A man who managed to break free from his former church, which he claims was a ‘hipster Christian cult’ has used his experience to help other families of victims and fellow survivors as one of the UK’s only ‘exit counsellors’.
Richard Turner, 38, from York, who is autistic, which can make it difficult to interact with people, claims that he was ‘love-bombed’ by the controlling leaders of CP3 Pentecostal, which he joined in 2013.
He claims the group took advantage of his low self-esteem by ‘buttering him up’ and showering him with praise.
Ironically, his rigid sense of justice, which he also attributes to his autism, then helped him to escape their clutches and reclaim his life.
Richard Turner, 38, (pictured) from York, who was lured into a ‘hipster Christian cult’ in 2013, has revealed how he was able to leave the sect
‘Like a lot of autistic people, I had been on the receiving end of bullying in high school and my self-esteem was quite low, so I responded very well to the love bombing,’ Richard said.
‘But a lot of autistic people also have a strong sense of justice, of right and wrong, and in the end that overrode the cult rules.’
Despite still dealing with the mental fall out of his ordeal, he has now completed a Masters degree in the psychology of coercive control at the University of Salford in Greater Manchester – the only such course in the country.
And he has made it his mission to help others whose lives have been decimated by cults.
He said: ‘I didn’t want anyone to go through what I did. I didn’t want anyone to feel so isolated. I wanted to become a person they could talk to – which was someone I didn’t have.’
Richard first came across the cult in 2013 when he was looking for a job working with the victims of human trafficking and what he thought was a ‘hipster church’ working in this field turned out to be a sect.
Richard’s eight ways to spot that a group may be a harmful cult:
1. They seem to want to be friends with you immediately.
2. They offer a definitive answer to all life’s problems.
3. They ask for money or for you to enroll on expensive courses.
4. Members you speak to struggle to spot weaknesses in the group.
5. They are often preoccupied with bringing in new members.
6. They may talk about the leader as if they are a prophet or a divine figure.
7. They discuss those who have left the group in negative terms.
8. Everything seems ‘too good to be true’.
‘Part of the reason I got sucked in so quickly was because they were doing a thing called ‘love bombing’ that’s common in cults,’ he said.
‘The leaders kept saying, ‘Oh Richard you’re amazing, you’re great’.
‘When you struggle to fit in with people, as I do, because autism means you see the world differently and your self-esteem can be quite low, this is very effective, and it really sucked me in.
‘People would say, ‘You’re great. I can see great things for you.’
‘I would be on the verge of crying. No-one had ever spoken about me like this before. It was really powerful.’
Despite having a gut feeling that all was not well at his first church event, Richard was sucked in by the lights, music and the rock star-style charisma of the speakers.
Richard said: ‘You go in and it’s dead loud, you can feel the music vibrate, they’re trying to make you feel good – to get you to have a good time.
‘You come away from the services and you’re sky high, because you’ve been singing for an hour. You think, ‘Because I feel so good, it must be God. God must be here, so it must be OK and it must be safe.’
‘Looking back, it was almost like being hypnotised.
‘And while you’re feeling like that, they’re asking you for money. So, you’re not even on your guard.’
Richard (pictured), who is autistic, said he had low self-esteem from struggling to fit in with people, however the group would praise him
What is C3 Pentecostal church?
In a YouTube interview, Richard revealed that the church he was lured into joining was C3 Pentecostal.
C3 has previously been accused of ‘selling miracles for money’, advising sick members not take their medication and encouraging people to ‘pray the gay away’.
The evangelical church founded in Sydney in 1980, boasts over 500 churches around the world with locations including Sweden, Brazil and England. The organisation claims its ‘mission is to help people find Jesus’, while describing their future as ‘more vibrant, diverse and energetic than it is now’. C3 members believe the Bible is their guide to life.
- There is one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
- In the person and work of the Holy Spirit with His fruits and gifts available in the Church.
- The Bible is the living word of God
- In the existence of an evil spiritual being known as the devil.
- In the spiritually lost condition of all people and the essential need for the new birth by faith in Jesus Christ.
- In the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a gift available to believers subsequent to the new birth, with normal evidence of speaking in other tongues
- In the sacraments of the Lords Supper and baptism by full immersion in water for all believers.
- In the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, the one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting separation from God.
- In the church being the body of Christ, and each member being an active part of a local church, fulfilling the Great Commission.
- Marriage was instituted by God, ratified by Jesus, and is exclusively between a man and a woman. It is a picture of Christ and his church.
- Sex is a gift from God for procreation and unity, and it is only appropriate within and designed for marriage.
Sources: C3, A Current Affair
Richard, who was earning just £13,000 a year at this point managing a hostel for the victims of people trafficking, was persuaded to give more than he was able to.
He would sometimes give up to 35 per cent of his salary to the cult, which he says was controlling every aspect of his life.
Alarm bells finally rang when cult leaders started interfering in his relationship with a fellow member, as he stopped being brainwashed and started questioning the way things were run.
Richard invited the woman for coffee after meeting her at an event in a different town – and their ‘courtship’ became heavily policed by cult leaders.
Without his knowledge, they had assigned him an ‘accountability partner’ – who checked that the couple were not breaking the strict ‘no sex or kissing before marriage’ rules.
Despite earning only £13,000 a year from his job managing a hostel, Richard (pictured) would give large sums to the cult
Richard said: ‘This man started laying down the law for the relationship.
‘I was 32 and she was 29, but we were not allowed to stay in the same building, yet alone the same room.
Richard’s five signs to look for if you fear a friend or family member is part of a harmful cult:
1. Personality change – They may begin to behave differently and lose their ‘spark’.
2. Devoting time – They give excessive time to the group at the expense of old friendships.
3. Losing interest – Hobbies and activities they used to love no longer interest them.
4. One size fits all – They see the group/leadership/ideology as the only answer to life’s problems.
5. Financial commitment – They have given away large sums of money to the group, or bought expensive courses or resources offered by the group.
‘He said, ‘You need to learn to submit to the leadership of the church,’ and also started explaining how women need to submit to men.’
Not only did Richard disagree with this level of control, but he felt his partner was being manipulated by her superiors.
When he visited her and stayed in her house, while she stayed with friends, so that they followed the rules, word of his visit got out and his accountability partner started looking into where he had overnighted.
And when Richard argued with his girlfriend at a Christmas party over the fact that every aspect of their private lives was being reported to the cult leaders, he was ordered never to see her again.
Richard recalled his subsequent meeting with his accountability manager, saying: ‘He told me, ‘You’re never allowed to talk to her again. Don’t contact her. Don’t talk about her. Don’t pray for her. That’s it. It’s done’, and this was an order.’
By 2016 Richard’s mental health had begun to spiral downwards, as other members of the cult turned against him.
He claims they would treat him as if he was ‘mad’ for questioning the leadership.
‘At this point, my mind was getting really scrambled, because I was being treated as if I’d gone mad but it was them that were causing the situation,’ he said.
Rather than quitting, desperate to claw back the love and respect he had felt when he first joined, Richard started devoting himself even more to the cult – donating more money and moving into shared accommodation with other members to demonstrate his commitment.
He said: ‘Despite all this, I was being isolated.
‘You can imagine my state of mind at this point. Earlier on I’d thought these leaders were prophets, that they heard from God, so when they started turning on me, I thought there was something wrong with me that everyone else could see and I couldn’t.
‘They really drove me to the edge.’
Richard (pictured) was ordered to stop talking to a woman he was courting, after complaining about every aspect of their private lives being reported to the cult leaders
Eventually, later that year Richard had an emotional breakdown, left his job on sick leave and moved back in with his parents Phil, 67, a hospital chaplain and Ruth 65, in Widnes, Cheshire – the town where he was brought up.
‘I was completely humiliated,’ he said.
‘I reached a place where I thought everything the leaders had said was true. I couldn’t think critically anymore.
‘I even spoke to someone who performed exorcisms, believing I’d brought all this suffering into my life because I had supernatural books and Harry Potter DVDs in my bedroom.”
Thankfully, with support from his family, Richard approached his old counselling teacher for help.
And, as he began to heal, he also realised he had been the victim of a controlling cult.
A report on TV into the the coercive methods of the group he had been involved with led Richard to break down in tears as he finally saw that he was not alone.
Richard (pictured) moved into shared accommodation with other members of the cult to show his commitment to the group
Richard (pictured) moved back in with his parents and left his job on sick leave after suffering an emotional breakdown
‘All of a sudden there was national recognition for my trauma. The power of that was unreal,’ he said.
In 2018, Richard enrolled for his Masters in the Psychology of Coercive Control, so he could start using his experience for the greater good.
He said: ‘I still have moments – and especially felt this in lockdown when I’d been on my own a lot – when I doubt the whole thing and think it was me.’
Richard now counsels individuals who have managed to leave cults and has started to field requests from families of people who are still involved with sects, wanting advice on how to get through to them.
Richard researches the group they are anxious about and advises the family on how they should approach the issue.
‘The worst thing you can do is say, ‘You’re in a cult get out’,’ he claims.
Richard explained that this approach could push the victim further into the clutches of the group. The best way is to offer unconditional love and support and turn a blind eye to their behavioural changes, as eventually they may realise that unconditional love is stronger than the controlling ‘conditional’ love of the group.
Richard (pictured), who has completed a Masters in the Psychology of Coercive Control, now uses his experience to counsel other former members of cults
But the majority of his clients are people like himself, who have experienced cults first-hand – anything from an unfortunate brief encounter to growing up in a cult that warps every aspect of reality.
He said: ‘Cults work by controlling and isolating you. To recover, you need to find people who get it.
‘I’m so inspired by the people I work with’s grit and determination and by seeing them start their whole life anew.’
Despite his bravery in facing his fears and trying to help other victims, Richard fears his own mental trauma as a result of his ordeal may haunt him until his dying day.
He said: ‘I’m not 100 per cent sure if I’ll ever fully recover, but it’s such a lonely, isolated experience, I am determined to help others, as I don’t want anyone to feel like I did.’
And Richard isn’t alone, with several others also revealing their alleged experiences with C3 – with one woman claiming she was asked to step down from her leadership role because of her sexuality.
‘At the beginning of June they were in he middle of their relationship series when hey were highlighting different couples in the church and on their social media they would highlight couples on there too,’ she said, speaking on YouTube. ‘Under one of the photos, they asked when they would showcase a queer couple…I was interested because in my mind C3 was an open-minded, accepting church.
‘…And then I saw someone said one of her friends had been asked to step down from a leadership role when he came out and I was shocked. I had heard stories about this but I don’t like to go off hearsay…
‘I DM’d this person and she said, “yes my friend was a dinner party leader and he was asked to step down when he came out. I just think that’s really low and problematic because I don’t really know how things are going but no one is aware of what C3 stance is. People are putting themselves in positions where they can be asked to step down without knowing they’re putting themselves in these positions.’
She went on to explain how she then went on leadership and told them she wasn’t straight, before asking what it meant for her.
‘It was a really emotional conversation and I cried but yeah I was essentially told I need to step down from my leadership role because I’m not straight.’
Elsewhere, another anonymous source took to Instagram and penned: ‘It is my opinion this church practices mind control in order to manipulate people to give far too much money whilst all the time the leaders are lining their pockets.
‘The senior pastor is on £100,000 a year and also charges his own church for service provided by his own business and also gets money from “love offerings,” speaking at other churches.
‘While I was there I lived on hardly any money and could barely afford food and the pastor was driving around in a BMW with personalised registration plates. People were getting given jobs without interview in their charity and were not properly qualified for them.’
Richard (pictured) said he is inspired by the people he works with and it is necessary to find people who understand the experience in order to recover
The person went on to claim they’d heard reports of ‘people being physically threatened to keep their mouth shut about their money is being sent,’ ‘staff members stealing money from the charity that should be used for trafficking victims’ and ‘people being told that women must submit to men.’
Another woman spoke of her regret at endorsing C3 after she claimed she discovered its anti-gay values.
Speaking to Fashion Magazine, she recalled: ‘Near the end of the speech, he read passage 1 Corinthians 6:9–11….’Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’
She went on to say how it was finally ‘proof’ of rumours she’d heard about C3’s views and recalled leaving the auditorium ‘shaking.’
‘As soon I got out of the front doors, the tears started to fall,’ she claimed. ‘The words echoed in my head and the panic started to rise. I had stood behind this church and told my community it was a safe and welcoming place for all, and I was wrong.’
The anonymous woman went on to say how she then gave in her resignation, explaining how she could ‘not in good conscience give my time and energy to a church whose leadership opposes gay marriage and sexual relations.’
If you think you someone you know has been affected by a cult, visit The International Cultic Studies Association’s website for resources and guidance at www.icsahome.com