There has been a great amount of media exposure on religious and therapy cults, both large and small, in the past month. A real feud has developed between both the leaders and the backers of the Set Free Christian Fellowship of Anaheim, California and Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Calvary Chapel leaders have alleged that Set Free is involved in highly questionable activities. Calvary has made its anti-Set Free case files available to CRI (Christian Research Institute) and has reportedly asked CRI to alert inquiries of the dangers inherent in the Set Free Program. This is somewhat akin to the pot calling the kettle black. Both of these religious cult organizations have very similar programs.
Both ordain their ministers directly and do not encourage formal seminary or theological training. Both operate group shelters with communal living for young members and others. Both have nearly separate congregations of normal families who have no apparent narcotic, criminal, emotional or other special needs. Both have rigid rules for day to day living, restricted reading lists, separation from family members who are non-believers. Both require resident members to work in church sponsored businesses, strong emphasis on the subservient role of women, heavy tithing requirements, both emphasize strong child discipline. And both have, for many years, made it a main part of their agenda to promote travel groups to Israel.
Another similarity is that both Calvary Chapel and Set Free have strong ties to highly influential conservative Orange County politicians. There is a difference here, however. These political leaders do appear to have separate political agendas within the conservative Orange County political community. The politicians involved in both groups have provided substantial economic and political support to their respective interests. At least one Democratic State Senator has provided political support as well.
The question is: Why are they new feuding? My best guess is that they are involved in a territorial dispute - not a religious or theological one. Current economic conditions are drying up economic religions and other charity resources at a very rapid rate. Note that even Crystal Cathedral founder Robert Schuller is drastically reducing staff and cutting costs to ease the financial burden of his transparent temple. Competition for religious donations is, in my opinion, bring out the beast in the new age religious groups, which have so successfully proliferated during the economic boom of the past 20 years. The fact is that the feud has begun.
Even the editorial staff of Orange County's dominant newspaper, the Register, has joined in the fray. Senior Register editorial columnist, Alan Bock, wrote an editorial column on Sunday, May 26, praising the activities of Set Free. Such praises for questionable religious groups are not unusual from Mr. Bock and his Register editorial colleagues. They are on record as supporting both Scientology and Reverend Moon's Unification Church.
All of which brings us to the May 6 publication of Time Magazine. In an eight-page cover story, Time featured an unprecedented expose of the Scientology organization which it appropriately dubbed "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power."
Preceding the Time Magazine article, a series of six articles was published by the Los Angeles Times in June of last year. The Time series also expose the exploitive and illegal activities of Scientology from its very beginning to that date.
Also, just before the Time story, on April 19th, the Wall Street Journal did a front page story on Scientology's attack on the Eli Lily anti-depressant drug Prozac specifically and on the profession of psychiatry in general.
The most significant feature of these three related exposes is that Scientology, long noted for taking legal action against any critic, has failed to challenge any of these three major publications via legal action. The death of Ron L. Hubbard, Scientology founder, five years ago, has brought some significant management changes. The current direct attack on the IRS by Scientology seems to represent a death wish. This is one of the religious groups that the Orange County Register editorial policy champions. Their view of Set Free should be considered in light of such other endorsements.
Other such current items include allegations that Los Angeles Police Chief Robert Vernon may have used his religious beliefs to influence Police Department policies. Vernon is a member of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Chief Vernon puts out a series of audio cassettes that were distributed by the church. This church was involved in a controversial legal case several years ago when it was accused of having caused the death of a young man in the course of a church counseling program. Vernon expressed his beliefs toward women, homosexuals and child rearing. The latter included the value of spanking children through even the age of 17. Vernon recommended the use of a boat oar to administer spanking delivery. In view of the Rodney King incident, such expressions from top police officials are highly controversial. The question which arises is not the officials right to be a religious view but rather of his right to induce such religious views in the administration of public justice. The Los Angeles Police Commission is reported to be conducting an investigation on this matter.