Why I Left an Evangelical Cult | Dawn Smith | TEDxNatick
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Why I Left an Evangelical Cult | Dawn Smith | TEDxNatick

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Cristina Bufi-Pöcksteiner 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 ex-hippie
and together with my grandfather, he started a small cult
called the Assembly. Yeah, this is a super light-hearted story. (Laughter) So, I find myself at five 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. (Laughter) And my dad is yelling the gospel
at people as they walk by because he believes that’s a sure-fire 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. (Chuckling) But I’ve been taught that I could be
the only thing standing between a soul and the burning, fiery furnaces 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. (Laughter) 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, 16 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, non-denominational,
religious, fringe group – (Laughter) 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.” (Laughter) 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, “do women really need equality”? So, I guess post-Augustine,
but pre-feminist early Christians. (Chuckling) 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 derails
the will of an almighty god like a woman in a one-piece. (Chuckling) 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 US. These trips are some
of my favorite childhood memories. We had 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. (Laughter) Clapping loudly after a performance. God only gets the glory
with the soft clap. Also forbidden: psychiatry,
dancing, happiness, freedom, adorable baby puppies. (Laughter) But don’t worry, there was still so much
in the Assembly that we could enjoy, like – kale. (Laughter) Creepy men. (Laughter) Climate change denial. Pyramid schemes were a big thing. Weird diets. Also enjoyable: anxiety,
sorrow, depression. Untreated, okay? Because
psychiatry is for unbelievers. Cults don’t want to be defined as a cult because it empowers its members
to take a critical look at it. Language in 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. (Laughter) Maybe a little less murdery. I was ecstatic. My parents were appalled. Short hair was God’s plan for men only. At five years old, I had already
foiled the almighty God in his somewhat specific
and kind of fragile plan for my hair. (Laughter) The Assembly had a school
for all of 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! (Laughter) 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, especially by wonderfully
power-hungry men, like elder Earl. Sure, he didn’t see the wisdom
in a good stick of deodorant. (Laughter) But when I was 15 and I had the gall
to wear 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. (Laughter) Revlon’s light lip blush number 666 – (Laughter) 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 Assembly’s
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. Cults 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 cousins, 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. Cults 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 I 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? (Laughter) I went crazy, you guys! Crazy. I watched every rated-R movie – (Laughter) that had ever been produced
since the dawn of time, OK? I don’t regret a minute of it. I cut my hair short,
painted my nails Satan-red, pierced my ears. More importantly, I admitted, “I want to have a career. I’m going to 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 this street
corner next to a man, who was yelling the gospel
at people as they walked by. I walked up to her and I knelt 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)

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

  1. @16:00 I am NOT religious to the extent that I don't even believe in an afterlife.  But this display of emotion was contrived.  She's right, of course, but a very poor speaker.  And why is she married?  This only perpetuates patriarchal nonsense.  Ridiculous.  Abolish marriage.

  2. A lot of evangelicals try to control and manipulate followers I'm a believer in the god of the Bible but lots of churches do not want you if they can't manipulate or control you

  3. There is a major difference between religion and relationship with God. To group them together is a big mistake and most will group them together.

  4. Ok but not ok unless she does not swap bondage to the Assembly with bondage to the American culture. The American culture is a whole lot easier to digest but in the end can be a hard task master like controlling church leaders.

  5. I was part of a cult for 20 years. It was a non-denominational branch of the Jesus movement as well. I'll be straight forward and name it: Jesus fellowship of believers. Shame and guilt were used by men to manipulate people into working such long hours that we couldn't think straight (a common cult tactic). They target college aged people too, very blatantly. And if you questioned authority you were labeled as rebellious or worse. Gaslighting is a every day occurrence. My heart breaks for my ex husband and all those I left behind who are still in that prison of the mind.

  6. It’s to bad she thought comical would be a good delivery on such a topic … quit watching at ya 3 rd joke sweety

  7. 2 Thessalonians 2:11


    “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:” 
    King James Version (KJV)

  8. I left the Catholic church a long long time ago. I only do funerals weddings and christenings out of family courtesy. I certainly don't miss the tedium,the ridiculous stories and the sanctimonious preaching about stuff like abortion,etc. I live and let live AND they can't get their greasy mitts on my dosh either.

  9. LORD JESUS IS ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN ❤️ ( Father , Son and Holy Spirit = ONE GOD ADONAI JAHVE ❤️ JESUS IS GOD ❤️ ADONAI JAHVE ) GOD is Spirit , JESUS was GOD in Flesh on Earth 🌍 LORD JESUS WIN ON CROSS FOR US !!! Please Repent IN JESUS NAME ❤️ ( religion + vatican + alah = satan ) JESUS is not religion , LORD JESUS IS GOD ❤️

  10. The similarities between this cult and Jehovah´s Witnesses are uncanny, including the child abuse cover-ups. I am so happy for the freedom that comes with educating yourself.

  11. I am 100% against cults and jehovahs witnesses and the way she was raised is sad.

    Now with that being said Jesus Christ is real. You can decide not to believe in him but one day when you leave this earth you will know the truth.
    I was not raised religiously I was raised by an atheist
    But I experience God every day and he is more real and tangible than the phone I am holding in my hands to type this.
    I just wanted to state that if you’re reading this, Jesus Christ died so that you might have life abundantly in him.

  12. Unfortunately too many people wait on God to act and fail to realize when you know what is right, and you act on it, you bring God with you. Stop waiting on God, God is waiting you YOU.

  13. It’s too bad this cult gave you such a bad view of Christ followers. They are certainly not. Most evangelical Christians do not live this way. Jesus is all about freedom from The Law.

  14. We can now thank God that Intersectional Marxist Feminism and Identity Politics and Hollywood are not cults by any stretch of the imagination.

  15. Yeah, NICE TRY, you CLIMATE EXTREMIST. 98% of scientists do NOT agree on the “danger of climate change “. The climate has ALWAYS and will ALWAYS CHANGE. The “CLIMATE CHANGE “ crowd IS a CULT. Congratulations. You have swapped one CULT for another CULT.

  16. Every gospel or church teaching us to pray other than lord Jesus is cult. Jesus is Holy God he never takes recommends from anyone..

  17. I am so sorry the fundamental people gave you this image of God. He actually gives us grace and freedom, not those rules that keep us slaves

  18. It may be a tragedy for some to realize near the end of their life that they wasted their entire life living in a cult – but there is a surreal peace knowing that you died a free person.

  19. I had all the freedom I wanted in life, but I was dead and empty inside. I just faked being happy with dating, shopping, drinking, traveling, studying etc. It is all dust in the wind, a deceiving thing, a life without direction. I came to realize that I do not need nail polish, television, diplomas to be happy later in life. God gave me a chance to start a new life seeking righteousness and holiness. It was definitely the best thing that ever happened to me. Thanks Jesus.

  20. Very powerful stuff. What if in reality though, we took Jesus simply for who He was, what He said & what He did? Think about that for a second. Cults 'force' their agendas. Scientology does exactly that too – as the cult that it is. Now Jesus never 'forced' the rich man to sell all of his possessions & follow Him, He simply said "Go & sell all of you possessions & give the money to the poor, then come & follow me". When the rich man backed away & declined Jesus' invitation, Jesus didn't yell or scream out "Hey! Come back here you glutton!" He let him the rich man leave on his own accord & noted simply "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to accept the kingdom of Heaven". A notable point indeed, as a result of being of this world, instead of simply in this world.

    To that point again, Jesus also commanded us to love one another, as He loved us. Doesn't 'love' promote a level of acceptance & tolerance without enforcement of an agenda? We dont have to agree, but lets disagree respectfully & without malice

  21. That's why I decided to leave the church but it doesn't mean I left God. I still believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I still have faith in him. I still believe that He is God and I love Him. But I don't like the do's and don't's of churches as if it's the only way to heaven. I was born and raised in a conservative Christian church/community where we were not allowed to even clap to God during worship. Women were not allowed to wear pants, should only have long hair, should only use the KJV of the Bible (other versions were considered fake or not original), couldn't watch in the cinema, not allowed to sing/listen to secular songs, women don't have the right to be a leader, not allowed to join other denominations of Christian Church even though they both believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior etc…

  22. "Staunch loyalty to any group is wrong if it means supporting an abusive, narcissistic, pathological liar" ..so true!

  23. You are not only not a believer, but are actually stumping for Satan. That makes for a more stricter judgment. Sad case, here.

  24. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, so that you can have eternal life? Do you believe that you must love God with all your heart, soul, body, mind, and strength? Do you believe that you must love your neighbor as yourself? That's all that there is.

  25. "men…men…men…men…" Sounds to me like you just joined another cult. They didn't do it because they were male, they did it because they were power hungry sociopaths.

  26. Careful not to lump Jesus Christ in to a secular sinful human being created 'religion". God did not create all of these "religions" – not methodists – not presbys – not mormons – not catholics – not baptists – etc.

    WE (mankind) created all of those – including this young woman's family.
    Christ tells us to pick up that cross and follow HIM. Not man. Not a building with a cross on the
    top. Not a group of people. Not a doctrine written by man or a group of people.

    Follow HIM.

  27. Ever notice how these cults are always oppressive toward women and preach women are not equal … and shouldn’t want to be.

  28. This is the result when we value more on religion than the relationship with God… and those leaders who think they are the most "anointed" abuse their powers while they use the bible for their personal interest …sad but true… 🙁

  29. There was cultic stuff that went on during my marriage. We visited my ex-husband's (was husband at the time) aunt while his grandmother was dying. The aunt beat my cousin with metal coat hangers right in front of me and made my own children sit in a tiny corner of the room to play with toys. If a toy even creeped past the tape line on the floor in the corner, husband's aunt would absolutely go BALLISTIC! I ended up reporting the aunt to child abuse while we were staying in the house with her. I was seen by the family as a shameful whistle-blower. Nothing was done but my ex and his sister and I went and brought his cousin a few years later back to our home. She lived with us for a year. Flash fwd, she had a baby boy and moved the abusive egg donor to come help take care of the baby boy. One day, "SMACK!" the woman had HIT A 3 day old baby. When I told my cousin, she said "you never liked my mother! You're lying!" I told her "believe what you want but please take your baby to a doctor for help!" She did and sure enough, there was proof of bruising on the baby's legs. An order of protection was taken out but the cousin moved out of state and brought the abuser to her home to live there to raise her children. UGH. This person is now the mother of 11 children and married to a narcissistic man who, thankfully, seems to be treating her a bit better than he was. It's a sad but true story that hit very close to home.

  30. Yes, she does love purses, nail polish, earrings, form-fitting skirts, leather sash/belts, and go-go boots more than Jesus. Guess where she goes on Judgment Day.

  31. God sees the heart not the outward appearance. What she’s saying is old fashioned outward holiness. But I prefer to live amongst Christians, it is safer. There’s support groups as well.

  32. What a powerful speech. She should be hired to do public speaking and spread the message about fanatics cults. Unfortunately most of the religions are.

  33. funny how she talks about how speech is controlled and then says the usual "98% of scientist" when that survey was based off of 70 selected scientist to ask lmaooo

  34. The word cult is very dangerous and subjective word. It is ushally used against people or groups we disagree with. By it's very definition Jesus and the disciples of the Bible would be labeled cult. Jesus warns us about false believers and preachers throughout His gospels. However he also taught us as true followers of Christ we will not be in the majority, (just ask Noah), read Matthew 7:13,14. Remember the carnal sinful nature of man avoids the cross at all costs. The best antidote for deception is to know the truth which the religious majority crucified and refused to follow.

  35. There is a difference between a religion and a cult. Never heard of an evangelical cult because I thought evangelists are people who convert people to christianity.

  36. As I grew up, I left Christianity ! Because its based on fallacies, fictions & contradictions. Now I'm a Free Person. And now I'm fascinated with Eastern Scientific Religions, such as: Hinduism, Jainism & Buddhism!

  37. I grew up in a cult in Calif and it greatly affected my family, the book that helped me the most to gain clarity is "The Mind of the Bible Believer" by Edmund Cohen who got brainwashed at a Calvary Chapel in CA and describes the process and eventual recovery..

  38. Ok, I want to keep watching, but the sound of her mouth moving is just so annoying to listen to. Does anyone else hear that noise when she moves her mouth? It’s like she has on lip gloss that smacks and a dry mouth. Not sure why that noise gets on my nerves but it does.

  39. Several very good points. A few others spun a little indiscriminately, clumped in with the former. But the group sounds like a legalistic, authoritarian chokehold, sure to kill all joy and liberty.

  40. "Decided to channel all of that anti-establishment angst into religion"
    So from one establishment to another, put differently.

    Ultimately, power is what it comes down to. People who will, successfully or not, attempt to add weight and value to their individual opinions by simply claiming that said opinions are those of someone stronger than anyone else, or that their opinions are those of other people who claim to have themselves held the opinions of these powerful beings.

    It's like justifying your actions simply because a diplomatic leader holds the same opinion, or defending yourself by saying that the king supports your desires.

    Only when it comes to gods and deities, there is no leader, no king. Only the whispers of claims first laid by those now long dead.

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