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Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Spiritual Abuse, Narcissism and Legalism: 3 Reasons To Be Cautious of the Divisive Doctrines of Founder Chuck Smith

Hello, friends! Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? What do you think?

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Today, I am pondering religious oppression and its societal effects. Particularly, I am pondering all of the folks I have run into in my town who have been oppressed with severe emotional, psychological, verbal and spiritual abuse by Calvary Chapels. It is interesting how many times I have run into traumatized individuals at coffee shops, restaurants, stores and churches. These have all been kind, innocent individuals including the elderly who were targeted by charismatic church leaders who had extreme narcissism. Sad, really. Hence, the need to speak up. It makes many wonder…

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?

Why all the spiritual abuse, name-calling, stigmatizing, narcissism and legalism at church?

This research article is dedicated to the countless victims of Calvary Chapel nationwide. I am writing this article solely for them to ease their suffering and bring knowledge, empowerment and healing.

Over the years I have witnessed firsthand the devastation. I also have friends and colleagues, including cult experts and intervention specialists, who have witnessed CC’s devastation.

The backbone of Christianity is the eye witness accounts of a handful of men and women. In theology school, I learned that eye witness accounts are exceedingly important for the evidence of the Christian message. Why do those in CC base their entire lives on the eye witness accounts of a group of ancient men and women (many of these folks were friends) but apathetically turn a blind eye to all the public outcries over the years from those across the world who do not know each other? Furthermore, all in this population have the same common denominator: They were emotionally and psychologically abused by CC. This pattern and common denominator is valuable to research.

This is called “spiritual abuse” and there is a wasteland of CC victims who are experiencing the horrors.

I am pondering the fact that many of the heavy-handed, hypocritical Calvary Chapel antics don’t hold up when compared to some ethical codes as noted at the National Association for Social Workers (NASW). Tax-exempt, non-profit organizations are supposed to exist for and benefit the public good. This “others” mentality is also the whole point of real Christian ministry in the first place:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3,4

Non-profits have a duty to be forthright to the public.

The government protects our religious freedom, and this is wonderful because we all have a right to choose our faith. Still, the government also has a duty to protect us all from the harmful fallacies of socially and psychologically damaging groups. Psychological abuse is physical abuse because it physically affects the brain and can potentially be worse than physical abuse. Trauma from spiritual abuse, the most dangerous form of psychological abuse, marks the brain in a physical/medical way. All trauma marks the brain, one of our most important organs we need to survive.

With eighteen years of firsthand observations concerning Calvary Chapels, it makes me seriously wonder why they are allowed to get away with spiritually abusing the group members and outgroup alike, year after year after year. My observations are a result of experiential knowledge, eye-witness accounts and solid academic research. 

If you are a Calvary Chapel (CC) leader or member, please know that I completely understand how one can become attached and bonded with a Calvary Chapel group. I understand your feelings, your emotions and the group dynamics. We all have a primal need to belong, to be connected to and part of a community. Especially, if we did not have a good upbringing and/or are suffering from loneliness. I empathize with these emotional and social attachment needs. Please read this article with an open mind and heart. Just because we have not experienced spiritual abuse ourselves, does not mean it is not happening to our brothers and sisters around the world.

My goal is to help the suffering and to be a victim’s advocate. I have a huge heart for the oppressed, including the spiritually and religiously abused. Abuse of any kind is never okay. The Bible shows us through-and-through that God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressors.

And, before we move ahead, I want to tell you that I have neither ill will nor malice toward any parties mentioned. If you are a CC fan or leader, you are welcome here too. My goal is to help the public and to raise a legitimate public health concern. I am knowledgable about ethical codes at the APA, ACA and NASW and take those into consideration with my research and writing. I have studied ethical codes of conduct for tax-exempt non-profits.

What has been your experience at your Calvary Chapel? What has been your experience with the leaders and pastors? Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Please let me know in the comments or contact form.

Many of the tactics seen in CC are well-documented emotional/psychological abuse tactics. Licensed psychologists deem some of the antics CC uses, such as gaslighting and mandated shunning, as psychological abuse tools and human rights violations. I have also looked into what the U.S. Department of Justice has to say about psychological/emotional abuse and public health/human rights. There are many issues that I once did not see about Calvary Chapel until I came across the truth and facts. It is hard to see new information that doesn’t jive with our current mindsets (cognitive dissonance). Part of humility and charitable public service is being open to the truth and new findings. I did not see what was wrong at CC until I got a glimpse “behind the curtain” and did the due diligence that we should all do (see Acts 17:11).

When it comes to loving our fellow man, we have a duty to protect and warn of abusive dynamics and human rights compromises.

In this article, I provide many links for you and proof. I welcome you and encourage you to do your own digging and research. The truth doesn’t mind being examined (it’s error that dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges). We should never take anything, including CC, at face value. That’s how we get duped!

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Years ago, I had the opportunity to have a short dialogue with author and renowned cult expert/consultant and intervention specialist Rick Alan Ross. He is well respected in the counter-cult field, and I have run some of my own research by him. Ross explained his professional opinion to me. He confirmed my own view with his explanation:

CC has a history of complaints concerning cult-like behavior.

His opinion about CC having this sort of history confirmed my own research and experience:

Calvary Chapel is a highly controversial organization with a long trail of abuse stories and public outcries.

I received permission from Ross to use his wonderful resource which is a list about potentially unsafe group/leader warning signs list. I won’t quote the contents on the article, but please click on the link and compare it to your own CC. There are parallels. This should bring you comfort and help you make sense of your psychological and/or spiritual abuse.

Vital to note is that this controversy is consistent throughout the CC movement as a whole (damaging behaviors are not characteristic of only a few isolated CC churches because the dogmas are foundational to the movement).

Calvary Chapel is a massive movement which claims to be a group made up of Christian evangelical leaders and members. They teach the Bible, but they also have an additional set of leadership doctrines. They don’t readily admit this fact because they are maintaining the facade of being a “strictly Bible-teaching church.” They even have a smokescreen motto which goes like this: “Simply teaching the Bible, simply!

Would evangelical leaders preach parts of the Bible but contradict it in their practice, actions and behaviors? Would true Christians maintain a deceitful motto while keeping their other “little gem” under wraps?

Simply, no.

One plus one equals two. CC simply does not teach “the Bible only.” It’s their extra book that is responsible for many mentalities, unaccountability and ensuing human oppressions.

Because they are well-disguised, they can get away with spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is the most dangerous form of psychological and emotional abuse because it so often involves the loss of trust in God.

Even though there are some genuine Christian believers and perhaps a few legitimate pastors in Calvary Chapels, my opinion is that the movement as a whole is corrupt for many reasons (more reasons than you will find in this post alone). Many of these pastors and staff members were not told the whole truth when they joined CC.

It does not bring me delight to speak of these unpleasant topics and expose what is in the dark at CC, but the truth is the truth, even if it’s the unpleasant truth. I have studied destructive cults and spiritual abuse from psychological, sociological, theological and social work perspectives.

As a believer myself, I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to comfort the abused, not only with reliable scientific findings but also with sound theology. “Cults of Christianity” (cults which deceptively hide behind a mainstream religion like Christianity) concern me due to their deceit and effects on our citizens.

Many of the Christians who stay in CC are either new believers or undiscerning ones who are hyped up by the love-bombing, emotion and music. What’s going on? Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?

Some of them stay not because they are unintelligent, but because they are emotionally attached and stuck in what I call “right brain mode.” They are duped into thinking that because CC preaches some truth about the Christian message, it must be a “safe” Christian place because the attachment feels so good. Psychological abuse tools – like gaslighting – are never “safe”. For so many, the strength of the CC attachment bond is totally independent of how they are treated or spiritually abused (or how they witness others being abused). It’s like what we see in abusive relationships.

Elderly individuals also fall victim with the controlling attachment. This can lead to divided families and/or an isolated elderly person who has been love-bombed into the group. The “us-versus-them” mentality can, at times, lend to elderly abuse. Elderly individuals have a right to stay in their family and friend groups in a dynamic free of mind control from a church. Many elderly individuals rely on outsiders for care and support. The us-versus-them mindsets have a potential to interfere in other human relationships.

The U.S. Department of Justice has a lot to say about elder abuse. One of the issues I saw in CC was people of all ages, including youth and elderly, got a scarlet letter if they asked a question. They got the “stamp” of DP (i.e., divisive person). This is similar to what we see in Scientology when they use the “stamp” of SP (suppressive person).

This label is also used in destructive cults and is an isolation tool and fear tactic. These stamps are another tool for control and isolation. These stamps are a cruel stigma and can result in an elderly person’s suffering and isolation from family and friends, in the ingroup and outgroup alike.

The DP stamp only lends to human suffering and hides concerning issues.

For instance, let’s say an elderly person sees a child in the youth group who is being mistreated or ridiculed. That elderly person speaks up to the religious leaders, thus bringing the unfortunate issue to light. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand, suddenly that elderly person gets the stamp of DP. This is a way they gaslight. It’s a psychological abuse tool.

Now, the truth-bringer – the poor elderly individual – is supposedly “dividing the church” by raising a concern and using a God-given spiritual gift of discernment (a gift of the Spirit, according to the Bible they preach). When the elderly whistleblower becomes oppressed and marginalized from family and friends after getting slapped with the label of DP, and expresses that sadness, they are abused yet again! That’s right, abused for being abused. This is what I call secondary abuse.

They are told they are bitter and unforgiving DP’s and need to have mercy on the leaders.

Sometimes, they are told that if they raise questions or concerns, they will “not enter God’s promised land” (I witnessed these direct quotes from a CC leader). They are told they are going against God’s holy prophets who are like Moses.

The leaders can do no wrong, and since Smith’s hyper-authoritarian CC book supports the notion that the leaders are not even accountable to the Board of Directors, the cycle perpetuates. Hence, why you come across articles like this one, because the issues never get dealt with.

The senior pastor is an island unto himself. In real non-profits and charitable or religious organizations, there is accountability to the Board and others. Hypocritically and ironically, the DP stamp is itself a divisive tool, as is gaslighting.

Psychological abuse, like spiritual abuse, is divisive through and through.

With CC followers, there is a lot of apathy when it comes to others being hurt. They turn a blind eye. As apaths, they side with the charismatic pastor, no matter the cost. They are often not open to new information because it does not support their current mindsets or existing beliefs they were taught by controlling leaders. This is cognitive dissonance. Obtaining outside research and reading articles like this one are heavily discouraged and frowned upon. In my CC, members were only allowed to read certain cult-approved books.

The leaders enforce the notion that outside information that brings CC issues to light are “slander.” This is consistent across the CC movement. The problem is that slander is only slander if it’s a falsehood (a lie) spoken with malice. The truth is not slander, and this is also what we see in the court of law. Also, direct quotes cannot be slander! This misuse of the word “slander” scares members into the us-versus-them mindsets, and discourages members from reading articles like this one; it’s phobia indoctrination. Members are scared into thinking that outside (truthful) information is “slander” and that those slanderers are going straight to hell. This is mind control, oppression and human manipulation. The elderly individual can become isolated from the outsiders that are “slandering”, those family and friends whom they need to thrive and survive.

It’s a sociological nightmare.

Safe churches encourage truth-seeking and using one’s own wits to do the due diligence, like a Berean of noble character. Safe non-profits and safe church leaders encourage fact-checking and are not threatened by public questions or concerns.

They may know rationally that the church is narcissistic and abusive to the core, but they stay because of the glue-like attachment that is created through love-bombing and other intense psychological antics. They stay because some of the Bible is taught which blinds them to the pharisaical problem. Some Bible teaching serves as a smokescreen. The mixture of truth and error is dangerous and disarming.

The ones who are leaving are either discerning pastors or abused and/or discerning victims who have the strength to leave. So, what is love-bombing?

Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection.[1] It can be used in different ways and for either positive or negative purposes.[2] Psychologists have identified love bombing as a possible part of a cycle of abuse and have warned against it. It has also been described as psychological manipulation in order to create a feeling of unity within a group against a society perceived as hostile.”[3]

Here are three of the reasons why we should be extra cautious and not take CC at face value… Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?

As with all things in life, we should do the due diligence, the digging, to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Christian orthodoxy calls this “testing the spirits.” Jesus also spoke of “spiritual fruit” and that we would know God’s true leaders and followers by their “good fruit” (goodness, love, joy, truth, kindness, righteousness, etc.). Rotten fruit would of course be lies, greed, manipulation, cult tactics, hatred, etc.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, ESV; Christian Bible)

First, one dare not question CC leaders even if their behaviors are seriously damaging. Truth, which is a good “fruit”, does not mind being questioned or investigated. If there is nothing to hide, there is no reason to dodge, duck, dip, dive and gaslight when questioned. When one does question CC leaders, he or she is often gaslighted. As with life in general, bullies use this tactic; it’s also a trait of pastoral narcissism.

Calvary Chapels view the senior pastor either as a modern Moses or as having the actual authority of Moses. This is why they often quote the scriptures about Moses or ancient Israel, such as: “Touch not God’s anointed” (a twist taken out of the historical and theological contexts from 1 Chronicles 16:22).

The problem is that this scripture is being conveniently bended to defend the leaders’ abusive or hyper-authoritarian behaviors.

Orthodox Christianity and some other religions tell us that Moses had God-given leadership and servant-style authority. But come on, he was Moses. This was thousands of years ago. Real biblical leadership is being a servant, not a tyrant. Historical findings show us that Moses was also extremely humble, as opposed to a con-artist in a church building on the corner of a busy Las Vegas intersection. Let’s get real. It’s 2021. A whole lot of cultists claimed to be Jesus too.

It could be that our neighborhood church’s Moses is not, in fact, Moses. When I try to explain this to CC followers, they do not have the capacity to grasp this truth. They defend the modern Moses at all costs. It is entirely more likely that the Moses in the retail center next to Del Taco on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and the Las Vegas Strip is simply a clever snake oil church salesman who flicked a smoldering cigarette butt in a bush, igniting the bush into a raging inferno.

Then, unbelievably, this modern Moses claims during the next Sunday sermon that God spoke to him in a burning bush (huh?) when what really went down was that the homeless guy behind the bush got seriously ticked off and was yelling at him from behind the fire for burning his only desert shelter. A bunch of lizards bit the dust. That’s really all that happened. Many CC pastors make false claims. They are not always “hearing from God”. Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Cult leaders have always claimed to hear from God.

The Moses Model is a system to let abuse go unchecked and, in my opinion, is not a system used by safe church leadership. This is not consistent with the proverb about the Lord as a strong tower of safety. The environment CC provides is not one of safety. To receive gaslighting from heavy-handed church power brokers is not a “safe” experience. It’s an abuse of the power imbalance. It becomes particularly problematic when the pastor believes the lie that He is Moses or carries the same authority as Moses. This does not do the narcissistic pastor or his followers any favors.

There are many shady characters and cultists in history who claimed to have the “authority of Moses!” Watch out!

This serves to put the leaders on a pedestal. An island unto themselves. It also fuels the narcissistic agenda if the pastor is a narcissist. It is actually common to see narcissists pursuing the vocation of pastor. One thing that the leaders at my previous church told me was that if I kept asking questions, I would not enter the Promised Land. These people think they are stuck in another era. They lord it over their members like they are Israelites lost in the desert.

These verses are taken out of context and used to control others with fear. At the CC church I attended, the services ended with the pastor giving the benediction of Moses over the congregation. Men who resembled body guards surrounded him after the service. People thought he was a modern Moses, and they were afraid of him. We were told that the senior pastor was above all accountability and it was “unbiblical” to question him even if he was caught in wrongdoing (shockingly, they taught that the conflict resolution process found in Matthew 18 did not apply to the leaders who were “vertically above everyone else”).

It is true that healthy leadership and others-focused, servant-style “authority” can be beneficial in organizations. Biblical leadership, though, only applies to leaders who are truly leaders – not jerks. Titus chapter one outlines some of the qualifications for church leaders:

“If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:6-9)

Pastors are not perfect, and they do make some mistakes like the rest of us. But, what do they do when they make a mistake? Do they right their wrongs, or do they abuse? Do they gaslight? Do they seek to do good and change themselves after they have done wrong? Spiritual abuse is in a whole different category than other “mistakes” because it is life-altering and traumatizing for the victim. Great damage can be done. In my many years of research and ministering to cult victims and cultic church exiters, many have reported that spiritual abuse is more painful than a death in the family. Reason being, one gets isolated from living friends and family, and has no social support during the grief and loss process.

To make matters worse, not many therapists understand cultic spiritual abuse dynamics.

Spiritual abuse removes social support. It is a living loss, and there is rarely proper conflict resolution or closure. This prolongs trauma and healing. Because self-professing reps of God are the abusers, the effect is that one questions his or her ability to trust God.

Hence, why religious abuse is the most insidious form of psychological and emotional abuse.

There is no place for a spiritual abuser in church leadership. Gaslighting is an arrogant tool used to abuse. The tactic is not “above reproach.” The reason why they use gaslighting is because CC’s mix truth with error. They hook people with truthful points about the Gospel message, but they intermix this with falsehoods and legalism.

Even if you go straight to the “top” of the Moses Model pyramid, the mothership at CC Costa Mesa, you will be turned away and your questions dismissed. Women, especially, are turned away and told their job is in the kitchen and with the kids only. The pastor can get away with pretty much anything in the name of the Moses anointing, including: sleeping with the secretary, grossly misusing church funds or blasting innocent critics/church-exiting folks during sermons. Public humiliation for doing what is right and ethical is commonplace. Even good pastors who leave CC are ignored when they try to bring light to the problem.

CC’s are pharisaic and notorious for loading heavy burdens onto their members for their imperfections, while excusing themselves of weightier matters like spiritual abuse, pride/elitism and marital unfaithfulness.

Ironically, the Bible they hide behind actually warns: “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.” – 2 Corinthians 2:17, NLV

Second, Calvary Chapels enforce something called mandated shunning toward other believers, something that the Bible condemns. I noticed that this is their practice, though they rarely call it mandated shunning. They make it sound holy, as they do with their other antics. This is not at all the same as what the Bible calls healthy and loving church discipline. The Bible does not endorse abuse. Mandated shunning uses heavy shame and says – You are a condemned enemy, there is no hope for you, you are going to hell, stay away and never come back! It’s when an entire church permanently shuns a target and uses stonewalling.

CC’s do this by issuing official written letters to those they have abused saying that they are mandated to forever leave the church and supposedly, the church is “called by God” to write these letters of condemnation. This, too, is completely antithetical to biblical teachings. No place in scripture commends this hateful practice. Stonewalling is a narcissistic tactic I previously wrote about. It is the stark opposite of the spirit of love and charity found in the Bible.

Check out retired licensed therapist Bonnie Zieman’s book on religious shunning (provided in the resources below). CC will go so far as rebuking innocent Christians and critics from the pulpit. These public rebukes bring fear to the members, causing them to be more obedient to the leaders. Some CC’s will take drastic measures to keep out those who question or sniff hypocrisy and abuse. The problem is that the CC leaders are contradicting the Bible they preach and violating the government’s rules of non-profits. The Christian God is not hateful; He is about loving and seeking the good, wellbeing and restoration of others. Even in cases of error, the Bible says we treat erring fellow Christians this way:

“Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:15)

Third, Calvary Chapel’s core doctrine throughout the movement is a doctrine of pastoral unaccountability. Yes, CC has other leadership doctrines they follow, but they will rarely admit it openly. It’s discussed in their secret meetings. It’s this enforced doctrine of unaccountability which creates a ripe breeding ground for spiritual abuse. This doctrine is based on a twisted version of John 10:12. Doctrines lead to beliefs which lead to behaviors. Abusive behaviors lead to abuse and trauma for the victims and societal damage. Hence, why we see the trails of abuse stories of CC survivors online.

The damaging doctrine is that the pastor is not accountable to the Board. Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Well, many cults in history have used the cultic Moses Model doctrines. The problem is that this violates the ethical codes of tax-exempt non-profits. The doctrines espouse:

“They are there to minister to the spiritual needs of the people on a daily basis. With these components in place, there is a great form of church government where you, as the pastor, are not in the position of a hireling. Becoming a hireling is a real danger when the church is run by a Presbyterian kind of a government, and the Board is ruling over the church. The pastor is hired by the Board and can be fired by the Board in the same fashion. With that kind of rule the pastor becomes a hireling [a hireling, in the Bible, has a derogatory meaning. Smith is twisting the meaning of a hireling to mean something exactly opposite of what it means in the Bible].” – Chuck Smith (Italics and emphasis in brackets added; 4)

This is objective, hard core, evidence-based proof that Smith aided (and continues to aid through these doctrines) unaccountable pastors before many of them turn into abusive pastors. The problem is that with these doctrines, pastors are directly trained to think that accountability is an evil thing. This breeds more and more pastors who abuse, who think they can get away with anything! Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?

A hireling, in the Bible, is a really big “no-no”. This is also projection (another psychological tactic) at play because unaccountable pastors are in fact “hirelings.”

Pastoral accountability is a healthy and necessary component of ethics (and Christianity). This is clearly against the codes for non-profits (check out Nevada’s Office of the Attorney General Guide to Non-Profits). The government warns of abusive non-profits, the one-man show:

“The nonprofit organization itself, however, may be held liable for negligent or wrongful acts of its employees or agents. In an extreme case, the organization may be dissolved. Under Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 41.480, a director may be held personally liable for injuries caused by the director’s intentional misconduct, fraud, or knowing violation of the law…Beware of the one person show. That is, if one or two directors dominate the board and the organization’s activities, do not relax and assume everything is running smoothly. ‘Nonmanagement’ is the quickest route toward trouble. Also, do not allow staff to exercise undue control over the board. Be aware of, and informed about, every major action taken by the organization. The buck stops with you.” (Italics added) – State of Nevada’s Attorney General

Non-profits, as unique organizations, should not exist for selfish reasons. Non-profits are supposed to have duties owed to others, and these duties are to be charitable, not psychologically or sociologically harmful. This “others” includes members, public citizens and the government authorities. These duties include not hiding what they are truly doing and not pretending to be doing things they are not doing. Simply put, there is a higher standard for non-profits in our country and that is what our government has decided for tax privileged organizations.  The board needs to make sure the organization is acting legally and ethically – it’s about duty of care. 

I have seen, firsthand, severe public humiliation of youth and elderly citizens (some grandparents I knew) at CC. One of these victims was a teenager who was shamed and severely humiliated in the midst of an entire congregation. I asked the pastors about this public shaming I directly witnessed. They told me the girl was being “disciplined.” The problem is that she was not doing anything immoral, evil or worthy of discipline. All the women laughed and pointed at her as she wept with humiliation for a solid hour.

Herein lies the problem with CC. Tactics that licensed professionals and human rights consultants deem severe human rights violations and torturous psychological abuses, CC deems these techniques “from God.” This is why spiritual abuse is so dangerous, more than other types of psychological abuse. The victim is left questioning their own worth and God’s goodness and love. The victim is told he or she has nowhere to turn, not even God. All in the name of Jesus!

Simply, Chuck Smith’s gaslighting antics breed more pastors who gaslight. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

When there is something to hide, a disguise (such as the insidious tool of gaslighting) must be used. Truth doesn’t need to hide, project or deflect, and truth does not mind being examined.

There was once a fellow, a public figure, named Alex Grenier. I admired his bravery and astute insights. Grenier was the son of a CC pastor. Grenier created a website called to help answer the question… Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? He has since shut down the website for reasons unknown to me, but the website was – for so long – a helpful and comforting resource for many of the spiritually and psychologically abused. There were thousands of abuse-related comments and abuse testimonies on his site. Many victims came forward.

Chuck Smith, the founder of the CC movement (now deceased) blasted Grenier publicly during a sermon. Grenier’s “sin” was his defense of and platform for the hurting. I heard this with my own ears. Smith called Grenier a little barking dog previously and threatened that God would punish Grenier (Smith explained that what he (Smith) could do to Grenier wouldn’t hurt much, but what God could do to Grenier? Well! I’m glad that God is on my side…Smith boasted).

Since when is it a Christian mandate to publicly issue a condemnation of divine retribution on someone? This, too, is a hypocritical power play. Smith (sadly) passed away exactly two years later (to the exact day) after issuing this “divine” threat of God’s punishment. Alas, the abuse tactic of gaslighting:

“If the bullies can make the target question his own sanity and believe that he must have done or said something to deserve the cruel treatment, all the better! Then he’ll surely keep quiet then.”

Unnecessary Fear: 4 Ways Bullies Use it to Control Their Targets by Cherie White at Chateau Cherie 5

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? There is a darker side to CC, no doubt. Some are worse than others, but the foundations and roots are the same. The ancient Pharisees (whom Jesus rebuked) used gaslighting as they did legalism. They used man-made traditions at the expense of God’s revealed truth. They exhibited a spirit of elitism and lorded their false authority over others. Plain and simple, they had a real problem with Jesus’s real teachings and those who dared to question their false authority. They also made false claims and like the false prophets, made many followers. Did I mention that Smith predicted that Jesus Christ would return some point during the year of 1981? Let’s be cautious of churches and leaders who claim the authority and prophetic office of Moses and use that twisted notion to oppress others. Jesus is far from happy when it comes to Calvary Chapel’s spiritual abuse antics. Simply!

“Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”

– C.S. Lewis

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? Unlike CC, I don’t want to tell you what you must think. I hope that my research has helped bring light to a dark place, and has encouraged you to do your own research and investigations.

Action Steps:

If you are one of the abused. Speak out. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by religious abuse or legalism. God will not zap you if you “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”. It’s actually a biblical mandate to do so because God is on the side of the oppressed, the abused, the orphaned, etc. (see Proverbs 31:9). Simply, God does not side with spiritual abusers. Be kind to yourself and realize that the shame you feel is misplaced. Abusive CC pastors will heap abuse upon abuse when the victims speak out. Apathy when it comes to human oppression of any kind only brings harm to others.

Consider writing a letter or sharing this entire post and your own experience with your pastor and/or state’s attorney general or division for non-profits. Be a voice for the hurting to confront spiritual bullies and make the world a safer place for all. We at Cardinal Care Group wish you peace, bravery and blessings as you go out and do God’s work and heal God’s people.

When we follow the “golden rule”, we will seek to help free others from abuse and trauma. The emotional parts of your brain and your nervous system may be so jacked up and traumatized that you cannot speak up yet. This is okay, but make it a point to speak up in your time. Notify your state’s government division for non-profits. Check out the resources below. These will show you that you are not alone. Spiritual abuse issues are my specialty. Please check out the resources above.

If you are a counselor, therapist or psychologist. Please seek to understand the inner workings of cults, religious narcissism and ensuing PTSD. Cults, particularly therapy cults (like Bethel Sozo), will only increase after the Covid-19 pandemic’s mental health crisis. This will result in more people seeking out professional mental healthcare, “safe” looking churches or even therapy cults. Narcissism in cultic church settings is no joke. It’s dangerous. Spiritual abuse is a highly damaging and insidious form of psychological and emotional abuse because the victim is told that God has condemned them as well. In other forms of abuse, without a spiritual or religious component, one still feels that he or she can turn to God or faith in times of crisis. With spiritual abuse, there is often no lifeline, and not many therapists understand spiritual abuse. Check out retired licensed psychologist Bonnie Zieman’s book entitled Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists: What Every Cult Victim Wants Their Therapists to Know. Seek to understand the damaging effects of mandated shunning through Zieman’s other book, Shunned: A Survival Guide.

If you are a pastor or church leader. Please consider adding a certified mental health coach or licensed psychologist, therapist or counselor onto your leadership team or board. This will be a safeguard and will show you truly care. Consider adding a ministry in your church dedicated to spiritual abuse trauma survivors. Develop good policies to thwart abuse. Review what the IRS has to say about jeopardizing tax-exempt status, human rights violations and public policy. Please share this article with others in your circle. Pastors. Please. Think. There is a wasteland of hurting hearts and spiritual abuse all around you, and life-altering consequences to what you choose to teach. Is Calvary Chapel a Cult? What do you say?

“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” – 3 John 1:11

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?

*A note about commenting: We have no ill will toward any CC churches, pastors, members or any other party mentioned herein. As a reminder, I wrote this article to comfort/educate the abused, to give them hope and to help them make sense of their trauma. Knowledge is power. Sadly, but not surprisingly, we have had to remove several abusive and harassing comments from Calvary Chapel fans and leaders. These comments involved intense gaslighting, shaming, condemnation and name calling – the exact issues this article addresses. This serves to further reveal the uncharitable spirit and spirit of elitism and error of CC. This is what happens when individuals shun the spiritual gift of discernment (a gift of the Spirit) in the church and when they idolize the cultic leaders and the code of silence more than the truth and human rights of the abused (i.e., how the group treats our public citizens, ingroup and outgroup alike). When we reject new sociological research or information that conflicts with our existing rigid beliefs, cognitive dissonance occurs. This can cause feelings of unease and tension, and we have found that some CC readers relieve their discomfort by harassing, attacking and gaslighting. Part of loving others is speaking up for the weak, poor, needy and abused. The Bible explains: “Open your mouth [speak up], judge righteously [fairly], defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). God is on the side of the oppressed, not religious oppressors (2 Tim. 3:13; John 1:9; ). When we attack those who are defending the religiously abused (with God’s love and truth), we are proving to be hypocrites – hiding behind a Bible which we don’t even follow. Kindly, any abusive and name-calling in comments will be removed and the reader will be blocked from leaving future comments. Decent and civil comments, questions and concerns are welcome. Secondary abuse, including abuse toward those who are exposing abuse, is something that is commonplace in CC, but it is not welcome as we do not fight or argue here. Thank you for your cooperation and basic decency.


  1. 1. “Love Bombing: 10 Signs to Know”Healthline. December 17, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  2. 2. Richardson, James T. (2004). Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe. New York City: Springer. p. 479. ISBN 0-306-47887-0.
  3. 3. Tourish, Dennis; Wohlforth, Tim (2000). On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. p. 19. ISBN 978-0765606396.
  4. 4. Smith, Chuck (1993). “Church Government”. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. The Word For Today. Archived from the original on April 28, 2007 (
  5. 5. White, Cherie. Unnecessary Fear: 4 Ways Bullies Use it to Control Their Targets by Cherie White at Chateau Cherie; October 21, 2021. Retrieved December 12, 2021.

Is Calvary Chapel a Cult?
Simply Teaching the Bible, Simply? Not so much. This book and the cover are misleading and concerning. The upside down dove is used as a cult symbol in some cults. The mention of “Acts” gives the false impression that the book is “biblical.” There are rarely crosses in Calvary Chapel materials. Some researchers have noted that CC has strong links to free masonry and the Knights of Malta. This would be consistent with the symbols on the book cover above.

*The book cover photo, the use of criticisms and my notes regarding the book cover fall under “fair use” guidelines. Everything shared is the truth and/or can be verified by research. If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to use the contact form and I would be happy to help you.

Ellie Dixon

Editor, Researcher, Cult Intervention Specialist

San Diego, California; USA

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