Friday, December 28, 2007

Speaking of EEF: Groupthink

I’m preparing a series on the origin and history of the CREC (which is incredibly colorful for only one decade of high jinks), and in my research I discovered a fascinating “position paper” written by a student in Wilson’s Greyfriars’ Hall ministerial program, which he established to train men for ministry in the CREC. If you scan through any of these papers, the first thing that will grab you is the students’ obvious regurgitation of Wilsonisms in lieu of well-reasoned arguments. This indicates to me that Greyfriars’ Hall is a cloning factory designed to replicate its founder rather than actually train men to serve.

Anyway, the paper caught my attention because it was written by a young man named Jerry Owen, whom the Kult recently ordained and sent to Trinity Church (EEF) in Kirkland, Washington, to help shore up all that leaky comradery on the comradeship. Eleven officers in four years is some serious seepage, which may account for Mr. Owen’s subject. I do not know this, but I suspect he wrote this paper because he anticipated a call to Kirkland. There is no date on the paper.

Now, before you read it, please note the definition and symptoms of “groupthink,” which is a term coined by Dr. Irving L. Janis. Wikipedia states:

Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During Groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight. . . .

Causes of groupthink
Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions to break the cohesion. Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: “It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition” (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:
  • Structural faults in the organisation: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.

  • Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.
Social psychologist Clark McCauley’s three conditions under which groupthink occurs:
  • Directive leadership.

  • Homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.

  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.
Symptoms of Groupthink
In order to make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (1977).
  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.

  2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.

  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.

  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.

  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty.”

  6. Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.

  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.

  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.
Now read Jerry Owen’s pastoral position paper titled “Sessional Solidarity” and let the stunning absence of critical thinking shock you. It looks like it was written for Brainwashing 101 — the Making of a Monkey Boy. This is what Wilson instills in his disciples. This is the fruit of his ministry. These are the rubber stamps he’s creating to minister in the CREC. And he sent this mindless robot to EEF to help repair the ruins. “Pass the Kool-Aid!”

If I get time, I’ll write a post matching the formula for groupthink to Owen’s statements. Until then, here’s a very helpful essay called “Groupthink: A Sinister Snare for Elders and Congregations Alike” from the Chalcedon website (warning: most of Chalcedon should be read with extreme caution and discernment).

Thank you.