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ICSA E-Newsletter

Current ICSA E-Newsletters are posted below, with the most recent newsletter on top.

May 22, 2018

Next year ICSA will celebrate its 40th anniversary. ICSA was founded as American Family Foundation (AFF), which changed its name in 2004.

Those who developed an interest in this field within the past 10 – 20 years usually know little about ICSA’s/AFF’s early years . You’ll find a detailed history of the North American cult awareness movement here: http://www.icsahome.com/articles/changes-in-the-north-american-cult-awareness-movement

Sometimes, however, an unstructured perusal of ICSA’s old periodicals can be very interesting – like wandering through a library’s bookshelves. ICSA members have access to ALL ICSA periodicals going back to 1979.

The Advisor was published from 1979 to 1984. The Cult Observer, which broadened the scope of The Advisor, was published from 1984 – 2002. Both were laboriously scanned for the ICSA e-library. Here are links to issues from 1979, 1984, and 1999.

The Advisor, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1979 - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4dmoPK1tYNjT2JnVWhxdjlZRkk/view
The Advisor, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1984 - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4dmoPK1tYNja2tmS3kydkpYUHc/view
The Cult Observer, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1999 - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4dmoPK1tYNjWUxUcFFVOV9oVnc/view

If you’d like to browse through more of this field’s history, go to the member page (the URL is in your member/renewal confirmation message), if you are a member. If you’re not an ICSA member, please become one: http://www.icsahome.com/membership



Write us at mail@icsamail.com, if you’re not sure of your membership status or did not bookmark the member page.
April 16, 2018

ICSA member Nori Muster, author of Betrayal of the Spirit, maintained a dream log for many years during and after her involvement with ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness). In 2017 she received a grant from the Dream Studies Foundation for seed money to study her dream journals. Nori says:

I had already transcribed some dreams in 2016, but my advisors asked me to also transcribe daytime notations because this would give researchers data about my waking concerns to compare to my dreams. The notebooks belong to the UC Santa Barbara Department of Special Research Collections, so the grant allowed me to travel to UCSB two times this year - January 6-20 and March 18-31. The reading room is open approximately forty hours a week, and I was there every day, typing. After as much as 160 hours over four weeks of full-time work, the transcript is now 465 pages (255,444 words).

The set consists of thirty-seven notebooks that span nine years and eleven months. I wrote the first seven years in twenty-three small booklets, small note pads, and stationery pads. In the last three years, I filled fourteen regular wirebound notebooks.

The 1986, 1987, and 1988 notebooks tell the story of how I became disillusioned and left the organization. In these years I wrote notes and dreams every day. During these years I recorded 1,177 dreams, and 1,122 daytime notations.

Looking at my life in terms of ISKCON, there's a clear before and after. Before leaving ISKCON is obviously the "before" part - the notebooks I just transcribed. The "after" begins seven years later, when I turned forty. Although it might seem like recovery should have started right away after ending an experience, I wasn't ready to let go.

Typing at the Library, working eight hours a day, it took me a week to transcribe 1988, a year of full-size notebooks. My forties are ten years of full size notebooks, so I estimate it would take approximately four hundred hours, or less. That would be ten weeks of full-time work, or part-time work over six months or a year. This is now feasible because Director of Special Research Collections Danelle Moon offered to ship journals to me in Arizona. This is just one of the many things the UCSB Library people have done to facilitate this study.

I searched the Internet for researchers who study dream journals and ultimately met Prof. Domhoff. After learning about Quantitative Dream Content Analysis from him and reading numerous papers and books he recommended, I went back to UCSB at the end of 2016 to transcribe dreams.

I decided a good place to start would be a Decade Years cross section, so I took 1986, 1996, 2006, and 2016, the years I turned thirty, forty, fifty, and sixty. I got about 250 from each year, for a total of more than a thousand dreams. Prof. Domhoff entered this collection into a blind study with Dr. Bulkeley. The dream journal for scientific research ends in 2016, when I found out I would be in a dream study. So the parameters of the collection are fixed: 1979 to the end of 2016, with a total of thirty-eight years in 231 notebooks.

I used to think lots of people kept dream journals like mine, but in 2016 I found out how rare it is.

See Nori's full report here.


March 22, 2018

Noteworthy Abstracts From ICSA’s Upcoming Annual Conference in Philadelphia

More info on the conference: http://www.icsahome.com/events/conferenceannual

After the Cult: Who Am I?
Leona Furnari 

After the Cult - Who Am I? According to Judith Herman in Trauma & Recovery (1992): “Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis....” According to Judith Herman in Trauma & Recovery (1992): “Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis....” ... which brings the former cult member to the question: After the Cult ‘Who Am I’? Living in a cult or closed high demand group or relationship is a traumatic experience that may leave former members feeling as though are strangers in a strange land, unfamiliar with the language, customs, sense of meaning and skills that those in the general culture seem to possess. In this interactive workshop we explore the process of the re-definition of self that takes place upon leaving (and often begins even before leaving) a cultic group or relationship, for both first generation former members and those born or raised in these environments. We will discuss psychosocial developmental building blocks of safety, trust, competence, self-esteem & autonomy, and look at developing healthy relationships with healthy boundaries, as these often require revisiting after experiences in high demand groups. While it may be a scary process to confront the traumatic experiences and also take risks in re-defining oneself, this opens the door to hopefulness and possibility. [Attendance restricted to former members of cultic groups and relationships.]

Caught in the Vortex: Dynamics of Psychological/Emotional Manipulation and Entrapment in One-on-One Cultic Dyads and Small Groups
Tammy Ichinotsubo-Ezzi

While it is understood that the dynamics involved in one-on-one cultic dyads and small groups are very similar to larger group cult dynamics, as well as situations of interpersonal violence, there is little in the literature that has explored these inner workings to any great depth. Rather, the characteristics of cult leaders and the methods of thought reform in larger cultic groups are often extrapolated to one-on-one cultic dyads and small groups with the awareness that such experiences are often more intense and may be more traumatizing due to the focus of attention on only one person or on a small group of individuals. This presentation, based on personal experience, experiences of others and the existing literature, particularly on traumatizing narcissism, will begin to explore specifically the methodical, often slowly and carefully executed, processes frequently involved in the creation of a cultic dyad or small group. The use of personal characteristics and vulnerabilities, belief systems and even core values as means to manipulate, entrap and control will be addressed, including understandings of power differentials in relationships that may make certain individuals more vulnerable. Similarities and differences with large group cultic dynamics will also be highlighted. The presentation will conclude with recommendations for family members of those involved in cultic dyads or small groups, for those aiding in the healing process, and for former members as they attempt to regain their lives.

Child Sexual Grooming in Alternative Religions
Stephen Kent

This presentation identifies various strategies and techniques that sexual predators in alternative religions use to gain access to, and then violate, children for sexual purposes. Using legal documents, scholarship, and journalistic sources, we identify activities and assertions that abusers use to either disarm parents or guardians or draw them into the abuse environment themselves. We also discuss both psychologically manipulative and violent strategies that abusers use to actually commit their crimes. We conclude by offering comments about the prevalence of such violations in alternative religions, and strategies that concerned parties might consider to reduce the risk to children in these groups.

DisUnification Churches? An Enquiry into Post-Charismatic Factions
Eileen Barker

Even when they do not expect to do so, charismatic founders of new religions have a tendency to die. It is then that the sometimes fragile threads that held his (or occasionally her) authority as supreme can start to snap. This paper looks at the schisms that have emerged since the death of Sun Myung Moon in particular, but also at some other religions that have lost the leader from whom they had accepted a near-unquestioned authority. What, the paper asks, are the competing narratives? To what extent are these drawn from the departed founder, and to what extent are they innovations serving particular beliefs and/or interests? Under what conditions might the warring factions re-unite, or are they unlikely ever to accommodate to the others’ strongly held positions?

Now We Are Parents - What Have We Learned: A Moderated Discussion for People Born or Raised in Cults Who Now Have Children of Their Own
Eva Mackey

Second generation adult (SGA) former cult members have many unique challenges, not least of which is parenting their children. Most people model their parenting after their own parents’. This is not possible for adult children of cults who are acutely aware of the dysfunction of their cultic upbringing. We have no healthy role models to follow and may feel completely lost. Issues arise that are unique to our situation and it is impossible to get guidance from popular parenting literature. For example; how do you explain your bizarre history to the children and how do you explain strained relationships with family members? Discipline will be a struggle as well since adult children of cults did not experience healthy forms as discipline in their own childhood. When children were disciplined in the cult it was experienced as abuse because it was never intended for the benefit of the children. It was intended for the benefit of the cult leader and to promote his/her agenda. These issues are compounded by the SGA’s tendency toward perfectionism. We are easily overcome by feelings of inadequacy with regard to our parenting ability. These topics and strategies for healthy parenting will be discussed.

Spiritual Abuse in Islam
Danish Qasim

I will go over my experiences of educating on spiritual abuse and working with victims of spiritual abuse in the Muslim community. I am the founder of www.inshaykhsclothing.com I will cover often used justifications for Islamic manipulation. This includes false analogies from the Quran and from Islamic spirituality. I will go over signs of spiritual abuse, what parents should look for in their children, and what women should be aware of when learning from male teachers. The problem of men taking secret second wives then divorcing them without any legal recourse is a growing issue and those women are often mobbed and marginalized. Then I will go over consequences of spiritual abuse, such as apostasy when atheist arguments of religious figures using religion as a control mechanism begins to resonate with victims of spiritual abuse. Also, I will go over victim self-blame, and communal blame of the victim. Anger is a healthy reaction to being conned, and being treated with no dignity hurts self-respect. Seeing this as a spiritual problem puts the blame on the victim rather than the abuser. Being bullied and ostracized gives victims PTSD that can last a lifetime and creates a negative association with religion. Then I will go over a brief taxonomy of bystanders to answer the question of why other leaders don’t do anything about it. This ranges from a culture of covering up abuse to ineptitude. Depending on time, I also want to go over how early Islamic scholarship opposed spiritual abuse. Finally, I want to leave the audience with ways to respond to spiritual abuse, to become up-standers, and to show support to those who have been abused and marginalized in their own communities.

Spiritual Abuse: Blaming the Victim
Dylesia Barner, Maureen Griffo

In the context of spiritual abuse, the phrase victim blaming refers to actions or words that hold spiritually abused persons partially or completely responsible for the maltreatment they endure. Victim blamers may use language to insinuate that weakness in the victim – not impairment in the abuser – led to spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, because victims of spiritual abuse often blame themselves for their involvement with spiritually abusive individuals and/or in spiritually abusive organizations, victim blaming only exacerbates already present anxiety, confusion, depression, and worthlessness. This presentation will educate attendees about spiritual abuse victim blaming, also addressing some of its underlying causes and its impact on victims. Implications for clergy members and mental health providers as well as exit challenges faced by victims that should be considered by those in connection with them will also be presented. Recognizing victim blaming as a global challenge faced by those who have been spiritually abused, the presenters seek to educate attendees about the importance of empathetic, attentive, and advocacy-oriented support.

The paradoxes and dilemmas of (re)integrating into mainstream society
Doni Whitsett

This paper presents the frequently encountered paradoxical phenomenon that clients often present which can be confusing to them and to the clinician. On the one hand, former members are relieved to be free to live their lives as they choose. On the other hand, they often miss the positive aspects of being in a cult, e.g. sense of purpose in life and the comraderie of people who shared their world view. This ambivalence is probably even more pronounced in people who were born and raised in a cult, given that they left behind the only world they knew and bravely entered a new world as a “stranger in a strange land.”1 This paper addresses these ambivalences, adapting a framework by Castro, Kintzle, and Hassan at USC’s Center for Innovation and Research (CIR) on Veterans and Military Families. These authors presented “paradoxes and dilemmas” which combat veterans encounter as they reintegrate into mainstream society and suggest that many of these dilemmas can generalize to other populations of trauma as well.2 Thus, it is very applicable to the ex-member cult population. The following paradoxes and dilemmas will be discussed in the presentation:

· Mixed emotions paradox (glad to be out but missing positive aspects of group life)

· “Back-there” paradox (similar to above: miss the sense of purpose, comraderie, etc.)

· Survivor paradox (happy to be out but feel guilty about leaving others behind)

· Morpheus paradox (physically/mentally exhausted but have troubled sleep, nightmares)

· Aschalasia paradox (want to enjoy life but unable to relax)

· Intimacy paradox (want to be close to others but mistrustful and guarded)

· Excitement paradox (glad to be in a less stressful environment but miss the adrenaline highs)

· Verbalizing paradox (want others to understand but fearful of self-disclosure)

The paper will address these dilemmas and suggest ways of handling them in therapy.

Understanding the Role of Shame in Cult Indoctrination and Recovery
Daniel Shaw

Shame is what cult leaders hope to cultivate in followers; and shame, subtle and gross, is what may linger on, often not fully recognized and not clearly linked to the cult experience. With the presence of shame, conscious or not, it can be very hard to allow for the experience of dignity. Without reclaiming dignity, shame can hold the recovering cultist back. Using the theory of the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system, as well as attachment theory and trauma theory, this presentation will examine in depth the nature of shame. What makes shame a powerful tool for the cult leader? How does shame get used to control the follower? How can one identify and manage the vestiges of shame that cling, often long after exiting a cult? The theory of traumatic narcissism asserts that the cult leader must deny any vulnerability to shame so as not to lose his delusion of omnipotence. In order to ward off the presence of shame (associated to dependency) in himself, the cult leader cultivates dependency/shame in his followers. With the combination of love (charisma) and fear (authoritarianism), the cult leader creates an experience of disorganized attachment in the follower. Attachment to a needed other becomes disorganized, and the follower becomes prone to dissociation, when the one needed for a sense of security is terrifying. Loving the one that terrifies you literally blows the follower’s mind, a traumatic situation. Dissociation is the escape from traumatic experience when it feels like there is no escape. In this presentation, the various threads of these psychological theories will be woven together to explain the central role that shame plays in the cultic dynamic, and to point toward the universal need to be able to claim the right to one's dignity in the process of cult recovery.

Panel: Born and Raised in Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and Transitioning to a New Reality
Deborah Schriver, Tonia Griffin, Jess Griffin, Vanessa,* Angela,* Alsandria,* Shaina,* Marcus* (*last names withheld at request of presenters)

On September 20, 2008, the FBI raided the TAMC compound in Fouke, Arkansas. Six young girls were taken into custody that night, and during the next few weeks other children were taken. The children were placed in foster care, and they refused to talk freely with DCS workers, social workers, therapists, or foster parents. Only after Alamo was sentenced to 175 years with no parole did the children begin to talk to their foster parents. Still, they were guarded. Hoping to help the children express their thoughts and feelings to heal, the foster/adoptive parents contacted Debby Schriver to work with the children to write their stories. Now these SGAs and third-generation adults are speaking out loud publicly for the first time. They will share their experiences growing up in Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, their forced exit from the only home they knew, and their thoughts and fears during the raid and subsequent days in foster care. They will discuss their transition to life outside the cult and speak to their unfinished work and successes. Topics will include their current relationships with parents still in the cult, their feelings about Tony Alamo's 2017 death, and the support systems they have created with peers from the TACM and other spiritually abusive groups. They will discuss the ways writing their stories with a stranger helped them to move forward. Tonia and Jess Griffin will discuss the gaps in the foster care system and what they did to ensure a home that would be safe and nurturing to these children.

Panel: Christian Cults and the Concept of Hell
Robert Pardon, Michael Langone

The inculcation of fear is a control tactic that is commonly observed in cultic groups. Those that are ostensibly Christian will often use threats of hell as one means of instilling fear designed to strengthen leaders’ hold on group members. Though most mainstream Christians accept the concept of hell, cultic groups distort and misapply the concept. Frequently, those who leave cultic Christian groups can benefit by understanding how mainstream Christians conceive of hell and how cultic groups use hell as a control tactic. This panel will explore: (1) Historical and cultural contexts that may contribute to cultic formulations of hell (e.g., Dante’s Inferno, what we would today consider inhumane punishments for misdeeds). (2) Contemporary ideas about hell that are inconsistent with cultic views. (3) Cases of former cult members whose recovery involved a reevaluation of the views of hell that resulted from their group experience.

Panel: So we thought we could fly
Patrick Ryan, Joseph Kelly, Diane Hendel, Curtis Malloux

A retrospective interactive discussion of how five middle-class american college students came to believe they could levitate to save the world. An exploration of hypnosis, the suppression of doubt, guru worship and the cultivation of an experience of levitation, creating world peace and the expansion of consciousness. Then (1978) and now.

February 23, 2018

Pink Slip From Billy Graham!

Kenneth Garrett, DMin
Pastor, Grace Church, Portland, Oregon

I wasn’t surprised by the letter, but as I held it in my hands, my stomach tightened. It read, “Regretfully, in light of the recent decision of the Pastor’s Committee regarding the participation of your church in the Crusade, we are sad to inform you that you are not eligible to serve as a counselor for the Billy Graham Crusade. . . we certainly hope that the Christian Life and Witness Classes will be of benefit to you in your personal life in the days ahead.”

They didn’t want me, because they didn’t want my church. The small committee of pastors who were leading Portland, Oregon’s efforts to prepare for an upcoming Billy Graham crusade had determined that our little church was no longer welcome to volunteer to serve in the crusade. Who gets kicked out of a Billy Graham crusade?! As a co-worker remarked, several years later, “Wow. That’s really a trip, Kenny. Nobody gets a pink slip from Billy Graham! But you did—you should save that.”

A pink slip is a notice of dismissal from a job, and I had received one from one of the most tolerant, welcoming Christian organizations on earth. Throughout his long, illustrious ministry, religious and denominational leaders had often criticized Reverend Graham for his policy of inviting Christians from all denominational and doctrinal backgrounds to join him as he sought to bring the citizens of their cities to the Christian faith in his Crusades. The distinctions and distrust between Catholics and Protestants, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, conservatives and liberals were simply neither acknowledged (at least not openly), nor allowed to become a barrier to participation in the city-wide crusades that had made Billy Graham one of the most popular, recognized figures around the globe. Many Christians volunteered their time, dollars, and energy into creating a successful Crusade. Nobody gets a pink slip from Billy Graham.

Preparations began years before Graham arrived in the city for a series of large, public events that would fill arenas. After the he left town, the genuine hope of all churches was that some of those who responded to his preaching would convert to Christianity and join a church. I don’t think any churches ever exploded with growth after a Billy Graham crusade—and I never sensed that churches were depending on their involvement with Graham to significantly increase their numbers, but they could always hope.

My small, fundamentalist, bible church was no different. Upon hearing of the plans for the 1992 Portland Crusade, our pastor shifted our church of 40 members into high gear. We met regularly to pray for the crusade’s success and attended workshops for training to help new Christians become established into the faith. We flooded the local crusade office with offers to volunteer to answer phones, stuff envelopes, and empty waste baskets.

How strange it must have seemed to the crusade office managers to see members show up early, work long hours, and return the next day for more of the same. They might have wondered, Do these people have lives? What about their kids, their jobs, their schedules. . . the rest of their lives? They didn’t realize that we were perfectly suited to make such all-encompassing, consuming commitments to volunteering for the crusade—because we were members of a high-control, cult-like church that demanded that level of commitment and sacrifice from all its members, all the time. After selling homes and cars, liquidating retirement funds and savings accounts, and giving our time exclusively to the programs, classes, and schedule of our little church—dropping the kids off with a babysitter and spending an eight-hour day answering phones or assembling mailers was a piece of cake.

But then, just a few months before the crusade, trouble came knocking.

The father of a former member of the church reported to the Pastor’s Committee that our pastor had attempted to seduce his daughter, a single-woman in her twenties. His daughter also told him of other young women in the church whom he had also approached. Phone calls were made, letters were exchanged, accusations denied (vehemently), victims were hated (by us), and our volunteers began to note a distinct chill in the air at the crusade office.

I don’t recall if we requested a meeting with the committee, or the committee requested a meeting with us, but a meeting was scheduled. I didn’t think it strange at the time that our pastor demanded that he, his associate pastor, his brother, and his deacons (of which I was one) all be included in the meeting, but that was his demand, despite the committee’s desire that he meet alone with them to address the allegations. So, there we were, the leadership team of our little church striding into the crusade office to meet with the committee. The dark suits we all wore that warm June day were very uncomfortable and given the jeans and business-casual nature of the Pastor’s Committee, were out of place. I suppose our pastor thought such a presentation was a type of show of force.

The meeting was awkward, forced, and very uncomfortable. It seemed clear to me that the committee members did not want to discuss specific allegations about our pastor in front of those of us he’d brought to the meeting. Our point was that the Pastor’s Committee had not followed the biblical direction for confronting a fellow believer whom one suspected of sin. They should have privately contacted the pastor, we argued. They should have ensured that not a whisper of scandal was allowed in the office. Our pastor had been wronged, and so we were wronged. His reputation and good standing in the community was under attack by religious professionals, and—worst of all—they refused to divulge just who it was that had lodged the complaint. We felt it was a matter of fairness that the identity of our pastor’s accuser be made known—and that they confront him openly, along with his accuser. So, we sat through the meeting, which lasted all of a half-hour or so. There was no conclusion, no decision, no next step, etc., just a goodbye, thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch.

A very strange thing happened to me in the moments after the meeting. As we were leaving the meeting room, one of the committee members, the pastor of a large church in Portland, pulled me aside. He was a very soft-spoken man, and very kind. No one noticed that he’d singled me out, and the office around us appeared to me to become very still and quiet. He shook my hand, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, “Ken, I really like your spirit. I appreciate your heart. Thank you for coming in.” He paused. “You’re a good guy, Ken.” Then, the room became animated again—we were walking out of the meeting, typists were typing (it was 1992!), papers were being shuffled, and phones were ringing. We walked out of the building into the summer heat and drove home to the large house where several of us lived communally with the pastor.

Most of the church members were waiting for us—eager to hear of how the meeting went, what they said, and what we said, and what the conclusion of the whole affair might be. They had gathered for prayer during the time of the meeting. Would our pastor be vindicated? Would the committee see that he’d been set up, that the devil was doubtlessly attacking our little, faithful church, to thwart the goals and hard work that had gone into making the crusade a success? Would these pastors and seminary professors see the obvious attack on our pastor, by a disgruntled ex-member!? We reported back to our church our recollection of the meeting, making ourselves sound very much in control and full of confidence. We presented the committee as less-than-knowledgeable, and even a bit intimidated by our bearing, our comments, and our dark suits.

Within days our pastor crafted a tome that rivaled any of the epistles of the New Testament and mailed it to the committee. In the letter he chided the committee members for their unbiblical approach to the issue, their slander against our pastor, and he reminded them of the great sacrifices of service being made by our volunteers in their office. It was quite a document; just biblical enough to dodge overt criticism, and angry and defensive enough to rebuke the committee. We all praised the pastor for the letter he’d written. I certainly joined in the applause. But deep down, I was a bit embarrassed by it. All in all, it was very defensive and seemed certain to further alienate our church from the crusade.

Within a week all our members who had volunteered for the coming crusade, each and every one, received a letter from the Pastor’s Committee, notifying us that we had been identified as belonging to a group of which grave allegations had been made, and that, while our support thus far was much appreciated, we were no longer welcome to volunteer for the crusade. We were fired from the most welcoming, ecumenical, big-tent ministry on the planet. All kinds of Christians were welcomed by the Billy Graham team, for goodness sakes! Not us, however.

The expulsion of our church had a very profound effect on our church, and on me. As a church, the pink slip was jolting. We knew we were a bit out there, that we were more demanding than other churches, but never dreamed we stood out that much! The letter also ushered in a deeper level of sadness regarding our church. Many of our members, myself included, hoped that the crusade, and the new members that we hoped would join our church because of the crusade, would lead us out of the past few years of isolation and discouragement. Rumors and reports were running through the church of our pastor’s forays into drinking, drug use, and questionable contact with both single and married women in the church. While these accounts were vehemently denied by the pastor and his friends and family, the stories were out there and didn’t seem very hard to believe. After the committee’s decision to exclude our church from the crusade, he withdrew further into what became his addiction to opioids and alcohol and seemed more flagrant in his abusive behaviors. Many in the church also gave up and followed him of the moral cliff he’d led them to.

I think he was relieved by the pink slip. It temporarily brought relief from the fear of the exposure of his secret crimes. Besides the adultery, drunkenness, strong-arming members for money, running rough-shod over the church and making everyone generally miserable, he had been molesting young girls, the daughters of church members. He is now in the Oregon State Prison serving a twenty-year sentence.

For me, the pink slip had a profound effect, and it marks the time when I began to experience an inner deliberation to leave the church. When I was, in effect, fired by Billy Graham, I was ashamed and embarrassed. My dream of one day becoming pastor of a church evaporated. I abandoned all such hopes.

I did attend one of the crusade services one warm evening when it came to town that summer. My 9-year old daughter and I stood in a high-school football field, the overflow location for the nearby stadium, watching Billy Graham on a huge screen put up in an end-zone. It was surreal—having envisioned myself as serving a part in the crusade, angsts all resolved, life cleaned up, leading a bible study, or going to seminary, or preaching—but instead, there I stood, dazed, in a field, watching the whole show go on without me on a screen.

But then, I remembered what happened after the committee meeting, in the hallway when that pastor stopped me to speak to me, and the whole world around us seemed to be thrust into suspended animation.

“Ken, I really like your spirit. I appreciate your heart. Thank you for coming in. You’re a good guy, Ken.”

As I reflected, tiny seeds of doubt and confirmation planted by that pastor and the pink slip I’d received began to send out some tiny roots into my soul. By that time, I knew that our pastor was certainly guilty of all he’d been accused of by his unidentified victim. I knew he was a cad, an abusive, addicted, self-absorbed man. But, who was I? Where did I fit into the whole mess?

Ken, I really like your spirit.

I began, increasingly, to view myself as outside the church. I was present there physically, but emotionally and psychologically the train had left the station, carrying me far away from the church that functioned as a cult. Once I began to think like that, it was only a matter of time before my wife, our children, and I walked out the door and into a life of spiritual and physical health and joyous freedom.

Churches that abuse their members create an atmosphere that is toxic and smothering to the point that their members fear leaving yet hate staying. The control and the countless emotional hooks paralyze members until they start down that mental path of simply imagining life outside the church, away from the abuse.

That’s what I began to imagine, and in a short time, my imagination guided my thinking and planning and even gave me courage to walk out the door. Before he even arrived in Portland, Billy Graham played a part in my departure from the abusive church.

“Whoa, that’s really a trip, Kenny. Nobody gets a pink slip from Billy Graham! But you did—you should save that.”

Well, it was a trip. And I certainly don’t know of anyone else in the world who’s been turned away from volunteering at a Billy Graham Crusade. And I did keep the letter, a pink slip to be grateful for.


February 2, 2018

A team from the Center on Violence Against Women and Children of the Rutgers University School of Social Work has posted a report, “Evaluating the State of Predatory Alienation in New Jersey.” The report was prepared for The New Jersey Department of Children and Families and the The New Jersey Department of Human Services. You will find the full report here: http://www.nj.gov/dcf/news/reportsnewsletters/dcfreportsnewsletters/Predatory-Alienation-In-NJ.pdf

The Introduction below provides an overview of the report’s genesis and objectives:

The objective of the project, “Evaluating the State of Predatory Alienation in New Jersey,” was to identify the nature of predatory alienation and its effects on young adults and older adults. The Department of Children and Families and the Department of Human Services contracted the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) at the Rutgers School of Social Work to study this issue.

In 2012, several individuals in New Jersey began a nonprofit organization, NJ Safe & Sound, to advocate for legislation to protect families in cases of undue influence and predatory alienation. Their own personal experiences with predatory alienation led them to their advocacy efforts.

As a result of the advocacy efforts of NJ Safe and Sound, Senate Bill 25621 and Assembly Bill 4244 were passed and signed by the Governor (P.L. 2017, Chapter 64), requiring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct a joint study and make recommendations concerning predatory alienation. The Act defines predatory alienation as “extreme undue influence on, or coercive persuasion or psychologically damaging manipulation of another person that results in physical or emotional harm or the loss of financial assets, disrupts a parent-child relationship, leads to a deceptive or exploitative relationship, or isolates the person from family and friends.” With this definition in mind, researchers at VAWC sought to answer the following questions:

1) How do online predators, human traffickers, con artists, gangs, cults, and other groups use predatory alienation to isolate young adults and senior citizens from their family and friends?

2) What are the grooming practices used to target and control young adults and older adults?

3) What are the high-pressure tactics used in scams and exploitative relationships to manipulate, control, and take advantage of older adults?

4) Why are young adults and older adults particularly vulnerable to predatory alienation?

5) What can young adults and older adults do to protect themselves from predatory alienation?

VAWC used a two-phased approach to gain a better understanding of predatory alienation and how it affects young adults and older adults, including a comprehensive literature review and key stakeholder interviews. This report presents a synthesis of the findings from these two phases of the research project.

Approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Rutgers University was received prior to conducting this research. First, VAWC conducted a comprehensive literature review to examine the state of predatory practices targeting young adults and older adults across the United States. Second, in-depth interviews were completed with key stakeholders from organizations serving or advocating on behalf of individuals who have fallen victim to predatory behaviors. These interviews aided the researchers in gaining an understanding of current practices in responding to victims of predatory behaviors. Third, this report was written which includes a synthesis of findings from the literature review and in-depth interviews, and recommendations for policy, practice, and research.


January 9, 2018

Second ICSA Podcast on Radicalization and Cults

Oliver J. Smith, a psychology student at University of Cambridge (UK), has interviewed scholars of terrorism and radicalization on the relationship between their fields and cultic studies. His second podcast is with Professor Roger Griffin, one of the world’s foremost experts on the socio-historical and ideological dynamics of fascism, as well as the relationship of various forms of fanaticism, and in particular contemporary terrorism, to modernity. He has made a number of contributions to a humanistic understanding of terrorist radicalization and the identification of the processes involved in de-radicalization. Professor Griffin wrote a book called Terrorist’s Creed, published in 2012, which outlines a lot of his thinking on this subject. Oliver Smith asked him about the relevance of cults to terrorist groups, when considered as devices for achieving meaning, in particular.

Go here for the podcast (and please subscribe to ICSA’s YouTube channel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNVKEGZVkFk

Some useful links:

December 19, 2017

First ICSA Podcast on Radicalization and Cults

Oliver J. Smith, a psychology student at University of Cambridge (UK), has interviewed scholars of terrorism and radicalization on the relationship between their fields and cultic studies. His first podcast was with Dr. Florence Gaub, a Senior Analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, where she heads the Middle East and North Africa programme. In her work, she focuses on conflict, strategy, and security, with particular emphasis on Iraq, Lebanon and Libya. She also works on Arab military forces more generally, conflict structures, and geostrategic dimensions of the Arab region. Dr Gaub wrote a paper called, ‘The Cult of ISIS’ which was published in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy in early 2016. Oliver Smith asked Dr Gaub about the links that can be made between cults and terrorist groups, and the strategic implications of these links. 

Go here for the podcast (and please subscribe to ICSA’s YouTube channel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laZw7nvU9AU

Some useful links:

December 17, 2017

ICSA’s 2017 Progress Report, which was completed a couple of weeks ago, is now available online:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QCaWc6H0dCY1PeeFFPgjkQ69v3LGXQTK/view

November 17, 2017

The ICSA Santa Fe conference (Nov. 3 – 5, 2017) went very well.  Approximately 100 people attended this conference, which focuses on assistance, mental health training, and general-interest sessions.  Among the many topics covered were:

  • Beyond Cults: Religious Child Maltreatment in ‘Mainstream' Religious Environments (Janet Heimlich; Jaime Romo)
  • Post-Cult Sexuality: Clinical Issues (Steve Eichel)
  • Why People Leave Cults (Facilitator Michael Langone; Discussants: David Clark; Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan)
  • Building Relationships and Communicating with the Cult Involved   –   Parts I & II (Facilitators: Michael Langone, Steve Eichel; David Clark; Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan)
  • Panel: SGA Personal Accounts from the Alamo Group (Debby Schriver, Moderator)
  • Boundaries (Rosanne Henry; Elizabeth Blackwell)
  • Varieties of Post-Cult Spirituality I & II (Ashley Allen, Moderator; Elizabeth Blackwell; Wendy Duncan; Steven Gelberg; Pat Knapp; Madeleine Tobias)
  • Transitioning to a Better Life After Mormonism (Luna Lindsey; Cyndi Matthews)
  • Families, Conflict Resolution, and Exit Strategies (Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan)
  • Cult Recovery: What ICSA’s Landmark Book Can Teach Professionals, Families, and Former Members (Lorna Goldberg)

Lorna Goldberg’s panel on cult recovery featured chapter authors from ICSA’s new book, Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide, which many view as the definitive text on treatment.  For more information on this important book, go here (URL: http://www.icsahome.com/networks/mentalhealth/cultrecoverybook).

Thanks to the hard work of Ashley Allen, who obtained provider status with the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) for ICSA, we were able to offer continuing education credits to mental health professionals for selected sessions.  ICSA plans to offer more CE sessions at future conferences.

Some of the speakers have made their Power Points available in a special conference folder, which you can access here (URL: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ULTc2ME_XuFfdu1fw2iqEZc8uOca4Xc2?usp=sharing)

The deadline has passed for submitting proposals for ICSA’s 2018 Annual Conference in Philadelphia (July 5-7, 2018).  We received more than 130 submissions, the quality of which on the whole seems to be even higher than in past annual conferences.  Between now and the end of the year, the conference committee will evaluate submissions, work out a draft agenda, and notify submitters of the committee’s decision regarding their proposal(s).  In late December or early January we should be ready to disseminate flyers and registration and other information on the annual conference.

ICSA’s weekend workshop for those born or raised in cultic groups will take place in Connecticut the weekend of April 27, 2018.  For more information, go here (URL: http://www.icsahome.com/events/workshopsgas).

On October 27, 2017 ICSA began a new kind of event, ICSA Conversations.  Dr. Benjamin Zablocki of Rutgers University spoke on “Brainwashing: Scientific Concept or Mere Label” at the NY monthly meeting.  Dr. Zablocki’s talk was streamed through Facebook.  On December 15th Sara Waters will give a talk entitled, “Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult.”  This event will also be streamed.  If you wish to participate either live or via streaming, please register (ICSA Conversations are free).  For more information, including a registration link, go here (URL: http://www.icsahome.com/events/localevents/icsa-conversations).

The holiday season will be upon us soon.  Please remember ICSA in your holiday giving!

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