From Page 20 in James Sire in "Scripture Twisting":
Unfortunately, there is one loaded word that I cannot conveniently avoid. The word cult itself is heavy with negative connotations. Imagine a friend you haven’t seen for a while greeting you and saying, “Oh, by the way. Last week, I joined a cult. Would you like to hear about it?”
In the aftermath of publicity about Jim Jones and the murders and mass suicides in Jonestown, other nontraditional religious movements became nervous. The Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, for example, often tried to disassociate itself from the whole cult concept. No one confesses to being a member of a cult. They are followers of a Master, devotees of
Krishna, pilgrims on the way – but not cult members.
Should we not honor this feeling and refrain from using a word with such a stigma attached to it? We should, if we could, but we can’t. Other terms such as religion, religious movement, alternative religion are too general and do not give the sense of exclusivity associated with groups commonly termed cults. A term like spiritual counterfeit is even more loaded than cult. So I think we are stuck with it.
From James Sire's
InterVarsity Press, 1980