The Anti-Cult Movement

The French Anti-Cult Law

Effects on Mainstream Groups

The churches most likely to fall foul of the new law are Protestant ones, especially those classified as evangelical.

The French Protestant Federation's president De Clermont, who with other representative of meanstream religions protested the law, said that on about 10 occasions since he took office in 1999, the inclusion of the word "evangelical" in the name of a church or appearing in its mission statement had "got people into trouble." In some cases, the churches concerned found it difficult to rent premises, or to get help from official bodies.

He also has been challenged by a leftist politician during a television program to remove such groups from the federation's ranks. "He told me: 'You have to clean your own house. This is why you are afraid [of the new law], because you know that on the fringes of your churches there are people under the name evangelical who are no more than cults.'"

"The French Protestant Federation" represents 16 major churches and 5,000 associations, including Reformed, Lutheran and Pentecostal churches, as well as the Federation of Evangelical Baptist Churches of France1.

DeMeo, an American-born Baptist pastor in Nimes who has lived in France for 20 years, said he knows of about 15 native evangelical clergy across France who have been intimidated by the media or quiet government actions8.

The word evangelical -- a Christian term for preaching the Gospel (or good news) of Jesus Christ -- has come to be nearly synonymous with religious proselytizing7. "Now in France, it is very difficult to preach the Gospel," says Pastor Samuel Peterschmitt.

Baptists, evangelicals, and Protestants, along with Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Scientology, report growing intolerance and discrimination12.

The French lists of 172 so-called cults includes Catholic charismatics, Hasidic Jews, several evangelical Christian groups2, Jehovah´s Witnesses, Quakers, Buddhists and the YWCA8. Despite a widely held belief to the contrary, the list does not include the Mormon Church or the Southern Baptist Convention10. In Belgium, a list of designated cults includes groups that most North Americans consider to be relatively benign, such as the Amish, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Assemblies of God and the Jehovah's Witnesses7.

"From that day on we were branded a sect, a cult in France," says Pastor Vince Easterman, whose evangelical church in Paris was among those blacklisted. "After that list appeared, there was never an opportunity to defend ourselves, there was never an opportunity for an appeal." After six years of legal wrangling, Easterman was forced to change the name of his church from Christian Life to Union of Protestant Assemblies. Since then, other churches have even considered removing the word "evangelical" from their names for fear of negative media attention12.