There has been quite a lot of writing recently on Talk to Action (and today in regards to a secretive political dominionist group known as "The Fellowship" or "The Family"--especially in relation to an upcoming book by Jeff Sharlet (titled The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power--you can pre-order here) which threatens to blow the "Family Secret" wide open.
Frederick Clarkson here on DailyKos has recently reported on an NBC News report--along with a recent Mother Jones article re Sherlet's book--which give disturbing confirmation to something I've suspected for a time: Namely, that "The Family" uses a particularly abusive "discipling and shepherding" model common in neopentecostal dominionist cell churches.
The abusive tactics could have major implications politically--especially as Sharlet's book has noted that no less than Hillary Clinton is a member of one of the cell-churches linked to "The Family".
A brief history of cell churches and "discipling and shepherding" within neopente dominionist groups
The "discipling and shepherding" tactic known as the "cell church" has a fairly long history within neopentecostal dominionism. According to research I've done informally on the history of "cell churches", the earliest reference to their use has been with the "Watchmen Nee" and "Witness Lee" groups in China (and Chinese emigre communities) in the early to mid-40s (of note, both these leaders were heads of particularly coercive splits from the Church of God), and the tactic seems to have been especially popularised by Campus Crusade (and other "parachurch" quasi-denominations and recruitment fronts run by neopente dominionist orgs and denominations) and the Assemblies of God (starting with Paul Yonggi Cho in the 50's).
There is some preliminary evidence that cell churches may well have been used in the Assemblies prior to Cho's popularising of them; this includes the use of "cell-church"-like tactics to infiltrate and steeplejack Reformed Baptist churches throughout Eastern Europe in the 1910s and 1920s (and essentially planting the seed for what would become the especially violent "Joel's Army" group "Watchmen At The Walls").
If the use of "cell churches" is confirmed from early on in "The Family" (which has a history dating back to the early 30s--and some rather disturbing and persistent rumours of possible collaboration with American Nazi groups in that period which I hope Sharlet's book can either confirm or deny), that would lend credence to the neopente dominionist movement having invented it early on--possibly initially as a tactic for the steeplejacking of church and state alike.
Cell churches and "The Fellowship"
As I noted in an expose I've done in past on coercive tactics in cell-churches, the neopente dominionist model of "discipling and shepherding"--the very model which appears to be in use by "The Fellowship" nee "The Family"--may be one of the most singularly coercive and harmful tactics ever devised by spiritually abusive groups.
How cell-churches work is actually rather simple--the best model to look at, in fact, is probably the plethora of "affinity schemes" and similar pyramid schemes promoted throughout the dominionist community.
At top, you have the pastor. Below him, he is "shepherd" over the assistant pastors; these are in turn "shepherds" over the deacons; the deacons are in turn "shepherds" over the small-group managers, these in turn are "shepherds" over smaller groups, and so on until you get down to "home churches" or "cell churches" of around six people, including a "shepherd".
Those of you who are familiar with pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing have seen this before. Namely, everyone reports to or gives money to the "upstream", and they report to the "upstream", and so on and so on till you hit the very head of the organisation. (Yes, there's a reason why pyramid-related affinity fraud is so common--not only is it similar to "discipling and shepherding" models, it's not uncommon for pyramid schemes to be promoted within cell churches.)
Though "The Fellowship" doesn't have a pastor per se, there are indications things work pretty similarly. From a recent Mother Jones article on the upcoming book by Sharlet:
Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat. Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.)
Of note, this is almost identical to how cell-churches operate in the Assemblies of God; often "cells" are segregated by sex, the use of the cell church is explicitly promoted as a "spiritual warfare" tactic, and cell-churches are explicitly promoted as a method of recruitment of people going to seemingly-innocuous affairs.
It's quite possible to herd surprisingly large numbers of people via what amounts to a religious pyramid scheme/"Big Brother Network". An example is given with Yoido Full Gospel Church--Paul Yonggi Cho's church, which has a claimed membership of over 3/4ths of a million people and which effectively operates as the Assemblies of God in South Korea.
In the case of Yoido Full Gospel, the level of layering is very apparent in the first three layers--Cho at top, and 171 associate pastors and 356 lay pastors (who are themselves supervised by associate pastors). The number of potential "big brothers" only gets more numerous from there.
And, as it turns out, the primary problem IS with these "big brothers"--just as it is with other kinds of pyramids.
"Big Brother"--not just a TV show anymore
Where this gets especially worrying--in particular in regards to Hillary Clinton's known involvement in a cell-church group linked to the Fellowship--is with the abusive tactics common in these groups.
In fact, the tactic is so abusive that even a number of premillenial-dispensationalist churches otherwise sympathetic to dominionism have commented on how the tactic is harmful if used as directed:
As we shall see, the cell churches are all pyramid structures where apprentice leaders are carefully trained and monitored but under the headship of another leader and the staff of the church. Although they claim to be "New Testament" forms, they are more rigid and authoritarian than the traditional structures we have today. Well known "church growth" consultant, Carl F. George describes his "Jethro I and II" systems (named after a system Moses established of ‘lay judges’). It starts with the individual followed by the apprentice leaders, cell group leaders leader of ten, the leader of five groups of ten, of a hundred and five hundred. The flaw here is that the Old Testament form of organization, including the temple and the priesthood were done away with by the New Covenant.
The Pastors develop a hierarchy clergy and lay leaders into an organization which can be drawn on a chart called a "Meta-Map". "Skillful use of a Meta-Map helps staff and boards understand how their churches are configured so they can track such critical important factors as where leaders and potential leaders are, where new people are, how visitors are being handled, and where long-term members are relative to more recent members. A Meta-Map enables leaders to see what happens after everyone has gathered for corporate worship: Where do they go? What tasks to they take with them? What stations in life are they occupying?...Every visual symbol on a Meta-Map represents a leader to be supervised, a training site for producing an apprentice...) (Carl F. George, "The Coming Church Revolution", p. 246) Far from being loosely organized and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, cell groups are tightly controlled within the church hierarchy.
Proponents feel that "the traditional, program-based church cannot contain the coming revival." (Larry Stocksill, "The Cell Church," p. 17) The following describes an ideal cell meeting: "Sometimes, in a home setting, everyone will move into the living area and begin the ‘icebreaker’ as naturally as any other topic of conversation. The group leader poses a simple question (written into each lesson) to which anyone can have a quick or humorous response. An ‘icebreaker’ is indispensable because it promotes group community as well as opens up the members to sharing...The next component is a discussion of four questions based around a passage of Scripture. Our groups generally discuss the topic from the previous Sunday’s sermon...The lesson closes with an ‘application’...After the lesson, the group focuses again on prayer and ‘vision.’ (ibid., pp.135-136) This is hardly a description of a spontaneous "early church" meeting where everyone is free to share what the Lord is doing in their life. Sharing is okay as long as it relates to the previous Sunday’s sermon.
Again, there is evidence of an almost identical setup in "The Fellowship". From the Mother Jones article:
The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan. The Fellowship isn't out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward. This is in line with the Christian right's long-term strategy.
From a recent NBC Nightly News broadcast relating to Sharlet's book:
MITCHELL: Jeff Sharlet lived among Coe's followers six years ago and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric.
Mr. JEFF SHARLET: We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. And I'd say, `Aren't--isn't there a problem with that?' And they would even seem perplexed by the question. Hitler's genocide wasn't really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated.
. . .
Mr. DOUGLAS COE: (1989) I've seen pictures of the young men in the Red Guard. They would bring in this young man's mother. He would take an ax and cut her head off. They have to put the purposes of the Red Guard ahead of their father, mother, brother, sister and their own life. That was a covenant, a pledge. That's what Jesus said.
[Andrea] MITCHELL: In his preaching, he repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion Hitler demanded, a rhetorical technique that draws sharp criticism.
Mr. COE: (1989) Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had, these nobodies from nowhere.
(Yes, you are reading this correctly; one of the present leaders of "The Fellowship" literally is invoking the totalitarian models of both the Cultural Revolution (in China) and Nazi Germany as an appropriate model of devotion. He is literally promoting Jesus Christ--and those in the Fellowship who claim to speak for Him--as a cult of personality.)
Tricia Tillian has written a book called "The Transforming Church" which includes a section on the use of cell-churches--and which warns of their coercive potential:
Up to now we have looked at the Church Growth model for change, and the house churches. But now we turn our attention to a different kind of enterprise - the cell church system.
At first glance, there seems little to distinguish cell churches from house churches, and the rhetoric appears to be identical. Both would denigrate the ecclesiastical structures of the old denominations; both would point out the small informal structure of the Early Church and urge Christians to transform their thinking about the way the Church is organised.
But there the similarities end. Christians could be forgiven for believing that cell churches are another method - a commendable method - of avoiding heavy shepherding and making sure that elders do not take on too much authority leaving the church members nothing to do but submit and obey like sheep.
Unfortunately the very opposite is true, for as we shall see, the cell church system is actually designed to enforce stricter obedience to the new order of apostolic government, and to ensure that this obedience is spread to local communities and eventually the entire world.
The purpose of cell churches is to transition the Church as a whole into a new order, to create a radical and ground-breaking reformation that will overthrow the established order and bring into being a pattern of apostolic government and prophetic revelation that will change the thinking of all Christians.
Especially in conjunction with the fact that "The Fellowship" already shows praise for leaders who constructed cults of personality and used tactics of thought reform against their own countrymen, this is especially worrisome.
As Tilliman documents, tactics that would be considered coercive and spiritually abusive are part of the game plan with these groups:
The method being used to change the entire thinking and value system of Christians today (the "paradigm shift" so sought by the leadership) is the Hegelian Dialectic which removes a person's confidence in what he previously believed so that he is open to accept another way of thinking.
As the cell church leadership have realised, this can best be done in a group setting providing love and support, but more importantly to ensure that each person is pressured to compromise his/her established rules or standards in order to be accepted as part of the group and to properly submit to the mentors and trainers set over them.
The aim is not to establish objective truth, on the basis of God's word and the nature of God, whether people like it or not, but to ACHIEVE CONSENSUS.
Group meetings in an informal context are the best place to do this, and that's where the change in thinking is taking place, as well as in the arena of seeker-sensitive megachurches and the revival churches where study is abandoned in favour of music, worship and experiencing God. What little teaching takes place emphsises over and over the need to conform, unite, love everybody, despise rational and critical thinking of all kinds, and agree as one for the good of the whole.
One commentator interviewed for a radio show comments:
"...what the Hegelian Dialectic is – most simply stated as – a synthesising of two opposites and so in a ‘seeker friendly’ church what you would see, is believers admixed with unbelievers and they would synthesise – that is coming to consensus where truth becomes somewhat in the middle; and so basically what happens is the believer ends up moved very slightly away from his original position of moral absolute – the seeker or the unbeliever is moved slightly more towards faith and the people who are doing this movement think that is good enough and eventually they will come to faith through this process. But the thing that ends up sacrificed really is the truth of the Word of God... [Jesus] always taught it factually and it would either convict people or it would not convict people. It was never watered down or softened ..."
["The Purpose Driven Nightmare"]
On the website of Berit Kjos, there is an excellent explanation of this process:
"When the Word of God is dialogued (as opposed to being taught didactically) between believers and unbelievers, with multiple Bible versions utilized (with King James usage discouraged) and consensus is reached – agreement that all are comfortable with – then the message of the Word of God has been watered down ever so slightly, and the participants have been conditioned to accept (and even celebrate) their compromise (synthesis). The new synthesis becomes the starting point (thesis) for the next meeting, and the process of continual change (innovation) continues. The fear of alienation from the group is the pressure that prevents an individual from standing firm for the truth of the Word of God, and such a one usually remains silent (self-editing). The fear of man (rejection) overrides the fear of God. The end result is a "paradigm shift" in how one processes factual information."
[What's Wrong With The 21st Century Church?" by Dr Robert Klenck]
Studies of this concept of the Hegelian Dialectic, and what Dean Gotcher has called DIAPRAXSIS have been undertaken, and you should not be put off by the scholarly nature of this discussion for at its heart is the basic building block of the New World Order. See for example this article on another website: Dean Gotcher's booklet and an overview and summary here: How Diapraxis manifests itself in the Church Growth Movement.
What is wanted by the cell church leaders is experiential knowledge of God in spiritual intimacy, the miraculous, group hugs, laying on of hands, singing and dancing, food, fun and thrills. Bible study, teaching and preaching the Word are downplayed and in some cases derided, and the main focus is on meeting people's "felt needs", relating to one another, "sharing", social activities, psychology, counselling and using spiritual powers to effect changes in the people who attend or who are being drawn to the group. Developing community life is deemed much more important than establishing objective truth in the heart of the individual.
Uh-oh. To anyone familiar with research on coercive religious groups and other groups practicing thought-reform tactics, this should be throwing up danger signals a-plenty.
Steven Hassan's BITE Model, a generally-accepted map of potentially abusive tactics in religious and business groups, notes some of these tactics rather specifically. In fact, the tactics used in cell-churches practically cover almost the entire BITE Model list of "red flags", including covering almost the entire Behaviour and Emotional Control sections (this is extremely unusual unless one is dealing with an incredibly abusive group; it is very, very rare that a group will hit each and every single category in the BITE model even if the group IS known to be abusive). Of note, the tactics described above would also qualify as abusive in lists of thought-reform tactics devised by Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer and Dr. Michael Langone, two of the original researchers on coercive tactics; I've used the BITE model precisely because it is probably the most in-depth model available of coercive tactics used in spiritually abusive groups.
Tilliman goes on to describe the level of coercion in Yoido Full Gospel; she makes a very persuasive case that essentially Cho has an iron fist over his congregation via the use of the extensive cell-church network.
And there's a very good reason why it works, sadly enough.
Evidence of psychological harm in cell churches
Possibly one of the most damning bits of evidence to ever come out re the effectiveness of cell-church groups to essentially breed a hivemind in their members (and that is pretty much the purpose of them) is a psychological study published in the book "The Discipling Dilemma" (which covered abusive "discipling and sheperding" tactics within the Boston Church of Christ, now the International Church of Christ--a group now, along with Maranatha, considered a model of how abusive "Bible-based" coercive groups tend to operate).
In this study, seven groups widely considered to be coercive (Scientology, the Hare Krishnas, the Moonies, The Way International (an abusive neopente group which has had some links with Bill Gothard promoters as of late), the ICC, Maranatha (now Every Nation) and the Children of God (an odd "Bible-based" cult which has had aspects of neopentecostalism and which has had notable issues with sex abuse) were compared with a control group of Churches of Christ not employing cell churches as well as members of mainstream Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
In literally all the cases of known coercive religious groups--including the two groups (Maranatha and ICC) known to use coercive "cell church" models and Scientology (which has used similar models)--there were documented personality type changes based on the MBTI in past, present, and future axes (usually converging on ESFJ, ESTJ, and ENFJ). In the case of the "Bible-based" groups using abusive cell church models, the evidence was particularly disturbing:
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.
. . .
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.
Generally, someone either has to be very good at faking answers or has to be involved in a group that practices pretty severe thought reform tactics to have a total reversal from INTP to ESFJ.
None of the controls showed this longterm personality change--thus indicating that the practice of "discipling and shepherding", as typically applied in cell-churches, is inherently harmful. This is the sort of thing that can trigger literal mental breakdowns (and has been well documented to do so in the case of Scientology and groups into "deliverance ministry").
Needless to say, this is very worrying--especially with Hillary Clinton's involvement in the group. (I would especially like commentary from Mr. Sharlet, if it's not been published in the book, in regards to tactics used within Fellowship "cell churches".)
This is especially worrying, too, not just on a personal level (I am a survivor of a group that did, and does, use abusive cell-church tactics--which is part of why I'm sort of a subject matter expert in that field). Other reports re David Coe, the leader of "The Family", don't really rest my mind, either.
We hope Hillary Clinton decides to be forthcoming regarding her relationship with "The Family" and in particular the cell-church group linked with "The Family" she is apparently a member of. It would be good for her to be open about this, or to better yet, disavow the group; secrets regarding "The Family"...are, pretty soon, no longer going to stay "in The Family".
Clarifiation/Edit: Much of my concern re these reports are in part due to my own experiences with coercive religious groups using the "cell church" model, as well as those of others. Recent reports by Jeff Sharlet in Fred Clarkson's thread do give me some legitimate reason for concern--and, to be honest, for legitimate worry for Hillary Clinton.
In particular, Sharlet has noted in the book that "The Family" may well have been one of the earliest groups documented to use the "discipling and shepherding" model in dominionist churches. In addition, there is evidence that coercive forms of government (with personality cults that have served in part as models of thought reform to people studying coercive groups in general) are explicitly seen as models to emulate in promoting Jesus Christ as essentially a "cult of personality".
Even more disturbing (and a likely sign they are using explicitly abusive "discipling and shepherding" models), Sharlet has confirmed that the general internal setup of cell groups in "The Family" is very similar to how cell groups operate in neopentecostal dominionist churches and other coercive groups using a "pyramid"-style structure. Specifically, it would appear that Hillary Clinton is a member of a cell-group (denoted as "friends" within "The Family") but not a group "shepherd" (denoted as "leaders"); the National Prayer Breakfast is in part used to recruit potential "marks" into being "friends"--shepherded as part of cell-church "flocks".
This is especially worrisome. Generally the "shepherded level" is one of the more dangerous levels, as this tends to be where the heavy indoctrination starts with abusive "pyramid-style" groups. (To put it in terms of a particularly infamous coercive group with a known "pyramid-style" of recruitment: the "National Prayer Breakfast" is akin to the Dianetics books or the Scientology "psychology tests", the "friends" level is akin to someone who's a Scientologist but not yet in the high levels, and a "member" is an equivalent of the OT VII who's paid the $400,000 to hear about how all one's problems are due to Evil Overlord Xenu and alien ghosts "oppressing" you.)
In fact, "pyramid levels" of knowledge about the group are generally recognised as a potential danger sign in and of themselves by exit counselors (and in fact much of the activities of "The Family" would count as potentially coercive based on the "Information Control" axis of Hassan's BITE Model).
I'm now honestly worried for Mrs. Clinton. :(