The following account of the author’s experience with a missionary group is presented as part of our continuing followup to the special CSJ issue (Volume 2, Number 2), “Cults, Evangelicals, and the Ethics of Social Influence.” The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Cultic Studies Journal or the American Family Foundation. As always, the CSJ will consider articles, comments, and letters expressing other points of view.
While recounting her own experience, the author compares training in Youth With a Mission (YWAM), a Christian missionary group, to what she has heard and read about involvement in religious cults. She finds that her YWAM training, and the philosophy which undergirds it, are similar to that described for cultic groups. Features common to YWAM and controversial religious cults include manipulation of fear. and guilt, authoritarianism, the denigration of critical thinking, social exclusiveness, and suppression of individuality. The YWAM Discipleship Training School, which the author attended in Hawaii, also relied on the leadership’s special interpretation of biblical verses and precepts to inculcate attitudes and obtain conformity to the group’s ways. The author concludes that while YWAM hopes to create a perfect community, the result is a loss of freedom.
So how far have I come?
Can’t really tell them how it is. It’s frustrating.
Yes, I am frustrated, trying to do everything right,
six months of trying to be so real;
Be real and you’ll look lost.
Share your feelings and you’ll get bruised.
I’d rather excuse the pain.
I thinkI’m down and depressed,
To go to hell in a Christian setting;
The Devil wastes no time.
Do you see why I’m confused?
This was written by a twenty-year-old girl after she had spent six months in beautiful Hawaii with an organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Both she and I attended YWAM’s Discipleship Training School (DTS). Living and working with dedicated, loving Christians in an exotic, tropical island should have been Paradise. But it was the opposite.
YWAM is an international movement of people from various Christian denominations, and DTS is one of many schools within YWAM’s Pacific and Asia Christian University (PACU). Anyone who wants to be a part of YWAM must first attend a DTS, which is divided into two three-month segments. The first, lecture phase, is geared toward character development and learning evangelizing methods. The second, or Outreach phase, involves the practical application of the principles learned.
I began DTS on the island of Hawaii, living in a mansion called King’s which had been converted into a combination dormitory and school. The main floor included a lecture room student lounge/library, offices, kitchen, and a staff apartment. The single men slept in the basement, and the single women lived on the second floor. Outside housing was provided for the married couples. I shared a fairly large room with eight other girls, and a bathroom (two showers and three sinks) with twenty-one of them. We were required to get up by 6:30, and after breakfast and a half-hour of Quiet Time, we assembled in the lecture room for chapel. Afterwards, we usually had two hours of lecture. But some mornings we were taught for only one hour, and used the other time for special activities such as practicing in our SUM group (Special Use Ministry – drama, dance, singing, or puppet ministry), or meeting with our Flock Group, an informal gathering of about seven students and one staff member aimed at building relationships and communicating on a more personal level. We spent three evenings a week in lecture or Bible study. Required reading included The General Next to God, by [Salvation Army founder] General William Booth. We had to do a written summary of each chapter of this book, complete half of a Bible study guide, and answer ten essay questions given at the end of each week’s lectures. Afternoons were free or for doing whatever maintenance and housekeeping work we had been assigned. Friday and Saturday nights were free, and we attended church on Sunday morning and evening. The schedule was not particularly hectic. There was time for recreation. But we were kept busy.
After completing the first three months of preparation at King’s, which, though strained in some ways, was generally pleasant. I eagerly anticipated spending the remaining months on the island of Kauai serving God. ‘Me school was divided into three teams and each was to be sent to a different island with a leader chosen from the student body. My team of twenty was led by an Australian couple assisted by three “under-leaders.” But what had promised to be an exciting, challenging experience serving God in a practical way culminated in a fear that drove me and three other students to escape early one Sunday morning only ten days before the end of our training. It had become clearer and clearer to us, as our field training at witnessing progressed on Kauai, that during the initial three months at King’s we had been systematically lied to, oppressed, criticized, and condemned by team leaders who had sought to control every aspect of our lives and who, when we resisted, labeled us ‘rebellious.’ The experience on Kauai, perhaps because we were ostensibly in a more open and freer environments only made clearer die essential nature of the YWAM training which now troubled us. “Sometimes, just sometimes, I really wonder where its at,’ a teammate reflected during our time on Kauai.*
“My spirit is jumpy; I feel a bruised Spirit. Where’s the balance, anyhow? How I long for home, where my Lord is. Oh yes, He’s here with us all, but I’m feeling so confused. I’d rather not tell you leaders what’s going on inside. Yes, I feel I’ve had too much, too much. Too much yet not enough – not enough of the other. Emotionally drained . . .’ Not only were we emotionally drained and confused, but the condemnation by our leaders, speaking supposedly on God’s behalf, altered our attitudes towards God. ‘I don’t read the New Testament,’ one teammate admitted. “I have fear that I will come stumbling across something about obeying your leaders.’ Another girl said that people “were on her back for not reading her Bible.’ She said that she just couldn’t read it anymore and that her Bible had remained closed during the last three weeks of Outreach. Still another teammate commented: ‘. . . [several months before I went to DTS, Christianity was something fresh to me. I wanted to explore it all on my own, and how I loved it! I felt so innocent! I was developing a beautiful relationship with God. I had cut the strings with my old boyfriend and it was neat to see the desire I had to have total dependency on God. I wish to have that back. Strange, isn’t it, to think of starting all over again. DTS was supposed to further my relationship with God.’ As we returned home to our families, we struggled to rebuild our lives and put the YWAM experience behind us.
Was our experience isolated? For several months after leaving I believed so, and blamed only the student leaders of my Outreach group for what had happened. They had been a perfect example of how power can be abused. But as I recounted some of my experiences to friends and family, I was often confronted with: ‘Why didn’t you say anything? You shouldn’t have let them get away with that!’ My embarrassed reply was: ‘We were taught that criticism was wrong. We were taught … Oh, you wouldn’t understand.’ As I listened to their responses to my story, I recognized my own initial reactions to demands made of me during the early stages of DTS. And the more I considered the logic of what my friends were saying, the more I began to question the attitudes and ways of acting I had developed in YWAM. Then I came upon an article about cults. There was something frighteningly familiar about what I read. I sent a letter to a friend from DTS and included a description of Moonie workshops where they recruit and brainwash participants. My friend thought that I had written a description of the first three months of DTS, and she was shocked to learn that I had been quoting from a book called The Moon Doctrine.slowly began to realize that my Outreach experience was the result of something more than just a few misguided leaders. With great hesitation, I began to reconsider the wonderful, sacred months spent living and learning at King’s.
The major purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that there is something wrong with the DTS program, that it breeds the typeof environment that caused one girl from a different Outreach group to break down in tears when her visiting mother said, ‘I love you,’ and another student to escape to the airport to fly home. On the morning we fled in fear, one girl wrote: “Stayed up all night So what? Thank God for my friends so much. Are you wrong if you cry? Confused. Reality hurts. I’m not clear, I’m just so tired. Why? Why try?”
I will not detail the events of Outreach because our team leaders were only fellow students and did not necessarily represent YWAM’s policies accurately. Elaborating the particulars would only detract from the purpose of the paper. Instead, I would like to draw comparisons and show similarities between cult mind controlling (brainwashing) techniques and the DTS program instituted by YWAM. I hope that my criticisms have a constructive impact.
During my freshman year of college, I had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of my life. I desired to grow spiritually and serve God tangibly. As the end of the second semester approached, I considered alternatives to college. A friend introduced me to YWAM through a brochure he had received. In it I read.
If you are a person looking for a new dimension in your Christian life; if you are looking for a school that will not only teach you Godly principles, but guide you into a consistent and effective prayer life, and show you how to get the maximum in Bible study and meditation upon the word of God; if you are hoping, at the end of that time of training to develop a more effective ministry, unique to your training and personality, as an individual created in the image of God, then a Youth With A Mission Discipleship Training School (DTS) is for you. ‘Ibis six-month blend of life- changing instruction and practical application in the Hawaiian Islands and Asia has proved to be a revolutionary experience for many people just like you.
I was psyched – ‘This is just what I have been looking for!’ I applied and was accepted.
The typical cult member has been described as “someone who has a lot of goodness in him, who’d like to see a better world.” And as a Christian, I certainly desired a better world. Other literature on the subject says that ‘ . . . young people who are highly vulnerable to cultic appeals are usually very idealistic. They have been frustrated in earlier attempts to bring about positive social change and have become disillusioned with their own collective action. Such individuals – basically ‘religious’ in orientation while at the same time desirous of making the world a better place – are prime targets for groups like the Unification Church of Mr. Moon. A Moonie recruitment poster suggests: ‘If you want to change this world and are longing to find the way … you are the person who should hear theDivine Principle Seminar!” The YWAM brochure states: ‘Will you dare to be disciple and make your mark in history for Jesus Christ? If you have committed your life to Jesus and have a genuine desire to make Him known to the world . . .’
It has also been said that most young people who become a part of New-Age groups have either a very nominal religious background or no formal religious affiliation whatever, and that those who have had a conventional religious background describe it negatively: their spiritual fellowship needs are unmet; their church or synagogue did not supply the answers to life’s major questions. A follower of Witness Lee comments: ‘I found myself to be a frustrated Christian because I found that something was missing in my life. . . I began to meet with Christians whose lives were for the Lord. They simply loved the Lord Jesus and constantly were in His word. They cared for Christ! They lived for Christ! They loved Christ! My spirit rejoiced! I felt at home! the missing void inside of mewas filled.” One of the students at DTS reflected. ‘I come from a fairly dead atmosphere of Christians and it was good to be with some [people] for once who really wanted God [to be] number one and to live for Him. When I went to Hawaii, everyone was into the Bible more and growing in their Christian life, which I saw as an attraction.’
Certainly, the fact that an organization wants to do good things and has a vital relationship withChrist does not make it a cult- I wish that more groups had the zeal for God that was expressed by YWAM. But the point is that many of the people who are attracted to this organization are the same types who are vulnerable to cultic techniques. It is important to keep this in mind as I mention other harmful similarities between cult groups and YWAM.
The second lecture given at DTS was on ‘”Intercession.”** Intercession is a form of praying comprised of nine specific steps that a YWAM lecturer once ‘received from the Lord.” The steps are as follows.
- Make very sure that your heart is clean before God by having given the Holy Spirit time to convict [to identify the sins of which you are guilty], should there be any unconfessed sin. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me’ (Ps. 66:18). 2) Acknowledge that you cannot really pray without the direction and energy of the Holy Spirit. ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we know not how to pray as we ought’ (Romans 8:26). 3) Die [become impervious] to your own imaginations, desires, and burdens, for what you feel you should pray. ‘Lean not to your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3: 5, 6); ‘He who trusts in his own mind is a fool’ (Proverbs 28:26), “My thoughts are not your thoughts’ (Isaiah, 55:8). 4) Ask God to utterly control you by His spirit; “Be (ye being) filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18); ‘Then Thank Him for doing so.’ ‘Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). 5) Praise Him now in faith for the remarkable prayer experiences you are going to have. He is a remarkable God and he will do something consistent with His character. 6) Deal aggressively with the enemy. Come against him in the all-powerful Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and with the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ – the Word of God. ‘Submit yourselves therefore to the Lord; resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7). 7) Wait in silent expectancy. Then, in obedience and faith, utter what God brings to your mind, believing, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow Me’ (John 10:27). Be sure not to move on to the next subject until you have given God sufficient time to discharge all He wants to say to you regarding this particular burden, especially when praying in a group. 8) Always have your Bible with you should God want to give you direction or confirmation from it. ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalms 119:105). 9) When God ceases to bring things to your mind for prayer, finish by praising and thanking Him for what He has done. Remind yourself that, “From Him, and to Him, and through Him are all things. To Him be glory forever’ (Romans 11:36).
Approached in theright manner, perhaps these nine steps would have been good guides. How they led to different aspects of cultic control is probably not immediately obvious, but they did.
Robert Lifton noted in his classic treatment of the subject that Chinese brainwashing consisted in part of a demand for purity that leads to obsessive personal confession and exposure. I will show how Intercession led to emotional sessions of self-analysis and exposure in YWAM.
After the lecture delineating the steps of Intercession, and a five-minute break, we regrouped in the Lecture Room for our first try at it. Exactly what occurred is still hazy in my mind, but I will try to explain it as best I can. I found a seat near the front and sat clutching the blue card they had handed out that listed the magic formula for unlocking the secrets of God. I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and amidst the chorus of “Yes Lord’s” and “Thank You Jesus’s,” I heard Jack, our director begin to pray. After a few moments, he prayed, “And Lord, we ask that the Holy Spirit would reveal any unconfessed sin . .” He continued in a soft voice, and I believe that he mentioned various sins, but I can’t recall exactly what he said. I had focused my thoughts on God, but in the background I heard Jack encouraging, ‘”Speak it out, speak it out.” The next thing I knew, someone was sobbing loudly, “Oh Lord, please forgive me!” Again Jack instructed, “Speak it out.” Eventually the sobbing girl confessed that she had been sleeping with her boyfriend before she left for Hawaii. She prayed for a few minutes and then several others offered prayer on her behalf. Her confession was soon followed by those of others who felt convicted about sins committed prior to their arrival at DTS. ‘This went on for several hours – people crying out and pleading for forgiveness, and Jack advising them to “Speak it out.” We finally broke for lunch at one o’clock.
The following two mornings were also filledwith hours of crying and confessing and I was emotionally drained; we all commented that we felt as if we had spent the morning engaged in grueling physical exercise. I remember feeling confused and frightened during these sessions, and guilty for not confessing everything. I shared my feelings with one of thestaff members and was advised to confess my fear as sin. I did.
A friend recalled to me the following episode that occurred during one of these sessions.
We were just sitting there when three people approached Judy at different times and said to her that the Lord told them that Judy had something to confess and that she had better not deny the work that the Holy Spirit is trying to do in her life. Judy kept refusing. Helen put her hands on Judy’s shoulders and began messaging her and said that there was something that Judy had to release. Then she came to me and began the same therapy and also spoke in tongues over me. I freaked! Judy was crying so hard I couldn’t take it. I ran outside.
Given the diversity of the students attending, it seemed plausible that the confessions had been spontaneous and necessary. Later, I learned that YWAM has labeled these sessions “Openness and Brokenness,” and that they always begin a DTS. This made me a little suspicious that the staff had engineered the confession time more than the Holy Spirit had. I might not have wondered so much if we had stopped after the first few days. By thethird day we did move on to thesecond step of Intercession, but that did not signal the end of Openness and Brokenness. Throughout the first three months, many hours were specifically set aside for confession and self-exposure, including an eight-hour ordeal focusing on masturbation, lust, and homosexuality. On that particular occasion, we were instructed to place our chairs in a large circle in the lecture room and then had to sit quietly and wait for someone to feel “led by God” and confess. One student commented: ‘”hey keep telling us to open up, open up, let everyone see inside of you. They treat me like a number; ‘When is it time for her to burst? I really wonder how she’s doing?’, they say, and disregard what we’re really worth.”
All of thisconfession emotionally exhausted us, made us feel self-conscious and extremely vulnerable. Not only was it uncomfortable to have everyone know every deep, dark secret of your life, but many times it was equally disconcerting to hear what terrible things people had done prior to becoming Christians.
Aside from these lengthy sessions, the daily small group Intercession afforded much opportunity and pressure to expose imperfections. “I felt like people silently pressured me to confess sins,” one student remembered. A lecturer insisted: “You are secret if you are up to something bad.” Therefore, if a student went too long without confessing something, people assumed she was trying to hide something, that she was not being honest.
I am not opposed to all forms of group confession. In moderation, it seems to be effective in teaching people to be humble – to stop trying to hide their imperfections. It also allows people to experience forgiveness and acceptance by a group of Christians. Confession is certainly not without Biblical backing: ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed’ (James 5:16). Unfortunately, I believe that this practice was taken to an extreme. ‘Me purpose of this confession was supposedly a clear conscience and a clean heart so that God could hear your prayers. Instead, it caused people to become obsessed and neurotic about any imperfection. ‘Sharing for the sake of sharing can easily lead to group manipulation, exploitation, and autocratic control.”
God’s Will and Authoritarianism
Another aspect of Intercession thatstood out to me concerned God’s will. We were instructed on the first day of DTS that during Quiet Time we should ask God what he intended to teach us through this school. We were expected to receive an answer during our hour with God. I was not accustomed to putting God on a time schedule. I had always wanted to know God’s thought right away, but I didn’t feel that it was my place to demand an answer. I didn’t know exactly what to do and I hoped that I would not be required to produce a detailed account of why God had called me there. I was also in the habit of adding to my prayer requests, “If it be Thy will.” In the lecture on Intercession, we were told not only that we could receive answers directly, but that it wasn’t necessary to say, “If it be thy will,” because “God doesn’t want to be vague; we can know God’s will.” This spiritual direction was often in the form of a scripture verse that popped into the praying person’s mind. This was called “getting scripture.” (Step 8: “Always have your Bible with you should God want to give you direction or confirmation from it”) For example, if one was debating whether to go to town or to the beach, one’s recollection of the verse from Ecclesiastes (II: 1), “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you win find it again,” would indicate, by virtue of the word “waters,” that God wanted you to spend a day at the ocean. YWAM cautioned that this technique was one to be learned and that as humans we were fallible. Our teachers admitted having made silly mistakes when they first learned how to intercess, and we weren’t expected to hear clearly until we had lots of practice. In any case, these notions about how to direct my life and activities through God’s intercession were to influence greatly what I did and did not do. They also paved the way for my acceptance of another basic cultic element in the YWAM training – rigid, charismatic, authoritarian leadership.
One day my flock group leader Sally asked me to meet with her later that afternoon in her apartment, and when I arrived I found that Sylvia, the school secretary for whom I worked, was also there. ‘I must be in big trouble,” I added. Seeing Sally’s face, I shut up and sat down. After a few moments of silence, Sally proceeded to tell me that I would no longer be working in a secretarial position but would instead be a member of the dish crew. I sat there silently, staring at the window and listening to them tell me that God had ordained this. Sally had ‘received a word from the Lord’ during Intercession. ‘You have not been spending enough time with the other students, and working in the office has further isolated you.” I made several attempts to reply but failed. As I studied the curtains, my thoughts turned to God and I found that I had much to say to Him. “Is this true? Why didn’t you tell me? What is going on?” God didn’t answer.
Bracing myself, I left the refuge of looking out the window and faced the two women who professed to know God’s will for me. I questioned them intensely, seeking to understand their reasons. I knew that they were not aware of the time I had spent with my roommates or that working in the office had given me more time with some of the staff. Refusing to take responsibility for the decision, they repeatedly ascribed it to God, adding that it was with God and the virtues of Intercession that their authority lay. Lacking personal proof of God’s will for me in this matter, I acquiesced. As I left the room, my confidence in my ability to hear God had been undermined by their very confidence in being able to do so.
The daily work in many cults is demeaning and utilizes little of a member’s intelligence or education.
did not really bother me, however, that I would be doing dishes instead of office work. I also realize that it is sometimes necessary for those in charge to makeexecutive decisions without being obliged to explain their reasons. But my nature is such that Ioften ask for explanations. Perhaps I shouldn’t have in this instance. Ordinarily, if a person informed me that God told them that He wanted me to do something, I would probably take the advice with a grain of salt and not feel threatened by it. I’m not sure why I didn’t approach the situation in question in this manner. There are subtleties in conversations and atmosphere that I amnot able to express adequately. Implications are often felt that one cannot later prove were there. I do know that I was not the only one who felt so intimidated by the decisions made during Intercession. But eventually, our leader’s words of devotion developed almost as much authority, to me and others, as Scripture. Such was the power implied by those nine steps of Intercession.
The incident which led to my job change at King’s, and similar incidents, began to alienate me from God. What upset me most was that the leaders claimed that God thought I was not doing very well in adjusting and making friends, and that He had told them instead of me;or at least I had not heard Him tell me. They often quoted John 10:4 (“. . . his sheep follow him because they know his voice”) in reference to a Christian’s relationship to God the shepherd. If a person is truly one of God’s sheep, then he will know when God speaks to him. I began to question my relationship with God because I had not heard Him speak, and it said in the Bible that His sheep would know when He spoke. The incident over my job change at King’s was not devastating, but it did plant a seed of doubt in my mind.
On another occasion, I requested an afternoon off from work for a personal reason. Sally had agreed, but later came and told me, “I was praying, and God said that it had been wrong for you not to work today. I shouldn’t have let you off. Do you forgive me?’ This was quite disconcerting. It was hard enough to accept her belief that because she was my supervisor she knew exactly what was right or wrong for my life. But it unnerved me more that she was so convinced of this that she would humbly come and apologize to me.
The cult leader is the sole judge of the quality of a member’s faith.
In DTS it was not one specific leader who was the judge of my relationship with God. Anyone on staff, through Intercession, was qualified to manage my spiritual life. And they often did. At the beginning of DTS, a sheet entitled ‘Guidelines” was passed out. Several rules included on this sheet were:
1) Counseling will be available at your request by DTS staff. We recommend you use these channels, as God annoints those over us to bless us in many ways; 2) A “Special Relationship” is when two people [of the opposite sex] who have developed a natural friendship begin to sense that it is to be more. They may present it to the leadership, and if confirmed, will announce it to the group; and 3) If ill, and desiring to miss class time, always communicate this to your flock group leader for prayer. Many times physical illness is an outward manifestation of an inward need. God can give us keys in place of prayer.
The significance of these rules is that the staff will know what God wants to say to you. If you are not feeling well, they will tell you whether you have a spiritual problem or a bug. They will know for sure if God wants you to have a “special relationship” with someone or not. (Dating was forbidden.) Again, this illustrates how the leaders were “the sole judge of the quality of a member’s faith.”
The rules concerning counseling and dating were taken even farther than stated in the handout sheet A student, who several years ago had been the victim of two attempted rapes, agreed to describe to mean incident that illustrates how these rules were interpreted by thestaff.
We had just gotten through the emotional pressurized session with Jim Jeffers – eight hours of “openness and brokenness.” I was quiet; no sharing or confession done by me (No way; not with fifty strangers. Crazy!) After the session, I ate supper and asked Roger, a fellow student, if I could see him after he was done doing dishes. He said, “Sure.” Later, we met and took a walk down a long, sloping lawn to some trees. I told him that I just had to get away from the scene because of all the pressure and stifling air in the mansion from the last eight draining hours. I also told him that I needed a male friend to talk to tonight He asked me what was on my mind and said he didn’t mind being with me no matter how long it took for me to share.
So I began telling him what had been troubling me. I told him how I hated the way the staff treated me like an object, and really wouldn’t listen to me. “They just think you’re another case in such and such a category and tell you to forgive and forget pray over you, and say, ‘Now there, don’t you feel brand new – the peace of God flooding all over you?’ You’re left pretending that the hurt is all better, and grasping for some imagined peace.” I told Roger that I’d lied to myself, that I didn’t feel any peace. I told him that I needed a friend just to hold me because I was so scared. I knew that I needed to share the gory details with a guy who was kind and cared (the opposite of the rapists), who wouldn’t suddenly leave me alone in the cold. I knew I needed a positive perspective on some guy so thatI wouldn’t thinkall men were cold and mean. I needed this to get over, or start to get over, my hatred of men.
Well, as it turned out, I was finally experiencing a long-needed release, pouring out my heart about bad experiences to a warm and loving friend who kept right on holding me. I told him that I felt like screaming. He said, “Go ahead.” (I never had the chance to scream during the actual attacks, nor the chance to cry. No one even hugged me or held me. I had felt very cold and alone – more like the criminal than the victim.)
So what happens? Stan and Fred (two of thestaff) come running at the sound of a woman screaming only to find me crying in Roger’s arms. Suddenly their angry faces caught my eye. My sore emotions were jolted. “Let go of her,” they demanded. Roger begged them to leave because everything was under control and he was helping me with a personal matter just as a friend. Obviously, they didn’t buy that. They yelled at me for being out in the dark alone with a guy. They were extremely upset [to think] that the neighbors may have heard me screaming, and [said] that I would have to explain [it all] to them and to the school in the morning. I tried, oh believe me, I tried to explain to Stan and Fred (and to defend Roger), but they wouldn’t listen. They ordered me up to the mansion immediately and told me to come to a meeting with the staff at midnight. I pleaded with them, “No, please, no!” They forced me. I told them that I would come only if Roger came. They said, “O.K.” When I got to the room, I asked, “Where’s Roger?” They said, “We sent him to bed. He’s not coming. It’s better that way.” I can’t describe how angry I fell All the more I didn’t trust them. They had lied. They stole the friend to whom I had just revealed my naked soul. I was silent. I cried out to God, “Please, I didn’t do anything wrong, did I? Why are they so mad?” I was feeling such a release with Roger, and now they have interrupted and have made me all confused. Please God, please be on my side because now that there’s a battle going on and Fm left standing all alone.
I felt like I was in a courtroom, sitting by myself with three of them sitting on chairs facing me. Stan told me that I had a very independent and rebellious spirit and should confess. He also reminded me that I had broken two rules: 1) students can receive counseling only from the staff and not fellow students; 2) a boy and girl may not see each other alone. In my emotional state, I said I was sorry. He said that wasn’t good enough and that he wanted to see a change in my attitude. Fred told me that he didn’t understand where I was coming from. (He’d never been raped and never would be, so I don’t think he really cared.) I remember turning my steely eyes on him and hating him for being such a man. Then Stan and Sally discussed the matter while I sat at the opposite end of the table in the ice cold atmosphere. Stan tried turning soft, apologized for accusing me of having an independent spirit, and sent me off to bed. They all agreed that I was emotionally drained and that we’d discuss things the next day.
I just lay there [in bed]. I couldn’t cry anymore. The seed of bitterness had been sown and I was left wondering whose side God was on. As I lay there pondering, the hope that I may have been right all along lessened as I sensed the power and authority of “spiritual men of God” who got all the answers from the Lord in Intercession. God must be on their side. Exhausted and overwhelmed with confusion, I fell asleep, hoping that morning would never come.
The staff response had been more than just a reaction to hearing a girl scream. The next day this girl was told that if she wanted anymore help with her problem she would have to speak with staff counselors and should not seek assistance from a student.
The DTS counselors were trained exclusively by YWAM, and by any other standards were sorely unqualified for the job. They felt that they had all the answers, often only by virtue of Intercession and their positions of authority. One even “felt” that God had used the attacks on the girl as a way of punishing her; perhaps she had deserved it. “God anoints those over us to bless us in many ways.”
It may seem that Intercession gives a student his own authority because he need only say to a leader, “God told me that it was the right thing to do and I ‘got scripture’ in Intercession.” But it didn’t work that way. Intercession is unique and generally new to the students, who are told that they will improve with practice. Therefore, each student was obliged to agree with what the staff said, and if one tried saying, “God told me,” the staff would contradict the student and, referring to the student’s inexperience, say, “Don’t worry, everyone is bound to make a mistake.” Basically, YWAM believes that the students are not capable of malting independent decisions, or of “hearing God,” until they have completed a DTS, and by that time YWAM has introduced another style of authority, discussed below, that allows the organization to maintain control.
Stopping Rational Thought
. the thrust of the new religious groups – whether Eastern mystical, occult, or abberational Christian – [emphasizes] experience over doctrine .feeling rather than rationality. Truth is not attained by traditional modes of learning, but by mystical insight.
I was taught to think of my mind as the enemy.
YWAM teachings during Intercession played a central role in undermining intellectual reasoning. Step 3 of Intercession instructs “Die to your imaginations, desires, and burdens for what you feel you should pray.” The lecturer reasoned that there are three kinds of thought: Yours, Satan’s, and God’s. If you die to your thoughts and blind Satan, then anything left in your mind must be God’s thoughts. Foolproof.
A staff member explained to me: “One thing I realized when I went through DTS was that I was a very rational, analytical person. I’m coming to see that God’s ways are often rational (in the sense that I can use my reasoning to understand them), but sometimes they are supra-rational (in the sense that the reasoning is far above mine – Isaiah 55: 18), not irrational (without reasoning, nonsensical). If God was limited to my understanding, He wouldn’t be big enough for my problems!” I myself don’t think that I need always to understand why God works as He does, but I do feel that there are times when I need to analyze and understand man’s reasoning. Of course, the DTS staff would claim that it was God’s decision – “We received a word from the Lord in Intercession” – not their own.
The same staff member commented on another occasion: “A weakness that might be present is an overly critical spirit. A liberal arts education has many benefits, but it caused me to be skeptical of everything, to break everything down in my mind into rational components and compartments and sequences. I came to the point where my faith became watered down.” I will agree that it is not necessary to have logical or scientific proof concerning all things biblical. ‘Mere is a need for faith. And we can speak with certainty regarding those aspects of God’s character which are clearly defined. The problem comes when differentiating between what the Bible claims clearly and someone’s interpretation, inspiration, or revelation.
Another way in whichDTS training discouraged rational debate was byquoting the following verses:
I appeal to you…that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (I Cor. 1:10); “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being in one spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2); “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2); “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
The argument was, “If you don’t agree with us thenyou are causing disunity and being rebellious – disobeying God.” According to Stoner and Parke, “Cults discourage critical analysis by dictating the suppression of negative thoughts, therefore fostering a dependency on the cult’s authority that arrests the maturation process.” DTS, thus, was similar to life in Rev. Moon’s cult “If you object to their rules, they say it is Satan working through you against God. You are taught to mistrust your mind. You are given an interpretation for every situation. You no longer need to think or evaluate for yourself but, instead, recall what was told you for that situation.”
Also included in this type of thought reform is the use of easily learned and authoritative sounding cliches which block studied reflection. DTS employed several of these, including: “You’re causing disunity;” “It’s pride” and “Give up your rights” (meaning that you should give up selfish personal preferences and rights that conflicted with the uniformity demanded by DTS). The kind of thinking that this sort of training illustrates reflects the remark of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s son, who broke with his father some years ago: “All cults … say, ‘I am your mind, I am your brain. I’ve done all your work for you. I’ve laid the path open for you. All you have to do is turn your mind off and walk down the path I have created.’ Well, I have learned that there’s great strength in diversity, that a clamorous discussion or debate is very healthy and should be encouraged.”
Evangelical scholar Ronald Enroth agrees that “The cultic pattern downplays the mind,” while “the biblical pattern values understanding and knowledge. The Bible not only respects the mind as an important part of the image of God in which man was created, but regards rational thought as a virtual gateway to salvation. Satan’s strategy is to subvert the mind and subdue the will into passivity, thus opening the door to spirits of deception.” Is DTS certainly tried to subvert the mind and subdue the will.
Suppressing Critical Thinking
As a person coming from a liberal arts background, it seems as if I should have reacted more strongly against this anti-reasoning approach. But my defenses were worn down in several ways similar to the methods used in a weekend Moonie workshop. The effect can be illustrated by excerpts from letters sent home by a DTS student. “You have to understand that I’m being bombarded with so much every day that the context [sic] of my letters will vary greatly … So don’t think I’m ‘freaking out’ if one letter is on one issue and another one is on something new. It’s a thinking process, and I suppose growth at that . . . Basically, we’ll have lectures next week again, which I enjoy and learn a lot from. Time goes very quickly here – almost too fast, because I can’t absorb all the lecture material . . . I really am finding it harder and harder to write letters because I can’t write how I feel … There are times I feel that they are pushing a different Christianity on me and I don’t accept. Today it got to the point where I wondered who I was … I’m scared to write to you already. I’m not sure you’ll understand me. I’m scared to write letters home because one day my head’s full of one thing and the next ifs full of something else.”
Many of the lectures were two hours long and on videotape. This meant that if a student had a question about something, he couldn’t raise his hand and ask it, or request that a Bible reference be repeated. Often I would sit there listening, frantically writing down Bible references, only to get them confused. After every lecture, there was a time for “responding,” but not for disagreeing with any of the ideas put forth, or for raising questions. Rather, it was a chance to affirm what had been said and confess the truth that had been revealed. Any idea that had been presented in the lecture was reemphasized as truthbefore I had a chance to sit down and think about it. Peer pressure was effectively used in these sessions. If I questioned the material and disagreed, then it appeared as though I was not being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading because everyone else was being made aware by the Spirit that what we had heard was Truth.
One staff person defended the DTS method in this way: “I’ll agree,” he said, “that you’re exposed to a lot of teaching in a short time, but so is the student who takes four hours of advanced physics in summer school – lecture every morning, lab every afternoon, and studying every night.” I believe, however, that there is a difference between college and YWAM material and how each is presented. What one learns in physics will not have a significant effect on one’s lifestyle, as YWAM study does. Indeed the YWAM methods, like theMoonie workshop, used special, highly personal methods to inculcate ideas.
The family members in the Moonie workshop aim directly at your most vulnerable points: the need to belong, to feel useful and to feel loved. Throughout the workshop you are flooded with affection–hugs, pats, handholding, and smiles…your intellectual objection is being undercut by means of emotional seduction…you also note that the lectures are becoming more emotional and that you am being infected by them.
Conversely, a college Bible professor has observed.
In the tradition of the liberal arts, there is free inquiry – no questions barred, no knowledge forbidden. We are free, even are required, to ‘test everything.’ The search for yet more light continues unendingly, but this is Christian education.
Perhaps I should have questioned the lecture material more carefully and taken more responsibility for checking out all of the Bible verses quoted, especially at the beginning, but after spending the morning listening to lectures, and anticipating the evening session, there was little incentive or time to look up every verse and see that it was quoted and interpreted correctly.
Another reason that I accepted YWAM ideas so easily was because two friends I greatly respected had just attended DTS and recommended it highly. I guess I just assumed that they would have checked things out – especially something as important as Intercession. Similarly, the seeming spirituality of the lecturers, and the fact that everyone at DTS was so loving, left me no reason to believe that verses would be taken out of context. I had come to the school expecting to learn new ideas. I also knew that I would be in the group for six months. And in the past I have had conflicts with leaders and supervisors. AU this led me to feel that I did not want to create problems in the first few weeks of DTS; later, I did not want to cause what they called “disunity.”
YWAM shared another similarity with the Moonie workshop that had an effect on me.
When you refrain from sharing or resist in any way, you are met with benevolent concern…There comes a point when [your] negative reaction to the regimented control gives way to their [the leaders’] automatic reaction. You then try to please, but the only way is to conform…You succumb many times to small acts of conformity without realizing it. You feel guilty when you hold back…
There comes a point when you react negatively not only to the regimented control but to some of the ideas being introduced, and to avoid the leaders’ hostile reaction to your reaction, one conforms in little ways. Unless you really believe in something strongly, and can back up what you believe, you would rather not rock the boat. The result of conforming in small ways can best be illustrated by my reaction to excessive confession.
We were encouraged, for example, to confess as sin the fact that “I was in a bad mood this morning when I got up,” or, “I was afraid of what someone might think of me,” etc. When I first arrived at DTS, I was scared and nervous about being on my own for the first time. I certainly had not tried to hide my fear from God, but I did not feel the need to confess it every day as sin. It seemed to me that this would create an unhealthy self-absorption. But not wanting to be stubborn, I relented and confessed things that I did not really think necessary to confess. In a matter of weeks, I was very much caught up in the spirit of confession and was an avid participant. In the words of a former cult member. “They get you behaving before they get you believing. I thought they were acting like fanatics, but when I began to behave like them, I had to rationalize that they were okay.”
Exclusive Social System
To be a member of a cult a person must remove himself from society, cut himself off from job, education, friends, and family.
The DTS “Guidelines” stated: “Weekdays (Mon.-Fri.) – Students should not leave the general area between Kainaliu and Captain Cook without permission. The principle behind this is that we maintain the integrity of the community God is building together. Weekends will be for going to Kailua and other areas’; “Singles are not allowed personal cars”; “Couples and families may have a car, but must maintain the integrity of theweekly schedule.” There was no outside stimulation. We were not allowed to watch TV. “You go to the beach because you want to get away from the DTS people,” a student wrote, “and then you run into them all at the beach.” Everywhere I went, YWAM people were there to reinforce what we were being taught.
Religious cults are exclusive social systems, claiming that their members will achieve salvation (or happiness). Members are taught to believe that they are ‘superior’ to those outside the group.
An organization called “Sports Life” took a group of Christian college soccer players toSpain as part of their ministry. While there, members of the team stayed with YWAM representatives. The following was taken from an interview with several of these players.
We stayed in Barcelona, Spain, with an outreach group called Youth With AMission…We didn’t get along with the outreach group. They saw our group as just coming for the enjoyment and not really wanting to spread the news….The people at YWAM were really skeptical. When we told them what we were doing they said: “What, soccer?” They thought we were nuts or something. For one of their meetings, YWAM was going to a gypsy camp. [The soccer team went along.] … It’s a tough place to go and have a program because they’re [the gypsies] not very open to anyone….A lot of people turned out. They wanted to see what we [the soccer players] were all about. So much so thatthe YWAM people were astonished. They couldn’t believe the turnout and the reaction …
YWAM does make a point to be involved with other mission groups and encourages its members to become involved in local churches, but as illustrated by thisincident in Spain, the prevailing attitude is that the way YWAM operates is theright way. They found it hard to accept a different type of group. Every member has been taught the exact same thing – thanksin part to the fact that lectures are recorded – so everyone agrees thatYWAM is right.
Suppression of Individuality
Cultic religions often deprecate individuality; the person is submerged in a sea of uniformity in which individual identity is sacrificed to the goals of the group.
In a lecture given in DTS entitled “The Spirit of Independence,’ students were told that independence is a deception and that ultimately it can lead to suicide and abortion. To be independent was to be anti-social and a cause of disunity. The effects of this concept can be illustrated by an incident that made me quite uncomfortable because many of the concepts presented didn’t seem right I recall one lecturer stating, “If national liberty ceases to function, we won’t be able to carry out the Great Commission.” The existence of Christians living in Russia and China was proof to me that this was not true. Unfortunately, the lectures were on tape, so I had no opportunity to challenge any of theideas. After one of these questionable lectures had ended, I decided I couldn’t handle the commitment time (during which peer pressure is brought to bear to accept as truth that which had just been taught) immediately following. I felt the need to be alone to prayerfully consider all that I had heard. I slipped out a side door while the others prayed. But I did not leave unnoticed. Several days later, I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean, and as I reveled in that beautiful experience, one of the staff approached me. “So how are you liking it here so far,” he began. “Oh, I love it!” I replied. “It seems like you’ve been having problems with some of the lectures,” he commented. “You know, Laurie, you shouldn’t be so independent” Sobered, I quietly began to defend myself. We discussed my behavior and motives for a while. Finally he concluded. “Laurie, God doesn’t want you to go off on your own like that. He will always show you someone [staff] in the room for you to talk with.” I never again left a meeting.
Perhaps not being allowed to leave a lecture is a reasonable restriction. I can appreciate the DTS staff not wanting students to be wandering off any time the mood struck them.But the crucial point is that I was trying to avoid the pressure to accept things thatdid not seem right to me. The influence of an emotional experience occurring during the “time of commitment” following each lecture cannot be overemphasized as a way to gain agreement and conformity.
Submission and Authority
All that I have described so far can be summed up in the following paragraph:
The primary control mechanisms which [function] to hold members — spiritually and psychologically — to cultic groups [include]…the severing of all familiar social support systems (old friends, family, former church ties), removal to a totalitarian and structured environment where all aspects of one’s life are controlled, indoctrination by an exclusivistic group possessing “the truth,” limited access to outside simulation, diminished ability to think for oneself, the use of fear and intimidation – these are the ties that bind the spirit and cripple themind.
It was in this context that YWAM introduced its views on leadership. ‘Me actual lectures on Submission and Authority were not given until the third month at King’s. I remember being impressed by the staff lecturer who said that they had waited to teach submission because they had wanted our obedience to be based on their earned respect; not by them telling us that the Bible demanded it. At that time I had not yet realized that the strength of Intercession and peer pressure had been sufficient to ensure our obedience. A former student observed: “When I look at the pattern of lectures given, I see exactly how we were made weaker and weaker. If we would have received lectures on ‘Submission to Authority,’ i.e., ‘You get the leaders you deserve,’ at the beginning of DTS, there is no way I would have handled it. They left that for the end because by that time our minds and emotions were so controlled by them that it was no problem to accept any doctrinal idea they’d put in front of us.” Not only was it possible to present these ideas about authority to us, but it had become necessary. After two months of practicing Intercession, the students begin to feel that they have become rather proficient at “receiving a word from God,” and could question what staff members themselves claimed to have heard in Intercession. Also, since the Outreach leaders would be fellow students, YWAM needed an authority other than experience to rely on.
The first lecture stated thatin God’s Kingdom there is structure. We were also told that “with the appointing comes the anointing.” This meant that when YWAM staff placed someone in a leadership position, then, similar to Samuel appointing Saul (I Samuel 10:1), that person was anointed by God for that position. According to YWAM, God preferred to work through this structure and would give instructions to this anointed leader who would pass them along to those in his charge; his role was similar to that of a high priest. As soon as a leader was chosen, God gave him special revelations – “a word of knowledge.” We were also quoted the verse from Psalms 105:15, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm,”as well as the passage in 2 Samuel 6:16-23, where Michael, David’s wife, spoke against him and became barren. This idea was applied to our outreach leaders, and we were told that we were in grave danger if we spoke against them. “They have been anointed byGod.”
If we saw something that we knew was wrong, we were told – in order to maintain unity –“Don’t say it, Pray it! Criticize people to God notto others.”
Generally thisis good advice and discourages gossip, but as a result, during Outreach, even when we were aware of the lies told by our leaders and of the authoritarian demands they placed on teammates, we remained silent. We were also afraid to say anything about this to the YWAM staff who came to visit from King’s. One of these staff members was later told about some of the things thathad happened on Kauai, and he said that he was disappointed that no one had shared these perceptions with him before. He said that he had had a fairly honest talk with the Outreach leaders, and had sensed that there were some problems, but he added that he would have done more if he had known how serious the situation was. It sounds as if he really tried to get a true understanding by talking with all of the mm members, but that no one gave him an honest evaluation or very many specific complaints. Yet when he came to visit us, he told one girl he was glad that she had not complained because everyone else seemed to be complaining so much. When I talked with him I said nothing about the leaders because I had been taught not to “touch” God’s anointed, and I felt I should “Pray it, not say it.” We were told many times at King’s that “You get the leaders you deserve.” Who wants to admit that they deserve such bad leaders?
From a passage found in Genesis 9:20-27, the lecturer concluded that “Reason should not govern but authority [should].” We always used the example of David and King Saul and said that you don’t always have to have a good leader. “God uses the mistakes in theauthority over us to produce His character in us.” Many cults support this theory, for example, “If the Lord has revealed the authority over you, you can be submissive, even when the authority deviates from thewin of God. In other words, you can receive some wrong words of direction and still be a winner.” One of my Outreach teammates still maintains: “When you are submitted to the leaders, God will be with you and bless you even if the leaders are wrong.” The YWAM notion was: “I will not be responsible if in the process of obeying my leaders I do something that is wrong or harmful to others. My leaders will take theblame because they are my spiritual covering.”
Chris Ramsey, in The Final Solution, captures well both this theory of leadership and my feeling about it: “One of the largest mistakes made by the evangelical church in countries where Jews were being persecuted was the belief that since government was ordained by God (Romans 13), government policy would necessarily be ordained by God. [As] Norman L. Geisler writes in his Ethics, ‘By blind obedience to government on the fallacious ground thatall of a government’s decisions must be of God because its authority is of God, one can contribute to an evil cause … unless a citizen determines whether or not his country is taking its rightful place under God, he may be giving his government the place of God.’” It’s not that I believe that God can only bless you if you have good leaders, but just because God can work through any situation does not mean that one should support such a situation and allow it to continue. I believe that every person is responsible for his own actions, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
The YWAM approach to submission clearly reflects what Ronald Enroth has said about contemporary cults.
Submission, total obedience, subjection – these are the hallmarks of the cult leader. In the cults, submission becomes a value and an end in itself, as Peter Marin notes in his excellent essay on spiritual obedience: “There are many things to which man or woman might submit; to his own work, to the needs of others, or the love of others, to passion, to experience, to the rhythms of nature – the list is endless … But that general appetite is twisted and used tyranically when we are asked to submit ourselves unconditionally to other persons – whether they wear the mask of the state or of the spirit. In both instances, our primary relation is no longer to the world or to others; it is to the ‘master,’ and the world or others suffer from that choice.”
I will concede that when we were given the lecture on submission, we were also told that this was not absolute submission, and that it was possible to be a Godly rebel; but this was the exception. The problem for me was that by the time of Outreach, I was unable to judge what constituted an exception or discern what was cause for speaking out. I had been taught to distrust my mind and it was instilled in us that God had anointed these people who would work through them; God had chosen them. We were continuously told by our Outreach leaders that we were bad, rebellious people. By that time I had learned to accept another’s evaluation of my spirituality. Even when I knew that I was not being rebellious, I couldn’t fight their constant judgment; I believed them. Finally, in the fifth month, the staff from YWAM came to visit us in Kauai and lectured us again about submitting to the leaders that “God has placed over you.” They felt ‘”impressed” that God was saying we were being rebellious and should change our ways. If we were having problems, it was our fault (“You get the leaders you deserve.”) We again repented, confessed our sinful nature, and continued to obey.
None of my friends or family was aware of the trouble that I was having during Outreach. They were shocked when I finally shared what had happened. I had said nothing to them partly for the same reasons I had not complained to the staff at King’s; but there was another reason. So much of the YWAM teaching was radically different from what I had learned growing up that I was reticent to mention it to people at home. One student reflected: “For a while at King’s I wondered if I had even been raised Christian, according to them.” I remember telling my mother not only thatthe surroundings [at King’s] were different, but that even God seemed different to me. I knew that my family would not understand what I had been taught about submission. If they had said that the leaders were wrong, or told me that I should leave, I wouldn’t have listened to them. In my mind, they didn’t know any better; they were just too wrapped up in the secular world. As in the Moon cult,
You are taught that everyone not in the movement is under the influence of Satan, and that you should mistrust them. The devil works strongest through those closest to you, they insist. This naturally offsets the concern of parents and friends. Thus, you become dependent on the group for love and positive reinforcement After alienation is complete, you are told that you can leave if you want to.
It was never stated that everyone else was under Satan’s influence, but it was implied that they were perhaps not as spiritual.
At King’s we were often told, “YWAM is like a bridge, easy to get on and easy to get off.” It is true that there never was any physical coercion or legal contract but we did become dependent on the group to reinforce our new beliefs.
In America’s cults, participation almost always begins voluntarily . . . control is achieved not by physical coercion but by an even more potent force: information … Most rely on the use – and abuse – of information; on deceptive and distorted language, artfully designed suggestion and intense emotional experience . . Studies have shown that ‘most of the [psychological] damage appears to be done in the first few months.”
Like cults, YWAM would ’emphasize group choice over personal choice, or urge choices aided by a leader or discipler.” During Outreach, several YWAM staff members visit the teams and pray with them, assisting them in deciding what they should do after DTS. Many are advised to remain with YWAM and to attend another school. Again, the influence of Intercession is felt. One staff person felt that God might be calling me to YWAM’s Counseling School.
Even after enduring almost two months of mental and spiritual abuse from my Outreach leaders, I felt obliged to stay. I remember one staff member telling me, “God never wants us to quit what we’ve begun until it is finished.” God would not have wanted me to leave. When I finally did decide to leave Kauai, before theend of DTS, it was after a week of intensive harassment, hours of prayer, a phone call home briefly explaining the situation, and the agreement of four other fellow students thatwe had to leave. The night before I left, a leader discovered me packing. It was four in the morning. As she watched me dump my belongings into a box, she sighed: “Well, at least God never quits on us.” I winced. I refused to dignify her comment with a reply, but she had stuck the knife in where I was most vulnerable. It was another example of the YWAM attempt to coerce me by taking advantage of my loyalty and love for God – causing me to question my relationship with Him. I might have yielded, but at that point I was determined to leave even if God thought it was wrong.
Several people with whom I have spoken about YWAM say: “How do you explain the fact that YWAM is doing so many good things, and that God seems to be blessing them?” This is something that I have struggled with for months. It would be simpler if organizations or people were either all good or all bad; but they aren’t. I could cite many excellent lectures and list several ways in which I was benefited by YWAM. Indeed, YWAM was a period of important personal growth. A friend I met in Oahu while on my way to Kauai for Outreach later commented that he “sensed genuine growth,” in me. If thesituation in Kauai had not become so unbearable, I would probably still be in YWAM, a committed member. Observers of the cult phenomenon confirm my experience that although cult involvement is, on balance, negative, it can benefit individual members in certain ways. Ronald Enroth refers, for example, to a woman who changed from an introvert to an extrovert and was able to resolve a number of other personal problems while in a cult.
Other people to whom I have related my experience point out YWAM’ers who have attended DTS and returned home apparently not adversely affected by the experience. In fact, those who consistently conformed never had to be coerced to embrace YWAM doctrine. Indeed, the conformists were never aware of the pressure that was brought to bear on those of us who resisted in any way. I did not hear most of the stories about other people that I have related in this paper until many months after DTS. (If I heard anything at the time the incident took place, it was: “Well, you know how rebellious that person is. He’s just not adjusting well. We should be praying for him.”) The fact is that many people freely leave cultic groups and resume their lives as though they were never members. Different personalities respond to similar situations in different ways. But my point about cultic groups is similar to one I could make about the surgeon general’s warning on cigarette packages: not everyone who smokes will develop cancer, but some will.
Some have observed thatYWAM’s methods may be justified if the groupis producing strong, conscientious, dedicated Christians. They are basically saying that the ends justify the means. My reply to this was preached by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent theseed and the end represents the tree.
A YWAM staff member once argued, however, that “It’s a pressure-filled situation, and yet from an educational standpoint, a very effective method of learning. If the Moonies have applied these principles, that doesn’t bother me. It’s just another example of how the enemy takes truth, distorts it, exaggerates it, and then uses it to deceive people. Why would he use something that didn’t work – he’s much craftier than that.” (I would like to call attention to this person’s use of the word truth. Of course, the way in which YWAM operates is Truth. They feel that they couldn’t be wrong.) But YWAM is more than just a pressure-filled situation, as I hope I have shown. It is manipulative and deceitful – playing on people’s love and respect for God. “I realize the reason I became frustrated all over again today is I see how my mind was ‘Played with,” one former student wrote. “I feel ripped off – it’s just not fair to be taken advantage of.” It is wrong to teach people to despise their intellects -we were told that “knowledge puffs up” – to destroy their ability to judge their spiritual lives, and to discourage them from making independent decisions. As L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., declared: “[Cults] commit the highest crime – the rape of the soul.”Cultic deceit is similar to a fast-talking salesman’s pitch: he throws it at you and gets you to buy the product before you have time to think it over and determine if it’s a good deal. It’s as if they are afraid you might discover they are wrong.
YWAM may feel that they are protecting the students by allowing them no freedom to make mistakes, but this denies the power of the Holy Spirit and Scriptures. “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). It seems that YWAM is afraid of questioning because they have no faith in the truth of what they believe. If it is truth, then further questioning will only make that evident. “The good shepherd leads but does not control. He is a resource for the truth seeker, but not the ultimate source of truth. His flock must be encouraged to emulate the Bereans of theBible who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true’” (Acts 17:11).
Ronald Enroth has said that “the deceit of the promoters, not always conscious, is often the result of a sincere desire to do good and intense commitment to a cause.” But whatever the motive, deceit was perpetrated during my training. One deceitful incident especially sticks in my mind. We were repeatedly told that no student is selected to be an Outreach team leader unless everyone on theDTS staff agrees thatstudent is ready for the position. I found out many months later from some of the staff that the school director alone had made the choice. The students were never told of this change in policy, only continually reminded that all of the staff must agree on decisions. The words of James (3:1,2) apply here: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways.” Not everything taught will be free from error, but at least the teacher should honestly present what he believes to be true, not manipulating people but allowing them to question and possibly correct his interpretation. We can never be certain that the ends achieved will be worthy, but we should be able to take some comfort in honest means.
The basic thesis of this paper has been that the ends achieved by the lecture phase of DTS can easily be unquestioning submission to corrupted leaders as easily as to honorable ones. By the time of Outreach, it was no longer only the staff who blindly supported YWAM doctrine, but the students as well. After telling my mother on the phone that I thought I needed more time to consider all that I had been taught a teammate criticized, “Why are you like that? Why don’t you just accept what they tell you?” Another student, still insisting that he was “committed to the team and leadership,” says that “Outreach went badly because we had bad team unity.” We students had come to feel that we were at fault for refusing blindly to submit to every leadership directive.
I can only speculate as to what might have happened had I conformed as totally as theKing’s sniff desired. I probably would then have complied with any of my Outreach team leader’s whims. Indeed, to some extent this is exactly what happened; it was so wearing to combat every strange idea that many times I said nothing. I felt that I must be wrong. The leader couldn’t be. It is impossible adequately to express the mental strain and spiritual anguish involved when I finally did stand up for what I strongly believed in. I, who used to argue recreationally with high school teachers, had undergone an extensive personality change.
I am thankful that I managed to retain some of my independent nature – an inability to conform completely. (It constantly irritated the staff that I spent so much time by myself. I usually felt the need to get away from the one-sided input but I regarded this independent spirit in meas a flaw.) I am thankful that there were one or two other people who had not lost their ability to question; they sparked in me some of the reasoning ability that I had abandoned. I am also thankful that our team leader lacked the aura that has surrounded so many destructive cult leaders – like Jim Jones. A crafty, charismatic cult leader could have easily gained complete control of me.
I believe that theDTS program, as I experienced it is wrong, not only because it is manipulative and destructive, but because it creates a vulnerability to cultic control. I believe that it is a continuing danger because the people involved in my school were fairly representative of the type of people who are attracted to this type of organization. Every school is different because people are unique, but theprogram is fairly consistent and most lectures are on videotape.
I do not believe that YWAM is deliberately “brainwashing” recruits. But, as one student lamented, “I feel like they want to do God’s work so badly, and yet it’s wrong what they’re doing. That’s what makes me cry in frustration.” I think that YWAM simply wants to maintain control, and that they have found an effective and convenient method to achieve this. They are trying to create a perfect community. Unfortunately, “perfect communities come at the expense of human freedom.”
1. J. I.Yaniamoto (1978), The Moon Doctrine. Chicago: Intervarsity, 30-38.
To Know God. (YWAM brochure.)
3. C. Stoner and J. Parke (1977), All God’s children: The cult experience – Salvation or slavery? Radnor, PA: Chilton, 76.
4. R. Enroth (1979), The lure of the cults. Chappaqua, NY: Christian Herald, 49-50.
. Ibid., 54
. Ibid., 54.
7. R. 1. Lifton (1961), Thought reform and the psychology of totalism, New York: Norton, chapter 22.
8. H. Bussell (1982, March), Beware of cults with their evangelical trappings, Christianity Today, 43.
9. Stoner and Parke, 10.
10. Stoner and Park, 9.
I 1. DTS: Principles, policies, and guidelines. (Undated typescript.)
12. Enroth, 43-44.
13. F. Conway and Siegelman (1982, January), Information disease: have cultscreated a new mental illness?’ Science Digest, 90.
14. Stoner and Parke, 10.
15. Yamamoto, 37.
16. Lifton, chapter 22.
17. L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.(1983, June), Penthouse interview (byAllan Sonnenschein), Penthouse, 170.
IS. Enroth, 122.
19. Yamamoto, 34.
20. W. Woolsey (1981, November), Houghton Milieu, Houghton OM College.
21. Yaxnamoto, 34-35.
22. Stoner and Parke, cover of the book.
25. The Houghton (NY) Star (1982, September), Exclusive interview: Everything you always wanted to know about Bob, Bill, and Peter’s summer, 7.
26. Enroth, 122.
29. C. Ramsey (1981), The final solution, Cornerstone, 10,
30. Enroth, 122-123.
31. Yaxnamoto, 35.
32. Conway and Siegelman, 86.
33. Bussell, 43.
34. Enroth, 120.
35. E. Lincoln (Ed) (1972). Martin Luther King, Jr.: A profile. New York: Vantage, 76.
36. Hubbard, 170.
37. Enroth, 124.
39. Bussell, 43.
Laurie Jacobsonwas for almost six months a Youth With A Mission [YWAM] trainee.
*Quoted dialogue in the text, unless otherwise noted, represents the author’s reconstruction of conversations and comments she heard or learned about. All personal names have been changed.
**References to DTS course material, unless otherwise cited, unless otherwise cited, refer to notes which the author made while attending videotaped or live lectures during her YWAM course.
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1986
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1986, Page
 J. I. Yamamoto (1978), The Moon Doctrine. Chicago: Intervarsity, 30-38.
To Know God (YWAM brochure)
 C. Stoner and J. Parke (1977), All god’s children: The cult experience – Salvation or slavery? Radnor, PA: Chilton, 76.
 R. Enroth (1979) The lure of the cults. Chappaqua, NY: Christian Herald, 49-50.
R. J. Lifton (1961), Thought reform and the psychology of totalism, New York: Norton, chapter 22.
H. Bussell (1982, March), Beware of cults with their evangelical trappings, Christianity Today
Stoner and Parke, 10.
Stoner and Park, 9.
DTS: Principles, policies, and guidelines. (Undated typescript.)
F. Conway and J. Soiegelman (1982, January), Information disease: have cults created a new mental illness?” Science Digest
Stoner and Parke, 10.
Lifton, Chapter 22.
L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. (1983, June) Penthouse interview (by Allan Sonnenschein), Penthouse, 170.
W. Woolsey (1981, November), Houghton Milieu, Houghton (NY) College.
Stoner and Parke, cover of the book.
The Houghton (NY) Star (1982, September), Exclusive interview: Everything you always wanted to know about Bob, Bill, and Peter’s summer, 7.
C. Ramsey (1981, The final solution, Cornerstone, 10, 8.
Conway and Seigelman, 86.
 Enroth, 120.
 E. Lincoln (Ed.) (1972). Martin Luther King, Jr.: A profile. New York: Vantage, 76.