Negative experiences in the group
Group pressure was frequently mentioned, and very extensively. People missed their individuality, freedom, private sphere, and discretion. That applies to practical life with the obligatory participation in group activities, with no time for private things or rest. It also applies to the fact that people had to submit to rigid group rules as they shaped their own lives (e.g., regarding television, non-spiritual books, … ). Included in this was the fact that people could not express any individual opinions aside from the group’s opinion, and in any case, they had very little time to personally and independently consider various topics. People lamented, too, that even in religious matters, maintaining a personal relationship with God was seen as selfish, and religious things had to happen almost exclusively in the group.
A second point of criticism concerns the relationship with the outside world. The avoidance of contact with outsiders is, in hindsight, experienced as frightening. The obligation to limit or break off contact with parents and family was especially painful to people. They experienced this as loveless and arrogant, and they also suffered personally from it.
Closely connected to this is the general experience of the lovelessness which was expressed toward “sinners,” but which also applied to the experience of the group wanting to implement desired changes primarily through pressure and fear. Specifically, the blog mentioned above, “Definition of Love,” discusses that very thoroughly. In this connection it was also noted that, despite the official lack of hierarchy, there were some “older siblings” who were very domineering.
Another frequently mentioned topic was the general command to live life without marriage. People perceived this as un-Biblical, and as too much interference in an individual’s life decisions.
A certain dogmatic tunnel vision was criticized concerning the group’s doctrine, which led to a degree of fanaticism, and which was experienced as a dubious claim to absoluteness. Thought often happened in black-orwhite categories: good-evil, strongweak, obedient-disobedient. This displayed itself, too, regarding other denominations, where the group was too fixated on finding the errors in them, and so was not ready to learn from others.
From the viewpoint of the former members, too much emphasis was placed on lifestyle practice and activities, behind which grace and prayer receded: “we often preached our way of life instead of Christ.” Some of the [former members] also criticized the fact that obedience to God was often confused with obedience to the group. Likewise, the danger that external form could displace the [inner life] was mentioned.
In this context it’s relevant that the former members [say that they] never experienced the group critically examining itself. [Self-criticism] was indeed demanded of the individual members (i.e., to wrestle with one’s personal weaknesses), but critical thoughts about the group itself, its teaching, and its form of life never happened. [Any such] criticism was stifled with slogans (e.g.: “you are [merely] human”). Because of this, a type of passive follower arose, who did not disagree when holding a differing opinion, and who went along with things about which he or she was not convinced.