Tag Archives: churches

Bahamas postcard: Christ Church Cathedral

From my Aug. 4, 2018, visit to Nassau, Bahamas.

San Juan Postcard: Cathedral and Lamb of God Statue

Three from Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista and one from Plaza del Quinto Centenario in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

‘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.

‘IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment’ — CBS DC

From IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com:

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The IRS is getting pressured to begin cracking down on televangelists following a John Oliver segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver blasted televangelists this past Sunday for what he called “seed faith,” where they tell donors they will reap the rewards by giving money to them.

“They preach something called the prosperity gospel which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith – the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest,” Oliver said in the segment.

He continued, “The argument is ‘sow your money into the ground, you will reap returns multiple times over,’ except as an investment you’d be better off burying your money in the actual ground because at least that way there’s a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day.”

Read the rest at IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com.

Note: In the other half of the article, CBS DC includes a quotation from Ole Anthony. While Anthony is a self-styled watchdog for religious fraud, he has been accused of operating a cult. Please see this excerpt of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life In A Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan.

Justifiable skepticism: What did C.J. Mahaney really know, and when did he really know it?

As the Associated Baptist Press reported last week,

A former youth worker convicted of sexually abusing boys in the 1980s at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Maryland was sentenced Aug. 14 to 40 years in prison.

Nathaniel Morales, 56, was found guilty in May of abusing three boys from 1983 to 1991 while working in youth ministries and leading Bible studies at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.

The article ended with this note, which refers to Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney:

Leaders of Covenant Life initially said they had no knowledge of any abuse until many years after it occurred when an adult who had been victimized as a child came forward. During the Morales trial, however, Grant Layman, Mahaney’s brother-in-law and a former pastor at the church, testified that he knew of allegations against Morales 20 years ago but did not call police. [emphasis added]

That highlighted segment is exactly what casts suspicion on C.J. Mahaney. As Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian said back in May,

“Give me a break. These people, they’re family. Of course he knew,” Tchividjian told The Christian Post. “C. J. was, for many years, the micro-managing head of the organization and nothing happened under the umbrella of Sovereign Grace that he wasn’t made aware of, so for anyone to say, ‘Well he didn’t know,’ that’s totally naive.”

A separate civil lawsuit against Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Inc. (SGM), and affiliated ministers and churches, was filed last year.

The civil lawsuit named Mahaney and nine others individuals as defendants. (Morales was not named as a defendant in the civil suit.)

The primary accusation against Mahaney and the defendants is that they covered up sexual abuse and failed to alert police.

However, additional ministers are part of the plaintiffs’ stories of sexual abuse as detailed in the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, as the Washington Post reported back in June,

The claims [in the civil suit] have been dismissed largely because of statute of limitations reasons, but the lawyers have appealed and want to bring the claims back into play.

The details of the suit are graphic and disturbing. I could only read the first 18 pages of the 46-page suit before I had to stop. The particulars are disturbing and degrading.

The alleged perpetrators were involved in ministry. It’s the stuff of horror movies: How could such demonic animals touch a Bible or tolerate worship music?

I guess a crucifix is no match for a vampire.Lord_Vampire

Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and its affiliates have been accused of more than sexual abuse, but accusations of spiritual abuse are less likely to wind up in court or receive coverage in the mainstream media.

But the chronicles of spiritual abuse have been documented and discussed on the website SGMSurvivors.com, which has archives going back to November 2007.

The founders of the website say they did not have an especially bad experience in their SGM-affiliated church, but they began to realize “SGM saw itself as set apart from the rest of the Christian world.”

SGM has been called a “cult” in at least two reports by WJLA, an ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C. (see here and here).

Update, Oct. 12, 2016:

In a Feb. 14, 2016, article, SGM is called a “cult” yet again:

“Covenant Life Church had a reputation of being really isolating,” says Tope Fadiran, a writer in the Boston area who attended as a teen. “Other conservative evangelicals thought it was a cult because of how intensely people in the church had their entire lives consumed.”

Another piece of the same article supports what Tullian Tchividjian said above:

Former church official Brent Detwiler, however, believes Mahaney knew more than he’ll ever let on. “Nobody worked longer or closer with C.J. in all the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries than I did,” Detwiler says. He believes it’s impossible for all these pastors to have known about abuse and not to have told Mahaney how they were handling it. “It just didn’t work that way.”


A frame from the horror film ‘Let The Right One In.’

The research backgrounds for concerns about Mark Driscoll’s behavior, Part Two

Between Warren Throckmorton’s investigative reporting on Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church and Wenatchee The Hatchet’s ongoing coverage, a picture of unhealthy and misleading authority has emerged.

For decades, psychologists and sociologists have been researching social dynamics, leaders, persuasion, religious organizations, personality, and cults.

To make sense, the research needs some quick context which does not relate to Driscoll.

One unavoidable problem of idea-driven or God-focused organizations is any given group’s appeal to invisible or abstract things must coexist with the need for visible or concrete things.

For example, a group might believe that God will speak to everyone’s heart when congregants gather in a specific sanctuary, but the somehow the group has to manage funds to pay the light bill and to keep the sanctuary in functional condition.

The invisible focus (God speaking to human hearts) also involves visible conditions (a sanctuary that needs electricity).

However, real problems arise when people are distracted from visible, concrete, or measurable problems by the use of language that references invisible and abstract qualities.

For example, within a group, a confrontation might go as follows.

Group member: “I don’t think that project was an appropriate use of money.”

Group leader: “That is just the spirit of rebellion in you.”

That’s a harsh example, although such an exchange is typical of certain kinds of groups.

(I strongly recommend I Escaped A Cult, which documents both Mormon and Protestant cults, and is available for streaming on Netflix. I also recommend I Can’t Hear God Any More: Life In A Dallas Cult, a book by Wendy Duncan, who survived a noble-sounding, fascinating attempt at Early Christian church life.)

So, a visible or measurable problem is covered-up with the use of language that points to invisible or tangible things.

Now, to the research.

To avoid dangerous leadership, Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Dr. Susan Andersen write, each person must remain “vigilant to discontinuities between the ideals people espouse and their concrete actions.”

They go on to say, “Separating the preacher from the practice, the promise from the outcome, the perceived intention from the consequence is at the crux of resistance — precisely because it is so easy to mistake labels for the things being described, to deal in symbols and concepts instead of people and their behavior (Lutz, 1983; Schrag, 1978).”

Zimbardo and Andersen later write, “We are often dissuaded from probing beyond surface illusions of meaningfulness by letting symbols substitute for reality, abstract maps for concrete territories.”

And later, “As thinking beings, we can resist the lure of engaging in the ‘cardiac comprehension’ proposed by cultic leaders, of listening and evaluating with one’s heart, not one’s mind (Adler, 1978; Barker, 1984; Bowers, 1984; Johnson & Raye, 1981).”

I think you can find plenty of examples of Driscoll’s and Mars Hill Church’s behavior on Throckmorton’s site and Wenatchee The Hatchet demonstrating a tendency to emphasize ideals and abstractions while tightly controlling information about acknowledged and alleged wrongdoings.

Call that cultic, or call that the style of a corrupt presidential administration — either way, it’s supremely dishonest and manipulative.

Even radio show host Janet Mefferd’s initial confrontation with Driscoll about his plagiarism had this very flavor.

Driscoll took the emphasis off his concrete, material plagiarism and focused the attention on Mefferd’s allegedly unruly invisible spirit.

Eventually, Mefferd was proven right, several times over, but not before caving to pressure and apologizing for exposing plagiarism — which says a lot about evangelical media’s love of money.

Here’s the takeaway:

Narcissistic religious authorities will use mystical language to make questioners feel guilty, and to change the subject from any criticism regardless of validity. 

The narcissistic minister is perceived to have special insight, and with a confident stance and a language that references invisible realms, he can control information, attitudes, and emotions.

Manipulation covers a multitude of sins. 

The above Zimbardo and Andersen excerpts appeared in “Understanding Mind Control,” a chapter in Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, edited by Michael D. Langone, published by Norton, 1993.

In the above excerpts, Zimbardo and Andersen cite the following (in the order in which they appeared in this post):

Lutz, W. (1983). Double-speak: From “revenue enhancement” to “terminal living.” New York: Harper & Row.

Schrag, P. (1978). Mind control. New York: Pantheon Books.

Adler, W. (1978, June 6). Rescuing David from the Moonies. Esquire, pp. 22-20.

Barker, E. (1984). The making of a Moonie: Choice or brainwashing. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.

Bowers, K.S. (1984). On being unconsciously influenced and informed. In K.S. Bowers & D. Meichenbaum (Eds.), The unconscious reconsidered. New York: Wiley.

Johnson, M., & Raye, C.L. (1981). Reality monitoring. Psychological Review, 88, 67-85.

Also see:

Andy Crouch’s ideological alchemy: turning facts into abstractions

A few more-recent assessments of brainwashing and its relationship to evangelicalism in the U.S.


Just some interesting stats I discovered: Apparently, the high-water mark for Episcopalians — or membership in The Episcopal Church USA — was from 1959 to 1967. See the stats here. What’s strange, however, is the number of Episcopalian clergy continued … Continue reading