The Harm of the Hold Harmless Release
The Role that Agreements, Compacts, Contracts and Other
Forms of Covenants Play in Bringing People into Bondage
By Pastor Pete Bertolero, PhD, ThD
Everyone who wants to participate in the Breakthrough (formerly called Momentus and Equipping the Saints) training offered by the Association for Christian Character Development is informed at the beginning of the training that it has "risks and dangers" and that "personal, physical, psychological or emotional injuries, distress or death" may result from the training. Although the activities which may cause these traumas aren't described, Breakthrough requires all participants to sign a pledge that they will assume all risk and will not sue or hold ACCD liable for any injuries, even if they result from ACCD's intentional acts or negligence.
Is it wise to sign such a release, especially without full knowledge of the activities which can cause them, and without being informed of specific injures which occurred as a result of past trainings? How do Biblical prohibitions against rash vows and oaths apply to Breakthrough and similar trainings in the Momentus series? This article will outline the content of the Hold Harmless Release, Biblical teachings on rash vows which apply to it, experiences of some Breakthrough/Momentus "graduates," the wording of the agreement, and its potential ramifications.
Biblical Prohibitions Against Rash Vows and Oaths
The Old Testament discloses a variety of circumstances where vows and oaths were made under a wide range of different conditions such as personal conflicts, emotional distress, anxiety, and strong desire, to name a few. These conditions could play a major role in compelling someone to make a vow or an oath? Ben Sira advises: "Prepare yourself before you make a vow." Traditionally, Judaism has always taught that vows had to be voluntary, but once they were made they were to be regarded as compulsory and were required to be fulfilled. This is the reason for the biblical warning to not enter into a binding agreement rashly or without sufficient information beforehand."He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin."2 (Proverbs 13:3)
This is true even when thinking about dedicating something to the Lord. It is the consistent counsel of scripture to simply not enter into binding agreements without getting all the facts and looking at it from every angle, especially with the help of outside counsel. Proverbs 15:22 says that some things can be better established by getting the advice of a "multitude of counselors."
When addressing rash vows, scripture implies a certain recklessness or impetuousness on the part of the person signing the document. There is a certain foolhardiness on the part of the person being drawn into the contract that is being exploited by the parties held "harmless" by the document. This is true also of the "Hold Harmless/ Release and Arbitration Agreement (hereafter called HHR) which Breakthrough requires its participants to sign. Such an agreement is often times done under pressure and without full knowledge of all one is agreeing to. Only afterward does the party held harmless fully disclose the information it purposely held back.
"The hasty dedication… is a snare to a man: for after the vow a
change of mind happeneth." Proverbs 20:25, Septuagint
What is the difference between an oath and a vow? An oath is usually some sort of promise to consecrate something to God or to do something in His service or in His honor, and to be faithful to perform that, which was promised. A vow, on the other hand, was a voluntary abstention from an otherwise legitimate activity. It is a self-imposed pledge from something perfectly allowable. Both were voluntary, and both were binding once they were made. When they were made for the right reasons and under non-compulsive circumstances, both could strengthen a persons resolve to fulfill their part of the agreement with the assurance that, due to the vow, or contract, the other party would honor and fulfill their part of the agreement also. Such contracts, as a rule, were mutually advantageous for both parties involved, and carried the blessing of God.
But vows could also be used against a person who entered into a contract either because of some coercion or pressure (social or emotional) or without taking the time to read the proverbial "small print." When such was the case, negative consequences presented themselves, and the person soon afterward found themselves in a disadvantaged position often described in scripture by words that carry the meaning of being caught in a trap, snare or other kind of bondage. Such was the outcome of contracts and formal promises intended to trap a person into having to do what they originally had no intention of doing. And the consequences were usually long term. This kind of contract was not blessed by God, and there are plenty of Scriptures that call for God's people to be wary of such contracts when considering entering into them. In fact, the rule of Scripture is to not enter into a contract or formal agreement, written, verbal or otherwise, with anyone outside those you whose character and integrity you can be certain of.
"Remember, a destructive cult tries to get a person's commitment first, before disclosing important information. A legitimate group will always give information first, and ask for commitment only when the person feels ready."3
The Hold Harmless Release Is Not Biblically Endorsable
I have never understood how those who held positions of spiritual oversight in those churches where Breakthrough/ Momentus/ Equipping The Saints ACCD4 have been allowed to hold their LGATS, could be so neglectful in their duties as watchmen and shepherds over the flock of God5 as to allow their people to enter into the kind of bondage as is presented in the Hold Harmless Release used by this group. I don't say this from a judgmental position, for many of these men had their people's best interests in mind. But my chagrin is that in so many of the cases in which people have been injured in some way due to their own involvement in the above LGATS, the word of God was allowed to take a back seat to the vain philosophies of this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). Permitting such unbiblical procedures is precisely how the erroneous teachings and practices reported by those who have attended the above LGATS have been perpetrated. Many people would not be injured and left without compensation for their injuries had those Pastors and Elders who encouraged them or failed to discourage them from signing the HHR, obeyed the Scriptures. Such a contract should never be required to be signed by another person who has not been completely informed about not only the nature of the training, but the extent of the practices and procedures involved in the training.
It is doubtful that even when there has been full disclosure, that a Christian should sign such a binding agreement. Most assuredly both Solomon and Jesus would not approve of them doing so. One common excuse by Momentus/ACCD, et al, is that such disclosure would ruin the spontaneity of the training and thus diminish it's results. This either confirms the criticism of this LGAT that it those who sign the HHR are not fully informed and should not call itself a Christian ministry, or euphemistically covers up the likelihood that it is exploiting naive and poorly informed people who are desperately seeking wholeness who give it to the trainers' demand on the first day to "play or pay."6 (stay in the training in spite of their caution or give up their deposits and go home).
Before I go over this manipulative LGAT device, I would like to call attention to the book of Numbers, chapter thirty. The whole chapter deals almost exclusively with a young woman and/or widow making a rash vow, whether to the Lord or to someone else, which carried with it serious, long standing consequences. This comes under the phrases "…her vow…bond wherewith she bound her soul," (verse 4 - KJV); "…her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself…" (verse 6 - RSV), etc. In other words, even careless or thoughtless words uttered in a vow carried with them soul binding power. The fact that this idea is meant to be taken as an emotional or soulish bondage, and not merely being bound by one's word in any legal sense, can be deduced in the verse 13 where it speaks of such vows as having the power to "afflict" (KJV) the young woman's soul - "Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul." In those verses dealing with a father's and/or husband's authority to break the woman's vow, the results are that the vow/oath/pledge is not only nullified, but it's soul afflicting power is broken. We are told that the power to affect this vow breaking intervention comes from the empowerment of the Lord, who "forgives her."
I have witnessed the reality of this passage of scripture many times when involved in exit counseling. When a father is willing to pray over his daughter or son, or a husband over his wife, releasing them from rash vows made either recently or in the past, invoking the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have seen dramatic results. At times, the released person has collapsed onto the floor, and when they gained their composure, testified to being set free from whatever was holding them and binding them. In every case, a release of some kind happened. I don't mean to make this sound magical or necessarily imply something supernatural happened in every instance. But there was an assist of some kind that seemed to come from the authority of a believing parent, who called upon the name of the Lord to release their child from the soul binding power of vows made to whatever cult, gang, demon, person or other organization that brought their will under control. And when I say control, I in no way mean to absolve the needy person from personal responsibility. No matter how serious the bondage may be, a person is still culpable for their actions.7
Numbers 30 supports my earlier notion that although the Old Testament did not condemn every kind of oath or vow, it did warn against making rash ones, like the one made by Saul in 1 Samuel 14:24, which almost cost the life of his son Jonathan, or the oath made by Jephthah in Judges 11:30 that did cost the life of his precious daughter.
People do not usually make rash vows in the spur of the moment. There usually is a process involved in which they are sold a bill of goods by a capable cult recruiter. It is highly doubtful that anyone who has ever entered into a thought reform cult, did so having been fully informed of the binding nature and end result of their involvement. One cult expert wrote -
"The original point of recruitment may vary, but one constant factor is that rampant deceptions are involved. These deceptions extend from concealment of exactly what the group is at 'the point of pickup' to concealment of the ultimate purpose of membership.'"8
Cult expert Margaret Singer has stated that roughly 66% of those who end up in bondage to cult mind control began a journey they would perhaps never have started because a trusted friend or loved one provided the initial contact with the cult.9Binding commitments and soul bondage to cult groups happen through a series of steps taken, one foot in front of the other. Singer writes that many former cult members refer back to "that first fatal step".
"As they look back, they realize that, for a combination of reasons, their first step of acquiescing to an invitation or a request was the start of weeks, months, or years in a cult."10
It is the same with LGATS such as Momentus/Breakthrough. The recruiting used by this group usually involves friends, family, or members from one's church (just like what Singer reported in 66% of all cults). This shows that even being referred to an organization or ministry by friends or family doesn't guarantee that it is spiritually or emotional healthy.
The Hold Harmless Release used by Momentus/Breakthrough/ACCD, et al, seems to be the very same one used by other non-Christian, controversial new age or new thought groups -
"This contract is virtually identical to the contracts used in Life Spring, the Forum, and other human potential movement groups."11
Now think to yourself for a moment why a so called Christian ministry would need to be exonerated from any responsibility for possible injuries to the participant as a result of their taking part in this LGAT, even if the injury is due to negligence on the part of the trainer? And why do they seek to be indemnified "forever"?
One Participant's Testimony About The Rashness Associated With Signing The Hold Harmless Release
"When I took Momentus, I did a very foolish thing, and when I say "foolish" I mean in the same sense that Paul called the Galatians "foolish" in Gal. 3:1-3. The Greek word is "anoetos" and means "mindless" or "without thinking." I signed a "Hold Harmless Clause" agreement that contained the following clause, "12: EXEMPTION FROM LIABILITY: I hereby fully and forever discharge and release MM. Inc. and [initials of local sponsors] from any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of any damages, both in law and in equity, in any way resulting from personal, physical, psychological or emotional injuries, distress, or death arising from or in any way related to the TRAINING. This release from liability includes loss, damage or injury resulting from the negligence of MM. Inc. and [initials of local sponsors] from any other cause or causes."
In effect, I swore a solemn oath that I would turn a blind eye to any damage that was done to me or to anyone else as a result of the Momentus training. I swore an oath before God that I would refuse to look at the harmfulness of Momentus, even if people died as a result! That oath was one of those things Singer characterizes as "non-informed consent," because no one ever told us that we could be hospitalized, or even die, as a result of the training.
This non-responsibility is also legally stated in the two-page "hold-harmless" agreement which all participants are required to sign, usually on the first day of the training, and after they have already paid the $150 non-refundable fee. It is stated, in the same document, that "deep emotional stress, anxiety, tears, physical discomfort or exhaustion may occur" and that "physical or psychological injury is possible".
Furthermore, the document states, you are not to expect the training to be "administered with the standard of care expected of trained mental health professionals," for neither the trainer nor staff are licensed psychiatrists or psychologists. The message is very clear: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. When I first read this detailed legal document I was quite surprised, but decided the risk wouldn't apply to me since I considered myself by the grace of God a stable and strong individual. (So did my husband and various friends who had participated in Momentus trainings and staff positions, and my class "sponsor" who called and talked to me before the training.) I also believed, naively, that although I had some doctrinal differences with certain aspects of Momentus, whatever happened would be within the principles of God's Word and the body of Christ. However, after experiencing the class, I no longer believe this to be true.12
It is interesting that the writer of the above testimony, Steve Lortz, likens the signing of the Hold Harmless Release to the greeting over castle Dracula's door which reads -
"Enter freely of your own free will!"
It is important in most bondage inducing organizations, cults and thought reform groups to get recruits to voluntarily "of their own free will" - enter into signed contracts indemnifying them of any responsibility should they (the recruit) be injured in any way physically, psychologically, or otherwise. The seemingly voluntary nature of the contract gives the group in question the right (in their eyes) to do whatever they choose to do in the guise of empowerment and/or enlightenment, life-change, etc, without being held responsible for their actions when the participants are injured or psychologically damaged. In effect, they absolve themselves from any guilt or culpability by shifting the blame on the participants who "knew what they were getting into when they signed the clause" or "they signed it of their own free will." They might as well put the disclaimer "Let the Buyer Beware" on their brochures. Bill Barton, a Momentus/Breakthrough survivor, reports (emphasis mine),
"As for the "marathon" encounter sessions, Momentus is nothing if not that. Its schedule, intensity and methods make it a pea in a pod with other Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGATs). Its use of powerful psychological and social influence techniques were designed to bring psychological distress to trainees--I believe deliberately--to force them into changing their belief systems. If someone got hurt in the process, well, it was "their own choice" for taking the training. That was the kind of thinking I heard throughout (and after) Momentus--no compassion whatsoever for anyone who got hurt by the training for any reason. If they were hurt, they "brought it on themselves" for signing up in the first place. 13
One of the LGATS' favorite teachings is on keeping one's promises. After a particularly strong session on the consequences of breaking promises, and the hurt each participant has sustained in life because important people broke their promises to them, each participant is then led to tie in the cause of their failure and discontentment and lack of success in life, attempting to make a connection to their failure to keep their promises. The conclusion is obvious: life-change, breakthrough, vision fulfillment, enlightenment, empowerment, healing, deliverance, etc, will come to those who will practice self-government by making and keeping their promises. After such a teaching, the Hold Harmless Release is introduced - which is a subtle but predictable form of persuasion meant to pressure the participant to enter into a rash vow without fully being informed.
Margaret Singer addresses the failure of LGATS to fully inform participants of what to expect in the trainings and what has happened to others who have been injured by the trainings when she wrote,
"The program trainers and leaders typically get agreement from participants that they will not tell anyone about the processes that occur. To do so "will spoil it for your friends, family, co-workers when they take the course. Tell them what you got out of it," trainers advise. This means be vague about the actual content and provide glowing endorsements telling others that the training turned your life around, but do not tell them how emotional, dramatic, confrontational, and unnerving the sessions can be for some people. Because of this promise, consumers who buy and attend these seminars do so without information about how psychologically, socially, and sometimes physically stressing the event can be."14
Testimony From A Secular Contractor's Union Protesting The Secular Usage Of Hold Harmless Clauses
Even the business world recognizes that broad "hold harmless" clauses are unfair and potentially dangerous, as this statement by a contractor's union in Wisconsin explains:
"It is unfair and, in our view, should be against public policy that a contractor be required to indemnify and hold harmless other parties for the other parties' actions and/or possible negligence. Yet that is precisely what a broad form indemnification and hold harmless clause does.
"The construction industry is recognizing that broad form indemnification and hold harmless clauses are unfair and dangerous to sign. Two-thirds of the states now ban and make unenforceable broad form clauses.
"This is a choice that contractors should not have to make. As a matter of public policy, broad form indemnification and hold harmless clauses should be unenforceable in Wisconsin." 15
The Rashness of Signing the Hold Harmless Clause
With a view to how such hastily made vows and rash can be used by the evil one to bring us into bondage, Jesus gave the prohibition against making vows. In Matthew 5:34-37. He addresses this issue. Using several translations, let's examine verse 34, which reads -
"…you should not bind yourself by any oath at all…" (Knox)
"…Do not bind yourselves by an oath at all…" (Amp)
"…do not use any vow when you make a promise…" (TEV)
"…Don't make any vows." (LB)
It is obvious that Jesus is here not condemning all vows, for the sacred vows of marriage, Baptism, and the like are part of the way we enter into sacred covenants with our mates and with the Lord. It is obvious that Jesus is talking about making rash vows one could not keep, invoking language that exceeded one's authority. The Bible's prohibition of vows falls under the heading of disparity between the parties in the contract or covenant. It emphasizes the arrogance or foolishness behind rash vows, recklessly or impetuously made with no thought of the long term consequences such vows would entail.
When one looks at the Hold Harmless Release, there are a couple of things that are glaringly against the teachings of scripture. One of these is the long term language making it impossible for the participant, or the participant's family to pursue litigation should the organization, due to negligence or malpractice on it's part or on the part of one of it's trainers, be responsible for any injury, harm or trauma suffered by the participant. Also the wording of the statements lead participants to assume they have been fully informed of the nature of the training and the risks involved in participating in it. For instance, the written instructions given at the top of the document tell the participant to -
"Please carefully read this agreement. Then:
1) Print your name provided in the first paragraph
2) Initial every provision after you fully understand it
3) After choosing one of the two available options, indicate your choice by printing your name in either paragraph 17 (if you are releasing MM., Inc., or paragraph 16 (if you are purchasing the non-release of MM, Inc.).
4) Sign and date.
Now lets take a look at each statement in the HHR used by Momentus/Breakthrough/ACCD, et al. I will make a brief comment after each statement. The official title of the document is
HOLD HARMLESS/RELEASE AND ARBITRATION AGREEMENT
For and in consideration of the mutual promises and agreements set forth below. Mashiyach Ministries, Inc., (hereinafter referred to as "MM., Inc.") and (the local sponsor) and name of the participant (hereinafter referred to as "I") agree as follows:
Now notice very carefully the language of each of these next statements in the HHR. They are written in such a way that the participant is led to acknowledge something that is not totally true - that they have been fully and satisfactorily informed about the training to be done in the seminar, and upon made being fully aware of the nature of the training, they freely and willingly choose to participate in the training. The problem with this kind of statement is obvious: the participant has not in fact been fully informed. They only assume they have been fully informed. In fact, the seminar trainers have already admitted that they intentionally hold back full disclosure for such would ruin the spontaneity of the training which is crucial for the training to have it's full impact on the participant. This is confirmed in countless testimonies from those who have gone through Momentus, et al, training seminars. Take, for instance, the testimony below, which is just one of many who report the same things (emphasis is mine) -
"One of the biggest problems I have with Momentus (other than its teachings and practices being derived from non-Christian sources) is the conspiracy of silence surrounding what it's really like. Just as secret societies such as the Masons and various other occult groups hide the truth of what they're really about until people are too deeply involved to easily see the truth, so does Momentus hide its true nature under a facade of Christianity. Before the training, all a prospective trainee hears about Momentus are the glowing reports of those who've taken it, who claim that it's "changed their lives so dramatically." That last part is often true, but the change is not always what it seems to be. But try to get details about what goes on within the training and you get evasion. None of the trainers or grads will give details.
I believe that this evasiveness is because the trainers, as well as most graduates of the training, even if they love Momentus, rightly know that most Christians would never take Momentus if they had any inkling of what went on in it. I know that I never would have. That's because what goes on in it has little to nothing to do with life and godliness as unveiled in the Word of God. But it does have a lot to do with psychotherapeutic practices (from Freudian to primal scream therapy), with indoctrination techniques and with visualization, which is similar to New Age practices. Ridicule, mockery, and caustic language directed against the trainees by the trainers (and eventually, as they get into the "spirit" of Momentus, the other trainees) is par for the course, as they work to shock and break down the trainees into abandoning their own belief systems and accepting those of the training. The methods used in the training I participated in are not godly, even if some people believe the results to be so. (God's Word doesn't justify the worldly concept of the end justifying the means.)
But you don't hear any of that before you take Momentus. The material you receive in preparation for the training lists books to read by Christian authors and includes excerpts from other Christian writings. The only indication of what may be to come is a requirement that, if you're in therapy or have been in the past few years, you get a signature from your psychiatrist that it's okay for you to take the training. You also get a vague caution that the interactions with the trainer may at times become "intense." But you get this information only after you've sent in your nonrefundable $150 training fee (which you don't get back, whether the trainers or you decide you shouldn't take the training).
"After [the] opening, the trainers ran us through the "ground rules" for the training (one of its holdovers from est and Lifespring) and required us to sign an agreement to abide by these rules. We were also required to sign a "hold harmless" agreement, asserting that we'd been "adequately informed" of what the training consisted of and that no matter what happened to us in (or as a result of) the training-- including death-we'd not hold the trainers and the sponsors liable. I've never see such an agreement before in any class I've taken through any church or ministry. Lifespring, on the other hand, does require such an agreement, as do other New Age courses--because several people have died as a result of taking that training. One girl we know who served on the training crew for a later Momentus told us how the trainers issued vomit bags to the crew--because they expected some people taking the training to become violently ill during some of the exercises. As I've discovered since, this "hold harmless" agreement is a fraudulent contract, because we were not adequately informed of what the training consisted of at that point. We were told, if we didn't sign the agreement, we either had to pay up an additional $300 to the trainers on the spot--or leave the training (and we wouldn't receive a refund of our original $150 fee). So, we signed--we had too much invested in the training at that point to do otherwise.
"Intense" is hardly the word I'd use to describe the caustic language (including profanity) the trainers used as they contradicted, mocked, and baited people during the training we sat through. I took several group dynamics courses in the Psychology department in college, and so I was no stranger to intense interaction- but those were a cakewalk compared to Momentus..The material sent out beforehand in no way truly prepares anyone for what Momentus is really like. Coupled with the almost universal refusal of its adherents to give anyone a valid, even a balanced, view of what happens in the training, the practice of promoting Momentus as nothing but a 'Wonderful" "Christian" experience is inaccurate."16
"…the truth is that we were robbed of our free will choice by the conspiracy of silence concerning the true nature of Momentus. What we chose to take was not what we received. Had we known the truth about what goes on in Momentus, we'd have been able to exercise our free will, and would have rejected it.17
Now lets examine the way in which these statements induce participants into rashly foreswearing that they have been fully informed and therefore voluntarily, of their own free will, etc...
SECTION I: CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE
1. I acknowledge that I am fully and satisfactorily informed about this training seminar offered by MM., Inc. and ___ that I freely and willingly choose to participate in the training at this time. _____________
Comment: This statement deceives the participant into thinking that they have in fact been fully and satisfactorily informed about the training, so as to make a well informed, voluntary decision to take the course. In fact, they have not been fully informed. No one has told them they would be humiliated, made responsible for everything that has happened to them, including rape, incest, child abuse, etc (reminiscent of the Hindu doctrine of karma), cussed at; be put in constant double binds, be taught a LGAT world view, be deprived of sleep, and be subject to constant manipulation of their environment (hot, cold; changes in volume, etc…) and other kinds of New age thought reform technologies meant to break down one's prior world view and belief systems, in order to make them receptive to a foreign world view espoused by Momentus, Life Spring, est, Forum, MSIA, KRONE and other secular LGATs. Nor are they told that the training will so assault their mental and emotional equilibrium, that some will lose control of their bowels, vomit, and may even experience a nervous breakdown requiring hospitalization. This is why signing such a document fits in with the Biblical admonition against making rash vows.
We will skip statements # 2 & 3, and go to #4.
4. I understand the TRAINING is an experiential, philosophical, Christian educational program that may or may not assist in personal growth. It is neither psychotherapy, nor medical therapy, nor a substitute for either of these. MM, Inc. trainers are generally not licensed psychiatrists or psychologists. ___________
Comment: This is another misleading statement by Momentus. Testimonies, some by trained therapists, which assert that Momentus/Breakthrough and other LGATS, indeed use psychological techniques in trainings. One participant wrote (emphasis mine) -
"…the trainings include many characteristics commonly seen in pop psychology and Large Group Awareness Training (LGATs) such as Lifespring and est. The trainings themselves also warn participants of emotional and physical troubles that Breakthrough trainings may cause. While Breakthrough claims that the stresses are due simply to the self-examination, which is naturally stressful, there is evidence that it is rather the psychological methods the trainings use which cause the distress.
"The "Personal Assessment Form" filled out by recruits has 16 questions, only one of which broaches any spiritual content. Many items are commonly found in popular psychology
"The psychological (rather than spiritual)nature of the training, is assumed and alluded to again and again. Recruits are extensively questioned about their mental health and any medications they may be taking for psychological problems…
"The "Declaration of Commitment..." assigned to be done by graduates after trainings includes psychological jargon as well…
"Momentusspeak is identifiable in that it stands out as slightly distinct from that of churches and church ministries in general, partly because of the peppering of psychological and LGAT concepts.
"Secular, psychological terms and concepts are not necessarily bad in themselves. But they do suggest that Breakthrough is driven by psychological techniques as well as by spiritual means.
"It is the psychological component, rather than the Christian goals, which is the cause of greatest concern in the Breakthrough training. The emotional and physical hazards faced by participants in the training are the most troubling aspects of the training.
"The article "Is the Training Confrontational?"on the ACCD web site was likely written to answer accusations from past participants that the script of the training is psychologically manipulative. Yet, ACCD twists the meaning of the term "confrontational" to assert that participants' consciences are challenged, rather than admitting that the psychological techniques used by the trainers are confrontational…"
"Some of the psychological techniques used by Breakthrough are borrowed from LGAT trainings like est and Lifespring. "The Awareness Page" outlines a family tree of LGATs. Werner Erhardt, who founded est and The Forum, and John P. Hanley, who founded Lifespring, both were Mind Dynamics teachers (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/eldon.braun/awareness/). The page lists 16 spinoffs of Lifespring founded by former Lifespring trainers, including Momentus, whose founder Tocchini was a Lifespring trainer for about eight years. While there are great differences between them, they have some similarities in techniques, philosophy and terminology.18
Along these lines, the author of the above article refers to Margaret Thayler Singer's oft quoted book, Cults in our Midst in pointing out the fact that Momentus/Breakthrough, et al, uses the same psychological techniques as other New Age LGATS,
"A helpful description of typical characteristics of LGATs can be found in Margaret Singer's Cults in our Midst. Several, but not all, characteristics of LGATs seem much like some of Breakthrough's practices.
Singer describes the "mass marketing of experiential exercises" which use both physiological and psychological persuasion techniques. She says that leaders induce "predictable physiological responses by subjecting followers to certain planned experiences and exercises" and elicit "certain behavioral and emotional responses by subjecting followers to psychological pressures and manipulations."19
So it is clear that statement #4 misleads participants into believing there will be no psychological techniques or therapies, and then proceeds to use them in the seminar's training. Now let's look at clause #5.
5. I understand that the TRAINING may involve physical contact, such as hugging, and if I do not consent to this, I will tell a trainer that I object before or at the time the contact occurs. I further understand that several of the processes in the TRAINING may involve sharing and I may experience deep emotions and possible emotional stress, anxiety, tears, physical discomfort, or exhaustion.
Comment: Many participants of the Momentus/Breakthrough, et al, attest to the fact that when they would bring up something they did not agree with they were subsequently berated and shamed and mocked before the group. Notice that this statement fails once again to fully disclose the extent of both the physical contact, which used to be encouraged by the suggestive words "pee pee to pee pee" and the verbal humiliation which followed any objections made by the participant. For instance, in their excellent article entitled FRINGE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE 1960's IN MOMENTUS/BREAKTHROUGH TRAINING, Juedes and Barton report that verbal attacks and the berating of people not only happens whenever anything in the training is challenged, but is practiced during and after the seminar. Citing Singer's book, Crazy Therapies, they write,
"Attack therapy is an outgrowth of ventilation therapy. Here the patient becomes the subject of verbal abuse, denunciation, and humiliation. This assault may come either from the therapist in individual session, or from peers in a group context.... As one critic put it, 'Tact is "out" and brutal frankness is "in." Any phony, defensive or evasive behavior... is fair game for... critique and verbal attack."
Attack therapy was rife in Momentus--most often the trainers attacking the trainees who stood up to speak or react to something the trainers said. But trainees were also encouraged by example to use it against others in the training--and those who picked up on it the quickest were often the ones that were later singled out as being most deserving or who'd best learned the techniques of "self-government" (such as those who were voted into the lifeboat in that exercise, mainly because they were the ones who'd stood up the most and attacked others or engaged in angry exchanges with the trainers).
The attack therapy described in that book is exactly what goes on in Momentus when the trainer picks out people to condemn for minor violations, such as not getting to our seats within one minute after the trainer or crewman responsible for the clock calls "Time." According to a woman I know who served on the crew, the trainer asks the sponsors and crew for the names of people taking the training who may be "trouble" or especially rebellious so that the trainer can single them out early to attack and break down. This seems somewhat similar to boot camp in the military, as the drill sergeant singles out the potential troublemakers to break down first. I recall the trainer doing this to one fellow--getting into a shouting and insult match with him, telling him he was "full of ---" and keeping at him until he wore him down. Later, in the "foot washing" ritual at the end of the training, the trainer picked out this guy to wash his feet, supposedly humbling himself before him, and the guy--by now thoroughly emotionally wrung out--broke out in tears. It was surreal.
Brutal frankness was definitely in during the entire training--even artificially produced, such as when the trainers forced everyone who couldn't remember the name of every other trainee (in a room of almost 60!) to go around and tell them that we "didn't care enough to remember your name." Ethics, kindness, gentleness--all were thrown out in favor of confrontation, the better to force you to determine what made up your own personal beliefs (but if they didn't conform to what the trainers thought they should, they turned out to be self-defeating).
The hot seat technique was used throughout, whenever we were required to sit in groups and let others tell us what they thought of us (even though they'd not had time to validly get to know us) or in twosomes and respond to emotionally charged personal questions such as "What was your greatest betrayal?"
The trainers put people on the "hot seat" and attacked people when they made statements. One woman stood up and said that she thought she was okay, and then the trainer berated her until she sat down almost crying.
Crazy Therapies' descriptions of Kevin in the "hot seat" are very reminiscent of how the trainers treated several individuals in Momentus--as well as how Momentus grads and sponsors treated people after the training. Momentus seems to suggest that such actions by grads have nothing to do with Momentus, but in truth, they're merely following the example that the trainers set in the training itself. Grads apparently figure, "if it's good inside the training, why not outside as well?" Nothing in the training really deters its enthusiasts from practicing it on others outside the training--as long as they limit it to other Momentus grads. Having taken the training apparently makes people perpetual targets in the eyes of the fanatics among the grads, especially if they perceive you doing anything that they don't like, whether it conforms to scripture or not. What I saw on many occasions--and experienced myself--was much like a barracuda attack. As soon as any Momentus grads perceived that one of them had "drawn blood," all of them jump into the fray, attacking the victim--and the word is valid in this context-- as a group in a kind of "feeding frenzy." It's nothing different from what goes on in the training--except that the trainers aren't there afterward so that they can say they didn't prompt it, even though others are just following their example.
Another Momentus/Breakthrough grad named Jean wrote,
"If anyone objected to what was occurring they were instantly belittled or personally attacked. Any perspective other than the trainer's or what the trainer allowed was looked upon as wrong, or unimportant. All that mattered was what the exercises or interchange "revealed" about the participant, not the manner in which it was done."20
The HHR also doesn't adequately explain that the emotional discomfort one may experience has at times caused some people to hurt themselves, or have a heart attack, a nervous breakdown or acting out. And what detailed warning it may give, does not show up in the material given to the participant, but in the training manuals. Dr. Juedes writes,
"The Team Captain's Manual instructs the team to watch for participants hurting their hands during the Weeping and Wailing exercise. The team is also told to have "barf bags" ready for participants who need them during this exercise ("Training Notes for Team Grounding Meeting;" TCM is not paginated). The captain is told to use the Wednesday team meeting to designate one team member "to handle any emergency like a heart attack or injury." Team members use hand signals, like a hand over the heart to signal an emotional situation with a participant. A favorite phrase used during the training is the "pain of transformation." Breakthrough tries to screen people by asking detailed questions about their mental histories and psychiatric medications.
All these materials assume that Breakthrough training can prompt many ill effects. While some of these excerpts the reader may credit to an attorney wanting to protect Breakthrough from liability, they would be unnecessary unless Breakthrough actually does or can prompt such reactions in some people. Plus, many of the warnings are not found in documents like "Hold Harmless" which is intended to protect Breakthrough from liability, but in Breakthrough's own manuals."21
Statement #6 encourages the participant to agree that they "have resolved any such doubts I may have had about the TRAINING by consulting those who are knowledgeable about the TRAINING including but not limited to a physician, psychotherapist, or psychologist. Such person(s) has no objections to my participation in the TRAINING."
The problem with this statement is one, again, of rash assumptions. First of all, the only information a physician, or therapist is going to receive about the trainings is going to come from the ill-informed LGATS candidate, who has only been generally briefed on the nature and extent of the trainings. Any nod of approval from a professional (and I would question the credentials of a trained professional encouraging his patient to take such a seminar without some kind of formal document spelling out the nature and extent of it's trainings in detail) can only be measured against the scant information given to the participant who then paraphrases it to their health care provider. The only exception to this is when the therapist/physician is a Momentus grad, which then prejudices their counsel.
Let's move on to "SECTION II: INSURANCE DISCLAIMER, where the HHR takes on a more formidable character in terms of its binding nature. After waiting until the participant has paid their non-refundable fee for the seminar, statement #9 informs them that Momentus/Breakthrough et al, does not provide insurance "neither medical, liability, or incident" and that if the participant desires to be insured, it is left up to them to obtain it. One Momentus grad echoed the testimonies of many when she wrote -
"This non-responsibility is also legally stated in the two-page "hold-harmless" agreement which all participants are required to sign within an hour of beginning the training, after reading it for the first time, and after they have already paid the $150 non-refundable fee. It is stated, in the same document, that "deep emotional stress, anxiety, tears, physical discomfort or exhaustion may occur" and that "physical or psychological injury is possible". Furthermore, the document states, you are not to expect the training to be "administered with the standard of care expected of trained mental health professionals," for neither the trainer nor staff are licensed psychiatrists or psychologists. The message is very clear: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK."22
Bill Barton, in his excellently written testimonial about his experience with Momentus, wrote,
"After this opening, the trainers ran us through the "ground rules" for the training (one of its holdovers from est and Lifespring) and required us to sign an agreement to abide by these rules. We were also required to sign a "hold harmless" agreement, asserting that we'd been "adequately informed" of what the training consisted of and that no matter what happened to us in (or as a result of) the training-- including death-we'd not hold the trainers and the sponsors liable. I've never see such an agreement before in any class I've taken through any church or ministry. Lifespring, on the other hand, does require such an agreement, as do other New Age courses--because several people have died as a result of taking that training. One girl we know who served on the training crew for a later Momentus told us how the trainers issued vomit bags to the crew--because they expected some people taking the training to become violently ill during some of the exercises. As I've discovered since, this "hold harmless" agreement is a fraudulent contract, because we were not adequately informed of what the training consisted of at that point. We were told, if we didn't sign the agreement, we either had to pay up an additional $300 to the trainers on the spot--or leave the training (and we wouldn't receive a refund of our original $150 fee). So, we signed--we had too much invested in the training at that point to do otherwise."23
In SECTION III: ELECTION OF RELEASE AND NON RELEASE, Statement 10, two options are offered the participant: one, sign subsection A (paragraphs 11-15) which is tantamount to giving up all legal rights to legal action against the organization or any one in it, or anyone participating in it should any injury of any kind for whatever reason, occurs. Or sign subsection B in which the participant chooses to retain the legal right to litigate should injury occur. If B, an extra $300 has to be paid, which, by the way, does not purchase insurance but merely pays for the freedom to exercise the option! If at this point the participant chooses to not continue in the training, he/she loses the &150 fee and may be berated, humiliated, and assigned "loser" status, in order to pressure them to stay. The lack of forthrightness and the manipulative nature of this tactic leads one to conclude that this form is not Biblically endorsable.
Before concluding this article I want to call attention to the bondage inducing language found under SUBSECTION A: RELEASE OF MM, Inc., AND C.P.
11. ASSUMPTION OF RISK: I am fully persuaded that participating in the TRAINING may contain risks of physical or psychological injury. I know and fully understand the scope and extent of the risks involved in the TRAINING and activities contemplated by this Agreement. I voluntarily and freely choose to incur and assume any and all such risks and dangers.
Comment: This statement contains false assumptions, and misleads participants to believe they have been more informed than they actually have been. Have participants, within the first hour of the first day of the training, been so fully informed as to "understand the scope and extent of the risks involved…"? Wouldn't you agree that for a person to "voluntarily and freely choose to incur and assume any and all such risks and dangers" at this stage of the game would fall under the category of making a rash vow? And please keep in mind, that this voluntary decision carries with it the potential of ruining their lives but the lives of their spouse, children, parents, friends, etc…who would have to deal with any emotional breakdowns, manic depression, suicidal episodes, sexual frigidity, mental health professional expenses, etc…
12. EXEMPTION FROM LIABILITY: I hereby fully and forever discharge and release MM., Inc., and ___ from any and all liability, claims, demands, actions, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of any damages, both in law and equity, in any way resulting from personal, physical, psychological or emotional injuries, distress, or death arising from or in any way related to the TRAINING. This release from liability includes loss, damage, or injury resulting from the negligence of MM, Inc., and C.P.
Can you believe what you have just read? The less than fully informed participant is being required to discharge not only fully, but forever their right to legal compensation for any injuries sustained as a result of the TRAINING. And this doesn't merely involve the participant alone, but if they were to die as a result of the TRAINING, their children, spouse or parents would also be bound from seeking damages from the responsible parties, whether they be associated with the organization, or merely a participant. Can you imagine how this would play out if you were a friend or family member of someone permanently emotionally scarred, or even killed due to any incompetence or negligence of these amateur soul surgeons? Would Jesus or any of the apostles ever condone this kind of contract among God's people? This agreement could make possible any kind of exploitation without accountability. That this could happen to groups of Christians and their leaders suggests a naivete or dangerous ignorance on the part of participants or skillful use by this group of mind control technologies that prompt people to sign off on such a device. The last statement in this subsection reads as follows -
15. WAIVER OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES: I understand and agree that I am waiving and forever abandoning any claims for punitive or exemplary damages against MM., Inc., and ___. I voluntary choose to give up this right.
Commentary: "forever abandoning any claims for punitive or exemplary damages against MM," etc… what a travesty that such a binding vow could be required of God's people, let alone that so many Christians would allow themselves to be persuaded to rashly enter into such a reckless and unwise thing.
I would like to conclude this article by examining what the Bible says about making rash vows, or entering into binding contracts recklessly. My hope is that such clear Biblical admonition will better equip God's precious people to thwart such attempts by those organizations who have allegedly "Christianized" thought reform processes common to this kind of training to require them to enter into binding agreements in the future.
Biblical Admonitions Against Entering Into Rash Contracts
There are clear Biblical warnings about entering into agreements or contracts, whether verbally, or by shaking hands, or by signing a contract. Such things require great care on our part, lest we unwisely enter into a contract with a treacherous, unpredictable or undisciplined individual and end up sharing in the consequences for his/her actions. Indeed, when such things as Hold Harmless Clauses (HHR) are entered into hastily or carelessly, without a good deal of discretion or prudence on our part, the Bible uses the word "snare" or "trap" to describe the potential outcome.
People could end up involuntarily putting themselves under the authority, influence (and/or control) of another person, by unwisely entering into a contract with him (or her), and end up ensnaring their own souls. It is my opinion that signing such contracts as the Hold Harmless Clause used by Large Group Awareness Training Seminars (LGATS)24 such as Life Spring and Momentus/Breakthrough/ACCD, et al, falls within the range of Biblically prohibited behavior often addressed as making "rash" vows or oaths, which can end up, in the long run, becoming a snare and bondage to those who recklessly do so. The Bible warns us to be very wary of who we allow ourselves to enter into an agreement with.
"A fool's mouth is his destruction. And his lips are a snare to his soul." 25
In the following Biblical passages I am about to refer to, I will quote from some several Bible translations. I do so because different words trigger different responses in different people and impact them more than others. It is important that you see that the usage of these passages expose both the erroneous use of contracts by Large Group Awareness Trainings and the potential for serious negative consequences as a result of complying with the LGAT trainer and peer pressure and signing the device they use at the beginning of their 3-4 day trainings called the Hold Harmless Clause.
Firstly, we are warned by the wisest man who ever lived - King Solomon, that such clauses as those found in the (HHR) can lead to bondage or, to use his word in Proverbs 6:2 - "snare". I will briefly comment after each point. Lets begin in verse one:
"My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in a pledge for another…" (NIV)
A pledge is a formal way of making a promise, an oath or an agreement in a way that obligates you to another as collateral. In fact, that is what the old English word "surety" means: to guarantee something on behalf of a friend (or stranger), thus making yourself responsible for any breach of contract. Again, this can be done in a number of ways but be just as binding, including verbal agreements, written or signed agreements, and even by a handshake. Various translations make this point, translating verse 1 like this -
"…if you have made yourself responsible for your neighbor, or given your word for another…" (Bas)
"…if you have become surety for your friend, if you have obligated yourself to a stranger…" (Lam)
"…given your pledge for a stranger…" (1b, RSV)
"…guaranteed the bond of a stranger, committed yourself with your own lips…" (1b, Jerusalem)
Now this verse begs a question: what is the harm in becoming surety for someone we do not know very well (whether neighbor or stranger)? Proverbs 6:2 answers this question -
"…you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth…" (NIV)
"Thou art entangled…" (Sprl)
"You are taken as in a net…" (Bas)
"You are snared….caught…" (Lam)
"…you have been trapped…" (Jerusalem)
"…you are caught by your promise, trapped by some promise you have made" (NEB)
The Hebrew word for "snare" or "ensnared" is yaqosh, and carries the meaning of laying a bait or lure as in setting a snare, as well as describing something already snared. It can also be used in such a way as to point to the one doing the snaring, trapping or baiting. The latter word in verse two is the Hebrew word lakad, and it too, carries the same idea of capturing, and seizing, and also means to take… captive; to capture, captured, and caught; to clasp, to be imprisoned, to be seized, take, or be taken, or having been taken captive." Neither one of these words sounds like positive outcomes from entering into a binding covenant with someone you do not know well. Proverbs 6:1-2 deals with this issue forcefully because the end result of entering voluntarily and foolishly into an agreement of contract with someone you are not very familiar with can cause you to enter into some kind of bondage.
Solomon's Fervent Counsel to One Of His Sons Who
Rashly Entered Into A Binding Contract
As we continue with Proverbs 6:3, the potential for long term bondage is so prevalent, that the wisest man who has ever lived encourages the one who has made such a vow or promise to be urgent and swift about breaking it, counseling them to -
"Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, for thou art come into the power of thy friend: Go, humble thyself, and be urgent…" (ABPS)
"Do this now, my son, and free yourself…Go in hot haste, and lay siege to your neighbor…" (AAT)
"Do this now, my son, and get clear…" (Sprl)
"So do this now, my son, to free yourself…Go, hurry, stir up…" (NEB)
"do this, my son, to extricate yourself - since you have put yourself in the power of your neighbor: go, go quickly, and plead with your neighbor…" (Jerusalem)
"then do this, my son - release yourself, for you are in your fellow's power: be quick.." (Mof)
Solomon continues counseling his son who has allowed himself to be coerced into signing a binding agreement that gave the other party, alone, the advantage, telling him to put all other priorities aside until this one thing is taken care of, saying in verse 4 to -
"Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids." (NIV)
In verse 5 Solomon commands his son to -
"Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler." (NIV)
"Don't put it off. Do it now. Don't rest until you do. If you can get out of this trap you have saved yourself like a deer that escapes from a hunter, or a bird from a net." (Tay)
It is apparent that in each verse Solomon becomes more and more emphatic that his son does everything he can to break the rash vow he has made. But better yet, is the advice he gives to those who have not yet entered into bondage through such disadvantaged, one-sided agreements. Proverbs 11:15 reads,
"He who makes himself responsible for a strange man shall undergo much loss; but the hater of such undertakings will be safe." (Bas)
More time needs to be taken by Pastors who have been charged by the grace of God to be "overseers of the flock of God" to equip their congregations in such a way that they are not naive, ignorant or vulnerable to false teachings and thought reform groups who will attempt to leaven the body of Christ with erroneous teachings and examples. People need to be taught how to watch over their precious souls. They need to anticipate such things since every New Testament epistle warns God's people that false apostles, prophets and brethren are sure to come. The question is not if they come, but when they will come, because come they will. Jesus, Peter, Paul, Jude and James taught it, etc…Equipping the saints against such error or deception was a constant New Testament motif, and it needs to be so today as well.
Along with the warning against false teachers and New Age LGATS (some presenting themselves as Christian ministries), should be Biblical ethics and admonitions against signing or otherwise entering into binding agreements rashly or recklessly, not only in matters pertaining to Hold Harmless Clauses, but in regard to any matter that pressures a person to enter into a contract that is binding. May God in His grace and mercy, use this article toward that end.
Dr. Pete Bertolero, 2002
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