So instead I want to list some common features of groups that are generally considered harmful and potentially unsafe. There are several such lists online and many of them offer some combination of the features listed below.
If you recognise similarities between the warning signs listed below and your own ecclesia or even the Christadelphian religion as a whole, then perhaps it is time to ask yourself some critical questions or seek a second opinion from a counsellor or third party outside the religion.
The particular list I chose comes from this article in The Guardian. Another great list can be found in this article on Medium and yet another in this article on Huffington Post.
The article introduces the 10 warning signs as follows:
"Some groups that were once seen as "cults" have historically evolved to become generally regarded as religions. Power devolved from a single leader to a broader church government and such groups ceased to be seen as simply personality-driven and defined by a single individual. For example the Seventh-day Adventists, once led by Ellen White, or the Mormons church founded by Joseph Smith.
Some groups may not fit the definition of a cult, but may pose potential risks for participants. Here are 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader."
The Christadelphian religion was founded by John Thomas and also highly influenced by Robert Roberts, but over time those founding personalities have been slowly superceded by creeds and (sub-)culture, although the personalities (now referred as "the pioneers") and their writings are still held in very high esteem.
1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability
Christadelphians have no central governing body and refer to themselves as a lay community, but in practice there is a social hierarchy as there surely is in any human community. The religion is taught to children as "The Truth" and there is typically not a lot of room for discussion on anything considered a core doctrine, although hopefully your mileage will vary. Growing up in the Christadelphian religion was more about learning things the pioneers had already figured out for us. All the hard work of discovering the Bible's true message had been done, and all we had to do was learn it. A lot of attention was given to "the hope" and how to be saved, on the tacit assumption that Christadelphians have pretty much figured out everything one needs to know about life, who we are and why we're here.
As for "absolute authoritarianism", that description really belongs to the god Christadelphians preach and believe in. The religion really centres around an all-powerful dictator, who believers are not allowed to question. Somewhere along the way the Christadelphian interpretation of the Bible gets fused together with their view of God, such that questioning one is often perceived as questioning the other.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry
This is a deceptive one because many Christadelphians give lip-service to the idea of investigating one's beliefs and asking questions, "proving all things", etc. But in a religion where virtually everyone has been taught since birth that there is one Truth and one Right Way, even if they do make a token effort to "question" their beliefs later, they do so knowing full well the "correct" answers they are supposed to arrive at. It is a very difficult, yet commendable, thing to question one's own religion, so I am not downplaying any such attempts by any means.
A religion that threatens to disfellowship any member that should disagree on any point of the Statement of Faith, cannot champion itself as being supportive of questions or a defender of critical inquiry. There's even typically a list of at least 36 Doctrines To Be Rejected, in addition to the 30 or so points in the Statement of Faith. Some ecclesias even require affirmations of further points in the Unity Booklet (the irony is strong on that one).
Have you read any books from other religions, or from atheists? What about The God Delusion? Would your religion encourage open discussion about such things? or would people instead become "concerned" that you were having doubts or thinking of leaving the faith? Questions are healthy. If your religion discourages such investigation, ask why.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement
Is such information publicly available, or is it always kept secret? Do you know where your weekly donations are spent? What humanitarian causes does your religion support? Do you have a say in financial decisions, or a vote on what your money goes towards?
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions
No Christadelphian grows up without constantly hearing about the evils of "The World" and how it is at odds with the ways of God. Indeed, the central message of the Christadelphian religion is that this world is evil (and getting more so), that believers must suffer persecution, and that the world as we know it is going to end soon, bringing in the dawn of a new age when Jesus is said to return to set up God's kingdom.
The continual warnings to remain separate from the world should be a clear red flag indicating unhealthy teachings. What would you think of another group that warned its members to avoid mixing with outsiders such as yourself?
5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil
How do those in your religion speak of those who have left?
Are they seen as equally human and deserving of respect, or are they shunned, criticised, pitied, and/or excused?
6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances
You can read of such stories on the Whose Truth? blog, this blog, and other ex-Christadelphian blogs and videos on the internet.
7. There are records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group/leader
Or blogs and published books.
"Vanessa Russell's first novel stands out for its unusual subject: a sect of Christadelphians in Ballarat. They keep to themselves and don't drink or smoke, the women are firmly subjugated and, as it is the time of the Gulf War, expectations are running high that the Apocalypse is going to appear sooner rather than later."
Sydney Morning Herald
8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough"
A central doctrine of the Christadelphians is that we are all sinners and worthy of death, that we can of our own selves do nothing, that without God we are nothing, that we are made from dust, and that we are helpless without God's salvation. These are not the words of empowerment or encouragement.
Isn't it interesting that "perfect love casts out fear" and yet the never-to-be-questioned authority figure wants to be both loved and feared?
9. The group/leader is always right
Would you feel permitted or encouraged to disagree with, or differ from the Christadelphian view on any biblical interpretation or practical issue? Would you feel safe enough to let others know about your views, such as your friends, family, or other members of your ecclesia?
Would you be judged or criticised for expressing views that differ from the "Christadelphian-approved" doctrines or pioneer writings? Would you be coerced or pressured into changing your views to align with the group?
10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible
How did you learn about the Bible? How did you learn about the world? Would you be encouraged to explore any differences between the Christadelphian view and other views of the world?
When investigating the beliefs of others, do you use faith and readily accept their belief system, or do you prefer to carefully investigate their claims and test everything where possible? Would you recommend that others do the same for your beliefs? Do you do the same for your beliefs?
Are you free to learn about all areas of scientific enquiry, or are some subjects off-limits?
Does your religion dictate how you dress? how you speak? things you cannot say? how you behave? how you must live?
Does your religion celebrate individuality or does it instead encourage (and enforce?) conformity?
How do you measure your self worth? How do you view yourself? Do you see yourself as equal with the rest of humanity or do you think you were specially called to be part of a chosen few?
Is there anything you really want to do or explore in life that would be in conflict with your religion? How do you intend to resolve this conflict? Would others in your religion support you either way?
So what do YOU think?
I am not claiming that the Christadelphian religion is a cult. More accurately it is a sect, which is not a lot better in my view, and there are certainly some aspects of Christadelphian life that are cult-like. However, this varies from ecclesia to ecclesia, which is why you need to weigh this up for yourself.
No doubt there are some positive aspects to your religion as well, but the same is true of all groups whether harmful or otherwise. The positives are typically what cause people to rationalise the harmful things away and convince themselves to stay. Perhaps you have close friends or a sense of community. You can continue to treasure those things while still assessing the health of the religion and your life within it. If your friendships and connections are genuine, they should not depend on your membership in the group. If they do, that is another red flag.
Are you afraid of future judgement or afraid of missing out on a divine reward? Are you regularly warned against other views, other groups, or other doctrines? Are you often instructed to suppress doubts and stop asking questions? Does your social group require you to uphold the religion in order to remain part of the group? Do you think any of this is healthy?
Are you living the life you want to live? or are you living a life that others have prepared for you? What could you change that would make you more authentic and true to yourself?