Cult Criticism-Conformity and Control

(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.

Is the World Race a Cult?

The similarities are concerning. We have addressed a few marks of a cult based on Seth’s response to cult criticism in another post, we have written other posts addressing pagan and mystical influence and also Seth’s thoughts on families and his “fatherly” role to begin to answer a few of the concerns mentioned in this post.

Let’s start with this blog post titled,Is the World Race a Cult?!? by a former racer asking and answering this question.

To this Racer, please consider what we have written.  It is for you and your fellow Racers that we have spent the time writing about our concerns.  We understand how subtle error can be and this fact should propel us to do our homework, carefully studying Scripture and comparing it with what is being taught.

Here is this Racer’s answer to the question posed in the title of his blog post.

“I SHOULD HAVE given more thought to the possibility of joining a potential cult, but the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension kind of took my mind off of it after a little bit of anxious prayer (Phil 4:6-7).  And when praying  about something like this for such a short time led me to drop the issue, I am pretty satisfied…It seems the cult hysteria comes down to 2 main issues: 1) “Abandoning” your family and 2) Mixing Eastern religion with the Gospel…

Following Jesus will make enemies within your own family.  (Matt 10:34-36).  If you are going on the World Race to obey the Great Commission and make disciples, then the cult hysteria is just a scheme of Satan to keep you back…”

While prayer is always advised, it is concerning that this Racer does not mention  searching the scriptures before making a decision.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  He is brilliant and cunning, seeking to deceive the undiscerning.  Dismissing concerns as “cult hysteria” without careful evaluation is unwise.

He continues, “Eastern ReligionThis issue was a little more troubling for me, but I have reached a satisfactory answer for myself, but it might not satisfy all of you.  I haven’t done much research into Eastern Religion, nor have I deeply researched all the criticisms about contemplative prayer that are levied against AIM, nor have I deeply researched the resources that AIM recommends on the subject.  But here is my understanding of the contemplative prayer issue: if the answer conforms to the Word of God, why are you worried about it? …”

And if God “speaks” and it contradicts His Word, it’s OBVIOUSLY WRONG.”

That is honestly as far as I have delved into this issue…

Again, the lack of research is troubling.  Contemplative prayer is a mystical practice, not a Biblical one.  To affirm it as long as it doesn’t contradict scripture sounds correct, but without enough knowledge about where this practice has come from (Eastern religions) and a true understanding of how we are to pray based on Christ’s model we can be easily led into demonic practices and open to demonic voices disguising themselves as truth.

Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

Here is a Biblical example of the demonic powers speaking truth and rebuked for it.

Acts 16:16-18 “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

 We cannot always assume that the truth spoken is from God, if the method is not from God, such as mystical practices, we are to shun them as from the enemy. 

God commanded Israel to tear down the high places and destroy every practice that had anything to do with false worship.  He did not say we should redeem it for His name, He said to shun and destroy it, then to worship the way He commanded.  He will not have His Holy Name associated with pagans.  Deut 12:4 “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.”

The Racer continues, “If in the ridiculously unlikely chance that AIM is a cult that doesn’t preach the true gospel, then I’m still going to preach the true gospel! “

Noble, if misguided. Unfortunately, this Racer does not actually address the issues of a cult. He provides  scripture verses but they are not addressing the actual concerns. The discussion is continued here.


Seth as Papa and Daddy

One of the signs of a cult is “Substitution”…Food for thought, an interesting consideration…

“The Cult and cult leaders often take the place of mother, father, priest, teacher, and healer.Often the members takes on the characteristics of a dependent child seeking to win the approval of the leader and or group.”

Parents, after reading our other posts is this what you want for your kids? Why are these kids even prone to calling him by this title? These are a sampling of the comments young racers are writing in response to Seth’s blogs.

“Oh daddy, you’re so great. I just love you. you set such a great example and make it so much easier for everyone else (me) to do the same. I love you!” Commentator

I call you Dad, we do so on account of your proven authenticity over the years. We count ourselves blessed to be fathered by you…I love you Daddy Seth Barnes Commentator

“Dear Daddy Seth,
Greetings! I love this and love you too much because you are my spiritual father

“great blog dad and i really love that picture of you and papa shearman.” Commentators

(see our post, What is the 42nd Generation?, for more about who Andrew Shearman is)

“…very few people will leave you feeling as encouraged as Papa Shearman will!” Commentator

“Dear Daddy Seth,
Thanks for the email.May God bless You.” Commentator

daddy, I just love your blogs/teachings/thoughts/sermons.” Commentator

This is what Seth says about “Fathering”.

“Fathers don’t give themselves the designation of “father,” sons or daughters do. Men who talk about themselves as fathers a lot probably do so out of their own need for affirmation. Be careful of them...”Don’t confuse authority figures, especially your pastor, with your spiritual father. Pastors may qualify as a spiritual father if they show up in your life over time in a deeply invested and personal way.”    Seth

how ironic…

“…And after considering, I chose the role of being a father…So now we’re focusing our attention on becoming a spiritual mom and dad to many of their peers.” Seth

how contradictory…

“He’d (Jesus) told me that a fatherless generation was growing up and that I should minister out of a fathering spirit.”  Seth

Jesus told him to father your kids…whose going to argue with that?  

“what people wanted from me was the fathering hat more than the boss hat.” Seth

It’s what the kids want?…as Seth so aptly (and ironically) said…

“Be careful” of those giving themselves the title of father.


Warnings from other sources

A quick google search on World Race Concerns reveals quite a few sources for discerning the error at the mission organization Adventures in Missions.

Many have commented on this last article, some, of course, in defense of AIM, but pay attention to those with concern.

Alex says, “One of the most troubling things was AIM’s connection to the New  Apostolic Reformation and Kingdom Now theology.”

Mark says, “After only 15 minutes at AIM’s site, this site and one other it is easy to determine that AIM is cultic – if not an outright cult – and it’s leaders are simply in touch with their own spirit guides ( demons ) which they have falsely believed is the Holy Spirit talking to them. I found the statement that they place discipleship above evangelism to be troubling as their idea of “discipleship” appears to include the concept of total obedience to leadership.

“I noticed red flags immediately at training camp with no mention of the name of Jesus for the first few hours of orientation and an immensely secularized worship session to get the kids pumped up…

Never in a million years would I ever want any of our students to experience or be exposed to what I went through on the World Race. I fear, that the majority of the young people who go on this trip, are lured away from the faith via emotionalism and a “do what feels good, God loves you no matter what” approach to experiencing freedom in Christ…After a very traumatic experience being exposed to NAR/Dominion theology and the likes of occultic practices through AIM...told that I was not there to preach the Gospel, or teach the bible, or concern myself with other people’s spiritual growth — I was there to learn how to hear the voice of God.

I was being told that I made things too theological and this was infecting others. When I asked for answers, I was always referred to Seth Barnes’s “Kingdom Journeys” and “the process”…Again, I was told I make things too theological. They went so far as to say that I make the word of God an idol. I got under the coordinator’s collar enough that she slipped up in evident frustration/anger and explained to me that the church spiritual formation is according to Ephesians 4, and that Seth Barnes is an Apostle...

The crazy thing about these leader types from headquarters is that they won’t address you or answer your questions without always prefacing with, “Ok, so what’s your Myers-Briggs personality and your spiritual gifting?”…

Many had fallen for AIM’s approach to acts of service as being enough to show the world Jesus — never once was it encouraged to preach the Gospel…I’ve been having trouble debriefing and suffering from panic attacks since the World Race. I was literally rescued by my church…The sad thing is that the majority of the participants don’t recognize they’re being indoctrinated or they don’t see red-flags or harm being done. After all, it’s a fun adventure of doing good works in the name of Jesus while discovering who you really are and being healed of baggage you have…etc…according to the spin…”

Testimony video-“Why I left the World Race”


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