book reviews, religion

A review of Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, by John Huddle…

Amazon.com tells me that I bought John Huddle’s book, Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, on June 17, 2021. I don’t remember what prompted me to buy this book. I think it might have been a successful “suggestive selling” effort, as in I was already buying another book about cults and this one was also suggested. I’m assuming this because, before I read this book, I had never heard of the cult that is highlighted in Mr. Huddle’s story. Huddle and his ex wife and children were members of the Word of Faith Fellowship, otherwise known as WOFF. This “church” is based in Spindale, North Carolina, and is led by Jane Whaley, and her husband, Sam.

WOFF is a Protestant, non-denominational church. It began in 1979, when the Whaleys converted a former steakhouse into a place of worship. Ms. Whaley was a math teacher, while her husband sold used cars. Although neither had formal training in divinity, Jane Whaley was known as a powerful and charismatic speaker and a compelling leader. Since 1979, she’s seen her cult grow from its humble beginnings consisting of a few people to a couple thousand followers in countries around the world– Brazil, Scotland, and Sweden among them. According to Huddle, Jane Whaley claimed to be a conduit to God, and she made up a long list of “do’s and don’ts” for members. Those who violated the rules were punished with Jane’s wrath. Huddle writes of loud praying, loud screaming, and physical, emotional, and mental abuse delivered by church leaders.

A news story about WOFF followers who left the church due to abuse.

In functional, stoic prose, Huddle explains how he and his ex wife, Martha, met, married, and fell under Jane Whaley’s spell. While I wouldn’t describe Huddle’s writing as particularly dynamic or exciting, I was definitely interested in his story. Of course I find reading about restrictive cults interesting, but I was also compelled to read because, like me, he is a Virginia native who eventually lived in the Carolinas. I recognized a lot of the places he mentions in his book, since I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina, and later lived in North Carolina with my husband. My husband is an ex Mormon, and I have a cousin who was a Jehovah’s Witness for years, so I have a personal connection to “culty” religious beliefs. And I really had no idea that WOFF existed before I read Locked In.

In many ways, WOFF’s beliefs and rules reminded me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with some twists. Whaley didn’t want her followers to celebrate holidays or birthdays. She didn’t even want them to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, although they were welcome to eat it any other time of the year. She didn’t want them to celebrate Halloween, but it was okay to buy the discounted candy on November 1. When Huddle needed heart surgery, he told his doctor that he didn’t want the anesthesia, Versed, nor was the surgeon allowed to play music during the procedure. But it was okay to give him a blood transfusion, which the JWs would have vetoed. He made these stipulations because of Jane Whaley’s rules.

Huddle also had to get approval for any jobs he took. Huddle’s work was mostly in banking, specifically with credit unions. But Jane Whaley and other leaders in the church wanted him to work with church affiliated businesses, even if they didn’t pay enough to meet his financial needs or weren’t the kind of work he wanted to do. When Huddle was caught interviewing for, and moonlighting at, a non-approved job, he got in “trouble” with Jane, and was fired from his church approved job. But of course, his boss had expected Huddle to get right with God and come groveling back to work. He hadn’t expected that Huddle would finally realize that he was in a cult.

Another story about the WOFF.

Making the realization that WOFF is a cult cost Huddle his family, as they weren’t at the same level of awareness that Huddle was. That’s one of the saddest repercussions I’ve seen of people getting involved in culty belief systems. Many times, people fall into cults because they’re seeking solidarity and connection with others. But then, when the rules are too weird and restrictive, and one or two people can’t bear it anymore, they end up being ostracized by their loved ones. I saw it happen to my own husband, although one of his daughters eventually came around and stopped shunning him. I think the LDS church is also trying to be less “weird”, as they want to be seen as mainstream, even if a lot of what they do and some of their beliefs and practices are decidedly “culty”. Watch the news videos, though, and you actually hear Whaley scream, and hear in their voices what happened. They were literally screamed at and abused by Jane Whaley, whom they were supposed to call “Grandmother”.

And another story about the WOFF’s abuses toward members.
A continuation.

I got quite a jolt from the long list of rules Huddle described in the WOFF church. The main rule was this:

Members were required to live life as if Jane Whaley was the ONLY true source of the knowledge of God or God’s will.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 129). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

And Jane had a very long and specific list of the way she expected her followers to behave. Here’s a list of 144 “don’ts” from Mr. Huddle’s book. As you can see, some of the rules aren’t that unreasonable, but some are totally intrusive and ridiculous:

I first started posting about the “WOFF Don’t” list in February of 2010. Some rules on this list are now obsolete. WOFF Don’t list Don’ts – (this is a partial “living” list, at times, it takes on a life of its own, continuing to grow…)

Don’t drink alcohol (includes beer, wine or liquor)

Don’t cook with alcohol.

Don’t eat at places that serve alcohol.

Don’t drink root beer.

Don’t drink Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink diet Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink ginger ale.

Don’t smoke cigarettes.

Don’t dip snuff.

Don’t use chewing tobacco.

Don’t associate willingly with those that do use tobacco.

Don’t watch movies (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t watch videos in your cars.

Don’t enter a movie theater (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t read newspapers not even the headlines.

Don’t listen to the radio.

Don’t read or handle magazines.

Don’t watch television (except when allowed at church).

Don’t read books that are not approved by leadership.

Don’t read your Bible too much (Amplified version is acceptable).

Don’t take notes during the services. Only record scripture references.

Don’t forget to go to bathroom before the service.

Don’t get up to go to bathroom during a service.

Don’t bring knives of ANY type on church property.

Don’t be late for a service or function.

Don’t park alongside the left side of the sanctuary unless you are approved to do so.

Don’t park in the spaces closest to the back steps. Those are reserved for parents with infants.

Don’t park in the first spot along the front sidewalk. That is reserved for those on watch.

Don’t park along the street. Use the field only when not raining.

Don’t park on the drive to the school (unless approved for that service).

Don’t park in the first handicap space unless approved.

Don’t park under the awning and leave your car running.

Don’t speed when driving around the church.

Don’t go opposite to the accepted traffic flow of counterclockwise. It causes confusion.

Don’t be on your cell phone when approaching the school.

Don’t drive your car with expired tags. You will be reminded.

Men: Don’t wear a color of dress shirt except white or light blue.

Women: Don’t get your heart set on a dress until you check with others to see if anyone else has that dress. You may need to return yours.

Don’t “check out” during the singing.

Don’t look around at others when you are supposed to be singing.

Don’t close your eyes when singing. You could give over to a “religious devil.”

Don’t stare at visitors.

Don’t bring your cell phone into a service. Exceptions are rare and you will be told when you can bring your phone into the service.

Don’t take pictures during a regular service.

Don’t make your own recording of a service.

Don’t bring visitors unless you tell someone in the office so they can tell Jane.

Don’t take pictures of Jane or other members unless you are given permission.

Don’t be loose with your camera at any time.

Don’t put large amounts of cash in the offering unless it is in an envelope.

Don’t complain when the offering plates are passed more than once.

Don’t allow your toddlers to eat in the sanctuary.

Don’t bring snacks or dark drinks or chocolate.

Don’t chew gum in the sanctuary.

Don’t fall asleep during the services. If you get tired, take your Bible and stand up in the back of the sanctuary.

Don’t wear muddy shoes or boots into the sanctuary, leave them at the door-outside.

Don’t leave your tissues after services. Place them in the trash.

Don’t leave coats, Bibles or personal belongings in the sanctuary. It gets locked after each service.

Don’t touch the thermostats in the church unless you are approved.

Don’t wear jeans (exception may be for construction work…maybe).

Don’t wear shorts.

Don’t wear sleeveless dresses or tops.

Don’t wear dresses above the knees.

Don’t wear a bathing suit without having it covered with long shorts (below the knees) and a dark t-shirt.

Don’t wear cargo pants.

Don’t wear or own anything with Nike® on it. Nothing.

Don’t wear black tennis shoes.

Don’t wear high-cut, boot-like tennis shoes.

Men: don’t wear solid white tennis shoes.

Don’t wear a baseball cap sideways or backwards.

Don’t wear t-shirts with slogans or pictures.

Don’t wear “muscle t-shirts.” Men:

Don’t leave the house without a white t-shirt on under your top shirt.

Don’t go swimming with boys and girls together.

Don’t leave the pool toys out when you are done using the pool.

Don’t go outside without sunscreen (daily).

Men: Don’t allow facial hair to grow. No beards, of any type. No “pork chop” sideburns.

Men: Don’t let your hair get long or unkempt.

Don’t interview for a job unless it is “under authority.”

Don’t accept a job unless you check it out with authority.

Don’t make plans for college unless you have Jane check it out.

Don’t sign-up for classes unless Jane Whaley or leadership checks out your schedule.

Don’t buy a house unless Jane Whaley can check it out. Don’t even make an offer on a house unless Jane can “check out” and “get a feel” for the neighborhood.

Don’t decorate your house unless Jane or her helper can help you.

Don’t buy a car without checking with Sam first.

Don’t sell a car or truck without checking with Sam first.

Don’t get major repairs done without checking with Sam.

Don’t buy insurance without checking with the approved church source person for insurance.

Don’t plan a vacation or time away with your family unless you check it out with Jane.

Don’t assume you can go to the funeral or a wedding of a family member without checking it out and/or someone from the church is going with you.

Don’t celebrate Christmas.

Don’t give gifts to others unless you are “under authority.”

Don’t celebrate Easter.

Don’t celebrate other holidays.

Don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Don’t celebrate your birthday or others in your family or group of friends or co-workers.

Don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries.

Don’t go hunting. Don’t go fishing (well unless it is on an approved “ministry” trip).

Don’t hunt or fish just for sport.

Don’t have bumper stickers on your car (Political season is an exception).

Don’t have “dingle dangles” hanging from your rearview mirror.

Don’t have a slogan license plate on the front of your car.

Don’t buy or drive a “race car” looking car.

Don’t play games on your computer. Erase/delete the games.

Don’t play games on your cell phone. Erase/delete them.

Don’t own or use a “game boy” or other hand held electronic game device.

Don’t play with regular playing cards.

Don’t play hide and go seek.

Don’t play Monopoly®.

Don’t play football.

Don’t ride in the back of a pick-up truck.

Don’t play ping pong.

Don’t play pool.

Don’t play or imitate an “air guitar.”

Don’t play music without singing the words.

Don’t whistle.

Don’t let WOFF children play with children outside of WOFF.

Don’t let children make animal sounds (maybe).

Don’t let children play toy musical instruments (maybe).

Don’t forget to read your Bible before you go to bed.

Don’t let children play with camping toys.

Don’t let children play with “play tools.”

Don’t let children have Bibles with stories and pictures of Jesus (maybe…).

Don’t be late for anything. Be early.

Don’t iron double creases in your pants.

Men: Don’t use urinals that are not enclosed.

Don’t store personal garments unless they are folded neatly in the drawer.

Don’t go to tanning beds.

Don’t ride motorcycles.

Don’t ride ATV’s or dirt bikes.

Men: African American- Don’t shave your head bald.

Don’t start a relationship without checking it out with Jane Whaley.

Don’t decide who you will marry without checking it out with Jane.

Don’t talk to the other person who you are in relationship with unless someone is listening and “guarding the conversation.”

Don’t talk loose and joke around.

Don’t be foolish.

Don’t complain about the list of “don’ts.”

Don’t place the toilet paper on the roll unless it rolls over the top.

Don’t speak to those who have left WOFF unless you ask Jane.

Don’t ask anyone but Jane about those who lately have not been seen in services.

Don’t go in the sanctuary with “sin in your heart,” deal with it before service.

Don’t expect someone else to clean-up your mess.

Don’t back-talk or give excuses for your sin.

Don’t “attack” those in authority.

Don’t question Jane’s authority to run WOFF.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (pp. 118-124). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I appreciated reading Locked In, because I honestly had never heard of this cult before, and I enjoyed reading about Huddle’s experiences in places that were familiar to me. But, if I’m honest, I think this book would have been better if it had been written by someone with more of a flair for writing. Huddle’s writing isn’t terrible, but it’s not very exciting to read. And there was one particular phrase he used twice that made me cringe. At the beginning– prelude– to the book, he writes:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult . Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Then, at the end of the book, he includes the same passage:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 165). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I get the sense that he was trying to be very descriptive about his wife’s strange and unordinary behavior. The trouble is, he doesn’t use these kinds of phrases throughout the book, so it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb and becomes a little contrived. Most of the book is written in a more mundane style, without any fancy similes. I’m not trying to say I would have wanted more descriptions like the one above, which struck me as a little bit over the top. I’m saying that a more relaxed, conversational style might have made the simile work better, and seem less out of place. But I don’t think the book is poorly written. I just think the language is a little bit stiff, which may make the book less interesting and harder to read for some readers.

Personally, I’m glad I took the time to read Locked In. I learned something new from this book, although I highly doubt I ever would have been tempted to join the faith. I’m glad to know about it, just the same, and I think some people will be very interested in Mr. Huddle’s story. I give it three and a half stars out of five, in spite of my misgivings about the writing style. I think the topic is original and fascinating, and the story offers valuable information and a warning to others, which makes it well worth reading. But I also think it’s worth watching the news videos about this church, which really drive home how very abusive and dangerous this cult is.

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LDS, religion

Repost: “Liberal Mormons”

Here’s a repost from March 22, 2018. I don’t have a particular reason to bust on the Mormons today, but I felt this post might be helpful for someone out there. Religious abuse in families is a thing, and the photos in those prove it.

Yesterday, someone shared an article about the practice of shunning within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I got sucked into a discussion about it in the Duggar group I’m in.  There were a few folks saying that shunning doesn’t happen in the JWs, the Mormons, and other religious groups where shunning is supposedly rampant.  I was reminded of a couple of documents Mormon parents gave to their wayward children and helpfully shared them with the group.  If you read this blog regularly, you might have already seen these.  I am reposting them for the curious.

I was actually surprised it took as long as it did, but several hours after I posted these, a so-called “liberal” Mormon spoke up to tell us that these letters don’t represent the norm in LDS families.  She was careful to explain that she’s liberal and liberal Mormons exist… and church members, as a whole, aren’t really as “weird” as these letters make them sound.

Actually, when I originally posted these letters, I was careful to mention that not all Mormon families do this.  There are millions of people in the LDS church and many of them are perfectly good folks.  However, it’s disingenuous to say that shunning doesn’t occur in Mormonism.  It does.  It may not happen in your family or your friends’ families, but it happens in other families.  By the way… it also happens among families in other strict religions that require family involvement, which I also pointed out.

These examples happen to be from Mormon families because I spend a lot of time following stories related to Mormonism.  The LDS church has affected my husband personally.  I would imagine that if Bill’s ex wife had been a Jehovah’s Witness convert, I would be following that faith more carefully.  I do a lot of reading about the JWs anyway, because one of my cousins was a JW for awhile.  He and his family left the church because the local leaders wanted to put a child molester in charge (or so that was the official explanation as to why they left).  

The point is, shunning is a thing and it happens a lot in religious circles.  It has two purposes.  One, is to punish anyone who goes astray.  The other purpose is to warn anyone within the group who is thinking about going astray.  If you leave the toxic group, you will be ostracized.  You’ll lose people who are important to you.  Your support system will fall apart.  These kinds of groups, by design, separate their members from other people in society, labeling them as “bad influences”.  At first, the intimate nature of the group seems close, loving, and maybe even special.  After awhile, when the group becomes toxic, that intimacy becomes a powerful incentive to stay invested.  By the time a lot of people decide to leave, the people in the group are all they have.  Leaving means striking out alone, and that’s too scary for many group members to consider.  So they continue to toe the line.

Here’s another point I’d make to “liberal” Mormons who don’t like it when these kinds of threatening letters put shade on their religious beliefs.  If you’re in a group designed to “bash” fundamentalist Christians like the Duggars, shouldn’t you expect that people might discuss other, less mainstream religions?  Although many mainstream Mormons have been trying to be “normal” for a long time, the fact is, the Mormon leadership actually pride church members for being “peculiar”.  

Russell M. Nelson explains “peculiar”…

Another thing I noticed when I posted these letters is that at least one person felt these “rules” were perfectly fine.  In the second group of photos, it sounds like the parent may be confronting his son for doing “illegal” or inappropriate things.  I think it’s important to mention that many Mormons think that people who leave the church will immediately fall into illegal or immoral behavior without the strict church teachings to keep them in line.  Many Mormons, who have no experience with things like alcohol, marijuana, or even sex outside of marriage, assume that people who drink, smoke weed, or have sex do so to excess.  That’s not necessarily so.  

I know some people get upset when I share things like this.  However, I did get one private message from someone yesterday who thanked me.  She is an ex Mormon and she gets it.  I’m sorry if some people are offended because they feel “attacked” by critical posts about their religion.  I say, if it doesn’t apply to you, you probably shouldn’t take heed.  Or maybe you should…  But there is a reason why church members are discouraged from reading “anti” Mormon literature.  It’s because the leaders know that criticism is a threat to their members’ testimonies… and when members lose their testimonies, they leave.  That means less money and power for the church as a whole.  Think about it.

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book reviews, religion

A review of Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself, by Linda Curtis…

I am fascinated by demanding American religions, so last February, I downloaded Linda Curtis’s book, Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself. Regular readers of this blog may know that my husband, Bill, was once a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is a highly demanding religion. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are also very demanding. In fact, I have a cousin who was a JW and eventually left the faith, along with his family. I knew a little about the JWs and the Mormons before I met Bill, who officially left the LDS church in 2006. I knew something about how people who leave highly demanding religions tend to get treated… although in Bill’s case, his shunning was only partly due to the religion. He was really mostly shunned because his ex wife is an abusive narcissistic creep who used the church to punish her former source of supply.

Anyway, eventually, Bill’s situation partially rectified. One of his daughters– ironically the one more devoted to Mormonism– eventually reconnected with him. The other daughter remains estranged, but that seems to be more because of her mother’s toxic influence than religion. Still, I remain interested in stories about restrictive religions and what happens when people choose to leave them. Linda Curtis published her true story about leaving the Witnesses in 2018. When I noticed it got a lot of positive reviews on Amazon, I decided to read it.

I started reading Shunned right after I finished reading Fear, Bob Woodward’s first book about Donald Trump’s presidency. I probably would have fallen into this book regardless, but I think reading about religion after reading about Trump’s White House was especially inspired. It took me just a few days to read Shunned, while Fear took weeks. Linda Curtis has a somewhat engaging writing style, and her story is basically interesting. I’m not sorry I read Shunned, although I think it could be improved.

Who is Linda Curtis and what’s her story?

Linda Curtis grew up in Portland, Oregon, one of three siblings. Her mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Her father, Frank, was not a believer until Linda and her siblings were adults. Linda’s family often prayed for her father to see “The Truth” and join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Linda fervently prayed for that herself… but when her dad finally came around and decided to join the JWs, Linda was on her way out of the faith. No one knew that watching her dad’s baptism didn’t bring her the joy it brought her mother and siblings, or her first husband, Ross. They were unaware that Linda was experiencing a crisis of faith that led her to question the beliefs she had held dear her entire life.

Linda had always been a devout believer. Parents sent their questioning children to her because she was seen as a good influence. The religion had helped her develop a talent for sales, thinking on her feet, and connecting to people. Like all JWs, Linda went door to door to talk to people about the afterlife. It was something she’d never questioned until one day, when she knocked on her boss’s door. She hadn’t known he lived at that address. She found herself giving him the familiar spiel, telling him in not so many words that if he didn’t see “The Truth”, he was doomed to obliteration. Somehow, Linda realized, as she spoke to her boss, who had also been a mentor and a friend, that she was condemning a man she deeply respected.

After that chance meeting with her boss, Linda somewhat lost her zeal for the religion. Her first husband, Ross, a convert to the Witnesses, realized that his wife’s participation at Kingdom Hall was waning. He confronted her and she admitted that she was having issues with her beliefs. Moreover, Linda and Ross weren’t particularly compatible, and she realized that she didn’t love her husband.

The couple spoke to the elders at the church, but eventually decided that they needed to divorce. The split seemed relatively amicable, although due to their beliefs, they were still considered married in the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religion teaches that the only legitimate reason for a dissolution of a marriage is adultery or death. That meant they weren’t supposed to have sexual relations with anyone else.

Linda and Ross had married young. Linda didn’t initially go to college, even though she was very smart. The religion didn’t encourage her to get a degree. But she did get a job in banking, and it turned out she was very good at it. She got promotions and more and more responsibility. Her family wasn’t necessarily onboard with her having a career; she was supposed to be a wife and a mother. That family life coupled with strict religion was not what Linda wanted for herself. Linda makes Ross sound a bit whiney and immature, but that might be because of her use of dialogue, which was a bit melodramatic. But he also decided to take a drive in Linda’s brand new car after he’d been drinking during one of their fights. I was surprised by all of the drinking that was referenced in this story. I know JWs are allowed to drink (I don’t think my cousin would have ever been a member if drinking wasn’t allowed), but I was under the impression that drinking was supposed to be done sparingly.

After the divorce, Linda moved to Chicago, then eventually San Francisco, as she continued to excel at her career. Meanwhile, she dated men, and eventually had sex. Admitting to adultery made it possible for Ross to remarry, but it also led to the JWs casting her out of the religion. Fornication is what led to her being “disfellowshipped” by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and shunned by her family, even though she was legally divorced when she did it. She could have repented and gotten back into “good standing”, but Linda determined that she didn’t want her life ruled by religion. I can hardly blame her for that. Shunning and “disfellowshipping” people for being “disobedient” to a religion or other group is manipulative and toxic… it’s basically asshole behavior intended to control other people. As I am fond of saying, it’s NOT a punishment to be shunned by an asshole. However, when it’s your family and friends doing it, shunning can be very hurtful.

Through it all, her mother kept telling her that all she needed to do was come back to “The Truth” and get right with “Jehovah God”, and she would be welcomed back into the fold. It was the old “carrot and stick” cure. Jump through some hoops to make mom happy, and everything will be okay. It didn’t matter that the religion wasn’t working for Linda’s life or plans for herself. Linda’s brother, Randy, was the first to shun her, which cut her off from her niece and nephew. Her sister, Lory, who had struggled in the faith and got divorced from her first marriage, eventually also turned away from Linda, telling her that the family would never reach out to her (which turned out to be untrue).

Linda Curtis went on to marry her second husband, the late Bob Curtis. She became a stepmother and began to find her way in the world. But she paid a high price for that freedom, as her family and friends she had known in Portland couldn’t completely accept her outside of the religion. They didn’t completely cut her off, as the title of the book suggests, but they had a lot less to do with her. Leaving the JWs and living life on her own terms was a big step with a steep price. It does seem to me that the high cost was well worth it to Linda Curtis.

My thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I managed to get through this book somewhat quickly. It’s a fairly easy read. Linda Curtis is clearly very intelligent and basically writes well. Her story is interesting, if not a bit sad. Personally, I think shunning is a shitty thing to do, especially to a loved one. I don’t support it, mainly because at its core, it’s a power move consisting of emotional blackmail and control tactics. I empathize with Linda Curtis’s situation, dealing with a family that had once been so loving turning on her simply because she didn’t believe what they believed and dared to declare independence and free agency.

However… there are some things I noticed as I read this book. First, Linda Curtis has a fondness for so-called “fifty cent words”. I have two master’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in English. Several times, I had to look up obscure words she used. I did so because I like to know the meanings of words I don’t know. My guess is that the vast majority of readers won’t take the time to do that, and most of them won’t know what some of the more obscure words mean, either. I don’t mind the occasional fancy vocabulary word, but I think too many of them can have a bad effect on writing. For many people, time is money, and it takes time to look up those fancy words. Those who don’t take the time to look up the fancy vocabulary words are going to miss some of the meaning in Curtis’s story. I wouldn’t mention this if it had only happened a couple of times, but it happened several times– enough times that I found it noticeable and annoying.

Secondly, Linda Curtis’s writing style is a bit “novelesque”, but not in a particularly creative or evocative way. Her writing sometimes comes off a bit like she was trying to set a vivid scene. But instead of using details and descriptions to jazz up her tale, she includes unnecessary details to the scenes that didn’t add anything. Like, for instance, at one point she mentions a fly landing on a dirty plate after a discussion she had. That action had no significance on the story she was sharing. It was an unnecessary detail. More than once, she mentioned getting into a car and putting on a seatbelt. There’s nothing wrong with safety in the car. But it was an unnecessary detail that didn’t add to the story and could have been edited out or replaced with something more pertinent to the story. That quality of her writing was irritating to me. It came off as amateurish.

And thirdly, Curtis uses a lot of dialogue that is a trite and one dimensional. Dialogue can be very effective in a personal story, but I think of it as more of a technique that breathes life into the story. This author’s use of dialogue frequently comes off as stilted and melodramatic. Curiously, she could have added some detail and “spark” to her dialogue, but she didn’t do that often enough. Instead, we get details about clothes people wore or flies on dirty dishes, rather than details about non verbal cues or tone of voice.

I did relate to Curtis’s story. I empathized with her sorrow over her family choosing a religion over a loved one. However… I did notice that while Linda’s family had less to do with her, they didn’t completely shut their door to her. She was invited to her grandmother’s funeral, and her parents came to her husband’s funeral. She received gifts from her family when she married her second husband, although no one in her family attended the wedding. I know other people who have been completely shunned, meaning no contact whatsoever, after leaving highly demanding religions like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My husband, for instance, lost complete contact with his daughters for about 12 years. One daughter hasn’t seen or spoken to him since 2004. That’s real shunning. What Linda Curtis describes is more like disapproval. People still spoke to her, even if there was less warmth and familiarity than there once was.

Much of Shunned was sort of a cut and dried story about Linda’s life, but there wasn’t that much deep insight into how she really felt launching a life outside of the JWs. I would have enjoyed reading a bit more about how she adapted to life “in the world”, as she got used to celebrating Christmas and birthdays. She does write a little bit about that, but not very much. She casually mentions having sex with a lot of men, attending a new age church after trying several different ones, and getting involved with friends. But she doesn’t really write about what those experiences were like beyond the surface. I also think she could have delved more into her relationship with her family and how it suffered when she left the JWs. I felt like much of what she writes is superficial, with a lot more about her successes at work. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book could use a bit more heart and feeling, and less logic and reason.

I don’t think Shunned is a terrible book. I just think that a good editor could have made it markedly better. I also think that Linda Curtis should have gone deeper than she did. Her story lacks insight and spark. If she traded some of the insignificant details for more personal insights, this book would be much improved and more interesting. As I said, it’s obvious that Linda Curtis is very talented in her job. She’s intelligent and accomplished and yes, she finally did pursue her college degree. She has intellect and drive, and I know there must have been some truly amazing moments in her journey that she left out of her book. At the very least, she could have added some spice to the stories she did include.

Shunned is a serviceable enough read; I just don’t think that writing is necessarily Linda Curtis’s gift or her passion. To use musical terms, her writing is kind of the equivalent to someone with a nice choir voice as opposed to someone who sings solos, if that makes any sense. But with some direction, she could develop more of a “soloist’s sound”.

I am not sorry I read Shunned, and I would recommend it to those who are interested in the subject matter. I think I’d give it three stars out of five.

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law, LDS, religion, true crime

Repost: Rape culture in churches

I am reposting this blog entry that originally appeared on October 16, 2016. I have no reason for reposting it, other than I think it’s an interesting piece. Bear in mind that it was written almost five years ago and I haven’t changed the content, so some comments may be outdated.

I just read a very disturbing article about a lawsuit that was just filed against a Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Weber County, Utah.  The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims that she was repeatedly raped by a church instructor and JW officials later her made her listen to a recording of one of her assaults.  The woman seeks a jury trial and $300,000 to cover medical care, legal fees, and general damages. 

According to the article I read, the woman may or may not have gone to the police after she was allegedly raped by a church instructor.  The Salt Lake Tribune states that members of the JW faith are encouraged to bring problems to church elders rather than involving outsiders.  Having done my share of reading about Jehovah’s Witnesses and having had a relative who was once a member, I can affirm that this attitude is prevalent among people involved with the Witnesses.

In this case, the assaults against the woman allegedly took place after she went out with the instructor on a date.  He took her cell phone from her and said she had to kiss him on the cheek to get it back.  She refused, so he kicked her out of his car.  Later, he came back for her and the assaults apparently escalated from there.  When the assaults were brought to the attention of JW officials, they began an investigation…  but it was not an investigation against the perpetrator.  Instead, the young woman was investigated.  Below is a quote from the article linked above:

In April 2008, the Roy church formed a judicial committee to investigate whether the girl engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior — “a serious sin” in the religion. During the meeting that included her mother and stepfather, the lawsuit states, church leaders played a recording of one of the purported rapes, obtained from the instructor, for four to five hours “repeatedly stopping and starting the audio tape … suggesting that she consented to the sexual behavior.”

The woman alleges that she was raped several times.  Realizing the patriarchal culture within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s possible that she felt like she had to do what this man said.  She was likely taught to do whatever the church officials told her to do.  As the attacker was apparently her church instructor, she probably felt that she had no choice.  It really is a shame that people continue to get and stay involved in religious organizations that promote this kind of thinking and do nothing to empower everyone, not just the men. 

This situation among the JWs in Utah sounds an awful lot like the recent hullabaloo about Brigham Young University’s policy of bringing rape victims up on Honor Code violations.  Women who dared to report rape to the police or University officials were getting in trouble for putting themselves in situations where they might be assaulted.  For the record, I think these kinds of policies are disgusting and they keep our society in the Dark Ages.  

Of course people– male or female– who choose to sexually assault others should be held responsible for their actions.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong for people to look out for themselves.  I wish these churches and universities like BYU would do more to promote personal safety outside of the religious sense.  I wish they wouldn’t simply tell women to protect their virginity and purity because that’s supposedly what God wants.  They should be empowering them to protect themselves because they don’t want to be victims of crimes. 

It’s interesting that this subject came on my radar this morning.  I just saw a Facebook post by 11th Principle: Consent about how rape culture develops.  Although I would absolutely never say that it’s okay to rape someone, I do think it pays to be careful.  One young woman made a comment about how she’d gotten very drunk at a party and was raped while she was unconscious.  She wrote that it was wrong that she was raped, but she shared some responsibility in the situation by drinking so much that she passed out.  She got a lot of indignant comments from people who said that no part of the rape was her fault at all; she bore absolutely no responsibility toward the crime perpetrated against her.

At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, I will go on record as saying that I agree that rape is never a victim’s fault.  However, I do think that everyone– males and females– should take some responsibility for their personal safety.  One of the comments I read on the 11 Principle: Consent Facebook page was this:

– if you went for a walk, but someone chose to stab you, should you have stayed in?

-if you decided to go for a drive, but someone drove into your car, is it your fault?

-if you went for a swim, but someone drowned you, was it your fault because you put yourself in a position where you could be drowned?

My response is that in the above examples, precautions could have been taken to lessen the chance of harm or mitigate the harm that did occur.  For instance, when you take a walk, you choose areas where there are people around.  You carry a cell phone that is charged and ready in case of emergency.  You tell someone where you’re going.  You might learn self defense.  These are things you can do to lessen the chance that you’ll be a victim.  You might still end up being victimized, but you will have taken steps to lessen the chance of it.

If you go for a drive, you wear a seatbelt (even though I hate them).  You make sure your car is safe to drive.  You don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before getting behind the wheel.  You make sure you are well rested.  You might still have an accident, but you’ve done your part to lessen the probability.

If you go for a swim, you make sure you can actually swim.  If you can’t, you learn how and stay out of the deep end until you have the appropriate skills.  You take someone with you when you swim.  You use floatation devices if you need them.  You might still drown, but the chances are not as high as they could be.

When it comes to assaults, sexual or otherwise, I think the same responsibilities apply.  Don’t get so fucked up that you black out.  Don’t go to parties alone, especially if you don’t know the people hosting them.  If you do get assaulted, it’s certainly not your fault.  But my guess is that you will learn from the assault and take steps to be sure it doesn’t happen again.  It sounded to me like the young woman who said she shared in the responsibility of her attack had simply learned from it.  She’d made a mistake by getting so intoxicated.  I have made the same mistakes myself on a number of occasions.  There, but by the grace of God, go I.  

Is it ever your fault if you get assaulted?  No.  The person who chooses to perpetrate a crime is always the guilty party.  But the point is, there are things you can do to lessen the chance that you will be a victim.  I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that.  I don’t think that line of thinking promotes “rape culture”.  I applaud the young woman who realizes that she was wrong to get so drunk that she passed out.  At the same time, I think it’s sad that there are shitty people out there who would take advantage of a woman so distressed.

I’m reading the article about the lawsuit against the JWs just as everyone’s talking about Donald Trump’s infamous “locker room” talk.  I have friends of every stripe opining on a potential U.S. president talking about grabbing women by their pussies.  I have a number of very religious relatives criticizing Hillary Clinton because– well, probably because she’s a female liberal.  These same supposedly God fearing people see no problem with voting for a man who brags about forcing himself on women and grabbing their crotches.  But if a woman gets assaulted, instead of being outraged, they look for ways to blame her.  I don’t think that’s right.  But I do think there are things people can and should do to protect themselves.

As for the woman suing the JWs, I don’t think it’s wrong that she’s filed a lawsuit.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a pervert ending up in power.  It’s not just the JWs, either.  Lots of churches empower creeps who then victimize their supposed underlings.  I’ve read about plenty of religious organizations who don’t do enough to keep bad people from powerful positions.  I think they should be held accountable when these things happen.  Again, from the article:

A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor — who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon — was a “bad kid” who had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.” The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough.

How did the guy end up a “church instructor” if church leaders knew he was a “bad kid”?  One has to wonder.  At the same time, isn’t it crazy that someone like Donald Trump, who openly admits to being a pervy creep– even if it was privately– might end up leading the country?  No wonder we have issues with so-called “rape culture”.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Brianna Karp’s Girl’s Guide to Homelessness…

Here’s a repost of my review of Brianna Karp’s Girl’s Guide to Homelessness. I wrote it in 2013 for Epinions.com. I’m posting it here as/is.

In 2011, I read an article about Brianna Karp, a California woman who’d published The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness: A Memoir that year.  This e-book has been on my Kindle since May 2011 and I just finished reading it.  The article I read made Karp’s story sound fascinating, but I just never got around to picking it up until now.  I’m glad I read Karp’s story, for it turned out to be as compelling as promised. 

Who is Brianna Karp? 

Brianna Karp is a former Jehovah’s Witness, raised by an abusive, bipolar mother and her stepfather, whose surname she adopted when her abusive biological father left.  Karp was raised to be a devout Witness, adhering to the religion’s strict rules and taking her place as a helpmeet to a faithful male Witness.  As Karp was a thinker and questioner, she left the Witnesses and got an education, then landed a job working for Kelley Blue Book.  She earned $50,000 a year and rented a cottage in Orange County, California.  She had a dog, a horse, and a car.  Then she got laid off. 

Karp lost everything and moved in with her parents.  Her biological father died and she inherited his truck and trailer.  Then she had a fight with her mother, who kicked her out on the street.  Karp was then forced to live in her inherited trailer. 

Brianna Karp became homeless, like an increasing number of other people as the recession continues. The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness is her story of a year spent living in a WalMart parking lot, using free wireless Internet at Starbucks, purchasing cheap gym memberships for showers, looking for work and blogging. 

Karp would eventually find love and heartache, fame and infamy, and even travel abroad.  She learned that some people are not as good as they seem.  And she learned that other people are much better than expected. 

My thoughts 

This book has scathing reviews on Amazon.  I’m disinclined to be so harsh.  Brianna Karp’s book is very engaging and readable; she comes across as mostly likeable and resourceful to me.  I did shake my head reading about her relationship with a Scotsman whose two flights to California she paid for and for whom she borrowed money to make an ill-advised surprise visit to Scotland. Besides the tremendous expense, the Scotsman turned out to be completely unworthy of the gesture.  

Though some people felt Karp wasn’t really homeless because she had access to a trailer, phone, laptop, and transportation, I could definitely say she was severely financially challenged.  I credit her for being resourceful enough to be a witty and entertaining blogger, which ultimately led to interviews on CNN and The Today Show, as well as publishing a book. 

Maybe Brianna Karp isn’t your stereotypical skid row bum, but she does write a compelling memoir.  I learned new things reading about her experiences.  Her book is worth reading and I assume she could really use the money from book sales.  At least it might help keep her off welfare, right?

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