The following, which are embodied by Hope Christian Church ASU, are described by Shawn Nelson in his word Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis as “signs of a spiritually abusive system”.
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. People being used: “The people’s needs go unmet; the church’s needs are more important. The majority of activity is related to the expansion and operation of “the ministry.”... People feel manipulated into serving in greater and greater capacities within the church. The bulk of energy is given to retain new families (or members) while older families (or members) are ignored.”
-One contributor notes that the basic need of fostering spiritual growth among Hope’s current members is completely lacking. There are literally no opportunities for members to sit down together and read scripture to talk about what it means. The editor brought this up numerous times, and was told that it was the member’s responsibility to organize this. That being said, it is literally impossible to schedule a Bible study, because all of the members are serving Hope in their free time. And because Hope staff members are aware of your schedule as a member, it would be next to impossible to start an independent Bible study group.
-Another editor adds to the point above, one of his primary mentors actually once condemned the idea of an independent Bible study not orchestrated by Hope staff, and not involving trying to “convert” ASU students. He related to the editor a story of a former member who had tried to do such a thing, and had to be “rebuked” by church leadership because he was trying to organize Christian activity “outside the authority of the Church”. In response to the mentor's story, the editor asked something along the lines of “Wait, so members aren’t allowed to just study the Bible together?” and was told no, that if members did so without staff involvement this would be an act of rebellion.
-The editors point in mentioning this is that, the person in the first testimony was told it was “the members’ responsibility” to seek independent group Biblical study, but she rightly points out (as per my example) that this impossible to accomplish without upsetting Hope leadership. In other words, there is a contradiction in Hope’s rhetoric. On the one hand, they punt responsibility to the student members to educate themselves Biblically, in order to absolve themselves for the fact that they don’t provide such education as a church, then on the other hand, they condemn anyone seeking to start a Bible study with their peers outside the reach of Hope leadership in order to keep members under their authority. This is not the first time seen on this site that Hope leadership’s rhetoric has been contradictory. This clearly illustrates that Hope’s policies, or responses to certain scenarios are often not geared toward doing the best thing for the students or campus they “serve”, nor tailored to consistency, but merely designed to look after the interests and agenda of the Church.
-As noted previously by many contributors, using time for homework, work, other areas of interest, or rest is often deemed as beneath Hope events and may be labeled as being “selfish with your time.”
2. Power-Posturing: “Pastors who powerposture put a heavy emphasis on submitting to their authority… There might also be a heavy top-down hierarchal structure where average churchgoers are required to submit to those placed over them… Those aspiring to lead may need to climb this ladder by ‘[proving] one’s commitment to the organization.’”
-As mentioned in many places in this report, submission to Church authority is perhaps the single topic which receives the most emphasis at Hope Christian Church, or at least one of them.
-Several editors also have specific examples where they were rebuked for kind of "making their mentor look bad" in public. The idea being that if the member "shows up" their mentor at something or demonstrates superior gifting (even if unintentionally), that this casts a bad image on the Church.
-One editor recalls being rebuked several times after Bible studies because he had brought up Biblical topics that he understood well, but his mentor did not, or for slightly correcting his mentor on Biblical topics.
3. Selective Service: “The church is overly concerned about portraying ‘excellence.’” People who do not fit a certain “mold” or criteria, are barred from certain elements of service or leadership in the ministry
-One editor recalls certain women in the Church reporting that they were "not given the time of day" by female Hope ministers because they were not good looking enough.
-Likewise, another contributor remembers that he, under direction of Hope leadership, would only seek to minister to male students who showed "leadership potential", and who were successful students, outgoing, and confident.
-Recall also on the "Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control" page, it was mentioned that Hope only focuses on ASU students, and really only freshman students.
-Of note is that all of these examples are non-Biblical. In the New Testament, while Paul's central ministry was to the Gentiles, and Peter's to the Jews, this did not mean they were exclusively focused on those demographics, and did not keep them from sometimes intersecting their ministries. Likewise, Jesus still ministered to and healed several non-Jews he came into contact with in the Gospels, despite his earthly ministry being centrally concerned with the House of Israel. "Selective ministry" is not a Biblical idea, and opportunities are to be taken as God presents them.
-One editor notes that one of her fellow editors was denied a lot of opportunities to grow and progress in leadership, because he was not a "cookie-cutter" Christian in some ways. He was judged not for his love of Christ and the godliness of his character, but for the qualities of his personality that are spontaneous and unexpected.
4. Elitist Attitude:“A church with an elitist attitude believes ‘no one else’ is really preaching the gospel—except that church. Or at least, no one is preaching it as effectively as they are! Their mission is the most important of any in the area. People are discouraged from participating in activities or ministries that support other churches.”
-Discussed many times on other areas of this site.
5. Inability to Discuss Concerns: “There is an atmosphere where people do not/cannot question the pastor or the leadership structure—even regarding the spiritual abuse itself.”
-See item 1 on the "Releasing the Bonds" page, and item 1 on the "Families Against Cult Teachings" page.
6. Labeling People as Divisive: “People who do raise valid concerns are labeled ‘divisive.’ The church has a practice of “shunning” or putting people ‘under discipline.’”
-Three editors recall the word divisive specifically being aimed at them by Hope leaders for raising even the smallest of concerns.
7. In this work, Nelson also delivers some chilling words which eerily describe and explain the success of a spiritually abusive group like Hope Christian Church with young college students, saying, quote:
Leaders aren’t the only ones who want their lives to count. People (especially young people) are drawn to a cause. They want to feel like they are on an important mission for God… In this way, followers derive a sense of self-worth from their involvement. Their lives have purpose because they are “on mission” with the leader. If and when a leader shows signs of abuse, people who derive their sense of worth from the mission may willingly overlook the red flags. They may rationalize blatant inconsistencies in conduct and even excuse sins directly committed against them by the leader. They may choose to remain and be compliant victims over speaking up and being part of nothing important at all. Campus pastor Bill Clem admitted that with the booming success of Mars Hill (a spiritually abusive campus church he worked for) he was “caught up in the buzz.” This, he said, was why he and the other pastors “could put up with a lot of crap—a lot of egotism, a management-by-objective leadership in the church.” People coming to salvation “became our legitimizing story. (i.e., the success of the Church in bringing people to Christ excused their abusive nature)
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."