According to evangelical Christians who monitor cults and religious abuse, there is a serious problem within some churches regarding authoritarian control and accompanying abusive behavior, reports the Toronto Sun.

The professionals interviewed essentially said this is not about the bible, it’s about behavior.

They cited specific criteria to recognize a potential for problems. This included the lack of any meaningful accountability for leaders, unconditional submission, legalism, perfectionism, elitism and a leadership that is hostile and/or punitive regarding its response to criticism and/or critical questions. These features were pointed out as behaviors frequently found within abusive religious groups.

How can someone exercise caution when choosing a church?

It seems that the more accountability is evident, through elected boards, denominational oversight and financial transparency, the safer the church or organization is likely to be.

Independent churches with pastors who have little or no meaningful accountability may be benign, but appear to represent a greater risk. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has often proven to be a good proverb.

Many Roman Catholics today are struggling with this issue. That is, what to do when a clerical hierarchy has little real accountability and is not responsive to the concerns or questions raised by its laity.

Many denominations within North America have chosen to create a more democratic form of church government, which includes the general membership in an elective process with real power sharing.

Many congregations and denominations effectively hire or fire their pastors or rabbis. And it has become relatively common for church boards to negotiate contracts with clergy, which clearly outline parameters and spell out expectations explicitly.

However, it is interesting to note that though North America is known for its democratic ideals and the United States for the Statue of Liberty, many North Americans live largely under some form of totalitarianism in their religious life.

This is certainly a personal choice and that prerogative is somewhat ironically guaranteed by the US Constitution.

But authoritarian church government may produce sad results, as seen through the escalating controversy about sexual abuse amongst Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so clearly defined by the article recently run within the Toronto Sun.


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