MSNBC documentary will look at Bible-based cult

Nov. 3 Update: Wendy Duncan has an overview of concerns about Teen Mania and links to more information right here.

Wendy Duncan, author of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, contacted me today to let me know about an upcoming documentary on MSNBC.

“Mind Over Mania,” which will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 6, 2011), will focus on four young women who were involved with Teen Mania. The four young women left the group and went through a process of cult recovery. They claim they experienced mind control in Teen Mania.

See the the description on the MSNBC schedule page.

Be sure to watch this program and give your feedback to MSNBC.


16 responses to “MSNBC documentary will look at Bible-based cult

  1. Unfortunately, the only cult these young ladies were apart of was in their minds. I was involved with Teen Mania for 3 years, and it is a temporary program. It was like High School or College. You come. You take classes. you agree with some. You disagree with some. You leave and go on with your life. The Duncans didn’t even know much about Teen Mania before these ladies, so the only thing they know is from 4 girls when thousands have done the program and don’t need counseling. My friends and I who still keep in touch from Teen Mania are hurt to have such a good moment in our pasts dragged through the mud. And no one can figure out what this girl is talking about. You know, there are some people who are always hurt and needy no matter what.


  2. P.S. The first time I heard of Recovering Alumni, the main girl this documentary is about was when she hacked into the Teen Mania database and stole all of our private e-mail addresses to contact us about her blog. The president of Teen Mania himself followed up with an apology e-mail to us and assured us they were taking precautions so it didn’t happen again. Thankfully it stopped because if it didn’t she would probably have a large harassment suit on her hands right now.


  3. Thanks for your comments. I will watch the MSNBC program this Sunday night with an open mind.

    I disagree with one of your points. I scrolled through the Recovering Alumni site from the most recent post to February 2010, and I counted 47 different individuals, aside from the site’s founder, who claim to have been hurt by Teen Mania. Now, by way of analogy, if a pastor at a local church so much as winks at just one female member of the congregation, the congregation will most likely fire him. We can argue over the merits of individual Teen Mania stories, sure, but in many cases, just one violation is too much and should be considered unacceptable. To dismiss the Recovering Alumni site, you must be prepared to say that all 47 individuals (perhaps more prior to Feb. 2010) were not actually damaged by Teen Mania. I think that is a difficult claim to make. How many testimonies are enough?

    I can also say, from personal experience with abusive religious groups, that the abusers are always dismissive of the victims. That’s how abusers work.


  4. I am not saying that I was never hurt at Teen Mania. In fact, my roommates offended me on a daily basis, as I am sure I offended them. My family has hurt me quite thoroughly as well. I’ve been hurt by leaders at Teen Mania because they said something with a tone I didn’t like or I didn’t like the way they were saying something. And I haven’t agreed with every ounce of every teaching necessarily. Of course I can say the same about every decent relationship and church I’ve ever been a part of. Being manipulated and damaged is a different story. I have been on Recovering Alumni’s site. I have read the material posted. She lists teachings we’ve had but interpreted through some strange lens of bitterness. No leader at Teen Mania ever made me feel as though I had to be something I’m not, fit into some mold, etc.

    It’s not about numbers. It’s about evidence. Here’s the crux of Teen Mania’s teaching: Be a person of honor. Be a person of integrity. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don’t give yourself over to any sexual passion that could end in you compromising your values and convictions. Be wise. Plan ahead. Dream big and made a course of action for your future. If you change your direction later, at least you’re going in a direction and not standing still. Do everything with excellence.

    It is a program designed to help young people be responsible adults and LEAVE and go out into the world. Recovering Alumni reads between the lines of these teachings and makes it out to be that Teen Mania expects everyone to be perfect, promotes social exile for people who don’t cut it, and plays with people’s emotions. But this is not happening there…unless it is happening in some back room where the rest of us can’t see. Literally thousands of people have gone through the Honor Academy. I personally know hundreds of them. We have open discussions about our time there…what we liked or didn’t and while some have stronger feelings of dislike, I don’t know one who would say they felt like they were being emotionally controlled at any point.

    So, AA has helped a lot of people, but I’m sure their are many who have done it and had an unfavorable experience. If 100 people say AA is a cult trying to bring mind control over its victims, should we drag the name of AA through the mud and try to dissuade others from joining? Is there proof that this is a realistic problem in AA?

    But I would like to point out that not all 47 people on Recovering Alumni’s site are saying they felt like Teen Mania was a cult…they are simply sharing a bad experience. As far as I know, these 4 on the documentary are the only ones who are saying that.

    And true journalism gets more than one side of the story. I am seriously wondering if, before MSNBC signed on for this, they attempted to contact other alumni to find out if there was a legitimacy to these claims.

    Unfortunately, I am currently living in South Africa with no tv, and may not be able to find out first hand. Ironically, I am in South Africa fulfilling my dream of working with orphans largely due to the principles and skills I learned at Teen Mania.

    Alas, I’m not Teen Mania’s defender, and I am determined not to be distracted any more with this. I am simply sad that such a treasured memory in my past is being dragged through the mud, but all I ask is for everyone to watch with an open mind and imagine what it would be like if suddenly your church and its leaders were being talked about on national television and no one asked you or the rest of the congregation if it were true or gave you a chance to speak up for them (while on of those leaders is nursing a wife back to health after near dying from cancer, I might add).


  5. I think it’s healthy and reasonable of you to avoid any further distraction by this issue. While these matters are important to a few who have a vested interest, most of the world will go on. MSNBC, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday evening, is not exactly a top ratings-getter.

    However, you raise some matters that require brief rebuttals:

    1. You’re equivocating on the use of “hurt.” The context here is not whether someone has been hurt by family and friends. The questions raised by the four ladies in the documentary have more to do with a discrepency between biblical claims about God and allegedly ungodly behavior of people in spiritual authority.

    2. As a former newspaper section editor, I was curious about whether Wendy Duncan and her husband did due digilence on the accusations against Teen Mania. She assured me she had interviewed people in leadership with the organization and people like you, who have a more positive view of the experience.

    3. How I would feel if my church or pastor was dragged through the mud has nothing to do with the truthfulness or lack of truthfulness behind the accusations that might be made against them. How I would feel might be terrible, but I’ve felt terrible before in my life when confronted with certains truths and facts. Sometimes, the truth hurts. That’s life.


  6. Thanks for posting information about the documentary! I am certainly excited to watch and see whether or not MSNBC has tackled the subtleties of this nuanced and complicated situation. I am having all my old Teen Mania friends over to watch on Sunday night!

    I feel I should clarify something that Danielle asserted, which was that RecoveringAlumni hacked into the HA website to steal addresses and distribute information. From what I have been told by many intern alumni, everyone’s e-mail address was easily accessible through the HA alumni site, and interns occasionally e-mailed the entire list with requests for prayer, fundraising for international missions, and even political campaigns they were running. I believe that RA used the same service to inform interns (and only those who had included their e-mail addresses on the public list) of the investigation that Teen Mania’s Board of Directors had promised to do.

    Ron Luce’s response was hasty and certainly written to cast doubt on RA’s credibility, and I do believe it worked in that regard. That said, there was no hacking, and there was no stealing. In fact, there was no subversive behavior related to that e-mail whatsoever.


  7. FYI, some information about the email controversy is at the link. To take one point: the email database in question was in fact a general directory that is freely available to all HA alumni, so when Ron Luce suggested otherwise, he was being very misleading– not exactly “honorable” of him.

    Also worth noting is this article For Those Who Love Teen Mania.


  8. Eric and Liz, Thank you very much for your comments and clarifications.


  9. gracemakesfree

    One point in regards to Danielle’s statement (a lie propagated by Mr. Luce himself), Mica did not hack into TMM’s computer system and “steal” our email addresses. I am an alumnus and anyone who is part of the alumni community has access to the email addresses that every alumni places into the alumni community website.

    I know it’s hard to believe it, Danielle, but Mr. Luce lied in an effort to discredit Mica and defend his ministry. Not only did he lie – he sent an email “apologizing” that they allowed Mica to hack into the systems.

    The pandering and manipulation is evident to those who have eyes to see.

    I was at TMM for several years and I have worked directly, or personally with most of the “major players” at TMM. I cared and still care about them, but just because they speak well, or inspire people, does not mean they are invincible and cannot be led astray, or are incapable of abuse.


    • i guess your the only one who has eyes to see you must be god herself . look at all this little petty stuff you write about. if it was so bad why didn’t you just leave and agree to disagree you make a choice and then are all mad about your choice. No one made you stay there or agree with anything. In fact, you had to pay for it. And if you were there several years you made that choice several times. If you believe in grace than give it to others and stop being the judge. Or are you a hippocrate? Where is your grace now?


  10. I think this girl who runs recovering alumni is kind of a stalker. She just can’t let it go. Very scary She writes on there website and it seems like this blog is her life. Of the many who have gone to ha she only has a handful supporting her. Sure we are all capable of wrong but this girl is not willing to work through it with the people who she says wronged her she seems bent on destroying the whole thing. I am offended by the title of this article because team mania belives in orthodox christian doctrine and you all are throwing out the word cult like people throw out the word racist these days. Sometimes I wish ha would just sue these people but then they are more mature than I am


  11. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” All the Honor Academy defenders are TRASHING the girls who came forward with a complaint. What has the Honor Academy taught these graduates about the way of Jesus? Apparently, nothing, because they don’t follow His most basic teachings. Look at the two comments from “suzytwo” above. Never mind her poor grammar and word usage. She is full of hate and anger. How’s that abiding-in-the-vine going for you, suzytwo? Would the real hypocrites please stand up?

    Furthermore, I’m tired of hearing predators so easily say “it was the victim’s choice.” Nonsense. The point is simple, clear, and already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: Teen Mania exploits the sincere desire of young people who want to grow in their faith. Teen Mania sets up a false dilemma — EITHER do all this nonsense like eating bugs and exhausting yourself, OR fail in your spiritual growth. So when they have a hard time reaching the standard of eating bugs and exhausting themselves, they feel like spiritual failures, when the TRUTH is that Christ won the victory on the behalf of the believer, and NOTHING ELSE IS NECESSARY. Historically, people who have said something ADDITIONAL was necessary were called HERETICS. Unfortunately, no one cares about history anymore, so groups like Teen Mania get to look orthodox when they’ve in fact embraced heresy, like wolves in sheep’s clothing.


  12. Okay, I think everyone needs to calm down. There is no reason to attack anyone for either their perspective or their grammar.

    Truthfully, I often wonder how people could come away from Teen Mania feeling abused as I felt quite the opposite.

    However, I don’t believe that any of these people are trying to do harm either. For them these things are very real. However, if we are to give merit to their feelings and claims, we must also give merit to the leaders of Teen Mania until something is actually proven.

    Two people walk away from the same crime scene and have two very different accounts of what occurred. Two people walk away from the same sermon and have very different understandings of what was trying to be communicated. Two people attend ESOAL, and both ring out. One walks away feeling ashamed. Another walks away proud that she went as far as she did with some keen insight into herself.

    So far, as I’ve read Recovering Alumni’s blog, I’ve not seen any proof that the intentions of these leaders is selfish or abusive. I’ve seen interpretations that were quite different from my own while I attended the same or similar teachings.

    Again, I’m not trying to sweep the testimonies of these hurt individuals under the rug. I’m simply trying to remind everyone that one extreme does not balance out another extreme…it simply makes us all unbalanced.

    If we are all truly concerned with truth we will reserve our judgments and pray that God reveals the truth, as he promises that sins cannot remain in the dark.


  13. I am an English teacher. I understand. Depending on how we wield the blade, knowledge can be used to help, and it can also be used to wound.