Salem News 12/2/97
By Kelly Shaw
BEVERLY – Steven Hassan might have left the Moonies earlier. But other cult members had warned him about what happened to those who abandoned the Unification Church. They developed cancer, had stillborn children or were hit by cars.
So he stayed.
The former Queens College student didn’t see anything wrong with the religion. At age 19, he would have done anything to prove his devotion to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the church.
“My father wanted to know how his honor student son, who was smart enough to skip eighth grade, had dropped out of college, quit his job and donated his bank account,” said Hassan. “I thought my parents were of the devil.”
Last night, Hassan told about 90 people crammed into a conference room at Beverly Public Library the dangers of being pulled into a destructive cult.
Hassan was eventually deprogrammed by a pair of ex-Moonies that his parents hired to save him.
Also speaking was the Rev. Robert Watts Thornburg, the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University.
The pair said a religion becomes a cult when you’re not allowed to leave the religion, ask questions of the religious leader or lose the freedom to make your own decisions.
Hassan said if people are unsure that the groups they’re joining are cults, they should ask many questions and consult an expert, such as himself.
Hassan has spent the past 20 years studying cults and pioneering a means for victims to free themselves from cults.
Now 43, Hassan said he was brainwashed and didn’t even know it.
He considers the Church of Scientology, whose members include John Travolta and Tom Cruise, the worst cult. Hassan and Thornburg also warned the audience about The Boston Church of Christ.
That didn’t sit well with the 20 members of the Boston Church of Christ who were in the audience.
During an hourlong question and answer period, member after member stood up to say they belong to a religion, not a cult.
The Boston Church of Christ recently opened a church at the Cummings Center business park on Elliott Street.
“Any church that takes the Bible and puts it into practice would be Christian in my opinion,” said one Boston Church of Christ member. “The point isn’t the name above the door.”
Another Church of Christ member said he’s been a member for 10 years, attends services twice a week and prays every morning.
“I’m amazed so many people find fault with it because it’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
One woman, a day-care provider and member of the Moonies, said Hassan was “lying” about reaching the title of assistant director while active in the Moonies.
Hassan said he spent 27 months in the organization beginning in 1974 when he was a student at Queens College.
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