Gordon Melton is challenged

Thanks to Rick Ross for these articles, taken from his critical page.

Church not a cult, says expert witness 

The Straits Times (Singapore), 17 July, 1997 
By Tan Ool Boon 

An expert on religious studies yesterday said that the Central Christian Church here was not a cult because its practices were "neither strange, unnatural or harmful." 

Dr. James Gordon Melton, 54, the director of the California-based Institute of the Study of American Religion, added that the church conducted its activities openly and informed prospective members of the commitments that were expected of them. He was giving evidence to support the church, which is suing the editors of The New Paper, Lianhe Wanbao and the Christian magazine, Impact, for calling it "a cult." 

He said that while the church required a high level of commitment from its members, it was not true that it practised manipulative and mind-control methods. "In fact, members join and leave the church of their own volition," he said. "No inducement or undue pressure is placed on any person to joing or remain in the church." He said that while its members believed that true salvation was found within the church, they were "unprepared to limit this concept to apply to themselves only." 

Lawyers for the editors, however, disagreed with Dr. Melton's evidence because it is their case that he has often spoken favourably of controversial groups. For example, lawyer Daniel John pointed out that while the witness had conducted research on "cult" groups such as the Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Children of God, he did not call any of them cults. 

Dr. Melton also agreed with counsel's suggestion that he had never labelled any group a cult when giving evidence on related matters in courts in the U.S. and Britain. He said he objected to the use of the world "cult" on any group because it conveyed a negative and derogatory meaning. 

Noting that Dr. Melton had conducted his research on the Central Christian Church by joining its activities here, Mr. John asked whether he agreed that such a "participant observer approach" had drawbacks as church leaders and members would invariably be on their best behavior, knowing that he was around. 

The witness, who had described the church's services as "simple" as they centered on prayers, singing and preaching, disagreed with counsel. He said it was hard for any group to hide all its negative points, if they existed. He added that he had not based his finding solely on his observations here, but had done his "homework." 

He also disagreed with counsel that ex-members went through severe depression when they left the church as a result of the church's extreme teachings. Such "stress," he said, was due to the ex-members' own psychological and emotional make-up and was similar to that felt by couples who went through divorce. 

Mr. Daniel Eng, a founder and former leader of the church, had testified last week that the church used the "guilt" of its members to make them submit to the leaders. 

Dr. Melton said there would be some degree of guilt if one was confronted with one's shortcomings with God. But he had not seen any inordinate amount of guilt used on church members, he added. 

The expert for the defense, the Rev. Adrian van Leen, is expected to give his evidence today. 

Expert witness testifies that church is a cult 

The Straits Times (Singapore), 18 July, 1997 

By Tan Ool Boon 

An expert on cult studies said yesterday that it was appropriate to call the Central Christian Church a cult because it had exhibited "many cultic characteristics." Based on his study of the church, the Rev. Adrian van Leen, 52, said, "I am of the view that the group is disruptive and even destructive to family units." He added that the church's practices were also damaging to the emotional integrity and stability of some of its members. 

The expert witness is the director of the Concerned Christians Growth Ministries, which are based in Australia and which conduct researches into religious movements. He was giving evidence to support the defense's case that the editors of The New Paper, Lianhe Wanbao and Impact magazine were justified in calling the church "a cult" in 1991. 

Rev. van Leen is not a newcomer to the Singapore High Court. In 1994, he gave evidence on cult matters in another defamation case involving The Straits Times and a religious sect. He said yesterday that it was in the public interest for newspapers to publish reports about the Central Christian Church because the church was active and aggressive in recruiting members at places that included MRT stations and tertiary campuses. 

He said, in answer to defense counsel Tan Chee Meng, that the church has many practices that are found in cults. For example, he pointed out that its present suit was "wholly consistent with cultic fear and paranoia" and "a persecution complex". 

Former church members had also told the court that they were often rebuked by their leaders when they thought their authority was being questioned, he noted. 

And while mainstream churches collected donations or pledges from members, the Central Christian Church carried such a practice to extremes by keeping records of members' monthly income and their pledges, he said. The church even handed out envelopes with sections for members to mark "IOU" for pledges owed, if they did not have money on them, he added. 

And he could not agree with the church's's expert witness, Dr. John Gordon Melton, who said on Wednesday that the church was not a cult. 

About this case 

The Central Christian Church and its founder, Mr. John Philip Louis, are suing the editors of The New Paper (TNP) and Liauhe Wanbao for calling it a cult in a TNP report "Concern over two cult groups" on Nov. 23, 1991, a translation of which was published in Lianhe Wanbao the same day. 

A Christian magazine, Impact, one of the sources of the report, is also being sued. 

The newspaper editors contend that the reports were accurate, and that they had a moral and social public duty to publish such information. Their lawyers are trying to prove that the church has unique and exclusive practices. The parties are expected to present their final arguments soon after the expert witnesses have given their evidence. 


The Rev. Adrian van Leen said the Central Christian church had many "cultic" characteristics. These include: 

  • making members confess their sins and private thoughts to leaders
  • making members submit papers on how they spend their time
  • encouraging members to leave home to live communally
  • encouraging members to date and marry only fellow members
  • making members submit sin lists to leaders
  • pressuring members to recruit new members
  • teaching members that their church is the only true church
  • making attendance of all church meetings compulsory
  • disciplining members who question the authority of leaders

Evidence of expert witness attacked 

"Jim Jones, Peoples Temple not a cult" 

The Straits Times - 17 July, 1997 

Defense lawyers referred to the mass suicide of 912 followers of cult leader Reverend Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana, to attack the evidence of the expert witness of the Central Christian Church. 

Lawyer Daniel John noted that Dr. J. Gordon Melton when interviewed by an American newspaper in 1988, had defended groups such as the Peoples Temple which was involved in the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978. 

In the Milwaukee Journal report at the time, Dr Melton had said that the mass suicide had been transformed into a "definitive cult horror story" by the media and anti-cult groups. 

He was quoted as having said of the Peoples Temple: "This wasn't a cult. This was a respectable, mainline Christian group." 

When questioned in court yesterday, he said that he had been quoted correctly. 

He also replied that another US-based group, Children of God, was not a cult, although he found the group's teachings of encouraging sexual intercourse and masturbation as forms of worshipping God to be "immoral and distasteful". 

He was also reported by the US paper as describing the Peoples Temple as "a congregation in a Christian denomination recognized by the National Council of Churches". 

He also said at the time: "Overwhelmingly, so-called cults have a positive impact on people's lives. The worst thing that most of these groups can do is waste your time." 

Counsel for the defense noted that Dr Melton had been criticized for being a "cult apologist who has a long association of defending the practices of destructive cults" by another expert quoted in the Milwaukee report. 

Dr. Melton also told the court that that Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group that is banned in Singapore, was not a cult. 

He said: "They are obnoxious people, but they are not dangerous. They will not kill anybody." 

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