Notes from Bordeaux

It is proving more difficult than I expected to make a space of time in this conference to write a blog post. The programme for this Annual Conference for the International Cultic Studies Association is packed tight. I am starting to write this at 3 in the morning at my lodgings (AIRBNB) which are situated some 15 minutes on foot from the conference centre.

This Conference is one occasion in the year when I find a live audience with which to discuss issues of power abuse, partly because most of the attendees have been its victims. The stories that individuals tell have more frequently involved stories about churches whether mainstream or fringe. When I started attending these conferences four years ago in Trieste, the majority of stories seemed to concern actual cults like Scientology, Moonies and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This year Christian groups of various kinds seem to dominate the scene including some that I have never heard of.

Within the world of cult studies there has always been a debate as to whether these groups cause actual harm to their members. Some would like to claim that the suffering of ex-members is exaggerated and that they are telling ‘atrocity tales’ to justify their messed up lives. The suffering they experience is only indirectly linked to what the cult has done to them. The position of the conference is to stand firm against this ‘cult-apologist’ claim. Cults and their leaders do cause considerable damage to many of their followers and the fact that the damage is truly apparent only after they leave does not mitigate the horror of what has happened in many cases. Few people walk away from high demand religious groups without experiencing extensive emotional and spiritual damage.

This year the particular area of damage that I have noticed in the conversations I have had, as well as in the talks is the damage to relationships. One of the legacies of successfully breaking away from a mind-controlling group is to discover that all or most of your blood relationships have been destroyed. This is not because the relative has necessarily stayed behind in the group. It may be a legacy, in the case of a parent, of a child realising that their nurture in the group has deprived them of a normal childhood. The only way they can express their anger is to turn their backs on the parent who has betrayed them. This is an horrific scenario. Healing a single individual whose mind, emotions and social skills have been damaged is one thing. It is quite another to carry all the relatives, parents and children along with you in the radical process of change. So I am meeting people all the time who have made the journey from ‘darkness to light’ but have had to suffer chronic abandonment along the way.

I expect I will have further reflections about Bordeaux but thought that in view of the strange time of night I am writing this to leave my piece at this point. My first presentation on healing was well received and I make my other presentation on the Cathars on Saturday. Meanwhile I am receiving encouragement for the tasks that I am engaged in which is to explore, analyse and interpret the use and abuse of power in the Church. The Cardinal Pell story will need unravelling at some point. I am hoping that one or two members of this Conference will be joining our small band of readers. To them I give a warm welcome

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

4 thoughts on “Notes from Bordeaux

  1. I am so relieved and joyful that your presentation on healing went well. I was not sure how it would be received, and I’ve been praying for you often over the past week. I’d nearly forgotten when the conference was scheduled (which is a good sign for me, I think!). I’m continuing to pray for you, though.

    I’ve also been praying that you might spontaneously bump into a couple of the Second Generation Adults who live in Europe who have become very precious to me. They need encouragement and kindness, butI always trust that God will bring the right people together. I recently had a chance to become acquainted with “Tammy” about whom you wrote in 2014, and your kindness and compassionate ear were invaluable to her.

    It may seem like such a small thing to you, but I think that the value of your genuine kindness and concern for people and the precious time that you spend with them cannot be measured for it’s value. (I know that all ministers should be so disposed to those in need, but not many are so available to those in pain.)

  2. It’s a kind of traumatic stress. The best help is to be able to talk. That’s why tea and sympathy work so well. Being heard, as they say, can strengthen you to go on. All power to your elbow Stephen. We’ll be “oop north” from the 14th of next month. Might see you 16th or 23rd? And go to bed early tonight!

  3. Thank you for pointing out the real damage to relatingships that results from loyalty to a cult. That happened in my situation. Fortunately, after leaving the cult I was in, there was time and good opportunity to repair some damage. The conference was so worthwhile on many levels. One great benefit was learning from caring people like you! Please stay in touch. All my best, Charlene L. Edge at

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