Cults in Nebraska: Religious sects target young adults

The Gateway (University of Nebraska at Omaha)/March 5, 1993
By Blair J. Davis

A religious cult has established itself at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), and now questions are being raised about it heading toward the UNO (University of Nebraska Omaha) campus.

"It was invading the campus of UNL, and so we organized a kind of pre-emptive committee here on the campus to pre-condition the university community to the possibility," said the Rev. Darrel Berg of the UNO Religious Center.

"I have not been aware of any cult activity on the UNO campus," Berg said.

"That doesn't mean there hasn't been some."

The religious group is the Boston Church of Christ, or the Lincoln Christian Church, as it's known in Lincoln.

"It's a kind of spiritual dictatorship," Berg said of the movement.

The Rev. Larry Doerr of Lincoln said he is aware of various rumors about the sect's plans to move. He said he's heard that it's planning to move some of the sect to Omaha, all of the group and none of it.

"They've had some changes in local leadership here and nobody knows quite what that means at this point," Doerr said.

The Boston Church of Christ set up in Lincoln, Doerr said, about 2 or 2 1/2 years ago, and it's not the first in Lincoln. The Unification Church, or Moonies, has also had groups in Lincoln.

"They have come and gone, I suppose three or four times, in terms of high-level activity here in Lincoln, in the last 15-17 years."

Doerr said students and young adults are prime targets for religious sects.

"A great number of the so-called cultic movements try to take root in communities where there's a high college student and young adult population," he said.

"Those are the people who tend to be the most unshaped and most open and often, in a sense, most confused about values and directions and things like this."

Doerr said young adults are attracted to the easy answers and authority provided by the religious cults.

Berg said many cults target emotionally vulnerable people and those who are tired or afraid of making their own decisions.

"People, in order to be a member of the cult, relinquish their own freedom of choice and allow the authority of the cult to do the deciding for them," Berg said.

"It has a pyramidical structure. The apex of the pyramid decides for the whole pyramid. The people want the security of having someone else make their decisions."

Berg said cult representatives tend to hang around bulletin boards at schools where grades are posted and mail boxes. Generally, he said, they tend to stay around places where people have the opportunity to receive bad news. The representative spots these people, then "makes his pitch" to them.

Doerr said some cults' common tactics for keeping members include long meetings and 'love bombing'. Love bombing, he said, is when the sect surrounds new members with conditional friends. This makes the new member feel that if he doesn't conform and remain with the group, he is rejecting his friends.

"It's a tactic," Doerr said, "and a very well-pronounced tactic with a lot of religious groups.

Doerr said escaping from a religious cult should not involve kidnapping.

"Most of these people are 18 and above and you have to respect their choices," he said. "You may not agree with them, but you have to respect their right to make choices about their lives."

Doerr said he would advise parents of cult members who want to get their children out to listen and make their values clear. Parents should show their disapproval of the cult activity, he said, but not in a negative way.

"Continue to love them, continue to leave the door open and tell them you care about them," he said.

Berg stressed that not all cults are bad.

"Any cult can be good or bad," he said. "The bad one is the one where the authority gets misused and misdirected."

He said many religions, like Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists, were once considered cults.

"I suppose what makes the difference is that some exercise their ability to change and outgrow their original cocoon and relate to the human family. The ones that become demonic are the ones that refuse to change."

Berg said the Jonestown massacre is a good example of authority gone awry.

"That was a case of misplaced authority, and that misplaced authority became demonic," he said. "That's what happens when you get too much of a concentration of power."

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