Of particular interest to many here will be be #7.
Red highlighted emphasis is mine when it closely resembles the Armstrongite mind set.
1 – Your pastor has an authoritative style of leadership. Churches that abuse typically have one controlling leader whose personality and ideas dominate church sermons, teaching, and decisions.
Signs: (1) Lead pastor’s ........ sermon is streamed via video to satellite churches. (2) The polity of the church is such that the lead pastor or pastors are shielded from real accountability. (3) There’s a strong focus on members submitting to their leaders and lower leaders submitting to higher leaders. Jesus never organized a hierarchy but told people to be servants. Paul’s form of biblical eldership was based on equality not submission.
Every single one of the COG larger splinter personality cults stream the words of "wisdom" of the leader to the minions. Thiel, Pack and Flurry seem to think they speak for God and that no one below them has the brains to think. Just look at the pathetic videos Bob Thiel is subjecting his 200 members to! These guys attempt to do all the thinking for their groups members. Church areas and living room churches are required to play these videos.
2 – You are expected to commit to rigid rules for church membership and submit to church leaders’ authority. Despite no biblical mandate for formal church commitment or ecclesiastical authority in Scripture, spiritually abusive churches push a rigid form of membership and submission to church leaders as obedience to God. A hierarchy develops of members submitting to group leaders to elders to pastors to an executive board, which is controlled by the founder or lead pastor. Signs: (1) Members are required to sign a contract or agreement with strict rules for doctrinal beliefs and behavior. (2) A church discipline process is spelled out in detail that members must agree to.One COG splinter cult leader of a minuscule and spiritually bankrupt group actually makes his members sign contracts when they want to attend his feast sites so that they will not discuss his sermons, etc. He is so fearful that his stupidity will be spread around world that he keeps tight control over his dwindling pee-ons.
3 – The church has a very wide view of what’s considered non-negotiable doctrines and behaviors and a very narrow view of what’s considered negotiable. Rather than making Christ’s one law of love for God and neighbor as the most important characteristic of a believer, belief in the right doctrines and certain religious behaviors becomes the main measuring stick for Christian maturity. Signs: There’s a lot of church documentation and teaching on correct doctrine.
Just look at the hundreds of booklets and letters that the WCG used to print and what all the current splinter groups put out supposedly teaching "correct" doctrine. These little booklets were slick mind control over the dumbed down members. By making these booklets authoritative they prohibited any reason for doubt or questioning. Almost all COG members have never ventured to read theological books outside their current group. Others rewrite all the books and booklets of Herbert Armstrong and deify those works.
4 – Any expression of concern about church decisions, teachings, or behavior of leaders is interpreted as disloyalty or sin. When a member or leader questions or challenges the status quo, they become suspect of being disloyal, told to submit, and even manipulated to do so. If they don’t, they are forced out. Signs: The history of the church or denomination includes leaders and members being fired or leaving under less-than-peaceful circumstances.The above is a perfect description of Armstrongism and the Churches of God. Thousands have been fired over the decades by Church leaders for "bad attitudes." Tens of thousands have left under less than peaceful circumstances! Lawsuits have abounded, hundreds and hundreds of rancorous splinter groups formed in the midst of angry accusations and outright slander.
5 – The church deflects tough questions about their faith and doctrine. Only safe questions are allowed. There’s a veneer of openness but the bottom line is people are told not to be divisive about church doctrine. Pushed too far, sincere, reasonable questions are shut down in the name of unity. But biblical unity is not about creating uniformity. It’s about loving one another. Signs: Members are not encouraged to accept and explore their doubts but rather submit to what the church says is “orthodox” teaching.
How many times have we heard in Armstrongism that we were followers of "the faith once delivered?" How many more have heard that they are followers of the "first century TRUE Christians?" Thiel claims his little personality cult is following "the apostolic Christian faith." By making such claims it shuts down any doubt or question that members might have. They are labeled as having "bad attitudes" or being influenced by Satan the king of doubt and questioning.
6 – Church discipline is overdone and over taught in the church. Leaders will deny this by pointing to the percentage of discipline cases. But you need to measure the threat of discipline as well and how it’s done. Spiritual abuse happens when the interpretation of Matthew 18 and other Scriptures is very narrow and goes beyond what is stated or what can be reasonably applied to a contemporary situation. Signs: (1) There’s a long document about church discipline policy. (2) There is no appeals process for someone accused. (3) Members suspected of needing church discipline, or who are subject to it, must sit through lots of long meetings with leaders. (4) Shunning the accused is common when someone is deemed unrepentant or chooses to leave the church. Identifying “sin” and real “repentance” can become highly subjective and the church ends up shunning people for minor offenses (disagreeing with leadership or doctrine or what constitutes moral behavior) and rejecting people who have repented but haven’t jumped through sufficient hoops (e.g. signing a “discipline contract”).There has never been an appeals process in Armstrongism. The Church claimed it had one but it never worked. Once an evangelist or pastor made the decision it was sealed in heaven. Like what is mentioned above, the disciplining process in Armstrongism was and still is subjective. The same standards never seemed to apply twice. Those standards most certainly were never the same for ordained and lowly member. The ordained got away with murder while the pee-on's were treated like shit. Just look at UCG's recent removal of a Church Leader/minister for adultery who now is back in good graces and treated like a saint who was persecuted unjustly. Then look at UCG members, the lowly pee-ons, who have been disfellowshipped for doing the exact same thing.
7 – Your church and/or denomination has ex-member websites with stories of spiritual abuse. It’s one thing if a few disgruntled ex-members complain, but when a large number of people come out with stories about spiritual abuse, and are willing to post their stories, it’s a huge red flag. Especially when the stories reflect a pattern of misuse of authority, manipulation, and doing damage control to protect the reputation of the church.Every church has disgruntled members regardless whether they are in mainstream Christianity or in Armstrongism. Their grumbling doe snot make waves. Their whining dies out rather quickly, however in spiritually abusive groups and particularly in this case, Armstrongism, it is a HUGE red flag. Hundreds of books have been written about the abuses in the Churches of God. Hundreds of web sites and blogs have in great detail described the abuses. Many of these web sites and blogs were formed not to destroy the Church of God but to help cleanse it of the idiots with low morals in charge. The best example of this was the Ambassador Report that came out in the late 70's. It was to open the eyes of the membership to the abuses going on and the waste. One can only imagine what an impact it would have had if the internet had been open to all at that time. Those sites were started with good intentions. Then the swift knee jerk of the corporate COG leaders cried fowl and started threatening members for daring to believe them. Those that did side with the ex-member sites were immediately were disfellowhipped, marked, shunned and made anathema. Fear of being cast in the Lake of Fire was a great Armstrongite threat.
8 – The church has a very strict definition of gossip. When members have concerns about the church or strains with relationships, they are expected to keep their thoughts to themselves. Signs: Any sharing of negative experiences in relationships, even if it’s healthy venting to a close friend, is perceived as sinful gossip.
In Armstrongism and the Churches of God it was a sign of the devil at work. Satan was seeking to destroy the "work" and gossip was his greatest tool. That is part of the reason why there were not many really deep friendships in the COG. No one was really willing to be open with those they knew on a deeper level. If they dared to express doubt then that friend would run to the ministry. Friendship in Armstrongism were superficial. Look at how quickly friends turned their backs on spiritual brothers and sisters because they would not jump ship to a splinter group with them. Look at the lives destroyed because of family members split into various COG factions. Look at the lives of Flurry's cult members who are cut off from biological family members. Because some family member dared to doubt or question, they are cut off.
9 – The church interprets Bible verses on women in submission to the nth degree. Women are expected to submit to their husbands. Paul’s teachings on women are rigidly and unevenly interpreted—e.g. wives are reprimanded for being unsubmissive but husbands are rarely reprimanded for not loving their wives like Christ and never for not submitting to their wives (Ephesians 5:21 tells believers to “Submit to one another”!! ). Signs: (1) Some churches teach husbands to monitor their wives communications, e.g. email. (2) The debate about women’s roles in the church is not up for discussion despite many alternative biblical interpretations, even in conservative churches, e.g. Four Square, Vineyard, and Evangelical Covenant churches allow women in leadership.Men were taught that they were "Lord of the Manor" in the COG. Since they were to be literal Kings of planets they had to learn how to whip their lowly households into shape. Women were subservient and lowly in knowledge compared to the men. There were ordained men in Pasadena that bought their wives clothing, told them what hair styles they were wear and a couple even had their wives walk three steps behind them. They were never to be directly by their side. Women in horribly abusive relationships were told to be submissive tot he husband that beat them regularly. Women were raped and assaulted by their husbands because it was their "right."
10 – A church deals with cases of sexual abuse in ways that serve the interest of the church not the interest of the victims and their families. When a member of the church is sexually abused by another member, rather than following the law and best practices (reporting it to local police and social services), a church will keep the abuse quiet under the guise of handling it “biblically.” Victims are forced to “forgive” their abusers and remain in their social sphere with no protection from post-traumatic stress and future abuse. Abusers are protected from local authorities and social stigma while victims and families are forced to remain silent about their pain, even to close friends, in the name of squelching “gossip.” Signs: People are familiar with this happening in the Catholic Church but it’s also common in Protestant churches. E.g., in 2012, a lawsuit was filed against several Sovereign Grace Ministries churches, the co-founders, and other leaders claiming cover up of child sexual abuse.
This is exactly what happened with child abuse in Armstrongism. In most cases it was swept under the rug. Abusers were protected and the abused made to believe it was their fault. In most cases the law was never brought into the picture unless it was witnessed outside the church community. There have been numerous child abuse cases involving COG members that have made national news over the decades. Victims were told to forgive and get on with their lives.
I am glad to see the news story that broke a couple weeks about about the COG elder that is sitting in jail for abusing three young boys in the mid 90's. Sadly, there are already discussions going around in COG circles that these young men (now in their 30's) should have moved on with their lives and forgiven the abuser. They say that since he is an elderly man he will die in prison and that is not really fair.
What should you do if you think spiritual abuse is taking place at your church? There is no set answer to this question, as it depends on the situation in the church. People should leave highly abusive churches and don’t look back or feel guilty. If spiritual abuse is not entrenched and it’s only in isolated cases, you should consider approaching a trusted leader in the church with your concern. How they respond will to tell you to what extent it is prevalent or if they desire to stop it from spreading. If they don’t acknowledge a problem and use abusive techniques like 2, 4, 5, & 8 above, it’s probably a highly abusive church and you should leave and consider warning others.
Sadly these steps will never be allowed in the Churches of God. There seems to be far too many men in charge that cannot be trusted to rise above their situation and make a difference.