Cult Criticism-Conformity and Control

November 20, 2016 by missionsandmysticism

Responding to Unfair Criticism:
(Note the original title to Seth’s article in the hyperlink, he changed the post title from “a Ridiculous Criticism”)

In his blog post Seth Barnes writes,  “Have you ever been unfairly criticized? Once, because one of our mission teams went on a one-month media fast, the rumor circulated among some parents that AIM is a cult… Our objective at AIM is to thrust over-protected young people out into the world to formulate their own world view and collide with their destiny. It’s actually the opposite of what cults do as they seek conformity and control.”

The formulation of the young people’s worldview, however, is intentionally shaped in part by Seth’s own writings that are required or “highly suggested” reading. (We have shared concerns about other books recommended here)

Concerned Missionaries write, “one of the girls in the group (a World Race team) gave me a book written by Seth Barnes, the founder of AIM, called Kingdom Journeys, and I can see how it would appeal to young people, because it’s written in a very personal way, that meets their felt needs; I can see how they can relate to it and trust a guy that is so personable. But even though it talks about his own personal journey—there is no reference to his conversion. And when he uses Scripture—it’s like how Rick Warren does in his books, there is no Scripture reference, but a vague alluding to a Scripture verse—so someone can say, “I remember something about that in the Bible” but he seems to use it to validate his own position about something that he’s talking about, not explaining the meaning of the verse from a biblical perspective. The girls also had a book he wrote on listening prayer* they were supposed to go through daily…

Seth continues,

“Thinking about the criticism, I wanted to blog about it. But a staff member had a more prudent perspective, “It’s not worth your time,” he said. He was right; it’s a lesson I’ve been learning for a while now. In life if you’re going to ever do anything significant, then you’re going to have critics. The right thing to do is to honor them.”

Seth chose to dishonor parents, criticizing them for “ridiculous” rumors and ultimately deciding they were “not worth his time”.

He diffused the charge of leading a cult by deflecting the issue.

He goes on,”If you aspire to change the status quo, you’re going to have a target painted on your back; it’s the price of leadership. If you grow in your influence as a leader, the target just gets bigger.”

However, the ability to defend yourself against such a serious charge is also expected.

This is an interesting comment posted to this exact article…
“I know this is old news, but I was in the group that was subjected to the media fast. From within, the biggest problem was that it was forced upon us with no choice, it was during December, and it was only enforced because a smaller % of people on the trip were spending too much time connected to home that they were neglecting their duties/ job at hand.
My biggest issue with TWR and AIM overall is that questions regarding doctrine, practices, and overall “command structure” were mostly stifled and led to a “dismantling” of previous beliefs only to leave me trying to put the pieces back together after returning home.
In other words, many people involved didn’t practice what they preached, and I now have a sour taste for the organization. Sorry, but true.” (Seth responded to this comment with another deflection)
A media fast forced on them, with no choice?  That contradicts this statement in the FAQ’s responding the the question, “What if my parents have concerns?”, they respond, “This is your Race. You are an adult and we treat you that way.”

Note this testimonial from a former racer titled “I recently got out of what was basically a cult”.  Please be warned that the writer uses coarse language throughout.  However, her concerns are worth taking note.

“It starts before you even apply. The main form of communication about this trip is a site where participants post blogs from the field. It’s actually required to do so once per week. The people writing these have already bought into the romanticized ideas and skewed theology, but the organization really censors the blogs, and the ones that get promoted are the cool adventure stories. Training- A couple months before leaving, all participants go through ten days of training camp. I gained no practical knowledge here for life in the field. It was mostly just indoctrination. We lived in tents, used bucket showers, and sat through 8+ hours a day of them preaching a weird combination of bad theology and pop psychology at us. Not harmless stuff either. They preyed on the fact that most of the people there had partied their brain cells away in college. They convinced fairly normal, healthy people that they were in codependent relationships, had “soul ties” to ex-lovers, and needed to go through the organization’s prescribed method of cutting any ties that remotely resembled these things. They manipulated the faith of many participants to get them to end healthy relationships. … after hearing it day after day, it began to sink in, and made me doubt the healthiest relationship I had or have ever had in my life. They also made us participate in ridiculous physical challenges that would only be useful if Rambo was a missionary. These challenges served only to make everyone feel like “part of the club”. Despite all this and more, I still thought I could ignore their attempts at brainwashing and still do humanitarian work without drinking the Kool aid. I was wrong.”
“Cutting ties” with healthy relationships, indoctrination, manipulating faith.  Other testimonies we have shared sound much the same. 
This site has a list of some characteristics of a cult we thought were interesting.  Though they are not all true of AIM, many seem to line up with other testimonies we have shared.

How are they kept in the cult?

  1. Dependence
    1. People often want to stay because the cult meets their psychological, intellectual, and spiritual needs.
  2. Isolation
    1. Outside contacts are reduced and more and more of the life of the member is built around the cult.
    2. It then becomes very easy to control and shape the member.
  3. Cognitive Reconstruction (Brainwashing):
    1. Once the person is indoctrinated, their thinking processes are reconstructed to be consistent with the cult and to be submissive to its leaders.
    2. This facilitates control by the cult leader(s).
  4. Substitution

    1. The Cult and cult leaders often take the place of mother, father, priest, teacher, and healer.
    2. Often the member takes on the characteristics of a dependent child seeking to win the approval of the leader and or group.
  5. Indebtedness
    1. The member becomes indebted to the group emotionally, financially, etc.

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