One can make an argument that all religions are cults, especially when one uses the over simplified Webster dictionary of the word cult.
Instead, we need to be more nuanced, for there are many religions in the world today that do not have the label ‘cult’ associated with it, and are also heavily ingrained in our day to day lives.
When does a religion go from being a healthy organization, to a destructive cult?
We can see the answer to this question by utilizing Stephen Hassan’s BITE model. The BITE model (Behavior, Information, Time, and Emotion), is a checklist developed by Dr. Stephen Hassan, who escaped another Korean cult, the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, in the 1970s.
The more “checkboxes” your religious organization checks off, the more controlling and manipulative your organization is.
Using the above, nuanced definition of when a group goes from being healthy to unhealthy, one can make a secular distinction between whether or not a religion can be considered a “high control group”, or for simplicity’s sake, a cult.
To summarize, what ultimately makes a religious group destructive is the heavy use of deception to propagate and exploit their members.
From a Christian or biblical perspective, deception also lies at the root. John 8:44 plainly states that the Father of all lies is the Devil. 2 Peter 2:1-3 plainly states that the false teachers will use lies and secretly approach you with their destructive heresies, while also denying the deity of Christ. Matthew 7:15-23 clearly warns us about false teachers and prophets, and how they will approach Christians using a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” tactic.
There are numerous examples of Shincheonji using the “wolf’s in sheep’s clothing” tactic as they continue to deceptively recruit new members into their sect. Below is a partial list of Shincheonji front group websites that are still being operated by the sect:
There are more examples of recent testimonies and news articles that go into detail about their recruiting strategies, including a recent interview of a Pastor whose church was infiltrated by Shincheonji.
From both a secular perspective and Christian perspective, it is clear that Shincheonji is a cult.