Authoritarian abusers found in cults and totalist groups operate by instilling fear and infantilize those they abuse. They have no place in the church, but in UBF, they are normalized and accepted.
I have had the misfortune of having to be an occasional visitor to a UBF chapter over the years. This is in spite of my personal experience of and awareness of abuses in this group (a story for another day).
There was a transfer of leadership recently at this chapter. After that transfer, this is what I’ve witnessed during recent visits:
- As a meeting is about to start, someone is on their smartphone. The leader angrily demands the phone, yanks it away and flings it into the corner of the room. The room goes quiet for a second. The victim shrinks into their chair, doesn’t say or do anything. The victim is in their mid- to late-20s. The victim was apparently “trained” by this leader in recent years and “helped” to get UBF married.
- The meetings must always begin with the reading of two written “testimonies” by underling trainees. One of the underlings mutters sheepishly, with a discernible fear, that they weren’t able to finish their testimony, then proceeds to read the unfinished testimony, which is the usual 5-10 minutes of forced, formulaic self-flagellation. At the conclusion of this reading, the visibly angry leader tells the underling to finish the testimony and email it to him “TODAY”. The shamed underling, someone in their early- to mid-20s, indicates their intent to obey. The leader goes on to “deliver” a message in a “conversational” style; no written testimony for him.
The recent incidents I described may seem mild to some. (I can hear the excuses flowing already.) I’ve seen and been through worse. But the scent of fear in the room was awfully familiar. I recognized it from my time under an authoritarian abuser.
Fear is the main weapon of the authoritarian abuser. He must instill and cultivate fear constantly. Without it he cannot maintain the power or other twisted validation that he craves. That’s why he must–absolutely must–bully, shame and spiritually abuse underlings, in full view of other underlings. He must treat them like children, must not treat them with any dignity or respect. The result is infantilization, 20- and 30-somethings acting like children, fearful of what their angry daddy might do or say next. When he’s happy, they’re happy, for a momentary reprieve from fear.
Authoritarian abuse would not be tolerated in my secular workplace. It would not be tolerated in the mainline church I attend. In fact, it has no place in the church. But UBF, despite having more of the trappings of Christianity and being more fluent in Christianese, absolutely makes a place for authoritarians who abuse.