‘The cult which has stolen my daughter’
Evening Standard (UK), 23 October 1997.
By Sandra Laville
As an MP calls for an investigation into one of the fastest growing religious sects in Britain, one mother speaks out about her battle to rescue her daughter from the clutches of the London Church of Christ. Betty Millar, a 59-year-old secretary, talks openly about the sect who, she says, have stolen her daughter.
In her mortar board and gown, Lucy Millar looks the picture of a successful university graduate, degree in hand and her whole life ahead of her. Yet as her mother, Betty Millar, looks at the photograph of her daughtere she breaks down.
In the year since it was taken Mrs Millar says her bubbly, outgoing daughter, with plenty of friends, a busy social life and a career in PR, has undergone a complete transformation – she has become a disciple of the London Church of Christ. She says Lucy has split up with her boyfriend, spends every night with LCC members, recruits five new followers a week and donates at least 100 a month of her salary from a London PR company to the church.
Mrs Millar, a 59-year-old divorcee, said: “She has become violent and aggressive towards me. She has cut herself off from her friends, her sister and from me. My daughter was a normal, fun-loving girl with a boyfriend and lots of friends. She loved going to nightclubs and staying out until all hours. Now she sits in her room reading her Bible by candlelight and writes notes to herself. She is deeply involved now. It is not her that is bad, it is the church. I love her and I am frightened and worried for her. I just want her back.”
Lucy, 24, was recruited to the London Church of Christ while working in Harrods, where she had a Saturday job to supplement her income as she completed her final year at university. She was educated at a convent school and left with 10 O-levels and three A-levels to take up a course in business and media studies at London’s Guildhall University. She graduated with a 2:1. The church used a girl of a similar age to Lucy, a student who also worked in Harrods on Saturdays, to recruit her and she was persuaded to attend an LCC rally at Wembley in April.
Mrs Millar said: “My daughter has a spiritual upbringing. We are Roman Catholics, but like most teenagers at 16 she stopped going to church. We were not devout, we were just ordinary Catholics. We didn’t go to church every week. When she came back from this rally, though, she was absolutely sold on them overnight. Her first words to me were, ‘I have had a wonderful experience. I’ve met wonderful people, they have so much love to give. I feel absolutely on a high’.”
Mrs Millar was not convinced. “I felt something was dreadfully, terribly wrong with all this.”
From there Lucy was treated to the well-practised methods of the London Church of Christ. She was initially subjected to “love-bombing”, which involved members heaping her with affection.
Dr Elizabeth Tylderm a consultant psychologist who has treated former members, described the porcess in a statement on the LCC. She said: “They described to me how during indoctrination they had undergone long and tiring sessions of questioning by the recruiter and their discipler. These discussions involved self-examination in what seemed to me a damaging way, as the discipler focused on what they regarded as weak points in the subject’s personality. The recruit said they had been persuaded to co-operate by the technique known as love-bombing. What people said was that the recruiters had seemed very friendly and kind. They had been heaped with apparent affection up to the point at which they had either accepted or rejected baptism. After this, some of them felt they were on their own.”
Dr Tylden said the sect deliberately targeted intelligent, confident young people because they provided the best leaders. “They are picked because they are good leadership material. No one believes any more that it is vulnerable people who are recruited. They are deliberately looking for intelligent young people.”
The tactics employed by the LCC have been practised for hundreds of years by religious cults and extreme political organisations.
Dr Tylden said: “After that they make [recruits] know they have got a problem and convince them that the only answer to this problem lies in their organisation – that is the beginning. The most pernicious thing about this group is the use of discipleship. This means the person is not allowed to make any decisions themselves whatsoever, without asking the discipler, who then asks his discipler and it goes on through the hierarchy. They consult their discipler over everything, how they spend their money, what girlfriend or boyfriend they have – almost down to what toothpaste they use. I see members because their parents think there is something wrong or because they are in a psychiatric hospital. I have a very high admission rate from the London Church of Christ in mental hospitals on the periphary of London.”
From the moment Lucy joined the church, Mrs Millar said he daughter was treated as if she was the centre of attention. She said: “There was an intense amount of activity around her. There were people coming and going all the time. People telephoning her constantly saying ‘Welcome to our church’, and saying how wonderful it would be to have her with them every week. She started going to church meetings every Sunday at a school hall in Croydon.”
According to her mother, Lucy, like other “disciples” before her, was encouraged to confess to “past sins” – these included her sexual relationshops and whether she had ever taken drugs. Mrs Millar said: “She turned to me and said, ‘They are lovely, good people. I don’t sleep around any more, I don’t take drugs, and I don’t mix with the wrong people’.
“I replied, ‘But you Lucy you never did those things’. They had made her feel guilty about her past.”
Lucy was “baptised” by the church member who had recruited her in Harrods. The ceremony took place in South Norwood Lakes six weeks after the Wembley gathering. Mrs Millar refused to attend. She said: “Afterwards she came back filthy dirty, with mud in her hair, elated by what had happened.”
Five months on the relationshop between her mother and daughter has been affected profoundly. Mrs Millar has resorted to communicating with Lucy via notes left at their Beckenham home. In her efforts to extricate her daughter from the LCC she has built up a dossier on the church.
She said: “I have found notes written by church leaders to her telling her how wonderful she is, bombarding her with love – this is their ‘love-bombing’. These things are designed to play on people’s egos, to make them feel wanted. Lucy has always loved being in the limelight and they make her feel wonderful. She is very good at recruiting, she gets praised by them for it. She has always liked being the centre of attention and they play on that.”
In her latest letter to her daughter her mother explains why she is going public about her battle to expose the LCC. It reads: “I am not going to let this happen to you, my dear daughter, to go down the road you are going, and I am supposed to be convinced you are happy. What I hear and see, I think very differently. I am frustrated for you, worried and profoundly concerned for your own well-being. Something has to be done, and, just like you are compelled to continue with the LCC, I am compelled to fight to have you back, the way you were.”
Lucy Millar did not want to talk about her involvement in the church but Adrian Hill, one of the elders, said: “Lucy is a 24-year-old graduate, an advertising executive with a PR company. We are not talking about a 16-year-old kid who has been ‘taken away’. This is a young woman who is very strong-willed. She took at least four or five months making her decision about whether to join the church. We are concerned when parents are worried about their children but there is really nothing for them to be worried about.”
The London Church of Christ considers it has returned to a pure New Testament form of Christianity. A branch of a movement formed in Boston by Apostle Kip McKean in 1979, it considers itself the only true Christian church. The LCC, also known as the Uk or International Church of Christ, first started recruiting in a London suburb in 1982.
Although it was given charitable status in 1986, there has been so much concern about the LCC that 34 universities across the country have banned it from their campuses. The church in Britain is led by American Mark Templer and has a turnover of 1.2 million. There are now branches in cities such as Brimingham, Leeds, Oxford, Liverpool and Manchester. Membership nationally is estimated to be between 1200 and 2000, and recruitment is carried out by the followers in regular, organised street evangelism.
Passers-by are targeted outside railway stations, on the Tube and on buses. They are asked for their telephone numbers to “follow up” and hundreds of people can be contacted in this way in the space of a few hours. New members find themselves part of a lifestyle which demands all their energies. Sexual relationships with boyfriends and girlfriends outside the LCC are not allowed. Members are told to dump their partners and choose new ones from within the church. Sex outside marriage is forbidden.
Organised in a pyramid selling structure, it has a strong authoritarian streak and its members ascend the ladder of authority in direct relation to their success in attracting new followers.
Each member is assigned a discipler, who is considered more mature in faith and who exercises considerable control over even intimate aspects of the member’s life. Many followers move into communes, with separate accommodation for men and women. All must recruit on the streets, attend church meetings almost every night and join numerous informal Bible-study groups.
Followers give at least 10 per cent of their gross salaries to the church. Most of the money goes towards paying ministry salaries and hiring halls for meetings, as the LCC does not own any of its own church buildings.
Cult experts estimate there are more than 500 mind-controlling cults in Britain today, 2500 in the US and about 800 in Canada. The London Church of Christ ranks alongside the Church of Scientology and the Moonies as the sects which cause the most concern in Britain. The Church of Scientology,with its British headquarters in East Grinstead, claims to have eight million members worldwide.