In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
Paul writing to the church at Phillipi in the mid-first century AD.
In addition to bounding choices and using special language MCM had other ways of reinforcing the member’s commitment to the radical cause of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth… and of course to MCM and its leadership.
MLTS, which I described in a earlier post was one such important tool used by MCM to keep the flock in line.
Now, MLTS was very important for MCM for four reasons, only one of which I grasped at the time.
I will speak to three of these in this post and will address the fourth in a future post about MCM’s business model.
Readers who were NOT in MCM should keep in mind that something like MLTS is common in most authoritarian cults, even if the methods described differ a bit from group to group.
The Importance of MLTS
Interaction with, and monitoring of, the flock and ministries
The first reason was that MLTS was so important to MCM was that it gave the upper level of MCM, Bob Weiner, Joe Smith, Bob Nolte etc., a chance to interact with differing “flocks” from around the country (and later the world) and ensured that the Pastors of these flocks, and their sheep, were toeing the company line.
MLTS helped the pastors gauge who was willing to commit the time and funds to attend. Failure to attend marked a sheep as having problems. Let me make this clear; failing to attend MLTS would get you counseled and possibly booted, marked, and shunned.
Furthermore, MLTS attendance, by members from each campus ministry, was carefully monitored by MCM HQ. Campus leaders (pastors) had to meticulously count, and report, the numbers attendees at weekly services to HQ. MLTS provided a way for HQ leadership to check that the number of members reported by campus pastor were real. A difference between reported membership and attendance at MLTS by a local ministry members would bring the wrath of HQ down upon the local Pastor. MCM leadership were constantly demanding membership growth from the local sites. So A drop in MLTS attendance, from quarter to quarter, would result in pretty quick counseling for the poor pastor who was losing members, or mis-reporting his stats.
MLTS allowed the leadership to continue to bombard the flock with the messages of the end time directly from God, and, to set the general direction and vision for the ministry (which BTW would zig – zag crazily over five years).
The leadership could also demonstrate that they were in touch with God’s new plan for the earth and provide specific direction and lay out the actions that they wanted accomplished during the coming quarter.
Reinforcement of Leadership’s authority and their hold on MCM
The third reason MLTS was important is that it kept in place the feedback loop from the flock to the leadership and vice versa, which reinforced the charismatic authority of the collective leadership. (Please note: I use the word charismatic here in the sociological, not the Pentecostal, sense).
Many studies of sociological cults have shown that the charisma of the leader, or a group of select leaders, does NOT RESIDE IN THE LEADER(S) themselves but in the feedback loop between the leader(s) and the followers.
We tend to think of charismatic leaders as good-looking, or eloquent speakers, or very outgoing, or having some external quality that attracts people to them.
Frequently charismatic leaders do have these qualities, but these qualities are NOT the source of their standing, and power, or charisma in a sociological cult. [This idea is more fully explored by Janja Lalich in her book Bounded Choice True Believers and Charismatic Cults].
For example, Bob was not particularly good-looking nor was he was physically imposing. There were better stump speakers in MCM than Bob (although Bob was a particularly good speaker).
The source of Bob’s power, as a charismatic leader, resided in his unflinching (and if you spent any time with him, his irritating) hyperactivity and his ability to deliver results laid out in the grand scheme he laid out for his followers.
We could consider these behavior traits as the engine that drove Bob’s charismatic authority. The fuel for this engine was the affirmation and praise from Maranatha devotees that reinforced Bob’s own feeling of specialness (that he was called for a divine special purpose by God as an apostle for the end times).
His ability to deliver the results of his plan, plus his publicly proclaimed conviction of his specialness, reinforced the member’s feeling that Bob WAS anointed of God and was the leader for MCM’s special mission.
Compounding and multiplying this reinforcement loop was Bob’s narcissistic personality. He acted like everything, and everyone, revolved around his special mission and were on the earth to serve him and this mission.
Bob’s grand scheme, in the late 70s (this would change over time), was to evangelize the world before Christ returned (hence the name Maranatha).
And he continually showed his ability make that evangelization a reality to his followers.
From my own personal perspective I can tell you that I was repeatedly blown away when I saw the results of his preaching, especially during my first two years in the movement. The first time I saw him in action at my frat house and the results I saw him produce were but a singular example of the feedback loop required for Bob to take the role of a charismatic leader.
The following (with thanks to Dr. Lalich) illustrates how this all worked and what allowed Bob to become the charismatic leader of an authoritarian cult.
If Bob Weiner, or any charismatic leader, stood in a room by himself alone he would not be a Charismatic Leader.
And if Bob was in a room with four other people he probably would NOT be seen as a charismatic leader by the group. In fact he would probably just scare the heck out of everyone sitting there.
However, put him with 200 people, 100 of which are telling the other 100 how awesome he is; let him give a rousing emotional service, with the amening, clapping, and shouts of praise from the crowd during his speech; let him evidence success in his cause by 20 people accepting Christ then baptized due to his preaching; and suddenly he IS that charismatic leader both from his view and that of his followers.
Let this happen month after month and year after year then combine this with a narcissistic personality and voila!: a classic authoritarian charismatic leader of a sociological cult now exists.
The same was true of Joe Smith who was also a charismatic leader. Joe promised miracles and prophesies direct from God and then apparently delivered them to the members of MCM.
Everyone (by that I mean the members who came to Auburn to plant the ministry) at MCM told me about the signs and wonders that Joe could do, then he performed them, and prophesying directly to almost everyone at Auburn, seemingly saying things that only God could say.
But Joe and Bob could not regularly preach at every MCM campus ministry as MCM grew in size. This constraint limited their ability to maintain the reinforcing feedback loop necessary to their standing as charismatic leaders.
MLTS thus allowed Bob and other MCM high-ranking leaders to keep that reinforcing feedback loop going that made their power over MCM possible .
Furthermore, MLTS provided a steady the procession of anointed, and well regarded, Christian leaders from outside of MCM who helped Bob and Joe maintain their status as God’s anointed.
These leaders, such as Larry Tomczak, Winkney Pratney, Don Northrup and C.J. Mahaney, would praise Bob and MCM as being on the leading edge of God’s movement on earth.
Later some of these key leaders, when confronted with the reality of Bob and MCM, would repudiate their endorsements.
But that would come later after much damage had been done to MCM’s rank and file membership.
Don Northrup was one person who became especially angry in the mid 1980s with how Joe and Bob had abused his trust. I spoke with Don years afterwards, before he passed away, and he saw his association with MCM as one of the true regrets of his life.
“I wish Tik,” he told me, “that I had stood in front of those cheering crowds [at MLTS] and told them that this entire thing was straight from the pits of hell.”