I am a former member as well. In the few short years I attended (2004-2008) I can attest to several experiences that were not at all God honoring and actually emotionally/spiritually abusive.
When I first started attending I was a freshman at CMU. I just attended Sunday services at first and liked their upbeat music and friendly atmosphere. Somewhere in my first couple semesters there, I got a random instant message on Yahoo messenger from someone who, to this day, I have no clue about their identity. They were warning me that the church I was attending was a cult. I thought that was nonsense. The people cared about me and my spiritual well being. I didn’t see any signs of it being a cult or, really, anything that could be described as negative.
Fast forward to the end of my freshman year. I was heavily pressured to get involved on a ministry team and stay in Mt. Pleasant over the summer even though I had not place to stay, no job with which to pay bills, and my parents were fully expecting me to come home. I went home for my brothers’ graduation and then needed to be back in Mt. Pleasant the next day. My brother died in a car crash that very day. There were people who influenced me and used this as a means to keep me in Mt. Pleasant because I was ‘surrounded by those who love me and could care for me spiritually in ways that couldn’t be done at home’ (a rough recollection of the wording used).
I stayed in Mt. Pleasant that summer. I was not allowed to join the construction ministry team even though I had experience building my parents home from the ground up. It was men only on that team and I would throw off the dynamic. I asked about joining the graphics team and was pushed away because I didn’t have enough experience. I was pushed toward children’s ministry and specifically baby church. I did like babies so, sure, I could serve there. I committed to serving every Sunday which soon became every Sunday and Wednesday (hours long prayer service). No real scheduled time off because that would mean I wasn’t serving God to my fullest potential and wasn’t committed.
Labor Day weekend rolled around and I broke my arm while cycling. I wasn’t allowed time off because I was needed for childcare on campus because the church rented out an auditorium for the first few weeks of the school year. No time off for the broken arm, no time off for the surgery. I made a commitment and they expected me to honor it no matter what.
The summer after my sophomore year, I was again encouraged to stay. I was encouraged to think about an internship with the church but opted not to. My roommate did choose the internship and went on wilderness pilgrimage with her fellow church interns.
Later that summer (July) I attended wilderness pilgrimage (a week long camping/backpacking/canoeing trip through the Canadian wilderness. Describing what I experienced as awful would be an understatement. I injured both my ankle and lower back. I was told to push through and if I said I couldn’t, I was told I wasn’t relying on Jesus or the Holy Spirit enough and my faith was weak. I was gas lighted repeatedly using phrases about my weak faith. I was given the map one day and when I made a wrong turn, the leaders of the trip let us canoe out of our way many miles before publicly chastising me for my error and belittling me in front of the whole group for my lacking map reading skills. I was also partnered with a teenager whose parents signed permission for her to be on the trip. She was treated in a similar manner. Afterward we were supposed to meet up and debrief. An email was sent out with anonymous criticisms that were intended to be discussed at the debriefing. The meeting never happened and we were left with some pretty awful things to ponder such as my being “overly optimistic”.
At one point early in my baby church ministry I was given a supplies list to purchase for the team (diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, and snacks for the kids. When I inquired if there was a church checkbook I should use or how to obtain the funds to pay for this, I was told it was to be seen as a tithe/offering from my own funds. I was barely able to scrape by financially as it was and when I expressed such to the leadership, I was told I could possibly submit it for reimbursement but they weren’t sure to whom I would submit my receipt and when/if I would be reimbursed at all. I was pressured further to just make the purchases and “God would provide” and my faith was criticized as being lacking and I was told I wasn’t trusting God with my whole life. I made the purchases and subsequently didn’t have the funds to pay my bills and eat. Even after further inquiry, I could not locate who to tune in my receipt for reimbursement and when I did submit it to a church leader, I was told again, God would provide and that they don’t do any sort of reimbursement for purchases made for ministry. I was to consider it an offering to the Lord.
I was also made to submit a weekly schedule that outlined how I intended to spend my time. I was to account for each waking minute of my time. I was also told to schedule time to speak with my friends who were not believers and to detail my conversations with them. I was criticized for just hanging out with them and not sharing any part of the gospel. I was especially criticized when I told them I didn’t think it was a good idea to be so disrespectful to my friends who are Jewish and that just doing life along side of them would likely be better than beating them over the head, so to speak, with sharing the gospel repeatedly. If I failed to account for every waking moment at the end of the week, I was called out on my mistakes and told to correct and resubmit it to my leader.
Anyone who left the church was ostracized and we were told to pray for their lost soul and for them to find their way back to God. This included even those who left for other churches of the same Christian faith in the community of Mt. Pleasant.
I had a change in my immediate leadership around 2006. This leader was less legalistic and encouraged me to pursue where God was leading when I mentioned spending a summer counseling at a Christian summer camp. While at the camp, I met my now husband. I took a sabbatical from serving and spent time getting to know him and his family, including attending his church. I was looked down on by leadership for not giving of my time and wholeheartedly serving the Lord (though not by my immediate leader; she was understanding).
After our engagement, we sought premarital counseling through Grace Church (Mt. Pleasant). We met only once with one of the church leaders. We had asked beforehand if he was sure he wanted to provide the counseling because his wife was very ill and he might want to focus on his family. He assured us that he would make time. The first and only meeting, we shared our personal histories and history as a couple. Part of my husband’s history includes divorce due to irreconcilable affairs on the part of his ex (a point that he was never allowed to clarify). We were told that GC would not continue to provide us premarital counseling and that we should really take time to seek God because this was not a God honoring relationship.
We left shortly thereafter and asked for premarital counseling through my husband’s church. They happily provided the counseling and even assured us that there was absolutely nothing Biblically speaking wrong with our relationship or our seeking to marry.
We never attended GC again and have since moved several times. We have settled at a Baptist church that has wonderful people. I am still unable to separate serving at GC from ministry elsewhere. I struggle teaching my children about God’s love for them through Jesus. I still strongly believe in Jesus as my Savior but cringe inwardly as I teach my children and remember how certain verses were used against me.
This is by no means an all encompassing description of my time spent at GC but rather only a few points in my experiences.