Michael Williamson is the leader of a group called the London International Christian Church. Going by the title “European World Sector Leader”, Michael leads a group that splintered from International Churches of Christ in 2002, and from the International Christian Church in the late 2000s. It currently claims to have 111 churches worldwide. Michael’s group in London places a large focus on evangelising to young people in the London universities.
I am a university student studying clinical psychology. My specific field of interest is coercive control; the ways that we abuse, constrict and harm one another through our social relationships. I have a hobby, where once every few months I will find an intense, religious community and implant myself within them in whatever way I can, to learn about how they live, and how they control. In May 2022 I, with three friends, chose to spend a month attending LICC and listening to Michael to learn what we could. This article is written from the recollections of the four of us as we were evangelised to, my notes taken during services, information that is available online, and my interactions with other religious leaders.
We found the LICC through my friend, let’s call him Oliver, who ran into them as they evangelised on a pavement outside of UCL. This is a common practice for them – the vicar of Euston Church, Kevin, told me when I spoke to him that the LICC preach outside their building as an attempt to co-opt the perceived legitimacy of the grand vaulted chapel. This is not something Kevin is pleased about, as he told me considers the LICC to be a cult.
LICC Men’s Night
My first meeting with Michael was on a Wednesday, when the church held a ‘men’s night’. I attended with my two friends, Oliver and Chris, presences I was grateful for: as a then-closeted trans woman, I believe had I been out in this environment it could have been potentially dangerous. The men’s night started much like any other service the church runs, with every male member of the congregation milling around the auditorium of the Maria Fidelis Convent School in Euston, as a sound system was set up.
The makeup of the congregation, as Michael would gleefully point out later, is highly ethnically diverse. A slim majority of members appear to be black, with a roughly even split among the rest of white and East Asian identities. Most of the men were young, almost all below the age of forty, and many had apparently spent a lot of time in one gym or another.
As everyone sat down for the service to begin it became very apparent this church has deep roots in Pentecostalism. We quickly stood again for an energetic song about how we must behave as men and soldiers for Christ in all areas of their lives, work, and home, even while asleep and while raising children. This was the beginning of a very consistent militaristic pattern in the services’ rhetoric, and a strong appeal to a sense of insecurity that the male domination of society may be coming to an end.
The main sermon for the evening was given by Michael, a large, bald man in his fifties. How Michael successfully built a following for himself is immediately obvious when he opens his mouth. He is a gifted and charismatic speaker, able to get his (albeit already energised) crowd to cheer or laugh quickly and enthusiastically. He speaks with energy, sounding authoritative and certain in his messages, regardless of the tone taken.
LICC, masculinity, and loyalty
Michael’s sermon is long and rambling, he covers many topics connected by a theme. He reads from Numbers 10, where Korah and the 250 with him, their families, and all people associated with them are murdered by Yahweh, for the crime of opposing Moses and Aaron. Michael explains that this means that you should stay away from those who question ‘God’s leaders’, for to associate with them, to be friends with them, to do anything but oppose them, will lead to your just death.
He speaks of Kip McKean, the leader of the ICC, Michael’s previous posse, lamenting Kip’s departure from the Bible as the reason for the schism, and restating again and again that his parting with Kip was god’s will. He says now, however, that this is the holy community, the army of god, led by men that shall take over Europe and establish a holy order of government across the continent.
Michael’s technique here is obvious, and without his charisma it would be so transparent as to become ineffective. He leans in to a concept of masculinity in his rhetoric; that men, true men, are strong, are righteous, have wives and children at home and jobs. He provides an identity attached to the community, one of competence, strength and pride. This is an appealing prospect to many men, especially those suffering from self-doubt or insecurity of many forms.
Michael’s certainty and authority in pronouncing you a man in this way can be a very effective psychological crutch. Michael then ties that crutch to the concept of loyalty, and militarism. You, as his male follower, are a literal soldier and he is your commander. You must be loyal to him, or you deserve death for treachery. You must be ready for the day he takes over Europe to sit next to him as one of god/Michael’s chosen, who built Zion. You must ensure that those around you are the same, lest you be cast to the fire with them.
Michael makes the imperative to loyalty more personal, too. An article on the LICC website titled “Dealing With Criticism” has a list of the ‘problems’ with critics including that they are not grateful enough to the leader, and that they’re basically gay witches. From the article section “Criticality Kills”:
2. They came as a group: They were a faction (a group or clique within a larger group); this is a sin that will take us straight to hell. Galatians 5:19-21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” How does a faction form? It starts when a person in fear or cowardice, goes with his or her feelings and concerns not to God or the person concerned directly but to another person and shares their thoughts with them and then forms a group of two, which then grows. If someone shares concerns with you, you must always point them to God. If they cannot resolve it there, then they must take it to the person concerned. You will often need to follow through with them.
6. They did not offer a solution. The only thing they said was that Moses was a bad leader. “I don’t like the way LEADERSHIP IS HANDLING THINGS.” Since when did any people feel great about all leadership decisions? There was no “we are concerned about your leadership decisions: here are examples. We would like to propose some solutions.” There was no gratitude for what Moses had done that was good in the past.
This two-step identity conflation is obvious from the outside, and its effectiveness within his sphere is a mite concerning. Confusing some central necessary part of your life, be it identity, food, safety etc with a person is a common abuse tactic (“no one will love you like me”, “I manage the money”, “don’t go out on your own”) and when done with a focus on empowerment rather than submission it can be a great motivator to action.
There is an important question however: Michael’s rhetoric promises a powerful identity and what it promises power over, eventually, is Europe. Although such a long-term goal can be difficult to motivate people to participate every day, it would do much better if it were paired with a second more immediate benefit tied to the community. So, what could that be?
LICC and women
It’s women. Who could have guessed the charismatic masculinity focused community leader motivates his followers by providing them women to feel powerful over? The LICC has a system it calls ‘Kingdom Dating’, and Michael has written an article on their website explaining how to ‘date within the kingdom’, in which he establishes his perspective on gender relations pretty clearly, though not as explicitly as he does in his sermons.
Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional “wiring” or God-given roles). Biblical dating tends to be complementarian (God has created men and women differently and has ordained each of these spiritual equals to play different and valuable roles in the church and in the family).
He later removes doubt as to the hierarchy of these roles:
Leadership. Sisters: If a brother challenges your faith, hope, love, evangelism, Bible knowledge, sacrifice, etc., this is awesome. If you challenge his faith, hope, love, etc., definitely do not enter into a dating relationship. Brothers: If you are not in a position to lead a sister (spiritually, financially, biblically), you are not ready to date, regardless of age.
Michael’s perspective on women centres around their use as a reward for being a good enough disciple of his. Women are positioned as an immediate and obtainable goal for the men in his congregation, as objects of social esteem and physical gratification. This is to the extent that his rules for dating outright outlaw getting to know your partner ‘too’ well. From the article section “What are the characteristics of a worldly relationship”:
Lack of purity. No boundaries physically, emotionally or spiritually. Sisters struggle with emotional intimacy (long talks, long walks, frequent contact, etc.) Brothers struggle with physical lust. Excessively tight clothing, short clothing, etc. Song of Solomon 2:7 says, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
His active discouragement of emotional contact outside of a larger social context (he says most dates should not be just the two of you) where you might be judged, and his framing of men’s difficulties as entirely sexual and the fault of the woman, frames relationships in an objectifying way that can help reinforce loyalty.
Michael’s methods for minimising the inclusion of women and their concerns in men’s minds became disturbingly apparent during a Wednesday men’s sermon, where he was talking about the way the ‘world’ is trying to destroy men by ‘inventing’ concepts such as toxic masculinity. He paused, suddenly, and with a pleased smile said “you know I do believe in toxic masculinity… it’s called feminism”. The room roared with laughter.
Michael’s techniques for the objectification and minimisation of women are a little more refined than the dull hammer he uses for loyalty. He separates men and women, to allow the messages of domination and servility to be heard separately, and insists that men and women never become close to one another – allowing for the dehumanisation of both groups.
More commonly this technique is used to minimise the importance of the outgroup, as it is with men’s perspective on women. However, it can also be used to deify the outgroup: if you as a woman never truly talk to a man and live in a social circle where male and female behaviours and activities are segregated, why shouldn’t you believe it when you’re told these other people are those who should be in power? It’s just as easy to believe as the opposite, if you’re starved of information.
Further, his rhetoric around relationships is cloaked in a warm paternalism that purports to care about both sides, which makes it a lot harder to hear the venom hidden beneath relationship ‘complimentarianism’, when compared to ‘doubt me and you deserve to die’. The only place I ever saw this mask drop was in his moment in men’s night sermons.
These two techniques are the primary tools Michael employs to attract and secure specifically men within his church. These are broad spectrum approaches, and in addition he employs a personal approach with prospective converts, to lock down those he is interested in keeping. Both techniques share commonalities with what we consider standard abusive relationship dynamics: deliberate co-dependence, holding one’s identity hostage, and the invalidation of anyone outside of the relationship, discouraging contact with them.
This is not an anomaly; intense religious communities, cults and others, can be modelled as large scale abusive interpersonal relationships. Michael Williamson and the London International Christian Church serve as a fitting case study for this hypothesis, allowing us to lay out each of the ways it abuses its members into participating, and illustrating how this model can give insights into how to help those affected leave, and recover.
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By stoking fears around feminism and an end to male-dominated society, Michael Williamson and the London International Christian Church isolates its adherents, and secures their devotion
The post Masculinity, insecurity, and control: the London International Christian Church appeared first on The Skeptic.