An Investigation of a Reputedly Psychologically Abusive Group That Targets
This report was originally prepared for Boston University�s
Danielsen Institute. I wish to thank the Danielsen Institute, which made this
study possible through honoring me as the 1995 Albert V. Danielsen Visiting
Scholar. Carole Bohn, Ed.D., Director of the Danielsen Institute, and Arthur
Dole, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate
School of Education, provided helpful suggestions in the original formulation of
the study. Ann Kelley, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Finance and Development of
the Danielsen Institute, graciously assisted the author in a myriad of
administrative details. Dr. William Chambers, then Assistant Professor of
Psychology at Mercer University's University College, analyzed the data from
Component I and provided much helpful advice on the design and analysis of the
study. Dr. Steven Lynn, then Professor of Psychology at Ohio University and now
Professor of Psychology at SUNY Binghamton, and then Ohio University doctoral
students, Drs. Jodi Aronoff, Peter Malinoski, and Nataliya Zelikovsky, analyzed
the data from Component II and, with Dr. Paul Martin, Director of Wellspring
Retreat and Resource Center, had primary responsibility for the development of
the test battery used in Component II. Dr. Peter Malinoski also assisted in
aspects of report writing. Carol Giambalvo was of invaluable assistance in the
development of the DDD Scale, one of the measures used in this study. Rev.
Robert Watts Thornburg, Dean of Boston University's Marsh Chapel, Rev. Harold
Bussell, then Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton,
Massachusetts, Jeff Davis, Rev. Douglas Whallon, then New England Director of
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), and IV staff members, Ming Wei, Colin
Tomikawa, and Rich Lamb, helped recruit subjects. Leanne Pellegrini, Blair
Smith, and Melissa Kelley assisted in the administration of test batteries. A
special gratitude is owed the subjects who volunteered for this study; I deeply
appreciate the time they gave to this research. I also wish to thank Herbert
Rosedale, Esq., President of AFF, for his continuing support through this
project, and my wife, Donna, and children, Jose and Ana, for bearing with me
during the weeks in which I was away.
26 April 1996 (revised 7 November 2001)
This study investigated former
members of the International Churches of Christ (formerly and still often
referred to as the Boston Church of Christ [BCC] or the Boston Movement) with
regard to the nature and level of their psychological distress and their
perceptions regarding the psychological abusiveness of the group. The BCC is
one of the most controversial groups on college campuses, and is often
considered one of the fastest growing "cultic" groups in the world.
Psychological abusiveness was measured with the Group Psychological Abuse Scale
and the DDD Scale, which inquires into concrete behaviors and practices thought
to characterize the Boston Movement. Psychological distress was measured by a
battery of self-report instruments, including the SCL-90R, the Beck Depression
Inventory, the Dissociative Experiences Scale, the Impact of Events Scale, and
the State-Trait Anxiety and Anger Inventories. Psychological background
variables, such as a history of child sexual abuse, were also investigated. The
study consisted of two components. In Component One, the GPA and DDD were
mailed with a demographic questionnaire to 228 former Boston Movement members
throughout the U.S., of whom 40 responded. In Component Two, the psychological
test battery, including the GPA but not the DDD, was administered to subjects
face-to-face in the Boston area. Component Two included 15 former members of
the Boston Movement and two comparison groups, 23 graduates of InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship, a mainstream campus ministry, and 19 former Roman
Catholics. Former Boston movement subjects rated their group significantly more
abusive than did former Catholics or InterVarsity graduates and scored
significantly higher on most measures of psychological distress.
Various groups, usually referred to as "cults," have
generated considerable controversy during the past two decades (see CQ
Researcher, May 7, 1993), in large part because their critics tend to believe
that cults have psychologically abusive environments that harm members.
Although cults are usually thought of as religious, mental health professionals
who have worked with cultists emphasize that they may also be psychological,
political, or even commercial (Singer, 1987). Some religious organizations
define "cult" theologically, but mental health professionals tend to use
psychological definitions. According to this secular view, "cults" are
distinguished from "new religions," "new political movements," innovative
psychotherapies," and other "new" groups in that cults are characterized by
extensive use of unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control
to advance the leader's goals, often to the psychological and economic detriment
of his or her followers (Langone, 1993). It is important to note that,
consistent with contemporary usage, this approach accepts the pejorative
connotation "cult" has taken on in recent decades and, consequently, uses other
words (e.g., "new religious movement") to describe groups, which in the past
would have been deemed benign cults.
A recent factor analysis of 112 group characteristics rated
by 308 former members of 101 groups that subjects deemed cultic produced a
four-factor model of the varieties of psychological abuse: Compliance,
Exploitation, Mind Control, and Anxious Dependency (Chambers, Langone, Dole, &
Grice, 1994). The following empirical definition, which is consistent with
clinical views, emerged from the factor analysis:
Cults are groups that often exploit members psychologically
and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership's demands
through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind
control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the
group and its leaders. (Chambers, et al., 1994)
Approximately two to five million Americans have been
involved with cultic groups. This estimate derives from surveys of new
religious and para-religious movements in San Francisco and Montreal (Bird &
Reimer, 1982), high school students in the San Francisco Bay area (Zimbardo &
Hartley, 1985), a weekly omnibus survey conducted by ICR Survey Research Group
for AFF in 1993, and a Pennsylvania Medical Society survey of 1,396 primary care
physicians, 2.2% of whom reported having had a family member involved with a
cultic group (Lottick, 1993).
Among the problems that clinicians have observed in their
work with former cultists are depression, loneliness, indecisiveness, slipping
into altered states, blurring of mental acuity, uncritical passivity, guilt,
fear of cult reprisals and supernatural personal catastrophes, an acute
sensitivity to the "watchfulness" of parents and friends, difficulty explaining
how they could have joined such a group, apprehension about their own idealism
and altruism (which the cult had manipulated), a loss of the feeling of being a
member of an elite, and financial difficulties (Singer, 1979).
Among groups commonly deemed cultic, the Boston Church of
Christ (BCC) has been one of the most controversial (Ostling, May 18, 1992;
Hill, Feb. 19, 1988). The BCC has been especially controversial on college
campuses, including Boston University. A report by Boston University's Rev.
Robert Watts Thornburg (Thornburg, 1989 [reprinted with modifications in
Giambalvo & Rosedale, 1996]) provides useful background information on the BCC
and a description of the psychologically abusive practices that have made it
controversial. Thornburg said that the Boston Church of Christ aroused so much
concern at Boston University that for the "first time in the history of the
University, leaders of a religious group have been formally and officially
banned from coming onto the campus" (p.5). He further states: "At the
September 1987 meeting of the Religious Life Council of Boston University, it
was concluded by those present that the leadership of the Boston Church, despite
their claims of innocence, were either unwilling or unable to change their
procedures. Our concerns can be grouped under several major categories of
destructive activities" (p.6):
"Recruitment techniques include the duplicitous use of love and
high pressure harassment, producing incredibly high levels of false guilt"
"The training process is a virtual cloning of one person by their
prayer partner in a totally authoritarian relationship with no rights to
personal choice or interpretation" (p.8).
"In methods (classic examples of mind control techniques) the BCC
eliminates non-member association for new prospects, systematically cutting out
any contacts with family, friends, or outside sources of reality checks" (p.9).
"Once established as the sole dispenser of salvation, this group
then dominates every moment of the day, demanding attendance at every meeting of
the organization" (p.10).
"When total submission is acknowledged in a re-baptism, then the
standard of faithfulness is measured by the number of recruits which each member
can bring into the organization" (p.12).
Other universities have also confronted problems with the
BCC. American University and George Washington University, for example,
recently revoked the charters of student groups founded by church members, while
Howard University investigated allegedly aggressive recruiting tactics by group
members (Masters, April 24, 1994). Ronald Loomis, past President of the
Association of College Unions International (ACUI), has identified 24 campuses,
which have banned the Boston Movement or denied it access for violations of
campus regulations. He has also identified 15 different front names which the
group uses to mask its real identity (personal communication, February 21,
The problems associated with the BCC are tied to its method
of discipleship (abusive discipleship, according to critics). Flavil Yeakley, a
member of the fundamentalist Church of Christ denomination from which the BCC
broke off and formerly the Director of the Church Growth Institute at Abilene
Christian University, said that the Boston Church of Christ was "the leading
congregation among the discipling churches" (Yeakley, 1988, p.5). There is no
reason to believe that this is no longer the case. One of the most
controversial aspects of the discipling system is the discipler's giving
"detailed personal guidance to the Christian being discipled. This guidance may
include instructions concerning many personal matters of a totally secular
nature" (Yeakley, 1988, p.1). When carried to extremes the discipling system
insists "on changing people at all costs -- even at the cost of their
personhood, autonomy, and uniqueness" (Yeakley, 1988, p.19).
Yeakley, Thornburg, and other critics contend that the
highly manipulative and exploitative environments of cultic groups harm many, if
not most, members and former members of these groups. Although there is a
wealth of clinical experience with former cult members (Langone, 1993, says that
the contributors to his book, Recovery from Cults, have worked collectively
"with at least 9,000 cultists and their families" -- p.2), the empirical
literature is inconclusive. In part, this is due to methodological shortcomings
in the research. First, there is no acceptable operational definition of
"cult"; indeed, this reviewer knows of only one study that even attempted to
measure the "cultishness" of a group (Adams, 1993). Second, samples are biased,
either because the subjects are selected with the cooperation of group leaders
(whose motives and trustworthiness may be suspect) or come from the network of
former cult members who have sought help from cult educational organizations
such as the American Family Foundation (AFF) or the Cult Awareness Network
(CAN). Third, dependent measures are often not standardized and are unconnected
to other research in this area. Fourth, few studies have used a comparison
group. Fifth, because practical necessity demands that studies of harm in
cultic groups be retrospective, it is extremely difficult to demonstrate causal
This study attempted to at least partly address these
methodological issues. The study examined: (1) former members' perception of
psychological abusiveness in the group environment, and (2) former members'
reports of psychological distress. The study focused on the Boston Church of
Christ movement (BCC) because it is so controversial. Unlike other research in
this area (see the next section for a literature review), this study employed a
sample that does not derive largely from the network of organizations dedicated
to helping former cult members and their families, used objective measures that
assess the abusiveness of the group environment, and included two comparison
groups: former members of a mainstream religious denomination (Roman Catholic)
and graduates of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a mainstream campus
ministry. (Former Roman Catholics were recruited to serve as the mainstream
denomination comparison group because the Boston area has a large number of
Catholics.) The following primary questions were investigated:
To what extent if any do former members of the Boston Church of
Christ perceive their group to be psychologically abusive (as measured by the
Group Psychological Abuse Scale (Chambers et al., 1994) and how do their
perceptions compare to those of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship graduates and
former members of a mainstream denomination (Roman Catholics)?
To what extent do former members of the BCC report having had the
types of specific, concrete experiences for which the BCC is often criticized --
to be measured by the DDD Scale (a measure of concrete behaviors and experiences
thought to reflect deception, dependency, and dread)?
Do former members of the Boston Church of Christ report more
psychological distress (as measured by a psychological test battery) than former
members/graduates of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or a mainstream
denomination (Roman Catholics)?
The InterVarsity sample permits comparisons with a group
whose former members ("graduates" is a more appropriate term) are not expected
to have been unhappy with the group. The former mainstream sample permits
comparisons with people who were probably unhappy with various aspects of their
former religious denomination. The latter sample helps test the hypothesis that
negative ratings toward the BCC may result primarily from ex-members'
disaffection, rather than their at least partly objective evaluation of a group
that is indeed more abusive than mainstream groups.
This study focused on former members of religious groups
because of (a) resource limitations; (b) problems associated with attempts to
secure the cooperation of current members of controversial groups; and (c) the
desirability of maximizing the continuity between this study and current and
past research. In the future, however, the investigator and his colleagues also
intend to examine current members of controversial and mainstream groups.
The study also examined several secondary issues.
Pre-group psychological distress. Some have suggested that
post-cult psychological distress merely reflects long-standing psychological
problems that pre-date the group involvement (Maleson, 1981; Spero, 1982).
As-yet-unreported data from the research of Martin et al. (1992) found, to the
investigators' surprise, an inverse relationship between pre-cult psychological
distress and post-cult distress. Pre-cult distress, however, was measured by
the occurrence or nonoccurrence of pre-cult psychological counseling. An
alternate explanation of this surprising finding might be that those who had
been counseled developed coping skills that enabled them to handle post-cult
distress better than those who had not been counseled. This study and a related
study at Ohio University are the first to use standardized instruments to assess
pre-cult psychological distress, specifically the Physical Child Victimization
Scale (Briere & Runtz, 1988), the Psychological Child Maltreatment Scale (Briere
& Runtz, 1988), and the Childhood Sexual Victimization Questionnaire (Finkelhor,
In-group help seeking. Most clinical observers believe
that the isolationism and elitism of cultic groups would discourage members from
seeking professional mental health assistance. This hypothesis will be tested
by asking subjects if they sought help while participating in their group.
Post-group help seeking. Another, although obviously
limited, measure of post-cult psychological distress is the decision to seek
professional help. The background questionnaire asks about this issue.
Family background. Several studies (Sirkin & Grellong,
1988; Wright & Piper, 1986; Marcus & Grellong, submitted for publication to
Cultic Studies Journal) suggest that cultists may be more likely to have
dysfunctional family backgrounds, although other studies (Maron, 1988) and
clinical observations (Singer, 1986; Clark et al., 1981) suggest that cult
members' families are not likely to differ from those of noncult members. In
this study (as with Sirkin & Grellong, Marcus & Grellong, and Maron), the Family
Environment Scale (Moos & Moos, 1981) assesses subjects' family backgrounds.
"Seekerhood." Some investigators suggest that "a pattern
of seekership preceding conversion appears to be associated with stigmatized
communal groups in which participation entails discontinuity of social roles"
(Robbins, 1988, p.82). This view predicts that those who join cultic groups are
likely to have a history of religious seeking and are likely to have belonged to
other unorthodox groups. Some empirical (Greil & Rudy, 1984) and clinical
(Dubrow-Eichel & Dubrow-Eichel, 1988) evidence supports this notion. This study
examined the seekerhood issue by asking subjects to list other groups to which
Because the focus of this study is the relationship between
psychological harm and psychological abuse in groups ("cults" in particular), I
limit this review to the literature having to do with psychological harm. (The
only study that examined psychological abusiveness in groups will be briefly
discussed when the GPA Scale is described in the Methods section.)
It is important to reiterate that research on cult members
is fraught with methodological problems. Studies are often based on different
definitions of what constitutes a cult or "new religious movement." Subject
samples are nearly always biased in some way. Data collected from members of
groups whose willingness to deceive is well documented can be untrustworthy.
"Pen-and-pencil" personality tests and surveys do not effectively measure
certain psychological states such as dissociation. Interview data are readily
influenced by the fundamental conceptual assumptions of the interviewer. Those
who observe cults may not be sensitive to the psychological subtleties that
clinicians detect. Conversely, clinicians working with one cult member at a
time may not fully appreciate social factors in cults. Statistical analyses are
sometimes inappropriate to the problem at hand. And tendencies to over
generalize and make unwarranted causal inferences are common.
These technical difficulties are compounded by the fact
that cultic groups are reluctant to cooperate with critics. Therefore, with a
few exceptions, most of the nonclinical studies have surveyed ex-cult members or
have been conducted by researchers whom cult leaders viewed as sympathetic.
Indeed, influencing academicians is a major goal of some groups (Dole &
Clinical reports tend to see dissociation as central to
cult members' adaptation to a demanding and contradictory environment. Because
self-report instruments do not effectively detect dissociation, critics view
studies that use instruments such as the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory) with considerable skepticism. Indeed, in studies using the MMPI
there is evidence that cult members are not honest in their responses; their Lie
Scales tend to be elevated (Ungerleider & Wellisch, 1979) and there appears to
be a "moderate attempt for both men and women to `look good'" (Ross, 1983,
Given these methodological caveats, what does the
literature tell us?
Some research studies suggest that the level of harm
associated with religious cults may be less than clinical reports indicate, at
least for some groups. Levine and Salter (1976) and Levine (1984) found little
evidence of impairment in structured interviews of over 100 cult members,
although Levine and Salter did note some reservation about "the suddenness and
sharpness of the change" (p.415) that was reported to them. Ross (1983), who
gave a battery of tests, including the MMPI, to 42 Hare Krishna members in
Melbourne, Australia, reported that all "scores and findings were within the
normal range, although members showed a slight decline in mental health (as
measured on the MMPI) after 1.5 years in the movement and a slight increase in
mental health after 3 years in the movement" (p.416). Ungerleider and Wellisch
(1979), who interviewed and tested 50 members or former members of cults, found
"no evidence of insanity or mental illness in the legal sense" (p.279),
although, as noted earlier, members showed elevated Lie Scales on the MMPI. In
studies of the Unification Church (Galanter, Rabkin, Rabkin, & Deutsch, 1979;
Galanter, 1983), the investigators found improvement in well-being as reported
by members, approximately one-third of whom had received mental health treatment
before joining the group.
Otis (1985) examined data from a survey of 2,000 members of
Transcendental Meditation in 1971. Dropouts reported significantly fewer
adverse effects than experienced meditators, and "the number and severity of
complaints were positively related to duration of meditation" (p.41). There was
a consistent pattern of adverse effects, including anxiety, confusion,
frustration, and depression. The "data raise serious doubts about the innocuous
nature of TM" (p.46).
The Institute for Youth and Society (1980) in Bensheim,
Germany reported that TM members tended to be withdrawn from their families (57%
of subjects), isolated in social relations (51%), anxious (52%), depressed
(45%), tired (63%), and exhibited a variety of physical problems, such as
headaches and menstrual disorder.
Former members of a psychotherapy cult (Knight, 1986)
reported that they had had sex with a therapist (25% of subjects), had been
assigned love mates (32%), had fewer than 6 hours sleep a night (59%), and in
therapy sessions were shoved at least occasionally (82%), were hit at least
occasionally (78%), and were verbally abused (97%). These subjects, 86% of whom
felt harmed by the experience, also reported depression (50%) and menses
In Conway, Siegelman, Carmichael, & Coggins (1986) study,
ex-members reported the following experiences during their time in the cult:
sex with leaders (5%; 60% in the Children of God), menstrual dysfunction (22%),
and physical punishment (20%). Conway and Siegelman (1982) reported that
ex-members experienced floating (52% of subjects), nightmares (40%), amnesia
(21%), hallucinations and delusions (14%), inability to break mental rhythms of
chanting (35%), violent outbursts (14%), and suicidal or self-destructive
Galanter (1983), who studied sixty-six former Moonies,
reports that "the large majority (89%) felt that they `got some positive things'
out of membership, although somewhat fewer (61%) did feel that `Reverend Moon
had a negative impact on members,' and only a bare majority (53%) felt that
`current members should leave the Unification Church'" (p.985). Galanter also
found that "36% of the respondents indicated the emergence of `serious emotional
problems' at some time after leaving the church; 24% had `sought out
professional help for emotional problems' after leaving; and 3% (i.e., two
respondents) had been hospitalized for such problems during this interval"
(p.985). These findings were consistent with clinical reports during the 1970s
and early 1980s. It is interesting, however, that Galanter was sometimes
inclined to put a positive "spin" on the findings, e.g., his choosing to write
that "only (emphasis added) a bare majority (53%) felt that `current members
should leave the Unification Church.'" This is quite a large percentage given
that, according to clinical investigations and countless ex-member reports,
Unification Church members are indoctrinated to assume that the Church is always
right and they, when dissenting, are always wrong. Indeed, Langone (1992) found
that the suppression of dissent was one of the five most highly rated cult
characteristics in a subject pool of 308 former cultists from 101 different
groups. Thus, Galanter's indices of harm, though indirect and not low, may be
In an in-process report of a survey of 308 former cult
members, Langone paints an even more negative picture of the cult experience.
Eighty-eight percent of 308 subjects from 101 groups saw their groups as harmful
(37%) or very harmful (51%). During an average time of membership of 6.7 years,
11% of the subjects reported being sexually abused. Sixty-eight percent of the
subjects each knew an average of 28 former members who had not contacted helping
resources. Thus, approximately 5,500 persons known to these subjects had not
sought help. Yet 30% of the subjects estimated that "all or nearly all" of
their friends and acquaintances had difficulty adjusting to post-group life, 21%
felt that "most" had difficulty, 4% "about half," 13% "some," 6% "hardly any,"
and 25% were unsure. Martin et al. (1992) used a variety of instruments,
including the Millon Clinical Multiaxal Inventory (MCMI) to assess the
psychological status of 111 former cultists. Martin says:
This sample of ex-cultists can be characterized as having
abnormal levels of distress in several of the personality and clinical symptom
scales. Of those subjects completing the MCMI-I, 89% had BR's ["Base Rates" --
indicates presence of a disorder] of 75 or better on at least one of the first
eight scales. Furthermore, 106 out of the 111 subjects (95%) who completed the
MCMI at Time I had at least one BR score on one of the MCMI scales. The
contention that this population of former cultists is indeed distressed is
further buttressed by their mean score of 102 on the HSCL (Hopkins Symptom Check
List). Typically, scores of over 100 are indicative of the need for psychiatric
care. Moreover, these ex-cultists had a mean of 72 on the SBS-HP burnout scale
, which is suggestive of burnout and more than one standard deviation above the
mean from Martin's (1983) sample of para-church workers. (Martin et al., 1992,
Yeakley (1988) gave 835 members of the Boston Church of
Christ (BCC) the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychological instrument
that classifies people according to Carl Jung's type system. Individuals may
differ in the way in which they tend to perceive (some being more sense
oriented, others more intuition oriented), the way they judge (thinking oriented
versus feeling oriented) and their basic attitudes (extraversion versus
introversion). Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, the developers of the MBTI,
added a dimension to Jung's typology: the person's preferred way of orienting
himself to the outside world. This orientation may be judging or perceiving.
The MBTI thus produces 16 personality types based upon the permutations of these
variables. Yeakley asked subjects to answer the questions in the MBTI as they
think they would have answered before their conversion, as they felt at the time
of testing, and as they think they will answer after five more years of
discipling in the BCC. He found that "a great majority of the members of the
Boston Church of Christ changed psychological type scores in the past, present,
and future versions of the MBTI" (p.34) and that "the observed changes in
psychological type scores were not random since there was a clear convergence in
a single type" (p.35). The type toward which members converged was that of the
group's leader. Comparisons with members of mainstream denominations showed no
convergence, but members of other cultic groups did show convergence, although
toward different types than that on which the BCC members converged. Yeakley
concludes that "there is a group dynamic operating in that congregation that
influences members to change their personalities to conform to the group norm"
(p.37). Yeakley's study does not tell us whether or not the changes occur, but
it does provide compelling evidence that members perceive themselves as changing
in the direction of a common personality type. Although Yeakley's study did not
directly examine harm, it does indirectly support clinical observations, which
contend that the personalities of cult members are bent, so to speak, to fit the
Clinical observations (Ash, 1985; Clark, 1979; Langone,
1991) and research studies (Galanter, 1989; Langone, 1992) suggest that people
join cults during periods of stress or transition, when they are most open to
what the group has to say. Approximately one-third appear to have been
psychologically disturbed before joining, as evidenced by having participated in
pre-cult psychotherapy or counseling (with figures varying from 7% to 62% of
subjects among eight studies -- Barker, 1984; Galanter et al., 1979; Galanter &
Buckley, 1978; Knight, 1986; Spero, 1982; Schwartz, 1985; Sirkin & Grellong,
1988). The majority, however, appear to have been relatively normal individuals
before joining a cult.
Certain studies cited earlier (Levine, 1984; Ross, 1983;
Ungerleider & Wellisch, 1979) found that cult members score within the normal
range on psychological tests or psychiatric interviews. Galanter (1983) found
some improvement in the general well-being of cult joiners, which he attributed
to a psychobiologically grounded "relief effect" of charismatic groups.
Wright (1987) and Skonovd (1983) found that leaving cultic
groups was very difficult because of the psychological pressure, a finding
consistent with clinical observations.
There is much evidence, reviewed earlier, of psychological
distress when people leave cultic groups.
And yet, they do leave. Why? If they were unhappy before
they joined, became happier after they joined, were pressured to remain, left
anyway, and were more distressed than ever after leaving, what could have
impelled them to leave?
The inescapable conclusion seems to be that the cult
experience is not what it appears to be (at least for those groups that deem it
important to put on a "happy face"), either to observers or to members under the
psychological influence of the group. As Wright (1987) found, when members are
separated from the group for a period of time, have an opportunity to share
doubts with an intimate, witness the failures of the group, or learn about or
observe the hypocrisies of the group's leadership, the group's psychological
influence over the individual wanes. Clinical observers, beginning with Clark
(1979) and Singer (1978), appear to be correct in their contention that
dissociative defenses help cult members adapt to the contradictory and intense
demands of the cult environment. So long as members are not rebelling against
the group's psychological controls, they can appear to be "normal." However,
this normal appearing personality, as West and Martin (1994) maintain, is a
pseudo-identity. When cult members leave their groups, the flood gates open and
they suffer. But they don't generally return because the suffering they
experience after leaving the cult is more genuine than the "happiness" they
experienced while in it. A painful truth is better than a pleasant lie.
If this analysis is correct, ex-members may indeed provide
more accurate information about cults than would current members, although the
responses of the former certainly cannot be treated as the last word on the
issue. Understanding the dynamics and effects of cultic groups is a difficult
task. Clinical observations and analyses have been very useful. But the
empirical testing of these observations and analyses will require many
coordinated studies conducted over a period of years.
This study is an early step in that it examines the
hypotheses that an allegedly cultic/abusive environment can be distinguished
from a noncultic environment and that former members of a cultic group
experience more psychological distress than former members of noncultic groups.
This study had two components.
In Component One 228 former members of the BCC (available
through a national mailing list from an ex-member organization) received the
Group Psychological Abuse Scale, the DDD Scale, a background questionnaire, a
consent form, a cover letter, a list of readings and resources, and two Boston
University business reply envelopes (one for returning the instruments, the
other for the consent form). This component collected information on possible
group psychological abuse from a national sample of former members of the BCC.
In Component Two subjects were administered the background
questionnaire, the GPA Scale, and a battery of instruments assessing
psychological background and distress. This battery was developed by a team of
researchers at Ohio University and Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. The
test battery took most subjects 1.5 to 2.0 hours to complete. Subjects from
three groups were recruited: former members of the BCC; graduates of
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (a mainstream campus organization); and former
members of a mainstream denomination (Roman Catholics). This component enabled
the investigator to compare the responses of former BCC members to two
comparison groups on the dimensions of perceived psychological abusiveness and
self-reported, post-group psychological distress. (The DDD Scale was not given
to subjects in Component Two in order to keep the test-taking time down to about
Former Roman Catholics were recruited through
advertisements in the Boston University newspaper. InterVarsity subjects were
recruited through lists of 56 graduates provided by InterVarsity leadership and
from volunteers at an IV graduation weekend. Former BCC subjects were recruited
from a list of 152 Boston-area ex-BCC members on the national list mentioned
above and from the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Subjects received the test battery either at the Danielsen
Institute or the First Congregational Church of Hamilton. After completing the
instruments, subjects were asked if they had any questions, were troubled about
anything, or needed any information or assistance. A reading/ resource list was
given to each subject.
When subjects came to their appointment the investigator or
an assistant briefed them about the study, reviewed consent forms with them, and
administered all instruments. After completing the self-report measures,
subjects were seen again by the investigator or an assistant in order to answer
questions and to address any concerns that subjects may have had.
Component 1 (mailed survey). A total of 40 former Boston
movement subjects returned usable questionnaires, a response rate of 18%. Sixty
percent of the subjects were female. Subjects' average age at the time of
completing the questionnaire was 37.5 years. Sixty percent were married, 30%
single, and the other 10% equally divided among separated, divorced, divorced
and remarried, and widowed. Seventeen subjects had an average of 2.4 children;
3 subjects had an average of 2.3 children who were born while the subjects were
in the group. Eighty-seven and one-half percent of the subjects were white,
7.5% Asian, 2.5% black, and 2.5% Hispanic. Current average annual household
gross income was $42,162.
Religious upbringing more or less reflected national
averages: 25% Protestant, fundamental; 20% Protestant, liberal; 30% Roman
Catholic; 2.5% Jewish; 2.5% Eastern; 15% other; and 5% none. Current religious
preferences, however, indicated a marked falling away from mainstream religion,
except for "Protestant, fundamental," which probably reflects the mainstream
Church of Christ's energetic outreach to the Boston movement population: 32.5%
Protestant, fundamental; 2.5% Protestant, liberal; 2.5%, Roman Catholic; 2.5%
Jewish; 2.5% Islamic; 32.5% other; 22.5% none; 2.5% missing data.
Educational level was high, with 16.2 (SD=2.2) being the
average number of years of education. Subjects reported having earned the
following degrees: 5% Associate; 42.5% Bachelor; 12.5% Masters; 2.5% Ph.D.;
12.5% other professional; 22.5% no degree; 2.5% missing data. Mean income was
$42,162 (SD = 4098).
Subjects had belonged to the Boston movement an average of
4.5 years and had been out of the group an average of 6.5 years. Unlike early
research studies (e.g., Conway et al., 1986), which relied upon samples derived
from the network of cult educational organizations, only a small percentage of
subjects from this study left the group because of deprogramming (2.5%) or exit
counseling (10%). Fifty-seven and one-half percent said they had "walked away";
12.5% reported having been ejected from their group; 15% responded "other"; and
2.5% had missing data for this question.
Although this sample included a higher percentage of
subjects familiar with cult educational organizations than was initially
expected, the percentage is smaller than most studies of former members.
Limiting data only to the American Family Foundation (AFF) and Cult Awareness
Network (CAN) because these are the only organizations with which more than a
few subjects were familiar, we find that 9 of 39 responding subjects were
familiar with AFF, 19 of 38 with CAN. Seven of 40 responding subjects had
received information from AFF, 15 of 40 from CAN. Three of 40 subjects had
attended AFF conferences or workshops, 6 of 40 had attended CAN conferences.
Thus, given the likelihood of overlap in these subject groups, it is reasonable
to conclude that only about half of the subjects had some familiarity with cult
educational organizations and even fewer had received information or had
attended events sponsored by cult educational organizations.
Component 2 (test battery). A total of 57 subjects (15
former BCC members, 23 former IV members, former IV members, 19 former
Catholics) completed the test battery. Females predominated in all groups.
(Percentages that follow in parentheses may not always add up to 100% because
figures are rounded.) Overall, 38 of 56 subjects were female (68%): 11 of 15
Boston movement (73%); 14 of 23 InterVarsity (61%); and 13 of 19 Roman Catholic
(68%). The average age of BCC subjects at the time of the interview was 33.35
years, that of IV subjects 23.64 years, and that of Roman Catholics 22.24 years.
Not surprisingly, given that subjects from two of the
groups were either in college or recently graduated, 50 were single (89%). Only
1 of 19 Catholics and 2 of 23 InterVarsity were married. Two of 15 former
Boston movement subjects were married, 1 was separated, and 1 was divorced. One
former BCC subject had 3 children, 2 born while the subject was a member of the
BCC. One IV subject also reported having 3 children, all born while the subject
was a member of IV. None of the former Catholics reported having any children.
Regarding race, 36 subjects were white (64%), 4 black (7%),
1 Hispanic (2%), 13 Asian (23%; all in the InterVarsity sample), and 3 other
(5%). Thirteen BCC subjects were white (87%) and two black (13%). Nine
InterVarsity subjects were white (39%), 13 Asian (57%), and 1 other (4%).
Fourteen Catholic subjects were white (74%), 2 black (11%), 1 Hispanic (5%), and
2 other (10%).
Average annual household income of the groups was: $44,767
(all groups); $38, 857 (BCC); $56, 389 (IV); $32,214 (RC). The income figure
for most subjects in the latter two groups probably referred to parents' income.
Former BCC subjects had belonged to the group an average of
4 years and had been out an average of 5.4 years. IV subjects had belonged to
InterVarsity for 2.4 years and had been out 1.8 years. Former Catholics said
they had been Catholics for 16.2 years and had left the church an average of 5.7
years before completing the survey.
Religious upbringing of BCC subjects was 1 Protestant,
fundamental (7%); 6 Protestant, liberal (40%); 4 Roman Catholic (27%); 1 Eastern
(7%); 1 other (7%); and 2 none (13%). InterVarsity subjects reported the
following: 5 Protestant, fundamental (22%); 1 Protestant, liberal (4%); 3 Roman
Catholic (13%); 7 other (30%); 7 none (30%). All former Roman Catholics had
been raised in that religion.
Current religious preferences demonstrated substantial
change from religious upbringing. Obviously, none of the former Roman Catholics
were still Catholics. Fourteen of the 19 former Catholics (74%) declared "none"
as their religious preference; 4 (21%) checked "other"; and 1 (5%) preferred
Protestant, liberal. Seven of 15 former Boston movement subjects (47%), again
reflecting the influence of the mainstream Church of Christ on this movement,
selected "Protestant, fundamental" as their current religious preference. One
identified with "Protestant, liberal" (7%); 1 with "other" (7%); and 6 with
"none" (40%). Ten of 23 InterVarsity graduates considered themselves to be
Protestant, fundamental (43%); 6 Protestant, liberal (26%); 2 Roman Catholic
(9%); 4 other (17%); and 1 none (4%).
Average number of years of education was also high for
Component 2 subjects. Former Roman Catholics, most of whom were still students
at Boston University, had an average of 14.6 years of education (SD=2.0): 3 had
a bachelor's degree; 2 a master's. Former BCC subjects had an average of 16.5
years of education (SD=2.5): 2 had an associate's degree; 9 a bachelor's; 3 a
master's; 2 another degree; and 3 no degree. IV graduates had an average of
16.3 years of education (SD=.92): 23 had bachelor's degrees; 1 a master's
(presumably one subject checked both categories).
Results regarding method of departure for the former BCC
subjects were similar to those for Component 1: 10 said they walked away (67%);
2 were ejected (13%); 3 were exit counseled (20%). One InterVarsity graduate
and 2 former Catholics checked "other" for method of departure, perhaps
reflecting some ambiguity in the listed choices with respect to these
Background. A background questionnaire collected
background information, information on the subject's experience with the group
in question, and information on the subject's psychological history.
Abusive environment. The psychological abusiveness of the
group environment was assessed by the following instruments (only former BCC
subjects in Component One completed the second instrument):
Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA Scale). The GPA Scale is a
factor-analytically derived, 28-item scale based upon the responses of 308
former members of 101 cultic groups to 112 questions inquiring into the nature
of the group environment (Chambers et al., 1994). The GPA includes four
distinct factors, labeled Compliance, Exploitation, Mind Control, and Anxious
Dependency. The range for the composite score is 28-140. The range for
subscales is 7-35. Scores above the midpoint (84 for the composite; 21 for
subscales) indicate the subject is rating the group as in the abusive range. A
master's thesis reported that this scale successfully differentiated former
members of the BCC in Cincinnati from former members of InterVarsity Christian
Fellowship (Adams, 1993). Former BCC members scored higher than IV graduates on
all subscales. This study replicated and expanded Adams's study, but added a
former mainstream denomination comparison group.
DDD Scale. This scale was developed by Carol Giambalvo and me in
order to assess the degree to which former members of the Boston movement
experienced concrete events related to deception, induced dependency, and dread,
which Singer, Temerlin, & Langone (1990) contend are central to the behavioral
changes observed in people who join cults. The DDD Scale consists of a list of
concrete behaviors and events exemplifying the DDD process as it is alleged to
occur in the BCC.
Part 1 of the DDD Scale includes one question asking what
name the group used when the person was first recruited and 18 questions that
ask subjects to rate the accuracy (1=definitely true; 2=probably true; 3=don't
know; 4=probably not true; 5=definitely not true) of statements that refer to
the period of time when they were relatively new to the group, that is, when
they first joined or the first few months after joining. These statements were
selected because they are believed to reflect common types of deceptions
practiced by the BCC. Part 2 asks subjects to rate the accuracy of statements
that refer to any time during which they were members. These questions were
selected because they are believed to reflect practices and beliefs that
contribute to deception, dependency, and dread. This section consists of 48
questions that ask subjects to rate the degree to which the statement was
accurate in their personal experience (e.g., "You were personally told this at
least once") and 48 paired questions that ask subjects to rate the degree to
which the statement applies to the BCC movement (e.g., "The statement above
characterizes the group"). Three additional questions ask subjects how many
disciplers they had, how many people they discipled, and the degree to which
their happiness was a function of the qualities of their disciplers. One
question asked if the person was encouraged to date or discouraged from dating a
particular person and one question asked if the person had been told to break up
a dating relationship with a nonmember.
Five composite scores were constructed for the DDD Scale,
with some questions being reversed scored because a "definitely true" rating
would reflect a positive characteristic of the group. Non-rated items were not
included in the composite scores. Thus, lower scores indicate a more negative
evaluation of the group. DDD consists of the sum of all ratings and has a range
from 120 to 600. DDDA consists of the sum of ratings in Part 1 and has a range
from 18 to 90. DDDB consists of ratings in Part 2 and has a range from 102 to
510. DBSELF consists of those questions in Part 2 that refer specifically to
subjects' personal experience (range: 48-240), and DBGROUP consists of those
questions in Part 2 that refer to subjects' evaluations of the group in general
(range: 48-240). Assuming that subjects are more likely to be accurate in their
ratings of personal experiences than their ratings of the group, DBSELF provides
a more conservative and reliable means of assessing subjects' experience of
practices contributing to deception, dependency, and dread.
Questions on the demographic questionnaire that inquire into
perceptions of how much pressure was put on subjects when they left and their
global evaluations of the group's harmfulness.
Social desirability. Tendencies toward social desirability
were measured by the Marlowe-Crown Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlowe,
1960). The Marlowe-Crowne is a 33-item true-false questionnaire designed to
assess social desirability on self-report measures. Correlations with MMPI
scales are as follows: L scale = 0.54; K scale = 0.40; Pd scale = -0.41; and Sc
scale = -0.40. Crino, Svoboda, Rubenfield, and White (1983) report an internal
consistency coefficient for the scale, using the Kuder-Richardson formula 20, of
0.88 (n=39 undergraduates), test-retest reliability of 0.89 (n=31
undergraduates), and a correlation with the Edwards SDS of 0.35 (n=120
Psychological distress. The psychological distress and
psychological background of subjects were measured by the following instruments:
SCL-90-R. The SCL-90-R (Derogatis, 1977; Derogatis, Lipman, &
Covi, 1973) is a 90-item, multidimensional, self-report measure of symptoms,
especially those seen in psychiatric and medical outpatients. The measure,
which is designed to reflect psychological symptom patterns, is scored and
interpreted according to 9 primary symptom dimensions and 3 global indices of
distress. The symptom dimensions are: Somatization, Obsessive-Compulsive,
Interpersonal Sensitivity, Depression, Anxiety, Hostility, Phobic Anxiety,
Paranoid Ideation, and Psychoticism. Global indices include the Global Severity
Index (GSI), the Positive Symptom Distress Index (PSDI), and the Positive
Symptom Total (PST). Internal consistency and test-retest reliability
coefficients for the SCL-90 range from .77 to .90 on the various symptom
dimensions. Criterion validity studies have been performed with several scales
of the MMPI and the Middlesex Hospital Questionnaire, among other instruments.
The SCL-90 has also been used productively in studies with cancer patients,
substance abusers, and sexual disorders.
Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). The Beck Depression Inventory
(Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961) is one of the most commonly used
self-report methods of assessing depression. Written in a multiple-choice
format, the BDI is symptom focused, with each item reflecting behavioral
manifestations and symptoms of depression, such as depressed mood, negative
attitude, psychomotor retardation, and somatic complaints. The four choices
within each item are rank-ordered and weighted to reflect severity (0-3) of
depression. The scores across all items are summed, with the total score
ranging from 0 to 63. A score of 10 or more is considered to be beyond the
normal range and a score of 17 or more suggestive of depressive disorder.
Internal consistency is high,
with a mean alpha coefficient of .86 for studies involving psychiatric
populations and .81 for nonpsychiatric populations. The test-retest stability
correlations, though troublesome because of the variability of a person's
experience of depression, are adequate, ranging from .48 to .86. Concurrent
validity has been demonstrated with diverse measures, including the Hamilton
Psychiatric Rating Scale for Depression, the Zung Self-Reported Depression
Scale, the MMPI depression scale, and the Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist
Depression Scale. The mean correlations for the concurrent validity studies
ranged from .60 to .76 (Conoley, 1990).
Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES). The DES (Bernstein &
Putnam, 1986) is a 28-item, self-report inventory used as a screening instrument
for dissociative experiences and disorders. The subjects are asked to indicate
the percentage of time that they experience feelings and behaviors described in
each statement, by making a mark on a line labeled 0 to 100. The subjects are
also asked to write down in a space provided, a percentage score corresponding
to their mark. The total score is calculated by summing across the indicated
percentages. The mean scores can range from 0 to 100. The reliability
coefficients (Spearman-Brown) of the items ranged from .19 to .75. Test-retest
reliability is reported to be r=.84, and the criterion-referenced validity is
good as well, while the construct validity is adequate, ranging from .50 to .79
(Bernstein & Putnam, 1986).
Draijer & Boon (1993) and Steinberg, Rounsaville, & Cicchetti
(1991) reported that the DES distinguished control patients from patients with
dissociative disorders, as determined by scores on the Structured Clinical
Interview for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Dissociative Disorders (SCID-D). Ross, Joshi, and Currie (1991), who gave the
DES to 1055 respondents in the general population of Winnipeg, identified three
factors accounting for 47.1% of the combined variance of the scores:
absorption-imaginative involvement; activities of dissociative states;
depersonalization/derealization. Carlson and Putnam (1993) reviewed studies
relating to norms, reliability, and validity of the DES and concluded that,
though useful, the DES needs refinement and additional validation research.
Hopkins Symptom Checklist, subscales for dissociation. Briere &
Runtz (1990) took one item found in the standard HSCL (Hopkins Symptom Checkl
List) and SCL-90 (Symptom Check List) which appears to tap dissociative
symptomatology ("Your mind going blank") and added 13 items based on clinical
experience and congruent with the style and comprehension level of the SCL-90.
These questions were then embedded in the HSCL or the SCL-90. Reliability
analysis of the Dissociation scale for Samples 1 and 2 showed internal
consistency for both (alpha = .85 and .90, respectively). For Sample 1, the
mean, using the HSCL scoring format, was 20.95 (SD - 5.80). For sample 2, using
the SCL-90 format, the mean was 11.41 (SD - 10.11). The Sample 2 scale showed a
correlation between dissociation scores and histories of sexual (r = .14, p =
.007) and physical (r = .23, p < .001) abuse in childhood. Two brief
dissociation measures are used in order to compensate for psychometric
deficiencies in each.
Stait-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). The STAI (Spielberger,
Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1970) consists of 40 items measuring two distinct forms of
anxiety. The state form of anxiety is transitory feelings of fear and worry,
which most people occasionally experience. As emotional states and subjective
feelings vary in intensity, subjects are asked to indicate how well the
statements describe them at the present time. The 20 state-anxiety scale items
are each rated on a four-point intensity scale, labeled "Not At All,"
"Somewhat," "Moderately So," and "Very Much So." The trait form is a stable
tendency for an individual to respond anxiously to a stressful situation.
Individuals are asked to indicate how they "generally feel." The 20
trait-anxiety scale items are rated on a four-point frequency scale that is
labeled "Almost Never," "Sometimes," "Often," and "Almost Always." The scores
of each of the two forms of anxiety range from 20 to 80. High scores on their
respective scales mean more state or trait anxiety.
The internal consistency for the
state-anxiety scale ranges from .86 to .95. The coefficient alpha for the
trait-anxiety scale ranges from .89 to .91. The number of significant
correlations suggests that individual items have a good discriminating ability.
Test-retest intervals ranged from one hour to 104 days. For the trait-anxiety
scale the coefficients ranged from .65 to .86, whereas the range for the
state-anxiety scale was, not surprisingly, .16 to .62. The state-anxiety scale
has good construct validity and a high level of face validity. The
trait-anxiety scale correlates with the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (r=.80),
the IPAT Anxiety Scale (r=.75), and the Multiple Affect Adjective Check List
Stait Trait Anger Scale (STAS). The STAS,
developed by Spielberger, Jacobs, Russell, and Crane (1983), consists of 20
items emphasizing the distinction between state and trait aspects of anger. For
the construction of this measure, state anger was defined as an emotional state
or condition that consists of subjective feelings of tension, annoyance,
irritation, fury, and rage. The 10 state-anger scale items are each rated on a
four-point intensity scale, labeled "Not at All," "Somewhat," "Moderately So,"
and "Very Much So." Trait anger was defined in terms of individual differences
in the frequency with which anger was experienced over time. The trait-anger
scale is divided into two subscales: angry temperament and angry reaction. The
10 trait-anger scale items are rated on a four-point frequency scale that is
labeled "Almost Never," "Sometimes," "Often," and "Almost Always." The scores
on the state and trait scales range from 10 to 40.
The norms for the STAS are based
on large samples of high school students, military recruits, and college
students. The alpha coefficient for college students for the state-anger scale
is .95 for males and females. The alpha coefficient for the trait-anger scale
is .89 for males and .91 for females. In a study of male inmates (Kroner &
Reddon, 1992), the coefficient alpha was .94 for the state-anger scale and .88
for the trait-anger scale. In this sample, the stability coefficient for the
state-anger scale was .70 at one-week follow-up and .88 at one-month follow-up.
The test-retest coefficients for the trait-anger scale were .57 and .64, and
one-week and one-month intervals, respectively. The state scale's stronger
stability than the trait scale is surprising.
The STAS is reported to have good construct
validity. In a sample of college students, the correlations of the STAS with
the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory were .71 and .66, for males and females
respectively. The correlations of .59 and .43 (males and females, respectively)
with the Hostility Scale, although statistically significant, are somewhat lower
(Spielberger et al., 1983).
Impact of Events Scale (IES). The Impact of Events Scale
(Horowitz, Wilner, & Alvarez, 1979) contains 15 items that assess the experience
of posttraumatic stress for specific life events and their context (e.g., death
of a loved one). The IES measures intrusive experiences and the recognized
avoidance of certain ideas. IES subscales show internal consistency
coefficients ranging from .79 to .92. The IES differentiated outpatients
seeking treatment for bereavement and three field samples. Normative data are
available on a sample of 35 outpatients and 37 adult volunteers who had a
recently deceased parent.
Psychological background. The following instruments
provided data on various aspects of psychological background:
Family Environment Scale (FES). The Family Environment Scale
(Moos & Moos, 1981) is a multidimensional measure of the perceived family
environment. It assesses the interpersonal relationships among family members
(Relationship Dimension), the directions of personal growth stressed by the
family (Personal Dimension), and the organizational structure of the family
(System Maintenance Dimension). The scale consists of 90 true-false statements
divided equally among 10 subscales which constitute these three major
dimensions. Internal consistencies for the subscales range from .61 to .78
Test-retest reliabilities range from .68 to .86 (8 weeks) and .52 to .89 (12
months) (Busch-Rossnagel, 1991)
Physical Child Victimization Scale (PCVS). The PCVS was adapted
from Briere and Runtz (1988). The scale consists of five items describing
various parental behaviors that might be considered physically abusive. The
items are answered on a six-point scale ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (more than
20 times a year). Subjects report the frequency of occurrence for each item
before the age of 16, separately for each parent (mother or step mother and
father or step father). The scores on the PCVS may range from 0 to 30 for each
parent, with the highest possible score being a 60. The internal consistency of
this scale is acceptable (alpha = .78 for mother and .75 for father).
Psychological Child Maltreatment Scale (PCMS). The PCMS was also
adapted from Brier and Runtz (1988) and follows the same format as the physical
abuse scale. It consists of 7 items that reflect verbal reactions, rather than
physical behaviors, that might be psychologically damaging to the individual.
The items are scored on the same six-point scale as the ones for physical abuse,
ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (more than 20 times a year). The scores on the PCMS
have a possible range of 0 to 42 for each parent, with a highest possible score
of 84. The internal consistency of this scale is also acceptable (alpha = .87)
(Briere & Runtz, 1988).
Childhood Sexual Victimization Questionnaire
(CSVQ). This measure, comprised of eight questions, was adapted from
Finkelhor (1979). The subjects are asked to read each statement and respond
whether the described sexual experiences occurred to them before the age of 16.
The items increase in severity ranging from "Another person showing his/her sex
organs to you" to "Another person had intercourse with you." The subjects are
also asked the approximate age of the other person(s) and how old they were when
they had the sexual experience corresponding to the last number to which they
answer "yes." In this study, individuals who endorse any of the sexual
experiences described in the questionnaire with a person five or more years
older than the respondent will be considered sexually victimized.
Question One: Perceived Abusiveness
Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations of the GPA
composite scores of all subjects in both components of the study.
GPA Composite Scores
BCC (n=40), Component 1
BCC (n=15), Component 2
IV (n=23), Component 2
RC (n=19), Component 2
A one-way ANOVA was conducted on the three groups in
component two on the overall GPA score. The ANOVA was significant, F(2,52) =
112.62, p < .0001. Tukey post-hoc tests showed that the former BCC members
scored significantly higher on the GPA (M = 108.5, SD = 11.28) than the former
Catholics (M = 65.26, SD = 15.90) and the former InterVarsity members (M =
46.91, SD = 8.10). The former Catholics scored significantly higher than the
former InterVarsity members. Neither the former Catholic, nor the IV group's
average score was above the 84 neutral score separating nonabusive from abusive
ratings. Indeed, the mean for the ex-Catholic group was nearly 1.2 standard
deviations below 84., while the IV mean was 4.6 standard deviations below 84.
The BCC mean, on the other hand, was 2.2 standard deviations above 84.
The GPA also evaluates the degree of psychological abuse on
four subscales: anxiety, compliance, mind control, and exploitation. A MANOVA
was conducted on the four subscales for the three groups in Component 2. The
MANOVA was significant, Wilks' = .108, F(8,98) = 25.00, p < .001. Follow-up
ANOVAs on each of the variables revealed that all were significant. Tukey's
post-hoc tests indicated that the former BCC members scored higher than either
of the other two groups on all four subscales (see Table 2). Former Catholics
scored significantly higher than Intervarsity graduates on Anxious Dependency,
Mind Control, and Exploitation. Table 2 gives the results for subjects in both
GPA Subscale Scores
Scores (Standard Deviation)
BCC, I (n=40)
BCC, II (n=15)
A discriminant analysis was conducted to see if the
composite GPA score alone could correctly classify individual subjects in their
respective groups. The discriminant function analysis revealed that the GPA
score alone could predict group membership better than chance, Wilk's = .188,
F(2,52) = 112.62, p < .001. The classification results in Table 3 revealed that
13 of the 14 former BCC members 92.9%) were correctly classified on the basis of
their GPA scores. None of the former IV members and only 2 of 19 former
Catholics were incorrectly classified as former BCC members. Overall, the
discriminant function correctly classified 76.4% of the cases.
It must be noted that discriminant functions derived from a
sample and used to classify cases on the same sample capitalize on chance
variation of the sample and are very likely to generate more accurate
classification results than would be achieved if the canonical coefficients were
used to classify cases on a separate sample.
Actual Group (No. Cases)
Two questions in the demographic questionnaire asked
subjects to give global ratings that reflect how abusive they perceived their
group environment to be. One question said: "Overall, how beneficial/harmful
was the group experience for you? Ratings were: 1 = "very beneficial," 2 =
"beneficial," 3 = "neutral," 4 = "harmful," 5 = "very harmful." The other
question asked: "To what extent did group pressures make it difficult for you
to leave?" Ratings were 1 = "very difficult," 2 = "difficult," 3 = "not sure,"
4 = "mildly difficult," 5 = "no difficulty."
Table 4 contains the mean ratings for these two questions
for all groups. Regarding the question on harm/benefit, an ANOVA found that the
groups differed significantly in their responses, F(2,54) = 80.22, p < .001.
Follow-up Tukey post-hoc tests revealed that the BCC scored higher than both the
former Catholics and the IV graduates. Former Catholics also scored
significantly higher than IV graduates. An ANOVA on the group pressure question
was also significant: F(2,53) = 32.26, p < .001. Follow-up Tukey post-hoc tests
revealed that the BCC scored lower than both the former Catholics and IV
graduates, and former Catholics scored lower than IV graduates (all ps < .05).
Lower scores reflect higher group pressure.
Ratings of Group Harmfulness and Group Pressure
Group Harm Mean (SD)
Group Pressure Mean (SD)*
BCC, Component One
BCC, Component Two
IV, Component Two
RC, Component Two
*Lower score implies greater group pressure
Question Two: Concrete Experiences
Table 5 contains the means and standard deviations of
subjects' scores on the DDD Scale. DDD refers to the sum of ratings for all
items (range: 120 to 600; 120 corresponds to an average rating of 1; 240 to 2).
DDDA refers to the sum of ratings for Part 1 (range: 18-90; 18 corresponds to an
average rating of 1; 36 to 2). DDDB refers to the sum of ratings for Part 2
(range: 102 to 510; 102 refers to an average rating of 1; 204 to 2). DBSELF
refers to the sum of ratings for items in Part 2 that refer specifically to
subjects' personal experience (range: 48-240; 48 corresponds to
an average rating of 1; 96 to 2). DBGROUP refers to the
sum of ratings for items in Part 2 that refer to subjects' evaluations of the
group (range: 48-240; 48 corresponds to an average rating of 1; 96 to 2). Lower
scores reflect more negative ratings, with 1 = definitely true, 2= probably
true, 3= don't know or can't decide, 4 = probably not true, and 5 = definitely
DDD Scale Scores (n=39)
Factor analysis was not performed on the DDD Scale because
there were not enough subjects. A correlational analysis of the DDD scale
scores, however, indicated a reasonable level of internal consistency (see Table
Internal DDD Correlations
1-tailed significance: * - .01; ** -
The scale scores of the DDD were correlated with GPA scores
in order to determine if, as expected, negative ratings on the DDD were
associated with higher scores on the GPA. The correlations are negative in
Table 7 because a low score on the DDD reflects a negative evaluation of the
group, whereas a high score on the GPA reflects a negative evaluation.
1-tailed significance: * - .01; ** -
It appears that even though the DDD and GPA scales ask
subjects to rate different items, there is a fairly high agreement between the
two scales. Subjects who rated the BCC negatively on the DDD tended to rate it
negatively on the GPA.
The primary value of the DDD Scale, however, is to collect
quantitative data on specific practices for which the BCC has been criticized.
Most questions first ask if the subject experienced what the statement in
question describes and then ask if the subject believes the statement
characterizes the BCC. In general, subjects' reports strongly supported
allegations that the BCC is deceptive, fosters dependency, and inculcates
dread. However, for some questions there was considerable variation in
subjects' responses, and sometimes the results were inconsistent with
stereotypes that view the movement as monolithically negative with regard to
This variation may be related to the discipler's role:
Forty-five percent of subjects said that their happiness in the movement
definitely varied significantly according to the qualities of their disciplers,
while an additional 30% said their happiness probably was related to the
discipler they happened to have. Given that subjects had an average of 5.4
disciplers during their membership and themselves discipled an average of 7.9
members, it seems quite possible that the characteristics and practices of
individual disciplers may have colored the experiences of subjects. This
question requires further research.
One of the most common criticisms of the BCC and other
cultic groups is the use of deception during the recruitment phase. Part One of
the DDD examined this issue by asking subjects to rate 18 statements, most of
which were stated in two ways: how true the statement was with regard to
subjects' personal experience, and how truly subjects' now believe the statement
characterizes the BCC. The average score on this part of the DDD (DDDA) was
32.67 (SD = 9.84), or an average rating of 1.82 (1.00 = "definitely true"; 2.00
= "probably true"), which indicates most subjects believed that the BCC was
Results from some specific questions inquiring into
deceptiveness follow. The number at the beginning of the statement refers to
the question number in the DDD Scale (dual numbers, e.g., 5/6, refer to paired,
self-group questions). The first figure in parentheses is the percentage of
subjects who rated the statement as definitely or probably true. The second,
italicized figure in parentheses is the percentage of subjects rating the
statement as definitely or probably false. The parallel figures in brackets
give the percentage of subjects who now believe the statement characterizes the
group, or, in italics, does not characterize the group. Not all figures add up
to 100% because some subjects did not answer all questions.
1. You were told "we're just a nondenominational Bible study
group." (87.5%; 7.5%) [n/a]
2. If you joined on a college campus, you were told that the
group's name was something other than ICC or BCC. (32.5%; 12.5%) [n/a].
4. You were told that your local group or church was part of
either the Boston Church of Christ Movement or the International Churches of
Christ. (45%; 45%) [n/a]
5/6. You were told that the fundamental purpose of the Bible Talk
to which you had been invited was to bring new people into the movement (30%;
52.5%). [90%; 0%]
7/8. You were told that the goal of your Individual Bible Study
was to have you baptized into the movement. (20%; 70%) [90%; 5%]
9/10. Prior to consenting to do the Individual Bible Study, you
were told that you were going to be required to have a discipler if you joined
the movement. (17.5%; 67.5%) [100%; 0%]
11/12. Prior to doing the Individual Bible Study, you were told
that you were not considered a Christian and that the only way to become a
Christian was to be baptized by this group, have a discipler, and be totally
committed to the movement. (37.5%; 52.5%) [97.5%; 2.5%]
13/14. You knew that you had been discussed openly in a leaders
meeting and that several people were assigned to be your "friends" and to
encourage you to become a member. (15%; 70%) [95%; 2.5%]
15/16. You were told prior to the individual Bible Study that
there were rules for dating and that you would not be allowed to date someone
who was not a member. (7.5%; 70%) [87.5%; 7.5%]
17. You were told about the movement's roots going back to the
mainline Church of Christ. (45%; 42.5%) [n/a]
18. You were told about the movement's beginnings in the
Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. (37.5%; 55%) [n/a]
19. Prior to your baptism in the BCC, you were told that the
leader of the movement was Kip McKean? (45%; 35%) [n/a]
Another question relevant to initial deceptions asked:
"What name did the group use?" Twenty-one subjects listed no name; 3 listed
Boston Church of Christ. The others listed the following: Dekalb Church of
Christ; Antelope Valley Church; Historical and Literature Society; Central
Christian Church; "No name, only a nondenominational Bible study"; Christian
Student Center; St. Louis Church of Christ; The Atlanta Church; "Call Street
Church of Christ - then University"; Dekalb Church of Christ; Campus Advance;
OHANA; Campus Advance; Campus Advance; "Campus (something) I can't remember."
Several of these names may be the local BCC name. Others appear to be unrelated
to the BCC/ICCC name and, therefore, may have served as a "front" name.
Unfortunately, the DDD did not ask if subjects initially did not realize the
group they joined was the BCC. Future research should correct this oversight.
Financial questions included:
1a/b. Having any savings accounts -- except for money being saved
for "special collections" -- was considered to be "falling away insurance."
(17.5%; 62.5%) [50%; 27.5%]
35a/b. Members are told that they should take part in a
group-sponsored study about planning their finances and proper contributions to
the movement? (47.5% said they actually participated in such a study; 32.5% did
not) [72.5%; 7.5%]
36a/b. Members are told that they should personally sacrifice in
order to give money to the group. (82.5%; 5%) [92.5%; 0%]
37a/b. Members are told that they should be willing to sell
personal items in order to give more money to the group -- especially for
"special contributions." (72.5%; 22.5%) [90%; 7.5%]
The most conspicuously defining feature of the Boston
movement is the nearly absolute authority of the discipler (i.e., leadership)
over the individual, with the movement's leadership being seen as part of a
divine pyramidal hierarchy that has God at the head. This authoritarian
structure may contribute to the sense of dependency many ex-cult members
report. The following percentages of subjects reported (i.e., they rated the
statement "definitely true" or "probably true") that they personally experienced
or were told the following (the percentage reporting the opposite are
italicized; brackets contain the percentage of subjects who now believe the
statement characterizes the group or, in italics, does not characterize the
21a/b. Members are told to trust the group and its leaders over
the members' own thoughts and opinions (92.5%; 0%) [95%; 0%]
20a/b. Members are told to subordinate themselves -- their will,
behavior, needs, and desires -- to the group's leadership in order to please God
(87.5%; 2.5%) [95%; 0%]
10a/b. Members are told that they must confess their sins to
their discipler (95%; 2.5%) [97.5%; 0%]
11a/b. Members are told that if they make their own decisions
they may fall back into sin -- they need to seek advice from someone who knows
better than they do. (90%; 2.5%) [95%; 0%]
22a/b. Members are told that their own inner thoughts and
opinions are influenced by Satan (70%; 17.5%) [90%; 2.5%]
2a/b. Not seeking advice from your discipler and following it
meant that you had a bad attitude or a bad heart or that you did not have the
heart of a disciple (or similar negative terms). (95%; 0%) [97.5%; 0%]
3a/b. It is necessary to get permission from your discipler
before going on single dates when beginning a dating relationship with someone
(57.5%; 15%) [87.5%; 10%]
12a/b. Members are expected to tell their discipler everything
that happens on dates (55%; 12.5%) [87.5%; 7.5%]
13a/b. Disciplers question disciplees in detail about what
happened on a date (52.5%; 15%) [82.5%; 7.5%]
43a/b. Members are admonished or rebuked for making an important
decision without seeking advice from their discipler (77.5%; 12.5%) [92.5%;
23a/b. Members are told that the group's leaders are special
messengers of God -- that they are "blessed by God." (70%; 12.5%) [80%; 10%]
40a/b. Members are told that the movement's leaders are more
godly than rank-and-file members (85%; 12.5%) [92.5%; 5%]
46a/b. members are told that to question, criticize, disobey or
distrust group leaders is to do the same to God (87.5%; 7.5%) [95%; 0%]
24a/b. Members are told that God is in control of the movement
(90%; 0%) [92.5%; 0%]
27a/b. Members are told that this movement is the Kingdom of God
(97.5%; 0%) [97.5%; 0%]
8a/b. Members are told that if they miss services or gatherings
of the body they are forsaking the Body (80%; 7.5%) [97.5%; 0%]
41a/b. Members are told that to be fully committed to God is to be
fully committed to the movement (95%; 0%) [100%; 0%]
45a/b. Members are told that leaving the group is leaving God
(90%; 2.5%) [97.5%; 0%]
55a/b. Members are told that if a person is not being discipled
he or she is not a Christian (87.5%; 12.5%) [90%; 10%]
Because members' subordination to the leadership's
authority can be threatened by outside influences, the BCC, as do many other
controversial groups, tends to isolate members psychologically, if not
physically. Subjects reported experiencing or being told the following, all of
which statements can be interpreted as aspects of dread, which facilitates
subordination through isolation:
4a/b. Members should not date anyone the group does not deem
"spiritual enough" (65%; 15%) [90%; 5%]
5. You were at least once strongly encouraged to date (or
strongly discouraged from dating) some particular person. (50%; 22.5%) [n/a]
6. You were told to break up a dating relationship with a
nonmember. (27.5%; 27.5%) [n/a]
7a/b. Members are told that going home to be with family or
spending time with nonmember friends who were not group members could cause
Satan to get a foothold on them. (72.5%; 7.5%) [87.5%; 0%]
9a/b. Members are strongly encouraged to move out of present
living situations -- even parental homes -- to move in with other sisters or
brothers in the group (72.5%; 7.5%) [95%; 2.5%]
14a/b. Members are told that outside the movement there are no
other Christian churches where salvation can be found (90%; 7.5%) [100%; 0%]
15a/b. Members are told that all other churches (except for
movement churches) are dead. (95%; 2.5%) [97.5%; 2.5%]
16a/b. Members are told that spending time with friends or family
(unless trying to convert them) is not seeking the Kingdom first (87.5%; 10%)
17a/b. members experiencing any emotional or psychological
distress are told that nonmember professionals should not be consulted. (55%;
20%) [72.5%; 7.5%]
18a/b. Prior to going home for a visit, disciplers often tell
disciplees how to handle their parents or home situation (75%; 10%) [92.5%; 0%]
38a/b. Members are told that their families are not Christian if
they do not belong to the movement (90%; 5%) [100%; 0%]
39a/b. Members are told that people outside the group are
"worldly" or "influenced by Satan" or "enemies of God" (95%; 0%) [100%; 0%]
44a/b. Members are told that "deprogrammers" or "exit counselors"
are influenced by Satan and should not be talked to (45%; 22.5%) [75%; 7.5%]
47a/b. Members are told that people who leave the group fall back
into sin (90%; 5%) [97.5%; 0%]
48a/b. Members are told that bad things happen to people who
leave the movement (82.5%; 10%) [87.5%; 5%]
49a/b. Members are told that they should not speak to ex-members
(80%; 10%) [97.5%; 0%]
50a/b. Members are told that they should not read or watch media
coverage about the group (55%; 22.5%) [72.5%; 10%]
51a/b. Members are told that if they leave the group they will
never be right with God again (75%; 12.5%) [82.5%; 5%]
52a/b. Members are told that to be especially close to their
family is to be sentimental (45%; 25%) [65%; 25%]
53a/b. Members are told that their parents are trying to control
them (40%; 35%) [72.5%; 5]%
An important goal of the authoritarian structure and
tendency to isolate members appears to be the restructuring of members'
personalities according to the movement's values (see Yeakley study described on
page 8). Subjects' responses to the following experiences or admonitions
support allegations that the BCC attempts to change members' personalities in a
25a/b. Members are encouraged to imitate their discipler and/or
other leaders (100%; 0%) [100%; 0%]
26a/b. Members are chastised because they fail to imitate their
discipler or other leader (82.5%; 7.5%) [97.5%; 0%]
19a/b. Members are told that they shouldn't be introverts or want
to spend time alone; they should be outwardly focused (80%; 10%) [92.5%; 0%]
31a/b. Members are told to stop pursuing a talent or special
interest if leaders deem it "worldly" (65%; 20%) [87.5%; 2.5%)
32a/b. Members who are students experience markedly falling grades
(reflects marked change in priorities) (65%; 8%) [87.5%; 2.5%)
33a/b. Members believe that they changed their life goals in order
to conform to the group's goals (27.5%; 32.5%) [55%; 12.5%)
34a/b. Members are told that they should sleep less (85%; 0%)
54a/b. Members are told that their discipler is molding them to be
like Jesus (97.5%; 0%) [100%; 0%]
Question Three: Psychological Distress
Subjects in Component 2 were given a battery of
psychological measures (described earlier), a number of which assessed current
An analysis of covariance was conducted on the three groups
on the GSI (Global Symptom Index) of the Symptom Checklist 90, Revised using
social desirability (as measured by the Marlowe Crowne Social Desirability Scale
-- MCSDS) as a covariate. The ANCOVA was significant, F(3,52) = 5.80, p =
.002. The MCSDS was a significant covariate, F(1,52) = 9.43, p = .003 and the
ANCOVA detected a group effect, F(2,52) = 5.03, p = .010. Pairwise Tukey
post-hoc tests on the adjusted means (corrected for alpha inflation at the .05
level) revealed that the former BCC members Madj = .937) scored significantly
higher than the former InterVarsity members (Madj = .419). Former Catholics
(Madj = .696) did not differ from either of the other groups. Unadjusted means
for the former BCC members, former IV members, and former Catholics were .931,
.467, and .654, respectively.
An ANCOVA was conducted on the three groups on the Beck
Depression Inventory (BDI) using the MCSDS as a covariate. the ANCOVA model was
significant, F(3,54) = 6.07, p < .001, but the covariate was not significant.
Therefore, the covariate was dropped from the analysis and an ANOVA was
conducted. The ANOVA was significant, F(2,53) = 7.58, p = .0013. Pairwise
Tukey post-hoc tests on the group means revealed that the former BCC members
scored higher on the BDI (M = 13.07) than the former InterVarsity members (M =
4.43) and the former Catholics (M = 7.00) using an alpha of .05, controlled for
alpha inflation within the pairwise comparisons. No difference was detected
between the former InterVarsity members and the former Catholics.
An ANCOVA was conducted on the three groups of former
members on trait anxiety (as measured by the Trait portion of the State-Trait
Anxiety Scale), using the MCSDS as a covariate. The overall model was
significant, F(3,52) = 4.94, p = .004, the covariate was significant , F(1,52) =
8.01, p = .007, and there were differences among the groups, F(2,52) = 4.28, p =
.019. Pairwise Tukey post-hoc tests on the adjusted group means revealed that
the former BCC members scored higher on trait anxiety (Madj = 46.00) than the
former InterVarsity members (Madj = 35.26). The post-hoc analysis revealed no
differences between the former Catholics (Madj = 40.98) and either of the other
two groups. Unadjusted means for the former BCC members, former IV members, and
former Catholics were 45.87, 36.26, and 40.11, respectively.
In order to investigate differences among the groups of
former members on dissociation a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA)
was conducted using the MCSDS as a covariate and the DES and the Dissociation
Scale of the HSCL as dependent variables. The overall MANCOVA model was
significant, Wilks' = .861, F(2,51) = 4.132, p = .022; the model also revealed
a significant group effect, Wilks' = .771, F(4,102) = 3.541, p > .010. Thus,
follow-up ANCOVA analyses were used to examine differences among the groups on
each dissociation variable independently. The ANCOVA model on the DES revealed
that the MCSDS was not a significant covariate. it was thus dropped and an
ANOVA on the DES was significant, F(2,54) = 4.70, p = .0131. Post-hoc Tukey
pairwise comparisons on the group means revealed that the former BCC members
indicated more dissociation (M = 13.76) than the former InterVarsity members (M
= 4.92). Former Catholics (M = 7.74) did not significantly differ from either
of the other two groups on the DES.
A follow-up ANCOVA on the three groups with the HSCL
dissociation scale with MCSDS as a covariate revealed that the model was
significant, F(3,52) = 4.36, p = .008 and that the MCSDS was a significant
covariate, F(1,52) = 8.42, p = .005. The group effect was not significant at
the .025 level, F(2,52) = 3.49, p = .038 (the adjusted alpha level was p =
In order to examine possible differences among the groups
on trait anger, an ANCOVA was conducted with social desirability as the
covariate. The overall ANCOVA model was significant, F(3,52) = 5.95, p = .002,
the MCSDS covariate was significant, F(1,51) = 14.06, p < .001, and the group
effect was significant, F(2,51) = 3.45, p = .039. However, follow-up Tukey
post-hoc tests on the adjusted group means revealed that no two were
significantly different when alpha was controlled at .05 for all pairwise
comparisons between means.
An ANCOVA was used to evaluate differences among the three
groups on the Impact of Events Scale (IES) total score, using the MCSDS as a
covariate. The overall model was significant, F(3,50) = 4.41, p = .008, but the
MCSDS was not significant as a covariate. Thus, it was dropped from the
analysis and an ANOVA was conducted on the group means. The ANOVA was
significant, F(2,52) = 6.71, p = .0026. Tukey post-hoc tests revealed that the
former BCC members scored higher (M = 33.73, SD = 23.38) than both the former
Catholics (M = 16.11, SD = 16.30) and the IV graduates (M = 11.90, SD = 15.61),
both p's < .05. No differences were detected between former Catholics and IV
Table 8 presents (adjusted) means for the three groups on
those measures that resulted in significant differences among groups.
Pre-group psychological distress. Four variables
reflecting pre-group psychological distress were examined: childhood sexual
abuse, measured by the CSVQ; childhood psychological abuse, measured by the
PCMS; childhood physical abuse, measured by the PCVS; and participation in
counseling before the group, measured by questions on the demographic
Adjusted Mean Scores on Psychological Distress Measures
All subjects in Component Two were classified as sexually
abused or not sexually abused using the Childhood Sexual Victimization
Questionnaire (CSVQ). Childhood sexual abuse was defined as fondling, touching
or stroking sex organs, or attempted or achieved vaginal, oral, or anal
intercourse that was perpetrated when the individual was 15 years of age or
younger under at least one of the following two conditions: (1) the perpetrator
was at least 5 years older than the victim, or (2) actual or threatened force,
coercion, or abuse of authority was involved. Five of the 15 former BCC members
reported abuse under these conditions (33.3%); 1 of 23 IV graduates reported
such abuse (4.3%); and 5 of 19 former Catholics reported such abuse (26.3%).
These frequencies were compared using a chi-square test, which did not reach
significance, X2(2) = 5.80, p = .055.
No differences among Component Two groups were detected on
the Psychological Child Maltreatment Scale (PCMS), using ANCOVA's with the MCSDS
as a covariate or using ANOVA's.
Unfortunately, the Physical Child Victimization Scale
(PCVS) was unable to provide an overall measure of physical abuse. Adding up
the responses produced a skewness and kurtosis of the variable under
investigation (there is a huge clustering of responses about 0 -- no physical
abuse reported). Thus, underlying assumptions for ANOVA's are violated.
Moreover, it is difficult to draw a line between nonabusive and abusive corporal
punishment. The only reasonable approach appeared to be to analyze the three
groups in Component Two in their responses to the items about conflicts leading
to severe injury (i.e., bruises, scars, broken bones, bleeding) with their
mothers and fathers because few would doubt that such injuries constitute abuse.
A chi-square analysis detected no differences concerning
the mothers' physical conflicts with their children. Two of the 15 former BCC
members, 1 of 19 former Catholics, and 0 of 23 IV graduates reported severe
injury at the hands of their mothers.
Differences were detected with regard to injuries inflicted
by fathers, X2(2) = 6.12, p = .047. Follow-up 2 x 2 chi-square analyses
revealed no differences between the former BCC members and IV graduates, or
between former Catholics and BCC members. IV graduates and former Catholics,
however, did differ, X2(1) = 5.66, p = .017. None of the 23 IV graduates, 4 of
18 former Catholics (1 nonresponse), and 1 of 14 former BCC members (1
nonresponse) reported severe injury at the hands of their father.
Former BCC and IV members in Component Two were evaluated
on whether or not they had sought mental health services at any point prior to
joining their group (former Catholics were not included because all considered
themselves Catholics at a very young age). A chi-square analysis revealed that
former BCC members were more likely to have sought mental health services before
joining their group than were IV graduates, X2(1) = 9.48, p = .002. Eight of 15
BCC subjects (53%) had sought counseling before the group, while only 2 of 23 IV
graduates had sought counseling. In Component One, 8 of 40 former BCC members
(20%) had sought counseling before entering the group; one subject had been
In-group help seeking. Former BCC, Catholic, and IV
members in Component Two were asked if they sought mental health services while
they were in their groups. A chi-square analysis revealed that the differences
among groups did not reach significance, X2(2) = 4.08, p = .130. Five of 15
former BCC members, 2 of 21 IV graduates, and 5 of 19 former Catholics sought
counseling while members of their groups. In Component One, 1 of 40 former BCC
members had sought counseling.
Post-group help seeking. The Component Two groups differed
significantly with regard to post-cult mental health counseling, X2(2) = 15.32,
p < .001. Pairwise chi-square tests (with Bonferroni correction, p = .017, for
the three pairwise tests) between the groups was conducted. Former BCC members
were more likely than former IV members, X2(1) = 14.71, p < .001, to have sought
mental health services after leaving. Former Catholics were also more likely
than former IV members, X (1) = 6.65, p = .010, to have had counseling after
leaving their group. BCC members and former Catholics did not differ on
post-group help seeking. Ten of 15 former BCC members, 2 of 23 IV graduates,
and 8 of 19 former Catholics sought counseling after leaving their group. In
Component One, 20 of 40 former BCC members sought counseling after leaving the
group; four were hospitalized.
Family background. The three groups in Component Two were
compared on the following five of the ten subscales of the FES:
Cohesion (degree of commitment, help, and support among family
Conflict (amount of openly expressed anger, aggression, conflict)
Independence (extent to which family members are assertive,
self-sufficient, make their own decisions)
Moral-Religious (degree of emphasis on ethical, religious issues,
Control (extent to which set rules and procedures are used to run
No differences were detected among the groups on any of
these variables using an ANCOVA with the MCSDS (social desirability) as the
covariate. As the MCSDS was never a significant covariate, ANOVA's were also
conducted. Again, no significant differences were detected. Only the most
relevant 5 of the 10 subscales were used in order to reduce the number of
analyses conducted on the data set.
Seekerhood. This study collected data related to the
observation that some people who join controversial groups may have a history of
being a "seeker." Specifically, subjects were asked in the demographic
questionnaire: "If you have belonged to other religious groups besides that on
which you are reporting, please list them below."
Thirty-three of 55 former members of the Boston Church of
Christ (Components One and Two combined) entered names of other religious groups
in response to this question. In total these 33 subjects listed 54 groups. One
(Wiccan) can be considered nonmainstream and controversial (though much of the
controversy stems from people falsely identifying Wicca with Satanism). Two can
be considered nonmainstream but noncontroversial (Buddhism; Latter Day Saints).
Four are unclassifiable because the investigator knows nothing about these
groups: MetroNorth, Universalism, and two persons who belonged to Vineyard
Christian Fellowship. The following religious groups were listed: Roman
Catholic Church and other Catholic organizations (n = 4); mainstream Church of
Christ (n = 9); Baptist organizations (n = 9); Presbyterian churches (n = 3);
Congregational churches (n = 5); Methodist churches (n = 2); Lutheran church (n
= 1); Episcopalian churches (n = 2); and miscellaneous Protestant churches and
organizations (n = 12), including West Side United Protestant Church, University
of Florida Christian Fellowship, Gainesville Korean Church, Campus Crusade for
Christ, Church youth group, Young Life, and Assembly of God.
Although these results indicate some searching on the part
of these former BCC subjects, their religious explorations have largely been
mainstream. Moreover, because the question didn't ask subjects to state when
they belonged to these other religious groups, many of the subjects' replies may
have referred to mainstream groups they joined after leaving the BCC. Thus, the
notion that people actively and repeatedly seek controversial groups receives
little support in this study.
This study has four methodological advantages over most
studies published to date: (1) an objective measure with reasonable
psychometric validity, the GPA Scale, to assess the abusiveness of group
environments; (2) a psychological test battery using standardized instruments to
assess psychological distress and background variables; (3) two mainstream
comparison groups, one representing a disgruntled ex-member population (former
Roman Catholics); and (4) a "cult" sample in which approximately one-half the
subjects were not familiar with cult educational organizations.
The study's most conspicuous deficiency is shared with
virtually all other studies in this field: samples with questionable
representativeness. Although the similarity in the responses of the two BCC
groups (Component One and Component Two), which came from different parts of the
country, argues in favor of representativeness, the low response rate leaves
unanswered questions about those subjects who did not respond to the subject
recruitment notices. Are nonresponders likely to view their group experience in
a more favorable light and to be less distressed? Or are they less likely to
respond because they are more distressed, more angry with the group, and
consequently less willing to revisit painful memories? No research has yet been
able to answer these questions.
One should also keep in mind that this study examined only
one controversial group. We do not know the extent to which former BCC members'
experiences are similar to those of former members from other groups, although
experience with the GPA (discussed below) suggests that the experiences may be
The adequacy of the comparison groups is also less than
perfect. Both comparison groups included subjects who tended to be 10 to 15
years younger than the former BCC sample. The questions about nonresponders
apply to these groups as well. Were responding ex-Catholics and IV graduates
more or less likely than nonresponders to be distressed and to view their
respective groups negatively. The sample size, though respectable, was too small
to control for these and other variables (e.g., years in group vs. distress
variables). Future research studies that employ larger samples and make a
diligent effort to follow-up on nonresponders will have to be conducted before
such questions can be answered.
Despite these deficiencies, this study produced interesting
and sometimes compelling findings. Let us examine some of their implications in
the order in which the results were presented.
Question One: Perceived Abusiveness
The GPA mean scores of the two BCC groups are very similar
to the overall mean in the study that led to the development of the GPA. In the
latter study (Chambers et al., 1994) 308 subjects from 101 groups had an overall
mean of 110.70 (SD = 13.42); in this study the BCC groups had means of 105.60
(SD = 13.69) and 108.50 (SD = 11.28). Clients (from a variety of cultic groups)
at the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center also consistently score in this
range (Paul Martin, Ph.D., personal communication, April 5, 1996), as did the
former BCC subjects in Adams's master�s thesis (Adams, 1993).
The scores of former BCC members contrast markedly with the
scores of IV graduates in Adams's study and in this study. And although the
former Roman Catholics in this study scored higher than IV graduates, their
scores were still substantially lower than those of the former BCC subjects.
Indeed, as noted earlier, the ex-Catholic GPA mean of 65.26 was nearly 1.2
standard deviations below the 84 midpoint score separating ratings of abuse and
nonabuse. Thus, the contention that ex-members' negative evaluations of their
groups reflect the bias of merely having left dissatisfied seems to account for
no more than a very small percentage of the variance. These findings
compellingly suggest that these particular subjects' negative evaluations
reflect, to a large extent, the objective reality of their experiences in the
Question Two: Concrete Experiences
The contention that the perceived abusiveness of former BCC
subjects is rooted in objective reality is buttressed by the results of the DDD
Scale, which asked very specific questions about subjects' personal experience
(e.g., were you told to trust the group and its leaders over your own thoughts
and opinions?). Although subjects' responses were not as uniformly negative as
some critics might expect, there is a striking degree of consensus about a large
number of clearly negative items. Even the most conservative of the DDD
sections, DBSELF (questions that inquired into subjects' personal experience,
rather than opinions), had an average rating of 2.05, indicating that the
statements as a whole were "probably true."
Subjects' ratings of concrete behaviors and practices also
argue against a strong bias effect because subjects gave many discriminating
answers. If, for example, subjects had a strong negative bias inclining them to
rate the group negatively, one would expect a tendency for them to rate all
questions in Part One (which examined deception) negatively. I have observed
this phenomenon in clinical work with families, whom I typically ask to fill out
a questionnaire. A small percentage of families will give uniformly negative
ratings to every question concerning the group to which their loved one
belongs. This immediately alerts me to examine the possibility that these
families are perceiving an intellectual stereotype, rather than an objective
reality. If ex-members were similarly biased in an unthinking stereotypical
way, one would expect a similar pattern. This study conspicuously failed to
produce such a pattern. For example, the 18 questions in Part One, which asked
subjects to rate various dimensions of deceptiveness, received very diverse
ratings of definitely true or probably true. The percentage of subjects giving
negative ratings to these 18 questions (with some scores reversed in order to
ensure that low scores reflect negative evaluations) were: 87.5%, 32.5%, 45%,
52.5% 90%; 70%; 90%; 67.5%; 100%; 37.5%; 97.5%, 70%; 95%; 70%; 87.5%; 45%;
37.5%; 45%. The lowest percentage of negative evaluations is 32.5%, the highest
97.5%. If subjects were responding according to a strong negative bias against
the group, their answers would have shown less variation. Thus, even though
their overall evaluation is negative, they were discriminating enough to give
much lower negative evaluations to some questions than to others; in other
words, they thought about the question, rather than respond in a stereotypical
Their negative evaluations on the whole lend strong support
to critics' contentions that the BCC uses deception, fosters dependency in
members, and uses a variety of beliefs to instill dread in those who question
leadership or deviate from the group's prescribed ways.
What is not known is the degree to which this sample's
experiences as described on the DDD Scale are typical of other former BCC and
current BCC members. As noted earlier, variations in the behavior and attitudes
of disciplers and by extension the local leadership may significantly affect the
experiences and ultimate ratings of the disciplees. Condon, a former leader in
the Boston movement, states in "`A Diary': Why I Left the Boston Movement": "We
tried not to repeat any of the abuses we had seen in Boston in Nashville and we
think we were successful. . . The newspaper articles constantly talked about the
abuses of Crossroads and Boston, but they could never actually pin anything on
us and we intended to keep it that way" (Condon, 1991, p.16).
DDD Scale findings may facilitate constructive dialogue
with the Boston Movement. One could, for example, go through the list of
near-consensus negative experiences described in dozens of items in the DDD
Scale and ask movement leaders which if any of these practices they support.
Those they reject can be viewed as specific areas in which the movement
admittedly has to improve its behavior. Such improvements can be monitored by
outside observers and measured with the DDD Scale. If such improvements
occurred, the criticism to which they responded may be viewed as constructive.
If the improvements do not occur, the movement's leadership would be
hard-pressed to rebut charges of duplicity and bad faith.
Those practices and behaviors that the leaders defend, even
though controversial, could stimulate possibly fruitful theological discussion
since presumably movement leaders would support a controversial practice only
because they deem it theologically necessary. If theological dialogue
undermines their arguments, then either movement leaders should be open to
change or subject to the charge that their theological arguments are
subordinated to a hidden agenda. Even if theological discussions prove futile,
movement leaders will have to own up to the controversial practices they refuse
to reject. Their explicitness will make it easier for those interested in
preventive education to inform prospective recruits, such as college students,
about the BCC's controversial practices.
The DDD results could also contribute to preventive
education. For example, listing some of the dubious BCC practices and the
percentages of subjects personally experiencing the practice might cause many
college students to pause, think, and perhaps seek out information before
accepting an invitation to a BCC activity.
Question Three: Psychological Distress
Given the number of psychological distress measures on
which former BCC members scored significantly higher than at least one
comparison group (SCL-90R, BDI, STAS, DES, IES) and given the number of other
studies that obtained similar findings (even though with less sophisticated
measures), it is difficult to dispute the claim that those who leave cultic
groups are at high risk for psychological distress. Thirty of 55 former BCC
members (55%) in the two components combined sought psychological counseling,
with four requiring hospitalization. This finding is higher than the counseling
rate of Galanter's (1983) population of 66 former members of the Unification
Church, 24% of whom sought counseling and 2 of whom were hospitalized.
Former BCC subjects tended to score higher on global
distress, depression, anxiety, dissociation, and post-traumatic stress. Former
Catholics tended to score lower than the BCC subjects, but not as low as the IV
graduates. Thus, it may be that leaving mainstream religious groups leads to a
moderate level of distress but that leaving abusive groups leads to even more
distress. On the other hand, the data on childhood sexual and physical abuse,
though equivocal, raises the possibility that abuse during childhood could make
some people more likely to become disillusioned with their religion of birth
and/or to be susceptible to the recruitment tactics of manipulative groups.
Future research will have to reexamine this issue in more depth than was
possible in this study.
This study was not able to make any diagnostic decisions
about the subjects because of the limitations of the test battery. Initially,
we planned on using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R (Spitzer,
Williams, Gibbon, & First, 1992) and the Structured Clinical Interview for
DSM-III-R Dissociative Disorders (Steinberg, 1986), but had to give up the idea
because the time demands on subjects and investigators would have been too
burdensome. Future research, however, might be able to use these respected
Although the findings concerning pre-group psychological
distress are interesting, they are subject to multiple interpretations. That
BCC ex-members were more likely than IV graduates to have sought counseling
before joining could reflect greater pre-group psychological distress. On the
other hand, it could reflect the older age of the BCC group. BCC subjects
joined the group on average at about 25 years old, a higher average age than
that of IV graduates or former Catholics at the time of the study. BCC
subjects, therefore, had more years in which to seek counseling. Nevertheless,
the magnitude of the difference in pre-group counseling experiences (for other
studies as well as this one) indicates that there is probably at least a modest
correlation between pre-group help-seeking and post-group distress, and possibly
with joining a group. Determining the precise nature of these relationships,
however, awaits future research.
Results on the measures of childhood sexual, psychological,
and physical abuse were equivocal. Although sexual abuse levels seem high at
first glance, population base rates for the CSVQ do not yet exist, so we don't
know if these rates are higher than expectation. Even if they were, they were
not statistically higher than the rates for the former Catholic group.
Moreover, the former Catholic group tended to score higher on physical abuse.
We need more data before we can draw firm conclusions.
The uncertainty about the relationship between pre-group
psychological background and post-group distress is magnified by the negative
findings of the family background measure, which found no differences among the
Overall, it appears that pre-group psychological distress
probably contributes little to post-group distress, but more research is needed
before confident conclusions can be drawn.
Though suggestive, this study is but part of the early
phase of a long series of studies that will be necessary before we will be able
to make confident, empirically based assertions about the abusiveness of
allegedly cultic groups and their relationship to post-group distress.
The first priority is to develop well-tested, objective
measures of the variables under investigation. The GPA Scale appears to hold
much promise, but it needs to be fully developed psychometrically. Reliability
and construct and criterion validity studies must be performed. The scale
should be given to large numbers of former and current members from large
numbers of controversial and mainstream groups (e.g., monastic orders,
fraternities, mainstream religious adherents). An observational scale of group
abusiveness needs to be developed as a supplement to the GPA, which is a
Because of decades of mental health research, we have a
number of well-tested measures of psychological distress, including some not
used in this study. Researchers, however, should try to use similar test
batteries in order to increase the comparability of findings. Thus, this study
used the same battery being used by a research team at Ohio University and the
Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center.
The methodology used in the development of the DDD Scale
could be adapted to develop similar scales focused on other controversial
groups. A collection of several dozen such group-focused measures could prove
to be very valuable in preventive education, family consultation, and
psychotherapy with former group members, as well as in research.
Lastly, the sampling issue must be dealt with.
Nonresponders must be diligently pursued in order to determine if they differ
significantly from those who volunteer for research studies. Moreover, we need
to conduct studies with groups that objective findings indicate are
representative of the wider population of cultic groups.
The sampling issue could be at least partly addressed by
closely studying several small groups, the former members of which might be
easier to contact and study, as well as studying the current members through
observation, interviews, and self-report. Selection of groups on which to focus
could be determined through the GPA development program. Small groups with GPA
scores in the "normal" range for cultic groups (which right now appears to be
100 - 115) might perhaps be reasonably representative of the wider population of
controversial groups. If nearly all of the members and former members of such
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