How does one grapple with the phenomenon of cults, and the harm that they do?
We are all human, and if we are going to try to live in a larger sphere than our own self-seeking, there seems to be a call on our lives to care about others, and this is indeed the case. Everywhere you see people helping people. Many professionals give most of their lives to the service of others, and bless and are blessed in doing so. I am in no way saying that nothing is being done. However, I do wonder how we are to grapple with the situation we find ourselves in, in regard to cults.
I want to start this discussion by focusing primarily on religious cults, and even to narrow the field further, Christian cults. Those who know me find that as no surprise, for it was a Christian cult that I lived in and have been affected by. What responsibilities do the individual players in this scene have? What is my responsibility as an ex-member. What responsibility does the cult carry, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not? And to cast the net further out, does the rest of the Christian world carry any responsibility? Do other churches have any responsibility for harm done by a group that calls itself Christian? And if so, what form would that responsibility take?
When I talk about responsibility, many images come to mind. It probably is not realistic to think that mainstream Christian groups are going to set up a task force to monitor and “watch-dog” other fringe groups that call themselves Christian. Not only do thay have their own lives to live, but what moral standing would they have to do that? And yet, without that kind of responsibility for our “neighbors”, where does that leave the victims?
One answer, and a very good one, is that the victims have recourse to a lot of very good help for recovery. I have been the recipient of such help. And yet, I long for a world where we could go a step further. I would like to see two things happen. Prevention, and Accountability.
Prevention: ICSA and other groups are very visible, and do fantastic work. But how visible are they? To themselves and those who know of them, visible. To an ex-member fresh out of a cult? I did not know about them. I did not know recovery groups existed. As far as I knew, I was on my own. I finally did hear about a support group, but I long to make this a well-known issue that everyone knows about. I think every college campus needs a cult awareness course. Every town hall should have a flyer up.
Accountability: I realize the court system is not set up to judge cases of emotional or psychological abuse. However, the abuse is real, and in some cases is worse than physical abuse. If the country’s law system cannot deal with this kind of abuse, can other Christians raise their voice publicly, and bring public opinion to bear? Can people, and perhaps the media, become those who seek for accountability?
Responsibility: I feel a responsibility to speak out. If I remain silent, I am saying in essence that what goes on in the daily lives at the Community of Jesus doesn’t matter, that what happened to me and my family, and many friends, and continues to affect those who live there, doesn’t matter. If I remain silent, I am turning my back on harm being done, and ignoring it. I cannot do that. It would be no different than walking past a rape or robbery and not at least calling the police. I may not have much power, but I have a voice.