Archive of ‘Unhealthy Church Traits’ category

Is Master’s Commission a Cult?

Another forum post that can be found here: In order to comment on the forum, or take the quiz, you must register as a user.

Do a quick google search for “Master’s Commission Cult” and you produce 31,700 URLS linking you to the subject. There have been forum discussions before this one about Master’s Commission being a cult, but most of them were in random forums without a larger Master’s Commission or ex-Master’s Commission readership.

I hope that this forum will be a more centralized location for people to gather together and spread the word about, because there’s nothing like feeling ALONE after leaving one of those groups. It’s so liberating to find out that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who left and feel exactly like you and I do!

Welcome to the discussion,
Lisa

What makes a religious group a cult?

Waco Tribune-Herald/May 6, 2007
By Cindy V. Culp

When it comes to cults, there’s an old joke among religious scholars: A cult is a cult is a cult — unless it’s my religious group.

That jest highlights the tendency many people have to treat the identification of cults almost like the pinpointing of pornography. They don’t have a good definition of what makes a cult, but they’re sure they’ll know one when they see it.

Experts’ approach to the subject is far more complex, whether discussing the Amish, the Branch Davidians, the Mormons or Homestead Heritage. Only a few scholars use the word “cult.” Most say it has become too loaded of a word and prefer terms such as “new religious group” or “alternative religious movement.”

Experts also have differing opinions about what puts a group into the question mark category. A few give the label to any religious group that doesn’t hold a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. Others say the only reliable dividing line is whether a group obeys the law. A lot linger somewhere in the middle.

Rick Ross, who heads up a religious research institute in New Jersey, is one expert who sees no problem in using the word cult. To him, there’s no reason not to use the term except for political correctness.

“Whether they call them cults, new religious movements or whatever, you see the same structure in behavior, the same structure in dynamics,” Ross said. “Groups that fit this pattern are very often unstable.”

Ross differs from some cult-watching organizations in that he doesn’t label a group a cult simply because of its theological beliefs. Rather, groups should be judged by their behavior, he said.

One classic sign of a cult is that it is personality-driven, Ross said. That means it has a charismatic leader or group of leaders who hold a tremendous amount of sway over members.

Another common characteristic is isolation, Ross said. Sometimes that isolation is physical, with members’ comings and goings being restricted.

But most often, isolation takes the form of members becoming completely absorbed in the group and its activities, Ross said. If members work, go to school and socialize only with each other, isolation is a real possibility. An especially troubling sign, he said, is when members are asked to cut off contact with family members.

“I call it discordant noise,” he said. “Anyone or anything that would raise troubling questions about the group is marginalized to the extreme, cut off.”

Also common is a persecution complex, he said. Members often have an “us- versus-them” attitude, perceiving simple disagreements as attacks.

“They say criticizing them is to go against God,” Ross said.

Another giveaway, he said, is when groups teach that anyone who leaves is flawed. Healthy groups generally believe people can have good reasons for leaving. Not so with cults, he said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas. Not only does he not use the word “cult,” but he takes issue with the characteristics that have been attached to the word.

The problem with them, Miller said, is that they don’t distinguish between good and bad expressions of those characteristics. For example, some of the most successful mainstream religious organizations have charismatic leaders.

The anti-cult movement often acts as if there are easy answers to the question of whether a group is dangerous, Miller said. But things are rarely black and white. Most involve judgment calls and points of view. What may seem sinister to one person may be perfectly normal to another, he said.

“I don’t know where you draw the line, frankly, except at the law,” Miller said.

William Dinges, a professor of religious studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said one question he asks when evaluating religious groups is what kind of fruit they produce. That’s helpful because while the customs of some groups could be called cultic under the criteria of anti-cult organizations, they don’t truly fit that mold. The Amish are one example, he said.

One term that can be used to describe such groups are “radicalized expressions of religious commitment,” Dinges said. Characteristics include having a distinct boundary between it and others; being demanding of members; being galvanized around a charismatic personality; and having an intensified sense of mission.

Like Miller, Dinges says determining whether such groups are dangerous is subjective. Among the factors to weigh is whether they make it emotionally impossible to leave, whether they maintain members’ dignity, the amount of freedom they give members and whether there is a structure for airing and addressing conflict.

People also must consider how accepted certain behaviors are within that particular religious tradition, Dinges said. For example, becoming a monk may seem strange to many people, but it’s a very accepted part of the Catholic tradition.

Such factors also must be weighed in evaluating the stories of people who have come out of a group, Dinges said. In some cases, people’s horror stories stem from truly bad things that happened to them, he said,

In other instances, though, stories are tainted by a change in ex-members’ viewpoints, Dinges said. People can have mistaken or highly romanticized notions about what life in a particular group will be like, then become bitter when reality doesn’t match expectations.

Sometimes that happens because a group engages in false recruitment activities, he said. Other times it’s because people jump into situations without thoroughly understanding them.

“You have to educate yourself and, in a sense, know yourself. Trust your intuition.”

Ron Enroth, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in California, says all the spiritually abusive groups he has studied share common characteristics. They’re so similar that when he talks to ex-members and starts hearing details of their stories, “I almost feel like saying, ‘Stop, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ ”

One feature of such groups, Enroth said, is control-oriented leadership. Communication with outsiders is limited and questioning isn’t allowed inside the group.

Sometimes the control extends into intimate areas of followers’ lives, he said. In such cases, members are expected to ask permission to take vacations or switch jobs. Lifestyle rigidity is also common, with some groups having an almost unfathomable list of rules. One he studied outlawed striped running shoes because they supposedly were connected to homosexuality, he said. Another forbid members to use the word “pregnant.” Instead they were commanded to say a woman was “with child.”

Such groups are also spiritual elitists, Enroth said. They use arrogant or high-minded terms to describe themselves and often have disparaging descriptions for other churches, he said.

“They present themselves as the model Christian church or the model Christian organization…and say they provide unparalleled fellowship and superior spirituality,” Enroth said.

In addition, such groups are usually paranoid and perceive any criticism as persecution, Enroth said. They paint people who leave as defectors and say attacks against them are ultimately the work of Satan.

“By describing criticism as slander, they can almost be shielded from criticism,” Enroth said.

Enroth believes the number of spiritually abusive groups is growing due to a spike in the number of independent churches in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. People like them because they are less formal and less hierarchical than traditional churches, he said.

But with that independence also comes the potential for trouble, he said.

“They are, in a sense, spiritual Lone Rangers,” Enroth said. “That’s where the potential for sliding off the cliff comes into play.”

I’m Bitter and Angry

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Recently, an old church friend from Austin, TX deleted my Facebook Fan Page.

Her comment was simple, but really condescending (see Beth’s comment at the top of the thread):

So, of course, I had to email her to ask her why she deleted me. Usually, I don’t care when someone deletes me. After all, I know who I am, and how feisty I am, so I expect it. However, if someone says I’ve “gone over the edge” and calls it “sad” it makes me curious.

Here’s my message to her, her response, and what I had to say after finding out why she deleted me:

I think my main problem is this:

Why is it a crime for someone who’s been abused from a pastor and a ministry to be bitter and angry?

Is being bitter and angry part of a natural grieving process? I thought it was. In fact, professionals say over and over that anger is a natural part of the grieving process. In my opinion, to criticize someone for going through the grieving process is incredibly unkind.

Also, let’s discuss my going “over the edge.” In the past few months, here’s a recap of how “over the edge” I’ve gone and what she means:

I’m not a Christian anymore. What that means to my former “friends” like this lady is that I’m “going to hell” or “walking with the devil” or any number of other ridiculous terms. It also means I’m not obsessed with what she thinks, including the fact that I may cuss, support the #prochoice movement, and by all means hope that abusers of young adults and children go to jail, where they belong.

I post videos on YouTube speaking my mind. Back in the day, I was in a church where it was frowned upon for women to speak their mind. When I lived there, it was also shunned to speak your mind against a PASTOR who did wrong. I’m breaking both of those unwritten rules. People who leave cults are often discouraged from doing so. They’ve been taught for so many years that pastors can do no wrong, and that if they think their pastor is wrong, they’re of the devil. I’m going against the way I was taught, and the way these people believe by speaking my mind.

I’m less conservative than I used to be. Some even call me liberal. I don’t vote Republican anymore. I don’t carry a gun. I don’t like Sarah Palin. I don’t think having sex is a sin.

I read academic sources more than I listen to a pastors sermons. I haven’t been to church in years and am a happier, better rested person for it. I love my non-church life. I have free time to pursue my real love–writing and trashy reality TV shows. Or, having sex.

So, have I gone over the edge?

No.

Unless you’re a fundamentalist Christian. And then, I probably appear to have gone over the edge. In fact, I’m probably going to go to hell for blasphemy and sin. But, luckily, I don’t believe in hell, so it’s cool.

I’m happy in a new world with a new way of thinking that includes loving myself and others, believing in the best in people, thinking for ones self, appreciating those around me who care about me and pushing away those who don’t care about me.

These days, I’m a huge fan of respect. I respect others. I even respect others who find their religious beliefs sacred. I respect others who are very different than I am.

All I’m asking for is the same thing in return. I don’t have religious beliefs anymore. Respect that. If you want to delete me on Facebook, I don’t mind. Just don’t be an asshole about it and make a big stink. It won’t change me.

Cult Connections: Acquire the Fire & Master’s Commission Conferences

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Pre-teens and teenagers are most susceptible to groups like Master’s Commission which claim to be “Discipleship Programs.”

Master’s Commission, in particular infiltrates youth groups. They provide the youth workers, the human videos, dances, skits and sometimes the preaching to youth groups at their home churches and at churches worldwide. It’s no wonder that youth kids aspire to be “as cool as” the Master’s Commission kids.

What’s scary about that is that what you see on the stage when Master’s Commission is nothing like what you live through in an actual program.

Even worse, is that there are programs like this all over the U.S.

Take my friend, RA at http://www.recoveringalumni.com, for example. She writes about Teen Mania. She recently posted about Acquire the Fire. Boy, was I grateful! Here’s why. I recently found out my dad was driving his church bus to an Acquire the Fire conference. I couldn’t believe my own dad was partaking in something so closely related to Teen Mania (it’s hosted by Teen Mania, and Ron Luce is well aware of the abuse going on in the Honor Academy, which RA has exposed and written about for quite some time).

What’s so threatening about Acquire the Fire? After all, the Newsboys perform there, among other well-known singers and preachers. A reader responded to RA’s post on Acquire the Fire and pointed out in her blog, that ATF is sort of a “gateway drug” into the Honor Academy’s system of abuse, legalism and manipulative isolation from the world.

Honor Academy shows signs of being an abusive, destructive group; therefore, I would not support Teen Mania nor Acquire the Fire.

What is with these destructive groups targeting our youth groups and sucking in our pastors to believe that they should send their kids there?

I don’t fault pastors ignorant of this knowledge.

They look at the conference itinerary and see some of the most well-known and well sought after speakers and music artists in the Christian community. Of course, Acquire the Fire and Master’s Commission International Network’s yearly conference appeals to them. These conferences are marketed to everyone within that demographic as the “place to go” for youth.

Couple that with light and sound systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to millions; fog systems; musicians; and gimmicks galore, and you have everything that appeals to a young audience.

It’s no wonder people like me and RA get recruited so easily into horrific destructive groups.

But these 2 groups aren’t the only ones who destroy young people. Read Deb Paul’s story: College Days: Catch the Spirit or Control the Spirit? Deb attended Pensacola Christian College, PCC. Deb’s story starts sounding a lot like mine and probably many others who attend these fundamental Christian “colleges” or college-like programs.

Deb talks about the rule book she received:

I received the packet for Pensacola Christian College prior to leaving my home and I read the rule book.  And the “things you need to know” book you received did not really include ALL the things you need to know before attending this college.

Like Master’s Commission, although you receive a rule book you don’t really know what you’re truly getting yourself into until you arrive. Even then, they usually take a few days to truly enforce the rules as strictly as possible.

Deb would get demerits for:

…wet hair, sleeping in my unmade bed at 7 in the morning on a Saturday, demerits for not scrubbing out my sink “good enough”, demerits for wearing socks instead nylons the wrong time of day.  Demerits and a lot of them for sleeping through a class by accident.  We were made to do everything, even be to bed on time every night at eleven o’clock.

Although I never got demerits in Master’s Commission, we got “rebuked” which is where we were called into a meeting with either the director of our program, Nathan Davies, or another staff member and a support staff member. From there, our rebuking ensued. We’d get scolded, preached at and threatened to have a worse punishment or to get kicked out if we didn’t change. We were told scriptures in the Bible that told us to be clean, to obey, and not to be rebellious or independent.

Let me ask you this: If Jesus were around today, do you think he’d approve of such abuse and destructive behavior from pastors?

How else do you think groups like Teen Mania and Master’s Commission successfully infiltrate our youth groups? What can we (concerned citizens, Christians, non-Christians, parents, siblings) do to prevent this type of abuse and the abuse that Deb faced at PCC?

 

Stuff Fundies Like

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A follower of this blog and a friend posted a link to Stuff Fundies Like today. It was my first visit to this fabulous site. How could I even call myself a blogger without finding his site?! With Darrell’s great knack of encapsulating all things Fundamentalist and letting us relive our oh-so-imprisoned days of being bound by ignorance and militaristic faith to God, I find myself laughing and grimacing at the truth on this site.

Darrell was so gracious to give me permission to repost material from his site. I wanted to include some recent posts that I find incredibly insightful, sarcastic and overall hilarious.

For example, you can’t talk about Fundamentalists without mentioning their all-encompassing love for RUNNING AND RULING THE REPUBLICAN party. So, Darrell shows us this:

Darrell writes about what he knows: Baptist Fundamentalism. In his post, Baptist Distinctives Day 6: Two Offices, he’s not just writing about Baptist Ministers, but ALL Fundamenalist Ministers. See his requirements for becoming a pastor (emphasis my own):

The requirements for becoming a pastor are stringent in fundyland. You have to be male. You have to claim to have heard THE CALL™. You have to own at least one serviceable suit. You have to not be divorced. And you have to be in the good graces of a couple other pastors. Education, wisdom, gentleness, and professionalism are completely optional.

 

About Darrell,

“I’m the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. After I graduated from a fundamentalist university, I began to become increasingly aware of problems in that movement which eventually led to me leaving fundamentalism, although I still consider myself a “conservative evangelical Christian.” In November of 2008, I started SFL on a whim, just as a place to jot down a few memories and observations in a satiric and mildly humorous format. Strangely enough, a bunch of other folks who had similiar experiences began showing up to read and chat. The site has been growing ever since.

Thank you, Darrell. You’ve made my day!

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.

Definition of a Cult

You’ve heard my definition of a cult, and some supporting evidence (though not exhaustive…yet).

  • How would YOU define a cult?
  • What characteristics would you say leaders of cults have?
  • What groups would you place (or not place) in that category?

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

In 1978, Jim Jones’ group of over 900 people, The People’s Temple, committed group suicide by drinking a grape drink laced with cyanide and a number of sedatives, including liquid Valium, Penegram and chloral hydrate.

What does Jim Jones have to do with My Cult Life? Eerily enough,

“Jones kept his commission so busy they were often in a state of exhaustion.

Jones exercised the powers of suggestion, persuasion and manipulation to create a kind of alternative social universe amongst his followers. By 1975 the Chaikins and others were conditioned to accept without question public punishment and humiliation at group meetings…Jones’ dismissed the nuclear family as “noxious” and did everything possible to undermine traditional family ties. There could be only one “Dad” for everyone. (Quoted from Rick Ross’ site: http://www.rickross.com/reference/jonestown/jonestown61.html)

“What Jones did was try to break all ties that were not to him,” said former believer Vernon Gosney. “Transfer all that loyalty, all that bonding to him. And so families were broken apart. Relationships were divided…Jones deftly justified his actions to his followers by saying that what he did to them was actually for their own benefit, or the benefit of making the church a stronger, tighter-knit organization.” http://www.rickross.com/reference/jonestown/jonestown63.html

Everything above is similar to my experience in Master’s Commission and working at Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, LA.

I’ve spent time lining out these specific moments and traits of my leaders, but more than anything, we were kept in a constant state of exhaustion, and all ties with the outside world and family were cut off or highly discouraged. We were to accept things without question or risk the shame of humiliation in front of everyone, or the embarrassment that went along with getting kicked out of the group and no one speaking to us for fear that they’d get kicked out too.

My Teen Mania Experience: Life at the Honor Academy and Beyond

I received this email from a fellow blogger, Recovering Alumni, who writes for http://www.recoveringalumni.com:

“I can’t believe today is the first time I’ve come across your blog. It seems we’ve lived parallel lives :). I was involved with Teen Mania for 2 years and it nearly destroyed my life….Anyway, just wanted to give a shout out to a fellow activist and say keep up the good work! Exposing truth and bringing these stories into the light is a noble thing. I look forward to reading more!

RA”
http://www.recoveringalumni.com

We’ve since been corresponding and have found a frightening correlation between my experiences in Master’s Commission and hers in Teen Mania.

Recovering Alumni’s blog is something I would recommend any of my reader’s to read. She’s got a great number of resources and stories and a website that’s easily navigable.

Please visit the site and drop an email/comment to Recovering Alumni.

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