Cult involvement is dangerous for children. On November 18, 1978, 913 followers of Jim Jones drank poisoned drink mix and died in Jonestown, Guyana (Jones himself died of a fatal bullet to the head). Included in this number were 276 children! On April 19, 1993, 76 Branch Davidians, including 27 children, perished in the flames in Waco, Texas. In June of 2001, Andrea Yates, a follower of Michael Woroniecki, drowned all five of her children, ranging in age from 6 months to seven years old. On March 15 of 2002, Robert Bryant, a Jehovah’s Witness, killed his wife and four children before committing suicide himself. In October of 2003, eight year old Joseph Smith died of what authorities said was a blow to the head. His parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, members of Remnant Fellowship, were charged with murder. The trial is scheduled to begin next month. Each of these situations were different. However, all of them were tied to religious groups which claimed to be Christian but had departed from, or overtly denied, essential Orthodox Christian teachings. Can we point to any written statements by these groups which explicitly advocates child abuse or even murder? No. Were these acts committed by individuals who didn’t love their children? Again, the answer is no. Was there anything within the group or teachings of the groups to which they belonged that could have contributed to all of these deaths? Put another way, is it possible that these deaths occurred because they loved their children? I believe the answer is, yes. If this sounds like an oxymoron or double talk, that is because we have a difficult time thinking of the death or abuse of a child as something being done for a higher purpose.
I recently watched “Jonestown: Paradise Lost,” a newly made documentary of Jonestown, Guyana, and the events leading up to the November 18, 1978 mass suicide. Although there have been a number of documentaries done about these events, this one introduced an element which I have not seen previously included. It incorporated interviews with Jim Jones son, another survivor and a news reporter who had been there. This provided a unique insider’s perspective. Jim Jones didn’t openly advocate child abuse or murder. While the People’s Temple was a highly abusive cult, where harsh beatings of alleged “miscreants” were publicly administered, it appears from all reports that children were highly valued in Jonestown. One of the big attractions of that cult was their supposed adherence to the ideal that all people were equally valuable, regardless of race, age, sex, national origin or financial station in life. Jim Jones was promoting what he called a “Pentecostal Socialism.” He emphasized the “impending judgment of God upon the world” in order to coerce his hapless followers to stay in line and keep the rules he imposed. The foremost rule was unquestioning obedience to Jim Jones as God’s direct spokesman – to rebel against or even to question Jim Jones was equal to rebelling against God. The second hammer he used against the people was extreme peer pressure. For example, one always had to appear to be happy and contented. To do less betrayed doubts, which led to distrust from the others and pointed reminders of how “protected” they were under the leadership of God’s man.
Jim Jones persuaded his 900 plus followers that the United States was in a state civil war, and that racism was at an all time high. On the fateful day of the mass suicide, he led them to believe that the United States Government had federal troops on the way to capture and abuse them and their children. In their minds, by killing themselves and their children, they were protecting themselves and their 300 children from torture by an evil and satanically possessed government. In their desire to protect their children from the descending evil hordes, they gave them poison laced fruit drink. A few adults had moments of independent thinking, and weakly protested the commanded slaughter, but these few were forced by others to drink the poison or were given deadly injections. However, for the most part, the pressure to conform, and the belief in impending doom persuaded them to doom themselves and their helpless children, who were the first to die in the holocaust.
Similarly, David Koresh had convinced the Branch Davidians that Armageddon was immanent, so although they might perish in the flames they themselves set, they would immediately be resurrected to rule the earth, IF they remained faithful. Unfaithfulness would be eternal loss. In other words, did they want to die voluntarily with Koresh and be raised immediately in great glory, or die immanently anyway and go straight to Hell? The choice was theirs. These parents, who loved their children, kept them to die in order to protect them from what in their minds was an even greater loss.
Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly consign their children to death, due to the organization’s egregious teaching on blood transfusions. The May 22, 1994 issue of their Awake! Magazine has its cover filled with pictures of JW children who have tragically perished because of this teaching. The lead article is titled, “Youths Who Put God First.” The page 2 synopsis proudly states:
In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtroom, with blood transfusions the issue.
As the article progresses we are introduced you a 14 year old named Adrian who has a tumor on his stomach. This will require surgery and the attendant loss of blood which goes with this type of surgery. The surgeon, Dr. Jardine, was fully aware that performing this type of surgery without replenishing the blood supply was potentially deadly. He spent time trying to persuade Adrian but a thoroughly indoctrinated Adrian held the line on the JW teaching and responded:
To disobey God and extend my life for a few years now and then because of my disobedience to God lose out on a resurrection and living forever in his paradise earth – that’s just not smart.
Do JW parents refuse the very thing that will preserve the life of their children because they don’t love them? No, far from it. They choose to endure the pain of losing the child because they have been persuaded that to give the child blood consigns their beloved offspring to be cut off from God forever. The peer pressure from those around them is so great that even a Jehovah’s Witness who has been weak in the past will conform. In essence they allow the child to die because they love them.
And what of Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship? How does all of this relate to them? Again, I do not think (my opinion) nor do I have any evidence to indicate that Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship “advocate child abuse or starvation.” That does not mean it may not happen through the law of unintended consequences as the result of her teachings. Some of her followers may do one or both out of fear, fear that their child will be rejected by God for a misstep or for weighing a few pounds more than Gwen claims that God finds acceptable. It may result through fear of peer pressure as others hold up their children as idyllic and they know theirs are less than perfect. The combination of pressures and expectations of the group can lead parents who love their children deeply to harm them greatly. It is a tragedy which only can be averted by the wide dissemination and dedicated teaching of true doctrine in order to counteract the false teachings and the unintended consequences of dangerous religious groups.