A Good and Godly Man? My Attempt to Find Counsel After the Word of Faith Cult by Cindy Kunsman
While at a recent apologetics conference, I was asked by Dr. Paul Martin of the Wellspring Center to write a bit about the experience that I had when I tried to find good counsel after I left the cultic church I attended in the Baltimore/Annapolis area. It was very discouraging, at first, until I found a compassionate, expert counselor without whom I would not have made it through the process. Dr. Martin said that she was one of the best, and I became ever more grateful to God for her and for His care of me.
When I phoned my exit counselor recently, she said that using the term “godly” to describe cult leaders and spiritual abusers is so frequently used because it is very effective. She said that she heard it often, in many cultic groups that were Bible-based and many that were not. I emerged from a group that believed in Biblical Authority, had a sound and conservative statement of faith, and a sound and solid presbytery, otherwise we never would have joined. It’s the informal and unwritten statement of faith that proved to be problematic for the group we attended that had every outward appearance of being a sound, conservative group with a solid foundation in the Word of God.
Background and History
I will attempt to give the most condensed church history of my life. I was healed as a newborn from certain death, and sent home (perfectly normal) two weeks later with my moral but non-evangelical parents. This started my mother considering my unexpected recovery, what the late director of pediatrics in our town called a miracle. Eventually, she became born again in a Pentecostal church when I was five years old (circa 1970) where she would spend only about a year. She learned some different twists on Scripture there including “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm” interpreted as “never criticize a pastor” or question what they tell you.
At a disallowed, private prayer meeting (an unapproved meeting without a church authority present as a “covering” at someone’s home), the young, male assistant pastor showed up and confessed to this small group of believers from the church that he was engaged in a homosexual affair with the pastor. All the families represented there that night left that church(including my mother, the new believer) , feeling like they’d left some sort of utopia when they departed from the church. My mother hand her friends always spoke of the church as a some type of paradise lost.
I grew up attending an Assemblies of God church where we retreated, where I soon “gave my heart to Jesus” as the familiar cliché rings. There I learned that my rock and fulcrum in this life was the Word of God, and this has sustained my faith and life through all things. I suppose that’s why it was so difficult to realize just how many Scriptures I learned with a skewed and twisted interpretation. Recently, I looked on Charles Simpson’s website and saw that they have scanned in old copies of the “New Wine” magazine, and it felt like the earth dropped out from under me as I recognized many magazine covers and articles very vividly. I realized that this literature had been in my home and I read much of it as a school-age child. I had school phobia, and in eighth grade, my parents put me into a Christian school at the largest “spirit-filled” church in town. It just happened to be my mother’s paradise lost, the utopia where we once attended. (My father became a born again Christian a year or two later at the AoG church.)
The year I graduated (in a class of 7), the truth about the pastor and his near 30 year history of sodomy and pedophilia became public knowledge. There went my peer group! Scandal and division tore this apart and has made further contact with most from my high school years very difficult, as we all must tiptoe around the elephant of history that sits in the middle of the room. And about 5 years ago, this Christian school that I attended at the peak of the Christian school movement closed for good.
I milled in and out of church after that, before and after a period of severe depression and abandonment of church. I developed an interest in the Word of Faith movement which had always been an interest but on the periphery of my religious experience in the Assemblies of God. I was disillusioned as a result of the events at my Christian school, the realities of life, and everything seemed jaded. I also had some abuse issues that had never been resolved (remember the school phobia), so I was always given to shame, easily manipulated. My experiences and indoctrination taught me that one should never question authority figures, yet my personality seemed to put me in that position all the time.
I was quick to doubt my own perceptions as a result, particularly when encountering religious authorities. I was taught to count my understanding of truth concerning religious ideas as secondary to any evangelical Christian religious authority, no questions asked. My parents feared pride, confusing satisfaction and competency with pride, so I was taught to approach religious matters with an assumption of my own fault and error if ever there was any conflict with a perceived evangelical religious leader. They taught me to suspend all critical thought in these circumstances, though I was also expected to “be a Berean” (a group of people described in Acts Chapter 17 as those who were willing to believe God and have faith but who wanted to do so responsibly by first examining the new message that Paul preached to them).
After I married, my husband and I attended a Word of Faith church (after a brief and very disappointing experience in a Southern Baptist church in the Deep South where we lived at the time), and I believed that I would lay hands on the sick and they would recover as I had always dreamed. I had shame issues about having been healed from sure death or severe, profound vegetative disability secondary to birth trauma (read more HERE and HERE), and I’d hoped that God would use me as a vessel of healing for others, as I surely didn’t merit the healing I received. (This describes a Shame-Existence Bind.)
Paul’s statement about the “lowliness of mind” that “of esteeming others as better” took on a whole different meaning for me which required self-deprecation. I wanted to share that with others as a demonstration of God’s glory so that many would be drawn into the Kingdom of God, but I did so from a position of shame. As a critical care nurse in a facility that treated a high indigent population, I had plenty of opportunity to work this out with a very ill population of people, and my mere status as a very human person like everyone else left me quite disillusioned.
When we moved about a year and a half later for my husband’s first job out of graduate school (away from the Word of Faith church in the Bible Belt we had attended), we never found a church we liked at our new home – a place where we really felt like we belonged and were embraced by the congregation as vital part of their church. Both my husband and I worked long, long hours, so our church participation opportunities were quite limited because of shift-work and overtime, and we watched much Christian TV programming. During that time, I also began reading some Presbyterian literature to temper my “name it and claim it” issues (R.C. Sproul, Sr.), and found some answers to the dilemmas that this view held for me. I developed a more balanced view of God’s sovereignty and providence, yet still retained my beliefs in divine healing. We lived there for only 18 months, but we longed to find a church home where we fully participated in a church where we felt as though we belonged and contributed.