Letter from an ex-cult member | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Letter from an ex-cult member

/ 05:11 AM February 02, 2024

Titled “Human Face,” (as approved by the late editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc), this column hopes to give a human face and voice to issues of concern, hence this letter from a reader. I wrote back to ask if I could use his letter and he said yes. We sometimes wonder where our column pieces end up and about the people who read them. We never know unless they write us and when they do, there is something important they want to express. One reader, years ago, led me to embark on a groundbreaking series.

Here is the letter I received three days ago:

“I read your recent article ‘Quiboloy’s ‘pastorals’ for sexploitation?’ (1/26/2024). This sentence in your article caught my attention:

“‘Religious affairs are among my journalistic beats—papal visits, family feud in the Iglesia ni Cristo, El Shaddai, Caryana, Children of God, assassinated members of the clergy, militant church women, cult-like movements, sexual abuses by clerics, among many.’

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“That’s because I am a survivor of the Children of God (COG) cult. I was among the first members to go to the Philippines in the early 1970s and helped set up the first COG communes there. I tell my story of my time in the Philippines in my recently published memoir: ‘Misguided: My Jesus Freak Life in a Doomsday Cult.’

“After those early years, in the 1980s the Children of God had many members in the Philippines and recruited many Filipinos to join it. For several years, the founder and leader of that cult, David Berg, lived secretly in the Philippines, and members there had a ministry specifically targeting the Philippines military. In the late 1980s, the Philippine government ordered all Children of God members to leave the country. Most of them went to Japan, to a large cult compound where I was living at the time.

“I had joined that cult in Canada in 1972 when I was 16. After I escaped that cult in 1991 while in Japan, I returned to Canada, went to university, and eventually became a lawyer. Today, I am an advocate for cult survivors and appeared in the five-part documentary series ‘Children of the Cult.’ I have heard many tragic stories from people who were born and raised in the cult, the second generation, who had horrific experiences in cult compounds in the Philippines.

“Given your journalistic interest in this subject I thought I would let you know about my book and my experiences in the Philippines in the event you want to explore further that topic of the Children of God’s history in your country. Sincerely, Perry Bulwer.”

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I looked up Bulwer’s book in Amazon and there he was on the cover, a teenager strumming a guitar and flashing a broad smile. I prefer a hard copy instead of the e-book version but I can share, for now, what is in the Amazon website. There is also an interview with Bulwer that is available online. I will be watching “Children of the Cult.”

So here is a look into “Misguided.” It should be instructive for those recovering from their traumatic experiences in “doomsday cults” such as COG. Also for Filipinos (some I knew personally) who were/are in search of some spiritual stimulation and had been drawn to cult-like movements that promised to fulfill their yearnings—to belong, among them.

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COG was known as “The Family” described as “a millenarian doomsday sex cult under the sway of charismatic leader, David Berg” who preached around the world. COG was among the cults that came to be in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1972, Bulwer dropped out of high school to join COG. “Bulwer takes the reader on an extraordinary trip through the world of biblical literalism, fundamentalist end-time fantasies, paranormal spirituality, evangelical extremism, ritual abuse, and liberally interpreted Biblical teachings that were used to justify licentious sexual doctrines, evangelical prostitution, and child sexual abuse.” Berg claimed that God had spoken through him (sounds familiar?), he predicted America’s destruction, the Antichrist’s coming in 1985, and Jesus’ second coming in 1993. Berg died in 1994 before the long arm of the law got to him.

But Bulwer’s account must be riveting in itself, how he escaped COG’s fearsome control for more than two decades. He did get back to Canada to start all over, pursue an education and, later, law studies. He helps survivors of cult abuse, those traumatized and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

What is a cult? Definitions and types vary, but at the center of it all is a leader, outwardly charismatic perhaps, who draws people to his/her teachings, people who leave all and follow. Not all cults are religious types, by the way. I have the authoritative book “Cults in Our Midst: the Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives” by Margaret Thaler Singer with Janja Lalich, a cult survivor. It explores how cults operate, why people join and end messed up.

Bulwer’s own first-hand account about his “Jesus freak life” should be a page-turner.

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