In this article I aim to shed some light on the so-called movement surrounding the Arizona Independent Fundamental Baptist pastor Steven L Anderson.
Steven Anderson started his church in Tempe in 2005 and has since received international attention for preaching against Barak Obama, sodomy and mostly anyone that does not share his very specific interpretations of christian doctrine.
Although controversy has arised in regards to whether he himself was ever actually ordained to be a pastor (his alleged sending pastor denies it) he has made it one of the central parts of his ministry to question and object to other men’s qualifications for pastoral ministry, on usually arbitrary grounds.
This has in turn spread to his entire group of followers, who are distinguished by an informant culture within the own group and a shariah-police type of “calling out” anything that is arbitrarily branded as “false doctrine” or “damnable heresy” by Anderson.
This self-affirming behavior within the Andersonite community serves to elevate the exclusivity or doctrinal superiority of the group as well as it is used by members as a means to frighten those who dares question leadership or hold any doctrine contrary to what is approved by formal leadership, or not sanctioned by Anderson himself.
Hence, the andersonites do practice shunning per se and will instantly dissociate themselves from anyone that is viewed as hostile toward official doctrine, labled “enemies of The Lord” or “reprobate”. The development of events for a possible dissident happens in clearly distinguishable steps.
First, one is questioned and hinted at that further questioning will be punished. Secondly one is falsely accused and threatened, “You are friends with A, therefore you are probably also a heretic” and “You better repent from speaking against a man of God like that”. Thirdly one is publicly slandered and shunned, “I’ve always doubted your salvation because you like weird things on facebook”, “If you are saved you would understand what the Bible says, and since you don’t you’re probably a reprobate”.
At the end of a public slandering and shunning a designated andersonite pastor will issue the command and all movement members will shun the person. Commonly no evidence is ever brought forth against him, but hearsay and the papal bull of Anderson and his preachers will suffice as grounds for assumption of reprobacy and shunning. The andersonite in good standing will chose loyalty to the group over friends, family or home church -no biblical reason or evidence is necessary.
Apart from this, andersonism is generally recognised in churches by lack of moderation in doctrine. Instead a selected few, highly secondary, doctrines or views are given all focus. This is typical cult behavior, an obsessive focus on the minuscule that miss the greater cause or message.
For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will mainly want to speak about the name Jehovah, that Jesus did not die on a cross, and that Christianity is full of pagan practises. Likewise a Mormon will speak about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the true gospel. In a similar manner, the andersonite christian is constantly preoccupied with discussing the post tribulational rapture, the falasity of repentance from sin for salvation, the reprobate doctrine or who is a reprobate, and lastly the latest Anderson sermon or drama.
Within andersonism, such great emphasis is put on the concept of “hard preaching” against sin and soulwinning evangelism that foundational aspects of New Testament doctrine and the christian life are become obsolete. Specifically, “calling out” sin is emphasized, whereas being meek, loving or merciful is preached only as theory.
Thus it is not uncommon for an andersonite to do great evangelistic efforts, but with a peculiarly bad attitude toward unreceptive people. For this same reason, the andersonite cult often use a harsh border-to-curse-type language and frequently motivate their entire christian life as simply a means to gain further rewards in heaven.
This very islamic perspective on good deeds is perhaps prevalent within Independent baptist churches at large, but is certainly perfected within andersonism. In view of that phenomenon, one can understand the core issue of the andersonite cult, which is inbalance in the view of Christianity and the life of the christian, rather than corky ideas about secondary doctrine.
That is, in guise of hard preaching Anderson and his preachers (all small time copies of himself) will call people names, yell, ridicule other saved christians and arbitrarily mock anyone. In guise of love for people and the command of Christ an andersonite will preach the gospel with contentment for the unreceptive and only his own reward in mind.
Another significant point to consider for the fact that the so-called movement is a cult as commonly understood is the double standard that is held for Anderson or leadership that he himself sanctions.
Anderson has frequently “called-out” (i.e jealously railed against) other men for not having the biblical qualifications for pastoral ministry. For example not having children or not having their family in check. Yet, Anderson’s wife has been speaking ill about other women online and is frequently gossiping and railing wherever anyone dares question Anderson.
This is only of significance since Anderson has often made fun of men not ruling their own houses or being the boss over their wives.
Further, when Anderson’s own children recently were caught in a chat speaking about using church money to buy prostitutes that they would choke, kill and then rape, and talking about sexual things to underage girls from families that attend his church, Anderson has responded by attempting to sweep the matter under the rug, slander the parents of these girls and by kicking several families out of church.
Anderson has then moved on to a state of damage control and has preched the most ironic sermons on topics beneficial to his secretive cause of hiding this vile family culture of his. He has also made a point to “call out” science evangelist legend Dr. Kent Hovind for not being saved due to his choice of friends.
This is of course part of Anderson’s damage control campaign to switch focus onto someone else beside himself. Everyone that has listened to his sermons for years knows, that if the scandal that has been revealed in Anderson’s family would have happened to anyone else – he would have ripped them to pieces and railed against them for months. The same goes for his online followers. But for Anderson the mantra goes “Forgive and forget” and somehow he is still qualified to pastor his church.
Lastly, the andersonite understanding of the gospel is kin to works salvation. Andersonim is partly viewed negatively as “easy believism” or seen as over the top anti-repentence. Whatever one can say about this, there is probably few independent baptist churches or camps that so consistently judge other’s salvation based on their works.
Officially Anderson seem to teach that we cannot tell if someone is truly saved. But then very many exceptions are added. If someone does not believe a certain doctrine from the Bible it is indication that they are not of Jesus’s sheep. This means, of course highly subjectively, that anyone that turns on Anderson or that he personally does not like, is not saved for one reason or another. This of course is poor theology and a way of manipulating the “movement” to ultimately always follow and agree with Anderson himself.