Sorry to be hogging the show and putting up two posts in a row, but I am really enjoying the book I mentioned above, and I think there are some key messages for OSCR and others looking into Struthers as well, for example:
From our perspective, a group or relationship earns the label "cult" on the basis of its methods and behaviors- not on the basis of its beliefs. Often those of us who criticize cults are accused of wanting to deny people their freedoms, religious or otherwise. But what we critique and oppose is precisely the repression and stripping away of individual freedoms that tends to occur in cults. It is not beliefs that we oppose, but the exploitative manipulation of people's faith, commitment, and trust. Our society must not shy away from exposing and holding accountable those social systems (whether they be communities, organizations, families, or relationships) that use deception, manipulation, coercion, and persuasion to attract, recruit, convert, hold on to, and ultimately exploit people.
Amen to that! I have no wish to curtail religious freedom, but I do have a wish to curtail the activities of a group of self-centred leaders who are themselves curtailing the religious and personal freedom of others. OSCR need to look deeper than the words on paper and to see if there are indeed the kinds of systems mentioned above.
A matter we hope to shed light on in this book is the damage wrought by the so-called cult apologists. These individuals (mostly academics) allege that cults do no harm, and that reports of emotional or psychological damage are exaggerations or even fabrications on the part of disgruntled former members.
I have no idea why the OSCR review is taking so long, but I do hope that they do not end up as an apologist for SMC, alleging that SMC is not doing any harm without actually looking at the evidence from those affected. To make this sort of allegation that no harm was done against honest former members seems particularly heartless, and reminds me of what can often happen in cases of abuse – the abused goes to someone in authority for help, and the person in authority repeats the abuse by dismissing their claims without even giving them a voice. Not good.
I sincerely hope this will not happen with the OSCR review, but I do wonder if OSCR are indeed being taken in by all the clever rhetoric and ignoring the damage (“disbenefit” to use the OSCR word) that has been done to so many individuals. Seems like typical SMC behaviour to me – delay, delay, delay, then say, “Oh, but it was all so long ago, things are different now.”
If they are being fooled by the impressive rhetoric of the leaders, they might be interested to discover that this is actually predicted in the book (in the context of legal cases rather than a charity review, but I think you will see the application).
Often the rigid, controlling parent/spouse/leader will impress a judge or jury as self-assured and self-possessed, while the traumatized member may appear, anxious, hysterical, blaming, and angry (stemming at least in part from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder);
I wonder if the people at OSCR are able to go beyond this sort of surface judgement, or if they will fall for this totally predictable scenario and ultimately end up being pilloried in the press for their incompetence.
Anyway, another quote:
It is painfully obvious that cult life is rarely pleasant for devotees because the power imbalance in cults breeds injustices and abuses of all sorts. As a defense against the heightened anxiety that accompanies such powerlessness, many people in cults and abusive relationships assume a stance of self-blame. Typically this self-deprecating attitude is reinforced by the group's self-serving message that the followers are never good enough and are to blame for everything that goes wrong.
…leaders are unable to empathize with the pain of their victims. Cult victims engage in denial about this callousness because it's so difficult to believe that someone they love so much could intentionally hurt them
AND to once again finish with a short, simple quote:
Someone in distress is not important to them.
I guess that is one of the key ones for me. In fact, it is so important I am going to repeat it:
Someone in distress is not important to them.
It will be very interesting to see whether OSCR simply ask the question “do you know any of your followers who are in distress because of the actions of the church?” (very easy to answer glibly) and, “what are you going to do about it?” (future tense, so also easy to answer by writing a policy), or whether they go on the ask, “what have you done to address this – can I see the evidence not just from you, but from those you have now approached in reconciliation”? (shock horror probe scandal – actually asking for evidence!)
While I am on, I will add one other quote – this time from the Struther’s website:
While officially the Executive Council has been replaced by the Board of Directors, in reality the task of overseeing the work of the Fellowship continues as it did previously with Mrs Gault carrying the overall responsibility for the work, supported by the other directors and the members of the whole Fellowship.
Yup, that sums it up. They send a document into Companies house and OSCR saying they are democratic and there is a legally acceptable arrangement of Trustees, but the reality is it is all for show. The real authority lies with just one individual.
To me, this confirms at least three things:
1) They are not really interested in change, they fully plan to go on doing what they have always done.
2) They just say the right things to get the regulators off their back, whether this is OSCR or Companies House, the reality (their word, not mine!) is different.
3) They are quite happy to lie on legal documents, including the documents submitted to companies house.
OSCR are going to look culpable as well as negligent if they ignore this duplicity. I think OSCR need to put a Trustee in to monitor actual practice, not just the words. Anyone up for signing a petition to that effect? That would be interesting!