I recently asked a World Mission Society Church of God member if she thought that the organization was a cult. Here is her paraphrased response:
The Church of God is not a cult. If you look up the definition of a cult in the dictionary it says that a cult is group of people that gather to worship so I guess every religion is a cult. Even 2000 years ago, followers of Jesus were considered a cult too.
What is the Definition of a Cult?
Although the dictionary definition of a cult does include something similar to what the WMSCOG member claimed above, when you read further, the definition also includes:
a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
The rest of the definition of a cult, as stated above, can be subjective. The simplistic definition of a cult found in the dictionary does not quite provide a definitive answer. Thus the question then becomes, does the WMSCOG fit a more complex definition of a cult?
What Do the Experts Say?
In order to determine whether or not the WMSCOG is a cult we need to look to the experts in the field that have spent years studying various cult groups. Steven Hassan has studied cults for over 30 years, and is a former member of the Unification Church (Moonies). In his book “Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs“, Steven Hassan explains:
“A group should not be considered a ‘cult’ merely because of its unorthodox beliefs or practices. Destructive cults are distinguished by their use of deception and extreme influence.”.
Steven goes on to explain that mind control is a tool that destructive groups use in order to manipulate members and create a new identity where the “locus of control” is no longer within the individual. Through his many years of research, Steven developed a tool called the BITE Model which is used in order to help determine if a particular group is a destructive mind control group. (For more info on Steve Hassan’s BITE Model click below to watch his lecture on Vimeo).
In order for destructive mind control to be successful, the following four key elements need to be controlled: Behavior, Information, Thoughts, & Emotions. Let’s examine how each of these elements is controlled in order to determine whether or not the WMSCOG fits cult expert Steve Hassan’s definition of a destructive mind control group. I will use information that I obtained while speaking with both current and former WMSCOG members. I recognize that individuals’ experiences with the WMSCOG may differ, and I invite any current or former members to comment on the following analysis, and whether their experience was similar.
I will now examine cult expert Steve Hassan’s BITE model in detail and compare it with my own and others’ experience with the WMSCOG. The blue text is taken from Hassan’s BITE model available online here.
–Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
One former member told me that when she was involved in the WMSCOG, she rarely spent time with family and friends that were non-members because she was always so busy studying and preaching. I’ve also heard members say that they are told to avoid anyone trying to “speak against” the church because Satan will use the people closest to you to try to “kill your spirit”. Destructive mind control groups gradually pull members away from their support systems by keeping them excessively busy.
–How much sleep the person is able to have
A former member that I spoke with explained to me that she was always exhausted. While in the WMSCOG, she was encouraged to wake up at 5 am to pray every day and even received phone calls from other members to make sure that she was awake. During feast celebrations, members were required to attend 5 am and 7:30 pm services. Destructive cults keep their members sleep deprived so that they are not allowed to think clearly. Certainly in my own experience, sleep was considered an “idol” if it kept me from going to the WMSCOG.
–Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations
One woman told me that her husband would not go on vacation with her because all of the days off allowed by his job were reserved for feast days and preaching missions with the WMSCOG. She said that even if he did have the available time off, that he would only agree to go where there was another WMSCOG in the area. She also mentioned that he spent every day during the week at the church and would often arrive home after midnight. Neither was this was not particular to this woman’s husband alone, but in my own time in the WMSCOG, it was my impression that most members fell into this category. There were a few folks who did not partake of all the activities, but they were considered to have “less faith”.
Where I attended the WMSCOG, they actually gave their a members a letter for their employers to request time off for religious activities. The letter stated that the employee would need approximately 10 days off a year to attend certain “feast days”.
One former member told me that when he would go preaching with other members, they would represent themselves as a group of students, Bible study students, or students from the “Elohim Academy”. He said that he would never mention that he represented the WMSCOG because people would be less likely to listen to him if they had previously heard anything negative about the group. Has anyone that has come into contact with the WMSCOG been told up front that they believe that a man named Ahn Sahng Hong is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, or that the mother in the Bible that they speak of is Zhang Gil Jah and that she is living in S. Korea, or how much time and financial commitment is required of members, or why the WMSCOG books are unavailable to the public?
–Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
I once asked a current member if she had ever done any research on the Internet regarding the WMSCOG. She answered that this was strictly prohibited by “mother” (Zhang Gil Jah) because the Internet was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When I asked how so, she explained that the tree of knowledge of good and evil caused Adam and Eve to experience death in the book of Genesis and members who researched the group on the Internet frequently ended up “spiritually dead” because they subsequently left the WMSCOG. For me, I wondered, if the Internet is the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then why does the WMSCOG have so many websites?
–Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
By automatically calling their doctrine “the truth”, the WMSCOG discourages any critical questions. After all, who doesn’t believe “the truth” right? On preaching missions, if people did not listen to us, the members would say that they “did not want to hear ‘the truth'”, or that someone was “too arrogant to accept ‘the truth'”.
–Adopt “loaded” language (characterized by “thought-terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words”.
From my experience within the WMSCOG, outsiders that rejected the doctrine were automatically labeled as “arrogant”, “spiritually blind”, “not having spiritual eyes and ears”, and “spiritually dead”. I remember members mocking the rest of Christianity because they were “deceived” or “blind” and did not have the blessing of “knowing father and mother”. This seems like a perfect example of the “us vs. them” mentality that mind control groups use in order to create an elitist mentality among members within the group.
–Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
I once asked an ex-member what he would do if he ever experienced any doubt about what he was taught, heard, or saw at the WMSCOG. He plainly stated that doubt was normal in the beginning but he was encouraged to immediately start praying to “father and mother” to stop satan from putting the doubt into his mind. My question is, what if that is God trying to tell you something?
–No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate
In a situation where mind control is successful, the leader is viewed as perfect and any doubts about the leader or the organization are viewed as weaknesses within the members. I remember having questions about Ahnsahnghong and the lack of evidence in his own writings of any claims of divinity. Instead of addressing my question directly, I was told that I needed to “study more”. Therefore, the problem was me and not the fact that I could not find a single instance where Ahnsahnghong ever claimed to be the second coming of Christ in any of his books that I had purchased at the WMSCOG bookstore.
–No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful
I asked a current member if she had read any literature on cults in order to determine for herself whether or not the group she belongs to is in fact a cult. She very quickly answered that she has no interest in any “worldly knowledge” or books written by people outside the church because she only has to look to the Bible (through the interpretation of the WMSCOG of course) for answers about the most important thing, which is her salvation. My question to her then was, “How does anyone determine if the group that they belong to is the right group?” If other groups like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses could twist the Scriptures in order to lead people astray, how could members of those groups figure out if they are in a cult or not? Her answer was that she knew that she was in the right group because the WMSCOG “follows the Bible”. Couldn’t Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons give the exact same answer? Does that answer make any group right? Would another WMSCOG member like to comment on this?
–Excessive use of guilt
Guilt is one of the most powerful motivators that a destructive mind control group can use in order to produce obedient followers that can never do enough for the leader. I once asked a WMSCOG member why they put all of their free time every day after work into church related activities. The member explained that he realized the huge sacrifice that “father and mother made by coming to the earth to save us”. He went on to say that he needed to “do more, study more, and learn more” because their “sacrifice was so great” that he had to show how grateful he was by making sacrifices and letting go of his prior “sinful nature”. By his “sinful nature” he meant letting go of his prior interests, hobbies, and career aspirations.
A person under mind control cannot visualize leading a positive and fulfilled life outside the group. I once asked a member if he ever envisioned himself leaving the group. He immediately answered “No… absolutely not”. I asked why and he answered that it was not an option because he would “risk getting into a car accident, becoming ill, or even physically dying”. Since he wouldn’t be observing the Passover, Sabbath, and other feasts, he would lose his protection from disasters and ultimately his salvation. Are there any current WMSCOG members that disagree with this?
I certainly understand that everyone’s experience in any organization can vary greatly. I do not know how the WMSCOG functions as an official organization, or in other places. I can only speak from my and other member’s own personal experience, what I witnessed, and was involved in. Based on my experience, if I measure the WMSCOG against cult expert Steve Hassan’s BITE Model, each of the components Hassan lists are present within their organization.