From the inside out: 18 Years in Arise Church
Saying why don’t they just leave is the most victim blame-y phrase ever and I hate it!! Abusers work so that you can’t leave, otherwise they’d simply never get as far as they do! You’re doing a great job and what you’re doing is incredibly brave and I hope you have great support around you, you’re saving a lot of people from this abuse in the future
I’m really struggling to know how to respond except to say how deeply grateful I am that you have brought this abhorrence to the light.
I have read everything you’ve written, and probably thousands of comments, and I’ve been angry...but today I am just so sad.
I’ve been damaged by the church and it absolutely shaped who I am today. I’m cool now but it broke me. I would love for every person hurt by Arise to know there is such beautiful freedom on the outside. An ordinary life is such a stunning thing.
(I feel like the responsibility is on those who do believe the story of Jesus is precious and life giving to keep the heat on these movements. The story you’ve shared today, and the outcomes of the”independent” review should be taught in theological colleges.)
Thank you for sharing this. I was at Arise for over a decade, having served as an intern, leader and volunteer. Not that this story needs any validation as the strength of it speaks for itself, but every word is true. It has put into words my experience in a way that I’ve never been able to.
This cuts to the core. Anybody that has experienced abuse recognizes these text book strategies employed by abusers to overwhelm and break people into compliance and obedience. This story is just so important. Its heartbreaking to know how many good, earnest people are having their sense of selves and community destroyed as they pursue trying to make a difference and live a good life. This is the best mahi David! Thank you
The complexity of leaving when your entire world is encompassed within the church combined with the pain of severing all social ties and being left on your own sounds exactly the same as I've heard of both Scientology and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The mental strength it takes to break from all of those bonds and support structures and move on is amazing to see, and those that do should be recognized for their inner strength - of which they likely think they have none and can use the support.
You always hear people say “why didn’t they just leave?” when it comes to abusive relationships too, and it’s the same victim blaming mentality. I don’t think the average person understands how daunting and impossible it seems to leave your whole world after you’ve been isolated and convinced it’s all you have. Great post again David.
I grew up in the Catholic Church. The systemic problems within that church are well known, but in our own parish I knew nothing about that and saw nothing like what is being described here. My own experience feels utterly harmless compared this. This is grifting and it is not Christian.
This is so similar to messages I heard growing up (a similar church scenario here in the US). In fact, before we left, my daughter (7 at the time) won the coveted "I'm Third Award" for the church youth program. "God first. Others Second. I'm Third." It is indoctrinated into children EARLY to give all of themselves and focus on the needs of "the church" which is directly serving God by proxy. It's terrible mindset to deprogram (still working through it).
Thanks for exposing this world.
Thanks David for sharing this story and for how you've approached the whole mess of Arise.
It's a unique perspective that people who haven't been part of the pentecostal megachurch experience - or indeed any kind of cult - have a hard time understanding why people stay. As someone whose youth was shaped by Peter and Bev Mortlock I appreciate the sensitivity you're treating this issue with.
"If someone is attending Arise, and thinks it is Arise that has saved them, then we haven’t built the house of God at all: We have built a temple to a man." What a powerful line, and I think it sums up so well the problems unique to megachurch culture (outside of organised religion in general). It isn't a church at all, it's a cult, and a heretical one at that.
David, I just read a comment on an Arise “alumni” Instagram account that said you’re “pastoring victims better than the church.” That’s pretty full on, and I hope you’re doing ok. That’s a huge amount of emotional labour. This is obviously such important work for so many people. I’m so glad to be a subscriber.
This writing is incredibly considered and insightful. Thank you for enabling it David, and thank you to the person who has explained this so clearly to outsiders. I hope even one more person reads this, and feels safe and supported enough to leave. I can't imagine how scary it would be, so I wonder how or what we could collectively do to help?
Thanks David. And nice shout out to Frosty's podcast In The Shift. For people who leave megachurches the pathway to regaining a sense of self and balance in the world of theology can take years alone but it's the heartbreaking cost of social support, friends and even family that is most devastating. You are doing such good work here and I'm grateful for it. Here's to the haters - they prove the point so eloquently.
“ John managed to dismantle my personhood, and the personhood of many others. To this day I feel myself kick into fight or flight mode just at the thought of seeing him. I felt unable to think for myself in his presence, going along with whatever he said whether or not it aligned with what I truly valued. ”
Before reading your article I have always been completely bewildered how people can go along with these organisations and get sucked into the obvious narcissism of the leaders - hidden in plain site under a guise of religion.
This one quote from your recent post I think underlines the complete indoctrination over a period of time that the victims, and I do believe they are victims, have been put through.
Thanks so much for putting this in the spotlight, and for exposing these places for what they are. It is hugely unfortunate that they are pretty much beyond any real recrimination because of what you have described in your last few posts, and the blatant brainwashing of their followers, but hoping that this exposure might save a few from thsi continued abuse.
Everything the former member said in this blog echoes what happens in an abusive relationship. The initial love-bombing followed by the imposition of impossible standards, the distancing from family and friends, the shaming, the abuse, and the difficulty of extracting yourself from the situation because it's an endless assault on your whole intellect and persona backed up with punitive consequences for questioning that regime or leaving, even down to metaphorically "killing" the victim by shunning. People will feel stupid for not leaving earlier, but the system is designed to keep you so exhausted that you don't have the energy to even think about that, and to break you down so that you no longer have the confidence to believe in your own thoughts and feelings. Anyone who's ever been sucked into a situation like this has been brought into it by subterfuge and kept in it by a layered and complex essentially violent system.
im in tears. a freeze/dawn response you could say. i am eternally grateful for your work— shining a light on this awful truth so many of us live with. barely living some days. most gaslighting ourselves just to hang on to a shard of community. i hope your words cover the ends of this earth. thank you, david.