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Churches that Abuse #11

Discernment and Response

                        CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #11

by Ronald Enroth (1992)


Abusive Churches Present a Warning

     A central theme of this book is that spiritual abuse can
take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible preaching,
fundamental, conservative Christianity. All that is needed for
abuse is a pastor accountable to no one and therefore beyond
confrontation. Witness Bonnie Mason's fifteen-year experience in
Midvale Bible Church (not the church's actual name), an
independent, Midwestern, Baptist-oriented church with a
pulpit-thumping, fire-and-brimstone preaching, fundamentalistic
pastor who believed himself to be beyond question - until the day
he died, which was the day Bonnie and her family were freed.
     Bonnie and Keith Mason came to know the Lord the day before
they met Pastor Carl Plummer (the names of the pastor and his
wife are pseudonyms). Although Keith had been raised in a
Christian home, he had never made a commitment of faith and had
spent his years becoming an accomplished rock musician. Bonnie,
on the other hand, had had no exposure to Christianity
whatsoever. Together they saw a Christian film so powerful in its
impact that they wanted to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.
     The next day, on advice from friends, they called Carl, a
new pastor in town. He came over immediately, and the Masons
received Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
     Keith immediately asked Carl if he thought he should quit
his career in music. Although Carl never came out and openly
stated that Keith's career was ungodly, Keith felt from his
statements that to remain in rock music would be to somehow
"compromise his witness." Keith gave in to Carl's oblique
suggestions and counsel. This type of indirect "wisdom" from Carl
was to control the Masons' lives for the next fifteen years.
     Bonnie fell completely under Carl's influence. She felt she
had been saved by Pastor Carl Plummer, and she began looking up
to him as a father figure, one who could answer all of her
questions about her new life. Carl responded, again with oblique
comments, expressing general "concerns," preaching in pointed
generalities from the pulpit, so that, without ever having to say
so directly, he communicated to Bonnie, and to others, that his
way of doing things was the right and godly way. Bonnie was never
taught that there is diversity in the body of Christ, that
differences of opinion are allowable and healthy, and that one
can follow the Lord in a number of different contexts and
different churches. This "missing ingredient," as Bonnie calls
it, kept her doubting herself and in literal slavery to Carl and
his family until he died.

(I would agree but disagree here. Jesus said He was THE way, THE
truth, THE  LIGHT. To gives ones self over to a man and become a
none thinking clone of a man and/or an organization is one
thing, but there are obvious jobs in life that a Christian cannot
work in. Today's "rock music" world is one of them, as is the
"strip club" work or working as a printer or any part of the
magazine publishing world of "Playboy" and such like magazines.
Such jobs right on the face of it should be obvious that a true
Christian cannot work in such professions - it really should not
have to take "going to the minister" to make such decisions to
leave certain jobs. On the topic of "rock music" - it does not
take a rocket-science mind to see that the 21st century "rock
music world" is not the rock n' roll music of the 1950s or 1960s.
Paul McCartney was asked a few years back why he though the music
of the Beatles was still so popular today. He paused for a few
seconds and then said, "Because we had MELODY in our music." And
that is truly the correct answer. You compare the rock music
world of today, with its screaming and shouting (and often
profane words), screeching and over-amplification of guitars and
eletronic whatevers, and the whole scene is utter confusion and
noise that just about blows your ear-drums. It is also the scene
of teens and young people drinking too much alcohol and often
spaced-out on drugs of one kind or another, not to mention the
moving up to illicit sex and fornication sex that often takes
place after a "rock concert" - Keith Hunt)

     A wall began to form between Bonnie and Keith as they became
more and more involved in the church in which Carl was serving as
pastor. On one hand, Carl would tell Bonnie to love and obey her
husband. On the other hand, Bonnie knew that if Keith did not do
things exactly as Carl did them, he was obviously not being
committed to God. He ought to be living his life exactly like
Carl. The distance between them widened when the church split and
Pastor Carl took those loyal to him to form Midvale Bible Church.
Although Keith protested, Bonnie convinced him to go along. Up to
that point, Carl Plummer had not served in any given church for
more than two years without leaving for one reason or another.
     From the beginning, Carl preached on submission to
authority. He told his people that a pastor is responsible to
speak for God and should not be questioned. 

(This is where such pastors cross the line - when they brain-wash
you to accept them as some "special" person with a unique phone
line to God that nobody else has - Keith Hunt)

     As their pastor, he was extremely burdened because of the
sins of God's people, and, when he fell ill from heart disease,
he told them that it was their responsibility because of the
great load he bore for them before God. Over time, this guilt and
pressure mounted to intolerable levels.
     During the first few years, Midvale met in a series of
motels and homes, never constructing a building of their own.
Meanwhile, the Plummers were given a large parsonage on six
acres. At this point, three years into this ministry, Carl began
rebuking the women of the congregation from the pulpit for not
befriending and reaching out to his wife, Eileen. Why had they
not been meeting with her? Why had they not asked her to go
     Bonnie, by this time fully under Carl's influence, responded
immediately. Up till now, she had been emulating Eileen and her
children in every respect. Since Eileen wore no makeup or
earrings, neither did Bonnie. Since her children wore a
particular brand of clothing and had their hair styled a
particular way (even though they were years older than Bonnie's
kids), Bonnie had her children dressed and coiffed in like
manner. Now the opportunity had arisen to do an even more godly
thing. She began taking Eileen shopping (Eileen couldn't drive).
And, she even begged the Plummers to allow her to help clean
their home when they knew that Eileen's sister was coming to
visit. The Plummers had been so good to her, had instructed her
in the faith, and helped her to grow as a Christian. It was the
least she could do.
     This was the beginning of Bonnie's becoming the "handmaid"
to Eileen Plummer and her family. The onetime assistance grew
into a daily ritual. She began to deceive her husband, who knew
nothing of the extent of her bondage. Bonnie would go over to the
Plummer's home at 11:30 A.M. and arrive back home in time to
prepare dinner and meet Keith at the door. Her children became
"latchkey kids," since Mom was away taking care of the Plummer
children. Keith knew nothing, and Bonnie believed that she was
serving God. She felt she was working out her salvation because
she was not loving "son or daughter more than me ...." (Matt.
10:37). To be enslaved to the Plummer family was to love God.
Meanwhile, because the children were getting older and because
money was getting tight, Keith began talking to Bonnie about
going to work to supplement their income. However, Carl would
speak to her about how much her children needed her at home, even
while knowing that she was at his house, caring for his children.
He would praise her from the pulpit, holding her up as an example
of servanthood.

(Now of course any sane minded person should be able to see this
kind of life-style was not only stupid, it was beyond stupid, it
was drug abuse of the mind; the minister had become another
Hitler dressed in Christian theology, now in control of a
person's mind who had twisted that mind into believing such an
abnormal way of living (neglecting her own husband and children,
and/or trying to turn her children into clones of the minister's
children) was "godly" and "serving the Lord" - Keith Hunt)

     Bonnie's confusion grew, and she began crying out to God
each day, praying that Eileen would not have another task for her
to carry out. She wondered why other women, with fewer
responsibilities at home, were not offering assistance. She found
out that two others had offered, but were turned down by Eileen,
saying "Bonnie will do it." Her reputed example of spirituality
caused the other women of the church to hate and envy her.
Meanwhile, she was in emotional agony. Bonnie felt that she had
to confide in Carl Plummer about every aspect of her life. Using
Psalm 51, Carl had preached that not exposing one's sins to the
world was trying to hide them from God. Consequently, Bonnie told
all, including the most intimate details of her life. She knew
that she had already told God herself, but Carl never said she
didn't need an intermediary.
     When Bonnie's father was dying of cancer, she felt guilty
when she would take time to go see him, only fifty miles away.
She felt that she was putting her father before God, and putting
her family's interests before her commitment to the Lord. Plummer
did nothing to discourage such thinking. She knew it was a sin to
visit her father on Sunday, and she asked her pastor if he would
go visit him. He refused, saying he didn't want to infringe on
another pastor's territory. When her father died, the Plummers
comforted her by telling her to come back and throw herself into
servanthood. It would be the best therapy for her.
     Bonnie became so confused that she stopped wanting to follow
Carl Plummer, no longer wanted to listen to him preach, and
stopped wanting to attend the mandatory meetings - even though
she knew she would be castigated from the pulpit for lack of
commitment. She began to realize that there was no consistency in
what Carl taught. Why did he allow women to get permanents but
not color their hair? Why did he allow necklaces and finger
rings, but not earrings? What was wrong with open-toed shoes? Why
were her daughters not allowed to share clothing since they were
the same size, and how did such sharing cause jealousy? Why was
the assistant-pastor's wife allowed to wear the same dress that
Bonnie had bought for her daughter but had had to return because
it was "inappropriate"? Why was Carl allowed to break every one
of his own child-rearing mandates with his own grandchild? Why
were the children not allowed to visit other churches, and why
were families not allowed to visit relatives during the
holidays? What was so wrong about missing one church service?
Bonnie began realizing that Carl's interpretation and practice of
doctrine were not consistent with the Scriptures. There was an
extreme emphasis on attitudinal sins such as rebelliousness and
pride, and an unhealthy dependence among the congregation on
their pastor. There was a total lack of accountability to any
elders on Carl's part, a defensiveness of his ministry that grew
over time, and a strong attitude of superiority and exclusivity.
"No one else teaches the whole counsel of God like this." "Carl
Plummer is our Apostle Paul."

(Well, I will say it sounds like Bonnie was "wising up" to the
situation. It is sad to say that many do not wise up and can
never come to admit they were brain-washed and had given
themselves over to a man, his clones, and an organization.
Thousands today who have left the old WCG to be part of the large
off-shoots, still have not admitted that under HWA the WCG was
turned into a cult, and that they had given their mind over to a
man, his clone ministers and to the organization, and to the
often teaching of such groups that THEIR head minister was THE
"apostle" of God - Keith Hunt)

     Finally, shortly after Carl Plummer died, Keith and Bonnie
Mason took their family out of Midvale Bible Church. The Masons
have suffered much. Keith had written a secular song shortly
before meeting Plummer. His pastor had told him to get rid of the
"worldly" song, and Keith sold his rights for thirty-four
dollars. To date, it has been recorded by three groups and has
sold over three million copies. Fortunately, after a fifteen-year
hiatus, Keith's music career is again on the rise.

(Hopefully not the modern rock scene - Keith Hunt)

     Keith and Bonnie have been shunned by their former friends.
Longtime associates of fifteen years turn their heads when they
walk down the street. Bonnie says she does not care. She is glad
to be free. She is, however, feeling very badly about her
children. Both daughters became extremely rebellious when they
moved away to college. They are doing things that she knows are
wrong. Bonnie regrets not having had the opportunity to raise her
children in a normal, healthy, Christian home, free of
condemnation and the competition fostered by Plummer's teachings.
She is jealous of others who have lived normal, Christian lives.
She would like to regain the lost years.
     Although Bonnie is not angry at God, she cannot yet forgive
the Christians who have hurt her. The Plummer family has denied
any wrongdoing and any manipulation or inappropriate actions on
Carl's part. Bonnie blames them for the rebelliousness that her
children are experiencing.

(Yes of course such ministers and their die-hard followers will
never admit they did wrong, for them it is always "God was
working in a special way through them." It is very hard indeed
for people to admit they were duped and had turned their mind
over to a man and his organization - Keith Hunt)

     Bonnie knows that there is still much residual confusion and
doubt to work through. She doesn't understand why God allowed the
experiences of the past fifteen years. She is desperately looking
for God to show her a way to go on with her life and to put the
past behind her. As she says, she earnestly desires to "forget
what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, to press on
toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me
heavenward in Christ Jesus."

(It was also for Jesse, my co-worker for 5 years till her
untimely death. She was able to come out of an abusive church
that the WCG had become, but it took her many years to work
through it all. When I met her she had worked through it all and
was back serving the Lord in spirit and in truth. Her Website
[what she was able to accomplish with it before her death] is
here on my Website, and her story is there for all to read and
learn from - Keith Hunt)

     Bonnie's story, as well as the other case histories
presented in this book, points to the need on the part of
Christians for discernment. At what point does biblical authority
turn into spiritual violence? When does a church cross the line
between conventional-church status and abusive-church status?
What are some signals or indicators that a given group is headed
for the margins?

     It goes without saying that the pastoral leaders we have
examined here are power-seeking individuals. In their attempts to
control and manipulate others, they reveal much about their own
personality and identity. Behavioral scientists view the desire
for power as the result of a deep-seated insecurity or need. It
is my impression that abusive pastors often come from troubled
backgrounds and are very insecure persons despite the "take
charge" image they may project. They are power-hungry people who
crave visibility. Leaders who inflict spiritual violence often
hide behind the smoke screen of authority to gain power.

     However, as Cheryl Forbes correctly points out, the words
power and authority are not synonymous.

     Power means insistence on what we want for no other reason
     than that we want it; it means making other people follow us
     despite their own wishes. Power is assumed, insensitive,
     dehumanizing, and ultimately destructive. Authority, on the
     other hand, is positive, and usually involves a conferred
     right within strictly controlled bounds.

     Although she is not addressing specifically the topic of
abusive churches, Forbes' analysis is directly applicable to the
material I have presented in this book. Note this insightful

     The exercise of power always implies coercion and violence
     because the purpose of power is to reproduce itself.
     Whatever tries to prevent this reproduction must be disposed
     of. An exercise of authority, however, should have nothing
     to do with coercion, violence, or manipulation. Yet in our
     zeal for God's work we decide that if someone won't
     recognize our authority, we will force him with our power.

     Jesus is our ultimate role model when it comes to the
exercise of power and authority. Even though unlimited power and
authority in heaven and on earth were at his disposal, the
Scripture clearly demonstrates that he was never on a power trip.
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord    it over them,"
he once told his disciples, "and their high  officials exercise
authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to
become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to
be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come
to be served,  but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for
many" (Matt. 20:2528).

     John White and Ken Blue in their book, "Healing the
Wounded," address the problem of the spiritual tyranny that
results when leaders abuse their authority and seek to subjugate

     There is a tension among Christians that arises from what
     might be called a high view of the church and a high view of
     Scripture. Both have their dangers. The first emphasizes the
     authority of the church over the lives of God's people.
     Similarly a high view of Scripture emphasizes the need for
     Scripture to control the behavior of Christians. Both
     emphases are found in Scripture. There is no tension between
     them. The tension arises in the minds of leaders who try to
     use either church or Bible or both to control God's people.
     Church leaders are themselves under the authority of
     Scripture, but its authority is never to be coercive: it
     does not make leaders into rulers.

     "Ruler" is the right term to describe the kind of people in
authoritarian leadership roles who are a focus of this book. They
are spiritual tyrants who take unholy pleasure in requiring
obedience and subordination of their followers. It is important
to recognize that leadership depends on followership, and from a
truly Christian perspective, that means cooperation with the
leader rather than domination and control by the leader. The
source of legitimate Christian leadership therefore lies in
"entrusted authority."   
     The spiritual autocrat, the religious dictator, attempts to
"compel" subordination; the true Christian leader can
legitimately only " elicit" followership.
     Church leaders must be accountable both to God and to the
congregations that they lead. They must strive to exemplify the
qualities of our Lord Jesus Christ, "that great Shepherd of the
sheep." "Leaders are meant to be facilitators not despots. Their
role is essential. But they must use their authority in the way
Jesus did. And they must never forget that while (like all of us)
they have aline tp heaven, unlike Jesus they are open to the
wiles of the devil."
     It is common practice for pastors in abusive churches to
fail to distinguish between spiritual and worldly authority. As
John White and Ken Blue write:

     Occasionally, especially if they are young in age and
     inexperienced, they may say, "You must submit to me because
     God has placed me over you." Now while such words may be
     true, they are words that never fall from the lips of true
     leaders because the authority of true leaders springs from
     spiritual power. Such words prove the speaker's unfitness
     for his task. They too can enslave us to another gospel
     rather than draw us to the freedom of the cross.

     Pastor Phil Aguilar of Set Free Christian Fellowship likes
to say, "It's my way or the highway." The arrogance of such a
statement contrasts with the gentleness and humility of Christ's
way. Pastor Don Barnett of Community Chapel communicated the same
attitude: "I have the anointing and because I have the anointing,
I know what I'm doing." That kind of thinking is obviously
dangerous, but to many members of authoritarian churches it
doesn't appear inappropriate. They look at their pastor and say,
"How could a Spirit-filled, anointed pastor ever be wrong?" The
young man whose case history follows found out the hard way what
it means to be in the wrong church at the wrong time.
     Bruce Hogan says that he has been "recovering nicely" after
six terrible years in the very militant Potter's House, also
variously known as La Puerta (or, The Door), Victory Chapel, or
Christian Fellowship Church, based in Prescott, Arizona. His
involvement came about as the result of a spiritual quest he
undertook after dropping out of high school. Having been brought
up in what he terms a "traditional multidivorce family," with a
father who left when he was three, Bruce says that he was
searching for a real father. He has finally found his heavenly
Father, but not before experiencing a great deal of pain and
suffering at the hands of an abusive church. "I had no prior
Christian experience or training and I didn't know how to spot a
counterfeit. My home life was typical of the divorce and MTV
generation, and I suppose I was looking for something like an
artificial, ready-made family. Ignorance coupled with desire
always results in trouble."
     Bruce, now "twenty-eight and looking like forty," had just
left his job as a nightclub entertainer when he first encountered
the Potter's House. He had found God on his eighteenth birthday
while using "recreational chemical substances," and was
"supernaturally saved" after years of delving into the occult,
like his father before him. He believes that God did a real
miracle to save him because the occult influence of his father
had been passed down generationally.
     Bruce, with no grounding in the Bible, had decided that he
had better quit his wild life-style and go to college. He had
passed the GED, and was just beginning Southeast Missouri State
University when members of the Potter's House first arrived in
town. Impressed by their zealousness, and influenced by their
concern, he joined their ranks in 1984.
     Being a very intelligent and discerning person, Bruce was
concerned, even at the beginning of his involvement, about the
emphasis on authority, submission, and spiritual headship. But he
also thought that they might help him overcome his terribly
rebellious nature.
     Bruce was self-supporting while at Southeast Missouri State.
Not only did he work full-time and take a full course load, he
also became involved in all the fellowship activities,
outreaches, revival meetings, and regular services of the church.
After a few months of little sleep and failing grades, he landed
in the hospital from sheer exhaustion. The attending physician
told him to stop the whirlwind of activity or he would be dead in
     However, with his salvation at stake, Bruce continued, and,
as he puts it, "sacrificed my higher critical thinking faculties"
to the leadership of the Potter's House. Week after week of
meetings and revivals that lasted late into the night had done
their job and caused him to "just stop thinking." "I had
surrendered the lordship over my life to a reprobate mind" [that
of the Potter's House leadership], and came to recognize that
"even the elect can be deceived."

(Well for a time maybe the elect can be deceived, but the true
elect cannot be deceived but only for a relative short time. Yes
Jesus said that before He came again deception would be so great
that IF it was possible even the elect would be deceived
[Mat.24:24], but the elect will know the truth and the truth will
set them free - Keith Hunt)

     Bruce believes that at its peak the Potter's House had a
network of hundreds of congregations. Committing very little to
paper, the leadership limits access to information to a select
few. Run by Wayland Mitchell out of Prescott, Arizona, local
congregations have no say as to who will lead them. Bruce's local
fellowship had three different pastors during his stay, all of
whom were sent from Prescott. He describes the Potter's House
movement as very aggressive, strong on church planting,
militantly committed, and very anti-intellectual. He was called
an "educated idiot with a high IQ," and was told, "You obviously
have a call on your life, son. You should be pursuing ministry
and submitting yourself to our discipleship."
     Bruce's inquisitive nature and analytical mind were always
considered a manifestation of rebellion. When he attempted to
show one of the elders that his teaching was not in line with the
Scriptures, he was violently rebuked and told, "I am the
shepherd. You are the sheep. God is my head covering, and I am
answerable only to Him. And don't you forget it." Bruce says, "I
wished John the Apostle were there. He'd be kicking some butt...
Pardon me. He would be setting things in theologically correct
     It is Bruce's opinion that the Potter's House attracts those
with altruistic natures who know little or nothing about God and
the Scriptures but who are on a spiritual quest. It reaches
"those strata and segments of society that no one else can
touch." The problem is, Bruce says, that when people join, "they
kill them," and if they ever leave the Potter's House, it is
unlikely that they will ever serve the Lord again. The majority
of the membership come to know God while in the fellowship -
there is no Christian foundation outside of their Potter's House
     Bruce believes that his involvement in the Potter's House is
his own fault. He has no excuse. "I had the Bible. I had the
witness of the Holy Spirit. I knew something was wrong, but I
thought it was just my own rebelliousness.... I fired the little
lawyer inside me that tried to save me."
     After six years of pastoral and psychological abuse, Bruce
and his new wife left the Potter's House. He was "rescued" by
George Orwell's "Animal Farm," a book about totalitarianism, that
Bruce also feels accurately describes the Prescott-based
fellowship. He admits that this was a unique aid to his exit, but
reading the book sparked his abilities to think critically and

(And my friends that's where the rubber meets the road - you must
ever keep your nose and eyes in the Bible. Yes you need an open
mind to prove all things, but not so open that your brains fall
out - Keith Hunt)

     The Potter's House, "first to condemn, first to judge, and
last to show any mercy," shunned the Hogans. They were told that
they were going to hell and that they had never been saved. They
were also slandered by the leadership. "I was sacrificing babies
in my basement or was a homosexual, or whatever." Eventually they
left everything and moved away. Having no church to go to that he
felt he could trust, Bruce said, "The heck with it. I'm going to
stay at home and read my Bible. "Every man to his tent." Over six
month's time, primarily because of being laid up from a severe,
work-related back injury, Bruce came to know the truth in
Scripture. Feeling very old now, he says, "God's people are
destroyed for a lack of knowledge. I would have become a heretic
if God had not put me on my back for six months. All I did was
read the Bible."

(Oh, I do not know what truths Bruce found, but reading the Bible
is sure the start to find the pathway to God's truth...keep your
eyes and mind in the Bible friends, keep it in the Bible; I'll
say it over and over again, your defense for not being deceived
is KNOWING what's in the Bible - Keith Hunt)

     Bruce, understandably, had difficulty with forgiveness. "In
order to survive the ordeal of withdrawing from an authoritarian
church, you have to admit that you have been taken and forgive
from the heart. Otherwise, in the words of our Lord, you will be
'delivered to the tormentors.' When I finally forgave from my
heart, I began to recover." His wit, though not as acerbic as a
year ago, is still sharp. Paraphrasing Luther, he says, "If there
be a hell, Prescott is built over it."

     As Bruce indicated, the membership of authoritarian churches
is frequently comprised of young, spiritually immature
Christians. This kind of church is successful because it is
meeting basic human needs - the need to belong, the need to be
affirmed, to be accepted, and to be part of a family. It is not
unusual for the leaders to assume the role of surrogate parents,
especially for those young adults who come from dysfunctional-
family backgrounds. Speaking of the woman who was pastor of the
Church of Jesus Christ Forever, a small, authoritarian con-
gregation in the Midwest, one ex-member says this:

"She really cared about us. We were young, looking for something,
and she really took us under her wing." Echoing similar
sentiments, a former member of an east coast group sums up the
appeal of the abusive church she joined: "I never felt I had a
family until I became part of this church. Never before had I
felt so loved and cared for in every way. They were the first
family I ever had."

     Although they may be on the fringe of mainstream
evangelicalism, spiritually abusive churches usually are closer
to biblical orthodoxy than they are to outright heresy. Yet,
there is often a subtle distortion of biblical teaching. Looking
back at her experience at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, a
former member relates an all-too-common realization.

     You allow yourself to be blinded, and you bend over
     backwards to believe it's for your own good .... I think for
     me and a lot of other people who were perhaps recently
     converted Christians, they have taken biblical truths, and
     the twist isn't very great, but they are twisted, all
     twisted. Somehow you're not aware of the twisting so that
     you accept it as being from God because you see them [the
     leaders] as speaking the truth that God's given us in the
     Bible .... everything they say makes a good deal of sense.
     But there's something in the application of it - and it's so
     subtle it's hard to put into words - something in the way
     they apply it that turns it the wrong way.

     A key element of discernment, then, is the recognition that
potentially abusive churches foster an unhealthy form of
dependency, spiritually and otherwise, by focusing on themes of
submission and obedience to those in authority. They create the
impression that people just aren't going to find their way
through life's maze without a lot of firm directives from those
at the top. They promote what MacDonald called a form of "learned
helplessness." In 1985 he wrote, "Remarkably, many intelligent
Christians actually enjoy being told what to do. In GCI churches,
people seek the elders for permission to go home and see their
parents or friends, and to inquire for how long they may stay;
they go to them for permission to go to a party with unbelievers.

     The disquieting truth is that many Christians do indeed fall
into the trap of authoritarianism because of an inclination
toward the black-and-white mentality that abusive churches cater
to. If you have the type of personality that is drawn toward
groups that offer wraparound security and solutions to all your
problems, you are vulnerable to spiritual abuse. If you value
your spiritual autonomy, you must resist any teaching that brings
into question Christ's role as the sole mediator (go-between)
between God and humankind. No Christian is ever called upon to
give unquestioning obedience to anyone. Only Jesus Christ
deserves disciples.
     If you are a new convert, reaffirm the freedom that
characterizes the new life in Christ. Ironically, exmembers of
Set Free Fellowship have an expression: "We've cut loose from Set
Free." They found themselves in bondage rather than true freedom,
subjected to spiritual infantilism and dependency rather than
growth. However attractive and upbeat the group in question may
at first appear to be, follow the example of the diligent Bereans
who "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said
was true" (Acts 17:11).

(Oh friends around the world. What a blessing [used rightly] you
have today in the Internet. You can read your Bible, study your
Bible right there in your chair, on a rock, sitting in the sand,
under a tree, out in a boat on a lake, at the top of a mountain,
wherever. Then you can go to the Internet and find who is
teaching and preaching the truth of God's word. You have my
Website and others that are co-workers with me, their Websites,
and you never have to meet me or them. You are free in every way
today, free to find God's truth, free to live it, and free from
organizations of men. You are free from ever having to email me,
phone me, write to me, just free to be fully free from contact in
any way with God's true servants. You can, if you like, just live
your Christian life and God's way, all alone. And I know some of
you have no choice but to be alone, as there are few true
Christians near you. But you can still be just as much a part of
the body of Christ as those who are in a position to fellowship
with others in a personal way - Keith Hunt)

     The discerning Christian must also beware of the trap of
legalism. We have seen numerous examples throughout this book of
how life-style rigidity and the keeping of a set of rules can
stifle spiritual liberty and encourage abuse. Preoccupation with
keeping Christian rules enhances guilt feelings in members, and
it acts as an effective control mechanism for power abusers.
"Legalism is never corrective church discipline. For legalism
pulls us away from following Christ toward another gospel,
another gospel that says the cross is not enough."

(Now, if those who say "the cross is enough" mean you are free to
"do your own thing" - free to NOT keep the commandments of God,
then they like maybe you are NOT reading the Bible, not reading
every word of it; not doing as Jesus said we should: living by
every word that comes from the mouth of God [Mat.4:4]. And while
I'm mentioning God's commandments, you may like to buy Tara
Chapman's new book on the "Ten Commandments - the law of
Liberty." You can find it on  - Keith Hunt)

     Another quality that can lead to abusive behavior in a
church is the tendency toward isolationism, a conscious effort to
limit input from outside the church - in other words, information
control. Beware of the church where outside speakers are
consistently denied access to the pulpit, and where other
Christian churches are regularly denounced, belittled, or
ridiculed. Competing authority figures, whether from within or
without the church walls, are rarely welcomed in abusive
churches. No one can measure up to their exalted standards. In
the words of Marie Kolasinski (see chapter 6), "Ninety-nine
percent of the people who profess to be Christians are really
enemies of the cross."

(Wow, and that is quite the true statement, though Marie
Kolasinski probably does not realize the full truth of the matter
as she stated it. Jesus said His flock would be the "very little
flock" as the Greek has it, and they would be the salt of the
earth, scattered here and there. Truly I say to you, true
Christianity is as the salt on a meal, and that should relate how
little there is of it in the world - Keith Hunt)

     It is my opinion, based on extensive research and informal
observation, that authoritarian leaders are ecclesiastical
loners. That is, they do not function well or willingly in the
context of systematic checks and balances. They are fiercely
independent and refuse to be part of a structure of
accountability. To put it crudely, they operate a one-man (or
one-woman) spiritual show. And God help the person who gets in
the way or makes waves. Yes, sometimes they will point to a board
of elders or its equivalent, but more likely than not, this turns
out to be a faithful inner circle of clones that implicitly
accepts all that the leader sets forth.

(My oh my what a truth! One man shows like HWA had and even his
son Garner Ted [whem he founded his organization] had puppet
"boards" who really were the "yes men" the "rubber stamp" men of
the one man in charge - Keith Hunt)

     As we have seen, another sign of impending trouble in a
church is an obsession with discipline and excommunication.
Beware of churches that warn of certain doom if you leave their
"covering," or if you "break covenant." Once banished from the
group, little compassion is shown the wayward one. An
overwhelming majority of the ex-members I have interviewed
expressed the opinion that abusive leaders are cold, almost
cruel, in their treatment of people who leave - whether that
departure was voluntary or involuntary. Almost without exception
they report that the leadership made no attempt at reconciliation
and made no effort to heal the wounds inflicted. Instead,
defectors are held up to the congregation as warnings to
potential "sowers of discord." As the leader of one small group
in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the Church of Our First Love,
was quoted as saying, "Anyone who hinders the work I do, God will
remove him."
     Once he had decided to seek his spiritual food outside the
Boston Movement, a former member of that group says he

     experienced the full force of friendly persuasion, peer
     pressure, righteous indignation, and eventually a form of
     "shunning," where one exists, but for all intents and
     purposes is "dead" in the eyes of the brothers and sisters.
     To leave the Boston Church of Christ - even to leave for
     another congregation of the Church of Christ - was not a
     recognized option; to leave was a weak, sinful thing to do,
     tantamount to opting for perdition.

     He adds, "Not once did I ever hear from a member of the
Boston Church of Christ again."

(And sad to say, this is very true of abusive churches. This
should be ringing bells loud and hard in the minds of those who
went through the WCG experience under HWA, from about after 1967,
when Armstrong's wife Loma died, and there was no longer a check
on the man's vanity and ego. The practice of WRONG "marking" and
WRONG "disfellowshipping" was brutally carried out with more
power as each year went on till the death of HWA. For the truth
on the subject of "Disfellowshipping" see my study on my Website
- Keith Hunt)

     A sure sign that a church is headed for the fringe is when
family relationships are significantly disrupted and the
leadership encourages the severing of ties with relatives outside
of the group. "Be prepared to switch your loyalty from your
natural family to God's family," advises Marie Kolasinski of the
Body of Christ Fellowship. "Those blood ties are filthy rags unto
God. So if you are experiencing great upheaval in your
well-ordered natural family, BE OF GOOD CHEER." When a Christian
is asked to sacrifice family relationships for church loyalty,
it's time to bail out. In abusive-church situations, the
"spiritual family" often displaces the biological family, and
church leaders assume the role of surrogate parents. Prior to his
departure from the Great Commission International in 1988, Jim
McCotter, the group's founder, is said to have usurped "the very
authority of parents over these young people" by allowing
youthful "elders" to exercise greater influence in the lives of
the young adults than did their own parents.
     On the day after Mother's Day, 1991, two young members of
Set Free Christian Fellowship, one of them the pastor's
daughter-in-law, telephoned their Christian mothers to tell them
they never wanted to see or hear from them again, in part because
they (the mothers) had expressed their concerns about Set Free to
newspaper reporters and to the author of this book. When one of
those mothers and her husband later dropped off presents for
grandchildren they were not permitted to visit, Pastor Phil
Aguilar's son filed charges of trespassing with the local police
- against his own in-laws. The gifts were returned to the
grandparents in a large carton along with a note that read, "No

(Let me be as BLUNT as I can be: You NEVER have to break ties
with your family members when you become a true Christian. Oh
they may not like your way of life and your practices and customs
you have now moved into as you see the truth of God's word. But
YOU can still do it right; YOU can explain with LOVE, why you
have become this follower of Christ and what the Bible teaches.
You do not have to preach or write a sermon to them. In loving
and kind words, you can explain to them your new life. You can
tell them you still love them dearly; you can tell them you still
want them in your life; you still want to visit them, and they
visit you. Be loving and tender, as you do this, be as Jesus said
as wise as a serpent but as harmless as a dove. As the apostle
Paul was inspired to write as much as is in YOU, you try to live
peaceably with everyone. And if indeed anyone tells you
differently, you need to pack your Bible under your arm and get
as far away from them as possible - Keith Hunt) 

     When an evangelical church institutes a surveillance system
and encourages its members to keep close tabs on one another,
it's time to look for another church. A former member of the
Boston Movement describes a scenario common to most abusive

     Everyone's Christian life was under scrutiny by someone,
     assigned by some level of authority; each member was
     confronted with observed faults, issued counsel, and
     followed up; each was encouraged to know the true state of
     his own soul, its sins and weaknesses, and to confess these
     openly and honestly to others who have ministry and
     authority over him.

(Yes again, you ex WCGers should well know what this was all
about, as it became everyday practice to "keep an eye on others"
and "report concerns" - an open but secret spy-agency, where
everyone was spying on everyone. It all started from about 1967
and forward in the WCG under HWA. I was there I speak from being
one of the leading men in our local congregation. I speak from
first hand experience. And such an attitude in any church
organization is not only DISGUSSING it is SATANTIC!! - 
Keith Hunt)

     The warning lights should register when a mainstream
Christian church begins to show signs of an unhealthy elitism.
This characteristic is related to the isolationist attitude I
discussed earlier and is well illustrated by another example from
the Boston Movement. A former member speaks of the Boston Church
of Christ:

     setting itself in bold, confrontational opposition to
     everyone not directly affiliated with itself ... Access to
     this elite community is through the narrow gate of a baptism
     that is at once the product of an intensive "cost counting"
     process that results in a fully conscious subjection of
     one's entire self, as a repentant sinner, to Jesus'
     Lordship, a lifelong commitment to needs of the Body, and
     absolute obedience to the leaders of the movement.

(I've related to you how, years afer leaving the WCG, God led me
to turn on the TV on a Sunday [which I rarely do until evening]
and flip the channels, and at that very time of flipping I hit a
station that was carrying HWA and the WCG TV program; and it was
at that second the WCG threw up a chart for worldwide viewers to
see - the name at the top was "God the Father" the name
underneath was "Jesus Christ" and the name under Jesus' name was
"Herbert W. Armstrong." The pinical of elitism blasphemy. God the
Father wanted me to see this with my own eyes - Keith Hunt)

     To the average Christian person reading this book, the
examples of pastoral abuse and spiritual exploitation should
represent a patent breach of biblical teaching. You may even feel
that the abusive practices described in these pages appear to be
far removed from the world of conventional churchgoers, and, it
is hoped, they are.
     Yet, I am convinced that tendencies toward abusive styles of
leadership are more prevalent than most Christians realize. If we
are honest with ourselves, we might admit that at least the
potential for authoritarianism may exist in some of our own

     I will discuss the problem and the challenge that this
represents in the concluding chapter, but allow me to comment
briefly here on a troublesome trend I see in the evangelical
community today. It seems that we have a need to create
evangelical gurus, Christian celebrities, super-pastors in
megachurches, and miscellaneous other "teachers" and "experts"
that we place on pastoral pedestals. What is it about people,
including evangelicals, that explains this apparent need for
authority figures, the need to have someone cosign for our lives?
As David Gill noted years ago:

     We want heroes! We want reassurance that someone knows what
     is going on in this mad world. We want a father or a mother
     to lean on. We want revolutionary folk heroes who will tell
     us what to do until the rapture. We massage the egos of
     these demagogues and canonize their every opinion. We accept
     without a whimper their rationalizations of their errors and

     Christians, as well as other members of society, live in a
culture that is rapidly changing and confusing. Many experience
real insecurities and are attracted to organizations and churches
that offer systematic approaches and clear-cut answers to life's
problems. For people who come from dysfunctional families, or who
have lacked structure in their lives, authoritarian churches are
a haven, a womb of security. It is sometimes comforting to have
others make decisions for you, tell you how to live, and tell you
what to believe.
     As James I. Packer reminds us in "Christianity Today," the
evangelical world is plagued by "the personality cult." We, the
mainstream evangelical public, elevate certain individuals to
virtual infallibility. "On issue after issue people reason thus:
Billy Graham / Martyn Lloyd-Jones / John Wimber / John Stott /
Chuck Swindoll / Elisabeth Elliot / R. C. Sproul / (write in here
your own preferred authority) says it; I believe it; that settles
it. "

     In our homes, in our churches, and in our programs of
Christian education, we must strive to cultivate critical,
discerning minds if we are to avoid the tragedy of churches that


It is so true, the human mind, human nature likes to have a hero,
and when it comes to Christian religion, and Bible study and
reading, human nature tends also to be LAZY! "Oh let the full
time paid minister/priest tell me what God says, that's their
work, that's what we pay them to do is it not." That attitude is
all too common. And so personal Bible reading and study .... 
"Well, I've got too much to do, my work, my family, my sports
club activities, my favorite TV program, my surfing the Internet,
my emailing to friends and family, this appointment, and that
appointment .... oh just way too busy to stop and study my Bible.
And to take a day of rest and worship God and study His word ...
my that was for the dark ages; I'll go to church, but after that
I'm just too busy once more, ain't got enough hours in the week
to do all I want and need to do." This is another modern attitude
of our fast-space-age world.
So it's no wonder Jesus said that religious DECEPTION would be so
STRONG in the last days before He returned, that IF it was
possible even the elect would be deceived. But thank the Lord the
elect cannot be deceived. I pray you are one of those elect.

Keith Hunt 

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