So… I grew up in a cult…

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Being authentic is extremely important to me… now. This wasn’t always true, well maybe it has always been true, but I pushed the real part of me back and put on a front, a mask, with a big cheesy smile plastered right in the middle. This is how I survived, although I certainly wasn’t living. I have talked about the “church” *cough* cult *cough* I grew up in ( http://healthymama.net/?p=38 ) and how badly it screwed me up. Thinking back, I don’t know when I knew there was something wrong, but I think I was born questioning and pushing boundaries. Not every “Kingdom Kid” (that’s what they called us, the kids who grew up in The International Church of Christ “ICOC”) is as scarred as I am, and some were burned far deeply than I was. I am just the vocal one. A lot of the Kingdom Kids have let it go, they are “over it”, some still believe in god, some found other churches, and others completely turned away from any form of religion… and a few have been completely deluded and brainwashed and have been baptized, became “disciples” (basically a hoity toity way of saying you are a Christian, because that’s how Jesus refers to his followers, the term “Christian” was only used a few times in The Bible.) devoted their lives to “evangelizing” (recruiting) the “world” (everyone who is not already a disciple). Many of whom have also cut off their families, and friends unless they are part of ICOC or ICC ( International Christian Churches, the relatively new faction, an offshoot of the original church, led by Kip McKean , who was asked to step down from leadership, so he started a whole new church, and recruited a lot of the disciples from ICOC in a time where the church was very weak thanks to a lot of very shady going-ons.). I even know families who are divided between the two churches… and “The World”. The saddest thing for me is to see these adult Kingdom Kids, my would be, once upon a time brothers and sisters, and to experience their judgments and feel that complete disconnect. I wonder if they went back, or stayed because they need to feel a part of something. ICOC really was a huge family in it’s prime. I grew up in those rooms, in the bowels of The Shrine Auditorium every other week, and then sitting in those red cushioned chairs during huge church conferences. I was there the night we rented out The Rose Bowl, and the monumental night we filled The Staples Center (this was when the church had to come together to address Henry Kriete’s letter to the ICOC http://www.tolc.org/kriete.htm ) I went on “vacation” to “Shake n’ Bake” (an annual retreat to Palm Springs were we had marathon church services and classes) I went to summer camp Kingdom Kids from all over California, for as long as I can remember. These people were my family, some are still my best friends. I got married about 3 months ago, and I had 9 bridesmaids, 6 of them were Kingdom Kids, and all 6 of them have as little to do with ICOC/ICC as possible… this is difficult as 3 of them have family that are leaders or are just active in one or the other church. As you can see, I have maintained relationships from ICOC, and to be honest, I am thankful for the church for giving me such amazing friendships, and teaching me how to be a friend, how to forgive, and instilling an integrity in me I may have otherwise never found.

My wedding, all my beautiful bridesmaids, and my hubby
My wedding, all my beautiful bridesmaids, and my hubby

Unfortunately, this integrity, and ability to make deep lasting friendships came at a huge cost. For years I didn’t know myself because I was not allowed to be myself. I was taught to be a model Christian, and was brainwashed into following not The Bible, but my leaders to a fault. The problem with following people is they all have their own ideas on what you should say, think, feel and do. And they didn’t give you the option to make your own decision, they flat out told us. And they were wrong. I know many of them came into the church with their hearts in the right place, but over time things got really fucked up. We were not really allowed to be ourselves, and were forced to live a “Fake it til you make it” mentality. I knew that I had to put on a smiling face, and hug everyone I saw and met, even if I felt uncomfortable, even if I didn’t want to be touched, especially by strangers, my job was to make everyone around me comfortable, at the expense of my own comfort. This was the beginning of me ignoring my intuition, and second guessing myself… the beginning of me not being true to myself, when I began willingly putting myself in situations that were not healthy because I was TOLD to. I did not have the option to say “no” when I was asked by my “discipler” (kind of like a sponsor in AA, or a mentor) or a leader to do something, I was rebuked if I didn’t follow their directions or advice. We were not given the chance to think for ourselves, and if we did, and we spoke our thoughts, we were rebuked, belittled and shamed. There were really dumb rules, like, if a fellow kingdom kid asked you out on a date, you had to say yes, even if you didn’t want to. They said dating was about building friendships, but we all knew better, and certainly knew what a date was, and whether we wanted to date someone or not, and that did not help me as a young adult when it was time to say no…

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I had a particularly rough time because my dad is not only sober, but he has worked in rehabs my entire life! So I had the strictness of church, AND the strictness of “The Program” (in Alcoholics Anonymous there is a book they call The Big Book, not to be confused with The Bible, but equally as important when you are an addict, and it has a 12 Step Program that you follow to help you to stay clean.) I think the fact that my dad had already been in the Program, when he found the church, a church that prided itself on many of the same things that AA does, you see, ICOC may not have  12 Steps, but we did have The First Principles, which were mandatory studies that you had to go through in order to get baptized into ICOC, some of them were really intense, like “Light and Darkness” where you confess all of your sins. Even if you are only 12 and you have yet to sin for real. You literally catalog your sins, as many as you remember, (focusing specifically on sexual “sins” because the church seemed to have an obsession with sex, although they preached purity, they had people share during communion, and more often then not they chose people with a history of promiscuity and they would tell the entire congregation, and cry, and feel totally “ashamed”.) don’t worry, they give you guidelines, so you don’t miss anything, and then you apologize to whomever requires an apology. In AA there is a step where you basically do the same, and make amends to anyone you have hurt. There are a lot of similarities between the two, but a few of the main similarities is having a sponsor (discipler), a fallible, human who is there to keep you accountable, and help you when you struggle with anything that can lead you to “sinning” or in AA’s case, using. Another is the importance of fellowship, in AA you are encouraged to go to as many meetings as you can make it to, and surround yourself with other people who are in Program, ICOC encouraged us to go to church, midweek, or Bible study several days a week, and discourages maintaining relationships with people who are not part of the church, unless you are converting them, of course. So, as you can see, this environment made perfect sense for my dad. But if you are not in Program then the church was probably a little extreme. I grew up kind of meshing the 2 groups into one, kind of like some kids have the confusion between Santa Clause and God, well that was me, I thought that drinking alcohol was a sin, and was confused when I saw my friend’s parents drink a glass of wine at dinner. No one ever really explained anything reasonably to me, all I was ever told were absolutes, I lived in a world that was black and white. It was either, be good, or go to Hell. We were not Catholic, but the guilt trips were laid on thick! To further my confusion, my dad and step mom were perfect examples of what a Christian should be, they held Bible Studies in our home, never swore, or used god’s name in vain, they were never late to church, or missed a service, they were consistent and very strict, they “Shared their faith” (invited strangers to church). All things that you might expect in a Christian home. My friend’s from school, had parents who were very lenient, and although they went to youth groups, my church told me those other churches were not “real” churches, so all my friends were going to Hell, even though they were not “bad”, but, you know, I saw their dad drink a beer, so….

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I still have a really hard time when I talk to people who claim Christianity, but don’t follow The Bible, you have to understand, I was brain washed, I grew up believing that you lived your religion, and you put it before anything else. So, forgive me if I roll my eyes when you tell me that you only go to church on Christmas eve and Easter… when I grew up, we went to church unless we were vomiting, and we went 3 days a week! I had to go door to door inviting people to church (humiliating), I was not allowed to wear spaghetti straps, and my family prayed before every meal. I talk to people who are “Christians” but they live with their boyfriend… and these same people hate homosexuals for no other reason than they think The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. I knew people who were basically forced to get a divorce because their spouse didn’t go to the church, and “You can’t be yolked to an unbeliever”. This church was a mess, a hypocritical mess! But I still don’t think you’re a Christian if you don’t follow the rules in The Bible. Yeah, I’m still confused my my strong feelings.

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Some of the kids may have had it harder, as they were not born into the ICOC, their lives were flipped upside down when their parents took the (baptismal) plunge. Some of these kids flat our refused to have anything to do with ICOC, and were dragged to events sometimes because parents were considered to be in sin if their whole families were not part of the church. This was a particular issue when us Kingdom Kids were in middle school and high school, we may have been the perfect kids before, and as such we helped our parents climb the spiritual ladder to leadership status, but once we began rebelling, it was our parents who had to take responsibility, and eventually, lost their status, and in some cases their jobs if they were part of the ministry. But don’t worry, the church was really good at “fixing” problems. When a minister’s daughter ran off with some guy she met on the internet, the church kept it really hush-hush and moved the entire family to another region to continue leading. Another time, an Elder’s son confessed to basically pretending to be a disciple (as we all did on some level or another) and from my understanding wanted out of the church, he was given a secret baptism so his family could maintain their status, and so his discipler, the leader of the Teen Ministry didn’t look bad. When I was 15, not long after I was baptized, I broke down and tried to “Fall Away” (leave the church), I was really close with our regions minister’s daughter, so her mom took me out for coffee and bribed me to stay, and when I agreed it was never spoken of again. What did that teach us?  That secrecy is OK as long as it was the church’s idea? That the church will cover for you if you’re valuable enough? That the church really only cares about their numbers, and how much were were tithing.

 

I don’t think I ever really believed in god, I think I was told what to believe, and told not to think, and for a while I just went with it. But when I was 11 I started questioning, and I never stopped. I was told over and over that the I was not good enough, that my personality was too flirty, but if I turned off, and shut down, I was told that I was being selfish and having a pity party, and needed to be “out of myself”. I left the church when I was 16, (my family was actually black listed) and was struggling badly with an eating disorder. I went to rehab, which is where I started to discover myself (fitting, as the company was called Center For Discovery). this was the first safe place I had ever been, I was allowed to tell the truth, say what I felt and thought and I wasn’t told I was wrong, in fact, the opposite, I was totally nurtured for the first time in my life, my lack of faith in god was not ignored, it was validated.

The years following rehab were growing and learning years, they were some of the hardest years, but during that time, little by little, I started to shake off the fake me, even if people didn’t like it. I started standing up for what I believed, even if it completely contradicted what you believe. I finally found my voice, the voice that said, “Don’t touch me.” When he put his hands on me, the voice that stood behind my sister when she came out, and has not stopped fighting for equality. The voice that told the truth when I was miserable and pregnant and hated life, and has continued telling women that pregnancy and motherhood is not all rainbows and unicorns. This voice speaks up when something is not right, and sometimes blows up when I am angry… If I had not found my voice, I would still be stuck in a miserable, lonely relationship, far away from everyone I love, not living, surviving.

I am thankful for my upbringing in The ICOC because I feel that it opened my eyes to how fallible people really are, that right and wrong is not black and white, that there is a gray area, and it’s something inside you that tells you if it’s OK. We have a conscience for a reason and I don’t need a book or a person to tell me how to live. I am so comfortable with doing what feels right to me, and saying no when I need to, validating myself when no one else will, because that’s a life lesson we all need to learn… if we are unhappy we are giving someone else control, someone else is calling the shots, maybe it’s not your church, maybe it’s your mom? Whomever it is, it’s not their life, and I am giving you my blessing to stand up for yourself, and follow your heart and TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE.

*I am not encouraging you to tell everyone in your life to fuck off, I am encouraging you to find yourself and follow your heart, not someone else’s plan for your life.*

****If you are reading this because you have had a similar experience, have history with the ICOC/ICC, or you need help leaving, I am going to post some resources here for you. Free to email me at isahealthymama@yahoo.com or find my “recovery page” on facebook www.facebook.com/icocrecovery Here are a few blogs and websites from people who have left the ICOC/ICC and have shared their experiences and knowledge:

http://www.reveal.org/ <— This page has the truth about the ICOC.
http://www.spiritualpornography.com/ <— Don’t worry, it’s totally appropriate, she named it Spiritual Pornography because that’s what Kip McKean called it when you read anything negative about the church. They post information it might be harder to find, such as Kip’s (supposed) resignation, and letters written to the church.

http://henrykriete.com/ <— Here you can read what REALLY happened with Henry Kriete and his family.
http://ministeriolatino.blogspot.com/ <—- Here you can read a blog from a former member of Kip’s current church (City of Angels International Church of Christ). He has written actually experiences between himself and Kip, AND other “leaders”. A very interesting read. He came across my blog and actually recognized someone I had written about (I kept it confidential).
http://www.tolc.org/ <—- Here you can read Henry Kriete’s letter and other letters written to the church. You can also click “debate” and you will be transferred to http://forums.delphiforums.com/n/main.asp?webtag=ICCdiscussion&nav=start&prettyurl=%2FICCdiscussion%2Fstart where you can interact with current and former members.

 

Stop! Hating is bad.

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OK let’s be honest, how hard is it to press one for English? Personally, it’s not an inconvenience. As much as automated systems make me want to throw my phone out a window, I have never been frustrated that I have to press a number for the language I speak. I have to press a number for “technical support” and “billing” as well. It’s logical for companies to give a language option. Especially in The United States. This country, as it is today was founded on immigrants. Unless you are American Indian, your ancestors immigrated to the US, at some point. Parts of the US used to be Mexico, even, so explain to me, what’s the problem with people speaking Spanish? I have heard people rant about immigration over and over, and while I see there is a problem, I certainly do not blame immigrants for wanting to come here.  People from all over the world have immigrated here since the Americas were discovered. We even have a plaque at The Statue of Liberty that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. If that is not inviting immigration, than I don’t know what is!

Next time you bite into a delicious strawberry, why don’t you think of the immigrant that picked it for you. Next time you order a bucket of fried chicken remember the immigrant that has the job Americans don’t want, the immigrant who has the dirty job you don’t want to do. It’s easy for you to eat the dollar cheese burger when you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Did you know that you’re supporting illegal immigrants? Big chicken and beef companies purposely hire illegal immigrants because they can pay them next to nothing, work them to the bone, then call immigration when they are done with them. Produce companies even hire children, and work them until late at night. Orchards are dangerous places for anyone, let alone a child because of the pesticides that are used on the fruits, pesticides that are not supposed to be breathed, but for some reason are “safe” to eat.

“Why is there Black History Month, but not White History Month?” This one baffles me to no end. For starters, RACISM. We need to remember the horrors that happened before us, to put these things into perspective, to give us empathy. Black History Month is not “feel sorry for black people month”. It’s education. We have all been told the importance of learning history, so it does not repeat itself. Slavery was a dark time in American history, a shameful time. A time when we were not all considered equal. Not to mention, initially African Americans were kidnapped, taken from their families and brought to America as slaves, so it wasn’t even their choice to come here. Slavery isn’t the only severe injustice, for decades even our government treated minorities as if they were “less than” white people. Humans are human, and we all deserve respect. It is embarrassing when I look through my Facebook news feed and see hatred, bigotry and ignorance. I think ignorance is the best word to describe the people who feel so entitled to be Americans, but choose to forget that a huge part of American history is the African Americans who served in our military, raised our ancestor’s children and put food on our great grandparents tables. Slaves used to do the tough, dirty jobs that we now use Mexican immigrants for.

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Thanksgiving is this month, who remembers the Native Americans? If ANYONE should feel entitled, I would say the American Indians have first dibs. Yet their populations have dwindled, they are on reservations, they have been through genocide over and over. During World War II American doctors  sterilized Indians/Gypsies  because they didn’t fit into a “normal” mold., therefore they were not allowed to procreate. When brain washing, and hospitalizing didn’t work, they used electro-shock therapy, and lobotomies. But this was their land, and yet, they are a minority.

 

We are privileged to live in a time where humans are becoming more aware, and more accepting of differences. In 2008 we elected a black president. Regardless of your political (or religious) affiliation, this was a huge step toward equality. Just a few months ago the Supreme court overturned Prop 8 and legalized same sex marriage in California. As of right now, 14 states have legalized same sex marriage! There should be no shame in loving someone, and personally I think it’s ridiculous that same sex marriage had to be legalized in the first place. Marriage should be a human right. I know a lot of people feel that marriage is Christian, I hate to break it to you, marriage has been happening LONG before Christianity, and was not always religious. Marriage is a spiritual bond. If marriage is simply a “religious right” then 1. You shouldn’t recognize any marriage that was not ordained in your religion, and 2. atheists shouldn’t be allowed to marry, Oh! and 3. The government shouldn’t have anything to do with marriage, as there is a separation of church and state. I know a lot of heterosexual couples that have abused marriage, and if heterosexual couples can marry and divorce and cheat, then marriage must not be all that sacred. So the best bet is for each of us to focus on our own lives, our own marriages, and create our own sanctity. I for one do not model my marriage after Biblical marriages. From my memory, marriage in The Bible was not always pleasant, it was arranged, it was for the purpose of making babies, men were allowed many wives, a man who raped a woman would have to marry her (how horrific!) women were expected to put out, regardless of them being “in the mood” or not. None of this strikes me as a happy marriage. Not to say marriage is always happy, it takes work, but in the very least marrying the person you love gives you a shot at a happier life because it’s easier to put effort in, forgive and apologize for someone you love.

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My point isn’t that you have to learn Spanish, or change your opinions (although racism is disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself for hating someone for no other reason than the color of their skin, or the language they speak.) or even “agree” with homosexuality. My point is that we are all humans, and as humans we can simply respect each other. Not everyone has the “luxury” of being born in America, and for those of you with families, you know that you would do just about anything for your family, no mater what. I am also not saying that breaking the law, is OK, it’s not, but I am saying that until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, we have no place to judge. Try a little empathy.

***DISCLAIMER*** This is all my opinion, based on my personal feelings from personal experiences and research. I am very well aware that we are all entitled to our own opinions, as this is MY blog, it’s my space to say my piece. I could have said a lot more on each of these subjects but I chose to highlight a few points.