Evangelical church disturbingly reminded me of Landmark
Date: September 05, 2012 06:30AM
I last posted 2 years ago after I escaped the world of Landmark. I did the first 2 courses & the 10 part seminar and one day of SELP before I fled in genuine terror.
This Sunday I attended the baptism of my godson and by the end of the service I couldn't wait to leave. It felt just like a Landmark seminar. I thought it would be interesting to list the similarities and why. I'm also quite disturbed again by the experience and wonder how much to tell my friends of my concerns. Writing this for you all might help with that too.
I'm not a Christian but throughout my schooling from ages 5 - 18 I attended Church of England school assemblies and church services for Christmas and Easter. I enjoyed the singing, some of the stories and the sense of community. Whilst I chose not to join the faith I valued the sense of cultural belonging that it gave me. And even now I go to carol services and participate with a genuine heart, as I find the experience moving.
My friends are not practicing Christians either and I'm not sure why they chose this church to attend. I've now discovered from the church's website that they call themselves a Self Empowered Ministry, a Compassionate Mission, "a transforming presence at the heart of our community."
Argh, that word - transformation! Yet another red flag for me.
When we arrived I noticed a large banner proclaiming this church's link with the Alpha Course. That made a little uneasy but at that point I only had a vague memory of a documentary on Alpha that I'd watched about 10 years go.
The service began with prayers for some teenagers who were going off to university. The teenagers had to come up on stage, along with any adults who wanted to stand for them. Everybody on stage laid their hands on the teenagers and after the curate's prayer, some of the adults also offered highly personal prayers for them.
At the time I thought this was a kind gesture and in a spirit of caring, I offered my silent prayers to their future.
In hindsight this reminds me of a landmark session which always begins with personal testimonies from the group to draw us in and to believe what we are about to hear.
As soon as the curate started speaking, using a hands free head mic, I was reminded of my Landmark Seminar leader. Not in appearance but in age, energy and zeal. I learned later that after he'd met his wife (already a member of this church) he gave up his career as a surgeon to become a minister of this mission. That sound familiar to any ex-Landmarkians??
We then had a hymn accompanied by a rock band which I had never heard before. This made me uncomfortable because I could not connect this with the CofE I'd grown up in. I felt detached from this world.
On reflection I think the use of unfamiliar music is to bind its followers to their brand of Christianity and detach them from other churches, rather than to simply modernise.
Then some children danced. Very sweet and all that. Again that keeps our hearts open to what we're about to hear.
The baptism followed next. My friend had warned us not to call it a christening. I learned afterwards that is because a christening is seen as a middle class ritual. But the church was only full with middle class people!!
The baptism was a simple question and response ceremony. But when my friend had to hand over her 6 month old baby I felt scared. I hadn't quite made the full Landmark connection at this point though. I think it was because it hadn't expected that. I had assumed that the parents held the child when the holy water was poured on him. I suppose if you are giving your child to the Church then you need to symbolically hand them over. My fear may have only been caused by my misunderstanding but i didn't like it.
Their son was very contented and apparently looked up after the water was poured on him as if he'd received the Holy Spirit. I was told this by adoring grandmother. My view was blocked by the curate's back.
The rest of the service was a mixture of rock hymns, prayers/readings from lay members, parish notices (boy to they have a lot of groups to attend) and two very long sermons about converting others to Jesus. The curate and the vicar were Charismatic speakers. They also use their own bible which they call 'the blue book." What's wrong with usual one, I ask?
Oh yes, they brought up on stage a young couple who told us, very vaguely, about their home study groups which keep growing. "we don't know why" they said, "we eat a lot of cake." This sounded very Landmarkian to me. Just like introduction nights and seminars.
Two of the speakers (the first lay member and the vicar) told us their ideas had came either when awaking from sleep or a from dream. And from what I've already learned from this website, I decided that they're appealing to our subconscious. Both speeches were very cleverly constructed and definitely not ad lib. By the time the vicar spoke at the end, I was seriously wishing I could walk out. And I made myself not listen as soon as he mentioned his dream.
As the morning wore on the parallels with Landmark grew in my mind. The slick speeches with plenty of personal anecdotes and above all the importance of enrolment to being a true Christian. This was the first time I'd heard this in a church context but I was very familiar with it from Landmark.
And they advertised a book by Rick Warren, the cover of which could be for a Tony Robbins or a Wayne Dyer book or any of those new agers. I'd not heard of him but I didn't like the look of the book at all.
When the collection baskets reached the front, full of money in envelopes, the vicar and the curate said a prayer over the money that we couldn't hear. Another hymn was taking place at this point. Probably nothing sinister but it made me uncomfortable.
It was ice cream Sunday that week but by the end of the service I knew I wouldn't want any. Luckily we didn't hang around and left.
Apart from the parents none of our party had attended this church before. They all thought it was great, if a little long. They liked the music and child friendly atmosphere. I kept my reservations to myself as I didn't want to spoil a special day. The dad, an atheist, doesn't like them though and grumbled, "I don't like how they say, if anyone does anything well, it was Jesus who did it and not them."
I've since spent a lot of time researching both the Alpha Course and Rick Warren on line. None of it makes me feel any better about my experience.
Alpha is linked to the New Agers, and Toronto Blessing church and the concept of speaking in tongues. I have two thoughts on that. Alpha course runs a 10 part seminar with weekend away where the speaking on tongues takes place. Depending on how its done, it sounds like the waking hypnosis trick of "the fear" game used by Landmark. It occurs around week 7 out of ten. cf. the Landmark Forum and the 10 week seminars which follow.
The main hostility to Alpha online comes from orthodox Christians who say that the bible is being watered down and they are Satanists who are infiltrating their church. Alphas are making it more palatable to non-Christians to get recruits but it won't lead to true salvation. As a non Christian this is meaningless to me. And harmony between faiths is good thing to my ear. But if their true aim is to make money, like Landmark, then I'm against their approach. I haven't found much on how they raise money but i'm sure they do.
I'm unclear about how open Alpha are to dissenting views with the seminar groups. Some participants have said its very soft, no pressure, no phone calls etc, with lots of smiles and caring. aka love bombing. Another atheist said he was disappointed at how little the other participants questioned what they were told. And he was taken off to be in a group of one when he did.
They do seem to rely on the charismatic leader approach and have famous followers like Tony Blair. And are endorsed by the mainstream church. I'm guessing because their congregations are growing again. And it looks as if the Christian church is modernising and unifying.
Rick Warren sounds even more disturbing. He hides his homophobia when preaching in the US but supports the Ugandans' terrible views on homosexuality. That disturbed me very much. I found a very interesting Youtube talk by Jeff Scharlet on this. Warren is also closely linked in his beliefs with Robert Schuller, another of these televangeslists and not considered a real Christian by the more orthodox.
Warren also has a plan for World Peace. And that is what I heard throughout my time at Landmark. If everyone used the Landmark technology we could achieve peace in the Middle East, etc...
Two thoughts to end with. My friend is thinking of going to this church until her son is five. She repeated to us all an earlier sermon on forgiveness and cancelling the debt which had impressed her. At the time I thought it reminded me of Landmark technology - like the way you can restore your integrity.
Then I found the sermon she heard as a podcast on the Church's website, heard it and it is a genuine parable from Matthew 18 which I wasn't familiar with. I've read the original text as well and I think the preacher simplified the original but it does involve the metaphor of cancelling a debt to symbolise genuine forgiveness. So now I wonder, am I over reacting to all this?
My second thought is that I came away thinking that this group are dangerous. They want to take us over and separate us from the rest of the world and only deal with other missionary Christians. That is really why they've changed all the hymns and use very little scripture, rely on charismatic speakers, hypnotic sermons and have all these subgroups to join. They even have one for children that is from 0 - 3 yr olds!
In all my years of CofE services I have never felt that suffocating demand before. Only at Landmark and it feels wrong to me. I have a strong moral code and value the magnificence and mystery of the Earth. What is behind it I don't know. However, my Landmark experience has left me feeling that all religion involves a level of brainwashing/indoctrination and for that reason I distrust any faith.
Do I tell my friend ? Or let it lie? My friend is only paying lip service to this for her son's future education. But could she get sucked in? Has my Landmark experience scarred me? or should I tell her to run?
I do value my CofE experience as it was sincere and not overwhelming. I like the idea of that continuity with a long tradition and the sense of community it gave me. But this version of Christianity frightens me.