The Loneliness of leaving a Cult: the documentary, Sons of Perdition

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Last night I enjoyed the documentary, Sons of Perdition, about people who leave the FLDS, a polygamist Mormon sect on the border of Utah and Colorado. Although the sect in which I grew up was not as cult-like, I found many similarities to the way I was raised and the way I left my sect.

1. Arrogance of the group toward all other groups. They preached superiority: We follow God; nobody else follows God.

2. Isolation. A deliberate effort to keep members separated from the influence of anyone outside the group; keeping members ignorant of the way outsiders think and live.

3. Fear of leaving the sect. Anyone who leaves is going to hell. Anyone who leaves is shunned. Anyone who leaves the sect loses their family.

The bishop and the bishop's father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

The bishop and the bishop’s father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

4. Obedience to crazy rules is important for many reasons:

     a. Obedience to seemingly odd rules shows that you are willing to obey God even when you do not understand why.

     b. Obedience to crazy rules isolates you from outsiders.

     c. Obedience to crazy rules shows that you are not leaving the group, that you are part of the in-group, can be relied on, and are safe.

5. Lack of self control. The reason they were seemingly self controlled while in the sect was because the sect was so controlling, not because they were self-disciplined. Now that they are out of the sect they can’t make mature decisions for their lives, like resisting crystal meth.

6. Taken in by promises, gullible. They were easy prey to salespeople promising grand things.

One of the boys' family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

One of the boys’ family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

7. Longing for the idealized pieces of their past life they left behind in the sect. They still sang the old songs, they reminisced about the happy times in their large families. They knew only one source of happiness: big families. One boy remembered one happy time with his family together, tickling Dad. Yet family was also the source of their worst memories.

8. Feeling lost spiritually and existentially. They worried about being damned to literal hellfire, and they also worried about not having a literal father and mother to relate to on a daily basis. They had no faith to replace their lost faith, except faith in a future idealized family they would one day have.

9. Having to constantly tell themselves they were not going back. They had to remind themselves of the reasons why they left, and promise themselves they wouldn’t go back. Many of them went back into the sect several times before they could finally decide not to go back anymore. They rehearsed all the reasons they had left, repeating the reasons over and over to each other.

10. Banding together with those who left. They formed tight knit groups on the outside to support each other.

11. Traumatic memories. Those who left were plagued by unprocessed trauma waiting to be sorted out. They seemed to re-create their traumas, finding demanding habits to serve, and getting thrown out of their new homes, so they could once again experience being thrown out. They were stuck in a loop.

I felt sad after watching the documentary. I saw my parents caught up in, and reinforcing, the traumas of the sect I grew up in, shunning and withdrawing from family members who left. I still enjoy the old barbershop four part harmony acapella songs I grew up with in church, and long for an acapella group to sing those songs with. I joined church after church, believing the sad promises of community and faith they promised, as a facade for their nickels and noses agenda.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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8 Responses to The Loneliness of leaving a Cult: the documentary, Sons of Perdition

  1. investormuse says:

    Hi Mark,

    This email is very timely. I am very interested in doing a documentary on the Church of Christ. Is this something that you would be interested in working on or being involved in?

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Richard says:

    I thank God that His word is still true today, and that anyone can go back to the same principle of Jesus’ first teaching – to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The CoC is particularly self deluded away from the sureness of the word of God and Christ and would best understand that they are the Church of Paul – NOT the Church of Christ – and that they aren’t very faithful in following Paul either.

    Do a google search for “The teachings of Jesus Christ”, or at least believe what Jesus taught to be the truth of God in Matthew. Then continue to grow in His words that lead to life eternal.

  3. coxhulgus says:

    Thanks for this, Mark. I see so many parallels to how we leave abusive family systems and grow up to think for ourselves. People from sects like the C of C have a very hard time with adult differentiation. Like you, I relate a lot to stories of people leaving the FLDS… seems so emotionally similar to the C of C.

    • Jonathan Hughes says:

      oh wow – i just stumbled on this page. I grew up C of C in Texas. I have fond memories of my childhood friends (none of which i still have contact with), but that’s about all. I have struggled greatly to figure out what I believe about Christianity. I am so turned off by fundamentalism now it’s hard to even find a church in Texas that doesn’t speak some flavor of this and I get literally ill when I start hearing it now. A few years back I was quite angry that ‘everything’ is a lie and a distortion. now i’m just kinda sad and lost about it. I’ve spent the last several years studying the early church -pre 4th century and Gnosticism. I am constantly attacked by family, friends, “worried for my soul” because I read Satan’s heresies. I’ve had to delete my Facebook page because I posted a book I found very interesting and immediately received a swath of comments that I should ‘start reading the bible’ – that’s my own family – none of these people have any – and I mean ANY idea about the early church, the origin of the Gospels, the Catholic traditions, Augustine, or that Protestantism was a heresy in 1542!! it makes me freaking crazy I cant even talk to them normally!

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