A Personal Encounter with the International Churches of Christ

by Tony Adams,
a member of St Mary's Anglican Church, Bardon, Brisbane, Australia
(Pastor: Trevor Adams)

Table of Contents


In writing the following testimony about my involvement in 1992 in the Boston Movement, also known as the International Churches of Christ, I have drawn on my journal notes, kept during and after my encounter. I have written this so that others may gain an understanding of how cults operate, as well as an understanding of those who become ensnared in a cult.

I have learnt as a result of my involvement with the Boston Movement that there is little public awareness of what cults really are, or how they operate. A number of myths exist that exacerbate the problems ex-cult members face as they move beyond their life in a cult.

One thing I did not know is that people are recruited and stay in organisations they believe are not cults. No one joins a "cult", and no one remains in an organisation that they know is a "cult". When someone realises that they have been committed to a cult, and that deceptive and violating strategies have been used to keep them compliant to those in leadership, they will usually leave.

However, after committing and investing so much of their lives to a cult, people are naturally very reluctant to face the prospect that what they believed about their organisation has been false. Such times can be devastating. People are often very fragile as they face the consequences of their wishful thinking, denial, and rationalisation, which were perpetrated while seeking to prove the reality and ultimate value of their aspirations. These people need genuine compassion, respect, patience and gentleness from others.

I did not know that cults are full of people who are intelligent, have a genuine concern for life-affecting issues and have a high degree of commitment to doing something about them. These are the kinds of qualities cults exploit to ensnare and keep such people. The higher one's intelligence, the more effective a cult member one can be. The more one habitually relies on one's intellect as the useful tool for all situations (as I did), the more likely one is to underestimate the significance of emotional vulnerability. I was in fact an easy play.

I did not know that cult members are not more innately susceptible than other people. Everyone has vulnerable periods in their lives; times of rapid change, new situations (eg ones first year at university), perhaps the death of a loved one, or the break-up of an important relationship. The vast majority of cult members have been recruited during such a time of emotional vulnerability. Anyone can be a potential recruit during such periods. No one is immune to cultic deception during such times if they cannot identify for themselves the hallmarks of a Thought Reform Environment. 1 Dr. Paul Martin, in his book Cult-proofing Your Kids, dedicates an entire chapter to such myths held by the community.

A little personal background will demonstrate how emotional vulnerability was the crucial factor in my susceptibility. I had a full time job and I was in the last years of an undergraduate course. I had often struggled to manage my time between work, study, a minimal social life and basic living requirements. My life had become too busy with work and study - a life out of balance. I first met them in the mall after nine hours of lectures at University. I was tired, depressed by the work still ahead of me and emotionally vulnerable from a recent break-up with my girlfriend. I had been cutting down on my sleep and was therefore feeling a little ragged. My life wasn't a disaster but it wasn't much "fun" either.

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Initial Encounter

It was about 9:30 on a brisk April night. I had bought an ice-cream in the mall while I waited for my bus home. Two people walked up to me. They were perhaps a "tad" conservatively dressed, friendly, polite and engaging. They introduced themselves saying that they were from the Church of Christ and asked if I had heard of it. I wasn't sure which one they meant, so they invited me to check their Church out. They told me a little about themselves and some of the activities coming up in their Church. I told them I was a Christian. They appeared to accept this 2, but then began comparing other Churches they had come across (they didn't mention mine of course), with the First Century Church. Unlike the others, they had apparently found the Church of Christ to be committed to putting the Bible into practice (what Church shouldn't be?). 3 When one of them asked for my phone number, I gave it; it would have been awkward to say no. 4 I recall a slight reservation about this, but I felt confident of detecting any ulterior motives if there were any, and everything in their demeanour indicated that they believed what they said.

I had moved away from Bardon and therefore St. Mary's Anglican Church, into a house that I shared with friends. I had not been able to maintain my involvement at St. Mary's because of distance and a lack of transport, and I hadn't really found another congregation that I felt right with. Since I had always enjoyed meeting people from other denominations, and it had been quite a while since I had been to Church, I agreed to go to a service that coming Sunday. 5

I had agreed to go and they had my phone number, but it had been my decision to attend. I was curious to see what these people were a part of, so I did not feel uncomfortable about meeting my obligation.

I had encountered groups that are called cults at least half a dozen times before, and had not been taken in by them; it did not occur to me that these people might have been members of a cult. I regarded them as legitimate Christians, just as they regarded themselves. Although I have come to understand that the Boston Movement is a cult, I am convinced that there are many legitimate Christians trapped within it. They are largely unaware of the deception in what they do; they are deceived by the deceived.

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Going Under

The service was interesting. One of the people from the mall met me at the door, and introduced me to a number of people. Entering a room full of strangers (even friendly ones) was a little disconcerting. I would have preferred to minimise visibility and observe the group until I knew what was expected. However people recognised I was new and were quite interested in me. I found the amount of attention surprising and a little embarrassing. Some however, would have felt that it was the best thing they had ever encountered; such people are very susceptible to cults. I was introduced as someone who was open and sincere (who feels comfortable being regarded as a shallow, tiny-minded individual?). An older couple, (I later discovered that the husband was one of the elders) "took me under their wing", and I sat with them during the service. 6

An introduction and general welcome was given by the lead evangelist, which was very up beat and positive.

Singing was a cappella. When I asked why, I was told that their Church came from a tradition which did not allow musical instruments; a quaint tradition I thought. Songs were very up-tempo, with the emotions of revolution and everyone singing with 100% enthusiasm. During the singing, a number of people were constantly looking at the congregation rather than to the front. This curious practice was done to encourage the brothers and sisters I was told. 7 The group dynamic became excited during the singing. I felt a vague unease.

An up and coming member of the congregation then led with some prayer. He ejaculated his prayer rapidly and with passion, but the prayer was confusing and incomprehensible. Someone else talked about the importance of giving, while emphasising that people should not feel an obligation to give. 8 The offertory followed. Communion was then given in a manner similar to the Baptist tradition.

The lead evangelist began his sermon with a few jokes and amusing recollections relating to life in the Church. One gained the impression that life in this community was satisfying and fun. Then, after a slight pause, he snapped into his sermon. His delivery was passionate, shouting rapidly one minute and in a slow, quiet, measured pace the next. Members of the group shouted encouragement to their lead evangelist, such as "PREACH IT BRO'", "AMEN", "YES", and "WAY TO GO". The message of the sermon was peppered with phrases such as "You've gotta be fired up for Christ", "you can't afford to be self focused" and "you've gotta be totally committed". 9

His sermon contained many references to biblical texts; the teaching from them varied from being fairly accurate, to being what seemed superficial or novel interpretations. Whenever I tried to think clearly about what was being said however, I found that I couldn't get clear about it. His delivery seemed disjointed, jumping quickly from one idea to another. I found myself trying to find connections between his ideas so that I might comprehend what I was hearing, yet I was having trouble simultaneously attempting to think and listen. One minute I was thinking "there's something not right about this" and the next minute "well that seems pretty spot on". Alarm bells were ringing but what had set them off?10 I expected to get the opportunity to reflect on these issues in more depth after the service. I needed a quiet place to get my thoughts together, but I didn't get the opportunity.

After the sermon, people were invited to write down prayer requests. Many responded to the call; their names and intimate prayers and confessions being written down to be published so that the congregation could pray for them. I did not realise the nature of the requests until I read them the following Wednesday. These people were spiritually naked before each other. During this time, notices were given, which were followed by a few songs.

As the service was ending, I concluded that I needed to proceed with caution. I couldn't make head nor tail of my observations; my faculties just didn't seem up to it for once, which alarmed me. A metaphor might be useful - it was like driving along and trying to change gear, something that is second nature, and suddenly finding that no matter how hard one tries, and to one's growing alarm, all one can do is crunch the gears. I had always been one to rely on my critical ability, to ask the questions that exposed the real issues; but this day nothing seemed to work. So I decided that I'd leave the assembly as soon as it seemed polite to do so.

This sense of being somehow disabled, stayed with me until I returned to my old Church almost three months later.

I was standing in front of my chair, waiting to get to one of the side aisles when the elder I was with, turned to a woman behind us and said in a smooth voice "Look at what we are doing for your son." It turned out that the son was the one who led the singing during the service. His mother went white with rage, became rather incoherent and ineffectually hit my host. She accused the lead evangelist of distorting the gospel and saying things I hadn't heard him say. I told her that I hadn't heard him say those things. (What had I heard?) She then looked at me and didn't know whether to spit at me, hit me or cry. In a split second, I saw her impotent outrage, despair and anguish; she felt that she had lost her son yet didn't know how or why or what to do about it. This bizarre outburst, while it makes a lot of sense now, seemed inexplicable to me at the time.11 The elder and the son explained it differently from the way I now understand it.

They began to talk about how they could expect, and had received, opposition from other churches who were not putting the Bible into practice. Such opposition included lies and slanderous accusations including claims that they were a cult. They said this with a demeanour which looked aggrieved that anyone could say such things about such genuine and innocent people wanting to serve their Lord as best they could. I didn't really know what a cult was, and they still don't know. I thought that cults were blatantly "weird" where people did "insane" things like the Peoples Temple in Jonestown and the Branch Davidians in Waco. (Not necessarily!)12 These people seemed to do a few things differently, but "cult" was surely not right; these people were fairly normal.

The opposition as they had described it, seemed quite unfair. They claimed that the mother had been heinously misinformed and that once she had seen more of the group for herself, she would cease to be so hostile.13

The lead evangelist came up and greeted me personally; he was pleasant and friendly. He was glad to see me and regarded my visit as the beginning of something great that God was doing in my life. I accepted this as a possibility. He dismissed the episode as a regrettable inconvenience and asked me what I thought of the service. I hadn't wanted to offend anyone, but here he was, sounding like a slick salesman and putting me on the spot, so I decided to be frank. I commented on its similarity to a sales representative's pep rally, the "Gung Ho" style of preaching, and indicated my dislike of the "americanised" outbursts from the congregation. He accepted them as criticisms of style, but went on to say that matters of style were relatively unimportant and ought not be used as an excuse for dismissing this Church.14

He then asked me whether I had found anything unbiblical in what I had seen. I told him that I felt that some of the teaching had been superficial and that he had used some surprising interpretations of Scripture. He welcomed an opportunity to study Scripture with me; what the Scriptures said was an important matter to be clear about, but he didn't have the time at that moment, so he delegated this to his intern (one of those who met me in the mall) and invited me to stay on after the service and do a study.15 He said it in a way that clearly implied that I had to follow this through if I wanted to be taken seriously. My integrity was being tested.16

I had the distinct impression we were going to talk about my concerns. The sermon had been taped, but both the tape and the player had been taken away by that time; so I was desperately trying to remember the specific passages quoted during the sermon and the teaching that had been extrapolated from it. Talk about being put on the spot. I remembered that I had wanted to get out of there to get my head together; I was still quite disoriented! But the study was already organised. I remembered that I had to get back to the studio, my assignments awaited my return, those deadlines weren't going to go away. I told him about these things and asked if it couldn't wait? With a glance that suggested that I was wasting his time, he replied that it would only take half an hour. I decided that I may as well get it over and done with.

But we did not study (to my dismay/relief) the issues that were discussed in the sermon. What followed was like an unplayable curve ball.17

Most people were leaving, but two I hadn't met joined us for the study; they were young and I had the impression that they hadn't been in the group all that long. They didn't say much, just nodded in support and looked thoughtful. I suspect one wanted to make me feel like one of the guys, you know "we're in this thing together" sort of thing. We discussed the authority of the Bible; we agreed fairly quickly on our position. He then described what he considered to be a unique aspect of the Boston Movement, namely the use of an organisational system which "guaranteed" effective rapid growth. The system is an exponential growth model where one disciple "makes" another disciple, those two then make two more and then those four then make four more etc. When compared with a linear growth model (say 365 disciples one year, 365 the next etc.) the exponential model will look better the longer it runs. It was obvious which system was theoretically more effective; I observed that Amway Distribution Networks "showed the Plan" along the same principle. "Hey what's the problem if it works? What is more important than bringing people to Christ?"18

He then explained the way the Boston Movement was organised. Every new disciple became part of a group who were discipled by a more spiritually mature disciple, who was in turn discipled by someone even more mature. The lead evangelist was the most spiritually mature person in the Church. He was discipled by the lead evangelist of an older and larger Church. This person in turn was discipled by the leader of a Pillar Church.19 Such people were in turn discipled by the founder of the movement, a fellow called Kip McKean. He was discipled by those he discipled(!), namely the leaders of the Pillar Churches. I told him that Amway distribution networks such as IDA and Network 21, had identical pyramid-like organisational structures (I was to find out later that virtually all other cults share this characteristic). He didn't think the similarity was important.20

He then began talking about discipleship and asked me what I thought a disciple was.21 And so while I was wondering when my concerns were going to be addressed, the study began. He would say something, I'd agree or disagree. Whenever I disagreed, he referred me to some Scripture. Sometimes I could back my own position up with some Scripture also, but he was well practised at this, and if I maintained a conflicting point of view, my attitude was covertly questioned; was I as open as I had led them to believe? It was the Bible I was questioning. He would not agree to disagree. When I tried to raise a matter I wanted discussed, I was easily brought back to the subject. "Why look at the 'details' when my foundations were looking 'shaky'? What ought to have top priority?"22

I was beginning to realise that I wasn't as familiar with my Bible as I had thought. He maintained control of the study and I soon realised this was going somewhere frightening. Was it actually possible that I had never been a real disciple? By the end of the study I was beginning to doubt my own salvation. I didn't want him to be right, but I had to prove him wrong before I would have a legitimate reason to leave. I was an open-minded person remember, not a "shallow, tiny-minded individual". My resistance had simply meant that instead of half an hour, the study had taken over two hours before I said I had to go.

I had questions! Why hadn't I seen this stuff before? His position seemed well backed up by Scripture. I hadn't regarded myself as a "spring chicken" in my Christian walk; but I just couldn't recall the relevant passages necessary to refute his position. What had I previously read that had led me to understand things differently? My head was spinning. My clarity had forsaken me which was both scary and frustrating. I was "not accustomed" to this position! I had to understand this.

Everything that I had come to understand, my belief system, was at stake.23 He asked when we might get together again to study these things further. I wanted some time out; he asked if I could make it to an organised Bible study on Tuesday night. I had lectures to attend. He asked whether I could come to their mid-week Church meeting on Wednesday; it went without saying that to refuse would have called into question my integrity, so I agreed.24

The issues raised this day and the weeks that followed assumed top priority; my assignments and deadlines slipped to the lower end of my priority list.25 During the days and nights that followed, I frantically attempted to equip myself for the anticipated ordeal. Anxiety levels were high. There wasn't enough time. I went without even more sleep in an attempt to buy the time necessary.26

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The Spiral Downward

The Wednesday night meeting began and I was a little late. I was feeling quite fragile and while I was expecting some conflict, all I wanted to do that night was avoid it, or at least minimise it.

The main difference between Sunday and Wednesday meetings seemed to be that Wednesday meetings were more for members of the group, with much less emphasis on catering for invited visitors. The meeting began with some more singing; "house keeping" notices followed. Then the congregation split into segregated groups, women in one room and men in another. When I asked why, I was told that the teachings sometimes led to confession and dealing with sin (people are encouraged to "radically deal" with sin, which involves confession to each other) and the congregation split to avoid the opposite sex from being tempted into immoral thoughts, when sins of a sexual nature were discussed. "Unusual" I thought, but it was pointed out that there was a scriptural basis for this practice. I could not deny this; I had simply not come across a group of people who interpreted this Scripture so radically, or were prepared to go to these lengths. I was asked whether I had ever come across other churches who were this committed to what the Bible taught. Well no, not in this way. What would I expect committed Christians to do?27 Umm!

After the service, the prayer requests were handed out and there was a time of fellowship where so many people wanted to meet me and make me feel welcome. I was pleasantly surprised by this unexpected and unusual degree of "unconditional acceptance"28 shown toward me. What I experienced was an emotional see-saw from considerable anxiety, to a sense of joy. (I had allowed myself to become strung out, and should have been in bed.)

The person who had led the study on Sunday then introduced me to the fellow who had led the singing. I had met him and talked briefly with him on Sunday after the incident involving his mother. It turned out that he was going to study with me this night because regrettably something had come up that prevented the first fellow from following through.29 That the second person hadn't been in on the first study, was seen as unimportant. He was introduced as a really nice guy and I was assured that we were surely going to get on well. (But how is he going to help me with the issues raised on Sunday if he's not familiar with the questions I asked?) This night was taking on the sense of a nightmare. I saw the futility of my attempts to equip myself for this evening. Alarm bells were ringing; I put them down to panic.

We spent the first five minutes getting to know each other, finding out things we have in common. Then he began the study with a question that probed my understanding - another aural exam that didn't seem like one. He did this politely and with a kind demeanour, which demonstrated that he was concerned for me and cared about my spiritual well-being; he just wanted to know more about me because he liked me and was my friend. I felt a vague yet intense unease about allowing myself to be so vulnerable before him, but I could find no valid reason to avoid his line of questioning; they were issues any seriously committed Christian would be prepared to discuss.30 I accepted his probing, with the [futile] hope that my submissive attitude would be accepted as evidence that my faith was genuine.

I watched for any glimpse that might validate some distrust; I saw nothing. He appreciated my honesty and candour. We ended up "discussing" sin, and he emphasised its effect as a barrier on one's relationship with God. He gently reminded me that confessing one's sins was the first step in dealing with the barrier of sin. He asked me whether there was any sin in my life. Crisis point.

I could not find a valid reason for not telling him, though I desperately wanted to.31 I couldn't remember why it was improper for someone I hardly knew to ask such a question. What was wrong with me? My reluctance to answer the question seemed irrational. Why should I want to hide? Obviously other people in this group were willing and able to be naked with each other.32 They didn't seem to mind.

I suspected that a refusal to answer the question would be portrayed as an act of disobedience. (Is it not stated in the Bible that one must confess one's sins so that one may be forgiven?) I was sensitive to being regarded as disobedient, because that would once again raise the possibility that I was not a real Christian.33 I no longer felt up to facing that subject since that would invariably lead to conflict and confusion. My head was swimming. If there was going to be conflict, I wanted to be in a fit state; at this point in time, any attempt to defend the basis of my salvation would have resulted in certain failure. To object therefore became an option for disaster; I answered his question.

I told him about things of a most intimate and confidential nature. They just seemed to spill out. I trusted in his integrity and assumed his discretion. This was possible because he had shown such genuine compassion in his demeanour throughout the study.

Unknown to me at the time, he was required by his discipler and the leadership to disclose what I had told him. When it was discovered much later that I was not coming back, the things I had confessed were not only used against me, but were extrapolated beyond recognition. These confessions were used to perpetrate quite malicious accusations, which were willingly believed by the group. My trust was betrayed. I was intimately violated; spiritually raped by not just one person, but many.

I realise now that I had by this time become very tired, not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. I did not notice that he (along with everyone else in the movement) was operating on the assumption that I was not saved and was disregarding my previous commitment to Christ. (What evidence was there in my life that indicated that I was committed enough? My "misunderstanding" of what it meant to be a disciple, and the sin that I had just confessed, surely proved that I had not been right with God.) So I didn't examine his assumption, let alone expose its false basis; I just answered his questions hoping my obedience and submission would be accepted as evidence that my faith was genuine.

He told me that what needed to happen next was genuine repentance. He explained to me what that was, using numerous references from the Bible. I was familiar with the orthodox Christian teaching, but he read a more radical interpretation; he defined "dying to self" in a way that annihilates one's personhood. I found this incomprehensible, but I had all but lost confidence in my ability to think clearly; I was no longer certain of anything that I had believed.34 He thought I just didn't want to accept the truth.

He asked me whether I felt I had genuinely repented. I told him that I believed that I had. I had allowed myself to become completely naked before this person. He looked me in the eye with genuine concern and said "I doubt that very much".35

A part of me died. I was "knocked to the floor". I recall emotions of outrage and despair. The conflict I had so desperately wanted to avoid, had appeared and delivered a full frontal assault. I crumpled, and was on the verge of tears. My body responded in ways I could not control. My face tingled, my lips and face twitched uncontrollably, my heart was thumping, there was a sickening weightless sensation in my stomach, I experienced momentary paralysis, I couldn't make a sound. I didn't know how to respond, what to say, what to think. Distress!36

The paralysis seemed to last perhaps ten or twenty seconds. The trauma of the assault remains vividly etched on my memory to this day. I don't want anyone else to experience this emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse, and my heart goes out to anyone who has sustained this kind of abuse; including those who perpetrated this abuse upon me.

I was "on the mat" but not quite out. I asked him why he doubted. I asked him what it would take for him to believe my repentance was real? Copious tears?

He backed off slightly and identified with my situation. He knew what it was like, he had been there too and didn't enjoy what had to be done. We were in this thing together. He related a little of his own story, of his own Catholic background and of how he came to the realisation that what he had been taught had not been entirely correct. He related how he came to realise that he had to renounce his Catholic faith, and be baptised into this church to enter into a correct and right relationship with God. To be totally committed to God, he had to be prepared to pay any price. This included being prepared to "burn one's bridges" in relation to one's church, one's family, one's friends, one's career, one's belief system, one's past lifestyle.37 This is called "Counting the Cost".38 He related that once he had done this, his life changed dramatically. He experienced "times of refreshing", knowing that he was finally a part of God's movement on earth and therefore totally within God's will. It was exhilarating knowing that his life was finally making a Difference. My life could too.

For my repentance to be real, I had to be prepared to make the same commitment and be prepared to "count the cost". The seduction of revolution; he had bought it, and in my traumatised state I absorbed his value system, his reasoning, his zeal; virtually wholesale.39

I wanted to prove my commitment to God was real, so I decided that I was prepared to look at these issues and re-evaluate my belief system accordingly. He had me commit myself to another study and then completed the session. It was late! My last bus had left town a while back, so he gave me a lift home. He commended me for my progress.

Perhaps the only thing I did not take on board was his perception of the "unsaved state" of those in churches who disagreed with the Boston Movement's Doctrine. It was from an attempt to clarify this issue almost three months later, that the deception became apparent, and I was able to leave.

The next study was on repentance and explored what was involved in "Counting the Cost".40 The study reinforced the seductive appeal of abandoning oneself completely to a perfect cause and being a part of something great and important. I wanted to be right with God so I was prepared to do whatever it took. This not only included being prepared to "burn my bridges" but also involved making a conscious decision to become a disciple of Christ, which evidently I had not been. I had reservations about their teaching, but I put them aside, thinking that things would probably get clearer later. I had come to realise that unless I thoroughly understood the grounds for my point of view, it was better to keep quiet; because "resistance" was dealt with in a consistent and "quite unpleasant" way. It was pointless to undertake a resistant position if there wasn't a reasonable chance of getting somewhere. I was told that the next step was to be baptised in the way that it was "originally intended"; any baptism that did not conform to these prerequisites of Confession, Repentance, Counting the Cost, consciously deciding to be a Real Disciple prior to a Full Immersion Baptism, all with the attendant Movement-defined theological understanding, was considered invalid.41

The next study, late one Thursday night, explored the nature of a valid baptism. Only one who had repented and made a decision to be a Real Disciple, could be actually saved through a "valid" baptism by being identified (only by full immersion) with Christ's death and resurrection.42 This study, which is also documented in Guard the Gospel, was also attended by the lead evangelist. I had reservations about this teaching also, but by now I wasn't really trying, I just hoped God was behind all of this as they clearly believed. If it was good enough for them, it was probably okay, they had obviously studied the thing through. I put my reservations aside, thinking they would be resolved in due course. When they asked whether I was ready to be baptised, I said "Yes".

I expected to be baptised that Sunday. Instead, we drove over to Queensland University, where some of the brothers and the intern were playing football (at 11 pm). I "counted the cost" with the intern which took around half an hour. I answered the questions to his satisfaction and he informed the lead evangelist of this. The brothers were told; they were delighted and happy for me. It was almost midnight when we then left the campus and drove to the house of the other elder in Chapel Hill. Things were happening far too fast, but events were unfolding without any help from me. I had reservations about how things were being done, but dealt with those in the same way as with the others; I was accumulating a growing number of reservations with which to deal later. I silently prayed to God that if this wasn't right I was sorry. All I wanted to do was to be right with Him and asked Him at the very least to accept this act as a sign of recommitment and genuine repentance. Someone lent me some swimming trunks and I was baptised in the elder's pool at around one o'clock in the morning. I was welcomed into the Brisbane Church of Christ. I was one of them.

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Life On The Inside

The next Sunday, my baptism was announced and the congregation applauded and cheered. After the service I was greeted differently. The "brothers" gave me a special handshake, and I received side on (chaste) hugs from both the "brothers" and the "sisters". There were benefits from being "in". These were the "times of refreshing" I was told I could expect.43

I was told that I was now a baby Christian and I was reminded of the importance of having a discipler and quiet times. I was told that there was a really good Bible study programme called the First Forty Days,44 designed to help new converts get started in their walk with God. I was given one to photocopy and then return. I was told to follow the study in my quiet times and write answers to the questions in a journal. I was told that my discipler would be the singing leader, which I was reasonably happy about, as we had begun to develop a rapport. I was expected to show my journal to him, and discuss anything I didn't understand with him. This was done so that my progress could be monitored.45

I also managed to get a copy of "Guard the Gospel" at this time; I wanted it so I could re-evaluate the issues that I had put to one side. My discipler wanted to do everything he could to help.

He wanted me to ring him at least once a day to let him know how my quiet times went and to give him an opportunity to give me feedback. Being almost thirty years old, I was to find this "parent-child" relationship unnecessary and in the end tiresome; I tried to comply, but frankly couldn't see the point of it. I think he tended to regard me as somewhat recalcitrant. He certainly mistrusted my reluctance to be dependant on him. I was reprimanded on a number of occasions; submission was the only response rewarded.46

Although I wanted to tackle these issues on my own, my attempts were to prove futile. The "tilted playing field" made an effective evaluation of my issues "difficult" to do. Yet since I wasn't aware of the nature of my situation, I persisted in "crunching the gears". This effectively kept me confused and therefore vulnerable to further manipulation.

I still attended most of my lectures but I confess I also used my studies as a reason to give myself time to resolve my reservations. I recognised my reservations as a significant obstacle to progressing in the Church. I sincerely expected that they would be satisfactorily reconciled to the teachings of the group, at least initially.

I found myself participating in things that I realised I would not have normally done before, such as playing touch football.47 Certain kinds of team sports were encouraged because they provided evangelistic opportunities, and because they promoted the team "cog in the machine" attributes that cults find desirable. Football, Volleyball and Basketball are "good" sports. Funny how sports like cricket, where individual team members bring their own skills to the team, or individual sports such as archery or athletics, never seem to catch on.

I attempted to accommodate the changes in my new life. My most difficult problem was the significant demands on my time. Time management had been difficult enough for me prior to becoming involved with the group. On top of the two church services a week, there were Bible studies, discipleship meetings and numerous group activities that I was "encouraged" to participate in.

A typical schedule for a member in the Boston Movement involves a Bible discussion on Tuesday night, mid-week church on Wednesday night, evangelising on Thursday night and often Friday night, combined with a discipleship group Bible study. There were usually some sporting activities and more evangelising on Saturday if the weeks efforts had proved "unfruitful" and most went out Saturday night on dates (the only time one could really socialise with members of the opposite sex). On Sunday of course, everyone attended church, often with some activity with the brothers or sisters, afterward. Monday night was the only night free.48

Accommodating such demands while doing a demanding part time degree course, working during the day, and trying to resolve my issues through several hours of private Bible study a day, that no one knew I was doing, was difficult! I skipped quite a few of the activities to accommodate my other commitments. I had the sense that my life was getting even more out of balance than it had been previously. I was criticised for my lack of commitment to the Movement and accused of being luke warm and aloof.

This once occurred at one of the discipleship meetings, and I saw the following process being applied to others several times before I left. Soon after the discipleship meeting began, we had a time of sharing, discussing with each other some of the things we had learned during the week, any aspects that we didn't understand, and some of the sin we were struggling with. We were naked before each other; in the First Forty Days and from one's relationship with one's discipler, one learnt that "an open heart" was a valued quality. It is a quality that is always rewarded. A "hard heart" is punished.

Next, our discipler asked us to offer each other some feedback. It was my first time for a feedback session so it was explained to me that feedback was a way the body of Christ encouraged and built each other up.49 He explained that this sometimes involved rebuke and correction but that it was given in love; he backed this statement up with Scripture. The group started with someone else, and I tried to think of something positive to say; drawing from the little I had learned of him. When it was my turn to be given some feedback, one person had been hurt by my "aloof manner" and my lack of commitment to the "Body". Another thought that I was too proud, another gave me a back-handed compliment, and another thought I was not putting God first and that I was spending too much time on my own projects. Our discipler agreed with the comments, and told me "in love" what he wanted me to do about it. I was reeling; God knew I'd been trying. The mood was nasty, while everyone smiled kindly at me. I knew (cult members develop sensitive "antennae") that total and immediate submission and humility was the only way to avoid being accused of having a "hard heart" and therefore receiving more of the same treatment.

When I got home I began to think. There was a scriptural basis for what had happened to me, but I intuitively knew that what had been done was wrong; Jesus would not have done that. This provided a dilemma: I believed the Bible to be God's word, but I had an apparent contradiction. In the past I had found that apparent contradictions had a habit of turning up when interpretation was inaccurate or inadequate. I had another reservation with which to deal.

Suitably chastised, I made a special effort to participate in group activities. This compromised my ability to meet my other commitments and placed limitations on the time available to deal with my reservations.

I was encouraged to start dating the sisters. My discipler explained to me some of the unwritten rules that govern acceptable conduct. He gave me the scriptural basis for some sound principles, and from those principles developed the rationale behind the group's expectations. These are some of the unwritten rules.

Couples are "encouraged" to be chaperoned by another couple, so it is common practice to organise double or triple dates. One is "discouraged" from dating the same person twice in a row; if one grows to like another, one can, after getting permission from one's discipler, be allowed to "go steady" and meet every second week.50

Going steady also means that couples can hold hands and from time to time go out by themselves; their respective disciplers monitor the relationship. One does not receive permission to go steady if the disciplers or the leadership believe the couple to be incompatible. A couple would be considered incompatible if one was considered less spiritually mature than the other, certainly if the male was less mature than the female. For the possibility of a relationship, one would have to demonstrate a growth in "spiritual maturity". I observed this in the life of my own discipler and in the way he was treated.

The following has been observed by me from the outside, and confirmed by members of the leadership who have left the group. For a couple to become engaged, the male needs to seek advice (permission). The disciplers know how each of their disciples feel about the other, and know of any issues that may jeopardise an ongoing commitment to the church. Couples are "discouraged" from becoming engaged if there is any indication that one of them may not be rock solid in their involvement in the church. The Boston Movement denies controlling and manipulating relationships, but the lie is exposed when one observes what happens to those who do not conform to the unwritten rules.51 The recommended engagement period is three months minimum, after which there is a wedding, often in a park or civic building because Churches often refuse to be an accomplice to this deceptive organisation.

I recall one date that provides a glimpse of what life is like in the Boston Movement. It has its amusing moments but also clearly demonstrates the inability to relate freely to each other and how people are not allowed to express freely how they feel.

My discipler stated that he was holding a dinner party at his house and suggested that I invite my date (whom he had suggested and organised) to his place. He asked us to bring along a favourite piece of music. He was doing this for me as a favour. Transportation was a difficulty, so we arranged to meet at a Bible discussion which was followed by a game of "touch footy". I had to bring a change of clothes.

I was coming down with the flu but didn't appreciate how sick I was until I was knocked about by the physical exertion. The brothers play a competitive game of "touch footy" and all participants are expected to put in a 100% effort. I wasn't even sure of the rules, but I gave it a go. I had been a sprinter for most of my school life and had been rather good at anaerobic activities. I knew how my body worked. When my heart rate climbed toward 200 beats a minute, after mild exertion, I knew something was "up". But to pull out would have let the side down. So I tried to push on. I pulled out only when it became clear that it was serious; I had begun to cramp and was on the verge of passing out. The guys let it be known without a word being spoken that they were disappointed with my effort, thought my attitude was too soft, and decided that I was not very dependable. I wasn't in a position to prove them wrong; I was too sick to "give a hoot". It took me an hour to recover. I had made the connection between my "snuffley" nose and my experience on the field; this was flu and not a cold. The bright thing to do was to go to bed and ensure a rapid recovery. BUT I was committed to this date. After the brother's reaction, I realised that the bright option wasn't going to cut any ice with them. To endure the physical duress rather than condemnation from my peers, seemed the easier option.52

After the match, my discipler drove me over to his place. He and several brothers had only moved in a week or so earlier. (Singles who live in houses are often moved around, making lasting relationships difficult to establish or maintain). He asked me to chop some firewood; there was a fireplace; I obliged. He asked me to help prepare the meal; the meal he had in mind was a roast lamb with vegetables; a "piece of cake" I thought. I like cooking, but I prefer cooking in a familiar kitchen where I know what I have at my disposal, and that I have adequate utensils to do the job. I asked him what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to start peeling the vegetables, while he made a few calls; no problem I thought, until I discovered there was no peeler, and there was the most inadequate collection of flimsy blunt knives I'd ever come across. There I was with a large Queensland Blue in one hand and a pathetic ineffectual knife in the other. Hmmm.

I decided that it was time to make an inventory of what there was to work with. There was virtually no equipment, he barely had enough gear to prepare scrambled eggs, let alone a roast meal for six people.

That he should "organise" a dinner party with such inadequate utensils seemed irresponsible to me in my "fluey state". Call me "picky" if you like. If I'm to be responsible for a meal, I make sure I know I can do it before I commit myself. When he got off the phone, I wondered how he intended to pull it off. He didn't see it as a problem and said that I'd manage. (Did he say me?) He then told me to treat it as a challenge; he had to go and pick up some of the other guests as their transportation arrangements had fallen through.53 I was left in the kitchen being responsible for someone else's stupid commitment. Well I was "a tad miffed" I can tell you.54

I persevered. After that afternoon, I wasn't going to be called a quitter. With some help from the other brother when he arrived, the food was edible, but I tend to be a perfectionist and I was a little humiliated by the result. I ate the meal and humble pie. No one mentioned the food except to say how good it was (I could tell how "good" it was mutter mut...no I shouldn't think like that) and the conversation was quite enjoyable, so I did my best to put my chagrin behind me. The evening on the whole was enjoyable, with some wine, a cosy fire and some dancing.55 One peculiar thing however was that the party listened to everyone else's music but not mine, they just talked through it; I decided that I was not going to let it get to me and it didn't.

By the end of the night my head was thick, my arms were heavy and aching, and the flu was well and truly established. We were driven home and I was in bed by midnight. The day had proved to be another day of negotiating the minefields; I had handled the humiliation satisfactorily and avoided all potential conflicts by remaining submissive and humble. All in all not a bad day, I guess.

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The Threadbare Revolution

Life in the cult was not proving to be a time of refreshing. I was constantly tired, evading growing concern from my family and friends, staring failure at University in the face, and getting nowhere with resolving my growing list of reservations.

A brother had packed his bags late one night and disappeared from one of the Brothers' houses. Evidently not everyone found life in the houses enjoyable. Perhaps they had found their brothers and sisters too "encouraging". I had been asked to move into one of the houses, but I declined.56

I noticed that the group was not growing, even though many were intently evangelising and there were many newcomers. People were steadily leaving. Why? When the leadership discovered that people important to the group were considering leaving, the people were love-bombed.57 However, when they resisted the attempts to make them stay and left, they became personae non gratae. No one had a reason for leaving that was considered legitimate. In such cases, the leadership either gave out vague "reasons" on behalf of those who left, or more commonly denounced and "marked" the people who left, accusing them of all manner of hidden sinfulness, and forbidding the membership to have any association with such people.58 It was therefore not possible to determine the specific reasons such people had for leaving.

I was challenged for not being evangelistic enough. I had invited one friend along, but I had told her to keep her eyes open and be very alert because I was seeing some things that were not consistent with the first century Church. When challenged further by my discipler, I said that I had concerns with the church and that inviting someone to a church I wasn't sure about, compromised one's integrity. Some of my most serious concerns included the Discipleship structure and the way it seemed to undermine the Holy Spirit's rightful place in one's life, their apparent contempt for the faith of those in other denominations who regarded themselves as genuine Christians,59 and their criteria for determining who is a "real disciple" with its attendant implications upon how one is saved.60 These were all important doctrinal issues.

Some meetings were set up with the lead evangelist and the intern; what were to be helpful and caring chats, turned into intimidatingly aggressive "sessions". As soon as they realised that my concerns threatened the validity of some important Boston Movement doctrine, they began stonewalling me. They had their own proof texts and were not prepared to allow the existence of further texts as grounds for modifying their position. (Who was being "open" here?) "The Bible was clear" they said. "I was being prideful in not accepting their explanations" they said. They refused to acknowledge the relevance of the texts I wanted to examine.61

As a result, none of my concerns were adequately addressed; most didn't even get looked at. I found the sessions anything but helpful. It became obvious that I was going to have to work things out on my own; everyone else seemed intent on hijacking my most pressing concerns, accusing me of 'prideful' attitudes, wanting me to think that I was the problem. No matter how hard I tried, my agenda was avoided.

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Time to Check It Out

After praying about it a great deal, it seemed to me that I could not proceed any further until I had established once and for all whether the Boston Movement was the only real option available to me. I needed to establish whether or not there were any groups of "real" Christians outside the Boston Movement.

The most reliable test I could think of, was the same one the Boston Movement encourages others to use upon them; namely to see for oneself. Yet I was no longer confident of my own ability to see the truth and I understood that I needed to be quite willing to be shown what it was. I let go of everything I wanted to be true, and asked God to reveal to me the truth.62 He knew I was genuine about this. I acknowledged my confusion and my inability to unravel it and gave it to Him. I believed He was sovereign and could ensure that I would not be deceived. Then I made the trip out to my old church, St. Mary's Anglican at Bardon, to be shown the truth. What ever it was, I was prepared to accept it.

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The rest is history. Rather than finding myself in a "sales representatives pep rally", I was amongst people whose worship for God was authentic. The techniques of charlatans used to manipulate a crowd were conspicuously absent. I saw people relating to, and loving each other in a way that was genuine (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In a completely unselfconscious manner, they were exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). They were a gentle and quiet people (1 Peter 3:4). Also, God was there in a way that was at once powerful yet gentle; I noticed how conspicuously absent He had been in the Brisbane Church of Christ.

In a flash, I saw how the criteria by which the Boston Movement judges other congregations were based on malicious generalisations and half-truths concerning the members of the Body of Christ. I saw that the Boston Movement had crossed from being healthy to being unhealthy; taking exhortations and twisting them into commands and thus straying from early Church principles to become a legalistic, religious and Pharisaic trap for immature Christians and "those who are just escaping from those who live in error" (2 Peter 2:18). I saw the fundamental poverty behind the contrived, conditional, and manipulative way Boston Movement members relate to each other. As I perceived these things, it became evident that the Boston Movement was in fact a grotesque parody of the love of Christ, and of what He intended His body to be.

I had met some old friends who were genuinely pleased to see me. I had walked into a safe place, not a "Perfect Church"63 but a refuge; a place among friends who had an obvious and abundantly deep love for the Lord64 and a deep desire to grow to spiritual maturity, in accordance with 2 Peter 1:5-8. They were gentle, yet not "lukewarm". With abundant joy, I realised that the nightmare was over. I was back.

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While my stepping back into St. Mary's was a clear event, my leaving the Boston Movement was gradual. I maintained sporadic contact with several people in the group during the following months, hoping that someone might want to know what my issues were. No one was really curious. No one wanted to address my issues unless I made a commitment to return. Neither was anyone prepared to acknowledge that I, along with many others, had been badly treated, and that the Boston Movement had characteristics similar to cults such as the Unification Church (Moonies), the Church of Scientology, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. The requirement to become an accomplice to such an organisation was an unacceptable one for me.

My stepping straight back into a church is quite rare for an ex-member of a cult. Many believe that they have been either betrayed or condemned by God. The Church has been slow to recognise the importance of this area of ministry and is still largely ill equipped to be of real use to these people. It is important for the Church to understand the people coming out of cults, not only to help them recover, but also to avoid perpetrating more damage.

Recovery has taken a long time. It has involved a thorough re-assessment of my beliefs from the foundations up. This has involved tolerating (embracing) complete uncertainty for as long as was necessary. This was not comfortable and involved working through emotions of guilt, grief, rage, frustration, despair, betrayal, loneliness, fear, isolation and depression.

Some of the things with which I struggled, included difficulties in regaining a useful attention span, dissociation (suddenly realising that I had just spent five minutes "off with the fairies") caused by words that "triggered" a cult flashback, ranting to myself up and down the hallway (only when no one was looking) as I worked through my rage, (this happened often as I was at last uncovering the biblical gaps behind the doctrinal errors) and questions like "Why did it happen to me?" and "God, how could you have allowed this!?" There was frustration because I couldn't instantaneously throw out the garbage, not wanting to "throw the baby out with the bath-water", and not knowing whether there was a "baby" anyway. ARRRGGG!! I had also lost my God-given creativity while in the movement and it took so long to regain it. I wanted it all to be over as soon as possible, but it still took a long time.

If the reader is presently in a similar situation, I can assure you it will pass. One must however be prepared to let go and move on, and for this to occur, forgiveness is the key. Remember that those who were accomplices to what happened to you, have been subjected to the same manipulation and violation, and are still trapped by it. (For any reader who is still in the movement, I congratulate you on your courage and integrity to have read this far. See you soon?)

I found playing the piano provided a vehicle through which I could get in touch with my emotional pain and move on. Others have found writing poetry, singing, dancing, painting or drawing useful vehicles for them. It is important to find a way to express how one feels; God has made us to be that way.

As I was wading through all that "stuff", my first priority was to unravel my reservations over what turned out to be serious foundational errors in Boston Movement doctrine. I developed a voracious appetite for Christian literature, and now have a much deeper appreciation for the truth.

Early on in the recovery process, I came to understand at a much deeper level, that my walk with God was my responsibility. I learnt that my relationship with Him was a stewardship issue and that I was responsible to Him for guarding and treasuring it. I had lost sight of the importance of this; no wonder my life had become out of balance! I can now say that remaining in the true vine (being Christ - John 15:1-8) is once again the most important thing in my life.

An outworking of this responsibility has been to avoid being unduly influenced by others, and to be wary of anyone who seems to have a hidden agenda, or is zealous in "pushing their own barrow". Rather than become dependent on others, I have prayerfully allowed many authors, coming from many backgrounds, to be my fellow disciples. By subjecting their material to prayerful consideration, I have retained my responsibility toward God for my edification, while still relying on Him for it.

I found that there are a number of daily devotionals available from most Christian book-stores, produced by mature Christians of many different backgrounds, and have used several as part of the daily time spent with my Lord. He has used this material wonderfully. Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes is one that has proved helpful for me, but other people find other devotionals more valuable. One thing is for sure, time set aside for God is something to be treasured and guarded. One's relationship with God cannot flourish without it.

Reading the work of authors who have wrestled with, and are familiar with the issues raised by recovery, proved immensely valuable. I liked the fact that while authors could share what they had learned or observed, they could not attempt to influence my opinions in a manipulative way. I could also choose who my "disciplers" would be; there could be no attempt to violate my stewardship. A Recommended Reading List, included as an appendix, gives the merest indication of what literature is available..

I enrolled in several subjects provided for lay people by the Anglican Harvest School of Ministry in Bardon, and I look forward to enrolling in more subjects provided by various schools. I have found that the Bible colleges and seminaries of all denominational persuasions, offer many courses and subjects for lay people. I would recommend an exploration of what is available.

Since returning to a healthy community of Christians, I have been grounded in a home fellowship group where there is genuine praise and worship, satisfying teaching and Bible study, careful prayer and consideration for each other, and a gentle fellowship with people who strive for authenticity.

I also became involved in a number of prayer groups as well as an ex-member's group, which helped people to recover from experiences involving a number of cults. I am presently an active member of the Cult Information Service, which provides a 24 hour telephone line providing information, resources and counselling contacts for anyone affected by, or concerned about abusive groups. I have spoken to a number of church congregations of various denominations, as well as to a number of secondary schools and a secondary school chaplains' conference. I have found being useful in this field of ministry a satisfying experience, ("enjoyable" is not the right word!) and intend to continue to be obedient to my Lord's calling in this field, for the duration of His season.

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It now seems to me that, by allowing my experience in the Boston Movement, God has enabled my faith to become more carefully, solidly and vigorously grounded in Christ. To be no longer living a life "out of balance", is a much less harrowing, and a much more fulfilling way to live. For these things I praise the Lord, and have indeed found it true that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28 NIV).

God has also shown me how subtle, yet deadly, Satan's deception can be. I have subsequently come to recognise Spiritual Abuse and Mind Control when I encounter these things, and understand our vulnerability to them.

For a member of the Boston Movement, or any other group, to suggest that God would be prepared to build His Church through:

  1. the use of deceptive recruitment strategies (refer to commentary notes 2 and 3),

  1. the use of abusive and violating indoctrination processes (refer to commentary notes 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 14 to 18, 22 to 25 and 28 to 42.) and,

  1. the examples of Mind Control Criteria in daily life (refer to commentary notes 13 and 43-51),

is most absurd and contrary to His Nature, which is well documented throughout the Old and New Testaments as holy, loving and good, not disfunctional and evil! Through the existence of these cultic characteristics, (strikingly absent in the early Church) the Boston Movement demonstrates that it is not at all what it claims to be; namely God's Movement to restore the first century Church.

I believe that no one can remain within the Boston Movement without remaining an accomplice to it, and thereby corrupting one's integrity. Furthermore, I don't believe one can reform the movement from within (though many have already tried and have been consequently "marked" and "dis-fellowshipped") because of the hermetic nature of the Mind Control trap.

When we are emotionally vulnerable, we tend to make decisions that minimise conflict and maximise acceptability. Emotionally vulnerable people are therefore susceptible to the manipulative dynamics of a Thought Reform Environment. People in cults vehemently deny that they are brainwashed, and believe that they are free to make their own decisions. Yet such people "willingly" took poison in Jonestown, and have "willingly" allowed their loved ones to die while denying them life-saving medical attention. How can this be? It is because Mind Control affects belief systems, and informs the paradigms that shape decision-making processes. Within such an environment, one is only free to choose between options determined by the group. An emotionally vulnerable person, with their options manipulatively determined by others, has become controlled by others.

One does not begin to see the way the Boston Movement really operates until one is baptised and has become one of them. Even then, one only learns more as one moves up the leadership structure, something one cannot do without becoming an accomplice. Unbaptised observers may see people filled with joy and purpose, and see a perfect model of community, demonstating an impressive dedication to the best cause possible; a "revolutionary vision" to which any intelligent, genuine person could dedicate their lives.

This is the image that each member attempts to reflect because it is the same image that seduced them. It represents the way they want to see themselves, the way they want the group to be. By portraying this image they attempt to prove their aspirations are valid. In this ongoing attempt, they are persuaded to do two things. They invest more and more of themselves into the group (emotionally, physically, financially psychologically, spiritually, etc), and progressively "burn their bridges" with any influences beyond the control of the group. As the resulting isolation grows, so does their need to believe that their aspirations are valid. Their need generates a determination to protect the image. Voicing concerns or entertaining misgivings about the group threatens the image. So what develops is a compliant and determined blindness or disregard for aspects of the group that do not conform to the image. They become needy accomplices to their own deception. Their need to believe that their aspirations are valid, overrides the objectivity necessary to discover the deception they participate in. This is the nature of the trap; this is the power of mind control. I pray and work for their rescue.

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  1. A Thought Reform Environment is an hermetically sealed trap, and can exist in a group of any size that is religious, political/ideological, educational, psycho-therapeutic or financial in nature. I am aware of three sets of criteria that all describe a Thought Reform Environment. The Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton, after studying the brainwashing and mind-control techniques employed by the Chinese communists on allied soldiers in the Korean conflict, developed a set of eight criteria to describe the characteristics of the environment in which mind control occurred. The psychologist Margaret Singer developed a set of six criteria after studying cults in the 1970's. Steven Hassan, a former Moonie and now also a psychologist, has developed a set of four criteria based on Leon Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory: the manipulation of one's Behaviour, Information, Thoughts and Emotions. If any group exhibits all criteria of whichever set one has chosen to use, then one has established the existence of a Thought Reform Environment.

  1. In fact, they didn't believe it for a second. However, their agenda was to establish a camaraderie; telling the truth at this point would have seriously compromised their chances of success. When the End justifies the Means, such deception becomes "okay".

  1. What legitimate reason might one give to decline the opportunity to look into such a Church?

Rather than be manipulated into attempting to justify a position difficult to defend, what I needed was more information. I wish (how I wish) that I had at this point asked some effective questions about their organisation that any legitimate organisation should be able to answer.
Examples of effective questions to ask recruiters can be found in Chapter 6 of Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan.

  1. Being put on the spot happens often in cult life, so a cult member does not perceive it as manipulation because it is normal. In such a situation, an emotionally vulnerable person will often seek to be agreeable -- it avoids the possibility of conflict.

  1. I thought that perhaps God had a hand in this. Christians are often noticing God's hand in their lives. In this context, such a thought is not extraordinary.

  1. An emotionally vulnerable person will seek to behave agreeably in such a situation.

  1. How would one behave in a crowd, knowing that one's behaviour is being observed and noted? Is this worship?

  1. An emotionally vulnerable person will respond to this by giving - it avoids conflict and opens up the possibility of acceptance and approval -- an emotional reward.

  1. How would an emotionally vulnerable person respond to this?

  1. The techniques for inducing a low level mass hypnotic state are well known by many mental health professionals and professional hypnotists. The effectiveness of these techniques is still being debated. From my experience, I can testify that such techniques appear to be quite effective on emotionally vulnerable people.

A low level hypnotic state can be induced quite effectively in an environment with a heightened level of excitement or emotional intensity. Introducing confusion in such an environment can radically reduce one's critical faculties; logical double binds can effectively neutralise them. For more information, I refer the reader to Dangerous Persuaders by Louise Samways - her bibliography is also very useful.

  1. This did nothing for my sense of confusion. I was quietly reeling as this unfolded.

  1. A working knowledge of the hallmarks of a Thought Reform Environment would have been useful at this point!

  1. Within organisations like this, there is an inherent belief that one can only get accurate and reliable information about the group, from the group. Information outside the group is "not necessarily reliable". Evidence from ex-members such as myself is dismissed as unreliable because from the cult members' point of view:

  1. there is no legitimate reason for leaving the group, ie. if one leaves, one has either misunderstood the nature of the group, or was never serious about one's commitment in the first place (the doctrine cannot be wrong).
  1. An ex-member, where ever one is critical of the group, is assumed to be motivated by poor attitudes, bitterness and vengeance, "because" one has refused to acknowledge that the problems one has with the group, are one's own fault (the doctrine cannot be wrong).
It is through such beliefs that the "Manipulation of Information" (Hassan's second criterion) is perpetrated.
Such statements are assumed to be true and are never tested. It is undeniably true that many ex-members, especially early on in their recovery, are bitter. It is this bitterness that reveals the reality of their pain and abuse, and that they have indeed sustained damage from the group they have left. "By their fruit you will recognise them." (Matthew 7:18)
My contention is that one can be certain of the reliability of information provided by the group only if there is consistency with the information provided from outside. One ought to establish first that the group's information is reliable before one accepts it. Information from a Thought Reform Environment cannot be reliable.

  1. Is it style or is it symptomatic of excessive control and manipulation? I now think it's the latter and therefore quite an important matter, but at the time I saw only his confidence. As an emotionally vulnerable person, with my best attempt at criticism being apparently thwarted with consummate ease, I was tempted to avoid further risks and entertain the possibility that I was mistaken.

  1. He took advantage of my desire to minimise risk and conflict to set up the first study - where the disabling of existing belief systems and indoctrination is systematically perpetrated.

  1. The emotionally vulnerable person will seek to appear reasonable. The resulting emotional reward is preferable to the punishment of conflict. Free to choose(?!)

  1. At no stage was I told that he going to follow the first prescribed steps in one of the studies outlined in the Boston Movement's publication "Guard the Gospel". At no stage did he let me know of his utter disdain for the basis of my faith. If I had known what his hidden agenda was, I might have attempted to address it.

  1. The problem is that the End does not justify the Means. The Boston Movement regard their use of the exponential model as the logical outworking of "The Great Commission" found in Matthew 28:18-20. However, a reading of the other four versions of "The Great Commission" (Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8; John 20:21-23.) clearly demonstrates that Matthew 28:18-20 does not imply that the exponential model is "God's Plan". The exponential model (that Amway Distribution Networks continue to refine) is actually an unbiblical structure invented by men who, before Kip McKean was even born, wanted to acquire great material wealth.

To implement such a model successfully, an organisation must gain recruits continually. The "End" or "bottom line" of such organisations is therefore growth. Evidence of growth is used to validate the organisation, so that any means that results in growth is considered valid or good for the organisation.
Members of organisations operating with such a bottom line, often perpetrate strategies designed to "influence" (over-ride) one's value system. One is only important to the organisation provided one is perceived as useful to contributing to it's ongoing success. Regardless of one's position therefore, the perpetrator's agenda is to modify one's position so that it conforms with theirs, thereby making one useful to their organisation. The perpetrator will attempt this by usually determining what one's "real" issues should be, defining which options one has with which to respond, and then "encouraging" one to make a decision quickly. I call this process manipulative, essentially disrespectful, and therefore unethical.
Respectful Persuasion encourages and requires one to make careful and informed choices free of any emotional, physical, or psychological "influence". Manipulation violates the process of making such choices, through using strategies designed to "influence" a person emotionally, physically, and/or psychologically.
Jesus was never manipulative and neither was the early Church, which grew without ever needing to resort to manipulative strategies. Such practices can never be reconciled to the "Fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23).
"Christian" organisations that willingly and habitually violate and manipulate others to achieve growth, undermine the integrity of the Gospel, bypass the Holy Spirit's intended and essential role in building Christ's Church, and present a poisoned example of God's love and character in the way they relate to others. If a community can neither comprehend nor demonstrate the real nature of God's character and love, how can they fulfil the command Jesus gave to His disciples "to love one another as I have loved you"? (John 16:34-35) They effectively sabotage the "Great Commission".
The means by which one comes to know Christ is therefore very important and should never involve the use of manipulative strategies. To use "growth" as an excuse to justify the use of manipulation, can never be tenable for those who would be called "Ambassadors for Christ". The End, no matter how noble, can never justify any unethical means by which it is achieved!

  1. Since I have left the movement, Kip McKean has divided the world into Sectors, and appointed his most "effective" leaders as "World Sector Leaders", who oversee and disciple the leaders of all churches within their sector.

This re-organisation, which has simply added another level to the pyramid-like structure, was used by the Boston Movement to change it's name to the "International Churches of Christ".

  1. I am inclined to think that while such structures do not abuse per se, they do provide the ideal environment for abuse to occur and thrive.

  1. This is one of several key teachings where the Boston Movement differs from orthodox Christianity. The Boston Movement's understanding of the relationship between Salvation and being a real disciple is outlined in commentary note 60. A more detailed analysis of Boston Movement doctrine can be found in What Does the Boston Movement Teach?, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Jerry Jones, a pastor in the Mainline Church of Christ and an ex-elder of the Boston Church of Christ, directly under Kip McKean.

A "commitment to Christ" is, in practical terms, synonymous with a commitment to the Boston Movement. In the Boston Movement one is often required to demonstrate one's total commitment by obeying directives given by the leadership. A consistent reluctance to obey a specific directive indicates a poor attitude, which is interpreted as the result of sin. A refusal to confess and repent of such a sin (usually named by either one's discipler or one's peers) is interpreted as an indication that one is not totally committed, and therefore one's salvation is called into question. There is no reason considered valid for "disobedience".

  1. My perspective and objections were never considered valid.

  1. I may have been moderately vulnerable prior to the service but in less than four hours I had been softened up nicely.

  1. An emotionally vulnerable person will tend to seek the acceptance of others in order to reassure themselves of their own worth.

  1. I was driven by a need to validate my own belief system. Yet I wasn't able to perceive how it was being undermined or that it was being done systematically. The following period was like attempting to box blindfolded with a group armed with "four by twos".

  1. My balanced sleeping pattern requires 8 hours sleep per night. Prior to my involvement with the Boston Movement, I was averaging 5-6 hours with the occasional "all-nighter" to complete projects. At this point, I had further reduced this to 2-3 hours. This did not help. I do not recommend it(!)

  1. There is a seductive quality about revolution. To abandon oneself to a principle or an idea with single-minded determination - to follow it through where ever it leads with no doubts, no thought to the implications - to be a part of a movement that really is going to change history; one can believe the wholehearted pursuit of it, to be a noble quality.

  1. I was not in a position to know whether it was unconditional or not. Unconditional is what they believe it to be, but should one reject aspects of their doctrine and act on one's convictions, one is reprimanded, and isolated from the rest of the group until one complies with the group's requirements.

  1. This effectively heightened vulnerability and evoked a decision either to trust someone one does not know, or assertively call off the study. After having already been manoeuvred into a study with someone I didn't really know, what choice would an emotionally vulnerable person make?

Swapping Study leaders was also an attempt at "Mystical Manipulation", one of Lifton's Eight Criteria. The first person gathered the intelligence, found out what my interests were, made an assessment of my personality, and the leadership then decided who amongst them would be most likely to succeed in developing a rapport. As the study progressed, I was completely unaware of the tactics and strategies that were in place, and was allowed to think it was perhaps within God's will that I should find my self relating to someone who seemed to understand me (to some extent at least). My "friendship" with him had been engineered from first to last.

  1. My unease was valid because I had not chosen him as my friend. I sought to meet his expectation to avoid conflict, thus laying myself open to a violation of privacy and trust.

The foundations of any friendship, namely respect, trust, and rapport, are established over time. Relationships grow (or die) as actions and reactions to each other in various situations can be observed and evaluated. The situation I was in had bypassed the healthy and necessary process of establishing a friendship.
He wanted me to be as open with him as he was prepared to be with me. But his "friendship and openness" were conditional in that it served the purpose of eliciting the desired response from me. He did not inform me of his own doubts and questions, which he still attempts to hide, (even from himself) and to that extent was never honest or real with me when I needed him to be. There is a real poverty in the relationships between cult members.
In spite of everything however, I did catch glimpses of a real and likeable human being. I know that he bore no malicious intent in what he perpetrated; he just didn't see that what the Boston Movement encouraged him to do, was a form of violation, betrayal and manipulation "in the name of God". I look forward to the day when the Lord finally gets through to him and his wife.

  1. In a healthy environment, sin is confessed because one seeks to do so. It is quite a different thing and unhealthy, to have it required of one by another. James 5:16 encourages the first case; it does not sanction the second.

The person seeking to confess something, must be allowed to choose to whom to confess, and when to confess it. This is the healthy situation. For another not to respect this is to violate one's personal boundaries, and require a degree of intimacy that is inappropriate. An example: it would be entirely inappropriate for a parent to require a disclosure of their adult offspring that one only feels comfortable telling one's spouse. It is inappropriate for the parent even to seek the information.
I'm inclined to think that it is a good idea to keep a short account with God. If one confesses anything to another, there are often intensely personal issues involved. One should therefore not confess anything to someone until that person has demonstrated their trustworthiness, their discretion, and an under-standing that what they hear, needs to be and will be held in the strictest confidence.

  1. My terms of reference had narrowed to become the same as those of the group.

  1. To prove my salvation, I felt compelled to demonstrate obedience and submission. My compliance was being exploited. More and more was being required of me to prove it. I did not perceive that the hidden agenda was to "prove" that my faith was based on a lie and that I was not at that point saved. If the agenda had been out in the open, we might have looked at what the Bible specifically says about salvation. This would however, have been inconvenient because some of the foundational teachings of the Boston Movement would have been exposed as distorted.

  1. During the study it became obvious that there were so many issues that needed re-evaluation. To extricate myself from this position seemed an impossible and insurmountable task, and even if my life depended on it, I was in no state to attempt it. This was it, an information overload, the extremity of anxiety, the end of my tether, the crux of the crisis. As a result, a part of me shut down.

This is a natural psychological defence mechanism that has been observed and measured through much careful psychological research. The brain, as we switch from agitation to shutdown, changes from our normal state of consciousness to what is called an alpha state, a mild hypnotic trance-like state similar to that when one is meditating, or intently listening to music. The catch however, is that one becomes over twenty times more susceptible to any incoming information while in an alpha state. (Refer also to Commentary note 10.)

  1. The underlying strategy within these studies had been to undermine my belief system by sowing doubts about my salvation through the misuse of Scripture. "I doubt that very much" was intended to be a knock-out blow.

I found out later that it's one of several standard strategic "responses" recommended to "convict" recruits, given in the Boston Movement's publication "Shining Like Stars" and reproduced in "Guard the Gospel". Similar strategies are associated with the more recent "Chariot Ride". He said it because he had been "encouraged" to say it, and since the End is thought to justify the Means, it was okay to say it. God's love is a "tough" love! (Refer to Commentary Note 18.)

  1. There are many other much less abusive ways, to induce an alpha state. Hypnotists do it all the time, but they are required by their own standards of ethics to inform people of what they are doing, and to have their permission to do it. A psychiatrist who does not comply with these standards, can be deregistered, ie. lose their right to practice.

In the Boston Movement, no one knows that they are modifying people's belief systems through inducing an alpha state, so no one seeks the victim's permission, and no one informs the victim of what it is that is being done to them. Members of the Boston Movement simply know that the method worked on them, and that it works on new recruits.
Everyone in cults make their decisions to remain, decisions to participate in the group's activities, and decisions to reject any doubts, while being completely unaware of this "tilted playing field".

  1. Everything he said was almost entirely absorbed. I accepted as legitimate his reasoning, his values, his attitudes and the hidden agenda contained therein (without being aware of it, just as he had done with his study leader); I identified with his emotions and took on board his perception of the group as a radical group of revolutionaries prepared to do anything and go anywhere for God.

  1. A smooth transition to the next Bible study.

  1. He had made his decision under similar circumstances.

  1. This study was the first where the underlying strategy was to "overwrite" my previous belief system. This process is called Indoctrination. It is not done with careful, slow, methodical and sound reasoning, nor is it done in a gentle safe environment. Rather it is done with the victim in a state of trauma, humbly accepting what one is told in order to avoid further conflict.

  1. All these terms have specific meanings in the Boston Movement and all represent distortions (in varying degrees) of the orthodox Biblical understanding.

That no one in the early Church was required to undergo such a rigorous process, escaped my notice at the time. If their teaching was correct and necessary for salvation, one would expect to find some supporting Biblical evidence of the "Counting the Cost" process, and of early Church leaders taking care to ensure decisions made by converts to be disciples, were made prior to baptism. It certainly was not taught, nor did it happen on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37-41). In fact, evidence that substantiates what the Boston Movement teaches to validate its claim to be God's Restoration Movement, (and invalidate the salvation of others), is conspicuously absent from the entire New Testament record.

  1. To be considered a Real Disciple, one had to demonstrate one's total commitment to God, being completely obedient to His will (as the leadership determined it). Can the reader see how, by looking to external behaviours, one's commitment could be called into question, thereby jeopardising one's salvation?

Members therefore live with the constant possibility of losing their salvation if the leadership decides that they have not been compliant enough. This is phobia indoctrination at work; one will be compliant motivated by fear. This is a grotesque parody of the obedience proceeding out of love, to which Jesus calls us.

  1. My life entered a "honeymoon" period, engineered by the leadership.

  1. A document rich in leading questions, subtle distortions of language and Scripture, and a blatant example of "Thought Manipulation", the third of Steven Hassan's Four criteria.

  1. The Discipleship structure is an example of how the manipulation of Behaviour sets up the ability to "influence" the way information is understood, thereby manipulating Information and Thoughts. Compliance is maintained through the use of emotional rewards and punishments, being an example of Emotional Manipulation. All of Hassan's Four Criteria are therefore present in just one aspect of the Boston Movement.

  1. The reality of the pressure placed on disciples to comply with such dis-empowering requirements, is evidence that clearly demonstrates the existence of Emotional Manipulation.

  1. I was "encouraged" to "get with the Brothers" so that I might enjoy the fellowship and grow in the Church. Activities were constantly being organised. The effect of this was that one had to decline assertively a fairly constant barrage of invitations, to do something outside the group. These activities are not compulsory, but the "Brothers" or "Sisters" would get "hurt" if one chose too often to spend time with others. This is Behavioural compliance through Emotional blackmail, not to mention very unhealthy.

  1. The heavy schedule, an example of "Behavioural Manipulation" minimises contact with others outside the group, minimises exposure to news and information, and virtually eliminates effective periods of time-out for the chance of some solitude and gaining of perspective. It also maximises contact time spent with the group, and nurtures an unhealthy physical, psychological and emotional dependency upon the group.

  1. I later found that the discipler will often set up someone they feel "needs" to be disciplined. With some disciplers it is with deliberate malice, with others just a callous disregard and lack of respect for the recipient. Some disciplers aren't even aware that they are manipulating the event. The way it works is as follows. Before the meeting, the discipler reveals his concerns to one of his more reliable disciples. Being allowed into the discipler's confidence is a privilege for the disciple. When the discipler begins the session, the disciple is primed and eager both to please his discipler and impress his fellow disciples, and provides the feedback already given to him. I observed it in my group, I observed it in other groups, and other ex-members have related to me similar experiences. The other disciples look to the discipler to gauge his response. If he approves, the other disciples know what kind of feedback will gain their discipler's approval. Anything to help their discipler... so they adopt a similar position, and the victim receives a full measure of "loving rebuke and correction" from his peers.

This is yet another example of the use of Emotional Manipulation to invoke a change of attitude (Thought Manipulation).

  1. However, this is not permitted unless one is demonstrating ongoing compliance and commitment to the group. Such permission is revoked if compliance is not forthcoming.

  1. The existence of such unwritten rules, even if they change over time, also demonstrate the existence of Behavioural Manipulation.

Commentary notes 13 and 43 to 51 clearly demonstrate the existence of all criteria for confirming the existence of a Thought Reform Environment. I have used Hassan's Four Criteria, but I could also use Lifton's or Singer's criteria on the same examples and also demonstrate the existence of all criteria, regardless of which set I decide to use.
I have found no evidence in the New Testament record that indicates or justifies the existence of these criteria in the early Church.
It is my contention that freedom of thought, speech, or belief cannot exist in a Thought Reform Environment, and that any organisation that demonstrates all of the criteria has ceased to be a legitimate organisation.
I do not believe that God sanctions or works through such organisations, where bondage, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse and deception are institutionally perpetrated upon its members.

  1. Later, as I reflected on this episode, I came to recognise that I had surrendered something. I had become emotionally dependant on the approval of others. Before my involvement in the group, people's opinions had generally not compromised my ability to do the sensible thing. While the illusion was that I was growing stronger in the Church, it became apparent I was in fact becoming weaker. To comply with the group dynamics simply reinforced my weakness. Another reservation.

  1. Was I set up here?

  1. I can laugh at it now, but I couldn't tell him how I felt then. There was no legitimate reason allowed for such an emotion. If I felt this way, it had to be my fault, some spiritual inadequacy on my part. (The inconceivable alternative is that it is the discipler's fault.) It was inconceivable because the "fact" of his position of authority and spiritual maturity, was one of those beliefs that had slipped in while I was in an alpha state. I didn't notice how that belief got there; but I still operated as if it were true. Reflecting on this episode helped to bring into focus the conflict between the belief and my experience, which in turn brought the nature of my belief out in the open. Most people who are completely under mind control however, shut down as soon as the conflict becomes apparent; conflict is the last thing they want to notice, because they have invested so much of themselves into making this new life a success.

While trying to cook a meal without enough equipment is not of world-shaking importance, it was still a situation where my good will had been abused and manipulated, and the impending embarrassment had been shifted from the host onto me; and because of my own modified belief system, I could not allow myself to feel real emotion.

  1. A rare indulgence. Such examples are often grasped by members to "prove" that there is nothing wrong with the movement. And so something that is genuinely wholesome, becomes a means to keep people trapped. This works because they have invested so much of themselves into making this new life a success. I explain why this is, in my final observations in the Conclusion.

  1. About 75% of members (marrieds and singles) live in controlled living environments. Married couples "encourage" each other (with the help of their disciplers) and the singles live in "Brothers" or "Sisters" houses to facilitate their spiritual growth.

Should a member decline an invitation to move in, they will find that whenever issues come up, moving in will be presented as a solution. Continued reluctance to comply brings forth accusations of sinfulness and bad attitudes.

  1. Love-bombing involves overt demonstrations of love and concern (leaving God's movement is to jeopardise seriously one's salvation). These include the giving of gifts, offers of practical help, emotional and fearful pleas to stay, and tearful promises of change that were not forthcoming until the leadership mobilised the group.

Those who are love-bombed, soon "realise" that their leaving will hurt those who love them. They are "encouraged" to stay and "work it through". In the Boston Movement, Real Commitment to the Body is an indication of Real Discipleship which in turn implies Real Salvation. Therefore "If you're a Real Disciple..." or "If you really love the Body..." or "If you really love us..." It is through such blatant examples of Emotional Manipulation, combined with Phobia Indoctrination (an induced fear of losing Salvation), that many elect to "give it one more try".
The belief is that one's problems can be worked through. This is not true in a "tilted playing field". It is assumed that the source of one's problems resides in personality conflicts or one's lack of understanding of doctrine (The Doctrine can not be wrong). When one's problem is with Doctrine...

  1. And so the obedient, the same people who participated in the love-bombing, do not hear the other side, and do not discover that they have been lied to by people they are required to trust, and sever their friendship and support toward abused ex-members as if they never existed. When members do encounter ex-members, conversation is usually "succinct" and any attempt by the ex-member to relate their side of the story is usually dismissed as being the result of "bitterness" or an "unrepentant heart". It is ironic that those who accuse ex-members of bitterness are so often the cause of it, as well as accomplices to their own deafness.

  1. The derision and contempt shown at times toward those Christians who disagree with important aspects of Boston Movement doctrine, was beginning to appear quite arrogant and spiteful. Such qualities within people claiming to be more spiritually mature than myself, were certainly not qualities one associates with Christ.

"Serious" Christians in other churches are at best regarded as "having a heart for God" but are "misguided" and "fond of tradition", and therefore "religious" or "Pharisaic". Such people "need" to become active in the Movement and be "taught correctly" to be assured of salvation. It is actually believed that no other congregation in any denomination out of the Boston Movement's sphere of influence, is a legitimate part of the Body of Christ.
It seems to me that this position actually undermines the Biblical claim of Christ's sovereignty. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus states that He will build His Church. To suggest that the Church today, no matter how imperfect, does not in fact contain the Body of Christ, is to suggest that Jesus did not do, and is not doing, what He said He would. How can Jesus not do what He promised to do, unless He has been prevented from doing so? If He has been prevented from doing so, He cannot be sovereign. Such a position clearly conflicts with Scripture.

  1. A "real" disciple is someone who has a radical attitude toward Sin, is totally committed to God, and is prepared to demonstrate this commitment by being prepared to go anywhere, do anything, at any time for God (for the cause) and be dedicated to God's work ("evangelising" the nations) and God's people (one's "brothers" and "sisters").

It seemed to me that if one did not, or could not conform to the zealous expectations of the group, one's commitment was questioned. If one's commitment was not genuine, then one had never been a real disciple at all. If one had never been a real disciple, then one had never been saved. This is the logical conclusion of the "Saved = Christian = Disciple" doctrine taught by the Boston Movement. Being saved therefore depends on demonstrating what is deemed by others to be "real" commitment. Apart from the presumption of those who decide on God's behalf what is real and what is not, is this not "Salvation" by works, or at least "Keeping one's Salvation" by works?

  1. In hindsight, such an attempt, although necessary, was futile because I was still unaware of the tilted playing field. Being free of the Thought Reform Environment, I can now present a better case than I could possibly have done then.

  1. Matthew 7:9-11: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (NIV)

  1. Nothing else would, in reality, satisfy the Boston Movement's criteria, for if there is anything to criticise, The Boston Movement will gladly use it against the Body of Christ. So does the Accuser. (Revelation 12:10)

  1. John 13:34-35: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV)

NOTE: Boston Movement Material referred to in the commentary notes, can be viewed [at the University of Queensland Chaplaincy Centre.]

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©1998 by Tony Adams <a-adams@ucaqld.com.au>. All rights reserved.

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