"The Church of the Nazarene has demonstrated, in my assessment, vocabulary frighteningly similar to those of the Jonestown and Heaven's Gate cults, more than any other church I have attended in my life."
--Rabbi David Yom-tov on commenting on the overuse of "the Lord's will" in the Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria, California.
1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
Not something I've seen a whole lot of. The Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria has a Board and higher authority to look up to and keep the pastor "in check" or so we would hope. It did no such thing when a certain youth pastor had revealed sensitive information to my family AND a few of the members WITHOUT my permission. The pastor did nothing, and neither did the board do anything about this event. The Board is almost non-existent, and for good reason. Too many individuals have had their closest personal lives revealed to members by Pastor Buck Gephardt (somewhat retired) and Pastor Steve Felton.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
Pastor Steve Felton has said numerous times that one shouldn't try to understand... just go with it, or rather... what he says. When I met with Pastor Steve back in Sep/Oct of 2006, I asked him several doctrine/faith related questions. Most of which he responded "Pray to Jesus." Any direct critical inquiry is met with this. I was later asked to leave because of this due to being, and I quote "becoming a bad influence." No question about it, thinking is a bad thing to Pastor Steve Felton AND the Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria.
Also, like most cults, when things go bad, the church leadership has to disclose personal information that could potentially change the way the member that was leaving is viewed. See number 1 for more information on this.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
I know that they disclose the budget once a year so this point is "moot."
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
"Satan is everywhere influencing us to do evil." There is a STRONG emphasis on battling the devil... almost an obsession when it comes to the Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria.
5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
I don't believe I've seen this happen a lot recently. Not that it hasn't happened in the past, though...
6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
Speaking from experience, this church generally relies on a core group of people. Most of them give their all, and then one day end up leaving because the pressure is too great. For example, my [undisclosed family member relation] used to play the piano day and night there while working AND going to school full time. To give you an idea of how occupied my [undisclosed family member] was, he was doing Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night, and Saturday night AND some of the technical work (i.e. slides through powerpoint, etc.) That's four services in one week and a few dozen songs for each one to practice. Needless to say, he left exausted and very much taken advantage of. This church KILLED his spiritual life. It wasn't 'till recently that he actually found a church that will pay him for his efforts. Yes, the Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria does NOT pay their overworked worship team. The only member who is paid on the worship team is none other than Pastor Steve Felton, himself.
7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
You are looking at one. There are several others who have left for similar reasons, as the church is MUCH smaller that I had remembered it several years ago.
8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".
Personally speaking (I can't speak for others), but I did feel this way, yes.
9. The group/leader is always right.
Pastor Steve Felton has been overusing the term "God's will" and has little to show what this "will" is other than his own. Constantly using this term is dangerous and repetition is a form of mind control. Find out more here: http://www.rickross.com/brainwashing.html and http://www.factnet.org/coercivemindcontrol.html
10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
"The Bible is considered truth." However, if you consider killing people in the name of God (as was recounted in the Old Testament on NUMEROUS occasions) then you're going to have to accept a "certain person's" interpretation of the Bible. Pastor Steve Felton has lended some credibility to the Vineyard Church in Santa Maria, which has attempted to answer my questions with and answer or a simple "I don't know." When I've challenged them, they have accepted it, debated, and in turn challenged me, which is a lot more than I can say for the Church of the Nazarene of Santa Maria.