UNITED STATES -- When the Church is Abusive: When is Church a Controlling Cult?
When the Church is Abusive: When is Church a Controlling Cult?
By Rev. Jenine Mason
When the Church Is Abusive: When Is Church a Controlling Cult?
I was sickened and saddened when I came across a website with information regarding a church where I knew of some of the people in the congregation in the past. It had been years since I had taken a deeper look at this particular church and had a very strong check in my heart as to whether not so good things were going on. I consulted a California based cult watching organization regarding the church and they had said they were well aware of the ministry I spoke of and had been watching it. This was at least 17 years ago. I remember I prayed fervently for God to bring the darkness into the Light so that people who might be treated unkindly would be set free from the control and manipulation. When God finally revealed the darkness it was more then I could stand as I read the court dockets of the trial concerning the proclaimed Bishop of the church. The court proceedings were filled with horrible sexual secretive acts between the men of the church which included at least one known minor. The abuse went beyond this. It had to in order for them to hide their abusiveness. One abuse led to another. Yet as always, God reveals these things openly eventually. When people won’t explain their actions, you better believe that there is some type of secret problem that is going on that causes them to not be open. Any honest person lives their lives in the open and when asked will reveal what is going on in their life whether it is a good thing or not so good. Unfortunately the dishonest ones who hide their indiscretions can be more than harmful but life altering horrible to those who are vulnerable to their actions.
As with anything, everything with our faith walk in Christ is about relationships. I am and have been a strong advocate against domestic violence in the home and in fact had been delivered from that type of situation many years ago. I am thankful for strong and believing women who came to my aide during those years or I might not be here right now to write this article or anything else for that matter. Church abuse is the same and people in abusive cultish churches need deliverance from them.
You might or might not know that abuse takes many forms. It can be physical, emotional, verbal, manipulation, control, or anything that takes away a person’s right to dictate their own lives. Abandonment is also abuse and if done very strategically by the person who abandons, it is also a control issue as well as emotional torment. If anyone abandon’s a person without disclosed cause, for any other reason than abuse happening to them, or to save those around them, it is emotional abuse.
Cult or abusive churches have nothing to do with doctrine, they have to do with control, manipulation, and the taking away a person’s right to live their own lives and make their own decisions with either threats of “going to hell”, abandonment, scorn, or defaming.
As I read the court testimonies of the above mentioned litigations regarding sexual, emotional and manipulative abuse, my heart sank and I have to say that it sent me to my knees in tears. Yet before you stop and say to yourself as least some of the ministries you have been in have not had that, please read some of the possible abuses here and ask yourself candidly if these have happened in the churches you have been, or are, involved in. Some of these are from the cult church abuse website authored by a couple who had once attended the church I speak of. I will add a few that come to mind as well. I will provide you with the link to the church abuse website but I have to warn you that if you decide to read the court trial dockets, they are very explicit and disheartening. Below are some of the suggested forms of control or abuse in cult churches from the website http://abusivechurches.org
Constantly changing requirements
Members are kept off balance by continuous changes in the way day-to-day business is conducted. Done under the guise of improving efficiency or maintaining flexibility, it generally results in intensely painful crisis management.
"Black and white" thinking
Complex situations and concepts are often reduced to "catch phrase" simplicity in order to limit free thought.
Multiple levels of membership
Most groups have an inner, devoted core with secretive doctrines and/or practices, and an outer congregation that provides a good image to present to the rest of the world.
Deceptive recruiting or "staged" commitment
When joining a group, new converts are not told the 'whole story' concerning what will be expected of them as a member.
Members are kept as busy as possible, or at least prevented from spending much time alone.
Most groups expend lots of energy in making sure they know where members are and what they're up to. Often includes requiring constant communication or sending 'more experienced' members to 'check on' others.
Exclusive doctrine or special insight
The group has special knowledge of the scriptures, or a direct line to God (via the leader). As such, they are 'special' and often act accordingly.
Cults will often start businesses or community service organizations that perform one or more of the following functions: (1) Generate income, (2) Recruit new followers, (3) Improve the group's image in the community, (4) Provide employment for members so they can be more closely controlled.
The leadership is free to do things that are verboten for "regular" members. They receive special privileges and benefits for no reason other than the fact that they are "in charge."
(The headings which are written in blue are links to other pages on the website. To read them please go to the website and connect with these links under the “about cults” tab.)
I’m going to add a few more control issues that are also manipulative and take away the rights of faith members:
*Telling who a person can or can’t marry because they are not in the church or don’t hold to the same doctrine.
*Backing a member into a corner regarding some perceived sin with a group of people in order to shame the member into submission to the churches rules and regulations.
*Telling a person they will go to hell if they don’t tithe, give offerings, or submit to any other controlling desire of the church.
*Isolating a member from others either in their own family or in the Body of Christ, or the church itself.
*Taking control of a person’s financial affairs.
*Telling someone what they can or can not wear. (As in Christians can’t wear a bathing suit if they are a true Christian. Come on folks, we live in a society where this is acceptable and you can’t tell me that a true Christian can not go to the beach or a community pool or they are not a Christian?)
*Shunning people if they leave the ministry or church and having others snub them.
*Using the Bible as a set of black and white rules and regulations instead of a love letter from God to be used only to enhance and better a person’s life. The Bible is filled with life lessons to make our lives better and there are grey areas within those lessons. A good discerning person will know and understand when those lessons are being used to make a person conform to works, rules, or church organization laws.
*Using open prayer as a means of control, manipulation, or to push one’s own agenda. (For example, “Dear God, please help Ira to see that he needs to come to his senses and not be friends with his neighbor because that neighbor is not a good Christian. This is done openly with the person or a group of people to manipulate someone to act a certain way or to push an agenda, not God’s free will).
*Telling people they can’t use their title as Reverend, Bishop, and Pastor etc. We use titles in this society to identify who we are. We call people by Mr. or Mrs. We can also call someone Reverend if that is what they are. That person is ordained to a certain calling.
*Telling people it is prideful to be educated and to use our credentials. Education is a personal choice and something to be proud of! Extended education is not for everyone but for those who choose it should be able to display what they have earned as in BA, MA etc. Someone who has gone through extensive education has run the “race with diligence” and should be proud!
*Telling someone they better conform or are going to suffer God’s judgment due to their actions. We do not determine what will eventually be judged by Christ in the time of His coming. Our God is a God of love and grace. We live in a time of grace. We are to walk in love and not act as God to those we are around. This is quite different then giving guidance in love.
These are just some and I am sure I could come up with many more. The main thing is to watch for the taking of a person’s right to choose on their own. Also love, acceptance, and inclusion is withheld if someone does not choose what the church determines is the right way for them in a cult or abusive church. God’s church and ministries are for the teaching and leading of God’s people in order to bring Christ’s power into the lives of those who participate. It is also for the preaching of the Gospel and for the ministering to God in worship as community. It is meant to be a place of love, acceptance, freedom, and grace. If it is not these things then it is not Christ like and could be abusive or a cult.
I remember worshipping in a church once and the Pastor made the statement that we looked like a bunch of dead frogs when we worshipped or that we had sucked a lemon. This is verbal abuse! He also had stated that we were going to hell if we did not tithe. What is a person to do if they are on their last dollars? Then the message of faith in God is preached and the story about the widow and her tiny offering. Offerings and tithes are to be given to the church on behalf of God with a joyful heart and out of the love for God, His people, and mission. How about charging a person to pray for them? I’m sorry but prayer is free and so is the Gospel message! They are gifts from God and never should anyone be asked to give money to be prayed for! Counseling is a bit different. The Bible tells us that we prosper when we have many counselors. Some are chosen to be professional Biblical counselors by trade and then some counsel on behalf of ministry. Just make sure that the counselor is a wise and Godly person. You can always discern someone who is giving bad advice. No one is perfect, and no ministry will ever be perfect. If one of these issues is in a church it might be remedied. Yet, please, whatever you do, when you encounter those who are power hungry or trying to “Pastor please” to make it to the top, when all people are not treated the same, when “favorites” are chosen and others are made to feel “less than”, think again about where you fellowship! You might be saving yourself and your family a lot of pain and suffering along life’s highway.
Don’t let anyone interpret the Bible for you. You have God’s Holy Spirit within you and you can interpret it yourself! This does not mean we can’t listen to our Pastor’s message if he or she is a wise and Godly Pastor. We are Christians and we need to be respectful of those who are chosen by God to lead but if that leader is not respectable then we can make an objective and wise decision to not follow. We are not door mats. We are God’s chosen children and He is very protective of His kids!
This article might be offensive to some, and enlightening or thought provoking to others. We live in challenging times. Our unified efforts and exchanges of love and compassion are important. Giving of what God has given to us is the biggest blessing of all in life! Please be on the lookout that our privilege is not being abused or our freedom which has been gifted by Christ Himself! If we have not freedom then Christ died in vain!