MIND CONTROL The phrase conjures up visions of zombie-like trances, shaved heads and orange robes, sunken eyes deprived of food and sleep, and the drip, drip, drip of the ageless Chinese water torture experience.
These are the images we’re used to seeing in our pop-culture media, and that in fact may exist in various parts of the world. But for the most part, these images have produced a widespread misunderstanding of the term. Mind control is not always so obvious and dramatic. It does not always appear with bared fangs or a vacant stare. It does not always require physical restraint, or the use of drugs, hypnosis, and food and sleep deprivation. Rather, the ability to control someone often appears so innocuous and haphazard that, unless you know specifically what to look for, you just might miss it.
The International Church of Christ (ICC) is a group that often has charges of mind control leveled against it. When confronted with this accusation, ICC members exclaim,Nobody’s controlling me! Nobody can ‘force’ me to do anything! I make my own decisions. I joined the group willingly, and can leave at any time. As a former member of the ICC, I understand this reaction, and agree that the term mind control can be problematic, and can seem to say so much, and yet at the same time appear to say nothing at all. Admittedly, the term can be emotionally inflammatory and hard to digest, accustomed as we are to such a sensationalized understanding of the term. There are, in fact, many other terms that describe practices usually associated with mind control, ranging from the high-toned and academic to the common language of the streets--thought reform, coercive persuasion, exploitative persuasion, a shell game, a con job, shucking and jiving, a scam. Whatever label you want to put to the methods gathered under the umbrella of mind control, in the end the only thing they can spell out is: B-A-D-N-E-W-S
When confronted with the term “mind control”, a legitimate question is, “How does someone “control” your mind if they can’t get “inside” your head?” The answer is one simple word: deception. What I mean is, if someone can deceive you into believing they’re acting in your best interests, they can control you. If someone can deceive you into believe that only they love you, and that if you don’t measure up to their standards they’ll withdraw that love, they can control you. If someone can deceive you into believing they are God’s “delegated authority” and that their direction is “God’s will” for your life, they can control you. In sum total, if someone can convince you to believe what they want you to believe, using systematic deception and trickery, they can control you-- both your decisions and your actions.
In this paper, I will paraphrase the eight criteria for “mind control” and will show how ICC methods parallel these criteria. The criteria are in no way intentionally biased against the ICC, as they were developed before the group’s existence, and continue to be referred to by such renowned psychologists and counselors as Robert Lifton, Margaret Singer, and Steven Hassan. Also, since the ICC claims that in all matters it is only doing “what Jesus did”, I will point out where the majority of professing Christians/disciples, both now and in biblical times, do not advocate or practice these “mind control” methods.
As you read this, please keep in mind that the situations I describe do not necessarily happen in the life of each and every ICC member to the same degree. It could be true that a recent member or a member in some part of the world might not have “experienced” every parallel I draw. Nevertheless, based on observations during my nine and a half-years with the group, written testimonies from numerous ex-members around the world, and the ICC’s own published documents and sermons, the scenarios I describe are definitely characteristic of the ICC as a whole, and can certainly be applied as a general “rule of thumb” regarding the group’s environment.
1.) ENVIRONMENT CONTROL: Communication from within and outside the group is controlled or manipulated to produce a significant degree of isolation from the surrounding society. Interactions with friends, family, and information outside the group is regulated and limited.
Within the group, exposure to the outside world is regulated through the ICC’s requirement that every member “seek advice”. Areas where you need to “seek advice” include who to date, who to marry, when to visit family, how much time to spend with non-ICC members who are not “open” to joining the group, how long to go on vacations, and what job to take, all in light of what will or will not conflict with the agenda of “The Kingdom”. While it is true that the bible often states that it is wise to seek advice, this directive is taken a step further, and what the ICC deceptively calls the need for “advice”, in reality becomes the need for “permission”. In the ICC, you are constantly harassed with questions such as, “Why didn’t you seek advice on that?” and “Did you get advice on that, bro?” Verbal attacks are often the result of not seeking or not following advice, and you are confronted and labeled, “prideful”, “rebellious”, and “independent”. More severe consequences may also result. ICC leaders may not give you the “go ahead” to date someone you are interested in. You may be assigned a young and immature discipler as a means to “humble” you. Or you may be confronted in a two or three-on-one “discipling session”, and hammered on until you show “brokenness” over your sin, and a willingness to “repent”.
Also, going to visit a non-ICC church is next to heresy. “Why would you want to check out a church that isn’t part of The Kingdom?” members ask. They tell you that to even casually visit another church is a prime way for “Satan to get in there”, and “snatch away” your devotion to the ICC. Of course, the reason members feel threatened is because they know that if you visit other churches you might discover the ICC doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth.
Regarding “friends and family,” you are often “talked to” and your commitment to God is challenged if you are thought to be spending more time with friends and family than with ICC members, even if those friends and family are professing Christians/disciples. If you are a college student, you are discouraged from spending too much time at home during the holidays, and are expected to “check in”, by calling your discipler every day, often to confirm that your parents are not “persecuting” you with any “critical information” about the ICC. When you do visit family, you are coached on what information to share and not to share. For example, you are told not to mention to your family that you have a “discipler” because your family might think it sounds “weird” or “won’t understand”.
Outside the group, any information that is critical of the ICC is labeled, “spiritual pornography.” This means that any such materials pollute and corrupt the mind. Types of materials include books, newspaper articles, television news reports, and internet web sites like the one you are now reading. Rather than use the information to lessen the abuses and make positive changes in the group, ICC leaders treat such information like it emanates from the deepest pits of Hell.
An even more powerful example of environment control is to limit access to ex-members, especially ex-leaders, who often have had a significant influence on many current members. If ex-members are seen as a threat to the ICC, they are “marked”, meaning that you are not allowed to talk to them, or risk being disfellowshipped and “marked” yourself. The biblical precedent for “marking” is in Titus 3:10, which says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” In a few instances, this scripture may be applied appropriately. More often, however, former leaders are “marked” because they have the respect of those who were “under” them, as well as the fact that they are often privy to inside information that would have a good and rightful impact on current members. I am aware of a number of ex-leaders who merely wanted to explain to close friends why they were leaving the ICC, and had no intention of being “divisive”, yet were threatened with being marked if they made any effort to contact any current ICC members.
2.) MYSTICAL MANIPULATION: The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the specialness and higher calling of the group through prophetic words and encounters. These prophetic words/encounters seek to produce emotional responses of awe and trust; the words/encounters appear to have arisen spontaneously from within the environment, but in reality have been pre-planned and orchestrated. By thus becoming the instruments of their own mystique, they create a powerful aura around their organization—the Government, the Party, the Movement.
As a potential convert of the ICC, you are manipulated by such “prophetic words” as, “You’re going to be a powerful leader in God’s kingdom,” and, “You’re not here by accident,” which of course implies that God wants you as part of the ICC. These generic phrases are repeated time and time again, often by members who hardly know you. Throughout the conversion process, you are showered with seemingly spontaneous and endless “love”, and continually told how “awesome” you are. Starry-eyed and euphoric, you gaze up to the heavens thinking, “This must be The Kingdom.” However, once you become a member, you stop receiving the “encouraging” phone calls, you’re told it is now “you’re turn to give”, and the gifts of “love” and attention are lavished on the next potentially “awesome” disciple on the assembly line. Whereas the love initially appeared to be a “free gift”, you now have to “earn it” through performance on the “disciple making” assembly line yourself. The amount of confusion, shock, and depression this creates in new members cannot be overemphasized.
Also during the conversion process, in bible talks and church services, the preacher will often say things like, “Maybe your long-time girlfriend just left you for another guy,” or “Maybe you just moved to this city and are having trouble finding friends,” or “Maybe your mother just died and you don’t understand God’s plan for your life.” You are then likely to think, “Wow! It seems like he’s talking right to me!” You might even approach the preacher and tell him this, to which the preacher merely offers a sheepish grin and nods his head in satisfaction. The fact of the matter is, the preacher often IS talking specifically about you and your recent situation. Members often share this type of information about you with the preacher, in their minds so that the preacher can “relate” to you. The problem is, the preacher would never admit to you that this information had been given to him, but instead will remain deceitfully silent, well aware of the power and influence that his “prophetic word” has wielded.
Mystical Manipulation is also used to justify abuses of authority that occur in discipling relationships. Often, you may feel like your discipler is harsh and overbearing, or that their age or life experiences are so different from yours that they can’t relate to significant problems or issues you might be confronting in your life. If you request to change your discipler, you are served with the “mystical” phrase, “God put that person in your life for a reason”. Of course, you are never told what the reason is, but that vague and general statement is meant to put a stop to any further exploration into the matter. On the other hand, ICC leadership can switch your discipler whenever they feel like it, and any close relationship you might have built is now torn apart from you. You have little or no say about this, and are only told that it is being done because, “The Kingdom is advancing.”
3.) DEMAND FOR PURITY: Group members are constantly exhorted to strive for unattainable perfection on a global or personal level. Taints and poisons which contribute to the existing state of imperfection must be searched out and eliminated. These perfectionist expectations produce an environment of continual shame and guilt.
First of all, please understand that the “Demand For Purity” is not necessarily referring to sexual purity, but the purity of attitude that conforms to the ICC stencil of a “true” disciple. On a global level, the stick that prods you and the vacuum that sucks out your money, is the ICC’s claim that “nobody else is doing it”, that no other churches are committed to the task of fulfilling Jesus’ mission, and that they are all spiritually dead or disunified. The ICC claims that it is “defining Christianity” in places like Russia and China, even though there are other professing Christians/disciples in those areas. This burden is made even more heavy because the ICC’s mission is that they must “evangelize the world in one generation,” just like the first century church. The propagating of this myth is particularly deceptive, in light of the fact that the civilized “world” couldn’t at all have been considered evangelized until approximately 350a.d.
More damaging to members is the Demand For Purity on a personal level. In the ICC, any decision of yours can be turned into a “heart issue”, and must be purged in order for you to remain a “good disciple”. If you don’t come to a 6:00 a.m. “quiet time”, if you are not able to attend every “meeting of the body”, if you’re not getting together for “d-time” with your discipler at least once a week, if you don’t give at least 10% of your income every week, if you don’t give 20x your weekly contribution for the annual “special contribution”—you are confronted with not having a “disciple’s heart”. This is then taken further, and you are told that if you don’t have a disciple’s heart, you are not a disciple; and if you are not a disciple, you are not saved. Since the ICC is fond of equations, an equation that expresses this phenomenon is: Not Obeying ICC Leadership In All Circumstances=Not A Disciple=Not Saved. A forum where these “heart issues” are often “purged” is a “discipleship group”, where you are not only confronted by one person, but where every member of your bible talk group (average of 5 people) will attempt to “disciple” your “unsubmissive spirit”. While it is true that ICC leaders claim that you need not obey if the direction “conflicts with scripture” or your “conscience”, it is also true that leaders routinely manipulate the scriptures to support what they say, tell you that you don’t have a “clear understanding” of the scriptures, or tell you to “pray about it” and get your conscience right.
The ICC also implements the Demand For Purity by encouraging a policy of personality uniformity. This includes the constant correcting and rebuking of people who are not “out of themselves”, who are not as extroverted or gregarious as high-level ICC leaders. Shyness and insecurity are confronted as “sin”. The more “fired-up” and “out of yourself” you appear in the group, the better your chances of gaining acceptance and “rising-up” in leadership. Adhering to this group norm is considered to be on the road to perfection in the ICC, as they claim this is the personality type Jesus had. However, even a surface glance at the Bible will reveal that 1st century Christians/disciples had a wide-range of personalities—the brash Peter, who could certainly be considered “out of himself”; John, who was called “the apostle of love”; “doubting” Thomas; the apostle Paul, who strove to be “all things to all men” in his interactions with them. Ironically, many non-members are actually turned off by this “used-car salesman/game-show host” type of personality when approached by members. But since this is the personality type of the high level leaders in the group, this is the standard for a prototypical “good disciple”.
4.) CULT OF CONFESSION: Confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious and therapeutic expressions to the point of being a cult in itself. It then becomes a means of exploiting rather than offering comfort. Often in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.
The problem with “confession” as it is spoken of here, and where the ICC grossly distorts the biblical purpose of confession, is that if you ever question doctrine or practices of the group, the sins you have previously disclosed are brought up as the “real issue” you’re hiding behind. You and your “heart” are made out to be the problem. This especially applies if you leave the group. “Oh, so-and-so fell away because he just wanted to watch pornography and go to strip clubs. That was one of his big sins, you know.” Or, “Oh, she just left because she wanted a boyfriend. You know how she always talked about struggling with not being married.” Often, these types of stories turn out to be absolutely untrue, and any valid concerns you may have brought up while a member are then conveniently swept under the carpet. This is an incredibly effective tactic of control, and keeps the real issues from being addressed and keeps questions from being answered.
Not being “open” is also used as leverage if you are in a one-on-one or group “discipling session”, but cannot think of any recent or obvious sin to confess. “There must be something in there, bro. I don’t think you’re really being open.” If you continue to say you can’t think of anything to confess at the time, you are told you being prideful, and that in itself is something you should now confess.
In church devotionals, speakers frequently preach that a disciple has no “right to privacy”, because the ICC is “the family of God”, and there is no reason to keep secrets from “the family”. This is hypocritically one-sided, as many leaders in the group do not answer specific questions about their finances, or where church contribution money is going. As well, you are to confess only to those inside the group, as those on the outside, even other professing Christians/disciples, will not be able to “relate” or “understand”. This creates ever-tightening bonds within the group, and further isolation from those outside the group.
ICC speakers often preach that the reason you need to be “open” with doubts, “attitudes”, or “quiet reservations” about the group’s doctrine and practices is so you can “get help”, not because you might have a valid point. You are constantly cautioned against “guarding your heart” from your discipler. This an absolute farce, since if you don’t bring your concerns into the open and then choose to leave the group, you are dismissed as not having been “open”. But if you do bring up your concerns and then still choose to leave, you are labeled as “bitter” and “critical”.
5.) SACRED SCIENCE: The group’s perspective produces an aura of sacredness around its doctrine, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. The group has a monopoly on the truth, all other individuals and groups “fall short”. The group’s doctrine is not subject to amendments or question.
ICC rhetoric says, “Why are there so many divorces in the world? Because so many people aren’t true disciples. Why is there so much sexual immorality, stealing, drug use, dysfunctional families, etc? Because people aren’t true disciples. Because they’re not in God’s Modern Day Movement.” Yes, the ICC claims to have the solution to why your life is so sick and twisted, if only you’ll join it’s ranks. The ICC classifies all other individuals and groups since the 1st century as having “fallen short” of “restoring” New Testament Christianity. The group’s “scientific” philosophy is not that its leadership has discovered new truths, but that “old truths have become clear” in a way that hasn’t happened with the rest of the worldwide Christian community in 1900 years. Of course, every one of the sins previously mentioned happens time and time again among all levels of ICC membership, but are then laughably justified by leadership’s claim that, “We’re not perfect.” The circular absurdity of this is obvious, as this same “grace” is never extended to Christians/disciples outside the boundaries of the ICC’s “sacred” doctrine.
The ICC claims that its mandatory “one-over-another” discipling hierarchy is not a system, but is straight “from God”. Whenever criticisms are voiced about abuses of authority in these relationships, leaders claim that, “it’s people who are imperfect, not the system.” However, the “system”, is not only “imperfect”, but is nowhere commanded in the Bible, and examples of each Christian/disciple having a mandatory “discipler” is not present throughout the New Testament churches.
Regarding the attempt to make “amendments”, many leaders have made specific efforts to change authoritarian ICC practices—Rick Bauer, Ed Powers, Jerry Jones, Isaiah Pickett, David Medrano—but were either disfellowshipped, or were “marked” after they left the group. This continues to happen to the present day, and members who take a stand on their convictions toward the ICC’s abusive practices are typically told they are “opposing God’s delegated authorities,” and are chastised or shunned until they fall into line, or leave.
6.) LOADED LANGUAGE: Vocabulary is redefined to suit the group’s agenda. Group members “think” within the very abstract and narrow perimeter’s of the group’s doctrine. The most deep and complex human problems are compressed into brief, definitive sounding phrases, easily remembered and easily expressed. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a “black and white” mentality. Loaded terms and clichés prejudice thinking.
Here are some terms the ICC has redefined to suit its own purposes—
“Sentimentality” – Thinking a close friend or relative is a Christian/disciple even if they are not part of the ICC. To be “sentimental” is to not be “sold out” for “The Kingdom”.
“Religious” – Someone who goes to church or does good deeds in the name of God, but is not part of the ICC. Historically, this term has been neutral or positive, and denotes commitment and devotion, but in the ICC, to be called “religious” is a total put-down, and means that you are either wishy-washy and complacent, or that you are a Pharisee and prideful about your bible knowledge or past church involvement and affiliations.
“Critical” – Being “critical” in the group is an attack on the ICC’s doctrine or “delegated authorities”. Any grievance you have toward the group is minimized, as you are told, “You’re just critical, bro,” and your character is then made the issue. In “real life”, this term often simply means “the ability to analyze” something. But the ICC has taken this useful ability of the human mind and demonized it, and has used it to put a dead-end to questions and concerns.
“Struggling” – At times, this is applied in its correct biblical context, meaning that someone is “struggling” with acts of the sinful nature, or with their faith in God. More often, however, it is used to label your attitude toward the ICC. If you don’t show up to a church service without letting your discipler know the reason, you are “struggling”. If you want to date a professing Christian/disciple outside the ICC, you are “struggling”. If you have a question about how your weekly or “special” contribution is being spent, you are “struggling”. If you think that people outside the ICC are Christians/disciples, you are “struggling”. As a “struggling” member, you are then put on a “weak and concerned” list, and the information about your “struggles” is often shared with other members. You may then get numerous calls from members you know, and sometimes from members you don’t know—all calling either to “encourage” you, or to “disciple” you to “get your heart right.” Overall, as a “struggling” disciple you are not in good standing, even though your situation may not at all be an issue of your faith in Christ and His commands. The concept of “agreeing to disagree” has no place in the ICC’s totalist environment.
“Fall away”—Biblically, this term refers to someone who has decided to turn their back and break off their relationship with God. In the ICC, this term is used to reinforce the teaching that “leaving the ICC=leaving God”. If you decide to leave the group for any reason, you are referred to as a “fall away,” and reduced to the status of a “non-disciple”, or worse, a “bitter” person who “couldn’t handle it”, meaning the commitment to the ICC’s methods. At that point, the only reason an ICC member has for speaking to you is if you show an interest in being “restored,” that is, rejoining the group. If you do decide to be “restored” you will be subjected to rigorous “discipling sessions”, where you must explain the reasons why you left the ICC, discuss the sins you have committed since leaving, acknowledge how you have hurt the faith of ICC members by leaving, and show “brokenness” and “repentance” towards God.
7.) DOCTRINE OVER PERSON: Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine. The group’s doctrine is viewed as more valid, true, and real than any aspect of human character or experience.
This is exactly what the First Principles study series is all about. The whole FP study series invalidates any former Christian/disciple knowledge or experiences. Its goal is to peel away that former “religious” layer of existence, prove to you that you’re not a “true disciple”, and then apply a new layer defined according to the ICC’s definition. If an ICC member is “studying the Bible” with you, he/she would ask you questions like, “Have you been denying yourself daily?” or, “Have you put God first, even over your family and friends?” or, “Did you ‘count the cost’ before you became a disciple?” If you answered yes to questions like these, and gave examples, the member would just keep asking questions until he/she got one you couldn’t answer “yes” to, and then say, “Aha! You see? You’re not really a disciple!” The question in the study series that will most likely “get” you is, “Have you been making disciples?” If you answer “yes”, the follow-up question is, “Have you been making disciples like this? Like the way we’re showing you here?” Of course, not having been through the FP study series, it is impossible that you could have been “making disciples” according to this definition. In other words, all past experiences as a Christian/disciple are dismissed as “religious”, meaning you merely went through the motions, or you were not “taught properly”, meaning your experiences were not within the boundaries of the ICC’s “correct” doctrine. Ultimately, the study series systematically wears you down and confuses you about the validity of your relationship with God.
Within the group, personal relationships are nowhere near as important as loyalty to “The Movement”. Confidentiality is routinely broken, as information about members’ ”struggles” is passed up the group’s hierarchy. Dating couples and married couple are required to inform their discipler if their spouse is viewing critical information or speaking critically about the group, or is becoming “lukewarm” in their commitment to the group. Members who have been part of the group for five, ten, and even fifteen years are treated like strangers by supposedly close friends if they take a stand against abuses, or if they leave the group due to the leadership’s refusal to change the system that has fostered the abuses. The ICC has an “ends justify the means” mentality, and has little respect for the frailty of the human heart and mind.
8.) DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE: Salvation is possible only in the group. Those who leave the group are doomed.
The ICC claims exclusively to be the “one true church” and “God’s modern day movement”. Here are some quotes from ICC leaders that can testify to this point much better than any words of my own:
is one church! There is one God! There is one kingdom of God and this is it!”
(The Great Commission, audio tape, Weger/Rock, Hodge/Hamann/Fulcher/Fields)
the last hope the world has. Nobody else is going to do what we’re doing. Nobody
else has the right message. Nobody else has the right commitment.”
(Gordon Ferguson, Radical Men, Radical Times, Manila World Leadership Conference, 1994)
you walk away from the movement of God, there is nowhere else to walk. Walking
out of the darkness into the light. There is nobody else. There is nobody in
this country that has the true gospel—that is, trying to make disciples of Jesus.
There is nobody else in this entire world. This is the movement of God! There
is no place to go.”
(Nick Young, Tulsa Reconstruction, audio tape, 1992)
my Bible teaches me there is but one church. And a lot of people say, ‘Well
bro, you know, maybe somewhere in the world, there’s another movement of God
going on.’ Let me tell you something: we’re in 171 nations and we haven’t found
(Kip McKean, Known But To God, American Commonwealth Region Conference, audio tape, 2000)
then they [people who leave the church] go, and they say, ‘I’m just leaving
the International Church of Christ. I’m not leaving God.’ Let me tell you something:
when you leave God’s church, you leave God!”
(Kip McKean, “The Kindgom of God”, Jubilee 2000: Even Greater Things, videotape, 2001)
Yes, if you “fall away” from the
ICC you might as well be considered dead, unless of course you might want to
be “restored” at some point. When you leave the group you are often told outright,
and talked about behind your back, that you will go back to your sinful lifestyle,
that your marriage will become a mess, that your life will fall apart, and that
your are like a “dog returning to its vomit”. This fact--that the ICC claims
to be the “One True Church” and “God’s Modern Day Movement,” is the linchpin
that holds the group together, the hub of its existence. Without the fear this
instills, few people would be willing to tolerate the intense controls of the
ICC environment. And without the deceptive practices the ICC uses to support
this claim, it would not have the control it exercises over peoples’ lives.
To me, the combination of mind control practices talked about in this paper add up to a few results. The ICC appeals to and promises to nurture your idealism, then stomps on it with its totalitarian boot. The ICC takes Jesus’ concept of The Kingdom of God as leadership serving the people and turns it “upside down”. The ICC appears to be an oasis that God exclusively revolves around, but in reality is only a mirage, leaving its members to crawl away more thirsty and beaten than when they entered it. Perhaps one day, the leaders of the International Church of Christ will come to their senses, stop being so obsessed with being “God’s delegated authorities”, release their “disciples”, and be content to be merely fellow brothers and sisters.
Recommended Reading On Mind Control:
Hassan, Steve.Combatting Cult Mind Control
Lifton, Robert Jay.Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
Singer, Margaret. Cults In Our MidstQuestions or comments, email REVEAL at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2001 by Ryan Britt. All rights reserved.
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