Nov. 11 Update: Jay Howard of The Religious Research Project claims Hank Hanegraaff unethically took the healm of the Christian Research Institute. Howard substantiates his claim with several interviews. Read Howard’s article.
(Please also see “A Rebuttal to Hank Hanegraaff’s claims about brainwashing in China in his defense of Teen Mania“, written Nov. 12, 2011.)
The latest defense of Teen Mania Ministries (following MSNBC’s documentary “Mind Over Mania”) comes from an unlikely source: Hank Hanegraaff, one of the most ardent defenders of historically orthodox Christianity.
In a commentary on the Charisma News website, Hanegraaff completely ignores the most important element of the documentary: the young women who went through Teen Mania programs and claim to have been hurt and misled by the organization — and, he fails to back up several important points.
I’m not sure if Hanegraaff is entirely dismissive of the young women, or if he doesn’t want to judge them publicly.
Either way, let’s be clear exactly what Scripture teaches us to do when we are confronted with hurt people, even hurt people who attack us, and then we’ll look at the weaknesses of what Hanegraaff says in his commentary.
(1) “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.”
(2) Are we supposed to imitate God’s character? Well, what is God’s attitude toward His children who have been wronged? “A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick He will not extinguish.” God won’t break you, but Teen Mania’s defenders don’t care about you at all.
(3) Jesus taught if someone asks for your jacket, give them your shirt, too. This is not just a rule about clothing, but rather it is a metaphor for our disposition toward other people. So far, the defenders of Teen Mania get a massive FAIL on this giving trait of Christ when it comes to the young women who claim to have been hurt by the ministry.
Also in his commentary, Hanegraaff makes several statements that he does not back up. In other words, his commentary is drive-by shooting, and before I get to those statements he doesn’t back up, let me just point out how his off-the-cuff response is a shame for a man who has led evangelicals and fundamentalists with thorough research. But because his target is the mainstream media, and Christians dislike liberal journalists (no need to love enemies there!), Hanegraaff can get off scott free with an argumentative fallacy known as “appeal to the crowd.”
I’m sure Hanegraaff can do better, so I welcome him to prove the following points, or at least use Stephen Toulmin’s method to give us a reasonable case for the following points I have quoted from his commentary:
1. Hanegraaff writes, “Doug and Wendy Duncan, billed as experts specializing in recovery from mind control…” Hank, why don’t you take a little time to find out about the Duncan’s expertise, education, and background experience? What’s so exasperating about your dismissive language? The fact that you and the Duncans are probably on the same page about a lot things. For one, they are survivors of a genuine cult, and they have written a book about the experience.
2. Hanegraaff writes, “Moreover, many of the arguments proffered against TMM could just as easily be used to establish historic Christianity as a thought reform cult.” (A) This is incredibly dismissive, almost to the point of equivocation. The implied argument is, “Because one could use these criteria to say something bad about a good institution, these criteria are’t a big deal.” In fact, not once does Hanegraaff attack the real issues of Lifton’s Eight Points. (B) Actually, of all Eight, I don’t see how “Milieu Control” could possibly be seen as a characteristic of historical Christianity prior to 20th century fundamentalism. Most of our Christian heroes of the past were vigorously interacting with people in the surrounding culture. Believing in the truth, those heroes did not need to “control” the flow of information, ever. They proclaimed, discussed, and argued.
3. Hanegraaff writes, “Equally significant is the fact that cult mind control as a sociological model has been utterly discredited.” Maybe so (back it up, please), but maybe that’s missing the point. Maybe the psychological impact on the individual is more important. Everything I’ve read indicates that unhealthy groups do influence individuals for the worse, and sometimes even theological and doctrinal “correctness” on an intellectual level can mask unhealthy social and interpersonal behaviors. See my reading list here.
4. Hanegraaff writes, “If brainwashing techniques did not work in the 20th century reeducation camps of communist China, it is sophistry to suppose it to be effectively employed in the ESOAL (Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of A Lifetime) weekend retreat of TMM’s Honor Academy.” Hank, what do you mean by “did not work,” exactly? Did not work at all, ever? Did not work after some time? Did not work after people were released from the reeducation camps? And, if reeducation camps didn’t work, do you have any problem with them? I mean, if they’re not a big deal to you, will you be advocating some of what they did in those camps? Is there something positive we can learn from those camps? Usually, you’re fairly black-and-white about these kinds of things, so forgive me if I’m stunned at how you’ve tried to reduce the moral significance and personal impact of communist reeducation camps.
I sincerely appreciate Hanegraaff’s personal defense of Ron Luce’s character, and his note of the ministry’s financial integrity. But those aren’t at issue.