When critics attack the Centers of Light, cult is often used to immediately conjure up fear and suspicion. If you even hear the word “cult,” it’s likely that you will think negatively about whatever organization is being referred to. Detractors often pair it with another menacing term, brainwashing, to malign the Centers of Light. Cult actually has no clear meaning and is used almost exclusively by those who wish to incite fear of non-traditional religious or political groups. But in fact, psychological and sociological textbooks have no agreed upon definition of the word, and it is now a meaningless tool for sensationalist media.
Websites of several self-proclaimed “experts” who profit off the fear they raise among families of people joining non-traditional spiritual groups have labeled thousands of groups in the U.S. cults, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Amway, and Buddhist meditation centers. Still, it is hard not to be alarmed when you hear the word, and sociologists have generally rejected its use because of the automatic negative associations it generates. When someone says the “Center of Light Cult,” it is essentially a slur, painting a negative picture without the support of any facts.
However, there are incidents like Jonestown and other atrocities that lead us to feel certain that some groups are really dangerous. But the question shouldn’t be “Is this a cult?”, instead it should be, “Is this group dangerous?” Fortunately, this is also a much easier question to answer.
The following questions are ones you might want to ask to determine if there is reason to have concerns about a particular spiritual group or organization.
Do They Promote Violence?
There are very simple questions that you can ask to determine if a group is likely to be violent.
- Does the group promote anti-government, anti-establishment, or paranoid “us vs. them” beliefs?
- Does the group support or encourage the use of violence to resolve conflict?
- Does the group support or encourage the accumulation of weapons?
- Does the group teach that to commit suicide or to kill in support of one’s beliefs is heroic?
The Centers of Light promote a completely non-violent belief system. Suicide, homicide, and abuse of others or oneself are completely rejected in the teachings and practices. We encourage members to be active in social and political change through established means and reject all fanatical or violent solutions to political and social problems.
We believe that the teachings of Jesus Christ are clear that we should love ALL of our neighbors, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs or nationality. We affirm the right of every human being to choose their spiritual beliefs and practices and believe that we are all part of the brother/sisterhood of humankind. Our core beliefs and practices are entirely opposed to violence of any kind. The Centers of Light are not and will never be a “dangerous cult.”
Do They Have Integrity Concerning Money?
Here are a few simple questions that you can ask to determine if a group is unfairly or illegally dealing with money:
- Is there any indication of legal violations regarding money, including fraud, embezzlement, theft, etc?
- Are the leaders of this organization amassing disproportionate wealth at the expense of the body of members?
- Are members coerced into giving more than they can afford?
The Centers of Light do not allow ministers and leaders to amass wealth at the expense of the congregation or members. Most ministers have full-time work outside of the Centers and volunteer their time as ministers. The Co-Directors are paid a moderate salary commensurate with their work and educational experience.
All other monies collected are used in accordance with guidelines typical of non-profits. All properties owned by the Centers of Light are controlled by a board of directors and do not provide personal profit or wealth to any individuals. There have been no ministers who have been charged with any legal misconduct (monetary or otherwise) while in their ministry. All financial dealings are reported to the entire membership yearly. We have been audited by the IRS and found to be in compliance with all tax laws.
Do They Have Integrity Concerning Sex?
Here are a few questions to ask to determine whether or not a group has integrity concerning sex:
- Do the leaders of the group engage in any illegal relationships or sexual activities?
- Do the leaders have inappropriate sexual relationships with members?
- Are any people in power positions allowed to have sexual or romantic relationships with those that they lead, teach or counsel?
- Is sexual misconduct addressed quickly, effectively and with all seriousness?
The Centers of Light and its leadership are required to maintain pristine sexual and romantic lives. They are not allowed to engage in any sexual or romantic relationships with their students or congregants at any time. Ministers are expected to be faithful to their spouses or to their celibacy vows at all levels including mentally, emotionally, and physically.
There have been no cases of infidelity, sexual misconduct, or inappropriate relationships among the ministers of the Centers of Light. If sexual misconduct were to occur, the minister would be stripped of ministry and would be encouraged to receive counseling to correct the problem. If any sexual abuse or sexual assault were discovered, the minister (or member) would be immediately reported to the police and would be expelled from the Centers of Light.
What About Other Ethical Violations?
- Does the organization have a clear moral and ethical code?
- Is there transparency in the management of the organization?
The Centers of Light have a clear set of written guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. The organization has implemented guidelines suggested for all non-profits that includes whistleblower policies, self-audits, the prevention of conflicts of interests, etc. We are committed to upholding a high moral standard in all of our activities, policies and relationships. We are transparent in all of our temporal affairs and welcome questions or concerns.
For all the above reasons it should therefore be apparent to any reasoning person that the Centers of Light do not pose a threat to individuals or to society at large.
Quotations About Cults from:
“…one person’s cult is another’s religion; all religions begin life as cults. An alternative definition is that a cult is a religion which you happen to dislike.” Anthony Campbell
“Cult is a word without much use outside the realm of religious mudslinging.” Philip Kennicott
“When someone uses the word ‘cult,’ it usually says more about them than the group.” J. Gordon Melton – Founder and director of The Institute for the Study of American Religion
“It’s easy to tell the difference – a cult is someone else’s religion. Corollary: A fanatic is someone who believes something more strongly than you do.” Jim Heldberg
“I have often thought that the difference between a cult and a religion is an IRS ruling.” Ron Barrier
Read the full article: Cults (a.k.a. New Religious Movements) at: ReligiousTolerance.org