DEAR ABBY: Last year, our family went through the most traumatic experience of our lives: We left the church we'd been attending for more than a decade.
I always suspected our church was a little "unusual," but because I saw what appeared to be positive changes in people's lives, I kept telling myself we couldn't possibly be involved in a "cult."
My family and I were led to believe we were members of a "special" group -- that we had a "different" calling than other churches, which was why we had to work harder and sacrifice more than the average Christian. We were ordered to terminate any activity or relationship that pulled us away from our church obligations or planted seeds of doubt in our minds.
Finally, things got so weird my husband and I could ignore it no longer. We informed the pastor we would not be coming back. He said if we did, we would become "shipwrecked" -- doomed to divorce, and our kids would not serve God when they grew up. Then two church leaders called to beg us not to "leave the fold."
By the grace of God, we escaped. I suffered nightmares, depression and total mistrust of any other church for a long time after that. We, who were once part of the trusted few, the "elite inner circle," were now the enemy. We lost all our friends. We had known some of them more than 10 years. Although they claimed to love us, they were forced to cut us off -- the same thing we had done to those who had left before us.
Please print my letter as a wake-up call to let people know that scare tactics, manipulation and mind control techniques are very much alive. They are not just reserved for "cults," but are used by some churches. It's called "spiritual abuse," and it's as real as any other form of abuse. Books on the subject can be found at local bookstores and public libraries.
Thankfully, we now belong to a church that does not control our lives, does not shame us when we ask questions, does not resort to belittling and name-calling, and does not blame us for their failures. Instead, our church serves as a positive symbol and source of strength.
If people have doubts about an organization or church to which they belong, they should check it out. If it's a legitimate organization, it will stand up to scrutiny. Please, Abby, urge your readers not to ignore their conscience or bury their feelings. If someone feels something is wrong, there's a good chance it is. Sign me ... FREE AT LAST
DEAR FREE: You are 100 percent right in saying that if something feels uncomfortable, it's time to examine it more closely and do something about it. It's not a sin; it's healthy, mature behavior. Anything that requires all your time and money is depriving you of a balanced life.
DEAR ABBY: I know the world reads your column. I'd be so grateful if you would print my letter.
Why is it that when a person becomes a senior citizen, cashiers, hairdressers, everyone starts calling us "Sweetie," "Hon," "Honey," "Sweetheart" -- one even called me "Kitten"! It really upsets me and other seniors.
Is this something that comes with age, and is there something I could say to them? -- OHIO GRANNY
DEAR GRANNY: The names are intended as terms of endearment. They are far nicer than some of the names people are being called today. However, since you find the designations demeaning, inform these well-meaning people that you prefer to be addressed by your name only.
Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.
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