(Original article here, Copyright 2005, Luna Flesher)
The BITE Model and Mormon Control
by Luna Flesher
Nearly every cultist, no matter what cult they are a member of, completely and fully believes their group is the one and only true way. They believe they are elite, of better stuff than outsiders. They strive for near-impossible standards of moral purity. They believe the world as we know it will soon end, but that they alone will be safe. They follow a long list of rigid rules and are required to obey. They are restricted access from material that would expose deceptions and lead them away from the group.
These are just a few of the common attributes of cults, and Mormonism is no different.
Thought reform and authoritarian groups are not usually as glamorous or “far out” as media and entertainment would have them be. We like to look to extremes to define things we don’t understand, but the reality is much more subtle. Mormonism is also no different from cults that appear friendly, clean-cut, happy, and productive. This is just one of the persuasive methods that draws and retains members.
Much like my earlier paper, “Is Mormonism a Cult?” – A Rebuttal, this paper takes a step-by-step look at a secular definition of cults. Steven Hassan’s BITE model details the manipulative methods used to keep members trapped, by controlling Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions. Each category is broken down into specific points distinguishing a cult from more ethical organizations.
The details of each point are more thoroughly explained in his book, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. There, and in other sources, we learn that this list is not all-inclusive. It does not address subjects such as how cults gain converts, the process through which the personality is torn down to be replaced by a cult personality, methods of influence and persuasion, the negative effects of belonging to a cult, and recovery from the lingering effects after leaving a cult.
This paper barely scratches the surface of the complexity involved in this subject. I would recommend that each curious reader explore the topic further by reading selections from the bibliography, especially works by Hassan, Langone, and Singer.
I will also note that individual experiences are unique. The Mormon Church is vast, and the folklore and customs can be slightly different from region to region, family to family. Few will relate to every single point I bring up, but most readers familiar with Mormonism will relate to most of the items, and recognize the overall picture.
The differences of experience will depend on things like variations in the finer points of doctrine (interpretations and emphasis) and the intensity of behavior from family and fellow members.
An apologist may be able to point to a few of the specifics, and claim they have never heard of such a thing. But I would not have bothered to mention them had they not been a major part of the Mormon experience, somewhere. I draw not only from my 26 years in the Church, but also the stories of hundreds of others who have lived a similar life. The overall experience is a sum of the parts, and it is fallacy to belabor the exceptions.
Cults can be psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes physically damaging to individuals. Again — Mormonism is no different. My purpose for writing this paper is to help those who are struggling with difficulties that arise from being or having been Mormon. In order for there to be recovery, there must be understanding.
“…And the truth shall set you free.”
I. Behavior Control
1. Regulation of individual’s physical reality
a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates
The Church’s official doctrine is that members can be friends with anyone. Contradictory teachings imply and state outright that one should not associate with non-members or people who have “lower standards”. Members may risk having their morality affected through peer-pressure, and may even be “deceived” and lead away from the Church. Members are reminded to “always stand in holy places”.
Sunday school curriculum states:
“Think to yourself about any situation you know in which someone followed the wrong kind of friend or group. Think about how often these situations ended in sadness, tragedy, or suffering.” (“The Presidents of the Church, 19: Make Peer Pressure a Positive Experience”)
Non-member dating and dating under the age of 16 is prohibited. Marriage to non-members and “unworthy” members is discouraged. A 19 year old Mormon male is strongly pressured to go on a Mormon mission for 2 years, where they are cut off from friends and family. Many members are encouraged to go to BYU and other church-sponsored schools.
b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
There is heavy emphasis on “modest clothing”, especially enforced on the youth. Usually the focus is on girl’s clothing. Skirts should be knee-length or longer. Shirts should have sleeves. Shirts should not be cut too low at the top or too high at the bottom. “Hip-hugger” pants are discouraged. The midriff should not show. Bikinis are not allowed. One-piece swim suits are, but only to be changed into at the pool (not to be worn en route). Shorts are sometimes discouraged as well, particularly anything that would preclude wearing of the authorized under garment. Men should not go shirtless.
Women are expected to generally look feminine. Earrings for men are strongly discouraged. More than one set of earrings for women is strongly discouraged. Tattoos are strongly discouraged. Hair should be of natural color. Men should keep short haircuts and are encouraged to be clean-shaven.
During Sunday church and many other meetings, women should wear dresses and men should wear suits or shirts and ties.
After going through the temple, all members are required to wear white “garments” (special underwear) both day and night. These are bottoms that go almost to the knees and tops with sleeves. For women, the top must go under the bra. These must be worn at all times, including to bed. They may be removed for showering, swimming, and sex, though a few decades ago, married couples were even instructed to have sex with the garments on. Some members old enough to remember still practice this.
Punishment for violation of the dress standard is usually social pressure, even ostracism. At some Church institutions (missions, universities, employment) violation can mean formal discipline, up to and including being removed from the institution. Failure to wear the official temple garment (after the member has been “endowed”) can result in having temple privileges revoked.
It seems that the purpose is to make a good impression on the outside world, to make the Church appear clean-cut.
“Servants of God have always counseled his children to dress modestly to show respect for him and for themselves. Because the way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act, you should dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you. However, if you wear an immodest bathing suit because it’s “the style,” it sends a message that you are using your body to get attention and approval, and that modesty is not important.” (“For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet)
Temple garments serve to remind one of their commitments, enforce phobias (protection from physical and spiritual harm), and separate Mormons from the “outside”.
c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
No alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea. This is known as “The Word of Wisdom”. While this one started out as a recommendation in the early Church, it has become a commandment that is is very heavily emphasized. The general feeling is that breaking this commandment is second in severity only to having sex outside of marriage (which in turn is second only to murder).
This same scripture also recommends other healthy ideas, such as eating meat sparingly, but these are not taken seriously by most members. As a result of ignoring these extra dietary concepts, many members are overweight and suffer from health problems, in spite of the promise to “run and not be weary, walk and not faint” (Doctrine & Covenants 89:20).
Cola and non-specified caffeinated products are discouraged, but many members drink them anyway. This has been controversial for some time, where some are extremely judgmental of the practice, and others find it one of the few relatively “safe” ways to rebel.
d. How much sleep the person is able to have
Nothing is said or indicated either way on sleep. A few Church publications have recommended getting plenty of sleep as part of staying healthy. Generally members are pressured to be productive, and are very busy with Church-related activities, so often don’t get enough sleep by default.
To my knowledge, there have been no formal studies done on this topic, so all of this information is anecdotal and from personal experience. A recent unscientific survey of a Mormon Sunday School class (17 adult men) indicated 64.7% of the class members got only six hours of sleep per night, while 29.4% got as much as seven. (http://www.postmormon.org/forum_vb/showthread.php?t=639
e. Financial dependence
Members are encouraged to be financially independent. Many Mormons (especially outside of Utah) are financially stable on their own, being middle to upper class.
Other factors sometimes lead families to extreme poverty. Members are encouraged (even commanded) to have large families to bring spirits into the Gospel. They are also expected to pay a minimum 10% tithing. Members in communities highly populated by other Mormons with large families find it difficult to find good-paying jobs, and often support families of 6-10 on low incomes.
Advice given to resolve financial difficulties is to “Make sure you pay your tithing first”. Utah leads the nation for bankruptcies.
The Church has a welfare system which provides food and sometimes money to struggling families. Members who use this system are encouraged (but not required) to pay back the Church in the form of volunteer service.
After the Second Coming, the “Law of Consecration” will be enacted, at which time there will be no individual possessions. Each will be given according to their need in a type of theocratic communism.
f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations
Having “good, clean fun” is not openly discouraged. However, recreation is sometimes defined as “re-creation”, and members are encouraged to spend recreational time productively — developing talents, serving others, reading the scriptures and Church publications, listening to “uplifting” music, etc. Members also have a huge number of time-commitments, including numerous church meetings on Sunday and throughout the week, church callings (jobs), family time, praying, reading the scriptures, service projects, visiting members (home & visiting teachers), having productive jobs (men) and clean houses (women), genealogy, temple attendance, etc.
I estimate the bare minimum for being a “good Mormon” is 22 hours a week filling Church duties, with the following breakdown:
3 hours/week Sunday Church meeting
Average 8 hours/week for callings
2 hrs/week additional meetings
2 hrs Monday for Family Home Evening
1 hr/day scripture reading & prayer
This does not count extra projects, special Church events (General and Stake conferences, Girl’s Camp, scouting, dance festivals, ward parties/gatherings, special conferences and training for callings, talent shows, etc.), Temple attendance, genealogy, gardening, food storage collection, writing in your journal, service, and other encouraged activities.
“Cinderella, you may go to the ball — but only when you get all this work done.” The end result is that there is very little time to spend on leisure.
2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
All members attend 3-hour Sunday meetings. Teens attend weekly “mutual improvement” activities. Teens also attend daily “Seminary” (scripture study) classes in their high schools. Male teens are members of Mormon-run Scout troops. Female teens attend Girls Camp (1 week per year). Various annual conferences are provided for teens. Weekend nights there are dances provided for teens and single adults. Pre-teen girls participate in twice monthly ‘Activity Days’ which prepares them for the Young Women’s program, and reinforces Church and Young Women’s values and standards.
Two-year missions are expected for 19-21 year-old males. Senior citizens also serve full-time missions. Women aged 21 or older who are not otherwise married may serve a mission, but they are not encouraged to do so. The higher priority for women is to marry a worthy returned missionary.
College-attendees are encouraged to attend “Institute” classes, much like seminary.
After church there are often “Firesides”, 1-2 hour meetings for various ages, discussing church themed topics. There are also various dinners and ward (congregation) activities.
Adults usually have callings (Church jobs) that require additional meetings and preparation time. Women have Family, Home and Personal Enrichment (formerly known as “homemaking meetings”) every month. Adult institute classes are available to those interested.
Home Teachers (men) and Visiting Teachers (women) are assigned to visit families once a month and give a lesson.
Personal and family scripture reading is encouraged. Monday nights are reserved for “Family Home Evening” during which a lesson is given at the family-level.
Twice a year there are General Conferences which are held all weekend in four 2-hour sessions, with an extra hour for the men. Attendance to one session on Sunday is expected. Extra-faithful members attend all sessions.
3. Need to ask permission for major decisions
There is no need to ask the church leadership, but you are strongly encouraged to pray and fast and ask God and get confirmation from “the Spirit”. However, many members choose to seek counsel from their Bishop for many important decisions, with the thought that if he approves, then they have tacit approval from God.
Members are always encouraged to “Choose the right” in every aspect of their lives. A wrong choice is said to have dire, long-lasting consequences. Even for non-religious life choices, members are instructed to seek council in the scriptures, in fasting, and in prayer. Because of this reliance on “The Spirit”, many members are afraid to make even the simplest of choices.
Members become susceptible to persuasion through “revelations” from fellow members, leaders, and parents, especially in the realm of marriage and careers. These come in the form of promptings, feelings, visions, and dreams.
Parents can (but don’t always) exert a lot of control in both major and minor life decisions.
4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors
All “major sins” must be confessed to the Bishop (lay-clergy ward leader). The definition of what needs to be reported varies greatly. It is generally accepted that sexual sins, drinking alcohol or coffee, or smoking, are all reportable offenses, as are sins considered “crimes” by law (traffic violations not included). Some think that lesser sins are also reportable.
What constitutes a reportable sexual sin varies. Some include oral sex, heavy necking/petting (making out), and masturbation. Some include sexual fantasies and pornography.
All members are regularly interviewed by the Bishop for various purposes: temple recommends (starting at age 12), annual tithing settlement, when given a calling, and other major events. Youth are interviewed at least two other times annually, during the month of their birthday, and 6 months later. This can easily constitute 3-5 regular interviews a year or more, depending on various factors. “Worthiness” is determined based on the outcome of these interviews.
During regular interviews, members are asked a series of questions, including whether they have a testimony (believe in God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, etc.), whether they sustain their leaders, whether they are honest in all their dealings, whether they are sexually chaste, etc. Some Bishops have been known to go outside the written questions and ask deeper, more personal questions.
Sometimes members are led to believe a Bishop can discern if you are lying during the interview process. God and angels also know your actions and inner-most thoughts and are watching you all the time.
There have been many reports of ecclesiastical abuse during interviews. Some members confessing sexual sins will be repeatedly asked for in-depth details. Some of these members are between the ages of 12 and 18. Some members (both adults and children) who go to the Bishop for help with domestic abuse become further victimized when the Bishop disbelieves the claim, minimizes the trauma, or blames the victim. Several such cases have been settled out of court, and even more have been written about, including in published accounts.
This problem is partially due to untrained lay-clergy, a culture of secrecy, and the belief in the divine authority of the Bishop without accountability to earthly authority. There is a strong focus for members and leadership to keep up appearances. Members will rarely hear about domestic abuse, infidelity, bitter marriages, or mental illness, unless they are experiencing it themselves. This tendency towards silence exacerbates trauma and even the normal difficulties of life. Such things are often seen as imperfections or at worse, sinful, so a member may suffer alone and in silence.
5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).
Official punishments include being barred from the temple, disfellowshipment and excommunication. Disfellowshipping includes the inability to partake in the Sacrament, inability to pray publicly or give talks, and inability to hold a Church calling. Excommunication is a complete eradication of all membership privileges with extreme social and spiritual consequences.
Social pressures can be very strong. This topic is a mixed bag, as some members are sincere, good-hearted people, and others are judgmental and shaming. The overall vibe, however, is to appear righteous, or you are unworthy, inferior. It is a part of the culture.
Members and families who seem to be following the commandments very closely are highly respected. Those who have visible problems are considered inferior. This is never expressly said, for the doctrine is “Love one another”, and we’re all equal in the sight of God, nevertheless various levels of status exist in the culture very strongly.
One could be considered of lowered status if: a child in the family is rebellious or has left the Church, one of the parents is inactive or a non-member, any member of the family is observed visibly disobeying a commandment (drinking/smoking, dressing immodestly, criticizing leadership, not wearing garments, turning down a calling, cussing, missing a lot of meetings, etc), if the family is poor (though not always), if no one in the family has ever held a leadership calling (President or Councilor of an adult group, Bishop, or higher), or even if they just don’t seem “valiant”.
The threat of social ostracism is implied by how people talk about others. The language is loaded with negative words for people who sin, criticize, or leave. “Apostate”, “wicked”, “sinner”, “blind”, “hard-hearted”, “unrepentant”, “deceived”, “mocking”, “rebellious”, “contentious”, “misguided”, and “spiritually weak” are just a few.
Some phrases use guilt to punish, i.e. “By sinning, we crucify the Savior anew”.
Spiritual/intangible rewards and punishments abound. These include blessings (financial, situational, spiritual, physical, etc), The Spirit (to enlighten), promise of eternal heavenly life, and promise to be with your family forever. Spiritual punishments consist of the loss of these things. Satan is targeting members of the Church, so you are at risk of being tempted or even harassed by him. Mormons have a very real fear of evil spirits, and are inclined to see the hand of Satan in any tragic circumstance.
It is implied that it is difficult to find happiness outside the Church, especially if you once knew the truth and go against it, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.” (D&C 82:3)
6. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails
Officially, individuality is encouraged. The actual result is a unified group-think church. Mormons tend to look and act the same. Living up to standards is strongly encouraged, which makes people the same in many areas, since there are so many commandments. See section above on clothing and appearance.
It is assumed that because the Church is true, it is true for everyone. If someone is spiritually seeking or not in agreement with Church teachings, it is because they are “lost and deceived”. Here is an example from a story published in a Church magazine:
“My church attendance slipped as I began to feel that the adults in our ward disapproved of my attitude and my hair length. (It wasn’t until much later that I learned that they had prayed numerous times for something to happen in my life that would help me find myself.)” (“What If This Is Really True?” by Derek Preece, Ensign Sept. 1990.)
Note that he says, “…help me find myself”. The beliefs of both the author and his fellow members were that his attitudes and long hair weren’t really him. The “real Derek Preece” would cut his hair, go to Church, have a good attitude, go on a mission, and generally conform to the ways of the group. By the end of the story, he does all of these things.
There are many small things which are not really commandments, but considered good things to do. These are all socially reinforced. Many have to do with appearances, such as: Don’t listen to loud music; be humble; wear nice clothing; look normal (no extreme fashions); sew quilts; bake apple pies; and play basketball.
Obedience to leadership is expected. Free-thinking and personal beliefs are only allowed up to a point, so long as they do not contradict central dogma. There are many doctrines which should never be questioned. “Dissenting” by sharing contradictory information or ideas (whether it can be backed up or not) can be a serious offense, up to and including disfellowshippment and excommunication.
7. Rigid rules and regulations
There are far more commandments and rules than anyone could ever possibly have the time or energy or strength of will to complete. Mormons are considered very strict in their behavior in all aspects of their lives. People who question the rules are “murmuring” and “contentious”. (“…he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil…” (3 Nephi 11:29))
In addition to a long list of commandments and “suggestions” from on high, many local leaders will implement their own rules. As a youth, my Stake President said that girls must wear dresses to weekday youth activities. At dances, our dresses had to be knee-length. Mission presidents apply their own strict rules, including curfews and what music can be listened to.
8. Need for obedience and dependency
Unquestioning obedience to leaders of all levels is required.
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:37-38, required memorization for youth, emphasis added.)
“Keep the commandments, in this there is safety, in this there is peace…” (Keep the Commandments hymn)
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, required memorization for youth)
“Follow the living prophets, as we have just been admonished. One Church leader taught: ‘Always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it. … But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’ (Heber J. Grant, quoted by Marion G. Romney in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78.) We walk in uncharted mine fields and place our souls in jeopardy when we receive the teachings of anyone except he that is ordained of God.” (“Opposition to the Work of God” by Elder Carlos E. Asay Of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Ensign Nov. 1981)
II. Information Control
1. Use of deception
Most true believing members will never notice deceptive practices on the part of the Church. Yet ex-Mormons and non-Mormons who study the Church have found many deceptions in Church history, obsolete doctrines, use of Church funds, personal stories told by General Authorities (higher Church leadership), etc.
There are many quotes from leaders (unknown to most members) justifying misleading and deception “for the greater good”.
Boyd K. Packer said, “there is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” [Emphasis added] (“Do not spread disease germs!” Brigham Young University Studies, Summer 1981)
The few members who ask critical questions regarding doctrines and authority are often mislead or lied to. Deceptions are easily hidden by warm-fuzzy, blame-deflecting language, such as “You misunderstood”, “Milk before the meat”, “We love you”, “Heavenly Father’s ways are mysterious”, “Trust/Have faith”, “You will understand in time”, “Listen to the Spirit”, “You’re not worthy enough to understand”, “God’s ways are not man’s ways”, and “Don’t be deceived by Satan”.
Members are usually unaware of deception because their sole source of information is the Church. Members are usually discouraged from reading that which is critical of the Church (known as Anti-Mormon or apostate material). Such material was inspired by Satan. Reading it will take away the Spirit so you will be deceived and misguided. Your testimony will be endangered. Supposedly Church critics are angry, hateful, spiteful, disrespectful, destroyers, “faith-killers”, followers of Satan, and persecutors. “You can leave they church, but you can’t leave it alone.”
Mormons cannot see any legitimate motives for criticism. From their reasoning, where is there room for criticism of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the one true Church, and God’s own anointed leaders? Questioning all of that makes no sense to the practicing Mormon.
Documented historical data is discounted as lies and crafty deception from Satan.
a. Deliberately holding back information
There are many documented cases where information was restricted from members.
For instance, members (and the public in general) are not allowed to know anything regarding the church’s prodigious financial empire, the extent of its holdings, or the annual revenue generated from corporate holdings and member contributions. They are not allowed access to any information about the dynamics of church membership, other than the single announcement of the increase in membership since the last general conference (the methods of the calculation of this number is undeclared).
They have no information about the inactivity rates of members around the world, the effectiveness of missionary conversions, or the improprieties of highly placed leaders. Furthermore, history that has been recorded (by a self-proclaimed “record-keeping people”), is often reworked, revised and completely rewritten in the spirit of keeping the history “faith-promoting.”
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
Mormon language is very loaded. Many words and phases have different meanings and connotations to members than they do to outsiders. Concepts are pumped full of feel-good terms so that any new information which is contrary to this image seems impossible.
For instance, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are seen as loving, wise, kind leaders called of God. Any negative information regarding them stealing the wives of other men, or having people killed, is an impossibility in the Mormon mind.
The Temple ritual is not secret, it’s sacred (even “Top Sacred,” according to former Mormon Martha Beck). Even though many members find it to be a strange experience, it is advertised as a very spiritual, comforting ceremony.
Women are flattered to the point of not realizing they are being demeaned. They are told they’re naturally more spiritual, so they don’t need the Priesthood. They’re more nurturing, so they should raise children instead of working outside the home. They have softer hearts, so they need to be lead by righteous men.
The polygamous lifestyle of the early Mormon prophets is under-emphasized. The darker underside of Mormon polygamy is never mentioned (abuses, stealing wives, spiritual manipulation, etc).
The wording of quotes by early prophets have been changed in newer documents. Abrasive doctrines have been removed and denied to have ever existed. An includes the changing of the word “wives” to “wife” in all quotes by Brigham Young in a recent lesson manual.
The “Blood Atonement” doctrine taught that some sins could only be forgiven if the sinner spilled their own blood on the ground, or, if they couldn’t see the wisdom in doing this, if they were helped along in the act by faithful ward members. The death penalty was in order for adultery, failing to obey leadership, and apostasy. Yet this information is completely withheld from members.
Reports of rape and childhood sexual abuse are covered up. The victim is blamed and told to be silent, and thereby doubly abused.
Returned missionaries who had bad experiences are told to report their experience as happy, and to only tell beneficial, faith-promoting stories.
A recent Prophet (Ezra Taft Benson) was mentally unable to lead the Church for a long time, but this was not reported to Church membership. Efforts were made to make him appear capable.
Scandals that would make the Church look bad have been covered up.
Church membership statistics are misrepresented.
c. Outright lying
General Authorities (high-ranking Church leaders) and local leaders have told outright lies. Most notably, Paul H. Dunn who frequently told faith-promoting war stories and other tales of his life at Church General Conferences, and published in books and tapes. These were all exposed as lies.
2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
The command to not watch R-rated movies is followed by most of the members most of the time, with a few exceptions for movies with redeeming moral qualities, such as Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and more recently, The Passion of the Christ. Certain types of music are discouraged by some church leaders and most parents. Music with inappropriate lyrics is always discouraged, as is loud music.
When viewing media, Mormons live by the creed, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report, we seek after these things”. By implication, any media not fitting this standard is avoided.
Mormons tend to avoid sexual content more than violence.
b. Critical information
Members have been disfellowshipped, excommunicated, and fired from Church-related jobs for publishing alternate views, conflicting doctrines, and scientific and historical knowledge that is damaging to Mormon dogma.
Members have also been excommunicated for being politically active in certain areas, for instance, for organizing feminist groups. Sonia Johnson was excommunicated for being an ERA activist in the 1970s.
c. Former members
While not officially discouraged from having contact with former members, there is a social stigma that has a strong effect. Members who left voluntarily (apostates) are considered misguided at best, and evil at worst. There is a fear that an apostate might lead one astray, so there is a general avoidance.
Members who were excommunicated are sinners, and are also considered a bad influence.
Sympathy toward apostates, apostate groups, or anti-Mormon groups is considered grounds for having temple privileges revoked and possible disfellowshipment.
Here are some examples of attitudes against apostates, from a Conference talk by Elder Carlos E. Asay, General Authority, October 1981:
“[A] new convert [then excommunicated] had fallen under the influence of a very dedicated apostate who was successful in destroying the convert’s testimony…”
“…The approach used by the apostate is common among those who are more interested in shadows than in light.”
“…Belief in modern prophets and continuous revelation is absent in the lives of many apostates. They would pin their hopes for salvation upon things other than those related to living prophets and living faith.”
“…Avoid those who would tear down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like cancer and eat away the Spirit. True messengers of God are builders—not destroyers.”
d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think
Many commandments, church meetings, church callings, service opportunities, and family obligations. See above under the leisure activities and time commitment sections.
3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Information is not freely accessible
See above under deception section.
Additionally, prospective members are often pressured to join within a matter of weeks, and aren’t given much time to consider or gain a good understanding of the church before joining. Temple ceremonies are kept secret until one is worthy to get a temple recommend, and is ready to go on a mission or get married to a fellow Mormon. Older church doctrines and true church history is suppressed.
Women often don’t know what the Priesthood (men) know,particularly since only the men can hold most of the leadership positions. Members who have not been through the discipline process are usually unaware of what it entails beyond confessing to the Bishop.
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
This issue primarily applies to temple ceremonies and matters of “deep doctrine”. Many historical documents are kept under wraps, and only Higher Church leaders and Academics have access to this information.
Brand new members have much to absorb in too little time. Retrospectively, ex-Mormon converts look back and find they accepted much more over time than they would have had they been told all things up front.
Those who experience a full-time mission will undergo far more aspects of control than a member who does not serve. (Having a constant buddy, contact with family only through letters with one phone call at Christmas and Mother’s Day, no access to newspapers, no access to any non-Mormon media, very strict rules of behavior, a 6-day work week, 12-16 hour work days, etc.) While this isn’t a pyramid shape, it does indicate that some members have more extreme experiences than others.
c. Leadership decides who “needs to know” what
This is less noticeable to the normal member. This is more noticeable by members involved in higher leadership positions or church discipline proceedings.
4. Spying on other members is encouraged
a. Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
The family is considered the most basic unit of Mormon organization, and there is no mistake its importance is emphasized. Families are very close and hierarchical/patriarchal. Children are expected to obey parents, often even into adulthood. The judgments and suggestions of family members can hold powerful sway.
Missionaries must always remain with their companion and report offenses.
Members are paired up for Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching to visit assigned families and sisters once a month. They give a lesson and offer service. If the family needs help with something major or appears to be struggling, HTs and VTs are encouraged to report to the Bishop or women’s auxillary (Relief Society) leader. This is for the purpose of making sure people are taken care of, but sometimes results in monitoring of spiritual/emotional issues as well.
Priesthood holders are supposed to have regular “Personal Priesthood Interviews” with their leaders, at which time they account for their stewardship relative to the families they home teach, including reporting any issues they believe the Bishop should be made aware of.
Some members take it upon themselves to be snitches, reporting the unsavory or inappropriate activities of members to the Bishop, which might include observing someone not wearing their garments or garment-worthy attire, internet activity of neighbors, disparaging remarks about church leaders that were overheard, etc. This behavior is generally not discouraged.
There is a little-known organization called the “Strengthening Membership Committee” that is suspected of directly spying on members by tapping phones and assigning neighbors to watch comings and goings. This is usually experienced by high-profile members, i.e. Bishops and other leaders, BYU Professors, authors of controversial material, and activists. Unfortunately, little is known about the activities of this group or how it is organized. Most evidence is anecdotal, as reported by excommunicated members.
b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
This does not appear to happen frequently. Some high-profile or controversial members are watched by Mormon neighbors and report having their phone tapped.
Sometimes suspicious activities are reported by anonymous members, such as evidence of sexual affairs or apostasy.
5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
There is a church magazine for each age level (children, teens, adults). There are many books, tapes, movies, CDs, and all other forms of media available from Church and Church-related publishers. Members are encouraged to partake.
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources
Yes, but only to about the same extent as most other organizations.
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
Clergy confidentiality is usually respected.
Sometimes church members will be verbally judgmental of others where apparent sins are noted. Or speaking in general terms of sin, i.e. “People do X because they are Y”. Members who hear these things and know of their own “guilt” will often then associate their behavior with the identity or emotion label, or refrain from doing the sin because they do not wish to be identified with a negative.
b. Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution
According to official church doctrine, a sin is “washed clean” when it is repented of.
However some ex-members have noted that when a sin is repeated, or a new sin committed, the Bishop or Stake President will bring up the old sins again, sometimes in an accusatory way.
A common object lesson when teaching on chastity includes pounding a nail in a board, noting that the nail can be removed (repentance) but the hole remains.
III. Thought Control
1. Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
a. Map = Reality
Mormonism is the only true church on earth. It is implied that following Mormonism is the only way to be happy. The entire purpose for the creation of Man is explained by Mormonism.
b. Black and White thinking
Mormons tend to think in terms of polar opposites for most issues. Emotional states are either “happy” or “unhappy”. You can choose life, or death. People are either right-wing conservative religious Republicans or left-wing liberal atheist Democrats. People are moral or amoral. You are living the Gospel, or you are not.
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (1 Nephi 2:27
“Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10)
“And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)
c. Good vs. evil
If it is not of God, it is of the devil. Evil spirits and Satan are considered real entities that actively seek to destroy all that is good. Moral relativism does not exist. If you do not conform, you are being lead astray by the devil. Mormons often discuss the ongoing “war in heaven” that resulted in the “fall” of Satan and one third of the hosts of heaven, and which continues to this day. Evidence for that war is anything ‘bad’ that happens in the world, especially that which is perceived as anti-Christ or anti-Mormon, such as the rise in Islamic fundamentalism.
“…For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” (2 Nephi 32:8)
“For the natural man is an enemy to God…” (Mosiah 3:19)
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29)
“…for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil…” (Moroni 7:16-17)
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)
Mormonism is very elistist. Members believe they are elect, the most valiant servants in the pre-existence. Mormons born in these latter days are called of God, his chosen people, to be his warriors before the Second Coming. Saturday’s Warriors. “…among all these [intelligences/spirits] there were many of the noble and great ones…These I will make my rulers.” (Abraham 3:22-23).
Oft used quotes include: “Ye shall be a peculiar people”, “Ye are the elect”, “Be in the world but not of the world”, etc.
Mormons identify themselves with most references to Israel in scripture, and “The World” (everyone else) is equated to Babylon. All the responsibilities and good things promised to Israel are promised to Mormons, while the bad things that happen to wicked Babylon will happen to the rest of the world. Non-members are often referred to as “gentiles,” in the manner that Jews generally refer to non-Israelites as gentiles.
While Mormon rhetoric claims everyone is equally loved in the sight of God, other doctrines — and more importantly, attitudes and actions — contradict this. Mormons believe they have a noble birthright so long as they continue to keep the lengthy list of commandments. Non-members and less active members are looked down upon as weak and sinful. They are usually treated with less respect or as irrelevant. Members who leave the Church are labeled “apostates”, which has many negative connotations. Ex-Mormons are encouraged to come back to the fold, but in condescending, often pitying tones. The “righteous” will be exalted, the wicked will be smitten.
It is difficult to deny that Mormons believe they are special. It is drilled into their heads in Church lessons, conference talks, and hymns. Many hymns use battle imagery to show the righteous slaying sinful enemies.
Mormons also have a persecution complex, believing that the world is against them.
2. Adopt “loaded” language (characterized by “thought-terminating cliches”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words”.
Words often don’t mean the same thing to Mormons as they do to outsiders. Words and actions don’t always match. Doctrines contain contradictions, so that something seems good and right, when the reality is different. Some doctrines are used to justify unethical behavior while contradicting doctrine is used to make things look good.
Example, “Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy,” (D&C 121:43). This scripture is sometimes used by fathers to justify child abuse. Other scriptures talk against “unrighteous dominion” and “offending children”, and these show good intentions. Members who are not in any way involved in abuse will notice these anti-abuse scriptures, and ignore (or alternately interpret) the “reprove with sharpness” scripture, making them blind to abuse that does happen in other families.
I’m still working to compile a list of thought-terminating clichés. Here are a few:
1) Instructions to hum or sing a hymn when an undesirable thought enters the mind
2) Pray when an undesirable thought enters the mind
3) “Get thee behind me Satan” and other phrases which label the undesirable thought as evil so that it cannot be considered
4) “Endure to the end”
5) “Be of good cheer”
6) “I will not be tempted beyond that which I’m able”
7) “Do not harden your heart”
8) “Do not crucify the Savior anew”
9) “Is this [question, reading material, speculation] necessary for my eternal salvation?”
10) “Stand for truth and righteousness”
11) “We love you!”
12) “I know the Church is true”
13) “Put your shoulder to the wheel”
14) “Count your blessings”
15) “The Church is perfect, but the people are not”
16) “Better that one man should perish than a whole nation dwindle in unbelief”
3. Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
No sexual thoughts are allowed. No violent thoughts. No critical thoughts of leaders. No mean thoughts towards others. Anger, jealousy, and other negative emotions are wrong.
4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
If confronted with critical material, a Mormon will become defensive or respond irrationally, such as “I know it’s true!”, “They’re liars!”, or “Don’t test my faith!”. Members are taught to accept things on faith.
Apologists believe they are responding rationally, but they employ logical fallacies and fantastical theories.
Members believe their righteous living will produce blessings, even in the face of evidence against. For instance, members are promised that if they pay their tithing first, their other expenses will be taken care of by God. Many times this does not happen, and the family goes hungry or goes bankrupt.
Meditation is encouraged, but not in the same sense as generally practiced by other sects. Rather, meditation to Mormons means “to think long and hard about points of doctrine,” or to “ponder the meaning of some scripture”.
The Sacrament ritual may count as meditation, but again, only insofar as it is focused meditation on the crucifixion and atonement of Jesus and the related symbolism of the sacrament.
Both public and private impromptu prayers are expected, and members make it a matter of pride to be able to stand an offer a prayer at a moments notice without any preparation. Personal and family prayers are to be offered both morning and night, and when ever one wants to pray in between. Several scriptures command that one should “pray always”.
e. Speaking in “tongues”
This is listed as a “spiritual gift”, and at one time was practiced frequently. Now it would by highly irregular to hear tongues spoken in a modern Mormon Church meeting.
f. Singing or humming
Music is given strong emphasis in Mormonism. Hymns are sung at practically every church meeting. Members are encouraged to sing or hum a hymn when thinking a bad thought or tempted.
“…yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12)
A study of common Mormon hymns reveal quite a few double-binds, guilt-trips, and emotional traps.
It is interesting to note the place of hymns during the Sacrament ritual. Sacrament is held every Sunday. It is similar to Communion in Catholicism. First, a Sacrament hymn is sung. These are all in minor keys, very sad, slow, and plodding. Lyrics are usually very emotional, with vivid imagery of Jesus being crucified or suffering for our sins. There is a lot of guilt and humility.
After this, prayers are said (renewing baptismal commitments), and bread and water is passed around to the entire congregation. This takes roughly 15 minutes, during which time, everyone is very quiet (“reverent”). You are to think of the Savior’s sacrifice. Many people cry during this experience, and “feel the Spirit”.
5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
Serious criticism is treated as heretical. Members who are critical or who publicly point out problems with church policies and doctrine, and who do not repent by retracting their comments, are often excommunicated as apostates.
Non-Mormons or ex-Mormons who publish critical material are considered hateful, evil, or influenced by Satan.
6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
To an extent, other belief systems are recognized for their value. The official line is that, “All religions contain some of the truth, but only the Church contains ALL of the truth”. The result is that members rarely “waste their time” by investigating other belief systems.
Contrary to this belief are Mormon scriptures which teach that there is the Church of the Lamb of God (Mormonism), and there is the Great and Abominable Church (Babylon, The Great Whore, led by Satan). You either belong to one or the other, which is part of the belief that even Satan can cite scripture to deceive for his own nefarious purposes.
If an outside belief (including philosophy and science) comes into conflict with Church doctrines or leadership, the Church position takes precedence. The scientific fact will have to be bent to fit the Church paradigm. Unfortunately, this often applies to psychology. “Love one another”, “Pray”, and “Trust God” are often seen as more effective than, “See a therapist”. When therapy is recommended, members usually go to LDS Social Services or a Mormon psychologist. Counsel from these sources is not usually very objective, and is often considered more a part of the extended repentance process than real therapy.
IV. Emotional Control
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings.
This one is pretty complicated and deep. Feelings are frequently labeled as “good and bad” or “negative and positive”, “happy and unhappy”, although the recent influx of self-help books has dispelled this belief for a lot of people.
The Church and members will subtly mislabel or guess at a person’s feelings, which causes people to be confused about what they are feeling. For example, if a leader or members of the group say, “The Spirit is very strong today”, and people are crying, one may feel confused if they do not feel the same. Mind-reading frequently occurs, “That person is sinning because they are rebellious”, or “People who are critical of the church are angry”. Many normal human feelings like love and excitement are reframed as “The Spirit”.
Here is an example story from the Family Home Evening lesson manual, to be taught to children. The lesson is on “Gaining a Testimony”:
“Would you like to hold your new brother?” grandmother asked Lindsay as she placed the baby on her lap. “Lindsay, you know this baby boy was with Heavenly Father just a few short days ago. Heavenly Father sent him to our family to love, guide, and train. You must always be kind and good to him.”
As Lindsay held her new brother and looked at him, she had a good, warm feeling inside. She knew Heavenly Father had sent her little brother to their family.
The same lesson continues:
…there is another way we can tell [Jesus and Heavenly Father] are real just as there is more than one way we can tell if the sun is real. That way is a testimony or a feeling we get inside us when the Holy Ghost tells us these things are true. It is a good, warm feeling inside us. When we do what is right, we get that good, warm feeling. When we help someone or do what our mother or father wants us to do we get that feeling. That is the Holy Ghost letting us know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real. (Family Home Evening Lesson 16, Gaining a Testimony through the Holy Ghost.)
Accusations of “negative” feelings are sometimes used to place false motives on a person who is motivated by something else. Negative feelings are from Satan. “Contention is of the devil” is often used to stop legitimate anger or legitimate disagreements.
2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s.
The Mormon Church is full of double-binds. Members are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. There are so many commandments that it is easy for a member to feel unworthy. If a promised blessing does not come true, it is because of the member’s lack of faith or worthiness. If the Spirit does not confirm the Prophet’s words, then it is because one is not worthy enough or has a hardened heart. If a member is unhappy, there is some commandment they are not following. If a member finds truthfulness in critical material, they were not open to the Spirit, they were deceived, they did not have enough faith, or they just don’t understand.
Many scriptures make many conditional promises, and when they are not fulfilled, it is due to the member’s “not trying hard enough”.
If there is no way to blame the victim, then it was God’s will, or Satan was working overtime.
Another common saying is, “The Church is perfect, but the people are not.” It is a way of excusing hypocrisy and bad behavior on the part of fellow members and leaders, so that the Gospel itself is never at fault (even if such behaviors are epidemic or deeply engrained in the culture). Such a saying could be used to dismiss most of the BITE model, since a large portion of thought reform comes from social modeling and pressure, not from “official doctrine”. It’s a way of giving the organization plausible deniability.
3. Excessive use of guilt
a. Identity guilt
1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)
Members are held to a very high standard and told they are chosen and elect. Mormons believe they can become gods, which is often used to control. “Remember who you are”, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”, “[Jesus] I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”
2. Your family
The family is a very strong part of the Mormon religion. Many families are very good at placing guilt on other family members. You are responsible for your family (both the living, and dead ancestors!). Families are forever, but only if they are all righteous enough to enter the Celestial Kingdom (highest level of heaven). If they fall out of line, you are likely to emotionally take the blame, even though there are conflicting Church doctrines officially commenting on the matter.
A common phrase is, “Raise up your children the way that they should go, and they will never depart from it.” (Attributed to Joseph Smith, but it is actually Proverbs 22:6.) Parents feel the obligation to fulfill this. Parents with wayward children feel terrible guilt, as this seems to place all the guilt on them.
Another oft-quoted phrase, by Prophet David O. McKay, “There is no success that can compensate for failure in the home.”
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World, Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, 1995
Because of all the stress on the importance of family, divorce is extremely taboo. Couples are “sealed” for eternity. For married Mormons, it becomes even more difficult to leave for fear of betraying the spouse. They cannot get into the highest level of heaven without a righteous marriage partner. Marital pressures keep many non-believing members trapped in the cult.
3. Your past
For the most part, if you’ve repented of the sin, it’s gone. If it’s a personal issue you’ve struggled with, there can be a lot of self-generated guilt that is triggered by repetition of the principle at church meetings.
Victims of rape and sexual abuse suffer greatly due to certain doctrines and heavy sexual shame induced by the Church. A victim doesn’t usually need to confess to a Bishop in order to find this guilt, although many Bishops make it worse by denying events, minimalizing the impact of the abuse, or blaming them on the victim’s own actions.
4. Your affiliations
For the most part, Mormons affiliate with one another (or with people of similar morals) so there’s not much room for guilt there. However, it is notable that one of the questions to determine a Mormon’s worthiness to participate in Temple activities pertains to whether or not you sympathize or associate with apostate or anti-Mormon groups or individuals.
5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
You are taught that God knows your thoughts and feelings, so there is a constant sense of being watched and monitored, even when you are alone. Every action and thought are recorded. When you die, you will have a full recollection of your guilt. You will see how every action affected everyone else. All of your sins will be shouted from the roof tops, and the events of your life will be read from the Book of Life.
b. Social guilt
Mormons believe they are above the society of man. If anything, members feel more persecuted by society, than guilty towards it.
They do feel a great deal of guilt in the context of their own society. Because there is such a long list of requirements on an average Mormon’s time, invariably some requirements go unattended to, or short-changed. Members commonly associate a great deal of guilt with failing to do their monthly Home or Visiting Teaching, failing to attend the temple regularly, failing to prepare adequately for a lesson, failure to have Family Home Evening, failure to conduct family prayers or scripture study, failure to help other people in the ward, etc.
c. Historical guilt
Same as above. Members feel Mormon history is above reproach.
4. Excessive use of fear
Here is a list of common Mormon phobias:
-Last days, second coming, including fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, volcanoes, plague, famine, authoritarian government
-God and angels are watching, recording every action, every thought
-Loss of eternal salvation
-Loss of eternal family
-Loss of ancestor’s salvation if we don’t do the work for them
-Bishop knows if you are lying
-Taking off garments will leave you unprotected from evil spirits and physical harm
-Satan, evil spirits, unseen devils, and ghosts of all kinds are everywhere.
-The occult, paganism, magic, playing cards, tarot, oiuja boards, Dungeon’s and Dragons
-Unhappiness and life disasters if you leave the church. Loss of all types of blessings, including financial stability.
-Financial hardships if you ever fail to pay tithing.
-Fear that if you date a non-member, you’ll be lead away from the Church
-Terrible fear of committing sexual sin
-Fear of having to confess to a Bishop
-Fear of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated
-Fear of making major decisions; you might make the wrong one
-Fear that if you leave you’ll be overcome by worldly passions and live a life of addiction and wild debauchery
-Fear that without the Church, life will have no purpose, no meaning
-Fear that if you read critical literature, you’ll be deceived
-Fear of sex
-Fear of death
-Fear of shopping on Sunday
a. Fear of thinking independently
Members believe they already are thinking independently. However, they would never dream of thinking contrary to their leaders or church orthodoxy. They are fearful that doing so will lead them away from the True Church and ultimately their salvation.
They are taught that they are free to think for themselves as long as they are thinking within the parameters circumscribed by the gospel and by the teachings of the modern prophets. Subsequently, they feel secure pondering whether or not Adam had a belly-button, but they are not free to consider whether or not the story of Adam was allegorical.
b. Fear of the “outside” world
This is a common side-effect for many Mormons, especially those who have been born into the church and sheltered all their lives. Satan is alive and well, and doing his best to lead away the elect. He’s especially working hard on Mormons, so it’s really easy to be tempted.
“We are in the world, but not of the world” is a popular Mormon quote.
c. Fear of enemies
Satan is still persecuting the Church. Stories are told of the early Church where Mormons were killed for their beliefs (supposedly unprovoked). Anti-Mormons and apostates are still working to destroy the Church. This very document would be considered such an attack.
d. Fear of losing one’s “salvation”
The Celestial Kingdom (highest level of Heaven) is really difficult to attain. One has to be practically perfect to get in, so there’s always a good chance you won’t make it. “What if it’s true?” keeps many doubting members in the church.
Few people will be damned. Most people will go to one of the lower kingdoms of heaven, which are all far better than Earth. Nevertheless, the pressure to make it to the Celestial Kingdom is very strong, and the fear of falling short just as strong.
e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
For many Mormons, fear of being shunned or even harmed by the Church is a significant issue. Some ex-Mormons have lost their families, friends, and even business associations. Others have loving, supportive families and friends who keep loving them anyway, though always with the hope, whether expressed or not, that the wayward family member/friend will return one day to full fellowship. In nearly every case, the ex-Mormon loses at least some friends or family for leaving the church.
Those who live in the “Mormon Corridor” (strongly-Mormon communities particularly in Utah, Idaho, and parts of other states in the region) find it extremely difficult to leave due to social pressure. Nearly everyone around them is a member. You could lose your job, your house, your business, all your friends and associations. If you work for the Church or BYU, you could lose your entire career.
f. Fear of disapproval
Many members are under social pressures to keep looking good in all ways. Disapproval can come from family members, friends, fellow-members, and church leaders.
5. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.
Some members experience this. Members express spiritual highs, yet Utah leads the nation in consumption of anti-depressants among women, and suicides among men.
6. Ritual and often public confession of “sins”.
This no longer occurs in the Church. However, public testimony meetings are given where members are encouraged to bear their testimonies. Many members make this a chance to confess their more minor sins (thinking bad thoughts, lying, not being nice enough, not listening to the Spirit, etc).
7. Phobia indoctrination : programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
a. No happiness or fulfillment “outside”of the group
Members are told they will never find happiness outside of the church. Many church doctrines imply that fulfillment comes from the Church and obeying the commandments, which implies the converse if one leaves or disobeys. Many exiting members express fear that they will not know how to be happy outside of the church. Many members become surprised when ex-Mormon family members continue to live happy, moral, family-centered lives.
b. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: “hell”; “demon possession”; “incurable diseases”; “accidents”; “suicide”; “insanity”; “10,000 reincarnations”; etc.
The Mormon version of hell is separation from Heavenly Father, and is the result of failure to attain the highest level of heaven, or the Celestial Kingdom. Oddly enough, though the lower levels are still heavenly, Mormons are still terrified of messing up. Some exiting Mormons question, “What if I’m wrong?”
The Second Coming (due any day now) is also feared, as most of the wicked will be destroyed while faithful members will be protected and then have the opportunity to usher in the new Millennium.
Loss of blessings is also feared. Some exiting members are afraid they will have unspecified terrible things happen to them.
Ultimately, the worst fate in the Universe is reserved for Mormons who knew the truthfulness of the Church, i.e. had obtained a witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Church was true, and then rejected that witness. Such unpardonable sinners are referred to as “Sons of Perdition,” and they alone are cast into outer darkness. It is important to note that the elitism of Mormons even extends to their potential for wickedness, as no one but the highest level of Mormons can ever be cast into outer darkness for knowingly rejecting the truth.
c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: “weak;” “undisciplined;” “unspiritual;” “worldly;” “brainwashed by family, counselors;” seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.
Apostates are considered to have been lead astray by Satan. The word “apostate” itself has a negative connotation. Other perceived reasons for people leaving the Church include: “There was some commandment they were simply unable to keep”, “They never worked hard enough to get a testimony”, and “They must have been offended by someone and their testimony was too weak to withstand it.”
Legitimate reasons are never suggested, such as “Maybe the church isn’t actually true”, or “Maybe that person’s spiritual path lies elsewhere.”
Hopefully the reader will now have a better understanding of the complexity and reality of group control. A cult does not need to employ every tool available in order to shape people in the image of the group. In Mormonism, we will not find public confessions, chanting, or heavy mediation but we do see a majority of the other elements. This is quite enough to cause members to stay, in spite of discomforts, deceptions, psychological issues, and even possible trauma, in extreme cases.
It is quite clear that according to Steven Hassan’s descriptions, Mormonism employs coercive persuasion to manipulate members who might not otherwise remain with the organization. Those who have exited or are exiting Mormonism should consider a process of exit counseling, even if it is self-directed. Researching the Church from a critical perspective and learning about thought reform techniques will aide in the healing process.
Beck, Martha Nibley, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Life, New York: Crown Publishers, 2005
The Book of Mormon, written or translated by Joseph Smith, 1830
Giambalvo, Carol, Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor’s Perspective, in Recovery from Cults, ed. Michael Langone (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993)
Hassan, Steven, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. Somerville, MA: Freedom of Mind Press, 2000.
Kline, Diana, Woman Redeemed, Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005
Langone, Michael D., ed. Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.
The Official Internet Site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The Pearl of Great Price, written or translated by Joseph Smith, ed. Elder Franklin D. Richards, 1851
Singer, Margaret Thaler, Cults in our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995
Smith, Joseph, Doctrine & Covenants, 1829-1842