Narrowgate Cult Series | Posts by Dominique

Epilogue: Part Nineteen of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, we left Narrowgate – but Narrowgate never actually
left us.

When Emma and the Baby went back to Enola to stay with Liam, Pooky and I were
once again alone in our own apartment. That would not last long: Emma and the baby
came back after only a week or two. Emma gave first-hand account of how messed up
everything was there. It was from her that we learned how The Enola Six had paired up
into three couples. Though Olivia and Noah were still legally married, they were each
now involved with (I believe their term was something like “new heavenly marriage”)
different, single Narrowgate members. Liam had started this trend by seducing Sophia –
which I believe is what led to his rather sudden declaration that our marriages were not of
God. And what better way to justify sleeping around on your wife? Who can argue with
the “God told me to do it” argument?

Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill) It feels so good (swimming in your stomach) Wait until the dust settles. You live you learn, you love you learn. You cry you learn, you lose you learn. You bleed you learn, you scream you learn (Alanis Morissette)

This new Word of Liam seemed perfectly fine with having sex with Sophia, though he
was still legally married to Emma. The realization that Liam appears to have been a charlatan using theology as an excuse to get laid was a very jagged pill to swallow. Liam was
certainly not the first religious leader to do this, and sadly not the last – the news
headlines bear testimony to this age-old trend among “faithful Christian leaders” almost
every day.

Perhaps as you read this part, you saw it coming. Part of that was possibly my own
present knowledge peppering the canvas with bold colorful strokes of foreshadowing…
But back in 1997, I will admit this knowledge was both unforeseen, and dumbfounding.
Part of me still wonders how many of the Narrowgate women Liam had been grooming,
in preparation for seducing them. And this news cast into doubt just about everything we
had experienced in Narrowgate. To this day, I still don’t know if the erosion and final
eradication of marriage within the group was just a ploy to widen Liam’s sexual options.
Was he always using God language to groom and seduce the women in the group? Did
he believe anything at all? All of Narrowgate was dry, choking sand and gravel in my
mouth.

Only recently has society recognized the imbalance of power among spiritual leaders
and their congregants. The scandalous behavior unearthed within the Catholic Church
was soon followed by the Southern Baptists, and now other denominations are facing
their own scandals, almost daily. And far too often, this type of behavior has been
covered up or minimized by calling it an “affair” between “consenting adults”. Thankfully,
this line of reasoning is changing.

Rev. Patricia L. Liberty, in an article on AdvocateWeb entitled “Why It’s Not an Affair”,
says this:

“Since the ministerial relationship is professional in nature, it is inappropriate to call a
sexual encounter an affair. Affair is a term used to describe a sexual liaison between
peers, or equals. In addition, the term affair focuses attention on the sexual nature of
the behavior rather than the professional violation. It also places equal responsibility for
the behavior on the congregant. Since clergy have a responsibility to set and maintain
appropriate boundaries, those who are violated by clergy’s inappropriate sexual
behavior are not to be blamed even if they initiated the contact.”

To minimize Liam’s behavior as an “affair” or otherwise is based on the assumption that
Sophia and Liam were equals, or peers. Given Liam’s leadership status in our group,
which was frequently reinforced by his claims of God “telling” him what to do, this was
not a sexual liaison among equal peers. Rev. Liberty goes on to say this:

“The witness of survivors underscores the truth that the clergy role carries with it a
power and authority that make meaningful consent impossible. When speaking of
sexual contact between clergy and congregants, the term professional misconduct or
sexual exploitation is more accurate.”

Some have gone so far as to call this behavior “Sexual Abuse”.

Dr. David Pooler, who serves on the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force, says
this in an article entitled “It is Not an Affair: It is Abuse” published on the Baptist Women in Ministry website:

“When a pastoral leader is sexual with someone in their congregation, we must
immediately look at this as clergy perpetrated sexual abuse. The fact that we often call it
an affair circumvents many of the deeper issues that have allowed the abuse to occur
and, probably most damaging, it invalidates and blames the victim for what happened
and allows an abusive person to continue in ministry.”

Dr. Pooler points out other professions are held to a higher moral and professional
standard than our religious leaders:

“Doctors, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses all have codes of ethics
that prohibit sexual contact with patients/clients because of the inherent power
differentials in those relationships. Engaging in sexual relationships in most cases would
result in professionals losing their license and losing the ability to practice in their
profession. In all these cases this behavior would be labeled as misconduct/abuse. I’ve
never heard someone say “I heard my physician had an affair with one of her patients,
and we just need to forgive her.” I’ve never heard patients blamed for their provider’s
misconduct. But I have heard women in congregations blamed for their minister’s
misconduct and I’ve heard the words “we just need to forgive our minister; it was just a
moral slip.”
In other helping professions, the person with power is always responsible to ensure that
patients are competently cared for and treated with respect and that appropriate
boundaries are created to ensure that the person is safe. Why are ministers not held to
this standard? How can it be that secular professions do a much better job of protecting
vulnerable people and holding abusive professionals accountable than the church
does? Why is it that the one profession that is given the most trust, holds people’s
spiritual lives in their hands, and is tasked with caring for the most vulnerable is held to
such low standards and such egregious behavior is minimized?”

It is perhaps comforting that Pooky and I are not alone in our experience with cults and
spiritual abuse: countless people have fallen victim to what renowned cult expert Steven
Hassan calls “Undue Influence”
. What happened in Narrowgate serves as a painful
reminder that not all people in a position of spiritual authority are “good” or “godly” or
have the congregants’ best interests at heart. For some, this is a hellish life lesson to
learn. A great tide is rising across the globe – the rising chorus of the spiritually
oppressed. With the rise of the Internet and Social Media, victims are finding their
collective voice: countless stories have emerged of congregant victims being used and
discarded by their “spiritual leader”. The pain and torment these victims have endured is
heart-wrenching. And the effect it has upon the religious community in which it all took
place is incredibly destructive. The practical reality of this was staring me full in the face
in 1997: Narrowgate was utterly destroyed. And with its fall, lives and marriages
crumbled.

Back in 1997, there was really nothing to be done about this – but thankfully, in the
words of Dylan, the times, they are a changin’. Fantastic organizations like GRACE
(Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) and SNAP (Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests) have been helping victims of clergy abuse pick up the
pieces and find healing. Congregants have been finding and using their collective voice
to raise awareness of abuse from spiritual leaders, giving rise to myriad networks of
Advocates. Amy Smith’s site Watchkeep provides a fantastic list of Resources for those
wishing to learn more. Pooky and I have been finding our own voices in speaking out
about abuse, which I suppose is another story for another time.

Some states have started enacting more severe repercussions for clergy who have
used their position to abuse those under the sway of their theological authority. At the
time of this writing, nine states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico,
North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin) are listed on The Silent Majority: Adult
Victims of Sexual Exploitation by Clergy website
as having criminal statutes regarding
clergy sexual relations with congregants.

In addition, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website provides a
state-by-state resource guide
to definitions of sexual assault and the relevant statute of
limitations for reporting sexual assault.

Because religious organizations seem unwilling to take ownership for the behavior of
the very worst of their kind, others have been forced to do so. Several online resources
and databases have been created to track abusers as they move from church to church
with impunity. I speak here from personal experience: this is hard and thankless work.
But it is absolutely critical, to protect people from abuse. I could go on and on about this
topic, in fact Pooky & I already have elsewhere. I will say that from my experience, abusers very rarely change: they rarely stop abusing, and abusers share remarkable similarities with
each other.

But I have digressed, my apologies – back to 1997, and the Narrowgate story.

Dom & Pooky in Episode 122 & 123 of The Speaking Out on Sex Abuse Podcast with Jimmy & Clara Hinton

And so it is just like you said it should be. We’ll both forget the breeze… most of the time. (Damien Rice)

To this day, I can’t imagine how Emma felt as she and the baby lived in Enola, while her
husband (and the baby’s father) was sleeping with someone else. And not just someone
else – someone who for several years Emma probably considered a dear Christian
sister and close friend. Every tender moment we had ever witnessed from Liam was
now suspect. And any lingering respect I still had for Liam was a popped balloon in the
hand of a sobbing toddler. I thought I had found a fresh, living God… instead, all of us
had been lured into the web of a crafty sexual predator.

As days stretched into weeks, Pooky and I were in agreement that Emma could not stay
with us forever. How could any of us move on with a normal life? And what of the
decree from The Prophet that the group had to completely disband? And so we gave
Emma a two-week ultimatum. We felt that she should go back home and stay with her
family so she and the baby could move on and heal. At the end of those two weeks,
Emma and the baby moved out and moved in with Ava and James in their Harrisburg
apartment. To the end, Emma seemed to hold out hope that Liam would leave
Narrowgate and rejoin her and the baby. Really, what else did she have? Just a
desperate hope that faded away like smoke.

As I said back in Chapter Eight (The Answer), the Narrowgate story is a tragedy, in
three acts. And though the curtain was lowering for us, the tragedy has never really
ended for any of us.

We continued attending the non-denominational charismatic church I wrote about earlier
for about seven years. While there, a few other Narrowgate members immigrated in.
Ava & James started attending, as did Emma (who was living with them, along with the
baby). We tried desperately to regain some type of “normal”. James and I joined the
men’s softball team, where we met new friends who knew absolutely nothing about our
background.

Eventually, Emma left the Harrisburg area and did move back home. She and Pooky
remained friends and kept in touch. She eventually got a divorce from Liam, and years
later she remarried. Pooky and I and our infant son went to the wedding. Her new
husband adopted Liam’s baby girl, and became for her the Daddy that Liam never was.

And news came in that the Enola Six shrunk, one by one, as Mia and Olivia and Elijah
and Noah walked out. In the end, it was just Liam and Sophia. Though Liam had taught that
marriage was not of God, they eventually got married and now reside in Colorado. I find it ironic that as of the time of writing, Liam is employed by Andrew Wommack ministries – the very same ministry whose cassette tapes formed the early theological framework for Narrowgate. Does the ministry know that they have employed a cult leader who used his spiritual authority to seduce a congregant? Do they know of the mental health issues, wrecked marriages, divorces, and suicide some of Liam’s ex-congregants have faced after Narrowgate? I doubt Liam’s resume listed such things, or that it came up in an interview. More than likely, Liam used the common approach among religious leaders with questionable pasts of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I know at least one Narrowgate member reached out to the ministry about Narrowgate, and never received a response back. Almost without fail, religious institutions and organizations take better care of charismatic wolves than they do of victimized sheep.

And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains, within the sound of silence. (Simon & Garfunkle)

One evening in late 2018, after I had dropped my teenage kids off at a Christmas party, I was driving back home and very suddenly and unexpectedly had a vision. There really is no other word for it.

In this vision, there was a magnificent cathedral – spotless and clean, lit up and shining bright. The pews were totally packed – and as the majestic first notes of the Wedding Procession filled the air, I realized it was a great wedding. No, not just a great wedding – It was THE GREAT WEDDING, written about in Chapter 19 of John’s book of Revelation. It was the Bride of Christ coming down the aisle – slowly, majestically, towards Christ the Groom. The church seemed to light up in the glow of the bride’s great veiled beauty – her white dress seemed to glow with light and lace, the veil trailing behind. As she slowly drew near to the front, every eye in the room was on her. And then, the groom stepped forward and seemed to glow and radiate with such tender joy and love. The groom then lifted his hands up, and slowly raised her veil. And then I saw the face of the bride – and very nearly drove my car off the road.

The bride had a black eye, and bruises on her face. Her lip was split and swollen.

Someone had abused the very Bride of Christ.

It was the most tragic, horrible thing imaginable. So great was my sorrow then, I burst
into thick, ugly racking sobs. Writing this now, just remembering this, I’m blinking back
tears.

The deep understanding settled into me that this is the reality when clergy abuse
congregants. This is not just “an affair” or “an indiscretion”. This is a deliberate assault
on the very Bride of Christ. The last thing I remember from this vision was the wrath of
the Groom – it seemed to swell and rise, like a deep booming thunder before the
deluge. It was so great and terrible and all-encompassing.

How will Christ respond to the abuse of His chosen people, His precious bride? I do not
believe this is a simple matter of flippant “forgive and forget.” Each tear and scar
of His Bride (an analogy for the Church) screams out to the Groom for justice – and carries infinite wrath from the Groom upon those who have abused her.

Each tear that has fallen from the eye over Narrowgate will not be ignored. And perhaps nothing can restore the wrecked lives, destroyed marriages, mental health
issues, PTSD, night terrors and suicide that are the rotten fruit from the Narrowgate
tree. But I’ve stopped waiting on a great judgement at the end of all time – I’m sharing
my experience now. Perhaps my sharing this could help others heal, as it has helped me?

They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, But I ain’t done much healing. Hello, can you hear me? (Adele)

Sometime around the year 2000, the phone rang. I was home alone working on some
project or other in the basement, and when I picked up the phone, the voice on the
other end stole the breath from my lungs.

It was Liam.

He made small talk, and said how good it was to hear my voice. And to hear his voice –
he always had a mesmerizing voice, like warm music. He was, once again, the
masterful social engineer, playing me as easily as he always had before. He didn’t call
to apologize or try and fix anything in my life – abusers almost never do. He wanted
information: Could I please provide Ava and James’ phone number? They had moved
from the Harrisburg area some years ago. He correctly assumed that we kept in touch
with them: we were together in a secret club that few outsiders can relate to. To get in
the club, you must be a survivor of spiritual abuse and pay regular dues in the form of
nightmares and psychological suffering. After a few minutes of me wrestling with the
Caller ID on my phone, I gave him their number, and he hung up. He got what he
wanted from me, and I was once again discarded as no longer useful.

When I later spoke with Ava and James, I learned that Liam was trying to get the band
back together. He was calling his most faithful disciples with a plea to come back to him
– he had learned much and had new revelations from God. Part of me, I’m
ashamed to admit, was miffed that I wasn’t considered worthy of his sales pitch. Just
hearing his voice was enough to puncture the thin film that separated my dreams from
nightmares. I later learned from Noah that Liam had reached out to him as well. At this
time, Noah was remarried and trying to start over. Noah confessed to me how it took
some time after Liam’s call to “get stable.” I could understand what he meant. Some
people believe that time can heal all wounds. That is complete bullshit – some wounds
will never heal. Some marriages are gone forever; one child grew up without knowing
her biological father; one life is tragically gone forever. For some of us, the wounds of
Narrowgate will never completely heal. There is perhaps some comfort that even the
resurrected Christ still bore wounds from the cross at the end of all time in John’s Book
of Revelation.

The only real choice has always been whether or not to remain silent.

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

For about 25 years, Pooky and I were trapped inside the chrysalis of our Narrowgate
experience. It amazes me how this writing process has helped us emerge, transformed.
Everything I have written will never fully capture it all, it seems like every day I unearth a
new memory or artifact from Narrowgate. It’s all such a complicated soup: there are
sweet, cherished memories mixed among the abuse and bitter terror. Unraveling it all
will take the rest of my life. Not many people even know we were in a cult – or perhaps
they heard, but could not comprehend what that meant. I cannot judge too harshly: I
heard some children were rescued from a boat called the Titanic, and yet I will never fully
grasp how the frigid air must have burned their tears to ice as they watched the boat sink beneath the waves with loved ones still on-board. Hopefully, with this writing process, now you perhaps understand the weight of these five words: I was in a cult.

It’s been about twenty five years since this Narrowgate story began, and so much has
happened since then. Because others have been steadily lining up to share their own
unique Narrowgate experiences, I can only say this:

To Be Continued.

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0 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, especially the vision. That made me tear up—my pain matters. It’s all so messy—how do we file the beautiful memories along with the abuse? Thanks for being real. It helps to know I’m not alone in my experiences.

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