Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sovereign Grace Ministries' use of demotivational methods

This is a follow up conversation about Sovereign Grace Ministries. In our first article on the church we noted how the discipline procedure was designed to create a situation where abuse could occur during the discipline process. But in a cultic sort of church most abuse doesn't occur during the discipline process and abusive discipline process would be ineffective without other tools. So this article looks at the mechanics for the day to day abuses at Sovereign Grace. Sovereign grace itself is a large denomination and making people aware of what is being done to them should be helpful.

As for how this is designed to undermine self-esteem its a well known procedure in what is called de-motivational management. Humans are social and they respond to other people’s assessments of them. By creating a culture where others freely criticize a person and at the same time the recipient is supposed to be responding positively to those critiques virtually any decision they make in life will end up being attacked. That is if I make a choice someone is going to think I made the wrong choice quite frequently tell me so “as they were led by the spirit” and force me to doubt my own decision making ability.

The place you see this used most harshly (i.e. an extreme example) is in prisons with new prisoners. Guards will frequently force prisoners to do things that are ambiguous and then attack them verbally for whatever action they take.

Guard: 257319 Move to the right!

If prisoner moves to his right:
Guard: My right dummy. Pay attention.

If prisoner moves to his left:
Guard: Can’t you tell your left from your right!

If prisoner doesn’t move:
Guard: Are you deaf! (shoves prisoner)
In psychological terms the purpose to this method is to induce a state called "learned helplessness". This is a mild depression caused by creating situations which are negative and cannot be changed via. actions. Demotivation causes the person to believe that they are unable to rectify the negative situation not because it is inherently out of their control but rather because they are incompetent. The specific part of demotivational management is called deconfirmation. A member of Sovereign Grace did an excellent job describing how this process worked:

Sorry to say this Jen, but the men are only “allowed” to be little gods (The marriage support group used the term “King”) in their homes, because the whole SGM church/culture experience is sooo emasculating. In general, I would agree with the previously cited hypotheses of De-Motivational Management and the Need for Affirmation being applied in a systematic manner against the participants. In our little “speck on the mold spore called SGM” (new term) people’s behaviors and contributions were acknowledged in two manners: some were honored on stage with some sort of dialogue and applause, and some were corrected for being prideful in attempting to contribute to the process/effort. The combination was brutal.

I’ll generically describe a repeated situation in our relationship with SGM. Assume for a moment that we really are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and He is omnipotent and fully capable of motivating us to pursue God’s will and expectations for us. ( I personally do believe that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.) In that capacity, you are motivated to reach out and “care” for a struggling single mom, friend, or couple. It may be that you are pursuing God’s desire for compassion for that situation and that natural sense of peace moves you forward to provide that care or need, but in the eyes of a “competing leader or member”, who risks not receiving recognition for this same act of service, you are now treading on their turf. While the person that you helped is grateful, and the Holy Spirit gives you a sense of peace, your colleague corrects you for your pride and need to intrude in others’ lives. It is a huge emotional conundrum that gradually builds until you find yourself struggling with seemingly obvious decisions on caring and responding to the needs of others.

This situation repeated itself in dialogues with Pastors on caring for non-believers, responding to a phone call in the middle of the night, helping single mothers in difficult times, organizing a service project, and even assembling maps for a field trip. You want to get behind what God is doing to care for the hurting, but the cost of caring for them will often be hostility, correction for your compassion, and increased accountability for your pride and self centered behaviors. I even saw this occur when a general question was asked at a men’s meeting about the definition of the Gospel. A colleague (care group leader) responded by citing a common definition consistent with one of John’s epistles (perhaps even John 3:16) , but the Pastor wanted the definition “the Story of Christ” and he publically rebuked the man for not knowing the definion of the Gospel. The man was right, but now he was publically proclaimed in front of his peers to be the “village idiot”. (No good deed goes unpunished.)

The emotional consequences of these repeated confrontations build until you find yourself unable to make seemingly simple decisions regarding both moral and practical issues without the intrusion of other leaders into your life/family. Is a need to tighten the family budget a natural response to the rising cost of gasoline or a reprimand of your wife’s home economic skills or a condemnation of your capability as A MAN to provide for your family ? All three, if you’re lucky! Plus it comes with the added bonus of more time spent with your friends examining your latte budget and inadequate contributions to the building fund. but I digress…  (link to original post)
Other aspects is depersonalization actions are not taken by individuls but rather by SG or "leadership" or.... Classically this is done in a corporate setting, “You can substitute ‘I think this is a good idea’ with ‘the idea appears to be good’. Instead of ‘Let me welcome you to the company,’ use ‘The company welcomes you’.” however the same thing can be done in a church and is done by Sovereign Grace. This technique is used to create anxiety and increase emotional distance between leadership and membership. ( see article in The Time of London for a longer discussion of demotivation in a corporate setting).

SG Uncensored has moved to I'd urge people breaking away to look there for support.


Elisabeth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CD-Host said...

Elisabeth --

You are welcome to contribute here. But this forum has very different standards of conduct than yours.

Personal attacks are not tolerated.
Rudeness is not acceptable
Issues, theories and facts are the topics of conversation not people

I will without hesitation delete posts that try and bring over to this forum the attitudes that are prevalent on the one you come from. This forum has maintained a pleasant restrained and polite tone throughout its existence.

Moreover your point has nothing do with Sovereign Grace Ministries and is thus somewhat offtopic. This forum provides an open topic thread. Feel free to use that if you would like to try and rephrase your comments in terms of a theory of ministry or a theory of SA recovery. You will be expected to defend your ideas based on document sources preferably well known and well respected ones.

You are perfectly free to hate me or any other poster. You are not free to act on that hatred in any way, shape or form.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this. I've been on the other blogs during my exit from SGM but it wasn't until I read this that I remembered some of the things my former associate pastor would do to me during our small group meetings - he would publicly humiliate me, and then I would feel guilty and like such a wretch because it would make me mad! I can't believe it took me so long to figure out it was a manipulative and controlling tactic, and his shallow apologies (after I got up and left a couple of times I was so upset) never made me feel better. But i was under the impression then it was all MY fault since I am was in leadership and he was..and he's older,, talk about demotivation! Thanks for helping open my eyes to yet one more aspect that is horrible about SGM.

CD-Host said...

Steve --

Glad it helped.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that SGM is nowhere near perfect (is any church) but from reading this article, I can also detect a sense of hatred at them? Is it that they practice the Biblical concept of church discipline or that (gasp) they are Calvinists?

CD-Host said...

Hello anonymous --

If you wouldn't mind, would you sign the bottom of your posts with some sort of a handle to separate your anonymous comments from others?

Lets see do I hate SGM? That's probably a little strong, it is fair to say that I would strongly recommend against involvement in an SGM church: I don't like what they do to people in disempowering them. I don't like what SGM preaches and practices in terms of non biblical lifestyle issues. I think their failure to engage in dialog is indicative of a cult rather than a troubled legitimate church.

Calvinism doesn't bother me. You won't find any articles attacking the PCAUSA here and I think my treatment of PCUSA and OPC are very respectful and balanced. Both of the latter also practice church discipline. So no, that's not the problem.

As for SGM practicing biblical church discipline my other article addresses the fact that they don't practice biblical church discipline. They violate key structures in church discipline, in particular their process is designed to convict the innocent.

I assume you are active in SGM? I'd love to hear a defense of their unique discipline practices (see other article) I have yet to hear anyone from SGM even present an argument for what purpose it serves other than to allow leadership to convict innocent people of crimes. As for the means of coercion, the de-motivational methods listed in this article, I just think people should be offered the information so they can give informed consent before subjecting themselves to "light brainwashing" social structures.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve said...

What is Going on at SG Kingsway in Richmond VA?

Have you seen the following blog entry? Gene Emerson is half heartedly admitting mistakes he made over 10 years ago. It looks like this leader will face no disciplinary action. You can read about it here:

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who left SGM, and I heard her story with CJ and discipline. She is the most mild and humble person you will meet. But the manipulation and discipline for something she did not do was too much. I heard about this when I excitedly told her that I was trying out another SGM church and she said "I'm sorry" I was shocked because I was enjoying it tremendously. I heard her story and knew I needed to do more research and make sure I did not end up in an unhealthy situation.

CD-Host said...

Hi Anonymous --

Welcome to the blog. I've heard good things about how exciting SGM churches are. I've heard terrible things about the long term. Your enjoyment of the church will lead to you getting involved in the church which will lead to you becoming susceptible to abuse which will lead to you being abused.

I'm glad the article was helpful in your trying to get information.