Chapter 5: Manipulation and Control
Abusive Churches Use Fear, Guilt, and Threats
- Chapter 1: A View From Within
- Chapter 2: Fringe and Fanaticism – Abusive Churches Can Go Over The Edge
- Chapter 3: Abusive Churches Are Not New
- Chapter 4: Abusive Churches Misuse Spiritual Authority
- Chapter 5: Abusive Churches Use Fear, Guilt, and Threats
- Chapter 6: Abusive Churches See Themselves As Special
- Chapter 7: Abusive Churches Foster Rigidity
- Chapter 8: Abusive Churches Discourage Questions
- Chapter 9: Abusive churches make leaving painful
- Chapter 10: Abusive Churches Present A Warning
- Chapter 11: Abusive Churches Will Always Exist
- Churches That Abuse: Introduction
- Notice & Disclaimer
- Contents / Audio Version
- Publishers Information
- Preface & Acknowledgements
Tom Brown’s story of his involvement in the Korea-based University Bible Fellowship (UBF) typifies the victimization of young, idealistic college students on campuses across the country. In their intense desire to seek and serve the true God, they are taken advantage of by sometimes sincere individuals who exploit their ideals to achieve personal goals and fulfillment. Fortunately for Tom, he was not left with a “shipwrecked faith” as so many others have been.
Tom’s involvement with UBF began in 1979, during his junior year at Northwestern University. His fraternity roommate of the previous year had been studying with UBF missionary “Sweety” Rhee. When the roommate did not return to school, Sweety turned her attention to Tom. Although at first he hesitated to accept her invitation to attend a UBF worship service, Tom felt that God may have been answering his prayer for a good Bible study to attend. So he accepted the invitation. He was impressed by the earnestness that UBF members displayed, as well as their spiritual intensity, which he found very refreshing. Most of the congregation happened to be Korean missionaries who had come to evangelize on American college campuses.
During his years at Northwestern, Tom had been struggling to grow as a Christian and sincerely desired to find a Bible study in which he could participate and minister to other college students like himself. UBF seemed to be an answer to prayer. Sweety “took very good care” of Tom during this initial phase, teaching him to write “sogams” — personal confessions based on Bible passages selected by the leader-calling him every week, walking him home, and buying him dinner.
Tom now realizes that he was “love bombed” by Sweety during this phase, particularly since Sweety was derogatively known as a “no-sheep missionary” among the other UBF Korean staff. Tom was her only student in an organization where individually teaching the Bible to many students is the chief goal. Along with the “love bombing” came initial subtle manipulations of Tom’s time and behavior, as well as mystical stories of God’s providence and judgment toward the Fellowship. All of this left a deep impression on Tom.
Over time, Sweety learned all about Tom, including his desire to earn a Ph.D. degree and become a nationally recognized expert in his field of study. It was at this point that “Sweety told me that I should give up my own plans because they were a result of sinful selfishness. She said that I should serve Jesus instead.” Having set the barb of guilt, Sweety waited until Tom “made the decision to cut off my own future direction and wait for God’s new direction for my life.” Tom suffered a good deal due to that drastic decision. “Sometimes I cried because of my sense of loss and frustration.”
After his first four months with UBF, Tom met the leader, Samuel Lee, a short man who spoke broken English. Lee began doing things that made Tom feel special. In turn, Tom responded to the attention and recognition, and, for the group’s Spring Conference of 1980, he was asked by Lee to deliver a message. At this point, Tom’s intense indoctrination began.
“Message training” is one of the ways UBF leaders “help” students to deepen their commitment to the group. Tom began by studying 1 Corinthians 15 with Samuel Lee. He was required to memorize and recite the passage for Lee each time they met. Tom was then to write his own message on the passage using Lee’s previously written message as a guide. After several revisions, essentially Tom had Samuel Lee’s own message to deliver at the Spring Conference. The point was that he had had the opportunity to “struggle with the Word of God and learn from Samuel Lee” as all the Korean missionaries already knew. What Tom and the other Americans did not know at the time was that the Korean missionaries considered Americans to be spiritually inferior to them. “Many of the Korean UBF members call Korea ‘Mt. Zion’ and refer to non-Koreans as ‘Gentiles.'”
As Tom acknowledges, his behavior and perceptions were already changing by the time of the conference. He had manipulated a number of his friends to attend, and, when one balked at the registration fee, Tom told him that payment was a sign of his “commitment to God” and a measure of his “spiritual desire.” By the end of the conference, Tom was praying that God would establish him as a Bible teacher for American college students, all past aspirations of doctoral work having been put aside as fleshly, human pride.
Further indoctrination was carried out when Tom and several other American UBF students were invited by Lee to accompany him on his annual “world mission report” journey to Korea. Tom began preparing on his own for the trip by sleeping on the floor, knowing that Koreans did not sleep in beds. He was quite disappointed when Lee and his entourage stayed in hotels-and slept on the beds. He was also instructed to write an autobiography of his life, which would be the basis for the testimony he would give in Korea.
Although his parents were terribly concerned about his making the trip, given the civil unrest in Korea at the time, Tom put aside their fears as evidence of their lack of faith. During the flight and the first day after their arrival, Lee made the students share their autobiographies, after which he would comment about their characters and basic problems. They were then told to condense their writings down to a six-page testimony. It was at this point that Lee began comparing Tom to the apostle Paul; hence one of Tom’s UBF nicknames, Tom Paul.
While in Korea, Lee focused his attention on Tom’s “training.” He made Tom team leader over the other students, encouraged him to focus more on the other students than on his own testimony, and yet continually had him revise and rewrite his testimony, which by this time was re-titled, “True Greatness.” Tom explains the point of the title: “I had lived my life up to this time seeking human greatness for myself. My decision now was to live as a great servant of God like the apostle Paul.”
Lee also began to drive wedges between Tom and his parents, telling Tom that they didn’t want him to become a man of God but only a dutiful son. By the end of the journey, Tom had a great vision to become the apostle Paul for the 21st century-through UBF, of course.
Upon returning to Illinois, Tom commuted one hundred miles each day to minister to his sheep in Chicago. Because it was summer break, he lived at home with his parents and worked for his father, but was committing all of his extra time to UBF and the Summer Conference. Sweety put great pressure on him to leave his home to minister full-time in Chicago, and, after a few weeks, he told his parents that he was leaving. His parents, not understanding the power of UBF influence on Tom, spoke to him about his responsibility to make money for his senior year. After Tom responded that he must also do the work of God, his father gave him an ultimatum. Tom packed and left the next day, fully believing that to stay would mean going against God’s will. He reasoned that this was part of the persecution one must expect when serving God. Further, his action insured that his “human relationship” with his parents was severed. As Tom says, “Now I was only a servant of God.”
After his move, Tom suffered a great deal over his emotional separation from his family. Several of the women missionaries at the UBF center consoled him. According to Tom, many male students in UBF develop a kind of maternal dependency on the women missionaries, related perhaps to the sexually repressive atmosphere of the organization.
He also began to have an attraction for Lee’s teenaged daughter, Sarah. At this point, another form of spiritual discipline became an integral part of Tom’s indoctrination. “Sweety hit the roof. She harshly rebuked me over and over for my ‘sinful desires’ for Sarah. Whenever I opened my mouth to protest, she rebuked me more.” This response, according to UBF philosophy, was actually demonstrating love for the American students who were lost in their “fleshly desires.” Sweety was eventually rebuked by Samuel Lee for badgering and rebuking Sarah.
Tom, not able to control his feelings for Sarah, entered into a pit of guilt, shame, and depression. Sweety continued to berate him. He became physically ill. Lee entered into “no-mercy message training” with him. He was given the passage Mark 8:27-38, on Peter’s confession of Christ, to prepare for the Summer Conference. Tom was required to write and rewrite the message many times. Each time, Lee would rebuke him more and give him additional rewriting directions. As Tom says, “This served to completely break down my ego. After a week of this training, I felt like I was at the bottom of a deep pit of my sins and weaknesses. No one could help me. I felt I had betrayed God in my sinful life. All I had were sins and sinful desires.” He was now ready for additional “training.”
Preparation for Summer Conference usually reached fever pitch the three weeks prior to the event. It was during these times that extensive spiritual manipulation and indoctrination occurred. Lee would meet nightly with all the UBF staff, accusing some of “playing Satan,” and actually saying that he had prayed they would die if they did not repent. He rebuked some, praised others, and made the “no-sheep” missionaries get together to repent, ridiculing the students’ personal problems. He led them all in shouting prayers of repentance that sometimes lasted for hours. These prayers, when spoken correctly in a group of people, could communicate a great deal without one’s ever having to speak directly and substantively. Lee would often pray, “Our Father, have mercy on Shepherd Tom Paul (Tom’s nickname). He has no spirit.” That kind of ambiguous prayer left the victim in a state of confusion and guilt, especially, “when you ask God to forgive someone of something of which they are not aware.” Tom himself was to use this same technique later on in his “ministry” with UBF.
After struggling a great deal over whether to complete his college studies, Tom decided to finish out his last year. However, since up to this time his parents had supplemented his income, he was now forced to make up the difference by working as a park grounds keeper. This was heavy work for a man of only 121 pounds. It was at this point, after the rigors of the Summer Conference, that Lee entered Tom into “eating training” and “international stomach training.” That meant he was forced to eat far beyond his capacity and to “eat all kinds of foods so that I could become a missionary.” Lee would make comments about his picky eating habits and encourage Tom to “overcome” himself by eating foods he knew were too much for his digestive system. Although he did gain fifteen pounds, he suffered greatly. “I ate so much food at dinner that my fraternity brothers could not believe it.”
Believing that equipment failures at the park were God’s message to him about his unbelief in providencean emphasis on suffering typical of UBFTom quit his job and wrote home demanding that his parents support his schooling. His parents did not budge.
In the fall, after completing his “eating training,” Tom embarked on “hair training,” supposedly to give him a more pleasing appearance. He was given a permanent and was not allowed to cut his hair. He also had it curled before every worship service. According to Tom, “My hair grew longer than everyone in my fraternity except the house hippie.” His appearance was further altered by his wearing of suits (the pants of which always had to have belt loops according to Leeone of Lee’s idiosyncratic and unexplainable quirks).
“Voice training” was next, in order to make Tom’s speaking voice more powerful, especially since he was beginning to preside over many meetings. Lee would alternately tell Tom after each of these meetings that he “did/not have enough spirit” or that he was “grandstanding” and that “he needed to repent.” The inner conflict and confusion left Tom baffledand open to further “training.”
At this point, Tom was in his last year of school. He refused to return home for Thanksgiving since it was purely a “human” celebration and not one of God’s concerns. He had given up all extracurricular activities and had thrown away his entire collection of classical and Christian music and most of his books, and he sold his guitar. This last sacrifice was the result of his decline into povertyhe needed the money to survive. He was tithing twenty percent of his income (which increased to forty percent upon graduation) and was pledging $50 per month to the UBF world mission offering. Sweety often had to supplement his “offering” because Tom’s income was so minimal. Failure to meet the monthly offering resulted in severe rebuke. Tom himself, at Lee’s direction, would shout and pound on tables in his rebuke of a student’s “bad attitude toward the offering.”
In the spring of 1981, his last quarter at Northwestern, Tom moved into an apartment with his UBF sheep, Mark, partly due to perceived persecution on the part of his fraternity brothers, who, at this point, were sure that he was in a cult. Tom also believed that the “spiritual environment” of the fraternity house was too decadent.
Lee began “testing” Tom in different ways to determine the extent of his commitmentand indoctrination. Once, he was told that he was to leave Northwestern to go and pioneer the UBF work at Harvard University. He was ready to go the next day. Lee also would say things in order to see others’ reactions and thereby assess their “spiritual condition.” At one point, he told a missionary to give Tom his new car. The “test” got to the point of Tom nearly driving away before Lee was satisfied with the missionary’s loyalty.
Upon graduation, Tom visited his parents who again debated his involvement in UBF. His mother expressly stated, to no avail, her view that he was in a destructive group. Tom was unaffected by her concern and her emotional distress. “I told her that I did not want their human [as opposed to spiritual] love, and that human love had made me very sick in my soul.” The next day he returned to Chicago to begin life as an “intern” in UBF.
The main emphases of UBF intern training are service and learning “faith.” In preparing for leadership positions, interns must learn to serve others and to obey their leaders. The training may last several years, and may involve even more severe spiritual and psychological abuse. Tom had heard that interns in Korea may be beaten by their shepherds in order to break them of their stubbornness and independent spirits.
In the United States, during weekly meetings, the American leaders are required to share their sogams on the passage they had been studying the week before. They use Samuel Lee’s messages as the basis of their sogams. Their” sharing” gives the Korean leaders an opportunity to “check their spiritual condition.”
By the 1981 Summer Conference, Tom’s internship experience had intensified. He was rebuked by Lee as having “life security” and “marriage” problems, accusations not hard to understand when one considers that Tom was living in poverty, often skipping meals, and, because of his experience with Sarah, afraid to even talk with any young women. “All through the conference Lee rebuked me and prayed for me to repent. When 1 told him ‘I am a great sinner,’ he said, ‘No, you are only a small sinner.”’ Tom slept only four hours in four days and finally had to have Lee dictate the message he was to deliver. It took him almost two weeks to recover from the humiliations he had suffered.
Tom then entered into “driving training” and “humanity training.” Because of a car he received as a result of someone’s UBF-arranged marriage (dating is considered sinful indulgence and a lack of trust in God for one’s future), he became chauffeur for the Chicago chapter of UBF. This he found hard to do, but he was told “to do it for the glory of God.” Also, because of his supposed legalistic character and lack of human compassion, he was told to “listen closely to many life testimonies and sogams, read books, and see certain movies.” (The “certain movies” were intended to inform members about society, the nature of people, and so on. These movies included “Ben Hur,” simply because it was a favorite of the leader, “Ordinary People,” and “ET,” which supposedly depicted the alienation and plight of the American teenager!) He thus learned to understand people for the sake of manipulating them.
Tom began finding that he was adopting the same methods that had been used on him in order to “train” his sheep. He would make people stay up all night to repent, hit them with sticks for not remembering passages, force them to run distances to “restore their spirits,” and squash “rebellion” in the same way that his own abilities to think independently had been squashed. “At that time, I was working out many of my personal frustrations on those who were under my authority.”
Lee decided to deal with Tom’s “marriage problem” once and for all. He forced him to deliver a sogam entitled “Not a Dog but a Shepherd” to the entire congregation of the Spring Conference of 1982. Supposedly, he was “like a dog barking around a hen house.” After delivering that message before hundreds, Tom was numb for almost two weeks. “My feelings were totally burned away.”
Two weeks after that, Lee allowed Tom to go to Michigan State University as part of the pioneering team (which also included Sweety Rhee and her husband, who had joined Sweety in the USA after living in Korea for some time). Without the “protective environment of Chicago” and no more strong people to depend upon, Tom began to have a difficult time and began losing his direction as a “campus pioneer.” The MSU Summer Conference, designed both as a training conference for younger leaders and as an opportunity for evangelism, was “long on rebuking and short on sleep,” and Lee dictated another message for him to deliver. Tom began to wonder if he was being used.
Tom got a full-time job as a maintenance man for a group of apartments and worked for two months prior to the beginning of the fall quarter. He gave up full-time campus pioneering for the time being. By the time Spring Conference rolled around, his life had become somewhat smoother, but he had actually run away from the dissonance his doubts had caused, and was again struggling to keep up his ministry.” Samuel Lee then “decided that he should light a fire under me.” Tom was told by one of Lee’s messengers that “if I did not have seven one-to-one Bible studies each week, 1 would have to come to Chicago for additional training.”
Tom went out every day to invite students to study the Bible with him. After two weeks, he had twelve Bible students. He also was successful in recruiting three women students, unusual in that UBF has proportionately more men than women (the goal being to raise up male leaders). Sweety strongly disapproved, but Tom had declared that “by faith I would be the ‘father of all American women.”’ And Samuel Lee had approved.
Summer Conference of 1983 was pivotal for Tom. He was to prepare a message on Luke 5:1-11, the calling of the first disciples, and, for the first time, Samuel Lee did not want to check it before delivery. As Tom says, “It was sink or swim.” Because of car problems and the need to get visas, he and his passengers arrived almost a day late to the conference site in Canada. Lee was livid. Tom was asked to write a sixty-page sogam of apology for disappointing all those who had prayed so much for him over the last year. Lee told him that “the most important thing was for us as God’s servants to participate in God’s history. There was no excuse for being late.” Tom was told, “You should have left three foreigners behind in a different country and hitchhiked to the conference in order to arrive on time.” He wrote all night to prepare his message. Fortunately, Lee thought that he was able to deliver it “with one main point and with spirit.” Tom was spared for the final round.
In September, Tom was told by Lee that he should have a new car for his ministry since his old one was out of commission. Lee personally promised him four thousand dollars and UBF would also contribute five hundred dollars. However, he was told to ask his father for an additional four thousand dollars because i, a young man like you should have a new car.” His parents, of course, refused, saying that UBF should be responsible. After several rounds of pointless negotiation, Tom began to get the idea that he was being tested again. Lee told him, “You are very sharp.”
Tom was to use any means available to extract the four thousand dollars from his parents. Lee did not care how it was done. After several attempts, Tom began to realize that “Not only was I beginning to attempt to exert control over my parents, but I was also beginning to actively try to control the students at the MSU chapter. I used my position and the Bible to get them to make ‘decisions of faith’ that would conform them to the image of a servant of God that I held. I even began to rewrite messages that students were to deliver, just as Samuel Lee had rewritten mine. Those students who accepted my direction in writing were ‘good.’ Those who did not were ‘rebellious.'” Tom had become a little Samuel Lee, and he was appalled.
On April 1, 1984, after four years in Samuel Lee’s University Bible Fellowship, Tom was convinced to leave through the efforts of his parents and several other concerned persons. He says, “I give thanks to my parents for the best April Fool’s joke of my entire life.”
Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority. In all totalitarian environments, dependency is necessary for subjugation. Jerry MacDonald, a student of autocratic religious movements, notes that authoritarian religious groups manipulate “rewards, punishments, and experiences to systematically sever from members their past support systems, which include their own powers of independent and rational thinking, their ability to test, define, and evaluate, as well as their ability to freely interact with others about their experiences. These internal support systems are replaced with exterior support systems under the control of the leaders.”
One of the areas in which manipulation is exercised in a number of the groups discussed in this book is dating and marriage. Young people who were members of Maranatha Christian Ministries, also known as Maranatha Christian Churches (MCM), including the former Miss America, Debbye Turner, were not permitted to date. As a result of a so-called “dating revelation” received by the leadership, MCM discourages dating practices and cites extreme examples of sexual misconduct in the collegiate subculture (including Christian college students) to justify its stance. Instead, members were told to focus on serving God and then he would bring a mate into their lives. An ex-member of MCM comments: “The doctrine is put into practice by church members submitting the names of other church members whom they feel God may be leading them to as potential mates, and if the leadership confirms the name submitted, you wait on God to speak to the other person. If God speaks to that other person, he or she will submit your name to the church leadership and you will get married.”
Pastor Phil Aguilar also does not permit dating. A woman who had been a member of Set Free Christian Fellowship from its inception, gives this account of her daughter’s pairing. “In the fall of 1989, my daughter expressed an interest in a young man, and the young man was instructed by Phil to propose to my daughter. She accepted. Of course, they never dated. Phil planned the entire wedding, changing the date several times. They were finally married about six weeks after the proposal.
“Prior to my daughter’s wedding, she was advised to quit college and her job. When I questioned Phil, I was simply told that they wanted to see how obedient she would be.” When the mother asked her son-in-Iaw-to-be why the daughter needed to quit school, she was told, ” … the only things we need to know are what Pastor Phil tells us.”
Pastor Phil demonstrated his need to control in the case of his own son’s wedding. The bride’s parents state that “Phil transformed what should have been the beauty and joy of our daughter’s marriage into a nightmare, a personal tragedy of such magnitude that only the grace of God could get us through.” Phil asserted that the bride’s side of the family was to have no input into any of the wedding plans. He explained his thinking by noting that the earthly wedding is a picture of the bride being given over to the Bridegroom. Therefore, since the Bridegroom in Scripture is a reference to Christ, who is the Head of all things, it is the earthly bridegroom (and his father) who is to be the dominating factor in the earthly wedding event.
When the wedding took place, the bride was allowed to be dressed in white, but all attendants wore black. Black balloons and black crepe paper were used as decorations since black is Pastor Phil’s favorite color. The ceremony was performed in a black asphalt parking lot.
Traditional evangelical churches value and respect individual differences. For the most part, they encourage people to become unique persons in their own right, not mere photocopies of someone else. Authoritarian, manipulative fringe groups, on the other hand, encourage clones and promote cookie-cutter life-styles. Flavil Yeakley, in his book The Discipling Dilemma, suggests that such groups value conformity, not diversity. “They tend to make people over after the image of a group leader, the group norm, or what the group regards as the ideal personality …. They are made to feel guilty for being what they are and inferior for not being what the group wants them to be.”
Yeakley discovered in his research that the Boston Church of Christ (also known as the Boston Movement) was
producing in its members the very same pattern of unhealthy personality change that is observed in studies of well-known manipulative sects. The data … prove that there is a group dynamic operating in that congregation that influences members to change their personalities to conform to the group norm …. The Holy Spirit changes people when they become Christians, but not by making us identical in psychological type. The growth that comes from the Holy Spirit produces a body with many different members that perform many different functions in many different ways.
Another effective control mechanism employed by abusive churches is fear; fear of not measuring up, fear of losing out with God if one leaves the group, and fear of spiritual failure. As one observer colorfully described it, “An incredible environment of fear is created where the hens huddle together within the walls to protect themselves from ravenous wolves, while allowing weasels to guard their chicken coop.”
Kim, an ex-member of Maranatha Campus Ministries, clearly recognized one of the tactics of control used in that group-the fear of demons and spirits of deception. “Fear also that if you don’t straighten up, God will step on you.” Kim’s overseer determined that she had a “spirit of deception” that was causing her to be “rebellious.” The leadership concluded, “We’ll pray over you and cast out this demon.” But Kim protested, “Wait a minute. There’s no demon; you don’t need to pray.” “For a moment I was scared. I thought, well, what if there is?”
Several times that night, Kim woke up terrified, scared that she had fallen from grace and was doomed to go to hell. “In my mind, I had equated my salvation with my membership in MCM, even though I had become a Christian two years before I had ever heard of Maranatha.”
Kim explains how the process of “deliverance” and “inner healing” was facilitated in Maranatha. “It’s the belief of the group that although our sins were dealt with at the cross and our freedom gained at the Resurrection, there is still a big clean-up job that remains. Since all of the saints came out of the world, they are packed full of demonic influences, and are still in the believer until properly dealt with.
“The overseer would usually ‘discern’ a demon or maybe would receive a revelation about their disciple while in their prayer closet. What was required of the deliveree (the one with the demons), was to pray and think way back to when this particular demon could have gained entry. Sometimes these memories were of the womb when, perhaps, the mother would think something sinful and the demon would enter the unborn child. Ironically, it was usually the overseer who ‘remembered’ this incident for the disciple.
“Also required was an admission to guilt. The disciple had to confess all the sins that he had done in that particular area in order for the deliverance to work. This usually was accompanied by a barrage of tears and humiliation, since these memories were often painful. The disciple was instructed to then repent from those past sins and renounce the demon. Then the overseer proceeded to cast it out.
“As far as control is concerned, I believe two things are accomplished with deliverance. First, the disciple feels a certain bond to the person confessed to, a pseudo parent whom he can respect as an authority and someone who cares about his personal interest. Secondly, at any future date, the overseer may drag out this dirty laundry to ‘discredit the disciple or make him feel guilty. That happened to me when I was trying to explain my position. My overseer blurted out, ‘I hate to bring this up, but .. .’ And this was done in a room full of people. My immediate reaction was to curl up and shut up. I had nothing on her but she had a lot on me. That’s how it is in Maranatha. The bigger the sheep, the more infallible he is. In short, dirty information about someone travels up the ranks, never down.”
Most abusive churches make use of some kind of reporting system or surveillance pattern to insure conformity with group norms. Don Barnett’s Community Chapel was very blunt about the mechanics. They put it in the Sunday bulletin. “It is a worldly concept, inspired by the devil, which makes us think it is doing someone a favor to keep their sins hidden from those who are in a position to help. Remember we are our brother’s keeper. Please do your friends a favor when you see them making serious mistakes; tell your pastor or an elder so something can be done in me.
An obvious form of control is the teaching or preaching from the pulpit. According to a former member of the shepherding movement, so-called because its members had “shepherds” who required full submission and taught the need for “spiritual authority,” these “leaders had the true story of what was going on. Pastors exercised control and manipulation through their sermons. Certain themes came through regularly: covenant, authority, obedience, submission, serving, honoring …”
Another more subtle control mechanism was identified for me by an ex-member of a well-known network of shepherding churches known as the Fellowship of Covenant Ministries and Churches presided over by Charles Simpson (“brother Charles” as he is called). “There were promises on the part of leadership to individual members, like: ‘It won’t be long before you’ll be married.’ Well, here it is fifteen years later and I’m still single. My pastor said that some men have the capability of being a captain of tens, but he had a vision of my being a captain of hundreds. That’s a promise that’s been largely unfulfilled. He told me, ‘Wait until you’re thirty.’ Things were deferred until the age of thirty. I was told I would be a leader by the time I was thirty. So I was really looking forward to being thirty. Well, at age thirty, I was still not a leader.”
Control also can be exercised by regulating contacts with family members and friends from the past. Members who go home to visit friends and relatives are encouraged to keep the visits brief because, “you may lose the vision.” When prospective members consider joining Emmaus Christian Fellowship in Colorado, they are told to read a document that spells out the ramifications of their baptismal vow. “Because our lives become intimately intertwined with others in our new family, our lives will profoundly affect our new brothers and sisters. We recognize any disobedience to God’s patterns [read: patterns of that group] will necessarily affect others. This makes it necessary that we should submit to God’s discipline in our lives not only for our own sake, but for all others as well … God tells us that no earthly relationship should draw us away from our commitment to His covenant Body, thereby bursting through the covering of the Body and making both our own life and the entire Body vulnerable to infection. We must instead be willing to lose our family, our friends, our nation, even our own life if we are to be worthy to be His disciples.”
Members of a now defunct Southern California fundamentalist group had to sign a covenant promising to date only Christians, and then only Christians within that particular group. “I will keep these dates ‘clean’ and refrain from any kissing until six months of dating the same person. I promise God I will not go steady without the approval of those in authority …. ”
Members of this same group had to “agree to get prior approval from those in authority before making any engagement or marriage plans. The timing of any engagement or marriage plans will be coordinated with those in authority.” Members also promised God in writing “to try to take vitamin supplements every day” and to refrain from “watching channel 40 on television” (the TBN charismatically oriented channel in Southern California).
1 Jerry P. MacDonald, “‘Reject the Wicked Man’: Coercive Persuasion and Deviance Production: A Study of Conflict Management,” Cultic Studies Journal, vol. 5, No. 1, 1988, 59-121.
Page 119 of 121
2 Flavil Yeakley, The Discipline Dilemma (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1988), 33.
3 Ibid., 34, 35, 37, 47.
4 MacDonald, “Reject the Wicked Man,” 75.
© Copyright 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth.
While this book is no longer in print, second-hand copies can often still be obtained via booksellers such as Amazon.com.