William's "Community Church" Experience
I have been looking on the Internet for stories and information about abusive Bible based churches and cults. I found your web site very helpful and informative.
In 1998 I came into contact with a very abusive and authoritarian church in Illinois. A person I was working with talked me into going to a singles group there. This began the most confusing, deceitful and emotionally painful 10 months of my life.
The so-called community church, which I've learned is not affiliated with any traditional or non-traditional church organization, is pushed as a progressive Christian church. However, the pastor, who is completely unaccredited, answers to no one. The church is actually an evangelical church and loosely part of the evangelical subculture in America. However, this fact was kept from me the first 3 months I was there.
My background is Catholic. Over several months, I eventually was told that Catholics are not going to heaven because they are unaware of grace. Clearly, this is not true.
Even more incredulous, I was told that Lutherans, Methodists, and other "liberal" church members are also not going to heaven because, once again, they also are unaware of the Christian doctrine of grace. One might point out that Martin Luther was the person who caused the Protestant reformation with his theory that it was only by grace that we are saved. This is the very same Martin Luther from which the Lutheran church took its name.
Great pressure was put on me to join and begin serving. My soul, my very salvation in Christ, was at risk if I passed up their offer. I was told cryptically that "you've got to serve and then everything will get better." Serving means volunteering at the church and working for no pay at one of the many ministries or at one of the restaurants in the church owned food court, or the church owned coffee house, or even the church owned bookstore.
I never joined which I consider, at this point, a badge of honor.
Members, some of who I am still in limited contact with, are discouraged from having friends or associating with people who are not "real Christians." Owing to the community churches rather narrow definition of what constitutes a real Christian, these people are for the most part isolated from older friends that they had before they joined the community church. The church pastors warn members to remember that they should not be yoked with non-believers.
Other ideas and beliefs that were slowly divulged to me over the months included the assertion that those in their church that were saved could behave and do anything that they wanted, sinning anything, and still go to heaven; this is a Calvinistic heresy called anti-nomianism. Moreover, since my background was Catholic, and I thus could not be a "real Christian," I was not allowed to date any members of their church because, citing Biblical scripture, we would be unequally yoked. One must remember that these things were not told to me when I first attended this so-called community church. They were slowly trotted out over the months as I became better acquainted with my new "friends" at the "community church."
I am currently researching this very large "community church" in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I am also finishing my MA in American History. Religion in America is not really my area of study but my experiences at the community church spurred a huge research effort into evangelicals and the new community churches, especially this one in particular. I am currently compiling stories of abuse from former members of the church. I have even uncovered evidence of inappropriate fund raising tactics, for the most part kept secret, by the "pastor," who is at this point still a respected man.
I would appreciate any advice or ideas that you or any other knowledgeable person would have on how to proceed. I have undertaken a huge research effort into this "community church" and plan to continue my efforts in order to eventually help others who might mistakenly accept an invitation to attend and to help those already entangled in the church's legalist achievement system. I am also considering putting up a web site for survivors of the "community church." If you know of any groups or individuals that would be of help or have any information on an abusive and large community church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago please let me know.
Posted March 16, 2002
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August 23, 1997
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