Cult-Proofing Our Kids

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“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show
great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the
elect. Behold, I have told you in advance” (Matthew 24:23-24).

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For 51 days, the Waco, Texas, siege dragged on. Finally on April
19, federal authorities took drastic measures-for the most part to
rescue the children in the Branch Davidian compound. The trouble
is, the children could not be rescued. They were pawns of parents
who believed that their salvation would come only by following
David Koresh completely-even to an apocalyptic death.

These children were tragically doomed by their parents’ choices.
It’s sobering to realize that many of these parents had grown up in
Christian churches and were still unable to resist the allure of
Koresh’s deception. What went wrong with their Christian training?
Is it possible that these former church members were actually
conditioned to join a cult? What can we do now to protect our
children from vulnerability to later cultic involvement?

CULT MEMBER PROFILE
No one is quite sure how many cults there are. Estimates range
from 700 to 5,000, depending on the definition of “cult.” Cults are
normally defined as small, fringe groups with a single, charismatic
leader.

Tal Brooke, president of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in
Berkeley, California, says these leaders are “usually very much
into control; they’re very manipulative personalities. And one of
their bartering points is that they claim authentic and original
revelation. So they claim to be revelators of divine truth, whether
they claim to be God himself or mouthpieces of God.”

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According to Gretchen Passantino, co-author of Answers to the
Cultist at Your Door and co-director of Answers in Action in Costa
Mesa, California, cults that are deviations of Christianity target
people with a Christian church background. With more Eastern and
New Age cults, most recruits have no religious background. These
cult recruits grew up in a religious vacuum and are searching for a
religious reality.

Whatever the background, the following are characteristics of
people who get involved in cults:

  • Looking for answers-People who need the security of an
    authoritarian environment crave black-and-white answers-even if
    those answers are wrong. Cults provide such an environment.
  • Desiring God-”Another common reason that young people join
    cults,” says Passantino, “is they want to experience God in a way
    that seems more real than what they’ve grown up with. And cults
    frequently promise this kind of a mystical experience with
    God.”
  • Needing to make a difference-Cults meet young people’s
    idealistic needs to change the world. In a cult, people can lose
    themselves in something greater and nobler than themselves.
  • Hurting-Lonely, alienated people find in cult members the love
    and acceptance they’ve longed for.
  • Breaking away-Sometimes kids join cults out of rebellion
    against their parents’ values.

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE
We can safeguard our children from being misled. But we must start
now. Here’s how:

1. Teach kids to think. Churches with a rigid autocracy
teach kids not to think. Kids learn that they’re to obey orders
without reasons. This kind of environment mimics cults and actually
trains kids in the stimulus-response mode of cults-”I command, and
you jump!”

Passantino says parents and churches need to “teach kids to think
critically about what they believe and why they believe it and how
their lives should be ordered according to God’s will.”

2. Appeal to kids’ idealism through meaningful service.
Dr. Gordon Lewis, author of Confronting the Cults and professor of
systematic theology at Denver Seminary, says “the church is not
showing young people they can make a difference in the world where
they are and where they go in the future. We somehow leave that to
the professionals and to a few. And we need to help every young
person know that each young person is part of the great worldwide
mission of the Christian faith.”

It’s not enough to ask kids to bring food for the hungry. Let them
organize the drive and deliver the food. Or instead of having them
help run a booth at a church carnival, invite them to be on the
steering committee.

3. Provide a strong cult-education program. Passantino
says we can be “so afraid that kids are going to be lured into sin
or into false teaching that the church isolates them from any other
ideas or practices, instead of educating them and giving them good
sound answers and choices. [The church] pretends like those
religious choices don’t even exist. And then when the kid gets out
into the world and say, his best friend in school turns out to be
[a cult member], he’s totally unprepared to evaluate what he’s
hearing or seeing. He really doesn’t know how to respond to
it.”

4. Expect and encourage kids to question their faith. “I
think often that children get the impression that it’s wrong to
have any doubts or questions,” says Lewis. “I think the church must
do all in its power to be open to questions and even encourage
people to ask questions about issues that are on their mind. Kids
are told, Ôbelieve, believe, believe’…The Bible also says to not
believe every spirit-1 John 4:1-3. We are to test the spirits. We
are to see whether they are of God.”

5. Love and accept kids unconditionally. If we don’t
teach children that the church is the place to find God’s love and
acceptance, cults may convince them that they are the ones who will
love them as God does.

6. Teach kids to understand the Bible. “The focal point
for Bible study, for both young children and mature adults, should
always ultimately be on the person of Christ,” says
Breckenridge.

Lewis adds, “One of the things we’re not doing is teaching
hermeneutics-the science and principles of biblical
interpretation-and this can be done on different levels. We have to
agree to help children know they must take a verse in its context.
They should interpret every verse in its paragraph, its paragraph
in the light of the chapter and the light of the purpose of the
book, and whether it’s in the Old Testament or the New, and how
those two basic divisions relate to each other. They need to end up
with the whole context of the Bible’s teaching.”

7. Work with parents. Dr. James Breckenridge, professor
of religion at Baylor University in Waco, says churches need to
“work very carefully with the homes of the parishioners because
there is only so much that the church can do-even at its very best.
And the church should encourage meaningful instruction at home-time
for prayer, Bible reading, and giving the kids the chance to ask
questions concerning Scriptures.”

8. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit. We’re not in this
alone. Breckenridge affirms, “Even the most dedicated pastor,
Christian education worker, or parent cannot do the work of the
Holy Spirit…But I think at least we can prepare the ground for
the Spirit by being loving, very caring, patient, and
understanding.”

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