Greg Lygon
Location: Burke, VA, United States
Traditions: Christianity, Freethought, Universal Ethics, Dabbled in Neo-paganism. Not my cup of tea.
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"I do not believe in the creed professed by . . . any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." Thomas Paine (Age of Reason)

What I'm About

IT Pro, but Musician in my heart of hearts. Skeptical by nature, love science and philosophy. My beliefs have gone from opposite poles! Was a fundamentalist Christian, left that to company with Atheists, Freethinkers, etc. Read the obligatory Dawkins... more

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On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 3 of 3)
My final installment of the story of how I came to become a member of a cult, my most unortunate exit, and warning that I hope will be heard.
My story of the years of living as a member of Calvary Temple is certainly sad. I had it hard. The leadership was hard on me. They hectored me, they brow beat me, and they repressed me. I was always a problem for them. Somehow, in spite of my sharp memory for scripture, I was never quite able to live up to all they wanted. Since Calvary taught that all forms of dating were evil, I never had a girlfriend. Honestly there are better forms of courtship than dating; with that I must agree. Still, courtship was a difficult and awkward process for some of us. Calvary’s vague teachings about courtship were no help. In fact, they simply ridiculed us that so few of us every paired off and got married. Worse, I was a man with manly desires, and I was always somehow dealing with the problem they call lust.  Those matters were personally humiliating to me. Countless sessions with my deacon to try and deal with these things seemed to go almost nowhere until, somehow, one day, I seemed to get past it. For a while. During those countless hours with my deacon I also figured out another tactic used by the church to break you into submission. Eventually, all of us betray what really matters to us. “Where your heart is” Jesus said “there you treasure will be also”. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Jesus was nothing if not a sagacious individual. I know a thing or two about how the Rich Young Ruler in the Gospels must have felt, when Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, take up his cross and follow him.   For me, I was a musician. I was a guitar player and a songwriter. All I ever wanted to do all my life. Upon joining the church, I was informed that playing guitar was an idol for me which I would have to surrender, and yield to Jesus, in order that Jesus may sanctify this gift and return it to me to be used, not my way, but His way and for his glory. None of use listened to secular music. It was thought of as sinful. This meant all forms of secular music, but since the most popular form was rock that was a big taboo. Instead, we listened to Christian Music (and even that was a little suspect). After fighting a battle for a few years, having put my guitar down, sold it and trying to live life without music, I eventually began once more to play, this time choosing the path of a Christian Songwriter. I do not know whatever happened to all that music I wrote. I simply threw it all away. It’s gone. It was upon finding out how meaningful music was to me that the church used that to hold over my head. I was forbidden from participating in their worship band for many years, and even when the day came I was invited, I was always aware of somebody looking over my shoulder to proctor my behavior on stage. Eventually they found a small excuse to kick me out (somehow they accused me of drawing attention to myself on stage). Somehow, they alleged, playing guitar became an idol to me again and I had to be disciplined. I have always wondered what would have happened if I never joined the Church. Perhaps music would have been a bigger part of my life. ** Though relaying my story brings a sense of sorrow over having lost ten years of my life, I become sadder still when I put things into perspective. Many in Calvary suffered emotional abuse far worse than I did. They were hard on me to be sure. Many observed it, feeling sorry for me that the Calvary leadership could be so mean-spirited. It hurt. But they were far worse to others. Some teenagers were told to leave the care of their parents because their parents spoke against the leadership of the church. Some wives were told to divorce their husbands for being unbelievers. Some would be punished (for various and sundry reasons) by being told to leave the church for 30 days and fellowship nowhere else during that time. Stern punishment, since life outside of Calvary’s walls was said to be a wasteland and many of us (including myself) severed ties almost completely except for occasional contact with immediate family. This was the Calvary way. Thus, being Exiled like that was a frightening experience to many. Anyone who has ever left that church is shunned by the members who remain. There are no exceptions to that rule. Speaking against the leadership of Calvary will get you called to the carpet, and perhaps even excommunicated. Frequently, Star Scott would “Mark” those who left the church . . . even if in leaving, they were simply following a career path, moving to another city or leaving on the best possible terms they could. No excuse was acceptable. Twisting the words of John in his first epistle, “they went out from among us because they were not of us”. Nobody who left Calvary Temple was allowed to speak to its members again. They were “persona non grata”. They were “anathema”. While it does have to be said that Calvary summarily dismissed people who indeed were having issues with problems such as lust or something clearly mandated against in scripture, even when such people wished to truly atone for their wrongs were treated as outsiders until they contacted their former deacon with an apology. If they saw fit to allow them to return, Scott would announce from the pulpit it was safe to resume being on speaking terms with that individual. That was how my life in Calvary ended.   It ended not because I had the courage to leave when I knew I was unhappy and that they were guilty of abuse. I only left because I became such a burden to them that they kicked me out. My life in Calvary ended because I disclosed that I had carried on a 6-month long affair with a married woman, another member of Calvary.  My interest in the disclosure was cry for help, and at first they seemed to offer it. But they felt I was not sufficiently repentant. Indeed, an affair is a terrible thing. It is painfully addictive, even when your conscience chides you to cut it off . . . it is painfully difficult. I live to this day knowing that a woman with a troubled marriage was made to live an even worse life because I blundered into an affair with her. I severed all contact with her. I can only pray that she and her husband reconciled and somehow got past what I’ve done. What hurts me however was the double-standard shown me by Calvary. They had pastors on staff that fell into longer affairs than I had done. They were given endeavors to receive forgiveness, counseling and eventually after being removed from staff, had their positions restored. I was afforded no such endeavor. After my ouster, I did eventually come to my senses and break ties with that woman. It was late summer in 1998. I had been told by the Church “If you think you have repented of your sin, you may then contact us”. I did that. I expressed that my sin was finally behind me, that the church discipline they met out was just, in fact biblical. I wanted to find out what I needed to do in order to discuss returning to the fellowship. My deacon was the man I called. To this day, his words ring in my ears. With that whining quality a voice gets when sarcasm is uttered, he retorted “Why don’t we call you?” The culling of the fold that I so frequently saw over the years, as Star Scott marked those he deemed unworthy, had happened to me. Calvary was the only world I knew for 10 years. Now it was gone. They had treated me shamefully while I was there and when I myself became shameful, they were through with me. They dumped me overboard to tread water among the flotsam and jetsam that remained of my life. ** For seven years after that experience, I refused to read a Bible. However, I met a beautiful girl from Northern Virginia and we were married after a two-year long courtship.  After the events of September 11th, we decided to find a house we could actually afford, somewhere far away. We moved to a little town called Culpeper. I met many a young Christian, who unlike Christians I had met in the past, seemed happy, well balanced and at peace. I began attending services again at a Church sometime in 2004, but it was a brief courtship. We would eventually leave for another town and another better house. We made stabs at attending church together but did not stick with it. I met Christians who gave me hope that Church could be a positive experience, where Christians could love each other and be exemplars in their community.   Yet somehow, I find I have changed. My faith is gone. I used to be able to quote scripture like a walking talking Bible. That ability is gone. I have met people I consider friends, who are Christians. But I find I am no longer able to take the name “Christian” on my lips. My faith is gone. I do not begrudge anybody their beliefs, but find my belief is weak at best.  Yet I am not an atheist. If anything, I’m a terribly confused former Christian who wonders why the life of faith must be such a terrible burden. I wonder if my faith has gone simply cold or if that light is gone forever. Calvary left its mark on many. Many have stories far sadder, and wear scars far deeper, than mine. Yet the experience left me with a wish to appeal not to God, but reason for my guide. I have with precious few exceptions never seen from a Christian the love Jesus had for people. I have only seen in a rare glimpse the life of a Church where the good things they speak of take place. Calvary Temple was “Paradise” for some. It was not for me, and if they are the clearest, best example of life in the Church, I will have no part of it. Never. ** As the years go by I meet many a former member of Calvary. Many shameful things took place after the years of my exit. Many more abuses at the hands of the leadership. Much of the leadership of the Church, aware of Scott’s unrepentant stance in a known transgression, left his staff for good. Still others left, relaying horror stories like my own. Some left behind family members. Wives. Husbands. Children. Siblings. Jesus said he would split families in two. He needn’t have bothered. Calvary would have done so for Him. Calvary continues to sever families and ruin people’s lives. It continues to shipwreck the faith of many, reducing them to human train wrecks. Surprisingly, most I have met continue to make a profession of faith in Jesus and have found new Church homes. On some occasions however, I have heard stories form Calvary survivors who are wantonly bitter toward the faith and all the wounds they were dealt because of it. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I no longer attend church regularly, but on some occasions. I have become acquainted with a Pastor in Culpeper who knows Church in America is in desperate need of reform and wishes to reach out to disenfranchised and disillusioned people of faith. He gives me a great deal of hope. ** I am now 41. I have a 9 month old son. I never want him to live a life of faith, if living that life puts him through the things I experienced. I want him to grow wise. Have friends. Take a wife. Have a career. Play guitar like his Dad. And never, never trust another man to dictate his every thought and move. In short, I will do my best to insure that my son will never join a cult. ** I Am afraid of many things. One of my fears is that this 30th Anniversary of Jonestown will come and go and still seem like something that happened only on television. That people will find the strange behavior of a cult something so bizarre that it deserves no attention. I have lived with another fear now, one I have lived with for over 20 years. That one day, I will open up a newspaper, turn on the TV or find a webpage with the headline that every remaining member of Calvary Temple, in some far away location, for reasons known only to them, followed their blind leader to their own deaths. It must seem improbable since Calvary would seem to have made no such overtures in that direction. Yet, since Jonestown, there have been several cases around the world of bizarre cults whose ultimate end was the suicide of its members. With as much precedence as there is for a case of suicide, with Star Scotts behavior being nearly identical to the behavior of other past cult leaders, that likelihood seems in my opinion to be very real.   If someone will obey Star Scott in cutting off your family members and the outside world, if someone will watch him live a life of un-confessed sin and not speak out against it, if someone will allow him to take their money like Hophni and Phineas stole the offerings of the Children of Israel, what is to say that someone would not allow Scott to remove his congregations from their homes, move far away, live in a commune or eventually obey a suicide order? “But” that person will say, “Calvary Temple has existed for almost 40 years and none of these activities you speak of have taken place”. Yet the Peoples Temple Christian Church was founded in 1956, with these kinds of prolonged abuses taking place under the nadir of their existence, the death of 913 of its members, took place in 1978. These things did not happen in one day, but in a decade’s long litany of abuse, repression, isolation and fear. Like Jim Jones before him, Star Scott with each passing year grows more insular, paranoid and sequestered from the outside world. And dumb sheep after dumb sheep sits under his doctrine, year after year, never questioning the direction of their life or this church. Like dumb sheep, somebody is telling them “Lo, Here is Christ”. Jesus has urged them “Go not with him”, but the dumb sheep refuse to listen. In fact, whatever Star Scott tells them, they believe implicitly. After all, to question the leadership is to question God. The sheep will do no such thing. My message to such a person’s is simple. Do not be dumb sheep. Study the scriptures. Consider history. Listen to reason before it is too late.

On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 3 of 3)

My story of the years of living as a member of Calvary Temple is certainly sad. I had it hard. The leadership was hard on me. They hectored me, they brow beat me, and they repressed me. I was always a problem for them. Somehow, in spite of my sharp memory for scripture, I was never quite able to live up to all they wanted. Since Calvary taught that all forms of dating were evil, I never had a girlfriend. Honestly there are better forms of courtship than dating; with that I must agree. Still, courtship was a difficult and awkward process for some of us. Calvary’s vague teachings about courtship were no help. In fact, they simply ridiculed us that so few of us every paired off and got married. Worse, I was a man with manly desires, and I was always somehow dealing with the problem they call lust.  Those matters were personally humiliating to me. Countless sessions with my deacon to try and deal with these things seemed to go almost nowhere until, somehow, one day, I seemed to get past it. For a while. During those countless hours with my deacon I also figured out another tactic used by the church to break you into submission. Eventually, all of us betray what really matters to us. “Where your heart is” Jesus said “there you treasure will be also”. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Jesus was nothing if not a sagacious individual. I know a thing or two about how the Rich Young Ruler in the Gospels must have felt, when Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, take up his cross and follow him.   For me, I was a musician. I was a guitar player and a songwriter. All I ever wanted to do all my life. Upon joining the church, I was informed that playing guitar was an idol for me which I would have to surrender, and yield to Jesus, in order that Jesus may sanctify this gift and return it to me to be used, not my way, but His way and for his glory. None of use listened to secular music. It was thought of as sinful. This meant all forms of secular music, but since the most popular form was rock that was a big taboo. Instead, we listened to Christian Music (and even that was a little suspect). After fighting a battle for a few years, having put my guitar down, sold it and trying to live life without music, I eventually began once more to play, this time choosing the path of a Christian Songwriter. I do not know whatever happened to all that music I wrote. I simply threw it all away. It’s gone. It was upon finding out how meaningful music was to me that the church used that to hold over my head. I was forbidden from participating in their worship band for many years, and even when the day came I was invited, I was always aware of somebody looking over my shoulder to proctor my behavior on stage. Eventually they found a small excuse to kick me out (somehow they accused me of drawing attention to myself on stage). Somehow, they alleged, playing guitar became an idol to me again and I had to be disciplined. I have always wondered what would have happened if I never joined the Church. Perhaps music would have been a bigger part of my life. ** Though relaying my story brings a sense of sorrow over having lost ten years of my life, I become sadder still when I put things into perspective. Many in Calvary suffered emotional abuse far worse than I did. They were hard on me to be sure. Many observed it, feeling sorry for me that the Calvary leadership could be so mean-spirited. It hurt. But they were far worse to others. Some teenagers were told to leave the care of their parents because their parents spoke against the leadership of the church. Some wives were told to divorce their husbands for being unbelievers. Some would be punished (for various and sundry reasons) by being told to leave the church for 30 days and fellowship nowhere else during that time. Stern punishment, since life outside of Calvary’s walls was said to be a wasteland and many of us (including myself) severed ties almost completely except for occasional contact with immediate family. This was the Calvary way. Thus, being Exiled like that was a frightening experience to many. Anyone who has ever left that church is shunned by the members who remain. There are no exceptions to that rule. Speaking against the leadership of Calvary will get you called to the carpet, and perhaps even excommunicated. Frequently, Star Scott would “Mark” those who left the church . . . even if in leaving, they were simply following a career path, moving to another city or leaving on the best possible terms they could. No excuse was acceptable. Twisting the words of John in his first epistle, “they went out from among us because they were not of us”. Nobody who left Calvary Temple was allowed to speak to its members again. They were “persona non grata”. They were “anathema”. While it does have to be said that Calvary summarily dismissed people who indeed were having issues with problems such as lust or something clearly mandated against in scripture, even when such people wished to truly atone for their wrongs were treated as outsiders until they contacted their former deacon with an apology. If they saw fit to allow them to return, Scott would announce from the pulpit it was safe to resume being on speaking terms with that individual. That was how my life in Calvary ended.   It ended not because I had the courage to leave when I knew I was unhappy and that they were guilty of abuse. I only left because I became such a burden to them that they kicked me out. My life in Calvary ended because I disclosed that I had carried on a 6-month long affair with a married woman, another member of Calvary.  My interest in the disclosure was cry for help, and at first they seemed to offer it. But they felt I was not sufficiently repentant. Indeed, an affair is a terrible thing. It is painfully addictive, even when your conscience chides you to cut it off . . . it is painfully difficult. I live to this day knowing that a woman with a troubled marriage was made to live an even worse life because I blundered into an affair with her. I severed all contact with her. I can only pray that she and her husband reconciled and somehow got past what I’ve done. What hurts me however was the double-standard shown me by Calvary. They had pastors on staff that fell into longer affairs than I had done. They were given endeavors to receive forgiveness, counseling and eventually after being removed from staff, had their positions restored. I was afforded no such endeavor. After my ouster, I did eventually come to my senses and break ties with that woman. It was late summer in 1998. I had been told by the Church “If you think you have repented of your sin, you may then contact us”. I did that. I expressed that my sin was finally behind me, that the church discipline they met out was just, in fact biblical. I wanted to find out what I needed to do in order to discuss returning to the fellowship. My deacon was the man I called. To this day, his words ring in my ears. With that whining quality a voice gets when sarcasm is uttered, he retorted “Why don’t we call you?” The culling of the fold that I so frequently saw over the years, as Star Scott marked those he deemed unworthy, had happened to me. Calvary was the only world I knew for 10 years. Now it was gone. They had treated me shamefully while I was there and when I myself became shameful, they were through with me. They dumped me overboard to tread water among the flotsam and jetsam that remained of my life. ** For seven years after that experience, I refused to read a Bible. However, I met a beautiful girl from Northern Virginia and we were married after a two-year long courtship.  After the events of September 11th, we decided to find a house we could actually afford, somewhere far away. We moved to a little town called Culpeper. I met many a young Christian, who unlike Christians I had met in the past, seemed happy, well balanced and at peace. I began attending services again at a Church sometime in 2004, but it was a brief courtship. We would eventually leave for another town and another better house. We made stabs at attending church together but did not stick with it. I met Christians who gave me hope that Church could be a positive experience, where Christians could love each other and be exemplars in their community.   Yet somehow, I find I have changed. My faith is gone. I used to be able to quote scripture like a walking talking Bible. That ability is gone. I have met people I consider friends, who are Christians. But I find I am no longer able to take the name “Christian” on my lips. My faith is gone. I do not begrudge anybody their beliefs, but find my belief is weak at best.  Yet I am not an atheist. If anything, I’m a terribly confused former Christian who wonders why the life of faith must be such a terrible burden. I wonder if my faith has gone simply cold or if that light is gone forever. Calvary left its mark on many. Many have stories far sadder, and wear scars far deeper, than mine. Yet the experience left me with a wish to appeal not to God, but reason for my guide. I have with precious few exceptions never seen from a Christian the love Jesus had for people. I have only seen in a rare glimpse the life of a Church where the good things they speak of take place. Calvary Temple was “Paradise” for some. It was not for me, and if they are the clearest, best example of life in the Church, I will have no part of it. Never. ** As the years go by I meet many a former member of Calvary. Many shameful things took place after the years of my exit. Many more abuses at the hands of the leadership. Much of the leadership of the Church, aware of Scott’s unrepentant stance in a known transgression, left his staff for good. Still others left, relaying horror stories like my own. Some left behind family members. Wives. Husbands. Children. Siblings. Jesus said he would split families in two. He needn’t have bothered. Calvary would have done so for Him. Calvary continues to sever families and ruin people’s lives. It continues to shipwreck the faith of many, reducing them to human train wrecks. Surprisingly, most I have met continue to make a profession of faith in Jesus and have found new Church homes. On some occasions however, I have heard stories form Calvary survivors who are wantonly bitter toward the faith and all the wounds they were dealt because of it. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I no longer attend church regularly, but on some occasions. I have become acquainted with a Pastor in Culpeper who knows Church in America is in desperate need of reform and wishes to reach out to disenfranchised and disillusioned people of faith. He gives me a great deal of hope. ** I am now 41. I have a 9 month old son. I never want him to live a life of faith, if living that life puts him through the things I experienced. I want him to grow wise. Have friends. Take a wife. Have a career. Play guitar like his Dad. And never, never trust another man to dictate his every thought and move. In short, I will do my best to insure that my son will never join a cult. ** I Am afraid of many things. One of my fears is that this 30th Anniversary of Jonestown will come and go and still seem like something that happened only on television. That people will find the strange behavior of a cult something so bizarre that it deserves no attention. I have lived with another fear now, one I have lived with for over 20 years. That one day, I will open up a newspaper, turn on the TV or find a webpage with the headline that every remaining member of Calvary Temple, in some far away location, for reasons known only to them, followed their blind leader to their own deaths. It must seem improbable since Calvary would seem to have made no such overtures in that direction. Yet, since Jonestown, there have been several cases around the world of bizarre cults whose ultimate end was the suicide of its members. With as much precedence as there is for a case of suicide, with Star Scotts behavior being nearly identical to the behavior of other past cult leaders, that likelihood seems in my opinion to be very real.   If someone will obey Star Scott in cutting off your family members and the outside world, if someone will watch him live a life of un-confessed sin and not speak out against it, if someone will allow him to take their money like Hophni and Phineas stole the offerings of the Children of Israel, what is to say that someone would not allow Scott to remove his congregations from their homes, move far away, live in a commune or eventually obey a suicide order? “But” that person will say, “Calvary Temple has existed for almost 40 years and none of these activities you speak of have taken place”. Yet the Peoples Temple Christian Church was founded in 1956, with these kinds of prolonged abuses taking place under the nadir of their existence, the death of 913 of its members, took place in 1978. These things did not happen in one day, but in a decade’s long litany of abuse, repression, isolation and fear. Like Jim Jones before him, Star Scott with each passing year grows more insular, paranoid and sequestered from the outside world. And dumb sheep after dumb sheep sits under his doctrine, year after year, never questioning the direction of their life or this church. Like dumb sheep, somebody is telling them “Lo, Here is Christ”. Jesus has urged them “Go not with him”, but the dumb sheep refuse to listen. In fact, whatever Star Scott tells them, they believe implicitly. After all, to question the leadership is to question God. The sheep will do no such thing. My message to such a person’s is simple. Do not be dumb sheep. Study the scriptures. Consider history. Listen to reason before it is too late.

Source

Personal Essay
http://Not Published
Contribution #7307

Source (click to close)

Personal Essay
http://Not Published
Contribution #7307


On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 2 of 3)
Continuing the essay I started five years ago on the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown.
Most may believe the mass suicide of Jonestown was sudden. But the members of the People’s Temple Christian Church prepared for this moment for many years. Led by their charismatic apostolic pastor, Jim Jones, they frequently participated in suicide drills in macabre tests of loyalty. Somehow, Jones knew in his heart a day would come when escape from the world was impossible and in his skewed worldview, a “revolutionary suicide” was the final solution. Life in the People’s Temple Christian Church was not easy. Jim Jones spoke, and his authority was to be absolute, never questioned. His word was as good as God’s word. Step out of line, and you were the subject of scorn, ridicule, and perhaps even beatings at the hands of the cult members. Children were discipline with a switch, a paddle or other forms of corporal punishment. So were some of the adults. Life in the People’s Temple was all encompassing. It was the Old Folks Home. The Nursery for Babies and Small Children. It was the Drug Rehabilitation Center. People living in the Temple assembled daily and rarely left its environs. People who participated in it called it “Paradise”, and lauded their leader as a visionary – as a representative of God – a sort of go-between. In time, Jim Jones became seen as God himself. No possessions were considered the property of their owners, but like the 1st Century Church in Christianity’s earliest days (during a time of Roman Oppression); people gave into a common, collective pool of property. Christian Socialism. Even the children were not thought of as the responsibility of parents, but were, under great duress, signed over to Jim Jones, granting power of attorney. ** In his rogue brand of expository Bible teaching, Star Scott parsed the principles of the Scripture and used them to dictate how life in Calvary Temple should be. For example, while he expressed trepidation about communal living, Scott said he also knew very well that it was a likely eventuality for Calvary. The day would come that he would need to order the entire congregation of Calvary Temple relocate to a permanent settlement on grounds belonging to the church. He would allude to the existence of a parcel of land belonging to the church which could be used in the event of an emergency such as the collapse of the American economy or intense persecution of the church. While seeing that a far off yet perhaps necessary evil, he did certainly believe that life within the church environs was the best and most correct place for all members of the church. Indeed, citing that believers in the Book of Acts assembled daily for prayers, the grounds were nearly always open. The church had a working gym and basketball court, so there was certainly no need for anyone to look elsewhere for such diversions. Calvary Temple members were told to eschew any sort of therapy but instead, counsel should be at the hands of a select group of Deacons. Unlike traditional deacons found in most mainline denominations, who do little more than pass around offering plates, deacons of Calvary Temple were like a Big Brother, therapist and career counselor all in one. They could be where the pastors and full time staff could not, so all of us could be daily exhorted to follow the faith. Frequently, Scott would speak of the impending Judgment of God against ungodly America, that “this nation is going down”, that the only nation we should have allegiance to was the church.   Jonestown was frequent fodder of jokes for Pastor Scott. “One they might find us all here, just dead. They investigate but never find any Cool Aid”. Corporal punishment was met out to unruly children, and it is alleged, frequently to unruly adults. The method of choice was a wooden paddle. After all, the Book of Proverbs counsels that “foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of correction will beat it far from them”. To those who have never experienced life like this, these seem like insane, irrational forms of behavior. Most do not have any pity for cult members who, in their blind devotion, follow their leader even to the gates of hell themselves. No rational human being, it is thought, could ever allow themselves to become the mental slaves of such a man. Yet I saw for myself a man who went from telling his congregation “I never council divorce” to actually mandating divorces of believers from unbelieving spouses. Nowhere does this counsel appear in Scripture, except for one somewhat oblique reference in the book of Nehemiah of the children of Israel divorcing spouses married during their captivity in Babylon. But Star Scott was chiefly concerned with one thing and one thing only: culling the fold. I saw for myself a man who led his congregation away from the oversight of the Assemblies of God, a revered and trusted denomination, to become a lone wolf apostle of his own doctrine. I saw for myself people who tried to leave but for whom the exit process was made difficult. In fact I myself tried to leave, making the mistake of announcing my intentions to the leadership of the church, and even naming my intended place of worship. “You realize”, I was told, “this new church will try to control you. You will go through there what you have gone through here all over again”. Somehow, they talked me out of it and I would stay for a few more years. I saw for myself still others who desperately tried to fit in to life in the congregation but was repeatedly rejected. I saw for myself hungry newcomers looking for change but treated as outsiders in a provincial town who never welcomes strangers, like something out of a “Twilight Zone” episode about a man who runs out of gas in some utopian small town and is told never to return or tell others where he has been. Though stopping short of arranging marriages, they certainly had a strong say in who could marry whom, and dispensed this advice freely in their pre-marital counseling sessions to young couples. I saw a man charge his congregation that the Bible taught not only were they required to pay tithes (10% of one’s gross income), but two additional tithes.  One tithe was to be used for purchasing study materials, the rest to retire the mortgage on the church. When the day came and the church mortgage was burned, he called it a “miracle”, though he in fact had mandated this acceleration of payments to the bank from his congregation. As to the explanation of how he could justify this position in a Biblical way, Scott charged that he alone was the purveyor of this knowledge. This was significant, because unlike other teachings, when he urged the congregation to study his doctrine for accuracy (like a “Noble Berean” of the book of Acts), Scott insisted that he invested sufficient hours of study and that this was not worth our while to question. With the mortgage retired, Scott was free to own and operate a fleet of several racing cars, and called this racing team a “Ministry” (Namely “Finish the Race” Ministries, taken from Paul’s final words to Timothy). In his collection were highly customized Chevrolet Corvettes, including one with a 600 HP Carroll engine, and another extremely rare 1967 550 HP model bequeathed to him from the death bed of his original owner (I would learn of this from Scott’s mechanic who worked on some of these vehicles). As the years went by, I observed Scott becoming increasingly paranoid. For example, he warned us that spy activity was taking place inside the church walls. “If somebody leaves our church”, he reported, “They are contacted within 24 hours by somebody. That means we have a spy among us”.   In fact, he may have been right. The activities of the church and its abuses left their mark on many. It may well have been the job of some self-styled covert operator to pluck out the sheep that wanted deliverance but were afraid to leave. Still it served as a barometer of how suspicious and afraid Scott had become. Scott used to perform marriages (strictly for members of Calvary) the Calvary sanctuary. They were occasions where the families would invite their “unbelieving” relatives. Scott stated he could “sense” the opposition people had to his teaching whenever the “unsaved” were in attendance. It became so bad in his view that he stopped performing weddings completely. Not only would this avoid confrontation with outsiders but it would allow Scott to devote more time to study. In place of wedding ceremonies, Scott urged his members to look to Old Testament Israel. A celebrant of choice (perhaps one’s appointed deacon) could have a small ceremony. There would need to be some “evidence” presented that the marriage had been consummated in order to have a clergyman from Calvary approve the wedding. The rough, modern day equivalent of having priests hover outside of a marriage tent while a marriage was consummated. Scott urged evangelism, citing Jesus and His “Great Commission.” But after many years of dragging unbelievers into church only to have them have insincere conversions at best, it was decided nobody known to be an unbeliever of any kind was welcome in the Sanctuary. Obviously if one of us “Led them to Jesus” beforehand, they were then welcome. In the times I brought visitors with me, my guests were hectored by the congregation. One person, a woman who I had befriended, and who had a profession of faith in Jesus was told in no uncertain terms she was not welcome. She was told that her motivations were obviously to pursue me and cause me to stumble. She was told in no uncertain terms she not in fact a Christian, not Born Again. I was told to sever ties with her, and did so. I am ever so fortunate that upon leaving Calvary I restored my friendship with her and was in attendance to play guitar at her wedding. We remain friends to this day, and her life of faith is vibrant (unlike my own). End Part 2

On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 2 of 3)

Most may believe the mass suicide of Jonestown was sudden. But the members of the People’s Temple Christian Church prepared for this moment for many years. Led by their charismatic apostolic pastor, Jim Jones, they frequently participated in suicide drills in macabre tests of loyalty. Somehow, Jones knew in his heart a day would come when escape from the world was impossible and in his skewed worldview, a “revolutionary suicide” was the final solution. Life in the People’s Temple Christian Church was not easy. Jim Jones spoke, and his authority was to be absolute, never questioned. His word was as good as God’s word. Step out of line, and you were the subject of scorn, ridicule, and perhaps even beatings at the hands of the cult members. Children were discipline with a switch, a paddle or other forms of corporal punishment. So were some of the adults. Life in the People’s Temple was all encompassing. It was the Old Folks Home. The Nursery for Babies and Small Children. It was the Drug Rehabilitation Center. People living in the Temple assembled daily and rarely left its environs. People who participated in it called it “Paradise”, and lauded their leader as a visionary – as a representative of God – a sort of go-between. In time, Jim Jones became seen as God himself. No possessions were considered the property of their owners, but like the 1st Century Church in Christianity’s earliest days (during a time of Roman Oppression); people gave into a common, collective pool of property. Christian Socialism. Even the children were not thought of as the responsibility of parents, but were, under great duress, signed over to Jim Jones, granting power of attorney. ** In his rogue brand of expository Bible teaching, Star Scott parsed the principles of the Scripture and used them to dictate how life in Calvary Temple should be. For example, while he expressed trepidation about communal living, Scott said he also knew very well that it was a likely eventuality for Calvary. The day would come that he would need to order the entire congregation of Calvary Temple relocate to a permanent settlement on grounds belonging to the church. He would allude to the existence of a parcel of land belonging to the church which could be used in the event of an emergency such as the collapse of the American economy or intense persecution of the church. While seeing that a far off yet perhaps necessary evil, he did certainly believe that life within the church environs was the best and most correct place for all members of the church. Indeed, citing that believers in the Book of Acts assembled daily for prayers, the grounds were nearly always open. The church had a working gym and basketball court, so there was certainly no need for anyone to look elsewhere for such diversions. Calvary Temple members were told to eschew any sort of therapy but instead, counsel should be at the hands of a select group of Deacons. Unlike traditional deacons found in most mainline denominations, who do little more than pass around offering plates, deacons of Calvary Temple were like a Big Brother, therapist and career counselor all in one. They could be where the pastors and full time staff could not, so all of us could be daily exhorted to follow the faith. Frequently, Scott would speak of the impending Judgment of God against ungodly America, that “this nation is going down”, that the only nation we should have allegiance to was the church.   Jonestown was frequent fodder of jokes for Pastor Scott. “One they might find us all here, just dead. They investigate but never find any Cool Aid”. Corporal punishment was met out to unruly children, and it is alleged, frequently to unruly adults. The method of choice was a wooden paddle. After all, the Book of Proverbs counsels that “foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of correction will beat it far from them”. To those who have never experienced life like this, these seem like insane, irrational forms of behavior. Most do not have any pity for cult members who, in their blind devotion, follow their leader even to the gates of hell themselves. No rational human being, it is thought, could ever allow themselves to become the mental slaves of such a man. Yet I saw for myself a man who went from telling his congregation “I never council divorce” to actually mandating divorces of believers from unbelieving spouses. Nowhere does this counsel appear in Scripture, except for one somewhat oblique reference in the book of Nehemiah of the children of Israel divorcing spouses married during their captivity in Babylon. But Star Scott was chiefly concerned with one thing and one thing only: culling the fold. I saw for myself a man who led his congregation away from the oversight of the Assemblies of God, a revered and trusted denomination, to become a lone wolf apostle of his own doctrine. I saw for myself people who tried to leave but for whom the exit process was made difficult. In fact I myself tried to leave, making the mistake of announcing my intentions to the leadership of the church, and even naming my intended place of worship. “You realize”, I was told, “this new church will try to control you. You will go through there what you have gone through here all over again”. Somehow, they talked me out of it and I would stay for a few more years. I saw for myself still others who desperately tried to fit in to life in the congregation but was repeatedly rejected. I saw for myself hungry newcomers looking for change but treated as outsiders in a provincial town who never welcomes strangers, like something out of a “Twilight Zone” episode about a man who runs out of gas in some utopian small town and is told never to return or tell others where he has been. Though stopping short of arranging marriages, they certainly had a strong say in who could marry whom, and dispensed this advice freely in their pre-marital counseling sessions to young couples. I saw a man charge his congregation that the Bible taught not only were they required to pay tithes (10% of one’s gross income), but two additional tithes.  One tithe was to be used for purchasing study materials, the rest to retire the mortgage on the church. When the day came and the church mortgage was burned, he called it a “miracle”, though he in fact had mandated this acceleration of payments to the bank from his congregation. As to the explanation of how he could justify this position in a Biblical way, Scott charged that he alone was the purveyor of this knowledge. This was significant, because unlike other teachings, when he urged the congregation to study his doctrine for accuracy (like a “Noble Berean” of the book of Acts), Scott insisted that he invested sufficient hours of study and that this was not worth our while to question. With the mortgage retired, Scott was free to own and operate a fleet of several racing cars, and called this racing team a “Ministry” (Namely “Finish the Race” Ministries, taken from Paul’s final words to Timothy). In his collection were highly customized Chevrolet Corvettes, including one with a 600 HP Carroll engine, and another extremely rare 1967 550 HP model bequeathed to him from the death bed of his original owner (I would learn of this from Scott’s mechanic who worked on some of these vehicles). As the years went by, I observed Scott becoming increasingly paranoid. For example, he warned us that spy activity was taking place inside the church walls. “If somebody leaves our church”, he reported, “They are contacted within 24 hours by somebody. That means we have a spy among us”.   In fact, he may have been right. The activities of the church and its abuses left their mark on many. It may well have been the job of some self-styled covert operator to pluck out the sheep that wanted deliverance but were afraid to leave. Still it served as a barometer of how suspicious and afraid Scott had become. Scott used to perform marriages (strictly for members of Calvary) the Calvary sanctuary. They were occasions where the families would invite their “unbelieving” relatives. Scott stated he could “sense” the opposition people had to his teaching whenever the “unsaved” were in attendance. It became so bad in his view that he stopped performing weddings completely. Not only would this avoid confrontation with outsiders but it would allow Scott to devote more time to study. In place of wedding ceremonies, Scott urged his members to look to Old Testament Israel. A celebrant of choice (perhaps one’s appointed deacon) could have a small ceremony. There would need to be some “evidence” presented that the marriage had been consummated in order to have a clergyman from Calvary approve the wedding. The rough, modern day equivalent of having priests hover outside of a marriage tent while a marriage was consummated. Scott urged evangelism, citing Jesus and His “Great Commission.” But after many years of dragging unbelievers into church only to have them have insincere conversions at best, it was decided nobody known to be an unbeliever of any kind was welcome in the Sanctuary. Obviously if one of us “Led them to Jesus” beforehand, they were then welcome. In the times I brought visitors with me, my guests were hectored by the congregation. One person, a woman who I had befriended, and who had a profession of faith in Jesus was told in no uncertain terms she was not welcome. She was told that her motivations were obviously to pursue me and cause me to stumble. She was told in no uncertain terms she not in fact a Christian, not Born Again. I was told to sever ties with her, and did so. I am ever so fortunate that upon leaving Calvary I restored my friendship with her and was in attendance to play guitar at her wedding. We remain friends to this day, and her life of faith is vibrant (unlike my own). End Part 2

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Contribution #7306


On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 1 of 3)
I was a member of a cultic church of fundamentalist charismatic Christians. In November of 2008 I read an article in the Washington Post about the Church I was once affiliated with, and it brought back a flood of memories and a strong urge both to tell my story and warn those who were still affected by this cult. Five years have passed and now, I have decided to publish this essay.
November 18, 2008 will mark the 30th Anniversary of the mass suicide of 913 members of the doomed People’s Temple Christian Church.  The Jonestown Massacre continues to be the largest recorded loss of American civilian life short of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As happens in our culture, circumstances like these become an innocuous part of history until they are woven into the garment of mixed fabrics that is American pop culture. Instead of remembering the victims of Jonestown with honor and dignity, they are often all but forgotten, unless somebody marking the death of an idea laments, “We had to drink the Cool Aid”. Most of us probably wondered where the euphemism “Drink the Cool Aid” came from. It came from the massacre at Jonestown, which happened November 18th, 1978. The members were told they had no escape from the evil world around them, and were told to drink fruit juice (actually “Flavor Aid” without sugar), laced with cyanide. “This is not a suicide”, the leader, Jim Jones, would assure them. “This is a revolutionary act”. They all died in this “revolutionary act”. Cultic activity is so seemingly novel that for most of us it excites little notice. And since cult members are thought as little more than a bizarre fringe of society, most of us feel nothing but derision for victims of a cult. “If you are stupid enough to join”, one declares sanctimoniously “then you deserve what is coming to you”. One assumes “I am not stupid enough to let that happen to me, and even if I ever got involved, I would leave the minute things got crazy”. I would normally say I agree, but If I had not myself experienced the effects of life in a cult, I would have never believed it possible to be stripped of your very ability to reason, that you could so effortlessly steel yourself against the voice of your own conscience. If I had not experienced this myself, I would never believe one could feel deeply that they were in a terrible situation, know their leader to be at best terribly wrong, at worst sadistic and twisted, yet remain a member of just such a place, and continue to participate in its cultic practices. If I had not experienced this life myself, I would have never believed I could be so easily enthralled by a charlatan like Star Scott. But I have. * My early experiences of church were Sunday School at Liberty Grove United Methodist Church, Burtonsville, MD. I grew bored with it the older I became and stopped attending. Later I would experience church again, only this time, at its more menacing. I was 9 years old. It was 1977. It was the Carter Administration. I would sit long hours in line for gas riding shotgun in my Mom’s Nova. My mother needed to attend classes to get a degree and ultimately a job, so she had me attend a Day Camp at Forcey Memorial Church in Silver Spring, MD. The group was comprised of very young, ardent evangelicals. I was cajoled into asking Jesus in my heart over and over again. I was regaled with stories of the Rapture, of the Tribulation where blood in the streets rose as high as a horse’s bridle. I heard enough stories until I had nightmares of being taken into the clouds to Jesus, while my parents remained on earth, because they were unbelievers.   In one such dream, I was being “raptured” – removed forcefully from this earth, through the air, to meet with Jesus in the clouds.  I saw myself floating through the roof my car like Caspar the Friendly Ghost, flying above our old silver 1976 Chevy Nova. My mother remained inside, unaware that Jesus was taking me away, and I was flying high in the air above her. I was in great distress that my mother would be left behind to face the great tribulation. So, I cried out for my mother, and felt myself floating back downward: Jesus was angry that I called after mother! I became yet more frightened that I too would be lost if I went after my mother, so I basically gave up and cried “Uncle”. “Okay, Okay, Okay” I implored, in surrender. I stopped calling after my unbelieving mother and once again, Jesus, His anger assuaged, took me in the Rapture. I woke up from that dream afraid. Afraid for my household where my mother and father would perish and live eternity. Mostly, however, I was afraid of Jesus. Of what Jesus would do if I ever strayed from Him.  I suppose this is why as I grew of age I declared that I was an atheist. * As a teenager, I was two things; a loner and an atheist. I never followed crowds, never became popular, never made but a few close friends. And I did not believe in God. I did not read the Bible. I read Ayn Rand. I read Shakespeare. I read Camus. I read Nietzsche. In Falls Church High School, from 1982 to 1986, I experienced the obligatory teenage angst of rejection, loneliness and disenfranchisement; the same stories so many of us tell of never fitting in. It was in a Psychology Class, circa1985, where I was given a stern warning by a beloved teacher of both German and Psychology. “People who are loners”, she said solemnly, “are the targets of cults”. I heard the words. They went right past me. I was a rationalist. I was a staunch individual. I was NEVER going to let that happen to me. Nevertheless, On May 15, 1988, at the age of 20, I joined a church known as Calvary Temple of Sterling, VA. ** Instead of Graduating high school, I dropped out and eventually got my GED. At 18, instead of going to college, I moved in with my girlfriend, Christy Mueller and another good friend from high school, Paul Carter. After a while, Paul moved on and Christy and I shared an apartment in Alexandria. We worked in temp jobs for minimum wage. It was at one such temp job where I would meet the man who would change my life forever. I had a copy of Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, which I read on breaks (or whenever I simply wished to avoid work). A coworker at this nowhere job named John spotted the book while I was away. He must have gotten to the part where it says “God is Dead”, and decided I was in need of a Savior. He approached me one day and asked me about the book. After telling him about this, and what I believed, John told me he had a book for me to read. The following day John handed me a copy of “Mere Christianity”, by C.S. Lewis.   I read the book. I was so taken by Lewis, his reasoned faith, and his arguments for belief in God. So taken that I began to believe it myself. I confessed to John that since reading Lewis’ book, I began to have an inner feeling of gnawing inside me. Something, or someone, was calling me. John implored me for months to come to church. I put him off as long as I could stand it but finally I caved in. I did not own a car. John met me at the Metro in Falls Church, drove me to Sterling Va. And Calvary Temple. It was in the car, more than halfway to our destination, that John prepared me for what to expect. He said that the church believed in speaking in tongues, and that this may be alarming to outsiders. In that sanctuary that day, I heard for myself for the very first time people praying in tongues out loud. A man who I would later learn was one of the Pastors led worship. His voice was mild nasal baritone. He spoke a bizarre language, his voice trembling as the words poured out: “Whoa tay-commida-sahn. Whoa tay-commida say tay”, over and over again. Occasionally he would revert to English, repeating in a trance-like state, “Praaaaise you Jesus. Praaaaise You Jesus”. I never had felt so afraid. I was far away from home and had nowhere to run. I spotted a church bulletin, crudely printed, and looked inside. The bulletin had an insignia on it: a circle, emblazoned “Calvary Temple Ministries” on top, and on the bottom, “Pastor Star R. Scott”. “Star”, I marveled. “Perhaps a title obtained by cult members of high rank”. I would later find out . . . Star was simply his given name (he would allege this had Native American significance).  Within that circle, two crossed swords stabbed through a scroll which read “Sword of the Spirit”. Pastor Scott gave a message about Spiritual Warfare, from the book of Ephesians, Chapter 6. Somehow, I had never been exposed to this form of expository Bible teaching, and it seemed to appeal to my quest for knowledge. I remained frightened of the whole experience, particularly the bizarre worship ritual. Yet, for reasons which to this very day I am not able to sufficiently explain, when the altar call came, I approached the altar. As a stood at the altar, I had a strange sensation. That of becoming perhaps taller, or as if something heavy was being lifted off of my shoulders. Later on, a woman would tell me “Oh Greg that was burden of your sins being lifted from off of you!” Then, a man with a gentle demeanor and reassuring smile would approach me, and asked me if I would like to ask Jesus to be the Lord of my life.  That man was another Pastor ands John’s brother in law. Together, we got to our knees and I prayed. I can remember what I was wearing, what I looked like. My hair was long like that of some child of the 60’s. I needed glasses but did not own a pair. I was wearing a linen blazer, blue oxford shirt, grey slacks, and a ratty pair of linen loafers with no socks. Money was extremely tight and shoes were hard to come by (and socks apparently were an option I could not afford). In the coming weeks a man would approach me, with a box telling me “The Lord put you on my heart”. He gave me a pair of proper shoes. After the service, John slapped a hand on my shoulder. Smiling as he said “You did the right thing, Greg!” Person after person approached me. “Welcome to the Family”, they said. “Welcome to the Kingdom”. ** In the coming weeks, I left my girlfriend. Paul, the old friend and former roommate, would tell me that my change was so abrupt he feared for me. He called my parents, imploring them that I had joined a cult. He threatened action to come and kidnap me, but never carried that out. Years after first joining, Paul would find me and almost joined the church himself. (We were able remain in touch and remain friends to this day.) End Part 1

On The Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown (Part 1 of 3)

November 18, 2008 will mark the 30th Anniversary of the mass suicide of 913 members of the doomed People’s Temple Christian Church.  The Jonestown Massacre continues to be the largest recorded loss of American civilian life short of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As happens in our culture, circumstances like these become an innocuous part of history until they are woven into the garment of mixed fabrics that is American pop culture. Instead of remembering the victims of Jonestown with honor and dignity, they are often all but forgotten, unless somebody marking the death of an idea laments, “We had to drink the Cool Aid”. Most of us probably wondered where the euphemism “Drink the Cool Aid” came from. It came from the massacre at Jonestown, which happened November 18th, 1978. The members were told they had no escape from the evil world around them, and were told to drink fruit juice (actually “Flavor Aid” without sugar), laced with cyanide. “This is not a suicide”, the leader, Jim Jones, would assure them. “This is a revolutionary act”. They all died in this “revolutionary act”. Cultic activity is so seemingly novel that for most of us it excites little notice. And since cult members are thought as little more than a bizarre fringe of society, most of us feel nothing but derision for victims of a cult. “If you are stupid enough to join”, one declares sanctimoniously “then you deserve what is coming to you”. One assumes “I am not stupid enough to let that happen to me, and even if I ever got involved, I would leave the minute things got crazy”. I would normally say I agree, but If I had not myself experienced the effects of life in a cult, I would have never believed it possible to be stripped of your very ability to reason, that you could so effortlessly steel yourself against the voice of your own conscience. If I had not experienced this myself, I would never believe one could feel deeply that they were in a terrible situation, know their leader to be at best terribly wrong, at worst sadistic and twisted, yet remain a member of just such a place, and continue to participate in its cultic practices. If I had not experienced this life myself, I would have never believed I could be so easily enthralled by a charlatan like Star Scott. But I have. * My early experiences of church were Sunday School at Liberty Grove United Methodist Church, Burtonsville, MD. I grew bored with it the older I became and stopped attending. Later I would experience church again, only this time, at its more menacing. I was 9 years old. It was 1977. It was the Carter Administration. I would sit long hours in line for gas riding shotgun in my Mom’s Nova. My mother needed to attend classes to get a degree and ultimately a job, so she had me attend a Day Camp at Forcey Memorial Church in Silver Spring, MD. The group was comprised of very young, ardent evangelicals. I was cajoled into asking Jesus in my heart over and over again. I was regaled with stories of the Rapture, of the Tribulation where blood in the streets rose as high as a horse’s bridle. I heard enough stories until I had nightmares of being taken into the clouds to Jesus, while my parents remained on earth, because they were unbelievers.   In one such dream, I was being “raptured” – removed forcefully from this earth, through the air, to meet with Jesus in the clouds.  I saw myself floating through the roof my car like Caspar the Friendly Ghost, flying above our old silver 1976 Chevy Nova. My mother remained inside, unaware that Jesus was taking me away, and I was flying high in the air above her. I was in great distress that my mother would be left behind to face the great tribulation. So, I cried out for my mother, and felt myself floating back downward: Jesus was angry that I called after mother! I became yet more frightened that I too would be lost if I went after my mother, so I basically gave up and cried “Uncle”. “Okay, Okay, Okay” I implored, in surrender. I stopped calling after my unbelieving mother and once again, Jesus, His anger assuaged, took me in the Rapture. I woke up from that dream afraid. Afraid for my household where my mother and father would perish and live eternity. Mostly, however, I was afraid of Jesus. Of what Jesus would do if I ever strayed from Him.  I suppose this is why as I grew of age I declared that I was an atheist. * As a teenager, I was two things; a loner and an atheist. I never followed crowds, never became popular, never made but a few close friends. And I did not believe in God. I did not read the Bible. I read Ayn Rand. I read Shakespeare. I read Camus. I read Nietzsche. In Falls Church High School, from 1982 to 1986, I experienced the obligatory teenage angst of rejection, loneliness and disenfranchisement; the same stories so many of us tell of never fitting in. It was in a Psychology Class, circa1985, where I was given a stern warning by a beloved teacher of both German and Psychology. “People who are loners”, she said solemnly, “are the targets of cults”. I heard the words. They went right past me. I was a rationalist. I was a staunch individual. I was NEVER going to let that happen to me. Nevertheless, On May 15, 1988, at the age of 20, I joined a church known as Calvary Temple of Sterling, VA. ** Instead of Graduating high school, I dropped out and eventually got my GED. At 18, instead of going to college, I moved in with my girlfriend, Christy Mueller and another good friend from high school, Paul Carter. After a while, Paul moved on and Christy and I shared an apartment in Alexandria. We worked in temp jobs for minimum wage. It was at one such temp job where I would meet the man who would change my life forever. I had a copy of Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, which I read on breaks (or whenever I simply wished to avoid work). A coworker at this nowhere job named John spotted the book while I was away. He must have gotten to the part where it says “God is Dead”, and decided I was in need of a Savior. He approached me one day and asked me about the book. After telling him about this, and what I believed, John told me he had a book for me to read. The following day John handed me a copy of “Mere Christianity”, by C.S. Lewis.   I read the book. I was so taken by Lewis, his reasoned faith, and his arguments for belief in God. So taken that I began to believe it myself. I confessed to John that since reading Lewis’ book, I began to have an inner feeling of gnawing inside me. Something, or someone, was calling me. John implored me for months to come to church. I put him off as long as I could stand it but finally I caved in. I did not own a car. John met me at the Metro in Falls Church, drove me to Sterling Va. And Calvary Temple. It was in the car, more than halfway to our destination, that John prepared me for what to expect. He said that the church believed in speaking in tongues, and that this may be alarming to outsiders. In that sanctuary that day, I heard for myself for the very first time people praying in tongues out loud. A man who I would later learn was one of the Pastors led worship. His voice was mild nasal baritone. He spoke a bizarre language, his voice trembling as the words poured out: “Whoa tay-commida-sahn. Whoa tay-commida say tay”, over and over again. Occasionally he would revert to English, repeating in a trance-like state, “Praaaaise you Jesus. Praaaaise You Jesus”. I never had felt so afraid. I was far away from home and had nowhere to run. I spotted a church bulletin, crudely printed, and looked inside. The bulletin had an insignia on it: a circle, emblazoned “Calvary Temple Ministries” on top, and on the bottom, “Pastor Star R. Scott”. “Star”, I marveled. “Perhaps a title obtained by cult members of high rank”. I would later find out . . . Star was simply his given name (he would allege this had Native American significance).  Within that circle, two crossed swords stabbed through a scroll which read “Sword of the Spirit”. Pastor Scott gave a message about Spiritual Warfare, from the book of Ephesians, Chapter 6. Somehow, I had never been exposed to this form of expository Bible teaching, and it seemed to appeal to my quest for knowledge. I remained frightened of the whole experience, particularly the bizarre worship ritual. Yet, for reasons which to this very day I am not able to sufficiently explain, when the altar call came, I approached the altar. As a stood at the altar, I had a strange sensation. That of becoming perhaps taller, or as if something heavy was being lifted off of my shoulders. Later on, a woman would tell me “Oh Greg that was burden of your sins being lifted from off of you!” Then, a man with a gentle demeanor and reassuring smile would approach me, and asked me if I would like to ask Jesus to be the Lord of my life.  That man was another Pastor ands John’s brother in law. Together, we got to our knees and I prayed. I can remember what I was wearing, what I looked like. My hair was long like that of some child of the 60’s. I needed glasses but did not own a pair. I was wearing a linen blazer, blue oxford shirt, grey slacks, and a ratty pair of linen loafers with no socks. Money was extremely tight and shoes were hard to come by (and socks apparently were an option I could not afford). In the coming weeks a man would approach me, with a box telling me “The Lord put you on my heart”. He gave me a pair of proper shoes. After the service, John slapped a hand on my shoulder. Smiling as he said “You did the right thing, Greg!” Person after person approached me. “Welcome to the Family”, they said. “Welcome to the Kingdom”. ** In the coming weeks, I left my girlfriend. Paul, the old friend and former roommate, would tell me that my change was so abrupt he feared for me. He called my parents, imploring them that I had joined a cult. He threatened action to come and kidnap me, but never carried that out. Years after first joining, Paul would find me and almost joined the church himself. (We were able remain in touch and remain friends to this day.) End Part 1

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Personal Essay
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Contribution #7305

Source (click to close)

Personal Essay
http://Not Published
Contribution #7305