If I were to tell you that a cult approached my 17-year-old daughter, what would you say?
How about if I told you that both my ex-husband and I visited with the cult members on two different occasions?
And finally, what would you say if I told you when I sensed something was a little off, I didn’t tell her to cease contact immediately with the cult’s representatives?
All of this…and more. Keep reading.
My girl and I met a group of recent college grads who seemed to love the Lord, were committed to making the world a better place, and studied the Bible. Because I am firm believer in Titus 2 relationships, I encouraged my daughter to attend bible study with the group of respectable and chaste young women. During the six weeks they were in our lives, I thought they were a little too rigid when they discussed religious doctrine, but it was never enough to raise red flags in my head. I thought the rules they said protected their purity were setting teenagers up to fail. I was concerned that they would judge me, my girl, and my past mistakes…which WE know have all been forgiven.
As I always do when my kids go out with friends, I prayed and trusted that my girl can make sound decisions based on her values. And truth be told, I’m not worried about peer pressure with this particular child because she is the strong-willed one of the bunch. Note to parents everywhere: Be grateful for the things about your child’s personality that challenge you the most. They just may come in handy one day.
After attending several bible studies, my daughter attended a Sunday morning church service with her mentors. While listening to the pastor describe that they believe salvation is by baptism only, I got this text message:
Her: MOM. This church is weird.
Me: Are you okay?
Her: Yes. MOM. This church is weird.
Me: I’m on my way.
Her: NOOOOOOOO. I’m ok. I will never be back though.
Me. STAY IN TOUCH WITH ME ALL DAY. YOUR FATHER CAN PUT ON HIS POLICE UNIFORM AND I CAN WEAR MY THUG SHIRT AND WE CAN ROLL OUT.
Her: Mom, you are overeacting. I’m ok. I’ll be home soon.
Me: Remember my shirt babygirl. Remember my shirt,
- My kids know The Bible. They don’t know everything in The Bible, but they do know how to study, research, and find out what they don’t know. They also know how to question anyone who says something to them that is different than what we believe as a family.
- My kids have digital-savvy parents. I will internet stalk anyone. Their dad will run a license plate in quick second.
- We are a family that talks about anything. We have a group text chat that allows all of us to have an unfiltered voice on family matters. No matter what else is going on in the world, always keep the lines of communication open with your teens and young adults.
- I never told my daughter to cease communication with them. I supported her (with parental controls) through the bible studies she attended, her desire to visit the church, and her eventual disconnection from the group. Fyi, should this ever happen to you or someone you love, law enforcement officials suggest a firm, not drastic approach to disconnection. As her mother, I followed all of the ladies on social media, she always had location services enabled on her phone when she was not with me, I knew where they lived and worked, and we took a picture of the license plate of one of the ladies’ cars (a standard rule in our family if any teenager gets in the car with someone I don’t know.)
- The youth staff at our home church has been very supportive of my daughter as we’ve dealt with this. I have a newfound respect for youth ministers and volunteers who have shared their experiences, reinforced her sound decisions, and educated me and her father on the issues.
- My kids realized they have thugs for parents. Yes, thugs. A 54-year-old police officer thug for a father and a 47-year-old writer for a mother thug. We may be divorced, but we will join forces at any costs to protect our children. Oh, and they have thugs for grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins. We roll deep when it comes to these three.
- They seemed normal. Very normal. It was easy to overlook some of the signs because we had other things in common. We talked about our HBCU experiences. We talked about their future plans. They asked me questions about any advice I would give my 25-year-old self.
- They invited my youngest daughter and I to a ladies small group meeting that the older daughter attended also. They were very legalistic in their thinking. If you are familiar with The Bible, it appeared to me as if they believe the Good Book ends at the First Testament. No redemption for our sins. No forgiveness.
- Cults tend to use the same words as regular Christians but have different meanings for certain words. In regular conversation, the words disciple and missions meant one thing to me and something completely different to them.
- Cults use the everyday insecurities of women to brainwash its members into submission.
- In one text message, these people actually told my child they wanted to “kidnap” her and take her to a church retreat for a weekend. I can only imagine what happens at these kind of church retreats.
- They have targeted recruitment efforts towards college students who are away from home and typically have no family nearby.
- Misogyny is the rule rather than the exception.
- The plan was to isolate my daughter from me, her father, her siblings, and her friends so that eventually she thought they were the only people she had on her side. The problem for the cult’s representatives was that we are social extroverts who love our friends and family immensely, we love technology anything, and we genuinely love staying touch with each other. The word isolation in our family does not exist.
- This particular cult believes that a person’s salvation is directly linked to baptism and the number of people members recruit for the organization. When my daughter told the organization she wouldn’t be attending bible study anymore, her bible study leader freaked out. The thought of never seeing my daughter again brought out some desperation that made us a little scared (after all, they knew where both we lived and where my ex-husband lived). We later learned that the leader was fearful of the emotional abuse she’d have to endure when her leaders discovered my daughter was not officially joining the church.
Until recently, cults are something I only heard about on the news or in movies. I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect this one to blend into our lifestyle so seamlessly. Here are some tips I learned about how to recognize a cult:
- The church organization is part of a “movement.”
- The rules of governance for leaders and members are strict (either strictly conservative or strictly liberal…there’s no middle ground.)
- Pay attention to 1. Whether or not the word Jesus is mentioned, and 2. How they describe who Jesus is. These means a whole lot.
- Pressure and condemnation reign supreme to members. There’s always pressure to be perfect and you are condemned if you are not. Perfection is usually tied to membership growth.
- Family unity is dishonored. Cult members find out just enough about a family’s shortcomings in order to expose and exploit the family. They then refer to themselves as a family.
- Organization members tend to live in group houses with 3-4 people renting a house together and that house also serves as a location for small group meetings and bible studies.
- An important component of life in a cult is one-on-one bible study. In one-on-one bible study, no other people can be present and the bible study must be held in a relatively secluded location. Additionally, in bible study, the student can not take their own notes, and your communication with God is based on a ritualistic script.
Y’all this is a thing. This is a real thing. Your prayers are welcomed as our family is navigating the aftermath of this path. If you have college student or young adults in your life, educate them to cults, religious doctrines, and false theologies. Have you had direct experience with cults?