Former Member Says It's Hard To Resist Power in York Church

Omaha World-Herald/March 6, 1990
By Mary deZutter

York, Neb. -- One former member of the Good Life Pentecostal Church in York said in a recent interview that even though she has been out of the church for two to three years, she still feels the pull to return.

"There's a lot of fear instilled in people there," she said. The woman, who is not involved in litigation concerning the church, spoke on the condition that she not be identified, saying she is still fearful.

"A lot of the problem there is people are needing something very badly," she said. "I was one of those people."

Fear of Outsiders

When she attended, the church taught fear of outsiders because they are sinners, she said.

Members were afraid to seek needed medical attention for fear of revealing that they hadn't prayed hard enough for divine healing, she said. And they were taught fear of God, rather than love of him, she said

"It's very hard to get away," she said. The members seemed loving and beautiful, she said, and the pastor, the Rev. Edward Morey, "is a magnet."

Sometimes the church was a whirlwind of activity, she said.

"There was the shouting and the screaming and the running and the little baby children at the altar crying in hysterics," she said. "The 5 year-old children crying because they're sin- ners. They don't even know what sin is. But at that church they do."

The woman said that in the end she thought she "was not strong enough to cope with the power in that church." She said she still has mixed feelings about the church but won't return for fear of losing her mind.

Caryn Hacker's opinion is unequivocal: The Good Life Pentecostal Church is a cult. Membership in the church is detrimental to a person's mental health.

Ms. Hacker is a state-certified master social worker and an associate at Associated Psychiatric Services in Omaha. She delivered her determination in one of two child custody cases in which the York church became an issue.

Witnesses in the custody cases testified that the church and its pastor were promoting harsh physical discipline of children and were involved in brainwashing or mind control of adults.

Morey, in interviews with a World-Herald reporter, denied the charges.

Ms. Hacker said she has studied cults for seven years and formerly directed a support group in Kansas City, Mo., for the families of current and former cult members.

Vulnerable, Dependent

"The amount of pain these families were going through and the fear they had was so incredible. Also, in these individuals that had been (members of cults), their ability to make decisions was so halted."

Cult recruits generally start out with somewhat dependent personalities or are invited into the cult while they are going through troubles that make them vulnerable, Ms. Hacker said. They lose their ability to make independent decisions through gradual programming by the group and its leaders, she said.

Emotional bonding provides a first lever, and the "love" bestowed on the recruit soon becomes very conditional.

No one makes a conscious decision to join a cult, she said. In the beginning, information is scarce. By the time the information is available, the will is putty, she said.

Dr. Louis Jolyon West, a psychiatrist, is director of the Neuropsychiatric Institute in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. West said he has been studying cults and "thought reform" since the 1950s. His interest in brainwashing stems partly from his involvement in the debriefing of American prisoners of war from the Korean conflict who had given false confessions to their Chinese captors.

By Dr. West's definition, cults "employ unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control" to advance the goals of the leader to the detriment of the members, their families and communities.

A paper Dr. West prepared for an American Bar Association program said cult methods for manipulation may include isolation from former friends and family, debilitation through inadequate diet or fatigue, special means to heighten suggestibility and subservience, and powerful group pressures, which may include sessions where the person is made to feel guilty and required to confess.

Techniques also include control over information coming in about the outside world, degradation of the self and promotion of dependency on the group and fear of leaving it. The cult may insist that the recruit's survival -- physical or spiritual -- depends on identifying with the group.

The leader's motive often is a desire for personal aggrandizement and control, Dr. West said in an interview. Financial gain may or may not be important, he said.

"We know that in many different kinds of cults, children have been abused in the name of some set of religious or secular beliefs, and sometimes they've been killed," Dr. West said.

It is often a child's death that brings the law down on a cult, "but one would prefer not to wait until then," he said.

"I'm not much concerned with what people believe -- no matter how outlandish it might be by my criteria -- but what they do," Dr. West said. "If what they do is harmful to people, then I believe we have a right to be concerned about it from a health, legal and social standpoint, no matter in what name they do it.

"I don't know this particular church or its minister," Dr. West said about allegations that the Good Life church is a cult. "I do know that wide experience in this field would cause me to be concerned about any situation in which someone alleges a child to be at risk.

"Authority figures like a minister in a cultlike situation can exert enormous power on people and suggest things to them until they come to doubt their own senses or even to lie. The most careful and exhaustive scrutiny ought to take place before someone decides there's nothing to be worried about, especially as regards the welfare of children."

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