An Example of Cult Practice In America
According to J. Gordon Melton, in Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults In America, "considerable confusion exists" in the classification of "cults." For many Americans, when you say the word "cult," people will tend to associate "cult" with "occult". Occultism is associated with hidden or mysterious supernatural powers and man's belief in the ability to control or use them. On the other hand, a cult has "three definitions dominating the writings of social scientists, Christian counter-cult ministries, and secular anticultists"(3). According to Melton, secular anticultists "began to speak of 'destructive cults,' groups which hypnotized or brainwashed recruits, destroyed their ability to make rational judgments, and turned them into slaves of the groups leader". Furthermore, Melton explains that "cults have come to be seen as groups that share a variety of destructive characteristics. While no one group may embody all of them, any 'cult' will possess a majority"(5). For the purposes of this paper, I will describe one of the most widely known cults using the definition of secular anticultists.
From 1977 to 1980, my family held membership in one of the largest American cults ever. Founded by Carl Stevens, The Bible Speaks made it's home in Lenox, Massachusetts. Carl Stevens, actually, was known as Dr. Carl Stevens. Although, I have come to find out that he does not even hold a bachelor's degree. During those three years, my mother recalls hearing about other housewives calling Stevens to get permission to use the bathroom. As mentioned before, these "brainwashed recruits" are typical of a secular anticultist's description of "destructive cults". In 1980, my parents were selected, along with another family, to establish another location of The Bible Speaks in Winston-Salem, N.C.. It was during this time that my parents wised up and called it quits. Apparently, the distance created between Stevens and my parents gave them, what I call, "a moment of clarity". This clarity enabled them to see the fallacy behind Stevens' organization.
Years later, my mother came across a magazine article and sent it to me. In the article, entitled "Strangers Among Us," I learned that in 1982, Betsy Dovydenas, "heir to the Dayton-Hudson department store fortune", was "urged" by Stevens "to leave her husband and two children and to donate $6.6 million to his group over three years". The article goes on to explain that in "1986 Dovydenas's husband, Jonas, her parents, and a 'cult deprogrammer' managed to pry her away from the group. In 1987 she sued the church for her money-and though she won, it was a moral victory alone, as The Bible Speaks had already declared bankruptcy". These events, eventually, led to a police raid on The Bible Speaks campus that turned up "$60,000 worth of weapons and electronic surveillance equipment"(35). The weaponry seems to be very reminiscent of David Koresh and his cult in Waco TX.
Unbelievably so, Carl Stevens has reemerged as Pastor of Greater Grace World Outreach of Baltimore, Maryland. However, he's no longer referring to himself as "Dr." Carl Stevens. Tom Forehand, in his article, "'Greater Grace' Influence in Nashville?," states that Stevens still practices a "controversial teaching about obedience to one's pastor" called "Shepherding." Forehand defines "Shepherding" as "Christian growth allegedly facilitated by yielding personal freedoms to a discipler or "shepherd" who controls virtually every aspect of an individual's life"(1). Becoming "slaves of the group's leader" is typical of a secular anticultist's definition of a cult (Merton, 5). This explains why my mother, Lynn, heard the stories of the housewives getting permission from Stevens to use the bathroom.
Michael Gray, "an automotive sales consultant," "stopped attending Greater Grace services after six months, concerned by the 'constant messages that Stevens was being persecuted because he was G-d's man'." Apparently, Stevens often arrived with armed bodyguards. "Gray feared 'what could happen when levels of paranoia reach such a heightened state'. He didn't wait to find out"("Strangers Among Us" 35). This, according to my mother, Lynn, was one of the first things she realized after being away from The Bible Speaks. Namely, how Stevens would refer to himself as "G-d's man" meaning that he was selected by G-d to "shepherd" the flock (congregation).
To conclude, we can see just how destructive a cult can be even though they profess to be a "Christian" organization. Unfortunately, these groups will always be with us. Although, there is one sure way to defend ourselves against them. That is, namely, to learn to, more correctly, interpret the Biblical text. Yes, there will be varying opinions on interpretation of scripture, but common sense can tell us a lot. To explain, I've heard it said, "If it's doubtful, chances are, it's dirty." I could, most assuredly, say that Stevens or anyone like him is not your "shepherd" and has no right to take away your individual freedoms. Furthermore, a pastor should be there to guide you and not to manipulate or control your behavior (i.e. telling you when you may use the bathroom).
Forehand, Tom. "'Greater Grace' Influence in Nashville?". Aug 1995. Watchman Fellowship, Inc. Nov. 1, 1999. <http://www.watchman.org/stevens.htm>.
Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults In America. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1986.
"Strangers Among Us." People Weekly 19 April 1993: 34.