(Notice: In this research paper, "OASIS" is used as a pseudonym for
Great Commission International. Source: The Resource Centre on
Cultic Thinking, as well as "Dispelling The Myths" article published
by the Wellspring Retreat.)
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published
in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5, Number 1, pages 59-121.
Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint
differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you
enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.
"Reject the Wicked Man" Coercive Persuasion and Deviance Production: A
Study of Conflict Management
Jerry Paul MacDonald
University of Virginia
This paper analyzes how a tightly-knit, utopian new
religious movement manages conflict related to grievances and
nonconformity. An integrated model of deviance production and coercive
persuasion is presented to explain how the group manufactures loyalty
crises designed simultaneously to stigmatize and expel nonconformists
while reinforcing conformity within the membership. Introduced to
explain this process are several new constructs, including
"loyalty-betrayal funnel," "bicameral normative system," "sin-potential
status," "classification priesthood," and the
Research on new religious movements has focused on various aspects of
"getting in" or "getting out" of groups. Some researchers stress the
role of powerful social influence factors (i.e., "coercive persuasion,"
"thought reform," "brainwashing") in recruiting and holding on to
members. Others downplay influence factors and emphasize the role of
personal decision-making and conflict management.
These studies all neglect the fact that some new religious movements
contain deviants whom the groups want to expel. This paper describes how
a fringe Christian sect, called "Oasis" in this study, manages the
conflict associated with grievances and nonconformity. The paper will
integrate the concepts of coercive persuasion and deviance production to
show how Oasis reinforces commitment to the group by manufacturing
loyalty "crises" designed to stigmatize and ultimately expel
nonconformists while reinforcing conformity within the membership, which
is the primary purpose of the manufactured crises.
Description of Methods
The data presented and discussed in this paper have been gathered from
four perspectives: ten years as a participant within the sect, three
years as an outside observer (mainly during the sect's consolidation
process from a loosely organized band of autonomous churches into a
single organization unit), three years as a researcher and analyst of
the sect's structure and doctrines, and finally, as an investigator into
most of the sects major excommunications. Interviews with 274
excommunicated individuals and present members were conducted. Some
excommunicants had participated in defaming and exclusion processes
against others. A broad spectrum within the group was studied, from
young college-age women excommunicated after only a year in the group to
key elders, administrators, editors, and national leaders of the
movement, many of whom had been in the group for up to 15 years.
Five tapes of excommunication meetings were analyzed. The targets and
witnesses were interviewed for cross-verification purposes, as well as
for a balanced perspective. Excommunication letters from the sect to the
targets, and any letters from the target back, were analyzed. A large
body of letters from ex-members to ex-members or to present members, or
vice-versa, was also studied. Parents of sect members were interviewed
for their perspectives and impressions, and investigations into the
sect's behavior, as observed by university officials and legal
authorities, were also utilized. All of these supporting documents were
then related to a content analysis of the sect's own explanations of its
excommunication and rejection practices, an aspect of the data-gathering
process that was relatively free from ambiguity since the sect has much
published material on its theology of exclusivism. The primary source
for analysis is the sect's magazine, which carries articles on church
norms, expectations, and doctrinal statements. A special double issue
(June/July 1985) was devoted entirely to the explanations of church
doctrines on excommunication, shunning, slander, faction, and
obedience/loyalty. Other issues as well as numerous books published by
the sect were used to gather definitions and perspectives on the sects
organizational framework, member role expectation, and the primary goals
and purposes of the group. Lectures from the sect's national and
regional conferences were also analyzed, since much of the sect's
teaching centers around communicational controls and the serious nature
of certain boundary violations.
Reliable estimates, based upon excommunication letters, as well as
witnesses from most of the sect's churches, place the number of
individuals excommunicated from the sect at approximately five hundred.
It has been found, for example, that upwards of twenty members have been
rejected at a single time in several of the sect's local churches -
events labeled "great purges" by ex-members, and "purification
processes" by the sect's leadership. It also needs to be mentioned that
nearly all of these excommunications came after 1976, or within a
Most of these five hundred targets have been contacted, and these
individuals have expressed great willingness to participate in the
research. Verifying their stories was time-consuming, but relatively
simple since, in nearly every case, diaries, logs, letters, and other
supplemental sources were produced with careful attention given to
dates, times, locations, and participants. Thus, cross-checking was
easily done. Many of the excommunications are so well-documented that a
reliable history of the events can be recreated in great detail. Such
precise documentation is the result of the sect's own requests that
members keep diaries and logs of the daily victories they experience in
their "work for the Lord."
Documents hastily written during the target's confrontations with the
sect's leadership were also studied. Some were written on restaurant
napkins and placemats, on pages torn off phone books, and on paper towels
when members took notes in the security of the restroom. This collection
of documents is in such an unusual form because the targets were not
allowed any witnesses or tape recorders, or even to take notes on the
confrontations as they took place. Without the faithfulness of these
subjects in recording and keeping their evidence, a comprehensive study
such as this would have been nearly impossible.
A high level of suspiciousness was observed among those interviewed.
This "paranoia" may have developed primarily as a result of this sects
exclusionary practices. Secret meetings, discussions of members behind
their backs, the spying on members' behaviors and communications, the
recording of conversations, the presence of "witnesses" at meetings, all
seem to have contributed to a general suspicion and fear. Subjects were
often reluctant to speak without a witness of their choice present
and/or a tape recorder running. Phone interviews were listened to by
The sect's targets were particularly suspicious of representatives of
religion (clergy or devotees) and individuals in positions of authority.
Many failed in school work, or marriage, and lived in what appeared to
be a nearly immobile psychological state. Throughout the course of the
interviews, it was obvious that the vast majority of subjects were
revealing their experiences for the first time, and only a handful had
dared even seek psychological or professional help. As a result, often a
great sense of relief and catharsis occurred as banished members
realized that their experiences were not totally unique.
A Brief History of Oasis 1970-1987
The sect under study grew out of campus churches formed from 1970
through 1981 by a core of approximately fifty individuals from a variety
of religious backgrounds. The denomination most represented by the
innovative band was a small fundamentalist organization called the
Plymouth Brethren. The apostles of the new sect were raised within the
Brethren environment and were greatly influenced by many of its more
Most of the fifty pioneers were disenchanted with their own churches.
They believed that the commitment and dedication required to obey what
they considered to be the "heavenly vision" could only be accomplished
by breaking away from the organized church and returning to the goals,
purposes, and lifestyles of the "first century" Christians.
Spearheaded by two highly-charismatic and intense individuals, with
far-reaching and ambitious plans for world conquest, the movement was
born. Contacts made in the army, friends from high school, and other
disgruntled religious seekers gathered around these men, captured their
dreams, and helped set in motion what they believed was "God's great and
only holy work in this generation."
The population selected for recruitment by this dedicated band of
believers was college student at secular universities. Starting in the
Midwest and traveling from campus to campus in a rejuvenated school bus,
the group proselytized on campus, "hawking" freshmen in registration
lines, going door to door in the dorms ("cold turkey evangelism"), and
singing contemporary gospel songs in and around well-traveled areas.
Their efforts met with enough success to confirm their belief that "God
was with them." Intricately tied to this band's dedication was an
unflinching belief that the world was coming to an end within their
lifetimes, and that the millennium would be ushered in by Jesus Christ
in the middle of World War III (Armageddon). This fanatical urgency is
reflected in the non-denominational name they ascribed to themselves,
"The Blitz," or "Blitzers," named after Hitler's swift and surgically
precise attacks against the enemies of Nazism. Military terms soon
became a part of the sect's vocabulary, and comparisons to Nazi war
tactics gave way to strategies derived from Communist revolutionary
tracts as the movement gained strength.
Within a few short years, over two dozen "works" were raised up across
the west and midwest. National conferences were held all summer long,
and even more ambitious plans were laid for further "invasions."
By the summer of 1973, nearly 1,000 attended the movement's national
conference held on an eastern campus. Fifteen new campuses were "hit"
that summer by hundreds of excited recruits fresh from the conference,
and the movement continued to gain strength. One "work," started on a
Midwestern university campus, grew from 20 to 300 within approximately a
year. The largest and most mature group, and the home of the two
founders, was located on a Big Eight campus and numbered around 500.
Shunning a denominational nametag, or any "real" name for that matter,
these campus works met on university property under a plethora of
different campus organizations they created - BASIC (Brothers and
Sisters In Christ), Solid Rock Fellowship, Campus Biblical Studies,
Cornerstone, and numerous others. Although the group often openly
criticized all other Christian organizations, including fundamentalist
ones, they were also shrewd in granting themselves favorable association
with well-known or respected religious organizations on campus,
especially if the university administration or the religious community
desired more information about "the church with no name." Yet within the
organization, clear distinctions between the sect and the rest of
mainline Christianity had been taught
By the mid-1970's, the movement grew to 5,000 committed and dedicated
"workers" who were willing to quit school and move thousands of miles at
a moments notice. Many lived in abject poverty "for the sake of the
gospel," forgoing potential careers and degrees to conquer the world.
Great emphasis was placed on leadership and loyalty. Every male was
expected to be "raised up to be an elder of God's people." Women, on the
other hand, were expected to be totally submissive to their husbands or
to male authority if single.
Since every decision affected how effective members would be in
"reaching the world," counsel was sought for even the minutest details.
The average age of the general membership of the movement was twenty,
and most were college drop-outs. Those with some type of formal
religious training could be counted on one hand.
Because of the rapid growth of the movement, organizational
administration was severely handicapped. Churches were widely scattered
and it became increasingly difficult for the founders to make their
edicts and interpretations known, and more importantly, followed.
Along with the rapid rise in new "works" came the rapid appointment of
more and more elders who, theoretically, were on the same plane of
authority as the founders and the original "Blitz." Elders' meetings
were characterized by more and more varied opinions, and a theology of
relativism was apparent as leaders from different "works" mentioned what
strategies and teachings seemed to work in their locales. Much of what
was presented differed dramatically from the ideas of the founders.
Although the movement claimed to have a plurality of leadership, many
leaders were caught in double-binds when they found themselves in direct
opposition to the basic "principles" of the movement
By 1980, it was clear that a restructuring of church organization was
necessary if the founders were to maintain control of their widely
diverse set of churches. Attempts at talking some leaders out of their
positions (i.e., "stepping down") for the most part failed. Many leaders
allegedly requested that a national organization be formed, and that the
movement become a full-fledged denomination.
In 1982, the loosely-organized band of churches became one national
church, with the two founders declared its apostles. Along with this
restructuring came what some ex-members called a "Stalin-like" purge of
dozens of elders who might be a threat to the stability of the new
organization. Demands of 100% loyalty to the new organization and its
apostles were apparently heard in every church with ties to the original
Money, once freely given and utilized, was to be accounted for in every
church. Every member was expected to give the first of all that he had
to the church. Each local church was then to give ten-percent of all it
collected to the sects apostles via "OASIS, INC."
Resisters and dissenters were often severely punished. Some elders
became "hatchet men" for the organization, aiding in purging churches
anywhere, anytime. Families were separated as wives or husbands
abandoned their familial responsibilities, since loyalty to the
organization superseded all other loyalties.
The sudden return of numerous banished and dazed members to the
mainstream of social life concerned many who knew a little about the
history of the sect, or had watched or participated in the movement
since its inception. "Grisly" tales surfaced about what the movement
"really" was like. Since the movement always was characterized by
extremely strict rules on communication, many pieces of the puzzle only
surfaced when ex-members, freed from communicational bondage, finally
expressed what they had heard, seen, and experienced.
Along with organizational consolidation of churches and members under
the banner of OASIS, another consolidation was taking place - that of
ex-members. Some ex-members found part-time jobs as quasi-deprogrammers
and lecturers to several anti-cult organizations around the country.
Others actively sought to help others out of the group through
contacting parents, legal officials, the media, and other religious
With ex-members fighting back, the sect imposed even more rigorous
standards of communicational control. Conference brochures were
accompanied with dire warnings for any participants who accepted
literature or engaged in a conversation with anyone outside of the
Members who had left "in good standing" were excommunicated ex post
facto to preclude any contact with friends still in the group. Anyone
who attended any ex-member conference would be excommunicated latae
sententiae (a sentence which takes effect immediately as the crime is
committed), as well as anyone who listened to an evil report about the
church or its leadership. Excommunication latae sententiae helped
initiate the procedure inquisiiio (since latae sententiae implied
excommunication without trial), and the entire membership became
self-appointed watchdogs on other members. Inquisitio was activated by
public rumor (fama).
There seems to be no doubt that internal and external circumstances have
aided in the development of a modem-day inquisition within the sect
under scrutiny. Several parallels to the elaborate development of the
"Holy Inquisition" of the Middle Ages on continental Europe have been
Setting the Stage: Describing Coercive Environments
OASIS, which is devoted to world conquest, is utopian in outlook.
Utopias can be secular (as in B.F. Skinner's Walden II) or religious.
They can be communal or revolutionary. Communal utopians are, by and
large, practical, offering specific compensators for specific
activities. They are generally individualistic and sedentary. They may
tend toward passivity (e.g., the hippie communes of the 1960s), or be
ideologically oriented into specific cultures (e.g., the various
intellectual splinter groups of the drug culture, or the
Revolutionary utopias, on the other hand, are mobile and aggressive,
utilizing and exploiting both internal and external conflict
Revolutionary utopias are "evangelistic" and stress the importance of a
common set of mobilizing symbols. They emphasize the power of the
collectivity in a general neo-fascist corporate identity. Revolutionary
utopias tend to be emotion-oriented; that is, though the bringers of
utopia may be highly intellectual, the common man is made to thrive on
his inner feelings of awe and mysticism. Revolutionary utopias grant
general compensators for the collectivity as a whole. As a consequence,
individuality is not rewarded, except as it is expressed through
devotion and commitment to the cause and its leaders.
Though both the communal utopia and the revolutionary utopia claim
truth, the revolutionary utopia has more of a tendency to develop the
structural components that ultimately lead to doctrines, norms, and
behaviors such as are observed within OASIS.
Defining Utopia as Entity
Because OASIS considers the true church to be "the body of Christ," sect
members see themselves as part of a living body. The idea of Utopia is
synonymous with OASIS's concept of "the church." OASIS often discusses
its organization in reified terms. "Don't come back until you get right
with OASIS," implies not only the possibility of committing crimes
against the organization, but the need to receive forgiveness by the
organization. Many of the individuals excommunicated were expelled for
"slandering OASIS." Elders accuse defectors of being "jealous of the
work of God." OASIS describes sin within the church in medical terms;
such as "infection," "leprosy," "disease," and "slow rot." The expulsion
of its deviants is likened to "surgery," "amputation," "pruning," and
"vomiting." It has been stated that leaving OASIS is likened to leaving
God. Disobeying sect leaders is like disobeying God, and there is no
doubt that excommunication procedures are employed, not for crimes
against God, but for crimes against the church. In the sect's thinking,
there apparently is no difference between them.
Defining the Utopian Enemy: The Ideological World-Order
A utopian movement actively condemns the established ideological order
(in this case both church and state), and proposes to overthrow as the
only way to usher in the utopian alternative. In OASIS's case, the new
order is understood within the broad concept of the millennium, a period
of great happiness, good government, and total freedom from wickedness.
"Ideology," as it is used here, includes the "apostate" church - the
global community of religious seekers or established believers who have
strayed from the pristine faith and are dissolved into "the world." In
this way, the world is often referred to as "Babylon, the great harlot,"
and the established religions as apostates, or worse, worshippers of
Because a utopian movement can never merge with ideology, a strategy of
infiltration, revolution, and deception develops to fill the significant
structural void created when negotiation, compromise, and unilateral
dialogue are impossible to pursue. Utopia is conflict-oriented, while
ideology, though usually stable, lethargic, and unresponsive, is
oppressive toward utopian challenges.
OASIS's justification of Jihad (Moslem term for "Holy War") with the
enemies of Utopia is not difficult to find. Reference to war with evil
politicians, enemy countries, wicked sinners, as well as the
justifications for "marking" and "bringing down" sinners and attacking
the unrighteous can be found in nearly every issue of OASIS's magazines,
public Bible studies, and leadership training sessions.
Utopian movements seek to overthrow the status quo ante by contrasting
the obvious weaknesses of ideology with the refreshing zeal, confidence,
and idealism that form the basis of the revolution. Yet, no social order
can survive without a strong appeal to legitimacy, authority, and
tradition. Utopias, therefore, must be presented as a logical more
accurate form of government with a correct view of the great questions
of humanity. Utopia must claim to cure social ills, cleanse men's souls,
and represent truth. Its founders must present utopian truths as novel
or pristine within the framework of commonly honored modes of
legitimacy. Utopian movements must capitalize on common Symbolic that
would appeal to ideology's more inactive, dormant members. Utopia must
appeal to converts in three interrelated areas: (1) A set of common
beliefs that grants significant purpose to life and renders it
trustworthy, the most immediate and obvious expression of utopian
"culture;" (2) a set of clear organizational institutions and strategies
that regulate social action and create a controlled sense of community;
and (3) a constellation of self-help or salvation therapies that shape
the psychological traits and the content of individual characters. A
clearly defamed utopian movement seems to appeal especially to
idealistic youth, and it is not uncommon to find most utopian movements
targeting youth as their primary population.
Placing a utopian religious movement within a broader historical context
can present problems for the "bringers of utopia." They must present
themselves as radically different from past religious utopias. Within
OASIS, this problem is dealt with through a theory of progressive
revelation, not of doctrine, which it believes is complete within the
Bible, but of strategies of organization, structure, and conversion.
Consequently, OASIS refers to the strategy of world conquest as the
"Heavenly Vision." OASIS envisions the implementation of new utopian
strategies that are cloaked within the pages of the Bible and which have
just now been clearly revealed. This revelation makes the rest of
Utopia and Totalism
Utopias can carry the segmentation of normative life to extremes of such
magnitude that totalist control systems arise. Such a system requires of
its adherents extremes of devotion, participation, and relationships.
These extremes can become so well-defined and specific that an
individual's entire life may be reduced to a checklist of conforming
behaviors, attitudes, and activities. Often the remaining world is seen
as "deceitful," "apostate," or "ruled by the devil." As a result, there
is an extremely strong emphasis on boundary maintenance and a tendency
to develop a segmented ethic and a utilitarian purpose cloaked in
Utopia as a Bicameral Normative System
As a utopian movement, for whatever reason, fashions and utilizes a
totalist environment, its surface allurements begin to evaporate.
Idealistic visions of utopia contrast starkly with the pragmatic
maintenance of utopia. Equality, freedom of expression and thought, the
atmosphere of love and caring, and the wholesome development of
individuality often get in the way of utopia's pragmatic goals. Yet the
utopia's ideals are its main attraction and they cannot be thrown away
without losing its unique purpose as the overthrower of ideology. The
abstract idealism of utopia gives little practical support for
adequately managing utopia.
The conflict between panacea and pragmatism is resolved by the creation
of a bicameral normative system. Bicamerality is defined here as a dual
set of norms in operation at the same time, with the surface norms
subservient to the deeper, hidden designs and purposes of an
organization or group. Surface norms stress the idealism and the
righteousness of the cause. Below the surface, however, are a set of
underlying norms that efficiently run the organization.
In a bicameral system, boundary maintenance is the crucial interface
between successful recruitment outside legitimation, and the suppression
or cloaking of underlying structural norms and strategies. Within OASIS,
the most crucial boundary, and the one with the most rigid controls,
centers around out-going and in-coming information. This boundary is not
focused primarily on mass media, however, but specifically on
conversations to and from individuals - from outsiders to members, from
members to outside individuals, and even from one member to another.
Controlling information is the key to the maintenance of purity within
the organization and the prevention of negative or dangerous ideologies
from entering. An elaborate dual system of information is thus in
operation, one for potential members, public relations, and
legitimization purposes and another for the actual members of the sect
The Functions of a Bicameral Normative System
The leadership of a utopian movement produces bicamerality as a reaction
to the perceived infiltration of dangerous ideological perspectives.
Because this infiltration can take place from without or from within, an
atmosphere of suspicion and watchfulness comes to permeate the movement
When individual members question the leadership about extremes of sect
teaching or behavior, they are most often met with childlike guidelines
for dealing with their confusion. The sect emphasizes simple submission,
unquestioning obedience and childlike trust, as well as member
acceptance of the belief that their "untrained" ability for spiritual
discernment renders their opinions and concerns unwarranted or
"worldly." They are taught to distrust their own perceptions and
A stress on loyalty by sect leadership indicates the prevalence of a
wide variety of disconfirming information that is perceived to be
damaging to the sect. Continual collective efforts to rationalize
disconfirming information of behaviors through public teaching and
publishing most often result
These underlying norms are sometimes innocuous and non-threatening, and
members can function freely, oblivious to the implications of the norms.
However, when these norms impinge upon the personal freedom of an
individual, the whole atmosphere of a member's world can change. As an
individual attempts to readjust the "norm" to fit his own conscience, he
falls out of line with the group. As he begins to voice his right to
behave differently, - especially, he argues, in areas of liberty - he
becomes labeled as dangerous or a threat. He can yield to group pressure
and deny his perceptions or beliefs, or he can pursue his "demonic
thinking," bring about an organizational crisis, and activate the
deviance production process. He then becomes subject to the deeper,
control-oriented norms of the bicameral system
The cyclic organizational crises generated by deviants are used to
instruct members on the sects underlying values and norms, which might
not be readily accepted in a low-tension environment. Although bicameral
normative structures may appear to operate on the "idealistic" level in
times of low tension, their capacity to do this depends upon the
members' remembering, in times of peace, the rewards and punishments
meted out during a crisis. The crisis thus enhances the leadership's
control over general members while it expels threatening deviants.
The Bringers of Utopia: The "Sin-Potential" Status
A survey of 19 exiting members of this sect was taken at the University
of Illinois. Seventeen separate statuses were listed and were ranked by
the respondents as to "sin-potential." A rank of "1" indicated the least
likelihood for committing sin, and a rank of "17" indicated the greatest
likelihood for committing sin. All of the respondents indicated that the
status "apostle" was the one carrying the least possibility for
committing sin. All of the respondents indicated that the status
"elder," "deacon," and "leader" were the next three best statuses to
have. On the bottom end, all placed "ex-member" at numbers 15-17 (M =
15.8; SD = .76), "unbeliever" slightly lower (M = 16.2; SD = .71), and
"factious man" at the bottom (M = 16.5; SD = .7).
Though the population sample was small, it is important to note that
these individuals had left the group approximately one month earlier and
all but two had not undergone any type of counseling, deprogramming, or
other professional intervention. In many respects, some were still
mentally and emotionally in the group.
This survey is important in two ways. First, within the group is the
dominant belief that the leaders have very little likelihood of
committing sin. Consequently, a label placed upon an individual by these
leaders is accepted as fact and truth. Secondly, a member who dares
leave the group immediately receives a "sin-potential" status basically
equal to an "unbeliever." Hence, the label "deviant," coming from the
leaders of the sect, is going to be doubly accepted.
The "sin-potential" status undergirds an organizational hierarchy that
is created as a result of the firm belief in the inherent morality of
the group. Members not only believe that they are part of God's church,
but that they are the only obedient believers. Members, as God's chosen
people, have been "blessed" with God-appointed, righteous leaders on the
same caliber as the patriarchs of old. Since sect leaders are
God-appointed, whatever they do or say must be God-appointed as well.
Irving Janis (1972) discovered this foundational concept even within the
secular political environment
The shared belief that "we are a good and wise group"
inclines them to use group concurrence as a major criterion to judge the
morality as well as the efficacy of any policy under discussion. "Since
our group's objectives are good," the members feel, "any means we decide
to use must be good." This shared assumption helps the members avoid
feelings of shame or guilt about decisions that may violate their
personal code of ethical behavior. Shared negative stereotypes that
feature the evil nature of the enemy would enhance their sense of moral
righteousness as well as their pride in the lofty mission of the
in-group. (pp. 256-257)
This organizational hierarchy, based upon sin-potential, perpetuates the
concept that ex-members are ex-members because they are more inclined to
sin. If the members believed that all people were on an equal footing as
far as committing "sin," the one-sided justice system found within the
group would be practically impossible to sustain.
Creating a Definitional Elite: The Classification Priesthood
The hierarchical sin-potential status allows those with the presumed
least likelihood for committing sin to form and maintain a
"classification priesthood" which is essential to the success of the
group. The goal of the classification priesthood is not only to enforce
doctrine, but to explain and proclaim the norms of the group.
Members of this sect are given access to secret meetings after they have
successfully passed an approval process similar to a "security
clearance," in which the established leadership conducts a number of
thorough investigations and observations. Once this initial step is
taken and the individual accepts the invitation, a result analogous to
that within the nuclear research and development area, occurs. "An
individual officially becomes a member of the classification priesthood,
agreeing to participate in its rituals and to abide by its regulations.
Above all, the person may swear never to disclose classified information
to unauthorized persons..." (Hilgartner, Ball & O'Connor, p. 59).
Once accepted into the elitist camp, the potential leader is subjected
to a period of indoctrination. The analogy with government secrecy
continues: "The DOE (Department of Energy) maintains a program of
continuing classification education to make sure that no one forgets his
or her responsibilities" (P. 59). In addition, "once a person accepts a
security clearance, his or her ability to engage in public debate is
compromised" (p. 59). The result is a serious segmentation of the sect
into members given "access" to the sect's secrets and inner mechanics
and those within the sect but not granted security clearance. "Those who
know won't speak, and those who don't know cannot speak with authority"
The classification priesthood, coupled with the sin-potential hierarchy,
places the doctrinal proclamations and enforcements of OASIS leadership
on a near infallible level. The priesthood creates the illusion of
invulnerability, where confidence is total and decisions are very rarely
challenged, if questioned at all. The priesthood also fosters an
unwavering belief in the inherent morality of its actions, which causes
members to either ignore or minimize the ethical or moral consequences
of the priesthood's decisions (Janis, 1972).
Coercive Persuasion and Deviance Production: A Descriptive Analysis
The initial process of member/sect conflict is generally caused by a
leak of information into the group from the outside. This leak is beyond
the group's control, because, being evangelistically utopian, the sect
must continually send out "deployable agents" (Lofland and Stark, 1965,
p. 873) into the world for proselytizing purposes, as well as public
relations work. The sect is thus caught in a bind. Its main purpose is
external activity, yet this very activity brings the sects members into
close contact with the secular world. This close relationship with the
outside world has the tendency to erode the mythical aspects of the
sect's segmented environment. Intensive interaction between deployable
agents and prospective converts can create "seeds of doubt" about the
veracity of the sect's mission. It can also dissipate the picture of a
stark "good/evil," "black/white" world that has been built in the
deployable agents mind.
From information inadvertently obtained from outside the sect, a member
might start his own investigation of problems with the sect's doctrines,
norms, and purposes. Because of this built-in possibility, members are
continually exhorted to "touch base" with other members. Many live
together in communal houses, have regular meetings on a daily basis
where they tell "war stories" of their experiences "in the world," and
continually reinforce the sects segmentation. Hence, in many cases, the
deployable agent has little time for reflective thinking.
Furthermore, members' time away from the sect is often monitored. If
members miss more than one or two meetings, they may be reproved for
"forsaking fellowship." There have even been a few cases of
excommunication for this "crime" of lax participation in group
activities. Members who go home to visit friends and relatives are
sometimes encouraged not to stay too long because "you may lose your
sense of purpose," or more often, "may lose the vision." At conferences,
(particularly Leadership Training '86), "canned" letters of progress, that
are written by the leadership, are sent to the families of participating
members. In addition to the regular church-wide meetings, there are
smaller home groups that also meet, and even smaller "cell" groups of
eight to a dozen members overseen by one or two leaders. These cell
groups are for "accountability and encouragement." A member's schedule is
so filled with activity that it is very difficult for some reflectively
to think about any conflicting information or behaviors that they may
Becoming a Candidate for Deviance
A member can become a candidate for the deviance label by either
receiving literature from a non-member or talking with a non-member. If
members engage in such activity, they are reported to the sect's
leadership. At this point, members also may be placed on "the list," and
marked as a "potentially dangerous individual."
Another way in which one becomes a candidate for deviance is simply to
begin to think about and evaluate what is taking place within the sect.
One may not need to get information from the outside, but simply begin
to notice contradictions and unethical practices from within. Usually,
this process happens to those who have "passed the tests" of loyalty and
devotion and have been recognized as leaders. These members are then
allowed to develop relationships with the sects inner leadership and
structure. They are given access to the private leadership meetings, the
national elders' conferences, as well as admission into the
classification priesthood. Over 50 elders, administrators, editors,
media and public relations executives, and business partners have left
the sect and have been placed on "the most dangerous list." A few have
been officially labeled as factious, but most of them have been labeled
as "victims" of a handful of despicably evil individuals who continually
are mentioned when defections occur.
Members can become potential candidates for excommunication by simply
asking what the sect calls "fingerprint questions." These questions are,
in a sense, classified, and may indicate that the member has waded
through the surface "PR" and has grasped the significance of the
underlying issues and norms of the group.
Possible responses of the sect to this problem are: removal from
leadership positions ("stepping down"), enforced sabbaticals ("exile"),
secret investigations ("marking"), and inquisitions ("gang-ups"). The
actual response to a specific situation depends entirely upon the
target's response to the information or the questions that he has. If
members keep it to themselves and are not seen by others, they can
continue undetected in their regular role. If members share the
information with the leadership, they are subjected to intensive
"reeducation" campaigns where the questions are skirted and the member
is exhorted about violating communicational norms. This example is
[Dave] At DC '86, ... [one of the sects apostles] taught
on submission. His talk really bothered me. Actually there were a lot of
things at DC '86 that really bothered me. One of the main things was his
talk on loyalty. We had some questions we wanted to ask him. We weren't
sure that we agreed with him. After the talk we went and talked to him
about a couple of the points about loyalty and leadership. Basically, he
just told us, "We shouldn't even be asking him these things. We should
just accept them on his authority." And when that was explained to me I
thought, "You've got to be kidding." How can you just accept that
because he says so? He just said that we were too critical a lot of
times and we have to learn how to be "in our place."
If the member continues to share his information, questions, or concerns
after he approaches the leadership, the sects inquisition process is
often set in motion. Depending upon the seriousness of the information
and the status of the individual, the inquisition can go on subtly and
secretly for years, or it can be accomplished in a matter of days or
It is important to note here that the only way someone is not "marked"
is by suppressing normal communicational and rational mental processes
after hearing a "negative report," or training himself to actually block
out, negotiate, or reinterpret what he sees and hears.
Deviance in a Non-falsifiable System
Members are subjected to strict guidelines regarding the receipt of
information. "Negative" information about leaders and the group is
always slander and an evil report. Members are also taught that "you can
be divisive over truth," that slander may even be "an innocent question
or a harmless statement." They are told that factious statements are
"dainty morsels," that a factious dialogue can be "as smooth as butter,"
and that members can even be "sinful and wicked with their questions."
Members are instructed that "it's not the facts that are at issue, but
the way they were shared." They are informed that "the issue is not
theology but the division and divisiveness that results when people
talk." They are warned that "slander is covered up by switching over to
doctrinal issues." They are even informed that if members are allowed
"to talk things out, their hearts will be drawn away" from the sect.
[Angie] Concerning [the 1976 excommunication], I
understand that it was a disagreement between [the elder] and [the
founder] but it was the consensus apparently of everyone that [the
elder] was being factional and divisive and that his attitude was
heretical. But there were no specific points of doctrine that we were
told about in which he had actually aired [sic]. Any inquiries were met
with, "Well, that's not very edifying to discuss." Edifying speech was
the wall that you ran into any time you wanted any information or any
time you wanted to divulge any information. For instance, when I went to
my husband [an elder in the sect] about it... he regarded it as my being
"overly sensitive and overly emotional," that I was being unedifying and
that I was dwelling on things that the Lord did not want me to think
about - that I was dwelling on the negative. And then he was always
exhorting me to "just keep focusing on these positive things, sister,
because the devil was really messing with my mind." Everything I thought
and saw was completely invalidated by the elders. And it was always a
problem with my attitude and my perceptions of things... With the [1976
excommunication] there seemed to be the same attitude that this was so
bad what he did that it would really be unedifying to talk about
especially with younger believers, but I was still never told anything
specific because it was all based upon the fact that we didn't need to
have our minds sullied with the sins of others.
Even though these rules seem overly stringent if not impossible to
follow consistently, sect members view these guidelines as necessary to
maintain purity within the movement. The underlying principles that seem
to make it all work are that the sect has the "truth" and there is
nowhere else to go, that members are so susceptible to being deceived
that they need an external conscience to define the situation for them,
and that the group and the leadership are basically infallible. The
environment within the sect is non-falsifiable. In other words, there
does not appear to be the slightest bit of information that can prove
that the group, its leaders, or its operations are wrong. This
non-falsifiable system is tied to the concept of "sin-potential" and
thereby strengthens the system of cognitive and information control.
Members are called upon not only to question their own
reality-validation mechanisms, but to deny reality itself. Members are
told that what appeared to them to be an "innocent conversation" was in
reality a slanderous and factious encounter with the potential to lure
them away from the truth. Members, then, are pressured to accept
falsehoods as truths by denying the validity of their own means of
ascertaining the truth. The nonconforming member who questions or comes
into conflict with the bicameral normative system must grapple with
enormous loneliness and doubt.
[Darcy] Even before I was excommunicated it was
incredible - how these people could say, "I love you but I can't talk to
you." And how they could go from being interested so much in your life
to just ignoring you. I just didn't understand it and there was a lot of
confusion. I felt bad. I felt guilty because I was doing this to them. I
felt guilty because they had not to talk to me. I didn't understand
where this was coming from. I felt that maybe I did do the wrong thing.
That whole semester I went round and round - "Did I do the right thing?"
"Did I pray about it enough?" "Did I listen to slander?" I was always
apologizing for my position.
Blame and uncertainty are focused upon basic human interactions:
talking, listening, thinking, wondering, seeing, as well as on the
actual objects and events that are perceived. The sect employs a series
of reductionist techniques that impoverishes members from seeing that
there may be other possible explanations for events and observations.
The sects classification procedures are operationalized through a
standardized set of procedures that are assumed to be objective and
unbiased. The idea that there are multiple ways for something to become
known or verified without going through this standardization system is
condemned and those who circumvent the system are punished.
[Elders] Men that were elders in this church, would do
this [become traitors]. You need to recognize that Satan is at work, and
he is deceptive and is crafty... it's real, it's God's word, and the
picture is one of the arch enemy of God and of the saints. His work is
deceptive and its crafty. That's why we have to bring about this
situation. You know the first response of what this does is, it'll
happen in your heart, it happened in my heart, was, what is it they're
[the ex-elders] sharing? What is it they're saying? You know, your ear
kinda perks up; "I'd like to know that I want to find that out. You
know, maybe there is something goin' on that's not right and I ought to
know about that so I can evaluate it." And, and that's our first
response, and that's not the response we should have.
The Mechanics of Expulsion: Selecting the Core Participants
If the crisis situation has the potential to do immediate damage to
either the local church or the national movement, mainly due to the
status of the individuals and/or their militance in sharing the
information, the sect sets in motion a furious set of responses. Often,
core participants in the excommunication process are selected from among
the most loyal leaders from around the nation. They are called and asked
to drop everything and fly to an undisclosed destination for an initial
emergency meeting. More often, the situation is handled by the local
leadership, and sometimes this definitional meeting is guided by
frequent phone conversations with leaders who have engaged in their own
The initial meeting is somewhat light-hearted at first, and those who
see no humor in the discussions and/or purpose are clearly identified.
In one preliminary meeting, 25 participants, both male and female, were
present. Out of these, only ten survived to the second and more secret
caucus, all male.
The first discussion justifies both the meeting and the subsequent
decisions that they hope to reach. A statement of the leadership's
intentions and a general description of the target's behavior is put
forward. At the outset the focus of the meeting is clearly on the
target, which, because of the sin-potential and non-falsifiability
factors, predisposes the participants to view favorably the leadership
in all subsequent discussions.
This meeting is also intended as a training film for new leadership, a
purpose that is rarely communicated. During one excommunication meeting,
participants in earlier definitional meetings were informed of this
[Elders] Oh, we already decided what we were going to do
with the woman before we called that meeting with you men. We just
called it to see if you men were ready to become leaders by coming to
the same conclusions as we did. Since none of you did, we'll just have
to wait until you men mature more. The meeting was solely for your
Those allowed participation in the initial meeting who do happen to
agree, have passed the first of a series of loyalty and betrayal tests.
If this is a second or third time around for some members, and if they
remember what disagreeing in times past entails, they may be more likely
to acquiesce especially if agreeing is one of the more important
criteria for becoming an elder in the movement.
Within this sect, public compliance is not so much based upon the
rightness of the judgments or the superiority of leadership ideas, but
upon the superiority of their power and apparently unimpeachable
Commonly held norms and values are ignored by
powerholders when such norms and values appear to threaten or restrict
the powerholder's use of his resources. Basically, the norms that are
changed are those that interfere with the exercise of power. (Kipnis,
Here, Kipnis argues that in a crisis a normative system is modified if
it restricts the social control agents, and, after the crisis, reverts
back to acceptable levels. In essence, the control system moves from
martial law to business as usual. In this sect, quasi-totalitarian norms
do not change, but fluctuate in emphasis.
Public compliance is influenced by the concept of spiritual "experts."
The sect teaches that when a man is recognized as an elder, God bestows
upon him a supernatural wisdom that can direct him in even the most
difficult of decisions. Members attain eldership by being effective
communicators or preachers, or unwavering displays of loyalty to the
cause and the leadership. External displays are rewarded, while inner
development is, by and large, suspect until the individual begins to
display confirmed behavior patterns already defined as growth by the
The Loyalty and Betrayal Funnels
Once gathered together in a secret excommunication meeting in which the
initial definition and purpose are laid out by the leadership, all the
participants are placed in a Catch-22 situation: either they publicly
express loyalty to the leaders by betraying one of their members, or
they express loyalty to a member by betraying the leadership. The catch
is in the definition. The target has been accused of disobeying
authority or undermining the leadership. He has not submitted to the
decrees of the leadership and has made his insubordination public. All
these participants have been hand-picked by the leadership to decide the
target's fate. The double-bind is that if one of these members
disagrees, he is actually doing the very thing that the meeting was
called to judge in the first place. In this regard, Leniert (1962)
points out that such "exclusionist group[s] demand loyalty, solidarity
and secrecy from their members; they act in accord with a common scheme
and in varying degrees utilize techniques of manipulation and
misrepresentation" (p. 137).
At a national leadership conference for sect members and their guests
held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 1986, one of the sects national
leaders explains his involvement in a secret meeting with four other
men. The topic of discussion was the fate of another leader who had
committed "crimes" of such a nature that excommunication proceedings
were initiated against him. This double-bind is clearly illustrated
As an elder, I've been through our black years. After
some of us were appointed as elders in Ames [Iowa], we had to put a
brother out of the church.
There were five of us ... We deliberated day and night
over putting this one brother out of the church who was in sin. It was
all coming together except for one dissenting vote. If you don't know
this, the elders in your church and the elders in this church across the
country have a very high standard. We do not operate on majority rules.
We only operate on unanimous decisions. And unless we get unanimous
decisions we don't make any moves. This is why sometimes we have long
elders' meetings. [laughter]
I remember during that time this brother definitely was
in sin and definitely needed to be put out of the church, but there was
one dissenting vote - me. I could not say, "put that guy out of the
church." I knew he was in sin and I knew he was wrong. We deliberated
for two days and I argued with a passion why we should not put this guy
out of the church.
Finally, Toni, who was one of the elders in the church
in Ames at that time, said, "Pete, let's go for a walk." [Laughter and
jeers from the audience] And I said, "Okay, let's go for a walk." And he
said, "Pete, what's the problem?," and I said, "Tom, I don't know." And
then he said, "Pete, there has to be a problem. This is clear as day
what we have to do." And then he looked me straight in the eyes and he
said, "Brother, what sin are you harboring in your heart? You cannot
execute justice because you are not a righteous man." And I didn't know
if I should faint or throw up at that point. And I knew there was [sin in
my life]. And I thought [reflectively] and I finally was humbled by God,
and I said, "You're right, Tom, there is a sin in my life. I have a sin
in my life and I am no better off than that brother we're vying to put
out of the church." And Tom said, "Brother, you need to repent and get
right with God. And when you get right with God, come on back, we'll be
waiting for you in the room." And that was the end of our conversation.
I went, got alone with the Lord - it took about two minutes, [Laughter
from the crowd]. I told the Lord I was sorry, thanked Him for His
forgiveness, walked into that room, took about five minutes to review
the details, and one of the brothers looked at me... and he said, "Pete,
what do you think?" And I said, "Good night, Art, I was as blind as a
bat! This guy has got to go out on his ear if we're going to love this
man, and if we're going to do right for the church!"
Sin had blinded my eyes because I could not execute
justice because there was wickedness there in my own heart.
In this case, the dissenting elder experienced an ad honimen shift.
Argumentum ad hominem is an effective ploy used generously within the
sect. Sometimes referred to as blame-shifting, argumentum ad hominem is
a rhetorical tactic designed to disarm an opponent by attacking and/or
appealing to feelings and attitudes rather than to the subject under
discussion. The fact that this elder failed after two days of intensive
lobbying by the other four leaders to be convinced that the target
should be excommunicated literally forces the leadership to attempt
another, more subtle, tactic than the one ineptly used for 48 hours.
The head elder takes the unconvinced member aside for a walk, and in
private proceeds to convince the man of the "wickedness" in his own
heart. In a matter of minutes the man is shown that he has been hindering
the justice of God because of unconfessed sin in his own life. (e.g. see
The earlier participants in such meetings express misgivings, the less
hostages they will become, and the more readily able to survive the
disagreement by a simple exclusion in subsequent meetings. If
participants disagree after the process has gone on for a significant
period of time, they can actually be viewed as co-conspirators and even
[Tokens] may also be expected to demonstrate loyalty to
the dominant group. Failure to do so results in further isolation; signs
of loyalty permit the token to come closer and be included in more
activities. Through loyalty tests, the group seeks reassurance that
tokens will not turn against them or use any of the information gained
through their viewing of the dominants' world to do harm to the group.
They get his assurance by asking a token to join and identify with the
majority against those others who represent competing membership or
reference groups; in short, dominants pressure tokens to turn against
members of the latter's own category. If tokens could, they make
themselves psychological hostages of the majority group. (Kanter,
Since disagreement casts suspicion on the system or the leaders, those
who disagree are watched and placed on "the lists"; however, this
practice of "marking" often seems arbitrary and is done only according
to the definition of the situation the leadership perceives at the time.
People particularly close to a target are often not "marked" because
their disagreement is interpreted as "emotional attachments that have
clouded their ability to discern the truth." Often, close friends are
not even asked to participate in the initial secret meetings because
they are less likely to accept the pretexts and definitions leaders
direct toward the target.
The result is usually that the participants who advance to the actual
trial are extremely loyal to the leadership and have little personal
relationship with the target.
The Preemptive First Strike* and Target Response
The first contact the secret group has with the target is generally a
"gang-up," where sometimes a dozen men visit or ask the target to meet
at a specific location. The target is not told with whom he is meeting
and is usually called by someone he trusts. These gang-ups have occurred
in members' homes, public parks, restaurants, and even locations such as
train depots, airports, and bus terminals.
This initial meeting is usually the first time the target has any
knowledge of what has occurred previously. The target is approached
about any questions concerning the leadership and sect he might have. He
is also asked such questions as: "Are you doubting the leadership?" "Are
you considering leaving the group?" "Are you thinking about negative
information?" and the key question, "Are you going to be distributing
that information?" One member related the contents of a call from an
[Tom] (The elder) said "These factious people like to
target the leaders, they like to pick on the leaders." He said, "Well, I
called to find out if you were planning on talking to any people in the
church about why you left?" I said, "Right now I don't plan on talking
to anyone in the church although I feel that I am firm enough in
conviction that I'm glad that I left and that I knew that I needed to
leave." The reason why I answered this way is because I had heard of him
asking that question to people and their answers are what ended up
getting them excommunicated, and I didn't want to be excommunicated...
Often the targets are barraged during these early contacts with
leadership's attempts to get them to admit they are guilty of crimes
they do not see. If targets say they doubt the leadership, they have
"sinned" because they are never to doubt the leadership. If targets have
talked to someone else about their concerns, they have "sinned" because
they are never to plant "seeds of doubt" in others' minds about the
leadership and/or the sect. Furthermore, if the targets do not agree
with the group's definitions of behavior, they are immediately
considered "unrepentant" and "unsubmissive."
* Phrase coined by Janis, 1972, p. 269.
The preemptive first strike is justified by what the sect leadership
calls "a loving and gentle reminder." They are reminding the target of
the potential consequences of his or her actions and words. Most often
the church is warned about the targets possible actions before the
target is even informed. This practice requires that suspected deviants
be forcibly denied entry into their church:
[Martha] I decided that I was going to leave. I
couldn't stay in this group knowing what I did .. [Several of us who
were thinking of leaving] went to a church meeting and we were met with
a human wall. We were told that we were divisive and were not welcome.
It was really very confusing. I remember- saying to one of the elders...
"Why won't you let me in?"... And he said... "we're trying to protect
... I was very confused about why I had been put on the
first list [for excommunication], the divisive list [at that meeting],
when [the elders] hadn't even contacted me. [An elder] explained that it
was like you were [on campus] and there was a gunshot.. his first
response would be to get everyone back and then go check it out because
it would be more dangerous not to because you didn't know what that
person with the gun was going to do. Well I was the person with the gun,
needless to say, and his first response was to get all of my friends and
everyone else in the church out of the way because they didn't know what
I was going to do. And this example has come up over and over with me.
The sect leadership seems to be using the strike-strike ploy as an
opportunity to warn targets. Then, if they are eventually
excommunicated, the leadership can tell the congregation, "We warned
them time and time again but they would not listen, so, when all else
failed, we had no recourse but to excommunicate them."
The following portions of "warning" letters to targets graphically
illustrate the power and force of the initial secret meeting's
definition of the target. The targets receive a description of behavior
that will be interpreted as grounds for excommunication:
[Elders and Leaders] Because of your past we feel it
necessary to warn both you and [your wife]. Any attempts to undermine
the leadership of [our church], discuss your disagreement with people in
this fellowship, or empathize with others who are discontent by lending
a hearing ear, will be interpreted as faction (Tit. 3:10; Prov. 6:19).
In another letter were these definitions:
[Elders] We are grieved by your absence and the
"rumors"... We are surprised by your spirit of independence... You are
free to disagree and you are free to leave, but you are not free to
undermine another's confidence in this leadership (James 5:9). We know
that you want to be understood by your friends at [the church]. That is
natural not spiritual. Sharing your reasons or getting together to
discuss your grievances with others about this leadership creates a
faction (Tit. 3:10). In so doing, you will only implicate your self
[sic] in this sin and those with whom you communicate... Sowing fear,
mistrust, doubt, and a spirit of independence is a work of the flesh
((Gal. 5:19-21). Please consider what we say... "HE WHO DOES NOT GATHER
WITH ME... SCATTERS!!!!" ML 12:30 Emphasis theirs.]
Whether or not the preemptive first strike is sinister, in nearly every
case the first shot makes the target shoot back. Targets don't
understand what they have done, why the secret meetings were called, why
friends would sign letters of warning, or what members have been told.
And yet, targets are ordered not to talk to anyone about their concerns.
At this stage, paranoia is a prime force in the conflict process (Lemert
1962). Subsequent "gang-ups" are taped by targets,
or minutes are written down. Targets become suspicious of not only the
leadership and friends, but of the whole church. They feel they are
being watched. Calls asking targets to talk are interpreted as a
possible set-up. Every chance meeting could be a "sting operation."
Harold's case is illustrative:
[Harold] The elder called me and we set up a meeting -
it was going to be all the elders that could make it, and I was going to
bring a tape recorder. I talked to D____________ about it and he said,
"Sure, bring a tape recorder." And we met at a University building. So I
walked in and shook their hands and said "Hi," and then I turned the
tape recorder on and set it down and took a seat. Then [D______] reached
over casually and turned it off and then said, "Well, let's talk about
this." Basically what they [the elders] wanted to say about the tape
recorder was that in thinking about it they decided that requiring a
tape recorder on my part shows a real lack of trust and faith in the
elders. And I told them and I'm not usually rude to people, but I told
them that I didn't trust them. They had already used their authority to
ostracize me from the only group of friends I had on campus and so, "Ya,
I didn't trust them."
They were a little taken aback but said, "In any case,
you're not going to have it. They told me that the tape recorder doesn't
show a willingness to achieve resolution to rely on tape and witnesses.
So I said, "Well, forget the tape, just let me bring witnesses -- like a
local pastor, or a neutral third party or one of the other ex-members --
excommunicated or non-excommunicated; I even suggested one of the church
members whom I could trust. I said just bring them along but I want to
have some third party. But they said, "No, your problem is between you
and us," them being the representatives of the church. They said, "If I
was really serious about it -- if I really wanted to achieve resolution,
that I would meet with them alone -- all of them, because they work as a
whole and they have to all be there together." They admitted that they
have had a lot of experience in these things and could work things out
the best. They thought they all had to be together to really do this
right. The long and the short of it was that any approved meetings would
have to be with as many elders that were in town and me alone.
Of paramount importance is targets' belief that they do not know for
sure what behavior precipitated the crisis, and are unsure of just how
to modify their life to conform to the demands. This paranoia is then
interpreted by the leadership as "a lack of trust," and "an attitude
problem of not believing the best." The target's suspicious nature is
used as further evidence of how much "sin has eaten away at the soul."
Excommunications generally result. In the following case, Steve, like
Harold, is excommunicated partly due to his paranoia:
Steve called saying that he thought he was about to be
excommunicated. "Why?" I asked. He wasn't sure and was afraid something
was going on behind his back. I suggested he tape the charges when the
elders came by -- he got word of their impending visit When they came,
the tape became the sign he really wasn't repentant.. they gave him no
specifics except for the big F [faction]. Steve thus became the first
of many to be excommunicated for "faction." They gave him no room to
hear their charges or repent -- they simply told him he was
The preemptive first strike is essential to the production of deviance
within this sect. This "shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later" tactic
actually triggers the behavior that was defined to the secret
participants at the earlier time. Whether the initial behavior defined
as deviant was real or contrived, the behavior after the first strike is
generally quite obvious. Targets are perceived as factious and spreading
lies and slander about the group. The group then warns targets about
banned activities. Since targets believe that the behaviors in question
haven't occurred, or were not "deviant," they try to acquit themselves,
or, as their response becomes more focused, actually end up accusing the
leadership of spreading lies and slander. However, since the core
participants believe that the initial definitions of the situation must
be true because elders are infallible, and since, in most cases, targets
occupy a lower status, or have even left, the target's accusations
against the elders are rarely investigated and are used to show to all
that the individual is indeed slanderous and factious. Thus the
"sin-potential" status allows for the skillful use of secrecy when
explaining a crisis to lower- status members:
[Elders] I know there are questions, but we don't need
to get into all the specifics, saints, and lay out the whole
conversations and everything that we had with [the target], because we
were there and that's what's taken place just like we've said.
Secrecy aids in the creation of a mythical portrait of the target within
each member's mind, even though no facts are shared by the leadership.
In this regard, Graeme Newman (1978), in his discussion of the Holy
Inquisition, notes that "the secrecy in which [the inquisitions] were
conducted stimulates the suspicious mind of the ordinary person and at
the same time serves to prevent any record or investigation of "what
really went on." "(p.87). The main body of evidence used at the
target's inquisition are his responses to the initial warnings.
Exploiting "Catch-22s" and Frustration Formation
Targets reported being placed in impossible dilemmas, in which targets
confessed that they were guilty. If they did not confess their guilt, no
reconciliation meetings took place. Moreover, the fact that no
reconciliation meetings took place indicated that the targets were not
only guilty, but were continuing to sin, because only active sinners
would refuse to meet in reconciliation meetings. Targets often reported
that reconciliation meetings were simply "gang-ups" in which the
leadership brought a support team but the targets were not allowed
witnesses in their own defense. If the targets insisted on third party
arbitrators, the leadership used that as evidence of a factious spirit,
and of a basic lack of trust in the goodness of the elders. Anyone who
lacks basic trust in the elders, the sect argues, obviously harbors
negative attitudes, and negative attitudes could "spread" to others.
This may be accomplished by the targets' being militant in attempting to
The following case serves to illustrate the numerous attempts by targets
to "legally" clear themselves by discussion with the elders. At this
juncture, encounters with the non-falsifiable system are clearly
focused. Members struggle in vain to apply the "right" rules of
communication and confrontation, only to discover they can never
[Ralph] On Saturday I talked to [one of three local
OASIS elders]-- and confronted him on Matthew 18, because I felt that he
had dealt wrongly with me in going to the church first with what he
considered sin in my life, without first confronting me on that,
according to Matthew 18. We talked about several other things, and he
said he would think about what I told him, and get back to me later. On
the next Wednesday, I talked with them [the remaining two elders] and I
confronted them both with the same thing, that they had gone to the
church first about a specific sin that they "saw" in my life without
fast confronting me on it, and they both said that they did not feel
that this was a Matthew 18 situation, but a Romans 16:17 situation,
wherefore they thought they need not apply Matthew 18. The [next]
Wednesday, [one of the elders] called our house... and felt it necessary
to confront me on Titus 3, 10, which reads in the King James, "A
man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject;
knowing that he as such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of
himself." [He] gave me a first warning... and after asking a particular
question and talking for about one minute, he gave me a second
warning... I got all three of them within a couple of minutes. He was
kind of giving me this - "Well, you shouldn't really be doing this
[speaking what I know about the church]. I'll have to do something about
it. And I said, "Is this a warning?" And he said, "Yes." And I said,
"Okay, I just wanted to know where we were at." And then a minute later
I said, "Oh, is this the second warning?" And he said, "Yes." And I
said, "Well, where does that put me now?" And he said, "This means that
we are free to take disciplinary action against you." And they did. I
have written down that the next Tuesday... they had a church meeting
where my sister, another one, and I were all rejected according to Titus
At this juncture, the next step varies dramatically from subject to
subject. In some cases, another "gang-up" takes place, almost always at
the wee hours of the night, and a final appeal for repentance is
proffered. Since most targets do not believe they committed crimes, and
reaffirm their innocence, they are then informed that they are
excommunicated. At the earliest convenience, the entire church is
informed of the decision. The following testimony is illustrative.
Charles, a leader in the sect, called a church-wide meeting to discuss
how his local church could become more effective. This was a result of a
survey he conducted where members were asked to list their gravest
concerns about the church. This activity caused the other leaders to
send for what ex-members have labeled "the flying apostolic posse,"
which began meeting in secret about Charles.
[Charles] At 9:30, I was called to meet with nine
brothers. There I was told to repent of calling that meeting ... and of
not being submissive ... I didn't believe God was convicting me that
that meeting was a sin, or that I was unsubmissive and therefore I
couldn't repent. At 1:30 A.M. they let me go under discipline of the
An example of another tactic occurred when a target was invited into a
meeting under the ruse that several elders from around the country were
gathering to discuss the problems the target [in this case an elder] had
about the sect. The target had witnessed what he considered to be
deceitful and underhanded practices that the sect employed with the
legal and academic authorities.
[Noel] When the meeting was called I fully expected that
the elders would try and straighten [the leaders] out on these deceitful
practices. The meeting came as an entire shock to me... The [elders]
were silent when I said I could not, with a clear conscience, go along
with some of the practices. On the contrary, the brothers supported the
accusations made on my character; pride, as they saw it. One elder was
vocal; the others were silent but appeared to assent to the accusation
by their silence. A question that bothered me tremendously about this
was - if they wanted to help me correct a weakness in my life, why
didn't they come to me personally beforehand instead of bringing my wife
and me to a "hung jury" [sic] of nine elders?
Trial By Absentia: Generating Paranoia
There are other examples, however, in which the targets are actually
left in the dark through the whole process: from the initial secret
meetings, the inquisition, the defining and labeling, and the general
church-wide meeting where they are officially excommunicated. This
deviance-production track has some interesting variations. Sometimes the
first and second warnings to the target are actually cloaked within
meetings with a different stated purpose. Controversial topics are
brought up and requests for input and comments from the target are
solicited. The target's responses are then noted and when the leadership
engages in challenging dialogue it is later considered a "warning" by
the elders. The target might walk away from the meeting thinking that he
has really seen that the sect is indeed open to frank discussion about
controversial issues. This dialogue, however, pops up as evidence of
"undermining the leadership" at the targets trial.
[Thomas] We had an all-church meeting concerning [the
sect's publishing endeavors] where I voiced my objections loud and
clear. I really didn't know what I was doing. I didn't realize that
everything I said was going into the little black books in the elders'
minds. I just figured we were really free to express our opinions ...
Boy, was I ever naive!
I wrote a letter to the editors [of the sects magazine],
asking them to answer several questions. Well, I never received a reply,
but my elders did. They got a photocopy of my letter, along with a note
that told them to watch out for me because I was potentially rebellious.
Others have been excommunicated for simply writing letters of concern to
Sending the letter was [Chet's and Don's] first and only
factious act. What better way to get rid of "pesky" men who are bringing
up important issues than to put them under church discipline?
If the church discipline is to merely prevent the
members of the church from being corrupted by the "sinful" member, then
this instance becomes especially ridiculous since [Chet] moved to
Connecticut never to return. Why place someone under church
discipline when they have already moved 1300 miles away?
Some people have been informed, albeit a considerable time after the
fact, that they have been excommunicated, and have even been fortunate
enough to get the 'charges' down on paper. Many others, however, never
know. They find out through what is called "the rumor mill." The
following series of testimonies best illustrate this:
[Ron] I said I was unclear on exactly why I had been put
out, "excommunicated" in his own term. "I would like to know what I have
done," I said. [The elder] refused to answer any of my questions. "We
excommunicated you," he said, using that very word, "and now the Word
[Bible] forbids me to have anything to do with you." ...I do not know
firsthand from the elders what I have done, they will not speak to me
except on the condition that I repent fully first? What can I say? How
can I write a letter about my excommunication under these conditions?
The ... elders have not contacted me, they did not inform me of
their actions, they did not give me a chance to defend myself, they
would not meet face to face with me, they gave me a second warning and
excommunicated me immediately, without waiting to see how I would mend
[Mitch] Perhaps the single greatest point of anger,
hurt, and puzzlement for [my wife and me] in all of this is that we
still have not been told by you what Charges have been brought against
[Marie] Alice was the first of these sisters to be axed.
She has not had further words from the [church] concerning their action.
Thus she has no exact and written idea of what the charges against her
are; the "elders" have withheld the charges against her, in much the
same way they withheld the charges against me. The rumor mill has not
been a great help. Suzie attended one of the meetings where Alice's
excommunication was announced; the "elders" gave the charge as faction
and hinted that there were other issues; which apparently they did not
explicitly want to talk to Alice about. It is curious that the [church]
would be silent about other crimes; for example, in Phil's case, they
hung out every piece of dirty laundry they could find. The [church's]
reluctance to make these matters known has caused me to infer that they
are even less apt than the charges against Phil. It is a routine ploy, I
guess, for the [church] to claim there were "other problems" after an
excommunication; but this time, they said this upon the occasion of the
[Janice] About a month ago I was disciplined, or
something. I've been tempted to call [the elders] and ask just what my
status is - some people say that I've been excommunicated, but some
still talk to me. I wish they [the elders] would have told me what they
were doing. I was publicly "whatevered" at the same meeting as [Mark],
and he wasn't notified either.
These letters, testimonials, and documents, as well as dozens of others,
seem to indicate that it is not the target, per se, who is the focus of
the crisis, or even of a "cure" by threat of expulsion. It appears that
in a vast majority of the cases, the "crisis" was, for the most part
created by the sect and then exploited as an opportunity to teach
obedience and loyalty. The target is given up for lost, but the effect
of the crisis in the hearts and minds of the sect makes fertile soil for
subsequent instruction. With the sect threatened, the congregation is
exhorted, inspected, reproved, and comforted.
The following findings support this vicarious social control tactic:
1) Targets are mostly unaware of their crimes, trial, and
2) The targets crimes are, for the most part, nebulous or
3) Sometimes targets are not informed of their rejection.
4) Sometimes the target is informed a considerable time
after the fact.
5) Many targets are excommunicated long after they have
left the sect.
6) Very little effort is made on the part of the leadership
for reconciliation or rehabilitation of targets.
7) Sometimes the elders won't even tell targets their
8) The congregation is not told the specifies of the
9) Questions by the congregation about the target are used
as an opportunity to instruct the members on group norms.
10) Excommunication meetings are made up almost entirely of
instruction about group norms, and the targets are hardly ever
11) The population pool where targets are selected appears
totally arbitrary and subjective.
The Final Step: The "Degradation Ceremony"
The process of excommunication culminates in the "degradation ceremony"
(Garfinkel, 1956). These ceremonies are extremely intense and may last
for several hours. Most cases occur out of the context of regular
church-wide gatherings and are generally hastily called. Rumors are
rampant and a great sense of fear pervades the group.
[Dave] A few days after we returned from a summer
conference, people started to hear some things that were going on in our
local church. People had heard some information and people were leaving
the church. The elders called an emergency meeting to clear up the
confusion. We were called up and told to "come over right away." Nobody
knew anything at the time. We were all just real confused and scared.
This particular meeting was opened with the following pronouncement:
[Chris] [The head elder] got up first and he said that
there were some serious problems. People had heard some slanderous
information. He said that some people are going to leave the church and
some had already left. He said people were being attacked by Satan and
that the church was under attack by Satan. He said that this has
happened in other churches, and that if we stick together God will make
things work out for the best.
With a basic commentary couched in austere language, this meeting and
others are opened with smashing implications for the entire band.
[Danny - an Elder] The situation basically in a nutshell
is this: that there's been a root of faction that has crept into the
church; and the result of that faction is that four saints have left.. a
few others have been seriously affected... to the point where they have
contemplated leaving or... now have serious questions and problems with
the church and with its leadership. And many others have been in contact
with this faction... we've come up with almost a fourth of the church
that has been affected.. there's been much presumption, lying, strife,
that has sought to undermine the very work of God...
In all cases but one that were studied the targets were not present, and
in the lone case where the target was present, a mistake was made by the
leadership because so many people were listed as dangerous that they
apparently couldn't remember who wasn't:
[Bart] One member was turned away at the door. A group
of us who later found that we were considered divisive wanted to go to
the meeting. Many were stopped at the entrance by the three elders who
literally formed a wall with their bodies. We had just arrived and we
missed the first skirmish but we saw the wall and we tried to get in.
They didn't welcome us at first, but someone said in the background,
"No, they're okay." So they let us through. We were the only two that
were on the list, and there were only three of us who were under
suspicion that were at the meeting, but we didn't know it at the time.
The members greeted us, and considered us a part of the group.
Excommunication as a Form of Vicarious Social Control
The excommunication meeting serves as the forum for reinforcing the
primary norms of the group. These norms, because of their potentially
abusive, arrogant, and authoritarian nature, are not clearly stated
during the course of normal group activities. These foundational norms,
if brought up and explained in a low-tension context, would actually be
counter-productive. It would be as odious as declaring martial law at a
time of peace and prosperity.
In the excommunication meeting, the surface impression is that the
target is the focus of the action. Indeed, this is the reason for the
gathering and the initial subject of conversation. Targets are the
object of the definition and label. However, evidence indicates that the
targets are simply players in the game of boundary definition.
Excommunicants are the key and pivotal link in the successful
communication of the real norms of the group from the leaders to the
members. Bart, a member who observed a recent excommunication meeting,
There were a lot of things like sophistry - circular
reasoning - things that just didn't make any sense. [The teaching] would
start generally with the stuff that was right around it but yet it
really didn't. In other words, there were extreme statements said but in
the conference context - a safe context - they kind of modified
themselves. It was like there were two levels. At the crisis meeting it
started connecting. There was a discrepancy between what we saw and what
In this context of crisis, "martial law" is more readily accepted. If
the leaders play the game to near perfection, the members themselves will
actually demand that "martial law" be imposed. Judicial and ethical
norms are often willingly relaxed, and the leaders can begin to define
the limits of their authority and the expectations for conformity by the
members. By using the target as a scapegoats, controversial and sometimes
authoritarian guidelines are introduced. The excommunication meeting
creates the best atmosphere for such parameters to be successfully
illustrated and accepted.
[Brian] The elders would say at the meetings, "Even if
your information is true, which it isn't, you're still not to listen to
it or accept it." That just blew my mind. I've heard it over and over
again from them, "Its slander even if its true." It is interesting that
none of this stuff concerning the church's doctrines - I hadn't been in
the church long enough to see a copy of the "JOY OF JUSTICE." I had
never seen that article or language. Issues such as church discipline,
authority, [etc.], had never even entered my mind until this situation.
All the things going on in the meeting seemed to contradict the basic
beliefs of the group. I went to another church before I came to.... and
I would read the Bible, especially the verses on church discipline and
slander; and they were just totally removed from me. It was like, that
happened then, but those sort of things don't happen today. I assumed
everyone in ... felt the same way, and because of that blind spot I
had no reason to think otherwise.
Psychological Reductionism and the Role of Repressive Communication
The elaborate and confining rules of information control, "what to
hear," "what to see," "what to think," "what to say," etc., are
introduced to a fearful and anxious congregation concerned with the
preservation of its integrity and way of life. Margaret Singer points
... combinations of social and psychological techniques
are easier, more effective, cheaper, than gun-at-the-head methods of
coercion. Social and psychological persuasion are also less likely to
attract attention and thus are unlikely to mobilize opposition early and
easily from those being manipulated. Forcing citizens to speak in
organizationally controlled jargon would aid in the controlling of
independent thinking. (Singer, 1985)
Focused within the excommunication meetings are a plethora of
"mind-numbing" techniques that are often able to block normal thought
processes and rational thinking. These techniques are carefully
controlled by the elders. The congregation is barraged with confusing
and often contradicting statements, innuendos, accusations, and fear.
The method of delivery is inherently unpredictable, as one elder will
talk for fifteen or twenty minutes, only to be immediately replaced by
another elder who will, in some instances, say seemingly incoherent
messages and, in a few cases, actually contradict what was just said
minutes earlier. This alternating communication scheme may be essential
for creating the confusion, fear, and sensory bombardment necessary for
the eventual indoctrination of the foundational norms of the group.
Further study of this possibility is necessary.
In addition to the volley of dialogue from the elders, statements of
confirmation, affirmation, or denunciation are offered from the
congregation itself. These informational punctuations are mainly given
by the men who were involved in the one or two small, private secret
meetings with the elders when the initial defining process and
inquisition were taking place. This fact, however, is usually unknown to
the congregation. The effects of this apparent on-the-spot agreement by
so many up-and-coming leaders creates an almost irresistible environment
of seeming unanimity and vocal support. This atmosphere also appears
essential to the eventual group renunciation/denunciation process
against the target and the eliciting/suppressing process of the new norm
commitment. The elders continually remind the congregation about
natural emotions that are occurring at this time: "We know its hard,"
"We know its very difficult," "We know you're frightened and confused,"
"We know you're devastated." By these acknowledgments the congregation
seems melded together into a wounded corporate self that is reeling from
a near mortal wound. This state is nurtured until the end of the meeting
when the expulsion of the target occurs. At this juncture, the elders
focus all the hurt and anger and confusion that has been corporately
felt throughout the entire meeting onto the target or targets. Then the
elders demand an immediate reversal of emotion. The members are NOW
exhorted to "rejoice in doing what is good." They are told to "love what
they are doing." They are told to "be thankful" for this "occurrence."
[Elders] Saints, I just want you all to rejoice in doing
what is right. To rejoice in God's word. To rejoice in being obedient to
what God has said. That's our responsibility, and yes, it's hard, it is
difficult to rejoice in doing what is right.
In this area [of excommunication] I know as far as the
emotional relationship the elders are probably closer to [the target]
than anybody. And it's been hard, its been hard but we need to rejoice
in the Lord and rejoice in doing what is right, according to His word.
And to be faithful to it no matter what. You have to realize the
strength of what has taken place.
At this stage, sometimes a second barrage of alternating delivery
occurs, and again there is "on-the-spot" agreement from within the
congregation. The back-wash of emotion that has been created now becomes
focused in the denunciation of the confirmed deviants. A tremendous
sense of relief occurs, and the congregation is then often told to be
even more committed, devoted, and dedicated to the preservation of the
group, its leaders, and its doctrines. Squeezed into this idea is the
fact that the elders state that the whole process could have easily been
prevented if only the congregation had stayed under the protection and
guard of the elders - if members would simply control their thoughts and
The Emergence of Moral Gatekeepers and the Practice of Black- listing
Excommunications succeed in deputizing a whole core of "moral
gatekeepers" who feel obligated to spy on one another and to mark those
who exhibit questionable behavior. Such exhortations and the definitions
given during excommunications are highly successful in mobilizing most
members for their role as both secret police and as enforcers of the
"law." Subtly communicating to the congregation that ongoing
surveillance is essential to the stability of the group guarantees a
continual pool of "potential" deviants. The sect doctrines for
surveillance first appeared ten years ago.
The '76 excommunicant was watched for two years for signs of disloyalty
after he voiced some hesitation about the "authoritarian trends" the
group had embraced back at a leadership conference in 1974. The 1976
event seems to have been the foundation for the group's present practice
of "marking" or "listing." Suspected "traitors" are often put on a list
and watched, often for several years. Evidence is then compiled for
eventual use if the need arises. All this is done, in most cases,
without the target's knowledge. A comparison of the practice of
"marking" from its apparent inception in 1976, up through the present,
[Elders to congregation during the excommunication of
(B) in 1976] Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause
dissension... disunity within a group. Keep an eye on them. The King
James Bible says, "mark them" Put an "X" on them - like the Jews in the
Second World War. Mark them - like Hitler did the Jews (not in any way to
go any further with that application). Mark them! I want you to keep an
eye on them. Don't let them out of your sight. Why? Because I tell you
what - a factious man is worse than a rattlesnake... when he's trying
[to] get enough food to go to sleep. He's more dangerous than an immoral
person in the church - he's more dangerous... Have nothing to do with
[Mark, an elder, to the Apostles - 1985 ]* (The
leadership] label[ed] me as dangerous to the very ones with whom I was
in fellowship. You know quite well that when you label someone as
"dangerous" to another person, it has an immediate chilling effect on
their relationships. The elders told them that I presented a danger to
them... and indicated that I was "the most dangerous threat to [the
church]." I did not find out until two years later that such things had
been communicated. I have wondered over the past two years as I tried to
pick up some loose ends and move back into the mainstream of fellowship
why I felt such resistance and coolness on the part of some. Now I know.
* This man was one of the elders who excommunicated [B] in 1976 and
helped develop the "marking" doctrine. He thus became caught in his own
web, which was out of "control" nine years later. The Segmentation and
Categorizing of "Deviants"
[Dave - 1986] [The elder] read off several names [and as
he was reading] these names, this was the first time that most of these
[members] had heard anything about it and ... and ... they were
stunned. They were [saying], "Oh, no! Oh, no!" They thought [those
listed] were gone ... they'd failed [sic] away from God - [members] were
so upset. And that was the first list.
The second list that [the head elder] read off, he
said," Now these people have heard the information but they haven't made
a decision. They are trying to work things out so let's just give our
support, welcome them and ah, encourage them to seek truth. We called
that the "grey list." The first one was the "black list." They called it
list one - list two, but it was the black list and the grey list.
He read off six names [on the grey list] and they said
to be friendly with them. Throughout that week they were continually
calling all of us on that list, asking us, "Can we get together? Can we
talk?" And, "How you been? How's school going?" and, ah, "Are you going
to be distributing information?" Every time. That is all they were
concerned about. That was obvious that that is what those calls were
ultimately for, was "Oh, by the way, are you going to be distributing
In this case, several participants discovered that they were among
several who were officially designated "potential" troublemakers at the
This interview illustrates that a segmentation of deviants is clearly
developed in the initial definitional meetings. The targets are divided
into two camps: 1) Those who not only have heard the "information" but
are distributing it to other members, and 2) those who have heard the
"information" and as yet are not distributing it to others.
Further interviewing revealed a clearer understanding of the evolution
since 1976 of the sects practice of "marking." In this particular
meeting, the sect leadership had three separate lists that were
presented to the membership. The first list was titled "affected." Five
names were read from this list, which sect members dubbed "the grey
list." A second list was titled "divisive" and contained the names of
five other sect members. This list was dubbed by listeners as "the black
list." A third list was also compiled which was titled "other affected,"
and contained the names of several other members of the sect.
[Allen] suggested that the distinction between lists apparently was that those
that were on the "darkest" list were the ones that were actually active
and those on the "grey" list were there under the belief that "when
people even hear something it can affect them."
The grey list was thus comprised of people the sect acknowledged had not
done anything but hear information. Yet, even receipt of information
marks a member as a potential deviant. The member exposed to
"information" is "infected" whether the member knows it or not,
regardless of that member's subsequent activity. [Allen] elaborates:
It seems [the elders] segmented us into aggressive
versus passive. Both groups were basically considered enemies, but the
passive enemies were enemies only to the people that they knew. That is
the reason [the elders] read off the third list. Those were all the
people the elders could think of that those on the first two lists could
possibly infect with information.
Consequently, members of the sect may find themselves a candidate for
"marking," not only by simply hearing "information," but by being
friends with someone who did. Potential deviance within OASIS is now
expanded by simple association with members who by the sect's own
admission "have done nothing wrong" but listen.
The Functions of "Victims" and "Enemies"
The criteria for segmentation is similar to Gusfield's (1967) "repentant
deviant" and "enemy deviant." Within the sect, deviants are generally
classed as either factious or victims. A factious man could be defined
as one who has internalized a different, threatening set of norms than
the group's, and is actively seeking to gather others around him. To the
sect, the factious man has not committed sin; he is a sinner. The
victim's deviance, however, is seen as a temporary lapse in morality.
Victims are seen as violating the rules of communication by receiving
"information," and are now caught with "dainty morsels" that could eat
away their commitment and loyalty to the group. Members of the sect are
told to seek out these victims in order to aid and restore them to their
Factious men, once officially labeled, are to be shunned. Thus, within
this sect, participation and involvement with certain members increase
dramatically once labeled a victim, and participation with other members
is eliminated once they are labeled as "factious."
There is a gradual shift from the definition of the
specific acts as evil to a definition of the individual as evil, so that
all his acts come to be looked upon with suspicion. In the process of
identification his companions, hang-outs, play, speech, income, all his
conduct, the personality itself, become subject to scrutiny and
question. From the community's point of view, the individual who used to
do bad and mischievous things has now become a bad and unredeemable
human being. (Tannenbaum, 1938; 17)
Repentant deviants who are sought after and are "won back" are an
integral part of the functional aspects of deviance causation within the
sect. The repentant deviants who "come back to their senses" help to
reaffirm several key norms of the group. 1) Their restoration confirm
the group's right to confront and watch victims or suspects. 2) The
repentant deviant's reaffirmation of loyalty to the group represents a
collective agreement to the basic morality and righteousness of the
group and the inherent evil of the "information" that was initially
heard. 3) The repentant deviant's confession of "sin" in violating the
group's communication controls serves to confirm the veracity and
necessity of those strict boundaries.
Enemy deviants are also functional in this regard and serve as a
necessary contrast between the victories of "God" and the victories of
"Satan." The enemy deviant thus becomes the classic "heretic," and/or
"reprobate," who refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the group's
norms or values, and thus rejects the appeals by the group for
"repentance." Possibly because enemy deviants call into question the
norms and values of the group, judgment on them is swift and punitive.
Procedural safeguards are relaxed or eliminated altogether, and the
message to the members concerning those who "spread information" is,
"two strikes and you're OUT."
Members must repent whether they agree that they have been divisive or
not. Members must yield to the definition placed by the leadership or
they could be labeled and expelled within hours. If a member yields to
the demand for confession, the process is not over, since the target is
already "one strike down." The same target may be pinpointed again as
divisive three months or three years later and again confronted. The
target must again yield since he is reminded that he has already been
warned once before. There is, therefore, further pressure to confess,
regardless of whether the target believes he has been divisive. Needless
to say, the pressure mounts if a member has "repented after being warned
twice." The sect has a powerful tool to demand conformity in those sect
members in this position. The result is that many "divisive" people are
excommunicated for not yielding to definitions, and those members, "no
matter how repentant they may be," are not allowed back into the sect.
It is clear that restoration is not the goal in these cases.
For repentant deviants, treatment seems to be on the order of "70 times
7 forgiveness." They are looked on as a "Peter," (who lapsed in his
denial of Christ but was restored). Enemy deviants seem to be a "Judas,"
who was "never one of us in the first place."
From sect teaching, only divisive people can become true sect enemies.
Then, by using excommunication as generally one of two possible
alternatives (the other being mass deception), the congregation, en
masse, assents to the strict communication controls that are brought up
in the meeting as the only acceptable out. Thus, it can be argued that a
powerful behavior reconstruction program has been implemented.
"Division" becomes the catchphrase for an endless list of possible
communicational and attitudinal "sins."
[Jack, an elder and a "witness" in an excommunication]
When I talked with [the present excommunicant]. I had a feeling that
there was a seed of doubt in his mind, even before I knew that he had
talked to [a past excommunicant]. He admitted that he was questioning
motives and things. It was not even that specifics had been laid out,
but that he had gotten a seed of doubt from someone who was negative.
Let's face it. [The present target] is disobeying the Lord right now.
[The present target] is in sin. He is disobeying scriptural principles.
So his walk is not right with God. And the influence that he has overall
is not going to be proper until he gets back in line with what God says
and does what God says. He knows what he is supposed to do but he is
refusing so he's rebelling against a very strong principle which if all
of us started doing there would be disunity. Disunity would be rampant
in every work... Nobody could work like that. You'd be mistrusting of
everybody. And we want to eliminate that. So, if they call up and it
comes to anything about questioning the authority of the elders or the
church just say, "Look, I don't want to listen to that. You've gone a
different direction, fine. You disagree, fine. But, I don't want to
listen to your gripes against the church. This is my home. These are
people I love.
Of key importance here is the strong exhortation to mass conformity,
couched in the combined sentence that "if all of us ... had gotten a
seed of doubt from someone who was negative ... disunity would be
rampant in every work. You'd be mistrusting of everybody and we want to
eliminate that." What the elders are attempting to eliminate is mistrust
of themselves through the elimination of those with "seeds of doubt."
The Functions of External "Enemies"
The leadership successfully turns the eyes of the congregation outward.
If the members stray from the umbrella of the elders, they can be
victimized. If they talk negatively about the group, they can be
irreparably deceived. If they listen to the world, they can be tricked.
All suspicion is focused outside the boundaries of the group by warning
of powerful, external enemies. As a result, one could hypothesize that
the leaders are given free reign to define, instruct, exhort and direct
a totally unsuspecting congregation. Members are suspecting of
non-members and unsuspecting of their leaders. By teaching that there
are "wolves" that want to devour them, the congregation will beg for
wolf-killers -- guards who have all the authority to protect the weak
and helpless flock. Since the "wolves" are often disguised as common
sheep, the congregation is told that they may not even know that the
person they communicate with is a "wolf." Thus, the congregation is made
to believe that their own powers of discernment are seriously flawed or
underdeveloped and that the elders are the only ones with the maturity
and ability to discern a "wolf" from a "sheep." This succeeds in
creating not only a sanctified police force within the group, but also
an external conscience and a near total dependence upon external
[Elders] [Our enemies are] telling people that only if
you get out of the group will your eyes be opened up to see what's going
on. But look, don't be naive, that's their tactic. Don't worry about it.
The group manipulates rewards, punishments, and experiences that result
in the systematic severing of members and their past support systems.
These include their own powers of independent and rational thinking,
their ability to test, define, and evaluate, as well as their ability to
freely interact with others about their experiences. These internal
support systems are replaced with exterior support systems over which
the leaders have considerable control. In addition, emotional support
systems are severely controlled and curtailed. Normal human responses to
crises and fears are subjected to confining processes which seem
unnatural. Past emotional and psychological defenses and adaptations
members may have developed are rechanneled and/or curtailed. Members are
often asked to be happy and glad when they excommunicate their friends.
They are told to rejoice when parents and friends tell them that they
are in a "cultic" group. They are told not to worry when the newspapers
and legal officials begin "snooping around." They are told to trust
their elders even when they share no facts or information about the
external and internal battles that are going on other than "we were
there and we know what is right." Criticisms from the outside are
repeated by the elders in a manner geared to elicit even more commitment
to the group. Present external criticisms are linked with past
historical persecutions in a kind of "negative legitimization" scheme.
[Elders] This is why we've gotten you together tonight.
We're concerned about any communication that some might receive and just
about guarding our own hearts and our minds and not even pursuing
information, because the Word says "a worthless man digs up evil." I
want to emphasize that we are concerned for you, and when you first hear
about [defections] it many times will cause fear. You may think, "Well
what's going on?" and why would two that are so strong leave, and it's
really a difficult situation, and I want to go through some scriptures
that will comfort your hearts tonight.. In the midst of difficult
circumstances what we do is to start looking at our circumstances and
questioning, and it causes confusion in our minds of "why is this going
on," "why has this happened?"
Preliminary public definitions in these excommunication meetings emerge
out of apparent mass confusion. Discrepancies between attitudes and
behavior produce a state of psychological distress, which Festinger
(1957) called "cognitive dissonance." A number of seemingly unrelated
"facts" about the subject are allowed to enter the "rumor mill" and,
playing on the natural tendency of members to attempt to align these
facts with their knowledge of the subject, a process of negotiation
What looks to members as a disaster is defined as a "purifying
experience sent by God"; a "filling of the soil for a rich spiritual
[Elders, during an excommunication - 1985]. In times
like this the devil is trying to get us to think all kinds of things.
But this is a time when we can take advantage of the best opportunity to
get to know God because we are in desperate need and it is through these
tribulations and trials that God works and gets us closer to each other.
We need to really take advantage and let God be your refuge. When you
get to the point of, "Oh, God, I can't stand what you're doing in this
situation, I can't believe what's going on, I don't like it" and it's
screwing up your whole life and thoughts and everything the way you've
planned it, then when you say that you are at a point where God can
begin to work in your hearts and show you what He is really doing and
that this is really for the best.
The Renunciation/Denunciation Process
Several important psychological mechanisms seem to be at work in these
excommunication meetings. An integral part of the meeting is the
"renunciation/denunciation" process. The members, faced with the
severity of the problem as defined by the leaders, and seeing how easily
vulnerable they are to "faction," renounce again their willingness to
hear or see negative or disparaging information. In essence, one could
hypothesize that they are renouncing their own mental faculties in favor
of the external definitions placed by the leadership. Whatever
information members may have heard must be validated by the leadership,
and cannot be validated by the members' own faculties. Coupled with this
renunciation appears to be a backwash of strong anxieties and
frustrations, as members realize that they simply cannot, and should
not, trust themselves. All this pent-up emotion is therefore successfully
vented in the direction of the target. Members have renounced, now they
must denounce. Denunciation focuses the anxieties and ambivalence that
ordinarily would fall back on the system and gives it a legitimate
channel. The target then becomes the biblical "sin offering," where all
the Hebrews laid their hands on a bull and mystically imparted to it
their own shortcomings, and then the leaders took the bull outside the
camp and slew it.
This renunciation/denunciation phase is where coercive persuasion and
deviance production merge. In denouncing the confirmed deviant, the
remaining sect members are renouncing all other options for roles and
behaviors that are not sanctioned by the leadership. It appears that the
degree of renunciation is linked to the strength of the denunciation.
The more insidious the confirmed deviant is made to be, the more
liberties the remaining members renounce. The more ghastly the
excommunicant's crimes, the more authority the remaining members grant
to the prevention of those crimes.
If the membership has en masse engaged in this phase, the challenge for
the sect leadership is to somehow perpetuate the norms inculcated within
the excommunication, even under unsupervised conditions.
Post-Labeling Behaviors: Shunning
This renunciation/denunciation response explains several behaviors that
subsequently follow an OASIS excommunication. Since the sect is
extremely social-support oriented, deep friendships are forged, and
members share an inordinate number of experiences in many facets of
life. Yet, if one of these individuals is defined as a "factious man,"
the following day he wakes up to a whole new world.
An elder's wife explains the sect's belief in shunning, forged out of
the responses to the 1976 excommunicant.
[Angie - 1987] The [1976 excommunication] was the
beginning. We had already done the exercise - we had already done the
drill so no one needed to tell us what a "shunning" involved. It meant
that if you saw the person on the street that you didn't speak to them,
that you replied to none of their phone calls, none of their letters -
that you refused to address them as a human being at all. It meant that
they were separated from God and turned over to the devil for
destruction of their flesh. Things were said that indicated to me that
it was their attitude that that person would eventually be taken by the
Lord [killed] if they did not repent and that God's care would be
withdrawn from them and that they were just thrown to the devil.
Christians could not associate with them because of the leavening
influence they could have on their minds because of the possibility of
Thus, if a target is excommunicated, friends of long standing will
ignore him. Present members will turn their faces away. Members will go
to great lengths to avoid contact with the labeled deviants. They will
walk on the other side of the street; they will hang up the phone or not
answer the door. They will shun confirmed deviants in the extreme.
The successful venting of the pent-up anxieties, frustration, and anger
that are created within such a context is accomplished by encouraging
the focusing of elaborate behaviors of shunning. The following
interviews illustrate most of the sect's shunning tactics. Shunning is
presented here from the elders' perspectives:
[Rob - 1986] [The elder] talked about how we should be
enthusiastic about hating sin. And he gave us a reference of Romans
12:9, which says, "love must be sincere, hate what is evil, cling to
what is good." And he talked about how not only should we hate the sin
but we should hate them - we should hate the sinner - we should hate
what is evil, and ... he was just very angry when he was saying this,
that, we should really just hate these people for what they are doing.
[Elders - 1985] God hates the man who spreads dissension
between brothers, brothers in the Lord, more than a man who would take
the innocent blood - go out and murder an innocent person! God hates
that even more. Imagine that! Now that's a pretty heavy statement.
The following testimonies illustrate how members react to officially
labeled "deviants" who have been cast out of the sect, as well as
subsequent reactions by the target to shunning.
[Gail] My family was put out for "creating a faction."
My husband was a leader of the church. He knew these people when, but
after a proclamation of faction, friends that we had known for years,
some that I knew for 13 years, would not even acknowledge that we were
alive. We would see people at the mail and they would duck into a store
or walk on the other side. My husband saw a man in the bank, and he
would not even look at him. They sat three feet apart. We saw a woman
in the school office. Her son said "Hi" to us as if nothing was wrong,
but his mom stared at the ceiling until we left.
[Phil] We got hate mail, accusing us of trying to take
over the church. We got visits from "delegations" with sealed letters of
warning and reproof. We got deceptive phone calls. We finally
disconnected the phone and got a post office box. We had to move. Every
once in a while another person will defect from the church. When they
tell us what the church has been saying about us, it really hurts. These
people are so wrapped up in "submission" to their elders, that a close
friend one day can be discarded the next like a dirty rag. It is no
shame to be excommunicated from a church like that.
Deviance through Word Magic and Definition
The case of a man who had been labeled "divisive" and excommunicated and
was then "cleared" two days later illustrates a deeper understanding of
the power of the label. Both his excommunication and the subsequent
clearing were done without the target ever being aware of what he had
done. He was 250 miles away at the time. He never received an official
letter of excommunication or writ of absolution, but the target was put
under the ban and then exonerated in two separate church-wide meetings:
[Marcus] I was invited over for pizza by a girl named
[Anne] that was still in the church... Then another girl [Mary] arrived
and she acted very serious and she started grilling me. She then started
to interrogate [others there]. She wanted to know who [they were] and
why [they were] there, and all sorts of questions. After a while [they
all left] and [Anne] went outside. [Mary] and I were in the middle of a
conversation and [Mary] broke it off and said, "Wait a minute, I just
want to say I don't want to hear anything" [about..]. And I said, "Well,
I don't plan on saying anything." I said, "[Mary], what's the problem?
[Anne] told you that I was going to be here, didn't she?" And she said,
"No." And then [Mary] said, "I thought this was a set-up." "Then [Anne]
came back in and we talked for a while and then all of a sudden [Mary]
started to get up, and [Anne] said, "What's wrong?" And [Mary] said, "I
need to be going." And [Anne] said, "[Mary], what do you mean?" And
[Mary] said, "I need to leave, I need to leave." By this time [Anne] was
totally puzzled and [Mary] started walking out. There was this big
argument between them and finally I said, "Have I sinned?" And [Mary]
turned around and she said, "Well, I take that being divisive is sin!"
And I said, "You mean, I have been divisive tonight? I've sinned
tonight?" And [Mary] shot back at [Anne], "You should be obeying
authority, you are not obeying authority, and I'm leaving." [Mary]
thought that [Anne] was associating with a person who had been
Somehow it finally dawned on [Anne] that [Mary] didn't
know that after I was said to have been excommunicated and under church
discipline for being divisive that they had cleared me. [Mary] never
found out. [Anne] said, "[Mary], if you came to the Friday night meeting
you would find out these things." And [Mary] said, "Well, no one ever
told me. I thought you were under church discipline."
Then [Mary] turned to me and said, "Well, I'm really
sorry, do you forgive me?" I said, "Yes." It was kind of a big joke to
her and then [Mary] really loosened up. I said to her that I wondered
why she had acted so serious. I thought maybe her personality had
The important point to note in this particular story (which is the only
case that I am aware of where a person was labeled and shunned one day
and exonerated the next, both times without the target knowing what was
going on), is in the powerful emotions the label generated in Mary's
relationship to the target. Mary had known the target for quite some
time and yet she was totally hardened in her opinions that this man was
a deviant. During her whole time with Marcus, Mary was suspicious,
cold, serious, and finally, not able to contain herself any longer,
burst into a series of denunciations against Marcus and against her
friend Anne for associating with a confirmed deviant. However, after
Mary discovers that Marcus has been "cleared" by the elders, her
reaction toward him is totally different. Marcus again becomes a human
being, someone with rights that Mary had violated.
It is clear from this account that the deviant was not inherently
deviant, either before or after being labeled and/or cleared. What
generated the shunning behavior was the declaration of deviance. It was
simply a matter of definition. Mary functioned under a definition that
was entirely real to her. All the target's actions were interpreted as
faction, divisiveness, and deceit, according to the definition Mary was
believing. Once a new definition was accepted, that of a cleared member,
all of Marcus' subsequent actions and words were seen as innocent and
normal to Mary. While he was "deviant," Mary felt totally justified in
railing accusations against him, judging his motives, and in leaving him
forever. As a confirmed deviant Marcus had no rights, and could be
discarded and hated and hit with verbal abuse.
Fear of Victimization as a Social Control Tactic
Shunning behavior is not transitory in this sect, as one might expect.
It is not the same type of behavior associated with childhood spats,
marriage arguments, or friendship quarrels. Within this sect there is
most often no making up, no honeymoon period. Once targets are labeled
factious and denounced, they are cast aside. The definitions and label
appear so powerful, and the magnitude of the excommunication so
all-encompassing, that its effects seem, for all practical purposes,
permanent. In the remaining members' minds, the former members have, in
reality, assumed a totally new identity. They are no longer considered
even to be ex-members, but "wolves in sheep's clothing," and become
negative role models.
Such shunning practices are not only successful with less significant
others. The following testimony from a woman who was told that her
fiance' was "divisive and wicked" and that she was to have nothing to do
with him is the most illustrative:
[Ed - 1985] had left the church and apparently went
through some rehabilitation and we didn't really talk much. I was going
to hang up on him if he started talking about anything against the
church because I was afraid he was going to start deceiving me and I
loved [Ed] but I was really convinced that he had talked to deceptive
This woman [Shelly], suddenly broke off the wedding. This alerted her
parents that something was seriously wrong. Her parents asked Shelly to
My dad was just real upset because he knew that [Ed] and
I really loved each other so much and he couldn't understand why I had
cancelled the wedding. [My family] sat me down and said, "We have a
couple of men that we would like you to talk to," and right away I just
can't tell you the fear that went through my body. It was just like what
I felt then was that Satan was present, and I don't want to exaggerate
it but that was really what was going through my mind... and my brother
said to me, "Well, it's either your family, you listen to them or you
can walk out of here and not talk to [your family] any more." And I
thought, "Okay," and so I walked up to the door to leave because I
equated the church with God and I thought I was getting persecuted now.
I started to walk to leave... and I really wouldn't have talked to my
family after that. I would have thought, "they are deceived, I can't
have anything to do with them." Anyway, I walked to the door and they
wouldn't let me leave, and I was just petrified and I said, "Let me out
of here! Let me out of here!" And I was in a comer with my hands over my
ears saying, "I'm not going to hear this, Satan is here! Satan is here!"
...I was really scared and my brother and my dad had to take me by my
arms and literally drag me into the living room and sit me down in a
chair and I had my hands over my ears and they had to hold my arms down
so that I would listen. And I think back and it's just insane. I would
never have acted like that. I really - I mean, I don't usually do things
like that. It was really just because there was such a fear there that
if I... it was as if they could say a sentence and all of a sudden I
would be deceived.
All of a sudden I would lose my conviction of being in
the church, and that was losing my faith at that point, for me, because
I thought this church was it.
Shelly's fear of victimization was so real that her own fiance and her
own parents and family were seen as "tools of the Devil" to try and
deceive her. This powerful fear, placed upon her and dozens of others in
these excommunications, is created simply by elders' interpretations and
definitions of events. Definitions from leaders (in this case men she
had known for only a year) superseded those given by her family, and her
future husband. Such obviously "deviant" behaviors, by societal
standards, accomplished in so quick a manner and with seemingly little
or no overt coercion by the sect itself, begs for an explanation out of
the ordinary, and triggers the imagination (Meerloo, 1952; Sargent,
1957; Schein et al., 1961).
Post-Labeling Behaviors: Perpetuating Deviance
Once the target is expelled, the crisis for the group is basically over.
The crisis for the target has only just begun. Often, shattered by the
behavior of former friends, and struggling with the implications of
their "crimes," the targets will generally do one of two things. They
may withdraw altogether from their former life and shun religious
reference groups altogether (thus "confirming" the sect's belief that
they were "masquerading" all along), or attempt to negate the stigma and
the damage to their own perceptions of their identity by seeking a new
religious reference group and re-establishing their former life (thus
confirming their "factious" label by "infiltrating" a new, unsuspecting
If confirmed deviants attempt to shift reference groups and return to
conventional religious roles, they are often punished by the sect.
Testimony, both from targets and the sect itself, as well as pastors of
churches newly adopted by targets, confirm this tactic. The leadership
within this sect has been known to follow subjects from new church to
new church and attempt to impose upon the new church the labels and
stereotypes created within the sect. In the sect's eyes, the subject has
been banished from God's chosen church, and is therefore to be kept
outside of religious relationships. Confirmed deviants are relegated to
the "sinful" secular world to which they belonged all along.
[Tim] The elders who had refused to meet directly with
me, showed amazing energy in setting up an appointment with [my new
church oversight] ... [the elders'] purpose was to cause Riverside to
reject me, and I am happy to report that they did not get to first base.
Their efforts bogged down right at the start when they refused to share
any specific charge or evidence - [they] merely asserted that I was
factious, and demanded that Riverside accept that verdict. [My new
oversight] refused, and much of the talk centered on whether the
discipline should be accepted on [their] say-so ...
[Jonathan] Without my knowledge [the elders] went to
talk with my pastor about me. Their concern was that I was giving a bad
report to him and others at my church. It was a charge which he later
told me ... that he knew nothing about. As a result of [the elders']
visiting him, I then had to defend my moral character before a man who
had absolutely no idea of these issues before that time.
The maintenance of post-labeling behaviors, such as shunning and
harassing, is so important to the sect that individuals have even been
excommunicated for laxness in their post-labeling behaviors toward the
targets. Members who were friends of the target must behave as though
the target doesn't exist any more or they themselves may be rejected.
The following letter is indicative of this practice:
February 9, 1979
We, your brothers and sisters, have been informed of
your refusal to reject [Sue] for being factious. This clearly violates
Titus 3: 10-11 where we are instructed to reject a factious man. We
therefore urge you to repent of this sin. If you refuse to listen to
us in this matter we must relate to you as a Gentile and tax-gatherer
Sincerely in Christ,
(Letter signed by 47 members)
The sect leadership was informed that Ann was not shunning her friend
Sue. The leadership, in turn, informed the entire church and a letter
signed by the congregation was sent to Ann. A comparison with 12th
Century Jesuit school life reveals similar reactions: "A system of
informing was developed ... which extended the doctrine of eternal
vigilance. If the informers failed to report offenses [in this case,
failure to shun], they were punished as though they had commited the
acts" (Newman, 1978:64).
The Function of Shunning and Scapegoating
Post-labeling behaviors are essential to the maintenance of the
bicameral normative system and the segmented mentality. Shunning forces
members to live a segmented ethic. The internalization of norms into the
corporate identity is maintained primarily through the effective
channeling of anxiety and guilt onto the confirmed deviant. It can be
hypothesized that if this channel is allowed to erode, and if members
are given freedom to modify their shunning practices, the power of the
scapegoat diminishes. As a consequence, the anxieties might be
rechanneled back onto the sect members and the sect itself. Maintenance
of strict shunning behaviors thus appears functional to the group in
that it minimizes and deflects the ambivalence inherent within a
totalistic environment. The solutions the sect offers for reconciliation
are often so extreme that accepting sect terms is impossible.
[Tom] I was excommunicated by the elders. I called them
up to find out my crimes. I am told that I must repent fully before the
elders can tell me my crimes because I have been factious, they are not
to talk to me. Consequently, the elders use this as an excuse for not
telling me my crimes. I am left in the hopeless dilemma of repenting for
crimes that I have no knowledge of before the elders can tell me what my
crimes really are.
In a letter of excommunication to the 1976 excommunicant are these
Any communication on the part of [your wife] to anyone
that would justify you or her side of the story, by word, innuendo, or
attitude is willful participation in your sin.
Any communication on the part of [your wife] that would
call into question the justice of this action will be considered
interference with the discipline of this church. This includes
communication by word, innuendo, or attitude.
(Letter signed by 12 national elders)
All the solutions found in the excommunications were for targets to not
only stop sharing information, but to actually reverse themselves and
compromise their own opinions in favor of the leadership's definitions.
There is never any appeal for a trial, simply an admission of guilt.
Since targets can't admit guilt to crimes they either do not know or
haven't committed, deviance is perpetuated until the target buckles
under the weight of oppression. Maria's case illustrates the pressures
of induced guilt.
I talked to one of the leaders of the group and asked
him how one got "un-excommunicated." What does that entail? And the
bottom line was repentance in front of the whole church. I said, "Well,
how can I repent of something I didn't do?" I hung up the phone and
again I was just flooded with this emotion of deep-rooted guilt and I
didn't understand where it was coming from. I was going in circles - I
was thinking, "Christians ought to be unified, not separated." Finally I
just had to stop. I realized that they were causing me to feel guilty
and I couldn't even see it. There is something wrong with that.
Creating the Deviant Identity: Retrospective Interpretation and
Essential to the members' successful adoption of negative definitions of
targets is the skillful use of stereotyping and retrospective
interpretation (Garfinkel, 1956). These tools are necessary for the
imputation of the ultimate master status on "enemy deviants."
Use of stereotyping within this sect is closely tied to the nebulous and
mystical stature of the crimes committed. Since, for the most part, the
crimes are "thought crimes," it is extremely difficult, if not
impossible, to prove innocence or guilt by judicial standards. Such
crimes are indeed essential to the creation and maintenance of the
bicameral normative system.
The archetypical deviant in the sect is entirely mystical. He looks like
a common member. He acts like a common member. He can even reach the
status of elder within the sect. He could be anybody (except for the
founding apostles). Actual historical figures are used to reinforce the
stereotype. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is considered the example of a
"false disciple." Thus, deviants within the sect could betray members
with as innocent a behavior as "a kiss." They could "dip their bread
into the bowl" with the leaders themselves. As a consequence, there are
actually no objective identifying elements to pin-point the "Judas."
[Angie, an Elder's wife] The assumption, when someone
was put out of the church, was that they had never been a believer at
all and that we were only deceived into thinking that they were a
believer. The sin in their life eventually showed itself and that what
was being done in disfellowshipping someone was simply acknowledging an
already present reality - that they were a non-believer masquerading as
a believer and that they were being unmasked. But as a result, we could
not even relate to them as a normal nonbeliever because they had already
been exposed to the truth and had rejected it so now they had to be
turned over to the devil. It was something of a Voodoo curse.
The Master Status Imputation
"Enemy deviants" generally are former members of the sect who have
attained within the movement a master status of mystical and outlandish
proportions. Often the leadership states that present targets are asking
the very same questions that [B] and [H] were asking the sect many years
earlier. [B] and [H] are two of several who are considered the greatest
enemies of the sect. These enemies are believed to have been led by
the 1976 excommunicant, [B]. They are believed to be the originators of
the factious attitudes and statements.
It is apparently inconceivable to OASIS leaders that members all over
the country could come up with the same questions that the "enemies" had
years earlier unless those members had been told those questions by the
enemies. Thus, a handful of scapegoats are believed by the sect to be at
the bottom of nearly all the defections and purges the sect has
encountered. The following gleanings from several excommunication
ceremonies, ten years after [B]'s excommunication, best serve to
illustrate this scapegoating process. [B] and [H] are the continual
[Elders] This has been [H]'s accusation for the last five
years, "authority at all costs."
[B] and [H] both admitted to jealousy and have not
repented of it. People will become unreasonable if they listen to a
report given from men that have been selfish and jealous, and that's
what's happened. We can't even reason at this point.
[B] and [H] have nothing better to do with their time
than to seek to undermine and hurt the faith and conviction of others.
Regardless of whether their beliefs are right or wrong, it has nothing
to do with it. You don't go about and seek to divert people's confidence
For the last four years [H] has been bopping around the
country to different churches, never knit in ...
Lord, capture [B] and bring him back to his senses, but
he has wicked and selfish ambition in his heart. He knows the Book but
he's selfish and he's jealous and he's wicked at this point, and he
needs to repent, and we've told him that.
Okay, we never mentioned to you that we had enemies,
around the country, because we didn't think we needed to. Unless
something happens, and then we warn you at that point.
You need to know what has happened with [B] and [H]
throughout the years; whole churches, whole assemblies have been warned
about their influence and they have not repented of their sin.
The only way for [B] and [H] to move out in their sin is
to influence us, to try and pick off ones, and hurt ones, and trouble
ones, and that's the ministry they've had for the last nine or ten
We knew [B] had a divisive spirit and an arrogant
spirit. Eventually he was disciplined ... and 20 went out the door with
him. There was division that had been going on for a year - a slow rot,
and the brothers were young and they didn't know how to deal with it.
But once they got rid of him God blessed and they just grew.
[B]'s been going after people for years. It's a
miserable occupation and life. He just sits around the edges and tries
to pick off somebody, but there have been ones like that all throughout
God's program, around the edges of God's program throughout the
The devil wants every man to do what's right in his own
eyes. "If they're saved I can't touch them," he says, "so I'll just
scare them so that they can't be unified and so that they won't have any
impact." We need to be aware of his schemes. Do not be ignorant of his
schemes. This has been [B] and [H]'s track record for ten years.
It seems clear that [B] was the trailblazer within the sect. Before him
there were no scapegoats. There were no "fingerprint questions." There
were no troubles and trials with faction and slander. But after the
expulsion of [B], faction and slander were elevated in a matter of a few
short years to the most insidious and dangerous sins within the sect.
Also, it appeared to the sect that there were more slanderous and
factious people than there had ever been. What was the explanation?
There seems little doubt that the 1976 event elevated and sensitized the
sea to this type of "crime." The sect leadership did not know how many
people [B] affected during his tenure as a national teacher. Since the
1976 excommunication is seen as the precedent-setting boundary crisis
within the sect, [B] assumed an almost omniscient and omnipotent stature
from the outset. The remaining leaders may have become entrapped
within their own definitions of fear. The more they looked for evidence
of this man's faction, the more they found it.
In the prior quotes, where [B] and [H] are mentioned, one might find it
confusing that the meetings in which the statements were made were
actually focused on two separate targets within the same church, who
were excommunicated approximately two weeks apart in 1985. When one
listens to these two tapes, [B] and [H] are mentioned more times than
the targets are, and, more significantly, every time the targets are
mentioned, they are tied in some way to the enemies, [B] and [H].
The last quote cited about [B] and [H] illustrates that the leadership
freely interchanges discussion of the enemies with Satan himself. The
enemies have attained the ultimate master status, that of the
"embodiment of Satan." Their behaviors are Satan's behaviors. Their
deeds become his. It is a powerful example of the imputation of ultimate
[B]'s name seems to come up in nearly every excommunication ceremony at
one time or another as the probable instigator of the crisis. His
mythology has grown way beyond normal human proportions, as he has been
imagined to be involved in church disputes thousands of miles apart
within hours or days of each other. His image almost seems to be one of
perpetual troublemaker, who has no homelife, no job, no personal goals
in life other than to systematically destroy the work of God on earth.
In an excommunication event ten years after [B]'s own excommunication,
he is mentioned again as the ultimate deceiver and trickster to an OASIS
congregation that had never heard of him before:
[Elders] If [B] called you up, and you were a young
saint and you really respected this man because of his teaching and his
life, and he says, "Hey, how's it going?" and then he just dropped one
little dainty morsel, what would you do with it? It's easy to be
defiled. You don't need to be afraid of boogy men if you're righteous.
In the meeting, the elders note that [B]'s stated goal is "to destroy
the entire church of Jesus," and his image takes on a clearly god-like
air. The seeds of this exaggerated status were sown in [B]'s 1976
[Elders - 1976] [B] is excommunicated from the universal
Body of Christ. No Christian in any city on earth is to associate with
him. And we will warn Christians all over the world, if we have any
suspicion that [B] has communicated with them. If you receive a phone
call, turn away - just hang up immediately - and let me warn you, don't
get into a discussion with him... he'll probably come out with
tremendous arguments... you're not to listen... Anytime you get a phone
call, hang up immediately and contact us. If he approaches you on the
street.. turn away, have nothing to do with him. If he follows you, run
away. If he runs after you, keep running away. If he tackles you - and
I'm not - that is possible - get away!
In reality, [B] is a top insurance salesman within a national company
and has been recognized as a hard and conscientious worker. He is
married (twelve years' duration), has two children, and is actively
involved in a local church in his hometown. His wife is a school
teacher, and they both seem to have an active and vibrant social life.
They appear to be well-liked and respected within the community. Yet
within the sect, the man has been given a mythological master status of
diabolical dimensions and nearly limitless power, who, if listened to,
could in all probability destroy the Christian church on earth. The
sect's only defense against him is the enforcement of strict
This master status imputation is functional to the group because it
reveals one way of dealing with conflict within the sect. Scapegoating
exaggerates the prevalence of conflict and thus helps to reinforce
shared norms and goals.
Coercive Persuasion and the Manufacture of Deviance: Limits of Role
This paper has attempted to answer the question: "If a group practices
coercive persuasion and an individual does not conform, what does the
group do with the non-conformist?" Coercive persuasion has been
described as simply placing a strict limit on the number of conformity
options. Yet this is not the only criterion. Reduced conformity options
are not in and of themselves sufficient to indicate an environment of
coercive persuasion. Emile Durkheim (1895) suggested that excessive
authority would reveal itself in an immutable organization which crushed
criticism and eliminated individuality. He proposed that such an
environment could exist even within a "cloister of saints." This paper
has confirmed his contention.
Robert Dentler and Kai Erikson (1959) proposed the idea of "inducing
deviant behavior." This paper confirms their premise that groups channel
and organize the deviant possibilities contained in the membership. This
research further suggests that OASIS induces conformity in much the same
way: through channeling and organizing conformity options. Though
Dentler and Erikson did not suggest that a given group "creates the
motives for an individual's [deviant] behavior or compels it from
persons not otherwise disposed toward that form of expression," (pp.
100) this paper has shown that OASIS compels deviance from persons not
otherwise disposed toward this form of expression in much the same way
as it compels members toward obedience who, likewise, may not be
disposed toward such extremes of commitment.
Pat Lauderdale (1976) suggested that "deviance can be thought of as a
product of the movement of moral boundaries rather than as a product of
the movement of actors across those boundaries" (pp. 663). Likewise,
this research has shown that individuals can be in "good standing" one
day and "excommunicated" the next with very little change in their
behavior. These individuals are judged for thought crimes and punished
in the extreme. The "factious man" is a construct which embodies the
liberties and the freedoms that are impossible to perform within the
sect. The contented member is, likewise, a construct that is so idyllic
that even the sect leaders admit failure in "measuring up."
The Functions of Stereotypic Extremes
This paper has suggested that Utopian paradoxes have led to a plethora
of organizational constructs and philosophical assumptions that
constantly place sect members in impossible dilemmas. The dilemmas are
so deep that even OASIS leadership has not escaped. These paradoxes are
revealed through the utilization of stereotypic extremes. These extremes
are surface manifestations of an environment of coercive persuasion and
By creating strong, negative stereotypes, the sect has caused the
opposite type of stereotyping to occur. The sect points to "evil and
wicked men." The members are thus left with the belief that "Our leaders
are holy and righteous men." In situations where the sect expels
members, the remaining members do indeed reaffirm their allegiance to
the leaders. More specifically, however, the allegiance is transferred
to the individuals who were able to pinpoint the "deviance." By
"Satanizing" certain individuals, the group's members will vent their
anger, frustrations, and failings upon the stereotyped "evil ones," and
will subsequently blame all the group's problems on the enemies.
People exposed to constant negative stereotyping will also stereotype on
the opposite pole. Within the context of the excommunication meeting,
members express praise and thankfulness to their leaders for saving and
protecting them. They proclaim loyalty and submission to the bringers of
the condemnation, who are looked upon as saviors of the group's internal
integrity and morals. It might be supposed that because members can see
only evil in the target "deviants" they can see only good in the
definers and exposers of it. The "holy men" are capable of doing no
wrong, while the enemies are capable of doing no right. Thus, without
having to say, "I am holy," OASIS's leaders are able to exploit the
praise of their members to reinforce the "classification priesthood" and
the "sin-potential" hierarchy. Conflict management within OASIS, then,
forces strict conformity as the only option, and the choosing of any
other option results in the production of deviance. The following quote
illustrates this point. Albert's testimony is key to understanding how
coercive persuasion and deviance production are intertwined. He speaks
up near the end of an excommunication meeting:
[Albert] When I heard these things, immediately these
questions came to my mind. Why? Why are these brothers making
accusations against the church. And why are they securing a following,
and things like that. But I was instructed by those verses that said,
"You younger men be subject to your leaders." And these men are my
elders, and I'm to be subject to them. And they have said that this is a
good thing, because they know what is going on and we can be confident
and support these elders, when they make their decisions. Because
they're the ones with authority... You see, I am at a point in my life
where I can only grow when I support my elders. When I am in my proper
position, that of submission to authority, then I can be secure. I'm
real secure. In fact the only time that I can be insecure is when I step
out of the authority that is over me or I do the wrong things, or I hear
the wrong things, that would be usurping, or stepping out from under
authority. I have found that I am protected by being subject And nothing
can get to me, because I am protected by the elders. And in a real way,
our elders are our shepherds. They are suffering for us. They are
responsible for us. We are dependent as long as we are in subjection. It
is not dangerous. I am subject to men that I know. I know their lives.
I've watched them. I will know them by their fruits. I've known these
men for years. And those things give me confidence in light of questions
of authority, or of their decisions, or just the shadow of suspicions
that may creep in. Our confidence is their past. How they've acted among
us. They are devoted to us. And this gives us very sound assurance when
suspicions may be brought against them.
Albert, a young member of the sect, has learned a strong lesson from the
excommunication of two of his friends. He has become convinced that he
"can only grow when [he] support[s] [his] elders." To Albert, conformity
has been reduced to a single option: submission to his elders. "Growth,"
"security," and "protection" have become Albert's primary goals in life.
But more importantly, he can only attain them through submission and
obedience to the OASIS leadership. Conversely, Albert is convinced that
"insecurity" and a "lack of growth" will always result if he "steps out
from under authority." To Albert, deviance is anything other than strict
submission and obedience. Deviance is defined by Albert as "being out of
my proper position." Albert is also now able to identify when he is out
of "his proper place." If he is "doing wrong things," "hearing wrong
things," or "not supporting [his] elders" he is out of his proper
position. Albert sees no difference now between "usurping authority" and
"stepping out from under authority." In the denunciation of his friends
he is renouncing his liberties. In proclaiming loyalty to the elders, he
proclaims betrayal of his right to govern himself.
The Function of Expulsion: Psychological Immobilization
Most of the subjects interviewed for this research were not militant in
their actions toward OASIS. Most were simply hollow shells. It became
clear that excommunication had no therapeutic function for those
experiencing it. Many readers may wonder why excommunication is not seen
as a relief for those undergoing it. Yet for most, it was not. Truly,
the subjects were victims of a psychological tragedy. Very few could
really put the events behind them. The effects of excommunication are
also seen as resulting from an environment that has married extremes of
loyalty and betrayal. Many ex-members still wonder why they were
betrayed by their trusted and loyal friends.
The Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, who heard the
confession of 200 condemned witches in Germany in the early 1600s,
placed a value on the dignity of the human being by saying, "It is
regret that has turned my hair all gray, regret that I've had to
accompany so many witches to the place of execution and among them I
found not one who was not innocent. Spee's book, Cauntio Criminalis
(Circumspection in Criminal Cases) was the first published criticism of
the European witchhunts and, as a result of his revelations, the
prince-bishops of Mainz and Wurttemberg prohibited further witch trials
in their realms.
This paper closes with the candid remarks of two women, both
excommunicated from OASIS, and both still suffering. [Martha] was
excommunicated in 1978, and [Ruth] was excommunicated in 1986:
[Martha] When I was subjected to excommunication I fully
expected not to live. And I hoped not to live. And I didn't want to
live. And I didn't know what to do about it because I still had social
constraints about taking my own life. I quit praying then and I just
kept praying that God would let me develop a terminal disease or that I
could die in some way and God wouldn't let me die. I felt very trapped.
I felt that God wouldn't let me have what I wanted here and He wouldn't
take me home and I felt like He wanted to punish me. And I didn't know
why He wanted me to be so miserable but I was very angry about it. And
that continued to be my attitude after I was excommunicated..
I tried to the best of my knowledge to keep my heart
pure. I know it's hard to keep the human heart humble and pure - that
it's like peeling an onion - there is no end to it. But oh how I tried.
I sat before Him telling Him that I would go through anything if I could
just be a good soldier - if I could just feel His blessing and feel that
what I was doing was what He wanted and feel a little bit of approval to
remove this terrible void inside of me. I had got into that [sect]
because I didn't want that void inside of me. And I still wonder how a
person, to the best of their knowledge, could maintain a pure heart and
yet be so betrayed, and yet God let it happen. I still wonder that..
I can't be around other Christians very easily. And I
cannot walk into some church and sit there and listen to some man tell
me anything. And I do not trust Christian men for the most part, who are
in positions of authority. And I'm no fool, in a way - I mean something
tells me there are kind and benevolent men who are in those positions,
but I still have this strange feeling that "Why would God not let me
find them, particularly when I wanted to so badly?" And so I could only
conclude that it was probably some flaw in me that made Him deprive me
[Ruth] Right after the excommunication I was very
emotional. All my friends were in the group. I was a freshman when I went
in. I was even more [emotional] when I was being told by people that I
had looked up to... that I was in awful sin... Lately, it
fluctuates. Sometimes it's still emotional and sometimes it still hurts;
other times I'm just angry with them because I feel like there are
things that I can't do. I feel like I always have to watch my step - I
feel like there is somebody watching - paranoia. Even at times there is
dislike of even seeing them just because of the feelings there - it
hurts. Now a lot it's more indifference. It matters but it doesn't
really matter. They are very subjective and I feel that they are going
to say what they will about me anyway.
I have a great fear - there is always uncertainty of
where I'm standing with them. I would label it as fear of what they
would have to say. To my knowledge they haven't brought in my personal
life - problem areas in my life before [I joined the group] but some
people [still in the group] knew them very intimately. I am afraid that
they will. It's almost like a fear of blackmail that they will bring
those into the ballgame. It's a fear of the added pressure. I feel like
I was used while I was in the group and now that I'm out I feel like I'm
still being watched. I don't know if it's my own paranoia or not. I
don't know if I'll ever know. I do know that I want to get out of [this
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Jerry Paul MacDonald holds degrees in Earth Science and Social Science
as well as a master's degree in sociology from New Mexico State
University. He holds twin research appointments in sociology and earth
science and is presently director of the Paleozoic Trackway Project in
Las Cruces, New Mexico. His current research includes analyses of both
the Paleozoic environment of the Southwest United States, and of the
structure and evolution of coercive environments for a forthcoming book
on cults and new religions.