My undergraduate degree is in social-psychology. In my graduate program at Fuller one of my two internships focused on developing discipleship strategies for individuals coming out of non-Christian cults. After receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1979, I spent seven years working with an organization whose primary ministry was to reach and make disciples of those who were leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. In the mid 80’s there were many.
This is all credential to make the following observation: What Mrs. Ellis (a lead member of Trump’s legal team) is highlighting in her tweet (above) is really nothing to crow about. It’s more of a mark of group-think intractability than it is a measurement of objective reality. Prior to Galileo’s invention of the telescope in 1610 nearly all Christians believed the sun and stars revolved around the earth. The percentage of people believing something didn’t make a thing “true”.
To my point, one chief mark of cult-mentality is the inability to deviate from the group-narrative (no matter how “far-fetched”) for fear of being ostracized as disloyal.
Mr. Trump, unlike any US leader in our lifetime has built loyalty by establishing culture-narratives for his following. This is why his campaign rallies have always seemed like red, white and blue Rocky Horror picture shows, with the audience always rehearsing their cult-narrative lines: “Lock her up!” “Booing the media.” “U.S.A.” etc. By orchestrating these group-chants, our President is telling us how to interpret what’s happening in our culture. In some cases these narratives have even become more binding than Scripture.
His followers take their cues from him and then further his narrative defending him as the champion of those narratives.
Here are 10 narratives that Trump has spun in his 5 years in Presidential politics. Which do you hear conservative-evangelicals having the liberty to disagree with?
1 • Donald Trump is the Joseph McCarthy of our generation; he’s cleaning up deep state.
2 • Donald Trump doesn’t need to forgive his enemies, or turn the other cheek, or adhere to the Sermon on the Mount. We didn’t elect a pastor.
3 • Donald Trump didn’t pay 2 porn stars hundreds of thousands of dollars to stay quiet during the 2016 election.
4 • Donald Trump had no quid pro quo in his relationship with the Ukrainian President.
5 • COVID numbers have been overblown to hurt Donald Trump’s reelection.
6 • Masks and restrictions are an attempt to subjugate masses and our religious freedoms.
7 • Trump is a baby born-again believer.
8 • Only FOX news (now OANN) reports on Trump objectively.
9 • Attempts to be sensitive to the history of blacks and natives are subversive socialist plots; there really is no racial injustice going on in our nation. And we’re not responsible for anything that happened in the past.
10 • Democrat operatives stole the election from Donald Trump.
11 • (Bonus, but a “goody”) Anyone who deviates from the narrative is a socialist dupe. The President’s narratives don’t have a problem. Critics are the problem for saying there’s a problem. (The Christian version of this is, “Who are you to criticize the Lord’s anointed?”) The problem with this abusive thinking is legion.
One objective sign that a person is falling into a cult-narrative is the process by which an individual develops an informed allegiance to a competing reality. Gradually, more and more energy goes to accumulating information from alternative sources about the cult’s competing world-view; (this is why nearly all cults need their own scriptures, or version of the Bible…) information that they would not have given themselves to prior to being introduced to the cult. Once gained, that information is then used by and for the defense of the cult leader, him/herself. Charles Taze Russell, Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Mary Baker Eddy etc. all built their religious followings on alternative source narratives, and then used those narratives to defend themselves, their contentious beliefs and determine who was and wasn’t loyal.
Without the narrative “the faithful” have no ability to explain why they exist, what their mission is, or tell the true believers from the apostates. Crafting competing narratives through alternative sources and then defending and measuring others against them is what the cult mentality does.
What concerns me most about this mentality is the degree to which it’s finding a home in the culture of the Church. It’s a mentality that has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus; too often subverts the pure proclamation of Jesus; and runs the risk of intoxicating the Bride so that she marshals the bulk of her zeal – at the hour of midnight – focusing her gaze, her rhetoric and her prayers on the personality and features of the cult, (that which is passing away) rather than on the Person of Jesus Himself, the One Who is about to return.
The follow-up question I’ve heard from several is this: “Does this mean you think evangelical Trump fans are a part of a cult?”
My short answer is: “We (our family) is exhibiting troubling cult-mentality behavior”. That answer should be enough to get us before God. And, as with all “cult behavior” it’s always better to do an objective self-analysis with the Holy Spirit sooner, rather than later. (One of the troubling signs would be to know the cult-behavior and still NOT do the Holy Spirit analysis.)
If you’re still unsure, here’s a list of cult behavior tip-offs I developed a couple of years ago, that explain some of the most typical behaviors of groups that exhibit cult-tendencies:
A note about prophecy in connection to cultic behavior
Almost all cults, (including each of the ones listed above in my article) rely heavy on prophecy for authority to believe outside of the bounds of Scripture. And if you talk with a Mormon, JW, Christian Scientist etc. they will always have a ready-made (after-the-fact) excuse about why the prophecy of their “authority figure” didn’t come to pass.
Watch what the prophets who prophesied falsely about Donald Trump have to say in the coming weeks. My bet, though it makes me lament to say it, is that we’ll hear several of the prophets give one or numerous variations on the Jehovah’s Witnesses 1914 false prophecy of Jesus’ return. JW’s prophesied and prepared for Jesus’ return; selling their goods and waited for the prophesied arrival date. When it didn’t happen, JW leaders said Jesus DID return. He’s just ruling in the atmosphere outside of earth, until the final final return. Membership still hemorrhaged – even in light of several later failed prophecies (including 1975)
My guess is we’ll hear prophecies redacted and twisted to say “Trump actually won, but the Church in her unbelief, didn’t pray him into the position God had ordained for him.” Several leaders are already preaching in this direction…
Almost in every case, the only way to break free of the deluding narrative can be succinctly summarized by developing a Psalm 27:4 lifestyle; by taking up the Word of God, pray/reading/dialoguing the whole Word, (not just choice passages) and “seeking the Lord’s Face, His heart, His beauty, His ways, and His paradigm-busting otherness.”
This is where we see our world clearly. In His light. This is where our false-narratives fall away and we develop a pure heart; where we see God, (Matthew 5:8) for Who He is and what He’s doing in our world in our generation.
Trump or no Trump is not our “trouble”. We’re no better off NOT having a carnal conservative in the White House than we are some humanist democrat… The God who is coming is our “trouble”. The solution to “the time of trouble” is to “seek His Face”.
Bless you in this holy and purifying pursuit, beloved.
JSB • November, 2020