Sioux Falls, South Dakota - A South Dakota legislator has begun writing a book that tells a painful story of when faith turns into fanaticism.
State Senator Joni Cutler of Sioux Falls spent several years as a member of the End Time Ministries. She hopes her book exposes the dangers that religious cults pose to people seeking spiritual meaning in their lives.
Like most authors, Cutler often straddles a literary middle ground between the free-flow of words and writer's block.
"I sit down with my computer and it's easy to get to it. Other times, I know what to say, but I struggle saying it," Cutler said.
Cutler's book recounts a painful time in her past.
"Some people say, well, I had a bad day. Well, I know when I left, I pretty much had a bad decade," Cutler said.
Cutler is referring to the 13-years she spent as a member of the Florida-based religious cult, End Time Ministries.
"When we use the word cult, that's a very loaded word. People immediately conjure a certain type of cult in mind," Cutler said.
As an idealistic teenager, Cutler joined End Time Ministries hoping to find spiritual direction in her young life. But she and many other members, got much more than than they bargained for.
"I had not only my own tragedy that was never really resolved, but I saw a lot of pain and suffering of young women," Cutler said.
End Timers shun doctor's offices in favor of faith healing. And that firm belief in a healing power beyond the scope of conventional medicine had tragic results for Cutler when she became a new mom.
"My first daughter was born prematurely with no medical care and she died of untreated pneumonia and so that's very difficult," Cutler said.
Cutler says the mind-control exerted by End Time Ministries influenced every aspect of members' lives; from what they should think, to what they should wear. Cutler left End Time Ministries in 1986 and over the years has spoken out publicly against the psychological and physical harm that cults bring upon their followers. Her book will become a new platform for her to reach an even wider audience.
"It covers kind of the major human themes in life, the search for spirituality and religion's role in all of that. Belief, faith, family," Cutler said.
Cutler finds writing some passages emotionally-healing.
"It's been an interesting journey back into my past," Cutler said.
But other times, dredging up painful memories becomes too difficult to put into words.
"It definitely takes me into places that I've put behind me. Sometimes I choose not to write about some of those things, and other times, I think it's important to include some of those experiences," Cutler said.
Even though Cutler left the End Time Ministries 25-years ago, on occasion, she'll hear a voice from the past that's breaking a quarter-century of silence.
"Yes, Joni, I have a word from the Lord for you..."
Cutler is troubled by this message invoking God's will left on her voice mail earlier this month.
"To have complete strangers find me and leave anonymous message that are meant to be messages from God to me, that concerns me," Cutler said.
Culter says religious cults are just as active today as they were decades ago. Only now they have the power of the Internet and social media to spread their misguided messages.
"In fact, I think people try to be the most fanatical they can be in selling a conviction," Cutler said.
Cutler hopes her book will show the redemptive power of rejecting a dangerous theology while giving this first-time author the final word on End Time.
"Sometimes choices in life can be painful, sometimes you have to lose a lot to gain what it is you want," Cutler said.
A former publisher of a Florida newspaper that covered the End Time saga encouraged Cutler to write her book. She expects to finish her yet-to-be-titled work in about a year. She's also shopping around for a publisher.