By Keith Stump
Copyright 2001-2003 Daniel Keith Stump
The following article originally was written prior to the resignation of Kip McKean and subsequent reorganization of the ICC leadership structure. One respondent has suggested that these events have "taken the wind out of" my arguments. I disagree. The ICC has had changes in leadership over the years: these have not stopped the abuses.
As of this date, some seven months after Kip McKean's resignation, the ICC is in a state of disarray with some leaders wanting to stay the course, others wanting to tweak the system and still others wanting to institute massive reforms. There have been reports of members demanding resignations and other considerations on the part of the leaders. There have been numerous resignations and firings. Some congregations appear to have collapsed. There are rumors that Kip McKean may attempt a comeback.
No one knows what will develop in the coming months and years. We can look at other Christianity-based "Chosen Few" movements that have sprang up over the years as a guide for what might happen. Historically, Chosen Few sects have started off with a grand hope, invariably followed by a grand disappointment. After the grand disappointment, these sects either disband, recover or splinter. The ICC is too large simply to disband. Those who have been paying attention to Internet chat rooms will note that it is clear that the ICC is splintering. However, it is very likely that much of the ICC is going to renovate itself. But will such adjustments end the system of abusive control?
What appears to be happening is that the various congregations are developing variations on the same scheme of the ICC system of abusive control, rather than rejecting it in its entirety. If the ICC, instead of being a single, centrally controlled entity, becomes a confederation of independently operating congregations will that solve the problems? Unfortunately, the answer is "No".
Eventually, and I suspect it will take a few years, things will calm down in the ICC. A new ICC will be formed perhaps any number of new ICC's will be created. My question is, "And then what?" Ten, fifteen, fifty years from now, what will be happening? The opportunities afforded by the breakdown of the central leadership will not last. What then? Although a few congregations may morph into something within the normal milieu of Christianity, what about all the others and the congregations yet to be "planted"? Will there be freedom or control? I see little reason to be optimistic.
The passing from the McKean era to the next one may produce many changes, but the underlying abusive structure is likely to remain. As indicated in this article, the primary abuse done in the ICC is not on the upper-echelon leader level: the main harm is done on the local level by minor leaders. Even ending the practice of having assigned discipleship partners will not solve the underlying problem. I will return to this proposition in Section IV: The Crux of the Matter.
However, it is not as though substantive changes are impossible for the ICC. Presently, at least one congregation has made genuine reforms and a very few other congregations have considered meaningfully addressing the core problems. I applaud the courage that these congregations have shown and sincerely hope that their reforms will be brought fully and permanently to fruition. These few congregations notwithstanding, what is lacking is an effort by the ICC as a whole to reform. To date, the transformations that these few congregations have made are the exception, not the norm. Although I am optimistic for a limited few congregations, no ICC affiliate of which I am aware has instituted what I would regard as the minimum necessary reforms.
I cannot recommend that anyone join or remain in the ICC. Nevertheless, this article is not intended to persuade members of the ICC to leave the group: it is written to help former and exiting members to understand what has happened to them.
I do not plan to revise this essay repeatedly in order to remain in step with the latest leadership titles nor passing trends. Similarly, it is not possible for me to document how each local congregation may diverge from what has been the norm. However, I have edited this essay, since these recent events have clearly illustrated some of my points.
A prison is still a prison, even if it gets renovated.
Every social group exerts some level of persuasion and control over its members. Ordinarily, this influence is of no cause for alarm. In the realm of Christianity, as it is with all other major religions that are at least 1000 years old, there appear from time to time sects which believe that they are the Chosen Few, with unique understanding, and who are the sole possessors of the "true" form of Christianity. These groups believe that they are the only "true" Christians. Some of these Chosen Few sects develop into normal denominations. However, some these Chosen Few sects control their members to such an extraordinary extent that it should be of serious concern. As a former member, my opinion is that one of these Chosen Few sects is the International Church of Christ, also known as the Boston (or LA Church) of Christ, the ICC, and the ICOC.
Even a superficial examination of what its members do on a daily basis, and of who is involved in making their choices, will clearly demonstrate the fact that the ICC controls the lives of its members. Oddly, if asked, the average ICC member would likely claim that the group does not control his or her life. The ICC uses doctrine and other means of persuasion in such a fashion that the members, typically, do not realize the extent to which they are being controlled and are controlling others. The members simply mimic the patterns of behavior that they have seen other members use viewing what they do as trying to help rather than trying to control. Nevertheless, these practices are just as damaging as they would be if they did understand.
I am not insinuating that the average members, or even leaders, have nefarious motives. They believe that what they are doing is wise and of great benefit. I allow that some ICC leaders may understand, but most members do not. Those few who do understand and want to stop the control historically have been pressured into being silent or else have left the ICC.
Many leave the ICC out of frustration, not understanding what has happened to them. They continue to feel guilty and remain under some of the shackles that the ICC imposed on them. Some leave the ICC, thinking that they will go to hell for it, but are willing to endure eternity in hell rather than a lifetime in the ICC. Other ICC members remain in the ICC, yearning to be free, but not able to escape it for that same fear of going to hell. This is truly a horrible thing. It is for people such as these that I have written this essay.
I believe that by learning how things are done, one can move beyond the experience. Like learning a magician's secret makes the once-amazing feat seem trivial, so learning how the ICC works its craft allows the people to be free from the power. It is my purpose to help to liberate the minds of exiting and former members of the ICC with this essay. I hope this knowledge is sufficient to free my readers from the insidious control of the ICC control that can persist long after a member escapes from the group.
I have a secondary purpose with this essay, which is to apply external pressure on ICC leaders. I do this in hopes that some will have the courage to renounce the massive system of control and move their congregations toward freedom and sanity. I know that many of the ICC-faithful read works such as this. I want them to see that these claims are not merely "bitterness" from a "disgruntled former member". Rather, these are accurate claims that desperately need to be addressed. With Kip McKean out of power, I hope that the opportunity remains for local leaders to stop these practices.
In order to keep this work at article length, rather than that of a book, it has been necessary to omit detailed explanations. I am assuming that the reader is already familiar with the ICCs beliefs and practices. In the case of readers who are family or friends of people affected by the ICC, I suggest additional research. The website http://www.reveal.org is a good source of information. It is important that such readers do this research because reading only this article may lead to misunderstanding important facts.
Return to Table of Contents
The ICC uses certain key Scriptures to gain and keep control over its members and potential recruits. The majority of these are presented in the First Principles studies with the rest being presented either as recurring sermon or discipling themes.
A standard technique is one that is used by unscrupulous businesses, known as "bait-and-switch". In the ICC, control by the various levels of leadership is conducted by making the person believe that the allegiance and obedience is to God or the Bible. Throughout the First Principles studies, a series of conditions are established by which the potential recruit or member is caused to surrender aspects of his or her self-determination supposedly to God, but the application of these "principles" will be conducted by the ICC leadership. The result is that the group will be able to direct any aspect of the member's life that it so chooses.
This essay does not examine doctrinal issues, except where dogma is used by leaders to control members. For doctrinal considerations, the reader is urged to read Dave Anderson's The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis (Rev. 2002 Edition). In that essay, Anderson examines how the First Principles are used to dismantle the potential recruit's belief systems, gain uninformed consent and ultimately to make the potential recruit believe that he or she will go to hell without joining the ICC.
This section of the essay is designed to reveal how Scripture is used to control the member. I have limited myself to the passages that the ICC most-often uses.
The ICC claims that this passage says that only disciples are candidates for baptism. However, the NIV does not reveal what is clear in the Greek text: that the "them" referred to in the phrases "baptizing them in the name... and teaching them to obey everything...." can only refer to "nations". This may not be obvious in the English translation, but there is no doubt about it in the Greek whatsoever. The reason is that "make disciples" in the Greek is a single word, a verb. It may just as easily be translated "evangelize" or "proselytize". The ICC proposes that one should make disciples, then baptize those disciples, then teach those disciples to obey everything. This conjecture is not supported by the passage. Rather, baptism and teaching are part of the evangelizing of the nations.
Here is how the ICC uses this passage for control purposes.
A. It changes the plural to the singular in the concept of teaching. You (plural) teach them (plural) is misapplied as you (singular) teach each one individually. This single passage is used to justify the entire discipling system, which is not to be found anywhere in the Bible. The discipler and other leaders use the concept of "them to obey everything" to justify demanding obedience to almost everything that they say.
B. The ICC uses the nonsense about who is a candidate for baptism, to proclaim itself as the only true church a Chosen Few sect (although the ICC would not phrase it that way). Using this and other passages, the ICC claims that since no other group makes the potential recruit become a disciple first then all other churches are lost. This passage is the pivotal one used in the "Discipleship" study, about which Kip McKean says, in Revolution through Restoration, "I purposely developed this study to draw a sharp biblical distinction between the Lexington (later renamed Boston) Church of Christ and all other groups." Removing the rhetoric, he claims that he wrote this study so that he could persuade people that only congregations in his movement are saved. This doctrine is mainly used to exclude the "mainline" Churches of Christ and related groups from being considered saved. By creating a situation wherein the individual believes that only by affiliation with ICC congregations may he or she be saved, the ICC is able obtain and to hold on to the member no matter what the group does to him or her. This is a key factor in controlling the member: make him or her believe there is no way to exit without going to hell. This is a standard technique in Chosen Few sects (although some of them, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, do not teach that there is a hell). They create a situation in which people are led to believe that only through the group is there hope.
C. This passage is used to make the member believe that each Christian is individually responsible for recruiting as a contingency for salvation. As I mentioned before, the ICC changes the group effort of spreading the faith to an individual one. This doctrine fails to take into account that there are many roles to be filled in Christianity, as other Scriptures clearly illustrate.
D. It is clear that Jesus had given the apostles a message to preach. The ICC misuses this passage about "obey everything that I have commanded you" to mean that any task that Jesus gave to the apostles must be followed by all Christians individually or they will go to hell. However, it is both logically and historically obvious that the apostles did not make all Christians live like they did nor take on the ministry that they did. This passage is used to control members primarily by making them believe that if they are not successful at evangelism then they will lose their salvation. It is used to control potential recruits by making them believe that if they had not always been proselytizing, then they were never saved.
2. Mark 1:14-18 - Must You Be an Apostle to Be Saved?
This passage shows Jesus' instructions to particular disciples who were to become apostles. Clearly, these men had a special calling and ministry given to them by Jesus.
The ICC uses this passage to control in the following ways:
A. Immediate response is required. Used primarily on potential recruits, this concept is part of the decision-control efforts. In order to be a "true disciple" one must act at once. Doing so precludes thinking through things, investigating the claims and fully understanding what is being asked of one. It is also used on occasion to get members to comply with directives when they are reluctant or have misgivings about them. [The ICC incredulously says that one should make such evaluations; however, as illustrated in the section Authority and Submission, this is only a pretense. Actual evaluation is not allowed and is termed as the sin of "filtering".]
B. The ICC institutes the doctrine that recruiting new members is the "true" purpose of a "true" Christian. More than that, the ICC claims that practically the sole meaning of the term "disciple" is "being a fisher of men". This doctrine has the effect of making most other concerns or ambitions one has seem incidental at best, the road to hell at worst. With the new primary purpose for living is controlled by the ICC (since members cannot convert someone to Christ and let him or her go to a non-ICC church), the ICC leadership has gone a long way toward taking over the life of the potential recruit or member. This concept is also used to enhance the ICC's Chosen Few status since other Christian groups do not require this, then they supposedly are not saved.
C. The ICC reinforces the dogma that whatever the apostles or other disciples of Jesus did must be done in order to be a "true" follower of Jesus. The ICC does not teach that one must be an apostle to be saved, in so many words; however, in effect, it teaches that one must act just like the apostles acted in order to be a disciple and, therefore, to be saved. As far as I know, the only exception is that the ICC does not believe that modern-day Christians can work the miracles that the Bible records the apostles were able to perform. Other than that, one has to do all that the apostles did to be saved. This is another example of redirecting what is meant to be a group effort onto each individual.
The ICC uses this passage to gain allegiance to itself. The commitment that this passage actually puts forth is deflected from God onto the ICC. For example, if a member is not complying properly with the wishes of the leadership, especially if the member is exasperated by how hard the demand is, then this passage will be implemented. Under the auspices of "denying yourself" the ICC will gain acquiescence. Since the leadership will determine what the cross to be borne is as well as when, where, how and to what extent self must be denied, it is actually the leadership that takes control. The member is not permitted to determine what he or she thinks God wants of him or her nor to act accordingly. Practically everything that he or she might do either will originate with the leaders or will have to be approved by the leadership.
An example of this practice will be such things as denying yourself most any comfort in order to be able to give 10% gross income every week along with various other monetary demands, such as those for seminars. Members are compelled to reveal gross income if contribution level is not deemed sufficient, the member oftentimes will be belittled and berated into giving an amount the leadership specifies, no matter how financially unwise it may be. Members are told to live beneath their means, give up cable TV, buy only the cheapest foods, etc. If any questioning of this is done, then the member is told to deny him or herself, because there are souls to be won. My point is not whether it is doctrinally correct to give 10% of one's means, but rather that the ICC does not allow the member to choose. Jesus taught that almsgiving should be done in secret, known only to the believer and God, the ICC forces the member to disobey Jesus on this matter. Matt 6:3-4 "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (NIV)
In the First Principle studies, for Luke 9:23-26, the concept is introduced that it is forbidden to "give in to moods". By declaring that emotional considerations are not valid, the leadership will block the member from investigating feelings that might lead him or her to conclude that something is wrong with the ICC. Instead, the seed is subtly planted that if there are feelings that something is wrong, then it is the emotion rather than the doctrine, the leader or the ICC that is in error. The truth is that emotions can often guide us into understanding things that logical thought cannot yet perceive. Granted, emotions do not always guide us properly and have to be balanced against experience and knowledge to verify their validity. However, the point here is that the ICC has introduced an avenue of exploiting emotions to its own interests.
The ICC leadership will also use the doctrine of not giving in to moods to govern the range of emotions a member experiences. If a member is sad, he or she will be told to "get out of himself" and decide to be happy. If he or she is bored, then the requirement is "to get fired up". By similar fashion, the ICC will order a member to alter any emotional state that it does not find useful at the moment.
The ICC also uses the concept of forfeiting your soul if you live for self to get the potential recruit or member to believe that failure to comply with the leadership's directives will cause him or her to lose his or her salvation. By doing that, the ICC manipulates the person's fears to its own advantage and it gains further control over what a person does. (The issues of the ICC's control and manipulation of emotions are discussed in further detail in Section II: The Architecture of Control.)
In this passage the Bible further illustrates that Jesus is to be Lord. Again the ICC deflects such submission to itself, especially its leadership.
The passage about loving parents or anyone else more than Jesus is used by the ICC to get members to place the leadership's orders above the wishes of their parents. The member will be made to believe that he or she is putting Jesus' teachings first, but, in fact, merely will be complying with the leadership.
This passage also contains the "counting the costs" verses, which the ICC uses to disconnect the potential recruit or member from outside means of assessing the group. The concept will be introduced that you have to follow Jesus (but in actuality the ICC doctrine and its leadership in general) even over the objections of others. It will be suggested that one must be willing to endure persecution from the media, friends, and family. This seed is planted to prevent critical examination of the group. It will be claimed that the negative statements made about the group are not accurate information but either worldly or satanic in origin.
Depending on the particular study leader, either with this verse or at some other time during the First Principles indoctrination, the concept will be introduced that since Jesus had his critics, so will any true follower. Although the Bible does teach that, the principle will be misapplied. The prospective member will be told that the ICC is being persecuted and called a cult because it calls people to be committed to God. The potential recruit will be told to determine for himself or herself whether the group is truly following the Bible. This is manipulative because it is an attempt to deprive the person of information that is needed to evaluate the group. The ICC does not reveal everything about itself during the First Principles studies. If the true level of control that the ICC wields were revealed up front, few people, if any at all, would join. By acting in this manner, the ICC deprives the potential recruit of the ability to make informed consent, which is extremely manipulative and unethical.
This passage is also used to justify the "counting the costs" procedure conducted just prior the admission into the group. Interestingly, the Bible says that the individual should estimate the costs without making reference anyone else's guidance; however, to do so is not allowed in the ICC. The potential recruit is tested for compliance to the group's doctrine and to make sure that he or she is willing to be controlled by the ICC. If something "comes up" during the session, then baptism (and, as the potential recruit will now believe, salvation) is withheld until full compliance is achieved. This practice is an extremely powerful means of firmly establishing control, leaving the recruit willing to do anything the ICC leadership says, believing that compliance is the only way to escape eternity in hell.
This passage is used to justify breaking sessions, which the ICC calls "rebukes" and a number of other things. The Greek word translated as "rebuke" actually means "to bring to conviction". The ICC chooses another definition "a very strong correction". Whenever the member is not complying well enough with the wishes of the leadership, his or her will may be broken down to assure compliance. (For further discussion, see "Breaking Sessions" in Section II.)
The passage about "training in righteousness" is used further to justify the discipling system. This passage is primarily used to achieve acceptance of whatever the leadership says. Whenever something is desired to be done, the leadership will come up with a passage that looks like it supports the issue and will use that proof-text to gain cooperation. There will not be serious investigation made as to what a Scripture actually means nor under what circumstances it was intended to be applied. Rather, the leader typically will use a concordance (should one of the frequently used passages not suffice) to look up a particular word and use whatever is found as alleged support for the demand to be made.
This passage is used to deflect consideration that the suffering that the ICC's oppressive demands and control cause is wrong. Any pain that is experienced is to be regarded as for one's own good.
This passage is also used to get the potential recruit or member to be willing to have his or her privacy invaded. Again, the focus is deflected from God, through his word, knowing the secrets of the soul, to requiring such to be "uncovered and laid bare" before the leadership. Since electing not to disclose something is regarded as a sin, the member is left without the right to privacy. This will go far beyond mere confession of sins: the member will be expected to divulge all information requested. People have even been forced to get "rebaptized" because there was some aspect of their lives that they did not reveal to the ICC leadership.
By claiming that there is no private interpretation of the Bible, the ICC gains further control only the leaderships claims about the meaning of a passage are deemed valid. If a member reads a Scripture a different way (which is likely since the ICC uses many verses in a dubious fashion) then it is the member that is wrong. He or she will be said to be trying to use it to justify sin. The only permitted way to interpret any passage is that provided by the leadership.
The ICC may tolerate differences on interpretation of passages that are of little use to it, but not those that would interfere with its control over the individual. The ICC also uses John 12:48 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to convince people that only its interpretations are "valid".
Primarily used to get potential recruits to believe that all other groups are lost, this passage is also used as another means of getting members to ignore emotional considerations. The latter is rather odd since there is no mention of emotions or feelings in the passage.
This passage is also used to devalue faith and belief, suggesting that what counts is obeying. Again, the obedience will be deflected from God/Jesus to the ICC leadership. As previously mentioned, it will be that group that will determine what is to be obeyed, how, when, where, towards whom, and to what extent. It will treat its own imperatives as if they were clearly spelled out in the Bible. Matthew 15:1-9 and 1 Timothy 4:16 are also used for such purposes.
The context for this verse is on avoiding pride, greed and judging others. The ICC uses this passage to declare it to a be a sin not to do something that the leaders want done, since no matter what the task is, it is "good" that one "knows" one ought to be doing. This doctrine is a good example of how easy it is to justify most any belief by plucking out a single verse without examining context.
This verse is used to get people to do more for the ICC. No matter how much a person may be doing, there will be more to be done. This philosophy fails to take into account that people are not omnipotent deities: they are limited, finite and inherently incapable of doing every good deed that they know needs to be done. The ICC extends what is actually meant by this verse to serve itself.
The ICC is uses this verse to guilt-trip people into thinking they are not doing enough nothing will ever be enough. Coupled with the ICC doctrine that one must be totally committed to it in order to be saved, this verse becomes an extremely effective control tool. If all other means of convincing a person to do something fail, then this verse is the stand-by.
This passage teaches that one should not habitually miss Christian fellowship. The ICC greatly extends that context, stating, in the First Principles Church Study, "Must come to all meeting of the body: i.e. Sunday and midweek services, special devotionals, Bible jubilees, retreats, seminars, etc." (sic)
This doctrine illustrates a key factor that Chosen Few sects use: keep the members too busy to have time to have a life apart from the group. Basically, a private life is alien to the ICC. By keeping the members submerged in the activities of the group, the ICC prevents them from having time or energy left over to evaluate their involvement with the group. The ICC has endless meetings and activities that all but preclude having outside interests. People are not even exempted from coming to activities in which they are incapable of participating such as physically limited members being required to come to a group volleyball game simply to watch. Failure to attend is regarded as severe sin. I have known people to be kicked out of the ICC because they couldnt arrange for their job to allow them time to come to a particular meeting.
Rather than use this passage as it was intended, for Christians to love and to interact with each other, the ICC uses it to dominate the lives of the members. The passage discourages having zero fellowship with other Christians. The ICC morphs the actual meaning into a doctrine of total compliance. There is a great deal of difference in meaning between habitually forsaking all fellowship (which is what this passage is about) and 100% participation (which is what the ICC twists the passage into supposedly meaning).
Regardless of what he meant by "the kingdom of God," it is clear that Jesus here claimed that living a godly life takes precedence over the concerns of daily life. The ICC generally ignores the part about "and his righteousness" and focuses on "Seek first the kingdom". Since the ICC declares itself to be the sole kingdom of God, the leadership uses this verse to gain obedience to its directives. When members express almost any sort of desire to have a private life, the leadership uses this verse to get the member to vacate personal ambitions. Therefore, whatever the leadership believes benefits the ICC, it claims that the member must put as top priority. Even such issues as family involvement must take a back seat to whatever the ICC wants done at the moment and it always has something that it wants done.
Overall, the ICC leadership empowers itself to have phenomenal control over what the members do on a daily basis with this verse. The member cannot decide for himself or herself what constitutes "seeking first the Kingdom of God," but rather the leadership decides and enforces what this will be presumed to be. The member may be permitted to add even more things to do, but will not be allowed to elect in which events and groups to participate.
The ICC has wrecked havoc on many thousands of people's lives with this verse. Previously, the ICC officially taught that this verse applied not only in areas of commandments in the Bible but also in areas of the opinions of leaders. The ICC required that leaders had to be obeyed without question or alteration whether speaking from the Bible or not. The ICC supposedly allowed disobedience if the directive were a sin or violated the member's conscience. Unfortunately, the member typically would be put under the usual pressure and belittlement if he or she tried to exercise this option.
In 1992, this stance was supposedly amended, but was simply repackaged to have the same effect. Now those who do not follow leaders' directives are said to be "grumbling against God" or "not being supportive". They are told that they should do whatever is asked in order to be "unified". Other techniques involve questioning the member's motives, relationship with God, salvation, where his or her "heart is", etc. should the member not wish to follow the leadership's directives. With such techniques, the member is pressured into compliance.
The ICC still teaches that the members must submit to leaders in matters contained in the Bible. The ICC is quite adept at making anything it comes up with look like it came from the Bible. Since the leadership will determine exactly when, where, how and to what extent a teaching or principle must be carried out, the member is left with few or no options.
Gordon Ferguson wrote the book Discipling, which is a frightening discourse attempting to justify the abusive discipling hierarchal control system that the ICC uses. It is full of Scripture twisting, proof-texting, illogical statements, eisegesis (meaning reading into a text what one wants it to say rather than determining what the author intended), distortions, extending biblically valid concepts far beyond the point of absurdity, and idealizations about what really happens in ICC discipling. This work would be a very long volume indeed if I were to tackle all of nonsense contained in this book. However, I do wish to discuss one passage.
After a chapter of biblically baseless claims about the authority of ICC leaders and the necessity of its members to follow their directives, he concludes with this horrifying passage (for which he offers no scriptural support of any kind) words in brackets are my comments:
"In conclusion, since authority in God's kingdom is a part of his plan to save our individual souls and those of the world, let's keep in mind the basics of submission to God-ordained leadership. [This is an odd statement, given that the leadership structure of the ICC is not to be found in the Bible]
Submission is not:
Obeying only when you are in agreement with the direction given. [Translation: You have no freedom to choose, your thoughts do not matter.]
Obeying only outwardly, without heart involvement and positive attitudes. [Translation: You must not think or feel except as instructed. To believe that the leadership is wrong is sin.]
Obeying only when you think the leader has lead in just the right manner. [Translation: You are not allowed to evaluate your leaders, obey without question. Treat them as though they were infallible.]
Obeying without speaking your mind and sharing your viewpoint. Stuffing your feelings is not proper submission (and it gives you spiritual indigestion!). [Translation: We will be monitoring your thoughts, we need you to tell us what they are so we can replace them with ones we so choose.]
Obeying only a part of the directions given (sometimes called "filtering"). This is deceptive and dishonest. If you are having difficulty agreeing with the directions, keep talking until you and the leader are in harmony. [Translation: In practice, what will happen is that you will be belittled and demeaned and have your heart questioned until you do as you are told. What you believe, think, feel or aspire to are inconsequential when in conflict with the leadership's whims.]
Continuing to seek advice until you find someone who will say what your want to hear. In such cases, you are likely sharing only the facts in the situation which will help you get your way. You should always be in harmony with everyone who gives you advice even if you do decide to go in a different direction. Keep talking until everybody involved feels good about the situation. [Translation: The leadership will run your life to whatever extent suits it at the moment. Trying to seek wise counsel would undermine the leaders power and is forbidden. The rest of this is gobbledygook that has little relevance to actual ICC practice. "To go in a different direction" invites severe repercussions.]
A willingness to be persuaded and to be unified with those leading. [Translation: Do as you are told.]
Recognition that submission is a great producer of humility and that God always blesses humility. [Translation: You will go to hell if you don't do what we tell you.]
A deep conviction that God leads through the leaders whom he has raised up, and that to follow these leaders, human though they are, is to follow God. [Translation: Treat the leadership like a god. No matter what stupidity the leaders may demand, it is all from God. Your thoughts do not matter.]
God's provision of leadership is truly a blessing in our lives. The order he has established in the universe and in his church is both logical and powerful. [WRONG! The ICC leadership structure cannot be justified by any passage in the Bible. Finding some vague passage that can be construed, if you have a furtive imagination, to look like the way the ICC operates, is not the same thing as basing the structure on the Bible.] May we trust his authority by trusting the authority he has ordained in his kingdom and may we all, leader and follower alike, remain clothed with humility." [Translation, as high-level ICC leaders have stated in unqualified terms, questioning the leadership is grumbling against God himself. In my opinion, that makes the leadership out to be a god.]
(Ferguson, Gordon, Discipling, DPI, 1997, pages 198-199).
These disturbing statements clearly illustrate the kind of control that the ICC leadership seeks over its members. Note that it was written five years AFTER the supposed change in doctrine. I personally can attest that all of these beliefs and requirements were reiterated repeatedly during the 12 years that I was member (1988 to 2000). I would like again to point out that not a single verse in the Bible, not even one twisted out of context, is produced by Ferguson in support of these statements.
The first claim, that submission is not obeying when only when in agreement, reveals that it is the ICC leaders that control the member. Their advice must be followed. The person being given the orders is not deemed competent to make his or her own choices in life.
The second claim reveals the depth of the control. It is not enough to do what the leaders ask; you have to alter your inner self to be in agreement with the directive. The leader supposedly is acting on God's authority, to have reservations about his or her competence is deemed to be questioning God.
The third statement is a little more subtle. By saying that it is not submission to obey "only when you think the leader has led in just the right manner," Ferguson subtly suggests that the converse needs to be true, that you have to obey when the leader is not leading in the right way. Should the leader be considered abusive or absurd, then the member's evaluation is deemed to be in error, not the leader. Thus, for a member to decide whether an ICC leader is following the will of God is prohibited. Excesses and abuses must not be questioned. Ferguson does not say this forthrightly, but subtly. I can attest that I heard it taught on many occasions that God blesses and/or requires submitting to improper leadership. I will discuss the issue of disagreeing with leaders in later sections.
In the fourth statement, Ferguson claims that one must not obey "without speaking your mind and sharing your viewpoint". On the surface, this statement sounds reasonable. But, consider the fifth statement to reveal the truth: submission is not "obeying only a part of the directions given (sometimes called "filtering"). This is deceptive and dishonest. If you are having difficulty agreeing with the directions, keep talking until you and the leader are in harmony." The clear intent is shown. The idea is to reveal what the member thinks and to alter it. The only way that this "harmony" will exist is either to persuade the leader that he or she is wrong (which almost never happens) or to be beaten down until the will of the member is fully under the leader's control (which is the usual way things are done). The concept of "filtering" being a sin runs against many biblical principles. Ferguson makes the point quite clearly that ICC "advice" is not to be evaluated for its value with the wise accepted and the unwise or sinful rejected. No, ICC "advice" is not to be rejected in whole or part it is, therefore, not advice but rather rules of men being taught as commandments. The Bible condemns this practice in both the Old and New Testaments.
The sixth statement is like the fifth. I have heard it stated many times by various ICC leaders. Although the Bible speaks of getting advice from many, the ICC wants it kept to a few. To do otherwise would disrupt the control the leaders have on the individual. Ferguson deflects consideration of the rationality of his claim by suggesting that the member is telling half-truths in order to get what he or she wants. Interestingly, by saying this, Ferguson is showing that the ICC member is not in control of his or her life, the leadership is. He seemingly knows that members get desperate because of receiving what they know is bad advice. Rather than the members feeling free to reject such advice, they must hunt for a leader with a voice of reason. The ICC frowns on this practice, probably because it limits the power an assigned leader has to control the member. The statement that the member must "keep talking until everyone feels good about the situation" is ICC doublespeak for saying that the member must keeping listening to the lectures that will ensue for challenging "advice" until he or she has had his or her will broken and does as told. The statement, "You should always be in harmony with everyone who gives you advice even if you do decide to go in a different direction," is a red herring. It is a rare case indeed for there to be harmony if the member decides to reject advice. Rather, "harmony" means that the member's self-determination will be beaten down until he or she gives up and does as directed.
Ferguson's claim that submission is a "willingness to be persuaded and to be unified with those leading" is further ICC doublespeak. What it actually means is that the member is expected to be wholly subservient to the leadership. He or she will not be allowed to determine the will of God for his or her life nor, as will be discussed later, to have any meaningful control over his or her life.
As for the rest of Ferguson's statements, see the discussion in the third section titled "The Illusion of God's Hand".
This doctrine of authority and submission is at the core of what is wrong with the ICC. Even if the doctrine were biblical defensible, the fact remains that the ICC leaders are woefully incompetent in the matters in which they advise. Many have insignificant Biblical knowledge very, very, few have been formally trained in theology. Almost none of the ICC leaders is licensed in even one of the many areas in which most of them "advise": psychology, psychiatry, family counseling, drug abuse and other forms mental health counseling, medicine, financial counseling, nor any of the other forms of authority they presume to be able to wield. They do not even limit themselves to counseling in just one of these difficult fields most leaders "advise" in any or all of them! They speak boldly in matters that they do not understand and demand submission. This abuse is very destructive.
Whereas there is some level of authority granted to religious leaders by the Bible to make the church function, the ICC has extended that far beyond the point of absurdity. Thousands upon thousands of people have suffered severely because of the arrogance of the leaders. Oddly, these same leaders accuse their underlings of "arrogance" for pointing out that the advice is often foolish.
What Ferguson promotes here can best be described as one thing: slavery.
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The ICC does not limit itself to controlling members with Scripture. Rather, it establishes a framework of initial controls with its indoctrination, reinforced with additional social and psychological controls, revealed after the recruit becomes a member. It has an arsenal of these mechanisms, the primary of which are:
1. Illusion of Wisdom
The structure of the First Principles studies is contrived to make the members, especially the study leader, appear to be authorities on the Bible. The potential recruit will not be made aware that the leader is simply following a predetermined outline with every key point predetermined by someone else. Typically, the leader will either memorize the verses and points or will have them written in his or her Bible or a small piece of paper. The confidence exuded has the effect of gaining the potential recruit's trust in the leader's knowledge. The Kingdom Study is especially good for such purposes.
The potential recruit assumes the role of a student, while viewing the members as qualified teachers, especially the study leader. The members are expected to support the study leader in order to enhance his or her illusion of wisdom and competence. Moreover, the member who takes the notes will do so to reinforce the ICC's dogma.
The study series has been crafted for more than doctrinal content: the psychological effect has also been planned. Specifically, the study series is designed to have the self-determination and decision making ability of the potential recruit fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. The First Principles study series is also intended to alter behavior of the potential recruit in a prescribed fashion, in an attempt to alter his or her personality. Moreover, the psychological effect of the tendency toward group conformity is actively used in the indoctrination process the potential recruit will tend to believe himself or herself to be wrong because he or she will be countered by the rest of the study group. This effect is enhanced by the members of the recruitment team attempting to "befriend" the potential recruit to such an extent that previous friends are crowded out.
The illusion of wisdom is also conducted on members. The chief means of establishing the illusion is through other members extolling leaders, which the ICC calls "holding up" or "lifting up". The supposed wisdom is demonstrated through anecdotes. Also, members amplify the image of speakers by constantly shouting "Amen" and "That's right" throughout sermons, thereby introducing the suggestion that what is being said is so certain that it need not be questioned. Some leaders, will say the "Amen" to their own statements done in a semi-pleading fashion. Again, this activity stops the member from duly considering the validity of the points and promotes simply accepting them as true along with the rest of the group.
Notes are expected to be taken of the messages as if the speaker had said something so profound as to be learned and digested. Additionally, it is strongly looked down upon to question the knowledge or competence of any leader. One of the ICCs favorite sayings is that "grumbling against the leaders is grumbling against God himself." Although this system has somewhat broken down in the aftermath of Kip McKean's resignation and the ensuing in-fighting amongst some leaders, the elements are still intact which will almost certainly cause the system to come back into force once things calm down.
Leaders learn standard responses to situations common to the ICC. By having ready-made answers to most any situation, the illusion that the leader is competent to instruct in those matters is maintained. This illusion causes members to believe that the leader may be competent in other areas as well as those to which an immediate response is available. A standard leadership practice is to discuss a member's situation amongst other leaders and then present the decisions made to the member without his or her knowing what was done. This helps maintain and advance the illusion of wisdom and competence even further.
If someone dares to bring up the point that he or she was "advised" to do something which led to terrible results, the standard ICC response is that such a member did not get "enough" advice. Please refer back to Ferguson's statements on getting on more advice, quoted in Section I, which prohibit seeking out advice until getting acceptable "advice". This sort of retort is a means of covering up the fact that the ICC leaders are incompetent to advise in most or all of the areas in which they do all with the supposition that the advice must be obeyed because submitting to such nonsense is deemed to be submitting to God himself.
ICC leadership frequently puts forward expectations that are unachievable. It does this in either of three ways:
The specific goal is in itself impossible to attain.
The goal is moved forward so that it is never attained.
The sheer volume of expectations produced makes the goals impossible.
In the first case, unrealistic expectations of piety are maintained. The ICCs version of ideals of righteousness will be put forth not only as if they were attainable, but also as if they were the minimal acceptable level. (This subject is discussed in greater detail in Section IV: The Crux of the Matter.) When the individual inevitably fails, oftentimes guilt rather than grace* will be used by the leaders to pressure the member. Alleged sins will be brought up long after they have happened to persuade the member that he or she is not "committed". What the ICC calls "rebukes" will be employed to gain compliance to the leadership's wishes.
[*The ICC seldom mentions grace. When it does, it is in such a phrase as "cheap grace" with which it writes off God's grace. On rare occasions, when it is the leadership that wants leniency, then the members will be told to show the pertinent leader "grace". Grace is for leaders, denigration is for common members. This practice has clearly been demonstrated in the aftermath of the resignation of Kip McKean. The ICC leadership is now promulgating that grace and forgiveness must be lavished on the situation. Refer to the announcement of the creation of the Unity Conference to see what I mean. To forgive is a good thing; however, like all good things, forgiveness can be misused. Forgiveness should serve to promote positive change in a relationship. When misused, forgiveness can stifle growth and perpetuate the very misbehaviors that are the subject of forgiveness. This is an important consideration, because such forgiveness is used to empower the ICC leadership rather than promote reform. This situation will be discussed further in the third section of this essay.]
Often, there will be heavy burdens placed on the member, such as "share your faith" with 10, 20 or even 30 people a day. Since this cannot be done while having any sort of life, the member is guilt-ridden. The guilt is then exploitable to make the member try to follow all of the countless "suggestions", which are actually commands, on how to achieve these impossible goals. This tactic allows the leadership to intrude deeply into the member's personal life, devaluing the person's self-image and confidence. It also aids the leadership in taking over the member's decision making in even the minutia of life.
In the second case, guilt is induced by constantly advancing the expectation. This practice is often done on a church-wide level. The favorites are number of potential recruits studying at a given time, baptism rates and contributions. No matter how many people are recruited, no matter how hard the church tries, the leaders will preach that the church "needs to take it to the next level". Bulk quantities of guilt feelings are induced. The individual members or the congregation as a whole will be told that they do not love the lost, that people are going to hell because they are not trying enough.
In the case of money, the church will be told that it is not being sacrificial enough perhaps staff will have to be laid off or souls won't be won. On top of this, the members' resources are depleted with the Special Missions Contribution and other financial expectations. Extreme pressure is placed on each member to generate the high demands. Personal effects, even blood plasma, are expected to be sold. In the event that the member does manage to produce the official amount, the goal is advanced "see how much more can be raised because you have to make up for those in the church who are not sacrificial enough to make the goal." Unfortunately, the ICC shows little sympathy for members whose current financial situation limits their ability to contribute monetarily. Members will be told to make unwise or even detrimental financial management choices and to trust God to provide any physical need that might arise from compliance. Severe indebtedness is commonplace in the ICC. Moreover, the individual will be blamed for the financial difficulties incurred by following such detrimental advice (which is not optional) without the relevant leaders accepting any blame.
In the third case the member is given so many different expectations that it is impossible to meet them all. As an example of the impossibility of meeting demands made, here is a list of things that I have heard said need to be done at least once a week.
Now, obviously, one could pack into one day more than one of these activities; however, this list doesn't even include other activities as life requires, like working, grocery shopping, laundry, visiting relatives, etc. Whatever the case, it is impossible to fit ALL of these into ones life every week. Not only does this preoccupation keep the member constantly feeling guilty for not doing more, it also does not give the member enough time to evaluate his or her involvement with the group. Furthermore, the schedule keeps the member constantly tired, making him or her more compliant to directives. The member tends to do whatever the leaders say because the member lacks the stamina to resist.
A fourth way that the ICC manipulates and controls its members with guilt is through baseless accusations. These may be over ICC-contrived or generally-recognized sins. Members showing individual thought and decision-making skills are accused of being "critical", prideful, independent, and/or "into themselves". These nebulous concepts are favorite choices of ICC leadership because they can be construed to mean anything that the leaders desire. Any action that the member takes, especially if the decision was not cleared with the leaders first, can be said to be "independent". For reasons never explained to me, the ICC leaders regard independence as a serious sin. I now understand that independence was declared sinful because it meant that the individual was not under the ICC's control.
A fifth guilt-inducing technique is to deflect the issue from problems within the church or its leaders back onto the member who challenges the matter at hand. For example, I once challenged a leader for denigrating Jesus' kinder side during a message he had mocked Jesus' statements about "consider the lilies of the field" and "come to me all who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest". His response was that I was just looking for a reason to criticize him and had only said this because I did not want to be evangelistic enough he refused to address what I said, turning it back on me, making me the problem. Although this example may be considered an "isolated incident" (to use the favorite ICC term for dismissing criticism) the technique employed is used almost universally throughout the ICC leadership. Sometimes error will be admitted on the part of a leader (but never the ICC as a whole), but it will be followed up with statements like "you're right, but you're being critical" or "you need to get behind and support" the leader. Almost without fail, a challenge made to a leader will end up with some aspect of the member's heart or commitment being cast into doubt. This has the effect of deterring further challenges to the leader, giving him or her control.
Through these techniques, the ICC manages to keep its members feeling guilty constantly. In doing so, the person's emotions and actions can be controlled because the member is in a constant search to alleviate the artificially-induced guilt feelings.
There are three basic kinds of loved ones: friends, romantic interests, and family. The ICC monitors and controls all of them.
The friends one has can have a powerful influence on a person. The ICC carefully regulates with whom one is friends. By doing so, the ICC keeps the member dependent on the group and can limit the ability of the member to evaluate the group realistically. For example, without having a friend who will say that it is ridiculous to have someone the member barely knows deciding whether he or she is allowed to date a particular person, the member will be less likely to see the unreasonably controlling nature of the leaders' actions. More importantly, by controlling friendships, the ICC controls whom one trusts, which will be, foremost, the ICC organization as opposed to any particular member.
The ICC philosophy and mindset prevent one from freely developing friends with outsiders. Specifically, the ICC members are allegedly the Chosen Few, the only ones with the knowledge of the "truth". Friendships outside the group are tempered, even forbidden, because such people supposedly could lead the member "astray". A more realistic way of looking at it is that an outsider could get the member to evaluate the ICC for what it is; therefore, such relationships are suppressed.
Unless a "friend" is a prospect for recruitment, the level of friendship is kept at a minimum. I repeatedly heard it preached that one should not be best friends with a non-member. Since any new acquaintance carries with it the hidden agenda of recruitment, close friendships seldom occur. Either the person joins the ICC allowing the relationship to progress or he/she does not become a member resulting in the "friendship" being destroyed, discarded or back-shelved. I have heard ICC evangelists say, quite specifically and often, that "friends" who are not "open" to becoming members needed to be placed "on the back burner" (or words to that effect). Furthermore, the weight of the expectations on the members keeps them from having time or energy to pursue active friendships that are not useful to the ICC.
As for friendships inside of the church, even greater means of control are applied. The system limits the depth of friendships in a few key ways:
By having the expectation that the discipler be the best friend, and by having that person changed fairly often, depth is thwarted. It takes time to develop the level of trust that the ICC expects one to hand over to each new discipleship partner. The result is that one is hampered in developing close friends. By regulating who the "best friend" is, the ICC controls the members in a number of ways, including governing from whom they can learn and in whom they trust and to whom they are loyal.
The ICC also regulates the second level of intimates, the general friendships. These the ICC assigns by way of Bible Talk or other small groups. As it does with the "best friend", the ICC shuffles these around fairly often with similar effect: the member has only marginal attachment to the two primary levels of friends.
In like manner, the ICC also establishes the third level of intimacy, the casual friend. These will be those of the next higher level in the church (zone, sector, region, ministry, etc., depending on congregational size and location).
Therefore, the ICC governs the member's primary sphere of influence. It therefore controls the member. The three primary levels of friendships that people have shape their self-image. In this manner, the ICC has another venue into the mind of the members it controls what they think of themselves.
There is a secondary effect to the frequent changes in the member's primary and secondary friendships the member's loyalties are diffused. The result is that the ICC as an organization comes to be what the member trusts the most. In other words, the ICC gains the foremost trust of the member by preventing him or her from having a greater loyalty to any particular friend or group. The high exodus rate from the ICC also aids in the loyalty shifting from individuals to the organization as a whole because it becomes too painful to see deeply loved people "go back into the world" or "hardened by Satan" or any of the other phrases the ICC uses to describe people who escape the group.
Occasionally, a friendship develops that will span the reorganization efforts of the ICC. However, the requirements imposed by the three previously mentioned levels greatly limits the closeness of these friendships. Nevertheless, the ICC does not necessarily prevent them, unless viewed to be contrary to its interests, because such bonds help retain the member when he or she may otherwise leave. There are times when these friendships become quite close, but that is not very common. With the possible exception of a spouse, the norm in the ICC is for the ICC member to have no truly deep friendships. I know that the ICC claims just the opposite, but that is not true.
Exposing one's private thoughts and acts is not the same thing as deep friendship. The ICC maintains an illusion of closeness by requiring members to "be open with their lives". One is left with the semblance of closeness one would have from a true confidant, but the commitment is not there, since most any friendship will dropped at the word of the leadership. Authentic friendship is not the norm in the ICC, despite repeated claims otherwise. There is a great deal of difference in telling ones inner secrets due to religious rules than doing so out of authentic bonding.
The ICC carefully regulates romantic interests of all kinds from the level of passing infatuation to marriage. Since it prohibits dating outside its ranks, the ICC blocks the unmarried member from having a major source of outside influence. This prohibition also allows the ICC to control whom the member may marry, giving it control of the closest intimate of all.
The ICC monitors and controls dating relationships*. Members wishing to date steadily are expected to get joint approval by respective discipleship partners. The ICC monitors the relationship as it develops. The ICC has pushed couples together when doing so suits its purposes and it has broken up couples when doing so suits its purposes. The ICC has to grant approval for an engagement and the ICC must give final approval of the marriage. (*There has been some lightening in this regard since the mid 1980's, but the control still abounds.)
Officially, the ICC says that a marriage should be a higher priority than the church, but in practice does exactly the opposite whether one or both partners are members. If both spouses are members, then both will get directives about how the marriage is supposed to be run which will be to the ICC's interests. The intimacy of marriage is invaded by the ICC, which tries to make itself of greater importance than the spouse. The trust of a marriage is also invaded because both the husband and the wife may be expected to confess the other's "sins" and "shortcomings" should the spouse not do so voluntarily. Even with something so private as a marital argument, the ICC expects the couple to report the details for the leadership to render its decisions. Even issues of sex are not off-limits for discussion.
If only one spouse is a member, the ICC will pressure the member to do everything he or she can to get the spouse to become a member. In the meantime, the ICC will tell the member how to treat the marriage, and, in general, will make sure that the ICC is at a higher level of priority than the spouse. There have been cases in which the ICC has urged separation or divorce when a non-member spouse got in the way of the ICC's control of the member.
The ICC also downgrades the devotion a member has to his or her family. By keeping the member constantly busy, there remains little time to stay close to his or her relatives. If non-members, they are viewed as non-Christians and worldly so their advice is devalued and the corresponding trust is diminished. Even the wishes of a parent have to be submitted to and approved by ICC leadership potentially causing the member to break one of the Ten Commandments. Because the ICC has the unwritten rule of never revealing the whole truth about it to outsiders, including family, an additional barrier is established between the ICC member and his or her relatives. For example, I know of a situation where a mother had two children in the ICC who were members for over a decade, both with ICC spouses. This mother, after all that time, did not even know that the ICC had discipleship partners.
Another means of intruding on familial ties comes with the case of a member having to travel to see the relatives. Especially in the case of new members, the ICC will coach the member on how to deal with relatives. The length of the trip will be made to be short. The member will be expected to arrange the trip to minimize services missed and will be expected, if at all possible, to attend services at another ICC church while away. Newer members will be expected to call their discipleship partners while on the visit.
A person's loved ones provide his or her primary support system. The ICC carefully controls this structure. Therefore, with all types of loved ones being determined or managed, the ICC controls the member.
With regard to goals and decisions, the control of the ICC is so obvious that it is almost not necessary even to mention it.
Under the auspices of teaching the member to obey everything that Jesus commanded, the ICC controls almost every decision the member makes. Under the window-dressing of "advice", the ICC leadership will make all manner of demands on the member. Even such simple decisions as where to buy groceries may be made by the ICC, cloaked as "advice". For all practical purposes, there exist no limitations on what the ICC will "advise" (meaning "order") the member to do. The leadership makes any of the member's decisions that it wishes.
People make many goals: some are achieved, many are not. The ICC steps in to regulate any goals in life of its members that it so chooses. Such goals as college, career, marriage, financial aspirations, desirable housing, family planning, and personal improvement all come under the jurisdiction of the leadership. The leadership must grant approval to the members goals sometimes forbidding or altering them at the leaders whim. Some of these I have mentioned separately, but let me illustrate my point with a common goal for personal improvement:
Suppose a member has significant weight problems. Clearly, a medically sound weight-loss plan to achieve a desirable weight is an excellent goal. If the ICC merely offered a support structure to help the member through the difficulties then there would not be a problem. That is not what the ICC does. In the ICC congregation in which I was a member, there was one occasion when it was announced, "Fat people go to hell." There was no qualification. In the ICC, generally, the only recognized cause of being overweight is gluttony. Although over-eating is certainly a factor in weight problems, it is not necessarily the case. Medical science has clearly shown that peoples heredity, medical conditions and certain medications may lead to weight problems. Such facts are not taken into consideration in the ICC. The supposed weight-loss support groups are often opportunities for the leaders to denigrate members. In some cases, members were told that they could not be leaders because of their weight. In such ways, the ICC takes a positive goal and turns it into a negative experience under its direction.
Another way that the ICC regulates goals is by promoting its own. Everyone is expected to become a leader. In ICC thinking, there is something wrong with a member who doesnt become a leader within a few years of joining the group. Members are not free to decide whether the goal of being a religious leader is one that they wish to pursue. To have no desire to be a leader in the ICC is typically considered a "sin" of some sort. Of course, the ICC completely controls who gets to be a leader. By having all manner of trivial leadership roles to give to members, the ICC is easily able to regulate their feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.
It is true that the Bible teaches that secular goals should take a second seat to ones spiritual health. I am not arguing against that. My point here is that it is the ICC leadership, rather than the ICC member, that is in control of these matters. There is nothing unbiblical about wanting to become a religious leader: there is something wrong with the ICC making one feel like a spiritual failure for not having such a goal.
The main point to be understood here is that the ICC controls and/or replaces the normal sort of goals a person might have. All decisions and goals a person makes must be subordinate to the goals of the ICC. Any personal goals have to be sacrificed at the whim of the leaders. To be sure, ICC members do achieve secular goals such as education and career advancement. The point is that all of these goals are regulated by the leadership of the ICC.
The discipleship partner, who uses the various control mechanisms described in this essay, is one of the primary tools with which the ICC controls its members. The direct control by the discipler is covered in other sections. Therefore, let us then discuss other considerations.
The ICC uses disciplers to monitor the activities of the member. This allows the leadership at large to keep tabs on each member in a way that it could not otherwise. The disciplers report the activities of their underlings under the banner of getting advice about them. The ICC can, thereby, more effectively manipulate the members with its various control mechanisms. These reports may make their way to the evangelists or other sermon-delivering leaders. At this level, the leader may shape his sermons based on these reports. The member typically will not know that word has reached such a leader. A message may then be preached that has elements specifically targeted at a member or set of members. The member will likely believe that God must have been talking to him or her through that message because it was exactly what he or she "needed" to hear. This practice aides in the control of the members in their decisions and enhances their belief that God is working through the ICC, thereby fostering the trust that the members have in the ICC.
Although not all discipleship partners use this tactic, many use their position to allow the member to express concerns about the group and to blow off steam. The disciplers may agree that a certain message was too strong and soften it up for their underlings. Otherwise, they may allay the member's concerns by suggesting that he or she took things the wrong way. Although their intentions are probably good in this case, what they end up doing is deflecting or delaying the consideration that it is the group as a whole that is in error.
Since the resignation of Kip McKean, some ICC congregations have renamed "discipleship partners". I have had two reports that the member now will have some choice in the matter of who is assigned to him or her. This tactic reminds me of a situation in the ICC congregation in which I was a member. Around 1990, for several months, the evangelist dispensed with assigned discipleship partners altogether. During this time, although there was more freedom, we were still heavily controlled. The mindset instilled by the ICC of being dependent on "advice" persisted. We got "advice" from our Bible talk leader, et al. The point is that we were conditioned not to make our own choices even simple decisions had to be reviewed by someone in the congregation. Therefore, simply removing the assigned person was not enough. I will return to this concept in Section IV: The Crux of the Matter
Although it is a good thing to get advice on hard issues, the practice of discipling promotes an addiction to "advice". Such dependence is not healthy. This practices teaches people that they are not competent to make their own life choices. This is why it is not enough to change the way discipleship partners are chosen, nor is it enough even to stop assigning disciplers altogether. What is needed is the renunciation of the mindset of addiction to "advice" as well as the dismantling of the entire leadership structure. Jesus did not give intricate details on how Christian leadership should be set up; nevertheless, the Bible records that he clearly taught that the leaders are to be under the common members rather than over them. The ICC sometimes claims that it has such a structure, but in practice has exactly the opposite. Jesus expressly forbad church leaders from "exercising authority over" ordinary followers. Rather than heeding Jesus warning, the ICC has embraced this practice since its inception and I am aware of no indication that it has reversed this position.
The real problem is not the methodology used in "discipling" it is the practice itself that is harmful. "Discipling" robs people of the hallmark of adulthood the making of choices and living with the consequences, both good and bad. The "discipled" individuals develop an unhealthy dependence on others for decision-making purposes. The experiences of life, the good that comes from making wise choices and the bad the comes from making poor choices, cause people to mature. The pains and the pleasures of working their way through their own problems help people to grow. "Discipling" interferes with this process by teaching people not to reach within themselves to work out how to handle situations, but rather to have others tell them what to do. Therefore, this practice hampers personal growth.
"Discipling" is inherently harmful!
Gordon Ferguson, in a discourse on obedience and repentance, using Mat 28:18-20 as a proof-text, speaks of boundaries, saying, "No one who draws lines in his life and says 'This much and no more' is a disciple of Jesus Christ. He may be a church member, or a religious person or a nice guy but he's not a Christian!" (sic) (Ferguson, Gordon, Discipling, DPI, 1997, page 53)*. Interestingly, the given passage does not in any way support this very serious declaration nor is any other passage given as evidence. This statement is very typical of the ICC mindset of justifying anything by the greater cause. A likely counter-claim would be that Ferguson was speaking of drawing the line in the sand meaning against God. Theoretically, that might validate the statement; however, as I have already examined, the ICC deflects the role of God in its members lives onto itself, especially its leaders. This statement sends a clear, unmistakable statement to the ICC members: if they section off a part of their lives and say that the ICC leaders have no right to cross the boundary, they are not Christians and are headed straight to hell.
[*The context of the Ferguson quote was the ICC's views on the discipling relationships being a required part of the Great Commission. Ferguson had decided his entire church was not saved because it was not committed to the version of the Great Commission that Kip McKean began preaching in the early 1980s.]
To be healthy in the dealings people have with others, they must establish boundaries. I alluded to these in my discourse on control of loved ones. The ICC calls this intrusion "being open with your life". The member is not free to tell his or her leaders that some particular aspect is none of their business. Anything asked, any intrusion into his or her life, must be accepted. As Kip McKean wrote:
"Marriage challenges.... [to have] openness and accountability with another couple with absolutely no topics off limits for discussion, i.e. the past, arguments, sex, schedule, finances..." (sic) (McKean, Kip, Go Make Disciples: The Dream, DPI, 1997, Lesson 8.)
"Remember: We are family... never accept the 'It is none of your business' attitude. When you counsel, 'Follow your gut.'" (sic) (Ibid., Lesson 5.)
Granted, some leaders do respect certain boundaries, but the point is that it is the leader, rather than the individual, that determines these. The invasion of the member's privacy includes such things as sex acts between husband and wife, private thoughts, desires, dreams, etc. Without being permitted to establish his or her own boundaries based on the level of closeness and trust, the member cannot protect himself or herself from intrusion by the ICC. In a very real way, the ICC uses this tactic to adjust and manipulate the member's core personality. This system of boundaries is important to mental health, it is not merely a matter of "hiding sin".
The reason that this is destructive is that it breaks the member's self-esteem. The ICC will invalidate and declare "sinful" aspects of the member's personality that it does not like or find useful. For example, introversion is a trait one is born with and which a person cannot change (according to current psychological research). The ICC wants extroverts, so it declares it a sin to be an introvert.
ICC members will not be permitted to have authentic self-confidence nor truly to be who they really are. Rather, the ICC leadership will tolerate only personality traits that it wishes. Healthy levels of confidence will be broken down, because only those aspects of oneself that suits the ICC will be deemed as valid. This practice leaves the member without a means to control his or her self-worth or self-image.
This practice, coupled with its control of a member's loved ones, leaves the member with the nearly the only means of feeling worthy or even worthwhile being the affirmations given by compliance with the ICC leadership.
What the ICC calls a "rebuke" is known to researchers as a "breaking session". These sessions are sometimes resultant from breaking actual commandments such as Biblical sexual codes. However, the bulk of these will be due to lack of compliance with leadership's directives or questioning the leadership's actions or statements. During these sessions (typically done with a minimum of three accusers), pressure, recriminations, artificially induced guilt and shame are used to break the will of the member. The desired result is to return the member to a status of full compliance with and acceptance of leadership's authority and directives. The right of the member to think for himself or herself and for self-determination is brought into bondage of the leadership. The severity of the session will induce the member to suppress or keep quiet about future reservations or questions and subserviently to obey the leaders. [Note: the ICC uses the term "rebuke" for a number of levels of coercion; here, I am speaking of the more extreme.]
A less severe tactic, also called a rebuke, is down-dressing. It may be done privately or in a group setting. The same tools as in a breaking session are used to convince the member that he or she has done something seriously wrong. However, the focus is usually more limited than in a breaking session. The typical purpose is to induce feelings of shame so that the member will do as told.
It should be reiterated that the Greek word translated as "to rebuke" simply means "to bring to conviction". The harshness that the ICC employs is not implied. Consider Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." The ICC guides its leaders into disobedience to this commandment, preferring harshness and rudeness. I have even heard ICC leaders boast about how they "grilled" or "roasted" someone under their charge.
Beyond the general fear of coercion and breaking sessions, the ICC entraps its members with another fear that of loosing their salvation. The ICC officially denies, while vigorously teaching, a doctrine of salvation by works. Passages such as John 17 are frequently used to make the member believe that if he or she fails to recruit successfully, salvation will be lost. In other ways, the ICC makes the member believe that he or she must be "totally committed", ostensibly to God, but in practice to the ICC, or else salvation will be forfeited. The term "grace" is mentioned quite seldom in the ICC.
The ICC uses fear in another way. By teaching the members that it is the one and only true church and that leaving it is leaving God, it entraps it members to its abuses. The fear of going to hell if they escape the tyranny of the ICC makes the members mentally entrapped in it. They believe that they must endure whatever is dealt to them or else go to hell. Unfortunately, some leave the ICC with this belief intact, simply deciding that it would be better to go to hell than to endure the ICC.
The ICC is also quite fond of telling stories about how ex-members have had calamities happen to them after leaving, especially death. Since the members believe that such people will go to hell, fear of leaving is reinforced. The members expect God's wrath to come down on them should they leave. Along that line, the ICC uses the terms "left God" or "fall-away" or "gone back into the world" to refer to former members. These negative-sounding terms are used to instill sadness and fear in the members to prevent their leaving.
Another means of instilling acceptance of control is to eliminate options. The member will be left with one choice, which is really no choice. The ICC does this by telling the member what needs to be done and presenting "reasons" why all other options are not valid.
The member who has qualms will be made to suppress them. He or she may be told to "study it out" or "pray about that" should reservations be expressed. This tactic subtly introduces the assumption that the member is in error and needs to get right with God about the correctness of the directive. The leader will check whether the member has chosen to comply and may even bring others into the situation to persuade the member that it is the leader who is correct. Sometimes, the member will be told that he or she needs "to trust God on this" and that God will make it work out because the member's heart will be in the right place by complying. The leader may also point out how the member has made some decision in the past that is deemed to have gone badly and that God could not bless that decision because the member was being "prideful and independent". The member will be told, again, to "trust God on this."
After doing this, the leader will tell the member that "the choice is up to you, though". However, in reality, no choice is given.
The ICC uses manipulative affection, which it calls "love" and "encouragement", in recruitment and in retaining members.
In the recruitment phase, the ICC sets out on an orchestrated scheme of taking over the potential recruit's friendships. He or she will be surrounded by a number of ICC members, preferably with daily contact, who will attempt to become the target's new "best friends". In the case of ease of re-contact, the initial member involved may opt to win this person over as a "friend" before introducing the hidden agenda of recruitment. Justifying the deception as "being all things to all men" the members may choose to feign interest in the potential recruit's hobbies. Sometimes, the recruitment team may bring in another member due to some aspect he or she has in common with the potential recruit. Of course, these "best friends" will drop the charade not long after the recruit becomes a member, with the possible exception of whoever is chosen to be the discipler. Likewise, if the potential recruit does not join the ICC, the members will most likely discard their "friendship".
Manipulative affection is used on members in a number of ways. One way is by giving smiles, compliments, and leniency to compliant members. Non-compliance is treated with avoiding the member, negative statements, denigration, etc. Since, as mentioned above, the ICC controls the major support systems of the member, positive treatment is craved, inducing the member to strive for greater compliance (especially increased recruitment efforts and financial contributions).
Another manipulative affection technique is "lifting up". In this tactic, members that are especially compliant or otherwise useful are spoken of fondly to the whole group or congregation. This engenders similar behavior in others so that they can get such positive treatment. It has the additional effect of reinforcing and enhancing the compliant behavior in the member being "lifted up". This tactic is also used for members that are regarded as "weak" or otherwise "struggling" (which means they are considered at risk of leaving the ICC). In this case, something, anything, the member did will be extolled before the group. This mechanism (which is really just patronization) helps to reinforce the bonds to the group and to delay or prevent the member from leaving. However, this means is not always used, if a member has become too much trouble, he or she may be allowed to leave without interference or even be ejected from the group.
Another means of manipulative affection is hugging and saying, "I love you" to members of the congregation. A hug is a very personal means of expressing affection. It tells the recipient that the giver cares for him or her deeply. This effect is diffused in the ICC by making it compulsory to hug as a greeting. To a small extent, this practice bonds the members hugging, but the greater effect is that it makes a hug almost meaningless to the members. In like fashion, the words, "I love you" are used nearly as often; thereby, diluting the value of the words. It would be one thing if these words were reserved for those for whom the words were true, but in the ICC they are used for anyone people who barely know each other are expected to say, "I love you." With the value of these very personal means of expressing affection trivialized, the member does not feel the impact of those words or expressions when used sincerely (whether by an ICC member or by an outsider). Thus, intimacy (both romantic and platonic) is diffused by the ICC. The effect it has on the member is to create the need to seek harder to gain love and respect of the ICC membership which, as already discussed, means allowing the leadership to control the member's life.
Simulated (or even genuine) love is used as a defense when the member does not react well to the leader's control. When the leader has used one of the more harsh control mechanisms, he or she will often say something like, "I am saying this because I love you." This tactic shifts consideration from the acts or statements of the leader, to his or her alleged motivation. The presumption is subtly reinforced that the leader is correct in his or her assessment.
When a member misses a service or is otherwise deemed not sufficiently "committed", manipulative affection often is piled on. Such statements as, "We missed you. What happened to you on Sunday?" are common. The member may also be told that he or she is needed, that his or her support is needed, that he or she has so much to offer, etc. Theses phrases are used to pull the member back into compliance and control as well as to maintain the illusion the he or she is actually cared about or valued. The abrupt termination of such "love" when the next reorganization occurs or when the member leaves is evidence that such expressions are not authentic.
Return to Table of Contents
In addition to the specifically applied controls described in the first two sections, the International Church of Christ establishes a subculture that is conducive to getting the members to accept or not even to realize the control of the group. I here will present some of the elements of the ICC subculture that aid in its being able to dictate the lives of the members. I separate these control mechanisms, perhaps arbitrarily, from those under "The Architecture of Control" on the basis that these are used, primarily, on a group level.
The elements that I will highlight are:
Already alluded to in Section II, the ICC uses vocabulary to manipulate and control the member. A thorough list and description of controlling terms would likely double the size of this work. Therefore, I will examine this technique with just one of the many phrases that the ICC uses: "being into yourself". Whenever a member wishes to have any sort of life apart from the group, or if the leaders feel that he or she is not appearing excited enough or is not participating enough in the current activity, the leader will tell the member that he or she is "being into" himself or herself. Since "into yourself" is regarded as a sin, the member is compelled to comply with the leader's wishes. With two simple words, the leader can invoke predetermined feelings and a standard response. The words would be nearly meaningless to an outsider, but to the insider the effect is profound.
I suggest that the reader compile his or her own list of words and phrases that the ICC used to control him or her. It may be surprising just how long the list is. Although, due to space constraints, I cannot delve into these phrases, here are some of those that my wife and I complied when we created our lists. First I give the word or phrase, second I give either the effective translation or the practical effect.
doing what is best doing what you're told
broken destruction of self-confidence
cheap grace no grace, only guilt
correction destruction of self-confidence
cut (to the heart) abused
disciple (as a verb) enslavement by badgering
discipline guilt, badgering
encourage commandment by leadership
evangelism/ sharing you faith never-ending guilt for never doing enough
fall away / go back into the world/ left God keeps you enslaved for fear of going to hell
get advice don't think for yourself
get with you on that browbeat you into submission
this is from God how dare you think anything other than what the leadership orders you
God is trying to humble you God is punishing you for not submitting enough
godly sorrow never-ending guilt for never doing enough
God put me in your life Translation: you must submit to my megalomania
hard-hearted destruction of self-confidence
independent a sin in the ICC, where is that in the Bible?
into yourself not faking enthusiasm enough OR having some unapproved aspiration
what would Jesus do wait, I'll tell you OR you are headed to hell for being imperfect
kingdom your whole life is the ICC
laying it out guilt, badgering
let go and let God think not and do as you're told
lift up fake love and admiration for manipulative purposes
we missed you how dare you miss anything we do, no matter what the reason
you need to we wish to exploit you
you can offer so much never-ending guilt for never doing enough
open to correction letting the leadership browbeat you into submission
open with your life privacy is a sin in the ICC, where is that in the Bible?
Other-focused used to keep you from considering personal ambitions
out of yourself fake enthusiasm beyond the point of exhaustion
people pleasing it is sin to be considerate
pray about it God opposes you for disagreeing, pray until you do as you're told
prideful you're thinking for yourself, that's OUR job
radical doing stuff for the ICC beyond exhaustion OR being very rude
rebuke emotionally violent destruction of self-confidence
how is your relationship with God no matter how close you get to God, you must do more or you're going to hell
repent obey the leadership's directives and interpretation of the Bible
sacrificial give us your money, time and everything else in the amounts we specify
self-focused, selfish never-ending guilt for never doing enough
serve/servant never-ending guilt for never doing enough: exhausting yourself for the ICC is the only way to get to heaven
sin the ICC makes up "sins" to keep you under control, especially "being prideful and independent"
standard only the ICC leadership's view of the Bible is correct
stepping on some toes leadership's excuse for being rude and over-bearing
study it out read the Bible until you do as you're told
submissive eradication of self-confidence and of thinking like an adult
superficial friendship outside of ICC control was nearly always so described
support [insert leader's name] the leader must not be questioned and must be obeyed as if he were a god
taking advice don't separate good advice from bad, do as you're told
trust God on this trust the leadership without question
worldly used to crush the desire to have a life
ICC members typically deny that control by the leaders exists usually without any explanation, especially when speaking to outsiders.
I do not use the term "deny" here with the connotation of lying. The ICC members become so conditioned to being "in denial" of how controlled they really are, that they can deny a truth without even realizing that they have been dishonest. The denial I speak of is both external and internal.
A standard tactic for denial of control is to claim that the person is looking at it the wrong way. Al Baird stated on the 1993 20/20 spotlight on the ICC that the ICC did not force people to do anything but tried very hard to persuade them. What he was really doing was redefining what the ICC does. The "persuasion" that he mentioned is that done usually with no option to the member. It is, therefore, control.
One means of fostering the claim that the ICC does not control its members is with the illusion of freedom. This tactic has been employed primarily since 1992, when the doctrine of submission to the opinions of the leaders was ostensibly amended. One technique adopted since then is to give advice (which ordinarily must be followed) on issues about which the leader does not care. No consequences will be imposed for not following such advice. The member is mistakenly led to believe that he or she has the freedom to take or accept advice. It is another matter entirely when the leader does care about the advice given. Guilt trips, breaking sessions and the other means of coercive persuasion mentioned above are used when a member rejects such "advice". This practice produces a tendency to go along with (obey) any future "advice" it will be too much pain and trouble to reject "advice" about which the leaders actually care.
With the uncertainty that Kips resignation has caused, some admission of the level of control has been made. Various congregations have started giving members token amounts of freedom, such as choosing their discipling partner. Such things foster the illusion of freedom and promotes the denial of control. With the multitude of control mechanisms at the leaders disposal, several of them can be dropped without giving the members any substantive freedom. However, lessening or dropping a particular control has a strong effect of making members believe that any control that the ICC leadership might have had is now in the past.
[NOTE: I am NOT saying that these leaders do not have good motives. Perhaps, they believe that they have done well; however, years of being conditioned to be controlled and to control others seem to keep these leaders from realizing the depth of the problem.]
In cases where the control cannot be denied, it is defended as being proper. Sometimes this is done in a forthright fashion such as claiming that God assigned the person to be the leader and the members must follow. However, this technique is not as popular as it once was. A more favored variation is saying something such as, "I need to know you are with me on this" or "I need you to support me". Alternately, it is sometimes arranged for someone else to make such claims on behalf of the leader, especially if he is an evangelist. Whatever the exact wording, the member is led to believe that the control is good, proper and instituted by God himself. Oddly, this admission contradicts the claim that group does not control the member, but both are used.
"Poisoning the Well" is a debate term meaning to discredit a speaker preemptively so that his or her arguments will be dismissed without due examination of their validity. The ICC uses this tactic with great skill. Negative statements about the ICC are dubbed "persecution" or "spiritual pornography" or "opposing God". The ICC has outright forbidden members to read such materials or to communicate with certain ICC critics. Knowing that it cannot fully prevent the membership from encountering such information, the ICC poisons the well by saying that such works as this essay represent "isolated incidents" or things from a long time ago or "bitterness" of "disgruntled former members". They are quick to say that such statements are "just one side of the story" and that since one cannot hear the other side of the story, then the member must avoid such materials. (I find this one of the more bizarre tactics since not listening to the ICC critics necessitates that one will only hear one side of the story, that of the ICC if the ICC allows members to hear anything at all about the claims.) The ICC has accused critics of twisting their stories and presenting them in such a way as they "seem true". Actually, the stories are true. Although it is possible that some may have embellished, the ICC has ample abuses so that there really is no "need" to do so. The practical effect of poisoning the well is that the ICC doesn't have to respond to criticisms on a point-by-point basis, rather it simply brushes criticism aside with some lofty statement.
One respondent to the first edition of this essay suggested that I had "cleverly" misconstrued the ICC to make it look like a controlling institution. He quoted a heading (phrased using an obvious hyperbole) and said that I was using "brazen slander". I reworded that heading to remove the hyperbole. (Originally, "Must one be an apostle to be saved?" was phrased "You must be an apostle to be saved".) However, I should address his retort. Does this work amount to a clever twisting and distortion, or is it an accurate depiction? I challenged the respondent to list out all of the "slanders" in this work. Other than the misunderstood hyperbole, he provided none. This is a good example of the sort of thing of which I write. The ICC way of dealing with criticism is to find anything whatsoever that can be construed as untrue. It helps if there is any slight error maybe a minor doctrine got phrased a little wrong or the wrong leaders name was mentioned. Whatever it is, the key is to find anything presumably wrong and then to dismiss the whole argument as slander and lies. The main issues are not typically taken into consideration. The ICC instills this mindset to avoid such criticisms.
The myth of the "isolated incident" is a powerful means of control that deserves further discussion. Unfortunately, certain media reports have tended to be sensationalistic in their depiction of the ICC. Some claims made about the ICC are presented as if they were commonplace, such as one report wherein a former member made the dubious claim to have been told that "suicide can be from God". (This claim was made on the 1993 ABC's 20/20 ICC story.) Additionally, claims have been made about the ICC that are clearly untrue. The ICC uses such stories to its advantage to discredit all negative reports. It claims that just about any inconvenient truth presented is an "isolated incident" not authorized by the leadership. For example, the sin list that Rick Bauer presented on that same 20/20 story was not an isolated incident but, according to Bauer, was prepared and distributed by Gordon Ferguson, a high-ranking ICC leader whose writings I have already discussed.
Another issue, mentioned above, is that the ICC has pressured or demanded that members divorce or separate form their non-member spouses. I have personal knowledge of such cases. There are additional stories available on the Internet indicative of this practice. However, the membership at large is generally unaware of this kind of control. The myth of the isolated incident can be used in this and other cases to get the member to dismiss inconvenient truths.
In this essay, as well as other critical statements I have written, I have avoided anecdotal evidence or what indeed might rightly be classified as "isolated incidents". My criticisms are based on ordinary, daily events in the ICC. I focus on things that the majority of members especially non-leaders must face. The truth is that the ICC does not want the members to know, or at least acknowledge, certain things about itself.
The ICC uses propaganda to control its members.
The songs in the ICC assemblies are chosen for a specific purpose. Usually the song leaders admit that they choose songs to go with the message being preached that day. By itself this practice might not be so bad. But the words themselves are manipulative. For example, in I Hear God Singing to Me consider these words:
Gather us and start a movement, scatter us we scatter seeds,
Planting Christ in every nation, as our great crusade succeeds.
Criticize us we grow stronger. Kill us and for sure we win,
For our battle isn't earthly and our souls will never end.
This type of rhetoric fosters the persecution complex that the ICC cultivates, which helps keep the members loyal and controllable. With "the world" out to get them, then the only ones to be trusted are the other ICC members. This persecution complex also fosters loyalty to the group as a whole, since any given member might leave the ICC and become a "persecutor". This type of rhetoric also promotes a mentality of "us vs. them", ICC vs. "the world", that aids in keeping the members from developing trust in or loyalty to anyone outside the group.
The videos and other theatrical productions are also manipulative. They present the ICC doctrines as if they were the undeniable truth. These productions glorify ICC dogma, lauding idealized ICC disciples while denigrating outsiders as evil or foolish. Non-ideal ICC members are also depicted as foolish.
The books written for DPI always follow the ICC doctrine. That is to be expected. However, members are not allowed to question anything in the books, which are often required reading. The books present some Biblical principles but weave them into the fabric of ICC dogma in such a way as to appear that it all came straight from the Bible. The authors frequently use Biblical passages that have little or nothing to do with their points, but can be twisted to look as though the authors' points were reasonable developments of the Biblical principles. For example, consider the statements by Gordon Ferguson quoted in Section I. After tossing out a series of Bible verses that really had nothing to do with the theme of the chapter, Ferguson leapt to the conclusions listed without any supporting Scripture at all. The reader would be likely to accept these conclusions since the author had used the Bible earlier in the chapter. The reader would be unlikely to notice that there was no support given for the main points made. This sort of propagandistic writing is standard in the ICC-authored books.
On occasion, leaders will arrange for there to be skits, usually about evangelism and usually humorous. The skits depict desired behavior that members are expected to imitate either by lauding the expectation or making other behaviors seem foolish and sinful. No one may question how right or wrong these skits are.
The KNN videos are blatant propaganda. They depict carefully selected events supposedly happening in the ICC. Only positive things about the ICC will ever be said. The true stories of pain and suffering, not caused by following God, but rather caused by the ICC are never mentioned. The KNN video "news" presents the ICC as a grand, glorious entity, constantly referred to as "God's Modern Day Movement". Statements of questionable accuracy are made during these videos most notably dealing with the revisionist history of the ICC that is now being promoted.
The ICC, in an effort to glorify Kip McKean, has altered its true history and connection with the Crossroads movement. For example, the ICC claims it began in 1979, when it actually began in 1967. The 1979 date focuses on the beginning of Kip McKean taking over leadership of the Crossroads movement from Chuck Lucas. Now that McKean has lost his top position, it might be worthwhile to watch for further revisions. I refrain from speculating.
The official ICC response to the Kip McKean resignation (i.e., the announcement of the "ICOC Unity Conference") is a good source for seeing the propaganda machine at work. I have reviewed it in an editorial, "Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall", but let me highlight a few points:
Kip, now viewed negatively, is never mentioned by name.
There are at least seven references to the actions of higher-ranking ICC leaders being the actions of God.
There are heavily emotional appeals for "unity", which is a codeword for submitting to these selfsame leaders.
Intense efforts are made to create the illusion that all problems are in the past, to be forgiven and forgotten. This sort of appeal works to deflect serious consideration of existing problems and the doctrines and practices that caused them.
Another means of creating an environment conducive to control is through simulated joy. Members are required to be "fired up" and to put on plastic smiles, give forced hugs, say I-love-you's, etc. If asked how they are, the expectation is for the member to say "Awesome" or "I am doing great". Members not complying with these edicts will be pressured to do so. Many times, I have seen services stopped because not enough people were "fired up" but rather were "into themselves" the meeting would resume only when the desired level of "excitement" was being faked. This simulated happiness is conducive to getting the members to accept whatever type control is being used, so that this, which is likely to be the only positively-viewed thing in their lives, can be experienced. Members often delay leaving the group in part because of not wanting to miss the "excitement".
Part of the controlling environment in the ICC is the existence of unwritten rules. None of these rules is presented to the potential recruit; they become evident only after joining the ICC. Some of these are spoken directly by some leaders, but they typically are never clearly stated. But the environment in general, and the way the member will be treated for violating one of them in particular, leave no doubt about the rules in the mind of the member. Oddly, the opposite of some of these rules is officially taught, but in practice, the rule is different than what is stated. Here are some of them:
Never challenge the leadership Primarily applying to challenging abuses of authority. One may get away with confronting a leader with his sins provided it is done with great care and not very often and not to one much higher in the hierarchy than oneself. As is often said in the ICC, grumbling against the leaders is grumbling against God himself.
Never criticize the ICC The ICC is great and glorious, it must be exalted no matter what it does, it is "God's Modern Day Movement".
Never admit that the group abuses If an abuse must be admitted, it is only the person involved that is guilty, the ICC is never responsible for the actions of its leaders or for giving leadership roles to unqualified people. Patterns of abuse by numerous leaders must be ignored, the ICC is above reproach. God's perfect kingdom/plan is made up of sinful, imperfect people only the people may ever be said to be at fault, never the organization.
Never admit doubting the doctrine Although minor belief differences may be tolerated, no belief that grants the ICC its claim to power and preeminence may be questioned. The challenge to be a Berean, to check out what leaders teach, applies only to other groups, never to the ICC.
Never admit doubting the ICC This is the foremost rule of all, the ICC is the one and only true church, it is anathema to admit that you doubt that it is right and true.
Evade the question If a thought, question or inconvenient truth comes up that would suggest that the ICC is destructive, abusive or otherwise wrong then the question must be evaded and the thought must be stopped.
Doubt your doubts Any doubt that would lead you to evaluate the ICC or your involvement in it must be wrong, it cannot be a valid point.
Accuse the accuser Used by leaders for those under them and by members in general for a former member or critic, ad hominem responses work wonders. It is especially helpful to claim that the accuser is making his or her claim to justify some sort of sin (any will do).
Rewrite your past You were deplorably evil before joining the ICC, ignore anything good about you prior to joining, focus on your sins and weaknesses, embellish or over-emphasize as necessary. Any good thing about you came about because of the ICC.
Rewrite the group's past Blame yourself for all harmful "advice" received and enforced, ignore all abuse, always make the group seem wonderful and holy.
If someone, especially a leader, leaves the ICC, denigrate him or her as much as possible or pretend he or she does not exist or has metaphorically died. Those who leave have betrayed the glorious cause.
By the term "illusion of change", I reference two related scenarios. The first is the fostering of a belief that a situation is in the past when it is not. The second is the use of superficial adjustments to a problem, which focuses the attention toward trivial, surface issues and away from the problem itself. Both scenarios have the effect of making those affected think that problem no longer exists. The ICC uses both of these. This element of the ICC subculture promotes control by the leadership by causing the ordinary members not to acknowledge or address serious problems.
Sometimes an abuse or other wrongdoing by the ICC cannot be denied or ignored. One of the key ways of handling such issues is by treating all problems as if they were things of the past. A healthy way of handling problems is realizing what problems have been left in the past, learning from those errors, while facing those in the present. Generally, this is not permitted as relates to the ICC as a group. All problems of the group have to be viewed in the past tense. When it comes to the individual, there certainly is a never-ending barrage of alleged shortcomings with which the leadership berates the ordinary member. However, no acknowledgment is permitted that the ICC as a group has a current problem especially if it relates to systemic abuse and control.
For the ordinary members, there is no means of addressing existing problems of the group nor developing plans to contend with them. Members must be silent about such issues, until such a time as a leader states that the wrongs were mistakes made in the past. Prior to such a pronouncement, it must be denied that the problems exist.
The viewpoint generally fostered is that the ICC in general has changed, corrected all wrongs and that any claimed problems are not the way the ICC is any more. If a specific leader is involved, he or she must be seen as having changed unless he or she has lost his position. [When a leader has fallen out of favor, it is permitted to denigrate him or her, provide that his or her misconduct are viewed firmly in the past tense.] It must never be admitted that the ideals of the group are flawed.
Sometimes, particularly on minor issues, a leader will give permission for a problem to be admitted and allow some discussion of possible solutions. This is not a common practice. When it does occur, it will be over something like a group outing or people arriving late to a meeting. But even on such issues, the leader remains firmly in control of what topics may be discussed. An ordinary member will not be given the floor to address serious problems. Similarly, critical matters are not discussed openly, admitted to be current problems, with ordinary members freely offering options for solutions. Members who dare to speak up have been silenced and even ejected from the group.
The only exception to this practice of treating problems in the past tense is to state that the group is not committed enough, not working hard enough, not baptizing enough this admission must always be couched in terms of the group needing to work harder to achieve its ambitions. Only issues of this type may be considered in the present tense all others must be viewed as past tense. This exception enhances the control by the ICC leadership by pushing the members to be even more dedicated to following the leaders edicts.
This illusion of change helps the member avoid assessing the group. If something bad has happened then it is always in the past, it is time forgive and forget. This very way of thinking allows abuse to continue by preventing open and serious dialog amongst the members. This way of not dealing with problems also grants further power to the leadership by making the only source of change those selfsame leaders. Even leaders have been stifled in their efforts to affect changes, by higher-ranking leaders. Those who have tried have typically been fired and/or kicked out of the ICC.
Previously, anyone who spoke out against Kips sins faced serious retribution. Now, his serious offenses are permitted to be mentioned. But the discussions are in the past tense. The problems have to be viewed as being solved. Repentance, forgiveness and love must abound. No demand by ordinary members for serious reform may be made.
Even I, a former member, have received emails from current members to the effect that I am wrong to continue to oppose the ICC since all these problems are supposedly in the past. Since certain apologies have been made, by McKean and other leaders, then everything must be viewed as mistakes of the past. Such views illustrate my point very well: no means exists to admit and address CURRENT problems. They all have to be viewed as being things of the past.
The past tense nature of handling these issues leads to there being no meaningful evaluation of what aspects of the group cause these sorts of problems. Despite the repeated abuses of leadership happening innumerable times, it is all viewed as isolated incidents. The clear pattern of emotional and psychological abuse by leaders on the ordinary members is not taken into consideration. There is no examination into the core beliefs (or lack thereof) that lead to such events. Almost invariably, the view taken is that any problem is just some leaders sins and has already been fixed.
This brings me to the point of abusive forgiveness. Forgiveness is a very good thing, but it can be used for abusive purposes. Forgiveness is not just letting something go unaddressed (unless it is a trivial issue such as forgetting to do something you promised). Forgiveness serves to repair a friendship and to promote growth in the relationship. It can be abused by such things as repeatedly doing something, demanding forgiveness each time, but never meaningfully working to change. In that situation, the abuse continues and the relationship cannot grow. This is just what the ICC leadership has done.
The illusion of change is aided by the fact that the ICC continually makes superficial alterations which have the appearance of being substantive. Let me use an analogy:
Consider inmates in a prison. Suppose that a strict warden is in charge. He does not allow the prisoners to make any choices whatsoever. He controls absolutely everything, even deciding which pair of socks each inmate must wear each day. Later, his successor takes charge. He is not as strict. He lets the inmates select what they will eat from a menu. He rescinds the rules about when to go to bed and even allows the convicts to pick their cellmates. The inmates are happy and breathe a sigh of relief. However, have prisoners been freed? Of course not. Their situation may have improved, but they are still in jail. Until they are released from their incarceration, no matter how kindly the warden may be, they have no meaningful freedom. Obviously, their conditions have gotten better, but they still have no freedom.
Likewise, the minor changes to the system of control in the ICC that are occasionally made do not constitute the problems truly being put in the past. The ICC members, like the inmates in this hypothetical prison, are still being controlled. Only a release from the system of control is substantive. Anything short of that is little more than appeasement of the inmates, no matter what the motives of the leaders may be.
Typical irrelevant changes are such things as reassigning leaders, changing titles and names of groups, altering some minor doctrine, etc. Sometimes token amounts of freedom are given to members often these are temporary. Once these trivial changes are instituted, the congregation is led to believe that the trouble is over whilst great and glorious things await just over the rainbow if only the members increase their dedication and devotion, working all the harder.
The events following the resignation of Kip McKean clearly illustrate the illusion of change.
Here are some of the things that have been reported:
Kip is reduced in power.
Various leaders are being called by new titles.
The hierarchy is getting revamped.
"Big" decisions allegedly now will be made by the "Unity Conference" instead of by Kip McKean or the World Sector Leaders.
The leaders of some congregations have acted independently, making changes such as allowing members to have some level of choice in who their discipling partners (perhaps called something new) will be.
Some congregations have dropped the stat sheets.
Some are no longer keeping tabs on how much money a member contributes.
(It should be noted that many congregations have not announced any particular changes.)
Greater independence of the leaders from other leaders is not especially helpful to the ordinary member. Local leaders deciding to give out some new "freedom" is not enough. Just as these leaders decide to give some new "freedoms", these same leaders can repeal those "freedoms". The ICC leaders are the wardens in my prison analogy. Some may be more lax than others; however, like the wardens, they are still in control of the lives of the ordinary member. These adjustments are illusory changes. They may seem important, but they do little to free the member from control by the leaders.
Some of these changes may affect the higher-ranking leaders, but do little or nothing for the ordinary member. To date, all that I have observed as having been learned from the Kip McKean saga is that leaders feel the need to have some level of autonomy. What does that matter to the ordinary member? Whether it is a leader far away or one next door who does the controlling, the average member is still being controlled just the same.
There is no safeguard for the ordinary member. The ICC has no ideological or theological grounding as to what is or is not proper religious leadership. The leaders exert whatever level of control that they so wish.
The current restructuring efforts are, to me, inconsequential. An authentic, meaningful change would be to the very core of the ICC. The control and damage that occurs in the ICC is not, primarily, done by the well-known leaders. The damage comes from people being "discipled", no matter how it is done. The damage comes from wielding the various control mechanisms discussed in this essay. These mechanisms constitute the bars, walls and guard towers of the ICC prison. The ICC leaders (not just the high ranking ones) are the wardens and guards.
There may be a temporary dispensation for members to voice their concerns going on at this time (June 2003), but it is highly unlikely to last. What has not been made evident is that the ordinary members have the FREEDOM to institute whatever changes they deem appropriate. They did not choose their leaders nor do they have any veto power over these imposed-upon-them leaders. The ordinary members have no power to remove their leaders. Coupling this lack of power with the belief that only the ICC congregations are the Chosen Few and are the only ones saved (thus, going anywhere else is a guarantee of going to hell), I must conclude that substantive change has not occurred. Although there are some reports that some congregations have made demands of their leaders, such as insisting on their resignation, these appear to be limited in number and are likely only a passing freedom allowed because of the temporary power struggle amongst the higher-level leaders. Time will tell.
It should be noted that some leaders have made efforts to make meaningful changes. In the past, these leaders were crushed by Kip McKeans posse usually being ejected from the ICC and marked. With the power to destroy such leaders currently reduced (possibly temporarily), a very few ICC leaders have called for substantive change. At the time of this writing, it remains to be seen what will become of these efforts. If the ICC history serves as a guide, high-ranking ICC leaders eventually will try to take over those congregations and repeal the reforms. It is possible that congregations that have instituted reforms may split off from the ICC altogether. Time will tell.
There may be a few ICC congregations that will change substantively enough for their members to be free from the leaderships control, but there is no indication of a universal change in that direction. With the exception of perhaps four ICC congregations, all that has been instituted, so far, are trivial, surface issues not freedom. In the ICC mindset, such minor variations on the way things are done are considered sufficient to solve all problems. However, this illusion of change prevents the long-overdue massive reform that is needed. The illusion that all has been taken care of leads to there being no means to examine the system itself.
Obviously, any improvement is better than none at all. Any lessening of the control by the leadership is a good thing. That is not my argument here. My point is that the very existence of the control by the leaders in the ICC is harmful. Therefore, no minor reform, even if of some benefit, is enough.
The "big" change needed is completely renouncing all of the practices described in this essay. A big change would be for the ICC to start genuinely accepting people for who they really are, rather than trying to remold them in the image of whatever leader is in favor at the moment.
From my viewpoint, it makes minimal difference who leads whom nor how the leaders are chosen. What matters is the renouncing of the ICCs entire concept of leadership. As long as "discipling" exists, the control and abuse will continue even if there are occasional periods where the level of control is reduced. Anything short of renouncing "discipling" is just an illusion of change.
The prison needs to be torn down, it does not need new decorations nor personnel changes.
A warden, no matter how kindly, is still a captor.
A prison is still a prison, even if it gets renovated.
Section I describes how the ICC deflects allegiance and obedience to God onto itself, especially to its leaders. As a companion to that means of control, the ICC redirects its leadership's actions back onto God. The leaders state unequivocally that God has raised them up and that God has put them in the lives of the members. A discipleship partner will say such things as, "God put me in your life to help you with this." Another version of this illusion is stating that this or that plan or directive came from God. The member is not permitted to question whether the leadership is actually installed by God or is acting on God's authority or is doing God's will. Rather than admitting that its actions and decisions are its own, and hopefully God will bless them, the leadership claims that such are actually from God and by God. This illusion is a powerful motivator because the members will be led to believe that the control exercised by the leadership is really God directing their lives. If a directive is believed to have come from God, then the member may not question it nor reject it.
The announcement of the formation of the "ICOC Unity Conference" clearly illustrates this point. The actions of Kip McKean and other leaders are said to be the actions of God, clearly and unmistakably.
This illusion will be reinforced with anecdotes designed to lead to the assumption that a person's involvement and recruitment in the group was orchestrated by God himself. Directives given will be said to have come from God and will be supported with anecdotes of how well things went for people for doing as told. The ICC urges these sorts of stories to be told by as many people as possible to add to the effect. Furthermore, stories of how terrible things happened to people who hesitated in joining or who left the ICC will be told frequently.
Omitted will be the countless examples of suffering that the ICC and its leadership have caused its members.
The ICC frequently denigrates all other religious beliefs and groups. This tactic provides an environment in which the membership believes that the ICC is the greatest church since the time of the apostles, the Chosen Few of God. A member quietly questioning the ICC will be likely to ignore other options and groups because they are believed to be false and inferior. He or she will tell himself or herself, "What else is there?" and "Where would I go if I left?" The belief that one cannot leave induces a situation of learned helplessness: if the situation is believed to be the best to be hoped for, the abused person does not tend to leave. The ICC members endure whatever the leaders do to them because they believe that they will go to hell if they escape the situation.
The ICC is definitely determined to evangelize the world. The illusion is that such is actually taking place. To begin with, the first part of the illusion is the Chosen Few mentality that there are no other Christians just the ICC and a handful of stray disciples that have not found it yet. A Christian who converts to the ICC is believed to have been saved by the group. It is true that some ICC members were not Christians before coming to the group, but many or most were Christians who were persuaded that they were not upon joining the group.
A second part of the illusion is that of rapid growth. At one point the ICC was growing rapidly but that is no longer the case. Most of the USA congregations have grown very little or not at all in recent years. Some have even shrunk. This fact is ignored.
ICC congregations such as Boston in the 1980s and Los Angeles in the 1990s appeared to grow rapidly by importing ICC members from other cities. Furthermore, it is the leaders (and others who are good at recruiting) that have been imported, so that the growth of the ICC congregations in these favored cites is further enhanced.
Another means of making certain congregations look more impressive is to count far-away cities, sometimes over a hundred miles away (or even in different states!), as part of the larger ICC congregations. Many of these branches meet separately and some even have their own finances. By doing this sort of fuzzy math, the ICC can claim that this or that church is the largest in the city, state or even country.
Along the same lines, the ICC now teaches that it began in 1979 with "30 would-be disciples" (whatever that might be). The involvement of the many Crossroads congregations and their eventual conversion into ICC congregations is glossed over. Many thousands of the 1980's growth numbers are from this source. Granted, many of them were "rebaptized" when their congregations came under McKean's jurisdiction. All of this is glossed over in ICC growth charts, making it look like the original thirty were solely responsible for all of the others.
ICC leaders have claimed that the supposedly impressive growth is proof that the ICC is God's Modern Day Movement. Ignored is the fact that there are many churches of other faiths that have also had impressive growth rates.
Another part of the illusion of the mission is the false sense of urgency. The absolute untruth that the known world was evangelized in the first Christian generation is used to press the false need to do it again in this and each succeeding generation. This urgency helps the ICC control its members by deflecting concern for their own lives. The members are inclined to accept interference in their lives because it is all believed to be for the greater good of humanity.
When people are in a state of transition or other instability, they look for means of certainty and security which makes them more willing to accept outside control. The ICC induces just this sort of instability in the lives of its members on a continual basis. I have already discussed the means by which this is done, such as continually changing who the members' intimates are, the perpetually changing goals of the group, and the constant demand for impossible levels of ICC-style "righteousness". Additional instability is induced by the works-based salvation doctrine: the membership as a whole is left in constant concern for each one's salvation. With everyone constantly in a state of uncertainty and transition, the leadership is able to attain astonishing levels of control.
Let us consider three typical (and related) techniques for inducing instability, examining how these enhance the leaders ability to control the members.
One scheme may be called the "Laodicean Tactic" which is ordinarily done on a congregation-wide level. The ICC calls this by various names such as heart talks, reconstructions, or recommitments. The passage from the book of Revelation about the Church at Laodicea will be read perhaps the companion passage to the Church at Ephesus will also be read. It will be said that the congregation has become lukewarm or has lost its first love. The leaders will then have rigorous talks with every member. The members commitment and heart will be called into question. The member will be belittled for any perceived shortcoming or alleged sin. A list of requirements will be read off to which the member must wholeheartedly agree or face expulsion from the ICC. Some members will be kicked out. There will be a flurry of "rebaptisms". Since there is not any achievable level of commitment that is considered acceptable, the members will fear for their souls and follow the edicts of the leaders even more determinedly. In some cases it will be announced that the congregations membership list has been set to zero. Only those who succumb to the new demands will be deemed worthy to be in the congregation the rest will be treated as having lost their salvation. The Laodicean Tactic is a powerful tool for regaining control of the membership from any lapse of domination. I cannot say what motives the leadership might have. Perhaps they consider it a terrible sin for the members to act independently. Perhaps they just want the power. No matter what their motives might be, the effect is the same: induced instability in the membership and greater control by the leadership.
The second scheme is less drastic and more common. It can be called the "Why Arent You Jesus Yet?" tactic. To a Christian, Jesus represents the perfect human. In this tactic, some aspect of Jesus perfection will be brought up with the favored being his submission toward and his relationship with God. It will be pointed out to the member that he or she has not achieved the proper level of submission to God or relationship with God. Rather than looking at Jesus behavior as an ideal to approximated, it will be treated as if it were attainable. As mentioned before, the submission to God will be deflected to being submission to the leaders. What is instilled in the members mind will be that he or she has failed God, doesnt love God, etc. This tactic is often used with the question, "If you died right now, where do you think youd spend eternity?" This question is almost invariably used after prepping the member to believe that he or she would go to hell. If the member answers that he or she would go to heaven, then the leader will bring up "reasons" why that might not be the case. Usually, the "reasons" given will be insufficient evangelism, being "into oneself," or not praying long enough each day. Left in fear of going to hell, the induced instability will cause the member to lean on the leader to "help" him or her out of the situation. What actually occurs is that the leader gains greater control over the member by inducing this uncertainty. This tactic is used on both the group-wide and the individual-member levels. More often than not, it will be incorporated with a variation on the Discipleship Study.
The third tactic may be called the "Manufactured Crisis Maneuver". This scheme, which employs many of the control mechanisms mentioned in this work, has several forms. Generally, the maneuver begins by the leadership announcing an unrealistic or impossible plan, usually with a deadline. The plan may be things such as 100% of the members going to mandatory seminar 500 miles away (costing a mere $750) with no children allowed to come. Other schemes may be for a specific, large number of baptisms to occur over a brief period of time or for every member to have five people commit to visit on a Bring-Your-Neighbor Day. These goals are treated as authentic crises. Any member failing to measure up will be treated as being in some hypothetical sin. There will be daily follow-up by disciplers and other leaders: "Do you have the money?" "Whos going to watch your kids?" "Tell you boss that God comes first, you are going to the seminar." "Who have you got coming on Sunday?" "How many studies are you in?" "Where is your heart?" "Do you think you are still a disciple?" Statements such as these will be commonplace. Members often have to phone in daily progress reports. What such manufactured crises result in will be that the leaders will increase their normal level of control, induce guilt and fear, and make members feel like that just might not make it to heaven. The members typically will surrender any residual freedom they might have to the leaderships dictates. The ridiculous goal will be touted as a test of "where everybodys heart is". The result is phenomenal levels of control and manipulation.
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I have demonstrated that the leadership of the ICC has instituted a complex system of controlling the members. However, these control mechanisms are not, by themselves, the crux of the matter. This is why the restructuring efforts and such things as no longer assigning discipleship partners will not produce substantive freedom for the members. Yes, such efforts may improve the situation, but they will not stop the abusive control.
In many Chosen Few sects, the death or the fall of the founder/top leader spells the end of the group. That happens because the musings of that leader are the crux of the group. Despite the power Kip McKean once had, he was never the crux of the ICC. Therefore, his fall will not resolve the problems nor will it cause the ICC to disband. It may fracture into any number of autonomous, even rival, groups, but it will not disband (although some of the congregations may do so)
The crux of the matter, that element of the ICC that empowers the control mechanisms, is the doctrine that one must be totally committed in order to be saved. As I have already demonstrated, this doctrine is not merely being well-committed nor fully devoted. In practice, the doctrine becomes a matter of being committed BEYOND the capacity of a human being WHILE it is SIMULTANEOUSLY maintained the such a level is the minimum level necessary for salvation. As long as this doctrine remains intact, no amount of leadership change nor other reforms will stop the abuse of the ICC.
But, one might say, does not the Bible teach that one must love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength? Yes, it does. But it does not teach that one must do more than that. The ICC teaches that one must be committed beyond one's capacity even if it does not officially say so in such terse terms. Therefore, in practice, the doctrine of total commitment morphs into a commandment to be devoted to the ICC (supposedly God, but redirected onto the ICC, as mentioned in Section I) with more than all of one's heart, mind, soul and strength. Since no one has that to offer, the members are left in a state that not only leaves them vulnerable to abusive control, but actually causes them to seek out such domination.
It is well-established in Christian doctrine that one cannot earn salvation, thus needing the atonement of Christ. Depending on the particular denomination, this atonement is offered on the basis of grace, faith, piety and baptism (although, as any ICC member would know very well, there is considerable disagreement on those matters in the various Christian groups). But, consider the layers that the ICC has added onto this doctrine: these augmentations are not peripheral doctrines that may easily be changed. No, these elements go to the very core of what the ICC is. The very foundation of the ICC's doctrine of salvation consists of an impossible-to-obtain level of piety as a requisite for receiving and maintaining salvation. This is why reform efforts have to be massive to be of significant value: they must change the foundation of the ICC in order to stop the abusive control.
But, one may ask, "Why is being totally committed so wrong? And, why does it ensure abusive control?" These are valid questions which must be addressed for me to have demonstrated the truthfulness of my points.
The key word to consider here is "totally". It is not possible to be totally focused or devoted to anything, especially as presented by the ICC. No matter how well one performs at a given task, a "next level" can always be imagined. In the ICC, nothing is ever enough, no achievement is ever sufficient. Even if someone somehow manages to do a particular task well enough for the ICC, then there are countless other tasks that will be found lacking. It would be one thing if such a commitment were viewed as a lofty ideal to be emulated that is not what happens in the ICC. Rather, these ideals are presented as being actually attainable. Consider this: In the ICC view, how many people must a member baptize in order to have done "enough"? How much self-control is sufficient? How good of a job must one do at evangelism? How good is good enough for a marriage to be? How "out of himself" does a member have to be to have been so adequately? The answer is simply this: no level of any "good" thing is sufficient. When this belief is coupled with the expectation that these unattainable levels actually must be achieved as the minimum requirement for salvation, the member is left in constant fear of failing God and not making it to heaven.
This is part of the reason that so much depression exists in the ICC: members come to dread what more will be asked of them when they already are "miserably failing" at the requirements doled out previously. They "fail" because there is no other possible outcome any success is tempered with other requirements left not met or else the goal itself is advanced so that it is never attained. The casual conversations, discipleship times, meetings and sermons (not to mention the inner thoughts of hopelessness at being good enough that the ICC generates) constantly feed this dread by heaping up continually increasing demands for being "totally committed" all as the minimum requirement for maintaining salvation. This is why simply changing leadership structures and moderating a few doctrines will not resolve the crux of the matter. It is necessary to repudiate and purge all vestiges of this doctrine in order for real reform to take root.
But why does this doctrine empower abusive control? There are two key reasons why. The first is that the concept of what it means to be "totally committed" is kept vague and nebulous it means whatever the ICC wants it to mean. The second factor is that the "totally committed" doctrine is coupled with the doctrine that one must not only attend to his own commitment but also ensure others are so committed. This doctrine applies to all other members, not just those a member might be leading. If any member is found to be lacking in his commitment, the ICC members are compelled to enforce whatever is lacking and there is always something to be found in every member that is lacking. As members grow in their acceptance of the various demands placed on them, not only do they spread such commitment requirements on to others, but they add their own twists to them. This situation creates a self-sustaining means for increasing demands on the group. The leadership is the key element in propagating the demands, but others do it also. What inevitably results is abusive control. The obsessive yearning to be totally committed creates increasingly impossible precepts which must be enforced, which create the abusive control, which then amplifies the demands, which then increase the abusive control. This process is never-ending, although there are times (particularly when there have been unusually high numbers of members leaving the group) when the load is lightened up a bit. Therefore, the level of demands and control rise and fall periodically, rather than rising indefinitely. Nevertheless, whether at a time of high demand or a low one, the level of expectation is kept beyond the reach of any human being.
Let me expound on this situation, which forms a vicious cycle:
One must be totally committed to be saved.
The members constantly evaluate themselves and others for any way to be more committed, since even a minor shortcoming could cause one to "fall away" and go to hell. It is held that one can even "fall away" and still be a "member" of the congregation. Such "sin" could lead others astray and has to be addressed.
Higher levels of commitment are constantly put forth. Often these occur in cycling themes, such as evangelism, time spent in prayer, time spent in studying the Bible, being submissive, giving ever-more sacrificially, etc. Frequently, the congregation will focus on one of these for a while, then move onto another.
As the leaders raise the levels of expectation, the members digest these, talk to each other about them and increase them even further.
The leaders, or even the ordinary members, start enforcing the new levels. Members feel like they have failed and try ever harder to attain these impossible expectations. They lean on the leaders to help them "repent", allowing the leaders even further control.
New definitions of what it means to be totally committed are developed and the cycle starts over again.
[Lest it be said that I am opposed to serious discussion about wrong behavior, let me say that I am not. It is perfectly sensible to talk to a fellow Christian about such sins as adultery or fraud. As outlined in the first three sections of this essay, what I am speaking of is misusing the normal chastisement a religion would exert in an extremist fashion that leaves the members feeling like they have failed God and may be doomed to perdition no matter how trivial the shortcoming nor how great their successes may have been.]
If the two aspects of the "totally committed" doctrine were left in place, even if all of the other control mechanisms were dismantled, then the system would either create new means or revive the old ones. Therefore, it is not enough for there to be a leadership shakedown nor even for members to get to choose their leaders. The only way for the ICC to "change" would include the renunciation of all of the control mechanisms and the "totally committed" doctrine that empowers them. To date, I have seen no evidence that such a change has or will occur in the ICC (with the possible exception of a single congregation). The present reform efforts, if not massive enough to remove the fuel of the problems as well as the problems themselves, will likely only result in a temporary fix. In time, possibly a few years, either a new system of control or a resurgence of the older ways can be expected to develop. Our guard has to be for tens of years, rather than a couple of years during a transition phase. No matter how much reform might be instituted, if the crux of the matter is left intact an abusive control system is almost certain to redevelop.
In the previous editions of this essay, there was no point in spelling out what I view as the minimally acceptable reforms because the central leadership structure would destroy any leader who spoke out against the system. The current instability has left a window of opportunity for a few congregations to attempt meaningful reform. Some have already starting making changes. But what is enough reform? The list of everything that needs to be changed would be massive. I am not so arrogant that I should think that I know all that needs to be done in order for the ICC to ransom and redeem itself. However, some things strike me as critical to change. Therefore, let me limit my comments to the very minimum that I think is necessary for an ICC congregation to have a chance at becoming nonabusive:
Reject all abusive practices detailed in this essay. This list includes all vestiges of discipling, the infrastructure that allows control, and mandatory participation in anything.
Reject all of the doctrines of control. Most especially the doctrines of total commitment and of group responsibility for a member's devotion. A person's piety and devotion to his or her religion, as well as his or her interpretation of right and wrong, are the business only of that person. The member must be free to accept or reject peripheral doctrines. It is acceptable for the congregation to develop a list of core beliefs that all member are supposed to have. Such a list should be stated clearly and succinctly. However, there may be no enforcement of those beliefs, except as listed below.
Reject the Chosen Few doctrine: the ICC is not the one and only "true" church. Nor is it a matter of there being the rare, nearly mythical, person who becomes a "true disciple" prior to finding the ICC. No, Christians are Christians despite differences of opinion. Instead of the presumption that all outside the ICC are not "true" Christians, the doctrine should become that it is presumed that anyone who claims to be a Christian is one. It is not within the rights nor responsibilities of ICC members to evaluate the salvation and piety of others. Such an idea is exactly the opposite of what has been taught in the ICC, but it is critical to reform. Only by the realization that they are not to doomed hell if they leave the ICC, may members be freed from the ICC's control. Under such circumstances, if they stay it is because the congregation suits them and if they leave they rest secure that doing so is not endangering their salvation.
Replace the abusive control system with a community-oriented, congregation-focused governance structure where no leader has authority over any member. Leaders should lead by influence, not demand. In congregations whose numbers are small enough, significant decisions must be made by the group, not imposed on it. In larger congregations, leaders such as deacons and elders must be chosen by the whole congregation to represent it in decision making.
Limit chastisement by the congregation to abuse of office by the leaders and severe misbehavior by ordinary members. By severe, I mean such things as committing felonies, sexually exploiting members of the congregation, etc. Minor misdeeds may be taught against, but not enforced. Again, the members have responsibility for their own piety, not the church.
Terminate the employment of all staff members that cooperated with the McKean system they have already demonstrated what they are capable of and no excuse is acceptable. These leaders can be forgiven, but not employed, by the church: forgiveness is about rebuilding a relationship, not about pretending an offense never occurred.
Begin a long-term campaign of making amends for damage done. This would likely take a decade. Professional counseling, completely independent of the congregation and the ICC, must be funded for any former or current member that feels the need for those services. Financial harm done cannot be fully resolved, but members and former members pressured into making destructive financial choices should be compensated by such means as providing a small amount monthly for several years.
Terminate all support and affiliation with the ICC. The only exceptions would be helping willing congregations to reform and forming associations with congregations that have properly reformed. Since these reforms will almost certainly not be adopted universally, any support, especially financial, of the ICC (or whatever it splinters into) is support of the abuse. Any continued affiliation would also risk the Laodicean Tactic being used to reinstitute the abuses. Alternately, such affiliation may allow the abuses to creep back in slowly even in the absence of some extreme situation such as the Laodicean Tactic .
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I have briefly mentioned many of the mechanisms of control that the ICC uses on its members. There are others that I have not covered. Nevertheless, many or most faithful ICC members insist that they are not being controlled. What freedom do they have? What aspects of their lives are free from either direct control or necessity of approval by the ICC leadership? The leaders may not tell members for whom to vote or what flavor of ice cream to buy, but when it comes to day-to-day living and self-determination, the ICC controls practically every significant aspect.
The conclusion is that the ICC seeks and gains almost total control over the lives of its members. The ICC gains its initial control over a potential recruit with manipulative affection and carefully selected and misapplied Scriptures. To this framework, the ICC adds the other means mentioned to cage in the member and mentally entrap him or her. Additionally, a subculture conducive to getting the member to accept control is created and maintained.
Not every member of the ICC is treated the same way. There are favorite sons who experience less control. Others are rapidly placed in leadership roles after joining the group, never experiencing some of the high levels of control exerted on the common member. Likewise, different leaders use these control mechanisms to different extents, some making maximum use of them, others less so. However, the multitude of these controls snares and holds the member into servitude to the ICC. Whether harshly or gently applied, the ICC maintains controls in practically all facets of its members lives. The ICC members are not free.
A sensible church exists to give its members a venue of worshipping their God, a community with which to fellowship, and guidance in understanding the morals and beliefs of their faith. But, it does not exist to take over the lives of its members. The members must be free to disagree, to determine how to apply the precepts of the faith, to worship their God as seems right to them, and to apply their faith by themselves in directing their own lives. Religion that does not have these constraints is abusive. The ICC has no such restraints.
I realize that this work will be read by faithful members of the ICC. May they evaluate the group for themselves, examining the validity of what I and others have said. I have written this work for the freedom of the minds of those who have left the ICC or are in the process of doing so. But, I also want the minds of the current ICC member to be freed. Fortunately, these mechanisms do not perfectly entrap the minds of the members. In the course of time, the vast majority sees the ICC for what it is and departs from it.
I hope that what I have written will ease the fears and anxieties that many exiting and former members experience. The sort of control described in this work does not come from the Bible. Jesus did not instigate it. The Apostles did not institute it. No, these means were developed by numerous people over time. Many of them are not even unique to the ICC. The ICC has seized on them and has abused many people with them. What greater abuse is there to a person than stealing his or her freedom? That is what the ICC does.
I did not write this work in order to seek revenge on the ICC, but rather to help people heal and to move beyond the ICC experience. We cannot forget what has happened to us, but it is our choice whether we will use the suffering to make us either better or worse. Let us all learn from the experience and be better people for it.
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