"Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! " Hotel California by the Eagles.
Request for stories about singles and the church.
I know that Brad Sargeant will be writing a post about singles and the church. Others, however, may feel intimidated by writing a full post. So, we are requesting short stories as well. These could be a couple of sentences or a few paragraphs in length. We will cobble them together and will also share them with Julie Anne Smith as we do "coast to coast" posts looking at the plight of singles in today's church.
Please send your stories to our email address and put "Singles" in the subject line.
On Friday, I attended an orientation meeting for parents at North Carolina State University (NCSU). My son is a transfer student. He has left a small private college, Samford, (5000 students) for a huge state university (35,000+). In an information bag given to me, I found a fascinating little pamphlet called Cults on Campus. Look Before You Leap. A synopsis of this handout can be found here under the title of Protect Yourself.
It was prepared by the Chaplin's Cooperative Ministry of NCSU. I love stuff like this and I must confess that I spent more time reading this brochure than listening to a few lectures. There is no copyright on this pamphlet so I thought I might share it with our readers.
I spoke briefly with the Director of this group, Anne Pearce. This body is made up of Protestant, Catholics and Jews link but they also sponsor the Interfaith Coalition here which is made up of other people of faith such as Buddhists, Mormons and Unitarians. I told her that I really liked the pamphlet and intended on sharing it with my readers. I commend this diverse group for trying to protect the students from harmful groups. (Note 6:11PM: This group is not an exclusive Christian group. It is recognized by NCSU as a group that includes all faiths. I found it interesting that such a diverse group could pinpoint cultic behaviors).
I am interested in hearing from our readers. What would you add, or subtract, if you were writing such a brochure to warn people about cults? As you will see, I will refer to some groups that we write about at TWW that share some characteristics with cults as defined by NCSU chaplaincy.
Their first goal is to help students differentiate between healthy groups and harmful groups.
Among the many clubs and organizations on campus, you'll find numerous religious groups. Some are well organized; some are more informal. Choosing the religious group that is right for you is a very important decision. We want to offer you some information that will help you make an informed, free choice.
They define what constitutes healthy religious groups. Such groups
will tell you a lot about themselves, who they are, what they stand for, and what they expect from you.
TWW wrote a post link in which a new pastor may not have informed his congregation of his true intention when he accepted a call to the new church. Here is what we said.
In fact, his narrative clearly indicates a church that was blind-sided by his absolute, singular emphasis on gender and authority. There has been some discussion on our blog, and others, that some pastors, who receive a call to a church, do not fully explain their view on Scripture. Then they pull a bait and switch and whine when the people do not march lockstep.
We have received comment after comment at TWW, along with a myriad of emails, telling us of pastors and/or leadership teams who secretly plan a major shift in emphasis at a church and keep such plans "under wraps." We believe that any group that does such a thing has serious problems which will rear their ugly heads down the line. I say such behavior is bordering on cult-like control.
Some churches will "hide" their controversial beliefs. For example, I wrote of a former church in which the pastor admitted to hiding an emphasis on a belief in Young Earth because he did not want to drive people away. It was his hope that once a person became a member, he would either change his mind or keep quiet because said person has now developed relationships within the church. Once again, this is a dishonest approach designed to lure people in. Such dishonesty will likely show up in other areas as well.
This sort of "hidden agenda is seen in comments at SGM Survivors in which people claim that they were expected to go to home groups, were disciplined if they did not show up and had their discussions recorded by the home groups leader to be given to the pastors. This was a far cry from their initial introduction to home groups as being a place for happy fellowship.
An open and responsible group will offer an easy entrance to and, more importantly, an easy exit from their group.
Most groups are easy to join. But, some are like the "Hotel California" whose lyrics I quoted at the beginning of this post.
They are programmed to receive but you can never leave.
TWW has reported on case after case of people trying to leave their churches and getting pursued by their former pastors who interfere with their ability to join another church by claiming they are being "disciplined." In fact, it happened to your adorable, yet growing ever wiser, blog queen.
Al Mohler at SBTS and groups like 9 Marks are now saying that people cannot, and should not, easily exit from a church. FBC Jax Watchdog reports Al Mohler saying here
When members leave for insufficient reason, the fellowship of the church is broken, its witness is weakened, and the peace and unity of the congregation are sacrificed…we have no right to leave a church over preferences about music, personal taste, or even programming that does not meet expectations…"
"Christians cannot look to this question as merely a matter of consumerism. We are called to love the church and to pray for its peace and unity, not to look for an opportunity to move to another congregation."
9 Marks, the self designated holder of the keys of authority to the kingdom, concurs by saying that one cannot leave a church unless it is due to a major theological error link and link. This is problematic since they get to define what constitutes a major theological error. I left a church because I disagreed with their latest Neo-Calvinist leanings. Of course, they would be in disagreement with my departure since, of course, Neo-Calvinism is the only correct way to view theology. However, ignoring the keys of authority, I did not ask for permission.
We have heard from so many people who have attempted to leave their church and were told they could not or that they were "under discipline" (a process that does not necessarily mean you have been told, a priori, that you are being so viewed). We wrote a post, vetted by someone who is not unfamiliar with the law, on how to write a letter of resignation if one believes that such tactics would be used. Here is a link to that post.
Within the healthy group one finds an appreciation of diversity, an openness to criticism and doubt, and affirmation of other religious traditions.
There is a difference between "affirmation" and believing another tradition is true. For example, I have heard, one too many times, that Catholicism is a cult. We even wrote a post about Jimmy Smryl's disturbing sermon on the matter link. In that post, I wrote about Danny Akin's (SEBTS) method for evaluating a cult. From what I can tell of his chart, Catholicism is not one.
We must respect one another or we will bear the consequences of strife. Today, I tweeted that Egyptian President Morsi said the Israelis were descendants of "apes and pigs" link. We need to be like Paul, debating our beliefs with others with respect and kindness.
Yet even within the Baptist tradition, we have the Arminians going against the Reformeds and vice versa. How many churches claim that they are the ones who "really get it? Didn't CJ Mahaney call his church "the happiest place on earth?" If SGM is the happiest place on earth, something is terribly wrong.
As for criticism, we have written post after post of pastors/churches which cannot take criticism. Need we rehash the lawsuits involving Tom Rich and Mac Brunson or Julie Anne Smith and Chuck O'Neal?
How do you identify these harmful groups?
- They isolate you from family, friends and other groups.
- They ask you to give up control of your thoughts and decisions.
- They fill you with guilt and shame.
- They may promote crises with school, career, or your love life.
- They frighten you to the point that you stop making decisions and asking questions for yourself.
Two things come to mind with these lists. One is the issue of "sin sniffing" which I had never heard of until I started reading SGM Survivors. For some people, it seems as if their entire church experience consisted of total focus on their sins since the pastors seemed most adept at fostering such an environment. If one is so sinful, they obviously cannot criticize the pastors and leaders who somehow get a pass on the all pervasiveness of sin. In the book by CJ Mahaney called "The Cross Centered Life, it appeared to us that Jesus is left hanging on the Cross and we must leave Him there, never getting to the forgiveness and Resurrection part.
One of the saddest emails that I have received is from a woman who was not allowed to see her nieces because she was appalled at the amount of corporal punishment being advocated by the parents' church. I believe they were employing the Pearl method of spanking babies. She said something, the parents told the church and the pastor told the parents not to let her see the children ever again. I suggested that she report the church to CPS.
They define how vulnerability can make one susceptible to such a group.
You are lonely. You are homesick for familiar friends and places. Your roommate is always out with hometown friends. You miss your steady who is at another school. You are hurting. Your friends forgot to save you a seat at the game. You just had a fight with your family. You are grieving over a person or relationship. You are having a tough time socially Everyone has a date for homecoming except you. You haven't been recruited by anyone else for anything. It's the same dull routine of dinner, homework, and bed. You are in trouble academically You feel like a failure because you are failing something. You are under pressure to improve your grades. You are embarrassed because you've never had low grades before. Remember, these feelings and reactions are normal and can be confronted, put into proper focus, and overcome. However, they are uncomfortable if left unattended, and may make you an easy target for high-pressure religious recruiters.
How do you identify these groups? They say if you can answer yes to 3 of these questions, you should reconsider you involvement.
1. The group seems to be perfect. Everyone agrees and follows all orders cheerfully.
2. The group claims to have "all the answers" to your problems.
3. You are asked to recruit new members soon after joining.
4. You begin to feel guilty and shamed, unworthy as a person.
5. The group encourages you to put their meetings and activities before all other commitments, including studying.
6. The group speaks in a derogatory way about your past religious affiliations.
7. Your parents and friends are defined as unable to understand and help you with religious matters.
8. Doubts and questions are seen as signs of weak faith. You are shunned if you persist in these doubts.
9. Group leadership is mostly male, and males in general are believed to have different rights and abilities than females.
10. You are invited on a retreat, but they won't give you an overview of the purpose, theme, or activities before you go.
Obviously, there is much here that we have discussed
On the brochure they offered one other helpful series of observations called What Should Get Your Attention.
- Someone suddenly wants to be your best friend.
- An unusual amount of positive attention from group members
- An elitist spirit in the group
- Extreme admiration given to group leaders
- Intense efforts to persuade you and others to join
- Many comments criticizing other groups
- A growing pressure on you to make commitments for the group
- You feel guilty for saying "no" to their requests.
I would like to add one other personal observation. If church discipline is brought up in an early conversation or makes the top of the list on the "About Us" page of any website-RUN! On this matter, you only need one "yes" to know you are in cultville.
After looking over this information, I felt as if the Cooperative Ministry had written a synopsis of the many posts at TWW. I am surprised how many of these characteristics are seen within the evangelical church as a whole. Somehow, I fear that some churches and groups in today's church are flirting with the boundaries of cultism.
We leave you with the Eagles singing Hotel California. I debated between that and Witchy Woman!
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 24:1-25:18 Luke 2:1-35 Psalm 59:1-17 Proverbs 11:14