Cult Exit: Problems, Detention, and How-Tos is an article by David Cox on identifying a cult through the difficulty in leaving it.
Leaving a Group
One of the clearest elements identifying a cult is simply what happens when somebody wants “out.” A biblical church will see a person leaving because the group doesn’t meet their needs, doesn’t serve them, or doesn’t meet their biblical expectations as a tragedy and failure on the GROUP’S PART. Their attitude is first sadness in losing the person, but they want to correct what they have done wrong. (Note: This attitude will never appear without first accepting that they have somehow failed. Cults rarely will admit this of themselves.)
A biblical church will simply ask questions like Where? How? When? How can we keep this from happening again? A biblical church is more concerned about their own error in dealing with this member that retention. Retention of the member would of course be great, but they accept the truth that not every good church is good for everybody. Sometimes it is better than they move on. As long as the person understands their feeling bad at the bad experiences that happened with them, they will accept a member moving to another good church. Cult Exit: Problems, Detention, and How-Tos would make the issue plain that you were in a cult to begin with if they cannot gracefully let you leave their group.
Leaving a Good Group
Even in a good church, people change churches without giving up their faith simply because they have found a better church or a church with an essential element that they hold as a priority. For example, the most common here is distance. Another common element that makes people change churches is that they have a better program for some age group, like young children or teens or the aged.
With a cult, all this is totally different. A cult sees its members like a farmer sees his cows. Every single one is there for a purpose, to produce for the farmer, and there is no valid reason for a “cow” to “move on”. If the cow consumes resources, but doesn’t produce for the farmer, then the farmer gets very abusive and vindictive with the cow, and in the end, he will slaughter it and eat the cow to at least get something from it.
This attitude of using a member for the leadership to get something from them, and if they cannot easily get something, they will slaughter the animal. With cults, they will stigmatize the individual or their family as heretics. They try to use any friends that person has in the group to force them to rejoin the group and be submissive.
I am a pastor of a local church for the past 36 years. As a pastor, I fully believe that you should “leave the door open” for exiting people to return to your church if they so choose. It is best to remain friends. Some people leave your church because they are angry at something that happened at the church. But being a mature adult Christian means you can deal with honorably differing opinions but remaining friendly and cordial to each other. It is a shame that adult Christians do not do this as a rule. It shows their childishness instead of any maturity.
Detection: How defections are dealt with
When we examine Scripture, we find that the Bible has specific procedures about error, offense, and “sin”. First a person must recognize his sin, and confess and repent of it before God. He must then restore what he has caused as loss or damage in a physical sense if that is possible, and ask forgiveness of those he has offended and hurt. For example, stealing monetary things can be replaced. The person should do that as a Christian.
Secondly, if there is a personal offense, then the person is to go one-on-one to seek and ask forgiveness.
Thirdly, when a sinning member refuses to repent or abandon permanently his sin, then the entire church gets involved, and the issue is put forth publicly (only when the sinning individual doesn’t respond to anything else). This ventilating the issue and situation in the public forum of the church is a last resort, and it is not gossip, but a “cutting off” of the person from activity and even friendship by the rest of the membership. Perhaps they do interact with this individual, but they treat him as a pagan and unsaved person.
Notice that at no time is there any physical punishment, nor expulsion from the group. Paul’s warnings and exhortations would seem to leave the person in the church if he wants to come, but the group is advised of his situation, and he is not treated as “one of the group”, a saved person as the ultimate extreme act of disciple in a church matter. This is peer pressure plain and simple, but it is a clean and open form of it.
As a preacher, the entire matter rotates around a lack of repentance in our midst. Preachers should preach forcefully against sin, especially common sins among our midst. They should not “pull their punches” because certain people in the fellowship are committing those sins but are big tithers. But the entire point here is that “church” is about morality, and taking the moral image and fabric of Jesus Christ and appropriating into our own lives. If we are wrong, we should search the Scriptures, identify what is wrong with Scripture, and we should replace the sin with justice. That should describe your church, and if it does not, then you should find a church that does. Exit is a demand in this case.
We have to also add that the biblical description of these things also should be understood that there is a tremendous amount of prayer shed on the individual and situation, and that there is public generalized (no names) exhortations from the Bible in the services about the particular sin involved with the situation.
But our idea after studying the Bible is that if the person desires to continue with the group, he can, but his sin will not be overlooked, but it will be dealt with by the leadership of the group.
Notice that in all of this, the focus is on the person’s privileges in participating in the group, and being considered part of it. This is what is taken away. In a cult, his obligation to stay loyal to the group is what is the focus. He “owes” the group. Notice that in a biblical church, the love and benefits of being “a brother” is what is retracted (he will miss out on good things), and in the cult, they force him to continue against his will (he has to pay and work no matter what).
It is not uncommon in modern cults that when a person just stops coming, that they will track him down, and hound him for long periods of time, such that true exit would include moving and not telling anybody where you went to.
It is unfortunate, but in a biblical church, sometimes people stop coming and nobody notices, or nobody ever goes to contact them about why they stopped coming. Although this too is a short coming, it does show that most biblical churches tend to go to the other extreme rather than retention at any cost, even browbeating the person to stay in.
When a person leaves a religious group, a biblical church laments the fact, but does not hide the issues usually. When they do speak little of it, it is more to protect the exiting member than protecting themselves. Cults are abusive because they are manipulative and controling, and this causes incidents. These incidents are usually very common, very severe, and sometimes very extreme. In other words, people leave because they were abused, or because the cult tried to abuse and use them, and they refused. This becomes something the leadership doesn’t want to talk about publicly or privately among the membership.
Within a good, biblical church, the leadership will often explain without being judgmental what happened, and what the issue was that fomented the person leaving. WHen the members come across that person that left them, usually they will tell the truth (as they see it) and when it is more or less the same (only from a different perspective), the incident will be more of a reinforcement of their trust in the group rather than an undermining of the group in their eyes.
Cult Exit: Problems, Detention, and How-Tos
More Articles on the Marks of a Cult
- A study on False Prophets and Teachers
- a Cult versus the true Church
- A Biblical Understanding of Lawlessness
- 7 signs of abusive leaders
- “Mary, Mother of God”