BRIDGEVILLE (KDKA) — A woman said a local church is the home of a cult that has destroyed her family.
From the outside, Lakeview Christian Life Church in Bridgeville would appear to be like many others.
But on the inside, former members Vicki Flynn and her husband Kevin say it is home to a cult that ripped their family apart.
Andy Sheehan: You were excommunicated?
Vicki Flynn: Yes, and our children were taken.
KDKA has told you about Lakeview Christian in past reports — how dozens of former members we’ve spoken with say the church strictly enforces a policy of shunning, demanding members have no contact with ex-members, including family.
Eleven years ago, when the Flynns were exiled, their son and two daughters shunned them — even months later at the hospital when their youngest daughter gave birth to a son.
“My daughter went to hand me my grandson and the pastor said, ‘No, she cannot hold your baby’ and he said, ‘I’m going to call security,'” Vicki Flynn said.
Their story goes back decades to when Kevin was an assistant pastor at Lakeview — a tightly-controlled community.
Charismatic founder Norman James Sr. leads the church, and the Flynns and others say James calls himself “The Apostle” and claims to be God’s representative on Earth, preaching that the Almighty has abandoned all other churches.
“They are not going to inherit the kingdom is how they see it,” Vicki Flynn said. “They will be in outer darkness.”
In order to attain the kingdom, the Flynns and more than a dozen former members tell KDKA’s Andy Sheehan they needed to strictly adhere to the dictates of the apostle, who managed their lives down to what books they could read and what movies they could watch.
“Who you married was chosen, who you dated was chosen, what you wore, even what you ate to a certain extent,” Vicki Flynn said. “Every single decision we make on your own … was made for us.”
But when church leaders sent the Flynns down to Alabama to establish a new church approximately 15 years ago, Kevin had his own ideas that ran afoul of the apostle.
One day they got a call from James’s wife.
“The wife said, ‘I’m going to come down to that little rebel church and I’m going to take everything from you’ and she did,” Vicki Flynn said.
The church kicked Kevin and Vicki out, but their three children were taught the apostle was the divine authority.
They stayed, telling their parents they could never see or speak with them again.
“If they had an accident and had died, it would have been better. That’s how awful it is because we feel the rejection from our children constantly,” Vicki Flynn said.
The loss of her children caused Vicki Flynn to fall into a major depression and suffer a nervous breakdown.
She nearly lost her faith in God but then two Christmases ago, she got a phone call.
On the other end was her eldest daughter Ashley.
“I hadn’t heard her voice in 11 years and she was coming home,” Vicki Flynn said.
Ashley, her husband Vernon, and their three children now live close by.
They are back in their lives and have allowed Vicki Flynn to feel an emotion she had not felt in more than a decade — hope.
Still, it is a partial victory laced with pain.
“It’s such a gift, but I still miss my other children terribly,” Vicki Flynn said. “I have seven grandchildren I’ve never seen. It’s horrible.”
Throughout her travail, Vicki Flynn says has held on to her faith, even when it was just what she calls, “a splinter of the cross”.
That phrase is now the title of her new book, which she hopes will expose Lakeview and churches like it.
“I would not let them win, because that’s what they say, “You leave us, you lose everything.’ And I wasn’t going to lose everything,” Vicki Flynn said.