Question #2: While reading these blog posts about the Hot Seat and the Star Chamber, I recognize how the same things on the list happened to me on a couple of occasions. If this kind of manipulation is a process does that mean that my pastor studied these techniques and used them deliberately? Could they happen spontaneously?
What is Thought Reform? (The bad tendencies of mankind, disguised under good ones)
First, you've got to strip back thought reform/spiritual abuse/mind control or whatever you prefer to call it to see what allows it to happen: it's nothing more than a crafty way of weaving together some of the worst elements of predictable human nature. For the Christian in the manner that Paul described to the Galatians, those things amount to "the works of the flesh." When you follow human nature and the path of least resistance, you're going to get elements of the flesh. We must deliberately choose to follow virtue and work at it according to God's plan (or even man's version of virtue like the Ancient Greeks taught. How is one human being going to get what they want from someone that is not rightfully theirs to have? You can't use love and longsuffering on their own to get those things. You've got to craft a mixture of the really bad techniques and enough of the good into the mix to slip those bad elements past people's personal, protective radar. You have to hide the wolf under a sheep's skin. Pull the specifics back from the method, and the nature of man and the desires of man (lusts and pride) without the virtue of God in spiritual abuse reveal themselves.
If you consider that human nature is fairly predictable (for and in better as well as worse), manipulation looks like manipulation -- whether it concerns the manipulative behavior between two people, a small subgroup within a larger one, or a very large group who uses written and unwritten/covert tactics to govern or control others. You can sprinkle allspice in a sweet fruit pie, mix it into cookie dough, sprinkle it on a ham glazed with orange, or put it in St. Patty's Day corned beef and cabbage. You can taste the allspice which is characteristically still the same. You can “taste” the single tactics of manipulation, though those individual elements may or may not be a part of an authoritarian system that uses people unfairly without their prior and full, informed consent. In those original star chambers, people were judged as guilty before they ever walked in the door, and that can happen apart from a system of thought reform, too, just through human prejudice. Cult leaders often lie and deceive, but any individual can lie or deceive, and that doesn't make them a cult leader who is classified as such because of a the emergence of a particular set of dynamics.
Falling into the Trap of Spiritual Abuse
In Wendy Duncan's book that was mentioned in a previous post, the title of her first chapter touches on this question about whether aberrant groups (a deviation from the ideal or the normal) set out to deliberately become an authoritarian group that manipulates and exploits members: “I Never Meant to Join a Cult.” She says this of her own experience:
I never meant to join a cult. I was a Christian – a Southern Baptist. I had a post-graduate degree from a theological seminary, for goodness sake. Cults were groups, such as Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, or the Branch Davidians, whose sensational stories came to my attention through the media. Cult members were people you witnessed to about the true God – individuals you prayed for.After leaving the religious community of which I was a member for seven years, I read cult literature and was disturbed by the similarities between my group and the ones characterized as cults by the experts in this field. I also read numerous memoirs by former cult members, and saw my story in theirs. (pg. 7)
I don't believe that a group of Christians gets together to deliberately “form a cult” any more than Wendy wanted to join one. Thinking of though reform as a pattern that is just the works of the flesh manifesting on a group level when that group is motivated by an ideological goal, anywhere you find human beings, you have the potential for the patterns of thought reform to develop. The integrity and honesty of a leader determines much about what will eventually characterize a group, and for this reason, the New Testament spells out special qualifications of character and conduct for leaders and teachers in the church. Even so, we are all very human. When stressed or under pressure, we can easily fall into the wrong patterns. We can also be deceived, believing that our way of accomplishing a goal reflects God's way, when it may be a mixture of virtue and flesh. The tares (weeds) grow with the good wheat and are often separated at harvest. Our efforts to do what God commissions us to do can well be a mixture of God's way along with our own ideas and methods, though we intend good.
I wrote in greater detail on this subject a few months ago in a post about Hank Hanegraaff's support of Ron Luce ( founder of Teen Mania) because he was such a nice and honorable man. I don't doubt that Luce's interpersonal skills were excellent, and I have no doubts that he initially intended to do only that which honors God. Unfortunately, many of the people who participated in his ministry suffered as a consequence, experiencing something very different from what they expected which may or may not be what Luce intended.
Despite these considerations of good character and intent, as Dr. Walter Martin once said, a Christian must not only preach good doctrine and good intent, both the fruit of what a Christian teaches and the fruit of what they live out must be good. I also quoted Harriet Braiker regarding the motives of a manipulator which are quite often denied by the manipulator themselves – so they certainly aren't going to admit to the fact that they are, in fact, manipulative people. Much of the manipulative behavior that they manifest can actually be a defense mechanism that allows them to hide from their own personal pain and an internal sense of failure. What such leaders do is usually more of a survival mechanism (an automatic, non-logical response) than it is a deliberate choice because they are ruled by their own denial, and they pull the group of followers with them into the pitfalls of human nature. Those who are very good at it can get away with it without anyone really noticing. Please read more here if this subject is of interest to you.
Did My Pastor Actually Study Thought Reform as a Process and Technique?
In many of the books in the self-help genre, you'll find them addressing the question of why abusers manipulate. It actually takes a great deal of emotional effort and may involve specific motives or avoidances on behalf of the manipulator, but the short answer is always this: Manipulators do what they do because their tactics work. As long as people are people and have predictable ways of being, manipulators will use these tactics because they work. And because human nature is predictable in the manner that Paul talked about in Galatians, there are a predictable set of ways that those tactics can be used to manipulate, a tradition that started in the Garden of Eden.
On Blog Talk Radio last year, I remember talking several times about what our flesh does does naturally when we don't make a concerted effort to do what's best in the interests of all people in favor of pursing our own, personal agendas. In 2008, I wrote about the types of influences that affect people at conferences. Concerning the building of anticipation, I wrote:
I am not suggesting that John Piper intentionally wove subliminal messages into his sermon, but I hope to demonstrate that his very open and emotive description of a standard encouraged women at the True Woman Conference to anticipate a deep and moving experience that would rival or exceed their desire to return home to their beloved families. I’m not even inclined that this was done with premeditated intent, but I think after years of experience, a pastor like John Piper has learned a few things. In a previous post I pointed out that manipulative individuals choose very dysfunctional behavior, not because it is right but because it is effective. It works. I think that a man like John Piper has learned very well exactly what works to influence crowds to achieve a desired outcome.
I think that good managers and good pastors know how to elicit certain behavior from their followers. They train in homiletics to learn how to persuade people with words and style. And all such techniques, in themselves, can be used for good or evil. A mother has to train her child not to go outside in their pajamas, and though this is best done by modeling and teaching how to properly dress, this doesn't always work. A creative mother learns how to best motivate each one of her children. Likewise, I think that good as well as self-interested ministers learn to control their congregations, sometimes according to the sage advice of others which might not be so good.
Did my pastor learn and study thought reform,
believing that it was something else?
(He's so good at it, and it fits the list of dynamics too well.)
Additional Questions to follow:
- How could they have not known what they were doing?
- What if you work for your church?