“Living Epistle Ministries” (LEM) of Port Jefferson Station, New York is run by Sheila Vitale, a self-taught evangelist, who is not affiliated with any established denomination.
A small group also follows Ms. Vitale (photo left) located in McGregor, Minnesota.
LEM appears to fit well within the criteria established by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in a paper published by Harvard University in 1981 titled “Cult Formation.”
Within his paper Lifton lists the following three most salient and defining features of a destructive cult:
1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
2. a process [he calls] coercive persuasion or thought reform;
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
LEM explains at its Web site within a subsection titled “Who We Are” that, “The Lord Jesus Christ asked Sheila Vitale, the Pastor, Teacher and Founder of Living Epistles Ministries, if she would teach his people.”
The LEM site further identifies Ms. Vitale as a “Prophet and a Teacher of Apostolic Doctrine.”
Ms. Vitale seems to fulfill the role of a “charismatic leader” as described by Lifton. She occupies a singular position of absolute authority over her followers through claims of direct revelation and without any meaningful organizational accountability.
Sheila Vitale’s teachings are not seriously questioned and/or challenged by her followers. Instead, they are referred to simply as “The Doctrine of Christ.”
The LEM McGregor group is led by Jesse Aldrich (photo right).
Sheila Vitalie describes on the LEM Web site what she calls “Unconscious Mind Control.”
Essentially, LEM followers are taught that every thought, perception, emotion or feeling must be categorized and subsequently labeled as either the “Carnal Mind,” which is evil and negative, or the “Mind of Christ” that is good.
Those thoughts and feelings that coincide with and/or confirm Sheila Vitale’s teachings and instructions are apt to be labeled as the “Mind of Christ,” while those that do not are most often categorized as the “Carnal Mind.”
Ms. Vitale instructs her followers to “fight off the thoughts of the Carnal Mind, not only from within ourselves, but from others who are both physically and spiritually near to us.” She then explains that “a perfect man restrains his carnal mind” and also will “police [his]¦thoughts” to “fight off invading thoughts from any source¦”
This “mind control,” as described by Ms. Vitale, provides the framework for her to ultimately manipulate LEM followers. She can then easily designate whatever thoughts and feelings should be policed, fought and subsequently suppressed or purged.
Ms. Vitale also teaches that those outside LEM will attempt to “control” her followers. And she states at her Web site when someone attempts “to take control of a situation” it can be seen as “the sin of witchcraft.”
Another aspect of LEM “mind control” is characterized as “deliverance,” which includes Ms. Vitale’s followers invoking protection from perceived spiritual enemies and/or attacks.
In an email made available to CultNews that Sheila Vitale sent to Jesse Aldrich she specifically instructed him in a prayer, which he was to repeat “at least twice a day,” in order to “aggressively resist” attacks through what was called “spiritual warfare.”
In such exercises of what can be seen as a type of “guided imagery,” Ms. Vitale promotes a “we vs. they” mentality and stimulates unreasonable fears, which further solidifies her “mind control.”
Sheila Vitale also attempts to exploit her members financially through repeated tithing demands.
In an email Ms. Vitale sent to a follower last year shared with CultNews she stated, “I heard from the Lord. He said that the tithe is 10% of the amount that appears on your federal income tax as gross business income.’” She then warned, “not tithing properly could be the source of your business falling off this year.”
Sheila Vitale’s teachings have at times caused emotional damage and led to family estrangement.
Ms. Vitale also often interprets the dreams of her followers.
In one email she warned a follower that his wife was “carrying some kind of a dangerous burden.” Ms. Vitale then speculated that the woman had “picked up something spiritually unclean.”
Sheila Vitale then told the husband that his wife was “afraid of exposure¦because she knows that she has a spiritual problem.”
The solution suggested by Ms. Vitale is that the “demons” should be “cast out” and that the Minnesota man’s wife required “deliverance.”
Such warnings had a devastating effect upon the man’s relationship with his wife. She had questioned the teachings and behavior of the group, and for this apparent transgression she was at times negatively labeled in spiritually terms.
Aldrich also warned the woman’s husband in Minnesota about the “Jezebel spirit that tries to control the moving of Christ in a believer,” and that “the emotions of his carnal mind” were “fueled by Satan” and “witchcraft control.”
Jesse Aldrich also has characterized Christians and others outside the group as “dogmatic¦arrogant, prideful, controlling and domineering.”
But ironically Aldrich’s description actually seems to fit LEM, Sheila Vitale and her followers like a glove.