When I posted my last two blogs about my experience in the ICOC (http://healthymama.net/?p=356 and http://healthymama.net/?p=38), I did not expect the backlash… although it amused me… Nor did I expect to have so many emails from former Kingdom Kids and ex ICOC members saying “THANK YOU!” To be honest I didn’t expect this particular blog to be read 133 times in one day, or 100 + times every following day for a week or so. That has never happened before, and I wrote them for my own benefit, I felt like I needed to. As I read through the stories and emails my mom called me “Queen of the Damned” I am a huge Anne Rice fan, so I was flattered, but upon considering what she meant, the title rang true. We are the damned, at least according to “The Church” and as far as I am concerned, they damned us. Some people who are members of at least one of the churches have forbidden their members from reading these blogs, they called them lies. I’m afraid I have news for you: First, I don’t have any reason to lie, secondly, if you continue reading you will see that this has not only been MY pain, so many others where hurt like me, WORSE than me. Saying I am lying is only giving me more incentive to keep writing. If you REALLY thought I was lying, you wouldn’t be afraid of your congregation reading this. You would not be worried that what I say may ring true… Maybe instead you would see my pain and you would take a good hard look at your church and make damn sure that you do not do it again. Look at me and see YOUR children. See every Kingdom Kid that turned their back on these churches, NOT because we were “godless sinners”, but because we were broken, over and over again. Remember when you split apart my family because I had a voice, because I didn’t conform. I am not the only one. Dozens of people have shared their stories with me, and a few have asked me to share their stories here. To be their voice.
Something so empowering happened as I read the messages, former Kingdom Kids telling me how they thought they were the only ones who felt the way I do, that they couldn’t talk to anyone because no one else understands. Here are just a few responses I have had so far:
***I am keeping these relatively anonymous, even the current and former ICOC/ICC leaders and regions will be kept private in this post, some of the things you will read are still happening***
“So I just read your blog and it kinda really touched home for me. … and honestly I want to thank you for you voice because I was in the early stages of being completely sober and I was starting to find myself when I was found by this new church ICC (Kip’s) and I was actually happy before I started going and now I just feel like everything I do is wrong. I can’t say no again, they make me feel guilty when I do. My clothes are “bad” all this bullshit. I cant speak up and its honestly the same shit like when was in the teens all over again….. I’ve been trying to fall away and its so crazy because apart of me still believes its black and white, heaven or hel …. and I don’t even know if I believe or if I just feel the guilt… I feel obligated to be there because they tell me that’s what God says. They want me to get a divorce, they told me to fast and pray about it. I thought the Bible says divorce is wrong? Our leader gave me a curfew. If I miss “one meeting of the body” they say I am in sin, and I’m in sin if I can’t tithe and they want to know everything I do with my money. When I noticed some shady shit I talked about it and they told me I was in sin! But they look the other way! They prey on college students, they want them to quit school or their jobs if it interferes with 3-4 church meetings a week, but we still have to tithe. And they don’t want me to spend time with my friends who are not in the church! If I had not read your blog, I don’t know what I would do, but now I see that it is wrong, and I felt it in my stomach that this place is bad.”
“Growing up a Kingdom kid was hell for Me Just like most of us. .. In my experience not only did I not have a voice I was going through my own battle … not knowing it I was suffering from bipolar disorder … Always being told everything I was doing was wrong, that my feelings condemned me to hell and feeling ashamed for the way I felt. It drove me crazy, I mean really crazy …. I am choosing not to go in to detail about my childhood due to the fact I dont want to re-live it at this time. Being a kingdom kid drove me to a life of doubt confusion, I couldn’t trust anyone. Now as an adult, found myself lost and still holding on to my teachings from when I belonged to the ICOC still living with the fear of going to hell because of the life I live so when I ran in to an old friend I wanted to believe that this new found church (Kips church ICC) was different… It’s not different, Teen, it’s worse. They are obsessed with tithe and have a double standard. When I confronted my leaders on sin that I saw, I was told that it’s not my place to say anything. I eventually went directly to Kip Mc Kean, and do you know what he said? That my leader is Mexican, and has a different style of teaching, and etiquette, and because he is my leader I need to respect and submit to him. He knows there are problems in the (*blank*), Region but he’s choosing not to do shit about it! I felt like I was back in a nightmare. No one will listen to me, it’s like I’m the only one that sees people sleeping around, dressing inappropriately, and being two-faced hypocrites. The same people that I have seen living double lives are the same people who told me that I was in sin for liking the link you posted of your blog, which speaks the truth, that I better take it down because I am going to hell and I am making these poor kids who are dropping out of college because they are being brainwashed, struggle. They are struggling because they know it’s true, too!”
Reading these words my heart sank. It confirmed rumors I had heard about the new church, and poured salt on my already very open wounds. Everything she said rang so true to me, because it’s nothing I had not heard before. If I wasn’t the victim, then someone else I knew had been through it. As a teen when I would bring up inconsistencies between The Bible and the church’s rules, or at least the Teen Ministry’s rules, I was told that I was in sin, that I was causing dissention. I was told not to ask questions. Looking back I see that these “leaders” did not have the answers, so they preferred that we didn’t think.
“I just read your blog…I FUCKIN LOVE IT!!! No truer words have ever been spoken. I have to put it all down too! As the acid from those years still eats away at my soul. Thank you Justine…everyone should know the truth and you are, if not the best one of the best people to speak on it. Speak on it…forever! They fucked me up good too! Anyways, thanks for opening up those old wounds, I guess I need to mend em up a little better this time, lol.”
A common theme, I “opened old wounds”. I know. As I wrote I cried. Just because it’s easy to say, doesn’t mean it doesn’t pour salt on my own wounds. I have established in previous blogs that I process out loud… does this count? I think it has taken this long for me to realize that SOMEONE has to talk about it, and who better than me? Let’s heal together.
“Thanks for sharing, Justine! I’ve suppressed so much of it- if not all of it. Reading your posts brings back so many (bad) memories! It was so suffocating, forced and controlling. I’ve made it my goal to never feel that way again, or subject my children to anything that would make them feel that way.”
Over the years as I have run into ex members of ICOC and grown up Kingdom Kids, and many have since become parents, most of them have expressed concern over raising their own children the way Kingdom Kids were raised. A lot of the teen leaders at the time didn’t have kids, so they didn’t think twice about what they were telling us, but when they began having children of their own, they realized that it wasn’t OK. As a parent myself, and a former Kingdom Kid, I have to say it does help me, even the slightest bit to hear these apologies, to be validated.
Dating in the church was a very strange situation, I’ll let my friend tell her experience:
“There is so much I can say about my experiences with that “church”, but I’m going to talk about my horrible “love” story. Let’s see I must of been 13, not baptized yet when I met this boy at a pre-teen/teen event, I fell for him instantly. It would be a few years before we both went through the intense process of the study of “kip’s notebook” and then getting baptized, but after we were both disciples, we were allowed, and encouraged to go on “dates”. I didn’t just go on dates with him of course, I had to say yes to any “brother” that wanted to go on a date with me whether I wanted to or not. Finally, he works on becoming my boyfriend, which means he proved that he was godly enough to date, and lead spiritually. He asked me out on New Years Eve in a room full of friends and teen leaders. Once we are officially boyfriend and girlfriend it was like a dream come true, a dream that would turn into a nightmare. I cannot express how happy I was. I was so in-love with this kid, I can’t even think of the right words to explain how in love I was, everyone that was around knows how I felt about him. The two of us became lab rats that were put on pedestals in a bazaar cult universe. Not much changed in our relationship once we were official, except I no longer had to go on dates with other brothers, (woo hoo!), and we held hands. We never even kissed! I didn’t care at the time, I was just happy and in love. But when I say we were lab rats, this is what I mean: We were each told, separately of course, to wait to kiss until the other kissed first, completely eliminating kissing all together. In fact once at a wedding he kissed my cheek (my effin cheek!) while saying goodbye, then was rebuked by a leader waiting outside. Example of being on a pedestal: once we were dating, we became like teen royalty. We lead prayers together. I had to start speaking at teen events more, which I hated, and I’m not a public speaker! It was like they were turning us into the example they wanted everyone else to follow, but we just had to do what we were told. If we deviated at all, we were rebuked. Even so, I was happy, I was the only one in our region with a boyfriend, and I really thought this was forever… then the “church” rips out my hearts and puts it in a blender and makes me flick the on switch! Long story short they made me break up with a kid I had been in love with for years just to hide the real story… We still are unaware of the true story, I know he had gotten himself in some sort of trouble with the police…. I didn’t find out till a few years later that he hadn’t cheating on me, however, they told me that he had been cheating and then acted like I had a choice on whether to break up with him, or not. Obviously, I had to… they didn’t actually give us real choices. We either obey, or we get rebuked.
I made the decision to “fall away” shortly after, not because of my broken heart, but because I got a job and was so excited to give a tithe and when I gave my hard earned money I was asked for my pay-stub… Because of course god wants to make sure I calculated my 10% right, before taxes! Leaving was so eye opening and heart breaking at the same time. My dad acted like he respected my decision then later came into my room, threw a bible at me and told me “I’m a dog who eats his own vomit!” Even my discipler (whom I loved) turned her back on me, I remember her asking me if I had been having sex. Like, I must be having sex if I don’t want to be a part of this madness anymore. Here I am alone, my family is shunning me, I just ended it with a boy who I loved so much, I hadn’t seen any of my friends in a couple months (I was not allowed to have friendships outside the church, so once I left I had no friends) and the person I look up to, now thinks I’m all of a sudden sexually active (with the boy I was just told was cheating on me and had to break up with) just because I fell away. To say the least that was a lot for my sixteen year old self to deal with.”
I remember this happening, I was friends with them, close friends with both of them, and I remember how confusing and eventually painful it was for both of them. After she was forced to break up with him, she was forbidden to speak with him. She wasn’t able to ask him what happened, she was left to wonder, and be hurt, for years. Luckily they did reconnect years later, they were finally able to dissect what they had been through, and recover.
“This is freakin amazing! There were so many things I didn’t know how to put into words because I was so young! And the fact that when I tried to speak no one would listen because there was so much secrecy I don’t think anyone knew how to REALLY deal with issues. I know from the “brainwashing” it took me years to be able to communicate with my mom and family about the sexual abuse I encountered there as well as many other things. The worst part about it is that when I was at pierce college I ran into a “church club” that I thought would be fun to join and it was icoc run! Like wth? I ran out as soon as I could. It was like the freakin twilight zone.”
This particular message requires an explanation, while I knew some of the things that went on in the ICOC were bad, some of us were molested:
“My mom started attending the LACC after a guy saw her attempting to read The Bible and invited her to a bible study. She seemed super excited to go since she was looking for God. I was about 3 years old. That’s when I pretty much started going to the LACC, enrolled in all the children’s activities, camps and classes my mom could get me and my siblings in. Now, when I was a little girl I had extreme nightmares and would see creatures. I suffered extreme paranoia and anxiety. Whenever I would tell my class leaders at LACC they looked at me like I was crazy! They tried to hush me from “influencing the other kids” as well as talking to my mom about the things I would say as it if were a behavioral problem. From that point on I learned to keep things to myself. It always seemed as if you weren’t supposed to talk about your problems. When you tried to get help you were shunned or rebuked. This became a problem when I was 12 years old. I went through puberty quickly and my mom thought it was a good idea to move me up to the “teen ministry”. A family came over for bible study one night with a 14 year old boy who was interested in me. From this point on I was pushed to go out and spend time with him and whenever he called I was told to answer, be nice, and tell him that I loved him! It was ridiculous. After about 6 months of us being together he verbally and emotionally abused me, cheated on me with multiple others girls and I was still told I was treating him disrespectfully. We dated on and off for 2 years. I tried to speak about it, but no one wanted to hear. After that ended multiple guys in the teen ministry tried to “talk to me” while making it seem (to the leaders) as if they were trying to be brothers to me and watch out for me. Two of these guys were 18 years old and I was still in Jr High. One of them sexually abused me for months and then disappeared out of nowhere. I was so used to being quiet I never even told any of the leaders. They didn’t seem to want to know; I was just another number in the congregation. The numbers only mattered to them when you were quiet and didn’t make waves. I never did, but they pretty much excommunicated my sister and my dad. They had questions, they lived life how they wanted to. I remember the teen ministry having teen bible studies at my families house and whispering to my mom that I was allowed to participate but my sister could not and that my dad couldn’t come downstairs. That was nonsensical! How can you ask to use our home for a bible study and request half my family to not be present? LACC divided my family, they forced me into relationships of abuse that make it difficult for me now to communicate properly in a loving relationship. I’ve read the bible more than once and large part of their actions and teachings are not supported in there at all. I did not feel love there, community, peace, or comfort. They made up rules as they saw fit and destroyed my life along the way. If it wasn’t for the loving people I have in my life now that actually try to be Christ like I would have killed myself, because the majority of my life up to 2 years after I left that church I was severely suicidal with no self esteem.”
It hurts me because this young lady is like a sister to me, and I am so sad to know these things were happening, and that she didn’t feel like she could be honest, because from the time she was little, she was shushed when she spoke her truths. I do find it interesting that Christian churches tend to blow off the idea of seeing spirits or demons, even though these things supposedly happened often in The Bible. It is so important to bring children up in a loving and safe environment, and when you are a part of these churches, they do become your family, they say “It takes a village to raise a child”, well this village fucked up quite a few children. I know as a fact that this girl’s mother knew her children saw “things” ghosts of some sort, I know because she herself suffered from the same thing when she was younger, one of the reasons she is so spiritual now, to protect herself and her family from this curse. I also know that her older sister saw them too. How wrong that she wasn’t validated from such a young age, what does that teach children? That adults are not to be trusted. That no one cares. Who cares if these Kid’s Kingdom teachers didn’t believe in spirits? Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Speaking of which, let’s address the molestation, you didn’t see it? Well no kidding, these things happen behind closed doors, in whispers. Who’s job was it to protect her? Well, her parents thought that YOU were, her parents TRUSTED YOU.
She was not the only child who was molested while our families devoted their lives to the ICOC:
“All I had ever known was ICOC. Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Bible studies at my house, bibles on the bedside tables; this was my life and I trusted it fully. I had no reason not too. I loved being a kingdom kid… until I started to think for myself. Keep in mind I left the church when drugs became more important. (Age 12) Before that I was protected from a lot of what was going on behind the scenes. There are two examples that come to the forefront of my mind when I think about past pain. I was a kingdom kid that had the will to be the best for God. I prayed all the time. I was taught not to make a wish on shooting stars but say a prayer instead. I was pure at this point and the only prayer I had was for my mom to repent and come back to the church. I did not what her to die and go to Hell. I would lay awake at night wondering if I was going to hell. I knew my mom would if we all died today but would I also? I started lying at a very young age. I had too. My babysitter’s daughter on a daily basis was molesting me. I was 5. She was 7 or 8. She was a kingdom kid too. At age 7 I was again molested by a babysitter while in the care of ICOC members. I couldn’t tell a soul. I was 7. I had no idea what was being done to me. Trust that I know now and no longer shame myself for it (no thanks to the church.)
By age 11 I wanted to study the bible. All of my friends were going into the teen ministry and I was in the pre-teens. I did not care how old I was, I knew the difference between right and wrong and I wanted to do the right thing. That was enough for me. Apparently it was not enough for ICOC. I was 12 when the church assigned me a discipleship partner. I couldn’t wait to get started on the studies! I wanted to be baptized so bad! The night of my first study I couldn’t wait. I paced the floor waiting for my disciple to pick me up. We were going to go to Starbucks. I had my bible and my notebook ready to go. We sat down and I began to open my journal to write down my first set of directions when she stopped me. She spent the next hour telling me that I was not in any condition to be a disciple. She suggested that I work very hard on loosing weight because God does not save the gluttonous. I was to fat to be a disciple in ICOC. With every word she spoke a crack formed around my spirituality. I was the first time that I stopped believing. I stayed in the church for another year but never attempted to become a part of it. In 2000 the church put on a Christmas performance put on by the kingdom kids. I had no interest in performing but we were all encouraged to try out for vocals. I sat in the back with my feet up doodling in a notebook when my name was called. Up to this point, you only sang in front of the church if you were a leaders kid or a professional. My name was called so I put down my notebook and made my way to the front of the auditorium. I took a deep breath and began with the first stanza of Silent Night. The room went silent. As I finished I looked up and saw a room full of wide eyes and jaws on the floor. It felt good to be recognized for doing something well not doing something wrong. The coordinators huddled in a circle and began assigning kids to each roll. As they read off the lead vocals I hardly paid attention until my name was called to be the lead vocalist for the angels. I would sing an entire song solo in front of our congregation as well as the Santa Barbara ministry. I was ecstatic! This sounds like a success story right? Well, there is no happy ending to this tale. Minutes later I was pulled aside and told that I would not be allowed to perform in front of the congregation because (get this) I was not baptized. Seriously? Seriously. They gave the roll to another girl that was about my age. She was baptized… and… wait for it, at least 100 lbs heavier that I was. Oh the irony. Needless to say I was done. I haven’t held onto this pain… I just covered it up with alcohol and drugs for years. I am now 25 years old and 4 years sober. I haven’t been a part of ICOC for 13 years. My life is pretty fucking great. Turns out I can be a good person and not go to hell even if I am not a skinny bitch disciple. Cheers!”
This is yet another example of molestation, bullying, and disrespect. Where Jesus teaches to be like the children, ICOC treated children as second class citizens, and pawns in a numbers game. Worse, still, being baptized was the carrot they dangled over our heads so that we could do things we otherwise were not allowed, be it dating, a “disciples only slumber party”, a part in the holiday play, or even the ability to move up to the “Teen” group with your friends. An example of children having no choice but to trust the church because it was all we knew, and as you can see some of us were put in very unsafe situations. I myself have blocked out some of the horrors, and have been reminded throughout the years, I have heard stories of abuse my sister and I suffered, but I don’t remember. I supposed it’s the only way for me to maintain my sanity. As you can see, some were bullied more than others, but I think we were all victims of power-hungry self-righteous zealous sinners.
When I was in the teen ministry I went on a date with a boy, and he touched me inappropriately, I told my discipler, and she talked to the leaders (great job on her part) although, I was taken in the back after church with the boy, and he denied it, so they called me a liar. Actually, worse, they said that it must have been an accident, and he obviously would never do that. So either I was a liar or I was crazy, but whatever the case HE did nothing wrong. I felt pressured to agree, because I knew where they stood already. I also knew better than to talk about those things ever again. As I grew up, I knew better than to tell someone when I was uncomfortable, I was taught from these things (and many other similar situations) that I shouldn’t rock the boat, and that MY feelings are invalid. I mean, I felt like I couldn’t say “no” because I had already been taught that my personality, and my body ask for this kind of attention. So if I were to say no to a drunk guy at a party, and he gets offended because something I had done had led him on, I am the one at fault. What is this? Some kind of Republican idea of deserved rape? I end up looking like a slut because either, I’m a slut if I sleep with this guy, or I’ve led him on and risk getting raped, which I clearly deserved for having a “flirtatious” (I call it friendly) personality.
One of my friends, a former Kingdom Kid, told me that one of the (current!) leader’s son’s has been sleeping his way through the Teen Ministry, in case you’re wondering, he is an adult (divorced), and these girls are under age. And, yes the leaders know… and they actively fix the problem by removing the girls. Because, obviously the leader’s son is not the problem…. What is going on here? Why are these things happening in a supposedly safe place? Are you rethinking sending your kids to the Friday Night Event? Or Summer Camp? Knowing these things I would not feel comfortable allowing my daughters to be in a situation like this. I don’t know how to fix problems like sexual abuse, but I do know, if these girls felt like they could say something, they would have. As it happens, they don’t feel like they can.
One of the my friend’s and current members of the ICOC has reminded me that it’s not “The Church” that is at fault, it’s people who made mistakes. Yes, I agree, but I also feel that the church should take responsibility for putting inappropriate people in leadership. A few years ago I ran into a former teen leader who supposedly had a crush on me while I was a teen (this is bothersome, considering he was in his thirties, and I was in the teens until I was 16.) At the time, I was 18 or 19, and he came on to me… We hooked up, I think in my brain it was an “eff you” to ICOC, but about a year later, I come to find out he has been restored into Kip’s church , and in the same text message thread, he asked for a picture of my boobs. He obviously repented. It was understandable for a former member to treat me like a piece of ass, but a current “disciple”??? I can’t even get over it. He has friend requested me on Facebook, multiple times, and I just can’t say yes, he is a hypocrite, and what’s worse is he is a current leader. Again, I know this isn’t the churches “fault” but still, if you claim a title in this church, you represent it. So is it fair for either church to be upset with me fo telling my story, or anyone else’s? Nope, think of this as insight, take a look at your members, pay attention to your children. On that note, I would like to share a poem my little sister wrote when she was a teen, who, by the way was told she was “too fat” to study the bible, in my opinion she dodged a bullet.
When I say, “No”
My heart can’t go
To watch you see
What isn’t even me
To know I’m lost
And think you’re not
To play this game
But know the end
While I descend
I cheat and lie
But don’t know why
To love myself
So take your pick
I’m lost and know it
But can’t control it
I’m right and show it
So don’t blow it
Whenever I turn around
Whenever I see a frown
To know that I’m not “it”
To know the truth I live
We don’t deserve the life we get
So enjoy it ’cause it’ll be gone before ya know it
It’s not worth it to me
To try and be somthin’ I’m not
I want to see. but God has a plot
To seek and save the lost
Well, guess what… I’m not!
I know the truth will set me free
So leave me alone and let me be
I’ll come around if it’s his plan
It might take a while
So just hold my hand
I live by feeling
Emotion is ruling
The tears are flowing
To see what I’m missing
To hate how I’m feeling
So I will try
To love the One that always loves me
I lose now,but not at my peak
You will see that I will win
Happiness is my goal
So don’t be a fool
Help me please…”
As children we were expected to be perfect, we were trained, guilted and pruned to become what the church thought we should be. Instead of being nurtured and encouraged. If my sister at age 11 felt like she just couldn’t win, imagine how every other kid felt. It’s no wonder that we all rebelled. And it’s amazing to see that we have each come into our own, and became amazing resilient adults, who stand up for our children the way the church never did.
****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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.