“Set Free’s” Story

June 8, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

From our commenter, “Set Free”…

I’ll begin with a brief background. I am “Set Free”. I am 22 years old and I am the oldest of 6 children (3 girls and 3 boys).  One of my brothers is 12 years old and he is autistic. He has no verbal communication ability. My family and I were members of SGM (formerly known as PDI – People of Destiny International).  In January 2009, my parents were officially divorced.  They had been separated for just over a year.  The divorce has been hard on the whole family, but was a long time coming to get away from my father.  I know that this may sound horrible, but I had been hoping that my parents would divorce for several years.

When my parents were younger and I was an only child, a friend of my mother’s invited my parents to Fairfax Covenant Church in VA. My parents accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and were baptized and became members of the church.  (As for the details of all of this, I am a little hazy.  I was rather young.)  Over the next few years, my family religiously attended church on Sunday mornings and home group meetings on the designated week night.  Our family grew in number.  I was young but I remember participating in worship and going to Sunday school.  For awhile things in the church were quiet.  Things at home, however, were another story.

As a newly converted ‘Christian’, my father quickly found comfort and acceptance in the love-bombing [Google: love bombing – see Wikipedia site] that SGM / PDI leaders abundantly showered on him.  The way that SGM / PDI leaders praised my father for demonstrating good leadership skills in his ability to ‘run a business’ [a lawn service] only served to nurture in him a mindset of an already sociopathic pattern of behavior.  My father had always had an unbelievably controlling and manipulative personality, but as a member of SGM / PDI, this was not reprimanded in any way, in fact, the way that my father “controlled” his family demonstrated “good leadership skills” according to SGM / PDI.

My father was taught that children should obey their parents.  This meant that when dad said ‘jump’ all of his children should line up in a row and say ‘how high daddy?’  If there was any inkling of a possibility that we had any objection whatsoever to his command, then we were immediately disciplined for being rebellious and sinful.  Not only were we disciplined for the slightest objection, but even when we did respond and obey immediately, if my father thought that we didn’t smile and profusely express how excited we were that he was giving us something to do, he would then accuse us of having a bad attitude.  Basically, my father wanted an over-enthusiastic response and a show about how much we wanted to obey his every command and how grateful we were that he had given us something to do.

The fear of his reaction if we had a “bad attitude” was nothing less than a motivator teaching us to lie about small insignificant things in order to avoid his wrath.  The problem was that even the lies couldn’t make him happy.  You could smile and say “Ok Daddy, I’d love to do the dishes”, but he would find something to come after us about.  Little things like, the water wasn’t hot enough or the sponge didn’t have enough soap on it or we weren’t loading the dishes into the dishwasher in a way that would maximize the number of dishes that would fit.  No matter what we did, he would find something to criticize. He would spank us repeatedly for the same offense, send us to our rooms, take away our meals, etc.  Anything he could do to make sure that we knew that he was in charge and if we didn’t like it, he would make sure that we suffered the consequences.  If at any point, I objected to anything that my father instructed me to do, then I would be subjected to sitting through hours and hours of my father reading me scriptures and frequently being spanked multiple times in a row for simply objecting or questioning what my father said.  These episodes would go on and on sometimes late into the night.  For a 7 year old, you can imagine how exhausting this was.

I can remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom crying as my father talked at me for hours and hours.  This particular night I began to grow tired, as would anyone else, and I laid down on the floor while he was talking to me.  He grabbed my arm and pulled at me to make me sit up.  Of course the fact that I had laid down while he was talking to me was disrespectful and only proved to him that I didn’t care about what he was saying and had no desire to change.  Out of frustration, I pulled my arm away from him.  That set him off.  He grabbed me and pulled me into a sitting position in his lap and wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug.  I was struggling to get away, still crying and screaming at him to let go of me, he held on to me so tightly that I could hardly breathe and would not let go until I stopped crying and moving around.  I can remember screaming to him “Daddy I can’t breath!”, but he never let go.  It was not until I was practically hyperventilating and had given up my fight that he finally let go of me and let me sit back on the floor.

Things like this happened all the time.  Another time, my father and I had been arguing and as usual I was putting up quite the fight.  He sent me to my room and in my anger I slammed the door.  Immediately after I slammed the door, he was in the room in my face screaming at me about what I bad attitude I was having. I just wanted to get away from him.  When I tried to get up and walk out of the room to get away from him, he grabbed my arm and yanked me back into the room and slammed the door in my face.  He then took a sheet and tied my bedroom doorknob to something outside that would prevent me from opening the door and left me in my room to “think about my behavior”.  I can remember pulling on the door as hard as I could and screaming at the top of my lungs “let me out”.  My father would leave me in my room until he felt like I had settled down enough to talk.  He would provoke me to no end and berate me and belittle me and then when I finally reacted to the horrible things that he said to me, I was the one with the attitude problem and I was disrespectful and I was the rebellious child.  I could do nothing right in his eyes.

In the same way that my father was encouraged by the church to raise “obedient” children, he was also taught to view my mother as the person that was put on this earth to serve him.  The Bible says, “wives obey your husbands”, but the church as well as my father took this one way out of proportion.  Even before my parents were saved and became members of SGM / PDI, in his anger, my father would throw my mother across the room completely airborne while she was pregnant with me.  He wouldn’t think twice about lurching into completely physically abusive behavior. After they joined the church my father treated my mother like she was his slave.  If something wasn’t done, he would yell at her and try to intimidate her physically.  If the house was messy he would yell at her and tell her what a horrible mother she was and what a horrible house-wife she was. [when I say yell, I mean to put-down, condemn, discourage, belittle etc.]  This behavior from my father had been present since my parents were first married, but once they became members of the church, the behavior only got worse.  (Now as far as what happened behind closed doors between my parents, I only know bits and pieces, so my mother would have to be the one to share the details, but I can remember hearing screaming and yelling and crying when my parents fought.)

After just a short time had passed (about a year after my father was ‘saved’) and our family became more and more entangled in the church, the leaders of SGM / PDI asked my father to take over leadership of a home group.  I would like to make sure that I am clear, SGM asked my father, not my mother and it did not matter to the church leaders whether my mother wanted to be a home-group leader or not because since she was the wife, she was expected to do as her husband instructed.

Once a week, a designated group of families would meet at one of their houses and the home-group leader would lead the group in worship, prayer and “learning”.  This may sound horrible, but I hated home-group.  When home-group was at our house, it was an all-day event to get the house cleaned, the kids fed and bathed before people arrived, and all of the other things that go along with a family with 3 kids would have to do to “entertain”.  The worst home-group nights were when my father would come home from work and then start to fight with my mother.  My father would rant and rave and storm through the house yelling at my mother and yelling at us kids.  Nothing was held back, sometimes even up until 5 or 10 minutes before people were supposed to arrive, my father would make our lives miserable.

But as sure as I am here, when the doorbell rang, our house looked like a scene out of a movie.  Happy children, a happy wife and the list goes on. We were expected to wipe our eyes and dry our tears and paste a smile on our faces so as to make a good impression and show the other members of the church what a happy, Godly family we were. When I got older, I can remember telling my father in the blows of our arguments, that he was a fake. How could he yell at us and treat us like s**t and then turn around and pretend like he was so holy and godly that he was chosen to lead home-group?? I saw the hypocrisy even then.    

The Movement:

A few more years went by and when I was about 8 ½ or 9 years old, I remember that there was a “movement” in the church.  During the worship service on Sunday mornings, members of the church were being “knocked out in the spirit”.  People would have their eyes closed and be praying and then they would fall down.  They would lay down on the ground for hours sometimes and they looked as if they were asleep.  At the time, I didn’t really know what to think.  When I asked, I was told that the spirit of God was touching these people and speaking to them.  One Sunday during the worship service, so many people were being “knocked out” that people began to clear out the chairs so that there would be room for people to lay on the open floor.  Worship went on for hours and hours that day.  I remember standing in the midst of all of these people and the leaders and pastors were laying their hands on people and praying and as the pastors prayed the person that was being prayed over would fall over.

Eventually people laid hands on me and began praying over me.  I closed my eyes because that’s what I was seeing everyone else do and finally after being prayed over for a while I too fell over.  I felt nothing though.  It was like my body was just tired and since I had my eyes closed, I just kind of let myself fall since there were people all around me.  I remember feeling someone lay a blanket over me and then I just laid there for a while.  I think I may have even fallen asleep.  Then after a while, I just opened my eyes and got up and looked around for my parents. I remember people asking me what I had felt and I didn’t really know what to say because I wasn’t sure that I had really felt anything. People around me were talking about how they felt a fresh wind and to me it sounded a little ridiculous. It may sound a little shallow, but I guess I just have a hard time believing that God came down into our church and touched the members with a refreshing breath and all that. If someone told me today that they were “knocked out” in the spirit, I honestly think that I would laugh to myself. I know that sounds mean and harsh, but I guess as a result of my past experiences with SGM and other churches, I am just a little skeptical of any the “movements”.

As I look back over those events now, I think to myself, how easy would it have been for someone to just make all that stuff up?  In addition to the fact that people wanted to be a part of this “movement” I think that they stopped listening to their common sense for a bit and got caught up in it.  The church members of PDI / SGM were followers … not leaders.  The congregation listened to the leaders of the church and did as they were told or rather “as they were instructed by God”.  Therefore, the desire to be close to God and be “touched” in this movement was stronger than their voice of reason.  Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that I don’t think that God is capable of doing something like that … I just personally don’t believe that God was anywhere near that church and that it was not the work of God that we as a congregation were experiencing.  I believe that there were evil and sinful men leading the members of PDI / SGM down a path that only appeared to be a Godly one and that the leaders of the church were open to any means of persuasion to convince members of the church that God was indeed present and working there.

The Move #1: 

It wasn’t long after that, that my father felt that our family was being called by God to move to Atlanta, GA on what would be our family’s first of 2 church plants. At the time my parent’s 4th child was a new born baby and I know that moving out of state with 4 young children is not a simple task. My parents found a beautiful house in the same neighborhood as 3 of the other families that were moving with us. The new pastor and his family lived right across the street from us. The assistant pastor and his family were right next door to the lead pastor and a 3rd family was just up the road in the cul-de-sac. The church met in a local middle school on Sunday mornings. We would have worship in the auditorium and Sunday school in the designated classrooms. There were no “movements” that I remember in this church, but it wasn’t so much what happened ‘in’ the church as it was what happened when certain people were together outside of Sunday morning meetings.

[Significant edit here – 7/8/2011]

She was furious that the church could have kept that secret from our family and other families in the church leaving other children prone to the evil and devious acts that his son had been subjecting victims to. Of course anyone in their right mind would wonder the same thing … would they not? How could you knowingly allow a child molester to baby-sit your children? During all of this, my mom found out that she was pregnant yet again with the 5th child.

[FYI: There was another teenage girl who lived across the street from me whose family had become members of the SGM church that we attended and soon after bought a house in our neighborhood. There was a situation of which I am not sure of the details, but I do know that after several months of her family began attending SGM, she ran away. I wish that I knew what happened because I know that she was a hurting individual, but whatever took place in that house behind closed doors was kept from me. Probably for the better, but I shudder to think what happened to her that made her run away. I hope that she found a safe place. I just remember hearing my parents talk about meetings that she and her parents had with the pastors and I know that like me, she was accused of being rebellious and defiant and I’m sure a list of other sins as well.]

It wasn’t long after the baby was born that my mother realized that he was not where he needed to be developmentally. My mother battled with doctors and specialists trying to find out why the newest addition to our family was having so much trouble meeting the developmental milestones, one of the most significant being a difficulty eating. On top of home-schooling 3 children, taking care of a 3 year old and spending the better part of some weeks in and out of doctors’ offices and specialists’ offices, my mother had to deal with my father and the leaders of the church. I can remember hearing my parents talking about what they needed to do to make sure that their son would grow and develop appropriately and instead of being a supportive husband and father, I heard my father say to my mother that they needed to listen to the leaders of the church and follow their instruction …. The instruction was to basically act as if nothing were wrong with my brother and “leave it in God’s hands”. The leaders of the church told my parents, my mother more specifically, that she needed to trust that God had a plan for my brother’s life and that he was developmentally slow for a reason and that she needed to stop worrying and step back and allow the hand of God to work in my brother’s life.

Can I just ask …. What mother in her right mind would stand back and watch her handicapped son struggle to eat, play, learn etc. and say “Oh well … God must have things under control”. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God has a plan for each and every one of our lives, but I do not believe that you can just stand around waiting for some miracle to happen. God gave us minds and common sense for a reason … he wants us to use them. To some extent yes, you have to step back for a while and evaluate the situation and decide what needs to be done, but eventually you are going to have to step back in and make some decisions about what you as an individual must do to improve or correct the situation.  Am I right?

It was about 2 ½ years after we had moved to Atlanta when things really started to get rough between my father and I.  I was about 11 years old and already did as much as I could to help around the house and help with the younger kids during the day while my dad was at work and my mom was home-schooling or out at appointments.  I was the primary baby-sitter, also did a lot of preparing meals and other tasks to help keep our house functioning.  This was when things started to get increasingly worse between my father and I.  He would come home from work and instead of being grateful that dinner was on the table, he would fuss at me [the 11 year old] because there was a mess in the sink or because the kitchen floor had crumbs on it or because the meat wasn’t cooked right.

One night in particular, I can remember I had spend the better part of the afternoon in the kitchen cooking a rather large meal for the family and as usual my father came home from work and we all sat down and to eat when he got home.  In typical PDI / SGM style, my father expected that when he got home from work, dinner was on the table and the family behaved like the Cleavers.  After the meal was over, my father went and sat down in front of the TV as was his traditional evening routine and left me and my little sister to clean up the kitchen.  My sister was only 8 or so at the time and so I was left to do the majority of the dishes and clean-up by myself, but that was ok because my little sister couldn’t really do all of the work anyway.

I had been in the kitchen for about 45 minutes cleaning up when I finally finished the dishes. I was sitting and playing with my siblings, when I heard my father calling me to come into the kitchen. I jumped up and ran in so as to avoid being disciplined for not coming right away and was met with harsh words and threats of a spanking.  My father had gotten up from his TV show and come in to “inspect” the kitchen. [I didn’t realize at the time that we were really not supposed to act like children, but we were expected by my father to act like little military people and jump up and say Sir Yes Sir and pass inspections]

Needless to say, I had failed the “inspection”.  My father had found 1 large pot in the dish rack that had a spot of grease on the bottom of the pot.  He was furious and said that there was no way that all of the dishes were clean and that I would need to wash them all again.  He proceeded to fill up the sink with hot water and soap and dump all of the dishes back in the sink.  He told me that I needed to wash them all again and then he would “inspect” them again when I had completed all the dishes again “correctly”. I did the best that I could to make sure that all the grease was off of the dishes and I washed them all over again.

When I had finished, I went and got my father to come “inspect” them again.  I failed a 2nd time. He found a little spot of something in the bottom of one of the other pots and sure enough he was angry at me again for being lazy and slothful and not being diligent.  This time however; he said that as a punishment for being lazy, not only did I get a spanking, but I would have to wash all of the dishes a 3rd time, but in addition to the dinner dishes, he pulled all of the dishes out of every cabinet in the kitchen and loaded them all up on the counter.  [picture this: go to your kitchen and pull everything in the cabinets out … now wash it all, dry it and put it all back]  This is what my father told me had to be done.

The counters were piled high with dishes and my father went back to his TV show and told me to come and get him when I had finished washing all the dishes a 3rd time. With many tears and sobbing the majority of the time, I washed all of the dishes in the sink again with my father coming in on commercials to check on me and stand over my shoulder and criticize me the entire time.  This whole process was about 4 hours and when I had finished washing all the dinner dishes and the additional dishes for the 3rd time, I reluctantly went to get my father for “inspection”.  This time the dishes were good enough, but as he scanned over the counters, he found a crumb in the corner of one of the counters.  I can remember choking back the tears hoping that he wouldn’t spank me and at the same time I was so angry that he couldn’t just leave me alone.  I had busted my A** and it had gotten me nothing but punishment.

At this point my father moved everything off the counter and told me that I needed to get a hot cloth and clean the whole counter with soapy water.  I had had enough … I told him that if he was mad that the counter had 1 stinking crumb on it, then he could wipe it. Bad move on my part.  It was around 11 pm, and not only was I spanked for being disrespectful, but I was also grounded and the “talk” went on for about another hour or so.  I went to bed that night so angry and so upset.  I had spent hours in the kitchen earlier that afternoon making dinner only to be left to clean up the dishes myself and be un-relentlessly criticized by my father and disciplined for being lazy.  Things like this happened every few days or so.  [By the way, my mother was taking care of the other 4 children and bathing them and getting them ready for bed while all of this went on. I don’t want you to think that my mother just stood by while all of this happened]

The Move #2: 

Our family lived in Atlanta, GA for 3 years.  Toward the end of the 3rd year in Atlanta, my father felt called yet again to move our family on another church plant, this time to Jacksonville, FL.  The assistant pastor from Atlanta and his family moved with us.  I was friends with the assistant pastor’s oldest daughter.  She was the same age as I was.  At the time there were 5 children and as you can imagine, finding a home to appropriately accommodate our family was a challenge.  My parents looked at several houses but were unable to find one that fit for our family. They decided that they would build new.  However; there were several months between the time that we moved from our house in Atlanta to the time that the new house would be ready.  Our family of 7 moved into a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment to wait for the completion of the new house. My father stayed behind in Atlanta while we were living in the apartment because he had not yet found a job in Jacksonville.  My mother and 5 kids lived alone for 7 months while we waited for the new house to be finished.  The date of completion kept getting pushed back later and later.  While we were living in the apartment, I had to really help my mom out.  My dad was gone all the time and my mom was home-schooling 3children all by herself with a 3 ½ year old and a new born baby.  All the while, we continued to be active members of SGM / PDI.

Once our house was finished, we moved out of the apartment.  It was not long after this, that things with the church and things at home got to be the worst.  In addition to house work and chores, I was being home-schooled.  My mother worked very hard and diligently to make sure that my siblings and I were getting the best education that she could give us, but like all parents, there were things that she asked my father to help out with when it came to assignments.  One night in particular, my father came home and I was sitting upstairs working on my math homework.  I was having trouble with a problem and asked my father to help me.  He sat down and looked at the problem and worked it out and then looked at me and said “This is really easy. I don’t know why you can’t get this.” I asked him to please show me how. He started to do the problem over again, attempting to show me how to complete the problem and I stopped him. I wasn’t understanding how he was arriving at the answer.

He began to get frustrated. He started the problem over and again I didn’t understand. Instead of trying to explain the solution another way, he simply kept repeating the same thing over and over again.  Every time I asked a question he would become angry and say “are you stupid? This isn’t hard!”  We were sitting on the floor and after watching him complete the problem several times and not explain to me how he was getting the answer, I became frustrated as well.  I said to him “maybe I’ll just have Mom help me.”  And I stood to walk away.  My father grabbed my arm and pulled me back to his side.  “Don’t you walk away from me” he said “I am going to help you.  Leave your mother alone.  She’s busy.”  I was frustrated, but I was more afraid of what my father would do if I continued to walk away, so I sat back down.  The same thing happened again.  After a while I again said, “You know I think that I will just try to figure it out myself.”  Again my father pulled me back, but this time I pulled away.  Hours had been spent on 1 math problem and I was tired of being berated and belittled.  I walked quickly to my room and shut the door.  My father came barging in, yelling at me saying that I was being disrespectful and defiant.  He told me that I needed to come back and sit with him and finish the problem.  I told him that I would come back and sit down once he had some time to cool down.

But my father was trained well in the SGM teachings of child rearing.  He had read, God, the Rod and Your Child’s Bod and other child rearing books that the leaders of our church had so graciously given to my parents.  My father immediately went to get his Bible, because every time there was an argument, my father pulled out his Bible.  He started reading to me the verse that says “Children Obey Your Parents” and other scriptures that both my father and the church were so good at twisting to get what they wanted.  He would read verses like: Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother. Then he would say things like, “Do you want to be cursed by God?”  Of course I didn’t but it was with this kind of fear that I was raised.  Instead of using the Bible as a tool to encourage and teach … he used it [thanks to the wonderful training of the SGM leaders] to instill fear.

After sitting and listening to this for some time, I finally got tired and tried to bring the conversation to a close.  I tried to walk away and leave the room, but my father grabbed me and pulled me back into the room.  I pulled away and tried to get out of his reach, but he grabbed and pulled me back into the room and pushed me up against the wall.  I pushed him back and tried again to get away, but he grabbed me by the throat and pushed me up against the wall and lifted me off the ground choking me.  The only way for me to get away was to kick and punch him until he let go.  I am sad to say that this was not the worst physical abuse situation that I was in with my father.  I lived in constant fear of my father and also in fear of the “discipline” that would come from the pastor when my father would tell them how defiant and disobedient I was.

You see when, my parents became members of the SGM church in Northern VA, my father was already abusive and controlling with my mother.  When he saw how the leaders of the church encouraged women to obey their husbands and only added to my father’s misconstrued ideas that the men were in control and that when it was all said and done, the husband was “in charge”, he quickly adopted their teachings and thoroughly enforced them in our home.  This was not just with my mother, as evident by what I have already told you, but also with my siblings and I.  My father was in control at all times and if for some reason he felt that one of us was threatening his authority or challenging him in any way, he immediately reacted with discipline, punishment or some other means to ensure that the person “defying” him was put back in their place as quickly as humanly possible. Things only got worse the longer that we were members of the SGM church.

Several months after my family moved into our new house and my father moved down from Atlanta, while still home schooling all of the children and taking care of an Autistic son, something horrible happened that changed our family drastically. During the days my mother would be on the phone for hours and hours at a time and after several weeks of this happening, I began to ask questions. I wanted to know who she was talking to for all of these hours. I asked, it was my aunt [Noel].  But when I asked my mother why she was on the phone for so long and asked why she had been crying, she would never answer my questions.

After a while, the phone calls continued and I began to see notes around the house. They were only half notes with simple words.  After my mom would throw her notes away and walk away, I would go and get the notes and try to figure out what was going on that was keeping my mother on the phone with my aunt for all these hours. I would find some notes that wouldn’t make sense and then I would find notes that scared me. One in particular I found said “child molestation”, the name of a person that I knew and the name of his son, “rape” and some other things, but I can’t remember them.  I kept the notes that I thought had some meaning and waited.  I had collected several notes that my mother had thrown away.  I became more and more concerned after the note that I had found with the names of people that I knew and words that I knew meant something bad had happened.  I tried asking my mother casually about the phone calls, but never got any answers.

Finally, after I had collected enough notes to have some idea of what was going on, I went to my mother one afternoon and told her that I had been reading her notes and that I knew that something was wrong.  I told her that I wanted to know what was going on.  I was about 14 at the time.  My mother sat down with me and I knew that she had something to tell me.  She told me that she had been spending so much time on the phone with my aunt because something had happened to my cousin.  She told me that a boy that I knew had done something terrible to my cousin.  This boy was 15 years old and had been babysitting my cousins while my aunt and uncle were at their home group meetings.  When the other children were watching tv or had already gone to bed, this boy had taken my little 3 year old cousin and raped her repeatedly. This had gone on for several months. I cried.  My mother was crying.  I couldn’t believe that this had happened.  I asked “how could the boy do this to my cousin.  Our families were friends.”  I had grown up playing with this boy and his siblings.  His sister was a friend of mine when we were younger.  My mother told me that the same horrible thing had happened to the boy and his family.  I remember that I couldn’t understand why this boy would do something horrible to someone else just because something horrible had happened to him.  Hadn’t he been hurt enough to know how it would effect another person?  Why would he want to hurt someone else?  Especially my little cousin.

I was so angry.  I wanted justice. Something had to be done!  I asked my mother if he was in jail, but she said that my aunt and uncle had gone to the leaders of the church to find out what they needed to do and the leaders of the church told my aunt and uncle that they needed to find it in their hearts to forgive the boy and let God have vengeance on Judgment Day. [For any of you who have not already done so, please read Noel’s story. Noel is my aunt.] I couldn’t believe it! All this time, for all these years, I had thought that the church was looking out for us, for my family and for the other members of the congregation, but I realized that they had no interest in our well-being, they only cared about themselves and about their reputation and it didn’t matter who was hurt along they way as long as they profited and benefitted from it. I asked my mother if my aunt and uncle were going to make sure that the boy went to jail and she said “We are going to do everything that we can to make sure that the boy does not get away with this.” I told her “I want to help!” So basically, PDI / SGM leaders told my aunt that she was supposed to “leave it in God’s hand.” Does this not strike anyone as wrong?

For several months my mother continued to have regular phone calls with my aunt [Noel], but as the conversations went on, it soon became clear that the church had not and would not be taking any action to assist Noel and her family. My mother would tell me about some of the things that were happening with my aunt and her family, but I soon came to realize that the perpetrator that had violated my cousin and brought such hurt and devastation to my family was going to go unpunished. This evil person who had terrorized my little cousin was going to walk away with no remorse and no repercussions for what he had done. I was boiling with anger. [and still am when I think about it]

Not long after everything that happened with Noel’s family, the uncle of the perpetrator [who lived in Jacksonville] began attending our church. [I will try to keep this brief as it is hard to follow, this story was told to me by my mother who heard it directly from the wife of said uncle] The perpetrators uncle was home “watching” his 5 children while his wife was at work, the oldest boy was sent to the kitchen to take a pot of boiling water off the stove [since the father was busy watching porn on the computer] and it spilled on him causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns. As a result of the little boy’s injuries, the perpetrator’s mother and siblings came down from Virginia to help out with the other kids while the oldest boy healed from his burns. The perpetrator’s mother got her brother and his family gets hooked up with the SGM church that my family attended. The leaders’ wives were instructed to help out this family by taking them meals and helping to “minister” to them in any way possible. The perpetrator’s uncle and family were assigned to my parents care group.

[So a quick recap, a boy rapes my little cousin and then the church tells my aunt and uncle to ‘forgive’ him. Then relatives of the rapist are assigned to my parent’s care group by the leaders of the church and my parents are told that they need to ‘minister’ the relatives of the rapist.]

As my mother carries out her assigned duties to ‘minister’ to the perpetrator’s relatives, she is contacted by the perpetrator’s aunt. She informs my mother that she has found her children doing horrible, horrible things to each other, to other children, to animals and to themselves. I cannot even bring myself to write the words, it makes me cry to think about it. But when the woman told my mother the things that her children and husband were doing, my mother told the woman that she needed to get her children out of the house that they were in immediately and that if she wouldn’t, my mother was going to call social services. The woman said that she would take care of it, but my mother felt that she needed some guidance so she called the pastor’s wife and told her the situation.

The pastor’s wife was in agreement with my mother that something needed to be done and said that she would talk to her husband about what they needed to do. Just a few hours after the phone call that my mother had with the pastor’s wife, she got a call back from the pastor’s wife and it was explained to my mother that she was in sin for gossiping about the other family and that she was wrong and should not butt in where she was not needed. Basically, when my mother called the pastor’s wife for guidance, she was ultimately told that she was in sin for gossiping and that she needed to step out of the situation. Children [all under the age of 10] were being raped and raping each other and the pastor said that my mother was sinning because she gossiped.

Well when the perpetrator’s uncle found out that my mother said she was going to call social services, he called a friend of my mother’s and asked for our address. He said he was going to come and kill my mother if she called social services. When my mother found out she called my aunt [Noel] and after explaining everything to her, Noel said that someone needed to call social services without question. So Noel decided that she would call them. Upon receiving the call, social services set up an interview with the relatives of the perpetrator, but because the report was made by a 3rd party, the charges were dismissed, but that didn’t mean anything to the perpetrator’s uncle. He was angry with my mother and so began one of the worst years of my life. [On top of the things that I am about to share, I was also dealing with my severely sociopathic father who was hell-bent on controlling me]

The perpetrator’s uncle began calling my house and when we would answer the phone, all you could hear was breathing on the other end, then he would hang up. [he also called and threatened Noel in the same manor, in addition to that, the pastors told Noel that they needed to call and apologize to the uncle and to the perpetrator’s mother as well] In addition to harassing my family with phone calls, the uncle followed me to school and to my work. I would come out of school in the afternoons and see him sitting in his car watching for me. I would come out of work at night and he would be sitting in the parking lot watching for me. One morning, I came down to the kitchen and saw him on the back porch of my family’s house. I was terrified. Whenever my parents would leave the house, the phone would immediately ring. I knew that he was watching my family and I knew that he saw my parents leave. The calls would increase in frequency when my parents left the house. I would come out to my car in the mornings to go to school and see him sitting down the road in his car just watching our house. I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares … It was a long year.

I was terrified that he was going to hurt my family. My mother had told me about the threats to kill her. The hardest part was having to see him and his family in church on Sundays. I knew that he was stalking our family and then there he was sitting in church, protected by the pastors, who defended him when they told my mother that she was sinning by gossiping. It was impossible to feel safe. I felt so alone, but I also felt a need to become the protector of my family. Until now, I had not shared with my mother how the uncle had followed me because I felt like my mother already had enough going on in her life not only with the other children but with my father and the church as well.

Every Sunday I sat in church wondering how the pastor could cover for a sexual offender. Every Sunday I wondered where God was in all of this. Every Sunday that I went to church and saw the uncle, I questioned God. It was bad enough what happened to my cousin, but having the relatives of my cousin’s rapist not only attend our church, but be assigned to my parent’s care group was salt in the wound. Surely this was not God’s plan. Was I wrong to question God … maybe. Was I wrong to question what the church was doing … I don’t think so.

I would continue on, but I’m afraid that it would become a bit redundant and what I have to share would soon turn into a book instead of a blog post, so I will close with one last bit of information. My family continued to attend the SGM church for a couple more years in which, not only was the abusive child rearing continued, but my father’s hunger for control continued to grow and become more and more unreasonable and abusive. As my situation at home got increasingly worse, my mother began to step up to my father and took action against him in order to make it a safer home environment. My father was asked to move out of the house and did so for about 6 months. When my father left, the house was much more peaceful. There were still a lot of issues, but at least my father wasn’t there to throw lighter fluid onto a well lit fire.

Though things got momentarily better at home, my mother still had no support from the church leaders when she shared with them that she had my father move out for a while. She had gone to them asking for guidance and instead of being helped,  was accused of sinning and not obeying God and his command to obey her husband. She had no help with the younger children [mainly my autistic brother] and after about 6 months my father moved back in to the house. Things only got worse again. In the church there were a few more incidences that took place which resulted in both myself and my family being constantly reprimanded and reminded of our place in the church. When I was 17 and still being spanked by my father, I left the church along with my mother. [my father and some of the other kids still attended for a few more months] I still had one more year in high school and there were a few teens from SGM that also went to my high school, but as soon as I stopped going to church the would completely ignore me in the halls. I would see someone who I had gone to church with for the last 5 or 6 years and when I would greet them, they looked away from me as if I was a stranger that they had never seen before. I ceased to exist in their eyes.

My mother’s friends all stopped speaking to her as well. People that had helped my family when my mother had a baby would no longer speak to her. And since we were only allowed to ‘fellowship’ with other members of SGM, we were completely alone when we left the church. I knew no one else and my mother was in the same position. When I finally left SGM, my belief in God was severely weakened and I had no desire to even speak to anyone that was a Christian or claimed to be. I was angry with God for the things that had happened to my family and I blamed myself for not being strong enough to defend my brothers and sisters from the abuse of my father and the church. I moved out of my parents house 1 week after I graduated from high school and hardly spoke to my parents for almost 3 years.

Recently I have made an effort to attempt to go to church now and again, but still have so many emotions that overtake me when I so much as think about church or the things that have happened to me. I do honestly hope that someday I will have a stronger relationship with God and that my faith in him will not be shaken by the evil things that I have seen and continue to see. Please keep my family in your prayers. God bless!

SGM: “New Testament” Church, Or Modern-Day Corporation?

June 1, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

From time to time, folks have come around here and made statements about how being part of a Sovereign Grace Ministries congregation is the closest thing you can get to experiencing the “New Testament church.”  I’m not sure if that’s because they believe that C.J. Mahaney is a true apostle (many SGM members do think so), or if they “have all things in common,” or what, exactly, but SGM seems to have done a good job of convincing folks that their “family of churches” is run in a way that most closely aligns with the churches of the Bible.

But really, it seems to me that SGM is run much more like a big corporation than the church at Corinth…more like McDonald’s than Macedonia.

SGM has a franchise approach to building churches.

And I believe this approach is deliberate, or, as they’d say in SGMville, intentional.

I mean, think about how a church plant works. SGM does not just send out a pastor or two to a new location, where they start from the ground up, gathering people from the new community to form the congregation.

No, it’s my understanding that they find several willing families who are already completely sold out to the SGM way of doing things.  These families have been conditioned to view church planting as missionary work.  Nevermind that SGM church plants typically take place in already-church-saturated whitebread suburbs – SGM teaches that planting more SGM churches is how they “spread the Gospel.”

So from the “sending” church, leaders find families who are so totally sold out to SGM that they have bought into the idea of promoting SGM as “missions work.”  These families then endure a pretty stringent “vetting” process to determine if they are up to the task.  The group of church planting families bond together in planning meetings, through the shared hardships of selling homes, quitting or switching jobs, and leaving all their other friends and family in the area.

By the time the new church opens its doors for its first meeting, the group of “sent” families is already a tight little community, with a shared history, the knowledge that they were considered “good enough” for the high privilege of being sent in the first place, and the shared experiences of the relocation process.  Moreover, as strangers in a strange land, so to speak, they’ve become even more dependent on their SGM circle of friends for community.

Their loyalty to the SGM brand is as high as it could get.  They see the new church as “spreading the Gospel.”  They simply cannot risk alienating anyone IN the new church, since those folks are basically all they have.  So even if there would be problems, they can’t acknowledge them in the slightest.  Then their loyalty is affirmed through the natural satisfaction that comes from working hard on something with a group, and watching that thing succeed and grow.

And then…what does an outsider, a visitor, see, when he arrives at the new church plant?

He doesn’t see what is typical of a non-SGM new church.  If someone attends a “normal” non-SGM new church, he will see a bunch of other strangers, possibly some folks that he already knows from the community, many of whom are still basically strangers to one another.

But if he goes to a new SGM church, he’ll walk into the midst of an extremely tight, VERY bonded community, a community from another geographical location, typically with no real connections to the city (suburb) where they are now.

If this hypothetical visitor likes what he sees at the new SGM church, what is he going to do?

Well, because of the nature of human psychology, he will work at fitting in to the status quo.  He will look to the church’s established members and model himself, his behavior and his attitudes, after them. He will take on the group’s values.  Frequently within SGM, visitors are already somewhat sold out to the SGM way, having researched the “family of churches” ahead of time or having been ministered to by CJ’s or Josh’s writings, or an SGM conference or SGM music. So they’ll be even more primed to want to fit in and assimilate.

In an SGM church plant, there is almost NO WAY for the new SGM church to reflect anything but SGM culture.  The group of founding families has brought with them all the cultural mores from their previous location, and the visitors who get added to the group are simply prone to mimic and copy what’s aleady going on in the group that they want to join.  If you trace back all the church plants around the country, they all have roots in CLC. Members from CLC got sent to other church plants, which in turn sent their own people out to other locations…and so on, and so on. 

So with the way that SGM plants churches, they are assured of strong brand identity.   The families who are “sent” will have extremely high brand loyalty, particularly for practical reasons – because of the bonding experiences of having gone through the same relocation pains as the others in the group, and because they NEED the group, since otherwise they’d be total strangers in a brand-new place.  These families will then influence any NEW families far more strongly than the visitors would influence the “sent” group.  In other words, the people in the new community become assimilated and absorb SGM’s culture, rather than the other way around.

This is why SGM is so homogenous.  This is why SGM is so much more of a denomination than actual denominations.  Actually, this is why SGM is more like a franchise than a “family of churches.”

Brand development…brand loyalty…all in the name of the supposed “gospel.”  The “gospel” of SGM.

Interestingly enough, commenter “Unassimilated” posted this today:

What surprised me though, was one of the first steps in qualifying a city for a potential church plant.  Let me say that I am not speaking of the adoption of an existing church, some of the vanity plantings that have taken place, or those that attempted a pre-formation to SGM.

Before the prayer/consideration, and Apocalyptic, sorry, apostolic review, there is some information that is gathered by SGM.  For those that know Tommy H-ll, he is a great guy, and is a man that is simply doing his job as required and directed by his supervisors.



In an attempt to do the most with the resources God has allotted SGM does all that they can to make sure a church plant is successful.  Nothing wrong with that.

Here is where it seems to get, as Kris might say, a bit odd.

If you are SGM, you know your market. The example given to me was that of Jackson Mississippi.

Incomes are too low, education levels vary, and the established churches are a “better fit” for the people of that city.  A median household income $30414.  (Not my words here, a great state if you ask me)

You need more than tithes to keep an SGM church afloat. Lets face it, SGM is not the place for those who are light in the wallet.  I know my spending between books, conferences, donations, and special gifts for one year exceeded $10k.

This did not include tithe, and yes, I just dumped my reward in heaven for those “Gifts” to make a point.

There are patterns to the SGM plants.

The SGM system is more that the local church, it is a product line.  No sense opening an outlet that does not further sales.

Let’s now look at the most recent SGM offerings –

Peoria, Arizona
Median household income $62,458

San Francisco, California
Median household income $65,519

Spokane, Washington
Median family income $66,505

This is just one facet of a demographic.  The US Census has great online resources.

You can try this one as well for religious makeup.

I am aware of the product that the SGM demographic fits into.  I would invite anyone to do his or her own research and see what patterns emerge.

And finally, there’s this, something fascinating that few SGM people probably know (one of my correspondents sent me this info awhile back):

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but, the book, From Good to Great is the one that helped launch the massive reorg at CLC and SGM under Josh and CJ.  It is clear that C.J. used this book’s methodology to reorganize his ‘corporation’ and set SGM’s path for the foreseeable future.  He even utilized the ‘level 5′ leadership team approach:  CJ, Dave Harvey, Josh, Jeff Purswell and Pat Ennis!  It may help to understand some of their workings if you read this outline or the book itself.

One thing that was very interesting is how closely they have guarded their use of this book.  It is definitely not common knowledge that it affected them so much.

A few years ago, Josh included an exclusive “Pastors Only” seminar, at the small group leaders conference, entitled something like, “Taking your Church from Good to Greater”.  It was interesting to see how they used this book to describe the upcoming changes in SGM to their leaders.

I believe they wanted the general population at CLC to never know how much advice they were following from a corporate guru.  While other seminar hand-outs remained available for everyone to read, the hand-out from the “Good to Great” seminar was hastily collected and not made available.  They even deleted that particular seminar (taught by John Loftness) from the choices online where you could order copies of teachings from the leadership conference.  It could be that John brought the book to the awareness of both CJ and Josh.  After all, he was ‘the pastor who loved to encourage men in their careers’

Anyway, just reading an outline of the book gives clues as to the thinking of the pastors.  It’s unfortunate that they’re not more upfront in their treatment of CLC and SGM as a business.

So what do YOU think?  Is depending so much on corporate ways and means an acceptable way to build God’s church?  Is it “Biblical”?  Do we see such strategies in the New Testament?

Is SGM really a “New Testament church,” or is it more like a corporation?

From the “Orange Papers”

May 24, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

[Kris says:  One of the most common searches that people do when they’re looking for information about SGM is, “‘Sovereign Grace Ministries’ + ‘Cult.'”  Even though that search will frequently lead people to this site, I’ve personally always had a difficult time weighing in one way or the other on SGM’s “cult” status.  Yet a ministry can embrace essentially Biblical, orthodox doctrine and still engage in “cult-like methodologies.”  Below is an article taken from The Orange Papers.  Read it and see for yourself how SGM stacks up.]


The following characteristics of cults and sects are based upon the cult classification systems of the world’s leading cult experts like Singer, Langone, Lifton, and Hassan.  An organization doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics to be a cult — there are many variations on these characteristics — it just has to have a good number of them to be a cult, or to be moving in the direction of becoming one.

Recognizing “Group-think”
Singer stresses that all cults are based firstly on a thought reform program.  Such programs aim to dilute people’s individuality, change their core belief systems and alter their concept of themselves.  This is done by imposing a “totalistic ideology” which “explains everything.”  Such groups will say (or insinuate through subtle means) that they are “THE WAY”, the “ONLY WAY,” be it in religion, science, self-help, psychotherapy or politics.  Lifton points out that “included in this mystique is a sense of ‘higher purpose’, of ‘having directly perceived some imminent law of social development’, of being themselves the vanguard of this development.”  Consequently, all other groups are charlatans, shams, impostors, degenerate, etc.  Normally they have authoritarian leaders and lieutenants at all levels and/or they venerate the works of dead leaders to justify their totalistic ideology and actions.  Not choosing the group’s Way will usually lead to humiliation, d**nation or death.  Members undergo what has been called “brainwashing”, or “mind control” in order to achieve “Group-think”.

Below are some key techniques used for achieving this:

1) The cult relies on the vulnerability and naïvety of the person, who is unaware of the indoctrination process being used.  Most cult members are from the educated middle class, including lawyers, doctors, psychologists, business people etc.  A good proportion, though not all come from dysfunctional families and/or suffer alcohol or drug problems.  In general, new members are usually undergoing a personal crisis and are easy prey for all-embracing solutions.  They are then pressurized to gradually adjust to their environment so subtly that they don’t notice the changes to themselves or, indeed, when they do, they view those changes as positive ones.  From the beginning they are unwittingly seduced into replacing their own beliefs and values with those of the group and persuaded that everything about their former lives, their personality, and their character before joining the group, was worthless and degenerate.

2) A regime exists where the individual feels a sense of powerlessness and helplessness and the lack of other alternatives, under an authoritative or authoritarian system.  Members are told that they will be destroyed or corrupted by negative pressures, and that they can maintain their purity only within the group’s ranks.

[Kris says:  Before you “poo-poo” this one as far too dramatic to have anything to do with SGM, think about the way that SGM portrays itself as being both “Reformed” and “Charismatic,” which frequently causes people to feel like they will never be able to find another “doctrinally pure” church if they choose to leave SGM.  I have received many emails from folks who aren’t happy in their SGM churches, but who also feel powerless when they think of leaving, because they believe that SGM is the only church around that “gets it right” in terms of being both “Reformed” in doctrine and yet not cessationist.  (Of course, as we have discussed here many times before, the practical reality is that SGM is not actually either truly “Reformed” or truly Charismatic.)

Another area where we see this sense of powerlessness in SGMers is in their sense that if they choose to leave the group, they will be leaving their entire social world.]

3) Cults prey on human aversion to uncertainty.  The group supplies ready-made answers for everything, thus helping to reduce insecurity and fear.  Everything is seen in terms of black and white, pure and the impure, good and evil.  There are set answers for everything and no room for uncertainty, controversy, healthy debate or doubt.  The member is given a complete solution.  In return, members of the group are expected to be unquestioning in their commitment to the group’s identity, its ideas and leaders (or past leaders).

Environmental & Time Control
4) The group asserts increasing control over a member’s time and social and psychological environment.  Members are expected to attend many meetings and involve themselves in other activities, reducing their contact with the outside world.  Members may be directly encouraged to break relations and social contact with former friends, acquaintances and even loved ones.  Gradually, it becomes more and more difficult for members to imagine a life outside their organization.

5) Other group members work in meetings and on a private basis to undermine new members’ confidence in their own perceptions and opinions.   A personal mentor may be appointed to accelerate integration and mind control.

Bad feelings are always the fault of the person and not the group.  Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged and “negative” thinking is jumped on.   Members are to report their thoughts, feelings and activities to the group or their mentor.   They are expected to ask permission when taking any major decisions in their lives and sometimes minor ones, making them less and less able to think or decide for themselves or function without the group.   A person’s ego is destroyed, they begin to doubt their own judgment and soon there is a loss of free will.

Reward & Punishment
6) Within cults there is immense pressure to conform.  They use a combination of flattery, threats and guilt.  A system of punishments and rewards is used to encourage group learning and reduce unwanted behavior.  Punishments like isolation, shunning, “tut-tuts” and humiliation are used to cause fear and obedience, while, alternatively, recognition, praise and “strokes” are sparingly awarded by older members for obedience and loyalty to Group-think by the newer ones.

7) Group meetings often include confessional sessions where members admit to past or present sins against the norms of the group — doing bad deeds, thinking bad thoughts, etc, and in return, they receive both admonition, warnings and praise for their confessions.

To help cultivate emotional control public exhibitions of emotional highs and lows are often encouraged and applauded as a form of ritual self-flagellation.

8 ) “Group-speak” is another feature of all cults.  Groups use what Lifton calls “the thought-terminating cliché“.  Repetitive phrases, clichés, sayings, platitudes, and buzz words are regularly invoked to describe all situations, and prevent further analysis or discussion.  Any disagreements are usually settled by referring to the sayings or writings of wise leaders (past or present), rather than by turning to independent analysis.  Members are rewarded for their ability to regurgitate this “Group-speak” and for their willingness and talent for putting down dissenters with cult clichés.

Lifton argues that the effect of group-speak is critical for mind control, “since language is so central to all human experience, … capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.”  Moreover, the “secret vocabulary” reinforces the idea of distance from the outside world.

9) Cults “clone” people into smaller versions of the cult leader(s) and members.  Visit a branch of the same cult in Toronto or Tokyo and you will find yourself in the presence of the same “person” or type.  Cults rob people of their individuality, personality and uniqueness, and replace it with the cult “Self”, which implants a cult personality in place of the person’s real self.

10) Not content with just creating a false conception of the present, cults are also not adverse to rewriting history.  Whenever historical facts or the truth doesn’t fit in with the cult leader’s designs and aspirations, they simply change it.   As Lifton says “past historical events are retrospectively altered, wholly rewritten, or ignored, to make them consistent with the doctrinal logic.”  The new line “simply replaces the realities of individual experience…”

[Kris says:  Again, before you laugh this one off, what about the way that SGM now portrays its early history, with no mention of Larry Tomzcak as one of the group’s co-founders?  Or its unabashedly Charismatic (and CERTAINLY not “Reformed”) roots?  Why the need to pretend to always be what it is now?  Why not total openness about its colorful and varied and quite different past?]

Lies & Deceit
11) The cult leader(s) is prepared to lie blatantly and obscenely about other individuals or organizations, with total disregard for the truth or any sense of moral objectivity.  A frequent tactic by cult leaders is to divert attention from their own sins by accusing others inside or outside their organization of the very crimes of which they themselves are guilty.  (In psychology, this is called “projection.”)

Only those who are group members are truly good, sane, wise or sober.  Since members lose the faculty of critical judgment and the ability to think for themselves, they never question the lies and distortions of their leader(s).  Members feel total loyalty to those who have “saved them” and follow in blind obedience.

12) Leading figures, either alive or dead, are honored and venerated.  Statements are often supported by quotations and sayings from sacred writings or speeches.  Predictions of catastrophe or d**nation are common.  This can be anything from Armageddon, to madness, persecution or alcoholic/drug relapse.  Very frequently those who have come from crisis situations are warned that leaving the group will bring certain relapse.

Undemocratic Reality
13) The direction of the group comes from a shadowy leadership, rarely seen and with little or no real democratic controls.  There are assurances about the democratic character of the group and its strident democratic checks and procedures.  Indeed, on paper the cult may appear to be super democratic, but in practice everything is run by leader(s) and cliques and committees, and committees within committees, picked from the chosen few and frequently made up of the same people.

The cult uses a closed system of logic, where no feedback is allowed and revisions are only made by higher authorities.

Leaders often amass personal power, often including wealth and sexual favors.

Mystique & Mission
14) Cults often have an internal aura of mystique in which members feel they have “a sense of ‘higher purpose’, of ‘having directly perceived some imminent law of social development’, of being themselves the vanguard of this development” (Lifton).  This includes delusions about historical roles, being “chosen ones”, the “vanguard” “pioneers” and leading new, mass social, political, religious or scientific movements.  This gives a sense of purpose in life, for members who entered feeling that their life had no meaning or goal.

[Kris says:  Many of the most loyal SGM defenders honestly believe that SGM has come as close as possible to recreating the “true New Testament church,” which in their minds needed to be recreated, as no other church out there was “getting it right.”]

Disturbed Gurus
15) Cult leaders are often charming, charismatic figures with above-average intelligence. The “charismatic charmer” is one their personalities — a pseudo-personality.

Many cult leaders suffer from borderline, disassociate or multiple personality disorders. Members feel honored to be with, and be seen, around them. But their personality can change dramatically in a flash. Cult leaders are always very disturbed individuals. They are usually victims turned persecutor, having a history of involvement in other social, political or religious cults and/or suffering the effects of a traumatic childhood. Behind their strong and confident exterior (pseudo-personality) they need their leader position to compensate for a very fragile sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-identity.

This is also shown by the fact that they cannot “hack it” in the real world and need to live in a cult/sect environment to live out their problems. Their past histories show social marginality and a tendency to drift from one cause to another, one cult to another, one job to another, one marriage to another, etc. They spend their lives dedicated to their cause (also, increasing through the Internet, now). They are obsessive-compulsive, fanatical and manipulative.