How Do You Stop a Cult?

The short answer: once it is in full swing, you can’t, except either (a) by force or (b) by miracle.

Once a cult leader is in place–and his followership is sufficiently brainwashed–they will follow him until he crashes and burns. And when that happens, the fallout will be severe.

Toward that end, I would suggest that Linda Murphrey–the daughter of the late Jack Hyles–need not sweat it. Short of having something explosive–such as a sex tape–there was absolutely no way she could have stopped him. There were too many “True Believers”, and–in the absence of overwhelming evidence–that was not going to change.

Having said that, the cult dynamic is not a new phenomenon; neither Jack Hyles nor his successor–Jack Schaap, who has been sentenced to prison for his affair with an underage teen–invented that dynamic. Nor will it end with the demise of Schaap.

Having said that, the larger question is how do you PREVENT a “ministry” from becoming a cult?

And make no mistake, preventing that begins with YOU. The minister, the deacon, the elder, the secretary, the wife, the faithful attender.

I’ll address this in more detail in the days or weeks to come. But this is the opening salvo.

18 thoughts on “How Do You Stop a Cult?

  1. Interesting question. Being in a position to stop a cult inplies that you also have authority to do so. You set yourself up as arbiter of what is just and permissible in religious practice and empower yourself to punish any who step outside your established boundaries.

    As all the cult members are freely participating in it, even if with slavish devotion, they have done no wrong and ought to be left to their own way. Even their children. For we see that our own children our ours in the Lord’s care and that their upbringing is our responsibility. It is no less so for the children of cult members.

    Koresh and all his children didn’t have to die. They were doing no one any harm. Hale Bop commeteers were harming no one else. They freely chose to follow their star and they ought to have had that right to do so.

    Unless you wish to establish a higher authority to act as jusdge among the cults, you not only can’t stop a cult, you don’t have any right to try. And if you do permit such an authority to be established, you will find it used against every traditional foundation of the historic Christian Church.

    • Interesting question. Being in a position to stop a cult inplies that you also have authority to do so. You set yourself up as arbiter of what is just and permissible in religious practice and empower yourself to punish any who step outside your established boundaries.

      That’s the thing. Once the cult dynamic has set in–and I believe that sets in early–you can’t stop it. At least not without a miracle, such as a 16-year-old girl texting a pic of herself and the pastor kissing, while a deacon happens to be looking at the pastor’s cell phone, which is on the pulpit…

      My larger point is this: the way to stop a cult is to act early on in ways the help prevent it from happening. Sometimes, you will be heard–and others will heed the warning–whereas at other times, you will be ignored.

      If you see it happening, and speak up, and still find yourself ignored, then you are faced with some difficult choices: (a) hang around and hope for the miracle and take your risks, or (b) get out of there.

    • Koresh and all his children didn’t have to die. They were doing no one any harm. Hale Bop commeteers were harming no one else. They freely chose to follow their star and they ought to have had that right to do so.

      I absolutely agree. If people freely choose to follow these guys–such as Koresh and Applewhite–that’s their call.

      Unless you wish to establish a higher authority to act as jusdge among the cults, you not only can’t stop a cult, you don’t have any right to try. And if you do permit such an authority to be established, you will find it used against every traditional foundation of the historic Christian Church.

      Depends. If I am among a body that calls itself Christian, then I can appeal to Scripture as I make my case against the leader’s godlike status that (a) others bestow on him and (b) he demands others to give to him.

      What he does with that, now that is a different ballgame. If he and his lackeys reject what I am saying, then, like I said: I have two choices. I can stay around and wait for things to change–and that carries risks–or I can “get the hell out of Dodge City.”

      A major issue becomes one of to what extent is it your job to confront the matter?

      • But departing does nothing to diminish the strength of the cult. In many cases it has been shown to “purify” it. The remaining members will feel stronger in their faith since they have persevered through the trials. This historical Christian church was set up under a Presbyteriam format. The elders in each church were responsible for keeping the church on the proper path, not a single pastor. Under that system, the elders from all the local churches could gather and discuss important topics like what the church down the lane was teaching. If it was found to be heretical, they could be cast out of the larger community. Within the PCA, that is still the case. If you don’t believe the basic doctrines then would could be censured or expelled. Without the “stick” to enforce church discipline, there is no fence to keep the pastor from straying off course. Churches that do not have edlers to oversee them, often have pastors who get special revelations and words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. And they easily become cults. But since most of them are nothing more than a small business anyway, why should anyone else care about impeding them?

        • But departing does nothing to diminish the strength of the cult. In many cases it has been shown to “purify” it.

          Excellent point, and that is one of the things I was going to point out in my next installment.

          When you realize you are in a cult, the choices carry particular risks. Staying has risks; leaving has risks.

          When you make the choice to leave, effectively you have decided that you have done what you can, and you are leaving them to their own devices.

          And yes, things may very well get worse–and probably will, for the reason you point out–but, there comes a point where you have to decide whether it is your battle to fight. Sometimes it can be; other times it is not.

          I think the PCA model has its strengths–it puts limits on potential cult dynamics, although I’ve seen a case where a church came dangerously close to becoming a cult.

          Churches that do not have [elders] to oversee them, often have pastors who get special revelations and words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. And they easily become cults. But since most of them are nothing more than a small business anyway, why should anyone else care about impeding them?

          That’s an easy one. Let’s say I’m at First Baptist Church/Timbuktu (FBCT). We have a really good pastor who, at age 80, decides to retire. John Doe (JD)–a younger, more dynamic speaker–is brought on to replace him.

          JD starts out strong, preaching very well. His youthful vigor is very impressive; he attracts people in ways his predecessor did not; and that starts leading to a situation where people start worshiping JD.

          This is a problem, but it becomes a BIG problem when I start hearing the deacons–who should know better–doing the same thing.

          I also start noticing that faithful and proven teachers–who aren’t part of the “in” crowd–are suddenly finding themselves shut out of teaching, and not asked to come to meetings. And younger–unproven–people are being promoted to positions of leadership without any regard for Biblical requirements.

          First, I have to figure out how much of that dynamic is just normal transition from one leader to another–no two guys have the same style–and how much of it is unhealthy and conducive to an emerging false teacher.

          Once I have figured out that it is the latter, I now have a very tough choice.

          Why should I care about impeding them? I was there before JD arrived. Perhaps my family grew up in that church. The people getting sucked into the dynamic are people who are old enough to know better.

          At some point, it is my duty to speak up. What they do with that is not my call, but I have a duty to sound the alarm.

          The problem, though, is that–if they are determined to go down that path–then I must make the decision to leave or stay.

    • Not one church or police agency listened to us about heavens gate in san diego. You are wrong for not standing up to dangerous personality disorder (npd and bpd). Stand up to all abusers. Document these danderous mental illnesses. Document cults. Almost all follow narcissist personality disorders. The most dangerous and perverted of all mental illness (las vegas shooter). Whats wrong with you people? Sissy churches.

      • It was great when we could lock up crazy people. Even then, some of them managed to slip through the cracks. (Jim Jones, anyone?)

        The problem is that people are not discerning. They aren’t looking for red flags, and the red flags are the very things that make the cult leader types very appealing.

        When you’re dealing with a church that has experienced meteoric growth with a pastor who has great charisma, you need to be on the lookout for trouble. Charisma is very attractive, but–as I often point out on these pages–charisma is not character.

        If leaders are not accountable to anyone, then you need to speak out. And if you get stonewalled or put down, you need to get out–run do not walk–and do not let the door hit you in the ass.

        When accountability has broken down and the congregation does not want to take action, then it’s too late. You need to get out.

        As for Heaven’s Gate and cults that are more “out there”, it’s even harder. Every one of those folks were blindly behind Marshall Applewhite. To my knowledge, they were not forced to be in that cult, but in fact were gladly in there. That was a train wreck in the making, and there was almost no way it was going to be stopped.

        Jim Jones and Adolph Hitler–yes, I classify Hitler as a cult leader–are the worst-case scenarios. Once they were entrenched, mass death was imminent. Attempts to stop them were fruitless, and people actually died trying to stop them.

  2. It’s an interesting thought. So, there are ten basic tools to dissolve a cult over time (immediately is not possible. First, it needs to be mandated by the state/constitution/laws that anyone may quit a religion when they desire. Give notice or inform someone…..but it has to be a right for freedom of religion….that quitting is always an option. Second, the source document of the cult, needs to be pushed for revisions….changes, by people within the cult or people outside the cult. The more you water it down….the less power of the cult. Third, the perfectness of the leader of the cult needs to be disassembled…..showing the guy as a fraud, fake, or just incompetent. No bogus stuff….just use the facts that exist because no one can be that perfect in life. Fourth, accountability on legal authorities needs to be drawn and demanded. Cults can not rank above legal authorities. You need to use legal tools that exist and make people accountable. Fifth, guilt and shame are massive tools of a cult. Take them away. Ensure that forgiveness always exist, and that shame will not be accepted in our modern society. Sixth, cults tend to want to control lifestyles….so hinder them. Let them know that individual’s lifestyles are not controlled by such entities. Seventh, cults can’t exist without status-members or elite-members. Remove such tools, deny such status, and ask why non-elite members can’t get the four-star thrills. Eighth, cults must establish personality changes or behavior changes. Hinder them…..ask stupid questions….make the requirement of personality changes a question mark in modern society. Nine, for some reason…..mystic experiences figure into most all cults. You need to demystify the mystic charm that is exhibited. Ten, finally….time seems to always matter to cults….taking time for six prayers a day…..taking a whole weekend for a seminar in the cult….changing a guy’s daily events to fit within the time sequence of the religion. Remove the time sequences as much as possible.

    All of these, I admit are small in nature….but each reflects upon the cult and its ability to proceed ahead. Each cult could fail easily, if you employed the right tools.

    • Ultimately, the window for stopping a cult is small. This is because only in its earliest stages are people likely to be willing to think, and–even then–it’s a tall order because, in the early stages, it is not always easy to see that it is a cult.

      Once you realize you are in one, you can try to reason with them, but–if they aren’t going to budge–you have one and only one option: GTFO. Run, do not walk.

      Once the cult has the momentum, it is an impending train wreck, and you need to get away from it.

  3. The comments I have seen on this website are true. It’s probably better to leave than to bring down the cult. The thing is I recently just got out of a cult, I just up & left, they didn’t like it, but I did it, I had the strength to leave, I saw things were not right, everything they did was illegal, they have 2 down syndrome girls, I don’t like the way they are treated, its very wrong, they sometimes neglect them & only keep them for the money. They were also controlling my schedule for my education, so I got out of there, they totally wanted me to disconnect from my family, which I’m of age I should be able to see them when I want too. They were stalking me however though, & watching what I was doing, to see if I was talking Crap about them, which I wasn’t. I hope I can get some advice, if anything comes up in the near future.

    • They choose it. I used to think the answer was more complicated than that, but–in a nutshell–that is it: people who are stupid, as a general rule, are stupid by choice, in spite of the truth staring them in the face.

    • Its not that simple. I am speaking from experience. I wanted to server God to the highest degree and my naive and lack of experience in God and world- nature was taken advantaged of. It starts off slow, and over much time of gas lighting, manipulation, seduction, etc.. you become in a place where your fears are stronger than your rational mind. A common theme, in the religious cult, “God will judge you if you leave, object, change, or tell”
      You would not question the commendation of an adult male who takes advantage of a child, but grown people can have childlike souls and predators with mature souls can overwhelm them, causing them to stumble on their path and journey unnecessarily

      • Here’s the thing, though…

        Christians are, if nothing else, a “People of the Book.” I realize that a leader can have a certain charisma, and I realize that people are naturally drawn to charisma. And early in the game, the leader may use that charisma for good.

        (Jim Jones, for example, was actually quite revered for his work in the Civil Rights movement. Believe it or not, he actually received a visit from then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter. No one suspected that he was on his way to leading a mass suicide and even the murder of a group of outsiders that included a Congressman.)

        The problem occurs when people decide–consciously or unconsciously–that a leader is above the rules. And by “the rules”, I’m talking about “The Book”; i.e., the Bible.

        The Bible has specific requirements for leaders, particularly how they must conduct themselves. When it comes to abuses, particularly physical and sexual abuse, there is no favorable precedent for that in the Bible, as leaders are never given license to take advantage of anyone. In fact, the warnings that Jesus issues to the disciples regarding children–both literal and figurative–are directed toward would-be leaders.

        When Jim Jones took sexual license with women–and even men–a few people opposed him, but were shut down. Some of them got out “while the gettin’ was good”, but most stayed and sided with Jones. When he dissolved all marriages, it was the same thing: a few opposed him, but most did not.

        The problem is, even in a non-cult setting, no one wants to rock the boat. No one wants to stand up to the leader. Some will vote with their Blessed ASSurance and walk. Some will oppose the leader and get demagogued and pushed out.

        I’ve seen churches where pastors put otherwise decent people on key committees. And those same people–who should know better–become rubber stamps for whatever the pastor wants. It’s a dynamic called “groupthink”.

        In cults, the “groupthink” takes a whole new face once the leader really gets entrenched. Once this happens, you aren’t going to stop the train; your only good move is to run and not look back.

        When things really go south, many will choose to go straight to Hell with their leaders. Jim Jones provides a poignant example of that.

        • Does a cult remain a cult if it seize political power the same the same way the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia?

          Can a whole country be a huge cult like the Soviet Union?

          • Yes. And I would include Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (Mussolini-era) in that camp.

            Hitler and Mussolini were cult leaders all the way, and their appeal extended to both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, it is only in the aftermath of WWII that the two are viewed negatively by our academic class. Prior to WWII, Mussolini and Hitler received wide praise from the Progressive movement in the U.S.

            In their respective countries, they achieved great popularity and perpetrated heinous criminal acts–including genocide–with little or no opposition.

  4. I have most of your comments. My grown adult child is in a cult & has been for longer than I have wanted. I see him once a year. He lives 2 hours form us. I have decided to research cult leader & to find out all about their lives. Can I bring cult down I don’t know. But will I try with God’s help YES!

    • The cult will come down crashing sooner or later. It is my hope and prayer that your son will get out of that safely, and embrace Jesus.

      Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

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