“We are not a Cult!”

Bethel | Sharing Jesus with the Cults
Original posted here
The trend, as the article copied and pasted below does, is to get away from the language of cult when referring to the various groups that in one way or another identify themselves with Christianity but fall outside orthodox Christian beliefs.
While I agree that it is not helpful when speaking with individuals of these groups to use the “c” word, I also feel that it is dangerous to drop that same word from our vocabulary when discussing the organizations to which those individuals belong. In fact, as soon as these groups are successful in getting us to drop the “c” word, there will be little to no reason left for us to not allow them to use the other “c” word, that being Christian.
I also agree with the author of this article in that it might be more helpful if we don’t just use the “c” word, but instead discuss what aspects of cult we are referring to. Are we referring to false doctrine that makes the group fall outside historic orthodox Christian belief? Are we referring to mind control practices that encourage the individual to follow the leader at all costs and discourage critical thought?
Anyway, for what it’s worth, read the train of thought below and “judge for yourself” whether or not it’s valid.
“We are not a cult!”

Internet discussion about religion frequently descend into the gutter level of tossing the derogatory term “Cult” around. I have previously discussed why I consider this term unhelpful as a label for an entire religion and prefer to identify specific methods employed by groups to exert undue influence over their members. Looking at the issue in this way provides a pathway for members to identify and reject hurtful or unethical practices and gives the organizations a chance to lessen the harm they cause by responding to members who no longer tolerate such policies.

Still, the term does get used and I think it may be helpful to have one place to go to for the official response to this accusation from various sects. That is where this page comes in. Here they are:

The Church of Scientology

Is Scientology a cult

Official Statement

IS SCIENTOLOGY A CULT?

No. It is a religion in the fullest sense of the word.

“Cult” is usually meant in a disparaging sense to imply a secret or closed group with limited membership and mysterious beliefs. Religious scholars point out that the term has become almost meaningless, since its modern use reflects a growing prejudice against all religions. For example, a government report in Belgium labeled Hasidic Jews and even the YWCA as “cults.” The French Parliament included Baptists on their list.

Religions that grow and endure do so to the degree they assist people in their spiritual lives. To fulfill this role, the scripture of Scientology is fully codified, broadly published and available to anyone. Furthermore, its Churches and missions are always open to the public.

Scientology is unique in that it does not force anyone to “believe” anything. Rather, Scientology maintains every individual should think for themselves. In Scientology, what is true for the individual is only what they have observed personally and know is true for them. Scientology is not authoritarian, but instead offers a technology one can use and then decide whether it works for them.

(“Is Scientology a Cult” Accessed 1/2/2016 Scientology.org)

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult

Official Statement

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult?

No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. Rather, we are Christians who do our best to follow the example set by Jesus Christ and to live by his teachings.

What is a cult?

The term “cult” means different things to different people. However, consider two common perceptions regarding cults and why those perceptions don’t apply to us.

Some think of a cult as being a new or unorthodox religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses have not invented a new religion. On the contrary, we pattern our worship after that of the first-century Christians, whose example and teachings were recorded in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) We believe that the Holy Scriptures should be the authority on what is orthodox in matters of worship.
Some think of a cult as being a dangerous religious sect with a human leader. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look to any human as their leader. Rather, we adhere to the standard that Jesus set for his followers when he stated: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.”—Matthew 23:10.

Far from being a dangerous cult, Jehovah’s Witnesses practice a religion that benefits its members and others in the community. For example, our ministry has helped many people to overcome harmful addictions, such as the abuse of drugs and alcohol. In addition, we conduct literacy classes around the world, helping thousands learn to read and write. And we are actively involved in disaster relief. We work hard to have a positive impact on others, just as Jesus commanded his followers to do.—Matthew 5:13-16.

(“Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult?” accessed 1/2/2016 JW.org)

Christian Science

Official Statement

Official Statement

Christian Science is sometimes confused with Scientology, New Age practices, faith healing, and Eastern religions. It has also been called un-Christian or labeled a cult. Actually, Christian Science is none of the above. The inspiration it offers runs deeper than positive thinking. It is deeply Christian. Christian Science teaches that it’s never God’s will for anyone to suffer, be sick, or die. Instead, it shows how God is entirely good, and therefore His will for each of us is only health and life. To see how Christian Scientists relate to other faiths and backgrounds, refer to the ecumenical and interfaith dialogue community on this site for blogs and discussions. Still have questions? Keep reading and/or feel free to ask someone.

(“About Christian Science” accessed 1/2/2016 ChristianScience.com)

Unification Church (a.k.a. Moonies)

moonies cult

Unpublished Official statement

Is the Unification Church a cult?

No, it is not a cult, as the word is commonly understood. It began as a new religious movement that expanded rapidly and called for radical change, and whose members lived their beliefs. The establishment felt threatened and responded by labeling it a danger, and “cult” is the word for “danger” in the West. Father Moon’s teaching […]

(blurb from search for “Cult” on church website. Preview shows partial text on page that is not currently published. accessed 1/2/2016 FamilyFed.org)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. Mormons)

Why do some call Mormonism a cult?

Official Statement

Official Statement

One definition listed for ‘cult’ in Webster’s Dictionary is “a religion regarded as unorthodox.” Since the roots of Mormonism are not a break off from the Catholic or Protestant churches, it is seen by some as “unorthodox.” For example, the LDS definition of the Godhead differs from the Nicene Creed accepted by most Catholic or Protestant churches. The “cult” label is usually applied by Church opponents attempting to criticize or discredit the Church. However, sometimes it’s simply a matter of characterization that has grown up over time by the lack of understanding. Such misunderstandings often vanish when people begin to realize the commonality of what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really teaches and believes. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world whom we love and worship. When people begin to see and recognize these things about Mormons, then their opinion of the Church usually changes, and old beliefs are replaced with new understanding.

(“Why do some call Mormonism a cult?” accessed 1/2/2016 mormon.org)

Conclusion

Every time you ask a cult “Are you a cult?” you will get one of the following answers:

  • No. We are nothing at all like a cult.
  • Well, the word “cult” can include any religion, so by that definition we are just as much a cult as any mainstream religion is.

The first answer, a complete denial, is one that comes when the group compares itself to some more extreme form of cult organization. They narrowly allow for those extreme cases to define what a cult is and place themselves firmly outside that definition and right along with other less extreme and socially acceptable groups.

The second answer is more subtle. Since there are similarities between the religious themes and practices of mainstream religions and their own doctrines and practices, the groups try to include themselves with all other socially acceptable groups by broadening the definition of Cult to make it of little use in discerning dangerous groups. Since people won’t generally call mainstream religions Cults, then these minority groups try to shelter themselves alongside the more widely accepted groups.

Each of the above groups holds that their particular spiritual recipe is the only one which can bring true happiness and salvation. They would look out at the claims and practices of the others and have no hesitation to call the other entities “a cult” – yet each one denies that it is a cult.

This is why the term “Cult” is very unhelpful.

Instead, if you can change the discussion to identify specific teachings and policies which serve to impose an undeserved, illegitimate and unethical control over the members – then you can start to talk about the problematic parts of the group and help members start to identify those unhealthy practices and reject them.

The Glossary of Undue Influence is a great place to start.

when we are in a cult

P.S.

I have noticed in my discussions that people defending a particular religion will see the rhetorical strength of finding similar tactics being used by some “Other” organization acknowledged as a cult and their own. In order to disarm this debate strategy when discussing religion with critics they will do one or more of the following:

  • Refuse to examine other groups as part of the discussion. “I have never been a member of that other group so I can’t and won’t look at, analyze, compare or contrast it in any way”
  • Soften a previously held antagonistic view towards other religions in order to minimize the import of a similar unethical policy or teaching. Essentially, no longer considering other groups to be cults – that way any comparison doesn’t reflect poorly on their own group. “It doesn’t matter if that other groups does those things – they are just sincere people looking to strengthen their own faith community. They aren’t a cult – and neither are we.”
  • Blame “Satan” or “the adversary” for imitating and perverting a teaching which in their group is correctly done with love and divine guidance, but in those other groups is done to the detriment of their members to keep them bound to a false system of belief. “When we do that, it is done correctly for the good of the individual – what that other group does is a false imitation”
  • Refuse to acknowledge similarity. “Since that other group doesn’t do it in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons, then you can’t compare them.”

Members may do this subconsciously without realizing what they are doing. It may be helpful for you to not try to make the direct comparison with the group that the individual is in, but just discuss how hurtful and controlling methods are used in other groups. The individual may come to make the comparison themselves at a later time upon reflection when they don’t feel directly challenged by an outsider. Such realizations may be more powerful and effective than any direct argument you could make.