Sacramento, Calif. — Members of Stricten Narrow Adventist Church did not even let new convert Waz Hapnin change out of his dripping baptismal robe before they collectively grabbed him.
Hapnin, a complete novice swimmer was unceremoniously thrown into the deep end of the community pool the church had used for the baptism.
Gone were the smiles; the understanding free passes and the kind offers of assistance that had charmed Hapnin to no end when he was first introduced to the church.
As Hapnin flailed around trying to keep his head above water in the heavy robe, members chastened him on his irreverent calls for help.
Seasoned Adventists hollered out reminders about faithful stewardship and the finer points of vegan cusine to Hapnin as he gasped for air.
As he finally reached the side of the pool and frantically reached for something firm to grab on to, one question raced through Hapnin’s mind:
“What have I gotten myself into?”
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The answer to Waz Hapnin’s question is easy: “A cult.”
When people first consider joining a cult, they are treated positively, showered with attention, and are invited to take part in social activities with the group and its leader. Compliance at this stage can be a result of social pressure, but may also come as a result of politeness, or out of curiosity.
Once these positive experiences entice new recruits to stay, older members begin to treat them critically, isolating them and forcing them to take part in lectures about the fundamental beliefs of the group. The cult diminishes the recruit’s sense of self and her ability to make good decisions, so compliance results from an effort to reduce these negative aspects of group membership.
Eventually, the recruits will experience “identification,” where they will comply with the group and its leader because they want to please them, and often because they would like to imitate them. The level of compliance is gradually increased, until the recruits are made to comply with extreme demands.
Cult members eventually begin to adopt the beliefs and values of the group as their own, and will openly make sacrifices for the group. At this point, recruits have become devoted members at the “internalization” stage, which goes together with “consolidation” where allegiance to the group is solidified with total acceptance of all aspects of the cult.
My father was a pastor and I was raised in the SDA Church. I attended SDA schools through university. My name is still “on the books,” but in the past couple of years, I have come to see that there is no “one true church.” Any church claiming to be the “one true church,” and focusing on a list of doctrines more than a love relationship with God, is a like a cult.
Now I understand that most denominations are basically business enterprises similar to multi-level marketing companies, where the real goal is to multiply membership to expand their market share and financial reach. In order to inspire other Christians to join this tithe-generating system, the SDA church tries to convince them that they will be lost if they don’t join this “one true church.” Then it tries to scare them from leaving it by fostering an “us vs. them” attitude where the world is divided into SDA and “non-SDA”–and everything “non-SDA” is bad.
I am glad to attend a local non-denominational fellowship now, where the focus is on falling in love with Jesus, loving God with all my heart, and loving my neighbor as myself, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” I have found the freedom of grace and Christ’s promise: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”