Cursillo* 

Let me apologize before I start out because I know that Cursillo is near and dear to the heart of many who have ‘made’ it.  While I do not wish to discount the good that can come out of it, I do want to highlight my (and others) concerns about it.  I am in a bit of a catch 22 as I am not able to evaluate Cursillo from the inside.  In order to ‘make’ a Cursillo I would need to promise not to discuss its inner workings.  I have done the best I could to learn about Cursillo from those who have made a Cursillo and are willing to talk about it openly.  The rest of the information I have is derived from documents freely available on the web, many of them published for use in Cursillo training. 

I’ve heard about Cursillo on and off for some time.  I didn’t really think twice about it unless someone asked me to attend and then told me they could not tell me what went on.  I found that odd and it turned me off.  A friend of mine who had attended a Cursillo weekend said that I should go.  I started to do some research on the web and found a lot of favorable and some unfavorable information about it.  I began to hear Cursillo group speak at my local Bible Study and realized that I was in the minority that night and that a Cursillo sub-culture existed, of which I could not in good conscience participate.  This disturbed me and I continued my research knowing that I was violating the Cursillo motto of “Don’t evaluate, just participate.”  Having been in a cult for 6 years at one point in my life and knowing the place secrecy plays in attraction to the group and other group dynamics used in cults I felt uncomfortable with what I found about the ‘Cursillo Method’.   

I’ve came across a book (CURSILLO:  Little Courses in Catharsis  A Critique of the Cursillo and Related Movements), published in 2010, which describes Cursillo and its methods by a Pastor who had attended Cursillo and held many similar weekend renewals.  I ordered the book and read it.  I contacted the author and he sent me three short magazine articles he wrote (you can read them on his website) that summarize some of his main points.  Here is the author’s website which has his email address:  http://questioningcursillo.com/index.html   The book came out of the author’s Doctor of Ministry dissertation on the long-term effects of the Dutch Reformed Cursillo in Northwest Iowa.  The book is very well researched and, I think, gracious in tone.  The website is well worth reading through.  

Surprisingly the author’s main concern is with the Cursillo Method which he shows can be used with a wide variety of belief systems (such as Large Group Awareness Training seminars - LGAT – est, LifeSpring etc.) and not as much with the theological issues such as ’imputed’ verses ‘infused’ Grace for which Cursillo seemed to be designed.  (http://www.equip.org/articles/justification )  There also appears to be a bit of a Semipelagian view in Cursillo that Salvation is our choice (with which Cursillo methods can help) and then God assists us in the growth of our faith through His grace.  There are a couple of links on his website of other Pastors/people who have attended Cursillo and made their own reports.  The book is well worth getting and reading as it describes some of the Cursillo weekend and the surprises or Palancas that no one can talk about. (Palancas – ‘Levers’ in Spanish – to help move the candidate in the desired direction of accepting Cusrillo and its community.  These could be surprise notes from family/friends that they are praying and maybe even fasting for you, small gifts. etc.  There can be one or two former Cursillo attendees at your table that you don’t know about until they get up to give their talks or Rollos.  There is also the Closura or ending where you are surprised and welcomed into the Cursillo community by those praying for you and other Cursillistas - Candidates who have ‘made’ a Cursillo).  

In discussing the history of Cursillo the author mentions that one of the founders, Eduardo Bonnin, was a psychologist and purposely mixed in social psychology (group dynamics) into the Cursillo Method.  (I have subsequently leaned that it is possible Eduardo Bonnin merely had a great interest in psychology and was not actually a psychologist.)  Cell phones and watches are taken away to keep the candidate in the now and absorbed in the immediate process.  No agenda is given so that the candidates don’t know what to expect next.  Activities such as coloring posters help to foster a child-like attitude of openness and acceptance of the process.  There are sudden, unexpected swings in mood from somber to upbeat that disorient the candidate and help in the reframing and reformation of their mind.  The pace of a weekend is fast enough so that there is not a great deal of time to discuss and process what is going on.  The peer pressure is subtle, but present and dissent is politely discouraged and ignored.  There are 4th day events or re-unions to help new Cursillistas stay active and involved.  This was missing from the original design and added later to re-invigorate and help reduce attrition of members.  The author also discusses the purpose of Cursillo which is to find strong individuals in various environments and get them trained so they can go back and influence their environments and recruit more candidates.  The author has a chapter called “The Unpaid Bills of the Church” where the author reviews some comments by Cursillistas about Cursillo and makes recommendations on what we can learn from Cursillo about strengthening our churches.  His chapter on “After the Weekend is Over” gives a good review of the downside of the Cursillo method and the harm it can cause participants.     

I did a little research on the Christian Research Institute website and did not find anything directly related to Cursillo, but I did find this article by Hank Hanegraaf discussing counterfeit revivals:  http://www.equip.org/articles/the-counterfeit-revival-part-four-  Many of the techniques and methods used in counterfeit revivals are the same as described by the above author in his discussion of the Cursillo Method.  Part of the history of Cursillo is not to change the format or content too drastically so these links should give you a pretty good idea what might occur at your local Cursillo: 

National Cursillo Center, School of Leaders documents:  http://www.cursillo.org/leaders/

Cursillo glossary:  http://www.cantaelgallo.com/files/Glossary_of_Cursillo_Terms.doc

Progression of Rolls and Meditations:  http://www.ftworthcursillo.org/SOL%20Reports/Progression%20of%20the%20Rollos.pdf

Rollos and Meditation Primer:  http://www.cantaelgallo.com/files/Rollos/Rollo_and_Meditation_Primer.pdf  

I also found this website describing the Group Dynamics used in the Via de Cristo weekend which is the Lutheran version of Cursillo and uses the Cursillo Method:  http://www.viadecristo.org/forums/99dynamics.htm  In the article the author describes the group dynamics that are used throughout the weekend and how they are carefully orchestrated and escalated to produce what I would describe as a ‘Peek’ or ‘Mountain Top’ experience.  The dynamics are used to help ‘move’ the candidate to a commitment to Cursillo and its community.  Here is a table from the article which shows the dynamics and how they are used: 

PROGRESSION of DYNAMICS on the VIA de CRISTO WEEKEND

CIRCLES

18” diameter or the size of one individual

The size of the Rollo Room Table

The size of the Rollo Room

As big as the world in the 4th Day

HEARING OUR NAME

Part of our family

Part of Church Family

Part of the Family of God

Called by Jesus Christ

SINGING

Thur.  Light generic songs

Fri.  Songs of Praise to God

Sat. Songs about Jesus

Sun. Spiritual in nature

SILENCE

Silent Retreat-get to know yourself

Way of the Cross

Chapel meditations

 

LITURGY

Fri. Low key

Sat. Builds with community

Sun. Open and expressive

 

JOKE SESSION

Community builds with laughter

Speaking in front of others

 

 

TALKING

Begins at table discussion

Expands during Decuria

Culminates in Clausura sharing

Sharing of faith with the world

TOUCHING

Handshakes

Warm, enthusiastic handshakes

Slap on the back, touch on shoulder

The Abrazzo

PRAYER

Private prayers

 

Praying together as a group

Spoken prayer in Altar Visit

Leading prayers

 NEGATIVE DYNAMICS

INTIMIDATION

Anything that puts people on the defensive

CONFUSION

Appearing unorganized, wasting time, arguments

SECRECY

Whispering, giving evasive answers to questions, not being honest

BRAGGING

Failing to show humility, lacking a servants heart; in Rollos, discussions, etc.

FATIGUE

Skipping breaks, getting candidates to bed too late

THEOLOGICAL ERROR

Misquoting the Bible.  Making erroneous statements.  Example; …when I became a Christian on my Via de Cristo weekend.

BORING ROLLOS

Long lectures, failing to focus on outline for this Rollo, complicated sharing, trying to be too clever.

OVER-REGIMENTED

Overly controlled, insufficient freedom, giving the impression of ‘brain washing’

FEAR OF CHANGE

Fear that the Team is trying to change them, fear that they will have to change their life, fear that they will have to do something uncomfortable

COMPLAINING

Team members complaining about accommodations, meals, etc.

EMOTIONALISM

Doing or saying things simply to elicit an emotional response

OTHERS?

 

 These links will detail some of the concerns about Cursillo and some of the methods it uses:

Maturity Doesn’t Come in Three Days:  Cursillo and Evangelical Christians: http://www.ontruth.com/cursillo.html

Manipulating Christians through Group Dynamics part 1:  http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/manipulating1_145.html

Manipulating Christians through Group Dynamics part 2:  http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/manipulating2_146.html 

Since Cursillo is originally a Catholic creation, I’ve included a discussion on Ecumenism.  I can see an ecumenical effort during a time of crisis or to help the homeless, but not with finding a lowest common denominator when it comes to the tenants of our faith or how to live it.  I really have a problem with seeing Jesus attending a Cursillo with the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees; after all Jesus was a Jew and why wouldn’t he reach out to his Jewish ‘brothers’?  Jesus and Paul were very firm on sound doctrine.  Paul even pronounced a curse on those who would teach a doctrine other than that which he delivered to the saints.  In His prayer for unity in the church, I don’t believe a case can be made that Jesus was reaching out to the Jewish leaders in an ecumenical manner and there wasn’t a need for ecumenism within His movement at the time as there were no denominations or separate Christian churches.  Since the time of His prayer we find ourselves in a situation where we need to carefully evaluate, as did the Bereans of Paul’s message, what is and is not a faithful teaching of God’s word and the Gospel message within ‘Christianity’.  (Orthodox Theology , What is Essential Biblical Doctrine?)  Jesus came to show us God’s Grace and Truth, I think we need to be respectful and observant of both. 

Bible vs. Ecumenism:  http://www.wayoflife.org/files/404ab65fbc99c580d5b07b5faed57096-140.html 

While I am all for biblical, renewal type weekends, as you can see I am not comfortable with the covert persuasion and other group dynamic methods used in Cursillo.  Emotion certainly has a place in our faith, but we are not meant to come to faith through covert emotional manipulation.  This type of faith simply won’t last and gives us a false impression of the everyday Christian life.  Once the high has worn off then comes discouragement and the attempt to repeat the high.  Eventually, through the law of diminishing returns, the participant is left discouraged and disillusioned because the high is gone.  I don’t think the methods used are biblical and actually show a distrust or misunderstanding of the simple power of the declaration of God’s word and prayer.  It would seem that the Holy Spirit could be completely absent from a Cursillo weekend and the candidate could still have a ‘Peek’ or ‘Mountain Top’ experience which they might confuse for a moving of the Spirit.    When I look at how the Gospel was preached and the fruit of the Spirit I don’t see emotionalism, drama or adrenaline highs.  I think for these reasons and others it should give us pause and encourage us to re-evaluate the need and use of Cursillo in our churches.                                 

“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2) 

Thanks for reading and God Bless! 

Email:  Paul Powell 

*  Also known as: 

Walk to Emmaus, Via de Cristo, Tres Dias, De Colores, Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), Chrysalis, Kairos, Great Banquet, Dias con Cristo, Celebration, Challenge, Vocare, Tirosh, Chayah, Unidos en Cristo, Chrysalis, Alarga, The Journey, Faith Walk, Vida Nueva, Aventura, Awakening, Camino, Credo Recovery, Diaspora, Discipleship Walk, Footsteps, Happening, Jubilee Journey, Keryx, Koinonia, New Beginnings, Paseo con Cristo, Pilgrimmage, etc.