TRUE LIGHT HERE AT LAST
(Investigator 7, 1989 July)
True Light Ministries, based in Victor Harbor and headed by Alan and Susan Fehlberg, aims to get people out of cults.
"Our ministry is not just counseling but also to bring them to Christ,"
said Mrs Fehlberg. "A cult is anything that deviates from orthodox
The Fehlbergs are former Jehovah's Witnesses who left the sect 3 years ago.
"Cult members go through hell before they come out," added Mrs Fehlberg. "Before I came out I had a nervous breakdown."
About a dozen people attended the advertised meeting in Halifax Street,
Adelaide. It began with introductions, song and prayer. Then a video
extract of the Paul Ankerberg Show in which two JW elders argued with
two Trinitarians about whether Jesus was "God" or "a god".
The highlight of the meeting was a lecture by Mrs Fehlberg.
Her statements included:
- "Unresolved problems are precursors for cult
membership. The mental illness rate in cults is 400% greater than in
the normal population. But most emotional problems result from actual
- "People join cults because emotional needs are not being met."
- "New members receive love-bombing. This goes to their head until they reach a point where the mind snaps."
- "Many cults set dates. But when they fail there is loss of faith in the cult and in Christianity."
- "When people believe in Armageddon around the corner then education, family and career are all put on hold."
- "Denying reality creates layer on layer of neurosis."
- "When all this hits home you do what I did and have a nervous breakdown."
- "Cults view [their] apostates as the lowest form of life."
- "The counseling work of Jesus must be normative
for all Christians. Any attempt to counsel on the basis of worldly
psychology is to offer just another doctrine of demons."
- "The cult member needs to repent of personal involvement in the cult."
- "Many cultists blame the cult. Yet they became members of their own free will."
- "Only when he is born again can he understand Scripture."
- "He must also learn to think again."
- "Deliverance ministry comes about when the cultist has faith. Then his demons can be expelled in Christ's name."
- "Counselors must be good listeners."
REPLY TO TRUE LIGHT MINISTRIES
(Investigator 7, 1989 July)
That "cult" members have a higher mental illness rate than do
non-"cultists" seems established. (Bergman 1987; Montague 1977; Spencer
1975) But that "most emotional problems result from actual membership"
I know a former drunkard and wife beater who gave up these practices
and learned medicine — after joining a cult. The socializing effect of
a "cult" can help some people overcome emotional problems and become
better adapted, more useful members of society. I know of no scientific
study that sorts out the relative psychological gains and losses of
persons after they join the "cult".
Mrs Fehlberg's definition of "cult" — "anything that deviates from
orthodox Christianity" — is a suspicious definition. So-called
"Orthodox Christianity" is divided on numerous points: Is infant
baptism valid? Is "speaking in tongues" for our time? Is present-day
Israel prophetically significant? One of the few things "Orthodox"
religions have in common is belief in God as a Trinity. Many
"cult-busters" come straight out and say: "A cult is any religion that
denies the doctrine of the Trinity."
There are many versions of the Trinity. (Alfs 1984) Some Trinitarians
regard the three members of the Trinity as equal in every way. Others
allow for an "authority structure" within the Trinity. Some say the
name "Jehovah" applies to the Trinity. Others limit the name "Jehovah"
to Jesus. So, which version of the Trinity is really orthodox?
One criterion of orthodoxy is the answer to the question: "What did
Christians of the first few centuries after Christ believe?" Did they
believe in all the Trinity versions believed in today? If not, then
shouldn't certain Unitarian views which were popular in the 2nd to 4th
centuries be considered more orthodox than those versions of the
Trinity that are false?
If at stake is merely a disagreement over a doctrine why use the word
"cult"? Why don't "cult busters" and anti cult ministries call
themselves "Anti-Trinity Busters"? Or "Unitarian Busters"? Or "Anti
This is where Mrs Fehlberg's definition is really suspicious. News
reports refer to "cargo cults", "Satan cults", "human sacrifice cults",
"suicide cults", "drug smuggling cult", "Jonestown cult", etc. Popular
usage of the term "cult" associates a cult with something bad, anti
society, criminal or on the edges of legality, something that perverts
people, reduces their freedoms, abuses them. (Daniels 1988) By
mislabeling JWs, Mormons, Adventists and Christadelphians as cults Mrs
Fehlberg risks creating uninformed prejudice against religions whose
ethical standards as high as her own.
Mrs Fehlberg is right in stressing the importance of listening. A
person leaving a cult or a sect such as JWs has many changes to make
and many problems to sort out. Gaining self-understanding by expressing
things in one's own words to a sympathetic listener is a vital part of
the healing process.
For Mrs Fehlberg to call "worldly psychology" a "doctrine of demons"
raises unnecessary side issues and is downright silly. Of the 300
students who studied University psychology when I studied it some
dozens were Christians. Second Year included a course on counseling.
Much in psychology is testable and based on experiments that can be
repeated. Demons were never invoked. Some ex cultists and ex sect
members may wish not to join any other religious group. If that is
their choice then counseling by a psychologist instead of a religionist
may be preferable.
It seems to me that many so-called "anti-cult ministries" are merely
trying to get sect members to swap one sect for another. Or should I
say "one cult for another"?
Alfs, M. 1984 Concepts of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, USA
Bergman, J. 1987 The Mental Health of Jehovah's Witnesses, Witness Inc., California
Daniels, P. 1988 What Is A Cult? Investigator Magazine No. 2
Kaye, John On Interpersonal Perception and Communication, The University of Adelaide Department of Psychology, May 1978
Montague, H. 1977 The Pessimistic Sect's Influence on the Mental Health of Its Members: The Case of Jehovah's Witnesses, Social Compass, Volume 24, No. 1, pp 135-148
Spencer, J. 1975 The Mental Health of Jehovah's Witnesses, British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 126, pp 556-559.