Cults come in all sizes

There are from 700 to 5,000 cults active today ranging from group, with a handful of members to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unificatior Church, which boasts tens of thousands of devotees worldwide…

A foray into the cult netherworld can exact a huge emotional toll – ranging from self-doubt arising from even a brief surrender of personal autonomy to forced abusive sexual relationships with magnetic leaders.

"No one plans to join a cult," said Loma Goldberg, a New Jersey psychoanalyst who helps former cultists. "Cults target people in transition – college students away from home for the first time, people who have moved to new cities for jobs, those who have just been divorced or widowed."

But New York City psychiatrist Marc Galanter in his study of a group’s cult members, found most suffered "from significant emotional distress."

J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, in Santa Barbara, Calif., said the average cult member has been in three or four other groups. He suggested cults serve as "holding tanks" for young people rebelling against overprotective parents.

Activists in the Cult Awareness Network, and the American Family Foundation, the most strident cult awareness organizations, contend deception is a hallmark of cult recruitment and at the outset newcomers have no inkling how rigidly their lives will be controlled…

"Sexual abuse of women in cults is a pretty common story," Goldberg said.

The Children of God, a 1970s group now making a comeback as The Family, used to send women on "happy hooking" expeditions to recruit men. AIDS ended these tactics, but The Family continues to encourage extramarital sex.

The Church Universal and Triumphant, the survivalist cult headed by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, not only forbids premarital sex but restricts lovemaking of married followers…

Most cult members drift away within a year or two. "Turnover is huge," said Dean Kelley, a counselor on religious liberty to the National Council of Churches.

(The Holland Sentinel, January 21, 1995, B7)