Sex Cults and Killer Cults: Now and Then

There is not much new under the sun as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, and a basic knowledge of the past 2000 years of church history can help us quite a lot, especially to help us avoid past mistakes. And cultic and heretical groups all around us are one such thing we all should seek to be aware of and eschew.

To help us avoid being sucked into a cultic group or a heretical teaching, all Christians should be aware of history in general and church history in particular. With this in mind, I want to draw your attention to five blatant cases of crazy cultism.

The first two have to do with sex and are rather recent; the next two have to do with killing, and are a bit older; and the last case has to do with both and happened 500 years ago. So let me work my way back from today to long ago. The most recent case involves some nutjob cultist from Texas. As one write-up says:

Self-styled Texas prophet and internet preacher Joshua Holmes, who went viral in recent months for his ministry theatrics that led many of his female followers to start calling him “Jesus in the flesh,” has been captured in leaked video recordings indulging in explicit sexual activity with two women who are not his wife. Media personality Larry Reid, first reported on his show last Wednesday that he was sent the explicit recordings. The recordings have also been shared on Twitter and YouTube and with The Christian Post.

“This is a sex tape. This is a sexual escapade captured on the phone,” Reid told his audience about the recordings. Holmes, a flamboyant young minister, whom many critics have dismissed as a dangerous departure from orthodox Christianity, has been defended by his followers as “Jesus in the flesh” as he professes healings and “money miracles.”

Oh dear. My second fairly recent example comes from Korea. It also involves a “Christian” leader unable to keep his pants on:

The leader of a controversial South Korean church who promoted chastity to his 130,000 followers has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault and harassment. Lee Jae-rock, the leader of the Manmin Central Church, who court documents show “deified himself” in sermons, was indicted for 42 counts of sexual harassment and sexual assault against eight victims.

Lee, 75, had “maliciously taken advantage of the victims who had absolute faith in his religious authority, and sexually harassed or assaulted the victims who were in their 20s repeatedly for an extended period and even sexually assaulting multiple victims at the same time,” according to a press release from the Seoul Central District Court.

Oh dear some more. But my next two examples are quite well known, and involve not just the leaders having sex with cult followers, but pushing death as well. And both have been featured in documentaries of late. The American docos have recently been aired here on Australian television, so I watched a bit of each.

In 1993 the Branch Davidian cult led by David Koresh in Waco, Texas was involved in a 2-month siege by the US government. Fearing that the cult leaders had stockpiled a lot of weapons, and was involved in gross sexual impropriety – even with children – among other things, the Federal Government took action.

As with so many cults, they had delusions of grandeur coupled with apocalyptic views of the end of times. The rest is history: tear gas was launched, a major gun battle erupted, and soon the entire compound burned to the ground. Debate still rages as to who actually caused those fires, but the horrible result was this: 76 people died, including Koresh and many women and children.

The Waco cult tragedy was featured in an 8-part doco series. I saw parts of it. Having been in a cult myself, it was interesting viewing. If anything, they featured Koresh as a bit too normal, calm and regular. Cult leaders are usually anything but. And some have criticised the series for being biased towards the cult.

The second older event which was recently featured in a new documentary was the Jonestown tragedy. As many of you might recall, this cult was also involved in some pretty bizarre activities with a pretty bizarre leader: Jim Jones. On November 18, 1978, 909 members of the Peoples Temple living in the Jonestown settlement in Guyana either voluntarily or compulsorily consumed a drink laced with cyanide. A third of the victim of this massacre were children. Shocking stuff indeed.

But as I say, nothing new. History records other such cases over the centuries. Consider just one shocking example of this. It involves a city of 15,000 people in north-west Germany near the Dutch border: Munster. The European Reformation resulted in various splinter groups which both Catholics and mainstream Protestants were greatly alarmed about.

Briefly, we can distinguish between the Magisterial Reformation, which included folks like Luther, Calvin and others, and the Radical Reformation, which involved various Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and others.

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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Revised and Expanded Edition by Cohn, Norman (Author) Amazon logo

Some of these groups were very extreme indeed. The situation in Munster was one of the most blatant cases of this. Any good book on church history will cover this sad event, but let me mention one source. In his classic 1957 volume, The Pursuit of the Millennium, British historian Norman Cohn details this tragic story.

Very briefly, an Anabaptist group led by Jan van Leiden (John of Leiden), took control of Munster in 1532 and formed a socialistic-type state, proclaiming it the New Jerusalem. But a bit of background. The Dutch Anabaptist revolutionary leader Jan Matthys had a big influence on van Leiden.

After Munster was taken over, Matthys also entered the city. The results of these two radicals being there was bad news. They confiscated all property and burned all books except the Bible. Loyal citizens ran through the streets having visions and were in ecstasy, preparing for the Second Coming of Christ and the start of the Millennium.

Leiden himself ran through the streets naked and fell into a trance for three days. He even proclaimed himself the “king of righteousness” and identified himself as the new king David. Hysteria abounded, and some women claimed apocalyptic visions, throwing themselves on the ground and foaming at the mouth.

The leaders said that the rest of the world was lost, and only at Munster – under their leadership – could people be saved. All “unbelievers” – including Lutherans and Catholics – were exiled or executed. All the remaining “believers” were told that as an indication of their true faith they had to give all their money to the leaders. Polygamy and harems were established, along with forced marriages.

However – thankfully – all this did not last long, and the town was recaptured in May and June of 1535. The Anabaptists were killed and their corpses were exhibited in metal baskets hanging from the tower of a Church. This short-lived experiment in cultic and communistic craziness horrified most Europeans, and the Anabaptists became objects of derision – and persecution.

My point here is not to pick on the Anabaptists. The ones mentioned here were clearly extremists and nutters, while many others for the most part fall into the camp of Christian orthodoxy in terms of beliefs and practices. But when we compare what these extremists did and said with some of the more recent cults and cult leaders, the similarities are obvious.

Among other things, these cults allowed personal experiences and special “revelations” to trump the Word of God. They put inordinate power and authority into the hands of one or a few charismatic leaders. They despised all Christian learning from past and present, and were willing to do the most bizarre and deceptive acts to please their leaders.

And almost of all of these cults got into nutty end-times madness – big time. They were convinced Christ would return at any moment, and they fully believed that they were the only true elect or chosen remnant to be found – everyone else was lost. We see this happening in church history and we keep seeing this happen today.

But the Bible is so very clear on all this. Jesus often warned that we should not listen to anyone who claims to know when Christ will return, or worse yet, who claims to be Christ! And Paul in Acts 20 warned of wolves who would come in to ravage the flock.

As he told the Ephesian elders in verses 30-31: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” So many other warnings like this are found in Scripture.

Yet so many cults continue to thrive and so many people – including clueless Christians get sucked into them. As I said, I too was once in a pretty hardcore cult. You can read about my experience here (especially in Parts 2-3):

So be forewarned. There is very little of anything new happening today: it has all been done before. And that includes dangerous cults, deceived and megalomaniac leaders, communistic compulsion, millennial madness, and harmful heresies.

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9 Replies to “Sex Cults and Killer Cults: Now and Then”

  1. Among other things, these cults allowed personal experiences and special “revelations” to trump the Word of God. They put inordinate power and authority into the hands of one or a few charismatic leaders.

    Sounds like a certain cult-like “Christian” group based in the Hills in North West Sydney that holds unbiblical views on homosexuality.

  2. Thanks for this informative article Bill, and for its timely warnings. Thanks also for the hidden message in the opening sentence, showing us that cult leaders always misquote scripture and deny its authorship, while disguising this with gentle, non-threatening language. Were this article on a different topic, I’m sure the opening words would have been:–

    There is nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiates 1:9…

  3. But why concentrate on the church when the whole of society seems to be sliding in this direction with Children being forcibly indoctrinated by the state educational system into all manner of sexual perversions. However it might be true to say that up till now the Church has been lagging behind the rest of society with regard to sexual liberation, but now will soon overtake it and lead the rest of society down the Gadarene slope with crazed arch bishops, popes, bishops, high priestesses, wearing mitres and flapping gowns, towards the abyss. One wishes that what we experience is merely the result of over stimulated imaginations – a kind of nightmare from which we shall suddenly awaken. But such wishful thinking is itself a dream, a delusion.

  4. Very true but we should not forget we are being subject to a demonic pincer movement. On one side we have the infiltration of claimed Christian groups, both reasonable and unreasonable, by obvious evil and on the other side we have people saying “See? This is why humanist secularism has to take authority over religions” and “See? Belief in God causes people to do crazy things” and “See? With all that Christian groups are doing it is just bigotry to want to exclude Muslims” etc. and all this is happening while our opportunities to defend ourselves and put forward truth are being steadily removed. We should not underestimate the diabolical cleverness of the Diabolo and we need to understand there is a massively big fight brewing. As we saw in the homosexual “Marriage” “debate” that never happened, things are very complex and the forces of evil are using this to their advantage. People simply do not want to listen to reason if it becomes too complex and manipulating human emotions is easy and when people lose their faith in God there is then nothing to stop evil triumphing. What was previously a three cornered contest between God, evil and human reason becomes simply a battle between God and evil with the majority of humans mindlessly on the wrong side.

  5. One should be very, very careful of any preacher who focuses on himself. But we have to ask, how do people get sucked into these cults? The answer would appear to be that they are “heresies”, that is to say, perversions of the truth. It is the truth in them which is the attractant, just like a counterfeit bank note. (The same thing, of course, applies to Islam. It is a plausible facsimile to the truth.) By and large, too, the followers are people who are not regular worshipers in any orthodox church, and so the God-shaped vacuum in their soul is still waiting to be filled. When people complain about how their sons or daughters get caught up in such cults, I always feel like saying, “Well, what religious instruction did you give them?”

  6. John Miller, thanks for posting that link. I had no idea that the late Mr Cayce still had a following, when it’s as plain as day that the man was a total fraud.

  7. I too grew up in a Old Testament type cult. We left that, and I came to the knowledge of the reality of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit by gathering together with another family and studying the scriptures within a house church. The word of God is alive and powerful to those who believe with a simple faith.

    We also have to be careful not to denounce other followers of Christ as cultish because they don’t believe what we may believe. Sure, call out the frauds, the demi-gods, the self-styled Jesus personalities and anything which at its core denies the work of Jesus on the Cross and displays similar attributes which have been defined by Bill above, but I see too many people calling out “heretic” and “cult” over differences in theology, or even less… differences in culture.

    I recall that Judah continued to have idols among it for hundred of years and yet God stood by them. And show me a person today who has perfect theology, and a perfect expression of Kingdom living based on the model of Christ… We have to be careful that we are not just as guilty as those our finger is pointing at. Jesus warned us to judge others as we would wish to be judged. The Holy Spirit seeks those who are humble and contrite before God.

    Also, while we are on the topic of blind loyalty to organisations and leaders, a staple of any cult, I would challenge people that we should be looking at what “church” environment we may have grown up in, and I raise the issue that there are degrees of this in traditional denominations and Western churches that are very unhealthy – this breeds sexual sin and grave errors (of which we see plenty within Western Churchianity), and we should be all about ridding ourselves of loyalty to man and man-made orgnaisations and replacing it with loyalty to Christ and His word.

  8. This was linked to again recently and I have an experience of fairly cult-like church to tell.

    Why are people attracted to cults? For many of us it was because of the deficiencies of the mainline churches – nominalism, comfort, dumbing down, and lack of solid meat. Others were certainly attracted by the claims of miracles such as healings and exorcisms. A strong masculine personality attracted those of us sick of weak leaders who do nothing.

    I’d say it eventually moved into a personality cult, too, rather than was one at the beginning. So it was a slow boil of the frog type approach (and not deliberate) which caught everyone by surprise. So, for example, as the leader gained success, he grew in pride, and demanded more and more of his church.

    Malcolm above lays blame at parents or leaders for not teaching their kids. I’d say in my experience it was because I knew the bible, and after I actually knew the Lord (as opposed to merely knowing about the Lord), that I grew restless and couldn’t settle with such a shallow experience of churchianity. I was ripe to be attracted to a strong leader. So there’s knowledge, and value in that – I knew some of the doctrine was off (but that’s the same in any church) – but there’s also an experience that we’re all longing for, and Western churches are seriously sick.

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