A definite give away to extreme degrees of control is how much room does the group allow for members to express complaints about leadership or the organization?
A controlling group will reward objecting or having a critical attitude of leadership by jerking the complainant out of the hierarchy. If you are in a position of leadership you probably will be asked to step down. In the spiritually abusive group one learns fast that you need to be a "YES MAN' if you expect to go anywhere.
Removal from leadership is an unspoken understanding of what will happen and it is very subtle. Most groups deny this tactic. But there are hundreds of examples of faithful believers who challenged leadership and were so surprised at their quick downfall.
Does your group or church use this method of control? Ask yourself these questions:
When your opinion has been different than the leaders, do you receive negative feedback even in areas dealing with non-moral issues? For example, in a controlling church or group, they feel they have the right to tell you what is right or is wrong in virtually all aspects of your life and give no room for you to use your own conscience in these matters.
Does this group give negative feedback of any form of criticism about the leaders or the group? Do they squelch anything critical thinking about the leaders, the group, or its beliefs and practices?
Does this group strictly censure any criticism of leaders in writing? The more of these you say yes to, the more harmful this groups can be.
When you do have a complaint against a leaders, does this group insist that they only way to deal with this problem is to go to the person that you have the complaints against? In noncontrolling churches you could deal with this problem in a variety of ways without being told that you are "handling it wrong." In a controlling church they are normally very rigidand usually insist if you have some criticism, you must go to that person that you have the complaint against. If you do go to the leader you usually find yourself repenting of having done so?
There is suppression of freedom of speech and behavior from the use of these tactics.
One groups ministry manual said, "A critical attitude of fellow staff, of the ...... ...... ministry or of other individuals or groups shall be considered as evidence of disloyalty to Christ, and shall be accepted as an act of resignation."
When you think about it, it is like your boss saying that you can never criticize any actions or he would have you fired on the spot. A dictatorship is a better way to understand this statement. At least Dictators are honest about their wanting total control of every ones negative thoughts about leadership.
This whole idea of not even voicing one negative thought against the leaders and equating that with disloyalty to Jesus Christ makes the leaders like God. You cannot question them or you are questioning God. This supersedes all consideration of human rights. This assumes as Dr. Lifton, a clinical psychologist, stated, "...any thought or action which questions the higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission."and independent action." Lifton was talking about thought reform cases that he studied in China.
Lifton said, about an environment of thought control, "This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. ... Thus the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also..."... illogical or total irrational."
One can be sure that their existence will be dispensed in a controlling group if they say one negative comment. Not only will you be out but you will be told you are also speaking against God! That makes the group and its leaders synonymous with God in the members' minds!
Picture yourself on staff in a main-line church. One day they hand you a rule book that states: "Anyone who criticizes our ministry, is considered disloy to God Himself, and will excommunicated and dismissed immediately.
Can you see how stifling this would be to becoming the person you are meant to be before God? If you said, you don't like it but it is okay for the group you are with then you could have a big problem. God wants us to freely choose to serve Him out of Love - not by coercion!
If you are a church leader think of what you could get away with in your church if you taught your flock NOT TO SAY ANYTHING THAT THEY DISAGREED WITH TO OTHERS. THEY CAN ONLY COME TO YOU IN PRIVATE AND NOT SHARE THIS WITH OTHERS. That would give you time to work on that person and "help" them see that they are not thinking right. If the person still held their own ground claiming that you were not scriptural, then you would have a chance to discredit this person. You could tell the congregation that this person was "totally irrational" to ensure that no one will listen or believe that person's information. You could even secretly encourage this person never to come back to this church. If the person felt unwelcome enough by this approach, you may never have to deal with them again. Or you could simply excommunicate them and turn the congregation against them to the point they won't even speak to that person. ??