A self-appointed “minister” of a cult-like church in Wauconda, Illinois is under investigation for his use of a healing method known as “light therapy” which involves nudity and what he calls non-sexual touching, as well as telling followers that God implants messages in their dreams which only he can interpret.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that 52 year-old Philip Livingston of the donor-funded Light of the World Ministries is the subject of a criminal probe for his use of a bizarre ritual known as “light therapy.”
Linda Ericksen, a former member of his small cult-like “church” whose husband became Livingston’s assistant pastor, described the therapy which she received while still under his control. It begins by going into a room alone with Livingston, stripping naked, then allowing him to touch her private parts while they prayed together. According to court testimony, Livingston claims the therapy is used as a “spiritual guidance” to benefit some followers and claimed it has shown “miraculous” results. Some of these results included reducing anxiety in a victim of molestation and turning homosexuals and sexual addicts into “virtuous people.” He also claimed his wife was not only “healed” of spiritual and emotional issues, but rid herself of chronic yeast infections as well.
Ericksen, who eventually sued Livingston to keep him away from her, told the Tribune the therapy was coupled with constant demands that she tell Livingston everything she was thinking. One time, when she told him how uncomfortable she was with the ritual, he told her she was really feeling the sin in her that needed to be expelled from her body by more intense therapy, she said.
At one point, Livingston persuaded Ericksen’s husband that she was so troubled she would have to stay at the house with him for more than a month, walk around naked, and have the therapy two or three times a day, for two or three hours a day. When she refused, Livingston lashed out at her.
“He told me that God was very angry and I couldn’t have light therapy any more,” Ericksen testified.
Soon after, she discovered she was pregnant with her and her husband’s first child. Livingston “exiled” her to her apartment and directed her husband to live elsewhere. Once away from the group and its influence, she realized how improper Livingston’s teachings were and became fearful that her husband, who was still under Livingston’s control, would take their baby and raise it in the cult. She decided to ask a Cook County judge to forbid Livingston, his wife, and her now former husband from having any contact with her and the baby. She cited the ritual as a reason for the request, which is how it came to the attention of the authorities.
Livingston’s church, which has never attracted more than three dozen followers at any one time, also employs mind control techniques. One of these tactics is to convince people that God implants messages in people’s dreams and that only he knows how to decode them.
In addition to the dream therapy, he also offers another treatment aimed at mind-control which he calls “Cognitive Redemptive Therapy.” The intention of this therapy is to teach people how to “restructure the way they perceive their circumstances or problems. ” . . . (O)ur counseling style looks at identifying faulty perceptions that prevent individuals from seeing God in the proper light. ”
Livingston, who was formerly a concrete contractor, decided to become a minister several years ago and appears to have no background in psychology.
While the investigation is underway, Livingston continues to work toward expanding his church. He is actively soliciting new members online to attend two-hour group sessions at his church on Thursday and Friday nights and/or a two-hour Saturday night service. He’s also planning to open a special light therapy “healing center” where he can subject more innocent victims to his perverse “treatment.”
Can he be stopped? Not unless he commits a crime, says DePaul University professor Roberta Garner, who has studied cults. Garner told the Tribune the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom means authorities can only act if a group or its leaders are involved in actual crimes, not just for proclaiming unusual beliefs.
However, she did say the group fits the description of a typical cult which usually has a leader who demands ultimate authority and cites some kind of direct connection to God. Cults also tend to be small because larger groups are harder to control. The incorporation of sexual practices by a cult leader is not at all unusual.
For now, Livingston claims he’s willing to talk to anyone who wants to talk to him about his church and alleged crimes.
However, it’s interesting to note that he has thus far not responded to requests for an interview by Tribune reporters.