Transforming Trends in the Modern World-2

We are exploring Seth Godin’s prophecies from eight years ago to determine how they relate to the modern church.


Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities

small_2610625869The voice of the individual is far more powerful today. There is no way to hush it. There will be attempts to try. Old habits die hard.

In the past the great silencers would banish a dissenter. A train ticket to Siberia is cost-effective! Disconnect them from the rest of the world. Problem solved.

There is no longer anywhere to send them.

A less drastic technique of the great silencers is to isolate them socially. They would sully their reputation, limit their opportunities for advancement, threaten their livelihoods or break their kneecaps—anything that could be done legally or without getting caught. This would often be done under the guise of beneficence. We are doing the world a favor.

Today, they can be called out by anyone with a smartphone and a backbone.

The Church is slow to discover this. Church structure takes comfort in acceptance. The clergy have a pulpit. They have an audience. They don’t use their voice with much effectiveness. They crave acceptance.

Someday they will find their voices. It will only take a few little successes and a refreshing power will be released.

But it won’t be easy. For example:

One retired pastor—a member of Redeemer—uses his voice. He writes letters, mostly to clergy, protesting the actions of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod in our neighborhood of East Falls and pointing out the violations of the governing rules.

The reaction: Synod Council voted to ask a neighboring bishop to censor him. They wrote a letter. Most, if not all, signed it. It didn’t work. The neighboring bishop knows this pastor to be a good man. And so they are left to take another course — just dismiss him as a malcontent.

Time will tell whether or not he was right.

Interestingly, the people who signed the letter have found no other way to use their voice on the issues. They follow the crowd.

While the whole world is exploring new ways to right wrongs and make the world a better place, the Church is still seeking ways to keep people towing their line (even when their line violates their own governing rules).

Where this will go for the Church is hard to say. It is a new force that wise church leaders should recognize and begin to work with in more enlightened ways.

Reverting to the Middle Ages is not likely to work.

The Creation and Amplification
of the Voice of Independent Authorities

This is something that the Church really needs to explore.

It can be dangerous in the world of religion, eclipsing any possible good. But it might also be good, if nurtured.

It has never been more possible to create a cult. Cults prey on the insecurities of the faithful.

It has always been a problem in the Church. Some ordained pastors practice cult leadership. They find ways to make themselves the center of the religion—making obedience and compliance indispensable to salvation or participation. The major tool is charm. They tend to be likable people. Do some good things that attract admiration and attention. They soon have a growing following—that will disappear as soon as the cult leader disappears (often with the money or a harem).

Sometimes they are called out but rarely before serious damage has been done.

The road is difficult and divisive for all—those who get caught up in it and those who try to battle it.

You can be certain it is happening in today’s church—in little pockets and in broader territories—perhaps entire denominations. A few years of damaging leadership can create long-term strife.

And so, the Church (that means everyone in the Church) must be vigilant. Most important they must be knowledgable in their faith. A strong knowledge of faith is the best weapon in fighting potential cult leaders.

Sadly, Christian education tends to stop at age 10 these days. When these Christian children grow up and begin to face the complexities of faith, they are ill-prepared to cope. Easier to opt out.

But it’s not all bad!

New leaders with good faith foundations may emerge outside of the “system.” They may have something important to say and add to the mainline expression of faith. They will see things that have been camouflaged by ritual and tradition.

Will there be room for them?

Or will they be silenced?

photo credit: StephenMcleod – International Man of Mystery via photopin cc

Is the Lutheran Church (ELCA) becoming a cult?

martin%20luther%20sealLutherans are an accepted mainline Christian denomination. They can’t possibly be considered a cult, can they?

There is debate about what constitutes a cult as opposed to a religion. Some authorities refuse to use the word “cult.” Others believe the word appropriately describes religious groups with certain common characteristics.


Interestingly, both extremes agree on one point. Cults include religious groups that exist outside the law — including their own governing laws.


This was part of the court ruling in the SEPA/Redeemer conflict. The Pennsylvania Court of Appeals ruled in a split decision that the case brought against the congregation by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SEPA/ELCA) could not be heard because of First Amendment separation of church/state. However a strongly worded dissenting opinion found that if the law is applied, Redeemer’s position is well-grounded.


The question for lay church members and all Lutherans is serious. How are we to function when our constitutions cannot be interpreted by the law and when leaders are immune from the law but do not hesitate to use their protected status and the law to attack church members?


We predict this will be a continuing problem in the Lutheran church.


As this conflict unfolded over a period of about five years, several other cultlike characteristics came to define SEPA’s leadership.


cultThe ELCA describes itself, its congregations, synods and agencies as interdependent. There is no hierarchy. Each expression is to be supportive of the other. These characteristics are not necessarily descriptive of every synod or every congregation. However, each characteristic we cite can be documented in the SEPA/Redeemer conflict. The following posts record some of what went on.

Showdown on Midvale Avenue

Our Response to Bishop Burkat

Menu Page: SEPA/Redeemer


  • Cults are control-oriented. Bishop Claire Burkat refused to work with Redeemer’s elected leaders, insisting on taking every issue directly to the congregation. This destroys constitutionally mandated congregational leadership structure. Redeemer insisted that she respect the elected leaders of the congregation as spokespeople for the congregation (which is why congregations elect leaders). Bishop Burkat replaced Redeemer’s leadership by decree — without meeting with either the leadership or the congregation to discuss this.
  • Isolation is used as a control tool. The pastor serving Redeemer in 2006 resigned with 10 days notice after a private meeting with the bishop. A year later, the pastor Redeemer hoped to call visited with the Bishop’s office and never returned to Redeemer. This gave Redeemer no clergy vote, voice or influence.
  • Cults make it difficult to leave. Redeemer passed a congregational resolution to withdraw from the ELCA, which is constitutionally allowed. According to the constitution, a request is supposed to activate a 90-day period of negotiation. SEPA responded by informing Redeemer it could not withdraw; it was officially “terminated.” The congregation would no longer have a vote or voice in any gathering of Lutherans.
  • Rights of members are not clearly defined.  Redeemer was told it had no right to appeal until a week before Synod Assembly in 2008. The cycle repeated in 2009. Throughout this process, Redeemer’s requests for appeal guidelines were ignored. The format for the appeal was provided just days before Synod Assembly. At the same time, Redeemer was told they could attend Synod Assembly ONLY for the purpose of the appeal—despite the fact that their delegate registrations had already been accepted.
  • Questioning leadership is discouraged. Redeemer’s attempts to communicate with the synod were ignored.
  • Cults treat the property of members as if it is their own. The whole purpose of the Redeemer conflict was to make Redeemer’s property synod’s property. Today, four years after the courts deeded our property to synod, Bishop Burkat can barely say  the name Redeemer. She calls us “former” Redeemer (although we never voted to close). She refers to our property as the land “once occupied” by “former Redeemer” as if we never purchased it, owned it, and built and cared for the buildings. In her mind our ownership of land seems to have been in trust — waiting for the day she wanted to claim it. Other SEPA congregations take note. If SEPA’s logic applies, you think you own your land. SEPA thinks you occupy THEIR land.
  • Cult leadership exploits vulnerable circumstances, even creating the illusion of crisis, with no attempt to address the problems. Although, SEPA refused to help the congregation find leadership, Redeemer was not in crisis. The church was growing and ready to call new leadership. Many congregations are under the false impression that Synod was financially supporting Redeemer. Other way around!
  • Cult leadership answers to no higher authority. Redeemer requested assistance from Bishop Hanson and the legal offices of the national church but were turned away. An attempt to talk to a Synod Council member (who are supposed to represent the congregations) was rebuffed.
  • Cult leadership employs deception. Synod-appointed trustees introduced themselves to Redeemer as “fact finders” not “trustees.” Redeemer was not informed it was under synodical administration for five months. Bishop Burkat came to a meeting announced for one purpose and had a locksmith hiding in a van behind the property.
  • Cult leaders use fear and intimidation. A Redeemer officer was warned to “get out while the getting is good.” The first resort of Bishop Burkat was a lawsuit naming individual church members personally. Add to this the pastors who “disappeared” after meetings in the bishop’s office. And then there was the Showdown on Midvale Avenue.
  • Cult leaders use character assassination. The story persists, first told by trustees in 2008, that Redeemer members tried to have the bishop arrested. This never happened. That was the beginning of the gossip against Redeemer leaders.
  • The lack of open debate is a sure sign of a cult. SEPA made all rules for the appeal forum. A mere 10 minutes was allotted for discussion, extended at the last minute by the bishop to 20 minutes. All of that 20 minutes was filled with pre-arranged speakers—more than doubling Synod’s presentation time. The first person to reach the microphones with a question was told “time is up.” Redeemer was not allowed to participate in the discussion. In three years, no active pastors have spoken publicly on these issues.
  • Events are controlled.  (See above)
  • The behavior of the leaders is excused no matter how harsh or harmful to members. Eleven volunteer lay members of Redeemer are threatened with the loss of their homes as the result of four years of litigation. No one in SEPA is asking if this harsh treatment of Redeemer church members is necessary or advisable.
  • Dependency on the group leader is encouraged. Analytical thought is discouraged. Redeemer was told in 2006 that they couldn’t do outreach ministry except through synod’s mission office, which would direct and control mission activity. There are no such rules in either the synod’s or the congregation’s constitutions. It is the mission of every congregation to do outreach ministry. Synod cannot possibly control them all! Or maybe they can! Our Ambassador visits reveal a high percentage of congregations have interim, bridge, or mission developer pastors, which report to Synod. There is a reason why Synods demand congregations work with a Synod Mission Office. It’s an underhanded abuse of the constitution. Once a congregation accepts help from a Mission office, they lose property rights. But congregations don’t know that until it’s too late.
  • Practical solutions are excluded in preference of a leader’s wishes. Redeemer has offered numerous compromises for peace and been ignored. There are many ways to resolve this conflict that would be in line with Christian teachings.
  • The use of loaded language. Bishop Burkat opened her only meeting with Redeemer representatives with a tirade using the word “adversarial” repeatedly. Most of the people present had never met the bishop before. The incessant and false re-telling of the “attempt to have the bishop arrested” is another example.
  • Cults promote the illusion of innovation. 2012 Synod Assembly rallying cry: “God is doing something new” without much evidence of any new thinking.
  • Excessive use of guilt. Members are never good enough. Their history is criticized. Their leaders are criticized. Their social connections are faulted. Redeemer knows all about this!
  • Leaders claim no responsibility. Members bear all the blame.
  • And finally . . . . Cults operate in defiance of the teachings of their scriptures. Lutherans should be practicing what we preach . . . love, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and atonement. Not in SEPA!

We’ve heard similar stories in at least three other ELCA synods, but we are not suggesting that all ELCA synods and congregations fit the above criteria. But some Lutheran entities have clearly lost their way.

There is cause for concern. We trust there is also hope.


Characteristics of cults were referenced from http://www.prem-rawat-talk.org/forum/uploads/CultCharacteristics.htm