By Rob Mazak
Everyone is familiar with Religion and the majority of us participate, or have participated in some form of Religion. Centuries ago, if you did not belong to the state church and/or religion, you simply could not survive. Today we have a choice and a freedom to choose to belong to a certain type of church or religious belief. My personal feeling, is that all religions of this world, are essentially trying to accomplish the same goal, the ultimate relationship and union with our creator. Now of course we all have a different name for this creator, and a different framework, or religion to accomplish this goal. To me, no religion is necessarily right or wrong, there are just different names and actions for the same end result. Here in the United States, we all have the freedom to choose due to the separation of church and state within our laws. So, when we make choices for a particular church or religious practice, we must heed our intuition to ensure that we do not get taken advantage of. I have been to good churches and I have been to bad churches.
One such religious organization, from my youth, will forever stay entrenched within my mind and the minds of my family. My purpose is not to point out specific people, and not name this organization, simply because there were also good and honest members involved. Most of my memories of this place are usually kept deep in the caverns of my mind, however, I recently watched a video of the Jonestown massacre, and this brought back all those memories. I was raised in what most people would classify as a religious CULT or commune; I spent the majority of my youth being raised in this environment. I used to refer to this CULT as being similar to the Jonestown commune, without the suicide. After watching the Jonestown video, it is apparent that there is much more underlying the Jonestown deaths. However, there are many similarities to the place where I was raised, primarily the control and brainwashing aspects.
My family and I found ourselves on a plane, bound for Houston in the late 1960s. We were on our way to become members of a very large organization that found its roots in many other countries and states, with the main church and elders being located in Houston. I am not entirely certain how my parents found themselves on this path, but I am certain in had to do with job loss and a new evangelical appetite. I and my siblings were entrenched in the Catholic Church until shortly before we moved to Houston. I do remember attending a “different” kind of church in a rented building downtown. The pastor, or leader of this church was linked to the church in Houston, so perhaps this is how things manifested into a move to another city. My first memories of this church were quite unique, with the large beautiful mural at the front, the impressive organ and choir, and all walks of life as part of the congregation. As a 9 year old, this seemed like a cool adventure, however, there turned out to be some very bad experiences to be had by my family.
Somehow my parents were able to purchase a house close to the actual church. This was a house with quite a lot of bedrooms and a garage apartment in the back. It was not long before my family of 8, was overrun with an additional 15 people. Although this house belonged to my parents, the church and its elders took charge of it, along with all the houses of the rest of the congregation. The elders had positive control of who lived in each house, who worked, who cared for the children, who cooked, who was part of what ministry as well as all of the monetary aspects. This was the true example of what communal living was all about, everyone working within certain areas to support the whole. Now on the surface this sounds wonderful and wholesome, but with this much control of people, corruption is bound to show up, and it did. Not only did the elders control the aspects of each household, they also controlled the dating, marriage and sexual aspects of the each person. No one was allowed to date, or marry, without counseling and specific permission from the elders. Once again this sounds like an ideal situation, until you start to take away a human being’s need for physical contact. I am sure we have all experienced times when we had physical or sexual needs that we needed to have met, but were unable to for some reason. In a “normal life” this doesn’t always last for too long without us finding an outlet for that need. However, those that were involved in this CULT were restricted greatly without any official outlet. So guess what begins to happen? You got it, adultery, fornication, and sexual misconduct, mostly in secret, and cleverly hidden if threatened with exposure.
Here is where all the vulnerable children started getting taken advantage of, some at a very young age. Adults will do some pretty crazy things in order to get their physical needs met, and this involved both men and women, boys and girls. For some reason, I seemed to escape this experience, but I do remember many men and women trying to lure me into perverse acts with them. My siblings, on the other hand, did not escape this terrible experience. One of my brothers reports that a specific young woman, performed and required him to perform many sexual acts over a period of many years. He also reports a specific man that also made him partake in horrific sexual activity, so terrible that he has not ever expressed the details of these acts. When you are an adolescent and a young teenager, you don’t necessarily understand that these things are wrong, or that you have a choice. The adults in the individual households of this CULT, had absolute control of the children within their charge. It is sad to think that any adult human could sleep at night, while they are taking away the innocence of a child. This is only one story of abuse, however, there are an untold amount of others that we will not discuss now.
Sexual misconduct did not necessarily fall to just the children, it was not uncommon for all the adults, married or not, to also engage in sexual activity. I knew about many of these engagements, but I dare not open my mouth and be considered as the next target. Even when there were high level cases of sexual misconduct, the elders either covered it over or just moved the individuals or families around. One of the high level elders was caught having an affair with my mother, yes my mother. The church chose not to deal with it directly, and just decided to separate the two families. Since this CULT was nationwide and worldwide, it was not a problem to find a place for each family. My family was moved to another state and the other family was moved to another country. I discovered that our new place was even worse when it came to control and sexual misconduct.
When my family showed up with our moving truck and our car, our possessions were immediately disbursed amongst the other members of this new community. This part of the CULT was a much smaller group and the control of the people was very intense. We all ate meals together, and everyone had their function to perform. My mother, father and my siblings were split up into the different cabins. At this location we underwent great family separation and humiliation. My family was required to be counseled by the elders every week. At these counseling sessions, my parents were humiliated in front of us children and told that they were horrible parents and couple. I knew this was the beginning of the end for my family, yet I had no control. Eventually, using a political approach, my parents were eventually released from this place, given a car and a small amount of money to move the family back to Houston, where they had to wrestle their house back from the Houston church. You are probably wondering why my parents did not just leave if things were so terrible? They easily could have done that, however, they no longer had any possessions, no car and no money of their own because this CULT had gathered all that under their umbrella of control. So this environment is an emotional and spiritual prison that seems very hard to escape from.
There is a whole lot more to this story after this departure, and even more within the story, but I will digress to complete my point of this article. Religion and their organizations are truly good things by nature, however, they can all stray to corruption at the expense of those who are lost and needy. Just like the Jonestown incident, my experience shows me that it is easy to feed off the lost people of this world. People that are in search of a place, like a church, that can bring them a sense of belonging and provide them with people who seem to love them, often times find themselves an easy target of manipulation. How hard is it to manipulate someone who finds themselves at the lowest parts of their lives, with no self-worth, no self-esteem, no money, no sense of belonging? Not hard at all. People in this world get exploited all the time, in the name of a slick talking religious leader, or a seemingly vibrant and loving congregation. I think religion is extremely important, however, I urge everyone to investigate any new church or religious organization before they commit with everything they have. I personally had to shop for and investigate many different churches before I could feel comfortable with applying my commitment to an organization.
The purpose of this article is not to insinuate that all religious organizations have bad undertones, there are many great and wholesome organizations to become part of. I just feel like we should do our homework and ensure we find the best place for our religious and spiritual path. I imagine that some members of that Houston CULT have never stepped foot into a church again, and what a shame that would be, if an organization can take away a person’s religious faith! Remember, that power within a small group, can and will probably manifest into bad leadership and situations, after all, we are all just human.
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