Cult-like control is subtle; some not encouraged to think independently

March 9, 2015

Eleanor Skelton
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One of the first friends I met at UCCS believed her hair was under angelic protection. If she cut it, she thought her body and soul would be open to demonic attack.

My friend attended an Apostolic Pentecostal church where the pastor told her that she could not speak to her best friend because the two of them were spiritually bad for each other.

Similar authoritarian statements surfaced in our study sessions. She had to wear ankle-length skirts and the pastor said rock music was not allowed, particularly Skillet because he said the song “Monster” was demonic.

Back then, I also wore long, loose skirts and t-shirts two sizes too large because I was afraid my figure would “tempt young men to sin,” as I had been taught. My family attended a church that was part of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America network.

I later discovered my friend and I weren’t alone.

Colorado Springs isn’t nicknamed the Christian Evangelical Mecca for no reason. Several major faith-based non-profits and churches of nearly every denomination, including some LGBT-affirming churches, operate in the community.

But many of the churches have a disturbing number of rules. Rules that the church family will ostracize someone for breaking.

Recognized sociological characteristics of cults focus less on a group’s deviance from mainstream and more on aspects such as isolating its members by dictating their actions and feelings and convincing members that the group has exclusive information, characterizing the rest of the society as evil and to be feared.

The leader has little accountability, and doubting and independent thought is discouraged and causes the group to shun you.

Many who speak out about the cult-like behavior of fundamentalism notice a fear of academia and free thought within the movement.

My study buddy and I were both questioning our pastor’s teachings and experienced the backlash.

I moved out on my own and gradually started experimenting with different clothes and makeup.

Classmates and friends who knew me before said they used to wonder how much my parents and church were restricting me and if something was wrong.

I’m grateful for how my classmates and professors gave me growing space.

They sometimes teased me, sometimes told me I was odd, but I knew they cared about me and allowed me to make my own choices, something I didn’t get from fundamentalism.

If you have a classmate with braided hair and long skirts or who always wears ties and dress shirts, be compassionate and don’t mock them.

Give them room to speak. Probably no one else has.

Also, don’t stereotype. It’s possible they dress like that because they’re in a “Little House on the Prairie” cosplay group, but they could be experiencing religious oppression.

Isolating us and making us feel unwelcome only reinforces our persecution complex, the belief that our cause is right because the world opposes us. Give us time to experience the outside world.

When we learn to trust you, we might tell you about ourselves and the struggles we face.

And you might be one of the first to tell us that it is okay to have desires, to follow our dreams.