Skip to content

227: Warning Signs of an Unsafe Group


This one was painful to do.  Yet if we are ever going to become Zion we need to be able to honestly look at ourselves in the mirror.  Do we have the traits of an unsafe group?  Do we have a safe space for folks to develop faith within?  Today I tackle what general warning signs of a potentially unsafe and unhealthy group looks like and where Mormonism falls definitively short.  We may be the Lord’s authorized Church but we also have a lot of work to do…. Luckily as Elder Uchtdorf has noted, this restoration still has a lot of work to do.





Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.

  1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
  2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
  3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
  4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
  5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
  6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
  7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
  8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
  9. The group/leader is always right.
  10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

  1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
  2. Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower’s mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused–as that person’s involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
  3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
  4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
  5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
  6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
  7. A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
  8. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
  9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
  10. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.

Ten signs of a safe group/leader.

  1. A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
  2. A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
  3. A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
  4. A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
  5. A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
  6. A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
  7. A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
  8. A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
  9. A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
  10. A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.




25 thoughts on “227: Warning Signs of an Unsafe Group”

  1. Bill, I validate many of the things you say, but let’s not make it a habit to take extreme situations and make them sound like they are the norm.

    We do have a lot to work on to make this a safer place (church), and I will be doing so along your side.

  2. I appreciate you being willing to try and take a mirror and look at how our church does actually do some of these. I agree with David’s comments that this should not be our primary focus. I don’t see someone growing closer to God just focusing on this overall issue (but it does need SOME honest consideration).

    I apologize if I am bringing something to trite in such a serious discussion, but I just started laughing at about 38:29. It sounds like you are using your “Cheech and Chong” voice.

    As usual, I am excited each time I see another of your podcasts pop up.

  3. Bill,
    I always have respected your nuance perspective on Church matters eventhough I am not always in agreement with them. Unfortunately, in this case, the gulf of disagreement has widened.

    It is obvious that your endorsement and stamp of approval, for this so called list, is practically canonical without question. Why is that assumed? Who is the source and why should we presume validity to it? Maybe more background could have been shared so the listeners could at least determined efficacy to its merits or not. I’m aware you are not the author, as you stated such, for I assume the purpose of your statement was to somehow to show your non bias?? However, would it have mattered? I was expecting at some point there would be some deviation from the negative. But, that never really came to fruition ( a little at the end). Basically, I just heard the longest rant of grievances. Grant it, there were valid points here and there. But, seriously….my head was spinning after awhile since it just was so apparent this whole subject was apparently a vehicle to voice all of your built up angst and judgements of leaders and members. I know you mean well to expose the hipocracies and harm the Church has perpetrated. Unfortunately, this makes you look no better since you presume moral authority which rises above the Church, leaders and the”sheeple”.

    Hey…I get it. I do believe there are many issues within our faith that need attention and reconciliation. However, the constant use of “we” etc. don’t speak for myself nor the other 15 million. Examples you’ve personally have seen should not be a definitive narrative of what is happening in the whole of the Church. I can only speak for my geographical and investigated experiences which is likely to be a very limited view. Therefore, I’m not sure why your experiences and limited circumstances can somehow be definitive of something greater either. Therefore, it just appears that some of your statements of how leaders respond or members react are sweeping generalizations that are anecdotal vs. fact. It is very judgemental in its effect and the irony is that it is probably contrary to your intention.

    With all the harm of innocent children, atheistic political regimes and their associated victims, Islamic terrorism etc. Really? Mormonism is such a threat and concern in the modern 21st century? It just doesn’t register as the priority and concern it seemed to be portrayed as.

    Well I hope you keep up the work you are inspired to do. Much of your podcasts have been beneficial in my in my continuous journey of faith and understanding. Unfortunately, this one did not edify or spawn much spiritual insight whatsoever. May God bless your journey!!!

    1. I’ve gotten about 50 comments so far in various places regarding this episode. Most of them of the positive only two of them negative thus far including yours. But please know that I validate your comment and perspective. That I fully understand that in many places in The church members will not have experienced the negativity. Unfortunately there are others who have experienced very harm that I’ve talked about. I know that not every member or every ward or every stake experiences such things. And so I don’t claim to speak to this happening everywhere. But it is happening and it is our faith and theology and culture that sets this up. Again thank you for your critical feedback as it is always welcome.

      1. Dale. You are miss the point. You aren’t taking in to account anyone else’s experience. I think the point of this is to think outside of the box, but church going Mormons have a hard time thinking critically about their culture. I know because I was one. Since I left the church I loved, I have people tell me to keep your heart open. I say in return, keep your mind open.

    2. The reason I think Bill has highlighted these two main contrasts, or conditions, is to help people examine and see whether there is a problem? Unfortunately there is. I never noticed it as a member (over a lifetime) but now it is so clear. The conditioning is so bad that most, if not all LDS, are blind to it. Every LDS person is suffering from the negative side of Bill’s contrast, but to them it just feels ‘normal.’ That is not to say that elements of happiness, peace and consolation have no part in their culture or faith, nor does this mean that love or Christ-like attributes do not exist. Nevertheless, the negative conditions spoken of, are endemic in the church.

  4. Bill: I’m still listening as I write…

    The biggest concern of the list of 10 that I have is with the finances of the Church. I really do think it would be more healthy for the Church to be more transparent in that regard.

    I’m glad that you’re taking on this topic, but I wish that you’d be more nuanced. It seems to me that you exaggerate to make a point. Yes, Dallin Oaks said something that I don’t like either about criticizing Church leaders, but to go back to some dunderheaded thing that Bruce McConkie said to Eugene England years ago as evidence that we currently have this problem is not accurate.

    Similarly, I’m not sure what your high priests group has been smoking 😉 but we almost never talk about the evils of the last days. That being said, although not very many people per se are evil, there are still some great evils in the world. The mostly involve governments killing and oppressing and robbing their citizens, and it involves sexual and other forms of slavery. So I think you’ve overblown that topic as well.

    Regarding “apostasy” I think we have had a cultural problem (as has existed in essentially every religious organization from the dawn of time) that if you leave your religion, that is a very bad thing. We need to get better at that, I agree.

    In short, though, the podcast is well done.

  5. Bill, great podcast! Could you please post your source regarding the Church being the top landholder behind the federal government? I totally believe it, but would love a source. Thanks!

      1. Also this

        What does the LDS Church do with its money?

        I previously discussed in “What would Jesus do with $5 billion” the construction by the LDS Church of a shopping mall and residential complex in Salt Lake City. For a while, this was one of the largest construction projects in America.

        In addition to its mall-building ambitions, the LDS Church owns some 928,000 acres in North America, is the largest ranch land owner in Wyoming, is the 2nd largest land owner in Nebraska, has the largest cattle ranch in 48 states (adjacent to Disneyworld in Florida), and is the largest foreign landowner in the UK.

        The LDS Church’s holdings also include:
        AgReserves Inc. – the largest producer of nuts in America. Outside the U.S., AgReserves operates in Britain, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Its Australian property, valued at $61 million in 1997, has estimated annual sales of $276 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet.
        Hawaii Reserves, Inc. – Miscellaneous church holdings in Hawaii (including 6,000 prime acres on the North Shore of Oahu), the Polynesian Cultural Center (the leading paid visitor attraction in Hawaii), and Brigham Young University-Hawaii. At the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), general-admission adult tickets cost $49.95; VIP tickets cost up to $228.95. In 2010, the PCC had net assets worth $70 million and collected $23 million in ticket sales alone, as well as $36 million in tax-free donations
        Farmland Reserve Inc. – 228,000 acres (923 km²) in Nebraska; 51,600 acres in Osage County, Oklahoma
        Deseret Cattle and Citrus – over 312,000 acres (1,260 km²) in Florida
        Bonneville International Corporation – the 14th largest radio chain in the U.S.
        Deseret Morning News – a daily Utah newspaper, second-largest in the state of Utah.
        Beneficial Financial Group – An insurance and financial services company with assets of $3.1 billion.

        1. So you’re saying you have no source to back up the claim that the church owns more land than any other entity save the Federal gov’t. Should this not have been documented before stating it?

  6. Great job Bill. I liked the podcast, and agree with all of it, well done.
    On that note, I wonder if because of what you said, you will get in trouble from your local Church leaders, or if the higher ups will sic their dogs on you?
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. What is with the weird accented impressions? Were you imitating Cheech and Chong when mimicking Elder Anderson’s comments? To me, comes across condescending at best and mocking/disrespectful at worst. Completely unnecessary.

  8. So much food for thought! I was deep in my past experiences with the church at every step along the way and gained rich insight into church interaction and I understand better now why comments and methods from church leaders have been disturbing to me at times. I was asked in my last two temple recommend interviews “Do you associate support or affiliate with people who don’t think like the general authorities do? ” (#2 in the second group of 10: individual identities fused with leaders) My understanding has been greatly increased! Thank you for your brave podcasts!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *