by the late
Look for these major danger signs. If several show up,
Is it a "closed" system? Virginia Satir in "Peoplemaking"
(1972, Endnote 10) gives clues for recognizing this most basic,
a.The system provides for little or no change at all; change
b.Does it tend to isolate members from healthy, or even
ordinary, elements of our culture? (Few would argue with
isolating children from pornography, or morbid concentration
on death/ suffering, but books, movies, sports and clubs,
with some parental guidance, are entirely another matter.)
c.The group operates by edict, law and order, and through
force -- both physical and psychological.
d.Closed systems evolve from certain sets of beliefs which
are few but powerful. Here are a few she lists. Man is
basically evil and must be controlled by force. Self-worth
is secondary to power and performance. There is only one
right way and the person with the most power has it -- that
"right way" or "one true church."
My former student and current colleague, Dr.Phil Arnold, has
organized "Reunion Ministries" which fosters family unity and
combats the chaos of cults; here are his "Criteria for Judging
New Intense Religions."
We present his eight questions as a helpful detection list.
ASK THESE EIGHT QUESTIONS
1. Does the group claim to have all the answers? If so, beware!
Contrast a real discovery in philosophy or science which only
claims an answer to one, or a few problems.
2. Are there extreme financial demands on the individual, but no
accounting given -- even if requested? Contrast the
hermit/monastery vow of poverty; extreme, yes, but not dangerous
because an accounting can be obtained.
3. Are individual creativity and further education stifled? If
4. Is the governing hierarchy closed -- unwilling to listen to
5. Are those who disagree or dissent verbally mistreated, and/or
assigned to low positions in the organization? If so, you are
seeing a sign of a "closed system."
6. Have you sought out specialists/experts in the field of cults
or "new intense religions" to find out the background and
specifics of the group? Some devotees/fans can be dissuaded by
understanding the past history and context of their movement
which seems, but isn't, so novel. History helps. Facts may free
7. Have you checked out former members of the group . . . have
you or the devotee sought their input? Some allowance may have to
be made for bitterness, but a former cult member's testimony
can be eye opening.
8. How does the group's teaching square with the Judeo-Christian
world-view? How does it square with the Bible? Some groups use
the "right" vocabulary, but the content is corrupt. Remember
the good "Christian" front Jones used! (10A).
If a group you check on scores on the "beware" side even one
time, it deserves closer scrutiny. But ONE or TWO negative marks
does NOT prove the group is ALL bad. FOUR and UP however means
Additional help comes through understanding, not only
deviation from sound biblical doctrine, but also signs of danger
in the methods of recruitment and indoctrination. Shirley and
George Landa of Seattle (1970) offer, among other helpful
insights, the following:
1) Recognized religions are "pro-family"; extremist cults often
require that children reject their parents, or otherwise break up
the family unit.
2) All candidates to the ministry or priesthood leave home -- but
they do so on friendly terms. New cult recruits must give up not
only home and parents, but everything of their past life. In some
cases (Mt.10:34-39) one may have to choose between family and
CHRIST, but it shouldn't be so to OBEY CULT LEADERS.
3) Cult leaders have one thing in common: they are all either
"messiahs" or representatives of God, and God speaks through
them. Of course neither good evangelical nor liberal theology
allows this in the way cults have it; so why do more people not
see through this ruse? Our experience confirms what the Landas
answer: The leader prevents any expose by isolation and by
reinforcing the idea that questioning/thinking is disloyal,
wrong, evil. Members fall under more or less complete mind
control and do not think for themselves; if they did, they would
question many cult activities and rules. They would probably
discover the deception.
4) In contrast to a church or healthy sect, cults do not engage
in works of charity (note however the exception in Jim Jones).
They do not sponsor orphanages, hospitals, alcohol/drug rehab
centers, food distribution programs, etc. Frequently they will
try to obtain funds fraudulently, or honestly through sales and
fund-raisers, but all proceeds go to the exalted leader. One
thinks here of the 90 plus Rolls Royces owned by the Bagwan
The Landas also offer a helpful insight on the relationship
between cultism and fanaticism.
A fanatic is a person whose extreme zeal and piety goes
beyond that which is reasonable. Many people become
"fanatics" about their religions, politics, hobbies, even
about their own kids. However, the differences are that
non-cultic fanatics do not, tell their parents they hate
them and that the devil speaks through them; give up their
free will to think; give up all their possessions . . .
college careers or professions; give up their former life
values completely. Fanatics do not give up their free will
to think, as cult members do (11).
We can be thankful to Almighty God for the helpful work
being done by both Christians and secular researchers in this
area. If you would like to read and understand more few a
professional/Christian point of view we recommend Ronald Enroth's
"What Is a Cult?", and the AGO tapes "How Cults Attract", and
"Cult Fanaticism" (12). For more see the Endnotes...
JESUS AND THE CHURCH/SECT MODEL
In spiritual terms Jesus Christ had nothing to do with
present-day cults, sects, mainline established religions, or even
a group of such religious institutions. Rather, the crucified
Jesus - resurrected and ascended on high as the Messiah-Christ
-- "was declared to be the Son of God with power" (Rm.1:4) and
became "the chief cornerstone" of a heavenly, spiritual organism
(Is.20:16; Eph.2:19-22). This partly invisible organism -- which
the Bible calls "the body of Christ" (Eph.4:15-16; Col.1:18-22)
-- must he distinguished from visible, human organizations. The
earthly members of this body -- in New Testament times as now --
due to ethnic, cultural and language differences, yes, even
doctrinal differences, naturally fell into different groups that
we today would call denominations (various groups of Gentile
Christians, Palestinian Jewish Christians, Diaspora Jewish
Christians, etc. see Ac 15). But those earthly members of the
body of Christ did not represent the entire "church" (Greek:
ekklesia) which physically contained unconverted hangers-on, or
pretending people (Acts 8; Phil.1:15-18; 2 Tim.2:17). The truly
converted members, then as now, are known only to God in heaven
-- the only membership that counts . . . .
So much for the Biblical and spiritual side.
Now let us briefly apply the physical model developed in
this article to the earthly ministry of Jesus.
During the physical years of his ministry, Jesus' "little
flock" (Hebrew: "haburah," fellowship) in purely human terms did
not yet qualify as a church. Why? Because Jesus and his followers
challenged, yet worked within the true religion of Israel. Thus,
again in human terms only, they formed neither a cult nor a
church, but a sect. As a sect, they challenged and corrected both
the world and the established "church" -- as a healthy movement
should. They also helped, healed and saved all who would as they
gradually grew into religious institutions. Once again we see the
importance of understanding, especially understanding
how to distinguish between a spiritual organism and a physical
organization, between a healthy growth movement and a stifling
FINAL WARNING AND REMINDER
Words do not suffice to emphasize the importance of being
prepared ahead of time -- armed to combat the confusion of the
cults. The "new intense religions" (new to us, but sometimes old
in other parts of the world; intense because of the demand for
heavy/total commitment; religion because of claims to explain or
offer ultimate value) attract, as Rambo explains, because in our
modern world urbanization, secularization and technology have
seemingly "overpowered" mainline religions and have stripped the
individual of his/her spiritual heritage and identity. Enter the
"new intense religions." They are perceived -- by the spiritually
deprived person -- as providing 1) intensive group support; 2)
comprehensive and compelling interpretations of the worlds and 3)
a means of relieving the frustrations and anxieties produced by
modern life (13).
In other words, our children are vulnerable -exposed to cult
danger, whether the death of Jonestown or the living death of
brain-washed mind-prisons matters little -- our precious youth is
susceptible, unless we provide loving homes and knowledgeable
Christian teaching. We, not the cultists, must provide the
"intense support", the compelling Christian view of the world"
and ways of "relieving the frustration of modern life."
Perhaps you can also see, on the positive side, that not all
sects or groups are unhealthy. This understanding should help you
and your precious children lead a life free of fear. But several
have asked me "How do sects (OK by definition) turn into cults
(harmful, and not OK by definition)?" The questioners have seen
this happen, so it is a real possibility. A detailed explanation
would be too lengthy, but a short answer will help. Any group can
become cultish if the leader(s) (and leadership = the first key)
begin to create a "closed system" (= the second key). You will
remember that closed systems start with isolation and end with
total dedication to a person or doctrine.
You now have in your hands the promised detection list.
Indeed this list is informed by the social sciences and has been
forged in the crucible of our painful experience. May it help you
or your loved ones. More information is available through
books, pamphlets and addresses in the Endnotes. But let us close
with a true story that will prove the urgency of taking
THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
Ted Childress, now an elder but formerly twenty-one years
with the F.B.I., explains this unusual occurrence as follows:
The term Stockholm Syndrome first occurred in 1973 at an
attempted bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A man tried to
rob a bank, and the police caught him inside. He took three
female hostages and one male hostage and held them for 131
hours, during which time he terrorized them. He fired his
Russian automatic assault weapon at them. He threatened to
kill them on numerous occasions. He put nooses around their
necks and threatened to hang them. But he didn't harm any of
them. When he finally surrendered something vary unusual
We expected the hostages to be antagonistic toward the
hostage taker. But instead they said they feared the police
more than the hostage taker. They also said they didn't hate
the hostage taker. They refused to testify against him.
One of the ladies became engaged to this hostage taker, and
as far as I know, she's still engaged to him.
The FBI analyzed thousands of hostage situations since that
time. We found this happens very frequently. So we asked
psychologists, "What happened? What causes this?" They said
in hostage situations, with a high level of life-threatening
stress and positive human interaction, the peoples'
ego-defensive mechanisms come into play. There is denial of
what is happening and regression to a different emotional
state. The hostage will eventually begin to transfer his
hatred -- This guy doesn't really want to hurt me -- and
begins to hate the policemen. And something else very
important begins to happen; a love relationship begins to
take place. And this love relationship is like what happens
between a young child and a mother. The mother is protecting
the child from the terrifying world and providing all its
needs. This love relationship occurs both ways.
This unusual but powerful tendency also occurs in
mind-bending cults -- cult followers become completely devoted to
the person or doctrine that is almost brain-washing them. What
this means is that prevention -- proper education -- is much
easier than cure.
1. From Kenneth Wooden, "The Children of Jonestown" (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1981) p. iii.
2. Rodney Stark and William S. Bainbridge, "The Future of
Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation" (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1985), Chapter two. Hereafter
cited simply as "Stark" plus date and page.
3. Lewis R. Rambo, "Cult" in The Westminster Dictionary of
Christian Theology, A. Richardson and J. Bowden, eds.,
(Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1983) p.137.
4. Charles Braden, "These Also Believe" (New York: Macmillan,
1951), Preface, xii.
5. Walter R. Martin, "The Kingdom of the Cults," (Minneapolis:
Bethany Fellowship, Inc., second edition, 1985) p.11.
6. Stark and Bainbridge, see note two; now in pope,back, 1986.
7. Ibid., p.27, editing ours.
B. Ibid., p.29.
9. Marshall Kilduff and Ran Savers, "The Suicide Cult: the Inside
Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana" (New
York: Bantam Books, 1978) p.19.
10. Jon and Lin Hill, my colleagues, provided this very helpful
reference: Satir -- "Peoplemaking" (Palo Alto: Science and
Behavior Books, Inc. 1972) pp.113-15.
10a. Our thanks to REUNION, which can be contacted at P.0.Box
25336, Houston, TX 77265, or call (713) 523-3511.
11. Shirley and George Lands, "Have You Lost a Daughter, a Son,
or a Spouse to a Cult?" (Seattle: n.p., 1978) p.1.
12. R. Enroth, "What is a Cult?" (Downer's Grove: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1982); this handy 28-page booklet offers much good
material, with three possible approaches in defining "cult": a
sensational/ popular approach with focus on the dramatic .
bizarre aspects; a sociological one "which includes the
authoritarian, manipulative, totalistic and sometimes communal
features of cults;" a theological one which of course implies
some standard of "orthodoxy."
13. L.R.Rambo, op. cit.. Rambo's short, to-the-paint article is
14. Taken from Donald E. Hake, "Preaching Today", Tape #30 "The
Stockholm Syndrome", Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church,
Knoxville, TN, n.d.
Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, "Snapping: America's Epidemic of
Sudden Personality Change," (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1918).
William J. Peterson, "Those Curious New Cults," (New Cancan, CT,
David Breese, "Know the Marks of Cults," (Wheaton, Illinois:
Victor Books, 1983).
I.Hexam, "Cults" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A.
Elwell, ad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984).
N.H.Maring, "Cult" in Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, Paul
N. Meagher, OP, S.T.M. et all., ads. (Washington, D.C.: Corpus
See also the bibliographies in Lands and Landa, Enroth, etc.
Completed June, 1986
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr.Charles V. Dorothy: A northwesterner by birth and education
(honors graduate of the University of Washington, 1955), Charles
now serves as Director of Biblical Research for the ACD (he did
until his death - Keith Hunt). His academic credentials extend
through a Ph.D. in Spanish Language and Literature (Mexico,
1963), a M.A. in Theology (concentration in Semitics; Fuller
Theological Seminary, 1977) to his present candidacy for the
Ph.D. in Religion (specialization: Old Testament and Dead Sea
Scrolls) at Claremont Graduate School (I do not know if he ever
completed this PhD. I presume he did as this article was written
in 1986 and he did not die until the late 1990s - Keith Hunt).
Keith Hunt and Dr.Dorothy
I told you at the end of part one that I spent the entire Feast
of Tabernacles at Harrisburg with Charles Dorothy, in the middle
1980s. He was not only a scholar of Hebrew and Greek, but a very
fine "Flamenco Guitar" player. I had my guitar with me and we
had a "concert talent night" - Charles played a "flamenco
number" and I played a "boogie-woogie" number. He said to me,
"Well Keith I cannot do that stuff you do on the guitar" and I
replied, "And Charles I can't do what you do on the guitar" - he
was a real fine gentleman in every way.
Charles Dorothy was hurt by and very badly treated by the
Worldwide Church of God in the last few years he was a teacher at
Ambassador College and one of their fine ministerial scholars.
When I knew him in the middle 1980s he was finding his way
mentally and emotionally through the garbage and corruptions that
had become so prevalent in the WCG by the middle 1980s. He did
find his way through it all, and went on to serve and help Ken
Westby's "Association of Christian Development" in many ways,
including proving to Ken and others that the Bible and History
show the "Festivals of the Lord" (Lev.23) were observed by the NT
Church of God, and should still be observed by the Church of God
One question I was anxious to ask Charles at that Feast of
Tabernacles in Harrisburg, was this: "I remember Charles, the
article you wrote in the middle 1960s in the "Good News" magazine
(a magazine for members only in the WCG at that time) about those
groups of people you came across in South America, who were
observing the weekly 7th day Sabbath and also the Festivals of
Leviticus 23. I remember a lot of excitement about finding those
people, but then absolutely nothing after that article of yours
was ever written, nor was there any more talk about those people
from the ministers. All went completely silent. What happened?"
Charles looked at me and smiled, and replied, "Well Keith, I and
a few others were sent back to those people, to ask them if they
would recognize Herbert W. Armstrong as God's "THE apostle" of
the end times and become part of the Worldwide Church of God.
They looked at us and laughing said, 'And who on earth is Herbert
W. Armstrong?' And that was the end of the matter."
We now known that those people in South America were part of the
Seventh Day Adventist Church in the 1900s and then early in the
20th century an Adventist minister came to see that the Festivals
of Lev.23 should be observed. His articles on the matter were
published in the Adventist magazine. Most SDA churches around the
world, just did not take the studies seriously. But 4 or 5 SDA
churches in South America saw the truth of the matter and started
to observe the Feasts of the Lord. They then left the SDA
organization and became independent churches.
God has always worked His work all over the earth in various ways
with various people, when and how He decides. He has never been
limited (who can limit God, but some in their foolishness have so
tried, by their misguided and silly ideas, as the "we are the
only true church" teachings of cults and some sects) as to
teaching and proclaiming His word of truth - Keith Hunt (August