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The Stonewalling Church | A Red Flag of Christian Cults & Church Abuse

the abusive & cult-like church practice of stonewalling

The Red Flag Reference Guide

Something we're creating in 2024 starting with this post is the Red Flag Reference Guide. This guide will be a compilation of posts that describe the specific red flags of church abuse and cult-like control that we’ve discovered over the years. Once finished, checking churches will become a more streamlined reading experience.

When the Reference Guide is finished, you’ll be able to check a church without tunneling through piles of posts and long-winded op-eds. Everything we know about a church or ministry will be summarized in a single report, but unlike the early days of Check My Church, that report won’t be thousands of words long. 

If all you’re interested in is a basic rundown, that’s what you’ll get. If you’re interested in the red flags of abuse and every excruciating detail of what we know, you can get that too. Any information that has additional red flags will have a clickable link to one or more Red Flag Reports, like this one. We’ll include a summary at the end of any check that has specific red flags that the Reference Guide doesn’t cover, but this structure will drastically reduce reading time for you and writing time for me, which means more church checking! 

Finally, if you’re here because you clicked a red flag reference in a Church Check, it’s because the church you’re checking has declined or refused to answer questions and is unresponsive to our attempts to ask questions.

Why is stonewalling cult-like and a red flag of church abuse? Read on! 


What is a Stonewalling Church?

In terms of interpersonal relationships, stonewalling is “a persistent refusal to communicate or to express emotions.” When it comes to engaging with a local church leader, we define a stonewalling church as a church that persistently refuses to answer questions about the church or communicate with those who ask questions about the church.

When we started checking churches in 2019, I had no clue that the vast majority of Christian churches are stonewalling churches. We kept a list of churches that stonewalled us and shared it with readers until it became a burden to update with every single check. It took about fifty attempts to realize it would be easier to give you a list of responsive and non-stonewalling churches.

So, we did, but it’s been years since we’ve updated that short list. It’s on my to-do list. For now, let’s talk about why stonewalling is a red flag of church abuse.

Why Stonewalling is a Red Flag of Church Abuse

The first reason stonewalling is a red flag of church abuse and cult-like control is because it is an act of withholding information, or information control. To refuse to communicate with or answer someone’s questions about the church may be a tactic practiced by authoritarian cults, according to cult expert Dr. Steve Hassan. 

In Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, Information Control (the ‘I’ in BITE) can include anything from deception, withholding information, and distorting information to make it more acceptable, to the unethical use of private confession. When a church leader/representative refuses to answer questions about the church or communicate with someone who asks questions, they’re blatantly withholding information. 

Many of the more abusive churches I’ve investigated (cough, Apologia, cough) exhibit several of the practices listed in Hassan’s BITE Model, but when it comes to withholding information by stonewalling questions, I would argue that a large majority of Christian churches are guilty. I’ve been asking churches questions for almost five years now and only a handful have answered any of them. We’ve gotten pretty good at finding the answers ourselves out of necessity because most churches stonewall.    

The second reason stonewalling is a red flag of church abuse is that it is an act of impression management, which is a concept I learned about from Dr. Wade Mullen’s book, Something’s Not Right. Like Hassan, Mullen has been a great resource of information for me in my research on the practices and behaviors of abusive churches and cults. I strongly recommend both Mullen’s book and Hassan’s BITE Model as resources in your church-checking journey. 

In his dissertation, Impression Management Strategies Used by Evangelical Organizations in the Wake of an Image-Threatening Event, Mullen describes circumstances that threaten the public image of a local church or ministry as image-threatening, but, “...In response to that threat, organizations may choose to prioritize managing their image rather than focusing on managing the problem.”


When I approach church leaders with questions, I typically introduce myself as Sarah Young with Check My Church, or they can see the logo and name of my organization on whichever social media page I’m contacting them through. I explain what I’m doing (checking churches for red flags of abuse) and why (to protect people from abuse), and then I ask my questions, which include questions about the pastor’s salary, whether the church has official memberships, sin discipline policies, and whether the church is financially transparent. 

After introducing myself this way dozens of times, I came to realize that my emails acted as a sort of image-threatening event for church leaders, and their stonewalling, and sometimes other types of responses, was an attempt to manage their image. Any abusive church that feels threatened by a discernment or church watchdog ministry and its questions is, of course, going to stonewall them. 

For a while, I tried approaching church leaders in a less threatening way to see if I could get my questions answered without first introducing myself as a church-checking investigator/writer. This approach led to a lot more initial responsiveness from church leaders, but then, as soon as I asked my questions, the stone wall would go up, because not only is my work and its purpose threatening to abusive church leaders, but so are the questions themselves. 

While impression management can certainly be practiced in non-abusive ways, such as with truthful promotional content for a business or product, when done with intentional deception in mind to protect the church/organization from valid threats, like the truth, especially at someone else’s expense, it becomes manipulative, controlling, dishonest, and abusive. 

Responding to the Cult-like & Abusive Church Practice of Stonewalling

The red flag of stonewalling is easy to spot. Just ask questions and watch for that enormous wall of silence. Sometimes churches get tricky with their stonewalling. They might act like they’re going to answer you but then never do, or answer you dishonestly, so use discernment and pay attention, but don’t let the stone wall discourage you. Ask questions anyway. 

If your church is open to questions, even threatening ones, and answers them honestly, you might have a keeper. If getting questions answered, or worse, if you find it impossible to even approach the church leaders with questions at all, you’re being stonewalled. 

We used to ask church leaders questions to get the answers so we could share them with you and help you find the church that’s best for you. Now, we ask questions merely to see if the church will engage with us all. Either way, we get the answers for you as best we can, and stonewalling churches will be flagged. 

A church that refuses to answer questions openly and honestly is a church that’s hiding things. It doesn’t matter who we are to them or what they think about you, me, or anyone else who asks questions. It’s about the questions and the truth behind them. Abusive cults and churches need to stonewall questions and inquiries to protect information about the church that could expose them and the church’s carefully constructed image.


Don’t let your questions slide off that wall, church checkers. Just because your pastor or other church leader refuses to answer them doesn’t mean you can’t get the answers yourself. Investigate. Dig. Find out why they won’t answer your questions. Get to the truth. Then, if necessary, and safe… blow the whistle.  

As always, examine everything, church checkers. Use Christ-like discernment, expose the truth, protect the sheep, and please do not feed those wolves. 


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