Worry over "disciples" as church sect expels 400

Evening Standard (London)/January 22, 1993
By Tom Leonard and Tony Yorke

A RELIGIOUS sect accused of brainwashing techniques has expelled up to 400 members because they failed to attract new recruits and were not "true disciples."

The decision by the 1,200-strong London Church of Christ may have drastic emotional consequences on the expelled. Experts on such cults warned today that they could suffer withdrawal symptoms for at least a year, including hallucinations, amnesia and violent outbursts. In cults more extreme than the London Church of Christ, expelled members have been known to commit suicide.

However, Ian Howarth, general secretary of the Cult Information Centre, said that if they survived they would eventually be glad they left. "I'm an ex-cult member so I know what they're going through, but if they get help, they'll soon be grateful," he said. "It's a blessing in disguise."

Mr. Howarth said that in spite of its comparatively small size, the Acton-based London Church of Christ accounted for more complaints from worried friends and relatives of members than any other cult. He knew of several former members now in psychiatric care. Founded in the United States in 1979, the sect was brought to Britain by eight American members 10 years ago and has bases in several cities.

But Mr. Howerth believes recruitment in London had dried up in the past six months and Douglas Arthur, one of the sect's leaders, had flown over from the 9 States to shake up the UK operation. Church spokeswoman Fiona Ghalustians said of the expelled members: "These people are not true disciples. You have to commit yourself to Jesus totally - and if you can't do that then you can't remain among us."

"If you aren't sincere in your beliefs then, of course, you may suffer damage. Those of us who are honest have no problems."

Mrs. Ghalustians admitted that most of the people had been asked to leave for failing to recruit new members.

Mino Mstrainni, an Italian journalism student who joined the group in July lives with "eight brothers" in a flat in Putney but is among those who have been forced to leave.

"I've repented my sins to the leadrs several times, the past few days, but they all refuse to believe what I'm saying," he said. "They have told me that I'm damned."

"I've had problems evangelizing. "I've tried my hardest but it's not easy. Because I haven't brought many people into the church they have told me to leave. I've got nowhere to go. I don't know what to do."

Surviving members of the sect welcomed the expulsions. "These people were weak," said Dennis Ntzegenean, an accountant from Thornton Heath.

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