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How this woman escaped a religious cult

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By Brelaun Douglas via SWNS

This woman is a cult survivor and would spend her nights as a child agonizing over going to hell.

Sadie Carpenter, 29, was raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church, a branch of Josh Duggar's church, and describes her upbringing as that of a cult.

Growing up she wasn’t allowed to listen to popular music, wear pants, feel sad, go to the movies or even kiss or hold hands before marriage.

Sadie Carpenter as a sophomore at Hyles-Anderson College before escaping the cult. (Sadie Carpenter via SWNS)

When she finally escaped she described having to watch endless sitcoms, "to see how normal people talked."

“One thing that was really drilled into us was the fear of hell,” recalled the stay-at-home mom who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

“As a small child, I would cry myself to sleep on the floor of my room because I was so afraid that my family or I was going to go to hell."

While each church within the religion differs on the specificity of the overall rules, Sadie describes hers as a cult, based on cult-expert Steven Hassan’s BITE Model.

“I use the BITE model by Steve Hassan which is behavior control, information control, thought control and emotion control. Those four types of control are what cults exert over people," she said.

Adding: “Not every IFB church is a cult, because they’re all independent."

“It’s not a denomination. It’s very different from Methodist or Catholics or Southern Baptist because those groups all have a denomination head who tells all the individual churches what to do. The IFB are the opposite of that, each church is completely self-contained, so the pastor is the authority.”

She said behavior and information control are easy to spot with women in her church not being allowed to wear pants and the church limiting their access to any information they didn’t agree with, like evolution.

“I think the most insidious tactic of the IFB is thought control and emotion control that leads to self-brainwashing,” Sadie said.

“We were taught thought-stopping techniques and ways to modify our emotions to bring them in line with the IFB teachings. I was not allowed as a female to have negative thoughts.

“If you were feeling any kind of bad emotion like tired, sad or depressed, they teach you the acronym J.O.Y: Jesus, others, yourself. If you don’t have joy, meaning you’re sad for any reason, it’s your fault because you’re not putting Jesus first.

“If a ‘sinful’ popular song got stuck in our heads, we were taught methods for replacing it with an approved Christian song.

“Even when no one was present to brainwash us, we were trained to continue our own brainwashing 24/7.”

Although she left nearly 10 years ago, Sadie said she still feels the teachings’ impact on her everyday life.

“I’ve been out of the cult for over eight years but still, when I feel sad, the first thought in my head is ‘this is my fault because I must have failed to put Jesus first in my life,’” she said.

“I have diagnosed clinical PTSD because of certain abuse perpetrated in the cult, but also because of these traumatic thinking patterns.”

Sadie Carpenter. ( Sadie Carpenter via SWNS).

While it’s hard to nail down one worst memory, Sadie said one that sticks out in her mind happened when she was 11 or 12.

“I was worried that when I had asked Jesus to take me to heaven, it hadn't ‘stuck’ and that I was still going to go to hell,” she said.

“The IFB teaches that all that is necessary to go to heaven is to pray and ask for salvation, but that a person must mean that prayer with their whole heart or it will not be heard. This led a lot of us to worry that perhaps we hadn't meant the prayer enough and had a false assurance of our salvation.

“On this night, I paced the floor of my room, terrified that if I went to sleep, I would die in my sleep and go to hell. I determined not to fall asleep that night, and eventually nodded off kneeling on the cold, hard floor.

“My anxiety over my own salvation and the salvation of those that I loved was a prevalent part of my life from childhood.”

She added: “Some preacher decided that he had found it in the Bible that there was going to be nuclear warfare before Jesus comes back [for the rapture] and it just scared the absolute crap out of all of us.

“I still get panic attacks if I hear a plane fly overhead because I think it’s nuclear war.

“When I was pregnant with my daughter, we live not too far from the rivers and there are docks and ports, and one night at about two or three in the morning there was a steamboat and it let out the foghorn and woke me up.

“I thought that that was the trumpet sounding for the rapture and I had this terrible moment of panic because I thought what if I get raptured because I’m saved but my daughter doesn’t get raptured.

“My second thought was what if I’ve been a sinner all along so I don’t get raptured, but my daughter does.”

The IFB teachings on marriage and wives being completely submissive to their husbands also often seep into her relationship.

“They teach if there’s something wrong with your husband it’s your fault because you weren’t a good enough wife and if your husband is upset it’s your job to do whatever you have to do to fix it,” she said.

“Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who was never in the cult who treats me extremely well, but if something’s frustrating for him I feel like it’s my fault because I’m not a good enough wife.

“I cry all the time over feeling like I’m not a good enough wife and he has to continually remind me that everything in his life is not my responsibility.”

She said this teaching is also evident in the case of celebrity Josh Duggar, who was convicted last year of federal child pornography charges.

“I ask people to look beyond black-and-white thinking and recognize that Anna Duggar (Josh's wife) can be both villain and victim,” she said.

“I believe that she has been victimized from birth by the misogynistic cult in which she was raised, that she was programmed her entire life to serve and be faithful to a man, and to stand by her man no matter what.

“I also believe that she should have seen the danger signs and refused to have more children with Josh, and I believe that she should have left him years ago.”

She added: “It seems that she is going to stick with him long-term, and I think it's fair to be disappointed, it's fair to believe that she is making a mistake and possibly even putting her children in danger, but it's also just a fact that her path to leaving would be extremely difficult.

“I think we absolutely need to look at her in a less black-and-white way, because the situation is simply more complicated than that.”

Sadie Carpenter with her daughter. (Sadie Carpenter via SWNS)

Though she didn’t know the Duggars personally, Sadie feels Josh Duggar’s story is
“very telling about the IFB and IBLP movements.”

She said: “The IFB and IBLP/ATI (the homeschool cult to which the Duggars belong) promise that if a family follows the rules as much as they can, that God will bless them with obedient, righteous children.

“Josh Duggar and Caleb Williams' stories are proof that this system is making false promises. I personally think that the IFB and IBLP influenced those two men to be worse than they would have been had they been raised in a secular environment.

“IFB and IBLP teachings both devalue women and children, and both of those men committed crimes against women or children. Also, these groups forbid secular therapy and believe that psychology is evil.

“Had Josh Duggar received proper counseling from a trained provider when he was accused of molesting of his sisters, I believe there is a good chance he would not have grown up to commit the crimes that he did.”

Sadie always had doubts, but it wasn’t until she went to “cult-related” Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana that she decided to get out.

Jack Schaap, head pastor of First Baptist Church and leader of the college, was convicted of transporting a minor across state lines for sex.

“A lot of things that had built up for 20 years for me, but when he was arrested, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

She soon found out her parents had been having their own doubts.

“It turned out they were having a lot of the same doubts as me for years and the Jack Schaap scandal was the straw that broke the camel’s back for them too,” she said.

“My family moved back home to Alabama and me, my parents and both my siblings went through years trying to recover and it was a different and difficult journey for each of us.”

Sadie struggled with mental health problems, was diagnosed with PTSD and went through a lot of intensive therapy. But things eventually got better.

“I learned how to curse, I dyed my hair blue, I had shitty jobs and good jobs and learned how not to be a weirdo if I’m alone in a car with a man because I learned people just ride in cars sometimes,” she said.

Sadie with her hair dyed blue. (Sadie Carpneter via SWNS)

“It was a lot of watching sitcoms to see how normal people talked and figuring out what music I liked now that I was allowed to listen to popular music.”

She eventually moved to Portland and met her husband and has an 11-month-old daughter.

In summer 2020, after she was laid off from the car dealership she worked at due to the pandemic, she and a coworker decided to start the podcast “Leaving Eden," where Sadie talks about her experiences.

“I started studying and researching the IFB movement because I wanted to understand where this patriarchy and teachings came from, because I feel like the more I take these teachings apart and understand where they came from the more I can get them out of my head and the more I can heal,” she said.

“What I do on the show is take apart those beliefs and help others understand why and I hope it helps them as much as it helps me.”

Sadie also hasn’t let her upbringing turn her off from religion and is in the process of converting to Catholicism.

“For me having faith gives me a nice structure,” she said.

“I completely understand that it’s not good for everyone, but religion gives me the sense of structure that I need.”

Sadie likes to advise anybody in a similar situation that she was in that they can be successful outside of it.

“The cult told me that if I complied and obeyed and suffered and if I kept to all the rules and was very submissive, then God would bless me and he would give me a nice house and a nice car and a handsome husband and children and that was everything I should ever hope for and that I would only get it if I was extremely compliant,” she said.

Sadie Carpenter with her husband and daughter. (Sadie Carpenter via SWNS)

“What I always want to point out to people is that my life has not been sunshine and roses. My PTSD will never go away, my nightmares will probably never go away, but all things considered, I have a wonderful, beautiful life and it’s a lie that you have to play by certain rules to get a good outcome.

“I have everything the cult ever promised me. You don’t have to comply with their way of life to have a good life and I think I’m proof of that.”

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