Because Honor Academy interns are breaking their vow of silence about the abuses they endured, Teen Mania has come under significant fire. Their two main defenses are weak and easily rebutted.
1) Ron Luce would like to characterize the participants in the MSNBC Documentary “Mind Over Mania” – and specifically Doug and Wendy Duncan – as against Christianity. Ron claims that Teen Mania is so thoroughly Biblical that to accuse it of any wrongdoing is an affront against God Himself (sound familiar, fellow alum?). Never mind that Doug and Wendy are members in good standing at their Episcopal church, the recovery seminar was held in that church and most of the girls that participated are still Christians.
Specifically, I’ve noticed Teen Mania defenders citing two of the elements of thought reform (AKA mind control) as intertwined with Christianity and therefore unassailable from a Scriptural perspective. This is a completely false understanding of thought reform techniques.
The first element that Ron Luce likes to attack is the “demand for purity.” Is the “demand for purity” that Lifton documented the same as the Christian’s Biblical mandate for purity?
I would suggest that Lifton’s “demand for purity” would be better translated to a Christian audience as a “demand for perfection.” It is a black and white standard of right and wrong that is DEFINED BY THE LEADER. In the Christian life, our standard of right and wrong is found in the Bible and in the Holy Spirit’s witness to our conscience. There are many gray areas in which believers may disagree (as evidenced by Paul multiple times in the NT).
However, at Teen Mania, senior leadership decides what is right and what is wrong – and they go FAR beyond Biblical requirements. This is what is meant by a “demand for purity” in regards to a thought reform environment. A few examples:
– Listening to secular music is a sin
– Dating is a sin, even telling someone you have feelings for them is a sin
– Spending time alone with a member of the opposite sex (even just as friends in a public place) is treated as a sin
– Saying anything negative about Teen Mania is a sin
– Being “co-dependent” (i.e. having a close friendship) is a sin
– Being friends with the wrong people is a sin
– Drinking alcohol, even if you are of age, is a sin
– Desiring to abstain from certain group activities is a sin (i.e. you are being rebellious)
Those are just a few minor examples of how this demand for purity at Teen Mania goes far beyond Biblical requirements. It does not matter that it is supposed to be limited in duration (1 year to start with). It does not matter if people consent to it – none of that trumps Scripture.
Secondly, milieu control (control of the environment) is found at the Honor Academy in spades. No healthy church controls:
– Where you live
– Who you live with
– Who you are allowed to text message and when
– Who your friends are
– What time you get up in the morning
– How long and hard you exercise
– What job you have
– How many hours you work at that job
– What music you are allowed to consume (note that for the first few weeks of the HA, ONLY worship music is allowed, not even regular Christian music)
– What tv programs and movies you consume
– Your access to the internet (no access in the dorms)
– What books you are allowed to read
– Nearly your entire schedule
– What you eat or don’t eat (sugar only once a week for the first few weeks, etc)
– When you fast
– What verses you should read during your quiet time
– When you have your quiet time
– Who you are allowed to date (as a graduate intern)
In fact, I can’t think of ANY type of healthy group that would control all these aspects of your life. Even in college, you are not this controlled. You have free access to all types of books, music, media and internet. Beyond your class schedule, your time is not rigidly controlled and you can even request who you want for a roommate. You are free to date whomever you choose without getting approval from your “superiors.”
Again, consent to the program does not matter. That doesn’t change the fact that these are proven techniques for thought reform – for breaking down your boundaries and individuality and forming you into a specific mold. In fact, consenting to these parameters probably makes it easier for them to take you through the process.
Both Ron Luce and Hank Hanegraaff have tried to downplay the legitimacy of this field of psychology. As someone with two psychology degrees, Ron really should know better.
The blog Arts & Commerce has a great two part rebuttal to Hanegraaff’s ignorance of the issues at hand. Part 1 is a general overview of Hanegraaff’s essay and Part 2 tackles the thought reform/mind control arguments quite well.