Getting our Priorities Straight

I’ve been doing some more research on authoritarian religions, both classic “cults” and Christian groups that utilize “cultic” practices. While there are notable, and welcome, exceptions, so many of the resources available are from people (some as part of organizations and some as not) who have left these authoritarian groups and have decided to reject (sometimes quite angrily) all religion (or at least theistic, organized religion).

One would assume (naively?) that religious people would be deeply concerned about groups that harm their membership, and have at least as much concern, if not more, for members of such groups. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Why might this be. I don’t know. Let me suggest a few possible reasons:

1.  It may be easy for churches and church members to oppose some of the classically weird cults… but it is awkward to challenge churches or denominations that are doctrinely closer to home, while still utilizing authoritarian (cultic) methodologies. It is often easier to ignore, denigrate from a distance, or (and I have seen this remarkably) act as if such groups don’t exist.

2.  Christians/Christian groups that do challenge such groups tend to be more focused on apologetics then people. (At least it seems so to me).

3. There is a greater focus among many Christians on conversion (sudden change) rather than nurture, reconciliation, healing, sustaining, and liberation (typically much slower processes).

4.  Related to #3, Christians like to focus on “low hanging fruits.” We want people for whom we can evangelize and then (perhaps) disciple. But people from authoritarian cults, as well as Christian-based authoritarian groups, are difficult to convert since they are taught not to listen to “deceivers.” And those who leave cults are often turned off to religion and God in general.

5.  Christians (like most people) have trouble applying the Great Commandment. We are to love all people (including enemies). Members of groups that are hostile are easy to label as “the enemy.” Those that leave these groups often connect to groups that are (not surprisingly) anti-religious. As such they still seem like enemies. It is easier to hate or ignore enemies.

But what a shame! Those who are abused spiritually (religious abuse or other spiritual abuse) are certainly those in great need of help… of liberation. When we fail to do this, it is hardly surprising that such people (and the broader public) tend to label Christians with the same brush applied to authoritarian groups.

Of course, we need to be careful with labels anyway. Using the term “cult” for every group that we have issues with, can build barriers with both groups and their members. Additionally, I was raised in a church that described itself as “Fundamentalist” but wasn’t authoritarian (despite the fact that Fundamentalism is often described as being, by definition, authoritarian). There is a danger with being too quick to label, and an equal danger of applying characteristics carelessly to labels.

Demonstrating genuine love and care for all people regardless of the group they are with (whether that group is “for us” or “against us”) is a good start in helping people in need.

Better Bad Choices

I have a couple of acquaintances (truthfully, not close to me). One of them is an Evangelical Christian who is dabbling in a neo-pagan religion. The other, also an Evangelical Christian, is already decided to join a classic doomsday-type authoritarian cult.

Youth Culture - Punk 1980s-1990s
Youth Culture – Punk 1980s-1990s (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Christian Missions is, of course, more focused on bringing those outside of the fold to choose to follow Christ. But it is simply reality that there is a backdoor in the church. This is not a theological discussion about eternal security (it’s not really THAT type of blog). From a human perspective… people change religions. It happens.

As Christians, we (hopefully) seek to ensure that those who follow Christ stay faithful in that. The book of Hebrews, for example, is written to Jewish Christians, encouraging them to stay faithful to the path they chose, and not return to their old lives.

Still, it makes me wonder. Are we responsible as a church not only to:

  • Bring people into the church                                                    and
  • Nurture/disciple those in the church                                   and
  • Encourage those in the church to stay in the church

BUT, recognizing that we simply do not have control over people’s decisions, are we responsible to ensure that those who leave the church do not go in a direction that is self-destructive. 

In the examples at the beginning, both cases ARE problems… but the authoritarian cult is more self-destructive than the neo-pagan group. Additionally the neo-pagan group is easier to leave than the authoritarian cult.

Is the church responsible to help those in church to not only make good choices, but even to make better bad choices?