Groups of Deceit

How do we get lulled into spiritually manipulative and deceitful groups? Why do we so easily trust hypocritical and deceitful leaders? They initially present a very good front or outward appearance. In essence the book cover looks very good. Once you get there things are not what you expected, the book cover is deceptive. Even if initially there seems to be some red flags, we have a general tendency to give people, groups, and institutions a second chance, which is not necessarily bad. So, even though the first chapter is not what we had hoped for, especially based on the enticing book cover, we continue to read on in hopes things get better.

The dangers becomes when we exchange ‘giving them a second chance’ for ‘letting our guard down.’ Reasons we might let our guard down could be:

-The initial front said all the right things.
-Someone you respect endorsed the person/group/institution.
-The person/group/institution might create some good memorable experiences early on.
-The person/group/institution instantly makes you feel liked or appreciated (flattered you).
-Everyone in the group presents a very happy appearance.

The book cover said all the right words and the initial experience made you feel good.

The most convincing lies are full of truth
What we forget is that the best lies are always full of truth. Not many will believe a gross and obvious lie, but mingle in a lie with a lot of truth and all of a sudden it becomes much harder to discern. The lie starts to sound better and when the lie sounds better it becomes very easy to overlook. This is probably how compromise occurs most often; much of what we see and hear is correct so we no longer take the time to test and examine everything. Slowly and surely we give way without ever realizing it. This is why it is vital to constantly check things against the truth of God’s word.

Just because an institution, group, or person can say all the right things in a doctrine or faith statement, does not mean that they are committed to living those truths out. And it goes the other way as well, just because an institution, group, or person seems genuine in how they live, does not mean that what they believe is accurate or doctrinally sound.

Do you have joy?
Serving Christ is not always easy, but it should come from a heart of gratitude. There should be joy in serving Christ. There is freedom in Christ. Any system that claims to follow Christ and yet drains and constricts, might be one to watch out for.

Deceitful Christian Leaders

I decided to compile this list because I have been involved in multiple Christian circles where they have so easily allowed a person into leadership who in no way embodied a Christ-like leader. But many of those leaders did look good and were often times able to hide their hypocrisy from the majority. Because of this many dear Christian brothers and sisters have trusted them and been led astray or devastated by them. This list is based off a look at Judas Iscariot’s life in the Bible. These echo very similar thoughts to John MacArthur’s study of Judas in his book, “Twelve Ordinary Men.”

-You can associate with Christ and those who follow Him, and yet still be lost in sin without ever exercising true repentance and faith.

-Hypocrites are able to work their way into a position of trust, even in the midst of the most discerning of people.

-Many times we trust people too quickly, without knowledge of their background, family, or life.

-Hypocrites can be so good in their deceit that nearly no one would consider them as being un-authentic.

-Hypocrites can be very persistent in continuing their deceit.

-Hypocrites are good at sounding very reasonable. They have become very good at looking and acting like everyone else in their group and are always concerned with what others think of them, instead of what God thinks of them.

-Hypocrites can pretend concern for others especially when there is a selfish motive or a payoff that drives them. Hypocrites generally act like followers of Christ for selfish ambition and greed.

-Hypocrites can hear and even teach the message, but they never truly apply the message. They try to hide this reality under deceit.

-Because hypocrites have never truly been changed by the gospel, the continuing exposure to the truth of God’s Word only hardens their hearts more.

-If a hypocrite is reprimanded, even gently, they become very resentful towards the one who tried to correct them. This is their natural reaction because they never truly do self-examination of their own heart; it would be to convicting and condemning.

Remember, Judas was so good at hypocrisy that he literally fooled everyone except Jesus.

10 Forms of Subtle Manipulation

This issue is one of personal significance to me. My hope is that perhaps the compiling of this information will be helpful to someone else as well someday.

10 Subtle Manipulations
These 10 examples are all things I have experienced first hand. Though from an outside perspective they may not seem to be that bad, the weight and total accumulating effect of these manipulations are more devastating than I can describe in words. I pulled these examples of manipulation from a book on spiritual abuse:
(Johnson, David, and Jeffrey VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1991. Print.)

Forms of Subtle Manipulations:

  1. Shaming people out loud.
  2. Can’t Talk Rule – tries to keep people quiet by labeling them the problem if they notice and confront a problem.
  3. Coding – verbal manipulation where messages are sent in a way that they have to be decoded in a sense, but generally only those directly involved will get the message.
  4. Triangling – sending a message to someone through another person instead of delivering it directly.
  5. Obscured Reality – anything that could expose those in authority is denied or ignored. Interacting with people outside of the system is condemned because it is threatening to them. Problems are denied and therefore remain.
  6. Performance Based – When behavior is legislated from the outside, instead of coming from a heart that loves God, it cannot be called obedience. It is rather compliance with external pressure. This orientation squeezes people from the outside in, they are not transformed, but rather they are conformed.
  7. Unspoken Rules – you don’t find out what they are until you break them. Rules like this are never written down because if they were written down they would be easily exposed as anti-Christian.
  8. Humiliation and Scare Tactics – you can be ‘exposed’ for asking too many questions, for disobeying unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples in order to send a message to those who remain. Many methods are used to warn their friends and others about how ‘dangerous’ or ‘divisive’ they are.
  9. Misusing or Abusing Scripture – using scripture incorrectly in order to manipulate.
  10. Double Talk – the leaders sound very religious but there is a sense of vagueness. They will give you the ‘right’ answer but rarely the ‘real’ answer. You cannot confront them or pin them down because they never truly answer the question.

Spiritual Abuse and Cults

Here are a few thoughts about spiritual abuse I pulled from various internet sources. I found these to be interesting and perhaps it will encourage you to research the issue more on your own.

Let Us
-Do they call those who leave or fall away as enemies, dogs returning to their own vomit, using the examples of Korah or Judas?

-Do they defend all that they do even though it can be harmful or wrong?

-Ron Rhodes writes in his book “The Culting of America,” “It is a common myth that unbelievers join Cults.” Percentages show that those who join these aberrant groups formerly attended Christian Churches.

-Dr. Paul Martin of Wellspring Retreat (where cultists adjust from their harmful experiences) writes, “Twenty-five percent formerly attended evangelical, fundamental churches. Over 40 % had backgrounds in large, more liberal Protestant denominations.”


How Cults Work
-A cult needs to hide the truth from you until they think you are ready to accept it.

-A cult will have a slick well-rehearsed Public Relations front, which hides what the group is really like. Things will be introduced to you slowly, one at a time, so you will not notice the gradual change, until eventually you are practicing and believing things which at the start would have caused you to run a mile.

-Leadership is feared. To disagree with leadership is the same as disagreeing with God. Questioning the leaders or program will still be seen as a sign of rebellion and stupidity.

-You will also be made to feel very guilty for disobeying any of the cult’s written or unwritten rules.

-Character Assassination is used to help create the guilt in you.

-Breaking sessions are when one, two, or more cult members and leaders attack the character of another person, sometimes for hours on end. Some cults will not stop these sessions until their victim is crying uncontrollably.

-Cults also try to cut you off from your friends and family because they hate others being able to influence you. A mind control cult will seek to maneuver your life so as to maximize your contact with cult members and minimize your contact with people outside the group, especially those who oppose your involvement.

-“The walls have ears”. Everyone is encouraged to watch out for “struggling” brothers and sisters and report what they see to leadership.

-Mind control cults keep their members so busy with meetings and activities that they become too busy and too tired to think about their involvement.

-Time control also helps the cult keep their members immersed in the manufactured cult environment.

-And time control helps keep cult members away from friends and family.


What Safe Leadership Looks Like
-A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.

-A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.

-A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.

-A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.

-A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.


A Personal Testimony
-A leader who found ministry to be a vehicle for his great gain, lying and manipulating donors to earn more and more money.

-A ministry that shamed me into throwing away all my evil music (including Lionel Ritchie and Duran Duran…oh the evil!)

-A leader who cornered me, threatened me, and yelled because I brought up a concern that others saw. This led to panic attacks.

(Spotting Spiritual Abuse)
– They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.

– It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.

– Often there is no grace for someone who fails to live up to the church’s or ministry’s expectation. And if someone steps outside of the often-unspoken rules, leaders shame them into compliance. Can’t admit failure but often searches out failure in others and uses that knowledge to hold others in fear and captivity. They often quote scriptures about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder. Yet they often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their circle of influence take on this task, silencing critics.

Where a leader might start off being personable and interested in others’ issues, he/she eventually withdraws to a small group of “yes people” and isolates from the needs of others. Harbors a cult of personality, meaning if the central figure of the ministry or church left, the entity would collapse, as it was entirely dependent on one person to hold the place together.

Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.

Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.

Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.


More Signs
Some religious groups view questioning the leaders as tantamount to questioning God.
Demands for obedience
Unquestioning submission
Punishment (loss of privileges, shunning or expulsion)
Misplaced loyalty
Emphasis on performance
Exclusivism (“we alone are right, and everybody else is wrong”)
Isolation (refusal to associate with anyone but spiritual brothers and sisters)
Humiliation of the “disobedient”
Read more:

Training Others

Abusive churches train members to block out any information that is critical of the group. With enough thought and information control, the leaders can get those under their control to defend their new identity against their former identity. The first line of defense is denial – “What you say isn’t happening at all.” Next comes rationalization – “This is happening for a good reason.” After that, justification – “This is happening because it ought to.” Finally, wishful thinking – “I’d like it to be true, so maybe it really is.”

A characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. This is not about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to an organization, church or leader. Because authority is assumed or legislated, following that authority must also be legislated. This is accomplished by setting up a system where disloyalty or disagreement with the leadership is construed as disobeying God. Questioning leaders is not allowed. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right. Such spiritual manipulation denies the truth of Ephesians 1:22, which says that Christ is the Head of the church. Our loyalty is due Him.
Read more:

Christian Discernment

All Christians need to be alert to spiritual manipulation and follow this example from Acts 17:11: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Likewise with all teaching and preaching – we must hold it up to the light of God’s Word before we accept it. Any religious group that prevents its members from doing independent research, or from challenging what the leadership says, must have something to fear.