The universe next door
Actually, there are a series of problems with so-called “anti-cult” ministry. The first is that it is so foreign. To paraphrase the opening lines of LP Hartley’s book The Go-Between, “The cults are a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It is like stepping into a parallel universe. James Sire refers to it, in the title of his book, as “The Universe Next Door”.
When the local church is dealing with a foreign land and culture it typically throws its weight behind some missionary organisation. It might have one or two people who feel called to foreign parts, people for whom it will pray and to whom it will send funds and encouragement periodically.
Their pictures will be put on a notice board, alongside a map showing their location and newsletters will be read to the congregation. Some youth might be sent out for two or three weeks experience but otherwise foreign mission needn’t disturb the church’s comfortable, middle-class existence.
However, when the foreign country is a cult the church can’t simply “send” because this foreign country isn’t abroad so much as abroad in the land. Having a few people dedicated to the work doesn’t cut it because the cult comes to your neighbourhood, to your own door!
This is shockingly uncomfortable and so the church largely ignores the problem, adopting a policy of keeping as healthy a distance as possible in the circumstances. Since that distance cannot be maintained geographically it is maintained ideologically. Cults are dubbed dangerous and subversive and members condemned as culpable and beyond the pale.
There is no need therefore, let alone any imperative to prepare thoughtfully, witness intelligently and reach out lovingly. After all, we have decided that it is too dangerous and they are too far beyond talking to.
The Christian Pedant; How Embarrassing!
Thank goodness for people in “anti-cult” ministries! However, there is a problem even here. People working in “anti-cult” ministry are often embarrassingly emphatic about what they believe and this does not sit well with the modern, middle class Western church. These people draw the church’s attention to the uncomfortable issues surrounding truth and error, doctrine and teaching. They inconveniently insist that the church has a responsibility to guard the deposit of faith.
The church often sees this as unreasonable pedantry and blush in its presence and wishes these people would go away or at least like good cobblers stick to their last; become a picture on a notice board; be thankful for the occasional hand out. Those in the ministry wish the church would live up to its responsibilities and actually learn to reach out to cult members not react to them.
Too many preach victory on a Sunday singing, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness calls. They preach grace on a Sunday and sing, “Just as I am, with not one single plea”, and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God. They harangue him as we might the devil himself.
What the former cultist needs
The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of her own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. he has left behind friends, often relations, has changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions, and hope for the future.
The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw himself into “ministry” and help others come out
He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn is not the public platform.
The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an “ex-Mormon/Jehovah’s Witness” and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.
What good is it if a man claims to have faith?
To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert, lock, stock and misconceptions. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people or otherwise proves increasingly comfortable in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately “make allowances”.
If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an unrehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice people and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a little his old friends who simply accepted him and gave him status.
The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former Jehovah’s Witness/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, are less than mature and all too autarchic. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.
If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.
If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.
Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.
Previously: If These are Christians
Next: What are the Dos and Don’ts?
Coming up: The Myth of the Killer Text