I do want to address one issue regarding this series. While I have focused on cults, these identifying marks can be applied to many abusive sects and movements within Christianity. Many of these abusive groups within Christianity can be identified by a strict authoritarian leadership concept. Basically, the leadership is very resistant to any correction that comes from members that they consider to be on a spiritual level that is lower than their self-perceived level of spirituality. Further, if the Bible is used in the correction, the leader will respond with the movement’s tradition, as if that movement has the authority to rewrite Holy Spirit inspired Scripture! One of the many identifying marks of a Christian is that one does not think to highly of himself (Rom. 12:3). I am writing this series is to shed light on these sorts of abusive leaders in the hopes that those under these sorts of leaders will be made aware of the techniques these sorts of leaders utilize to keep people under their abusiveness. In addition, I pray that any church leaders, who recognize the use of any or all of these mind control techniques, would recognize the error of their ways and repent before God and men of manipulating people in order to gain power of them.
Quickly reviewing the ground we have previously covered it is important to remember that mind control is not brain washing. Mind control is a willing giving over of one’s thought processes to a recruiter or group. The first step many of these sorts of groups will use is milieu control. Groups accomplish this by controlling the environment that the recruit is in either by physical removal or by limiting the information about the organization that the recruit receives. The second mark is mystical manipulation. The leaders do this by making events and experiences appear to be spiritual in origin. This can be done by making it appear as if God or angels are always in involved in the workings of the group, and that nay bad things that happen to those who leave or are expelled from the group are the result of God’s judgment on those people.
The third mark of a mind control cult is Demand for Purity. By employing this technique, high control groups and cults depict all issues as black and white with little room for the members’ conscience to decide issues of importance. Certain high control Christian groups will label drinking, smoking, or going to movies as sins, even though there is no Scriptural basis for these views. Good and bad member behavior is depicted and modeled in the organization’s literature. The Watchtower is full of photographs in which the model JW family is often depicted at meetings or out in the house-to-house witnessing work. People and other organizations are good or bad depending on their relationship with the organization. For example, when the Internal Revenue Service of the United States government began to go after Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for tax revenue on products sold be the ministry, the legal department of The Watchtower Society filed an amicus brief on behalf of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. The Watchtower did this not because they were friendly to Swaggart, but because it was feared that this ruling would have a negative impact on the organization’s finances. Interestingly, when Jimmy Swaggart was caught in his sexual immorality, The Watchtower was very quick to point out his hypocrisy, and to use Swaggart’s fall to paint all of Christendom as hypocritical.
Secondly, guilt and shame are used to control members even after they have left the organization. This is one of the hardest things for people who have never been involved in a cult to understand. The organization oversimplifies and polarizes human morality, and because of this members and those who leave have difficulties in dealing with life’s many shades of grey. Because of this many who leave cults or high control groups tend to “go wild.” They immerse themselves in the acts that were strictly prohibited by the group. They do this because all evil is prohibited by the group. In my case, I began to smoke, drink and go to nightclubs in order to meet women for one night stands. However, the guilt that I felt was multiplied many times over because I had the threat of dying at Armageddon (the final battle in which Jehovah God destroys all non-JWs forever) hanging over my head during that time.
This application of guilt and shame are also true of political cults. If one does not hold 100% to the party line, these extremist groups will label you as not a “phony patriot”, a “false revolutionary”, a “sell out” or “uncle Tom”. We must be careful to not label people in order to heap guilt and shame upon people who do not agree with our pet doctrines, politics, or even sports teams (e.g., if you voice any criticisms of the Lakers you are labeled a “Laker hater”).
Lastly, everything that the recruits or members of the group take in must be filtered through the literature or paradigm of the group. The Watchtower does this by quoting from certain non-JW scholars in their literature, but discourages the rank-and-file from verifying these quotations themselves. These groups also discourage taking in information from outside the group. For example, my father has a bookshelf that spans thirty feet and has seven shelves on it full of Watchtower literature. The only non-Watchtower books my father had in his library was a dictionary, a set of Encyclopedia Americana from 1976, and self-help legal books for his business. Everything he took in with the exception of the local newspaper, the evening news, and local radio (in order to keep up with current events to be relevant while speaking to persons at their doorstep) was first processed through the Watchtower paradigm.
Further, high-control Christian organizations tend to limit the leadership possibilities of those that are more open minded to other points of view. They may also actively discourage other members from seeking the counsel of these persons because they go outside the group’s approved list of authorities. They fear that these persons may not give out the “pure vision” if they are in a position of influence, even if that person goes to great pains to avoid being divisive.
The Demand for Purity that cults and high control groups make on members is another manner in which they control the environment in which the members live. It creates guilt and shame in the minds of members that do not agree 100% with the group. Lastly, this Demand for Purity, keeps the members dependent on information that has first passed through the organization leadership’s paradigm. Ultimately, the Demand for Purity stifles free thought and reflection as only the organization has the pure mission from God. It is my prayer that if you are seeing this and the previous two identifiers as being evident in the group you are in, that you would seek avenues to leave the group. These groups will never reform as reformers are viewed as “defectors” or “apostates” and will be expelled from the organization.
Next time – Cult of Confession