Monthly Archives: November 2013

Lani Harper’s Story – Part 3

MY ISOLATION, MY PROTECTION: living isolated, in fear of the world; Shunning

shunningMy parents taught us assiduously to be skeptical of anyone outside of our family. People in the church were okay, but still not to be trusted or relied upon; we could only rely upon each other. The IFB church helped in this regard, believing anyone in any religion, even a different form of Baptist, were wrong, misguided, in error, going to hell. The Southern Baptists were liberal, loose and soft on sin. This because they danced, allowed their girls to wear pants and just by the very nature of the South, were more relaxed in manner.

By teaching us that they, and we by extension as long as we remained “in the fold” created by them, had the One True Path and that we would get contaminated by others’ sins to be led astray, we learned to turn inward. We learned to mistrust everyone and everything, buying into their persecution complex, their belief that “everyone is out to get me”; failing that, at least to taint us by association or participation in their sinful ways. Thus, we needed to concentrate on building stronger and stronger ties within the family and the church, so that we had a rock-solid foundation and would not waver when faced with someone in the World who would inevitably tempt us. We would be able to stand strong.

They created such a picture, instilled such a fear, a wariness, a suspicion and guardedness of anyone outside our home, outside our family, that the only logical response was to turn inward. To return to our home and family. No one outside our Inner Sanctum could be trusted. We knew we could not trust our parents or siblings – they proved that by repeatedly betraying us. Yet without a viable safe place to turn, because the World and all its offerings could not be trusted, our only option besides sleeping under a bridge alone, was to stay. The evil we knew remained better than the evils we did not know. They made us understand that if we left, we would be utterly and completely desolate, alone, lost and vulnerable. We could return home; they would take us, but we knew our transgression of leaving would mean a lower rung on the familial ladder.

With the exception of Bonnie and Pat, a female/female couple who lived next-door to us in the Blue House in Waukegan (1982-3) long before we knew anything about gays or the Fundie stance against homosexuals, we were never friends with our next-door neighbors. Constantly and tirelessly instructed to not talk to them. Now, I look at that as another indicator that we were abused: they did not want the people who lived closest us too close. They might have seen something, heard something.

I would never have termed it isolation before writing this, but in re-examining my childhood, the proverbial Red Flags pop up where I least expect them, often in and among things I thought innocuous up till now. This is another one.

At that time, especially in the small rural town in the mid-west where we lived, very few people went to church. Not enough that we were odd because of the size of our Quiverfull family (though relatively small by Quiverfull standards, still much larger than anyone around us), and how our family operated – which was very different than others around us, much more stringent – we were now also strange because we went to church. Were professing born-again Christians, which no one around us was at the time. Now most people consider themselves Christians, and nearly everyone attends a church of some sort. But in that time, and in that area of the country, going to church was rare and made us an oddity. On every front we stood out, could not escape or avoid standing out.

I hated standing out. Hated being different. Desperately wanted to blend in, disappear into the background with the blessing of anonymity by being normal. We were not normal.

The first level of people we were not to associate with was the general public. They fell into the category of “unsaved” or “heathens”, and were Verboten. The barest of pleasantries in order to not be rude or disrespectful was sufficient; anything beyond that simply could not be. We were to prevent friendship or on-going relationship of any kind.

Further, we were taught that friendship with one of these Unsaved, one of these Heathen, simply was impossible. Because we did not share the most important and foundational component, belief in Jesus and salvation, the only way to have a friendship with someone like this would be to elementally reject and set aside our faith. Because it could not happen, I didn’t try, and thus missed out on countless friendships after entering the public school system. They couldn’t be my friends: they couldn’t relate to me or I to them. Their values would contradict and conflict with mine, and I didn’t want to be contaminated by associating with them. We were pure water, they polluting oil, and could not mix ever, no matter what, unless they accepted Jesus. Only then could we let them into the most personal and private areas of our life.

The second layer of isolation involved our extended family. My mother’s family were Catholic, and we in the IFB world knew they were going to hell for venerating Mary over Jesus, the doctrine of trans-substantiation (and yes, at 8 I knew the title and the definition of this and how it conflicted with our doctrine, as well as Bible verses I was to use to show Catholics how wrong they were), and other things that they took every opportunity to tell us. My father’s family were Protestant of some sort, but I never knew what type of church they attended, if at all. Because the type of church mattered.

Extended family occupied a circle inside the general category of Unsaved, but only just. They were not in the inner circle; that place belonged only to our family, my parents, sisters and brother. I could probably count on one hand the number of times in my first two and a half decades that I saw any given aunt or uncle, grandparents, cousins. My parents strictly controlled the amount of time we were permitted to be around them. Held their own families at arm’s length.

I knew my mother’s father had been abusive. She has told two or three stories about him, one involved him chasing her mother with a cast-iron skillet to hit her. I knew of his physical abuse, and I suspect sexual abuse, though she remains coldly silent about him. Any words she says about him are thick with anger, hatred, bitterness.

The first time I talked to him I was seventeen. He called our house, and I answered the phone. He introduced himself as Mike, asked to speak to Mag. That was the only time I’d had any contact at all with him, this man vilified by my mother’s few words.

When her mother died, she and I travelled to stay with one of her brothers and his family. At one point, they received a phone call. She then came to the room we were sharing, agitated and flustered, hands flapping as she paced back and forth. He was coming, she told me. On his way, imminent arrival. When he arrived, she refused to come out, refused to see him.

At the funeral, no one approached him, no one spoke to him. At one point, I walked over to him and introduced myself, Hi, I’m Lani, Mag’s daughter. And then she shunned me for the rest of the service. I knew she was angry at me for speaking to him, and later when we spoke of it, she could hardly spit the words out of her angry mouth. You don’t understand! You don’t know what he did to us.

I responded by telling her I didn’t care; I would not carry on generational bitterness. She exploded at me, I’M NOT BITTER! With some more you don’t understand statements. No, I don’t understand. She never told us, never told us about him or her childhood beyond a few short, tersely-brief stories meant to give evidence and validity to her not wanting us to see him, intended to make me thankful for her protecting and shielding us from his evils.

As a direct result of this isolation from extended family, my siblings and I still do not have relationship with any aunts, uncles, cousins or our sole remaining grandparent, JD’s mother. Any interactions are liberally sprinkled with awkwardness at not knowing them, not having history or memories with them. No holidays spent around Grandma’s table; all our holidays belonged strictly to our family, in our home, but always with people in the church, orphan-families who had no family with whom to celebrate. These were families my parents took under their wing, to instruct them in how to build a solid marriage and raise obedient children.

These occupied the next-smaller circle, inside Extended Family but outside Immediate Family, and this circle also belonged to our friends. That is, our friends inside the IFB church. And there were precious few of those.

The most inward circle was reserved for only our family. No others could enter, until we married. Then our spouses would be permitted entrance into the inner sanctum.

However, in this innermost of circles, the smallest and most restrictive, the isolation bended and twisted and curled around us, like a snake slithering through our midst. We never knew where we’d see it next or how it would encircle us. It was not a biting snake; its wounds were inflicted as it separated one or more of us, using its slimy, scaly serpentine movements to slowly strangle us apart from the rest.

The damage then, was two-part: physical separation in that we would be set aside, apart from the rest of the family, for a time; and emotional separation, where especially Mag would harbor anger against us and not speak to us for the duration of the separation.

Only during the writing of this book did I term the separations for what they really are. I’d labeled my childhood as abusive. I knew that with most religious or spiritual abuse situations members can be shunned as punishment, to coerce them back into the fold, to return from their wayward ways as the scriptural Prodigal Son. I mentally checked off the important aspects: parents beat us, check. Churches abused us spiritually, check. Verbal abuse, check. But we hadn’t been shunned, so I thought whew, we at least escaped that.

In the middle of one night, my thoughts roiled around in the guise of dreams, words tumbled over and over such that one sentence couldn’t end before the next had overlapped. Slowly, they honed in, tightening in my mind, focusing inward to the underlying point: oh my god, she shunned us, I thought, and woke at the same time the thought solidified into words. She shuns us.

The abusive story was complete.

Mag’s version of shunning is a bit different. It is not an all-or-nothing denial of our existence forevermore. She does not physically act or speak as if we are dead or that we never existed. Her method of shunning, or isolating us within the family, is much more capricious, much more fluid. She shuns when and if she feels it necessary to make a point, to teach us a lesson.

In Mag’s world of shunning, she holds the cards, controls the world. She uses it to what she deems her advantage, to keep us off-kilter, always guessing, never knowing where we stand with her. It is emotional manipulation at its very finest, and Mag has honed it to a well-defined art form. It can be so fast as to appear a transitory tantrum, with a large explosion (or a series of small explosions) then, if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll storm off in a huff. When this happens, I’m never sure when she’ll deign to speak to me again. Sometimes it’s hours; sometimes months. Regardless, when she does decide to acknowledge my presence again, there is usually a large dose of residual manipulation in the form of what I term the “wounded bear” complex. She ensures the other person knows she was offended and hasn’t let the offender off the hook yet, all without breathing a word about the event that set her off.

While we were growing up, we had a particularly unique form of shunning exhibited in our family relating to mealtimes. They used food as a leveraging tool, based on our attitude and work that we had completed during the day.

There were times we were not allowed to eat. I recall being made to stand in my place, in front of my chair, during dinner while everyone else ate. This was the picture that accompanied the words in the dream-state that informed me we had been shunned. Standing at the table as everyone held hands around us for the song and prayer required prior to eating, and did not touch us or speak to us during the entirety of the meal.

These meals would drag on seemingly for an eternity, with JD offering extra helpings to everyone multiple times, eating dessert, lecturing on the topic-of-the-day, discussing the day’s happenings. My legs burned, muscles threatened to rebel against being still for so long, and my stomach refused to remain silent. We had to stand with hands down by our sides, eyes straight ahead.

I tried, as always, to control my tears – received not a few You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about! statements – but inevitably a few would stubbornly refuse to obey and trickle down my cheek. I could not use my hands to wipe them away but made and unmade fists by my side, keeping the fist on the side away from my parents’ eyesight. And I had to work to hide my anger at being treated such, not let it show on my face: that was a surefire ticket to an attitude adjustment with the belt. I, more than my siblings, could not avoid the evidence of my emotions on my face, a fact that resulted in more than a few attitude adjustments.

The punishment continued after the meal with being made to clean up. At that age, I always had one of my older sisters “helping” me. Really, they were present to educate me, to instruct me in the proper way to clean up. Sometimes these were fun times, teasing and happily chatting. But after a meal that included shunning, the silence lay heavy in the air. I was still forbidden from talking to anyone, and to avoid having my mouth taped, I endeavored to show them by my voluntary silence that I understood what I was to do.

The sister, either Libbie or Andie, also had the duty of ensuring I did not sneak scraps off the plates, to appease my hunger. I was also forbidden from eating until the next meal which meant an interminable night of a rumbling stomach that would not let me sleep peacefully. Times like these we became adept at sneaking food from the pantry. Spaghetti noodles were my favorite, as they were small, could be eaten quickly, and couldn’t be counted. Marshmallows too, if I were brave to sneak something sweet. I loved sweets.

Andie was more compassionate; Libbie was, still is, very hard-hearted and tendered zero sympathy. She more than the rest of us completely swallowed the rhetoric shoved down our throats. She believed we deserved our punishment. And she could not be trusted to keep confidences but would betray us to Mag, silently and without our knowledge. We never guessed she was their mole; we simply thought Mag and JD really did have eyes everywhere. Libbie was their eyes.

This type of shunning continued for several years. In high school, they simply refused to let us sit at the table, remanded us to our room for the duration of everyone else’s joyful consuming of aromatic foods whose scents wafted up the stairs and under the door to taunt me. Always after a meal like this I had to clean up after everyone else, but by this time they expected I knew my duty to not eat. But I was very adept at sneaking small portions that would not be missed; because they checked the leftover containers to ensure the amounts matched what was left at the end of the meal.

Mag’s manipulation of us through battering us with emotional neglect continues to the present. It is so ingrained, so instinctual, so capricious I believe it is completely unconscious. Though I also believe she has no idea of the ramifications or tangent consequences to us or our psyches, I also do not excuse her any longer. In essence, she acts with social skills comparable to a spoiled three year old.

Not only does she herself shun, but she pulls everyone in the family into her shunning game. She uses her diabolical skills as emotional manipulator to convert my father and siblings into turning against me as well. Now, with this new definition of shunning on her actions, I look back at instances of her not-talking to me and see them for what they truly were. Not talking to me after disagreeing about baby-proofing (as in, I wanted to; she thought me to be spoiling my child) – shunning. Not talking to me after I joined a charismatic church – shunning. Her ire at me during her mother’s funeral – shunning. Not talking to me after Libbie’s wedding, as well as turning the entire family against me – shunning.

Libbie’s wedding exemplifies her tactics of persuading others to believe her and join with her in battle beautifully.

When my oldest sister got married, I like a dutiful sister traveled with my husband and babies to participate in supporting her. By this time my brother had also gotten engaged, and so I think I met his fiancé for the first time at Libbie’s wedding. By this point I had put myself on this path of questioning the way we were raised, questioning Mag and JD’s methods, questioning if they really did “the best they could have” under the circumstances. As a result, I’d experienced not a little bit of tension and animosity towards me and had begun distancing myself from my parents specifically, and also my siblings who Mag roped into agreeing with her.

My children were 22 months and 7 months, and I had persistently worked with Libbie for her to find me a babysitter so that I could enjoy the rehearsal and wedding without chasing after babies or worrying about their inevitable disruptions, and without needing to apologize for their babyness.

On Sunday the day after the wedding, they wanted to have a family breakfast at the hotel with everyone. I was exhausted from wedding activities and little sleep – my younger child was still waking up several times a night. Plus I knew the drive back to Raleigh from Virginia Beach would be taxing – my children hated being strapped in, unable to move for prolonged periods of time, so whoever was not driving was entertaining them so as to keep them content and quiet(er) than they would be. They had no coping skills for driving like this and were too young to understand. I’m sure they felt we were punishing them unnecessarily. Road trips were not fun, and so we avoided them as much as we could at that point in their lives.

I explained to everyone our need to leave first thing Sunday morning, that we would miss the family breakfast. At this point I still needed to be heard, to be understood, thought that if I just explained things correctly, used the right words, that my message would be heard and they would cease to antagonize and criminalize me for not complying with their wishes. Mostly “their wishes” applies to Mag, and JD by extension because he doesn’t disagree with her much, but Mag pushed her wishes on everyone else with her coercion and emotional manipulation.

Unable to get them to stop nit-picking at me, finding fault with my plans as my choices did not accede to what they wanted of me, I threw my hands in the air and went about our business preparing to leave, ensuring we did not leave anything behind, had fresh diapers on the kids, gas in the tank, and so forth.

Not sufficient to lambast me in person, Mag and my sisters continued to harass me via email for the next few weeks. At that point, Andie and I were still adversaries, clashing and believing what Mag said about the other person, and she took part in the email bashing. Her husband even took part, and between the two of them, they told me that I was hurting everyone on purpose, that I was self-centered, and tearing the family apart. Among other things, which she has since profusely apologized for. I do not fault her any longer for saying and doing these things then; I merely use it to exemplify what the family was like then and the hold Mag retains over anyone who lets her. Andie, Evie and I do not any longer let her control how we perceive each other, and we decline to take part in her schemes against anyone else.

At this point though, she turned everyone against me. I’m sure she griped about me at the family breakfast – it is her manner. Sadly, she has done it enough that I know her tendencies.

I responded authoritatively to each and every email, discarding my pleas for empathy and understanding, as my explanations only served to continue the harassment. The more I responded to their allegations and accusations, the more they accused me. The more I attempted to explain my point of view, my situation, the more I was labeled self-absorbed and egocentric. The more I asked for consideration of my circumstances, the more they said I was manipulative and trying to force everyone to bend around me as the center of the world. I should add that at this point, I was the only one who had children so no one understood the demands of having two babies; after many years, after everyone else had children, they would use that to appeal to my compassion: please, Lani, you should understand.

And so after a few bouts with several family members, including my brother-in-law, and conferencing with my husband as to the best way to handle the situation, I took a different tack: I responded with confidence, authority and a strength I did not yet own. And I cried after each email was sent. They had no business informing me that I was “tearing the family apart”, especially my brother-in-law, who had never met my daughter or come to my home or made any attempt to get to know me. That accusing me of “hurting everyone on purpose” was untrue and they did not have permission to say that, or anything like it, to me again. And many other things that I do not recall, as it has been nearly a decade since this all took place.

As a result of standing up for myself to my family, no one talked to me for months. No phone calls, no emails, no visits or invitations to visit.

Now, though, Evie, Andie and I see this sort of situation – which was and is far from exceptional in our family – as exemplifying how our parents turned us against each other. Used anyone who dared step out to stand on her own feet, in opposition – however courteous and respectfully – of their will and their way as an opportunity to influence the others, indoctrinate the siblings to their way of thinking and doing things. This created strife and massive rifts in relationship that the three of us are endeavoring to now mend, but these rifts and strife instilled between and among us run deep and are exceedingly difficult to change. We are trying.

But how stressful never knowing if your mother is angry at you! And wracking your brain, trying to determine which incident set her off this time. Examining over and over your actions, your words, wondering how she could have misinterpreted meaning or intent. Always viewing her and her words with skepticism, trying to figure out her underlying meaning, what the double-speak might reference. But never being able to define it or her actions for what they are, else ensure a barrage of venomous anger. As always, standing up to her means inciting her to wrath and guaranteeing that if she hadn’t been angry and shunning before, she surely would after.

Still, to this day, though I have left this life far behind, I struggle with letting people in. With the instinctive labeling of people relative to the circle in which I should place them. It is a constant and conscious and deliberate pursuit, to reject the isolation that I internalized due to the doctrines of the IFB and the practices of my family. To pause when I hear the words in my head, to form the thoughts into words and then reject those thoughts that tell me I should keep myself apart, separate.

It takes work to emerge from this sort of isolationist mentality, but it can be done. It takes effort, but it also takes desire. Without wanting to change, I would not seek change. Without defining from where I have come, I cannot define where to go. I still have a practiced mentality that completely dismisses next door neighbors. Living in the South has helped, though it has taken nearly two decades of deprogramming in this setting. Of not being irritated at what I defined as intrusiveness, of not reacting viscerally at what felt inappropriately intimate. Of not labeling people as dangerous, out to unravel my carefully-constructed life.

Now, though, I am much more gentle on myself, realizing my instincts of self-preservation, of preventing people close to me from damaging the most inward and delicate parts of my heart, reflect the severity of my upbringing. When I can put words to it, when I can make connections between why I do or feel something and what my parents did or taught me, I build a new step. A step that takes me further from them.

It is a long road, and a slowly-built one. And a never-ending road. But worth the effort.

Religious Bondage – Mind Control

mindcontrolMy first part of this series, Religious Bondage – Behavior Control, touches on how behavior reform can cause people to act in abusive ways toward others that disagree or expose abuse within the religious setting. It also explains the tactics many religious followers use in order to silence someone that speaks out about or reports sexual assault, child molestation and rape, or other abuses. In part two, Religious Bondage – Information Control, we learned that one of the key areas of manipulating and controlling people is to control the flow of information within the group. Doing so, allows leadership to rally the group toward their goals, their preferences, their rules, etc. It also allows for abusers to hide their abuses. Behavior Control and Information control are two aspects of Religious Bondage. Religious Bondage is the product of Thought Reform, Information Control and Behavior Modification and, leads to abuse.

As I stated in part one and two, in order to explain this phenomenon that so few know anything about, I have taken Religious Bondage and put it into simple terms everyone can understand –  “Religious Freedom vs. Religious Bondage.” There are three parts to religious bondage as stated above. This will be the third part of this series and, once again, I will use Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two to show the Religious Bondage, I will compare this to my own model for Religious Freedom. At the end of this chart, I will then summarize.

FREE THOUGHT

THOUGHT CONTROL

  • Questioning doctrine and belief is permitted
  • Independent thinking encouraged
  • Questioning of leadership and their behaviors is permitted
  • Leadership is held accountable for actions
  • No fear of other religious groups
  • Secular education is encouraged to help in a better understanding of others, the world, and different beliefs
  • Ideas and feedback on improvement is accepted
  • Freedom of expression allowed
  • Freedom to decide one’s own goals and aspirations
Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”

Map = Reality

Black and White thinking

Good vs. evil

Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)

  • Adopt “loaded” language (characterized by “thought-terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words”.
  • Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
  • Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
  1. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
  2. Chanting
  3. Meditating
  4. Praying
  5. Speaking in “tongues”
  6. Singing or humming
  • No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
  • No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
  • Emotional Control
  1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings.
  2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s.
  3. Feeling-stopping (with number 4, Excessive use of guilt). Like thought-stopping, this is the automatic suppression or blocking of feelings that are not acceptable by the cult identity- such as feeling ”homesick” or feeling ”depressed” or feeling ”resentful”.
  4. Excessive use of guilt
  • Identity guilt
  • Who you are (not living up to your potential)
  • Your family
  • Your past
  • Your affiliations
  • Your thoughts, feelings, actions
  • Social guilt
  • Historical guilt
  1. Excessive use of fear
  • Fear of thinking independently
  • Fear of the “outside” world
  • Fear of enemies
  • Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
  • Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
  • Fear of disapproval
  1. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.
  2. Ritual and often public confession of “sins”.
  3. Phobia indoctrination : programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
  • No happiness or fulfillment “outside” of the group
  • Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: “hell”; “demon possession”; “incurable diseases”; “accidents”; “suicide”; “insanity”; “10,000 reincarnations”; etc.
  • Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
  • Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: “weak;” “undisciplined;” “unspiritual;” “worldly;” “brainwashed by family, counselors;” seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.

(Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two)

My thoughts on Thought Control (Mind Control):

Controlling a congregant’s time is paramount in controlling their mind (thought reform). It leads to the mind accepting negative and abusive responses and actions without thought to reality. By demanding that everyone in the group attend all functions of the group (time and behavior control), it allows for the inputting of beliefs, standards and opinions of leadership (indoctrination sessions). Leadership has mastered the art of manipulating scripture to cause interpretation of it to lean toward their way of thinking. Often, it will be taken out of context and used in forcing conformity to the many rules leadership puts in place. Scripture is also used to instill fear of going against “the man of God.” It is twisted to give the impression that doing so will bring God’s wrath and judgement upon the individual that disagrees with, goes against, prosecutes, or speaks out against, “the man of God.” There will be “consequences” or “punishments” for those that do not conform quickly to leadership’s rules.  This may involve destructive gossip, public humiliation and shunning until one conforms. Many will conform in order to avoid the “consequences” or out of fear of retaliation from other members and/or God.

Thought control (mind control) creates clones of the leadership and the abusive system.  All members think alike and act alike. They learn to like the same kinds of music, foods, restaurants, stores, etc. They are trained to go to leadership for input on making all major decisions in their lives. Members believe leadership knows what is best for them and that whatever leadership tells them to do is the right thing. Members will only believe what leadership says is truth and they allow leadership to control their homes and familial relationships. They will not believe former members or others that see abuse from the outside even if they are professionals or authorities that deal directly in this area of expertise where abuse is concerned.

Scripture is twisted and used against the women and children to force them into subservient roles to men and other adults.  Their minds are filled with scripture that has been manipulated and changed in order to instill abusive doctrines that are designed at getting them to submit and obey without questioning the many “rules.” All teachings are designed to stop women and children from thinking independently and questioning leadership’s, rules, actions, dogma and church policy. It is also designed to prevent them from questioning abusive actions of family members and spouses.  Inequality of the sexes is hammered home using twisted teachings and corrupted translations of scriptures.  Attitudes are instilled in the men that women are “lesser,” are not allowed to have positions of authority over them, must submit to all male authority. This inequality of the sexes leads to abuse of women emotionally and physically in the home. They either submit to the manipulation and control or they will find themselves being emotionally and physically abused (domestic abuse). This leads to eating disorders, physical ailments, emotional imbalances, mental illnesses and depression in many of the women that allow themselves to believe the lies and teachings of the group.

The children are forced to “shut up and put up.” They have no say so in anything. If they are falsely accused by adults of wrongdoing, parents and other members will believe the one telling the lies. The children are rarely believed. If they try to question the abuses, church authority and/or twisted teachings, they will be punished. They are isolated from the world and from authorities and those that have the legal power to help them when abuse does occur. They are rarely believed by those within the abusive or cult-like group when they speak out about their abuses.

Through the use of “congregant bashing” from the pulpit, leadership instills a negative self-image into members.  Many will feel that they cannot do anything right and that bad situations that arise in their life are their “fault” for not being good enough or following leadership’s advice.  Many will even believe that these situations are the result of God punishing them for disobeying leadership. To them, God is ever ready to punish those that cannot live up to the standards and many rules imposed upon them by leadership. Pleasing God means pleasing leadership and adhering to the many rules imposed.  In the minds of congregants, leadership’s rules become God’s rules. Therefore, any transgression of the rules deserves punishment not only from God, but from leadership.

The group as a whole becomes “spies.” They report every little thing that does not conform to group think, standards and rules to leadership so that “disciplinary” tactics can be employed against the non-conforming members.

Religious Bondage – Information Control

indoctrinationMy first part of this series, Religious Bondage – Behavior Control, touches on how behavior reform can cause people to act in abusive ways toward others that disagree or expose abuse within the religious setting. It also explains the tactics many religious followers use in order to silence someone that speaks out about or reports sexual assault, child molestation and rape, or other abuses. One of the key areas of manipulating and controlling people is to control the flow of information within the group. Doing so, allows leadership to rally the group toward their goals, their preferences, their rules, etc. It also allows for abusers to hide their abuses. Information control is one aspect of Religious Bondage. Religious Bondage is the product of Thought Reform, Information Control and Behavior Modification and, leads to abuse.

As I stated in part one, in order to explain this phenomenon that so few know anything about, I would like to break it down and keep it simple. I will call it, “Religious Freedom vs. Religious Bondage.” There are three parts to religious bondage as stated above. This will be the second part of this series and, once again, I will use Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two to show the Religious Bondage, I will compare this to my own model for Religious Freedom. At the end of this chart, I will then summarize.

INFORMATION FLOW

INFORMATION CONTROL

 No deception:

  • Flow of information not monitored and controlled
  • Honest evaluations and input

Access to non-cult sources of information is encouraged

  • Allowed to read whatever they want to gain knowledge and truth.
  • Free access to internet, books, articles, social media
  • Association with former members
  • Free time to enjoy family and friends

Equality: Equal access to information by leadership and non-leadership

  • Information freely accessible
  • Everyone receives the same information

No spying on other members

  • No “buddy” system present
  • Outside professional counseling encouraged
  • Leadership is not “all knowing” and therefore encourages secular professionals where needed.

All information provided is from outside sources

  • Books, magazines, journals video tapes, CDs, etc.
  • Non-cult sources studied and discussed in order to understand proper context

No Shaming or Manipulation

  • No use of public confessions which is the same as public shaming. This is abuse.
  • Confidential information shared in counseling is kept confidential and not used to manipulate and control congregants.
  • No sharing confidential information between leadership of like churches.

 

 Use of deception:

  • Deliberately holding back information
  • Distorting information to make it acceptable
  • Outright lying

Access to non-cult sources of information is discouraged

  • Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet, social media
  • Critical information
  • Former members
  • Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think

Compartmentalize information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

  • Information is not freely accessible
  • Information varies at different levels and missions within the hierarchy
  • Leadership decides who “needs to know” what

Spying on other members is encouraged

  • Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
  • Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership

Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda

  • Newsletters, magazines, journals, video tapes, CDs, etc.
  • Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources

Unethical use of confession

  • Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
  • Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

(Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two)

My thoughts on Information Control:

Information Control allows for leadership to rally congregants to THEIR cause instead of a victim of abuse or an outsider. Congregants readily believe what leadership tells them and, believe that all victims of abuse are liars that are trying to “take down the man of God” or, “destroy God’s works.” Because leadership limits information, twists truth, and/or outright lies about abuses, congregants have no way of knowing what truth IS due to lack of correct information. But, when in doubt, the congregants will naturally lean toward leadership’s views because all information points to that view as “correct” due to information control.

As shown above, information control is paramount in controlling “perception” in the minds of others. Those who control information, control thoughts. Those who control information, control behavior. Abusive leadership will ALWAYS encourage shunning to stifle the truth.  Shunning is very important because it prevents current members from listening to and believing those that have been abused or, have witnessed abuse, from being heard and believed. This is why shunning all former members is mandatory in an abusive religion or cult-like church. Those that continue to speak out after being shunned, will then be stalked and harassed either emotionally or financially by existing leadership and members for not remaining silent. Many different techniques are employed in taking down someone that won’t stop talking to authorities, but the number one technique used time and time again is getting them fired from their job.

Information control also keeps congregants dependent on leadership for “correct” information. Only leadership has the “real truth” regarding every situation; not those falsely accused by leadership or targeted by leadership in order to silence them. Congregants:

  • Will not believe media reports.
  • Will disregard facts if those facts go against what leadership has told them.
  • Will disregard witness testimony as lies meant to destroy their leadership or work of God.

Congregants become secondary abusers to victims of sexual assault, rape, incest and physical abuse who report crimes within the church.

  • They will stalk those that go to the authorities to report crimes (psychological abuse).
  • They will harass privately and publicly those that go to authorities to report crimes.
  • They will use their influence to get them fired from their jobs if they work with members of the same abusive church.
  • They will alter important documents to make it look like the victim is dishonest, using those documents against the victim to destroy them professionally.
  • They will outright lie about victims to others.
  • They will make fraudulent claims against victims to state boards in order to cause victims to lose their professional licenses.
  • They will use the legal system to attack victims that step forward to report by placing frivolous lawsuits on them.
  • It will affect victims socially – they will have no friends.
  • They will pit spouses against spouses and children against parents.
  • They will use the internet to write articles about them to discredit them and their testimony.
  • They will use social media to harass a victim.
  • They will slash tires or break in to the homes or offices of those that expose the abuses, sometimes killing beloved pets in a heinous manner in order to scare and intimidate into silence.
  • They will commit murder to ultimately silence a victim.
  • They will rally other family members against those who report crimes. Thus destroying familial relationships.
  • They will character assassinate any who dare to speak out about their abuses.

Any information told in “counseling” sessions with a pastor is used to spread gossip and slander against anyone who dares to speak out about abuses they have endured or expose them, within the church. This information is also used to blackmail congregants into conforming to leadership’s agendas, demands, desires. This information is then shared between pastors of various churches of the same sect in order to control members that leave to go to another church within the same sect. Pastors across the country work together in applying the same pressures and abuses on a congregant that tries to flee the abuse by attending another church within the same sect.

Information Control allows for abuses to continue, hidden. It allows for abusers and rapists to move on to new victims. It ensures that a victim will remain silent. Silence stops the secondary abuse.

The best way for victims to combat and stop these secondary abuses is to report all instances of it to law enforcement and victim advocate attorneys assigned to the case of a victim. Press charges against every person that threatens, harasses or slanders. By using the legal system to show a definitive pattern of harassment and abuse from the abusive church or group, it allows the authorities to either prosecute and/or stop the secondary abuse. If you have pressed criminal charges against a person in leadership within a religious organization, you must understand that witness tampering and harassment is against the law. Reporting every instance to the police ensures that every individual that is involved is held accountable legally. Don’t be afraid to press charges. Don’t be afraid to speak out. By speaking out about abuse and exposing criminals within the religious system, you save lives – lives of children that won’t be molested and raped, trafficked, physically abused and emotionally abused. You will save lives of teenagers from the same abuses. You will prevent rapes and untold trauma to others.

Religious Bondage – Behavior Control

Religious Bondage – Behavior Control

Religious Abuse (Narrated Powerpoint) is the foundation upon which many religious leaders and organizations build their empires. Yet, many people do not understand what Religious Abuse involves. Members of cults and cult-like organizations will use their influence and power to ruin any victim that speaks out about the religious abuses that they have endured. As a cult survivor that spent more than 18 years in an abusive fundamentalist Baptist cult, I will summarize  the chart below based on the experiences I have had to deal with personally while in the cult and, while helping other victims of religious abuse. Though it is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around these facts, it is vital that everyone understand that RELIGIOUS ABUSE ( Link to “Religious Abuse: What Exactly Is It?”) is real, it’s dangerous and, it can be deadly. Religious bondage is the product of  Thought Reform, Information Control and Behavior Modification and, leads to abuse.

To explain this phenomenon that so few know anything about, I would like to break it down and keep it simple. I will call it, “Religious Freedom vs. Religious Bondage.” There are three parts to religious bondage as stated above. I will cover each part separately in three different articles.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM vs. RELIGIOUS BONDAGE

Religious Freedom allows an individual to be who they are meant to be as an autonomous human being. They are free to develop their own beliefs, standards, likes, dislikes, hairstyles, clothing styles, ways of doing things, etc. They are allowed the freedom to choose their education and career field. Religious freedom allows for equality between men and women. It also allows them to be the best that they can be for themselves, their families, others and God. But, Religious Bondage leads to inequality; which in turn, leads to emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, incest, rape, mind control and manipulation, hatred and fear for those trapped in it.

Sounds a bit shocking to contrast the two, doesn’t it? These two types of “religion” are diametrically opposed and lead to very different results. One leads to freedom in Christ, balance, happiness and joy; the other leads to imbalances, fear, control, thought reform, behavior modification, abuse and destruction. What many do not realize is that they may be in religious bondage instead of enjoying religious freedom. This happens when bondage is all that a person has ever known (raised in it); or, when a person succumbs to being spoon-fed their beliefs, doctrines and standards. Some, having never experienced true freedom in Christ due to isolationism and extreme control within the system, fight within themselves against the transformation into that mirror image of the system. These are usually the ones that escape it later on – but not after suffering much abuse and trauma. Many others passively accept the rules, doctrines and standards and then become abusive toward those that do not accept them wholeheartedly. This can lead to hate crimes, stalking, harassment, character assassination, rape, sexual assault and/or trafficking, incest, physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and death for those that do not conform.

Let me break the first characteristic down into two different categories. Using Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two to show the Religious Bondage, I will compare this to my own model for Religious Freedom. At the end of this chart, I will then summarize.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM                                                      RELIGIOUS BONDAGE

FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

BEHAVIOR CONTROL

 No regulation of individual’s physical reality:

  • Choose one’s beliefs
  • Choose one’s friends
  • Choose clothing styles, hairstyles, etc.
  • Choose what to eat
  • Choose one’s career
  • Choose where to spend one’s money
  • Freedom to travel
  • Freedom to make own personal decisions
  • Freedom to set one’s own personal boundaries and standards
  • Critical reasoning skills can be exercised
  • No FEAR of retaliation for expressing opinions, thoughts and concerns
  • Autonomy allowed
  • No spoken or unspoken rules to be followed
  • Independence
 Regulation of individual’s physical reality:

  • Where, how and with whom the members live and associate with.
  • What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
  • What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
  • How much sleep the person is able to have
  • Financial dependence
  • Little or no time for leisure, entertainment or vacations.
  • Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
  • Need to ask permission for major decisions
  • Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors.
  • Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative)
  • Individualism is discouraged; group think prevails
  • Rigid rules and regulations
  • Need for obedience and dependency

(Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two)

My thoughts on Behavior Control:

Controlling a congregant’s time is key in controlling their behavior and modifying it (behavior modification).  Excessive demands on time “in the ministry” or “attendance to every meeting, service and event,” leads to passivity and the ignoring of abuses and reality. Peer pressure plays a HUGE part in behavior modification and is used to influence congregants toward group “rules” and “group think.” Those that fight against the rules will find themselves on the receiving end of punishment from the group. This could entail such things as shunning, public humiliation, gossip and slander,  until the person conforms.

normWhat any normal person would view as abuse becomes “normal” with each instance of it in an abusive environment.  For example: In the cult I came out of preachers used the pulpit to publicly attack, chastise and humiliate congregants that disagreed, believed differently or, questioned leadership and their doctrines. This IS emotional and psychological abuse; and, it instills fear of speaking out further against leadership.  The first time this is done, it is shocking, but as each occurrence of it happens, the gradualism of these attacks becomes normal and even okay in the mind of the congregants.  It is seen as “right” and necessary to keep the flock in line with God’s rules; which are usually nothing more than leadership’s rules and preferences.  Through this gradualism, the abuse becomes “normal” and congregants become blind to it. Because this abuse is seen as “normal” and “right,” it then is duplicated by congregants against others that disagree as they transition into positions of leadership.

Another example of abuse is toward victims that speak out about their abuse at the hands of leadership and others within the organization. Leadership, because it controls the congregation’s behavior, can rally their members together to:

  • Use their power and influence to affect a termination of employment, crippling a person financially.
  • Use local authorities to file bogus complaints and law suits against those that speak out in order to cause them emotional trauma and financial trauma.
  • Stalk victims that speak out or file criminal charges.
  • Harass victims that speak out via email, phone, social media and, through personal threats.
  • Influence other family members to shun the one speaking out.
  • Influence a spouse to divorce the one speaking out.
  • Influence children against the parent that speaks out.
  • Spread gossip and slander about the one speaking out.
  • Influence family members and others to do bodily harm to the one speaking out.

Those that allow their time to be controlled are the ones that are easily duped into believing the lies and twisted theologies taught from leadership. They are also the ones that rally to the side of the abusers in any given church instead of listening to and supporting sexual assault victims and other abuse victims.  Staying busy constantly interferes with critical reasoning skills, stunts spiritual growth and, results in thought and behavior reform. It leads to congregants being obedient, unthinking, “do as they are told” followers of leadership. Because of this, it also leads to blind loyalty to the system and its leadership instead of supporting those that step forward to report the abuse. Followers lose their ability to discern reality and truth; thus, believing the lies they are spoon fed by leadership. They will interpret scripture in light of what they are told by leadership; judging others as leadership dictates. They will be the pawns used in order to mete out attacks against those leadership tell them have falsely accused them or their church.  Facts of a situation then become irrelevant in the mind of the congregants and they will fight against those facts and the ones that present them. This leads to abuse as listed above and, even death to anyone that dares to go against the system or its leadership.

Behavior Control is dangerous. It leads to abuse of others. This facet of Religious Abuse must be recognized for what it is and members must flee those religious organizations that practice this in order to control and manipulate them.

Chopping the Wings of Victims – By Nancy Bicknell

wingsA dear friend of mine who had a child murdered has been unable to get those who were aware of what and how her child was killed to break their silence and speak out.  We were discussing justice and how the Christians in our life say “God will bring justice in His time, we have to wait until God is ready.”  My friend responded “Yep, and our Heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air …but they have to go get their own food.”  I was rather taken back with a  moment of enlightenment. Sure, the birds in my back yard do have to leave the safety of the branches and go get the food that God has provided for them.  I think the idea that God does not spoon feed us applies in the area of justice also.

My friend is very aware of those who know what happened to her child and have not come forward to give the authorities the pieces of the murder mystery that they have.  Each party has a piece of the puzzle and is hiding that puzzle piece under their bed; or, in the case of Christians, in their Bible.  The scriptures used to clip the wings of the victims of abuse are many.   I know that in the case of my sons sexual  abuse, we were told to “Forgive lest you not be forgiven,” “Do not touch God’s anointed,” “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” CLIP, clip cli… Other Christian friends and leaders talked to us about not letting the root of bitterness grow in our hearts and to not be a traitor in God’s army.  There are endless ways the evangelical religions have clipped Clipppppppped and clipped away at the wings of the victims of abuse within churches using scripture.

Once a victim realizes that using his wings to go for the food of justice means running a gauntlet of bullets shot at him by their church members, the victim sits in shock on their branch and looks for the food they are unable to see from so far away.  They become frozen in fear and, knowing their wings are clipped, intimidates them even more.  One may think the birds would glide slowly to the ground and search and even flap their wings harder to make up for the shortened wings.  The ideas of how to fly through the bullets on shortened wings are many from the Job-like friends.

I am often in shock when I see, as in our case, the  I.F.B. leaders looking for the  spiritual scissors to chop off the wings on one of it’s own victims.  I want to say. “God says we need to soar like eagles, so why would you be  cutting off the very tools God gave the victims to fly?  Would it not be God’s will that you help the victims of abuse in your church to strengthen their wings so they can fly toward justice?”   I can only rationalize that the I.F.B. leaders do not want the victims of abuse to fly toward justice because the church would have to then use  their scissors on the predators in their pews and pulpits.  Cutting off the wings of the predator who hurts victims would be justice just like putting the predators in cages (like Jack Schaap of Hyles).  How did the spiritual scissors in the I.F.B. get turned on its victims? I think God will take the spiritual power out of the I.F.B. churches and other churches who try to chop off the wings of victims. God will turn His justice on the churches who do not help the victims.  And yes, it is hard to wait, but the more victims who fly off the safety of their branches and float through the maze of the I.F.B. bullets to find their food of justice, the more predators who will be caged.  Obviously,  the will of God is that  the I.F.B. leaders  also learn to fly toward God.  If not, I think God who has the  final scissors, decides where to do the cutting.

To All Current IFB Members and Churches

Since Tina Anderson’s trial, victims of abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church have been hearing the same old rhetoric from those still in the I.F.B. system. They have been shouting from the pages of cyberspace that “we are not all the same.” But, behind the scenes, countless numbers of these members within the I.F.B. have slandered and attacked victims that have found the courage to come forward about their abuses. Victims have been dealing with stalking and harassment on a level that boggles the mind; all of which is aimed at silencing their voices.

Recently, these I.F.B. members have changed their strategy to get this message out and try to make themselves look good. Some of them are hitting blogs and leaving comments that “appear” to support the victim, but when dissected, show that they are only trying to tout the same old message victims have had thrown in their faces for the last several years.

I agree with you that not all IFB churches are the same regarding the “rules;” and yet, you ALL ARE EXACTLY THE SAME. Not one of you has stepped forward publicly to help victims of abuse within the sect! Not one of you has reached out to the many victims of the abuse to help them in prosecuting their rapists and abusers. Instead, you have turned your backs on these hurting, broken, sick, poor and traumatized children of God!  Many are homeless, without a job, fighting frivolous lawsuits from I.F.B. members and abusers, without food – all because of your viciousness toward them and/or your “I don’t care” attitudes. ANY Silence or INACTION on these issues make all of you complicit in the crimes as you say nothing and do nothing to help victims. To be made aware of the abuse, makes each of you responsible for helping to stop it.  Victims have only received lip service. We have had much experience with individuals from many countless IFB churches across America that “appear” to support victims with words, but who only wish to tout that “all IFB churches are not the same,” “my church is different,” “you cannot lump us all together since we are all autonomous and individual churches,” WHILE DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO HELP VICTIMS OF ABUSE.  Under this guise of disingenuous comments and/or ignorance of the magnitude of the crimes, victims who have been abused within the “authoritarian system” fostered within the majority of IFB churches roll their eyes in disgust and disbelief at the audacity of those that throw this rhetoric in their faces while ignoring the real issues – crimes and abuse within the system as a whole and, the secondary abuses inflicted by those IFB leaders and congregants aimed at those that speak out to the authorities.

Right now, we have victims that need funds to get to the jurisdiction where their crimes against them took place so they can file criminal charges. We have victims that cannot afford professional counseling to help with their PTSD. We have victims without food, shelter and basic needs. We have victims that have serious medical needs due to the abuse they endured. NOT ONE SINGLE IFB CHURCH AND ITS CONGREGATION HAS STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE TO GIVE TO THESE CAUSES SO THAT THESE VICTIMS CAN PROSECUTE THEIR RAPISTS AND GET THE PROFESSIONAL HELP THEY NEED. NOT ONE SINGLE CHURCH HAS STEPPED FORWARD IN SUPPORT OF ANY VICTIMS THAT HAVE FILED CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST THEIR ABUSERS. Instead, you have supported unanimously the rapists and pedophiles that inflicted the abuses. You show up in courts across America in SUPPORT OF THE  RAPISTS AND PEDOPHILES AND HARASS THE VICTIMS!!! How can you call yourself a Christian? How can you claim association with a God? Any God? You say you are not all the same? Yes, you are. Until you prove by your actions, otherwise. We shall know you by your FRUIT. This post is a testament before you and GOD of the EVIL of your actions. May he reward each of you accordingly that continues to be willfully ignorant of the abusers among you and the crimes committed at their hands upon innocent children.

So, here’s your chance to help victims IFB Churches and members who “say you are not the same.” We have a victim fund set up to help aid victims with their needs. Simply click on the link on right of my blog and make your donation. Let’s see how genuine you are in wanting to stamp out the abuses, give victims a voice, help them in prosecuting their abusers, aid them in getting the professional counseling they need, aid them in obtaining the medications they need as a result of the abuse, help with medical assistance. Let’s see how serious YOU are about “not being all the same.” The link on my blog is directly tied to Together We Heal, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping and aiding victims of sexual abuse. This is your opportunity to put action to your words and help victims get the aid they need.

When the individual churches within this sect take “action” to help victims go after their abusers, expose those abusers and, rally in support of victims and to the aid of victims of the abuse, then and only then, will the rhetoric we have been hearing since Jack Schaap, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and Head of Hyles Anderson College (HAC) was convicted of child sex trafficking, that all IFB churches are not the same, be believed. Right now, the IFB as a whole is deafening silent on the issue of child abuse, child sexual assault, child sex trafficking, physical abuse of children, emotional and spiritual abuse. What we have EXPERIENCED REPEATEDLY is silence, harassment and name-calling from countless leaders and members of the IFB across the country.

So, let’s see how serious those of you that have touted, “we are not all the same,” are. Donate to help these victims by clicking the link at the top of my blog – www.religionscell.wordpress.com – and donate to help them. As a matter of fact, support them through this link financially every month, just as you do causes at your local church. This is a genuine need and a “right” one to donate to. Then, PUBLICLY add your voice to theirs in helping to stop the abuses. Align with victims and become advocates against the abuse.

13 Yr. Old Hana Williams Dies

hana williamsOn the night of May 11, 2011, sometime around midnight, 13-year-old Hana Williams fell face-forward in her parents’ backyard. Adopted from Ethiopia three years before, Hana was naked and severely underweight. Her head had recently been shaved, and her body bore the scars of repeated beatings with a plastic plumbing hose. Inside the house, her adoptive mother, 42-year-old Carri Williams, and a number of Hana’s eight siblings had been peering out the window for the past few hours, watching as Hana staggered and thrashed around, removed her clothing in what is known as hypothermic paradoxical undressing and fell repeatedly, hitting her head. According to Hana’s brother Immanuel, a deaf 10-year-old also adopted from Ethiopia, the family appeared to be laughing at her.

When one of Carri’s biological daughters reported that Hana was lying facedown, Carri came outside. Upset by Hana’s immodest nakedness, Carri fetched a bedsheet and covered her before asking two teenage sons to carry her in. She called her husband, Larry, who was on his way home from a late shift at Boeing, then finally dialed 911, telling the operator, “I think my daughter just killed herself. … She’s really rebellious.”

From court testimony, pretrial motions, and a detective’s affidavit, here is what we know about what led up to that night: Hana had been outside since the midafternoon, wearing cutoff sweatpants and a short-sleeved shirt in the rainy, mid-40s drizzle of spring in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.—a small town just 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Carri had originally sent Hana outside that day as a punishment, ordering her to do jumping jacks to stay warm. She walked Hana to an outhouse reserved for her use and watched her fall several times, but went back inside to avoid seeing what she thought was attention-seeking behavior. As the hours wore on, Hana refused to come back in when Carri called. Carri put out dry clothes and sent two of her biological sons to hit Hana on her bottom with a plastic switch for disobeying. But Hana had begun to remove her clothing, and Carri, who believed in strict modesty, called the boys back in.

As the operator walked her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an even-voiced Carri explained that Hana’s mouth was full of mud, her eyes dilated, “like she’s in a dark room.” Her voice grew annoyed as she described Hana’s nudity, and how she’d been “passive-aggressive,” causing “so much stress!”

Hana was pronounced dead at the hospital, the cause hypothermia compounded by malnutrition and gastritis. The following day, when Child Protective Services tried to check on the other children, Larry Williams refused to let them in. When police followed up, a deputy noted that the family acted as though Hana’s death was “an everyday occurrence.” Twelve days later, detectives and CPS conducted interviews with the children, but their answers seemed rote and rehearsed, all repeating that Hana was rebellious and refused to mind Carri; one child said he thought Hana was possessed by demons. According to investigators, Immanuel said that “people like [Hana] got spankings for lying and go into the fires of hell,” just before Larry abruptly ended the interview.

Two months later, in mid-July, CPS received an anonymous tip from someone claiming that Carri didn’t like her adopted children and that Immanuel was starting to be treated like Hana had been. CPS launched a formal investigation, and all eight remaining children went into state care. In late September, Larry and Carri were arrested and charged with Hana’s death.

When Hana died, she became one of at least dozens of adoptees alleged to have been killed at their adoptive parents’ hands in the past 20 years, and part of a far larger group of children who become estranged from their adoptive families—frequently, as it turns out, large families with fundamentalist beliefs about child rearing. Just within the Seattle area, and just among Ethiopian adoptees who came from the same orphanage and adoption agency as Hana, there has been an unreported crisis of “forever families” that fail. These are adoptions that, in an absence of any real oversight and in environments of harsh discipline, began with good intentions but went profoundly wrong….click here to read more.

Laura Jeanne’s Story

I distinctly remember the summer of 1994 because it was the summer that I finally packed away all of my beloved Barbies. I knew it was time to put away childish things and grow up to be a big girl. Little did I know how fast I would have to grow up…..

When the school year started, Bill Wininger would call me into his office just to make sure I was doing okay. He portrayed himself as a father figure and let me know he was there for me if I ever needed anything. It was strange how random these meetings were–sometimes in the middle of history class and sometimes right before gym class–but he always said that we were buddies and that this should be our little secret.  It felt weird when he hugged me, but after all, he was portraying a father figure, and fathers hug their children; and he was the “man of God,” so he wouldn’t do anything wrong. When the hugs turned into a little something more, I knew something wasn’t quite right, but when you were in his office it was as if you were under some sort of spell. You would just freeze, almost as if you weren’t really there but watching yourself in a dream. Even though we were taught by church and school to respect and obey authority without question, my parents always explained their rules and let us question and talk about them.  I thank God that my parents instilled this self respect in me. Although I could never say or do anything while I was in his office, outside of his office I was able to tell him that I didn’t feel that it was right and that we shouldn’t do this anymore. Thankfully, he never did call me back into his office after that, and shortly thereafter, he left the church.

I thought he had repented of what he had done and made a fresh start down in Georgia.  In my young, innocent, and forgiving heart I truly believed this was true.

If only I had known how untrue this was……

I am telling my story not to benefit myself, because personally I would rather just take it to God and forget the whole thing happened.

I am sharing this to stand with my dear friends who suffered along with me, Janeane, Robin, and now, I know Bethany did as well.

I also pray that anyone who is afraid to come forward will get courage from God to stand up for what is right.

Janeane Johnson’s Story of Abuse

 When all the stuff about Jack Schaap came to light, I became brave enough to tell a very abbreviated version of my story on the Do Right Hyles Anderson College Facebook page.  I did put Bill Wininger’s name out there but, I want to tell my story here too.

I would have done this much sooner, but I am the mom of 5 children with the youngest being 3 weeks, so needless to say, I haven’t had much time to myself.

I started attending North Sharon Baptist Church as a 3 year old. As a matter of fact, it was Bethany Leonard’s dad who came to my door and invited my family to ride the church bus. Her family has been a blessing to my family. After all, they are the reason I started going to church.

I loved my childhood at North Sharon Baptist Church.  It was like a second home and family to me; especially after my parents were divorced.  I was in eighth grade when this happened so my church family was my rock.  I knew the people had a genuine love and concern for me.

Well, right before my parents divorced, our church went through a big scandal and my brothers and sister and I, who were attending North Sharon Christian School at the time, suddenly found ourselves in a public school.  My parents were advised this would be best because of our direct involvement in the scandal. We rode the bus of one of the men who was falsely accused. For me, it was devastating. My world had just fallen apart.

It was during this time when Bill Wininger started grooming me for abuse.  It started off as innocent. He would call me into his office to make sure I was doing okay and give me hugs. Well, it proceeded into much more than that over the course of the next year.  I knew it was wrong but, tried to justify it by telling myself he was the “man of God” and he had a reason for it. I remember thinking he was trying to judge my character and see if I was really a “good girl.”

One day after school, I rode home with another family at the school because I was babysitting for the family overnight.  Needless to say, they could tell something was wrong right away.  I was quiet the whole way home, could barely eat dinner and, was trying to hold back tears. I remember both Mr. and Mrs.,  ______  asking me what was wrong and I told them I couldn’t talk about it.  But, deep down inside,  I wanted to tell someone. Just before school let out that day, Bill Wininger called me into his office and that was when the worst of the abuse occurred. Not only was it worse than any other time in his office but, after he was done, he looked me in the eyes and asked me why I let him do that to me!  It’s amazing I didn’t burst into tears right there. Instead, I just froze and didn’t say anything.  After all, why did I let it happen?

Shortly after that incident, I remember purposely trying to avoid him. I was scared to death. I started having bad dreams at night and would sit up in my bed and just cry uncontrollably. My sister shared a room with me and was obviously concerned and curious as to why I kept doing this. She kept asking me to tell her what was wrong and I kept saying, “I can’t.” She finally told me, “You better tell me what’s going on!” Well, I finally told her but, made her promise not to tell anyone, not even my dad or brothers because I knew if my dad found out, we would never go to church again.

Soon after, I noticed I wasn’t alone.  A couple of my friends (Robin Nixon being one of those friends) were being called into his office too. I at least felt safe enough to talk to my friends about the abuse. This is what got me through emotionally until I graduated high school. My brothers eventually found out somehow; not sure how, but it was the big secret of our youth group for the longest time. All the teenagers eventually knew about Bill Wininger.

Well, I’m sure I left something out, but I’ve already written a lot. Needless to say, this has made me a stronger person and there’s so much more I could share but will leave it for a different time.

If there is anyone out there who has been abused and is afraid to tell, please, please tell someone! I am glad my sister pried the truth out of me.  She will never know how much it helped to finally tell someone.  I love her more than words can say. She has been one of my biggest rocks through all this!

Robin Nixon’s Story

I attended North Sharon Baptist Church for many years, and for the most part I loved going there. The people were like family, we were a very close knit church, and even more so after a few of the men in our church were falsely accused of child molestation. Going through a trial like that will bring a family closer for sure.

That was a terrible time in my life, for more than just the fact that our church was being drug through the dirt. During this time my pastor, the man that we are supposed to be able to trust, and counsel with during hard times, started a very inappropriate relationship with me.

It all started very innocently, in my eyes anyway, with just a tap on the hand as he walked by during closing prayer, going to greet people after the service. Then as we were going through this battle at church, he would call me into his office, and just give me a hug, and make sure I was doing alright, I mean our youth director was in jail after all. I still didn’t think too much of this, though he preached against men and women touching, but it was Bill Wininger! He was a man of God, he wouldn’t have any ill intentions. But I was wrong, whether he planned it or not, things didn’t stay so innocent for long. I’m not going to go into detail, but things quickly went very bad. I remember thinking how in the world could he get up in front of our church and preach and tell them that things were going to be ok, when he was putting the lives of those men sitting jail in jeopardy. If someone caught him, there was no way those 2 men would ever be acquitted of the crimes they had been falsely accused of.

He used that to keep me from telling anyone, he was sure to make sure to remind me often that if anyone found out about “us” that those 2 men, and probably more, would rot in jail.

Things went on for quite some time, about a year and a half, until he finally felt the “call of God” to leave our church. I have heard stories as to why God called him right then, and so quickly, but I know nothing to be 100% truth, so I won’t speculate, but they were gone with very little warning.

Shortly before he left, a couple of other teenagers and I got to talking and I discovered that they had very similar issues with our pastor. None of us knew what to do, the best we could come up with was to do our best to avoid being in the church alone. But then, he just started pulling us out of class (we all attended the Christian school there) to “counsel”.

We were never so relieved as when he finally left, my senior year of high school. That should have been the best time of my high school career, however that is when the guilt set in. I knew that he wouldn’t stop, though I really wanted to believe he would. I have been plagued by this guilt ever since. I hope that we can all finally get the peace that we have been searching for these past 18 years.

This is a very abbreviated version of my story, but I wanted to get it out there. I want to finally do something, and if I can help just one person find the courage to stand, then everything I went though was worth it.