Archive for April, 2009

This article has received A LOT of attention, and since I’ve referred to it in previous posts, I thought it only fitting I should include it in its entirety.

Who Would Jesus Smack Down?
Published Jan 6, 2009

Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family friendly” video-posting Web site. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters. No matter: YouTube is where Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, would rather be. Unsuspecting sinners who type in popular keywords may suddenly find themselves face to face with a husky-voiced preacher in a black skateboarder’s jacket and skull T-shirt. An “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: “Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?”

Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: “I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ ” The audience bursts out laughing. Next Pastor Mark is warning them about lust and exalting the confines of marriage, one hand jammed in his jeans pocket while the other waves his Bible. Even the skeptical viewer must admit that whatever Driscoll’s opinion of certain recreational activities, he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.

Mark Driscoll is American evangelicalism’s bête noire. In little more than a decade, his ministry has grown from a living-room Bible study to a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses around Seattle each Sunday, and his books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide. Conservatives call Driscoll “the cussing pastor” and wish that he’d trade in his fashionably distressed jeans and taste for indie rock for a suit and tie and placid choral arrangements. Liberals wince at his hellfire theology and insistence that women submit to their husbands. But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.

At a time when the once-vaunted unity of the religious right has eroded and the mainstream media is proclaiming an “evangelical crackup,” Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in
Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”

Mars Hill Church is the furthest thing from a Puritan meetinghouse. This is Seattle, and Mars Hill epitomizes the city that spawned it. Headquartered in a converted marine supply store, the church is a boxy gray building near the diesel-infused din of the Ballard Bridge. In the lobby one Sunday not long ago, college kids in jeans — some sporting nose rings or kitchen-sink dye jobs — lounged on ottomans and thumbed text messages to their friends. The front desk, black and slick, looked as if it ought to offer lattes rather than Bibles and membership pamphlets. Buzz-cut and tattooed security guards mumbled into their headpieces and directed the crowd toward the auditorium, where the worship band was warming up for an hour of hymns with Bruce Springsteens’s “Born to Run.”

On that Sunday, Driscoll preached for an hour and 10 minutes — nearly three times longer than most pastors. As hip as he looks, his message brooks no compromise with
Seattle’s permissive culture. New members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any “modern” interpretations of the Bible. Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”

The oldest of five, son of a union drywaller, Driscoll was raised Roman Catholic in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle. In high school, he met a pretty blond pastor’s daughter named — providentially — Grace. She gave him his first Bible. He read voraciously and was born again at 19. “God talked to me,” Driscoll says. “He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, to plant churches and train men.” He married Grace (with whom he now has five children) and, at 25, founded Mars Hill.

God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews with praise music that sounds more like boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus than “Onward Christian Soldiers.” What bothers Driscoll — and the growing number of evangelical pastors who agree with him — is not the trope of Jesus-as-lover. After all, St. Paul tells us that the Church is the bride of Christ. What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

This reaction to the “feminization” of the church is not new. “The Lord save us,” declared the evangelist Billy Sunday in 1916, “from off-handed, flabby-cheeked . . . effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity.” In 1990 a group of pastors founded the Promise Keepers ministry dedicated to “igniting and uniting men” who were failing their families and abandoning the church. In recent years, mainstream megachurches — the mammoth pacesetters of American evangelicalism that package Christianity for mass consumption — have been criticized for replacing hard-edged Gospel with feminized pablum. According to Ed Stetzer, the director of LifeWay Research, a Southern Baptist religious polling organization, Mars Hill is “a reaction to the atheological, consumer-driven nature of the modern evangelical machine.”

The “modern evangelical machine” is a product of the 1970s and ’80s, when a new generation of business-savvy pastors developed strategies to reach unbelievers turned off by traditional worship and evangelization. Their approach was “seeker sensitive”: upon learning that many people didn’t go in for stained glass and steeples, these pastors made their churches look like shopping malls. Complex theology intimidated the curious, and talk of damnation alienated potential converts — so they played down doctrine in favor of upbeat, practical teachings on the Christian life.

These megachurches, like Joel Osteen’s
Lakewood Church in Houston and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, have come to symbolize American evangelicalism. By any quantitative measure they are wildly successful, and their values and methods have diffused into the evangelical bloodstream. Yet some megachurches have begun to admit what critics maintained all along: numbers are not everything. In the fall of 2007, leaders of Willow Creek sent shockwaves through the evangelical world when they announced the results of a study in which churchgoers reported feeling stagnant in their faith and frustrated with slick, program-driven pastors. “As an evangelical, I would say this tells us something,” Stetzer says. “The center is not holding.”

Mars Hill has not entirely dispensed with megachurch marketing tactics. Its success in one of the most liberal and least-churched cities in
America depends on being sensitive to the body-pierced and latte-drinking seekers of Seattle. Ultimately, however, Driscoll’s theology means that his congregants’ salvation is not in his hands. It’s not in their own hands, either — this is the heart of Calvinism.
Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin and predestined for heaven or hell, no matter their earthly conduct. We all deserve eternal damnation, but God, in his inscrutable mercy, has granted the grace of salvation to an elect few. While John Calvin’s 16th-century doctrines have deep roots in Christian tradition, they strike many modern evangelicals as nonsensical and even un-Christian. If predestination is true, they argue, then there is no point in missions to the unsaved or in leading a godly life. And some babies who die in infancy — if God placed them among the reprobate — go straight to hell with the rest of the damned, to “glorify his name by their own destruction,” as Calvin wrote. Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer’s free decision to accept God’s grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend.

Yet Driscoll is not an isolated eccentric. Over the past two decades, preachers in places as far-flung as Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., in denominations ranging from Baptist to Pentecostal, are pushing “this new, aggressive, mission-minded Calvinism that really believes Calvinism is a transcript of the Gospel,” according to Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University. They have harnessed the Internet to recruit new believers, especially young people. Any curious seeker can find his way into a world of sermon podcasts and treatises by the Protestant Reformers and English Puritans, whose abstruse writings, though far from best-selling, are enjoying something of a renaissance. New converts stay in touch via blogs and Facebook groups with names like “John Calvin Is My Homeboy” and “Calvinism: The Group That Chooses You.”

New Calvinists are still relatively few in number, but that doesn’t bother them: being a persecuted minority proves you are among the elect. They are not “the next big thing” but a protest movement, defying an evangelical mainstream that, they believe, has gone soft on sin and has watered down the Gospel into a glorified self-help program. In part, Calvinism appeals because — like Mars Hill’s music and Driscoll’s frank sermons — the message is raw and disconcerting: seeker insensitive.

Most people who attend Mars Hill do not see themselves as theological radicals. Mark Driscoll is just “Pastor Mark,” not the New Calvinist warrior demonized on evangelical and liberal blogs. Yet while some initially come for mundane reasons — their friends attend; they like the music — the Calvinist theology is often the glue that keeps them in their seats. They call the preaching “authentic” and “true to life.” Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says the 20-year-old Brett Harris, who runs an evangelical teen blog with his twin brother, Alex. Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan. “There are plenty of comfortable people who can say, ‘God’s on my side,’ ” Harris says. “But they couldn’t turn around and say, ‘God gave me cancer.’ ”

Though they believe that God has already mapped out their lives, Calvinists have always been activists. Ye shall know the elect by their fruits, not by their passive acceptance of fate. When it comes to wrestling with life’s challenges, however, they reject the “positive thinking” ethos that Norman Vincent Peale made famous in the 1950s. That philosophy still dominates the Christian self-help market in books like “Your Best Life Now” by Joel Osteen, which promises readers that everything from a Hawaiian vacation house to a beauty-pageant crown is within their grasp if only they “develop a can-do attitude.” Marianne Esterly, a women’s counselor at Mars Hill, says she tries to help women resist the desperation that can come with forgetting that man’s chief end is to glorify God, not to obsess over earthly problems. “They worship the trauma, or the anorexia, and that’s not what they’re designed to worship,” she says. “Christian self-help doesn’t work. We can’t do anything. It’s all the work of Christ.”

Calvinism is a theology predicated on paradox: God has predestined every human being’s actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law. These teachings do not jibe with Enlightenment ideas about human capacity, yet they have appealed to a wide range of modern intellectuals, especially those who stressed the dangers of human hubris in the wake of World War I.

Driscoll found his way into this tradition largely on his own. He recently earned a master’s degree through an independent-study program he arranged at a seminary in Portland, Ore. Years ago, paperback reprints of old Puritan treatises in the corner of a local bookstore piqued his interest in Reformation theology. He came to admire Martin Luther, the vulgar, beer-swilling theological rebel who sparked the Reformation. “I found him to be something of a mentor,” Driscoll says. “I didn’t have all the baggage he did. But you can see him with a quill in one hand and a drink in the other. He married a brewer and renegade nun. His story is kind of indie rock.”

Driscoll disdains the prohibitions of traditional evangelical Christianity. Taboos on alcohol, smoking, swearing and violent movies have done much to shape American Protestant culture — a culture that he has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.” Moreover, the Bible tells him that to seek salvation by self-righteous clean living is to behave like a Pharisee. Unlike fundamentalists who isolate themselves, creating “a separate culture where you live in a Christian cul-de-sac,” as one spiky-haired member named Andrew Pack puts it, Mars Hillians pride themselves on friendships with non-Christians. They tend to be cultural activists who play in rock bands and care about the arts, living out a long Reformed tradition that asserts Christ’s mandate over every corner of creation.

Like many New Calvinists, Driscoll advocates traditional gender roles, called “complementarianism” in theological parlance. Men and women are “equal spiritually, and it’s a difference of functionality, not intrinsic worth,” says Danielle Blazer, a 34-year-old Mars Hill member. Women may work outside the home, but they must submit to their husbands, and they are forbidden from taking on preaching roles in the church.

“It’s only since women have been in church leadership that this backlash has come,” says the Seattle pastor Katie Ladd, a liberal Methodist who holds that declaring Jesus a “masculine dude” subverts the transformative message of the Gospel. But New Calvinists argue that traditional gender roles are true to the Bible, especially the letters of Paul. Moreover, embedded in the notion of Adam as the “federal head” of the human race is the idea of man as head of the home.

Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century
Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.

Most members, however, didn’t join Mars Hill in order to ask questions. Damon Conklin, who is 41 and runs a tattoo parlor, says he joined Mars Hill because Driscoll made his life make sense — and didn’t ask him to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. “I decided to stop smoking crack and drinking every day,” Conklin says. “I had to find some kind of God in order to do that.” He hated the churches he visited: “I would show up looking as mean as possible, with my Afro blown out, wearing a wife-beater, and then I’d say, ‘Why don’t they like me?’ Then I went to Mars Hill, and I believed Mark.”

Driscoll’s theology “changed how I view women,” Conklin says. He quit going to strip clubs and now refuses to tattoo others with his old specialty, pinup girls (though he still wears two on one arm, souvenirs from earlier, godless days). Mars Hill counts four of the city’s top tattoo artists among its members (and many of their clientele — that afternoon, Conklin was expecting a fellow church member who wanted a portrait of Christ enthroned across his back). While other churches left people like Conklin feeling alienated, Mars Hill has made them its missionaries. “Some people say, ‘You’re pretty cool and you’re a Christian, so I guess I can’t hate all of them anymore,’ ” he says. “I understand where they’re coming from.”

Mars Hill — with its conservative social teachings embedded in guitar solos and drum riffs, its megachurch presence in the heart of bohemian skepticism — thrives on paradox. Critics on the left and right alike predict that this delicate balance of opposites cannot last. Some are skeptical of a church so bent on staying perpetually “hip”: members have only recently begun to marry and have children, but surely those children will grow up, grow too cool for their cool church and rebel. Others say that Driscoll’s ego and taste for controversy will be Mars Hill’s Achilles’ heel. Lately he has made a concerted effort to tone down his language, and he insists that he has delegated much authority, but the heart of his message has not changed. Driscoll is still the one who gazes down upon Mars Hill’s seven congregations most Sundays, his sermons broadcast from the main campus to jumbo-size projection screens around the city. At one suburban campus that I visited, a huge yellow cross dominated center stage — until the projection screen unfurled and Driscoll’s face blocked the cross from view. Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.

c. 2009, Molly Worthen, New York Times


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The following was pulled from several websites I found in which people seem to have felt safe enough to write from their hearts regarding the abuse they suffered and/or witnessed at MHC.

. Jennifer // Jan 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm
I am a former member of Mars Hill church. My opinion is that if you stay on the outer edges, it’s not a terrible place. You’ll meet some very nice people. But, once you get in a bit further, it gets VERY controlling. Women are expected to stay home and not work; women in college are told they are “stealing from their future husband” if they take out student loans, since the future husband is just going to have to pay the loan back when she’s staying home pushing out babies.

17 SeattleSpy // Jan 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm
Women are NOT chastised for going to school. Many of the pastors of MH including Mark have college funds set away for their daughters.

18 Jennifer // Jan 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm
Seattle Spy,
Correct. They are not chastised for going to school if their parents will pay for it, or if they pay for it themselves. But, they are told they are “in sin” if they take out a loan that their future husband will just have to pay back.

82 Bella // Jan 13, 2009 at 11:56 am
Wow….I don’t even know where to start.

First off, that’s a great article by the NYT [
New York Times, Molly Worthen’s, Who Would Jesus Slap Down?]. Calm down, as an organized group, you’re going to get criticized. You say yourselves that you are humble, why do you cringe when people don’t completely agree with you? Come on now. Open your eyes for a half a second and realize that no institution is going to be 100% perfect. We won’t know all the answers till we die – and I say this to everyone.

In transition, I was a member at MH for a long 4 years. At first I was on board because I was new to
Seattle, could meet some nice people. Whatever.

I got deeper and very involved. (I swear I’m trying to keep it short) I met a man there, wanted to get married, but my past is messy. My “community group” – that’s what they call their Bible studies- forced me to go to counseling for the things I did in the past because I didn’t believe what I did was sinful. I didn’t feel bad enough for the “sins” of my past and God/Jesus wouldn’t be able to forgive me…..because I wasn’t repentant. Follow?

I didn’t agree, but I went in “obedience.” Maybe they were right? So I genuinely tried. I passed although still didn’t agree, then married. He’s a good man, but with principles like that to build a marriage on (a woman is to stop and drop everything once she meets her husband, then join him on his path…. closely paraphrased from an actual sermon, and that’s just scratching the surface), it was simply not working.

Not surprisingly, he was too dominating, and I’m just not submissive. That doesn’t fly at alllllll at the church, and you Mars Hillians know that.

After agonizing efforts by both of us to make it work, I knew I had to leave my husband, or at least separate….I discussed at length with my girlfriends, pastors, anyone, to convince them that I was miserable and that it wasn’t healthy to be in such a relationship. Time after time, they told me if I had enough faith God would save it. I wasn’t allowed to leave under any circumstances, and my protests for my own life were just plain wrong and sinful. Obviously, I got very depressed and alone.

So in an effort to protect any sanity that remained, I left anyway. I DO have a mind, I knew that the teachings were wrong, and the church’s response became a nightmare from hell. When I left, the church issued an email to everyone that I knew, urging them never to speak with me because I was living in sin. Being in contact with me would be disobedient to God.

Well, they followed without question, and with the exception of one person, no one I had met over half a decade would speak with me.

My point is that the author of the article is entirely correct – submit, or be excommunicated. That’s a cult.

Mars Hill is a very dangerous place, especially for women…

This post has gotten way to long, but what I want everyone to know is that the rumors are true – I repeat, MH is very dangerous if you get involved. In example, read their posts! They speak the same….just rattle off what they heard in church and cling to it in fear. If we disagree with them, they have their cult to run back to who will back them up and fire them up. And like any massive organization, nothing is going to change the mind of a mob.

MH operates on fear and bullying. Jesus’ entire life was to teach us about love. Unconditional, accepting, tolerant, faithful, LOVE.

· Tess // Jan 23, 2009 at 10:33 am
I went to Mars Hill for a year, then a Mars Hill plant for another year.
I thought it was great at first…but then I started to LISTEN. Yep. Women really need to keep their eyes on the ball and not waste time at college…after all babies are the goal. I believe I heard Driscoll say once that all a man needs is Forty in one hand and a naked woman in the other. Nice. Plus, I don’t even want to get started on the comments about Catholics I heard at the plant. This is absolutely a misogynistic personality cult. STAY AWAY LADIES. WE HAVEN’T FOUGHT THIS HARD TO GO BACK IN TIME.

· Bdouble // Jan 23, 2009 at 1:06 pm
Hey Tess,I’m not a woman, but I know exactly what you mean: It seems nice at first, then once you start to get past the superficial stuff (lights, music, laid back attire, etc) and start to LISTEN, it is actually scary that people eat this stuff up, especially women. I’m sorry to the ladies that actually still go to church here, but no matter how many ways you slice it, this belief system at Mars Hill is set up to keep the women as inferior to men. To deny this, is ignorance.
pulled 2/10/09

Being a member of Mars Hill and attending about 2 years I can’t say the main “serious” thing I notice is the ‘feminist issues’. It did rub me the wrong way when I first attended if you listen just once or twice but when you get the full text of what he meant to say, it’s really not the issue … he’s talking about the nature of women and how God design it to be ideally and giving grace to women to be themselves.

To know the real issues at hand I think you’d have to be a member for some time. I think the church in general has good intentions but things get a little out of hand and become cult like behaviors. I’m not saying the doctrine is cult like but the actions they portray.

Examples: unwritten rules of dating that are highly suggested to follow and getting extreme isolation if you don’t, over possesses elders in several areas to monitor you and inappropriate questions during church discipline, idolizing the Pastor, shallow relationships among peers, men seriously thinking if you drink it makes you a man because the Pastor talks about it a lot, pressures couples to marry quickly in about 3 months of ‘courting’ (and that topic goes on and on), poor leadership ratio to those extremely in need and depressed with thoughts of suicide (on a several occasion of people I know of personally who tried reaching out to leadership), excessive drinking at most gatherings, “being one of US” treatment and exclusion of those who are not members or disagree, controlling or stopping your freedom of speech about concerns on member blogging forms, letting predators of women be ushers and teachers, friends will shun you if you don’t follow the ‘rules’ and worship although very trendy the only time I experienced real worship (where you felt Gods presence ) was at a pastors conference they held.

pulled 2/20/09

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church: Member Abuse on Parade (Preface)
On November 4 & 11, 2007, Mark Driscoll delivered sermons loaded with classic examples of authoritarian abuse. The topic was “Humility” : and they were preached about 5 weeks after Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired, shortly after the Starchamber/Kangaroo Court that tried Paul Petry, and 2 days after the 145 page Elders Response Document was published. A number of Mars Hill Members had recently been suspended for questioning the firings and trial procedures. Many of those who remained remember walking out of this one mid-sermon, or not participating in communion because this sermon was so out of line that their attitudes were out of joint. Some guy/gal on youtube called ReallySad1 (again, not PH!) has pulled out some of the more priceless sections, which merit exposure and discussion. Stay tuned for the upcoming series: Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church: Member Abuse on Parade.

pulled 2/18/09

Judy’s Book:

“kindness that brings repentance”
Bad: This place is a cult and I am saying this from years of experience with Mars Hill as a member who used to love this place, follow them blindly and function as a “serving member” if you are a baby C.
pulled March ’09

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A society in transition

Our society is in a curious transitional phase; as science and technology make remarkable advances, antiscientific values and beliefs in the paranormal and occult abound, family values are stridently promoted in Congress and pulpits, yet divorce is rising along with spouse and child abuse, fear of nuclear annihilation in superpower wars is replaced by fears of crime in our streets and drugs in our schools, and the economic gap grows exponentially between the rich and powerful and our legions of poor and powerless.

Such change and confusion create intellectual chaos that makes it difficult for many citizens to believe in anything, to trust anyone, to stand for anything substantial. On such shifting sands of time and resolve, the cult leader stands firm with simple directions for what to think and feel, and how to act. “Follow me, I know the path to sanity, security and salvation,” proclaims Marshall Applewhite, with other cult leaders chanting the same lyric in that celestial chorus. And many will follow.

What makes cults dangerous? It depends in part on the kind of cult since they come in many sizes, purposes and disguises. Some cults are in the business of power and money. They need members to give money, work for free, beg and recruit new members. They won’t go the deathly route of the Heaven’s Gaters; their danger lies in deception, mindless devotion, and failure to deliver on the recruiting promises.

Danger also comes in the form of insisting on contributions of exorbitant amounts of money (tithing, signing over life insurance, social security or property, and fees for personal testing and training). Add exhausting labor as another danger (spending all one’s waking time begging for money, recruiting new members, or doing menial service for little or no remuneration). Most cult groups demand that members sever ties with former family and friends which creates total dependence on the group for self identity, recognition, social reinforcement. Unquestioning obedience to the leader and following arbitrary rules and regulations eliminates independent, critical thinking, and the exercise of free will. Such cerebral straight jacketing is a terrible danger that can lead in turn to the ultimate twin dangers of committing suicide upon command or destroying the cult’s enemies.

Potential for the worst abuse is found in “total situations” where the group is physically and socially isolated from the outside community. The accompanying total milieu and informational control permits idiosyncratic and paranoid thinking to flourish and be shared without limits. The madness of any leader then becomes normalized as members embrace it, and the folly of one becomes folie à deux, and finally, with three or more adherents, it becomes a constitutionally protected belief system that is an ideology defended to the death.

A remarkable thing about cult mind control is that it’s so ordinary in the tactics and strategies of social influence employed. They are variants of well-known social psychological principles of compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing, emotional manipulation, and others that are used on all of us daily to entice us: to buy, to try, to donate, to vote, to join, to change, to believe, to love, to hate the enemy.

Cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope. One difference is in its greater efforts to block quitting the group, by imposing high exit costs, replete with induced phobias of harm, failure, and personal isolation.

What’s the solution?
Heaven’s Gate mass suicides have made cults front page news. While their number and ritually methodical formula are unusual, cults are not. They exist as part of the frayed edges of our society and have vital messages for us to reflect upon if we want to prevent such tragedies or our children and neighbors from joining such destructive groups that are on the near horizon.

The solution? Simple. All we have to do is to create an alternative, “perfect cult.” We need to work together to find ways to make our society actually deliver on many of those cult promises, to co-opt their appeal, without their deception, distortion and potential for destruction.

No man or woman is an island unto itself, nor a space traveller without an earthly control center. Finding that center, spreading that continent of connections, enriching that core of common humanity should be our first priority as we learn and share a vital lesson from the tragedy of Heaven’s Gate.

This article was published in the American Psychological Association Monitor, May 1997, page 14. It is Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association.


pulled 2/25/09

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I am posting this in response to Provender’s musings in a comment regarding, what is the draw? Why do people join and/or stay in these controlling cult-like churches? I think this article is very helpful in shedding more light on this.

What messages are behind today’s cults?

Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D.
APA Monitor, May 1997

Cults are coming. Are they crazy or bearing critical messages?

This article was written by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a renowned social psychologist at Stanford University who is currently a candidate for the presidency of the American Psychological Association. The article applies Dr. Zimbardo’s understanding of social influence processes to the question of cults. He says, for example: “Whatever any member of a cult has done, you and I could be recruited or seduced into doing–under the right or wrong conditions. The majority of ‘normal, average, intelligent’ individuals can be led to engage in immoral, illegal, irrational, aggressive and self destructive actions that are contrary to their values or personality–when manipulated situational conditions exert their power over individual dispositions.”

How do we make sense of the mass suicide of 21 female and 18 male members of the Heaven’s Gate extra-terrestrial “cult” on March 23? Typical explanations of all such strange, unexpected behavior involve a “rush to the dispositional,” locating the problem in defective personalities of the actors. Those whose behavior violates our expectations about what is normal and appropriate are dismissed as kooks, weirdos, gullible, stupid, evil or masochistic deviants.

Similar characterizations were evident in the media and public’s reaction to other mass suicides in The Order of the Solar Temple in Europe and Canada, murder-suicide deaths ordered by Rev. Jim Jones of his Peoples Temple members, as well as of the recent flaming deaths of David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the gassing of Japanese citizens by followers of the Aum Shinrikyo group. And there will be more of the same in the coming years as cults proliferate in the United States and world wide in anticipation of the millennium.

Avoiding the stereotypes
Such pseudo-explanations are really moralistic judgments; framed with the wisdom of hindsight, they miss the mark. They start at the wrong end of the inquiry. Instead, our search for meaning should begin at the beginning: “What was so appealing about this group that so many people were recruited/seduced into joining it voluntarily?” We want to know also, “What needs was this group fulfilling that were not being met by “traditional society?”

Such alternative framings shift the analytical focus from condemning the actors, mindlessly blaming the victims, defining them as different from us, to searching for a common ground in the forces that shape all human behavior. By acknowledging our own vulnerability to the operation of the powerful, often subtle situational forces that controlled their actions, we can begin to find ways to prevent or combat that power from exerting its similar, sometimes sinister, influence on us and our kin.

Any stereotyped collective personality analysis of the Heaven’s Gate members proves inadequate when tallied against the resumes of individual members. They represented a wide range of demographic backgrounds, ages, talents, interests and careers prior to committing themselves to a new ideology embodied in the totally regimented, obedient lifestyle that would end with an eternal transformation. Comparable individual diversity has been evident among the members of many different cult groups I’ve studied over the past several decades. What is common are the recruiting promises, influence agendas and group’s coercive influence power that compromise the personal exercise of free will and critical thinking. On the basis of my investigations and the psychological research of colleagues, we can argue the following propositions, some of which will be elaborated:

* No one ever joins a “cult.” People join interesting groups that promise to fulfill their pressing needs. They become “cults” when they are seen as deceptive, defective, dangerous, or as opposing basic values of their society.

* Cults represent each society’s “default values,” filling in its missing functions. The cult epidemic is diagnostic of where and how society is failing its citizens.

* If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. As basic human values are being strained, distorted and lost in our rapidly evolving culture, illusions and promissory notes are too readily believed and bought–without reality validation or credit checks.

* Whatever any member of a cult has done, you and I could be recruited or seduced into doing–under the right or wrong conditions. The majority of “normal, average, intelligent” individuals can be led to engage in immoral, illegal, irrational, aggressive and self destructive actions that are contrary to their values or personality–when manipulated situational conditions exert their power over individual dispositions.

* Cult methods of recruiting, indoctrinating and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only more intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence practiced daily by all compliance professionals and societal agents of influence.

The appeal
What is the appeal of cults? Imagine being part of a group in which you will find instant friendship, a caring family, respect for your contributions, an identity, safety, security, simplicity, and an organized daily agenda. You will learn new skills, have a respected position, gain personal insight, improve your personality and intelligence. There is no crime or violence and your healthy lifestyle means there is no illness.

Your leader may promise not only to heal any sickness and foretell the future, but give you the gift of immortality, if you are a true believer. In addition, your group’s ideology represents a unique spiritual/religious agenda (in other cults it is political, social or personal enhancement) that if followed, will enhance the Human Condition somewhere in the world or cosmos.

Who would fall for such appeals? Most of us, if they were made by someone we trusted, in a setting that was familiar, and especially if we had unfulfilled needs. Much cult recruitment is done by family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers and highly trained professional recruiters. They recruit not on the streets or airports, but in contexts that are “home bases” for the potential recruit; at schools, in the home, coffee houses, on the job, at sports events, lectures, churches, or drop-in dinners and free personal assessment workshops. The Heaven’s Gate group made us aware that recruiting is now also active over the Internet and across the World Wide Web.

In a 1980 study where we (C. Hartley and I) surveyed and interviewed more than 1,000 randomly selected high school students in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, 54 percent reported they had at least one active recruiting attempt by someone they identified with a cult, and 40 percent said they had experienced three to five such contacts. And that was long before electronic cult recruiting could be a new allure for a generation of youngsters growing up as web surfers.

What makes any of us especially vulnerable to cult appeals? Someone is in a transitional phase in life: moved to a new city or country, lost a job, dropped out of school, parents divorced, romantic relationship broken, gave up traditional religion as personally irrelevant. Add to the recipe, all those who find their work tedious and trivial, education abstractly meaningless, social life absent or inconsistent, family remote or dysfunctional, friends too busy to find time for you and trust in government eroded.

Cults promise to fulfill most of those personal individual’s needs and also to compensate for a litany of societal failures: to make their slice of the world safe, healthy, caring, predictable and controllable. They will eliminate the increasing feelings of isolation and alienation being created by mobility, technology, competition, meritocracy, incivility, and dehumanized living and working conditions in our society.

In general, cult leaders offer simple solutions to the increasingly complex world problems we all face daily. They offer the simple path to happiness, to success, to salvation by following their simple rules, simple group regimentation and simple total lifestyle. Ultimately, each new member contributes to the power of the leader by trading his or her freedom for the illusion of security and reflected glory that group membership holds out.

It seems like a “win-win” trade for those whose freedom is without power to make a difference in their lives. This may be especially so for the shy among us. Shyness among adults is now escalating to epidemic proportions, according to recent research by Dr. B. Carducci in Indiana and my research team in California. More than 50 percent of college-aged adults report being chronically shy (lacking social skills, low self-esteem, awkward in many social encounters). As with the rise in cult membership, a public health model is essential for understanding how societal pathology is implicated in contributing to the rise in shyness among adults and children in America.


pulled 2/25/09

Part 2 to follow

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The following is an account from Conversations At the Edge by a Former Mars Hill Member. It is sadly very telling and very indicative of the kinds of abuse reported repeatedly by members and mostly former members of MHC.

109 11/11/06 4:57 PM Comment Link

I am also an “ex” member of Mars Hill church. I have been so harmed by this church and by Mark; I have been trying to reach out and get help for how spiritually crippled I have become, so I posted the below letter yesterday on Steve Camp’s blog. Please, please remember me in your prayers. I am obese, and have suffered such shame and humiliation at Mars Hill, that it’s a wonder I have the courage to leave my house at all now. Whoever wrote above that the church is WAY focused on the physical beauty of women is SPOT ON. What is so discouraging to me is that it wasn’t just the church leadership who treated me like a leper (including, btw, Mark’s wife, who is very beautiful), but many of the congregation as well – this is what alarms me, as I realize more and more how many “little Driscolls” are now being raised up there (and sadly, as the other ex member posted, the worst of them are women!). I have tried attending 6 small groups for the church and at every single one was very blatantly shunned for my “gluttony.” The arrogance and rudeness of the leadership is shocking. Ironically, Mark himself was always quite kind to me, way back in the day when the church was young.
Dear Steve,

Thank you for this post about Mark Driscoll. You raise important points while maintaining a position of grace, which is very instructive to me in my current situation.

I have been a member at Mars Hill church from almost the beginning, and it is time to say my goodbye. I am concerned about several things. Mark has more power than any one pastor should be given. I love him, however over the years I have watched my church evolve into the Church of Mark. Though Mark would never intend this, the church is no longer focused on Jesus of the Bible. It is focused on Mark’s Jesus, Mark’s anecdotes, Mark’s wife, Mark’s children, Mark’s truth.

He has stated several times from the pulpit and on the Member’s forum that though he is not opposed per se to having another pastor preach regularly at Mars Hill, he just has never met another pastor who could fill his shoes. Likewise, a few years ago he told us that he believes himself to be a chosen “apostle.” I believe this is very dangerous: both to a pastor and to a congregation. This thinking inevitably inspires a leader who is larger than life, a Super-Pastor, the vessel of all Truth – while creating a congregation who are unable to think without that pastor’s guidance. In this way, the pastor eventually transcends the congregation’s regard for the Holy Spirit in ministering.

Mark used to regularly, publicly confess to struggling with humility, grace, and legalistic perfectionism. The past few years, I have slowly watched him losing the battle. It grieves me more than I can say. This week, as you are probably aware, Mark’s official response to the Haggard situation was to point out adultery can happen when a pastor’s wife does not keep up her physical appearance and sexual availability. Perhaps this idea has merit and can be explored, but to broach this as a public response to the current scandal displays a woeful and whimsical lack of grace and tact.

Also this last week, Mars Hill laid off several employees due to financial troubles which Mark sternly attributes to an unfaithful congregation. I will not air the dirty laundry in more detail, but I decided once and for all to leave my church when we were informed that they will be releasing a list of members who are not “faithful” givers, in order that they be rebuked within their community groups and come to repentance. A problem with that is that many of us give in cash, myself included, because we do not believe in getting credit from any man or group for our tithes. Also, many who are unable to give substantially give instead in service. Whether they need to come to repentance or not, this issue should remain between Jesus and the believer.

I believe these things are happening because Mark feels extremely empowered by his emerging renown. He is increasingly presenting himself in an unconventional and controversial way in order to further his name. Though he intends to further Christ’s name, the one who is getting the attention here is Mark. Ultimately this is at the expense and detriment of his church body, and it has intensified into a steady crescendo the more famous he becomes.

I believe I can answer your question about what Mark would say if a member were to approach him and say “I don’t like your church, therefore I am going to start my own.” He would say, “Get out, we don’t want your kind here, because we only want those who love Jesus.” In other words, all of us as members know that the ultimate blasphemy is to disagree with Mark. I have seen so many members ousted for simply asking questions, weighing his theology, and inquiring about his often-harsh deliveries — they have been ousted for “not loving Jesus.” We know better than to question Mark, ever. Any question is considered “causing division.” This is unfortunate, given that Mark will no longer talk to members. Years ago, Mark would clear out an afternoon to address the concerns of any one of his flock. Now, even his old friends cannot reach him. Everything is intercepted by assistants and never gets to him. He has become like Elvis: sheltered, a myth, legendary, the King of modern Christendom.

I will close by saying that Mark’s condemnation of any truth but his own has left me spiritually crippled. I now realize that Mark’s Truth, instead of feeding me, has eaten me from the inside out. When there is no room for any reality but one very strong leader’s, when your only choice is to follow him completely, all or nothing, you begin to hear only his voice. After a few years of being required, as a member, to take Mark’s word for everything, I cannot open my Bible. I cannot open it without automatically thinking “I need Mark to tell me what this means.” I cannot open it without seeing a Jesus there who is angry, harsh, who wants to punish me because I don’t love Him enough. The grace and love that I once rejoiced in has slowly been replaced by a solid conviction of condemnation, of never bearing enough fruit to possibly be acceptable to Jesus.

Mark is not a bad man. He is actually a very kind person – in person. But when he gets on that stage, Mark the hipster, the pied piper of all Truth, takes over. Please pray for him, for the congregation of my church, and finally for me. I love Mark as my brother, but I have been very profoundly injured by him. I do believe that God has the power and desire to heal me from the damage that Mark has inadvertently done to me, and I pray for that day to come soon.

pulled 2/9/09

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Updated 5/27/09

Rather than having parts 1 and 2 on this, I moved part 2 into part 1, which is now simply called:

15. The Characteristics of a Controlling Personality

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In my research thus far, I found the following to be one of the better descriptions of Controlling Personalities (which come in a variety of flavors). These people who must control might have many traits of a particular character disorder or two, might be full-on diagnosable as having a character disorder, or (as is often the case) may have two or more character disorders (e.g., Narcissistic, Borderline, Anti-Social, Hystrionic, etc.). They usually use many covert manipulative tactics as described in a very helpful book called In Sheep’s Clothing (which I will be posting about at another time).

The following is from:

Posted by Dory on May 23, 2005 at 06:07 PM in Spiritual Abuse Permalink
pulled 2/7/09

Controlling Personalities in the Church

I think it is important to note that a manipulative leader can create a cult-like dynamic in a church that is not cultish or heretical in its doctrine, but rather well within the range of what would be considered the historic Christian faith. There may be an unbalanced emphasis on certain doctrines, such as an attitude that emphasizes works at the expense of grace, or an emphasis on such things as submitting to authority and giving financially to the church in a sacrificial way.

The Characteristics of a Controlling Personality, Part 1

Author’s Note: I will be using male pronouns here, but that is not meant to imply that only males possess this kind of personality. Some researchers say it is more common in males, but I suspect the feminine version of this problem may be less recognized and less studied, and therefore under diagnosed.

Projects a grandiose image: This is one of the defining characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The grandiose image may be a cover, though, for a deep-seated sense of inadequacy, unlovability, and insecurity.

Psychologists speak of a grander self being created by the insecure person, first to please or deceive others, but eventually they believe the lie themselves. Others maintain that the narcissist sincerely believes to his core that he is a special person deserving adoration and praise. Whichever the case, this kind of person presents himself as a hero. He will entertain you with tales of how he defeated this or that foe, stood against tyranny, heresy, etc. In the church these “hero tales” often take on a religious tone. When he runs up against troubles, he is standing against the devices of Satan. When others oppose him, they are opposing him because they hate righteousness or hate the truth. He will also emphasize his accomplishments and abilities, his credentials, and his acquaintances with well-known people. He expects to be treated with deference and to be given VIP respect, though he often commands this kind of deferential treatment in subtle ways. For some reason you just know that when he enters a room and sits down, he will not be pouring his own coffee, but you should be getting it for him.

A lack of empathy for others: A manipulative person is very adept at predicting how people will react in given situations, and knowing what they want to hear or what it will take to get them to do what he wants them to do. He is a student of human nature, and may know your reactions better than you do. However, he lacks the ability to really understand or identify with the feelings of others. He may treat people badly and then be surprised that they are hurt and won’t talk to him when next he calls. He cannot identify with another point of view. Psychologists theorize that because of a lack of emotional attachment, this empathy failed to develop as it normally does in the first five or so years of life. If they are correct this may explain why narcissistic people often have at least one narcissistic or abusive parent.

Combine these first two traits and you have a person who can seem to be a godsend when you have suffered a loss. The conquering hero is able to ride in on his stallion and be a paragon of strength when you are at your weakest. He does not fall apart with the gravity of the situation and the sadness of your loss. That’s because he can’t identify with it or feel it. Rather, he remains steady and strong–and let’s you know what you ought to do at a time when you need someone else to think straight for you.

Inability to express some emotions: The narcissistic person does not feel emotionally the way others do. While he may be able to passionately express a vision for a church mission in a very inspiring way, he will not convincingly express genuine tenderness, compassion, or love. There is little acceptance of weaknesses in others. Even expressions of love toward spouse and children tend to be related to his own image as a spouse or parent.

There is a particular hardness toward people who are struggling with mental health or relationship issues. The solution for parenting problems is more use of the rod or casting the troubled teen out of the home and out of the church. The solution to marital problems is for the husband to make his wife submit. The solution to problems with depression is to repent of your sins and shape up. It is easy to see how destructive such advice can be to an emotionally vulnerable person or an already troubled relationship.

Paranoia: This kind of personality is suspicious of others, and quite certain that there are those who are focusing their time and attention on thwarting him and destroying his person and/or his ministry. People who disagree with him or refuse to be manipulated by him are assigned wicked motives. These suspicions begin to be wear thin once the listener realizes the number of people who are said to be “out to get him,” is quite large, and the reason for their alleged plotting is unclear or stretches credulity.

He is also convinced that people are thinking and talking about him constantly. He is likely to want to know who you had over for dinner, and what you talked about. He might come close enough to a conversation to be able to overhear it. He might accuse people of meeting together secretly to conspire against him. Perhaps Carly Simon had this sort of person in mind when she sang, “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Preoccupied with appearances: Manipulative or narcissistic personalities are very attentive to appearances–more attentive, in fact, than they are with reality. It is more important to seem to be holy than to be holy. They may want to project an image of wealth, accomplishment, and even Christian humility and zeal. They will speak the words that make listeners believe there is a sincerity of heart that is not really there. When they speak of the church or its ministries, idealized claims are made of the holiness of the people, the harmony of the relationships, and the success of its missions.

Projection: The manipulative person is living a lie. He is trying to hold up this grandiose image to others, while denying the real image he has of himself. In the process of struggling with his own shortcomings or sins, he projects these things onto others. Does he lie? Then he accuses others of lying. Does he think he is weak or stupid or envious? Then he accuses others of these things.

Lying: This kind of person is constantly lying, and soon lies become as natural as the truth. They lie without batting an eye. They lie when it isn’t necessary. They will lie to you about things they know you witnessed with your own eyes. It is as if they are constructing a new reality as they speak, and they expect you to just go along and play your part in the unfolding drama.

Undeveloped sense of humor and sense of irony: This relates to a lack of empathy. They hate being the butt of a joke or prank. They can’t laugh at themselves. They don’t laugh spontaneously or get jokes easily, especially if there is irony involved. When their own words or behavior is somehow ironic, they often don’t realize it.

Inability to Grieve: This also relates to lack of empathy and lack of emotion. At a time of tragedy or great sorrow, the narcissistic person is unable to grieve and may chide others for doing so, by suggesting that they are failing to submit to the judgment of God.

Flatterers and flirts: “You’re my kind of people.” “I can confide something in you I wouldn’t say to everyone.” “Our church needs more people like you.” Manipulators use flattery to their own ends. Charming and flirtatious behavior is just another form of flattery. If we weren’t such prideful creatures this sort of thing wouldn’t work. But it does.

Over-loving treatment of newcomers or new acquaintances is used as a technique to groom them for future compliance. ‘Confidential’ information is used to provide a proper framework for evaluating future events. For example, you might be told that that so-and-so is dishonest and jealous of the pastor. Then, in a few weeks, when you hear there is a disagreement between so-and-so and the pastor, you see this as confirmation of the ‘confidential’ information and you are predisposed to think it must be so-and-so’s fault. You may also find that the unfavorable view of so-and-so is shared by many people in the congregation, which you may take as further confirmation of it, though the real reason for that may be that the ‘confidential’ information wasn’t so confidential after all, but was shared in the same flattering way with anyone who was willing to listen.

Black and white thinking: This also relates to a lack of empathy. The narcissist seems to think everyone is seeing things exactly as he is. To him the truth is so clear. There is only one answer. Only one right way to go. If anyone claims a different opinion, he reasons they must be denying the obvious truth for wicked reasons. This leaves him totally unable to compromise or live with differences of opinion.

The Characteristics of a Controlling Personality (Part 2, below)

Craves admiration or attention: Though the grandiose image that is projected seems to say the manipulator feels he is better than others, he seems to crave and thrive on the praise and admiration of these ‘inferiors’. He requires hugs and pats on the back, and if you don’t bring up what a fine job he did on something, he will ask for compliments or mention it, modestly of course, himself. If he cannot be admired in a positive way, he will settle for being feared or reviled by his ‘wicked persecutors’. Some researchers refer to this as a need for attention as a need for ‘narcissistic supply’. This refers to a craving for a strong emotional reaction–either positive or negative–from others. For him, the absolutely most distressing thing is to be ignored or forgotten.

Denial, diversion and blame-shifting: If you ever bring up a concern for the behavior of a manipulative person, you will likely leave the encounter confused, feeling guilty, and wondering if the whole thing was your fault. You may be frustrated by your inability to keep the conversation on topic so you can address the problem you came to discuss. You may find you need to defend yourself. Anyone bringing a complaint or criticism publicly is likely to become a target of personal attack and character assassination. People who are not wise to his wiles may be manipulated into joining in on the attack, thinking they are joining in a just cause: defending the man of God against the attacks of Satan.

One person told me, “When I go to her and try to tell her that what she is doing is wrong and making things worse, it is like looking into a fun house mirror. All reality is distorted. I feel confused. Then a day or so later, I think back on what was said, the truth becomes clear, and I can’t believe I had stepped so easily into her fantasy world.”

When his back is up against the wall, the manipulator will admit and apologize for small things, often with accompanying excuses or implications that it was really someone else’s fault, or someone else’s sins were far greater. Nonetheless, he will be magnanimous and repent for the sake of peacemaking.

Subtle or covert aggression and manipulation: The manipulator is a master at subtlety. The victim of his aggression or manipulation is left knowing or suspecting that this is the case, but often unable to point to specific examples or convince a third party that they have been wronged.

Manipulators also get other people to do their ‘dirty work’ and thereby keep their own hands clean. Suddenly six members of the congregation write you letters or confront you about your alleged poor treatment of the pastor. They all use similar wording and reasoning. Did they all come to this conclusion independently and independently formulate the same arguments and phrases for expressing it? Probably not. Did the pastor suggest to all these people to confront you on this? Probably. Will you ever be able to prove that to a third party? Probably not.

Name-dropping and claiming the support of others: The narcissist is keen to identify himself with big-name people, and therefore is likely to engage in a good deal of name-dropping and claim intimacy with famous people. These may be exaggerations of a real acquaintance or pure fantasy, though if there is real opportunity to get to know a famous person, they are likely to have taken advantage of it.

Claims that others–famous or not–agree with their point of view are used to bolster their argument, as if it could not stand on its own. “I spoke to so-and-so about this and she agrees with me that you are in the wrong,” or, “Several people in the church came to me concerned about what you are doing.” The others may be named or unnamed. When they are named, you may find that the named person claims to have no recollection of any such conversation.

Selective inattention: Complaints or concerns made to the manipulative person may be simply ignored, or the manipulator may play dumb and pretend to have no idea what you are talking about. He may claim letters or emails were never received, or that he thought so little of them that he had forgotten about them.

If you remember that the worst thing that can happen to a narcissist from his point of view is to be ignored, you can see how pretending to not even remember your expression of concern can be meant as an insult or a power play. He assumes you covet attention from his exalted person, and he is punishing you by withdrawing it. The truth is, though, that most people in any kind of relationship with a narcissistic person wish he or she would ignore them more often.

No hobbies or amusements: Most people have something they like to do in their spare time for enjoyment. Perhaps they are woodworkers or crafters or enjoy poetry or birdwatching. Narcissistic people have little interest in anything that does not add to or enhance their grandiose image. Perhaps they work out or play at working out and claim athletic prowess. Perhaps a woman will participate in sewing or handcrafts that enhance her supermom image. Generally, though, there will be a lack of activity in non work-related interests pursued for the sheer joy of it.

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