One question that was frequently asked in my series involving Matt Taibbi's infiltration of John Hagee's church (and the chunderfest resulting)--how could Matt Taibbi start developing what is known in exit-counseling as a cultic personality in just three days?
Well, one particular tool used in the "toolkit of coercion" of neopente dominionist groups in particular is the use of cell churches--and today, we go into depth into a study that shows the actual process of development of a "cultic personality".
Yes, cell-churches really change your personality
One of the most damning stuies ever conducted of psychological harm resulting from coercive groups--and in particular those using the "cell church" or "discipling and shepherding" models--is a longterm study noted in the book "The Discipling Dilemma" which featured a study of seven coercive religious groups known to use some form of "cell church" or cell-church-like "discipling" (Scientology, the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, the International Church of Christ, the Children of God, The Way International, and Maranatha) compared with a control group consisting of people in mainstream, non-coercive churches (Baptist (at this point the SBC had not yet been heavily steeplejacked, and the study primarily focused on "Northern" Baptists), Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches as well as Churches of Christ not making use of cell-groups).
Of particular note in this study, no less than two of the groups making heavy use of cell-churches can be said to be "Assemblies descendants"--not entirely surprising, as the tactic seems to have been largely invented in the Assemblies (very shortly after its founding) to conduct steeplejacks and was adopted by "The Family" (of recent Jeff Sharlet book discussion) as a political control method shortly thereafter.
The study itself is quite amazingly damning:
The first result of this study to be discussed is the observation that a great majority of the members of the Boston Church of Christ changed psychological type scores in the past, present, and future versions of the MBTI. Among the 835 individuals who took all three forms of the MBTI, less than five percent showed no change at all and less than seven percent had the same past and future type. Among the rest, a comparison of past and future types showed that almost 20 percent changed on one MBTI scale, 35 percent changed on two, over 26 percent changed on three, and over 12 percent changed on all four scales, thus experiencing a total reversal of type. The mean number of scale changes was 2.18 among the 835 members of the Boston Church of Christ who took all three forms of the MBTI. The present distribution was significantly different from the past distribution. The difference between past and future type distributions was highly significant.
A second result of this study that must be noticed is that the observed changes in psychological type scores were not random since there was a clear convergence in a single type. Ten of the 16 types show a steady decline in the percentage who came out as that type in the past, present, and future versions of the MBTI. Three transitional types show an increase from past to present and then a sharp decline in the future outcomes. There were three popular types in this study: ESFJ, ESTJ, and ENFJ. There was a steady increase in the percentage who came out with these three type indications in the past, present, and future results Percentages are figured separately for males and females since male and female distributions differ on the thinking-feeling scale. In the past, present, and future results, the percentage of males who came out ESFJ went from 2.58 to 26.37 to
to 54.23 while the percentages for females went from 5.10 to 34.31 to 53.48. ESTJs differ from ESFJs only on the thinking-feeling scale. The percentage of males who scored as ESTJ went from 7.73 to 15.92 to 20.37 while the percentages for females went from 4.67 to 13.81 to 23.04. ENFJs differ from ESFJs only on the sensing-intuition scale. The percentages of males who came out ENFJ went from 1.29 to 4.73 to 14.81, while the percentages for females went from 0.64 to 3.97 to 12 17.
There was a clear pattern of changing from introversion to extraversion, from intuition to sensing, from thinking to feeling, and from perceiving to judging. In the past, present, and future results, the percentage of males with a preference for extraversion went from 33 to 60 to 94 while the percentages for females went from 38 to 64 to 95. The percentage of males who had a preference for sensing perception went from 66 to 78 to 80 while the percentage for females went from 66 to 85 and then to 82. The percentage of males' preference for feeling judgment went from 41 to 65 to 76 while percentages for females went from 53 to 73 and then to 71. The percentage of males with a preference for a judging orientation went from 37 to 80 to 96 while percentages for females went from 34 to 80 to 95.
Preferences for extraversion, sensing, feeling, and judging tended to remain stable while the opposite preferences for introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving tended to change. Among those who started as extraverts, 97 percent remained unchanged, but 95 percent of those who started as introverts changed into extraverts. Among those who started with a preference for sensing perception, 82 percent remain unchanged, but 78 percent of those who started with a preference for intuition changed. Among those who started with a preference for feeling judgment, 72 percent remained unchanged, but 74 percent of those who started with a preference for thinking changed. Among those who started with a preference for a judging orientation, 97 percent remained unchanged, but 95 percent of those who started with a preference for a perceiving orientation changed. There was a highly significant movement away from preferences for introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving and toward extraversion, sensing, feeling, and judging.
Those who were the least likely to change were those who already were ESFJs. They averaged only 0.32 changes on the four MBTI scales. Those who were the most likely to change were those who started as the opposite type, INTP. They averaged 3.55 changes on the four scales. There was a strong positive correlation between the number of differences between a type and the ESFJ model, on the one hand, and the mean number of changes on the four MBTI scales on the other hand. The more a person differed from the ESFJ model, the more likely that person was to change on more of the MBTI scales.
What all of this means is that the Boston Church of Christ is producing in its members the very same pattern of unhealthy personality change that is observed in studies of well-known manipulative sects. Whatever they are doing that produces this pattern needs to be changed.
(pp. 35-38, "The Discipling Dilemma")
An appendix to the book (unfortunately, the copy at somis.org does not include the tables, but the Wayback Archive comes to the rescue) which includes the study results in full is even more worrisome:
Table 1 shows the type distribution in the study of the Boston Church of Christ. Type tables are displayed with the introverts in the top two rows and the extraverts in the bottom two rows. The eight sensing types are shown in the two columns on the left with the eight intuitive types in the two columns on the right. The two outer columns contain the eight thinking types and the two inner columns contain the eight feeling types. The eight judging types are displayed in the top and bottom rows while the eight perceiving types are in the two middle rows. Results are shown separately for males and females because of differences on the thinking-feeling scale. Approximately 60% of males prefer thinking judgment and only 40% prefer feeling judgment, but 60% of females prefer feeling judgment and only 40% prefer thinking judgment. The three rows in each cell represent outcomes on the three different forms of the MBTI.
Consider the ISTJ cell in the upper left corner as an example. Here is what the figures mean. When answering the questions on the MBTI the way they think they would have answered them before their conversion (or five years ago for the few who had been members that long), 16.49% of the males and 11.68% of the females came out ISTJ, thus indicating preferences for introversion, sensing, thinking, and judging. However, when they answered the questions indicating present preferences, only 8.46% of the males and 6.69% of the females came out ISTJ. Furthermore, when they answered the questions on the MBTI the way they think they will answer them after five more years of discipling, even fewer came out ISTJ--only 1.32% of the males and 1.30% of the females.
If you examine all 16 cells in Table 1, you will find that 10 of the psychological types show a steady decline from past to present to future outcomes. Three of the types--ISFJs, INFJs, and male ENTJs--show the largest percentages in the present outcome. These appear to be transitional types. The changes people are making move them into these types on their way to becoming something else. Three typesESTJ, ESFJ, and ENFJ--show a steady increase from past to present to future outcomes. The most popular type is ESFJ with 54.23% of the males and 53.48% of the females indicating that type preference when answering the MBTI questions the way they think they will after five more years of discipling. The next most popular type is ESTJ with 20.37% of the males and 23.04% of the females indicating that as their future preference. The only other popular type is ENFJ with 14.81% of the males and 12.17% of the females indicating that future preference.
(pp. 192-194, "The Discipling Dilemma")
The study discovered cases of people who literally did complete reversals of personality type--and the study expresses concern for those persons:
Table 6 shows the past-to-future MBTI scale changes by type. The 16 types are listed in the left column following the usual type table order. The second column shows the number who indicated each type preference when they answered the questions the way they would have before conversion. The next columns show the percent and the actual number who had no past-future changes, then those who had one, two, three, or four changes. The column on the right shows the mean number of scale changes for each type. The figures across the bottom show the percent and the actual number who had no changes, one, two, three, or four changes, and the mean number of scale changes for the entire sample. What this shows is that the average member of the Boston Church of Christ changed on at least two of the MBTI scales. Only 6.83% had no past-future changes; 19.64% had one; 34.97% had two; 26.35% had three; and 12.22% had four and thus experienced a total reversal of type.
. . .
Keep in mind that these statistical tables do not prove that any individual is going to experience the psychological problems associated with falsification of psychological type. The focus of this research was not on any individual, but rather on the overall pattern observed in the group. This pattern, however, dearly indicates a potential danger for the individuals subjected to this kind of influence. Those who are already ESFJs when they come to the Boston Church of Christ are likely to fit in quite well and not feel much of the pressure toward conformity that others feel. The greater the difference between a person's true type and the ESFJ model, the more likely that person is to feel the pressure toward conformity. Those who come to the Boston church as INTPs are in the greatest danger.
(pp. 196, 198, "The Discipling Dilemma")
Of note, these results are not restricted to the Boston Church of Christ/ICOC; the author has noted nearly identical results with the "Bible-based" coercive groups evaluated, in particular Maranatha (whose practices are most similar to those in the "Assemblies family" of neopente dominionist groups).
Now, what does all this mean in English? We're about to explain.
A matter of personality
First, let's give some info on the MBTI. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is, to put it bluntly, a test of various personality traits--most folks can be grouped into one of sixteen categories on four axes: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perception.
Most people in the US taking the MBTI tend to trend around either ISTJ, ESFJ, or ISFJ. (The percentages are around 11.6%, 12.3%, and 13.8% respectively.) The three personality types listed as being predominant that people were trending to--ESFJ, ESTJ, and ENFJ--are only a little above that for ESFJ alone, total; only about 8.7% of the population trends naturally to ESTJ, and only 1.8% to ENTJ.
As noted in the study, percentages changed quite drastically. There are very low numbers of one of the most common population types in the human population in general (ISTJ), the numbers of ESFJ are more than half the population in "cell church" groups, ESTJ (normally an uncommon personality type) is another quarter, and ENFJ (which is normally a rare personality type) is almost as common as ISFJ is in the population at large (as noted, ISFJ is the most common personality type in people not in cell-church groups).
It's also worth a look at the three MBTI personality types trended to.
Why these three types?
There actually are very real reasons why there are trends to specific personality types by people involved in "cell churches".
ESFJ's (the most common personality type trended to) are referred to as "Providers" in Kiersey's version of the MBTI. ESFJs, in a sense, are pretty much the "den mothers" of the sixteen personality types--friendly, gregarious, always out to help others, upholders of tradition, and so on.
ESFJs' primary mode of living is focused externally, where things are dealt with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit in with your personal value system. The secondary mode is internal, where things are taken in via the five senses in a more literal and concrete fashion.
The ESFJ's value system is defined externally. They usually have very well-formed ideas about the way things should be, and are not shy about expressing these opinions. However, they weigh their values and morals against the world around them, rather than against an internal value system. They may have a strong moral code, but it is defined by the community that they live in, rather than by any strongly felt internal values.
ESFJs who have had the benefit of being raised and surrounded by a strong value system that is ethical and centered around genuine goodness will most likely be the kindest, most generous souls who will gladly give you the shirt off of their back without a second thought. For these individuals, the selfless quality of their personality type is genuine and pure. ESFJs who have not had the advantage of developing their own values by weighing them against a good external value system may develop very questionable values. In such cases, the ESFJ most often genuinely believes in the integrity of their skewed value system. They have no internal understanding of values to set them straight. In weighing their values against our society, they find plenty of support for whatever moral transgression they wish to justify. This type of ESFJ is a dangerous person indeed. Extraverted Feeling drives them to control and manipulate, and their lack of Intuition prevents them from seeing the big picture. They're usually quite popular and good with people, and good at manipulating them. Unlike their ENFJ cousin, they don't have Intuition to help them understand the real consequences of their actions. They are driven to manipulate others to achieve their own ends, yet they believe that they are following a solid moral code of conduct.
All ESFJs have a natural tendency to want to control their environment. Their dominant function demands structure and organization, and seeks closure. ESFJs are most comfortable with structured environments. They're not likely to enjoy having to do things which involve abstract, theoretical concepts, or impersonal analysis. They do enjoy creating order and structure, and are very good at tasks which require these kinds of skills. ESFJs should be careful about controlling people in their lives who do not wish to be controlled.
ESFJs respect and believe in the laws and rules of authority, and believe that others should do so as well. They're traditional, and prefer to do things in the established way, rather than venturing into unchartered territory. Their need for security drives their ready acceptance and adherence to the policies of the established system. This tendency may cause them to sometimes blindly accept rules without questioning or understanding them.
An ESFJ who has developed in a less than ideal way may be prone to being quite insecure, and focus all of their attention on pleasing others. He or she might also be very controlling, or overly sensitive, imagining bad intentions when there weren't any.
ESTJ, the second most common personality type represented, have been described as Supervisors--and, again, would be ideal as the "front lines" of a coercive group...or most political dominionist groups, for that matter:
ESTJs live in a world of facts and concrete needs. They live in the present, with their eye constantly scanning their personal environment to make sure that everything is running smoothly and systematically. They honor traditions and laws, and have a clear set of standards and beliefs. They expect the same of others, and have no patience or understanding of individuals who do not value these systems. They value competence and efficiency, and like to see quick results for their efforts.
ESTJs are take-charge people. They have such a clear vision of the way that things should be, that they naturally step into leadership roles. They are self-confident and aggressive. They are extremely talented at devising systems and plans for action, and at being able to see what steps need to be taken to complete a specific task. They can sometimes be very demanding and critical, because they have such strongly held beliefs, and are likely to express themselves without reserve if they feel someone isn't meeting their standards. But at least their expressions can be taken at face-value, because the ESTJ is extremely straight-forward and honest.
. . .
The ESTJ needs to watch out for the tendency to be too rigid, and to become overly detail-oriented. Since they put a lot of weight in their own beliefs, it's important that they remember to value other people's input and opinions. If they neglect their Feeling side, they may have a problem with fulfilling other's needs for intimacy, and may unknowingly hurt people's feelings by applying logic and reason to situations which demand more emotional sensitivity.
. . .
ESTJs value security and social order above all else, and feel obligated to do all that they can to enhance and promote these goals. They will mow the lawn, vote, join the PTA, attend home owners association meetings, and generally do anything that they can to promote personal and social security.
ESTJ is also overrepresented among managers in comparison to its likelihood in the population as a whole. Almost everything I've seen in regards to ESTJs online also essentially points to a "strict" trending to "fundamentalist" personality in general.
The third most common personality type in coercive religious groups, ENFJs, have been described as Teachers (complete with every mental image you have associated with teachers)--and the personality type would also be perfect for cell leaders and deacons:
Because ENFJ's people skills are so extraordinary, they have the ability to make people do exactly what they want them to do. They get under people's skins and get the reactions that they are seeking. ENFJ's motives are usually unselfish, but ENFJs who have developed less than ideally have been known to use their power over people to manipulate them.
ENFJ's are so externally focused that it's especially important for them to spend time alone. This can be difficult for some ENFJs, because they have the tendency to be hard on themselves and turn to dark thoughts when alone. Consequently, ENFJs might avoid being alone, and fill their lives with activities involving other people. ENFJs tend to define their life's direction and priorities according to other people's needs, and may not be aware of their own needs. It's natural to their personality type that they will tend to place other people's needs above their own, but they need to stay aware of their own needs so that they don't sacrifice themselves in their drive to help others.
ENFJ's tend to be more reserved about exposing themselves than other extraverted types. Although they may have strongly-felt beliefs, they're likely to refrain from expressing them if doing so would interfere with bringing out the best in others. Because their strongest interest lies in being a catalyst of change in other people, they're likely to interact with others on their own level, in a chameleon-like manner, rather than as individuals.
. . .
An ENFJ who has not developed their Feeling side may have difficulty making good decisions, and may rely heavily on other people in decision-making processes. If they have not developed their Intuition, they may not be able to see possibilities, and will judge things too quickly based on established value systems or social rules, without really understanding the current situation. An ENFJ who has not found their place in the world is likely to be extremely sensitive to criticism, and to have the tendency to worry excessively and feel guilty. They are also likely to be very manipulative and controling with others.
Why this is a Bad Thing
Of note, every one of the preferred personality types in "cell church" groups are extroverted and judging; needless to say, as the old Japanese proverb goes, the nail sticking up is very likely to be hammered down. (The complete reversal of personality type from INTP to ESFJ documented in this group--a total conversion from an "Architect" or "Thinker" (or put more blutntly) "scientist" or "geek" to "Provider" or "Caregiver" or (put more bluntly) "Housewife"--is very damning evidence of this in practice.)
This is also why I'm very worried in regards to groups that use this particular tactic. The intense coercion that goes on in these groups is pretty much dangerous to one's mental health--from Taibbi expressing concern for his sanity to the stories of coercion by survivors of Teen Challenge to the reported use of "cell churches" within "The Family" and known promoters of neopente dominionist-associated coercive tactics within these cells. Yes, this is why I worry for Hillary--my worry is not so much an "OMG SHE'S PARTNERING WITH DOMINIONISTS!", but much more of an "Oh gods, she may have gotten into something horrid and not even realised it".
One reason I'm especially worried re Hillary's involvement with "The Family"--some earlier tests have had her as INTJ (and has publically admitted as much) but she has apparently trended from this to ESTJ--exactly the personality type changes documented in coercive "cell-church" groups over long periods of time. (In comparison, Bill Clinton has pretty consistently been typed as ESFP.)
And it's very easy to see how Matt Taibbi described how a "mechanical Christian skin starts to grow all over your real self" and feared for his sanity--literally, it does happen in these groups, as the study above damningly proves.