Cartoon used with permission by David Hayward. Canada.
In Recovering from Churches That Abuse, FREE http://www.reveal.org/development/Recovering_from_Churches_that_Abuse.pdf
, Dr. Ronald Enroth lists eleven questions from LaVonne Neff “Evaluating Cults and New Religions” in a Guide to Cults and New Religions, pages 27-32:
- “Does a member’s personality generally become stronger, happier, more confident as a result of contact with the group.”
Unhealthy churches use a variety of abusive tactics to control members including intimidation, legalism, guilt and fear.
- “Do members of the group seek to strengthen their family commitments?”
Abusive churches try to keep members away from family members.
- “Does the group encourage independent thinking and the develop discernment skills?”
Authoritarian leaders discourage and punish independent thinking and discernment by members. These abusive leaders require conformity from members.
- “Does the group allow for individual differences of belief and behavior, particularly on issues of secondary importance?”
Authoritarian churches are legalistic and require that members stay within“prescribed boundaries”. There is a rigidity in these groups that traps people and puts them in spiritual bondage. These groups also emphasize beliefs that “do not receive great attention in mainstream evangelism.”
5.“Does the group encourage high moral standards both among members and between members and non-members?”
In legalistic groups there is usual an emphasis on high moral standards and official proclamations of such. It is common, however, that there is a double-standard among the leaders and the people in the pews. Abusive churches tend to have more sexual misconduct than conventional churches. And “leaders sometimes exhibit an unhealthy interest in sexuality (p.29).”
- “Does the group’s leadership invite dialogue, advice, and evaluation from outside its immediate circle?”
Authoritarian religious leaders are usually threatened by others’ opinions expressed within the group or from outsiders, exhibit attitudes of spiritual superiority, are independent and do not like accountability structures, and choose ‘yes-men’ who won’t question them.
- “Does the group allow for the development in theological beliefs?”
Authoritarian church leaders are usually intolerant to any beliefs not like their own. They usually denounce other Christian groups and have an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.
- “Are group members encouraged to ask hard questions?”
Unhealthy, abusive churches don’t permit questions. Healthy church leaders permit and encourage questions, including hard questions. In unhealthy groups, disagreeing with church leaders is considered to be disagreeing and disobeying God. People who ask questions in these systems “labeled as rebellious, unteachable, or disharmonious to the body of Christ. Persistent questioners face sanctions of some kind such as being publicly ridiculed, shunned, shamed, humiliated, or disfellowshiped (p. 30).
- “Do members appreciate the truth wherever it is found, even if it is outside their group?”
Abusive churches view themselves as superior to other Christian churches and groups. “The only way to succeed in an abusive organization is to go along with the agenda, support the leadership, ignore or remove troublemakers, and scorn detractors and other outside critics who seek to ‘attack’ the ministry.”
- “Is the group honest in dealing with nonmembers, especially as it tries to win them to the group?”
Abusive churches are known for having ‘split-level religion’ (p. 31) where a public image is presented to outsiders and another to the ‘inner circle of membership’. A healthy church reveals who they are and their intentions.
- “Does the group foster relationships and connections with the larger society that are more than self-serving?”
It can be difficult to discern an abusive church. Contact, over time, however will reveal abusive, unhealthy characteristics in the points above that LaVonne Neff made. Abusive church leaders demand “obedience” and “submission”, keep members busy with church activities, and foster dependency.