If it looks like a snake, acts like a snake, sounds like a snake . . .
It's easy to look pityingly on those who have been the victim of a cult and 'tsk, tsk' about their gullibility while thinking how we would never fall for such things. Interestingly enough, I realized that the whole church world kind of does this to Eve. We have this image - are presented in Sunday school and sermons with it - that Eve was essentially a little bit of a ditzy woman - gullible and naive. None of us would have fallen for that old Serpent's line of hogwash...
Logically, this doesn't make sense. Would God have created the first woman of the race - the mother of all mankind - with a diminished mental capacity? I think not. Eve was an intelligent woman. Probably more intelligent than we are - she was, after all, not yet fallen. So in order for her to be deceived, it would take some cunning. The Bible says that the snake was crafty or subtle above all the other creatures. Satan chose this creature for a reason. It took a great deal of craft and subtlety to deceive Eve into going against everything she knew.
This is still true today. Most people are not deceived because they are stupid. The biggest deceptions - the ones deceiving large numbers of people - have to be subtle and crafty or they would never get off the ground. A main element - the starting place - is charisma.
cha-ris-ma: (American Heritage Dictionary)
1. A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular
devotion and enthusiasm
2. Personal magnetism or charm: i.e., a television news program famed for
the charisma of its anchors.
charisma: (World Net)
a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence
charisma: (American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)
Extraordinary power and appeal of personality; natural ability to inspire
a large following.
This brings us to the title of this post. Many leaders of rogue churches or cults have enormous charisma. If they didn't they would have never risen to the position they are in. It takes the craftiness of practiced charisma to mask the snake behind the message.
If they said to us, "Here, take this strychnine tablet. It's good for you," we would look at them like they were nuts and tell them to get away from us. No, they take pure water and slip the strychnine in, carefully - a little at a time - so we won't notice it. The occasional funny aftertaste can be explained away with the concept that not all truth is easy to swallow. This pastor would use the analogy that not all of the food in God's banquet was cakes and dessert. Sometimes, we needed to eat our broccoli.
The personal charm - he exudes it from the pulpit - and the pure water that is used as a cover - work as a coating to mask the existence of the poison. The longer the exposure, the more difficult it becomes to see clearly. One of the biggest things to watch for, in my experience, is how a leader treats women. This particular pastor has left a string of broken, used and discarded women in his wake - and his family, especially his wife, and leaders cover his butt every time - for the sake of the message - the ministry. Yeah. Right. For the sakes of their own security and position of privilege... but that's another post.
These narcissistic snakes in the grass dressed as spiritual leaders get off on twisting you up and holding you in thrall. They feed off of your emotional responses during a service. The build up hope and expectation and leave you there twisting. They build loyalty in the elect few by 'helping' them financially - inviting them to 'invitation only' prayer meetings and gatherings. They get off on being your god-like guru on all things spiritual - all things pertaining to life and living.
If you, however, should see something wrong and challenge them, look out. You will see their masks slip.
Not long after I was made a leader, we had been preparing for our annual Christmas Eve Concert - a VERY BIG DEAL. We had spent hours the night before setting sound levels and lighting and AV timing. One of my areas of leadership was in the AV and running lights. I had brought in some of my own equipment ( a computer) because the finances of the church were tight and we needed the equipment to do the job right. I was nervous - this pastor is a perfectionist that is constantly changing his mind.
When I came in the night of the service, I found him in my booth with one of my very new volunteers who really didn't know much about what to do yet. He (the pastor) had changed everything and the service was going to start in an hour. He was not very tech savvy, but thought he knew everything and had proceeded to mess with the very touchy equipment. I assessed the situation, saw that the computer was crashed and all the settings messed with and I got a little testy.
I said, "I wish you had waited until I got here to do this." His reply?
"This is my church and my equipment and I can do with it what I want."
I said, "Actually, that is my computer you crashed."
He said, "You better fix your attitude or go home. I don't need this kind of stress right now."
I am sad to report that I stayed, got my attitude "in line," and actually ended up apologizing to him after the service for being out of line. He very graciously "forgave" me.
If you want to see what kind of person they really are, challenge them on something they have said or done and watch the show. Be prepared to have it turned back on you, though, until it is your fault for whatever it is you have brought up.
So, listen carefully. Make sure they are living what they are preaching. Pay attention to how they actually treat people, including you! Listen to your gut. If you hear hissing from the pulpit, leave.