I recently received a heartbreaking email from deeply concerned parents whose daughters had been sucked into a highly-controlling religious group. Here's an excerpt:
Their church is trying to encourage them to spend less time with their family and they seem to have their time booked up with bible studies, group meetings, church, etc. They also seem to be arranging relationships for them as far as guys go. Any insight you could give us would be very helpful.
I've received similar emails from families struggling to maintain contact with children or siblings who've become involved in a high-demand religious group. I've compiled a brief list of ways families can help reach loved ones being lost to a cult.
1. Understand you are no longer family. I know this is really difficult to hear. But the cult is the new family. You are now considered an "outsider." Anything you say or do will be scrutinized for ulterior motives. Your child now listens to the counsel of the group and will tune out any of your criticisms because you haven't been enlightened and saved like he/she has. This is why it's extremely important that you....
2. Stay involved in your child's life. The absolute worst thing to do is to have a hands-off approach. Your greatest chance of rescuing your child from the clutches of an oppressive religious system is in the beginning. Don't back off. Be MORE loving, MORE kind, MORE involved than before. Stay involved until they break off contact. Don't be the first one to break off the relationship. Try not to be offended by their hurtful behavior. Remember that it's not personal. Their first loyalty is to the cult and they may think by cutting you off, they are proving their commitment to the group.
3. Be a stronger force of love in your child's life than the cult is. Call often. Show up to meetings. Ask questions. Your love and your questions may not convince them to leave immediately, but you will have planted seeds of healthy doubt which will give them pause later on. As the cult persuades them to give up more and more of their personal freedoms, they will remember that true love never asks for unhealthy sacrifices. They will remember how YOU truly love them because you stayed involved even if you disagree with their decisions.
4. Understand that most cult members will NOT leave so long as the benefits they are receiving inside the cult are more immediate and profound than anything outside it. Become an investigator. Can you identify the benefits/rewards/incentives they are receiving inside the cult that they felt lacking outside of it? For example: a strong sense of community, eternal rewards, grand purpose in life? I would suggest parents investigate the particular group their child has become involved with and see what makes it attractive to new members.
5. Be honest and self-aware. This may be difficult for parents since it might mean their child found something in the cult that they lacked in their upbringing. In my experience, the most devout cult members came from broken homes, alcoholic parents or rich families who simply didn't give a crap about what their kids did. It's never too late to be a good parent. Even if your child is a fully grown adult, their well-being is still your concern--especially if they are being seduced by a cult. Be open and honest with yourself and be willing to examine the ways you perhaps overlooked something they truly needed in their childhoods. And then, take action!
6. Be patient. For highly-devout cult members, things have to get really bad on the inside before they're willing to leave. Sometimes all a parent can do is leave the light on for their child. Just be the safe place they can run to when they finally decide to leave. Many times cult members don't leave because they have nowhere to go (this was my situation). They have no outside friends. They've alienated all their outside family members. If a parent can maintain an open heart and an open door, when the hurting, damaged child decides to leave the cult--you will be their safe place. Sometimes the only thing a parent can do is provide a soft landing place for their broken child. Until then, don't forget to...