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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: January 25, 2011 03:22AM

Archbishop Laud:

See [www.culteducation.com]

Another view of cults is based upon group structure and dynamics, rather than doctrinal issues.

Certain psychological themes which recur in these various historical contexts also arise in the study of cults. Cults can be identified by three characteristics:

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Also see [www.culteducation.com]

Some practical "warning signs" regarding a potentially unsafe group.


1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.

4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".

9. The group/leader is always right.

10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: Archbishop Laud ()
Date: January 25, 2011 04:02AM

Dear rrmoderator

I am impressed that you should take the trouble to respond to my post, and so quickly. I would beg to maintain, however, that the definition of a cult must centrally include doctrine. It cannot be a matter of group dynamics alone. If not, you will not be able to distinguish between an excessively controlling church, such as Struthers Memorial Church or the Close Brethren, and, say, the Mormons. 'Struthers Memorial Church is an excessively controlling church, but not a cult' is a meaningful--and in my view, true--proposition. Many churches, organisations, employers, corporations, political parties, etc, are too controlling, have charismatic leaders, etc, but they are not helpfully categorised as cults.

Archbishop Laud

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: January 25, 2011 04:27AM

Archbishop Laud:

The definition offered is based upon behavior not belief.

It is actually the most commonly accepted definition.

A group may be unorthodox, eccentric and not traditional in its beliefs and yet not be a "cult."

The key defining element is a living leader that is absolute and totalitarian, he or she lacks any meaningful accountability and ultimately becomes the defining element of the group.

A group might be an aberrational Christian group from a doctrinal perspective, but not have such an absolute leader controlling, dominating and defining everything.

For example Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, which once had such leaders, but no longer do, might have once been considered "cults." Today they lack that key defining element, though they remain outside of Christianity doctrinally.

Other groups may appear doctrinally correct, but when more closely examined based upon the criteria previously cited, could be "cults."

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: seekingsusan ()
Date: January 25, 2011 06:53AM

Quote
Archbishop Laud

I would beg to maintain, however, that the definition of a cult must centrally include doctrine. It cannot be a matter of group dynamics alone. If not, you will not be able to distinguish between an excessively controlling church, such as Struthers Memorial Church or the Close Brethren, and, say, the Mormons.

The word "Heresy" is more appropriate to what you are referring to. This is where christians get to demarcate doctrine considered unorthodox or "in error".

I think rrmoderator has it basically right and the key thing is that a church can exhibit cult-like attributes even if it might pass all the standard evangelical doctrinal tests.

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: ThePetitor ()
Date: January 25, 2011 03:50PM

Archbishop Laud, welcome to the group! It is good to hear of others who have also come through the Struthers experience. I have to say I really do find it very helpful every time someone contributes to this forum. It has been quite difficult at times over the years not knowing what others think, and whether I am alone in my experience. After so many years, it is really quite encouraging to know that others saw/ see some of the issues I saw. Even the contribution from a current member was positive, as it helped confirm that I had not misunderstood the practice and unshakable belief in the Leaders, not in God, was the core belief.

That brings me onto the debate about what is meant by a cult and the issues of heresy. I agree with seekingsusan that "wrong" doctrine is heresy rather than cultish behaviour. That said, I think the two are very closely linked. If you look at the warning signs above, you will see that they create a situation where heresy cannot be questioned.

I do not know too much about them, but it seems to me this applies to organisations like the Mormons which are very controlling and preach what most of us would consider is heresy. What you find is that, where some parts of the organisation begin to understand the need to allow people to think for themselves, individual mormons start to question the doctrine and move away from these beliefs. Being controlling is a licence to impose whatever bizarre beliefs the leadership choses, including in some cases the need to commit group suicide. Removing the control allows people to find God.

I think that Struthers does now preach heresy, especially that leaders should be believed in front of scripture. Examples like the abomination sermon referred to in earlier posts confirms that the leaders see themselves as able to overrule scripture. That is pretty heretical as far as I can see, and there are other very questionable practices such as the lack of any meaningful attempt to explain what they believe, the total contempt shown for ex-members, and the "head-in-sand avoidance of social and political issues" quoted above.

In terms of whether there is a "charismatic leader" the only thing I would question is whether it has to be a single person. If a group of people act collectively in such a way that there is no distinction between any of them, could they not collectively be described as a single leader? That seems pretty close to what is happening in Struthers.

Sorry, I have wittered on too long already, but I have to say I like the list of bullet points you raise Archbishop Laud. I certainly recognise each of them from my own experience. You mention a couple of things that had not been covered in earlier posts and are certainly worth bringing out into the open. I hope any current members reading your comments will think about their own experience and how it actually draws people away from a positive christian experience.

It is also good to be reminded of the list of warning signs for a cult. Seems to me Struthers is spot on with 8 at least, and the other two are there or thereabouts.

Some real challenges there for anyone trying to remain in Struthers!

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: ThePetitor ()
Date: January 25, 2011 04:39PM

One other thing I have been meaning to raise for a while. Does anyone know how many people with experiences of other churches stay in Struthers or leave Struthers?

Leaders aside, it seems from my experience that almost everyone who has any teenage/ adult experience of life in another church ends up leaving Struthers and almost everyone who has no experience of other churches ends up staying. Is anyone able to confirm this, either anecdotally or with actual numbers?

Seems to me that there is something wrong if the only people they can attract have nothing else to compare it to. "We are the best as long as you don't compare us with anyone else" seems a bit weak to me.

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: seekingsusan ()
Date: January 25, 2011 11:26PM

Quote
ThePetitor
One other thing I have been meaning to raise for a while. Does anyone know how many people with experiences of other churches stay in Struthers or leave Struthers?

Leaders aside, it seems from my experience that almost everyone who has any teenage/ adult experience of life in another church ends up leaving Struthers and almost everyone who has no experience of other churches ends up staying. Is anyone able to confirm this, either anecdotally or with actual numbers?

Seems to me that there is something wrong if the only people they can attract have nothing else to compare it to. "We are the best as long as you don't compare us with anyone else" seems a bit weak to me.

I think the question you raise is a very telling one.

I can see them responding that they DO compare themselves with other churches and judge those churches for being "lukewarm" in commitment and too "worldy". It is a small step from defining and then urging avoidance of sin to urging avoidance of the "world" - including "worldly" churches and christians. This leads to totally arbitrary pronouncements as to what kind of music, media etc is deemed "wholesome", along with hasty judgements on any members or outsiders who look or speak "different". I have experienced many cases of this idiocy at a personal level and in once case personally witnessed a long-time SM member physically assault a person close to me, who was confronting the member ( non-violently ) on matters arising from this kind of madness.

Rejecting any form of entertainment deemed "wordly" has historical precedence of course. In early church music, certain chords and intervals were considered demonic, simply because they sounded discordant to people at that time. Some churches, and even today if one includes the Taliban - even banned ANY music to be played, dancing, and to put an umbrella on it - anything that was create to give pleasure and enjoyment to its listeners or participants, as opposed to being a tool for worship. I recall an anecdote from a friend discussing his brethen aunt years ago - who once had to put up a visiting preacher for the night on a sunday. The pastor asked her if it was okay for him to have a bath. This was a major "dilemma" for the old lady, since she had always held the sabbath as a very holy day, and never bathed on it. But in the end she came pup with a compromise - she would allow the pastor to have a bath - on her words - "as long as you dont' enjoy it".

There is also something slightly Orwellian about this all. None of it done on purpose, but this makes no difference in my mind. It is indeed very often the case - that cultic behaviour arises quite slowly and systemically within what were once normal churches. Of course i;m not accusing SM of DELIBERATE manipulation is ( as far as i know anyway ) - instead cultic behaviour arises slowly and insidiously out of a church "culture" that discourages ANY kind of deviation from the leadership.

What is at play is a conflation of terms such as "commitment", "submission", "loss of self" with their meanings with reference to God - with the unstated and subliminal message of commitment, submission and loss of self with regard to SM and their leadership and doctrine.


Another one ( i asked this earlier ) is the question of whether people who stay unquestioningly within the SM church do so out of reasons to do with their own personality type and psychological makeup. I would appreciate any thoughts on this.

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: seekingsusan ()
Date: January 26, 2011 02:06AM

Quote
seekingsusan
Some churches, and even today if one includes the Taliban

Oops! clearly a blooper !.

replace that with - “Some churches, and in the muslim world - even some Afghan Taliban leadership”

Susan

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: ThePetitor ()
Date: January 26, 2011 10:16PM

Yes, I like the blooper.. doctrinal belief is generally considered important in the definition of a church, if not a cult! I think we understood.

In terms of comparing themselves with others, I think part of the problem is that they don't actually carry out this comparison at all. If I am right and almost all of those who remain in Struthers have no adult experience of other churches, they are not actually performing any comparison. What they are doing is believing what the leaders say about other churches, and what the leaders say is not based on experience either. What the leaders are therefore saying is that God has told them all other churches are rubbish without the need for them to actually set foot in one.

I am fairly sure that almost all of those who have actually experienced other churches, and have therefore been in a position to carry out any form of comparison, leave.

Leaders' statements about other churches being worldly or anything else are not therefore actual comparisons at all, they are simply unsubstantiated statements, and St Paul tells us to test these, not to accept them at face value.

In terms of whether those who stay do so because of any personality types etc, I am not sure I am in a position to answer. My experience was that there were the full variety of people - introvert and extrovert, confident or insecure and form very focussed to very laid back. Some were good academically, musically or at sport and others were not so good. Really nothing unusual that I spotted.

I think the thing that all did have in common was a genuine desire to make a difference, even if that meant self-sacrifice. In my book, that makes them really good people. It is really sad that their willingness to sacrifice themselves for others has become a sacrifice to make the leaders feel secure in their selfish isolation rather than being directed to doing any good in the world or in the Kingdom of God.

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Re: Struthers Memorial Independent Pentecostal Church
Posted by: Chesterk55 ()
Date: January 31, 2011 07:49PM

Quote from the Petitor
In terms of whether those who stay do so because of any personality types etc, I am not sure I am in a position to answer. My experience was that there were the full variety of people - introvert and extrovert, confident or insecure and form very focussed to very laid back. Some were good academically, musically or at sport and others were not so good. Really nothing unusual that I spotted.

I think the thing that all did have in common was a genuine desire to make a difference, even if that meant self-sacrifice. In my book, that makes them really good people. It is really sad that their willingness to sacrifice themselves for others has become a sacrifice to make the leaders feel secure in their selfish isolation rather than being directed to doing any good in the world or in the Kingdom of God.[/quote]



I would agree with this assessment by the Petitor. Over 30 years involvement with Struthers Memorial Church I have had a chance to observe a lot of people and form a view the type of people getting involved. Though Struthers membership has not grown noticably since the mid 1980's, those that do come in are drawn from a range of personality types.

But while there is no one type they attract initially many people comment on the changes they see resulting from long term involvement in Struthers Memorial Church. The persistent message over decades from the same few platform speakers is that the long term committed Christians of Struthers Memorial Church are failing God (in more and more hard to detect ways) because, despite 5 meetings a week and all their holidays given over to church camps, they are not doing enough "holiness". Not surprisingly this can have a corrosive effect on people. This change in people is alluded to in the first post on this discussion where Ohio asks about a dramatic negative personality change in her long term friend. This is not unusual. The regime tends to produce people who think they have to outwardly mirror the behaviours and attitudes of the leadership to be acceptable. If people have ambition to be in leadership themselves (or just want to emerge as approved by the leaders) they will also start to mirror their lifestyle and speech patterns. In most healthy non Struthers churches you might expect some difference between the lifestyles of the pastorate and that of the members but in Struthers in many cases they go to the same number of services, pray publicly and in the agreed mode of language at each one (often in the same order), hold to the same belief that their mystic spirituality is special in the Christian world and dress alike as long as it always remains 20 years out of date. Sadly, it is also sometimes the case that people confuse putting God first with putting leader pleasing and 100% meetings attendance ahead of building healthy, Godly marriages. As might be expected some people can only manage to maintain this outward show with the support of pills and anti-depressants. This might be because the promised spiritual breakthrough in life the leaders claim will happen if you can maintain this holiness activity seems to never arrive for any but a well connected few.

I suppose you could argue that the personality types which remain are the ones least likely to intelligently question this situation.

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