To express my thankfulness to the Lord I am giving a detailed account of my own personal experience in Providence church. In the first part I described how I was introduced and began to learn these new words. In this second part I would like to describe the persecutions that immediately followed. I think maybe it is rare that young people in developed nations like ours experience such persecution, but I feel that persecutions of this kind will soon become a more and more common experience. I do not think my case is special or extraordinary in any way. In fact I am really just an average white guy, from a small town, Christian since before I was born, and a firm believer who spent most of my life walking the straight and narrow path. But the modern day conflict that I stumbled into could soon come upon you too, no matter where you are from or what you believe. It is a spiritual war with physical realities that is taking place in many parts of the world. So far it may only have affected a very small group of us but it will in the coming years eventually reach all believers across the world.
“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father,a daughter against her mother,a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
Excited about my newfound treasure of knowledge I quickly began to share with those closest to me including my friends, my mom, and my brothers. My mother was the one who had originally inspired my life of faith, and constantly encouraged me to learn from the revolutionaries of the past who lived and died by their convictions. She read the bible to me when I was a young child before I myself could even read. I shared with her some of the lessons and invited her to her to church services every time I visited Texas on school breaks. As she had often done before she encouraged my newfound passion and listened to what I had to say. She even attended service and special events at the church on occasion. I also told her of Jung’s situation – that he had stark opposition which she would easily find if she did any research about him on the internet. This of course did not cause concern, because even Joel Osteen, a famous televangelist here in Houston whom we had listened to all our lives had opposition from groups of people who thought he didn’t teach enough scripture and even accused him of being an antichrist. So if Joel Osteen, who only ever gave encouraging words and always walked the fine line of avoiding any controversy whatsoever had internet opposition then it should come as no surprise that my new teacher had negative critics as well.
Then one day my mother received an email from an individual who goes by the pseudonym, “Captain Porridge,” warning her that I was in a dangerous cult! He also included links to the websites I had already told her about. After about a week she told me about the email and she seemed totally unaffected by it. I was really proud that we could be a part of something new together and not be swayed by negative opposition.
After a couple weeks this individual sent more emails – almost on a daily basis trying to evoke a response from her. He included links to websites he himself had created. He filled these websites with speculation about imagined sex rituals, photos taken out of context, and videos of our teacher in which he modulated and dubbed over with his own voice to make our teacher look like a strange cult leader. He overlayed crude subtitles and gave the videos themselves obscene titles. He also provided links to websites loaded with information about how various cults brainwash people. At some point my mother must have taken the bait, because one day I came home and suddenly she was filled with anger, frustration, and fear. She accused me of being deceived by a cult organization and said I was obviously delusional about the danger I was in. She tried to explain to me how my friends had gained my favor by telling me I was special and that they used this flattery to suppress fears and slowly brainwash me. Of course these were not based on any of her own observations as she knew very little of my relationships within the church. She was only repeating to me what this stranger had pointed out on websites about the dangerous methods universally used by dangerous cult organizations.
She had listened to only very few lessons from the bible study and attended a couple services. She had had a very positive impression about my church but very little knowledge, but all that changed when she began to read about us through the negative lens of this accuser’s website. She would describe the organization in ways that didn’t make any sense to me and were in total conflict with my own personal experiences and observations. I had been in the church for 6 months already so I had a good idea about the church but she did not. I told her these things weren’t true but she lost all trust in me and believed instead in the words of this stranger. It was so scary. At times she would get so angry that she would be crying and gritting her teeth at the same time. She demanded that I leave the church, but all I wanted to do was escape our living room.
My home became a constant place of hostility. My mom often made jokes insinuating that I was in a cult. She insisted I watch, “Big Love,” a television series on HBO about a polygonous family from a cult that branched off of Mormanism. I was the butt of many jokes. It was annoying, demoralizing, and rediculous, especially coming from the person I had been most comfortable with in my life of faith when growing up. I slowly counted the days until my flight was scheduled to return me to California.
I found out later that the same individual who had emailed her had gained access to a private online forum that our church organization was using to communicate between churches all over America. We used the website to share interesting articles, testimonies, updates, and updates about upcoming events. I shared about my personal experience of learning the bible study and posted it privately in the forum for other members of the church to read, but this individual had taken all of our private posts and published them on his own negative site. By taking our words out of their original context and placing them within his own negatively skewed bias the content took on a new unintended meaning. Within my testimony he found a link to my website, and on my website he found a link to my mother’s website, and then tracked her down through her email to warn her of what he concluded was a dangerous organization. He posted parts of my testimony on his site projecting his own negative views onto it and he sent this to my mother.
After I returned to California my mother would call me out of the blue and scream at me demanding I leave the church. Each phone call could last up to 30 minutes, and she did not let up for over a year. She emailed me long letters, sometimes opening with a deceptively friendly tone, some with a commanding tone, and some riddled with profanity and disgusting accusations which I will not elaborate on. It was a terrifying experience for me that lasted more than a year.
This was a very strange experience for me because my mother and I were very close for as long as I could remember and it was very troubling for me to have two important parts my life in total conflict with one another. But there was something that happened to me in high school that helped me to understand the absolutely perplexing situation I found myself in.
When I was a sophomore in high school I used to hang out with a friend from the next neighborhood who had a great sense of humor but tended to talk inappropriately until enough trouble was stirred up to keep us entertained. One day out of boredom we were hanging out on bicycles at the bridge between our neighborhoods. Three middle school boys on roller blades began hanging around us while two moms were walking by for exercise. I don’t remember much more that except that my friend was exchanging a lot of words with them. One of them was pretending to be tough and my friend was making jokes about the kid’s sense of defiance.
Later that week, while I was working out in the weight room at the end of our lunch break, I got called into the office. I was taken into a room where an investigator began questioning me about that day at the bridge. He said that one of kids said I held him over the bridge by his ankles threatening to drop him into the water underneath! I was shocked. He said that two of the boys said the perpetrator was the older boy without glasses, but that the kid it happened to said it was I, the older boy with glasses who picked him up and held him over the bridge. He asked me what happened that day. I searched my memory for any details I could remember and I honestly told him that I just don’t remember anything like that taking place. I was extremely nervous as all of this news was a total shock to me.
He then proceeded to tell me that my friend had already confessed to the crime and that all they needed was my confession. I told them again that I really didn’t see anything like that take place.
Later that day when I got home my mom said that the investigator had visited her too. He told her that as a professional he could see all the signs that I had been lying to him. My mother didn’t know what to make of it because she knew how good natured I was. She came to the conclusion that I must have seen my friend do something wrong and blocked it from my memory. I was also confused by all of this and I felt a lot of shame and a little anger that the officer thought I was lying. Since I really couldn’t remember too many details of what happened much more than us just riding around in circles and talking to the kids I thought maybe my mom was right. Maybe something was wrong with me. Maybe I was too just too positive and subconsciously pushed the negative images out of memory?
Everyone who knew me was in total disbelief and smiling as they told the story. I was known as the “goody two shoes” who never even so much as said a cuss word. I was actually ridiculed on a regular basis for saying, “What the crap” in my most heated moments of frustration instead of saying, “What the hell” like most other kids said. I attended church every chance I got. How could someone accuse me of such a crime? Is spread all over school and by the end of the week a rumor started that I was going to be arrested by the police by the end of the week. By Friday even I was expecting cops to show up and take my nightmare to the next level. But in the end I was just asked to apologize to one of the boys. I gladly apologized to the young boy. I figured if the experience was half as traumatizing for him as it had been for me, then it might be nice to have someone older apologize to him. It’s upsetting looking back now. The officer was wrong to call me a liar and my mother’s doubts, though small, caused me pangs of guilt that made me feel small and helpless in a world of speculated evils.
A year later the boy who accused me of hanging him over the bridge came to my brothers’ hangout spot in our neighborhood. They recognized him and asked him, “Didn’t you accuse our brother that day? Do you have any idea who he is? He is the last person who would do something like that.” My brothers tell me that he then began to exclaim that I really had held him over the bridge. Apparently my brothers were not convinced. They said that he then began to doubt himself and confessed that maybe it hadn’t actually happened after all!
I wasn’t there on this particular day. But I’ve learned since then that human emotions, human memory, and eye-witness testimony are three of the most inconsistent sources of reliable information. Since then I have seen my mom describe the very same past experience as being a very negative experience which she had previously described as being a positive experience. Her attitude towards the people at the event had since changed, and it seemed that her memory of the event also changed to fit her new opinion of those involved.
I’ve heard stories of married people who heard their spouse’s stories retold so many times that later they made the mistake of thinking it actually happened to them only to be corrected when telling the story in front of their spouse. I’ve also seen 60 minutes broadcast repeatedly about the proven unreliability of eye witness testimonies which put most of the 254 men in prison who were later released after DNA evidence proved them innocent.
Though these experiences with my mother were difficult, they could not have prepared for what was to come. In the last and final part of my story I would like to discuss how this family conflict became a matter of life and death.
Read the second part of this series.
Read the third part of this series.