Living Epistle Ministries” (LEM) of Port Jefferson Station, New York is run by Sheila Vitale, a self-taught evangelist, whoheadshot2sheila.jpg 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.”

Questioning Ms. Vitale therefore is essentially equated to questioning and/or opposing “Christ.”picture-of-jesse-aldrich-in-chicago-during-passover-2006.jpg

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.”

This subsection of the LEM Web is titled “A Study In Unconscious Mind Control.” It is here that Ms. Vitale explains her methodology of what can be seen as coercive persuasion in some detail.

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.

Coercive Persuasion: Treating Victims of Abusive Relationships, Destructive Cults, and Coercive Groups

Brisbane, Australia (Queensland)

March 17 “ 18, 2008 and March 19 “ 20, 2008

Hotel Grand Chancellor Brisbane
23 Leichhardt Street (cnr Wickham Terrace)
Ph. 07 3831 4055 Fax: 07 3831 5031

These workshops are being held for mental health professionals. Also, special travel and tour option arrangements are being made for Japanese mental health professionals to attend the workshops through a special tour company that provides educational tours for Japanese professionals (interpretor will be arranged). Please contact Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center for more information, to register for the workshops, as well as information regarding accommodations to attend the workshop.

Moreton Island, Queensland Australia
Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort (75 minute ferry ride from Brisbane)
Recovery from Cults and Cultic Relationships (workshops for former members of cults, coercive groups, and cultic relationships) March 24 (arrival) “ March 29 (departure March 29 or 30), 2008

These workshops are designed for former members of cults and cultic relationships. Psycho-educationally based workshops will be offered in the morning and afternoons for individuals as well as free time to explore the island and to relax on this beautiful island. These workshops are not designed to be a substitute for mental health treatment, however, they may assist the former member in the healing process after leaving these particular destructive groups and relationships. Please contact Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center for more information, to register, and for accommodation information and reservations.

Moreton Island, Queensland Australia
Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort
Workshops and Counselling Treatment Sessions for Former Members of Destructive Cults, Coercive Groups, and Cultic Relationships March 24 (arrival) “ April 4 (April 4 or 5 departure), 2008

For a limited number of clients, counseling sessions will be offered by Wellspring counselors to assist in the recovery of individuals who have left cults, coercive groups, or cultic relationships. The set-up up this treatment program will be very similar to what is offered to our clients who travel to our treatment facility in Albany, Ohio in the United States. Counseling sessions will be offered in the morning, and workshops delivered by Wellspring staff will be offered in the afternoons. Ample time will be allotted for rest and relaxation at this extraordinarily beautiful resort area. Please click on this link for more information on this resort. Please contact Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center for more information, to register, and for accommodation information and reservations.

Wendy Pishvazadeh, BS
Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center
PO Box 67 Albany OH 45710
fax 740-698-2053