The Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) is a widely recognized Christian organization with around 20 million members worldwide. However, many of its beliefs and practices align with the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, which causes great concern.
Here is a color-coded breakdown of how the BITE model applies to the Seventh-Day Adventists:
- Green means does not apply
- Orange means it partially applies (in other words, true for a subsection of members such as leaders, but not rank-and-file members)
- Red means it absolutely applies
1. Regulate Individual’s physical reality This is especially true with regard to diet, Sabbath-keeping and forms of forbidden entertainment
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates -SDAs (Seventh Day Adventists) strive to keep their members isolated from society, attending SDA schools and living strictly by SDA standards, of course nominal members tend to ignore many of these controls
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex The SDA prophet has some very bizarre teachings about sex & sexual practice, but the privacy of sex makes this difficult for the church to monitor
4. Control types of clothing and hair styles Yes, very true when I was growing up in Adventism, but less true today, at least in more liberal areas where Adventism is practiced
5. Regulate diet- food and drink, hunger and/or fasting Very strict dietary rules and requirements, no unclean meats or foods, no alcohol, many see vegetarianism as a requirement based on the prophet’s teachings
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep No
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence Required tithing – paying 10% of one’s income to the church to be in good standing, other offerings are also expected and wills made out to the church are strongly recommended
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, and vacation time Growing up in Adventism, there was an endless list of forbidden and condemned activities, and many of these continue to the present – going to movies, playing cards, chess, competitive sports, dancing, unchaperoned dating, etc.
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the internet SDAs are very much about indoctrinating their people based on their belief that they have been given special revelation from their prophet Ellen G. White, that they are the one true church, and that the thousands and thousands of pages written (plagiarized in reality) by their prophet, came straight from God through “visions” and dreams.
10. Permission required for major decisions Generally not, encouraged but not required
11. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative Adventism is a very controlling subculture, but especially in their major educational centers have a highly educated membership, so they try to be as subtle in their manipulation and control as they can. But, when influential people step out of line, they are often attacked in very dishonest and unchristian ways.
12. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think Adventism has become much more pluralistic than it used to be, but the organization is still totally hierarchical and authoritarian in the way it operates. Group-think is the goal of the leadership, which is why the church places such a premium on isolation.
13. Impose rigid rules and regulations Because of the thousands of rules and regulations handed down by their prophet, Adventism has always attempted to enforce way more rules than what most churches do.
14. Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, curring, rape, or tattooing/branding No, the church does not condone or practice violence
15. Threaten harm to family and friends No
16. Force individual to rape or be raped No
17. Encourage or engage in corporal punishment Yes, what the church did by defrocking and firing Desmond Ford, is a classic example of corporate punishment against one of the most Christian scholars imaginable. There are many other similar cases in SDA history.
18. Instill dependency and obedience This is the goal of Adventism, with its teaching that you must be part of Adventism to be part of God’s final Remnant Church on earth, the only ones who will be saved. And those who leave Adventism are generally viewed as lost for eternity.
19. Kidnapping No.
20. Beating No.
21. Torture No
22. Rape No
23. Separation of Families No
24. Imprisonment No
25. Murder No
1. Deception – This is the overwhelming characteristic of Adventism throughout its history, as my psychobiography documents.
Deliberately withhold information – this is done constantly and repeatedly in Adventism, and the church is willing to use the most unethical and even illegal means to destroy their critics, and attempt to discredit their works, the more threatening they are, as my next book will further document.
Distort information to make it more acceptable – Again, this is constantly done by the church and its huge PR machine, like the Mormons, they are spin masters, who do everything possible to hide the dishonesty and deception that are innate to their history and present operation.
Systematically lie to the cult member – Because the entire movement has been built on documented lies, many in the movement, including many in leadership, don’t even recognize the lies. They are all they have known – and therefore, they will defend the lies as if they were truth.
2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information including: This used to be more true when I was growing up in Adventism than it is today, but the SDA church still strongly attempts to isolate itself from other churches and mainline culture, it has a history of condemning other churches more than any church I have studied, and it aggressively attempts to suppress or censor information that does not fit with church propaganda.
Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, media – SDAs do not attempt to exert control over these sources of information in general, but aggressively oppose anything in these sources of information that conflict with church propaganda.
Critical information – Yes, the church will do anything it can to suppress, attack or misrepresent any information that conflicts with its propaganda.
Former members – This is only in the red category when the former member poses a threat to the church, but there is a long history up to the present, of the church doing everything they can to demonize such people.
Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate – Thinking for oneself in a manner that questions church teaching is strongly discouraged in Adventism, although the church would try to deny this. But, the many testimonies on my daily Facebook page, demonstrate that this is generally the case.
Control through cell phone with texting, calls, and internet tracking – I would say this is generally not the case.
3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs Insider doctrines – This is definitely the case in Adventism, the church teaches that it has the truth and it is the true Remnant Church of God, based on their last day prophet Ellen White who claimed to receive thousands of “visions” from God, and anything that conflicts with these revelations is rejected.
Ensure that information is not freely accessible – This has been true throughout SDA history and I have experienced a number of examples myself.
Control information at different levels and missions within group – Yes, the White Estate has been entrusted with controlling Ellen White’s multitudinous writings (much of which have been documented to be plagiarized), and they have been guilty of suppressing and engaging in extreme dishonesty to falsely prop up the prophet.
Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when – This has definitely been the goal and practice of Adventism historically, but is becoming increasingly untenable in this age of the internet.
4. Encourage spying on other members – The General Conference of SDAs is currently discussing placing monitors (spies) in every church to make sure that Ellen White is properly respected and upheld as the church prophet.
Impose a buddy system to monitor and control members – I am not aware of this being done in Adventism.
Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership – This is certainly encouraged and done in Adventism, and I have seen it done in a number of cases.
Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group – This is done more informally than formally in Adventism, but it is certainly part of the subculture.
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media – Yes, from the beginning SDAs have been very publication conscious and have inundated their members with propaganda that has enabled the church to function with a high degree of dishonesty and deception.
Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources – Yes, all of the above, and the church has even gone to the extreme of completely fabricating entire books to demonize and discredit its critics.
6. Unethical use of confession – I mark this orange instead of red, because the church does not practice confession in the Catholic sense, but I have seen gross violations of confidentiality by church leaders to hurt and discredit employees in a manner that was totally unethical, with no consequences for the guilty leaders.
Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity – This fits with my statement directly above.
1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth – Adventists are in the habit historically of referring to their beliefs or doctrines as The Truth, “We have the Truth” as opposed to other groups who do not have the the truth. “We are the true Remnant Church” which no other church qualifies to be. And one of the two proofs for this is their belief that they were given God’s last day prophet, Ellen G White (EGW), who was the perfect interpreter of Scripture because she got her “visions” and testimonies straight from God! Members who do not embrace these ideas are considered nominal or backsliding.
a. Adopting the group’s map of reality as reality – Again SDAs do their best to create an alternative reality, through their isolation from other groups and the mainline culture, that is not generally well known by those outside of Adventism. Their hospitals and healthcare entities tend to be the exception to this alternative reality.
b. Install black & white thinking – This is the practice of institutional Adventism, but in the more educated areas, this becomes a much harder sell for church leadership.
c. Decide between good and evil – As Ellen White put it, her works were either entirely of God or entirely of the devil. Even though her works contain a great deal of falsehood, error, nonsense, and plagiarism, you don’t last long or move up the ladder in Adventism if you openly acknowledge this!
d. Organize people into us vs them (insiders vs outsiders) – It is typical in Adventism for members to immediately ask about any book or resource – is it Adventist? If not, it is immediately suspect, historically this has been very true in Adventism, based on Ellen White’s condemnations of other churches and the world (culture outside of Adventism), but the more educated members become, the harder this is for the denomination to maintain.
2. Change person’s name and identity – SDAs are generally not into this practice.
3. Use of loaded language and cliches which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzzwords – Yes, SDAs do have their own subcultural language and jargon, that would often seem foreign to an outsider. More liberal SDAs will make fun of this kind of jargon and how it is used to isolate members from mainstream culture.
4. Encourage only good and proper thoughts – This is less true today in Adventism than has historically been the case, but there is a very strong strain of perfectionism in SDA theology and culture that includes a very strong emphasis on taking every thought captive to purity in all things.
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member – SDAs would generally oppose or be very suspicious of any form of hypnotism because EGW condemned it.
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created – This is generally not the case in Adventism, although the church has denied and hidden much of its ugly history from church members.
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking – There is a lot of this in Adventism but not based on the practice of thought-stopping (as it is taught psychologically)
Chanting – no
Meditating – SDAs not generally big on this
Praying – There is a lot of prayer manipulation in Adventism but not using thought-stopping techniques
Speaking in tongues – No SDAs fear this because of EGW (Although she was a radical and fanatical charismatic in her youth)
Singing or humming – not a method of the church
8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism – EGW couldn’t handle criticism & authoritarian SDA leadership is often very similar to her.
9. Forbid critical questions, about leader, doctrine or policy allowed – the hierarchical system of Adventism definitely does not encourage critical thinking and suppresses it, marginalizes it, or ignores it whenever it threatens the institutional agenda.
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful – SDAs have a long history of doing this, led by their prophet,, but are more subtle about it today, although the thinking is still deeply grounded in the SDA psyche.
Instill new map of reality – This is still a major goal of Adventism, although the church attempts to be more subtle about it today then has been their traditional practice.
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish – Ellen White writes on almost every conceivable topic, and condemns so many different forms of behavior and thinking that guilt is connected to all kinds of emotions and feelings in Adventism. And those who reject or ignore the “prophet” are considered bad or backslidden Adventists.
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger and doubt – While it is true that SDAs are generally more emotionally repressed than the general population, it is not because they are taught specific techniques, but because the subculture generated by Ellen White’s writings results in these deficits.
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault – the strong traditional emphasis on perfectionism in Adventism (again traced to EGW) produces this kind of thinking in church members (there is an excellent book by Carol Canon – Never Good Enough! -that describes the experience of growing up in Adventist subculture in this regard, very well!)
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
a. identity guilt– fear & guilt relating to the end of time are built into SDA thinking, church members are taught that they will face a terrible time of trouble (EGW) & will be persecuted by the whole world because they worship on Saturday.
b. You are not living up to your potential – you are never good enough in terms of measuring up to the church requirements (again traced to EGW)
c. Your family is deficient – SDAs typically do not try to alienate members from their families -except that they work hard to get members to sign their wills over to the church instead of their next of kin.
d. Your past is suspect – Adventism places a great emphasis on sin, sinfulness, and avoiding worldliness at all costs (again traced to EGW), but is more pluralistic in this regard than it used to be.
e. Your affiliations are unwise – traditionally, anything that is not Adventist is viewed with suspicion and even condemnation in SDA subculture.
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish – One of the old sayings in Adventism is – Fact-Faith-Feeling, meaning we have the Truth – that is the fact, faith must be placed in this Truth – feeling and thoughts that detract from this are wrong.
g. Social guilt – peer pressure and social guilt are very strong factors in Adventism, if you don’t live up to the standards you are frowned upon!
h. Historical guilt – SDA history is filled with guilt-producing materials from the “prophet” and Adventists also tend to remember sins and wrongs in a manner that perpetuates historical guilt.
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently – independent thinking that goes against the party line if Adventism is strongly discouraged and condemned!
b. The outside world – far more than most churches, but typical of most cults, Adventism has traditionally generated a strong fear of the outside world in its members.
c. Enemies – Again based on Ellen White, SDAs have always taught, even today, that a worldwide Sunday Law is going to be passed, forcing everyone to worship on Sunday and persecuting those who worship on Saturday (Sabbath). This irrational belief is so ingrained in the SDA psyche that it strongly persists in spite of the fact that there is virtually nothing to support it.
d. Losing one’s salvation – Traditionally this has been a major fear in Adventism, and even to this day, if someone leaves the church the average member will believe that they are now lost for eternity.
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group – This is also very common in Adventism, and is tied to the previous belief.
f. Other’s disapproval – SDAs tend to be approval-seeking personalities more so than the general population, so there is a good deal of fear in the subculture relating to social guilt.
g. Historical guilt – Yes, see historical guilt, above
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bonding and praise one moment and then declaring you are a horrible sinner – Generally speaking, I would say that SDAs are not known for their emotional volatility, but tend to be emotionally suppressed or constipated as a subculture, but they do tend to be very critical and condemning, again related to their perfectionistic thinking.
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins – When I was growing up in Adventism this was very common with altar calls and public confession – it is much less common now, especially in the more sophisticated enclaves of Adventism.
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority – Yes, see above mentioned fears about leaving the group, and rejecting EGW’s authority is particularly bad.
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group – When you’ve been taught you’re lost for eternity it’s hard to be happy.
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc. – All this fits, except the reincarnations – SDAs reject reincarnation.
c. Shunning of those who leave, fear of being rejected by friends and family – Very much applies to Adventism.
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave, those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex or rock and roll, or SATAN HIMSELF! – All of the above.
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family – SDAs do not officially stoop to violence as do some other cults, some extremist members could be guilty of such behavior, but not under the direction of the official church.
Credit: Dr. Steven Daily