Category Archives: cults

‘I Grew up in The Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s Why I Left’


Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church, which is notorious for its obnoxious, degrading, and genuinely hateful protests. In this video, Phelps-Roper talks about the people who changed her mind — and the surprising way they changed it.

Phelps-Roper said her change of heart came, in part, through people on Twitter who showed her “the power of engaging the other.” It’s a fascinating story about developing relationships and asking questions rather than fighting.

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult


Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.

Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.

Worldview


A single interpretive tool can save you from the work of understanding.

Easily repeatable narratives often become absolute truths.

When an easily repeatable narrative becomes a socially accepted truth, beware and be wary.

— Question it.

If someone claims to know your motives, be suspicious of his motives.

— What might he gain from your agreement?

‘Undue Influence’ As A Possible Legal Recourse Against Authoritarian Churches And Bullying Ministers


Steve Hassan, an expert on religious cults and high-control groups, explains “undue influence” in this short video — and pay close attention to the segment starting at about the 38-second mark.
 

 
“In my experience, anyone is vulnerable to undue influence…” Another quick explainer:
 

 
Next, Hassan explains the problem with undue influence.

“[W]e’re using the legal term undue influence, because that best describes what it’s really about. It’s the exploitation and manipulation of someone with power over someone else to make them dependent and obedient…”
 

 
Here’s another interesting point, also from the video immediately above, regarding undue influence and its ability to manipulate vulnerable people:

“So there’s no informed consent. When you think of a destructive mind control cult, always think, people may say, ‘I chose to join,’ but they didn’t in my professional opinion choose to join. They were lied to, they were manipulated, and they were indoctrinated, and once I have a chance to teach them what we know about social psychology, what we know about hypnosis for example, people wake up and they realize, ‘I didn’t choose.'”
 
In the next video (below), Santa Clara Law Professor Alan Scheflin and Hassan give back-to-back presentations.

Scheflin quotes Lunde and Wilson from a 1977 publication: “No reported case in Anglo-American law has accepted brainwashing as a defense to criminal liability.”

That is why “undue influence” has become a more viable option by which to make legal claims against high-control groups.
 

 
Read more and see more videos at FreedomOfMind.com.

Chuck Swindoll anticipated Mark Driscoll’s type — in 1981


In his 1981 book Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living, revered evangelical minister and author Charles R. Swindoll identified the human psychological problems that — decades later — would allow Pastor Mark Driscoll‘s abusive leadership.

But if you’re not informed about the Driscoll situation and the disaster he left at Mars Hill Church, please read about them so the below Swindoll quotation can make sense in this context.

In Improving Your Serve — which incidentally is not entitled Abusing Your Serve — Swindoll writes:

“No, blind loyalty is not servanthood. Believe me, not only am I strongly opposed to the ‘mind bending’ employed by cultic leaders, I see dangers in other ministries that take unfair advantage of people — ministries we’d certainly not think of as cults. Any ministry that requires blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience is suspect. Not all gurus are in the eastern religions, you know. Some discipleship ministries, quite frankly, come dangerously near this point. I am not discrediting all discipleship programs! To do so would be unfair. As a matter of fact, I personally benefited from an outstanding ministry many years ago. Furthermore, I have always encouraged discipleship programs in churches where I have pastored or schools where I have taught over the years.

“My main concern is the abuse of power, overemphasis of loyalty to a human leader, an intense and unhealthy accountability that uses intimidation, fear, and guilt to promote authoritarianism. Weak and meek people can become the prey of such paranoid, self-appointed messiahs, resulting not in spiritual growth, but in exploitation and the loss of human dignity….

“People in the pew and pastors alike need to beware of ‘bionic’ leaders with an abundance of charisma. We need to watch out for the highly gifted, capable, winsome, and popular superstars who focus attention on themselves or their organization.”

I still feel relief when I read or hear someone with evangelical credentials make clear statements against spiritual abuse.

Deluded, delusional, or devious?

I’m guessing — just speculating — that Robert Morris, other Gateway Conference leaders, Bayside Church ministers, and Thrive 2015 Leadership Conference organizers haven’t read Improving Your Serve.

Or, maybe they’re genuinely ignorant of the wake of Driscoll’s disastrous ministry.

Or, maybe they’re completely duped by Driscoll — and hope to turn his influence into high attendance numbers for their conferences.

We all know God cannot succeed without big conferences because God needs big-time help from Gateway, Bayside, Thrive, and Driscoll.

Omnipotence ain’t what it used to be.

And, if you’ll forgive this well-worn commonplace, the inmates are running the prison.

Sarcasm aside, the quick, blind rehabilitation of Driscoll’s ministry is short-sighted and irresponsible.

Hats off to Chuck Swindoll for his prescient critique of American ministries. Even when I’m more skeptical than faithful, I appreciate anyone who really understands abuse of power in the ministry.

On ‘Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide’ from The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss


Tim Ferriss is one of the most interesting guys out there. In this long and worthwhile post, he talks about a time of depression and suicidal ideation.

I’m linking to and excerpting the post not merely as a public service announcement, although that aspect is certainly critical.

Ferriss’s post fits with the overall purpose of my blog. Unfortunately, the research is consistent and clear: for many who have suffered religious authoritarianism, spiritual abuse, or cult dynamics, suicide can be a real, substantial temptation.

Ferriss doesn’t seem to be a religious man in any traditional sense of the word, but he makes an interesting observation:

I personally believe that consciousness persists after physical death, and it dawned on me that I literally had zero evidence that my death would improve things. It’s a terrible bet. At least here, in this life, we have known variables we can tweak and change. The unknown void could be Dante’s Inferno or far worse. When we just “want the pain to stop,” it’s easy to forget this. You simply don’t know what’s behind door #3.  — via Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

Read the entire post: Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss.

Some Christian beliefs make matters worse, insisting that God ordains each sin (and suicide is considered a sin).

However logically and systematically consistent some theological thinkers might be, the idea of God ordaining horrible things is abhorrent.

At very least we could acknowledge that an impassible God becoming incarnate to die in place of his creatures is anything but logical. Perhaps loving, but not logical.

Here one of G.K. Chesterton’s quotes pops into mind: “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Maybe some theological thinkers have been orthodox and mad.

Logical and insane.

Logic and analysis are good. Problems come along when a mind becomes so focused on and so obsessed with the parts that it can no longer see the connections and the wholes. No one can live while seeing only fragments and pieces.

Which reminds me of a thought that, I think, came from C.S. Lewis: for the modernistic scientist, a real bird is a bird opened on the dissection table, pinned down and pulled apart. In an earlier time, a real bird was a bird on the wing, with its song.

Everyone knows the bird has guts. But even in a natural order sparked by a blind watchmaker, who would think the bird exists merely in relation to the functioning of its internal organs? The bird exists in relation to the rest of the natural order — bugs, fish, soil, water, and trees, as well as humans and human culture. We appreciate these relationships — they’ve been there as long as we can remember, as far back as we can see in art and literature.

Endless dissection is useful, even helpful, but discoveries made through analysis are never for themselves, but for better understandings of wholes.

Over-analysis of a single situation leads into a singular focus, a mental microscope on a single cell, with no context for its wider circumstances, its situations and connections. The suicidal person might feel like this one bad circumstance is all there is. But there is so much more.

So for some scientists and some theologians, reasoning has been a force for good, for making connections and seeing wholes, for continuing to live in spite of extraordinary difficulties.

They use reasoning to see the connections and the wholes — in other words, the meaningfulness of everything that exists.

Also see:

Walker Percy’s passage on “the ex-suicide” from his book Lost in the Cosmos.

Persistent mom scores one against the FLDS polygamist sect — scores four, actually


Imagine: a court awards you custody of your four children.

You go to get them, only to be met by the security force of a closed religious community.

That’s exactly what Sabrina Broadbent experienced.

Broadbent is a former Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint — yep, the cultic community of “Prophet” Warren Jeffs fame — and her kids were still living in the FLDS community she had left 8 years ago.

Her story was told on this evening’s World News Tonight on ABC, and she was featured on Friday’s 20/20.

Tonight’s news anchor called Broadbent’s story a “struggle by one mother waging her own battle against a powerful polygamist religious sect.”

Broadbent was “speaking out for the first time about the fight to  be reunited with her children and to teach them about life on the outside,” the anchor said.

After she was met by the security force, Broadbent returned the next day.

A crowd of FLDS members, appearing on television to be mostly women and children, surround Broadbent’s vehicle and began to weep, sing, and pray in what become “a 22-hour standoff, a mom surrounded by a sea of polygamists,” the reporter said.

Eventually, a sheriff’s deputy intervened, and Broadbent was allowed to leave with her kids.

The kids didn’t want to go, but “within weeks” they have adjusted to living outside the polygamist community “with the help of TV, video games, a new puppy and a huge amount of maternal love and patience,” the reporter said.

Television and video games are the new deprogramming tools? Considering where those kids came from, sounds good to me.

I was struck by the religious and social power of surrounding a single person with crying, praying, and singing. I imagine many people would have caved.

Broadbent must have grown and strengthened during those 8 years, to be able to withstand that level of emotional and spiritual persuasion, especially considering she used to be part of the community and probably still recognized some of the members.

But that’s the power of “maternal love and patience” — not a bad thing to remember on Mothers Day Weekend.