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People don’t start and people don’t join cults.
People start communities and people join them. Usually, the first thing that draws people in is a sense of family, belonging, community. In a word: love.
Other things are thrown in too, like a sense of meaning and purpose, finding the truth, being prepared for the end, radical service, self-development, you name it. But the real initial attraction is usually love. In the article, one ex-member recalls being “love-bombed” by leaders on the first day. She was probably hooked at that moment.
When I read the story of Faith Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona, that is being investigated because some believe it is a cult, I wasn’t alarmed by any one of the accusations.
One ex-member says, ““The best word I can think of is ‘insidious.’ It starts off subtle.” That’s true for almost all cults. In fact, I would argue this is true for many churches that aren’t even under investigation for being a cult.
Here’s a list of concerns mentioned in the article:
- how they discipline children
- financial coercion
- alienation from family
- public shaming of members
- silencing questioning of leaders
- shunning those who leave
Some have expressed alarm at Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council and his responses to the accusations. He seems to minimize and even dismiss the accusations. I’m not alarmed at all because I think he’s right: many of these characteristics are not unusual, but normal for many religious groups.
I’ve belonged to Christian communities that manifest these qualities. In fact, many people belong to Christian churches that manifest all of these qualities. It might be at different levels of intensity, but they are there.
- Parents want help raising their kids.
- People love giving generously to something they believe in.
- Once you find a true family your biological one doesn’t matter as much.
- You feel you deserved to be ashamed if you sin and disappoint the community.
- Anointed leaders should not be questioned.
- If someone leaves, they deserve to be forgotten. That’s what they want!
I speak from experience. It was never meant to come to this. Many leaders are controlling. Many church members cooperate with the control. It begins with a period of mutual infatuation. Then there’s the marriage. Then there’s the honeymoon. Then there’s the longterm commitment. With more commitment is expected more commitment. The deeper into the relationship you go, the more is expected. The closer to the center of the circle you get, the more is required of you. With greater reward comes greater responsibility and obligation. To many people, this is a given.
I claim that this not only happens in cults. This happens in a lot of churches. It happens in a lot of businesses too. It happens wherever people collect or gather because where people gather there will be those who desire to control them. They may mean well, but in the end it is about control.
So I am convinced that the leaders of this so-called cult never intended to start a cult. I also believe that those who joined it never meant to join a cult. They joined a community of love that eventually became a trap and, for some, a trap they are happy with.