My husband and I do not find the Joel and Kathy ministry a cult, yet if one looks up the signs of spiritual abuse, they fall into almost every category. Led by one person who has a group of yes-men around him doing his bidding, and censoring and excommunicating anyone who questions anything at all, etc.
We found their first book informative and helpful in our marriage, yet when we tried getting help on their forum and conference calls, as well as their marriage intensive seminar, things were very different. Joel claims he has greatly changed his treatment of his wife by behavior modification, taking three years to 'change the synapses in his brain' through acting right even when he didn't feel like it. He counsels husbands to listen to their wives, validate her feelings, apologize carefully, and treat them kindly. This is great, yet we have not once seen him treat others this way when he is wrong. He tells others how to feel, what to think, and if you don't fully agree or if you call him on something, he will call you, yell at you, intimidate you, write to you, or answer on the forum using insults, cursing you, and then deleting your posts at will. He accused my husband of not honoring his wife when we (in agreement with each other) did not buy the Legal plan that Joel was selling.
At the seminar, almost every time that Kathy wanted to say something, he would tell her to be quiet, that there was no time for a story, then he would launch into a story of his own. We found him to be a very good actor, but he does not seem sincere or kind in his dealing with others, as I would expect in a Christian marriage ministry.
We also found that they and their helpers are very pushy to 'obey' them as they try to micromanage your life, or they will tell you that you are going to hell. In the name of getting a husband to stop abusing his wife and controlling her, they turn around and instruct the wife to totally control and micromanage her husband, even to treating him like a small child by 'making' him sleep on the couch or other little or big 'punishments' for being bad. Yet if he manages to treat her right, even for a day, even if he doesn't mean it and it's only acting, she is to 'reward him' with sex. This is because he has 'arrested development' and is acting like a small child. Yet we found that that causes him to act like a child even more......duh! We have watched and listened as many couples struggle for years and finally often divorce because they are so broken and need to be healed before they can do any of this. Yet this ministry tells them that women heal from the inside and men from the outside in. We can't find that in scripture. And there were other scriptures that were badly misused as well.
When we went to another ministry we discovered that the reason for men or women acting this way is the pain from childhood and when that was dealt with by having someone really care for your heart and lead you through steps of healing from Jesus, then our hearts can be unlocked and we can be changed from within, 'not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord'.
They and their 'helpers' use a lot of intimidating and controlling tactics and have very poor understanding of basic boundaries.