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Raised in a Christian Cult
Jennifer Imus / Courtesy of Elizabeth Esther

Raised in a Christian Cult


Mar 11 2014
‘Girl at the End of the World’ adds to an important line of ex-fundamentalist survivor stories.

If you've ever been stuck in traffic caused by drivers slowing down to get a glimpse of the accident scene, you know we humans are a nosy bunch.

So it's no surprise that readers have devoured a steady stream of recent memoirs penned by people who grew up in abusive, controlling fundamentalist sects. We curiously peek into the barbed-wire edges of different faith traditions—Jewish, Mormon, and Christian—from the perspectives of their former members.

While the theology may differ, the plotlines in this popular genre vary little: the author's childhood was a horror, leaving the group required great courage, and integrating into mainstream society afterwards remains a disorienting, difficult process. Popular blogger Elizabeth Esther's Girl at the End of the World: My Escape From Fundamentalism in Search of a Faith with a Future, set to release next Tuesday, March 18, is a recent addition to the genre.

Are these stories (and similarly-themed blogs, films, and TV shows) the pulp nonfiction equivalent of gapers' block, giving us a chance to gaze at the wreckage? Or are they cautionary tales about the high cost of blind allegiance? The answer may be yes to both.

Most importantly, though, these memoirs amplify the once-voiceless among us, and no matter how painful, unbelievable, or bitter the accounts, they require us to listen. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to both growing in wisdom and protecting "the least of these." Their candid, painful reflections remind us that sometimes the most vulnerable among us may be abused children now living inside adult bodies.

Esther's Girl at the End of the World follows her upbringing in a network of about 50 or so fundamentalist fringe congregations once known as The Assembly, led by her grandfather, George Geftakys. She introduces her eight-year-old self to readers by telling them, "I'm classically trained in apocalypse stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor-sharp 'modesty-vision' that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away."

While her cult-leader grandfather nurtured his double life of sexual immorality, and domestic violence ravaged her uncle's household, Elizabeth Esther's childhood home-turned-commune was characterized by the rancid fruits of her family's teaching. She recounts a childhood filled with unrelenting physical, spiritual, and emotional abuse.

Related Topics:Abuse; Fundamentalism
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