The Breakthrough/Momentous Training, its sponsor, the Association for Christian Character Development, and its followers have actively circulated the rumor that only 10-12 people have had negative experiences in the training and none of them have ever confronted flounder Dan Tocchini with their concerns.. They further claim that only those who have actually been through the training have any right to criticize it-- and that since there are so few of them, they must have a skewed perspective. The rumor amounts to this: "don't .listen to any evaluation or criticism of Momentus/Breakthrough-- only its enthusiastic supporters have the right to talk about it.""
Although a few thousand more people have taken the training in the seven or eight years "the myth of ten" rumor has circulated, the number has never been revised upward to reflect new realities.
Actually, a large number of people from many backgrounds have seen problems in the Breakthrough training. Opponents of Breakthrough/Momentus (M/B) fall into four general categories: graduates who haven't publically denounced the training (in addition to those who have), friends and family of grads, pastors, and researchers.
The first category is graduates who are disturbed about some of their experiences, but haven't taken a public, visible role in denouncing it. While it may be true that only about ten graduates have published accounts of their negative experiences in Breakthrough, a larger number have had disturbing experiences in the training. Many friends and family of graduates oppose Breakthrough because they have seen graduates think, say and do things which they learned in training, and which they believe harmful to them or to relationships (this is ironic, because graduates typically think that principles learned in Breakthrough only enhance relationships). Many opponents of Breakthrough are pastors who have seen disturbing results in members of their churches who took the training, and who in many cases struggled through church conflicts and splits caused by graduates. Researchers and psychologists have described the origin and nature of some of the problematic practices Breakthrough uses.
Is it accurate to say that only graduates of Breakthrough/Momentus trainings have the right to criticize it? Or is this just a ploy to prevent potential recruits from reading valid criticisms of the training?
Many people are injured or die every year from illicit drugs. Do only former users have the right to speak against them? Do people who observe drug users have a right to speak against them too? What about chemists and medical personnel who understand the physiological effects on the body? Clearly, observers and clinicians, not just users, have important insights. Likewise, graduates of the training, family friends, pastors and researchers all have significant contributions to make to a full evaluation of the training.
Grads who are Critical of Aspects of the Training
At least ten graduates of Breakthrough/ Momentus (M/B) have written extensive accounts of their negative experiences in the training which are widely available. William Barton, Terri Craddock, Marsha Robbins and Jean Cofield all published their testimonies on one web site, which has one of the largest collections of articles about M/B. Steve Lortz published his account on the site Athena Massari, Tom Harrison and David Serio wrote testimonies which are included in a packet circulated by Peter Bertolero. The most publicized account was given by actress Hunter Tylo when she appeared on the 700 Club television show with Dr Paul Martin of the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (which ministers to ex-cultists) on September 11, 2000. Pastor Terry Burchyett of Calvary Christian Fellowship in Franklin, Tennessee distributed his account of his experiences along with articles that evaluate the training from a Christian perspective.
However, most of the people who have had the worst experiences in the training (who left mid-way through the training or had to have therapy afterward to deal with its effects) have not published accounts of their experiences, partly because of potential embarrassment or criticism from pro-M/B readers. Others have published their experiences in Lifespring, which are helpful because its techniques are so similar to M/B.
Other grads haven't published extensive descriptions, but have described some of their reactions to friends, churches, and on chat lines. M/B has caused controversies in many churches, beginning with M/B founder Dan Tocchini's church (as described below), indicating that there have been many people with negative experiences in M/B even though they haven't taken a highly visible stand against it.
Momentus once had a dialogue board on its web site (now closed) on which grads could dialogue with trainers. However, when the board became increasingly negative toward the training, Momentus closed it. Christian Educational Services (CES) a group which split off from a cult called The Way International, heavily recruited people from its mailing list to take the training. It also had a message board which included long discussions of M/B. However, CES closed the board in 2000 when it also became very critical of M/B. An Ex-CES group began when many followers of CES became dissatisfied with CES practices, which included its heavy support of M/B. The Ex-CES message board continues to offer discussion of M/B. Message boards often include grads who don't take public stands for or against M/B, but describe both positive and negative things about the training. Old message boards from the CES site and from the now-closed Waydale site (which criticized the cult The Way International) are now archived at
Family and Friends of Graduates
Family and friends of M/B graduates also have spoken of the problems they see in the training. Some of them relate the bad experiences their family members had in the training. They believe they are accurately relating the nature of the training, based on the eye witness accounts of their friends or family members. This would be similar to the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, in which Luke relates some events described by his friend Paul, even though Luke was not present. In some cases, the friends may be able to describe experiences better than the eyewitness because they can see it more objectively or are better writers.
Some of the family and friends know graduates who are generally pleased with the training. However, the family isn't pleased with how the grads learned to think, speak and act at the training. Sometimes grads are elated with the experience of the training and with the feeling of being transformed. But they don't necessarily have the objectivity to see all its effects on their behavior and they gloss over troubling aspects of the training which would hinder recruitment of new trainees.. But the family and friends often can see the negative results of the training in a more objective and perceptive way. They are often better judges of the "fruit" of the training than the grads themselves and have important observations. They are often troubled by grads mimic techniques used in training, such as "attack therapy," "hot seat" practices in which a group bombards an individual with criticism, a legalistic approach to relationships, the potentially frustrating idea that grads can control all aspects of their lives, and the principle that peoples are never victims- bad things enter their lives only because they invite them to enter.
Pastors of Graduates and Recruits
Pastors from Dan Tocchini's (author of M/B training) home town of Santa Rosa, California, formed the first organized opposition to the M/B training in 1993. The most vocal of the pastors who saw problems in the training was Dick Williams of Grace Fellowship, who did extensive research on M/B over the years and distributed material which raised serious concerns. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat published an article about the M/B controversy titled "A Momentus Divide Among Churches, October 3, 1993 which noted that at least five ministers had extensive discussions with Tocchini and M/B supporters.
The training also produced huge controversy in Tocchini's home church, Santa Rosa Christian Church (SRCC). There was such severe controversy that SRCC called in Barney Combs of Salt and Light Ministries, Scotland, who was friends with SRCC leadership, to arbitrate. Combs, with associate Brian Watts, write a statement of concerns they had regarding the training:
1. The cross does not seem to be central; 2. The Scriptures appear to be played down and personal experience played up; 3. Is a soul realm of psychology being used to produce a spiritual experience?; 4. Momentus Training seems to be fundamentally similar to Lifespring; 5. Inaccurate views of repentance; 6. ...sanctification is treated in Momentus Training as a quick fix without regard for God's slow process; 7. WTS is a parachurch business; 8. Anti-church presuppositions; 9. Cheap grace; 10. License: questionable hugging and profanity; 11. Disclaimer(ed note: the "Hold Harmless" form); 12. The marathon format.
The paper describes these items in some detail. It also lists six concerns regarding Tocchini himself and addressed other issues. Combs was even more emphatic about the "deception" of the training in a personal letter written in 1995.
Although M/B claimed to revise the training, three years later a controversy arose in nearby Fresno which cited most of the same concerns. A group of ministers from the city met and spoke extensively with M/B leader Derek Watson for several months (Tocchini declined to attend one or more of the meetings). The ministers were led by Peter Bertolero of Fresno Christian Growth Center and Eddie Morgan of Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Both wrote evaluations of the training and Bertolero continues to distribute large packets of information criticizing the training.
Currently M/B rejects most criticism as being founded on rumors found on the Internet. However, it is apparent that the roots of criticism of M/B begin in Tocchini's own home town, long before any material appeared on line.
M/B founder Tocchini frequently complains that "not one of the reports against our ministry have been brought to me personally by the one with the complaint as we are instructed by Jesus in Matthew 18" ("Christian Transformation and the Momentus Training," Yet, pastors and leaders in Santa Rosa, Fresno and other places have confronted Tocchini, Watson and others. The problem has not been that M/B leaders have not been confronted, but that M/B has made only peripheral changes and has not altered the most troublesome aspects of the training.
Over the years, a large number of churches have been in conflict or severe division due to M/B. Besides the concerns with the training itself, conflict also arises because many grads apparently insist on recruiting within their churches, apply inappropriate ways of interacting with people in their churches, oppose leaders who do not want them to recruit within their churches, and form cliquish grad groups within their churches. Killing the Victim alludes to subversive nature of grad groups in churches "Look at what happens whenever... a different small group structure is introduced! In just our own limited experience we have seen this happen when church members take the Momentus training we offer" (p. 157). The book mentions that some pastors forbid people in their church from taking the training, and that one asked a grad to renounce the training or leave the church. But the book doesn't mention how frequently grads leave their churches when the churches decline to promote the training.
Since pastors are among the strongest critics of M/B, it is not surprising that the M/B book Killing the Victim Before the Victim Kills You (by Tocchini, Watson and Pinci) includes an extensive section (pp. 157-160) criticizing pastors for accepting responsibility for their parishioners and for seeking to keep their congregation from dangerous influences. They state that "numerous" pastors discourage their people from participating in M/B and condemn pastors who require outside influences or ministries to "pass a tough doctrinal litmus test" before they are allowed to influence their people. (No doubt M/B wouldn't mind doctrinal tests if M/B normally passed them.) Readers of Killing the Victim... are led to believe that any pastors who are troubled over M/B for any reasons are "rigid and calcified," pathologically cautious and maintain an "idolatrous" relationship with their people, while M/B trainers are spiritually and relationally advanced.
M/B seems ignorant of the fact that the Bible distinctly requites pastors and church leaders to take some responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their people. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17) certainly requires pastors to accept some responsibility for the believers under their care (although this does not infer that people should take no responsibility for their own faith and life.) 1 Peter 5:2 adds, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers..." Paul told the elders of Ephesus to "be on your guard" against leaders who would arise from the Church but who would lead their people away from the whole will of God (Acts 20:25-35). While some pastors may exercise their ministry of care inappropriately, M/B seems primarily interested in having unhindered access and influence over Christians without any serious evaluation or hindrance from church elders and pastors. In this way, the authors model for their followers the practice of judging church leadership largely upon how much they support or oppose M/B.
Researchers and Psychologists
When potential recruits read that an organization called "The Association for Christian Character Development" offers a training that "is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ," and read all the Christian terms in the promotional material, they assume that it must use respectable Christian concepts and methods. But as the training progresses they commonly sense that many of the methods don't seem to fit with what they believe is a Christian approach- but they can't quite put their finger on just what and why. This confusion is because M/B participants seldom have much background knowledge in the areas of aberrant psychology, psychological techniques, manipulation of groups and individuals, and the human potential movement. If they did, they would better recognize why certain elements are disturbing, where the techniques came from and how they produce predictable psychological effects.
Accordingly, researchers, writers and psychologists who have background in these fields (as well as well-read friends) have a large contribution to make in helping recruits and potential recruits understand the composition of the training.
In general, the more informed people are in these fields, the more they are concerned with M/B techniques (they commonly consider M/B staff to be well-meaning and respectable people, but are concerned with the script and methods of the training).
Several sources give great insight into the coercive psychological techniques used in the trainings. For example, Margaret Singer's book Cults in Our Midst, gives a description of a typical Large Group Awareness Training" (LGAT). A M/B participant would think that she is describing M/B itself, only because LGATs are so alike (there are many LGATs, including M/B and Lifespring; Tocchini was a trainer in Lifespring for about 8 years before repackaging much of the Lifespring training as M/B) . The book also describes the coercive and manipulative techniques commonly used in LGATs, many of which are used in some form in M/B. Even more, readers see how reactions of participants to the trainings are not so much spontaneous as they as psychologically induced. Ironically, trainings use methods which indirectly restrict the "self government" of participants which they claim to vitalize.
Singer's book Crazy Therapies describes some of the radical psychological methods developed by practitioners on the fringe of psychology. Lo and behold, its description of highly confrontational "attack therapy," regression to infant-like experience and thinking, and various "scream therapies" sound much like methods used in M/B. Each "therapy" has a commonly accepted label, is emotionally powerful and appears in various forms used by various practitioners. But they are recognized as being for the most part worthless and many are to some degree harmful.
It is ironic that some in the nonchristian world seem to be less naive and have more and perception in the area of aberrant psychological methods than many Christians do.
Several Christian organizations and leaders who study sects cults and new religious movements recognize the close relationship M/B has with "human potential" groups and movements. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, and Christian Research Institute and others have raised warning flags when it comes to M/B. Of course, M/B has been forceful in its criticism of such "watchdog groups" (Killing the Victim, pp. 167, 162) even though they have served an important purpose in the Church at large and take an objective approach, not a "paranoid attitude" as the book claims.
M/B often asserts that researchers don't bother to talk to trainers directly about their concerns. However, several of the pastors mentioned above, at least one representative of CRI this author and probably others as well have all had extensive discussions or correspondence with Tocchini and/or other M/B trainers over the last nine years.
ACCD Threatens Lawsuits
The ACCD has used the threat of lawsuits to try to eliminate publications which are critical of the training. Ironically, this violates one of the key principles of Killing the Victim- that litigation is a tool of fear used by "victims" (in M/B thought, you want to "kill the victim" in you, not be one). The book states, "The victim uses fear to sensationalize adverse circumstances in order to extort and threaten others. This extortion lies behind much of the litigation pursued in the courts today: we are often encouraged to file a suit and shake some money out of someone or some company." (P. 162)
This author sent a preliminary copy of the article "Breakthrough/Momentus Training: Psychological Techniques or Christian Ministry?" which describes the training using M/B's own publications and evaluates its psychologically coercive techniques. to Breakthrough before publication so they could comment on it. Breakthrough responded by "advising" me not to quote any of their publications and threatening to prosecute me for quoting any of them.
This suggests that Momentus may not understand the doctrine of "fair use" which is part of copyright law . The concept of fair use means that anyone from professional writers to high school students can quote sections of any publication for purposes of review or information without obtaining permission from the original authors.
Four factors are used to determine if quotations of a copyrighted work are "fair use:" 1) the purpose of the use, 2) the type of work involved, 3) the amount used, and 4) whether the original work will sell fewer copies because the public will instead buy the similar work which contains the quotations..
This article easily is considered fair use, because 1) it is a work of criticism, comment and research which in no way attempts to imitate Momentus publications and is not sold for profit; 2) it is factual, not fiction, and quotes published sources (as opposed to private correspondence), 3) it quotes proportionately very small sections of Momentus publications, and 4) no one would get this article instead of buying Momentus publications because it is so similar to them.
One key concept in copyright law is rooted in the term "transformative." This article is highly different from Momentus writings (very "transformative"), and so isn't copyright infringement.
What if the copyright owner refuses to give permission? The Supreme Court decided that authors can quote material even if permission is withheld: "If the use is otherwise fair, no permission need be sought or granted. Thus, being denied permission to use a work does not weigh against a finding of fair use." (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 114 S.Ct. 1164 ). Remember that the purpose of copyright law is to prevent plagiarism, not to prevent the free flow of ideas or the freedom of the press. ("Fair use" is addressed in The Public Domain by Stephen Fishman, 2001, from which much of this material is drawn, as well as in style books for professional authors and college students.) Why is Breakthrough afraid that people will read quotes from their own publications?
ACCD also sent me a copy of a news article about an author who lost a lawsuit which accused him of libel. The implied threat that ACCD could sue me for libel was obvious, even though it wasn't stated outright.
That correspondence missed a central theme repeated often in my articles: the trainers and staff of ACCD seem to be respectable, well-meaning people. My concern, and the concern of other grads, pastors and researchers, is not with the character or motives of any individuals persons but with the script of the training.
Lifespring- The Hidden Source of the M/B Training
ACCD promotes the idea that the training is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, which appeals to Christians who are M/B's main recruits. However, the much more important source of the training is largely hidden and barely alluded to.
Tucked away in the dozens of acknowledgments in Killing the Victim... is an extremely important line little understood by readers. It says simply, "The impact of some individuals has been so profound in our lives that they stand in a class by themselves. John P. Hanley is one such individual. Thank you John for your stand for transformation and passion, and for your stalwart guidance through the years." (P. 11)
Another obscure reference is included in the biography of one of the book's authors: "Daniel previously worked as a consultant in conflict resolution, productivity and motivation for companies of all sizes" (p. 254). These references consciously avoid stating who John Hanley is and what organization Tocchini worked for as a "consultant."
In fact, John Hanley founded the LGAT Lifespring. Before that, he was an employee of Mind Dynamics which went out of business in 1975 after the California attorney general's office filed a lawsuit against it. Another employee of Mind Dynamics was Werner Erhardt, who formed est and Forum, two other LGATs which received much criticism, as has Lifespring.
Exposes in newspapers, magazines and televison have highlighted the psychologically damaging nature of Lifespring. The St Louis Post-Dispatch reported on April 22, 1994 that Lifespring was sued more than 40 times for causing psychological injury or death. The Feb-March 1990 issue of Boston Business magazine was even more specific. It stated that 30 lawsuits had been filed against Lifespring from 1974 to 1990, six charging that trainees died as a result of the training, and most others claiming the training caused severe psychosis.. It reported that most cases settled out of court for as much as $500,000 each. Forward magazine cited the case of Gail Renick who died as a result of the training; Lifespring paid the family $450,000 to settle the suit.
Much of this controversy and some of these cases took place while Tocchini was employed by Lifespring as a trainer from about 1982 to 1990 (which his biography calls "consultant"). He certainly knew of these cases because of his close association with Hanley, and may even have been directly or indirectly involved in some of them. Lifespring attempted to avoid such lawsuits against them by requiring participants to sign a "Hold Harmless" agreement.
When Tocchini designed the Momentous training, he used large amounts of the Lifespring training he knew so well. Perhaps he expected that some of the M/B participants would experience some of the same psychological and physical injury Lifespring participants did, so began the practice of requiring trainees to sign a "Hold Harmless" statement very much like the one Lifespring used. Since he credits Hanley with his concept of transformation, this suggests that M/B's concept of transformation is based on the non-Christian, human potential philosophy of transformation more than on the Biblical concept.
Most Christians would find it hard to accept that a "Christian" training would import psychological techniques which were already known to prompt psychological and physical injury and death or that churches would approve of such a training.
A "family tree" of LGATs which branched from the Mind Dynamics root can be found on "The Awareness Page." It lists at least 16 Lifespring spin-offs, mainly started by former Lifespring employees like Tocchini.
One article in Psychiatry journal offers an insightful evaluation of the psychological techniques used in the Lifespring LGAT ("Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training," Vol. 46, Aug. 1983, by Janice Haaken and Richard Adams; available on the Internet). It describes many elements of the training and explains why many of the elements (including occasional feelings of well-being) and practices are pathological. Many of the elements are very much like those used in M/B.
M/B is a mixed bag, as most critics and some grads of M/B admit. Some elements of it are productive, while others are disturbing and problematic. It would be beneficial to have a Breakthrough-like training which excludes the problematic elements. Until that happens, potential recruits would be well served to consider the insights of dissatisfied graduates, families of grads, and researchers as well as the glowing comments of the training's supporters
Dr. John Juedes 2002
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