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Help! Friend in grip of evangelical Christianity

(31 Posts)
GloriaGaynor Thu 16-Mar-17 14:42:26

Not a Christian so I'm trying to be as open-minded as possible.

But what she's involved in seems so narrow and sort of fundamentalist. It's rather like a cult.

Does anyone have experience of evangelicalism either from within or without?

We've been friends for 30 years, but I don't know if our friendship can survive this.

Summerdaydream Thu 16-Mar-17 14:50:04

Is your friend happy?
Does she feel like she's being pressured into something she's not comfortable with?

I ask because you don't sound very open minded. If your friend is happy with her new found faith I don't see what you need help with.

If you find that your friend is trying to impress her religion on you or suddenly being critical of your choices then obviously I would just sit her down and remind her that everyone is allowed to believe in what they want and you don't appreciate her trying to push her beliefs on you.

But other than that why don't you think you can be friends anymore?

GloriaGaynor Thu 16-Mar-17 15:02:12

She's not a very happy person and got involved in a cult in her 20s and ended up with anorexia and psychotic episodes.

I'm worried that she may be repeating the same pattern. She still has an eating disorder but now it's over rather than under-eating.

She seems to be slightly surpressing herself and her actual beliefs in order to fit in.

I don't have an issue with her becoming Christian if that's what she wants, but this seems very narrow.

I'm finding it hard to deal with her telling me 'I know Jesus is telling me to do this' from eating tuna sandwich to making a cup of tea to going into town.

Summerdaydream Thu 16-Mar-17 15:10:08

No experience of supporting someone through any eating disorders but my sister used to be involved in a cult type thing!

We just let it run it's course as it wasn't hurting her / suppressing anything but that doesn't sound like the case with your friend.

Have you tried to talk to her about your concerns? Although I can imagine if she's thrown herself into this then she may not be very receptive to you!

Alice212 Thu 16-Mar-17 15:20:12

oh dear
I had this with a casual friend. She had a lot of problems, turned to something that seemed to me like a cult, and came out with all sorts of nonsense.

I did tell her I was worried and she said that wasn't fair, it was a recognised branch/part of Christianity (not religious so can't put in right words) and told me I had been listening to negative publicity.

I told her that quite frankly everything about religion goes straight over my head - this was also about 20 years ago and I was working 2 jobs so barely even saw anything that might have been written beyond essential headlines - so there was no way I was knocking it because of bad publicity and my concern was that she thought everything was right in her mind due to god telling her.

this culminated in her refusing to move out of her flat when given notice - completely fair notice btw, months more than most landlords would give - and I told her she was being U and she got very angry.

anyway, sorry for the anecdote. I would question her gently but be prepared in case she gets angry. Then it's up to you really whether you feel you can carry on. I have since found out that she lost a friend who had suffered a sexual assault because she went to see her and said "god must have intended for this to happen to you, you just don't know why yet".

toomuchtvandsocialmedia Thu 16-Mar-17 15:22:16

DB was an evangelical Christian - I did not agree with a lot of his church's views - I found some aspects uncomfortable and others laughable. Over many years, it became a topic that we recognised we would not agree on and so did not discuss. Whatever I thought of his church, it was clear that it was a community that offered him love and support through many difficult times (he had lots of MH difficulties) and when he died over 100 people from his church attended the funeral. It did soften my perception of this type of Christianity.

Alice212 Thu 16-Mar-17 15:22:23

sorry, along the line she also decided that certain qualities in her were okay because god - like constant lateness - and only ever stopped for a minute when I asked where she thought people like Hitler stood in her "god intends everything" mindset. She paused for a bit, but then started to justify it and that was the last time I saw her socially - I heard about the landlord thing because she called me asking if I would "stand with her" when they tried to evict her.

Reow Thu 16-Mar-17 15:38:07

"It's a really great book, you'd love the chapter on Orgones"

springydaffs Thu 16-Mar-17 15:58:51

I'm a christian and have on occasion fallen into this type of cultish christianity. ime it passed. I'd have to thank God for that... wink

That said, I've lost two very close friends to what was essentially cultish christianity. I'm still waiting, decades later, for both or either of them to 'see the light' ie come out of their cultish understanding of God (as I see it).

You say she has eating disorders - which I've come to see as a form of addiction. Addicts notoriously make a cult out of anything - black and white thinking - so something like religion/rigid beliefs is going to draw an addict like a magnet.

imo there's not much you can do. With both the above I voiced my concerns - not even aggressively though possibly with horror - and I was cut out forthwith. The last I heard, one of them was schlepping over to australia at every opportunity, leaving her husband and four SEN kids, to follow this particular branch of christianity, namely a speaker out there who was 'raising people from the dead'. You could argue that she needed raising from the dead: from an abusive husband, hideous battles with various authorities re her kids' education, rumbling debilitating health issues brought on by appalling stress...

What's interesting is that I read the cult's literature this friend was pushing on me, and studied it to try to try to understand it and perhaps reason with her. At that time I had fallen out with God for over 10 years - not least because of the very disordered christian orgs I felt I had been mashed up by: God and I were finished as far as I was concerned. But it was just one scripture from this literature that had a profound impact on me. It was a scripture I had read a hundred times but I saw the meaning of it somehow; and God and I were reconciled. So that's interesting! I didn't subscribe to the cult's interpretation of God but my relationship with God was reignited.

You're going to have to let her go. It's upsetting, you have my sympathy. Be kind to her, if you can. Perhaps see it as her way of trying to bring order into her unmanageable life.

springydaffs Thu 16-Mar-17 16:00:48

That was long, sorry blush

GallicosCats Thu 16-Mar-17 16:08:36

I can see where you're coming from on this OP. I had experience of the Christian Union at university and I found the evangelising wing incredibly manipulative. They used to do things like keep calling on me in my hall of residence, gave me one-to-one lectures on how Jesus was the answer to all my problems and kept pressurising me to 'choose or turn away'. Oddly enough it wasn't till I went back to (Catholic) church at home that I could get some perspective on it and see it for the manipulation it was. I told them to leave me alone after that, confident I wasn't necessarily endangering my immortal soul by doing so. You may benefit from space from this friend. I knew an old schoolmate who also fell in with them and became convinced her parents were going to hell for eternity. I never found out what happened to her.sad

Muddlewitch Thu 16-Mar-17 16:29:53

I would be concerned too OP, and would, and have, struggled to maintain a friendship in those circumstances.

I know lots of people that are Christians l, but not evangelists, and although I am not religious we respect one another's thoughts and beliefs and it doesn't impact on our relationship.

I have known a few evangelical Christians though who, like the examples you state, are not able to do that, and take it to the extreme, ultimately believing that God is telling them to convert people and controlling every aspect of their lives. Each of these people has been vulnerable and in a difficult place in their lives before being 'rescued' by their church. I can understand that for them, they want to belong and feel it gives them validation but I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of them being preyed upon at a vulnerable time and 'converted' by other evangelists when they were perhaps not in the state of mind to make an informed decision for themselves. Two of the people I knew then went on to do the same - one of them, for example, taking on a voluntary position at a drop in for homeless people with the sole purpose of converting people (by telling them God was testing them and she could help them pass the test if they came to church and followed her advice etc and then things would get better for them.) It was quite disturbing to see the change in her, having previously been open minded she became someone with very bigoted views on things like sexuality. She was not allowed to carry on volunteering at the drop in but continues still to pursue similar opportunities to 'lead people to the correct path.' It's a difficult position - I feel for her as I know she is vulnerable and to some extent has been taken advantage of but I don't and won't condone her treatment of others, and whilst I respect that she has a choice of what to believe she doesn't afford that same respect to me or anyone else. It's a really difficult one. I used to work on a very deprived estate where an evangelist from the same church my friend had got involved with used to door knock on all the tower blocks and go along to groups for single parents etc to tell them to follow her path and that things would get better. What really struck me was that it was in plain sight of local agencies but nothing was done, seemingly because it was a 'Christian' organisation - if it had been a Muslim or other minority group I am quite sure it would be have stopped very quickly. I actually reported the second example under Prevent but to my knowledge the group is still present and active in that area a year later.

GloriaGaynor Thu 16-Mar-17 18:04:34

Thank you so much to everyone for all your replies - every single one has been helpful.

Spot on about addiction Springy - I've thought that myself. She's not bulimic, as in vomiting, she compulsively overeats - it's classic addiction. Her weight has ballooned. Won't go back to a psychiatrist. And is now expecting Jesus to heal her. And is addicted to this cult.

I'm very grateful to hear other peoples' experiences of evangelicalism as it really chimes. I think the social side has been good for her. But from a philosophical POV they're very dogmatic and she has to sign up to their beliefs. They're massively into the holy spirit and believe a lot of stuff that's not mainstream Christianity. I question it. They do a lot what they call prophecy. Which isn't apparently about telling the future but seems to be channeling of ordinary platitudes.

There's quite a bit of cultic practice that mainstream Christianity wouldn't accept.

Writing all this down and reading your contributions - I realise how bad she really is at the moment. And that I can't help her. I don't have the energy for this any more. I think I've got compassion fatigue.

CharlotteCollins Thu 16-Mar-17 18:22:12

I am a Christian, probably evangelical. From what you say, it sounds like she can't leave the subject alone at the moment because it's fairly new and a major thing in her life. She also sounds a bit immature in her faith... which is to be expected if she's just starting out!

What's her church like? Have you been? Are there any people there who seem she who you could encourage a friendship with?!

CharlotteCollins Thu 16-Mar-17 18:22:49

... who seem sane, not she ...

GloriaGaynor Thu 16-Mar-17 18:32:58

She seems to have sidelined the sensible Christians around her, who are themselves concerned about what she's involved in.

We also have a mutual friend who's also Christian who is fairly dubious about the whole thing. She's a psychiatrist herself and shares my concerns for friend's mental health.

Alice212 Thu 16-Mar-17 18:34:15

Gloria "she has to sign up to their beliefs"

I'm wondering if any money is changing hands here.

I totally understand about compassion fatigue - also you can't tell an adult what to think and do.

oh wait.....!

Alice212 Thu 16-Mar-17 18:35:37

sorry that wasn't meant to be flip, genuinely thought that.

She will pick what is appealing to her at the time. I think it's worthwhile raising concerns as much as you can without draining yourself - because she might remember your words when she needs to get out.

CharlotteCollins Thu 16-Mar-17 18:48:30

Can you just patiently be the voice of reason? "I wonder if Jesus would prefer for you to decide about the tuna sandwich?" "Doesn't God love everybody?" And so on. Would she push you away if you kept offering an alternative view? She might not seem to hear you, but it might help her to think more critically herself?

Yoshimihere Thu 16-Mar-17 19:12:44

I grew up in evangelical Christianity which sounds very similar to what you describe OP. I was quite bitter about religion for many years as an adult for various reasons, and I have been an atheist for a long time. However, it's very easy to understand why this works for for your friend as you describe her OP. I am not sure I'd be too worried. Maybe I am naive but I have very fond memories of that feeling of belonging. Of being cared for. Of being connected to others in the church, part of a community.

Maybe it's not ideal, but neither is depression, loneliness, anxiety, addiction or whatever your friend's problems might be.

Many years later I have attended toddler groups at a local evangelical church, and whilst I might disagree with much of what they believe, they are very caring lovely people.

springydaffs Thu 16-Mar-17 19:56:59

There are some very good 12-step groups for food addiction. OA, FA, and various others. Quite a few. Plus 12-step has a very healthy spiritual thread running right through, called either higher power or plain God. It's an extraordinarily effective programme.

I could recount a fair few incidents of people who died because they were 'trusting God to heal them' and refused appropriate medical intervention or stopped taking meds. Tragic. Blind leading the blind.

GloriaGaynor Thu 16-Mar-17 21:17:30

I wish she would go to OA but she's convinced that her food addiction is a blood sugar issue and she's getting diabetes. (She has totally normal blood sugar, no PCOS or insulin resistance).

Dealing with a food and Jesus addiction at the same time is way beyond my skill set!

I'll take some time out and see how I feel.

MaybeDoctor Thu 16-Mar-17 22:02:17

A very dear relative of mine is closely involved in an evangelical church. It all started out with the CU evangelists at uni...someone from
an off-campus church was actually paid to 'reach out' to students and get them involved. Years later and they are living a life involving some significant compromises, all due to church.

I love them, but really have to look the other way on this topic.

mamakena Thu 16-Mar-17 22:04:21

I'm a Christian too ... your friend sounds like she's in one of those off the wall (scam) sects, or more likely using religion as an excuse for her own issues.

But if she's not asking for yo help / input, you can't do much. If she is, you can challenge her reasoning for example, 'coz God really want you to treat your body like this?'

If she's hurting you or others I'd call her out on it.

Otherwise you can't re control another adult.

exexpat Thu 16-Mar-17 22:25:10

A friend of mine with a history of mental health problems, low self esteem and bad choices in relationships got sucked into one of the more cult-like evangelical churches, with a very creepy, controlling 'discipleship' system, which seemed designed to stop new recruits thinking for themselves or maintaining friendships/relationships outside the church.

I could see that the fellowship and supportive church community would be attractive to her, but it was sad to see her giving up on so many other aspects of her life. We are still vaguely in touch, but our real friendship didn't survive the takeover of her life by the church.

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