Westmont Magazine Scholar Who Studied Cults Found a Ministry Counseling Survivors

Ron Enroth, professor emeritus of sociology, died February 3 at the age of 84 in Volcano, Hawai’i, where he lived. He was named both Faculty Researcher of the Year and Teacher of the Year in 1995.

Ronald Enroth at Westmont

Having begun teaching at Westmont in 1965, in 1973 Enroth helped co-found the college’s groundbreaking Urban Program, now called Westmont in San Francisco. Before retiring in 2012 after 47 years of teaching here, he became one of the nation’s leading experts on non-traditional religions, cults and abusive churches. Throughout his career, he generously gave his time to answer phone calls and counsel people seeking information and advice for family members involved in abusive churches.

“I remember Ron when I was a consortium student at Westmont in 1980,” says President Gayle D. Beebe. “He was a pioneer in the field, and his work with people emerging from cults was his ministry as a follower of Christ.”

Enroth published the book “Youth, Brainwashing, and the Extremist Cults” six months before the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the mass suicide that put the word “cult” on the map.

He warned of other dangerous religions before the tragedies in Waco and with Heaven’s Gate. He appeared on numerous television and radio broadcasts, including “NBC Nightly News,” National Public Radio and “Oprah” as an expert cult consultant. He was featured in thousands of news articles, including those in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. For his work, he received the 1982 Leo J. Ryan Commemorative Award, named in honor of the congressman who was assassinated in the Jonestown Massacre in 1978 and given annually to the individual who focuses public attention on the dangers of destructive cults.

His other books include “A Guide to New Religious Movements,” “Churches That Abuse,” “Recovering from Churches That Abuse” and “The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius.”

Enroth completed a doctorate in medical sociology from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, one of the first people to earn a degree in this field at a medical school. He graduated from Houghton College in New York and earned a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

He accepted a teaching position at Westmont’s sociology department and

contributed to the chronicles of con-temporary events such as the Jesus Movement that hit the religious scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1972, he co-authored “The Jesus People,” which was unlike anything Eerdmans Publishing Company had ever put in print. The book, written in a popular style aimed at a broad audience, became a bestseller in both hardback and paperback.

“I have found a ministry working with people emerging from cults or abusive churches and with parents concerned about their children’s involvement with such groups,” Enroth once said. “Their stories and needs have inspired my continued research and writing in this area.”

His numerous op-ed pieces, radio and TV appearances, and quotes in newspaper articles and books on controversial topics triggered serious legal and personal threats.

Enroth is survived by his wife, Ruth-Anne, their two daughters, Kara Bettencourt ’82 and Rebecca Coons, and their extended families, including two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.