Cults in Nebraska #3: Former member warns of cult’s ability to control
The Gateway (University of Nebraska at Omaha student newspaper), March 19, 1993
By Blair J. Davis
Mark Larson of Lincoln has experienced first hand how controlling religious cults can be.
Larson was a member of Lincoln Christian, a division of the Boston Church of Christ, for nine months.
He said he was becoming bored with his Lutheran religion when he was approached by a woman while working at a grocery store in Lincoln. She asked him to come to her non-denominational church.
“She was really forward and overly friendly,” Larson said.
She invited him to meet with her and some friends.
“I thought it had more to do than with church. At the same time, I was keeping in mind that maybe that’s all it was. I was still thinking that maybe I had a chance with this girl,” he said.
After he had met her friends, they invited him to a party. Larson, who was 19 at the time, said the people went out of their way to be friendly.
“They made you feel like you’re the star of the party,” he said.
Larson said he then attended the Lincoln Christian Church. He said there was a lot of excitement in the air and a very friendly atmosphere, which drew him to continue attending.
“I was really blown away by the sermon. But they twist a lot of stuff,” he said.
He then talked with a campus advance leader, who asked Larson to study the Bible.
“A good proportion of their doctrine is good, but they throw in some stuff which is not so hot,” Larson said.
One of the things Larson said he didn’t really like was the idea of a discipler. Each member had a discipler, who was like a big brother. Larson said he was expected to confess all his sins to his discipler daily.
“That puts a lot of emotional attachment there. They have something over you then.”
Members were also supposed to report to and imitate their discipler, who acted as a role model.
Larson said during that nine months he struggled with who’s right and who’s wrong about three times. His mother was working on getting him out and sometimes, he said, the things she said to him would plant doubts in his head. But the members of the church had planned for this already.
“They teach you that any way of people trying to get you to get out is persecution and that’s supposed to happen,” Larson said.
When he had doubts, Larson said, he would end up talking to members of the group about them because of the close ties with them.
It was eventually one of the church’s rules that caused Larson to leave Lincoln Christian. He said the church wouldn’t allow members to date people outside of the movement.
He met a girl outside the movement and wanted to date her. Larson said he realized the church would prevent him from doing that, but he decided to date her anyway.
“I knew what their reaction would be,” Larson said, so he left.
“When I first got out, I still had a part of me that hadn’t let go,” he said. “But then I started to wake up.”
Larson said he is now engaged to the girl he left the movement to see.
“She basically planted seeds of doubt in my head,” he said. “She got me to think for myself. When you’re in the church, they take away all your decision-making.”
Larson said the minister was the central figure in the Lincoln Christian Church. That leader, he said, would change anytime there was a problem in the community with the church. Just recently a new minister was brought in after signs warning students about the religious cult were put up.
Larson said the church has lost about 15 to 20 members since then. It now has approximately 50 to 60 members.
Larson said the head of the entire church is in charge of a church in Los Angeles and has movements set up in 10,000 other churches.
Larson said the pressure to give money to the church is strong, although it didn’t affect him.
“Some people that I knew of, they felt that it was the thing to do, to give them all they could give,” he said.
Larson said he mostly wants to stress to people the amount of control involved in a religious cult. He said the discipling system was one way the movement had of controlling its members.
“I really think the discipling system that they have is really corrupt,” he said.