Our nation collectively grieved the tragic loss of life on September 11, 2001. Despite the anger we all felt towards the terrorists, we all gathered together to comfort those who would not see a husband, wife, father, mother or child return home after a normal day of work. Losing to death someone whom you love is devastating in large part because there is the realization that you will not see your loved one again in this life. And for those who do not believe in life eternal, or are not sure what happens after death, the sense of loss is far worse. We believers also grieve, but as the Apostle Paul points out, we do “…not grieve as others do who have no hope.“ (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We know our loved one is safe and that we will be united with them once more. Because we Christians understand that our lives here on this earth include suffering and tribulation over which we have no control, we comfort the grieving and weep with those who weep.
When a family loses a loved one to a cult, family members also suffer a great amount of grief. We regularly receive calls from those whose spouses and/or adult children have joined cults. They experience a different sort of pain than those who lose a loved one to death. Their loved one is still very much alive, but often completely lost to them. It very often happens that their loved one restricts contact with their family. Many times, the cult member will completely sever ties with their family because the family is now viewed as “worldly” or even worse. There is so little teaching about cults in the church that, when someone gets drawn into one, the family does not even see the danger until it is too late to intervene. At some point though, the sad and fearful reality dawns upon the family as they see, in addition to drastic alteration of long held beliefs, many great and unwanted personality and life changes on the part of the cult member.
Questions abound. “What do you mean you can’t you celebrate birthdays or Christmas?” “What? Our church – the one you grew up in – is ruled by Satan?” “The Trinity is a pagan belief?” “We aren’t in the truth?” Sadly, by the time the realization hits that your son, daughter, husband or wife has joined a cult group, there is no easy recourse, because to say anything negative about the group is generally viewed as cause for termination of the relationship, even if the qualms are expressed by a mother or father who loves them dearly and is only trying to rescue them.
Support for this type of grief is often hard to come by. Even your church friends do not always understand how such an awful thing has happened. They do not understand cult indoctrination and how even Christians can be drawn into a cult, often very quickly. Friends do not know how to help, even though they want to, because they just don’t comprehend the issue. And some people desperately want to believe that such a thing could not happen to their son or daughter, which can only mean that you must have done something wrong in your parenting. Hopefully, such an attitude is not expressed to the grieving parent, but often it comes across anyway. The ideas that “They should have known better” and “You should have seen what was happening” can come through loud and clear. For these reasons, people who have lost family to cult members often feel isolated from the very source of comfort they need. The loneliness of not being able to share your grief with others is very difficult.
When we get calls or emails from a cultist’s family members, we are very often told, “You don’t know how good it is to talk to someone who understands.” Whenever possible, we try to connect the caller with others who are in a similar situation. Just to have someone else that fully understands what you are going through and with whom you can freely discuss what is going on is a great relief.
There is a shock among Christians and non-Christians alike when a cult makes the news in a big and horrible way, such as in Jonestown, Waco or Heaven’s Gate. People wonder aloud how a supposed religious leader could dupe people into taking their own lives and/or the lives of their children. Those followers were so gullible! No “normal person” would get caught up in that sort of thing. Joy and I have been involved in this mission to cults and non-Christian religions for three decades now, and we see the situation quite differently. It’s fair to say there is a cult out there to suit every personality type, and people drawn into cults are neither stupid nor especially gullible.
We’ve talked about the heart wrenching pain and anguish of people who have lost loved ones to spiritual predators, but there are also mothers and fathers on the inside of such groups who suffer very real pain and loss – mostly alone and uncomforted.
A little less than a month ago, we read the headline, “Woman shunned by Jehovah’s Witnesses kills entire family: cops.” Most people can simply not comprehend what connection there could be between being shunned by a religious group and killing one’s own family. We suggest that this mother’s grief and fear for her children’s eternal life led her to this final desperate act. There is also an instance of an ex-JW father who killed his family and himself because he was sure that his children would be destroyed at Armageddon, which was (as it always is for JWs) right around the corner. He thought it better to kill them now then, so perhaps they’d have a chance for resurrection in the Kingdom.
Some years ago, we had a call on our helpline from a woman who had been a JW for about a quarter century. She was considering suicide. Why? The organizational teaching is that the salvation of her children depended on her – and she was terrified she was failing them because of her own flaws. Out of her love for them and desperation, she believed if she removed herself from the equation they might have a better chance to earn Jehovah’s favor and eternal life on this earth. She had no one to talk to, because all her family, friends and extended community were JWs. (It is not a good idea to admit to weakness when you are part of a cult group. It marks you.) The few times she tried, with great temerity, to communicate her despair to a friend in the organization, she was told she just needed to work harder, go door to door more, buckle down, and stop looking for sympathy. So, she lived in great fear and suffered in silence. She is free now, thank the LORD.
Joy had a JW friend who would talk with her about problems she was having with her kids. She could not talk (and would never dream of – talking) about these issues with other JWs, even her supposedly closest friends, because her children’s flaws would be held against her as well as her kids. So it was better for her to pour out her fears and struggles to an “opposer” whom she knew loved her and would never reveal her secret struggles or harshly judge her children. When you are working your way into God’s favor (and no matter the cult, it’s what they are ALL doing) you cannot dare to admit that you are not near-perfect all the time. Very sad.
Blessedly, as Christians we have peace with God though we know ourselves to be far from perfect, and certainly not deserving of blessing and eternal life. We live in a state of grace. And we can draw alongside and comfort one another with the same love and grace we have been shown.Ω
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