Survivors from an alleged “cult” church have spoken out against its practices claiming they have suffered financial, physical and psychological torture.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) is a Christian denomination that has been described as a cult after allegations of preying on vulnerable people, brainwashing them, performing exorcisms, and making them pay 10 per cent of their income to the church in “tithes”.
The church was founded in Brazil in 1977 and claims to have chapters in 128 countries around the world. There are four in South London – Brixton, Peckham, Croydon and Woolwich.
On Saturday, a group called Surviving Universal UK took to the streets in Brixton to protest against the church and raise awareness about its alleged practices.
Ex-members of an alleged “cult” church, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, said their youth has been “robbed” by the organisation which controlled their lives.
The Surviving Universal campaign group, which has garnered thousands of social media followers, has been set up to highlight the abuse people claim to have suffered.
One of the campaigners, Rachael Reign, 29, who lives in Lambeth, was a member of the church and is now the lead organiser of the protest group.
Ms Reign said she was brought into the church when she was 13 years old at the Croydon chapter and allegedly suffered physical and psychological abuse.
The church has a heavy focus on exorcisms. Ms Reign claimed she was charged with performing exorcisms at the age of 15 on other members.
On a separate occasion, a pastor allegedly “lay hands” on her aggressively to “deliver her from demons” without her permission.
She also claimed she was forced to pay 10 per cent of her income to the church and if she didn’t she would be “cursed” and was “stealing from God”.
She alleged a “very nasty pastor” convinced her ex-husband to give the church their security deposit for their house in a bi-annual event that demands members make “financial offering to receive a miracle from God” – this led to them being evicted.
This was the moment Ms Reign decided to leave the church, she said.
“When I got evicted from my house I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel robbed because I spent all my youth in the church. I left years ago but only
recently started to speak up.”
Another ex-member, Rachel Baptiste, aged 40, who lives in Battersea, said she was introduced to the church when she was 13 years old by her aunt.
Ms Baptiste said the moment she decided to leave came after her mother died – she was suffering from lung fibrosis and diabetes.
Ms Baptiste claimed a pastor told her mother not to take the medication as she had “demons” that needed to be exorcised and she was paying the 10 per cent tithe though she could not afford it.
Another ex-member who did not want to be named attended the Croydon branch and said the church had made him go through conversion therapy because he is gay.
He said: “The UCKG claimed and told me that homosexuality was caused by a demon. They would get me to come and receive a ‘strong prayer’ to make me heterosexual.
“I would often get told to fast for hours, make ‘faith purposes’, which always included money.
“I have PTSD attacks and flashbacks of the conversion therapy.
“The UCKG destroyed my 14-year-old self all the way to my 18th birthday but I am so thankful I ran away.”
A spokesman for UCKG said: “We expect our pastors and the volunteers to live to the high principles [the Bible] sets, despite the fact that these do not necessarily converge with some societal views of 2022.
“Ordinary members, young and older, are completely free to live as they choose. We do not perform or believe in the efficacy of conversion therapy. If gender issues are brought to our attention, we advise people to pray and seek guidance from the word of God.
“We do not practice or believe in exorcism, but we offer deliverance services designed to pray for spiritual cleansing from all negativity, which can help those attending to gain greater peace of mind.
“We certainly encourage donations from our followers, like all churches. But, no one is obligated to give. We practice the Biblical principle of tithing, but keep no records for tithers or in any way control who gives and who does not.”
Pictured top: Rachel Reign protests against UCKG in Brixton (Picture: Surviving Universal)