This is a little essay I originally did for DailyKos to explain why I tend to be very, very concerned in regards to the political movement referred to as dominionism, "Christian Nationalism", and a thousand other things. As you'll find out by reading, the reason I fight is actually quite personal--I hope that by educating people that we can stop kids--including the "Jesus Camp" kids--from living with the same longterm scars that myself and other walkaways deal with every day...and hopefully also to keep the whole country from living in that hell.
There's a reason I write about dominionism--not just on the political threat, but the real threat inherent in these groups by virtue of many of the hardline "spiritual warfare" dominionists being in essence abusive Bible-based cults.
I know all too well about the danger these groups present--not just for the country, but for the kids themselves. I in fact live with it everyday.
You see...I was once one of those kids like in "Jesus Camp" myself.
I'm a survivor of the same "Third Wave" (aka "Joel's Army") dominionist movement that spawned the camp depicted in "Jesus Camp". I even remember in my youth attending a day-camp program run by the dominionist church I escaped--one that was very much like "Jesus Camp", in fact.
To this day I have serious issues trusting people and have had to undergo therapy for complex PTSD (yes, kids who grow up in this stuff go through literal shellshock, in some ways worse than Gulf War or Vietnam veterans--because they never had anything "before the war" to go back to, but were trained up to be "God Warriors" literally from the time they exited the womb), and have socialisation issues to the point people have wondered if I didn't have Asperger's Syndrome.
I've compared the experience of growing up in these groups to something akin to growing up in a pit filled with zombies--all of which are trying to zombify you, and grab onto you as you try to climb out the slick, jagged walls...and that's assuming you decide to at all, because you're taught all your life that even with the horrors in the pit that Outside is Much, Much, Much Worse.
Most of us who've escaped discovered either people "in the pit" were lying about Outside, or we had a caring person from Outside tell us what it's really like (usually kind of a mix of both); more and more, these kids are being isolated from ever having contact with people from Outside till they're well in their twenties or even beyond that.
Even when you've been in a public school and had some contact with the outside world--much less the situation these kids are growing up in (with dominionist correspondence-schooling sold as "homeschooling", dominionist alternatives to Scouting like the Royal Rangers and Missionettes and Heritage Girls, not even allowing them to be friends with non-dominionist neighbours, etc.)--the impact of things once you're Outside (at least speaking from the perspective of someone who escaped) is not unlike that of a kid raised by wolves (or zombies). You have to almost literally relearn everything about being human all over again almost from the cradle--that's something I'm still doing and probably will be playing catchup with the rest of my life, to be honest.
I still kick myself in the ass all too much over the shitty things I did as a dominionist "God Warrior" kid (even though I really did not know better--how could I? I was raised in a dominionist cult that thought everything else was evil and that we'd be going to war with the Russians and they'd be raptured up before the nukes started flying!). I try to educate people on the mindset of these groups because people really don't understand what goes on in the heads of dominionists--and most of them are in a mix of hatred (of their critics, who are seen as children of the devil) and fear (of the outside world in general, and in particular of "Losing God's Blessing" on the country and having it destroyed).
One of the crappier incidents I remember that I did--and to this day I kick myself over it, and if the guy who this happened to is reading this, my deepest apologies--anyways, one time in 5th grade, I had made a comment that was in fact seen as socially acceptable by the dominionist group that raised me...that I hoped that "godly people took over and did to the atheists what Hitler did to the Jews".
Unbenownst to me, there was a Jewish student in the room. When the teacher (rightfully so!) ripped me a new one, I got panicked--but not because I had literally (and, ironically, innocently--remember, I was taught this was a Good Thing by the group I ended up walking away from!) advocated genocide of every atheist in the US--but because I thought I'd insulted a Jew and thus permanently damned myself for insulting one of "God's chosen people along with those baptised in the Holy Ghost".
Nowadays, I realise how what I did was horrifically wrong. I had no concept then, though, and wouldn't for quite some time--and, I suspect, the "Jesus Camp" kids are in the same damn boat as I was in.
Only they don't have a fifth-grade teacher to tell them that it was wrong.
. . .
One of the first things that led to me starting to break away was hearing people in my own church condemn the Christian metal band Stryper as "satanic".
Now, I was a fan of the band Stryper back then. (It was one of the few hard-rock bands someone thoroughly inculcated in dominion theology could listen to without risking one's soul--or so I thought at the time.) I knew they did literal altar calls and tossed out Bibles at concerts. I knew Stryper was about as far from "devil music" as one could get.
That little chink started opening up more chinks.
Eventually my religiously-inspired "bad behaviour" ended up getting me put in a psych ward for a month for "depression" (and now, I realise in retrospect and my therapist does as well, that it probably was the result of the coercive religious practices in the group I left). That month of isolation away from dominionist programming was like a Prague spring in a way--I learned that listening to secular music would not instantly damn me to hell, among other things. I learned that people who weren't dominionists were actually human.
I learned soon from a high school teacher--and if you are reading this somewhere, I'd love to thank you for this--that the Equal Rights Amendment didn't say what dominionists claimed it said--it said nothing about merging the Boy and Girl Scouts or making women become lesbians. I learned that Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution" was in fact saying alcoholism was a form of suicide--a message the group I left would have actually agreed with (as they were absolute teetotalers--even the communion wine, on the rare occasions communion was actually offered, was in fact Welch's grape juice)--from the same teacher.
I began to realise something was broken, too, during the televangelist scandals. My folks had taken us to Heritage USA (the old theme park that Jim and Tammy Bakker ran) as sort of a dominionist alternative to taking us to Kings Island or Disney World; in my teenhood I started realising that these were far from the men of God they claimed to be.
I made the mistake of mentioning this to my mother once. She first thundered that I was not to judge a "man of God"; when I questioned whether they were men of God at all she accused me of being demon possessed, attempted an impromptu exorcism by smearing Wesson oil on my head whilst ranting in tongues, then went on a two-hour harangue reading from the Bible on how I was apparently damned, had better change my ways or I'd go to hell, had better "start flying right", and that if I didn't she would have deacons come to our house to perform an Assemblies-style "deliverance service" on me.
All because I didn't toe the line anymore. (This pattern would be repeated quite often in my youth as I spoke up more for myself. There were times I thought seriously that I would have to run away from home for my own personal safety.) Until I was in college, though, I just thought my parents were somewhat abusive--I didn't realise what went on in my home, the "beating of kids till they cried", the claim I was full of Satan...I didn't quite realise that wasn't normal, largely because my folks largely prohibited me from going to other people's houses (especially overnight; literally, to visit a friend, my mother pretty much almost had to have a full background check on their parents).
I never went to my high school prom because I knew my folks would never allow me to go--because it was co-ed and they had rented out a hall overnight. I also had at least one college choice denied me outright by my folks because the college offered co-ed dorms.
I finally began to realise something was severely broken in the church I walked away from was through involvement on net.abuse issues on the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology in the early 90's (the Scientologists were doing their best to wreck the group, which was being used as a support group for ex-Scientos).
Learning what "normalcy" is (re Outside) is still an ongoing process for me. It was only this year that I learned that most households that still spank don't whack kids multiple times a day...or make kids get their own "switches" to be properly "chastened". (The real revelation in this for me was learning from my husband--who was raised Southern Baptist, a denomination that itself has gone dominionist (I am, unfortunately, a survivor of the Assemblies of God where they practically invented dominionism and where the rot has festered for almost 100 years) that he was spanked all of *twice* growing up. I remember multiple whacks a *day*, both at home and at Sunday school or nursery. :P)
Using some of the checklists of "coerciveness" that had been posted by exit counseling groups, I realised the group I walked away from would fit the criteria of what used to be known as a "cult" (and is still known as a "Bible-based cult" in some circles) and is now known as a "coercive religious group"--basically, a religious group that uses abusive, coercive tactics to control its members and to recruit new ones. (I'll be posting more about these coercive practices during the weekend--it's a sad history of coercion both within the churches of the "heart of dominionism" and a history of political coercion.)
In my research on dominionism since (which I have done, in part, to help along my own recovery from the scars of spiritual abuse)...I am becoming increasingly convinced that (especially among the pente/charismatic groups involved in dominionism, possibly increasingly so even among the Southern Baptists) part of the reason people are having such poor success in debating dominionists is because they do not realise they are in essence dealing with someone who is in a coercive religious group.
Dominionist groups, especially those into "spiritual warfare" (crossreference Marguerite Perrin on "Trading Spouses" for an example of this in action--I honestly wish I could say it's an extreme example, but in some dominionist groups her behaviour is sadly typical), have an entire system designed to isolate their members from "mainstream reality" and to essentially create a dominionist "group-think".
Speaking from my own experiences as a former dominionist (having been raised in it), here are some of the things that my church has done to pretty much prevent any outside influences:
a) Taught explicitly that everyone outside the group is evil, possibly even in league with Satan, and that Satan may even be "working through them"
b) Taught that criticism of the group was "blaspheming against the Holy Spirit" and criticism of members or the church was answered with "touch not mine annointed" or "thou shalt not judge a man of God"
c) Taught that demons were the cause of all hardship and illness (including diseases; genetic diseases along with multigenerational poverty were termed "generational curses" and even colds and flu were the result of "solidified demonic corruption") and that these could be cured by "naming it and claiming it" as well as donations of up to fifty percent of income to the church
d) Taught that "doorways to Satan" could open up and cause "demonic oppression" by things as innocuous as peace symbols (which they preached were Satanic), Nike shoes, and Pokemon (!) (yes, they literally teach that if kids had Pokemon stuff they'd be demonised; they also do book burnings of Harry Potter books for the same reason, and even criticised C. S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" because it was fantasy)
e) Taught people to not associate with "unsaved" people unless for the purpose of conversion, and even distributed "Christian Yellow Pages" to this effect (which required a fundamentalist statement of faith to be signed before they'd list someone)
f) Ran their own TV and radio "godcasting" network (now focusing largely internationally; see here...the fact they are now vomiting this stuff out over the international airwaves makes me sick and sad like you would not believe) and told people that literally all media outside from the church was Satanic
g) Handed out voter's guides from the AFA and a predecessor group (Freedom's Heritage Forum) telling people explicitly whom to vote for (by the way, a deacon of the church is the state head of the AFA)
h) Taught explicitly that deceptive tactics are perfectly permissible in an attempt to convert someone (and yes, this is denomination wide; I've documented over 40 separate "front groups" used for various forms of targeted prosyletising by the Assemblies, including targeting other churches)
i) Taught people could literally be hexed into conversion by essentially cursing these people in the name of Christ to be miserable and even suicidal unless they converted
j) Taught that involuntary exorcism of people who were LGBT, not dominionists (and openly critical of the group), and so on were perfectly permissible (I will never be able to come out safely to my parents that I'm bisexual or that I've always felt like a man in a woman's body as a result; it would literally be a death sentence in my case--I saw kids being publically outed involuntarily and subjected to involuntary exorcisms during "revival meetings" and know all too well that people have literally gone insane in these "exorcisms")
Now, I wish this were not a terribly large church, or a terribly politically active or important church. I wish this was an abberation.
Unfortunately, a church deacon at the very church I walked away from is head of the Kentucky AFA (one of our two main dominionist groups here--the other is in Lexington and is the state FotF frontgroup), essentially has been at the center of the dominionist movement in the state for the past thirty years, and is busy setting up a multi-station "godcasting" network on shortwave radio (yes, most of the annoying religious broadcasters on shortwave radio are affiliated with High Adventure Ministries, which is a front group of the very Assemblies church I walked away from). It's also a major stop on the Assemblies "traveling preacher" circuit, is the second largest church in my home state (with anywhere from 7000 to 17,000 in attendance, depending on whose figures you believe and whether a "revival meeting" is in progress there), and no less than Oliver North has been at the church preaching that the Reds were the Antichrist so he pushed the Iran-Contra arms deal as a mission from God (!) It was also one of the first of the so-called "Third Wave" churches promoting the "Joel's Army" stuff I've written about--the same stuff that "Jesus Camp" teaches to little kids--and was pushing this stuff all the way into the 1960s.
Also, sadly, this view is also not atypical--John Ashcroft's "eccentricities" like being annointed with Wesson oil (!) are typical teachings in those churches, and practices at Ted Haggard's New Life Church are very similar to the tactics of "deliverance ministry" preached at the church I walked away from.
The particular denomination I'm a walkaway from, the Assemblies of God, is the largest neopentecostal church in the world with estimates of anywhere from ten to 40 million members; they're powerful enough that they have a de facto political party in Australia (Family First), may in fact be the religious majority in Brazil now, and operate the largest megachurch in the world--one with nearly three-quarters of a million members in South Korea.
And even more frightening, they are getting more and more control of the government--to the point that someday, they could eventually force us walkaways back at gunpoint--or kill us "just like Hitler did to the Jews"--or, worse yet, start a war that kills everyone.
. . .
One of the things I still have nightmares over to this day--and modern political events don't help at all with this--is of Cold War sermons regarding the Final Battle.
You see, they would preach that Russia (back then the USSR) was the literal country of Satan and its leader was the Antichrist. And at the very end of things, Russia would use some Middle Eastern country--Iran was quite frequently mentioned--and would launch an invasion of Israel after having nuked Jerusalem.
The US would begin a nuclear exchange with the Russians after that, which would end up with the US and Israel against the rest of the world in a nuclear Mother of All Wars to be centered on Megiddo Hill.
Of course, all the True Believers would be raptured up first. And they'd have a heaven-side seat to watch everyone else burn in literal nuclear hellfire.
And the sick and sad thing was that they welcomed this. The preacher almost seemed to be in orgiastic joy over the fact that in 1984 the relations between the US and USSR had worsened to such a point people were thinking nuclear war was a very real possibility.
I didn't know then that they were pulling this stuff out of the Scofield Reference Bible (along with their support for young-earth creationism and a lot of other bizarre things) and that the reference in the Scofield bibles were actually from Tsarist Russia--back when the Russian secret service was doing progroms against its Jewish population and printing things like The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion to justify them.
I know that now, but I still have nightmares about how the whole church was so damned happy that literally the rest of the world was going to be nuked and they were finally going to Get Theirs Against All Those Non-Dominionist Heathens.
The fact that we could end up going into a nuclear war with Iran doesn't help my nerves any at this...nor does the fact that, even to this day--fully 12 years after the Berlin Wall fell--they still claim that Russia is "Gog" and that Boris Yeltsin is part of a grand Satanic conspiracy and that the Russians will be partnering with Iran to take over the world.
. . .
Some have even asked how we can persuade dominionists to, well, not be dominionists.
The problem is that--because dominionism is, at its core, a spiritually abusive movement with political aspirations it isn't that simple at all...because you have to fight the programmed mindset.
I am posting this info in the hope that people--in particular, experts in the psychological field (I know we have at least one on the board!) will be able to give suggestions. I also post this in the hope people realise the difficulty us walkaways have had in getting out--and maybe our success stories will give people hints on how to stop the hijacks from occuring.
One thing that is difficult to explain to people who have never been involved in a coercive religious group is just how people get "stuck in" and refuse to leave.
What people don't tend to realise is that most coercive groups--be they dominionist groups or some other flavour of coercive group (such as Scientology, the Moonies, etc.)--have as part of the coercion in and of itself various "thought stopping" techniques and other forms of coercion that literally prevent the person from questioning the group at all. (In fact, that's how we can define dominionism as a coercive religious movement, especially in its "spiritual warfare" and "Joel's Army" flavours.)
A writer from the Ex-Pentecostals walkaway support board--who also has written a book on his experiences called "Letters from an Ex-Pentecostal"--has written possibly one of the best descriptions of the coercive mindset in these groups and just what people--both people fighting dominionism, and people fighting the coercive tactics used in dominionist groups--face:
(as a side note, this is concerning spiritually abusive pente and neopente groups involved in the dominionist movement)
When confronting a Pentecostal, one must remember that Pentecostals are stuck in a mental thinking loop that prevents them from thinking in the normal sense about anything relating to religion. They have designed an enormous list of code words designed to trigger thinking patterns in a particular way. Think of it as a computer program or a computer virus. When you hear the words "reprobate" or "backslider" or any other code words, they are designed to trigger a particular thought pattern. Another phrase that comes to mind is "touch not mine anointed!" The last one triggers thoughts of incapacitating terror at the thought of questioning the pastor about anything. Also, there are particular gestures that are designed to trigger certain thoughts like the tightening and closing of the eyes followed by something like "Woo, I feel something in this place, let's pray for that guy right now!"
And, so it is. It is hard to even speak about religion to these Pentecostals stuck in the mental traps because the minute you try to question them, those code words, and those gestures come into their imaginations, without even them hearing them or seeing them, and these things short-circuit the mental processes to the point where they cannot hear the words you are saying. The mind is stuck and has something like a computer virus.
Often, it takes a tremendous effort to break these people from this state of self-hypnosis. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event for them to begin to question. Sometime the pastor betrays them so deeply, they go through terror, depression, and many other things that are so unbearable that they have to begin to question the system.
The services are designed to nurture these thought systems and loops that they cannot break out of. All the emotional things that go on from excitement to terror, to grieving, to anything with extreme emotions - all this contributes to the deadening of the mind to thinking outside of the particular mind set.
Their minds are stuck. They do not know this. You can tell them this and often, they do not understand what you are telling them because their thoughts are stuck in a short circuit. Sometimes we have to spend many years or months trying to figure out a way to break within a particular person's mind to break it out of the shorted-loop. Each of us has a lot of work to do if we are to do this. Each case is different, and I suspect that there is a particular KEY to each person to break them out of the loop. It just might take a long time to find the Key to break the code and delete the looping control loop of their mind's software programs, in a manner of speaking.
So, do not ever be surprised that you cannot communicate with these people. It is part of the design of the system to keep them trapped in the mental control loops triggered by words, gestures, music or whatever a local preacher can design. The pastor does not do this deliberately as in, "How can I design a system to keep them trapped," but he simply does it by trial and error in Darwinian fashion as to what works with a particular person and congregation and what does not. This is how it works. And whatever system of controls survives the experimentation is what survives in the same way as animal species survive in the process of natural selection in the Survival of the Fittest. The better the system design, the harder it will be to break them out of the mental loops.
In other words, coercive tactics practiced in dominionist groups literally set the mind in an "infinite loop" if any criticism of the group occurs. (THIS is why you end up with, at best, people accusing you of being "anti-Christian" and occasionally going on "God Warrior" rampages. I now know it's pretty much impossible to discuss things with my mom on these things because of this.)
In my case, the "key" was realising that I was being lied to--which was first "put in the lock" by hearing people condemning Christian metal bands, and "turned" by realising this was just the start of a whole series of lies.
This is also the reason I am not sure dialogue is even possible directly with dominionists; you are not so much arguing with a person as with an entire system of thought reform.
I can certainly agree with the author's observation that each person who is a successful walkaway from dominionist groups tends to have something specific that leads them to walk away; in my case, it was the discovery I was being lied to (and it's the dishonesty and subterfuge that STILL is one of the things that galls me the most about dominionism, to be perfectly honest--among many, many other things).
I've posted a brief example of code words particularly used in pente and charismatic dominionist groups, many of which act as "stop words" or "start words" in the community; many of the "code words" that have been documented in use by dominionists are also "thought stopper" words. (At least some of the folks here are familiar with the anime "Gundam Seed Destiny"--three of the characters are "Enhanceds" and have specific "stop words" that essentially cause them to "shut down" and get very panicked. It's pretty much the same concept here, and I suspect the writers must have read about the concept of "stop words" in abusive groups.)
Among other things, when dominionists talk about the "homosexual agenda"--that is literally a "thought stopper" phrase that dominionists use to essentially get their members to not only go into two-minute hates about everything related to LGBT folks--but there's the spiritually abusive preaching that literally teaches that gays are the servants of the devil himself and out to molest their kids (playing on fear and the need for a Great Enemy), plus other coercive tactics that teach that church leaders and other "men of God" (including fellow dominionists) are never to be questioned, combined with teachings in many churches that claim reading any info non-approved by the church or even doing business with non-dominionists will "open doorways for Satan" in one's life and cause one to become hopelessly insane, penniless, oh, and damned literally to Hell... THAT's what goes through the dominionist's head when he hears AFA leaders ranting about gay people.
Unless and until you luck upon that one "Key" that causes them to start to question--it's difficult to even talk to them. I'd say nearly impossible. (This is also the specific reason children are being isolated almost from birth, "homeschooled" via dominionist correspondence courses, sent to "Christian alternatives" to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, sent to dominionist colleges, and that a whole lot more effort in general is being made to isolate kids raised in dominionist groups till well past college age--it is incredibly hard for someone raised from birth in a coercive religious group and never having had any exposure to anything outside of it till in their twenties to walk away. It is in some ways comparable to someone being raised by wild animals nearly all their life and then discovering human society; if one is younger, one has a better chance of adapting to human society (though you aren't ever going to be COMPLETELY normal about things) as opposed to finding human society in their twenties.
I am reminded of a part of the tall tale of Pecos Bill (whom is often spoken of as being raised by coyotes till he was a young man)...in many versions of the story, Bill's brother finds him and ends up in a furious debate with Pecos Bill, Pecos Bill firmly believing he was a coyote till his brother pointed out he didn't have a tail and his brother pointed out the identical Lone Star tattoo on them. (And just like Pecos Bill, you pretty much have to learn to behave in society some twenty years late, with the rough difficulty of learning to live among humans when you've spent your whole life among coyotes.)
The trick with dominionists is that they have been explicitly taught that people who point out they "don't have tails" are in fact in league with the Devil.
Xenu.net, a site that focuses on coercive tactics within Scientology but is a good info source re coercive tactics in general, notes the following definition of a coercive religious group:
Every cult can be defined as a group having all of
the following 5 characteristics:
1) It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
2) It forms an elitist totalitarian society
3) Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma
4) It believes 'the end justifies the means' in order to solicit funds or recruit people
5) Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
The coercion I know of too well--they alternate between keeping you scared of everything--even your own mind--and driving you into "two minute hates". (In the group I left, if you harboured doubts about the group you were seen to be the victim of "demonic oppression" by "demons of doubt" because you'd "left open doorways for Satan in your life"; the cure was always a "deliverance" service, often being forced to confess your sins in front of a 4000-10,000 seat audience, and isolating yourself even further from Outside and getting more involved in the dominionist group.)
This of course has the effect of keeping you both scared and petrified. :P Growing up in that from birth tends to cross your wires rather permanently (which is why, to this day, I still have PTSD and anxiety problems a full seven years after escaping).
Many of you know of the totalitarian aspects, at least a bit. (It's not the same as, well, living in the Pit, but you get an idea. Growing up in it, you do get a horror of things after escaping--because you know they want to convert dominionist totalitarianism de facto into de jure--and believe (and are petrified) that if they don't hijack the government that God is going to revoke their status as "chosen people" and that they will be ultimately destroyed and "spat out" by God for "being lukewarm".
I've also noted the total lack of accountability (generally, the pastor is the supreme ruler of the church and exerts control through the deacons or "shepherding" group leaders). To doubt or to oppose the pastor in these groups is a dangerous thing indeed--it labels you as The Enemy to those in the pit, and they'll try to "exorcise" you, assassinate your character, and rip you down.
The "by any means" should also be obvious to people by now--with use of church infiltrations.
And, well...the televangelism industry has since its beginning been run by these people and about every 20-30 years or so a major scandal breaks out.
Anyways, this is why I write. Hopefully we can stop more people from being hurt.