Tag Archives: Leaving a Cult

Reflections from “CHURCH OF LIES” – Flora Jessop

Flora Jessop had a struggle when she left FLDS, that hopefully no one will have to repeat. She tried many vices and suffered much hurt. After eight years, she came to the realization that it was time to stop running.

A quote from her book.. “After eight brutally hard years in the real world, I’d begun to have a glimmer of hope– maybe I really was worth something. I might be destined to burn for eternity, but I sure as hell was here now.  (new paragraph) I’d never give up what those first years on my own taught me. ..I learned that thinking for myself wasn’t such a bad thing after all.” (page 154)

Yes! There was an idea I could identify with. It was “thinking for myself” that had led to my exit from Word of Faith Fellowship. The two thoughts I had in May of 2008- “The people of the church were more afraid of Jane Whaley than God and that is what made us open to being called a cult”. Next, I had been looking up information on “shepherding movement” on the Internet. Though I had heard some about that movement a few years previous, I did not know the particulars. I began to see that much of what went on in that movement was going on at Word of Faith Fellowship. Intentional or not, it was the same in many regards.

Weeks later in June of 2008;  I shared my thoughts and doings with one of the church leadership. I knew sparks would fly and the consequences may be severe. So, two hours later I got a call from this person saying “I called Jane and told her about our conversation. She says you are out of the church. You need to get your heart right.” So, there I was kicked out. Turned out to be shakey at first. But, that was the common result for “thinking for myself” and not doing as the church preached- “submit your thoughts to God’s authority”.  That was code for only voicing good thoughts about Jane Whaley, her decisions, others in the church. If you had a “stray thought”, you were to come tell someone in leadership so it could be “dealt with”. You were to come “get Truth on the matter”. Critical thinking was not allowed or encouraged. Many times it was insinuated and in some cases voiced- “your own thoughts will take you to hell.. Don’t you know that the natural mind is an enmity against God!” That of course was meant to put fear in everyone for not having their thoughts “checked out”.

Flora Jessop shares in her book the struggles of other children coming out of FLDS and learning to think for themselves. She recounts the struggles of one girl just to decide how to pick up her clothes off the floor in her room. These girls had been told EVERYTHING to do and HOW to do it for years. Simple decisioning was a major struggle. (pages 181 and 213) This is the result of being under mind control and not having any confidence in your decisions without Church leader control.

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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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