Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ignorance and Authority in the People of Praise

As a former member of the People of Praise and one who has academic interest in the group, I try to maintain open dialogues with current members and I periodically read the various blogs that current members keep. I find these blogs to offer a rich phenomenological view into the workings and ideology of the group. (see PoP blogs). I recently came across a young female members blog that expresses specific teachings and ideologies within the group. Her post is below:

"I've been thinking about our Father's plan for all of creation and where the People of Praise fits into it. (I'm going to presuppose some knowledge of the People of Praise here - for more information've always been different. Committing yourself to spend two hours of every Sunday afternoon with a group of people who are not necessarily of your denomination, using an evening every week to build friendships with a few people you might not otherwise have been drawn to, submitting your prayer life, your finances and all your major decisions to someone who is not related to you and may not even have been chosen by you - these are not things it occurs to your average American to do as a matter of course.But the Father wants us to be even more than that. We want to build real, physical cities that strangers walk into and know that they are in a different place. Our Father asks more and more and more of us for the People of Praise. He asks for our businesses, our work, our studies, our free time spent in homes that are ever closer together and more intertwined, our sleep, our eating habits, our creativity, our thinking, our 24/7, the clothes we wear, the people we love, and whether we like to keep the butter on the counter or in the fridge. He wants us all in. And every day, we see more and more clearly what the People of Praise always was as we become ever more what the Father has in mind for us; as the People of Praise becomes ever more itself.This is only a small piece of the whole universe as it comes to a point. The day will come when all things are either of the united new creation, or of that which has chosen not to be the new creation. There will be no more fence-sitting; no more neutral ground. Everything will become clear. It is more clear now than it has ever been. The light of the Lord grows ever brighter." (emphasis added by me)

Now, to anyone outside of the PoP, especially those with psychology backgrounds, this post is sure to raise a brow at the least. To anyone that has any semblance of knowledge concerning cultism or cultic characteristics and environments, this post is surely setting off alarms and red flags. There are two themes that come out of her writing, (1) the will of God and the PoP are equated and (2) this calls for the full submission of every aspect of the members life. At this point it is important to note that the PoP is largely led by lay leadership. Meaning that "heads" and "coordinators" and other leaders within the community are not required, or even expected to have any training in theology or pastoral care and most of them do not. What follows from this lack of training is a group and a leadership that teaches, and is given, far more authority than they deserve. Thus the potential for abuse, manipulation and coercion are greatly increased. One of the most potently dangerous mixes found in human nature is ignorance and authority.


Rev. Barky said...

Thanks for starting this blog. Few people had heard of this group and when I read about it I realized it had all the trappings of a cult. Your blogger does not sound like someone who is probing their own individuality or questioning things around her - this is what a psychologically healthy person does. She is doing what all cult members or zealots do - repeat a lot of rhetoric and thoughts someone else has given to them. Personal growth pretty much comes to a halt - you respond as a child to authority and don't get the opportunity to test yourself against the world around you. I pity these people but they are also frustratingly naive - they are living but not growing emotionally. You might as well be a animal in a zoo. I am happy that you have decided to exercise some skepticism.

Anonymous said...

as a life long member of POP, i'd like to offer a response. to the themes you mentioned:

1)the leaders of POP have always maintained that our way of life is not something that EVERYONE is called by God to do. for those who ARE called to it though, that way of life IS the will of God, otherwise God would not have called them to it. it's the same as a priest equating the priesthood with the will of God - he does so because, for him, they are one in the same.

2)that being said, i think it's very natural to want to entirely surrender oneself to the will of God. i think any Christian would agree that if God is calling you to a certain way of life, the right thing to do is to embrace that life as completely as possible. while i obviously can't speak for this young woman, i don't think she was claiming anything more remarkable than that God is interested in ALL aspects of our lives. for a loving parent, there is no aspect of a child's life that is too mundane to be of interest: what time she brushed her teeth, what she daydreamed about during class, or what she had for lunch. i think the writer was simply saying that God cares about all these things too, not that he wants us all to brush our teeth at this time in this place in this way or we're all damned. if she WAS saying that, she would certainly be misrepresenting the POP.

i'm interested to know whether you ever tried initiating a dialogue with this young woman to clarify her views?

Unknown said...

anonymous pop-er said
i think it's very natural to want to entirely surrender oneself to the will of God. i think any Christian would agree that if God is calling you to a certain way of life, the right thing to do is to embrace that life as completely as possible

Perfect example of lack of critical thinking and how a cult "gets" you. This comment implies that "the will of God"="The will of the leaders of the cult" - Surrendering all of your money and decisions to a leader leads to abuses by those human beings you hand everything over to

"Surrendering to God" IS NOT THE SAME AS "Surrendering your life to manipulation by another human." The first requires you to develop your own strength, morals, and discernment of what is right and good. The second makes you a slave, or a cult member.

I understand that in these uncertain times it's tempting to want to stop having to make choices. And to figure out for ourselves what is right. But surrendering all choices, and all money, and everything in your life to another person encourages abuse, and is a misinterpretation of the Bible.