Unhealthy churches, abusive churches, cults, etc., all use similar methods of indoctrination designed to eliminate individual thinking and foster dependence on the group or its leaders. Martin De Haan II, in How to Identify a Dangerous Religious Group, enumerates some of these coercive persuasion techniques:
- ISOLATION: Members are isolated from family and friends. Information, via the print and electronic media, is screened in order to filter out any opposing points of view.
At I.A.A. any family or friends that are not part of the church are strictly taboo. In the wake of some bad publicity in one of the local papers, there had been some relaxing of this particular prohibition. However, there is still little contact between church and non-church family members, and what contact exists is only superficial. Often times, a church member who visits a non-church family member will be accompanied by another member of the church to act as a “body guard”.
Families have been destroyed by this isolationism. In some cases, family outside of the church have not seen their sons or daughters, parents, siblings or grandchildren for months, or even years.
I.A.A. members are told which books and magazines to read, which movies or videos to watch, what type of music to listen to, and what radio stations are all right to tune into (Christian broadcasting is especially forbidden).
- PEER GROUP PRESSURE: Members are subject to intense persuasion by group members.
At I.A.A., much of this pressure to conform in thought or behavior takes place in the context of a group setting. Anytime that an individual expresses a thought that is contrary to what is being taught by church leaders, or asks a question that would tend to throw doubt on those teachings, he is confronted in front of his whole group, and must endure a barrage of verbal abuse. Sometimes private meetings are held with the church leaders and the “offender”. These meetings get particularly verbal, and may even include a phone call from Deb Hovland or Ruth Kellogg. These are extremely intimidating, and always result in the ultimatum of getting your act together and conforming or leaving (turning your back on God) and suffering the eternal consequences.
- REMOVAL OF PRIVACY: Members are allowed very little time alone to collect and discover their own thoughts.
At I.A.A., virtually every waking moment that is not spent at work (or school) is spent either at the church, with other group members, or on some type of church outing or activity. Any thoughts that you do have, you are encouraged to put down in a journal. At one time, journals were mandatory and had to be turned in weekly to the group leaders.
- SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND FATIGUE: A person’s resistance is broken down by long meetings and extended work hours.
This is extremely evident at I.A.A. where, as I mentioned earlier, virtually every waking hour is spent in group activities or in “volunteering” to help with something out at the church. Sundays, which God has ordained to be a day of worship and rest, are among the busiest days at I.A.A. Sundays are packed with activities and meetings that often go late into the night. Failure to be involved in these activities and meetings would be indicative of “self”, not Jesus, being in control.
- MIND CONTROL: Members are conditioned to stop thinking and to accept without question the revelations and doctrines of their leaders.
Take, for example, Ruth’s’ letter dated May, 1992. This was three months after the church split, relatively early in the “new walk”. This 14 page letter was written to address a number of complaints that church members had about the answers that they were receiving to their questions. (By this point in the walk, petitioning God directly with our needs had been replaced by writing our questions down and turning them into our group leaders who would funnel them to Ruth Kellogg and Deb Hovland, who in turn would receive the answers from God for us. Ruth had this to say to those who were complaining about “the privilege of being enabled in this special way”:
“I am sick of it – truly sick of it. I have had it all the way to the very tip of my head with all of you who question His every move.”
“So I am saying this with the full authority of the Lord – if you choose to believe it is Him who leads this path – make the choice, once and for all. Are you coming or not? This is not a game. The door is closing.”
- CONFESSION: The self respect of the members is broken down through persuading them to share their innermost secrets with the group.
Numerous references are made in Ruth’s writings about everything being brought into the open; no stone being left un-turned; all being naked and bare before the eyes of all to see. Everyone makes confessions of one sort or another. Some are more public than others. The group leaders especially, having a fiduciary relationship with their group members, are entrusted with quite a few confidential confessions. This may or may not be a good thing. In James 5:16 we are admonished to “confess your faults one to another.” The point is, when someone makes a confession to you, what do you do with the information? James 5:16 continues, “…pray one for another, that you may be healed.” Confession should lead you to pray for the healing and deliverance of the one who made the confession. Not so at I.A.A.! They have no compunction against using confidential information against someone, should they decide to leave the church. Information is power. This is true in business, in politics, and in spiritually abusive churches.
- CHANGE OF DIET: Members are provided inadequate nutrition, which breaks down the resistance and makes them vulnerable to suggestion.
At I.A.A. the diets and eating habits are, like everything else, controlled by the church. While I was a member, everyone submitted a weekly or monthly menu which had to be approved. Items on the grocery list also had to be approved. Shopping was done as a group activity. All of the women in the group would get together to do their shopping, with the group leaders’ wife in control of the expedition. That way she could keep an eye on the ladies in the group and make sure that they did not cheat on their budgets or buy something that was not approved. Pizza was a required meal at least once a week (and we were strongly encouraged to buy the pizzas from the church). We were also required to eat several meals each week at the church food counter. One church member, who wound up leaving I.A.A. after I did, was a science teacher at the church school. He approached church leaders to express concerns about the lack of nutrition in the foods we were required to purchase at the food counter.
- FEAR: Negative thoughts or doubts about the group or its leader are said to be soul threatening. Anyone leaving the group is warned about harsh consequences.
Fear is a major factor why some people who would like to leave I.A.A. are still there. Fear is what kept me there for several months after I knew that I had to leave. This fear, which can be debilitating, manifests itself in several ways:
FEAR OF CONFRONTATION AND VERBAL ABUSE. Although in some of Ruth’s’ letters she practically begs people to leave if they cannot get with the program, leaving is actually very difficult to do, especially if you are in a leadership role. After making my decision to leave, I had to endure numerous visitations and phone calls as well as confrontations at work. II Tim. 2:24-26 talks about the gentleness and humility a church leader should manifest when trying to persuade someone of error. This is not the style at I.A.A. Instead, they manifest anger and contempt and persuade through fear and intimidation, yelling, screaming, and even cursing and profanity. One of the couples who left the church was so harassed by church leaders that they had to threaten them with a restraining order.
FEAR OF LOOSING FAMILY AND FRIENDS. They will tolerate a husband or wife who is a non-member, but a spouse who is an ex-member is a different story. They are considered traitors. They use the name “Judas” for ex-members, and rather than working to reconcile the relationships of family members involved, they encourage family members who wish to remain in the church to estrange themselves from family members who leave. They will provide shelter and transportation, thus facilitating the breakup of families and homes.
FEAR OF THE LOSS OF SECURITY. This is another of the agonizing fears that those contemplating leaving have to deal with. Many of the members at I.A.A. are employed either at the church/school, or at a private business owned by a church member, but controlled by the church. Fear of losing your job is a tough one to overcome. When I left I.A.A., I had five different church leaders tell me that I would lose my job. Loss of security means more than just the loss of a job. Many Member of I.A.A. have received special gifts and perks from the church, including televisions, jewelry, trips, and cash. Many who leave I.A.A. would find themselves in a position of not having a place to live, a car to drive, or even a job to drive to.
FEAR OF THE LOSS OF YOUR SALVATION. This is probably the greatest fear that anyone who is contemplating walking out from under Ruth’s control must face. They are taught that they are the “elite”, the “chosen ones.” To walk away from the church is equivalent to turning your back on God.
- DRESS: Conformity of dress is encouraged to suppress individuality.
I believe that at I.A.A., conformity of dress is designed to enhance feelings of unity. We should remember, however, that uniformity is not the same as Biblical unity. Consider the following:
-My last Christmas at I.A.A. was the Christmas of 1993. At that time we were told that it was God’s perfect will for Ruth Kellogg and Deb Hovland to do our Christmas shopping for us, because they alone knew what the perfect choices would be in gift selection. The Sunday after Christmas I counted the number of men in the church who were wearing the same style of shirt (that they just received for Christmas). There were no less than sixteen of them. That represented the vast majority of the men in the church.
-Many of the women in the church have started wearing their hair in the same style.
-Members of I.A.A. are now wearing distinctive church rings (along the same order as class rings). This is a development that happened after I left, so I am not sure how they justified it among themselves, but I believe that it is meant to be a means of identifying them as the “chosen few”; the pioneers of the “new walk”; a constant reminder to them that they are the elite, much like a football player who possesses a coveted Superbowl ring.
The early church did not have to wear rings or shirts to show their unity or to identify themselves as believers. Their identity was in Jesus Christ and their unity was in their singleness of heart to worship and follow Jesus (Acts 2:46).
10. ELITISM: People who are outside of the group do not possess the degree of truth or the depth of understanding that the group possesses.
Ruth is very judgmental of traditional Christianity as you can see from the following excerpt from an undated letter:
“…I open the doors of my house to all who would come and see. They will not all be pretty to look upon and many shall be outcasts from this very society, especially ‘Christian’ society which counts itself perfect in all ways having arrived at last to perfection and can now go about pointing out other imperfections. I say Mine and My people shall be different for they shall open their doors to those who hurt, are cast-offs and those who all others have forgotten and left behind as of no account.”
IN Ruth’s May, 1992 letter cited earlier, she refers to I.A.A. members as a “special group”, a “special few”, a privileged people – chosen to be blessed in this special way.”
This list is not an all-inclusive one. There are other techniques that cults use to control their members. Here are links to three good articles on the subject:
Soli Deo Gloria