When Today’s Churches Sometimes Act Like Cults – The Wartburg Watch

When Today’s Churches Sometimes Act Like Cults – by Dee Parsons [reblogged]

“Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! ” Hotel California by the Eagles.

The Wartburg Witches-Dee’s Christmas present to Deb
If you can’t beat it; embrace it.

Request for stories about singles and the church.

I know that Brad Sargeant will be writing a post about singles and the church. Others, however, may feel intimidated by writing a full post. So, we are requesting short stories as well. These could be a couple of sentences or a few paragraphs in length. We will cobble them together and will also share them with Julie Anne Smith as we do “coast to coast” posts looking at the plight of singles in today’s church.

Please send your stories to our email address and put “Singles” in the subject line.

On Friday, I attended an orientation meeting for parents at North Carolina State University (NCSU). My son is a transfer student. He has left a small private college, Samford, (5000 students) for a huge  state university (35,000+). In an information bag given to me, I found a fascinating little pamphlet called Cults on Campus. Look Before You Leap. A synopsis of this handout can be found here under the title of Protect Yourself.

It was prepared by the Chaplin’s Cooperative Ministry of NCSU. I love stuff like this and I must confess that I spent more time reading this brochure than listening to a few lectures. There is no copyright on this pamphlet so I thought I might share it with our readers.

I spoke briefly with the Director of this group, Anne Pearce. This body is made up of Protestant, Catholics and Jews link but they also sponsor the Interfaith Coalition here which is made up of other people of faith such as Buddhists, Mormons and Unitarians. I told her that I really liked the pamphlet and intended on sharing it with my readers. I commend this diverse group for trying to protect the students from harmful groups. (Note 6:11PM: This group is not an exclusive Christian group. It is recognized by NCSU as a group that includes all faiths. I found it interesting that such a diverse group could pinpoint cultic behaviors).

I am interested in hearing from our readers. What would you add, or subtract, if you were writing such a brochure to warn people about cults?  As you will see, I will refer to some groups that we write about at TWW that share some characteristics with cults as defined by NCSU chaplaincy.

Their first goal is to help students differentiate between healthy groups and harmful groups.

Among the many clubs and organizations on campus, you’ll find numerous religious groups. Some are well organized; some are more informal. Choosing the religious group that is right for you is a very important decision. We want to offer you some information that will help you make an informed, free choice.

They define what constitutes healthy religious groups. Such groups

will tell you a lot about themselves, who they are, what they stand for, and what they expect from you.

TWW wrote a post link in which a new pastor may not have informed his congregation of his true intention when he accepted a call to the new church. Here is what we said.

In fact, his narrative clearly indicates a church that was blind-sided by his absolute, singular emphasis on gender and authority. There has been some discussion on our blog, and others, that some pastors, who receive a call to a church, do not fully explain their view on Scripture. Then they pull a bait and switch and whine when the people do not march lockstep.

We have received comment after comment at TWW, along with a myriad of emails, telling us of pastors and/or leadership teams who secretly plan a major shift in emphasis at a church and keep such plans “under wraps.” We believe that any group that does such a thing has serious problems which will rear their ugly heads down the line. I say such behavior is bordering on cult-like control.

Some churches will “hide” their controversial beliefs. For example, I wrote of a former church in which the pastor admitted to hiding an emphasis on a belief in Young Earth because he did not want to drive people away. It was his hope that once a person became a member, he would either change his mind or keep quiet because said person has now developed relationships within the church. Once again, this is a dishonest approach designed to lure people in. Such dishonesty will likely show up in other areas as well.

This sort of “hidden agenda is seen in comments at SGM Survivors in which people claim that they were expected to go to home groups, were disciplined if they did not show up and had their discussions recorded by the home groups leader to be given to the pastors. This was a far cry from their initial introduction to home groups as being a place for happy fellowship.

An open and responsible group will offer an easy entrance to and, more importantly, an easy exit from their group.

Most groups are easy to join. But, some are like the “Hotel California” whose lyrics I quoted at the beginning of this post.

They are programmed to receive but you can never leave.

TWW has reported on case after case of people trying to leave their churches and getting pursued by their former pastors who interfere with their ability to join another church by claiming they are being “disciplined.” In fact, it happened to your adorable, yet growing ever wiser, blog queen.

Al Mohler at SBTS and groups like 9 Marks are now saying that people cannot, and should not, easily exit from a church. FBC Jax Watchdog reports Al Mohler saying here

When members leave for insufficient reason, the fellowship of the church is broken, its witness is weakened, and the peace and unity of the congregation are sacrificed…we have no right to leave a church over preferences about music, personal taste, or even programming that does not meet expectations…”

“Christians cannot look to this question as merely a matter of consumerism. We are called to love the church and to pray for its peace and unity, not to look for an opportunity to move to another congregation.”

9 Marks, the self designated holder of the keys of authority to the kingdom, concurs by saying that one cannot leave a church unless it is due to a major theological error link and link. This is problematic since they get to define what constitutes a major theological error. I left a church because I disagreed with their latest Neo-Calvinist leanings. Of course, they would be in disagreement with my departure since, of course, Neo-Calvinism is the only correct way to view theology. However, ignoring the keys of authority, I did not ask for permission.

We have heard from so many people who have attempted to leave their church and were told they could not or that they were “under discipline” (a process that does not necessarily mean you have been told, a priori, that you are being so viewed). We wrote a post, vetted by someone who is not unfamiliar with the law, on how to write a letter of resignation if one believes that such tactics would be used. Here is a link to that post.

Within the healthy group one finds an appreciation of diversity, an openness to criticism and doubt, and affirmation of other religious traditions.

There is a difference between “affirmation” and believing another tradition is true. For example, I have heard, one too many times, that Catholicism is a cult. We even wrote a post about Jimmy Smryl’s disturbing sermon on the matter link.  In that post, I wrote about Danny Akin’s (SEBTS) method for evaluating a cult. From what I can tell of his chart, Catholicism is not one.

We must respect one another or we will bear the consequences of strife. Today, I tweeted that Egyptian President Morsi said the Israelis were descendants of “apes and pigs” link. We need to be like Paul, debating our beliefs with others with respect and kindness.

Yet even within the Baptist tradition, we have the Arminians going against the Reformeds and vice versa. How many churches claim that they are the ones who “really get it? Didn’t CJ Mahaney call his church “the happiest place on earth?” If SGM is the happiest place on earth, something is terribly wrong.

As for criticism, we have written post after post of pastors/churches which cannot take criticism. Need we rehash the lawsuits involving Tom Rich and Mac Brunson or Julie Anne Smith and Chuck O’Neal?

How do you identify these harmful groups?

  • They isolate you from family, friends and other groups.
  • They ask you to give up control of your thoughts and decisions.
  • They fill you with guilt and shame.
  • They may promote crises with school, career, or your love life.
  • They frighten you to the point that you stop making decisions and asking questions for yourself.

Two things come to mind with these lists. One is the issue of “sin sniffing” which I had never heard of until I started reading SGM Survivors. For some people, it seems as if their entire church experience consisted of total focus on their sins since the pastors seemed most adept at fostering such an environment. If one is so sinful, they obviously cannot criticize the pastors and leaders who somehow get a pass on the all pervasiveness of sin. In the book by CJ Mahaney called “The Cross Centered Life, it appeared to us that Jesus is left hanging on the Cross and we must leave Him there, never getting to the forgiveness and Resurrection part.

One of the saddest emails that I have received is from a woman who was not allowed to see her nieces because she was appalled at the amount of corporal punishment being advocated by the parents’ church. I believe they were employing the Pearl method of spanking babies. She said something, the parents told the church and the pastor told the parents not to let her see the children ever again. I suggested that she report the church to CPS.

They define how vulnerability can make one susceptible to such a group.

You are lonely. You are homesick for familiar friends and places. Your roommate is always out with hometown friends. You miss your steady who is at another school. You are hurting. Your friends forgot to save you a seat at the game. You just had a fight with your family. You are grieving over a person or relationship. You are having a tough time socially Everyone has a date for homecoming except you. You haven’t been recruited by anyone else for anything. It’s the same dull routine of dinner, homework, and bed. You are in trouble academically You feel like a failure because you are failing something. You are under pressure to improve your grades. You are embarrassed because you’ve never had low grades before. Remember, these feelings and reactions are normal and can be confronted, put into proper focus, and overcome. However, they are uncomfortable if left unattended, and may make you an easy target for high-pressure religious recruiters.

How do you identify these groups? They say if you can answer yes to 3 of these questions, you should reconsider you involvement.

1. The group seems to be perfect. Everyone agrees and follows all orders cheerfully.
2. The group claims to have “all the answers” to your problems.
3. You are asked to recruit new members soon after joining.
4. You begin to feel guilty and shamed, unworthy as a person.
5. The group encourages you to put their meetings and activities before all other commitments, including studying.
6. The group speaks in a derogatory way about your past religious affiliations.
7. Your parents and friends are defined as unable to understand and help you with religious matters.
8. Doubts and questions are seen as signs of weak faith. You are shunned if you persist in these doubts.
9. Group leadership is mostly male, and males in general are believed to have different rights and abilities than females.
10. You are invited on a retreat, but they won’t give you an overview of the purpose, theme, or activities before you go.

Obviously, there is much here that we have discussed

On the brochure they offered one other helpful series of observations called What Should Get Your Attention.

  • Someone suddenly wants to be your best friend.
  • An unusual amount of positive attention from group members
  • An elitist spirit in the group
  • Extreme admiration given to group leaders
  • Intense efforts to persuade you and others to join
  • Many comments criticizing other groups
  • A growing pressure on you to make commitments for the group
  • You feel guilty for saying “no” to their requests.

I would like to add one other personal observation. If church discipline is brought up in an early conversation or makes the top of the list on the “About Us” page of any website-RUN! On this matter, you only need one “yes” to know you are in cultville.

After looking over this information, I felt as if the Cooperative Ministry had written a synopsis of the many posts at TWW. I am surprised how many of these characteristics are seen within the evangelical church as a whole. Somehow, I fear that some churches and groups in today’s church are flirting with the boundaries of cultism.

We leave you with the Eagles singing Hotel California. I debated between that and Witchy Woman!


Lydia’s Corner: Numbers 24:1-25:18 Luke 2:1-35 Psalm 59:1-17 Proverbs 11:14

Only ‘Fragile Bubbles’ Need Drastic Defense of Excommunications and Shunnings

Dai Slee [New South Wales, Australia, Christian who commented on Facebook on 9/30/2016 about excommunication/shunning.]
Amen. It was always in the back of my mind that there had to be a serious lack of faith in the Almighty God if shunning was necessary. Only fragile bubbles need that kind of drastic defense.
Unlike · Reply · 4 · 17 hrs
“Fragile bubbles.” This was certainly true of my ex-church Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley and the abusive pastors/elders who are authoritarian, demand ‘obedience’ [their claims are completely un-Biblical and they claim fraudulent authority, see Pastor Wade Burleson’s blog and short book of this title on Amazon]. Excommunication/shunnings for ANY trumped up charge, not immorality.
The GBFSV pastors/elders Cliff McManis, Sam Kim, Tim Wong, Bob Douglas and others over-step their bounds into the lives of adults in which it is NONE of their business or their right to control. They should be in professional therapy and groups to deal with their complete lack of basic, adult healthy boundaries, their arrogance, pride, and sense of entitlement.
Psychologist/Therapist/Best-selling author/Thought Reform expert/Cult Expert Steve Hassan
Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Cult Mind Control

Many people think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms. In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought- stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Like many bodies of knowledge, it is not inherently good or evil. If mind control techniques are used to empower an individual to have more choice, and authority for his life remains within himself, the effects can be beneficial. For example, benevolent mind control can be used to help people quit smoking without affecting any other behavior. Mind control becomes destructive when the locus of control is external and it is used to undermine a person’s ability to think and act independently.

As employed by the most destructive cults, mind control seeks nothing less than to disrupt an individual’s authentic identity and reconstruct it in the image of the cult leader. I developed the BITE model to help people determine whether or not a group is practicing destructive mind control. The BITE model helps people understand how cults suppress individual member’s uniqueness and creativity. BITE stands for the cult’s control of an individual’s Behavior, Intellect, Thoughts, and Emotions.

It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mindcontrolled cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.

We are all subject to influence from our parents, friends, teachers, co-workers… When this influence helps someone grow and maintain an internal locus of control, it is healthy. Influence which is used to keep people mindless and dependent is unhealthy. To download a PDF of the Influence Continuum graphic, click here.

Destructive mind control is not just used by cults. Learn about the Human Trafficking BITE Model and the Terrorism BITE Model.


The BITE Model

I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control

Behavior Control

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
5. Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
15. Instill dependency and obedience
16. Threaten harm to family and friends
17. Force individual to rape or be raped
18. Instill dependency and obedience
19. Encourage and engage in corporal punishment

Information Control

1. Deception:
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b.Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b.Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
4. Encourage spying on other members
a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Thought Control

1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
a. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
c. Decide between good vs. evil
d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
2.Change person’s name and identity
3. Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
b. Chanting
c. Meditating
d. Praying
e. Speaking in tongues
f. Singing or humming
8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful

Emotional Control

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
c. Your family is deficient
d. Your past is suspect
e. Your affiliations are unwise
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
g. Social guilt
h. Historical guilt
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently
b. The outside world
c. Enemies
d. Losing one’s salvation
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
f. Other’s disapproval
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family