Arranged marriages, broken families and concerned parents : a "bounded choice" perspective on commitment in Grace Gospel Church.
Semple, Sean Alexander John.
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Grace Gospel Church (GGC) is a small congregation that has met in various venues in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal since 2003. It is a partner church of the Mauritian-based organisation, Church Team Ministries International (CTMI), led by Miki Hardy. Hardy is a pastor who claims to have received a unique revelation from God, and he is considered to be an apostle by his followers. Grace Gospel Church and Church Team Ministries International have gained international attention due to claims that they exert a controversial influence over their members. This influence appears to induce a radical commitment to the partner church and CTMI, leading to behavioural, career and study changes, arranged marriages and estrangement between members and their families. Grace Gospel Church has been accused of being a cult, and this exploratory research questions whether this accusation has justification by comparing the group’s theology and practices against theological, psychological and sociological research on cults. Cult researcher Janja Lalich’s theory of “bounded choice” is described and used to evaluate the commitment witnessed in GGC. Bounded choice exists when, as a result of psycho-social group dynamics, a personal fusion occurs between the individual and the ideology and mores of the group. Out of this fusion, a charismatically committed “true believer” emerges who may appear to have personal freedom, but whose palette of choices is severely curtailed by the beliefs and practices of the group. “Bounded” decision making results which might appear irrational or repugnant to those outside the group, but to true believers represent their highest aspirations. This research indicates that GGC shares many characteristic features of typical cults and also promotes the conditions necessary for bounded choice to occur. It is thus concluded that GGC could legitimately be termed a cult, and that bounded choice is a valid explanation for the controversial choices made by its members.