“Oh really? Which one?” they ask with interest.
“I was evangelical.”
It’s weird, the way people react when we tell people that. I often wonder why the reaction we get when we talk about our days with Katrina's inner circle are so much more exaggerated, and this is the answer: They want the sensational things– weird sex rituals and record-breaking mass weddings and Ancient Aliens-esque creation myths. Evangelical Christianity is mainstream. It’s normal and commonplace. Therefore, it’s something people see as benign. That’s something that bugs the fuck out of me, both as a survivor and a researcher– to most people who haven’t been part of a high-demand group, cult just means “recently formed religious group with odd beliefs.”
The Church of Scientology, as an example, isn’t a cult because they believe in Xenu. They’re a cult because of how thoroughly they control every aspect of their members’ lives. So do a lot of evangelical groups. So do a lot of multi-level marketing companies. So do some political activist spaces. Any group can become cult-like if the right imbalance of power is present– a LARP group, a birdwatching society, a knitting class, et cetera.
That's not to say that Weird Beliefs(TM) can't be a tool of manipulation in themselves. They absolutely can. But that is a subject for an entirely different post.