Tag 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.

The Objectivism Cult


Michael Shermer avoids a false dilemma in his assessment of Ayn Rand—and in the process reveals something that is bigger than him and her. Reading the following quotation, ask yourself, have you ever felt similarly about any other point of view or school of thought?

“I accept most of Rand’s philosophy, but not all of it. And despite my life-long commitment to many of Rand’s most important beliefs, Objectivists would no doubt reject me from their group for not accepting all of her precepts. This is ultimately what makes Objectivism a cult.”

Rand’s followers, the Objectivists, seemed to have demanded perfect assent to all Randian doctrine. Read all of Shermer’s The Unlikeliest Cult in History. It’s an outstanding article.

Undue Influence And Free Will


Following my recent post on undue influence as a possible legal recourse in certain situations, I want to give some additional and complementary perspective.

Here’s an excerpt from a book by Robert Kane, philosopher and acclaimed teacher at the University of Texas at Austin:

“Now it may occur to you that, to some extent, we do live in such a world, where we are free to make choices but may be manipulated into making many of them by advertising, television, spin doctors, salespersons, marketers, and sometime even friends, parents, relatives, rivals, or enemies.”

He easily could have added professors, bosses, ministers, preachers, gurus, and self-identified prophets.

Kane continues:

“One sign of how important free will is to us is that people feel revulsion at such manipulation and feel demeaned by it when they find out it has been done to them. They realize that they may have thought they were their own persons because they were choosing in accord with their own desires and purposes, but all along their desires and purposes had been manipulated by others who wanted them to choose exactly as they did. Such manipulation is demeaning because, when subjected to it, we realize we were not our own persons; and having free will is about being your own person.”

The book excerpt is from Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2005).

In my previous post on undue influence, I quoted Steve Hassan, counselor and cult-deprogramming expert (with several books on the subject), saying he believes people who join cults and high-control groups do not in fact choose freely.

Another key insight into undue influence is found on a website devoted to Jonestown & Peoples Temple and maintained by San Diego State University’s Department of Religious Studies.

On the site, in an article on undue influence, Patrick O’Reilly, PhD, writes, “The legal way to view undue influence is to see it as an act of deceit and manipulation in order to suppress an individual’s free will and replace that free will with the goal of the perpetrator.”

Consider this especially when contrasting a stated goal and a hidden agenda. Such a contrast is certainly possible in many kinds of churches. If a leader manipulates a group with a stated goal while trying to bring about a hidden agenda, he might be guilty of undue influence.

O’Reilly also describes the element of “siege mentality” present in cases of undue influence, and it is pretty creepy when considered as a means of converting others to one’s own goal:

“Anyone who is not part of the perpetrator’s plan is a potential or actual threat to the victim.”

In other words, the undue influencer says, I’m the one who is trying to help you, and those others are trying to lead you astray.

A false dilemma or false choice of us versus them has been established.

Said to an emotionally vulnerable person, that can be manipulation and deceit at their worst.
 
Take-aways:

  1. People are manipulable.
  2. Some people in positions of influence and leadership have mastered the techniques of manipulation.
  3. When a person is manipulated in certain ways and in certain types of situations, he might have grounds for legal action.

 

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.

‘I, too, thought the world was coming to an end. Here’s what “Kimmy Schmidt” gets right’ – The Washington Post


Excerpt from Alissa Wilkinson’s piece in the Washington Post:

“Tina Fey’s new Netflix series opens when Kimmy and three other women emerge from a bunker and into a world, they’d been told, was scorched and dead. For 15 years of captivity, their captor, Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, said God wanted him to protect them from the destruction above. Now free, Kimmy decides she’s not going to settle for Indiana. She wants New York.

“I was never in an apocalyptic cult, or even just a regular old cult. But in the 1990s, I was part of a certain branch of fundamentalism that flourished among Christian homeschoolers. Leaders called for women in calico jumpers and long hair, and also a total break with most culture, including no contact with Christian things deemed too worldly: magazines for teenagers published by Focus on the Family, contemporary Christian music, youth groups or Amish romance novels.

“We were isolationist, but not, to the unpracticed eye, apocalyptic. But a certain sort of apocalypticism lurks beneath fundamentalisms of all stripes. The spark that lit this particular fire: Y2K.”

via I, too, thought the world was coming to an end. Here’s what ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ gets right. – The Washington Post.

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.”

SGM-let_the_right_one_in02

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