Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Questions About the Hot Seat/Star Chamber: Does Someone Teach Thought Reform to Pastors Under the Guise of Good Christian Practice?

28Mar12 @ 1030:  minor edits for clarity

Question #3: Did my pastor possibly learn and study thought reform, believing that it was something else? (He's so good at it, and it fits the list of dynamics of thought reform too well.)

      In short, I believe that some pastors within some denominations, particularly aberrant ones, are taught certain techniques of thought reform as legitimate and Biblical standards of conduct. Sometimes, those standards are billed as something that sets the group apart from other Christians, and they are generally communicated indirectly through modeled behavior and under the guise of “how we do things here.” Ministers don't pull out books titles concerning thought reform to learn how to manipulate, but the techniques do become part of the culture and are taught to leadership within the group as legitimate Christian behavior within spiritually abusive systems.

Thought Reform as a Pattern of Effective Manipulation

Consider again what we've already established about what thought reform really is: a pattern of deceptive behaviors that are used to achieve some virtuous or desirable endpoint by organizing and motivating a group of people to work together to accomplish that beneficial objective. The system fails in several areas, primarily because it resorts to some degree of authoritarianism, and in the process of accomplishing its goals, it ends up letting that virtuous endpoint justify the use of less then virtuous means. When you strip any of these systems down to dynamics alone, you see the predictable patterns of spiritual abuse, and those patterns follow us all of the way back to the beginning of history. For example, in the Garden of Eden, Satan used loaded language (a technique of thought reform) to twist the intended meaning of what God stated clearly to Adam and Eve, rationalizing bad behavior. Likewise, ministers can very easily justify some of their church government practices through rationalizing them as something God intends.

As the previous post noted, people organically figure out what works when they interact with other people. Look at the most basic early human interaction – that between a mother and child. A new mother without prior experience who is attentive to her infant learns quickly that eye contact and the use of certain sounds and syntax causes a favorable response in her infant, something reflected in the infant's behavior. She didn't need to read a study from thirty years ago that infants learn language and respond at a very early age to syntax on the right side of the brain, something that lays the foundation for the development of the comprehension and use of words on the left side of the brain. She learns what works because certain uses of syntax elicit a predictable and favorable response from her child. She learns to do what works, and she guides her child's growth and learning about communication through trial and error, not through deliberate, didactic study. I believe that the same trial and error learning occurs for pastors who figure out how to motivate people and how to get individuals to work well together.

But that brings up the question of how well a pastor or a group uses spiritually abusive tactics, a skill that you tend to see very clearly in hot seat and star chamber meetings. Could a person have studied certain techniques formally, never realizing how similar the techniques were to spiritual abuse and how well they fit into a predictable system of exploitation?

Your particular group of interest may not follow any formal training in “how a church should work,” but mine did, and many others do as well (as I believe that Sovereign Grace Ministries also qualifies as such a program).

The Perfect Storm of Pessimism Mixed with Paternalism and Fear

I believe that a leader can hold an optimistic view of the people who work with and for them, or they can hold a pessimistic view. For those who see coworkers and subordinates as strong, thoughtful, and good, those leaders tend to have a more hands-off approach to management. They put their faith in optimism and in the belief of the goodness of the people who work for them. They trust them and see the best in them, much like a coach does for a sports team. They have experience with a particular system and with people, they can see raw potential and skill in others, and they have learned how to encourage growth of that potential in others.

Those who hold a basically pessimistic view of others tend to trust few people and tend to rely on their own judgment and control. They are less able to trust others and tend to fall into the pitfalls of micromanaging other people. Those who are very pessimistic about what God can do in others and what God can do apart from themselves tend to rely more on authoritarian means to maintain control in order to accomplish their desired goal. Pessimism can also manifest as a paternalism that reduces people to objects or robs them of the goodness that they do possess. Both paternalism and authoritarianism depend on hierarchy for structure, and an authoritarian system which makes so much use of hierarchy allows a means for that pessimism to be formalized.

The Gospel According to Shepherding

I believe that the Shepherding Discipleship Movement that began in the late 1960s provides an excellent example of a system that formalized elements of spiritual abuse and taught those principles as formal doctrine that was entirely consistent with Scripture. For that reason, I would like to use that system as an example of training in thought reform, not only because of my own background and knowledge of the movement, but also because of CJ Mahaney's roots in the movement as well as his influence within today's growing Calvinist dominionism. The group of interest to you may not have a connection to shepherding, but I believe that an attitude of pessimism about people combined with paternalism can shape a denomination or a group in such a way that amounts to training in these methods in many cases. (Read more about this as the hidden curriculum phenomenon.) Most aberrant social practice within a group tends to be communicated indirectly through the hidden curriculum, though this often results in the most effective method of communicating behavioral standards.

The leaders and creators of the Shepherding Movement assumed not only a pessimistic view of the rank and file Christian, but they went a step further to assume a paternalistic role over them within the church. As discussed in these two previous posts, as the world began to weather the problems the age, people in many different churches including liturgical ones started to spontaneously speak in tongues, a spiritual gift associated with the Feast of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. The evangelical leaders feared that people would forget about doctrine in favor of “experientialism,” seeing Christianity and salvation only as a means of having a good time that did not really result in good moral behavior. They were afraid that the Christian faith and the growing numbers of new converts would abandon the foundations of the Faith. To compensate for the ecstatic nature of tongues and the interdenominational meetings that started to crop up (as many saw the spiritual gifts as God's way of uniting all Christians together), many of these evangelical leaders placed emphasis on discipline, accountability, and formulaic living as a way of controlling what they feared would become chaos within the church.

As previously established, there are just so many effective ways to control people and to control groups of people to get them to behave in a particular way. Taking a pessimistic and paternalistic view of individuals but with a generally good motive, the leaders in shepherding established systems of control for churches and for individuals within churches. One of the primary and effective means of controlling or managing a group comes through hierarchy, so they established formal systems of chain of command within their churches and within their networks of churches. The objective nature of the chain of command also went hand in hand with the idea that there were certain formulas that should govern a Christian's behavior. To enforce the chain of command, it necessitated a focus on authority structure which had to be taught to church members, and that necessitated a focus on submission. Hierarchy and submission started out as a means but quickly became an end unto its own and was soon magnified as one of the primary virtues that the church required of a Christian.

Saved Into Shepherding, then Trained as a Shepherding Discipleship Movement Pastor

As mentioned, during the Charismatic Renewal which birthed the Shepherding Movement, large numbers of people joined evangelical churches as newly born again believers. In my mid-twenties, I joined a church that was entirely run by people who had attended other mainline Protestant denominations who became “born again” as evangelicals through pastors and people involved in the formal Shepherding Movement. The core within that group of elders and pastors were all friends who knew each other from their early experience of conversion into evangelicalism, and they learned about what it meant to be an evangelical believer through those who embraced Shepherding. Their church system, the one we joined, did not exist as a denomination prior to shepherding as a practice and belief system.

All of the spiritual training taught submission-authority doctrine to to our pastors and elders at that church right along with the distinctions of evangelicalism, and they believed both to be one and the same. They see the aberrant submission doctrine as essential to evangelical faith. They remain inclusive and under no circumstances are they mutually exclusive concepts for them.

My husband and I had the advantage of experience in other evangelical Protestant churches and training in doctrine which did not place emphasis on submission-authority doctrine, so we did not equate those teachings as essential elements of being born again Christians in a living faith. It was clear from an early point in our experience in this shepherding church that the group felt themselves superior to other churches, and our early positive experience reinforced that idea to us, but we did not understand exactly why this group felt that they were so superior. We were able to look back to see that all of their doctrine formally required and formally taught these doctrines of shepherding -- that 's what made them feel superior.

Submission doctrine was taught at every level within that church, informally and formally.I only learned of some of these influences through what you could call the elders' “continuing education” and through their pastoral affiliates because I worked in the church office and volunteered at their Bible College. We had our own Bible College and Seminary which helped control what doctrine would be accepted and taught. Only those individuals who appeared to be properly trained and demonstrated consistent compliance with these doctrines over time could truly fit into the leadership system there. Everyone had to attend Bill Gothard's basic course to qualify for a leadership position such as a home group leader or teacher, though this was never stated formally anywhere. The writings of Watchman Nee and Bob Mumford and those who preached and followed them also figured into the group as guiding influences. 

Mahaney's Second Generation Version of Shepherding

Mahaney helped run the cultic People of Destiny, one of the first and longest standing Shepherding/Discipleship group, and it's still alive and well today. What kind of sage advice do you think he gave to Mark Driscoll in his capacity as a mentor to him? Did either of them sit down to study how to run a cult? Probably not, or not exactly. However, in terms of “the duck test,” the final product looks quite cultic and conforms to the spiritually abusive practices of the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement. But what, exactly, does Driscoll learn from Mahaney?

Sovereign Grace Ministries holds a six week training session for aspiring ministers in Gaithersburg. What kind of training do they receive? I'm sure that they call it spiritual training, but those men aren't getting a crash course in the Bible, are they? They're learning how to govern churches according to the rules and expectations of the group (the hidden curriculum), and they're reinforcing the hierarchy/chain of command structure among the leadership, along with whatever else they teach. Let's hope that there will be some Bible training in there somewhere and that it eventually becomes the individual's undoing in terms of the spiritual abuse that governs the group.

Mahaney was a part of the same movement that my former church pastors and elders were birthed into, and they are all Mahaney's same age. In fact, our church system used to have a relationship with Mahaney, and we shared many of the same itinerant ministers (e.g. Mike Ratliff) with them. We were even in the same geographical area. We followed the same order of worship. We had members who moved back and forth between People of Destiny and our denomination which once consisted of more than thirty churches in Maryland at the height of Shepherding. Mahaney still teaches submission to authority in a manner consistent with the guiding principles of Shepherding, and he still requires this same undying submission of his parishioners who have been wounded in their churches. He still employs the same wicked manipulation tactics to exploit those who have been wounded in his system. His system still requires little to no accountability of their abusive ministers. I think that I'd be a fool to presume that they're not formally teaching at least some spiritually abusive tactics to the pastors who attend their school of ministry and to the existing pastors within their system.

The Overt Pessimism of New Calvinism as the Seed of Spiritual Abuse

I'm also concerned about the pervasive pessimism that is characteristic of what is now called “New Calvinism,” whether it is or is not connected to the Shepherding theology through people like Mahaney. Perhaps people who shifted out of the ranks of shepherding did find a home in some of the fringe elements of the newer Calvinistic movements such as those propagated through homeschooling? But, perhaps, it's just the spirit of the age and what people in this generation seek.

Calvinists like Driscoll place a tremendous focus on submission and authority. Other people within this same “Gospel Coalition” speaking circuit also hammer away at the submission imperative. Complementarianism which was already strongly embraced by the shepherding movement preaches submission. I cannot help but think of Bruce Ware's statement that the most inspiring and moving aspect of the Trinity is not God's tremendous love for us and sacrifice to make a way to come and die in sinful man's stead, or some other magnificent element of the mystery. Ware states that the thing that he finds most captivating about the Trinity is “the authority-submission structure” which he notes throughout his book and in more audio presentations and radio interviews than I can begin to mention here. Those who reject their gender beliefs, the New Calvinist view of the Trinity, and other elements of Calvinism are deemed to be non-Christian. Some teach that a true Christian can't be a political libertarian (even if they bring their specific beliefs under the authority of the Bible) because an optimistic view of a Christian is inconsistent with Calvinism and their view of submission to authority.

I believe that Calvinists today take the understanding of the doctrine concerning total depravity, and rather than treating it as a statement about God's sovereignty, they treat it as a statement about mankind. It creates a great deal of what almost degrades into misanthropy which extends far beyond the doctrine of the fallen nature of mankind and federal representation which is part of the Calvinist tradition.

I am not in any way advocating any belief that mankind has virtue to pull himself up by his own bootstraps or that there is anything good in man that can save his own soul through works or as a part of his nature that impresses Holy God. But I do believe that when these men view the Doctrines of Grace as a statement about the nature of man instead of a statement defending God's sovereignty, it fosters both paternalism and pessimism, even about Christian believers. In turn, it seems that they take election and turn it into some kind of “survival of the spiritually fittest.” Seeing themselves as leaders of the elect, I believe that many of these leaders use these principles to create their own type of thought reform because of their reliance upon authoritarian control and tremendous focus on submission to their authority to make the system work. Perhaps the connection between Mahaney and New Calvinism is not shepherding that he introduced but a shared need for authoritarian control. Man may not be the measure of all things for them in the way Protagoras stated things, but man within their system of Calvinism certainly serves as the measure of doctrine and church government.


Tomorrow's Question:
How could they have not known what they were doing?

Additional Question:

What if you work for your church?