What is “Shunning”?

What is “shunning”? 

 shun – to keep away from; avoid scrupulously or consistently.
(Webster’s New World Dictionary)

– to keep clear of; avoid. (Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary)

Flora Jessop in CHURCH OF LIES  (see previous post..)  tells about her experience with “shunning”…

When she returned from running away with her friend, she expected to be shunned. (page 65) She defined shunning according to FLDS beliefs as “all love and affection is withheld”.. In her mind, she deserved it. But, her mother just put her arms around her and loved her. Her Dad on the other hand, reacted differently.

Later in the book, Flora describes being shunned for 2 years as she was confined to her room. She had no contact with her Mom or Dad. That was her reward for running away. She would work all day and then be confined to her room. On page 83, she describes the emotional toll the shunning was taking on her. Though my time of being shunned was not that severe, I could relate very much to the emotional toll that shunning and isolation had on her.

Why would Flora “expect” to be shunned? Could it be she had seen others be shunned and had actually shunned those “worthy” of being shunned? Yes, from personal experience, I would say that shunning was no secret to her. She had broken the rules of the sect. She knew how others had been treated when rules were broken. 

My experience in a strong controlling group mirrors Flora’s in many respects. During my time at Word of Faith Fellowship; I had seen others shunned and even participated in shunning. Once a person is put on “church discipline” or “put out of the church”; you didn’t speak to them unless you had permission from authority. This was shunning. I have seen folks go for weeks without contact or conversation with family or friends. This was supposed to “help them repent” and come “back under authority”. One fellow was quarantined for months. He spoke only to one person. He read only his Bible. He had meals brought to him. At times, his friends would take food to him when leadership would forget to feed him.  He stayed in a make shift bedroom at a large metal warehouse/office building. He was brought into the church and allowed to watch the services on a closed circuit television.

Starting in April until July of  2008, I was the subject of shunning. My family and other members of the household did not talk to me or eat with me. Hugs would become off limit and “no chatty conversation”. My wife would talk to me, but only to make her point that I needed to repent and “come back to God”. It was during this time, that I found out what lack of love and contact from those you loved could do to a person. What was even more stark and shocking was that the ones around me seemed to consider this behavior of shunning as normal and acceptable. Even if they had not believed it in their heart, they were pressured to go along with the shunning because that was the prescribed treatment for those like me. I was not following the admonitions of those in “leadership”. In order for them to keep in good standing, they had to shun me or risk being accused of “giving to the same devils” that were in me.

 In July of 2008, I left the controlling group- Word of Faith Fellowship. My family stayed. On June 6, 2008, I had been “put out of the church” and the shunning had gone to a new level. Since that time, contact with my family has been limited. In many regards, I am still being shunned.  

As Flora Jessop recounts in her book (pg 271), that she tried to contact her family once she had left the group. One account tells of a sister refusing to speak civil to her in a parking lot of a grocery store. Flora encouraged her to “..go back and read her books. I guarantee you, God doesn’t say, “Throw your family away like trash.”. (because they believe differently..)  The conversation was all to familiar. The practice of shunning is a common trait of many cult groups.

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Book Review: Church of LIES by Flora Jessop

The book CHURCH OF LIES written by Flora Jessop and Paul T. Brown is revealing and sad in many ways. Once I began reading, it was hard to put it down! Flora was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). She was born into the sect that would eventually be led by the now imprisioned- Warren Jeffs. She credits many folks for helping her and starts by saying the book’s purpose is not about blame.

What I knew about this cult before reading the book was limited as most folks would have to acknowledge. I had seen the headlines when the State of Texas took the 400 or so children from the Yearning for Zion compound. There were headlines- “FLDS Ruled by Fear”, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs awaits criminal trial in Arizona and Ex-FLDS member: courts making mistake by returning kids.. (see this site for a more comprehensive list… http://flds-news.newslib.com/  )  Shock and disbelief followed as many children were returned though there was compelling evidence for abuse.

The author leaves little if anything out of some very detailed accounts of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She witnessed some cases of abuse of other children and adults first hand. From other accounts and court testimony, she was not singled out. The abuse inside that group has been well documented.

Once she escaped the first time at 14, her struggles to adjust to the outside world were revealing. Her re-entry and the details of her subsequent second escape from FLDS were gripping and shocking. To the group that helped her and still helps others- Thank You!

This book is one of many written by survivors of FLDS, polygamy and controlling religious authority. By writing this book, the author does not claim to be perfect. She NEVER claims to stop loving her family and specifically her mother. She reached out to those of her family that were still in the sect – many times. Her struggles in family relationships were ones I could relate to very well.

In 2004, Brent Jeffs, a survivor of FLDS and later author of Lost Boy; filed charges of molestation against three of his Uncles. One was Warren Jeffs. This was the first time legal charges had been filed against Warren Jeffs. That case proved to be pivotal in bringing Warren Jeffs to justice.

As I read this book I was compelled to take notes. The content of those notes will be in subsequent postings. The work Flora Jessop and others do to help those wanting to break free from FLDS is praiseworthy and admirable in EVERY sense of the word.

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How Do You “Join a Cult”? Part 2

   Many cult experts warn of deception in recruiting practices. Prospective members are not told the true purpose of the group and are kept on a “need to know” basis.  One important thing to add is the dimension of  changing dynamics within a group that would cause an evolution into a controlling cult when at its inception a particular group was not that way. That is what I witnessed in the cult I was in for sixteen years. My wife and I joined the group in March of 1992. Many of the practices were voluntary but, as the years progressed so did the pressures to conform and “be a leader” and “fulfill your call”. We were members of Grace and Truth; later called Word of Life, Greenville, SC that became affiliated and closely tied with Word of Faith Fellowship, Spindale, NC.

    Jane and Sam Whaley were the self appointed – “apostles” leading Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF). Gerald and Linda Southerland and the church -Word of Life evolved into a sister church as the leaders from Greenville, became closer to the leaders at WOFF. As a church, we would be gifted with sermons repreaching what the leaders had heard at WOFF. At times, we would listen to tapes of WOFF services to “stay in tune with what God was doing there..”.

     The evolution culminated in January of 2002. Jane Whaley and a couple of her lieutenants visited the church in Greenville to announce that “God had said the Greenville church was to merge with WOFF”. It was evident that Gerald Southerland had a hard time with the “news from God.” However, as the weeks passed, he realized that his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter would move without him. He knew he had to give up his church and become a part of WOFF. Several of the members of Word of Life were asked by Jane Whaley if after hearing what “God said”, would they move to Spindale? As far as I am aware of, all said yes. Each one had a different situation with employment and housing. But, “God would work it out”..!

    Consider the dynamics. People we had been close with for ten years; just about everyone was moving to a town 60 miles away to be “a part of the move of God!”  We made the steps and moved with the rest. Thus we became closely involved in a very controlling religious group – Word of Faith Fellowship, Spindale, NC.

    Our path into this cult and its practices was gradual. After six years, I left WOFF in July of 2008. A co-worker asked me how I could get involved in something like that? “You seem intelligent”. I told her “One lie at a time”. You turn your head and ignore the thing that seems weird or not right. You “go with the flow” until you are over the edge and it takes a miracle to get back! You stuff your doubts until they just all come out. You make choices to keep the relationships you have regardless of the unorthodox practices. Besides, as Deborah Layton said- “You really like the people”. That is how we got in the cult. Getting out was a whole big deal and a post for another day.

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How Do You “Join a Cult”? Part 1

    “Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political movement. Most of all you join a group of people you really like!” These are the words of Deborah Layton on the PBS Home Video- “Jonestown” (copyright 2007). Ms. Layton is a Jonestown survivor. She left about five months before the massacre. She was considered one of the leaders at the time of her departure. Her brother, Steve was convicted and served time for his role in the shootings at the airstrip on that fateful day- September 18, 1978.

     My experience reflects the words of Deborah Layton. I did not join a cult. My wife and I joined a church in Greenville, SC – Word of Life. My wife had known the pastors- Gerald and Linda Southerland since she was in high school. We had a distasteful church experience in Summerville, SC in 1991 and were looking for a church home. We visited Word of Life (at that time called “Grace and Truth”, and though the practices were different in many respects from what we were used to; we moved in March of 1992 to be a part. There was a “training center” in the weekday mornings and we wanted to learn more. Many in the church took us in and “loved us”.

    By May of 1992, we found out that this church was a sister church to Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC. At that time, attendance to the seminars held by Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) was strictly voluntary. However, soon one learned that in order to “grow”, you needed to get to Spindale! Over the months and years, the meetings in Spindale became more frequent. As a church we were expected to be there for Friday night fellowships, Sunday evening services and other special events. The drive was about an hour one way.

    The pastors, Jane and Sam Whaley had been involved with Word of Faith in Broken Arrow, OK in previous years. However, in 1979(?), when they returned to Rutherford County, NC the ties to Kenneth Hagin Ministries were very weak. Jane and Sam were preaching deliverance for Christians and loud prayer as a means to accomplish this. Regardless of the seemingly unorthodox practices, the “love and fellowship” one felt among the people was a huge drawing card to continue with the group.

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What Criteria Should We Use?

The words “Jonestown”,  “Heaven’s Gate” and “Branch Davidians” are known by many people. The tragic end of these cults strikes fear in some and bewilderment in others. But what about the names of other churches that have been proven to exhibit just as much control? They are not nearly as well known because their practices have not been investigated or published. What makes a religious group or church considered a cult? What tests should we apply to a group to determine if a group is dangerous or cultish?

According to Steve Hassan, a leading cult expert and counselor; the beliefs of the group do not determine cult status. How does the group control individuals? That is the key. In his book, “Releasing The Bonds, Empowering People to Think for Themselves” He outlines four areas of control that can be questioned for any group. He calls it the BITE model.

Behavior– how are individuals controlled through time commitments and having to ask before making decisions?

Information– What are the restraints on non-cult sources of info? Is there spying on other members?

Thoughts– Is there a Good vs. Evil mindset? Us vs. Them? Use of thought-stopping techniques?

Emotional Control– Use of fear to control decisions? Fear of thinking independently? Fear of losing one’s salvation? Ritual and/or public confession of sins?

Using these keys and the others taught by Hassan, one can know quickly if the group they are joining or are a part of practices mind control and is a cult. The control practices are the ones that limit the individual and prohibit critical thinking. If any of these practices are present turn around and walkout.

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