Cult Characteristics According to the Belgian Government’s Information and Advisory Centre for Harmful Cultic Organizations

In this article, the extent to which the Mormon church meets the criteria of the Belgian government’s Information and Advisory Centre for Harmful Cultic Organizations (IACSSO) is investigated. This assessment is not substantiated in detail (this is done here for a similar model) but is based on the knowledge and experience of well over 30 years active church membership. In cases of doubt or nuance, “no” was chosen.

The IACSSO is the Belgian government’s agency responsible fory studying “the phenomenon of harmful cultic organisations in Belgium, and their international ties”. A publication for the general public outlines cult criteria in seven areas:

I. Recruitment (3/5)

1. First contact usually is very positive. You receive a very warm and friendly welcome (love bombing): Yes

2. They show understanding for your problems and explain that these will be easily solved through the group. This initial friendliness, however, is only a strategy to lure you in. During subsequent meetings, more and more will be demanded of you: Yes

3. Certain groups don’t mention who they really are, you only find out later. For instance, they say they will help you reduce stress, relax, increase your health, discover your spiritual potential. The true identity of the group is hidden: No

4. Some groups pretend to be a spiritual or religious movement, which only serves as a front to hide their true financial, commercial or political goals: No

5. The net result is that the group gains increasing social control over you, so you are no longer completely free: Yes

II. Organisation (3/3)

6. The group is characterized by a strict hierarchy. At the top is a leader, a Master, a Guru. His authority is absolute and he is worshipped by the members because of his knowledge of the teachings or because he possesses supernatural powers: Yes

7. There is no internal consultation or democratic decision making whatsoever. The leaders of the group are not elected or appointed by the members: Yes

8. There are very specific rules wich must be meticulously followed. Total obedience is required and criticism is not allowed: Yes

III. Finances (2/2)

9. In the beginning, no or just a small financial contribution is requested. As one grows into the group, the financial demands will increase. This can take the form of demanding donations, requiring you to attend expensive trainings, courses or workshops, or by having you do volunteer work for the group. Often, this is presented as necessary to grow spiritually: Yes

10. The group’s financial structure is not transparent, nor are the accounts and administration: Yes

IV. Cutting ties with society (2/3)

There is a strong “us-against-the-world” mentality. The group isolates itself by:

11. Systematic separation of the adherents and their families and friends, and having them denounce their former lifestyle. Familie and friends are portrayed as enemies who keep the adherent from developing spiritually: No

12. Distrusting the outside world and portray it as evil and dangerous. This causes the adherents to feel safe only in the group. Relationships and sexuality are regulated: Yes

13. Using their own language or jargon. This hinders communication with outsiders so it becomes easier to associate with group members only: Yes

V. Doctrine (3/3)

14. After going through several steps, only the members possess true knowledge, which makes them an elite: Yes

15. Teachings strongly deviate from existing scientific knowledge which is rejected or misrepresented: Yes

16. Criticisms by outsiders are seen as proof that the group is right: Yes

VI. Health (0/1)

17. Conventional medicine is often replaced by dangerous medical practices for which there is no scientific basis. Health “professionals” lack the necessary qualifications: No

VII. Practices (3/3)

18. The adherent is expected to participate in all kinds of rituals, courses and workshops. These are often expensive and take up the adherents’ free time: Yes

19. Questions, doubts, differences of opinion and criticism are discouraged or even punished. In cases of doubt or lack of success, it’s the adhrent’s fault, who wasn’t committed or faithful enough: Yes

20. The group distinguishes itself with specific dietary regulations which, in case of literal application, can damage your health, and by dressing in a certain way: Yes


The Mormon church scores “Yes” to 16 of the 20 questions on this list (80%). This means that, in the psychological sense, the Mormon church exhibits many characteristics of a cult by exerting far-reaching, one-sided influence on the emotions, thoughts and behaviour of its members through the application of manipulative processes and authoritarian structures.