort of morphed into that in the 15 years I attended to become more appealing. This church had a lot of layers and, as the kid of the associate pastor of the church (my dad was the right-hand man of the main pastor), I pretty much knew all of the layers.

I had been going to this church since I was four, and from that point forward my family had become extremely devout. We were there nearly every night of the week: Bible studies, three sermons on Sunday, one sermon on Wednesday, worship practice, babysitting, events, the list goes on an on. One summer, I couldn't have been older than nine, I spent every morning cleaning the church (still can't remember why I was required to clean the church so much... but it kept me there all the time) At 11, the church opened up a school that literally was just a money sucker. When I say money sucker I mean $2,000 dollars per school year roughly (possibly more, later down the road), for you to learn and re-learn the same subjects, because once you got to a certain point in education, they'd make you re-do it, because there was no point in you learning anything else (you were just going to end up being a church pawn anyways!). We'd pledge to the Christian flag, the Bible, and American flag every morning and had hour-long bible study lessons. We had to memorize so much scripture and would be tested and re-tested on these scriptures we were supposed to know by heart EVERY Friday. If we got in trouble we sometimes would be assigned lines, which usually was also a scripture verse. Ah, sorry I am going on much too long about all of these details—there's way too much to list about both the church and their school, and I am so pent up about how much time I wasted, even though I dropped out at 16.

Anyway, this church-bred loyalty and anyone who left would suddenly have a seriously terrible rumor spread about them, to make it seem like whoever DID leave had some type of mental breakdown or they were a "wolf in sheep's clothing" the whole time. It was pretty screwed up, because one minute I would have a friend I thought I would have for life, and the next minute their mom would suddenly leave and the rumor would be "oh she married a Muslim man and converted (oh god forbid......eye roll compared to this, but my church thought they were WAY "freer" than Muslims) or that they were stealing money or just whatever they could come up with. This was always MOST unsettling when a church "great" would leave (people who had been there for 10+ years and were heavily involved in ministry).

So I finally hit a point where I decided to leave the church for good at 20-21. This all happened because I ran into a girl who used to go to the church at college. Funnily, she tried to avoid me, but my intense "ministry attitude" makes me really good at stalking people, and killing them with friendliness until they finally start to talk to me (lol). She left, because her dad, who was an ex-minister, had been molesting her and her sister, and the church covered it up. Not only that, but they told them to forgive their father, and that he's a changed man and he won't do it again (he did). I knew a lot of these details about the molestation but from the viewpoint of the church. See, the church got in trouble for it with the law. The pastors got arrested. They had really good lawyers though and got out. They even re-branded the church. However, they said changing the church name was totally not related to a news article posted with the old church name. They also basically tried to call my friend a liar and a wolf, and that she had never reported the incident to them. Basically, they smeared this poor girl's name even further WITHIN the church, as if her life wasn't hard enough. On top of that, when she tried to go into a REAL high school, and get her transcripts from my old school, my old school basically pretended like she was never a student there. I think she graduated high school but as a super senior because of that. Anyway, I was already becoming a doubting Thomas before this, but her story put the nail in the coffin when she told me the truth.


21. A Decade Lost

My family almost lost me to a cult. Our family has always been very close, meeting frequently, and from a Catholic background. While in college, I started attending a Catholic fundamentalist group, that I, later on, realized it was actually a cult.

I started moving away from my family as I got closer to the cult, by the influence of the cult leader. My family at first got really worried about me and tried to get me out, but seeing that they couldn’t do it, they tried to keep me as close to them as possible, by not being totally against the cult and at the same time not getting too close either.

We had some pretty serious fights, especially regarding some family events that I wasn’t allowed by the cult leader to go because of some religious reason.

I also had a girlfriend before joining, and after some years trying to bring her closer to the cult, we broke up. I ended up finding a girlfriend inside the cult and marrying her. My family was always very supportive and receptive of her.

Fortunately for me and my family, both I and my wife ended up leaving the cult after 10 years of my first contact with them.


20. Cult Chronicle

Right about when I was born, my grandmother ran off and joined a Buddhist cult. My aunt almost failed out of college that semester, my mom was devastated, and my grandfather was completely lost. She had to cut all emotional ties and attachment to physical possessions. Because of that, she refused to see me or any of her other grandchildren for the two decades she was in the cult. That being said, while she was there, she ended up caring for two other children roughly my age and ironically became very attached to them. This further emotionally devastated my mother and continued to strain the little contact we had from her over those years.

After 20 years, she realized that she had had enough and actually came back to my grandfather. Being the wonderful person that he is, he took her back with open arms. After being officially divorced for nearly two decades they got remarried.

For 10 years, they had a wonderful time together and she slowly began coming back into the family. I never had known her beforehand but the older members of the family noted she had changed significantly through her time away. She just wanted to talk all the time and connect with people as if trying to make up for lost time but she wasn't particularly good at listening because she was completely deaf in one ear.

Unbenowst to the rest of us, in that 10-year time back with us she put her master's degree in English to work and chronicled her entire experience. She talked about struggling to find purpose and her husband not really being able to relate as a Ph.D. candidate who felt he knew his purpose. She went on to talk about finding someone else who seemed to understand. This man offered her a solution and they slowly became much closer. It was written almost like a love story which tore at my grandfather.

Then the story talks about her deciding to take the plunge, to trust this other man and to divorce my grandfather and to join this group. Where she lived in squalor with several other people where the toilet didn't work, the electricity was intermittent, plaster peeled off the walls and she wasn't really allowed to leave. The others spoke Mandarin but they never spoke it to her despite her having a rudimentary grasp of the language.

Then she goes on to talk about working the 15-hour shifts in a convenience store for the good of the cult for years on end. Before finally realizing, after decades that it was time to admit that this wasn't the correct choice or helping her find purpose.



19. One Small Step At A Time

I've lost more than I care to admit. Seen friends fall into everything from a Christian cult to one that recently got out of a yoga cult.

They all function the same way, and that way exactly follows the abusive relationship path. First just a small commitment, you should join us for a class, or you should read this modern version of the Bible. Just a small change.

Then another small change to be accepted.

And another.

And another.

The truth is it never ends, they're just getting you more deeply committed. Once you're committed to them, the bigger asks seem small. Just like with abusive relationships, the group needs to be the only thing in your life. This starts easy, let's go to a game together. Then comes asking why you bother with those that don't understand you. Until this becomes a requirement, you are not allowed with others.

We are the only ones that understand you. We are the ones who can help you. We are your real friends. We are together. We belong. We know the truth. We understand reality. We will go to heaven together. We are being persecuted by the others outside. We must protect our family. We must hide. The outside is awful and we should never go there.

You may not have noticed but I deliberately dropped the "you" as separate from "we" in that paragraph, an important step. The idea is to eliminate your concept of yourself as separate from the group.

Once the sense of self as separate from the group is gone, pretty much anything goes. You have now separated the person completely from the rest of reality. If you tell them the sky is purple, the sky is purple. If you require them to be celibate, they will be. If you require them to sexually submit, they will. If you require them to drink the poison, they will. With no sense of self as separate from the group, their only worry is not being shunned by the group.


18. It Was Jehovah

So my grandpa on the maternal side of the family was 16 years old when it was about 1941 and the war in Europe was far from over. We are a German family and even though my grandpa was not very pro-Hitler, he couldn't do much at that age when they started compulsory conscripting every male over 16. So one day they came to his school and him and all his friends were told they would have to go to war.

They were all deployed in the east which means he had the fight the Red Army. He talked very little about this but it must have been really horrible there. I remember him telling about how friends were losing legs or worse to his left and right.

So you could say that he was, under those circumstances, pretty lucky. After all this happened and Nazi-Germany was finally defeated in 1945, he went on living his life. Finishing school, meeting my grandma, marrying her and making a small fortune in the post-war economic boom powered by the US. Some years pass by and one day Jehovah's Witnesses show up at his door. All these years he was thankful that he escaped out of that city and wasn't really sure whom to thank and somehow these people convinced him that it was Jehovah. He visited some ceremonies and long story short becomes a witness himself.

My grandparents eventually have three kids, one of which is my mother, and with time it gets worse and worse with everything JW related. They don't have Christmas and none of the kids is allowed to celebrate his or her birthday. When he started telling them to drop out of school to learn craftsmanship because the world was going to end soon anyway and they will need people to build up paradise on earth, my grandma had enough. They split up and she took the kids and raised them on her own. He eventually remarried someone of the JW community.

All my life it was very hard to deal with my grandpa because he always wanted us all to be JW. I remember many fights between my mother and him when he started talking to us kids about it. Now I am nearly 20, the oldest of three children, and he is over 90 and has dementia so we visit him from time to time but he doesn't remember us and neither does he remember the JW or anything really. He was a smart man once and I don't blame him for making the wrong decision because I don't even want to imagine what he went through in war.


17. Cult-Aunt

We didn't lose her forever but my aunt went off to a Christian commune in Sydney when she was eighteen. She was there for a few years. My other aunt lived in Sydney too and saw her occasionally but cult-aunt straight up pretended not to know her, "I think you have me confused with someone else...".

She came home when she was 22 with her fiancee. Now that they were engaged it wasn't appropriate for them to be under the same roof, even though they'd been living together for four years, so they made her move back in with her parents. She wanted to get married right away so she could 'go home' but Nana made them plan a proper wedding, trying to convince her not to go back all the while.

They got married and she disappeared from their lives again until she and their two daughters were in a car wreck and the 'church' didn't do anything to help them. They left that church and joined another slightly-less-creepy one that let them have contact with their family. No one but Nana has seen them in about ten years but they call and write constantly and we all do the Facebook thing so we know what's up.


16. Shincheonji

I have a bunch of friends in a Korean Christian cult. I hung out with their group for about a year before I stopped going.

There are actually a bunch of cults out of Korea. The one I was with is called Shincheonji, Church of Jesus Christ, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

It was a slow process that happens over the course of a year. They spend that year slowly teaching a new way of looking at the Bible. I found it all quite convincing, but I just didn’t care. The goal of each student is that they desire to be one of the 144,000 found in Revelations who are sealed with the word of God. My personal philosophy is that if there is a limited number of spaces for someone to be saved, I’ll let someone else take the seat and I’ll look for another path. There are little benchmarks to being able to qualify as being sealed and that involves a 100-question test. They call it a test, but they give you the answers and it is the students’ responsibility to repeat the answer word for word. Personally, that is not a good test because I believe that a test that measures concepts is more valuable than a test of rote memorization. When you become a member you cannot question the teachings, only accept them because they were given to Man Hee Lee by Jesus. To question MHL is to question Jesus, so shut up and accept everything you are told. Pretty basic indoctrination. My friends bought into it. They’ve been in for a few years now, so they are pretty much set.

They teach classes on how to approach different scenarios. How to introduce/invite people to SCJ and how to respond to being told that SCJ is a cult. I assume there is a class on how to talk to someone like me who was in the church but left.

It takes a few hours for them to respond to my texts. This is because before they say anything they have to clear it with one of the higher-ups at the church. So many questions while I was in there were answered with, “we should ask _____ Teacher about that.” Now that I’m out you can be sure as hell that my whole conversation is screened and monitored.

The funny thing about the lessons is that everyone was acting like their mind was being blown with every lesson. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the class are maintainers. Members of the church acting like they are new students. They’re terrible actors. Many of your interactions in SCJ will be with three people, the one who invited you, the teacher of your small group, and a maintainer. Your maintainer will typically have similar interests to you. They aren’t picked at random.

If you find yourself in a bible study where everything is in Korean and they don’t attach themselves to another church it is a cult. There are quite a few Korean cults, so it doesn’t necessarily mean they are Shincheonji.


15. Torn

My parents converted to a fundamentalist Christian church when I was around 15, and thus started the most traumatic six years of my life until I moved out. The amount of brainwashing and isolation is unreal. I struggle daily with whether I should report them to children's aid society because my younger sisters aren't getting an education and my mom spends all day listening to sermons on the computer instead of homeschooling them.


14. Megan

Freshman year of college, I made friends with this girl, we'll call her Megan, and we both went through a bit of a religious struggle. She grew up in a very strict Catholic household with insane (by my definition) parents. She wanted to find a way to keep her faith without the crushing, toxic religious experience of her childhood. I was giving organized religion one final shot before I gave up entirely. We tried a few places but nothing sat right. I gave up, slapped a nonbeliever tag on it, and moved on. Then, she found a home church.

Once a week, a group of young people could just kick it and talk about how cool Jesus is. Then, they'd stick around and drink, play cards, and smoke hookah. I went a couple of times at Megan's request. The people were pretty nice and down to earth. Or so I thought.

So Megan starts going and finds a great place to explore her faith. Good for her. But then instead of just the Wednesday meetings, there are big local gatherings on Thursdays. Okay. But then there's bible study on Friday. Hm. By sophomore year, Megan is going to religious gatherings three times a week. Not my cup of tea, but I guess it isn't so strange. Except it isn't just three nights because Megan is hanging out with them on other nights too, but just for fun.

Through my college years, I lived with Megan and a few other girls. One of these other girls, we'll call her Jane, decides to check out this home church. Jane goes to the original Wednesday meetings but doesn't really want to commit more. This goes on for a few months and Jane even starts to see a guy from the church. Things don't work out and Jane stops going. This is when she tells me about her experience.

The people of the home church had basically shamed her for "seducing" this guy into a life a sin (they were having sex). Let me tell you, Jane is the sweetest, kindest person you will ever meet. She wouldn't seduce a fly. Plus, they wanted her to commit to more and more days. To hang out, too. They basically set an ultimatum to get further involved or leave. So she left.

In addition, they had some weird beliefs. For one, they rewrote a lot of history. Megan once came to me talking about how "slavery" in the Bible was actually indentured servitude and indentured servants were mostly treated like beloved family members! Sure. More than that, they believed that who you spend time with in life is who you hang out with in heaven. So they were all going to heaven together.

Anyway, we see Megan less and less as she spends more and more time with this group. And now we know from Jane that deep involvement is the only involvement. Megan gets "rebaptized" in their pool. They all live together in a few houses except for Megan and a few others. But once we graduated, Megan ended up moving in with them.

Megan would sometimes try to get me to go, but after those few times in the beginning, it freaked me out. I'd see her home church friends at events now and then and they came off as chill hippies. But I heard other stories about their insular community.

Once, I made an offhand joke about losing a friend to the "home church" with a girl I'd met in a class. She looked at me with wide eyes and said, "You've lost a friend to that cult too?!" I'd initially been calling it a cult as a defensive joke as my friendship with Megan strained (never using that word to her face) but then it really hit home.



13. Twelve Tribes

It’s just one of those things that’s so surreal and weird. It just makes you scratch your head and wonder how the heck did this happen? My sister’s husband was a youth pastor and was an all-around super cool guy. I looked up to him a lot. Athletic, musical, good looks, just overall an extremely bright and talented dude. He met some people who run a restaurant called, The Yellow Deli, in Chattanooga, TN. They’re also a cult called the Twelve Tribes (stay away!). Some of their beliefs are super whacked out. (Basically, they’re the only ones getting into heaven and everyone else is going to hell, yeehaw.) After he met with them and learned about their culture and mentality, he left my sister and their newborn a couple weeks later. He wanted my sister and their newborn to come with him into the cult, but in order to do so, you have to leave everything behind and work for the cult full time. Any hobbies or passions you had outside of the cult were banned. Your life had to be completely dedicated to the cult. My brother in law would not negotiate and would not come back. Either my sister and their newborn joined or he was leaving them. Obviously, my sister saw through the ridiculousness and decided not to go with him. It was devastating though... So, obviously, they separated. But man did it take a toll on our families. Imagine having a close brother-like figure all of a sudden flip a switch and be someone totally different... Weirdest thing in the world. Can’t put it into words. Fortunately, since then, my sister has been remarried to an outstanding guy and they’re a happy family.


12. Escaped The Family Cult

As the only member of my large (35+) extended family who has left the church/cult I was raised in, I’m sure they would answer the exact opposite of this question by describing me. If asked “who has lost a friend or family member to the secular world, how did it happen” they would mention me by name.

It’s difficult to describe the insanity of the non-denominational, extremely charismatic Christian church I grew up in. I call it “charismania.” My indoctrination began before I can remember, from before the age of 4, I was being brainwashed to believe some pretty wacky stuff. I spent my entire life through the end of high school years at that place (and then went to a fundamental Christian university to top it off). I was there seven days a week, from multiple services to leading prayer meetings/worship sessions, starting small groups, praying/fasting, etc. the list goes on.

My pastor was featured in Jesus Camp. If you’ve seen that film, you’ve seen what my life was like. Praying in tongues, making ridiculous vows to fight for the army of lord, slaying people in the spirit / getting slain in the spirit, swearing to give up any pleasure of the flesh in order to make myself more worthy of being used by the lord for great miracles... the peak was when I lived at the church for two weeks one summer for a paramilitary summer intensive centered around serving at one of the largest conferences at the time.

I believed, hard. Hook, line, sinker, the whole damn boat. Blind to reality and rendered unable to cope with the nature of real life. My struggle with faith began around a massive scandal involving my senior pastor (he was paying for male escorts and doing meth). It continued when one of my good friends died after a shooting at the church. I vividly remember being at the hospital, praying harder than I ever had, believing I could heal her... when she died, I took it to mean I didn’t have enough faith. That I was somehow at fault.

The journey out of that worldview continued through a dark and twisted experience at a major Christian university. Hell, I’m still dealing with the fall out to this day.


11. Getting Fleeced

A friend of mine from college decided to attend what she called a "Bible College" in Florida after she graduated. The guy who runs it is an absolute nut-job. He was a big Evangelist preacher in the 90's who goes around spouting insane conspiracy theories today. He has even made an appearance on Info Wars. This girl and I got along fine through college. She lived with my significant other and we were in the same major so we had a lot of classes together. I always knew she was religious and a little off but I had no idea just how bad until the week we graduated. I was amazed when she sat across from me on my significant other's couch and spoke in tongues. She proceeded to tell me that God was paying for her to go to this school and get a "certificate in worship" or something. She showed me a video of a sermon from this guy, and I told her point blank that she was getting fleeced into joining a cult. She got really offended by that. She has had spotty communication with people from college at best and no one really knows what she is doing. It sucks because she was my friend, and my significant other's friend, and I didn't want to see her get sucked into that but there is no getting through to some people.


10. Initiation

I dated a girl many years ago. We dated for quite a while and even discussed marriage. She wasn’t an atheist, but she was very indifferent about religion and god. She started reading books about being “spiritual”. She explained it as believing in a higher power, but not following a religion. That didn’t bother me. She was into cosplay and Renaissance Fairs. She had a few friends who were into it too. They seemed cool. She started hanging out with two of the girls a lot. They were into this “spiritualism” and one was into some kind of paganism. I didn’t really care for that one, but my girl was unbelievably intelligent and strong-willed. I wasn’t too worried. Well, I should have been.

She eventually sat me down and told me she’d been going to this pagan friend’s religious rituals. She said it was a “sect of Wicca.” She said she’d seen amazing things at these ritual services and she even cast a few minor spells of her own that really paid off. She told me one was for her to pass one of her graduate course requirements (basically a big researched speech). And she passed! Well, no duh... she was a straight-A student from first grade through college. She was very smart! It had nothing to do with her “spell.” She claimed she passed because of these spells and prayers to “earth deities.” So, I’m trying to take all of this in and understand... uh... understand WHAT THE HECK?! Who the hell are you?! I was just lost in this sea of insanity.

She finally tells me that I need to join this group too. I tell her I don’t even understand it and I’m very suspicious. She tells me daily life won’t change but we’ll need to share our home with members who have fallen on hard times. She made it sound like a very “Good Samaritan” type of religion. She also mentioned a 25% tithing that would “unlock more beneficial spells.” She kept saying the more we gave, the more people we’d help, and the better “spells” we’d get. Then, we could use those spells to make more money so the 25% would come back to us (plus a LOT more) in other ways. I needed some time on this. I didn’t know if she was serious or messing with me or what. Over the next couple days, I ask questions and get “salesman” answers. I try to research it, but the internet wasn’t nearly as informative as it is now. (This was 20+ years ago.) She asks me to come with her to a ritual.

Okay. I love her. I’ll give this one shot and see what’s up. I was mostly going so I could try to formulate a plan on how to talk some sense into her. We get there at dusk. It’s in the forest preserve. So, first off, we’re going to some religious ritual that’s predicated on trespassing on county land and we can be arrested. Great. We go and there’s a circle of logs. There are like 40 people there. Half are pretty normal. Half look homeless. The ritual is just this guy named Ronald talking about how the Earth has power and we can channel it to energize our souls. Lots of power-of-the-mind through worshipping the Earth BUT he made it a point to constantly point out that HE was the main conduit to this power. Everyone needed to be connected to him to bolster their souls. It was weird. Afterward, everyone sat around drinking tea with a bunch of leaves he picked up off the ground. That was weird too. I didn’t drink the tea. I listened to him as he went around chatting with people. One of the homeless looking guys was talking about how he lost his apartment and was trying to save up for XYZ spells (it had a name, but I don’t remember what it was... something like profligate spells). I’m telling my girlfriend to listen to the conversation and she’s like, “Oh, yeah, that’s Tom. He’s some upper management at a bank. His wife left him because she was a TORTURED SOUL and refused our help.”

OUR HELP?! Hmm. I think she’s been doing this longer than she let on. Ronald comes over and starts asking what I thought of everything and I have non-committal answers like, “it’s given me a lot to think about.” He seemed nice enough, but he was also obviously nuts. She and I end up talking later and she spills the beans. She’s been into this for five months. She has one more month to decide if she wants to become a member. She tells me I have to join too or we have to break up. I’m praying this is some goofy phase and she’ll grow out of it. So, maybe I join, pretend to believe this bull for a year and then I get her out. Maybe? Nope. She says the initiation ritual is to “connect” with Ronald.


9. Cult Or Family

I grew up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They will argue all day that they aren't a cult, but they are.

I divulged to my family that I was having doubts about a few of the beliefs. I tried to explain my logic, did it extremely diplomatically, and just in general tried to help them understand that I wasn't sure yet. I was open, honest, but not disrespectful. They informed me that they would stop talking to me until I 'come back'. That was two years ago. I have no intention of going back, so I've basically lost my family.


8. Worn Down To Guilt

A friend from high school went to college and met a member of a Christian group there. This group apparently specializes in converting Asians. My friend was Asian but had been here in the USA since she was about eight so she was sort of between worlds with her sense of identity. Plus when she was in college, her parents started talking about getting divorced which really disturbed her, plus she was away from most of her old friends when she went to college. Plus the Asian style of child-rearing often involves certain methods including major guilt trips, and this Christian group knew how to work that angle very well themselves, it's like my friend had been trained by her parents to already be weak to the guilt trip method of manipulation. I think overall she was vulnerable.

So members of this group quickly became her friends and all their activities outside of school were church functions. When I ended up going to the same college as her, we met again and hung out a bit but the church group members kind of ignored me and did not encourage me or want me to to go anywhere with them (possibly because I am not Asian and not religious) so it soon become easier for her to not invite me and avoid the awkwardness. And sorry to say at that time I also had my own problems at the time to deal with so I did not put in as much effort as I could have, although it may have been already too late by then.

Because their church teachings are that anyone outside the church is going to hell and not worth associating with or are a bad influence. Eventually, she stopped associating with every one of her old friends feeling we are all going to hell, even her Asian friends that did not join the Christian group. She even says she can't wait to die so that she can go to heaven. She married someone in the church group and now seems just kind of sad and waiting to die.

It's not the most extreme cult ever but they were methodical and patient and the end result is that someone who used to be a cheerful person was slowly worn down to be miserable and guilt-ridden and waiting for death as she dedicates her entire life to the church and is convinced by that most of the existing world is evil and that she is STILL not doing enough to help others.


7. Ostracized From Mother

My mother grew up in the exclusive brethren (also known as the Plymouth Brethren). If you haven't heard of them before, basically they can't communicate with anyone who's not in the religion, no radios or TVs, extremely strict rules, women with long hair, skirts and scarves etc. Long story short because she would never have been able to go to university, my grandpa decided to get them to shut up (basically ostracized from the community whilst also being in it), then excommunicated entirely. So all was (somewhat) well until my grandpa died, then my grandma went back into the religion. They went around a couple of their rules so we could see her now and then, but before she died I hadn't seen her for years. Somebody higher up sent us an invitation to the funeral and Mom and I went. A singularly bizarre experience, but I was grateful for the chance to see her one final time. She loved me a lot, once, and it really hurt when she chose the church over us.


6. Live Life To The Fullest!

My boss/friend joined a career advancement/save the world cult. At first, he just started attending seminars and seemed a little more motivated and excited about life. Then he started strongly encouraging everyone around him to attend. He started using odd language for normal everyday terms and talking about how life-changing these things were. His attempts to get people to join became more overt, he started telling people they weren't really trying their hardest at life if they didn't join. Said they are responsible for their lives not working out if they didn't. By the end of the first year, he had signed contracts with them to wear specific clothing, he was asking me for personal details on all my doctor's visits and eventually he 'helped me find a new position outside the company' because I refused to attend.


5. Cult Parents At A Wedding

A good friend of mine was raised in a Christian cult/commune in the UK. From what he’s told me, everyone basically gave all their money to the “church” and the leader traveled the world in his private jet while they lived a very simple life devoid of most luxuries and technology.

He was kicked out when he was 16 because he got caught dating a girl that wasn’t a member of the church. They dropped him off at a homeless shelter with $400 and that was it. He was lucky that there was an electrician at the shelter that took him under his wing as his apprentice. He worked for him until he could afford to go to college, which is where I met him. I didn’t know he had been raised in a cult until I’d known him for several years. I’d always thought it was a little odd that he never understood any of the pop culture references people made, but it made perfect sense when he told me about his upbringing and how he hadn’t seen a movie until he was 17.

I was the best man at his wedding. He hadn’t seen his parents in over ten years (the “church” basically forced them to disown him and have no contact with him after he was kicked out) but he still sent them an invite to his wedding. Surprisingly, they got permission from the church leader to attend. My friend honestly wasn’t expecting them to show so as his best man I got put on “if my parents start talking weird religious stuff, shut it down” duty. His dad was easy to keep distracted since they weren’t allowed to drink on the commune, I could just offer him a drink and he was more than eager. I honestly think the poor guy only stuck in the cult because of his wife and children and he legitimately felt bad about how his relationship turned out with his children that left the cult (for example, my friend was marrying a Korean girl he met while studying abroad and his dad straight up learned Korean when he found that out, it was honestly impressive). His mom was the difficult one, she was actively trying to recruit people to join the cult, including myself, and gave everyone books about their beliefs and whatnot. She was extremely interested in getting men to join their cult, as young men kept leaving the cult in high numbers.


4. Speaking In Tongues

The pastor was a really cool and normal-seeming dude. He worked for the local rock radio station so we would talk about music, he helped me with public speaking, and his wife talked with me about Star Wars. Always super chill and would give a really nice message to us about the Bible before we would leave for the youth group. But then that day we stayed it was normal until the point we usually left. He asked anyone that wanted to come up to the stage steps and pray with him. I go up because my friend did and the pastor walks up as we’re kneeling and prays with us but something felt wrong. He gripped my shoulder fairly hard and while he was saying fairly normal prayer stuff it was delivered with an intensity that I hadn’t seen before. He told us to keep our eyes closed in the presence of God and his normally modest sermon became him screaming about God's love and the power it has. People in the back had started whooping and hollering, but I thought it was just excited “amens” and “yes pastor”.

Then I heard tongues for the first time coming from my best friend's mom. A woman that in a hard time during my life was there for more tears than my real mom and carried a picture of me in her wallet. We considered each other family so much that I’d get in trouble just as much as my friend would in her house on the rare occasion I screwed up and I was genuinely fine with it. And as a fan of Lovecraft for most of my life, here I stood listening to this incoherent babbling come from a person I knew so well and a voice I associated with caring and love and it just felt surreal. Then it really hit me. A crowd had gathered around the stage near us and the pastor got real quiet. The only sound I could hear was the tongues and then slow thumps. The pastor got to me (eyes still closed) and said “fall before the power of God” and put his hand on my forehead and attempted to shove me down. I said, “Sir, I stand for the Lord has made me strong and you are not the Lord” which is the only time in my whole life I EVER felt some kind of presence. He tried a couple more seconds and then moved on. When I opened my eyes I can only compare the feeling of panic and near terror, I had to the kind of blurry shaky cam in things like the opening to Saving Private Ryan. All these people I considered friends and family were splayed on the ground babbling to themselves. I left to the bathroom and had my mom pick me up.


3. Words From A Minister

I lost my spouse and my three children to Evangelicalism. Many will say it's not a cult but having been a minister in an Evangelical church for 10 years I can assure you it is.

My children were even filmed in the documentary "Jesus Camp." If you have doubts the evangelical movement is a cult, go and watch that.

I lost my children in 2009. For nine years, I have not seen them, heard from them or even received any written correspondence. At the time, my children were nine-months-old, five-years-old, and seven-years-old.

The evangelical movement is worse than the Church of Scientology. It's worse because its "doctrine" can appear "sound" but their sociological viewpoints are anything but. And they are more damaging than the Church of Scientology. There are evangelicals (some) talking Civil War if Trump ever gets impeached, they set aside so much of their "biblical moral values" for the greater good, etc.


2. Deep South

I was brought up in the DEEP South in a “fundamentalist pentecostal” church. We only spent time with members of the church, wore clothes made by the women of the church and I was raised to cook, clean, sew and worship men as they are created in the image of God himself and we women are merely helpers.

I could not cut my hair, wear make-up, jewelry or listen to music of any kind. Memorizing the Bible was a daily activity of young girls, as was washing the men’s feet with our hair.

I was married off at 15, thankfully to a 19-year-old man of my choosing, and was a mother by the time I was 18.

The conditioning of this group was so deeply ingrained that the thought of leaving felt like torture.

At 22, my son and I were publicly ex-communicated from the church because I had failed to be Godly enough to please my husband (he had an affair with a co-worker and wanted to marry her instead— which he DID after divorcing me).

I was absolutely TERRIFIED as I walked out the church doors with my four-year-old on my hip. A friend who had also been shunned opened her home to us. Within six months I had a factory job, put my son in a public school pre-k program, learned to drive, bought a car and was able to pay the deposit on an apartment for us.

My son will be 20 in two weeks. It took YEARS of therapy for me to come to the realization that it wasn’t my fault and that I was worthy. I’ve been happily married for five years now to the man who thinks I am a gift from the Universe to him.

I would never have dreamed of sharing this story out of fear it would get back to the church. Now, I just want to be a voice for anyone who walked a similar path as me and tell you that you ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE and your life has value. Never give up on creating your happiness and writing a new story.


1. "Disfellowshipped"

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and grew up with most of my family being a part of the religion. When I was 10, my mother left the church and then was disfellowshipped (shunned) for having my sister out of wedlock. I was told that I could not associate with her after I became an adult, and that started me on the path to leaving this “Christian” group. I later on, at age 23, after not attending church for close to five years, also was disfellowshipped for having a child while single. This meant that everyone in my family besides my mother and half-sister could no longer talk to me. My father, stepmother, stepbrother, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends.... all of them gone. It can be emotionally devastating. My mother took her own life exactly two years ago today. I have a beautiful son, an incredibly supportive and loving husband, and a new family that has helped to start healing those wounds. If anyone who is going through a similar situation ever needs a listening ear, there is a huge community (including myself) out there who can aid in the healing process.