How Can You Help Bring Someone Out Of A Cult?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What are signs that someone you know may be involved in a cult? What can you do to bring them out of it?

Definition of a Cult

A cult is defined as a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies, and usually a great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, which is especially as manifested by a body of admirers, but it doesn’t have to be a religious cult because cults can be groups of people who have exclusive membership that can deal with any number of political or social issues.  More often than not, it is a group holding to a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering on their sacred symbols. Most people think of cults as a religious sect which is considered to be false, unorthodox, or an extremist group with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader, but sometimes cults can be more insidious as they appear to offer help to the hurting, but actually look for members to have under their control. Cults take various shapes and sizes but cults are growing and they are looking for people who have often been hurt and have great turmoil in their lives. People like this are very vulnerable to cults because they see cults as family, accepting them when it seems no one else will, so what are the dangers of cults?

Dangers of Cults

One of the greatest indications of a cult is when the group tries to cut the person off from the outside world, including family, friends, and anyone else connected to them. They seek to isolate them and make them fully dependent upon the group, so that they will not need anything or anyone else outside of the group. Cults can sometimes strip a person’s personal identity and place them into a group with a “group mentality” and discourage individual thinking and acting so that the actions of all members fall under one person’s domain and act collectively rather than individually. The “self” is sacrificed for “us” and “us” is now placed against anyone outside of the cult, as its “us” and “them,” creating individuals who are isolated from society and family and acting in ways that are sometimes contrary to the world. Former cult members report a sense of purposelessness, disconnection, depression, guilt, anger, alienation, fear, low self-esteem, and shame. The damage that some of these cults do is almost irreversible, and if not for God’s Spirit, many of these former cult members would have remained in bondage in these exclusive cultural hideouts. Today, there are well over 5,000 acknowledged cults in the U.S. but the number is growing [1].

Signs of a Cult

Some of the signs of being in a cult were mentioned before, and things like disassociating the person from family, friends, and the world in general, but also being under emotional control by a strong, charismatic leader to whom everyone is totally devoted. This total devotion makes the members do things that they normally wouldn’t do in society or around family or friends, so aberrant behaviors such as isolation, forsaking family and friends, manipulation, taking possession of members personal property, and a de-programing of things formerly held to beliefs, practices, and doctrines that are commanded for the group. These groups violate a person’s civil personal rights and strip most of their freedoms for the “best interests” of the cult, and in doing so they place the person under mental, emotional, and sometimes physical control, making resistance nearly impossible. There is loss of privacy, rights, dignity, and individuality, and the person becomes part of a greater whole in which they lose control over personal choices. Some of the most famous cults, most of which ended in disaster, are the Branch Davidians, the Church of Scientology, the Peoples Temple, Heaven’s Gate, Unification Church, the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Twelve Tribes. Of course there are hundreds more, but these are the most significant and most powerful, although some do not exist anymore. Others include the New Reformation, the Apostolic Mandate, Five Fold Ministry, and dozens of others and what you’ll find is they focus on one specific belief or doctrine over all of the other essential doctrines, and put the group ahead of God, the Bible, and the Great Commission.

Escaping a Cult

Escaping a cult can be difficult. It takes prayer, patience, and persistence. Most cult members don’t even know they’re in a cult, while some are afraid to leave for fear of the cult leader’s repercussions against them. Many have been programmed or “brain washed” and need to be deprogrammed or debriefed once they leave, but to get them to leave is often very difficult because the cult doesn’t allow non-members into their property or compound. A few cult members become disenfranchised or disillusioned and simply walk out (some say they had to escape under cover of darkness), but most former cultists say it’s not easy to get out. Some members are kicked out for not following orders, some are burned out, and just can’t take it anymore, and some find out that they are in a cult by family or friends who sent them literature about the cult they’re in. It’s best to try and speak with cult members when they’re away from the members of the group, because the person in a cult won’t feel comfortable speaking to family and friends if other cult members are present. A few former cult members said they saw the hypocrisy of the leader and how the cult had been taking advantage of the members’ personal property and their personal freedoms.

Conclusion

If you know of someone who is in a cult, understand that they won’t agree with you on most things, so point them to what the Bible says. Perhaps there’s still a spark of interest in what God’s Word says, so educate yourself and the person in the cult so that they understand they’re in a cult. Make sure you stay connected to the person in the cult, even if they don’t respond or communicate back with you. People who are in a cult might not even know it, but even if they do, they might not be able to escape it easily. Offer to be there for them, 24/7; keep communication lines open; pray for that person; educate yourself about this group and try to inform the one in the cult; and understand that since these cults are not of God, they can only come from another source, and that is Satan and his demons. Satan has done a good job of cloaking these cults, but God’s Spirit can change the human heart (Prov 21:1), so there is hope, even for those who are imprisoned in this stronghold of Satan.

Read more on a similar topic here: How Can We Recognize False Doctrines?

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved. [1] Prevalence of Cults: A Review of Empirical Research in the U. S. A. International Cultic Studies Association, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, July 14, 2005 Edward A. Lottick, M. D.



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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mikael Holmgaard March 25, 2019 at 9:10 am

Hi would you also pray my wife she is in a Christensen cult
Pray God Will open here eyes i am my self a bliver but dont belive What she is teach

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Jack Wellman March 25, 2019 at 1:20 pm

Great prayer. I am with you on this.

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Irene Nneka September 23, 2019 at 10:44 am

I have a friend that is in a serious cult, my friends discourage me from being close to him saying his opponents might hurt me if I try to save his soul, I’m in a dilemma , I need advice.

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Jack Wellman September 23, 2019 at 11:26 am

Hello Irene. I am so glad you care about your friend in this cult. I pray you follow the advice and one thing is certain, only God can change the human heart…even that of a pagan king (Prov 21:1). I will pray for this person…have others in your church pray for your friend (without mentioning the name). As I said, It’s best to try and speak with cult members when they’re away from the members of the group, because the person in a cult won’t feel comfortable speaking to family and friends if other cult members are present.

“Do everything you can to stay in touch,” says Janja Lalich, a sociology professor and consultant who studies cults and coercive influence and control. If you’re trying to persuade someone to leave a cult, supply reminders of the world beyond it by calling, emailing, writing letters, sending photographs and maybe even visiting, although Lalich warns that anyone can get lured into a cult. You should visit “only if you feel strong enough to resist,” she says.

Don’t try to forcibly remove someone, even if you’re gravely concerned. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, families often hired so-called deprogrammers to kidnap and hold cult members against their will. While that often worked, abduction is illegal, and the technique was discredited after a Washington man successfully sued his deprogrammer in 1995. Today’s preferred method is “exit counseling,” and it requires persuasion by therapists, lawyers, friends and family members.

Try to get one-on-one time, and if you do, don’t use it to harp. Instead, ask questions and make sure you’ve already collected anti-cult evidence like news articles or memoirs. “Video testimonials from former cult members can be particularly persuasive,” says Lalich, who spent a decade as part of a radical Marxist-Leninist group in the 1970s and ’80s that she now considers a cult. During that time, Lalich had what she thought of as a little shelf in the back of her mind. That is where she stowed doubts, questions or concerns. “At some point all of those things get too heavy and the shelf breaks and that’s when they’ll realize they need to get out,” Lalich says. “Your job is to get them to put more things on their shelf.”

Give some thought to working with a team of friends or family to set up a good-cop, bad-cop dynamic in which one of you is more forceful and another is warmer and more willing to listen. Make sure the inductee knows there is a safe and nonjudgmental place to come home to. But then, after the physical freedom is secured, comes the emotional work. “It may take up to five years for the person to figure out who they are again,” Lalich says. “Be gentle with them.”

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