Why I Left an Evangelical Cult | Dawn Smith | TEDxNatick



in the late 60s early 70s there was a movement that took place primarily in California called the Jesus Movement where ex-hippies grew up a little bit had some kids and decided to channel all of that anti-establishment angst into religion my father was one such X hippie and together with my grandfather he started a small cult called the assembly yeah this is a super light-hearted story so I find myself at 5 years old I'm standing on a street corner in my favorite conservative dress the pink one with the white pinstripes and I have my favorite white purse slung over my shoulder because I love purses almost more than I love Christ himself and my dad is yelling the gospel at people as they walk by because he believes that's a surefire way to win people to Christ I'm terrified because I'm a quiet kid and I'm shy and I avoid confrontation at all costs and even in my brief five years of living I have learned that yelling the gospel can be interpreted by some as confrontational but I've been taught that I could be the only thing standing between a soul and the burning fiery furnace of Hell so there I am it's at that moment that I see her she's an older woman and she's got this gray flyaway hair and she's not wearing any nail polish and I don't understand how anybody outside of the group I'm in would go one day without nail polish because I love nail polish almost as much as I love Christ himself but it's totally forbidden she locks eyes with me and she walks up to me and she gets down on one knee and she says one day you will grow up and you will realize you can leave all of this all of us have had to grow up and leave something probably not a cult it might have been an unhealthy relationship or a drug habit maybe you just have a really strong sweet tooth leaving is incredibly difficult but it is also completely life-changing a fun fact that all cults share is that they reject the label cult even now sixteen years since I left my parents will give me a list of reasons why the assembly was not a cult so fine it wasn't a cult it was an evangelical fundamentalist nondenominational religious fringe group whose charismatic leader could do whatever he wanted but it wasn't a cult sure we had some strange religious beliefs you might even call them extreme and we did live in communal homes together maybe we didn't exactly integrate into society with silly things like demanding careers but it wasn't a cult because we had mainstream religious beliefs like God is all present God is all-knowing and women can't pierce their ears we wanted to return to the simple life of the early Christians not sure we knew exactly how early we were talking we didn't want to be literally thrown to the Lions but also to women really need equality so I guess post Augustine but pre feminist early Christians my grandparents George and Betty were in charge George was a fantastic public speaker a charismatic leader and an abusive narcissistic pathological liar my father was an elder and my mother was his wife but it wasn't a cult because women could go to the beach just like anybody as long as we were fully clothed because nothing derailed the will of an Almighty God like a woman in a one-piece the Assembly targeted college aged kids vulnerable because they're on their own for the first time and they're looking for a community a place where they can connect with other people every summer my dad would pack up my mom my sister and I and we would drive to another state to build the assembly throughout the u.s. these trips are some of my favorite childhood memories we at good times together and we thought we were doing the work of the Lord but as I grew up I started to realize the work of the Lord has a lot of rules if you're wondering what this life looks like here is a list of things that were forbidden dating television science ambitious females those things are so dangerous clapping loudly after a performance god only gets the glory with the soft clap also forbidden psychiatry dancing happiness freedom adorable baby puppies but don't worry there was still so much in the assembly that we could enjoy like kale creepy men climate change denial pyramid schemes were big thing weird diets also enjoyable anxiety sorrow depression untreated okay because psychiatry is for unbelievers Colts don't want to be defined as a cult because it empowers its members to take a critical look at it language and cults is controlled because language is powerful this happens in the real world too despite what 98% of our world's scientists say let's not call it climate change when I was five years old my mom was trying to recruit this hairdresser into our group so she sent me for a haircut I told her that my secret hero was Mary Lou Retton the Olympic gymnast and she tried to cut my hair like hers basically I came out of there looking like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men maybe a little less murdery I was ecstatic my parents were appalled short hair was God's plan for men only as five years old I had already foiled the Almighty God and his somewhat specific and kind of fragile plan for my hair the Assembly had a school for all the kids to go to through eighth grade my mom was the principal for about two seconds until the elders realized they had mistakenly put a woman in charge women were never encouraged to be in the workplace but if they had to be they should not be in charge of men that wasn't biblical but remember it wasn't a cult it was a wonderful place to be a young woman we didn't have the burden of forming our own opinions the men got to do that heavy lifting it's so luxurious to be told what to think a special by wonderfully power-hungry men like elder Earl sure he didn't see the wisdom and a good stick of deodorant but when I was 15 and I had the gall to our lipstick to a church meeting he had the wisdom to tell me I had distracted him the entire two-hour meeting because my lips were on my face Revlon's light lip blush number 666 had kept this poor servant of God from hearing God's voice that was my bad I needed to apologize because the Assembly did target colleges I was allowed to go to college and this was the biggest break of my life I had to start a Bible study on campus at UC Irvine and I had to live in a training home in Fullerton training homes were the Assemblies communal living homes where groups of people would live with an elder his wife and kids basically it was a super fun way of making sure that we had no free time Colts are all-consuming they don't allow their members to invest in a life outside of the group but College became a refuge for me it was the first time in my life I could spend hours of my day without seeing anybody from the assembly and at the same time I was getting an education this world that I had been taught was dark was actually amazing get this women in the arts women in science there was a place for me there if I wanted it I started to see how small my worldview really was I could have left the assembly by then I was over 18 but in a cult when you leave you're shunned and I wasn't ready to lose my family and my friends women children and people of color were second-class citizens in the assembly to put it mildly there was emotional and psychological abuse but there was also physical abuse when I was a young girl I saw my uncle abusing my cousin's and I told my dad what I had seen he told me he would take care of it and the assembly did by covering it up shortly after I graduated from college I found out that my uncle's abuse had just continued the entire time my grandparents had systematically covered it up and my own parents and the leadership in the assembly had maintained a code of silence trusting the Lord when nothing of substance had changed Colts view professional help from anybody outside of their group as a threat to their way of life women were never to leave their husbands and we did not believe divorce was biblical so my aunt and cousins had no safe place to go in the assembly it was time for me to leave I could not be in a group that sacrificed women and children so that a few men could stay in charge staunch loyalty to any group is wrong if it means supporting an abusive narcissistic pathological liar thank you [Applause] because that abuse and that pathology it doesn't stay up with the leader it trickles down in the group and good people end up doing really bad things my sister and I left the assembly together we confronted our grandparents with what we had found out and George kicked us out of the house I have never seen my grandparents since the day I left the assembly and my relationship with my parents is complicated it takes a lot of work to unlearn behaviors after you leave something like that there was a lot of questioning the paradigm had been raised to believe and it was hard but I can tell you that even the hardest day of freedom was better than the best day in a cult so what does a young woman do once she's left the cult she was raised in besides a lot of therapy I went crazy you guys crazy I watched every rated-r movie but it ever been produced since the dawn of time ok I I don't regret a minute of it I cut my hair short painted my nails Satan red pierced my ears more importantly I admit it I want to have a career I'm gonna be one of those scary independent women I believe that I'm a FEMINIST because women are humans I started writing comedy because comedy for me is the absolute best way to take ownership of my past laughing is powerful a few years after I had left the assembly the romance of short hair and nail polish had kind of worn off I was walking down the street in LA when I saw her a young girl in a conservative dress she was standing on the street corner next to a man who was yelling the gospel at people as they walked by I walked up to her and I kneeled down in front of her and I looked her in the eye and I said one day you will grow up and you will realize you can leave all of this thank you [Applause] [Applause] [Applause]

32 thoughts on “Why I Left an Evangelical Cult | Dawn Smith | TEDxNatick

  1. Imagine a world without cults. Without religion. Without the lies, the claims, the control. Imagine a world where "faith" is ridiculed for the worthless idea that it is (believing something with no evidence). FAITH SHOULD BE A BAD THING. Imagine a world where millions and millions didn't kill other millions over their made up god(s). Isn't that actual paradise?

  2. Sadly, these cults that think that are doing God's will leave people psychologically damaged, turning people into atheists. I also left a cult, they made people think that leaving that church meant that you were falling away from God. Little did they know I had a relationship with God before meeting them and was able to see the red flags quickly.

    Religion is a set of rules and an external effort to try to gain Heaven

    Relationship is an intimate relationship with God. The God that created you for a reason and gives you heaven by grace and not by works.

    Choose relationship.

    BTW the cult that I left is called the ICC = International Church of Christ. STAY AWAY.

  3. She went straight from a nutty religious cult to the "climate change" cult. I guess she didn't really disavow groupthink after all.

  4. If it's Evangelical then it's not a cult, sounds like you were in a united or oneness Pentecostal cult or some of the sort, possibly even a offshoot.

  5. May God bless you, my dear sister, for what you have had to endure. I pray you will be an inspiration to everyone who hears your story. I believe you are an angel sent by God Himself to inspire and save all those souls who have been abused and mistreated by our fellow men and women. You have certainly been an inspiration to me.

  6. If you gotta make a list of reasons your group aint a cult…. you might wanna double check to see if youre in a cult. Glad to see this nice lady turned out ok.

  7. Even regular church can be cult-like in ways depending upon the church and family. I remember doing everything because I was told. Then when it came to going through and finishing confirmation, I was told I'd get a choice on whether I could decide to go to church or not. So when it came to pass, I asked if it were up to me whether or not I would go to church. Naturally, the answer was "yes", but only as long as I "chose to go".

  8. Her story might've been interesting, if her humor, so-called, hadn't got in the way. But she hit all of the politcally correct points… so I'm sure she'll get invited back. She writes comedy. Nobody bothered to her that she really didn't. She will be the poorest of comediennes. She's not funny at all.

  9. I had a difficult time to listen to this speaker's testimony; because, how she present herself and her character, she appears to be very swallow, do not have a deep understanding, therefore, her testimony, experiences, or opinions appear to be meaningless.

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