A Myth

Excerpts from 'Dispelling the Myths' by Dr. Paul Martin, founder of Wellspring Retreat, published in Christian Research Journal, 1989, Winter - Spring.

Myth: "Christians can and do get involved in aberrational groups and they can get hurt emotionally. But all they really need is some good Bible teaching and a warm, caring Christian fellowship and they will be fine."

There is certainly a lot of truth to this statement. Unfortunately, half-truths are often the worst form of error. [This myth] is false for the following reasons: First, many persons who have left cults do not want Bible teaching or Christian fellowship. They are "once burned, twice shy."

Second, according to a recently published survey of about 300 ex-cultists by Conway and Siegelman, the following essentially non-religious activities proved to be very important for rehabilitation:

• love and support of parents and family members -- 64%
• insight and support of former cult members -- 59%
• professional mental health counseling -- 14%
• acting to recover lost money, possessions, etc. -- 9%
• going back to school or college -- 25%
• finding a job and establishing a new career -- 36%
• helping others emerge or recover from cults -- 39%
• establishing new friends unrelated to cults -- 50%
• getting as far away from cults as possible -- 29%

Although many members of the extremist Christian groups return to evangelical churches, they often continue to suffer. These members will typically seek a church that is very similar to the one they left. Such people have left their former group...but they still believe many of its tenets.

For these people life can be a nightmare--they feel they have left "the apple of God's eye." The rigor of cultic life had produced in them all the symptoms of burnout--a state of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Yet in their own minds the world is explained so totally in theological terms that they cannot even conceive any such term as burnout. Instead they wrongly conclude that they were not spiritual enough, that they failed and God has somehow rejected them...They continue to believe the cultic world view and involve themselves in a local church in the hopes of replacing what they lost in leaving the group....

Still others who have left often find it hard to tie in with another group. They want to be involved with new groups, friends, and a new religious organization. Yet they often complain, "I fear being controlled, being told what to do all the time"; or "I don't know if I can trust church leaders again."...Perhaps the majority of these ex-members of extremist groups want to go on with their Christian lives but they are unable to read parts of the Bible anymore without eliciting negative associations. Verses such as "He who comes after me must first of all deny himself..." now bring strong reactions from the ex-member...

Former members of shepherding groups have asked, "Where do you draw the line? Where is the balance in all these commands?"...Sometimes when a former member hears someone say, "The Lord would have so and so..." he or she may respond with strong feelings of disgust, incredulity, anger, and sometimes even fear. Too many negative memories or flashbacks of group events and conflicts are triggered by these phrases. For these people evangelical fellowship is not a panacea or perfect healing balm...In certain fringe Christian groups, control mechanisms are frequently contained in their teaching on faction, slander, submission, or confession. It is necessary, then, to systematically...refute [the teaching]. This will allow the ex-member an opportunity to open up his or her mind and entertain thoughts that may have been hitherto viewed as slander but can now be viewed as sound doctrine, or even reproof. I cannot underscore enough the importance of getting these ex-members to think, and to think critically.

Further reading on using the mind:

• The Importance of Using Our minds, and The Mind in the Christian Life, excerpts from the booklet, Your Mind Matters, by John R. W. Stott
• Introduction to Heartbreak and Rage, by K. Gordon Neufeld
• Cognitive Distortion, by Janja Lalich

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