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Mind Rape and the Christian Right
Posted on Jul 21, 2013
By Chris Hedges
She was assigned to work in the group’s office promoting ministry events. She called merchants and asked them to donate items or services for silent auctions. She worked in the office for two months. She then took a job at a Dillard’s Department store. She would work there for more than two years. The ministry took rent, her tithe—10 percent of her income—and utility costs from her pay. She also had to pay the ministry $5 a day to be driven to Dillard’s, four miles away. “They [were] nickel-and-diming me to death,” Lyons said.
Lyons said that those who did not work at outside jobs worked for the ministry as “slave labor” and never could save “enough money to leave.”
During her time in Total Freedom Program she saw herself as a part of the ministry. She dutifully confessed all urges, defined as sins, to her prayer group. She was given greater responsibilities within the ministry, including being a house mom. She was filled with self-loathing for “everything that was natural in me.”
“Anything that comes before God is an idol,” she said. “Exercise, my whole past experience, friends. I started to feel like I had this Job experience, this lose-everything experience.”
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Patrice, a woman who had left the community, began to talk to Lyons outside the compound. She urged Lyons to get out of the group because it was “unhealthy.” Lyons during a visit from her sister managed to pack her belongings and flee the compound. The group, unable now to hold her, told her she could leave but would fail in the outside world.
After she moved out, Lyons’ job went sour because she failed to make sales quotas. She had few friends at work because her indoctrination had made her “a freak,” she said. She did not engage in what the ministry called “secular talk.”
She gravitated to Christian megachurches that she now calls “sub-cults.” The trauma, emotional abuse and manipulation Lyons suffered at the hands of Total Freedom Program were familiar to me because of the two years I spent investigating the Christian right for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” In the closed world of the Christian right, pastors, “disciplers” and “prayer partners” define all doubt, questioning or “backsliding” as a sin and the work of Satan. Submission to authority becomes the only proper way to serve God. Critical judgment is abolished. Religious clichés shut down independent thought. All other ways of living become a compact with the demonic. A persecution mentality is pounded into adherents, making them deeply distrustful of outsiders. It is an ideology of fear and abject obedience to authority. And all those who walk away are condemned and branded as apostates. Lyons’ story is the story of millions of Americans who live or have lived inside these hermetically sealed systems of “Christian” indoctrination.
Eventually, Lyons recovered enough of herself to leave Florida. Before she departed she packed documentation of her stay at the Iannello complex, hoping some reporter would tell her story as a warning to others. Through friends she contacted me.
When Lyons drove out of the Ocoee area last week—in her 1991 Honda Civic, with some 236,000 miles on it and duct tape holding up the dashboard—it was emotionally wrenching for her. She repeated over and over to herself in the car: “I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep going. I gotta get out of here now. I gotta get out of here now.”
She continues to be haunted by the indoctrination. She is struggling to shake off a belief system that defined as evil her natural instincts, her thoughts, and her desires for personal happiness and independence. Her speech remains infected with the jargon of the ministry. She says her fight now is to become whole.
The experience with the program “sucker-punched me,” she said. “They took away my self-respect and my self-esteem. They eviscerated me. They took the life out of me. Any natural instinct I had was condemned. I’m doing better [now], but I maintain a certain numbness because of the damage. I never fought so hard, once I realized my predicament, to get myself back.”
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