The following behaviors are listed as "brainwashing techniques" by one of the foremost works on the topic, "Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control" by Dr. Kathleen Taylor. The first 8 are "Lifton's Totalist Themes" from Robert J. Lifton's classic work, "Thought Control: The Psychology of Totalism" which are indicative of totalitarian organizations.
NOTE: It is important to note that none of the behaviors epitomized by Hope Christian Church ASU here are considered “normal” for Christian ministries or faith-based groups to engage in. Any ideas such as “that is just how Church-groups operate” would be egregiously in error.
Dozens of experience reports were collected from former members which demonstrate these violations by Hope Christian Church ASU.
1: “Milieu Control”:Control of an individual’s communication with the external world, hence of his or her perceptions of reality
Summary: Hope Christian Church ASU exerts a large amount of control over members’ social lives, and treats as strange members’ attempts to pursue Christian knowledge or education outside of the Church. Seeking spiritual guidance from others outside of Hope (even family members) is also strongly discouraged. This results in members’ communication with the outside world, as well as their flow of information from the outside being limited.
-All the editors of the report (excluding parents and family) confirm that once involved with Hope Church, one’s contact with the outside world becomes quite limited. Members’ social circles are essentially exclusively comprised of other Hope members (this is encouraged and facilitated by Hope leaders), and physical isolation is also enacted as members are strongly encouraged to live with one another either in the official “discipleship houses” or else by simply renting an apartment with other members.
-As previously mentioned, Hope also utilizes ingroup/outgroup biases to create an “us vs. them” mentality. A commonplace statement at Hope is that if you are not bringing outside people into the Church, then they will pull you away from it, and therefore it is wise to sever such relationships.
-It is also commonplace for Hope ministers to, either actively discourage or else simply treat as “strange”, members’ indulgence in any Christian literature (besides the Bible) not published by Hope, nonChristian literature, non-Christian music, or other “worldly influences
-One editor's first ‘bump’ at Hope was when there was a discussion at a Bible study about church attendance and community. She disagreed with the campus minister/leader’s idea that growth cannot happen at home in personal time with God. This was the first step in creating waves for her; Hope doesn’t want people trying to strengthen their relationship with God independent of leadership influence. Their members need to be at all events, studies, always be being discipled by someone ‘above them’, reading only recommended books, confiding in elders (so they can report to other elders) seeking counsel, etc. Reading and praying, and trying to grow alone is not good for Hope.
-Another contributor was also told that studying the bible alone didn’t promote personal growth and that she needed the Hope community to cultivate her faith.
-Another editor notes that, compounding this issue is the fact that Hope doesn’t offer any Bible studies for people who are already Christian and baptized (because the whole church is built around bringing in new people). There isn’t any opportunity to just sit down with members and read scripture and talk about it. So they don’t want to help provide any depth or understanding through scripture. Instead, they wish to pick and choose scripture that suits their purposes and talk solely about those verses.
-Another contributor met his best friend at Hope. She’s still a current member which has definitely distanced their relationship some (albeit unintentionally). She related a story to the editor where she was patronized by her “mentor” (campus minister) because she told her that her main source of spiritual guidance was her father-figure, who had led her to Christianity in the first place. Her mentor was upset because a) He was male, and b) He had not been supplanted by any of the women at Hope as the editor's friend’s primary spiritual counsel. The editor's friend has also been "warned" by leaders and other members about maintaining a close relationship with him, because a) The editor is male, and b) He no longer goes to Hope.
-One editor really wanted to read the book Love Does by Bob Goff and suggested it to one of her friends. The friend then replied that “we don’t do studies on books like that. We really only use (Hope's Bible Study books that they create)” The conversation just ended after that. Hope members aren't encouraged to read Christian books by Christian authors like Bob Goff, Timothy Keller, Rick Warren, or C.S. Lewis and that discouraged the editor a lot. She came from a church where reading books by authors like them was highly encouraged and offered a lot of foundational teachings. In the contributor's estimation, not reading those kinds of books, it gave Hope an “edge” to interpret scripture from their point of view rathat than that of an actual Christian scholar. She also believes that by encouraging us as students to read those books it can possible give us an edge to interpreting scripture to the way it is intended to be interpreted which could ultimately leave the Hope staff with accusations of teaching false doctrine.
2: “Mystical Manipulation”: Creating a sense of awe or enthusiasm for the group by manipulating circumstances or information to create an impression of supernatural wisdom or divine favor
Summary: Leaders at Hope Christian Church ASU will often fabricate circumstances to create the impression that they are special or “anointed” in some sense.
-All former members who edited the report affirm that it is a common practice for Hope ministers who “disciple” members to maintain an “I told you so” mentality, the implication being that they have spiritual insight into the members’ lives from God and that the members ought to “listen up” more. For example, something may happen in a member’s life, and his “mentor” campus minister will say something to the effect of “You remember when I talked to you about (blank)? This is exactly what I meant”. Whether or not these connections made by campus ministers are accurate (sometimes they are, sometimes not) the point is the “discipleship” dynamic at HCC is often centered on this idea of leaders possessing more supernatural wisdom about the lives of members than the members themselves.
- During worship at Hope there exists what is colloquially called the “praise pit” which is essentially a non-violent mosh pit that congregates right in front of the stage during worship. Pastor Brian commonly references this in sermons as an example of how “radical” or “committed” the congregation is, saying things like “You can’t fabricate that kind of faith” and claiming that it’s a completely spontaneous phenomenon undertaken by the congregation. However, one editor, and two other people he spoke to to for the creation of the report remember campus ministers encouraging them to join the “praise pit” during service and to persuade our guests (the non-members we had brought to church) to come with us. Likewise, he remembers the “praise pit” being referenced during “Outreach Team Meetings” which are held at 9am before Sunday service, where Hope leaders essentially form a “strategy” for rousing students from sleep for church, “gathering” students from the dorms, inviting random people on campus to church, planning which members will sit next to which guests during Church to best “connect with”/influence them, planning groups for going to lunch after service, and just generally “strategizing” about how leaders will behave toward guests during the day. The reference to the “praise pit” during these meetings was to encourage members to sort of “lead the charge” in forming it during worship, and to make sure we were broadcasting a sense of enthusiasm for the guests to see. It was always very clear to the editor that this element of worship was not a completely spontaneous one, and yet it is portrayed that way to create a sense of awe at the enthusiasm and great faith of the congregation.
3: “The Demand for Purity”: The belief that elements outside the chosen group should be eliminated to prevent them contaminating the minds of group members, along with the enactment of unreasonable standards of perfection or “excellence” within the group
Summary: Other ministries, especially local ones, are often criticized by Hope Christian Church ASU, and members are discouraged from involvement in any other Christian groups besides Hope, or other campus clubs which are not affiliated with Hope (not one of their “front groups”). This is expressly because contact with other groups might take away from Hope’s influence over its members, and “lead them on the wrong path”
-As previously mentioned, all the editors of the report affirm that Hope Christian Church is often critical of outside ministries, viewing themselves as being superior. As also previously mentioned, members are encouraged not to seek spiritual guidance from Christians outside of Hope Church.
-One contributor recalls incurring very strange reactions and some discouragement from Hope campus ministers when he mentioned that he had begun taking classes at a Christian seminary in order to become ordained in the ministry and pursue a Christian degree program. A couple of campus ministers seemed quite confused by the choice, and one told the editor that “that kind of ministry training isn’t the best way to get trained” but rather that the best way would be to train “under the authority of the Church”.
-Interestingly enough, before the above editor mentioned this to any campus ministers, he had expressed a desire to possibly enter ministry one day, which was met with a small degree of enthusiasm, or at least a “wow, that’s cool!” kind of mentality. After mentioning the fact he was pursuing outside, supplementary training however, campus ministers avoided talking about a possible future in ministry with the editor, and he was also told that his desire to enter the ministry was borne of “selfish ambition” and likely was not what “God was calling him to”.
-Another contributor remembers Pastor Brian indicating that he did not receive any formal Christian education, and in fact seemed to take this as a source of pride. Furthermore, he knows for sure, that at least at the time he attended Hope, that none of the other Hope staff pursue formal ministry training but are trained solely by Brian and Wendy.
-Another editor recalls that there was a guest pastor one Sunday who in his ‘sermon’ talked about how he quit the Lutheran Church and learned the real way of Christianity, and for the next five or so minutes everyone made fun of Lutheran colleges and their ability to teach the gospel because they are affiliated with the Lutheran Church. In this time the informal training Pastor Brian had received was praised.
-Another contributor recalls getting this kind of treatment when indicating he was interested in a new fraternity on campus. He told a campus minister that he knew a couple of Christian men who were in the fraternity, and thought that maybe it might be a good place to share the gospel with some of the other members or else at least influence Greek-Life at ASU in a positive manner. He was told vehemently by a campus minister that it was “probably not God’s will” that he do what he was doing, and furthermore that he hadn’t been transparent enough in giving details of his contact with the fraternity to Hope. The editor can’t remember the exact conversation, but he believe all of this was chalked up to “rebellion” and “problems with authority” that campus ministers had previously claimed to have diagnosed within the editor. Looking back, he believes his interest in the fraternity was borne of an internal desire to have some other group to be a part of, so that his life was not being solely influenced by Hope's leadership.
-One editor notes that at Hope, the only form of ministry is campus evangelism-- trying to lead ASU students to faith. She remembers the Hope leaders who had been assigned to her and one of her friends becoming very upset upon learning that we were involved with another ministry and were not devoting all of their efforts to Hope. This resulted in an intense verbal altercation. Afterwards, the campus minister over the editor and her friend literally began stalking them before and after Hope events to try and listen in on their conversations.
4: “The Cult of Confession”: The use of and insistence on confession to minimize individual privacy
Summary: While confession of sins is common amongst Christian groups, Hope Christian Church demands it to an unreasonable and un-Biblical extent. Furthermore, while the stated reason for demanding so much confession by members is so that they might “receive healing”, later, sins which students have confessed to Hope leaders are often “dangled over their heads” suggesting that healing was not the real intent. Members are also encouraged to keep tabs on, and report the activity of other members to Hope leaders, if the activities are such that Hope leaders might find them concerning.
-All the editors of the report affirm witnessing or experiencing pressure from Hope leaders to confess, not only an exhaustive list of their past wrongdoings, but also any recent ones, right down to “sinful thoughts”. It should be noted that members are not encouraged to take these matters before God in their personal spiritual life nearly as much or as strongly as they are encouraged to confess them to Hope leadership. The type of confession demanded by Hope goes far and beyond that of a normal Christian group.
-All the editors also affirm that, often times, sins confessed to Church leadership will be referenced later by leadership, and “used against” or dangled over the heads of members in a sense.
-All editors also affirm that members are also often encouraged to keep tabs on other members who are their peers (in terms of the power structure of Hope) and report concerning activity or potential wrongdoings by their peers to Hope leadership.
-One contributor brings a specific example to mind: his friend who worked in the
Church office told him that staff members kept logs for all the members of Church and Bible study attendance, and just generally of their behavior. Apparently, spouses are also supposed to report on one anothers’ attendance at Church activities, and of their behavior and spiritual developments to Hope’s upper-leadership.
-Also see item 4 on the page regarding "Red Flags" as defined by U of A's Council of Religious Advisers.
5: “Sacred Science”: Viewing the ideology’s basic dogmas as both morally unchallengeable and scientifically exact, thus increasing their apparent authority
Summary: Hope Christian Church ASU often presents their dogmas as being unfalsifiable, in that anything and everything fits perfectly with their ideologies, which are therefore not challengeable. Here we refer to dogmas not central to Christianity, but specific to Hope Church ASU.
-All editors affirm that Hope’s dogmas often have an air of being “unfalsifiable”. This is to say, no matter what piece of data is collected, from the world, from someone’s experiences, from an event that occurs, from a statement, it always is somehow able to be tied to one of Hope’s slogans, or central dogmas including doctrines which are not central (or even a part of) Christianity, but central only to Hope Christian Church. This is perhaps why it is so difficult to bring constructive criticism to Hope, because no matter what, they always have a reason why the criticism actually supports their ideology. The "mantras" listed in item 6 are always a fallback in these scenarios, where if a member doesn't perfectly accept input from a campus minister on one point, they will quickly find themselves being presented with an endless chain of near-meaningless phraseology that "proves" that Hope's dogmas are actually correct. It is nearly impossible to bring criticism, or even slight variation of perspective to Hope leadership.
6: “Loading the Language”: Compressing complex ideas into brief, definitive-sounding phrases, ‘thought-terminating clichés’
Summary: Leaders of Hope Christian Church often compress complex ideas into a number of “catch-phrases” or slogans, which are repeated ad nauseam until they (effectively) lose meaning. In discussion, these slogans are often presented as constituting an entire argument, or taking the place of an entire round of rational discourse. In other words, if a slogan can be applied to a situation or an idea, that is all the discussion that’s necessary on the subject.
-While slogans in themselves are not a bad thing, the way “thought-terminating cliches” work in brainwashing is to capture very complex ideas in such catch-phrases, and then use them so often that the terms themselves lose much of their meaning. The mantras then become confined to the words themselves, and the idea is that if a mantra can be applied to an idea then it must be true (or perhaps false, depending on how the mantra is applied to it). This serves to eliminate critical thinking or analysis because the (now almost meaningless) catch-phrase is seen as sufficient for analysis of the idea. All of the editors of the report confirm this is common practice at Hope Church.
-All the editors of the report (excluding parents and family) note that members of Hope Christian Church speak in such “thought-terminating cliches” to a much greater extent than is normal for regular speech. This list is far from exhaustive, but some of the examples include:
- “Change the Campus, Change the world” (Maranatha Campus Ministries’ slogan)
-"Do the hard thing"
○ “Belong, Believe, Become”
○ “Open(ing) up”, “Be vulnerable”, “be more teachable”
○ “Take Responsibility” or “Own it”
○ “Lead courageously”
○ “Either you change the campus or the campus will change you.”
○ “A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.”
○ “Become the person the person you are looking for is looking for.”
○ “Go(ing) ‘all in’”
○ “Live for the next generation”
○ “Spiritual Authority”
○ “Submission” or “Being submitted” (to the Church)
-Besides these “slogan” style catch-phrases, the messages of Pastor Brian’s sermons or speeches given at the Respect Movement are more often than not encapsulated in summary form using catchy terms which use rhyming or alliteration.
7: “The Primacy of Doctrine”: The idea that a dogma is more true and more real than anything experienced by an individual human being
Summary: As mentioned previously, Hope Christian Church often gets members to question their own judgment, in favor of Hope leadership a specific subset of this phenomenon is to take someone’s personal experience and make it seem “not real”; to present the ideologies of Hope as “more real” than anyone’s experiences.
-See item 2 (regarding "gaslighting") on the "Psychological Maniuplation/Emotional Abuse" page, and in that same item, Hope's rhetoric on mental illness.
-One editor recalls bringing concerns to some campus ministers from Hope regarding the fact that his invitation to the Winter Leadership Camp had been rescinded. He tried to logically present his reasons why he found this hurtful, and why it did not make logical sense. One of the campus ministers promptly responded: “Well, you’re trying to use logical reasoning. Logical reasoning isn’t valid. The only real kind of reasoning is Biblical reasoning”. The editor was then told (without any scriptural evidence, and without being given room to respond), that the concerns he was raising were not congruent with the Bible.
-Several other editors report the same experience of having "logical reasoning" be dismissed by Hope leaders in favor of Biblical reasoning, but then receiving no Biblical basis from the ministers to support the position they were taking. Thus, the arbitrary opinions of Hope leaders are often presented as being "more real" or more rational than any kind of reasoning (whether logical, Biblical, or experiential) an individual can use.
8: “The Dispensing of Existence”: The right to control the quality of life and eventual fate of existence for both group members and nonmembers, often made possible by the group’s supposed special status. Often this can include an implicit or explicit “threat” being in place if members decide to leave the group.
Summary: Stories have been told of explicit threats being issued to former members who have left Hope Christian Church ASU, and talked negatively of their experience afterwards, leadership at Hope Christian Church ASU attempts to manipulate members who wish to leave into staying, and as mentioned exhaustively on this site, former members of the church are shunned, and are often belittled and told bad things might come if they leave the church.
-One editor notes that a couple of his friends reported being threatened by Hope staff for speaking about their experiences after they left the Church.
-One of our contributors has been falsely accused of criminal activity for assisting in our efforts, and Hope has called his workplace several times to try and bad-mouth him to his employers.
-As mentioned exhaustively on this site, former members of the church are shunned, and are often belittled and told bad things might come if they leave the church.
-One editor was strongly discouraged to leave Hope because she had not received a concrete sign from God to do so. She was encouraged, rather, to “press into community” and spend more time serving in order to become connected with the ministry again. When this wasn’t working, she was told that I was “projecting my insecurities” onto other members and that she would be “running away from conflict”, and "not following God" by leaving.
NOTE: The general consensus of scholarship is that the 8 points above alone (not to mention the handful of others in this section, or dozens of others in Part IV) are sufficient to assert much authority over the minds of individuals within a group, and therefore are sufficient criteria for categorizing a group as an authoritarian cult. Even if all 8 points are not met (as they are with Hope), observing even a handful of them within a group is still a cause for concern
9: “Cults often seem more youth-oriented, emphasizing their novelty and radicalism.”
Summary: Hope Christian Church ASU has a specific interest in freshman students, above all other students. Likewise, Pastor Brian Smith has, countless times described Hope in sermons as different from other churches, using the word “radical”, and other descriptors of novelty or radicalism, always with a braggadocious tone.
-All the editors of the report affirm that Hope Church has a specific interest in freshman students, above all other students at ASU.
-All editors (excluding parents and family) recall countless times Pastor Brian Smith in sermons described Hope as different from other churches, “radical”, and other descriptors of novelty or radicalism, always with a braggadocious tone.
-One editor of this document also recalls campus ministers being decidedly disinterested in sharing the Gospel with anyone who was not an ASU student. When the editor brought up the fact that he had a non-student friend who might be amenable to joining a Bible study, he was told something to the effect of: “Well, our church’s mission is to reach ASU students. We don’t really have time for anyone else”
-See the item on "Selective Service" on the "Spiritual Abuse" page for testimonies related to this last concept.
10: “Reality-Shift”: “Lower-status cult members will tend to shift their beliefs towards the beliefs of higher-status members, and particularly the cult leader; the reverse is not the case.”
Summary: This is seen almost without fail amongst members of Hope Christian Church ASU, who learn to parrot back what they have heard or what they know their leaders want to hear, until they are able to simply support the ministers’ positions to a t, regardless of whether they have doubts about the efficacy of said positions.
-One editor recalls a conversation with a friend and current member (who was a Christian before college) who described a radical change in many of her views since joining Hope; adding on that she “had no idea why”. After some further discussion, she decided that she didn’t have much Biblical knowledge coming into college, so she had been completely reliant on her mentors at Hope to tell her what was right and what was wrong, whether or not they used sound reasoning or the Bible to back their positions.
- One editor notes that the aforementioned culture of having “a healthy distrust of yourself” fosters an environment where you learn to just parrot back what you've heard or know what they want to hear until you are able to simply support the ministers’ positions on a dime, regardless of whether you have doubts about the positions efficacy. The editor found himself doing this almost unexpectedly in small groups and would be praised for it in front of the group, often in support of their rebuking someone while not offering any advice or solutions.
-One contributor think ‘parrot’ is a perfect word to use here. Members simply mimic the unhealthy behaviors and patterns they see, even when they don’t make sense logically. This keeps this cycle of behavior moving. One example of this she remembers seeing was how members of Hope often post nearly identical social media posts on Sunday after sermons, which often reference one of the "slogans" that was central to Pastor Brian's message that day.
- Hope leadership effectively convinced one editor (for a time) that she was not a real Christian. Until she reversed this newly planted idea, this completely changed her thoughts on what it meant to a Christian, and how she viewed herself, as both of these areas of her thinking became conformed to the opinions of Hope leadership, and it was reinforced that her own views were inferior.
-Likewise, one contributor's definition of what it meant to be a Christian completely changed after going to Hope. She found that she turned a lot to my leaders to see what it meant to be a Christian and would do what they told her she needed to because she trusted them. After leaving Hope, it is scary to see how much this trust led her astray in her walk with Christ. She now has a “healthy mistrust” of her leaders, not herself.
11: “I suggest, you persuade, he brainwashes”
Summary: Hope members are often encouraged to participate in a “triangle offense” strategy of influence, where three current members take on different roles in influencing students and bringing them into the church.
-One editor of this document recalls being assigned as a part of a “triangle offense” strategy for attracting several students the Church was interested in. The strategy was for one person to casually bring up Hope Christian church and churchrelated subject matter in conversation, the editor of this document to formally extend invites and try to persuade the students to
attend church functions, and a third church member (campus minister) to serve as the “older brother” who would “disciple” the students once they began to be regularly involved with the church.
12: Neuro-Linguistic-Programming techniques, such as “fractionation”: fractionation involves evoking bad memories from someone to create a negative emotional state, followed by the evoking of positive memories or feelings which are “anchored” to the person or group employing the tactic
What Former Members are Saying
"...It is important for us to humble ourselves through this process, pray for God to move, and pray for God to reveal to Brian and Wendy the destruction they have sown through Hope. Pray for their eyes to be opened and for God to break them down to the point of true repentance."