Steven Martin is a Christian with a Master of Divinity degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary who serves as a workshop leader at the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio (the first accredited inpatient facility for those in recovery from cults and abusive relationships which was founded by his brother, the late Dr. Paul Martin).
He has written an excellent book that explains how the very same dynamics that Robert Lifton identified work in Christian churches. Essentially, the works of the flesh and manipulation ends up looking very much the same. On a personal level, when we follow our flesh, we do the things that the Apostle Paul described in his letter to the Church in Galatia. When leaders take those same types of behaviors and use them to manipulate their churches, just as the behaviors of individuals takes on a familiar pattern, so do the techniques of the manipulation of many people. Steven uses many examples from real life to demonstrate how each of Lifton's criteria tend to play out specifically in Evangelical churches. He offers this work for purchase as a traditional, printed book, but you can also download the work online as well, choosing what you would like to contribute so that it can be widely available, especially for those who may have limited resources.
He's entitled his chapter about Doctrine Over Person “Fitting the Rigid Mold” and states this in the introduction to the chapter in the book, The Heresy of Mind Control: Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership.
We all want to be accepted by those around us. Acceptance rather than rejection is what newcomers to a group or relationship encounter. But gradually, in an abusive environment, there is a shift, and one must conform to the leader's programs, activities, ideology and beliefs (whether legalistic or outright evil) in order to maintain acceptance.
I've pulled these quotes from the chapter as well, as I think that they offer more insight into how the Doctrine Over Person pressures manipulate unsuspecting Christians in very subtle ways, even though the results of that pressure can be so dramatic. Pertaining to our discussion in this series of posts, I've added emphasis to the text.
Wherever totalist leaders gain control, they seek to rewrite your conscience and often seek to alter and thus rewrite history, which amounts to lies and deception. They may attempt this with your own personal past. If you tell about your past or an experience you are having, the leader or someone in the group is likely to impose their interpretation on it for you . . .
This rewriting process continues with all these little changes until it's what he really wants. He comes across as so authoritative and convincing that you end up believing his interpretation. In effect, your true memory about yourself has been altered. He will then have you verbally present this story to the group, thus reinforcing it in your mind. The whole subtle process is a brainwashing technique. (pp 119 – 20)
Totalist rulers always like to blame others, and never take responsibility for their own faults and mistakes. In this system, members are often falsely accused of some kind of wrongdoing. In one group, if you spoke up to defend yourself, the leader would say your defensiveness proves you are unsubmissive and rebellious. If you are silent, he would say it proves you are guilty – a no win situation.
They often do this by “blame-shifting” – they can never own up to their own shortcomings or problems with the group system. Instead, they contrive reasons why you or the other person is faulty: “You are the problem” is the common retort or “Well, if you don't like it, you can just leave.” Their system is a one-way street. (pp 122 - 3)
By an assumed definition as doing things their way, cults and abusive churches talk about 100 percent commitment – attending all meetings, perhaps as much as five to six nights a week – according to their limited language and narrowed functions as an organization. If we try to live up to a person's or group's definition of commitment and right living instead of God's, we end up being “people pleasers.”
We end up being more concerned about our acceptance in the eyes of others than we are about our acceptance before God. But if we look at Jesus as our example, we find that he did what was right and pleased God regardless of what the religious leaders thought of him. This is seen all through the life of Jesus (e.g.: Matt. 15:1-14; cf. John 12:42-43). His acceptance was based primarily on his relationship to God and secondarily on his relationship to people.
It is only natural to want to be accepted by those around us. And acceptance rather than rejection is what those who are new to a group or relations encounter. But gradually over time in an abusive environment there is a shift, requiring one to conform to the controller's programs, activities, ideology and beliefs (whether legalistic or outright evil) in order to maintain acceptance. (pp 131 - 2)
In the series of podcasts that Jeri Massi produced, many of the former residents of Hephzibah House talk about how they craved positive attention from Patti Williams, Ron Williams' wife. Though she was often cruel, on occasion, she would show kindness to the girls there. I remember how heartbreaking it was to listen to the podcasts, hearing the former residents talk about how they would do nearly anything to solicit these rare showings of kindness from Patti.
After leaving the home, some of these women look back on their memories of craving that love from Patti, confused about how powerful those cravings were for them. How could they expect love from Patti while she was also quick to deal out aggression and cruelty to them? This is actually a powerful technique and component of brainwashing. Biderman's Chart of Coercion (another description developed by researcher who also worked with the survivors of the Korean war camps) also makes note of this aspect of manipulation.
Tomorrow's post will include a bit more material from Steven's book that pertains to how denial can facilitate Doctrine Over Person.