In a recent article I mentioned the reasons I had for leaving the church I attended. It is a church in the Netherlands called Evangelie Gemeente de Deur (Gospel Church the Door). It is part of the Christian Fellowship Ministries (CFM), who have churches around the world, also called Potter’s House, and Victory Chapel (not to be confused with the Victory Chapel movement itself). In the article I mentioned that after leaving I concluded that CFM is a cult, and not a Christian church. One of the reasons I made this conclusion is the BITE model.
What is the BITE model?
Based on research and theory by Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, Edgar Schein, Louis Jolyon West, and others who studied brainwashing, as well as cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger, Steven Hassan developed the BITE Model to describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people. “BITE” stands for Behaviour, Information, Thought, and Emotional control.
So, lets see how CFM stacks up against the model. I will colour code each point to show what is applicable to CFM. Bold is applicable, Underlined slightly applicable,
Crossed through not applicable. Also, I am using terms that may be seen as only recommendations from leaders in CFM, but members in CFM understand that when a leader ‘recommends’, it is actually a command that should be followed. Likewise, discouraging something is actually a command not to do it. Also, I would like to note that the summary of why I coloured the points a certain way is short. The reason for this is that I don’t want to make this post too long. If there are questions, let me know, and I will in future try to answer them in the comments, of in a post dedicated to a certain point. Also, see my post on why I left, as it may also answer the questions. You can also go to www.mitchellism.com.
Now, for the analysis:
I. Behavior Control
- Regulate individual’s physical reality – Through preaching pastors tell church members what they can and cannot believe. There is a mentality of us versus the world created in the church, as if they are continually being oppressed.
- Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates – Members are discouraged from having any relationships outside of the church. This goes as far as members being kicked out if they start dating outside the church.
- When, how and with whom the member has sex – To start a romantic relationship, a couple needs to get permission from the pastor. Only with his permission can they date. All physical contact is discouraged. Many members are involved in working 2 people together with the intent of marriage. There is manipulation involved, with the intent of letting the couple believe it was their decision. Anyone dating outside the church is kicked out.
- Control types of clothing and hairstyles – Women are very restricted in what they can wear. No sexy clothes (a slightly tight top or a skirt above the knees can be seen as sexy). Women must wear skirts or dresses in church services. No sleeveless tops. Wedding gowns are vetted by the pastor’s wives, they can actually make the girls change the gowns. Men are only required to wear a suit and tie in services. Other clothes are frowned upon. Women should have long hair. Men’s hair is short. Beards are strongly discouraged, and you can lose your position in the church if you do not shave.
- Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting – There is a mandatory fast in January and in July. More fasts get planned but those are optional.
- Manipulation and deprivation of sleep – There is an annual teen/children’s camp. At this camp a lot of doctrine is fed to the youngsters, along with sleep depriving activities in the late night and early morning. They are also put through physical training that is very militant by nature. This is clearly a brainwashing technic.
- Financial exploitation, manipulation, or dependence – A lot of money is collected. They preach on tithing (10%) as compulsory. And more gifts are required if a believer wants to be blessed. The have even been sermons on giving everything if you have no children and want to be pregnant. Some pastors will pay for something for a member, only to use it to get favours from the member.
- Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time – No TV, No social media, No cinema. Only music that is vetted by the church. All vacations must be planned around church services (no weekends away), and permission is needed before going.
- Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self-indoctrination including the Internet – Members are discouraged from looking up the church online. Also, they are discouraged from researching anything on their own. If they do, they have to check with the pastor, who will correct them if they find something contrary to CFM doctrine. All books are vetted and then recommended by the pastor. All spiritual and doctrinal topics are explained in the sermons. No need to look outside the church for information. There are 3 services a week, a Bible study on Sundays, home studies by designated disciples in the week, teens have an extra study on Fridays. Then there are also special men’s discipleship classes, special classes for new converts and monthly revival services with preachers from other CFM churches.
- Permission required for major decisions – All decisions are spoken to with the pastor, and his advice is binding. People have bought and sold houses, taken jobs, etc because of the pastor’s advice.
- Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors – Members are also encouraged to confess all their sins to the pastor, or a fellow member. Members are encouraged to bring such confessions to the pastor.
- Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviours, both positive and negative – Ministries are handed out, or taken away based on your commitment to CFM and its leaders.
- Discourage individualism, encourage group-think – “We all do what is taught to us” This is a phrase often used. Every church is exactly the same around the whole world. Everyone is taught to think the same, and to do the same.
- Impose rigid rules and regulations – There are a lot of rules. Many which are not in the Bible. To do anything in the church you must sign a contract stating you will live by the CFM principles (rules).
- Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding – Children are often disciplined with pain, this is a point of pride for parents. It happens often that a parent takes a troublesome child out the service, in a way that everyone knows, and the child get a beating.
- Threaten harm to family and friends – While I have not seen this personally, I have heard about this happening to others.
- Force individual to rape or be raped – There has been sexual abuse in the movement. Very often the women are silenced, and the men continue as if nothing happened. If a woman speaks up, she is labelled as promiscuous, and the men are innocent victims, who in time end up in ministry again. Not every church does this, but it does happen a lot.
- Instil dependency and obedience – Without the church, you will lose your salvation.
II. Information Control
- Deliberately withhold information – This happens a lot. There is in the Netherlands a church were a pastor sexually abused a lot of girls. Because it was not sex directly, they did not tell the girls involved, and these girls are suffering from unexplained psychological issues. The pastor is trying to help the girls, without telling them about the cause. This has happened in many other churches as well. Another form of withholding info is the leadership discouraging the members of looking up information themselves.
- Distort information to make it more acceptable – When information is beneficial to the movement it is used, but a lot of this out of context. Only quote what you can use. Ignore the rest. Also, all books are vetted by the pastor, who then recommends which books may be read. They also reinterpreted the Bible to their own ideas, and mis use the texts.
- Systematically lie to the cult member – The pastors in CFM lie, a lot.
- Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
- Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media – This is preached on often.
- Critical information – Only info they support is allowed. All books, documentaries, etc are vetted by the pastors before the members are allowed to use the information.
- Former members – Anyone who leaves is labelled a rebel and should be avoided. First rule of CFM; do not talk about CFM. Members are discouraged in sermons and in personal counselling to break ties with former members, and not to listen to them.
- Keep members busy so they do not have time to think and investigate – The members are always kept very busy. I have counted the amount of time spent in church, just for the basics:
3 services of 1.5 hours each 4.5 hours
prayer before every service 3 hours
music night 1,5 hours
evangelism 2 hour
Total 12 hours
Then add the music practice for bands, practice for skit/drama groups, extra men’s discipleship, extra revival meetings, the bi-annual conferences (17 sermons in 5 days), all the preparation for activities and the conferences, and all the fellowshipping with other members (which is compulsory, there are sermons dedicated to the idea that Christians are always fellowshipping, no alone time).
- Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking – To my knowledge phones are not tracked, but members are asked to use internet filters, that can email your internet activity, preferably to the pastor.
- Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
- Ensure that information is not freely accessible – While all members can get the information, information is generally only given as you are more committed, and in the discipleship program. I was told a lot because I was very dedicated from the start and was actually close to my pastor. He told me more than he should have.
- Control information at different levels and missions within group – This is not a hard yes, but as mentioned above, the more you do, the more you know. Bible studies tend to have more in them that a Sunday morning message. Also, the books are only recommended to those in ‘discipleship’. Those in discipleship also get more information on the working in the organisation. Likewise, pastors of bigger churches know more the normal members and pastors of smaller churches.
- Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when – Leaders will actually answer some questions with ‘that’s not for you right now’, or something similar.
- Encourage spying on other members
- Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member – This is done amongst the men as ‘a protection against pornography’. Also, teens are asked to keep an eye on each other. But there is no official ‘buddy system’. There is also ‘follow up’ ministry, where older members look after newer members, answering all questions and motivating them to become fully committed to the group.
- Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership – This is encouraged. In fact, the teens are told is their responsibility to report on each other.
- Ensure that individual behaviour is monitored by group – This is not encouraged overtly, but there is a social control in the church. Everyone is watching each other to see who is not towing the line.
- Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
- Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media – Since covid the movement has started its own YouTube channel. While they do not produce a lot of material, they do discourage looking at non vetted material. They have also produced their own books.
- Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources – This happens a lot.
- Unethical use of confession
Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries– Not sure what this exactly entails, so let us assume it does not happen.
- Withholding forgiveness or absolution – While this does not happen directly, they do keep members living in guilt. There are members who have not committed certain sins in years, but still are asking for forgiveness. Sermons are designed to keep members feeling unworthy and in need of forgiveness.
- Manipulation of memory, possible false memories – There is gaslighting in the movement. They will change the story as it is needed. There are cases were rape victims being convinced that they instigated the sexual contact.
III. Thought Control
- Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
- Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality – Whatever leadership says is true.
- Instill black and white thinking – This is done in preaching. The church is right, every deviating idea is therefor wrong.
- Decide between good vs. evil –If you are on the side of God, or good, you must choose the church. Everyone else is lost, and therefor on the way to hell, which means they are being used by the devil.
- Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders) – They preach a lot of us vs them. If they get push back because of their actions, it is labelled as Christian oppression. They refuse to work with other churches, as they see all other churches as inferior.
Change person’s name and identity
- Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thinking and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words – This happens a lot. They use a lot of one-liners to get people to follow them. They also use church lingo and Christian jargon, but with a different meaning.
- Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts – You are a rebel if you think differently.
Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
- Memories are manipulated and false memories are created – Memories are manipulated, to put the movement in a positive light.
- Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
- Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking – The leaders and members do this a lot.
- Meditating – They don’t officially support meditating, but the wat members are taught to pray is almost mantra like, as they repeat the same phrases over and over. This would make it more of a meditation practice than a prayer.
- Praying – A lot, although true prayer is not bad, but the members are taught how to pray, and it becomes more of a mantra with the same phrases over and over,
- Speaking in tongues – This happens, and is encouraged, even if the person is not led to speak, they must just ‘copy what they hear others doing’.
- Singing or humming – Singing is done, but at a minimum. That is more to not give to much room to emotions.
- Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism – You are not allowed to criticize the church or the leaders. All critical thinking and criticism are labelled as negative.
- Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed – Very much so. People have been kicked out for questioning the leaders. The questions you may ask is not should we be doing …, but how to do …
- Labelling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful – Or as rebellious, and witchcraft. All other churches are seen as inferior.
IV. Emotional Control
- Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong, or selfish – Emotions are generally considered evil.
- Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt – I cannot say I have encountered this directly, but when members start desiring contact with neglected family or old friends, they are usually discouraged from this, and asked to do more in the church, or spend time with other ‘stable’ members.
- Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault – This happens. They preach that you should do what the leader says, even if he is wrong you will be blessed. If something goes wrong, you did not have enough faith. And whenever there is conflict with a leader, or prominent member, the lesser is always the one who is unforgiving and needs to change, regardless of what has happened to them.
- Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as (all the list items below are present in sermons and private counselling)
- Identity guilt
- You are not living up to your potential
- Your family is deficient
- Your past is suspect
- Your affiliations are unwise
- Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
- Social guilt
- Historical guilt
- Instil fear, such as fear of: (again this is prominent in the preaching)
- Thinking independently
- The outside world
- Losing one’s salvation
- Leaving or being shunned by the group
- Other’s disapproval
- Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner – This is big in the movement. This is one of the first signs I noticed that made me realize that CFM is not a church with errors, by a full-on cult.
- Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins – In the alter calls after the sermons. They preach that if you do not go forward after the sermon to pray about your sin mentioned in the sermon, it is a sign that you are still in sin and not hearing from God,
- Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority – The following are tactics all used to keep people in the group
- No happiness or fulfilment possible outside of the group – Those outside who seem happy are faking it.
- Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, etc. – Those outside who have problems after leaving are used as an example of people being punished.
- Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family – As mentioned before, they preach separation from former members, members still in then fear also being shunned.
- Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counsellor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
- Threats of harm to ex-member and family – While I never came across this personally, I have heard rumours about this.
If you have also left CFM, and are struggling to find closure, there is a Facebook group called ‘Escaping the Potter’s House’. Do look it up, there are many people there sharing their experiences.
If you would like more information on this cult, visit www.mitchellism.com.
If you can read Dutch, go to www.rd.nl, and read their series into CFM.