Is the Church of God Restoration a Cult? The Warning Signs Are All Too Clear. June 19, 2021

Is the Church of God Restoration a Cult? The Warning Signs Are All Too Clear.

On Thursday, the CBC released an exposé on a (so-called) church in Manitoba that has been fighting pandemic restrictions over the past year, putting the public’s health — as well as that of its own members — at risk.

But for anyone familiar with Steven Hassan‘s BITE model for identifying cults, the description of the church offered by many of its former members will be… alarming.

If you’re not familiar, the BITE model identifies cults by determining whether groups exhibit behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotional control. (The operative word here is “control.”) Many groups, from religious sects, to shady businesses, to oddly reclusive communities, can have cult-like tendencies or at least mark off one or two boxes on the BITE model.

This church covers at least half of all the listed characteristics — down to the nitty gritty details.

BEHAVIOR CONTROL

  1. Control when, how and with whom the member has sex: Tina Wall, an ex-member, said this to the CBC: “When you’re married, they question your sex life — like, ‘How’s it going?’…They want to know what’s happening.” Shudder.
  2. Control types of clothing and hairstyles: The group abides by a strict dress code for women, who “must wear white underwear and have dark stockings on at all times outside the bedroom.” No word on whether they need to wear the obvious red flag.
  3. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet: This one’s easy. When asked about indoctrination and brainwashing, the leader (or “lead apostle”), Ray Tinsman, just blatantly confessed to it, saying, “We’re probably guilty of that.”
  4. Permission required for major decisions: The church’s founder, Danny Layne, “started to add rules in the early 1990s, including requiring permission to get married or travel, and the church’s strict dress code.”
  5. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative: Throughout the article, the ex-members could not emphasize enough how intense the fear of hell was in this group. It was instilled in young children, and it probably will haunt these people long after they leave the church. I put it here under “rewards and punishments” but this threat of eternal torture can apply to a lot of BITE model identifiers.
  6. Impose rigid rules and regulations: Right after describing that a “sin-free life” was “taught from babyhood,” ex-member Gloria Froese explained, “You cannot be talking back. You can’t be rebellious. You can’t do anything wrong.… You have to do everything just so — how the powers that be see it.”
  7. Instill dependency and obedience: The church again uses the hell threat to gain obedience from members: Wall said, “They would never tell us, ‘You have to.’ But with time, if you don’t do what they expect us to do, we knew we were going to hell… The conviction was so strong, right? Like, you don’t question them, and that’s how they get you to obey their rules.”
  8. Beating: The BITE model lists both beating and torture as signs of cults, but I decided that parents in the church allegedly disciplining children with “a belt, fly swatter and electric cord” would be best described as beating. There have also been instances of child neglect, even resulting in the death of an 11-month-old girl from treatable meningitis. The church does technically allow parents to take severely ill children to medical professionals, but it doesn’t generally encourage use of modern medicine (or vaccines or even adhering to COVID restrictions). The article contained another vague reference to a history of child abuse in the church, so that can go here, too.
  9. Separation of Families: Wall explained that part of the group brainwashing her included encouraging her to “cut off contact with anyone outside the church, including her parents.” That must have been heartbreaking for her friends and family to watch, helpless. I’m just glad she’s out now.
  10. Murder: While not technically falling under the definition of intentional murder, the Church of God Restoration has led to the death of more than just the little girl. The CBC reports that “a member of the Manitoba congregation diagnosed with cancer died after choosing not to get treatment.” This would have been due to their “rules around adult medical care during times of critical illness, promoting a doctrine of divine healing.” (Hence the issues with COVID safety.)

INFORMATION CONTROL

  1. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including Internet: Here’s something creepy even if it’s not as bad as some of the previously mentioned points: “[Wall] wasn’t allowed to go on the internet without a pastor present.” Tinsman, the leader of the group, also added that “Members are usually kept off the internet, with some exceptions for businesses, [and] children are prohibited from going online.” The BITE Model also specifically calls out “control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking,” which this group is also guilty of in allegedly keeping Wall’s phone in a lock box to which only the ministry had the code.
  2. Encourage spying on other members: This church is just tearing families apart left and right. First, they tell Wall she can’t stay in contact with her parents on the outside. Then they shelter parents who allegedly abuse their children. And now they turn children against their parents within the group: “[Wall] and another former member allege children are taught to report on their parents if they break church protocol.” This group ticks off another box under this “spying” category of “report[ing] deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership.” One cult expert whose attention was captured by the church said that “asking family members to snitch on each other when rules are broken is ‘typical in these high-demand manipulative organizations.'”
  3. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth: Some of the church’s cult-like qualities are disgusting yet simple. The church “operates on a belief system, and those who agree will stay, those who don’t will leave.” Like many toxic belief systems, it also meets the criteria of “organiz[ing] people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders),” as one professor describes that the church “really is at war with the secular world.”
  4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts: The thought control in the Church of God Restoration starts young. “Froese said as a teenager, she was forbidden from having a crush on anyone, which she was told was sinful. God would lead her to her partner when the time came, she was told.”

THOUGHT CONTROL

  1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth: Some of the church’s cult-like qualities are disgusting yet simple. The church “operates on a belief system, and those who agree will stay, those who don’t will leave.” Like many toxic belief systems, it also meets the criteria of “organiz[ing] people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders),” as one professor describes that the church “really is at war with the secular world.”
  2. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts: The thought control in the Church of God Restoration starts young. “Froese said as a teenager, she was forbidden from having a crush on anyone, which she was told was sinful. God would lead her to her partner when the time came, she was told.”

EMOTIONAL CONTROL

  1. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as: Your family is deficient: The fact that the group separated Wall from her parents ticks off this box. She said, “Being told that they’re wicked and, you know, they’re the devil, and not being able to see them is just a horrible feeling… It’s very painful.”
  2. Instill fear, such as fear of: Losing one’s salvation: The constant fear in which these church members live was a running theme in the article. “Members who spoke to CBC say they lived in fear of the apostles, who say they have the ability to take away someone’s salvation, according to Wall.” And this fear applies to the here and now, not just the afterlife. The church is also guilty of making members fear leaving or being shunned by the group. “They basically shun you.… The people that you thought were your best friends, you also find out they don’t really care for you. They completely leave you alone.” This is one of the most recognizable hallmarks of a cult.
  3. Extremes of emotional highs and lows — love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner: Wall has also said she experienced “love bombing,” where a newcomer is flooded with so much praise and attention it’s difficult not to join. It was only after this that she realized what a grave mistake she had made.

Finally, one additional thing that this church does really stood out to me. It was so bad and so cult-like, and yet it wasn’t even on the BITE model.

“Wall says the breaking point that ultimately led to her leaving the church in 2019 — after three attempts — was when pastors started replacing references to God during worship with Tinsman’s name.

Since Wall said she joined the church because it felt like the way to achieve salvation, this deifying of the leader should have been a bigger warning sign since it went against her own explanation of why she joined in the first place.

If this church isn’t a cult, I don’t know what is. We should be thankful, though, that members like Wall and Froese found a way out. Let’s hope others can escape as well.

(Thanks to Richard for the link)


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