Apr 29, 2020

Do All Ex-Cult Members Think The Same?"

Spectrum:

New episode of our podcast, Radical Empathy. In this episode of the podcast, we talk to Calvin, an former Mormon fundamentalist, about his experiences.


Apr 23, 2020

An Inside Look at America’s Insidious Christian ‘Ex-Gay’ Movement

Cassie Da Costa
The Daily Beast
April 17, 2020

The documentary Pray Away, which was supposed to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, deftly explains the continued and renewed existence of the “ex-gay” movement: In a world filled with multiple forms of systemic abuse and intolerance toward gay and transgender people—which reached a dramatic inflection point with the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s and ‘90s—the fearful and profiteering groups that claim you can “pray away” or behaviorally stamp out same-sex attraction or trans identity will always have an avenue in.

Director Kristine Stolakis focuses her camera on “ex-ex-gays,” particularly former and regretful leaders of the Exodus International conversion therapy-focused ministry, as well as other religious groups who led themselves to believe that their trauma was due to their “gay lifestyles” and not related to systemic oppression or perhaps witnessing the governmental neglect and slow death of their community during the AIDS crisis. (Queer theorist and philosopher Lauren Berlant defines slow death as “the physical wearing out of a population and the deterioration of people in that population that is very nearly a defining condition of their experience and historical existence.”) From John Paulk to Yvette Cantu Schneider, these leaders not only convinced struggling young gay Christians that there was something wrong with them that could only be fixed by extinguishing their gay feelings, but also teamed up with conservative government to lobby against the liberal movement for gay rights, especially gay marriage.

The documentary also follows Jeffrey McCall, the current leader of Freedom March, an activist culture-appropriating ex-gay movement that spurns traditional conversion therapy but operates on the idea that trans and queer identities are propagandistic and harmful, and that you can reject them for a life committed to Jesus. Members of this movement include a survivor of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Luis Javier Ruiz, who says Freedom March has saved him from a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, and drinking. McCall used to identify as a trans woman and was also a sex worker, and the documentary allows him his full testimony and perspective—which is fervently ex-gay and ex-trans to this day—but also depicts his silent anguish, as he breaks down in tears or drops the smile from his face at sudden and unexpected points.

An important perspective that the documentary doesn’t make time for is that of queer, gay, and trans people who fit neither into the struggling Christian or constitutional rights-focused liberal groups: Flagrant, non-conforming dykes, fags, and trans people who are no more interested in fighting for gay marriage than they are in praying the gay away. In fact, many of these people were the backbone of ACT UP, the radical activist organization that fought tirelessly for lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment (though it’s important to point out that some of these activists later became much more moderate and even relatively conservative later on, perhaps leaving their radical pasts behind in the face of the unresolved trauma of watching so many of their friends die). And the current core of the radical queer community is filled with black, low-income, poor, homeless, and incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals who do not hate themselves and fight alongside and for each other not simply for pride, per se, but for the material resources and transformative changes that will keep them and their communities (even beyond the explicitly LGBTQIA) thriving rather than dying.

Somewhat ironically, McCall and his Freedom March group provide the film’s only glimpse into those who fall outside of the white middle class, and whose ex-gay fervor seems to be more directly attached to the present refusal of conservative Christian churches to address the trauma brought on by structural neglect. It seems clear that McCall’s pain stems from his particular circumstances while living first as a gay man and sex worker and then as a trans woman, though not necessarily because of the identities themselves. But instead of offering McCall both acceptance and care, the church seems to have offered McCall a transaction: Reject your identity and you will be welcomed with open arms; you’ll be a leader with a purpose.

So it’s not only conversion therapy that’s worth fighting, but the idea that trauma is an individual problem and not one wrought by the systems we live under, including transphobia, homophobia, and capitalism. In that way, Pray Away misses out on a major opportunity for insight by excluding more radical voices that have something to say about what sex workers, promiscuous people, and drug users would need to feel safe and loved that doesn’t require their internalizing stigma and rejection (even if what may be required is going sober, using less often, or practicing safer sex, for example). The documentary, instead, comes off a bit like a paean to white normativity, but with tolerant gay enlightenment.

This focus, in the end, speaks to the mainstream liberal gay perspective, which while fighting for important rights and recognition that can and do save lives, often functionally ignores or defers the needs of members of the community who do not want to conform, but want to live all the same. I say this because the radical community offers something not alternative or peripheral but essential and fundamental to the fight for LGBTQIA life: that heteropatriarchal capitalist conformity is death, and that it is not equality with that system, but liberation from it, that is the project worth taking on together.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-terrifying-inside-look-at-americas-insidious-christian-ex-gay-movement

Apr 22, 2020

Growth In The LDS Church Is Slowing - But Not For Reasons You Might Suspect

Growth In The LDS Church Is Slowing - But Not For Reasons You Might Suspect
Emma Penrod
Religion Unplugged
April 20, 2020

The Salt Lake Temple, a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, pictured before a minor earthquake in March 2020 shook the trumpet from the angel’s arms atop the steeple. Creative Commons photo.

SALT LAKE CITY — Among religions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts a unique emphasis on the importance of growth, dispatching tens of thousands of missionaries each year in pursuit of a prophecy that says the church will one day fill the entire globe.

But recently, despite record missionary service, growth in the 16-million-member church has hit a 100-year low in the United States.

While the church reported a slight uptick in the number of conversions in 2019 during its General Conference in April, that growth was offset by rapidly declining birthrates, which continue to fall despite the church’s emphasis on traditional family values. As a result, growth is sitting at just over 1.5% annually, significantly less than the 3-4% annual growth rates the church enjoyed in the 1970s and 80s.

In the LDS stronghold Utah, where more than half the population is raised LDS, protests and mass resignations tied to controversial church policies have made the news in recent years—from the news Religion Unplugged reported that the church has amassed a $100 billion stockpile using member tithes in the last 22 years, to the now-revoked 2015 policy banning the baptism of children with gay parents.

Is controversy driving members away from the church? The reality, scholars say, is complicated. Teasing apart exactly what is happening with respect to LDS membership can be difficult, because of multiple, often conflicting, narratives. But there is general agreement that falling birthrates bear a good portion of the blame. Larger societal trends play a key role in this dynamic, but so too does the number of young members who leave the church before their childbearing years due, experts believe, to the demanding nature of church culture.

Yet there remains a bright spot, as highlighted by this year’s statistical announcements: conversions to the church, particularly outside the U.S., are enjoying an upward trend, adding nearly a quarter million new members in 2019. Brazil, which accounted for more than 14% of the church’s growth in 2019, nearly eclipsed the U.S. with respect to new memberships. Had the South American nation added 4,000 more converts, last year would have marked the first time in church history that a nation outside the U.S. added more new members than the U.S. itself.

This, perhaps, offers an important glimpse into the future, one that some experts believe has been foreshadowed by recent reforms within the LDS Church: The future of this American-born faith lies elsewhere.
Why are LDS birthrates falling?

With respect to absolute numbers, most agree the church is still growing. But over the last 25 years, growth rates have declined significantly, particularly in countries where Mormonism has historically seen the greatest success: the United States, Mexico, the Philippines, and others, according to Matt Martinich, who studies LDS membership and growth trends at the Cumorah Foundation.

Some of this is due to a decrease in the efficacy of LDS missionaries, who in 1989 each baptized an average of 8 converts on their missions, compared to an average of 3.5 in 2017, according to the Cumorah Foundation. But the bigger factor affecting growth, according to Martinich, is falling birthrates. Members of the church recorded just 94,266 births in 2019, and President Dallin Oaks, the second highest ranking official in the church, noted in an October 2018 speech that the average LDS woman now marries two years later than in the recent past.

Historically, two-thirds to three-fourths of children born into the church would remain active into adulthood. In 1981, that wasn’t a problem, because the average LDS woman would have 3.3 children (1.8 was the national average at the time). By the 2016 The Next Mormons survey, 57% of LDS families had fewer than three children— too few to maintain the church’s membership per historical data, Martinich notes.

Other nuances don’t surface in official reports, says Patrick Mason, the Errington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. Unlike other religions, the LDS Church retains every baptized member on its roles until death, unless the member is excommunicated or removes their records via legal proceeding. Only a fraction of members reported by the LDS Church, he says, have set foot in a church recently or consider themselves “Mormon.”

Although it’s difficult to obtain good data on this front, scholars believe the number of LDS members who no longer attend is growing. Among those who leave, a growing number affiliate with an “ex-Mormon” community that regards the church not only as false, but as actively harmful to society, making the LDS Church an organization both uniquely loved, and hated, by those brought up in it. And though it may seem the attrition is driven by controversy, other factors—such as the all-encompassing nature of the church’s teachings—likely play a role in driving both defections and devotion.
All-in or exiting: why there aren’t many mediocre Mormons

The LDS Church remains, among Christian sects, uniquely effective at retaining its young members. “When their children grow up, they’re among the highest of all religious groups of youth staying in the church,” says Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. And this isn’t the only front where the LDS Church is bucking U.S. and international trends toward secularization. The LDS youth who stay in the church, Smith says, are far more devoted to the faith than young members of other traditions.

There is, however, a flip side to this trend: a sizeable and growing portion of young Mormons are leaving the mainline church. According to the General Social Survey, the LDS Church retained 62.5% of youth born from 1965-1980. Since 1981, retention has fallen to 46 percent.

LDS youth still leave the church later in life than other young believers — in their mid-20s, rather than their late teens. And when they leave, they are less inclined to go quietly. “In a lot of other traditions, the children tend to move toward a middle range of religiousness,” Smith says. “They move away from the intensity… They don’t become total atheists, totally disconnected from the church. If the categories are extremely religious, very religious and none, they move toward the middle category. They’re somewhat religious; they somewhat believe. That’s a Catholic pattern in particular.”

By contrast, Smith says LDS youth tend to go to the extremes. “They either stay involved, they’re totally committed, or they just go to the far side and completely bail,” he said. “There are not a lot of somewhat Mormon people.”

Many have sought to attribute the church’s attrition to controversial issues such as the church’s stances on women’s rights, same-sex attraction, how it handles trickier aspects of its own history, and even how it manages its finances. But Smith and other scholars believe the lack of middle ground in the LDS Church is directly tied to its teachings: a volunteer-intensive organization with an almost entirely lay clergy — local religious leaders are unpaid — means the LDS faith is more than a religion. It’s a demanding, almost all-encompassing, way of life.

Mormonism, Smith says, “has mechanisms that prevent you from being a mediocre Mormon.” Members meet annually with church leaders to determine if they have maintained their faith and continued in religious behaviors, such as wearing special clothing and giving 10 percent of their income to the church. They spend more time in church than other faiths, meet together more often during the week, and are expected to devote more of their personal time to religious study than other faiths. All teens are expected to attend LDS seminary; each adult member has a volunteer position within the church they are expected to perform.

On top of this, Smith says, Mormonism remains an unusual faith, with unique teachings not found in other Christian sects—for example, the belief that all other churches abandoned the true teachings of Christ in a “great apostasy.” These beliefs have, in some cases, led more mainstream Christian churches to actively shun Mormonism—which can isolate adherents and make it more difficult for youth to find friends outside the LDS faith community. That, in turn, raises the stakes for those who plan to leave—leaving may mean walking away from your entire social circle.

Then there’s the church’s history of persecution, which Smith said has led to a “heel-digging” mindset in which individuals are either with the church, or against it. The LDS Church teaches that its president is the literal mouthpiece of God, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for negotiation if you happen to disagree with church teachings.

“To me, the history, identity, structure and doctrine of the LDS Church lends itself to a love it or leave it approach,” Smith says. “Mormonism has a set of things that raise the bar and you either jump over it, or you say forget it.” Those who do leave often feel greater anger and resentment toward the church than adherents who leave other faiths. Because Mormonism had a greater effect on their lives, they’re more likely to feel as though something has been taken from them.
Generational faith slide

These dynamics have existed not only in Mormonism, but across many religions for decades says Jana Riess, a journalist and academic who studies and writes about the LDS Church (of which she is a member). Her book The Next Mormons examines how Millennials are changing the LDS church.

Riess conducted The Next Mormons Survey in 2016 and notes that youth defections are on the rise, but what’s really changed is that they aren’t coming back. Historically, Riess says, American youth left the LDS church of their childhood between 17-23, only to return later in life when they married and began to have children of their own. But across the board, as the Millennial generation has entered their 30s and 40s, people are returning to church at lower rates than they used to.

Riess believes that this is a cultural phenomenon, not a trend unique to the LDS Church. Not having a religion, she says, is by far America’s fastest growing religion. What has changed for Mormonism, she says, is that leaving has become easier, and those who defect have become more vocal. Online communities and even conventions for individuals who identify as ex-Mormon have sprung up and gained followings through social media such as Facebook and Reddit, giving those who leave an instant connection—and platform—that simply didn’t exist in the past.

“For people who have left recently, there is a built-in community waiting to receive them, and that’s just not the case for people who left decades ago,” Riess says. She says many who leave never affiliate with the ex-Mormon community, and never take the steps necessary to remove their names from church rolls. Most, Riess says, just stop showing up and quietly distance themselves from the faith.

This dynamic is especially strong in some areas of Utah where the church is most insular, Martinich says. Those who leave the church elsewhere are much more likely to join another faith; those who leave in Utah are more likely to become atheist and affiliate with ex-Mormon communities. According to a 2019 University of Utah Survey, 61.5% of students who grew up LDS left the church while attending school, with the majority becoming agnostic, atheist, “spiritual but not religious,” or “nothing in particular.”

Mason believes the resignations are significant, because people rarely resign alone. “They take their whole family with them,” he says, “and a lot of people resigning are in their child-bearing years, and they have children who are then never counted on the rolls of the church.” He said the actual exit strategy, people severing ties and taking their names off the records of the church, is a trend “that has become distinctive over the last couple of decades.”


Resignations from the LDS Church

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Still members

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>No longer members

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Unknown

Out of 33,470 resignation requests, 79.3% were wiped off church records but 14.4% remained on the church membership records despite efforts to remove them. The remaining 6.3% of resignation requests were an unclear membership status.

One of the main parties to this phenomenon, the online legal service QuitMormon, has processed over 30,000 resignations for former members of the church. The site, run by Mark Naugle and Ryan Sorensen, enables members of the church to retain legal counsel that represents them in the proceedings required to remove one’s name from official church records.

Many reach out to QuitMormon out of desperation, Sorensen says. Some who tried to leave by way of quiet inactivity find it’s hard to get the church to leave them alone, Sorensen says. “Between missionaries stopping by and members of the bishopric, you’re basically a project. If you’re inactive, there is a list and people are told you need to be activated.”

But for others, resigning is an act of symbolic protest “because they know their names are being reported, and don’t want to be counted and don’t want to be part of this,” Sorensen says.
LDS Methods for Retention

While it may seem that reconsidering its stance on social issues is one method to retain more young people, Mason and other scholars say this probably isn’t the answer. “Some people say the best thing to do is to accommodate modern culture—accept gays, ordain women. I don’t think it’s that simple,” Mason says. “We see this with the liberal Protestant church, and they’re still experiencing steep declines in membership. But by holding the line, you become a museum piece at a certain point. So there has to be this dynamic tension.”

What will really make the church successful, Mason posits, is whether it will identify and emphasize that which has made it most successful—the strength of its local congregations, called wards. These local units not only meet together for Sunday services, but often multiple times per week for gatherings that are not overtly religious: campouts and picnics, sporting events, community service. At the ward level, the church takes a “village” approach to not only religion and childrearing, but, as is the LDS way, all aspects of life—a given ward may appoint someone to help others find employment, pursue education, or improve physical health, according to the needs of the locals. And it is within these local units, Mason says, that Mormons bridge divides and help one another in times of need.

“It is the level of the local ward where there are tremendous acts of goodwill, where the content of what you believe is subsumed in a general culture of service and compassion,” he says. “This is what Mormonism has going for it that other communities have lost: it still has very strong local communities that I think are overshadowing the tensions and fracture that we see online.”

Mason doesn’t believe church leadership wants to revert to a congregational model. Yet promoting healthy local communities, he says, is “the number one thing the church can do to maintain itself, because there are fewer and fewer places in the world where people find authentic communities. If they can find that, it will compensate for a host of other issues.”

Martinich agrees. Though growth may have declined in recent years, congregational retention is on the rise. That is, when the church opens a new local unit, it’s less likely to close within a few years, as was the trend, particularly in Latin America, in the past. And some of the most secular, western nations, including the U.S., are seeing the greatest growth in new congregations. The church added 400 new congregations in 2019—the highest number in over a decade—and half of those units were located in the U.S.

“The church doesn’t create congregations for the fun of it, and based on the survey data I collect, the size of congregations has not changed,” Martinich says. “That indicates that activity levels might be increasing, which I have some data to indicate.”

The church may be strongest at the local level, but some say Mormonism remains dedicated to the centralization of authority, holding to the idea of a global prophet and maintaining a special division of the church designed to ensure LDS teachings and practices are standardized around the globe—an increasingly difficult feat, given the increasingly diverse nature of the church.

Matthew Bowman, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, suspects this is the real reason for most of the church’s recent reforms. For example, when the church announced in May 2018 that it planned to end its long-running practice of sponsoring Boy Scouts of America Troops within its congregations, many speculated that it was on account of growing differences on social issues like gender. But Bowman believes it’s because the Boy Scouts program was untenable on an international scale.

Similarly, Bowman views the 2018 announcement that church services would be cut back to two hours instead of the customary three-hour service as an effort to reduce the strain on local resources. During the same time period, the church also “restructured” the organization of its highest-ranking priesthood. Once divided into “high priests” and “elders,” the high priests group and elders quorums were combined at the local level, reducing the number of volunteer leaders required to maintain each group. Yet local leaders were also given direction to divide men’s church services into more than one group as required by local activity levels. Congregational leaders were also directed to delegate more responsibilities to other volunteer leaders to allow the ward bishop — essentially the priest or pastor of an LDS Ward—to spend more time with local youth.

A few months later, the church also announced that it would do away with its standardized hymnbook in favor of regional hymnals designed to reflect local languages and musical customs.

“There is a slow, slow move toward decentralization in decision-making on issues like how worship services function that is designed to foster a more active membership outside the U.S.,” Bowman says. “Church leadership is seeing this global church that is not able to sustain the sort of intense, demanding community that Mormons who grew up in Utah in the middle of the 20th century took for granted.”

The real question the LDS Church faces, Bowman says, is not whether to adopt more progressive social stances. It’s whether the church is willing to adopt more diverse cultural perspectives, or whether “they want to hold to this 100-year-old idea of what Mormonism is. If they choose the latter, it will remain small.”

Emma Penrod is a journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah who covers science, technology, business and environmental health. She tweets about the latest science and industry news @EmaPen.





https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/4/15/growth-in-the-lds-church-is-slowingbut-not-for-reasons-you-might-suspect

CultNEWS101 Articles: 4/22/2020




Transcendental Meditation, Vatican, The Exclusive Brethren, The Gentle Wind Project, The Janus Project, The Children of God, Documentary, Cult Recovery Workshop

 "At age 17, Patrick Ryan joined the Transcendental Meditation ('TM') movement, following the teachings of master Maharishi. He rose through the ranks, promoting and teaching TM - which included highly-secretive courses on how to levitate and become invisible."

"Patrick became disillusioned with his life in TM when he began to see inconsistencies and lies within the sect. Now he speaks out and helps others who have been inside - or who are still inside - cults.

MARK from Talk Beliefs speaks with Patrick from his home in Philadelphia, hearing how a skeptical High School newspaper reporter became entranced with mystical teachings that promised him he could fly...

PATRICK RYAN is the founder and former head of TM-EX, the organization of ex-members of Transcendental Meditation.  He established ICSA's online resource (1995-2013), was the editor of AFF News, a news publication for former cult members (1995-1998), is co-author of "Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants," and writes for the Cult News 101 newsletter."
"An influential conservative cardinal has established himself as a "parallel authority" to Pope Francis, according to a new book that depicts the pontiff as a prophetic reformer who is surrounded by opponents waging "guerrilla warfare" against him.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a prelate from Guinea who heads the Vatican's liturgy department, has sought to present an alternative leadership model for the global Roman Catholic church, Christopher Lamb claims in The Outsider.

"Cardinal Sarah has established himself as a 'parallel' authority to Francis, through his books, lectures, and frequent travel to conservative outposts," writes Lamb, Vatican correspondent for Catholic weekly magazine The Tablet for the past five years."

"At the age of 19 Samuel Stefan, consumed by crisis, was drawn into a cult. It would be 10 years before he was able to escape.

Using a technique called 'love-bombing' cults prey on the vulnerable, recruiting new members with love and warmth. After a period of brain-washing, members are forbidden to leave, enslaved through psychological control, and in Samuel's case, even violence. He was finally able to escape in the dead of night, persued by other members and seek help.

Cult Witness is an intelligent exploration of how cults attract and manipulate their followers, sharing the disturbing firsthand experiences of Cult Witness director Samuel Stefan and six others who have freed themselves from cults: Jill Mytton (The Exclusive Brethren), Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey (The Gentle Wind Project), Lea Saskia Laasner (The Janus Project), and Celeste Jones and Amoreena Winkler (The Children of God)."

"Educational, supportive, interactive, offering participants opportunities to address issues relevant to their lives, and learn how others have coped through challenging times. Janja and Colleen include brief presentations..."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery



Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.
CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.
CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.
Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that Patrick Ryan or Joseph Kelly agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue.

Apr 20, 2020

Cult Witness (Cult Documentary)

Real Stories
August 20, 2016

At the age of 19 Samuel Stefan, consumed by crisis, was drawn into a cult. It would be 10 years before he was able to escape.

Using a technique called ‘love-bombing’ cults prey on the vulnerable, recruiting new members with love and warmth. After a period of brain-washing, members are forbidden to leave, enslaved through psychological control, and in Samuel’s case, even violence. He was finally able to escape in the dead of night, persued by other members and seek help.

Cult Witness is an intelligent exploration of how cults attract and manipulate their followers, sharing the disturbing firsthand experiences of Cult Witness director Samuel Stefan and six others who have freed themselves from cults: Jill Mytton (The Exclusive Brethren), Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey (The Gentle Wind Project), Lea Saskia Laasner (The Janus Project), and Celeste Jones and Amoreena Winkler (The Children of God).

Analytical insights into the cult experience are provided by leadership expert Betty Sue Flowers; Benjamin Zablocki, chair of the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University; UCLA Professor Emeritus Bertram Raven, an expert on interpersonal influence and social power relationships; psychotherapist Miguel Perlado, who specializes in cult-related problems; and Urs Eschmann, a specialist in legal issues involving cults.

Cult Witness unravels the hidden world of cults; the hold they have on their victims, the reasons people form and fall prey to them and what takes place within.

Apr 17, 2020

Inside the Fringe Japanese Religion That Claims It Can Cure Covid-19

Happy Science
Happy Science, which boasts millions of followers, is led by a man who channels Buddha (and Jesus and Freddie Mercury) and says he can defeat the coronavirus. For a fee.

Sam Kestenbaum
The New York Times
April 16, 2020

When New York went into lockdown last month, emissaries of a religious group called Happy Science showed up in a ghostly Times Square to deliver a peculiar end-of-days gospel. They wore ritual golden sashes and huddled in a semicircle.

“Doomsday may seem to be coming,” a young minister said.

“But the greatest savior,” he continued, “our master, is here on earth.”

One or two passers-by lingered, taking in the gloomy scene. Of the few people who were on the street, most rushed past.

None of this was as haphazard as it seemed.

Happy Science is an enormous and powerful enterprise claiming millions of adherents and tens of thousands of missionary outposts across the world. Secretive, hostile to the media, and structured around a tiered, pay-to-progress system of membership, they’re sometimes called Tokyo’s answer to Scientology.

“To many,” The Japan Times wrote in 2009, “the Happies smell suspiciously like a cult.”

The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a perfect vehicle for the religion’s apocalyptic themes and esoteric doctrines. Its many, many texts are filled with U.F.O.s, lost continents and demonic warfare; now they detail the supernatural and extraterrestrial origins of the virus.

And in addition to the new DVDs, CDs and books for sale, Happy Science is offering “spiritual vaccines” — for a fee, the faithful can be blessed with a ritual prayer to ward off and cure the disease.

In Times Square, the minister wrapped up his speech with a special incantation. He lifted his arms and chopped them to and fro, shouting as he went. His flock cheered and waved homemade placards.

One read, “Happy Science Knows the Truth!”

The exalted star at the center of the Happy Science universe is a former Wall Street trader named Ryuho Okawa, whose followers, incredibly, regard him as the incarnation of a supreme being from Venus. What’s more, he also claims to channel the spirits of hundreds of characters, dead and alive, like Freddie Mercury, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Mr. Okawa almost never appears before the media and, via aides, declined requests to speak.

Before his extravagant reinvention, Mr. Okawa was born Takashi Nakagawa in 1956, on the southern island of Shikoku in Japan. The postwar decades in Japan had seen a surge in new and novel forms of religion that blended imported New Age texts with longstanding Japanese traditions. It was in this soul-searching mélange that Mr. Okawa came of age.

He attended Tokyo University and seemed poised to become a businessman. In the early 1980s, he joined one of the country’s largest trading firms and said he spent a year working at its Manhattan office.

But Mr. Okawa would pursue another career.

Around this time, he came to believe he was in contact with wise men from the past, like Buddha and Jesus. They told him he was chosen to spiritually redeem a world gone to rack and ruin. Who was he to say no?

“It was up to me,” he later wrote, “to gather all the peoples of the world into this new faith.”

Mr. Okawa returned to Tokyo, where he tapped into the city’s burgeoning metaphysical scene and attracted a following. Playing on the economic anxiety of the early 1990s, he self-published several tracts with titles like “The Terrifying Revelations of Nostradamus” and “The Great Warnings of Allah.”

The books were hits. And as more flooded out, the tales became more and more dazzling. At first Mr. Okawa was just a channel for far-flung spirits. Then he was a reincarnated Buddha. Eventually he proclaimed himself the supreme deity of this world. And remarkably, his followers agreed.

Life on earth, Mr. Okawa came to teach, was engineered millions of years ago by a creator god from Venus named El Cantare who had been reincarnated over the years as deities and enlightened masters, like Hermes, Thoth from Atlantis, Odin, Buddha and an Incan king named Rient Arl Croud. The latest incarnation of El Cantare, of course, was Mr. Okawa himself.



Soon, Happy Science would fill stadiums with ceremonies that blended theatrical cosplay and what looked like revelation. Mr. Okawa might leap from a mock U.F.O., clad in feathery angel wings as smoke machines billowed.

Between the growing media franchise and fees and donations, Mr. Okawa’s project made him exceptionally rich. By some estimates, Happy Science had revenues of $45 million a year.

But there was always a dark side, never far from the surface.

In the mid-1990s, Happy Science’s rivalry with another doomsday group, Aum Shinrikyo, took an ugly turn. Aum first tried to assassinate Mr. Okawa, then later launched an attack on the Tokyo subway with sarin nerve gas, killing 13 and injuring thousands.

Yet where other enterprising messiahs fell aside, Mr. Okawa persisted. Happy Science has since opened private schools in Japan, and in 2009 it branched into politics, with a right-wing platform that has seen limited success in local elections.

Mr. Okawa has continued to churn out books, which now number more than 2,000, most of them transcriptions of lectures. A film division also puts out feature-length anime.

Meanwhile, Happy Science has left scores of disaffected members in its wake. Opponents accuse the group of fleecing acolytes in what they say amounts to a pyramid scheme. Much to the embarrassment of Mr. Okawa, his own son Hiroshi (once primed as a successor) is now one of Happy Science’s most vocal critics.

Hiroshi Okawa, in a message, said of his father: “He claimed to have received the ‘messages of God,’ he relentlessly lied to his followers.”

He added, “I believe what my father does is complete nonsense.”

Happy Science’s claims of 11 million members also seem unlikely. When Mr. Okawa’s first wife, Kyoko, left the group in 2011 she estimated real membership was 30,000.

For his part, Mr. Okawa denounced his estranged family as demonic. He has since remarried.

So, troubled at home, the Happies have set sights on America, where they have found a receptive, if modest, welcome. In 2008, Happy Science purchased a Manhattan townhouse and, after renovations, installed its North American headquarters here, relocating from a small office in New Jersey. For the grand opening, Mr. Okawa flew in with his entourage to hold an inaugural lecture that packed the sanctuary and an overflow room downstairs.

The building is on a shaded TriBeCa alley, sandwiched incongruously between espresso cafes and designer boutiques. Looped videos of Mr. Okawa’s lectures play on a large screen facing the street.

One afternoon before the shutdown in New York, Yushi Hagimoto, the head minister in the city, sat in the foyer tidying up wares. Glittering amulets and jewelry were for sale. A golden statue of El Cantare, his face modeled on Mr. Okawa’s, sat at the dimmed central altar.

Hundreds of Happy Science texts lined the shelves, with titles like “Alien Invasion,” “7 Future Predictions,” “Spiritual Message From the Guardian Spirit of Donald Trump,” and so on.

“The books about demons are very popular,” Mr. Hagimoto said.

When news broke this year about a deadly virus spreading from China, Happy Science was quick to pivot to this novel cataclysm.

Beginning in January, Mr. Okawa claimed to receive messages from a trio of extraterrestrials— going by the unfamiliar names R.A. Goal, Metatron and Yaidron — and the spirits of Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping. (The guardian angels of Boris Johnson, John Lennon and Angela Merkel also sent transmissions.)

According to Happy Science, the virus was created as a bioweapon by the Chinese government in Wuhan, and then, in a twist, it was unleashed by a U.F.O. to punish the communists for their godless ways. It has spread to other lands that lack true faith.

This material was quickly published as three booklets in Japanese and has now been translated in English this month as “Spiritual Reading of Novel Coronavirus Infection Originated in China.”

But there is hope for the faithful, the Happies say. Along with the book series, they now sell coronavirus-themed DVDs and CDs of Mr. Okawa lecturing; the sound alone of his voice is meant to hold immune-boosting power.

In one video clip, Mr. Okawa advised, “You must knock out the coronavirus with your El Cantare belief.”

In another, “It will become like, ‘Out with the demons, in with the good fortune.’”

Mr. Okawa also introduced the sacred text of a new ritual purported to miraculously cure the disease. It is conducted in private at temples, in exchange for donations. Japanese ads list several prices for virus-related blessings, going from $100 to more than $400.

Numerous members of the TriBeCa congregation have requested the coronavirus prayer.

“It’s amazing,” Mr. Hagimoto said. “We’re seeing people being cured.”

In the early days of the virus, Happy Science had proudly kept its Manhattan doors open for business even as some churches closed. But as infections in the city soared, the temple announced that it would lock up.

Beginning this month, Happy Science will administer spiritual vaccines remotely.



https://www.nytimes.com/article/happy-science-japan-coronavirus-cure.html

La Luz Del Mundo's 'Apostle' Leads His Church From Inside A Jail Cell

Naason Joaquin Garcia (R), the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical church appeared with his defense attorney Ken Rosenfeld for a bail review hearing in L.A. Angeles Superior Court in July. (AL Seib/AFP via Getty Images)
AARON SCHRANK
LAist
APRIL 14, 2020

The invitation to pray together went out last week to millions of members of La Luz Del Mundo. A California court of appeal had dismissed criminal charges against their leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, and the Mexico-based religious group was cautiously optimistic.

"Let us be prudent," the invitation advised, "and wait on legal proceedings, trusting that the awaited day will come, because the Church is confident in the honorability of the Apostle of Jesus Christ."

Garcia, 50, has led the organization, also known as the Light of the World Church, since late 2014.

The charismatic preacher was born and raised in the Guadalajara neighborhood where his grandfather started this religious group, and where his father served as its leader for 50 years.

Today, the neighborhood is something like the Vatican for members of La Luz Del Mundo, which makes Garcia something like their Pope.

The charismatic preacher was arrested last summer at LAX, after three girls and one woman in L.A. County reported abuse to the California Department of Justice's clergy abuse tip line.

The California attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, says Garcia used his authority within the church to coerce young girls into sex acts. Garcia denies these allegations.

In June, Garcia was charged with lewd acts upon a child, conspiracy to commit human trafficking and forcible rape. At his arraignment, Garcia pleaded not guilty and waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing.

In July, Garcia was arraigned on an amended complaint that also included new charges for the possession of child pornography. At that arraignment, he also pleaded not guilty.

In September, Garcia's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that he had not waived his right to a speedy trial on the second set of charges and that he was being held unfairly. The trial court denied his motion, and Garcia's attorneys appealed to the California Court of Appeal.

The court of appeal reversed the trial court, dismissing the case on a procedural basis. The court did not weigh in on the merits of the criminal case against the pastor. The court of appeal dismissal isn't final for 30 days, and Garcia will continue to be held in jail until then. State prosecutors say they have the option to re-file the multiple felony charges against him.

Throughout the ordeal, Naason Joaquin Garcia and his supporters have denied the charges.

Garcia's criminal trial is in limbo, but for now, he'll keep running La Luz Del Mundo from behind bars, as he has for the past 10 months.

A LIVING 'APOSTLE'


Garcia isn't simply the leader of this religious group, which claims hundreds of churches around the world and dozens here in Southern California. The organization's millions of followers believe Garcia to be God's only living apostle in what they call the one true Christian Church — just like his father and grandfather before him.

His central role in the religious movement was on full display at a choir concert held in his honor at LA's Grand Park back in December.

"This is the fifth anniversary of the man who we — who has been sent by God, the leader of our Church as well," said Ari Martinez, a lifelong church member from East L.A. "We're just celebrating his work. He's been working tirelessly since I've known him."

Martinez was one of about 2,000 church members gathered to celebrate the half-decade since Naason Joaquin Garcia took over as La Luz Del Mundo's apostle after his father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, died in December 2014.

Choir members from temples across Southern California sang their hearts out in front of L.A.'s City Hall.

Nicholas Ynda is a pastor at the downtown L.A. temple. He says spirits are high even with their apostle behind bars.

"The theme or topic is to be grateful to God for the last five years of blessings that we've received," said Ynda. "Of course, everyone knows about the ongoing criminal case. It's something that the Church is going through.."

Garcia's five years as 'the apostle' have been defined by his efforts to grow the Church outside Mexico, opening churches in all 50 U.S. states and 58 countries worldwide.

"Naason's originality was to tour the world continuously and try to argue that this is a universal church rather than Latino or Mexican," said religious scholar Massimo Introvigne, managing director at the Center for Studies on New Religions. "He more or less succeeded."

Ynda, who was baptized into the church 16 years ago, said he believes the accusations might actually help the church grow: "It does bring notoriety to the church, of course, and it is possible that God could use that for the growth of the Church. If you look in the scripture, men of God have been talked about poorly, and God turns that around for good things often."

The idea that a jailed church leader could be good for a religion might sound hard to believe, but it's backed by sociologists and religious scholars.

"Outside attacks and ridicule actually reinforce religious groups," Introvigne said. "Members realize how they see themselves is very much different from how the world sees them and normally react by strengthening their community engagement and commitment. Even if the apostle is found guilty, history and sociology show that high commitment groups do not decline and may even grow."

As the Grand Park event came to a close, the crowd broke into a chant of support for their apostle.

"Somos de Naason Joaquin," they chant. "We belong to Naason Joaquin."

THE HOLY SUPPER


In February, with 'the apostle' still sitting in an L.A. jail cell, more than 10,000 members of the Light of the World Church from all over the West Coast packed the Pomona Fairgrounds grandstand for the group's annual Holy Supper event.

Women sat on one side, wearing veils and wailing out in prayer. Men sat on the other, just like inside Luz Del Mundo temples.

"The world's already made a decision on who we are," said Jack Freeman, a minister from Redlands. "They call us a cult. They call us violent. They call us brainwashers, they call us so many different things. But right here, we're in our biggest event, and we're just here happy, we're joyful. Nobody's forced. We're here with our own free will because we want to be a part of this."

This annual event is the U.S. twist on the group's annual Santa Cena gathering at the Church's headquarters in Guadalajara, which draws hundreds of thousands every August.

This year's ritual was adapted to fight the spread of coronavirus, which, at the time, was just emerging as a threat in California. Freeman said it usually involves thousands of people drinking grape juice out of the same cup.

"But because of the scare of the virus and our desire to keep our members safe, each person gets a little cup now," Freeman said.

The event is about remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and communing with God, said Freeman — not worshipping Naason Joaquin Garcia, as the religious movement's detractors suggest.

"I care about him a lot," said Freeman. "I love him. I know who he is and I respect him very much, just as if you had a pastor who looked after your soul, you would love and care for him as well because of the spiritual nature of the relationship. But you're not going to worship him. You're not going to pray to him. You're not going to throw yourself at his feet like what's being said. That's ridiculous."

But as volunteers prepare the Holy Supper, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the crowd sings a song called "Nard of Justice and Glory," about God choosing Garcia as his apostle.

"His election gave me a new reason to believe and proclaim," they sing. "Naasón, apostle of the Lord. Naason Joaquin!"


La Luz Del Mundo's apostle is what makes the religion different from other homegrown Pentecostal groups in Mexico, said Patricia Fortuny, with the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico.

She said Naason Joaquin Garcia is La Luz Del Mundo's greatest strength and also its greatest weakness.

"It's fantastic for the people," said Fortuny. "They feel special and chosen to be part of the primitive Christian church. But it's also a problem. Most Pentecostal churches in Mexico or the United States do not worship their pastors, and the ministers and pastors do not control or coerce the people in the same way that they do in Luz Del Mundo."


"THERE'S NO SIN IN HIM"


Some former members say the religious group's fixation on its central figure has led to a culture of widespread abuse.

This year's festivities in Pomona were interrupted by new allegations of misconduct against Garcia and also against La Luz Del Mundo, painting a different portrait of the church's presence in Los Angeles.

Sochil Martin, a lifelong church member who left the organization in 2016, filed a federal civil lawsuit against Garcia and La Luz Del Mundo. She claimed she was groomed from childhood to serve as a sex slave to two apostles, Garcia as well as his father, Samuel.

In her bombshell lawsuit, the 33-year-old accuses Garcia of running La Luz Del Mundo like a predatory cult of personality, manipulating members into donating all their time and money to the Church, and making himself rich in the process.

Garcia and the church deny these claims, and Martin's lawyers say the case is ongoing.

Martin claims she was told from childhood that the apostle was without sin and was even taught bible verses meant to justify his sexual contact with kids.

"I was told that he can do anything, and there's no sin in him," Martin told me in an interview recounting the charges in her lawsuit. "So when I would see things happening growing up, deep down inside I would ask myself questions, but you're supposed to slap yourself and say, 'Snap out of it, no. That's not a sin for him.' There's no sin in him. He can lie. He can rape. He can do whatever he wants, because he is the Servant of God and the apostle of Jesus Christ."

Before becoming the apostle, Garcia was a minister at churches in Huntington Park, North Hollywood, Santa Ana and the flagship temple in East L.A. That's where Martin first met him in 2003, when she was 16.

At that time, Garcia's father Samuel Joaquin Flores was the apostle and Garcia was launching the church's new communications department, Berea International, spreading La Luz Del Mundo's message to the world with radio programs, videos and social media posts.

Garcia enlisted Martin into years of unpaid work on the project and, she claimed in the lawsuit, later forced her to have sex with him.

Martin claims in the lawsuit that on one occasion, LDM members in Southern California were encouraged to donate gold jewelry and heirlooms to the apostle, which were melted down and used to paint the molding on his new home in Los Angeles.

Martin says cash donated at La Luz del Mundo's temples feeds Naason Joaquin Garcia's lavish lifestyle. According to the complaint, Naason Joaquin Garcia owns two private ranches in Redlands and South Texas, which house exotic animals and vintage cars.

"For far too many La Luz Del Mundo members, everything they have is taken by LLDM. Every dollar they make goes to La Luz Del Mundo because they truly believe their money will be used to do the work of God on Earth," Martin said. "But all the hard-earned money goes to making Naason and his enablers rich."

It wasn't until 2016 that she says she found the courage to leave the Church. That's when Martin claims Garcia dispatched three members of LDM leadership to try to buy her silence for half a million pesos.

"When his bishops came, they didn't bring a message of 'Hey, the Servant of God wants to talk to you guys and tell you how much he loves you,'" Martin said. "It was full on, 'What do you want and how much?' Our world just shattered. I thought, 'Oh my God, this is a business.'"

Since 2018, Martin says she has been working with authorities to help investigate and prosecute La Luz Del Mundo's leaders and prosecute Garcia.

She says she still feels the grip of the power institution everyday, but her lawsuit was one step towards freedom.

"In filing the case, it's sort of like taking my life back, proving to myself that I'm not that slave anymore, that I have power, that I have a voice, that I don't belong to anybody anymore. And it was sort of like coming out into the light."

And with the criminal case against Garcia in limbo, Martin says she hopes her civil case can help hold him accountable.





https://laist.com/2020/04/14/la-luz-del-mundo-naason-joaquin-garcia-religion-profile.php

CultNEWS101 Articles: 4/17/2020

 
ICSA Webinar, Online Workshop, Jehovah's Witnesses, Legal, Russia, Info-Cult, Shincheonji

ICSA: "Cult Recovery and Family Support NOT Cancelled!" Webinar Series Expanded

Friday 04/17/2020, 12 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A)                         
"Spiritual practices during uncertain times; spiritual abuse and transgender individuals"
Mark Wingfield and Cyndi Matthews
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433

And

Friday 04/17/2020, 8 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A)
"Parenting"
Eva Mackey
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433

Saturday 04/18/2020, 12 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A)
"Don't Waste your Quarantine. Recovery Strategies for Former Members During the Coronavirus Crisis."?
Doug and Wendy Duncan
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433

Monday 04/20/2020
12 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A)
"Coping With Domestic Abuse in COVID -19"
Elizabeth Burchard
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433
Tuesday 04/21/2020

12 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A) 
"Wrap up"
Gillie Jenkinson
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433  


And

 8 PM EST (LIVE Presentation with Q & A) 
"Wrap up" - Last Session
 Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT  
Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/493693433    
Facilitators:  Colleen Russell, LMFT, CGP, and Janja Lalich, PhD, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Co-Author of Take Back Your Life, Recovering From Cults and Abusive Relationships (2006) and Escaping Utopia, Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over (2018)

"A court in the city of Ulyanovsk will consider a criminal case against six members of Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious organization banned in Russia, the press service of the Prosecutor General's Office reports Wednesday.

Depending on their alleged role, the defendants are charged with orgzanizing and participating in a religious community prohibited in Russia by court as extremist.

Investigators believe that a resident of Ulyanovsk has organized holding of meetings. During these meetings he has cited religious texts included in the federal list of extremist materials. Moreover, the man has collected money under the guise of donation. Other defendants took part in the meetings and propagated the Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine, the statement reads.

In April 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia ordered liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses managing organization and all its 395 local branches. In August, the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses was added to the list of banned extremist organizations."


"Info-Cult hopes that everyone is staying healthy and safe during this pandemic. Please note that as a safety precaution, our staff is working from home. Therefore, we will be able to continue to respond to inquiries for information, support or help. We can be reached by email at infosecte@qc.aibn.com or by phone at 514-274-2333."
"How do leaders of deeply religious societies, who have for centuries encouraged mass gatherings, abruptly tell believers that it is precisely these congregations they should avoid?

With more than 950 confirmed coronavirus cases across the country, as of April 3, linked to the gathering of the Islamic sect Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi at Markaz, Nizamuddin, the 'cluster' has been imprinted in our minds as an unrivalled hub of infection in the epidemic in India so far.

During these times, it is perhaps easy to forget that just over a month ago another country was similarly captivated by its own religious hotbed of contagion. South Korea, on February 17, appeared to have its number of coronavirus infections under control at 30. But the very next day, in came Patient Number 31, a 61-year-old woman who was a member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream churches considered a cult.

Within days the number of infections soared into the hundreds at both the church and neighbouring areas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million. It is believed Patient 31 was able to transmit her infection so efficiently thanks to some of the church's practices which included praying in close proximity in an enclosed space and prohibiting the wearing of glasses and face masks. As per the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, as of March 7, 63.5% of all confirmed cases in the country were 'related to Shincheonji.'

The Shincheonji case, it's worth noting, is analogous to the Nizamuddin one in another respect too. Given that they were religious minorities, both groups bore the brunt of majoritarian prejudices. Just as the Presbyterian Church of Korea claimed that the founder of the Shincheonji church held "heretical" and "anti-Christian" views, WhatsApp forwards in India accused the Tablighi Jamaat – the orthodox Muslim group who organised the 'super-spreading' meeting at Nizamuddin – of waging a "Corona Jihad".

But did members of the above religious groups behave in a fundamentally riskier manner than people of other faiths? Were theirs the only instances of callousness? Mass congregations, as we know, are hardly a unique feature to any one religion – all faiths subscribe to them in different ways. What's more, an unfolding of the pandemic also reveals that distinct coronavirus clusters had originated at other religious gatherings both before and after the above mentioned events."




News, Education, Intervention, Recovery


Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.
CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.
CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.
Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.


Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that Patrick Ryan or Joseph Kelly agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue.