An interview with Ben Appel
From one cult to another
I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, in a fundamentalist Christian community called The Lamb of God. What began in the mid-1970s as a small group of born-again hippies who played music, prayed together, and proselytized to whoever would listen about Jesus’s unconditional love and mercy, descended into authoritarianism in the 1980s after its founder linked up with the broader charismatic renewal movement that had been sweeping the nation. The Lamb of God’s doctrine became explicit—Christianity good; Islam, feminism, secular humanism, and Marxism bad; and the rules strict—complete submission of all members to the leadership, and of all wives to their husbands.
These are the words of Ben Appel, a writer based in New York whose forthcoming memoir, CIS WHITE GAY, will be published in 2023.
Ben and I met up in NYC, on the Lower East Side in May, and spent a couple of hours engaged in a fascinating discussion about his life, work, and visions of the future. Luckily for you, I have the audio of our conversation. As we sat in the 14th floor lobby of an on-trend hotel, Ben spoke of leaving the religious cult as a child, and, realising he was gay, becoming fixated on prayer as a way to help him come to terms with his life. Drugs and alcohol became a big part of his life whilst still in his teens and suffered mental ill health as a result. We talk about his introduction to the gay scene, trauma, and recovery.
Aged 28, Ben falls in love and gets involved in the campaign for equal marriage, and, in 2014, gets married. Then Ben goes back to college, to Columbia University, no less, to study journalism and human rights.
What happens next is truly scary. For many, it will sound familiar, for others, barely believable. Ben became victim of another cult.