Is YWAM a Cult? Revisited

December 11, 2017

ywamTen years ago on December 13, 2007 while living in Hong Kong, I wrote a blog posting entitled Is YWAM a Cult?

Ten years ago I was wounded, unable to really process the pain from years of abuse my family and I had endured. I wrote as a way to process my feelings and thoughts…and I thought maybe there were others who had experienced something similar. Turns out there were thousands of people Googling the terms “is ywam a cult” or “ywam cult”.

Confirmation I was not alone in my suspicions about the organization that had played such an important role in my life since I could remember.

I had abandoned this blog, neglected posting for years at a time because I had moved on. I had a life to live (and in some cases just survive), but I would check on the blog maybe once a year or so. What I found was astounding traffic coming from the exact same Google searches. People are still concerned about YWAM and their own or their loved one’s involvement.

Over the years I have received pleas of help from concerned parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends asking me to help get their family member/friend out of YWAM. Multiple people contacted me concerned because their family member was not allowed to speak to their family whilst attending DTS (Discipleship Training School).

Let me repeat that: YWAM forbade their DTS students from talking to their own family. Think about that. I had a similar experience with YWAM. This is not an isolated occurrence within this organization.

I hadn’t looked at my stats for awhile what searches people used to land on my site, so I looked today and I was astounded and my heart ached that people have been so despondent in some of their searches.

The top search is still “ywam cult”, but there are so many others that have to make one think about the impact this organization has had on so many people.

“YWAM abuse, YWAM bad experience, YWAM Tyler cult, YWAM brainwashing, YWAM dangerous”

Thousands of searches, thousands of people.

The shooting at the Arvada, Colorado YWAM  in December 2007 spurred me to write about YWAM possibly being a cult. It took a tragedy to make me step out and ask a question about how YWAM works as an organization. A close look at how they treat people who do not conform to their rules.

Read this quote from an article (regarding the shooter at YWAM Arvada) in The Nation, The Nightmare of Christianity, from Max Blumenthal’s book Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party:

“But as soon as Murray enrolled at YWAM’s training center in nearby Arvada in 2002, he found himself trapped in an authoritarian culture even more restrictive than home. He realized that, as another student of YWAM bluntly put it, the school’s training methods resembled “cult mind-controlling techniques.” Murray became paranoid, speaking aloud to voices only he could hear, according to a former roommate. He complained that six of his male peers had made a gay sex video and that others routinely abused drugs. Hypocrisy seemed to be all around him, or at least dark mirages of it. A week before Murray was scheduled to embark on his first mission, YWAM dismissed him from the program for unspecified “health reasons.” “They admitted that I hadn’t done anything wrong, just that they had prayed and felt I wasn’t popular/’connected’ and talkative enough,” he recalled.
Two years later, Murray raged at two YWAM administrators during a Pentecostal conference his mother had dragged him to attend. The shocked staffers promptly warned Loretta Murray that her son “wasn’t walking with the Lord and could be planning violence.” Within days, an ornery local pastor was allowed to burst into the young Murray’s room, rifle through his belongings, and leave with a satchel full of secular DVDs and CDs–apparent evidence of his depravity. Murray’s mother searched his room for satanic material every day afterward for three months, stripping him of his privacy and whatever was left of his love for her. After the trauma-inducing raids, in which Murray estimated his mother and her friends destroyed $900 worth of his property, he concluded, “Christianity is one big lie.”
Let’s review the structure of YWAM:
  • Love-bombing: this phrase was actually created by the Moonies. Love-bombing consists of showering of praise, immediate acceptance and friendship, superficial compliments and gifts.
  • Confession. This is used as emotional blackmail and used to degrade members so that they realize they are nothing outside of the group.
  • Authoritarian rule. God speaks only to the leaders and they decide who is “worthy” and who is not. Arbitrary and controlling rules regarding dating, eating, socializing, entertaining and use of computers.
  • No communication with “outsiders”. This includes family, who are not on the same level as a member of the group; they are not ‘enlightened’.
  • “Don’t touch God’s anointed”. The Scripture 1 Chronicles 16:22 is used to suppress dissent or questioning of theology or their rules. They are special and hear from God. You do not.
  • It’s all about the $. You must raise money regularly to pay “staff fees” and your basic living expenses. This resembles a pyramid scheme, where the lowest person in the pyramid must give the most, work the most, but receives little to nothing in return. This is “dying to self”. You will often see the head leaders of bases, district leaders and national leaders living very privileged lives.
  • Community living. Unmarried members must live in cramped, sometimes unsanitary dorms. No privacy whatsoever.
  • Slave labor. Work duties are one thing, but if you are seen as being ‘troublesome’, you will work more than your fair share. No accommodation for disabilities or physical or emotional pain. You pay money to live within YWAM, but if you’re a low level student or staff member, you will literally be a slave. This is where their “dying to self” and “giving up your rights” doctrine come into play.
  • Rejection, shunning, isolation, etc. If you are not obeying every command given to you or you question too much, you will be cut off from the group and thrown out.

These situations I personally experienced over my years with YWAM and many others have experienced the same. Hindsight is 20/20, but during my time within YWAM, all of these beliefs seemed normal. It was like being in an abusive relationship because that’s exactly what it was.

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2 Responses to “Is YWAM a Cult? Revisited”

  1. Ben Swaine said

    Yes and no……., Floyd and Sally McClung who are founders of YWAM or rather Dileram Houses set up from the Far East to London wrote “Just of Chicken Street” which explains journey and purpose behind it all….., it was to begin with a bunch of converted to Christians who set up a ministry to set up houses right along the hippie trail from London to the Far East to helps drugged up hippies who lost their way in far away places and to give them shelter and food and it was all based on the teachings of Christ….., .. What had happened it got bigger and bigger, hippies turned to preachers/healers and to begin with in humility as Jesus would have done…….: sadly it also became a power trip for many and yes I can easily name a few who like that..: and then rules changed so that elders couldn’t be challenged and and you all mention systematic shunning and leaving so called undesirables would be left stranded out in the middle of nowhere. The story of a family left stranded out in Hong Kong was an example of that and hey ho are welcomed in clothed and fed and sheltered by a Buddhist woman living nearby. It’s funny peculiar that a Buddhist woman knew more about the love and mercy that Jesus would have shown and it gives an example on how a Christian organization didn’t. There are 1000s of stories like this. Somehow I don’t feel Floyd would have had the foresight of all this happening and then left YWAM to set up world churches, or he was kicked by his own Generals ….., he has made great success in spreading the word of God throughout the planet so that everyone gets to hear that Jesus is for real and is the real deal. I myself in York 2017 I learn just to listen to what Jesus has to say…….and not listen to the babblings of YWAM elders, I hope I never cross paths with any of them because in as much as I am able to forgive I would still just tear into them and let them know the amount of psychological damage they have caused me and many others in the 70s/80s and beyond that. Just listen to what Jesus has to say to us…..not what YWAM has to say and then we are indeed on the road to recovery and Calvary…………it isn’t God’s or Jesus’s fault for the way that YWAM perverts the Christian message…..,Mike Saia, Paul Miller ,Billy Scobie (probably not alive) and his right hand dictat Dan from USA…. I forgive you all..,but don’t cross my path In York UK … I will redden your ears if you do because I can talk and you wont like it.. best thing to do really is to ignore them all, but Jesus I have time for you knowing that you are merciful and patient with me and it’s that which gives me peace of mind.. (everyone, don’t let YWAM experiences cloud your views on what Christianity is all about and let Jesus reassure you on that.. esp as we enter a period where we celebrate the birth of Jesus).. x Benny (Ex Arkie 77-80) . and hi to Peter Fitzgerald if you happen to read this 🙂

  2. raptor980 said

    I’m sorry. I’ve been with YWAM since mid-2016 and have never run into this. The thing about YWAM is that it is decentralized and not led by any one person. Each base is run separate from each other.
    I’ve never ran into authoritarian control while being with YWAM at at least the 2 different bases that I’ve spent extended time at. In fact, everyone encourages each other to listen to what the Lord is saying.
    I cannot vouch for any other base that I’ve never been at, but I think the heart of YWAM is a good one.
    YWAM is however is its own bubble and does little to prepare people for the outside world when they come back from YWAM. The community living is awesome for spiritual growth, but when coming home, it is hard to readjust to the “real world”, the world we’re called to as Christians. It does little to answer the question of “How do you live in a world among non-Christians?”
    YWAM schools are merely a place to, in a way, ‘baby’ Christians and provide a safety bubble to bolster faith during the time there.
    I have no plans to stay with YWAM in the future, after I finish my current school I am attending that I felt the Lord was calling me to do, but I am open to the idea if God calls me back to staff with them.
    One last thing, YWAM gets more expensive the higher you go. It is a non-profit and staff are required to be supported like much of the missionaries out there who are supported by people like you and your churches.
    I am sorry you were burned, and that story you shared truly shows the depravity of us, those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. We’re not perfect, and we will never be until heaven, and we, as YWAM, have our own share of issues that need to be worked out. I believe the heart behind the organization is a good one though.

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