The following indicators, which are embodied by Hope Christian Church ASU are listed by Steve Hassan in his book Releasing the Bonds as being indicative of cult-groups.
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: “Dissent and Discussion Discouraged”
Summary: This tendency is embodied in a variety of ways by Hope Christian Church, including members’ opinions being met with derision, hostility, or dismissal when they differ from those expressed by Hope leadership, “ganging up” on members by springing discussions upon them where they are outnumbered (by Hope staff) in order to silence dissenting opinion, quashing “rebellion” (in the form of dissenting opinion) with psychological manipulation, and enforcing unquestioning submission to Church leadership as an official membership requirement; official membership being essential for students’ full involvement in Hope and its affiliate “front groups” (See the page on “Front Groups and Campus Concerns”)
-All the editors of the report affirm that opinions expressed by members which differ from that of Hope’s campus ministers are often met with either derision, hostility, or a prompt closing of discussion, with diminished trust and differential treatment enacted toward the dissenting student in the future.
-When one editor questioned the motives of the leadership, Hope scheduled meetings to discuss it, and used forms of passive aggressive bullying, having “their side” outnumber the editor's opinion by inviting members of HOPE’s chair to private discussions, even when clearly directed not to.
-On many occasions, when one contributor would receive advice from Hope leadership on something in his life, respectfully hear them out, and then indicate that he was going to pursue an alternate course of action, he was reminded of the supreme importance (in Hope's minds) of “submitting to church authority”. In other words, if the cookie-cutter guidelines put in place by church leadership are not followed precisely, this is framed as rebellion against Church authority (and of course God). This practice extends not only to “big ticket” items in members’ lives, but to very small things as well. Dissenting opinion is viewed as at best misguided, and at worst wicked, and discourse/discussion is shut down quickly if it involves questioning of the opinions of church leadership-- even when (and in some cases particularly when) solid Biblical reasoning is used in favor of the dissenting opinion. The editor witnessed this in his experiences and others’ experiences dozens of times.
-One editor was interested in becoming an official member of Hope. During one of their membership meetings, the editor and Hope staff were going through the “rules” of membership. One of the rules was “always back up your leaders”. When the editor was asked if that was something they could get on board with they did not answer in the way Hope leadership wanted. The editor simply explained to them that they will always say their mentors have true intentions, but if they believe that what the leaders are saying is false, they cannot back them up. It was then that the conversation was shut down because the editor wasn't compliant with what Hope wanted. The editor was never granted official Hope membership.
-Regarding the above story, recall how on the "Code of Conduct" page, it was mentioned that failure to comply with requests during “membership appointments” (which, as discussed can often take the form of hazing) results in a denial of membership. In the above case, and others, this denial of membership limits the student’s access not only to Hope Church, but to the “campus clubs”/front groups which operate under their wing. In effect, a student’s involvement with University sanctioned extra-curriculars can be strongly limited by their failure to submit to the spiritual authority (or failure to agree to do so) of an outside religious group.
2: “Polarization of Members”; The cult generates within its members “a polarized” mentality. Their people evolve an us-versus-them outlook. Little by little, they criticize other groups with which his members might tend to associate, undermining confidence in them, attempting to discredit anyone who could have influence over the flock
Summary: Hope Christian Church not only creates ingroup/outgroup biases in its members, but generally seeks to eradicate outside influences on its student members, whether this is in the form of groups or individuals
-See item 6 of the "Front Groups and Campus Concerns" page, Item 4 of the U of A Religious Council "Red Flags" page, and items 1 and 3 of the "Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control" page.
3: “Lavishing the Leader in Luxury”; having a preoccupation with raising money, much of which ends up in the hands of the leader
Summary: Hope Christian Church embodies this characteristic in how their campus ministers are afforded income; through “raising support”, and also how Hope’s campus ministers generate very little income compared to the lead pastor who is wealthy.
-Hope is certainly preoccupied with raising money. In order officially join the staff of the church, one must first raise a certain dollar amount (dictated by the pastoral team) for the Church by reaching out to friends and family or random people from the phonebook.
-Several editors also recall hearing that Pastor Brian is also much more wealthy than the rest of the staff. This is because he not only has a “support network” like the campus ministers, but also collects a salary, presumably taken from Church tithes most of which are paid by campus ministers with their “support” income.
--One former member recalls being told by a campus minister, and the student president of one of the front groups, that pastor Brian is a millionaire, which is in stark contrast to the low incomes which are received by the rest of Hope staff.
4: “Alteration of Personality”
Summary: Hope Christian Church fully embodies this phenomenon in that, members often exhibit radical personality changes during their membership, including reduced devotion to academics, reduced devotion to familial ties, reduced ability to form and maintain genuine relationships, speaking in “cliches” and “catch-phrases”, and centering all other aspects of life around involvement with Hope Church
-One editor recalls a conversation they had with a friend in the church who said something to the effect of: “I went home over Thanksgiving, and I had a fight with my sister because she told me ‘You’re being really fake right now. It’s like your whole personality has changed, and you keep talking in these cliches. You are not the same person."
-One contributor's mom told him after he left that she began to notice in him a lot of changes in personality and habits during his time there, which worried her, but she didn’t confront the editor about it, as she thought he was happy and she was just being paranoid. She felt as though he had completely cut her out of his spiritual life and would not take her advice on anything. The editor can confirm that he had begun to see her views as inferior and misguided compared to Hope's, as he had learned to stop questioning and just parrot back what Hope leadership taught.
-One editor's mom and friends told her that she was a completely different person and no one liked this person she had become. But when the editor told this to campus ministers they said it was a good thing and that God was working in her life so the world was reacting.
-After leaving Hope one contributor's friends expressed to me that during their time there they were a different person and became “A crazy kind of Christian".
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."