Boiling The Frog – When Churches Turn Into Dangerous Cults

Boiling The Frog – When Churches Turn Into Dangerous Cults March 17, 2015
Image from Amazon - This is a book we studied during the oddest part of my church years.
Image from Amazon – This is a book we studied during the oddest part of my church years.

by Suzanne Titkemeyer cross posted from her blog What Would Roger Sterling Do?

I’m going to ask you to stop and read this first before proceeding onto my story of how weird the church and I got towards the end – The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult in The Atlantic Magazine

Got it? Yep.

What happened was sort of like that old beloved in Christianity false story about putting the frog in a big pot of water and the frog not realizing till it was too late that he was being boiled alive. Our church turning into a cult happened a lot like that.

Our church was a typical part-Quiverfull, part-Evangelical, part-Fundamentalist non-denominational church that pops up in the Bible belt area like mushrooms in the forest after a hard rain. I’m not sure exactly who brought into our church the ideas of healing and healing conferences but it happened. I seem to remember an East Coast evangelist/profit/healer that used the phrase “Wow Mom” while applying football jargon to spiritual issues, like the retired high school football coach he was. He ushered it in I think.

We started studying books like “Christ The Healer” by F. F. Bosworth and our pastor preached that healing was for everyone, that Christ took all sickness to the cross when He was crucified and that as a result the Devil had no right to put sickness on anyone. It had been paid for on the cross.

The church cycled through healing teachings from The Healing Rooms and other Evangelical churches. There was a man brought in to teach healing that said that most illness was the result of spinal misalignment. I was told my severe asthma was because one of my arms was 3/4 of an inch longer than the other one. They prayed and manipulated my arms until both were the same length. I was told to go home and throw away all my medicines, take that step of faith to prove I trusted in God to completely heal me.

And the ideas pushed about healing became increasingly strange: If you talked negatively about your body or paid much attention to your illness or the symptoms you were putting a curse on your own body and opening a door to Satan to make you sick. Your thoughts, actions and words had to profess that you were 100% cured. Very, very close to what is being pushed in the story told in the book “Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood”, the same sorts of horrible stories about people that didn’t change their attitudes or embrace their healings the right way, coded Christian-ese language spoken only.

Even as I ended up at the hospital a number of times with my breathing problems, woke up once entubated in ICU from an attack and ended up having to have a complete hysterectomy to help with a bleeding disorder I have, I still talked the talk and walked the walk enough that I was selected for the healing team and the altar ministry

Then things got very weird.

During the altar ministry training the books we started to read morphed into the supernatural – things about being a spiritual warrior, demon-chasing off, cleansing houses and individuals, casting out demons, discerning evil spirits and dealing with them, claiming God’s favor for and in everything.

Example? Once we did an outdoor soup kitchen ministry in the poor part of town and it was threatening and spitting rain. I stood up in the middle of the square and ordered the weather to clear in the name of Jesus because we prayer warriors were there to feed God’s people and the rain was “Satan’s PLOT” to keep us from going about our Father’s business. The rain stopped and I proudly strutted off thinking, “Wow, it’s all so simple, why haven’t we been doing this all along? Taking authority over Satanic plots and actions and forcing them to yield.” I cringe thinking about that moment now. Talk about deluded. But I wasn’t the only one…

Every Saturday we opened the church tor healing prayer and ended up doing a lot, and I mean a lot, of exorcism rituals along with prayer and proclaiming God’s desire was to heal everyone, if the healing didn’t happen, then there was some open doorway to the Devil that prevented the healing. We asked probing and prying questions of the of the prayee and led them through prayers of repentance over whatever opened the door and firmly closed it. We made people denounce all sorts of things as idols, like televised sports or even focusing too much on one of their children. It all led back to the Devil and his imps.

Only once in those years did I see what looked like a full fledged “Exorcist” type encounter – and I wrote about it and the church’s unnatural obsession with demonology several years ago in the post titled “Exorcism”

From that post:

But on the other hand I clearly recall an evening about eight years ago when I was one of the chaperones at our Old Church (referred to from now on as OC) during a teen worship all night lock in. We were doing creative worship when I heard a growl, looked to my left just in time to see one of the youth slam to the floor, growling and foaming at the mouth. The kid began to speak in weird demonic sounding voices. It took six young men over six foot tall and big to hold him down. As I watched my friend Lynda she performed a several hour exorcism on him. The things I saw and heard that night will always be with me. I have no explanation for it at all except to say if that kid was acting then he should receive an Academy Award. I didn’t participate in the actual exorcism even if I was trained, I shepherded the rest of the kids to the other end of the sanctuary and lead them in a prayer circle while the screaming, thrashing, barfing and animalistic behaviors were going on and they were holding him down praying. What I witnessed seemed to be genuine but… I don’t know what to think.

Looking back I’m so glad I didn’t jump right in and help remove the ‘demon’ but things just spiraled from there. We started to prayer walk the streets and make a concerted effort to drive the tarot card readers, I Ching people, palm readers and others that were not Christian from the Charlottesville, Virginia historic downtown mall area by prayer walking, setting up to give prophesy over folks and act not too much different than those we were trying to pray away.

By the time my husband dragged me out of the old church we would routinely have knock down drag out verbal fights about the issue of God’s healing, depression, demons, anything supernatural. Once we on the prayer teams started to take dominion over and cleanse houses of demons it was a weirdness too far for Jim. We left shortly thereafter.

I look back, thinking about the words I spoke, my believing in a demon under every bush, the arrogant ways I would pray to bring about what I thought God’s will was and how much time we wasted on demons and spiritual strongholds, and I am ashamed of myself.

Sure, Jesus healed folks and He drove out demons, but… he didn’t go off the deep end into exorcisms, demonology, looking for evil, being inwardly proud of his praying these things away. But we did all that.

We were a cult and I helped bring that about. May the victims of our cult forgive me.

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Suzanne Titkemeyer is the admin of NLQ and also the wife of a man who had sense enough to recognize their church as a cult before dragging her out. She is a crazy old cat lady keeps busy with her grown children, her rescue animals, foster care animals and her love of all things art. Contrary to Fundy-Belief she’s usually smiling, laughing or smirking while swilling diet coke and dispensing sarcasm. She blogs at What Would Roger Sterling Do? and True Love Doesn’t Rape

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mayarend

    On the boy case, I commented on your blog but I’ll add it here: That sounds pretty much like a seizure/several seizures. Possibly repeated seizures with in-betweens of disorientation/faints. I’ve had seizures and right afterwards I would vomit and talk to people (and have no memory of either). If he was having several seizures, one after the other (because a seizure several minutes long would kill him, so it’s not one constant seizure) he would be seizuring (making erratic movements and sounds), then vomiting, then possibly talking in a disoriented manner, then possibly seizuring again…

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I don’t know what it was, just that it was terrifying and felt very wrong. Could have been a seizure except he was yelling in a strong voice that he was a demon from hell. Always wondered if he was just high and acting out to purposely freak out everyone in the youth group.

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    Suzanne, does the name Jim McNally sound familiar to you?

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    You know it does

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Whenever McNally showed up at my old church there were always one or two people that would end up emotionally crushed, screaming and weeping, that didn’t respond to McNally very well. The first time he came I was one of those people. For some he was more someone that discouraged them. Saw it play out time and time again and always wondered the why.

  • SAO

    Being possessed by a spirit is a known phenomenon, some religions, such as voodoo or more charismatic Christian groups encourage it. The people who are possessed know the expectations, but let their subconscious take over.

  • SAO

    It’s interesting that the rain stopped for you. I wonder how many coincidences it takes to firmly convince someone that they/their religion/their leader controls something.

    The thing about healing is that most people either get better on their own or see a doctor. If the doctor isn’t effective, it’s because the patient didn’t trust God. If the doctor is effective, but plenty of praying went on, too, people can choose what to credit. Often people credit something other than the medicine. Thus, there are few counter-examples.

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    My family was in his clutches for a good decade. We left the Bergels and several others whose names escape me in the early 90s to follow McNally to HIS church. I was pretty young, so I don’t remember EVERYONE, but I know that the church prior there was an elder who was involved in politics and in the last few years was tried/convicted of…fraud? Embezzlement? I can’t remember and google isn’t particularly helpful.

  • Mary

    I don’t know what it was either, but my guess is neither did the boy… I imagine if you’re from a church like that and something scary is happening to you that you don’t understand (like seizures), you might very well assume that you were indeed being possessed by demons.

  • Edie Moore McGee

    Frank and Ida Mae Hammonds. Deliverance ministry. 1970’s. My mother blamed demons for EVERYTHING for a few years.

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    Mark Siljander. My mother is more useful than google.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Did you ever run across Tom Hauser in those days? His church in Wilmington, NC does deliverance ministry too. His church is now called Global River Church, but was named something else when they were were involved with our church and my husband and I railroaded into their deliverance ministry. Wrote about that in my early days at NLQ, they told the husband and I that we were each cheating on each other and that my husband had a ‘demon of rage’ in him that would kill me if it was not cast out. Neither of us were cheating and everything else they said was a bunch of made up malarky that was so untrue. They must have gotten in trouble somewhere along the line because they renamed their deliverance ministry ‘Prayer Ministry’ now but by reading the description it’s the same old-same old Jesus Magic 8 Ball guessing game scam they were running when we visited – http://www.globalriverchurch.com/ministries/prayer-ministry/

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    Nope, but the rhetoric is the same. Use fear to control, get cash and other resources in any way possible, claim God’s authority and approval if anyone protests.

  • I was in a prayer group in college. Some of the members started heading down the cult path. Suzanne, so much of what you wrote is so darn familiar, same song, different verse. The don’t mention illness is so darn familiar. So was the whole seeing demons in everything. I saw some very nice kids completely screw up their lives. Fortunately, I have the attention span of a gnat. I grew bored with the whole process, when they became so demanding. I also realized I was more interested in the male members of the group than anything else. I’m still friends with a couple of the people who were part of the meetings. They started out so very good. It was fun. There were at least 60 kids. We had a blast.

    Then it changed.
    I left.

  • gimpi1

    A short attention-span can be a good thing. I get bored easily. I now carry a kindle with me, so that I have something of interest handy. However, in the past I have walked away from groups that started going strange – not because I spotted the strangeness (it can be very hard to see from the inside) – but because they didn’t hold my attention. It saved me from a couple of unpleasant situations.

  • Same here. I kept a book with me from the time I was in the 4th grade. Thank heaven for Kindle!