(Investigator 7, 1989 July)

True Light Ministries, based in Victor Harbor and headed by Alan and Susan Fehlberg, aims to get people out of cults.

"Our ministry is not just counseling but also to bring them to Christ," said Mrs Fehlberg. "A cult is anything that deviates from orthodox Christianity."

The Fehlbergs are former Jehovah's Witnesses who left the sect 3 years ago.

"Cult members go through hell before they come out," added Mrs Fehlberg. "Before I came out I had a nervous breakdown."

About a dozen people attended the advertised meeting in Halifax Street, Adelaide. It began with introductions, song and prayer. Then a video extract of the Paul Ankerberg Show in which two JW elders argued with two Trinitarians about whether Jesus was "God" or "a god".

The highlight of the meeting was a lecture by Mrs Fehlberg.

Her statements included:




(Investigator 7, 1989 July)

That "cult" members have a higher mental illness rate than do non-"cultists" seems established. (Bergman 1987; Montague 1977; Spencer 1975) But that "most emotional problems result from actual membership" is not.

I know a former drunkard and wife beater who gave up these practices and learned medicine — after joining a cult. The socializing effect of a "cult" can help some people overcome emotional problems and become better adapted, more useful members of society. I know of no scientific study that sorts out the relative psychological gains and losses of persons after they join the "cult".

Mrs Fehlberg's definition of "cult" — "anything that deviates from orthodox Christianity" — is a suspicious definition. So-called "Orthodox Christianity" is divided on numerous points: Is infant baptism valid? Is "speaking in tongues" for our time? Is present-day Israel prophetically significant? One of the few things "Orthodox" religions have in common is belief in God as a Trinity. Many "cult-busters" come straight out and say: "A cult is any religion that denies the doctrine of the Trinity."

There are many versions of the Trinity. (Alfs 1984) Some Trinitarians regard the three members of the Trinity as equal in every way. Others allow for an "authority structure" within the Trinity. Some say the name "Jehovah" applies to the Trinity. Others limit the name "Jehovah" to Jesus. So, which version of the Trinity is really orthodox?

One criterion of orthodoxy is the answer to the question: "What did Christians of the first few centuries after Christ believe?" Did they believe in all the Trinity versions believed in today? If not, then shouldn't certain Unitarian views which were popular in the 2nd to 4th centuries be considered more orthodox than those versions of the Trinity that are false?

If at stake is merely a disagreement over a doctrine why use the word "cult"? Why don't "cult busters" and anti cult ministries call themselves "Anti-Trinity Busters"? Or "Unitarian Busters"? Or "Anti Unitarian Ministry"? 

This is where Mrs Fehlberg's definition is really suspicious. News reports refer to "cargo cults", "Satan cults", "human sacrifice cults", "suicide cults", "drug smuggling cult", "Jonestown cult", etc. Popular usage of the term "cult" associates a cult with something bad, anti society, criminal or on the edges of legality, something that perverts people, reduces their freedoms, abuses them. (Daniels 1988) By mislabeling JWs, Mormons, Adventists and Christadelphians as cults Mrs Fehlberg risks creating uninformed prejudice against religions whose ethical standards as high as her own.

Mrs Fehlberg is right in stressing the importance of listening. A person leaving a cult or a sect such as JWs has many changes to make and many problems to sort out. Gaining self-understanding by expressing things in one's own words to a sympathetic listener is a vital part of the healing process.

For Mrs Fehlberg to call "worldly psychology" a "doctrine of demons" raises unnecessary side issues and is downright silly. Of the 300 students who studied University psychology when I studied it some dozens were Christians. Second Year included a course on counseling. Much in psychology is testable and based on experiments that can be repeated. Demons were never invoked. Some ex cultists and ex sect members may wish not to join any other religious group. If that is their choice then counseling by a psychologist instead of a religionist may be preferable.

It seems to me that many so-called "anti-cult ministries" are merely trying to get sect members to swap one sect for another. Or should I say "one cult for another"?


Alfs, M. 1984 Concepts of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, USA

Bergman, J. 1987 The Mental Health of Jehovah's Witnesses, Witness Inc., California

Daniels, P. 1988 What Is A Cult? Investigator Magazine No. 2

Kaye, John On Interpersonal Perception and Communication, The University of Adelaide Department of Psychology, May 1978

Montague, H. 1977 The Pessimistic Sect's Influence on the Mental Health of Its Members: The Case of Jehovah's Witnesses, Social Compass, Volume 24, No. 1, pp 135-148

Spencer, J. 1975 The Mental Health of Jehovah's Witnesses, British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 126, pp 556-559.