*** DEBUG END ***
Important information: We are currently experiencing technical issues with the webiste and it is currently running with reduced functionality, some category pages may not contain a full list of articles and the search is not currently working. We apologise for the inconvenience and should have everything back to normal as soon as possible.

Radio review: Afterlives and Slow Burn

26 June 2020


Dawn Watson and Petra Velzeboer spoke on Afterlives (Radio 4) of their experiences in a cult 

Dawn Watson and Petra Velzeboer spoke on Afterlives (Radio 4) of their experiences in a cult 

IN THE lexicon of trigger words — vocabulary that, by its association, brings on anxiety and stress — one would not expect to find such terms as “forgiveness” or “joy”. But to Petra Velzeboer and Dawn Watson, these are words that summon up a childhood of guilt and control under the cultic guardian­ship of the Chil­dren of God.

These two now successful busi­nesswomen were brought together for the first time in Afterlives (Tues­day 9 June, repeated Monday of last week, Radio 4). They talked of their experiences and how they had moved on.

There has been a lot to move on from: a deracinated lifestyle that involved moving from one com­mun­ity to another; loneliness; emo­tional and physical abuse; and, in young adulthood, alcohol depend­ency and suicidal impulses. To talk of forgiveness conjures up one of the many ways in which the cult instilled a sense in its followers of unworthi­ness and vulnerability.

And yet they take what might be regarded as an unfash­ionable view of victimhood and reparation. Of the guru that ex­­ploited so many, Ms Velzeboer is prepared to ac­­know­ledge the good as well as the bad. You have a choice, she says, of how you deal with the hurt.

There is a danger that the #MeToo movement fixates on the pain without equipping women with the resources to move on. Part of that moving on is to take respons­ibility for one’s subsequent actions. It was not, Ms Velzeboer admits, the cult’s fault that she took her children for a ride in her car while under the influence, or the cult’s fault that she had a serious crash.

We could have heard more from these two remarkable individ­uals. In the hands of the new breed of pod­cast producers, their stories might have furnished a mini-series, com­plete with cliff-hanger narration — something like Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate productions, whose six parts are being released over the course of this month.

And a slow burn it certainly is. It tells the story of a white supremacist from Louisiana, David Duke, and his bid for mainstream acceptance through the electoral system. That we know of him through Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, and not as a United States Senator, is enough to tell us that the story does not turn out well for Mr Duke; but the wealth of contextual detail that such a time-generous production can afford is as fascinating as it is unsettling.

He started his career as a rabble-rouser on the campus of Louisiana State University, at a time (the late 1960s) when even the most outra­geous views were allowed a platform in “Free Speech Alley”. The effec­tive­­ness of this ultra-tolerant policy is exemplified by an anecdote in which a black student followed Mr Duke on to the podium, cut his hand, and challenged the Klansman to compare the colour of their blood. The Shakespearean resonances are compelling; and too much for Mr Duke, who declined the offer.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

29 September 2020
Festival of Preaching
A one-day online version of our popular preaching festival. With Mark Oakley, Sam Wells and Anna Carter Florence.   Book tickets


19 October 2020
Creativity out of crisis: Hymns and worship webinar
In association with RSCM, this online event will explore creative uses music and liturgy in the context online and socially distanced worship.    Book tickets

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)