American Family Foundation.
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 1999 7:42 PM
Subject: "What Should Be Done About Cults?"
Dear Sir or Madam,
A friend forwarded to me the email below regarding "What Should Be Done About Cults?".
She and I are former members of the Worldwide Church of God Cult. I publish the Website: The Painful Truth.
I would be interested in your ideas regarding how a cult can "change its spots", so to speak, and now become mainstream Christian and not have to go back and "fix" all the people that it ruined down through the years when it was a truly recognized cult.
Please see my Worldwide Church of God Samaritan page at Worldwide Church of God: The Bad Samaritan
We are not talking about the crusades or the inquisition here where the Catholic church can just say "Oh, sorry about that." and there are no living persons that were harmed by its brutality. This is now and this "church" is now trying to sell off property that represents "old" money that we all donated before it got its "new" religion.
Please see my page on What Would Jesus Do? What Would Jeus Do?
It is bad enough that they ruined thousands of lives and are responsible, directly or indirectly for multiple suicides, and also deaths by their "healing" doctrine forbidding people to go to doctors, and for people having no money saved for retirement because these bloodsuckers sucked ever ounce of it from them, and for people not going to college because they couldn't get into "God's College" and they would never go to a "worldly" college, and all the thousands of lives that they ruined with their Divorce and Remarriage doctrine, and all the children that had their lives irretrievably affected by being raised in a cult, but they got away with it! And they continue to get away with it to this day!
See my list of things that former member have contributed to of things that the Worldwide Church of God could Apologize for. But not a word of remorse. apology.htm
Also see my page on Worldwide Church of God Horror Stories: horror.htm
This "church" is just a money hungry, greedy bunch of entrepreneurs who use people's fear of death to legally steal their money. They have no fear of God or they would get out of the business after doing so much damage over the years. Yet we now find them accepted as a mainstream Christian Church with their fellow churches not holding them responsible for all the damage that they did. All they had to do was accept Jesus and they could turn around and walk away from all the dead and wounded that they left strewn in the road behind them. They may accept Jesus, but they do not know Him. And, I dare say, if He exists, He does not know them either. This is no more than a legal con-game and it is being sanctioned by the mainstream Christian Churches.
Will there be no justice at all in this life for the victims of this cult?
Date: Thursday, November 11, 1999 12:40 PM
Subject: FW: "What Should Be Done About Cults?"
My assistant forwarded your comments to me.
Thank you for taking the time to respond. You eloquently raise the important point of accountability for past misdeeds, which should certainly be part of any genuine reform movement in a group.
I will print out your comment, for I plan to come back to this issue in future writings.
Michael Langone, Ph.D. Executive Director, AFF; Editor, Cultic Studies Journal. PMB 313, P.O. Box 413005, Naples, FL 34101-3005. (Old address still active: P.O. Box 2265 Bonita Springs, FL 34133.) Cult Information Line: 941-514-3081; fax 941-514-3451; email@example.com. Visit our award-winning Web Site: http://www.csj.org.
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 08:24:49 -0500
This issue of AFF News Briefs contains the following:
1. A report on a panel discussion from AFF's 1999 annual conference. In this panel representatives from 13 cult educational organizations discussed the subject, "What Should Be Done About Cults?"
2. Reminder of AFF's upcoming ex-member workshop at Stony Point, New York. If you are not interested in attending, please pass the information on to somebody who might benefit from the workshop.
3. Links to update on AFF's 2000 annual conference, April 28-29th in Seattle, Washington. We have extended the special discount date to November 10th.
Please keep in mind that AFF needs your financial support to continue its work. The Internet offers many new opportunities for communication, especially free communications, and it is a remarkable tool for AFF. But it still costs money to keep the organization going. So please send in a contribution payable to AFF, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133. Thank you.
What Should be Done about Cults? A Panel Discussion at the 1999 AFF Annual Conference May 14 16, 1999 St. Paul, Minnesota
Report prepared by Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., Executive Director, AFF, Editor, Cultic Studies Journal
One of the sessions at AFF's 1999 annual conference was a panel discussion involving representatives from 13 cult educational organizations in Europe, North America, and the Far East. Mr. Peter Heinrich, a management consultant and member of AFF's advisory board, moderated the discussion.
The discussion's goal was to identify a set of action recommendations on which all participants could agree. The method consisted of a period devoted to brainstorming followed by discussion aimed at categorizing, consolidating, and evaluating suggestions in order to assemble a list of action recommendations on which a consensus could be established.
Though sharing a common interest in the cult issue, panelists had diverse backgrounds. There were researchers, mental health professionals, lawyers, a journalist, former group members, religious professionals, a judge, a medical doctor, and administrators of organizations. The organizations they represented are also diverse. Some try to build upon clinical and/or scholarly research; some are sustained by the dedication of families and/or former group members who volunteer time to this issue; some approach the issue from a Christian perspective; and some are governmental entities. A list of panelists and their organizational affiliations can be found at the end of this document. Biographical sketches are provided when available.
Several organizations submitted papers on this subject. These are currently being edited and/or translated and will be made available later on AFF's Web site, along with this report.
After listing the brainstorming and consensus items, I offer a commentary on the panel's topic. I wish to thank those panelists and other colleagues who made suggestions or comments on an earlier draft, which was submitted to the panelists. However, I take sole responsibility for the ideas expressed in the commentary, which should not be interpreted as a consensus statement.
During the brainstorming session, participants identified the actions listed below. When you examine this list, keep in mind that brainstorming calls for uncritical listing of ideas. Evaluation of the ideas occurs after the brainstorming session.
More rehabilitation centers
More researchers; more research
Extend, organize, integrate Internet efforts
Integrate cultic studies into trauma, public health, human rights
Increase funds from government
Increase legal recourse for families and compensation for ex-members
Apply criminal law
Get information about groups
Understand dynamics between groups and society
Investigate charity law; create a national registry of all religious groups
Create a special forum for families and ex-members to talk
Learn from other organizations dealing with trauma
Put more effort into differentiating among groups
Educate youth in general critical thinking and discernment skills not just about cults
Invest time and money to develop curricula for faith communities, schools, and other groups.
Continue to meet together; share ideas
Be present on WWW and address untruths on other sites
Study the problem
Provide education on comparative religion in schools
Adequate training for professionals; e.g., law enforcement, mental health, clergy, seminarians.
More exchange; more information between our groups
Study cultural differences in why people join cults in different countries
Have a discussion on the price of democracy and what it takes to maintain it
Dialogue between groups and society
Take immediate action against unlawful activity
Introduce a systematic method of collecting data
Reach an international consensus on manipulation as a continuous scale with cults on an extreme
Reward openness and honesty with privileges
Treat as a matter of public health; human rights
Create a government body of religious affairs run by academics
Diagnosis of individuals who have been harmed
Educate medical professionals
More behavioral research
Respect differences between country approaches to the problem and between society and the groups
Encourage and facilitate more debate
Review libel laws to see if they inhibit debate
Persuade more clergy to come to conferences
Create a catalogue of helping organizations and resources
Educate media representatives so they get it right
List cases and judgments on cults in all countries
Persuade media to become more interested in the issue
After the brainstorming session, panelists grouped individual items in broader categories and put aside items on which there was disagreement. The discussion that followed the brainstorming session included much more information than can be shared here. I will incorporate some of the discussion points in my commentary below. (Contact AFF if you would like to obtain a video of the discussion.)
All participants endorsed the following actions. Although this list of actions reflects a consensus of the participants, it should be kept in mind that participants might disagree on precisely what these items mean, how to prioritize them, and how to implement them. These issues are left to future discussions.
Conduct more research
Provide education on critical thinking
List and examine laws, policies, and legal cases in various countries
Continue to have international meetings
Enforce existing laws
Work more effectively with the media
Help families and ex-members
Encourage reform and reformers
Encourage public debate
The cult problem has three significant dimensions: harm, religious freedom, and remedies.
Harm in this context may be psychological (e.g., depression; induced states of dependency), economic (e.g., being tricked into giving one's inheritance to a group), physical (e.g., medical neglect of children; rape or other sexual abuse), educational (e.g., a child raised in a group that doesn't allow him to learn basic educational skills), spiritual (e.g., losing one's pre-group religious faith in reaction to disillusionment concerning a leader one formerly deemed to be "God's anointed"), or legal (e.g., having one's basic human rights abrogated by the dictates or manipulations of an autocratic leader).
Although some cult spokespersons and sympathizers may argue that cultic environments do not harm people, many, whether sympathizers or critics, would probably agree with the following proposition: Some groups under some conditions harm some people sometimes. To argue that groups never harm people contradicts incontrovertible evidence (e.g., Aum Shinrikyo, Solar Temple, Jonestown) and implies that, unless one holds the absurd belief that no group ever harmed any individual, some special factor immunizes cults (or "new religious movements") against those group dynamics that may cause harm. Why "new religious movements" should be so uniquely immune to the potential for harm that exists in all groups is a question that seems never to be addressed, probably because no plausible defense could be made of such a privileged position for "new religious movements."
Some might ask why single out cults if they are subject to the same kinds of dynamics as other groups. There are three vital differences that justify paying special attention to cults. First, abundant evidence indicates that harm is more prevalent and/or more serious in some groups (e.g., Aum Shinrikyo) than in contemporary mainstream religions or other established organizations in democratic societies. Second, the harms most commonly associated with mainstream religions and other established organizations (e.g., the problem of sexual abuse of children) tend to reflect individual pathology, not an abusive social structure. Third, mainstream religions and other established organizations have had the time to develop accountability mechanisms that tend to come into play, however belatedly, when abuse occurs. Although, these accountability mechanisms are by no means perfect, they do afford a measure of protection to society. Cults, on the other hand, have usually not had enough time and/or motivation to develop accountability mechanisms. Those that have done so or are in the process of doing so (ISKCON being a notable example) should be studied closely, for an increased understanding of this process may make it easier to persuade other controversial groups to follow along this path.
Any debate on the question of harm, then, should focus not on whether it occurs, but on:
1. the nature of the harm;
2. the prevalence of harm, within and across groups;
3. the causes of harm;
4. the degree to which harm-producing factors operate in specific groups; and
5. how to limit harm.
These are all empirical questions that, in theory, may be answered by a well-designed program of scientific research that would undoubtedly take many years to complete. Existing research sheds light on these questions, but it doesn't provide definitive answers (contact AFF for more information). Hence, individuals of integrity may make different judgments about aspects of the harm question. Some, for example, may read the evidence as suggesting a high level of harm, while others see a low level. Unfortunately, the polarization that has occurred in this field tends to inhibit communication that would enable interested persons to understand fully why others draw different conclusions from the same evidence.
The list of consensus actions suggests that panelists recognized that the level of knowledge and understanding in this field is not as high as it could be. They agreed that more research is necessary, that the public debate on the subject should be pursued, and that more international meetings should occur to facilitate information exchange and dialogue. The panelists also agreed that reform movements and reformers within controversial groups should be encouraged. This last action recommendation probably reflects participants' positive perceptions of another panel discussion at this conference: "Can Cultic Groups Change: The Case of ISKCON." This panel discussed the positive changes that have occurred within ISKCON (the Hare Krishna movement) during the past 10-15 years. The fact that organizational representatives believe that such reform should be encouraged in other groups demonstrates that, contrary to the accusations made in some quarters, the prime motivation of these organizations is a desire to help people who have been hurt and to prevent harm to others, not blind prejudice against any groups outside the mainstream.
Not all cultic groups are religious, so the issue of religious freedom comes into play only for those that are. But since the majority of controversial groups are religious, the religious freedom issue must be considered.
Some cult spokespersons and academic sympathizers have implied that accusations of harm related to cultic groups (new religious movements) are incompatible with respect for religious freedom. The message seems to be that if one says anything "bad" about new religious movements, then one is necessarily against religious freedom. This proposition is patently absurd. Must one be against religious freedom if one criticizes the religiously based genital mutilation practiced in some countries? Must one be against religious freedom if one criticizes so-called "Christian" groups that advocate racial purification?
The invocation of "religious freedom" in response to accusations of harm is a ploy designed to draw attention away from the evidence on which the accusations are based. The issue is not a simplistic "harm" or "religious freedom." The issue is reconciling and balancing competing social values, only one of which is religious freedom. One cannot resolve these conflicts by denying that they exist, which, for all intents and purposes, occurs when one becomes so preoccupied with one competing social value that one excludes consideration of all others. That exclusive social value may be religious freedom, but it may also be harm. Simplistic and one-dimensional perspectives can arise on both sides of the debate.
Some cult sympathizers are perceived as having made this mistake. Although they may offer thoughtful criticisms of proposed remedies, they rarely propose alternate solutions to the problems under discussion. Consequently they are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as saying, "what cult problem?" Their views, then, tend to be discounted by those who do see a problem calling for attention. As a result, these sympathizers are effectively removed from the playing field, that is, from the collective effort to reconcile conflicting values by finding remedies that appropriately address harm while simultaneously respecting and protecting religious freedom and other human rights.
In a similar way, some cult critics are perceived as being so preoccupied with harm that they will run roughshod over human rights. Some cult sympathizers will tend to see, perhaps with justification, these cult critics' proposed solutions as Trojan horses covering a hidden repressive agenda or as "solutions" that discount human rights. If the cult sympathizers are undiscriminating, they will then oppose all proposed solutions and reinforce the perception that these particular sympathizers say, "what cult problem?"
This situation is unfortunate, for even these individuals on opposite extremes of the critic-sympathizer debate may make some valid and useful points.
It is important to note that different countries have taken different approaches to the religious freedom issue concerning cults. I am not a legal expert and am not familiar with the specific situations in different countries, so I speak with some hesitation. I do tend to agree, however, with a comment made during the panel discussion. This comment stressed that the issue is not whether or not different democracies affirm human rights (for they do), but how these diverse countries use their laws to protect those rights and make judgments designed to reconcile conflicting rights. It was noted that the same U.S. State Department that has criticized certain European governments on human rights issues related to cults requires visa applicants to declare, among other things, whether or not they are members of a communist party. I do not put forth this point in order to advocate any particular governmental position, but to suggest that we closely examine cultural differences and political dimensions of the issue before weighing in on one side or another.
Potential remedies for the problems posed by cults may be divided into the following categories:
1. preventing harm before it occurs; 2. helping those who have been harmed; 3. punishing those who have inflicted harm that is illegal or that results from illegal acts; 4. rebuking those who have inflicted harm that is legal but unethical.
The panelists agreed on actions that cover all four of these categories: prevention, assistance, law-enforcement, and criticism.
Research is relevant to all categories, for the specifics of what we decide to do rests upon our knowledge and understanding. The more we know and understand, the more informed our actions will be.
Panelists agreed that education is central to efforts to prevent harm. Public discussion through the media and education of professionals (who minister to the public in various ways) should be encouraged for two reasons: (1) so that those who haven't been adversely affected will be better informed and able to defend themselves, should they belong to or consider joining a group; and (2) so that those who have been affected will learn where to get help. Young people, who are especially vulnerable, should be taught how to think critically so that they will be less likely to be seduced by sophistry and/or psychological manipulation. And reformers within controversial groups should be encouraged and supported in order to decrease the probability of future harm.
Helping ex-members and families, i.e., those who have been harmed or who have loved ones who are at risk, is central to most of the organizations' missions
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