Tag Archives: Religious Abuse and power

Religious Bondage – Behavior Control

Religious Bondage – Behavior Control

Religious Abuse (Narrated Powerpoint) is the foundation upon which many religious leaders and organizations build their empires. Yet, many people do not understand what Religious Abuse involves. Members of cults and cult-like organizations will use their influence and power to ruin any victim that speaks out about the religious abuses that they have endured. As a cult survivor that spent more than 18 years in an abusive fundamentalist Baptist cult, I will summarize  the chart below based on the experiences I have had to deal with personally while in the cult and, while helping other victims of religious abuse. Though it is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around these facts, it is vital that everyone understand that RELIGIOUS ABUSE ( Link to “Religious Abuse: What Exactly Is It?”) is real, it’s dangerous and, it can be deadly. Religious bondage is the product of  Thought Reform, Information Control and Behavior Modification and, leads to abuse.

To explain this phenomenon that so few know anything about, I would like to break it down and keep it simple. I will call it, “Religious Freedom vs. Religious Bondage.” There are three parts to religious bondage as stated above. I will cover each part separately in three different articles.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM vs. RELIGIOUS BONDAGE

Religious Freedom allows an individual to be who they are meant to be as an autonomous human being. They are free to develop their own beliefs, standards, likes, dislikes, hairstyles, clothing styles, ways of doing things, etc. They are allowed the freedom to choose their education and career field. Religious freedom allows for equality between men and women. It also allows them to be the best that they can be for themselves, their families, others and God. But, Religious Bondage leads to inequality; which in turn, leads to emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, incest, rape, mind control and manipulation, hatred and fear for those trapped in it.

Sounds a bit shocking to contrast the two, doesn’t it? These two types of “religion” are diametrically opposed and lead to very different results. One leads to freedom in Christ, balance, happiness and joy; the other leads to imbalances, fear, control, thought reform, behavior modification, abuse and destruction. What many do not realize is that they may be in religious bondage instead of enjoying religious freedom. This happens when bondage is all that a person has ever known (raised in it); or, when a person succumbs to being spoon-fed their beliefs, doctrines and standards. Some, having never experienced true freedom in Christ due to isolationism and extreme control within the system, fight within themselves against the transformation into that mirror image of the system. These are usually the ones that escape it later on – but not after suffering much abuse and trauma. Many others passively accept the rules, doctrines and standards and then become abusive toward those that do not accept them wholeheartedly. This can lead to hate crimes, stalking, harassment, character assassination, rape, sexual assault and/or trafficking, incest, physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and death for those that do not conform.

Let me break the first characteristic down into two different categories. Using Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two to show the Religious Bondage, I will compare this to my own model for Religious Freedom. At the end of this chart, I will then summarize.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM                                                      RELIGIOUS BONDAGE

FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

BEHAVIOR CONTROL

 No regulation of individual’s physical reality:

  • Choose one’s beliefs
  • Choose one’s friends
  • Choose clothing styles, hairstyles, etc.
  • Choose what to eat
  • Choose one’s career
  • Choose where to spend one’s money
  • Freedom to travel
  • Freedom to make own personal decisions
  • Freedom to set one’s own personal boundaries and standards
  • Critical reasoning skills can be exercised
  • No FEAR of retaliation for expressing opinions, thoughts and concerns
  • Autonomy allowed
  • No spoken or unspoken rules to be followed
  • Independence
 Regulation of individual’s physical reality:

  • Where, how and with whom the members live and associate with.
  • What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
  • What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
  • How much sleep the person is able to have
  • Financial dependence
  • Little or no time for leisure, entertainment or vacations.
  • Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
  • Need to ask permission for major decisions
  • Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors.
  • Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative)
  • Individualism is discouraged; group think prevails
  • Rigid rules and regulations
  • Need for obedience and dependency

(Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model from his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, chapter two)

My thoughts on Behavior Control:

Controlling a congregant’s time is key in controlling their behavior and modifying it (behavior modification).  Excessive demands on time “in the ministry” or “attendance to every meeting, service and event,” leads to passivity and the ignoring of abuses and reality. Peer pressure plays a HUGE part in behavior modification and is used to influence congregants toward group “rules” and “group think.” Those that fight against the rules will find themselves on the receiving end of punishment from the group. This could entail such things as shunning, public humiliation, gossip and slander,  until the person conforms.

normWhat any normal person would view as abuse becomes “normal” with each instance of it in an abusive environment.  For example: In the cult I came out of preachers used the pulpit to publicly attack, chastise and humiliate congregants that disagreed, believed differently or, questioned leadership and their doctrines. This IS emotional and psychological abuse; and, it instills fear of speaking out further against leadership.  The first time this is done, it is shocking, but as each occurrence of it happens, the gradualism of these attacks becomes normal and even okay in the mind of the congregants.  It is seen as “right” and necessary to keep the flock in line with God’s rules; which are usually nothing more than leadership’s rules and preferences.  Through this gradualism, the abuse becomes “normal” and congregants become blind to it. Because this abuse is seen as “normal” and “right,” it then is duplicated by congregants against others that disagree as they transition into positions of leadership.

Another example of abuse is toward victims that speak out about their abuse at the hands of leadership and others within the organization. Leadership, because it controls the congregation’s behavior, can rally their members together to:

  • Use their power and influence to affect a termination of employment, crippling a person financially.
  • Use local authorities to file bogus complaints and law suits against those that speak out in order to cause them emotional trauma and financial trauma.
  • Stalk victims that speak out or file criminal charges.
  • Harass victims that speak out via email, phone, social media and, through personal threats.
  • Influence other family members to shun the one speaking out.
  • Influence a spouse to divorce the one speaking out.
  • Influence children against the parent that speaks out.
  • Spread gossip and slander about the one speaking out.
  • Influence family members and others to do bodily harm to the one speaking out.

Those that allow their time to be controlled are the ones that are easily duped into believing the lies and twisted theologies taught from leadership. They are also the ones that rally to the side of the abusers in any given church instead of listening to and supporting sexual assault victims and other abuse victims.  Staying busy constantly interferes with critical reasoning skills, stunts spiritual growth and, results in thought and behavior reform. It leads to congregants being obedient, unthinking, “do as they are told” followers of leadership. Because of this, it also leads to blind loyalty to the system and its leadership instead of supporting those that step forward to report the abuse. Followers lose their ability to discern reality and truth; thus, believing the lies they are spoon fed by leadership. They will interpret scripture in light of what they are told by leadership; judging others as leadership dictates. They will be the pawns used in order to mete out attacks against those leadership tell them have falsely accused them or their church.  Facts of a situation then become irrelevant in the mind of the congregants and they will fight against those facts and the ones that present them. This leads to abuse as listed above and, even death to anyone that dares to go against the system or its leadership.

Behavior Control is dangerous. It leads to abuse of others. This facet of Religious Abuse must be recognized for what it is and members must flee those religious organizations that practice this in order to control and manipulate them.

Power, Money, Control and Religious Abuse

From the Author: Words cannot express how proud I am of my son for approaching the subject of Religious Abuse and sharing his perspective on it. This is his first time addressing the issue and, what is even more amazing is that he has allowed me the privilege of putting it on my blog so that others may be helped by it. His name is not on it because he has asked me not to put it on it. He is also the one that put together this presentation to help victims of religious abuse escape. I simply put my voice to it. So, here it is. Please be sure to adjust your volume on the presentation!

religious abuse

(Click to play)

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Introduction

Religious abuse is an evil which can be difficult to recognize and can lead to chronic depression, rape, intimidation, physical abuse, permanent emotional scarring, and even suicide. Corrupted church leaders of today can use their power and influence to control, extort money, manipulate, and sexually exploit their victims. The effects of religious abuse are vast, but the steps which can be taken to escape from them are not. When victims learn to identify signs of religious abuse in churches and realize that they have personal liberty, they can break free by leaving the abusive church immediately. Victims of religious abuse who completely cut ties and cease contact with the abusive church can recover what is left of their scarred lives.

Power, Money, Control, and Religious Abuse

            A dangerous, well disguised evil is sweeping across American churches like a dark beast of destruction, which preys on the lives of even the most devout. It is an evil which is most difficult to recognize, at first, and can lead to chronic depression, rape, intimidation, physical abuse, permanent emotional scarring, and even suicide. Some might argue that this evil originates from the very Devil himself, an attempt to destroy that which is seen by many as holy and pure – the church. This evil comes in the form of religious abuse and can be brought to life through corrupted church leaders in power, monetary greed, and demand for total control of people’s lives; escaping victims must learn to recognize the warning signs, be aware of their personal liberty, and take immediate action to leave the abusive situation.

What could cause such destruction in a person’s life? It’s simple; the impression of absolute power and authority supposedly given by the bible or Jesus can cause almost anyone tempted to become corrupted by it. Once that individual in power decides to abuse the “biblical authority” given to them, believers can become trapped under its rule. There are many ways that victims become trapped under this oppression, but according to David Johnson, two of the main reasons are “they are literally powerless to leave,” perhaps like children born into it, or “because the spiritually abusive system [itself] is a trap” (1991, p. 54). This may be difficult for those who haven’t experienced it to understand, but the cycle of abuse can look something like this: “Out loud shaming, focus on performance, manipulation, idolatry, preoccupation with fault and blame, and obscured reality” (Johnson & VanVonderen, 1991, p. 56-58). Once a person submits to the “authority” of an oppressive church leader, their own sense of personal liberty can be replaced with a sense to obey the “rules” and not to question what is said.

In some positions, a religious leader can become additionally motivated by monetary greed. With the cycle of abuse already in place, they use manipulation in their teachings to convince their victims to give exorbitant amounts of money towards their religious cause or even a personal salary; often attempting to bring guilt on those who do not (McClaskey, 2012, p. 106). Some victims are required to hand over more than 10% of their gross monthly income plus an extra equal or greater margin for regular “gifts” to the leadership, as tokens of their servitude or “commitment” to the organization (McClaskey, 2012, p. 75). This money is often used to build the personal wealth of the leader and to fund the church, continuing the cycle of abuse.

Corrupted power and monetary greed are directly related to a leader’s obsession with having total control over his victims. This begins with a church leader’s power and usurping the authorities they claim were given to them by the Bible, Jesus, or some other religious authority. Victims become convinced their leader has the authority to control them. The control doesn’t stop within the walls of the church; it often “infiltrates into the homes of their believers, with their strange doctrines and rules” (McClaskey, 2012, p. 36). Victims are intimidated, threatened, or in some cases physically beaten into submission (children, teens or spouses) if they don’t comply with the church leader’s rules (McClaskey, 2012, p. 56). Group conformity and total submission to the church “system” are ideas that are not allowed to be questioned in these abusive situations – questioning might lead victims to break free. In many cases, victims who escape are verbally attacked and scorned in front of the church; they lose all group interaction, including immediate family support. Many victims still feel the far reaching, abusive arms of control many years after escaping them. It is this corrupted power, greed and control within the abusive church system which leads to even worse damage in a victim’s life.

Religious abuse can also directly affect other areas of a victim’s wellbeing. If victims believe the abusive teachings, they can have a distorted view of God and spiritual ideas; thereby inadvertently abusing others themselves, like their own children. This often ushers in emotional abuse also; where love and trust can be based upon one’s loyalty to the church or its rules. Paranoia becomes constant, fear of being humiliated or punished is endless, and the pressure to perform and not fail is elevated (Johnson & VanVonderen, 1991, p. 73-77). Sexual abuse is another factor which often associates with religious abuse. A church leader with total control of his victims can easily manipulate them into rationalizing his sexual assault, rape, or exploitation. Sexual exploitation is one of the most common abuses linked to religious cult-like organizations across America (Lalich, 1996, p. 4). Emotional and sexual abuse, along with distorted thinking could eventually lead a victim to consider suicide as an escape, thus multiplying the destructiveness of religious abuse.

How can victims of religious abuse escape? First, they must learn to recognize signs of abuse within a church. David Johnson lists some signs as “power posturing, performance preoccupation, unspoken rules, lack of balance, paranoia, misplaced loyalty, and secrecy” (1991, p. 63-78). Some abusive churches are initially very friendly and appealing, that is also why their trap is effective. Victims often rationalize their abuse, so recognizing that it’s ongoing is vital. Second, recognize that the Religious control is based upon submission of those who believe in it; thus victims must understand their true personal liberty, and that they really don’t have to put up with the abuse. The final step is to break free from the abusive church, including everyone associated with it who could still affect the victim. Victims should completely and immediately separate from every area of interaction with the church. The victim should note that any attempt to change the church is usually futile. Attaining total separation will initiate a healing process.

Once on the outside, victims may immediately begin to recognize the traits of abusive churches. This can empower them to break the cycle of destructive control in their lives and begin to recover from commonly reported experiences such as chronic depression, rape, fear, physical abuse, permanent emotional scarring, and even suicidal thoughts (Lalich, 2013). Victims who have broken free also become some of the best people to help others escape abuse. Escape is one of the most difficult and painful actions that victims can take, but the freedom, healing, and fulfillment that comes afterward is worth more than money could ever buy.

In conclusion, religious abuse is more widespread than one may think. In 1996, there were over 5,000 religious cults in America with more than 185,000 new recruits reported annually (Lalich, 1996, p. 1). If victims are attentive enough to see the warning signs present in an abusive church and they understand that they don’t have to submit to abuse, they can escape and eventually heal from it. The dark, evil beast of religious abuse can be defeated, but only if its tactics and weapons are understood. There are many thousands today who are becoming new victims. When will it ever end?

References

Johnson, D., & VanVonderen, J., 1991. The subtle power of spiritual abuse: Recognizing and escaping spiritual manipulation and false spiritual authority within the church. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

Lalich, J. (1996). Dominance and Submission: The Psychosexual Exploitation of Women in Cults. Cultic Studies Journal, 14 (1). Retrieved from http://cultresearch.org/pdf/csj14-1.pdf

Lalich, J. (2013). The Violent Outcomes of Ideological Extremism: What Have We Learned Since Jonestown? Retrieved from http://cultresearch.org/2009/10/the-violent-outcomes-of-ideological-extremism-what-have-we-learned-since-jonestown/

McClaskey, C., 2012. Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the church that lead to bondage and abuse. Bloomington, IN: Author House.