"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grace under Siege 45: Do any of these apply?

     My brother, who has studied cults, says it sounds like Grace Brethren is applying for "cult status."  Here are some of the characteristics of a cult, culled from many sources.*
     What do you think?

The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

Charismatic or messianic leader who is self-appointed and has a special mission in life.

The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities.

Almost worshipful loyalty to leader(s). They, alone, speak for God. The group/leader is always right. Recruits soon believes group members, alone, are truthful/trustworthy. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel. Critical thinking, questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished, as prideful and sinful, blind acceptance encouraged. They insist on total, unquestioning obedience and submission to the group, both actions AND thoughts. Group "love" and acceptance becomes dependent upon obedience and submission. Unconditional love...isn't.

The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them. Punishes with accusations of sin and demand for repentance/blame/guilt. Group dwells on members' "sinful nature" (many use public confession).  Maintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threat(s).

Deception - Group identity and/or true motives are not revealed. The group leaders tell members to withhold truth from outsiders.

Crisis Creation - They employ tactics designed to create or deepen confusion, fear, guilt or doubt. i.e. "you aren't serving God the way He intended."

All The Answers - Provide simple answers to the confusion they, themselves, create. Support these answers with material produced or "approved" by the group.

Provides "family" for those divorced or rejected by society. Members encouraged to drop non-member friends.

The group has a polarized "us-versus-them" mentality. Everyone outside of group lumped under one label.  Disobedience, including even minor disagreement with group doctrine, may result in expulsion and shunning. Accomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions.

Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".

Finger Pointing - creating a false sense of righteousness by pointing to the shortcomings of the outside world and other cults.

Motive Questioning- When sound evidence against the group is presented, members are taught to question the motivation of the presenter.

Information Control - Group controls what convert may read or hear. They discourage (forbid) contact with ex-members or anything critical of the group. Ex-members become feared and avoidance of them becomes a "survival issue." 

Mind Control techniques include:

Peer Group Pressure - Suppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the need to belong.

Rejection of Old Values - Accelerating acceptance of new life style by constantly denouncing former values and beliefs.

Uncompromising Rules

Verbal Abuse - Desensitizing through bombardment with abusive language. 

Confession - Encouraging the destruction of individual ego through confession of personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.

Authoritarian in their power structure.

Totalitarian in their control of the behavior of their members.

Uses deception in recruiting and/or fund raising.

Promotes dependence of the members on the group.

Totalitarian in their world view.

Controls the flow of information.

Warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.
  1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
  3. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
  5. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
  7. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
  8. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every  practical consideration.

Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused--as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.

Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.

Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.

Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.

A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.

Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.

Former followers are at best considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences.

They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.

Information Control
1. Use of deception
a. Deliberately holding back information
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying
2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members so busy they don't have time to think
3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Information is not freely accessible
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who "needs to know" what
4. Spying on other members is encouraged
a. Pairing up with "buddy" system to monitor and control
b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about "sins" used to abolish identity boundaries
b. Past "sins" used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

What Cults Want
Cults want wealth and power for the leadership, to be supplied by members.
1. Wealth may include:
  • transfer of cash, real estate, and cars,
  • profits, from exploitation of members' labor in cult-owned businesses, and
  • funds raised deceptively from relatives and other non-members.

2. Power may include:
  • manipulation of all relationships, work, or schooling to solely the needs of the cult,
  • behavioral/ideologic controls via group punishments, or threatened expulsions,
3. Leaders exhort members to proselytize; predictably, more members mean more wealth and power for the leaders.

*Taken from Characteristics of a cult (edited)

Note by Jessica: If there is actual witchcraft involved--curses, etc., that would confirm cult status. If it can be proven that there has been illegal activity such as hacking into computers, etc. it may not indicate a cult but those involved could be punished under the law.


  1. Not to be critical, but having read your posts, couldn't it be possible that this church is rallying around their pastor because so much criticism has been directed right at him. If your posts are any indication of the arguments going on, if someone disagreed with you it seems like they might rally around their pastor, not in blind obedience, but in response to some very intense charges against him. In other words, could your comments against this man have served to galvanize people around him? Just a thought.

  2. Yes, you might think so if you didn't know that the abuses started many years ago and the opposition in late September when they started coming to light.

  3. When we were in a similar church, i also found a list of "cult characteristics." I think there were 17 or 18 on the list, and that church/pastor qualified for more than half (10 i think). Even tho we and others had been hurt, and i thought the church was veering very close, it didn't quite qualify mostly because i knew the pastor did strongly want to uphold scripture (tho we believe his view of scripture to be very twisted).

    For us to still be involved with that church would be the willingness to be caught up in the drama of the situation. We stayed until, essentially, asked to leave. But by then i was happy to not be listening to the heretical stuff we had been being poisoned by week after week. I hope this doesn't stretch out too long for you. It isn't healthy.