Red flags & Cultism

There is a way which seems right to a man,  But its end is the way of death.  Proverbs 16v 25

Loads of people have been using the search engine through this blog with the word CULT…   so I thought  we would raise a page to begin providing info about what is a Cult…  or what constitutes cultic characteristics…   5 or more of the following indicate that a group has crossed the line into cultism

1  Questioning is discouraged–   individuals are made to to feel invalidated & silly for asking questions-  total agreement is expected & required – if you have a problem with something you become the problem —   often there is no discussion  what the top leader says goes He/she will dominate conversation & shut down all adult & proper discussion in favour of telling you how it WILL be.   the leader is unapproachable, distant, extremely difficult to talk to (closed)

2 There is really only one leader  – the group may have a leader team in place but the reality is that they endorse everything that the leader says does & thinks-   they appear as “yes men” & become the top leader’s mouthpiece  – often they will talk & you may feel it is the  top leader talking through them.  even to the point where words, phrases & mannerisms are copied..  There is a feeling of inner circle (which is almost inpenetrable)   with these second tier leaders who behave in an elitist , superior manner.  The inner circle defend all inappropriate behaviours  demonstrated by their senior leader & justify those with any reason – but come down heavy for more minor misdemeanors that are demonstrated by those they are directly responsible for…  all roads lead back to the senior leader &  there is no meaningful independent accountability that  the top leader is actively submitting to outside of the group. There is also a sense of hierarchy, rankings & favoured ones within the group.  These favoured ones are such – simply because of their level of agreement with the senior leader – they suck up, & never hold him to account – defend & protect everything he does or says –  & promote everything he teaches, with vigor…

4  Dissent is forbidden –  as is being negative, expressing any opinion which does not fit into the pre scribed “way of thinking”  there are lots of unsaid rules  which only become obvious once they are crossed..   there is information control with certain books, or internet sites being identified as  MUST NOT  go there…  or in extreme control situations  any un authorised information from media sources is banned…  Discipline is all too easily dished out or threatened, people are made examples of, singled out & humiliated  for crossing the line-   fear is often instilled  to control others who observe  & yet often it is not necessarily made clear what the line is for what is expected or not from group members…  lots of double talk, hidden meanings, insiduous teachings that are veiled threats in reality  to keep people in check & under control

5  Isolationism   if a group  is not (yet ) living communally  members in the group are increasingly expected to give up more & more & more of their time (& money) to work for the group… the higher up in the group,  the more is expected…particularly staff.   the reason for this is that it produces separation from friends & family  outside of the group.  It isolates the member & further indoctrinates their perspective because literally, this removes other reference points in the life of the individual & replaces this with “group think”

6 Secrecy  It is (increasingly) obvious there are some  (usually the favoured ones) who know some information & others  are purposefully excluded – this goes way beyond the bounds of personal confidentiality…  The senior leader also seems to “know”  or there is a mechanism in the system for him/her to find out any sins or issues in any members lifestyle  – yet simultaneously  he declares that gossip is destructive & any one found to be engaging in it would be disciplined.

7 Financial irregularity   accounts are not presented  properly or audited properly as the law dictates, or mispresented with confusing  explanations which are not easily understood by ordinary members who have no reference point in decephering them. There is a sense of lack of integrity surrounding money, accountability, priorities of spending. etc &  a constant push about obtaining more money-.   Tithing is taught in terms of  how it will bring blessing to the tither.  There may be a stated requirement to tithe 10% & a requirement to declare how much individuals are giving. There is an increasing feeling that the vision & enterprise becomes “all about the money”  – a group with charitable aims & origins shifts from being centred on the welfare of individuals & operates more as a scheme of business & or to make a profit etc..

8  There is no (democratic) process for removing the leader   he can only go if he leaves or dies

9  There is an uneasy feeling of CONTROL in  every area of operations within the group…  it is very difficult  for individuals to  operate on their own initiative in any way  & if they try they are are mostly reprimanded for not seeking permission or checking first. For up coming leaders there is a climate of conditions & criteria  to be met – on reflection   those given responsibilities  are consistently concerned with keeping out of trouble  –  there is mentoring in place which may feel like being groomed  in to the ways of  “inner circle” thinking.  “Leadership” is considered a prized goal  to be obtained through compliance  more  than it is considered a  responsibility & privilege  to serve..   “Power” is enticingly sold & used as a tool-  so that punishment & rewards are used by the top leader to offer or remove”power & responsibility”  from  other leaders dependent on the level & amount of compliance & agreement they demonstrate towards him/her

10  There is a trail  of damaged people who have managed to leave the group (or the influence of the leader) over a long period of time & they report  at the most basic level, the same issues…  often citing the over control of the top leader…  they ALL have a story to tell & it isn’t good… people who have left or express a desire to leave are not treated well.

11 The top leader has been &  is highly regarded by people outside the group & uses plenty of charm & charisma & sometimes outright forceful bullying (plays hard ball)  to get whatever he wants in order to obtain compliance from anyone..

  • Often this individual is not satisfied with any role unless it gives him/her a sense of complete power or authority & status.   He/she may consider himself the messiah, a prophet  more  prophetic than any other… an Apostles’ apostle
  •  He/she may also  believe that he cannot be deceived & thus is always correct…  He/she feels he has a handle on   “the truth”  like no other…
  •  He/she sucks up to those he sucks from  & admires (which is few & far between)..but also drops them quickly in his estimation.
  • He/She may engage in blame shifting- setting people up to fail- rarely if ever apologising or admitting to being in the wrong.
  • He/she creates a climate of fear although is oblivious to it & believes that what she/he has created is wonderful/blessed/utopia/anointed/ unity/pure..   ordinary members – perceive that very differently & are unable to speak about it.
  • He/she will  deny things they may have said or done or twist the meaning – to mean you understood it wrong –  to the point of outright lying instead of taking responsibility  & they may make it appear that it is others  – particularly those of the inner circle  who are the “Controllers”… –
  • Over time the inner circle as individuals  become far far more ruthless & controlling in their own way & time  over any members they are directly responsible for  as this is the model they have been shown – however,  if & when this goes too far – the top leader will either defend the inner circle leader   so completely that the complainant has absolutely no where to go with his/ her legitimate complaint & is alienated    or (less likely)  the top leader turns on the inner circle individual  & completely blames/alienates them for “being that way”… either person feels that there is no further place they can have & will desire to leave..
  • uses  “it wasnt me”  or “I didnt say that”    language in defense of self when challenged &  this may be true  as his/her communication has been heavily loaded to imply those things without actually saying them.    our compliance –  does the job for him  in our thinking.
  • The top leader will never see any of the effects of their behaviour as their fault –
  • the only compromise he/she will ever make is to protect himself – sometimes through the use of misinformation style “damage control” & spin.

Im not going to say if any group  is a cult – you must come to that conclusion for yourself…  I will say that I saw many of these traits beginning in my circumstances.. & have lived through some of this stuff.

Also,, please know that in terms of identifying a CULT-    it is not what is taught in or by the group  – there are many, many cults from religious to political to self help & all sorts;   so heretical teachings on their own as a presentation do not equal Cult….    it is how “the system”  operates…   5  or more of these  above traits indicate a problem..

We must come to know too that the True Church   does NOT behave in these ways  & does not deliberately, or by “just being church together” create these types of environment whereby these traits can flourish & grow..

14 thoughts on “Red flags & Cultism

  1. Pingback: Red flags & Cultism | STEWARD Signing Off

  2. Thanks for the perspective, I guess it was something I needed to say. I should have mentioned I’m originally from N.Ireland, the people there do have some understanding of an American model of how the religious and political world can be very much intertwined, which can be for good, and can be terrible. But that’s a side note.

    I completely agree about the power strategy though. The “inspirational teachings” tweets etc, taken on their own in isolation can often be spot on, and often genuinely encouraging. That’s why I find it so hard to discern whats going on and explain that to fellow Christians, I just cant put my finger on it. Each theological issue or manifestation I’ve encountered, has been sort of explained, in a way. I do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit today, prophecy, healing . Its just when stepping back and looking at everything in context the movement it feels foreign, like the underpinning is ever so slightly less and less about Jesus and more and more about the manifestations and power in and of itself.

    In my personal situation, the leadership of my church do engage with alot of the movement but the pastor has a wide theological base, I have been encouraged by discernment shown in what has been stated in sermons and in passing. Its seem though many of the congregation have jumped in with two feet, fire tunnels and all. Which is odd its almost like there are two leaderships, the local and what comes from Bethel etc from the internet.

    • Yes GK great insight thank you.

      I think you have identified something really important here.. to do with how to root out & discern truths… I spent a very long time like you – thinking & knowing in my spirit, in my self that this was “just not right” but couldnt put my finger on it either… yes indeed … because who is able to stand & say that healing, & God’s presence & honouring each other & even signs & wonders are all “wrong” – they aren’t of course.. we can justify & explain these things from scripture. they all have sound theological basis & to start meddling with peoples perception of these things – feels undermining of them & their experiences.. but; & this is a huge BIG BUT!

      this is exactly how deception works– there is a measure of truth worked into error or error made to look like truth so that it is really difficult to sort out where the line of truth is in the real terms – when we are the middle of a meeting when all this stuff is going down…it is incredibly difficult

      Nevertheless, our final authority is the full counsel of the word of God… we must know what it says & in proper context… always, I have learned the hard way that bold statements made in this movement need to be checked & cross ref with what the word is saying in context – rather than just taking the one liner – which sometimes is skewwed to fit with a particular teaching or emphasis in this movement & made to fit it rather than the teaching & emphasis – coming OUT of the word…. many things in this river seem back to front & inside out when we begin to examine them a bit closer.

      I think already you have successfully identified in your situation something that I noticed quite early on & that is JESUS – reference to sin, repentance, the cross, salvation by grace was increasingly sidelined this indeed is a huge red flag… at first I watched & observed for about 6- 9mths as this unfolded in our meetings… the talk was all about connecting with father – hosting the presence of God – calling on Pappa or daddy God… all the prayers/calling out/shouting/declaring things in meetings, all the songs we sang were to this end… there are a very few Bethel songs that reference Jesus & true Gospel themes & we sang exclusively Bethel songs for months & months because our senior leader deemed them to have the “anointing”. By the time we left it felt as though the church had corporately “moved on” from all that “Gospel stuff” there was a unsaid feeling that the message of Christ Crucified was “old fashioned”

      see there is nothing wrong with wanting to connect with the father – this is right & Godly – & cannot be faulted. However, my observation is that this is an emphasis which is being undertaken at the exclusion of Divinty- person hood of Jesus – except to say that “what ever Jesus did as a man in right relationship to his father -we can also achieve”…this is a well documented teaching of Bethel/ BJ….

      In proper context we would do well to remember that the word of God says: Jesus said in John 14 v 6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

      there are a couple of other pointers I identified, one of the biggies was a feeling of hypocrisy: from 2010 onwards there was a huge push towards developing a culture of honour… which is fabulous… personally I had no problem with this teaching- I think it is very right to honour people extremely well within the body of Christ… However, we each of us have an understanding of what “honour” entails & when we feel we havent been honoured we flinch… even more so in a environment that preaches & teaches it to extremes but then has no clue how to follow through when the rubber hits the road… In the end – it was tho every one gave (& was expected to give) honour & deference upwards – there was not much coming down from leaders in terms of role modelling how it should be with us… now if leaders are going to lead – they had better do what they actually preach & expect others to do. It is no good saying these things with such zeal & conviction on the sunday & then behaving themselves the exact opposite on the midweek night toward anyone – we tried to sort it out & call it in- but were told we had an “attitude” so when all was said & done.. it became apparent that the senior leader was in reality, accountable to absolutely no one… thus the entire months of COH teaching is completely invalidated in the space of 2 hours… those with no knowledge of this – & still to this day are continuing in their submission of this deceptive sham.. because everything like this is swept under the carpet of “being too negative” & an affront to “unity”- Hypocrisy is exactly what it is.

      So what I am saying here is that the culture – the environment expects one thing but the outworking is different & consistently gets worse not better. There is a mismatch… my question to you would be what is the reality of what goes on behind the scenes ?- regardless of the meetings & what is experienced – the truth of the reality of things is to do with the day to day working out of the culture…

      another is IDOLATRY touching on that quickly: – are miracles – signs & wonders being pushed for – promoted – testifyied to – hyped up- (over) exaggerated – is this the focus now ? when before it was on the person hood of Christ crucified & people demonstrating a genuine humilty of repentance for their sin… is the focus on the supernatural very very strong where it feels like that without it – corporately, people would leave disappointed… this is a big indicator.. that things are functioning “off centre”. Remember that in an atmosphere where the presence of God abounds – the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5 will be highly highly evident… this for me is a huge marker as to whether something is genuinely of the spirit of God or not… Truly in the presence of heaven, there are behaviours that simply just wouldn’t be able to stand…it is a perfect place… this leads us on to other questions about the whole “heaven joining with earth” thing.

      I have so much more to say on this but I will hold back for now & make room for others to comment…


  3. Thank you GK – nice to see you here: yes I think that we have to remember that the Church & the political world operate in a much more intertwined way in U.S than it does in the UK… that being the case – we Brits dont really understand the context of how that plays out fully over the pond – as we have little experience or perspective of it other than what we observe from a distance.

    what I would point out though is that both the political world & the charismatic “river’ movement have in common the ability to promote & play out “power strategies” – leadership in both being largely about how much “personal power” one has over others – in everything from “inspirational” teachings that everyone rushes to tweet & copy & of course purchase- to the full on celebrity- household name on the lips of everyone – status…recognition & following..

    the main question to ask is – is this underpinning axle of the wheel of this movement – biblical? or off the tracks.?

  4. Thanks for the blog, I’ve been able to reaffirm some thoughts I had about Bethel.

    Didn’t know where to post this but here, its not so much theological issue, perhaps too political, but still a big old red flag. Esp for a UK audience. On Bill Johnson’s Facebook page on the 28th March 2013 he posted a quote from “Smash Cultural Marxism”. I’m guessing the context was the “Equal Marriage” debate in America. Its not so much the quote or the post but the page it was quoted from. Looking further and into the page I and I think many Brits would view it as down right racist. And with a little research you can see cross posting with the BNP.

    I know lots of American Christians trend very much to the right of British politics. And maybe it was naivety on their part, but from a British perspective an influential christian leader, showing no discernment, posting from a fascist website, is more than a little scary…

    • I see a different perspective because I had to go to the E.R. once (I hurt my arm) while I was there (the Emergency Room in Redding, Ca) I spoke to the Physician’s Assistant in the E.R. and I was telling her my many issues with Bethel Church, how they had treated me so poorly, etc., and she said, “You’re not the only one. There’s A LOT of people like that.”

      So, she must have had some stories but I did not press her.

      [I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this where they all end up?? IN The E.R.?!?!]

      • interesting isnt it as BJ has declared Redding a Cancer free Zone – crime free with the presence of God abounding on earth as it is in heaven – yet the facts speak for themselves…

      • I live in Redding too. A nurse friend that has been here 30 years told me, Bethel folks end up homeless regularly,the ones that move here on “faith” and find out there is no work in a place with one of the worst unemployment rates in the US. I’ve had conversations with Bethel students trying to scam the welfare system, sharing one bed with a group of other girls because its that or homelessness, showing up a food banks because the school took their tuition and didn’t take care of them.
        They show up at the low-cost medical care clinic too. One showed up, where I used to work but didn’t have a ride home with a bad injury, she hadn’t eaten, and wasn’t appropriately dressed for the weather. I provided those things when I saw her hanging by the doors clearly injured with no ride. After buying her something to eat and taking her to a shared house she talked to me about how wonderful Bethel was and the adventure of living by faith. Using the system, isn’t faith. This is perhaps why Bethel has a bad reputation with a fair number of people who pick up the pieces of shattered lives.

  5. I was reading another article (let me try to cite it…) and found myself surprised at how many categories (I believe it was half or more) that Bethel Church fell into.

    Yes, one problem that I did experience was (I’m going to blatantly summarize) – there seems to be something on *the control of information* at that church, as far as…

    I had a complaint once – a staff member had done something – I wrote it on a FB group (I’m not saying it was the time or the place. It was a different ministry at Bethel, completely) But I was immediately dropped from the group. and then the ministry leader – this would be someone who has written a book – wrote some comment about it to the entire group. Anyway, I found it odd b/c –

    I understand if someone’s making up a falsehood, or making up a story. BUT

    there shouldn’t be a problem with sharing the truth. e.g., saying ” this and this and this happened…”

    But I found that they (Bethel church) did have a problem with sharing information – that proved that Bethel wasn’t a “Culture of Honor Utopia” (that’s how I often refer to it)

    again, I’m going to repeat myself (but in my experience..) there seemed to be something on the sharing of information. e.g., they did not want you sharing certain negative things (where else am I supposed to share?) about ministry leaders. So odd…

    • How to Identify a Narcissist Pastor

      Taken From Power2Serve Resources — my original link didnt work so here is the information in full

      Following up from my last article ‘Narcissism in the Pulpit’, purpose of this article is not to label or pigeonhole pastors, but to rather provide understanding. People with NPD are people that are to be pitied, and people that need to be understood. Unfortunately they are also people that need to be contained, monitored, and often removed from powerful and influential positions so that they do not destroy themselves and others. Narcissists come in varying degrees of severity and functionality, and based on the following descriptions you should be able to determine the quantity and quality of dysfunction of your current situation.. Nearly everyone has some narcissistic traits—it is possible to be arrogant, selfish, conceited, or out of touch without being a narcissist. The practical test as described by Sam Vaknin, is that with normal people, no matter how difficult, you can get some improvements, at least temporarily, by saying, essentially, “Please have a heart.” This doesn’t work with narcissists; in fact, it usually makes things worse. We are not setting up a witch hunt here – If you feel that your pastor or someone else you know is manifesting a large majority of these symptoms and you find that very disconcerting, then evaluate a few other people you know to see if they manifest many of these symptoms.. If there is a clear distinction between the ‘narcissist’ and others you evaluate then you probably have seen things clearly. Do check with a few others who you respect as well though to make sure you are not being an impartial, biased antagonist.

      Realize that different people will experience the Narcissist in differing ways, depending on how the Narcissist sees you fitting into his world – whether or not you are supporting or not supporting his unconscious agenda for himself. Narcissists act differently with different people, and it is usually only those who are close to them, or have a lot of contact that the symptoms and patterns become identifiable. Here are the more common symptoms to look out for:
      * Self-centered. His needs are paramount and take precedence over the church
      * No remorse for mistakes or misdeeds. Will not offer heartfelt apologies or ask for forgiveness.
      * Unreliable and undependable. Will change his mind and reverse decisions at will
      * Does not care about the consequences of his actions—may not even understand the connection
      * Projects his faults on to others. High blaming behavior; never his fault
      * Little if any conscience. Will do most anything he thinks will not be discovered. May ask staff to fudge the books.
      * Insensitive to needs and feelings of others
      * Has a good front (persona) to impress and exploit others
      * Low stress tolerance. Easy to provoke into anger
      * People are to be manipulated for his needs, accomplishing his desires
      * Rationalizes easily. Twists conversation to his gain at other’s expense. If trapped, keeps talking, changes the subject or gets angry
      * Pathological lying. Will lie if he thinks it will further his image and if he doesn’t think it will be discovered. When lies are followed up on will imply that the other person is mistaken, and that he never said the lie in the first place
      * Tremendous need to control situations, conversations, and group meetings
      * No real values. Mostly situational
      * Often perceived as caring and understanding and uses this to manipulate
      * Angry, rapidly changing moods
      * Does not share ideas, feelings, emotions
      * Conversation controller. Must have the first and last word
      * Is very slow to forgive others. Hangs onto resentment
      * Secret life. Hides money, friends, activities
      * Likes annoying and provoking others. Likes to create chaos and disrupt for no reason
      * Moody – switches from nice guy to anger without much provocation
      * Seldom expresses appreciation unless he is buttering the person up for further use
      * Grandiose. Convinced he knows more than others and is correct in all he does
      * Lacks ability to see how he comes across to others. Defensive when confronted with his behavior. Never his fault
      * Can get emotional, tearful. This is about show or frustration rather than sorrow
      * He breaks woman’s spirits to keep them dependent
      * Needs threats, intimidations to keep others close to him
      * Highly contradictory
      * Convincing. Must convince people to side with him
      * Hides his real self. Always “on”, playing the part when in public
      * Kind only if he’s getting from you what he wants
      * He has to be right. He has to win. He has to look good
      * He announces, not discusses. He tells, not asks
      * Does not discuss openly, has a hidden agenda
      * Controls money of others but spends freely on himself
      * Unilateral condition of, “I’m OK and justified so I don’t need to hear your position or ideas.”
      * Always feels misunderstood
      * You feel miserable with this person. He drains you
      * Does not listen because he does not care
      * Is not interested in problem-solving
      * Very good at reading people, so he can manipulate them
      * Will exaggerate and brag about past accomplishments
      * Concerned with getting what he wants NOW—immediately
      * Will not want to share his pulpit/platform with others
      * Will be envious of any other staff person who is loved or highly respected by the congregation
      * Will be overly concerned with the ‘image’ of the church building/bulletins etc.
      * Feels that he has been taken advantage of over and over again—’knife in the back syndrome.’
      * Dress may change based on whomever is his latest idol
      * Spend long hours ‘doing church’, but little will be accomplished
      * Nit-picky about minute details, but miss the entire big picture
      ——- Additional characteristics known only to the narcissist’s spouse:
      >Sabotages partner. Wants her to be happy only through him and to have few or no outside interests and acquaintances
      >His feelings are discussed, not the partners
      >Uses sex to control

      If your pastor or someone else you know can be characterized by a majority of these realize you have a major challenge on your hands. This check list should be given to those who have had the closest continual contact with the narcissist. Take into consideration that some people whom the narcissist has surrounded himself with will be blind to all these, as they have either become co-dependent with the narcissist, or have blind loyalty to the ‘position of pastor.’

      Church Law Campaign strongly recommend to either leave such organisations and/or seek help before it is too late.

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