Cultish Leadership in the Mainstream

Joe Navarro is a former FBI Agent.  He worked as a special agent and supervisor in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment for 25 years. He is one of the founding members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program.  The former agent studied cults and cult leaders during his time with the FBI.   In an article he wrote for Psychology Today, Navarro states:  “They all have an over-abundant belief that they are special, that they and they alone have the answers to problems, and that they have to be revered.

He notes that cult leaders demand perfect loyalty from followers, that they overvalue themselves and devalue those around them.  They are intolerant of criticism, and do not like being questioned or challenged.  Navarro writes “in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.”

Today, I found a video which has gone viral.  It was recorded on May 19th, 2013, at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Skiatook, Oklahoma.

When Dr. Jim Standridge, who’s been the pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church for 24 years, noticed a congregant falling asleep during a morning sermon, Stanbridge became indignant.  With an authoritarian tone he said:

Hey, Hey Hey, don’t you lay your head down,

I’m important, I’m somebody! 

You stay awake and you listen to me!

He then tells the member that he loves him.  But he didn’t stop there.   Standridge approaches another member of his congregation, and with an angry tone says:

I noticed on the calendar I’m supposed to marry ya’ll.  What makes you think I’d marry you?  You’re one of the sorriest church members I have. You’re not worth 15 cents. And you want me to marry you to her?

Then says to the young man:

Stand up big boy

Shakes his hand, gives him a huge and says:

Do you know I love you?

He walks over to the other side, points his finger and yells

Do You Remember When We Made Holy War?


Without missing a beat he looks at a young mother:

Brandy’s a sweet girl and she’s got her children—

His pointing finger turns into a thrusting fist:

Yes y’all are good and y’all are fine but your children will turn on you if you don’t hold up the standard and the banner of God.  And if they don’t turn on you, you’ll just produce nice little worldly-in’s.

The pastor continues his rant with another member of his congregation who videotapes the sermons.  He thinks this member needs an attitude adjustment, and sternly tells the mother:

Momma, you get out of my way when I’m messin’ with that boy because I’m his preacher!

Standridge turns to address the technician in the video room and says:

If you loved me, and you submitted to me, you’d know what my heart is and my message is, and you wouldn’t go about establishing your own kingdom in the video room.

Now standing behind his podium, pastor Standridge takes a drink from a bottle of water and says:

I really feel good now.

Cult leaders work on the emotions of individuals or groups to induce fear, anger, guilt, apprehension, and/or nervous tension.  They cause shock and confusion.

Here is an abridged list of typical traits of a pathological cult leader.  The list comes from Agent Joe Navarro.

1)   Is deeply offended when there are perceived signs of boredom, being ignored or of being slighted.

2)   Demands blind unquestioned obedience.

3)   Treats others with contempt and arrogance.

4)   Has a sense of entitlement – expecting to be treated special at all times.

5)   Is arrogant and haughty in his/her behavior or attitude

6)   Is hypersensitive to how he/she is seen or perceived by others.

7)   Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.

8)   Is frequently boastful of accomplishments.

9)   Needs to be the center of attention.

10)  Communication is usually one-way in the form of dictates.

11)  When criticized he/she tends to lash out not just with anger but with rage.

12)  Anyone who criticizes or questions him/her is called an “enemy.”

13)  Habitually puts down others as inferior and only he/she is superior.

14)  Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.

15)  Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.

16)  Sees self as “unstoppable” perhaps has even said so.

17)  Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself –  sees himself/herself as “blessed.”

18)  Rigid, unbending, or insensitive describes how this person thinks.

19)  Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he/she has done wrong nor does he/she apologize for his/her actions.

20)  Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.

Pastor Standridge told The Christian Post that he could not care less what a few strangers on the Internet think about his message.

It was a family meeting, not a national meeting,”

he told CP, adding that his May 19, 2013, sermon was full of grace and love.

“If you knew me, you’d know that I’m a loving, caring guy

Agent Navarro states:  “When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially.  If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet.”

The video tech who was called out for trying to “establish his own kingdom” in the video room allegedly affirmed his support for the pastor when he and Standridge ‘hugged it out” after the service.  Repeating what Navarro wrote:  “In spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.”

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Source


35 thoughts on “Cultish Leadership in the Mainstream

  1. Hey Victoria,

    I will not hog your blog today, I promise.

    This is the thing, you will always find a person like this in every church, someone in leadership to some capacity acts like this preacher. The really sadistic ones are those who oversee so called seeker friendly churches, they’re actually worse than this behind the scenes.

    I don’t miss the pressure, the humiliation, and the blatant disregard for others. I didn’t survive religion, I kicked it in the nads and ran.

    Hope you enjoy your day.

    • I will tell you what you told me. I encourage comments. Blog postings are great, but I learn so much from the comments that follow. Hog all you want.

      I agree with you that leadership behavior can be worse behind the scenes. I’ve been to my fair share of churches, in several denominations, and in several states. Like you, I speak from experience. It’s not coincidence. They all have one thing in common; the need to control others because their own inner lives are out of control. Btw, I don’t know if you read the “Christian Post” link I left, but he also told a woman, in front of the congregation, that her husband was smarter than she ever thought about being, and that she should stop questioning her husband’s ‘insight’ and submit to him.

  2. Can we pass something to make sure people with NPD don’t come into positions of authority? I don’t want these people as cops, bosses, or politicians.

    Okay, that won’t happen. But, it’d be nice.

    • Hey Jo, thanks for the link. I thought the comment was reasonable until the preacher said “As a preacher and teacher myself, I can relate to where the pastor was coming from,” and then backed it up by another preacher’s comment:

      I appreciate this short clip so much because this pastor says what many pastors and the church think and feel. There is a lot of anger and frustration with the people. People are a disappointment. They frustrate the program. They get in the way of the vision. They undermine the churches agenda. Their sin pollutes the purity of the church and prevents the Spirit from fully moving.

      They, They, They. I’m stunned that this sort of behavior is even being defended. Such behavior (abuse) is common behind closed doors. It’s also common to blame the congregation when it’s really poor leadership.

      Churches in America are tax exempt businesses. Prophet or Profit?

      • Thanks Jo Murphy for sharing my post here. I just discovered it now.

        How exactly did you read my post believing I was DEFENDING the pastor in the video?

        If you’re going to lift part of my post out of context, then at least use the whole sentence. I’ll give you the rest of it: “but view his behaviour as a result of years of pent up anger and frustration that has never been dealt with.”

        Out of all the hits this post of mine has gotten, this is definitely the first I’ve seen someone come away thinking I was defending the jerk in the video!

        Plus, if you go to the source I got that next quote from, David Harwood, the “Naked Pastor” you’d see it for what it really is — SARCASM. I encourage you to check out the original source, and/or at least finish reading my blog post.

        Thanks for stopping by.



        • Steve, thank you for the clarification. The link you embedded, regarding David Harwood’s post, doesn’t work. I did a Google search just now, and found the post on another website.

          It’s under the date June 26, titled “Why Abusive Pastors Like Standridge Will Always Find Pulpits.” Since the link on your site is dead, I think it would be beneficial to reference this link or the title of Haywood’s post because you isolated a paragraph apparently intended to be sarcastic. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one confused. Due to your previous and following paragraph, it was difficult to detect sarcasm from what you quoted. Your previous comment was:

          “As a preacher and teacher myself, I can relate to where the pastor was coming from, but view his behaviour as a result of years of pent up anger and frustration that has never been dealt with. Pastor David Hayward also made a comment on his blog about this that is worth mentioning:”

          When you wrote “about this” it appeared to me that you were quoting someone who agreed with you as though to blame the ‘flock’ for eventually driving him over the edge.


          “I appreciate this short clip so much because this pastor says what many pastors and the church think and feel.”

          He goes on to state:

          There is a lot of anger and frustration with the people. People are a disappointment. They frustrate the program. They get in the way of the vision. They undermine the churches agenda. Their sin pollutes the purity of the church and prevents the Spirit from fully moving.”

          I now understand his intentions — that unfortunately, this mindset is common within the clergy.

          Highlighting, once again, your previous statement:

          As a preacher and teacher myself, I can relate to where the pastor was coming from, but…”

          After Haywood’s quote, you immediately follow up by stating Standridge was coming from a place of “fleshly pent up disappointment.”

          I understood it as scapegoating — his ‘flock’ being the scapegoat.

          The bottom line — it was a matter of “lost in translation.” I misunderstood based on these comments from you and the apparent sarcasm from Haywood’s isolated comment which was sandwiched in between yours.

          Thanks again for the clarification and for bringing this to my attention. Please accept my apology for the misunderstanding.

          Kind regards,


      • If you go back to the Old Testament and read the Prophets, you’ll find the same thing over and over, Israel’s problems are being caused by the failures of the people to live up to the idiotic expectations that have supposedly come from their god. Making different word choices even without changing any of the meanings and you have the same kind of rants. As a matter of fact, Pat Robertson’s September 12th rant about how America deserved the tragedy because it tolerates homosexuals and pagans among others is a classic.

  3. The YouTube link is now dead, wonder if it exists elsewhere?

    I also wonder if the 20 markers listed above have ever been applied – albeit in an approximate and textually limited manner – to either Jesus or Paul. I’m not sure how many a profiler would see as aligning, but its clear that Jesus didn’t handle disrespect or critique attempts from other teacher-figures very charitably. Paul had his rants as well.


    • Matt, as you may already know, there was some major manuscript tampering for hundreds of years by scribes and Church fathers, so we really don’t know what Jesus actually said or did, and to add insult to injury, Paul’s Letters had two authors. Here’s an informative lecture at Stanford when you have the time (if you haven’t already seen it).

      “Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Altered Scripture and Readers Who May Never Know”.

      But, when I read the studies on certain neurological disorders, I can’t help but think that many of the so called prophets of the Bible exhibited signs of temporal lobe epilepsy.

      Here is a neurological study regarding Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy:

      Here are two short clips regarding this subject matter, and I think you will clearly see what I see. Note in the interview the similarities of this young man and some of the characters in the Bible. I found it particularly interesting that the guy says he could easily get a following.

      Part one (7 minutes)

      Part two (6 minutes)

      An informative BBC documentary “God on the Brain” is listed in my post “Preying in the Name of God” when you have the time to watch. It goes into detail about people with temporal lobe epilepsy who claimed to be ‘touched by God’. The 7th Day Adventist church is mentioned in the doc. They have a following of 25 million now, and it’s the fastest growing Protestant church in the world. Their co-founder and so called prophet has been studied extensively, and it appears that she had temporal lobe epilepsy.

      Would love to know your thoughts if and when you have the time to review the info.

      • Very familiar with Ehrman, and I agree that we can’t be terribly confident in the biblical record. However, with folks like Strobel talking about psychological analyses of Jesus and how he was lucid, sane, etc., I wondered if anyone had done a counter… Assuming for the sake of argument that biblically recorded statements and actions were accurate, etc. A mirror “analysis” from the text so to speak.

        I’m really interested in the linked videos. I didn’t see those right away, so I haven’t looked at them yet. But I will. 🙂 Thanks!

        • Matt, if you ever run across an analysis, let me know. My personal analysis is that there was a Jesus who tapped into his right hemisphere and experienced a type of utopia and connectedness and shared it with others, much like you see in other gurus who show signs of limbic lability This state of mind can be induced by great trial and tribulation and/or deprivation, when the brain and body are stressed to the max. Same with experiencing a sensed presence.

          Since Jesus was apparently misquoted on so many accounts, it’s more likely that who ever corrupted the canons indicating that Jesus said those who don’t get ‘saved’ and follow him are condemned, most likely were from those suffering from NPD,and/or other disorders, and projected while tampering with scripture.

          Of course, that’s purely based on my own opinion, and years of independent research.

          I have been quite busy this week, plus I’ve had internet connection issues nearly every day the past two weeks, so I apologize for not getting back over to your blog. I promise to do so. From what I’ve read thus far on your blog, I think it compliments my own POV. Your blog is meaty, and source intense, which is right up my alley. 😀

          Thanks so much for taking the time to watch the videos, especially the two short clips about “God and the Temporal Lobes”.

          Hope you have a delicious weekend.


  4. By the way, I have had the chance to watch those videos – fascinating! It brings me such sorrow to consider what this young guy’s life must be like. So tormented. I think its astonishing that he is consciously aware of it and admits that he is the way that he is.

    • Matt, thank you for taking the time to watch. This also happened to my late husband after he sustained a brain injury in a car accident. The injury eventually caused temporal lobe epilepsy. The doctors said he would make a full recovery from his brain injury, but instead he became hyper-religious and delusional.

      • Oh wow, I had no idea you had personal experience with this.

        I have a brother who had (we believe) a frontal lobe injury that (we believe) led to borderline personality disorder. He became a very volatile person, and there isn’t much communication there. Hyper-religious in terms of always interpreting me-them/enemy-friend paradigms as applied to everyone in his life. The difficulty has been getting a serious diagnosis, treatment, etc. He cannot hear from anyone.

        It took a really long time to realize that the stories he recounted to us often simply didn’t happen.

        • That’s quite interesting about your brother’s behavior, and I’m sorry to read that he also experienced a traumatic brain injury. Damage to the pre-frontal cortex is quite serious, and also quite common, unfortunately. In one of my advocate pages in the right column “Every 15 Seconds” there’s several studies posted on behavior and pre-frontal cortex damage.

          Regarding my own personal experience, I wrote about it in my post, “Preying in the Name of God.”

  5. Fantastic article! As usual I’ll be leaving here more informed. That pastor looks like an absolute nut, but here’s what I don’t get: Why do people follow these people? Navarro meticulously laid out their typical traits, but that doesn’t explain why people follow them. Is it simply charisma?

    • Hi RL — nice to see you, and thanks for your feedback.

      Is it simply charisma?

      I think a lot of people who follow characters like this guy were raised with this kind of authoritarian ‘charisma’. Watching how he interacted with his congregation reminded me of a George Carlin clip “Religion and God” where he talks about “the invisible man in the sky” watching your every move, and if you don’t do what he says, the invisible man in the sky has prepared a place for you where you will experience pain, suffering and torture for all of eternity, and in the same breath says, “I love you”.

      Standridge pretty much did the same thing — insulted, threatened, followed by “I love you”. Death anxiety makes people put up with crazy behavior. Their reaction to his temper tantrum resembled symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.

  6. I thought I would drop by and look at some of your past posts. This one … it sent shivers down my spine: that a person should decide to bring this behaviour to the world, the fact that we allow people like that to enter our lives! Once you shine a light on it, it becomes so obviously wrong – thank you!

  7. Sadly these narsisstic folk including church leaders won’t accept reasoning or different viewpoints. A mind set likened to any extreme fundamentalistice religion and usual minus violence. The mindset is fairly identical. Not worth challenging them. They only reel of the usual – the enemy having a go etc etc.
    Sadly I was brought up in similar in the UK in a classical pentecostalism environment. Has taken 20 years to recover. How folk are drawn to it. Unbelievable.

    Oxford Uk

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