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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