The Authoritarian Playbook


11/16/20212 min read

Out there somewhere is an authoritarian playbook.

I have yet to find it, but I know it must be available. Why do I know this? Because they all use it. In the time since I began investigating and understanding authoritarian, high-demand, groups that masquerade as churches I began to see the similarities. It's not just a few things. It's a LOT of things. I will list a three of them below in no certain order, but if these describe your church, or your pastor you might want to take a deeper look.

I highly recommend Ronald Enroth's excellent book, Churches that Abuse. He lists ten characteristics that consistently show the playbook. While it is not always easy to identify, and there tends to be some mixing and matching, many of these characteristics will be obvious in abusive churches.

Control-oriented Leaders. Control-oriented leadership is a hallmark of authoritarian churches.

  • "Abusive churches, past and present, are first and foremost characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other, more traditional evanglical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. People who don't follow the rules or who threaten exposure are often dealt with harshly. Excommunication is common. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult."

Spiritual Elitism. The playbook always includes an attitude of we are better than everyone else. This place is special, we are special, and if only those others knew what we had here they would also want to join in.

  • "As I look back on it now, it is clear that, subtly at first, there began to be a feeling of superiority and exclusivness among the people. This was more evident in some than in others, but I think we all were affected by it. There began to be a feeling that this church was unique, and that while we love other brothers in Christ, to leave....would always be a step down spiritually."

Painful Exit Process. It is never easy to leave a church that has an authoritarian at the helm. They make it difficult, they threaten, they send the flying monkey's after you.

  • "They twist Scripture on God's hatred of divorce and use it as a coercive technique to keep people from leaving their churches. Thus, ones who leave are taught that they have actually left God and sinned."

  • Here is an example of this as it relates to Grace Fellowship, and one of its well known members Tony Miano. Shamefully, Tony used this very technique to link divorce in a marriage to leaving a church.