State of California Called to Investigate Harold Camping for Fraud & Deceit

How much damage did Harold Camping’s “Rapture” fraud cause? The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has asked California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate Family Stations Inc. for fraud and deceit.

This is a notable stance from the FFRF, and one that I support completely. During my blogging career, I’ve often wondered if there’s really anything that can be done to stop cults. Sometimes it feels like there’s very little that we can do to affect change in this particular area. Many cults and fundamentalist groups stay under the radar because of their size and because most victims stay silenced.

One way to stop cults and end destructive teachings and behaviors is to hold the leaders accountable in a tangible way, which is exactly what the letter from FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker are asking the State of California to do.

If states recognized the need for investigations into religious groups like this, our country would be a more pleasant place to live in and our youth would be safer from the predatory cult leaders of today.

What makes a religious group a cult?

Waco Tribune-Herald/May 6, 2007
By Cindy V. Culp

When it comes to cults, there’s an old joke among religious scholars: A cult is a cult is a cult — unless it’s my religious group.

That jest highlights the tendency many people have to treat the identification of cults almost like the pinpointing of pornography. They don’t have a good definition of what makes a cult, but they’re sure they’ll know one when they see it.

Experts’ approach to the subject is far more complex, whether discussing the Amish, the Branch Davidians, the Mormons or Homestead Heritage. Only a few scholars use the word “cult.” Most say it has become too loaded of a word and prefer terms such as “new religious group” or “alternative religious movement.”

Experts also have differing opinions about what puts a group into the question mark category. A few give the label to any religious group that doesn’t hold a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. Others say the only reliable dividing line is whether a group obeys the law. A lot linger somewhere in the middle.

Rick Ross, who heads up a religious research institute in New Jersey, is one expert who sees no problem in using the word cult. To him, there’s no reason not to use the term except for political correctness.

“Whether they call them cults, new religious movements or whatever, you see the same structure in behavior, the same structure in dynamics,” Ross said. “Groups that fit this pattern are very often unstable.”

Ross differs from some cult-watching organizations in that he doesn’t label a group a cult simply because of its theological beliefs. Rather, groups should be judged by their behavior, he said.

One classic sign of a cult is that it is personality-driven, Ross said. That means it has a charismatic leader or group of leaders who hold a tremendous amount of sway over members.

Another common characteristic is isolation, Ross said. Sometimes that isolation is physical, with members’ comings and goings being restricted.

But most often, isolation takes the form of members becoming completely absorbed in the group and its activities, Ross said. If members work, go to school and socialize only with each other, isolation is a real possibility. An especially troubling sign, he said, is when members are asked to cut off contact with family members.

“I call it discordant noise,” he said. “Anyone or anything that would raise troubling questions about the group is marginalized to the extreme, cut off.”

Also common is a persecution complex, he said. Members often have an “us- versus-them” attitude, perceiving simple disagreements as attacks.

“They say criticizing them is to go against God,” Ross said.

Another giveaway, he said, is when groups teach that anyone who leaves is flawed. Healthy groups generally believe people can have good reasons for leaving. Not so with cults, he said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas. Not only does he not use the word “cult,” but he takes issue with the characteristics that have been attached to the word.

The problem with them, Miller said, is that they don’t distinguish between good and bad expressions of those characteristics. For example, some of the most successful mainstream religious organizations have charismatic leaders.

The anti-cult movement often acts as if there are easy answers to the question of whether a group is dangerous, Miller said. But things are rarely black and white. Most involve judgment calls and points of view. What may seem sinister to one person may be perfectly normal to another, he said.

“I don’t know where you draw the line, frankly, except at the law,” Miller said.

William Dinges, a professor of religious studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said one question he asks when evaluating religious groups is what kind of fruit they produce. That’s helpful because while the customs of some groups could be called cultic under the criteria of anti-cult organizations, they don’t truly fit that mold. The Amish are one example, he said.

One term that can be used to describe such groups are “radicalized expressions of religious commitment,” Dinges said. Characteristics include having a distinct boundary between it and others; being demanding of members; being galvanized around a charismatic personality; and having an intensified sense of mission.

Like Miller, Dinges says determining whether such groups are dangerous is subjective. Among the factors to weigh is whether they make it emotionally impossible to leave, whether they maintain members’ dignity, the amount of freedom they give members and whether there is a structure for airing and addressing conflict.

People also must consider how accepted certain behaviors are within that particular religious tradition, Dinges said. For example, becoming a monk may seem strange to many people, but it’s a very accepted part of the Catholic tradition.

Such factors also must be weighed in evaluating the stories of people who have come out of a group, Dinges said. In some cases, people’s horror stories stem from truly bad things that happened to them, he said,

In other instances, though, stories are tainted by a change in ex-members’ viewpoints, Dinges said. People can have mistaken or highly romanticized notions about what life in a particular group will be like, then become bitter when reality doesn’t match expectations.

Sometimes that happens because a group engages in false recruitment activities, he said. Other times it’s because people jump into situations without thoroughly understanding them.

“You have to educate yourself and, in a sense, know yourself. Trust your intuition.”

Ron Enroth, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in California, says all the spiritually abusive groups he has studied share common characteristics. They’re so similar that when he talks to ex-members and starts hearing details of their stories, “I almost feel like saying, ‘Stop, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ ”

One feature of such groups, Enroth said, is control-oriented leadership. Communication with outsiders is limited and questioning isn’t allowed inside the group.

Sometimes the control extends into intimate areas of followers’ lives, he said. In such cases, members are expected to ask permission to take vacations or switch jobs. Lifestyle rigidity is also common, with some groups having an almost unfathomable list of rules. One he studied outlawed striped running shoes because they supposedly were connected to homosexuality, he said. Another forbid members to use the word “pregnant.” Instead they were commanded to say a woman was “with child.”

Such groups are also spiritual elitists, Enroth said. They use arrogant or high-minded terms to describe themselves and often have disparaging descriptions for other churches, he said.

“They present themselves as the model Christian church or the model Christian organization…and say they provide unparalleled fellowship and superior spirituality,” Enroth said.

In addition, such groups are usually paranoid and perceive any criticism as persecution, Enroth said. They paint people who leave as defectors and say attacks against them are ultimately the work of Satan.

“By describing criticism as slander, they can almost be shielded from criticism,” Enroth said.

Enroth believes the number of spiritually abusive groups is growing due to a spike in the number of independent churches in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. People like them because they are less formal and less hierarchical than traditional churches, he said.

But with that independence also comes the potential for trouble, he said.

“They are, in a sense, spiritual Lone Rangers,” Enroth said. “That’s where the potential for sliding off the cliff comes into play.”

Master’s Commission 3D (Lafayette, LA) is NO Longer Legally Affiliated with Master’s Commission International Network

I received the following letter last night from Lloyd Zeigler, Chairman of the Master’s Commission International Network, relating to my 2008 inquiry http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=91 about the cult-like activities going on in Master’s Commission 3D in Lafayette, Louisiana http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=85 , http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=87. After almost two and a half years, this issue has been addressed and partly resolved.

I asked Lloyd Zeigler to provide for me the original letter sent to MC 3D, or as they now call themselves, Experience 3D, of the accusations he was presenting to them, in order to verify that all my issues were addressed, and also because a large group of people I had referred to him had contacted him with their issues. I want to ensure that their concerns were correctly addressed; however, I have not received any of these original documents, which Lloyd has promised to me the past two months. I assume they will be coming by the end of the month, but of that I can not be sure. I’ll share them here when I receive them, as I feel it’s our right as former students and staff to read them. I don’t believe any organization should hide those from the people they are trying to help.

While I’m truly sad that MC3D did not ever respond to my letters, or begin the dialogue I asked them to begin when I sent letters and made phone calls over two and a half years ago, I am happy that there was an investigation and appropriate action taken from the MCIN on the behalf of students and staff who have experienced abuse. This is a big statement for the MCIN to take to stand up against abuse.

I have much more to say about my OWN investigations into the misuse of staff members as unpaid interns and volunteers in the Master’s Commission International Network, Master’s Commission USA and groups of that nature, but I will save that for a post next week.

Look for it soon, but until then, please feel free to read the following letter and share it with anyone who has experienced abuse under the Master’s Commission 3D program that is currently directed by Gred Thompson, and formerly was directed by Nathan Davies and Tim Wilson. This Master’s Commission group is currently located in Lafayette, LA under the umbrella of Our Savior’s Church http://www.oursaviorschurch.com , an independent church senior pastored by Daniel and Maria Jones and senior associate pastors, Stuart and Lindsay Rollings, and associate pastors Nathan and Natalie Davies.

Master’s Commission 3D changed their name today to Experience 3D, as a result of the Master’s Commission International Network removing their affiliation status.

Part of the Experience 3D website http://www.leadin3d.com/#/welcome states: “Allow us to stress that this program is not for “ministry prima donnas”. We understand true, Biblical ministry to be servanthood. Much of a person’s character is built while doing the “unglamorous tasks” of ministry. A goal of Master’s is to cultivate Biblical character and servant leadership.”

What they mean to say by “ministry prima donnas” is that “servanthood” is their main way of training their students for leadership in churches. What they mean by servanthood is modern day slavery, where you as the student or parent will be paying to be used by the senior pastors and associate pastors of Our Savior’s Church, in order to be their live-in gardener, nanny, janitor, etc. all under the guise of become a “servant” to God. God has NO part in that form of servanthood!

If you’d like to read more about this “servanthood,” be my guest. There are many details on this website, and more first-hand accounts to come from this so-called leadership school.

Many thanks to the hours the MCIN Board spent meeting and discussing each student and staff members concerns when it came to these issues. I greatly appreciate each one of you taking action and responding to the great many written and verbal statements you received from this website and from people I’ve spoken to over the years. I was told this was a unanimous vote, and for that I am thankful.

I hope this incident will help Master’s Commission be a healthier place for students to attend in future years, if they should feel the need to go. Based on my experiences in Master’s Commission and the research and statements I’ve received over the years, I can not endorse or support any Master’s Commission group to students or parents who ask my opinion. However, if you do choose to go, I wish you the best, and I hope you realize that after today’s action the MCIN has taken against abuse, they’re working on becoming more of an advocate for students rights.

Since the MCIN does read this blog, I do wish that you would revisit and address the issue of payment for staff members, or “interns” or “volunteers” as many of you call them. I will be posting blogs relating to this issue in the weeks to come.

Please make that your next issue of concern, as I addressed it in 2008 and it has not yet been actualized.

August 26, 2010

RE: MASTER’S COMMISSION 3D AFFILIATE STATUS

To Whom It May Concern:

Master’s Commission International Network (“MCIN”) recently received several reports from individuals formerly associated with “Master’s Commission 3D” located in Broussard, Louisiana (“MC3D”). These reports were received in the form of letters, blog posts, and verbal reports.

In response to these varied reports, MCIN undertook and completed an investigation concerning MC3D. As part of its investigation, MCIN requested that MC3D provide MCIN’s Board of Directors (the “Board”) a detailed response to the various allegations and other concerns. Having concluded its investigation, MCIN presented the results to the Board.

In light of the facts and information presented to the Board, and after careful deliberation, the Board decided to terminate MC3D’s status as a Master’s Commission “Affiliate”.

We know this decision may affect students currently enrolled at MC3D, and as such, we informed MC3D that should any of their students desire to relocate to another Master’s Commission Affiliate in good standing, MCIN is available to assist them and answer questions they may have in that regard.

MCIN values the commitment and contribution of all students and leadership associated with the Master’s Commission Affiliates. Accordingly, we believe that our actions in this regard were both appropriate and necessary.

Lloyd Zeigler, Chairman
Master’s Commission International Network