Here is One Simple Trick for Protecting
Yourself from Falling into Religious Cults...
Maintain Your Personal Boundaries!
Would you like to eliminate the risk of ever falling into a cult? If you learn to stand alone, you will be safe.
Carmen and I recently had an experience (see below), and we felt prompted to remind our friends to maintain healthy personal boundaries.
But that isn't so easy when pressured by a group of people.
For example, does it make you uncomfortable when church leaders instruct everyone to turn, and interact with your neighbors sitting nearby?
If the preacher asks the congregation to interact with the people sitting nearby, and if you do not know those people, you might suffer some anxiety. Even so, you probably turn to them anyway and do what the leader asked because you would feel out of place if you did not respond. That's the power of a group.
Of course it is sign of a healthy church experience when we turn to our neighbors to say hello and to pray for them. This is good and even necessary. But what if the leader pushes the 'ask' past what you consider to be a healthy boundary?
A while back, Carmen and I were attending a conference where the popular speaker asked everyone to find a complete stranger, and stare into their eyes for a prolonged period of time.
The respected speaker said that this was to help us bring our boundaries down and thus be capable of more intimacy.
No doubt the leader was aware of recent studies which revealed that staring into the eyes of another person increases 'intimacy'.
Intimacy, is a good thing. Right? But obviously not with everyone!
Capacity for intimacy is good with your spouse, but is it good with strangers? How about a married man gazing into the eyes of another woman... would that be healthy? Of course not!
So there are common-sense limits as to when and where more intimacy is appropriate.
The speaker's request made us uncomfortable. We don't normally shy away from discomfort, but this went against our instincts.
It turns out there was good reason, which I'll share below.
The underlying problem was this... the leader wanted us to pull down our personal boundaries. While his motives may have been pure, our prior study and experience with personal boundaries told us it was inappropriate.
In the context of religious cults, the elimination of personal boundaries is a common objective because they know that once our boundaries come down, their degree of control increases. They are trying to disarm you and disable you from thinking for yourself.
Cult leaders will try to get you to put your critical thinking on the shelf. They tell their followers "just go with it for now, you'll understand later". Or you might hear them say “God is doing something unique here, and that is why you don’t understand it”. The implication is that if you are struggling with this, you are not spiritual yet.
This is in opposition to the Apostle Paul's word in Acts 17:11 which puts value on searching things out for yourself and testing the purity of the water before drinking, according to scripture.
When Carmen and I heard that the leader wanted us to bring our personal boundaries down, the red flags went up and we decided not to participate.
We believe personal boundaries are healthy. And we didn't like being pressured into doing something that made us feel invaded. We politely excused ourselves and walked to the back of the church.
When we turned around we saw that the speaker noticed us not participating and of course that was a bit awkward. It wasn't our intention to offend him or even make a scene. But when the pastor approached us and probed how we were doing, this caused us even more anxiety because we had to tell him we were feeling uneasy. The pastor is a loving, level-headed guy. But we were still disturbed. Especially as we saw some of our good friends diving in to the 'experience'.
And this is my point…
The feeling of discomfort created by not participating is exactly why it is difficult to stand alone when the entire group is following along. But if you are going to go through your life without ever falling into a cult, you need to be prepared to pay the price of ostracism. Being prepared means setting up an intention in advance. i.e. say to yourself now; "If a leader ever asks me to do something that I think is wrong or crosses my personal boundaries, I intend to walk out, even if I look foolish to others in the room". Setting up an intention like this is a good defense and prepares you to handle the pressure.
When asked to do things in a group setting, especially by a respected leader, it seems out of place not to respond. It is hard to say no so we often end up doing things we would not otherwise initiate on our own.
This is how educated, emotionally stable people become willingly involved in religious cults. It starts with the elimination of personal boundaries, which opens the door for all the insanities we hear about.
Back to the 'staring in the eyes' thing...
In the not so recent past there was a church which promoted the practice of staring into the eyes of other congregation members. Emotional chemicals were stirred up and a great many people were not able to cope and fell into adultery and sexual impurity. As unbelievable as this may seem, it is true. (You'll see the story linked below).
If you gaze into the eyes of an attractive person of the opposite sex, it is no surprise when there is a chemical response in your body. But recent scientific research has shown that same response can take place even if you are not initially attracted to the other person, and they made no distinction as to the gender of the participants. Does that get your attention?
The studies showed that when we look directly in the eyes of another person, our body produces a chemical called phenylethylamine which makes a us feel as though we are in love. Some have even thought they were having a spiritual experience.
Sounds absurd, right? I know! But here's a good layman's overview of the science.
And here is more proof.
Of course, prolonged eye contact alone will not lead someone to fall under the influence of deceptive emotions. There needs to be other factors in place as well. i.e. unsatisfied in their present relationship, looking for love, lonely, low self-esteem, etc.. Not everyone is going to fall into a trap. But it is a numbers game. Some people are vulnerable. Others are not.
In the Jonestown Cult Massacre, only two out of 911 people escaped with their lives. Those two had the ability to stand alone, even while all the others around them were following their respected leader into glorious suicide.
Hopefully you are already in the category of believers who will simply head for the door. But this requires an act of courage. It also requires that you trust your gut and pay attention to the red flags long before things get ugly.
Not everyone has the intestinal fortitude to get up a leave in the middle of a meeting. It can be excruciatingly painful to walk away from a group setting when you know you will look like a dissenter and potentially be shunned.
But as it turns out, this is the price you must pay if you intend to protect yourself and those you love from spiritual abuse.
Several years ago there was a Christian church in the United States experiencing all the wonderful signs of revival. However; somewhere along the way, they took up the practice of staring into each other’s eyes. During these session of gazing, many people had extraordinary emotional experiences which were interpreted as ‘the love of God’. This church combined staring into each other’s eyes while dancing to praise and worship songs - including guys with gals, and married people participating with others who were not their spouse.
When members questioned the practice, the leaders told them to ignore their feelings of discomfort. The experiences were real! But in the end, so were the consequences. Countless believers fell into sexual sin, including leaders. Entire families were destroyed. Permanent scars formed. Many fell into ruin. If you have the stomach, here’s a look inside that revival church-turned-cult.
The damaging church experience that Carmen and I went through years ago only affected a few individuals, but it was painful nonetheless. In our case, it caused us pain because we were the ones who stood up and did the confronting. As a result, we were removed from positions of leadership and made to look like rebels. But are we ever glad we did something rather than twisting our minds to adapt to the deception.
The take-away is this; Personal Boundaries are Normal and Healthy.
You should never bow to the pressure to eliminate or ignore your personal boundaries.
Have you ever had someone stand too close to you? Of course you have! We don't like it when people invade our personal 'bubble'. The uncomfortable feeling we get is not a result of our own weakness. It is quite healthy to be uncomfortable with certain types of intimacy.
In contrast, there are 'unhealthy' people who have medical disorders which make them unaware of personal space (Asberger's, Autism, etc.). They stand too close, stare into your eyes and basically get up into your face without realizing they are crossing into your personal space. The lack of awareness or respect for personal boundaries is a symptom that something is out of kilter, whether in church, or out.
So why would a church leader give us instructions to ignore our personal boundaries? It doesn't matter! Who cares what the reason is! If you find yourself in church and the leader asks you to do something that makes you feel violated or at risk, it is important to heed the bells going off inside of you.
Do not override your God-given instincts!
The group may urge you on with convincing arguments to 'be vulnerable', or ‘go along with what God is doing’.
In that moment, remember that you have the right to maintain your boundaries.
All I am saying is this...
It is a form of spiritual abuse for a leader to leverage their position in order to get you to pull down your personal boundaries. After all, if you eliminate your personal boundaries, who knows where it will end, right?
If you were in a church and the leader asked you to stare into the eyes of a stranger, would you feel as thought your personal boundaries were being crossed? If so, would you just go with it, so as to not make a scene?
We can do without another murderous, Jonestown-style cult. But most churches that abuse are not so sinister. They only manipulate you into religious conformity. The very act of willingly coming under this manipulation creates an inner habit of fear and makes it difficult to later respond to the Holy Spirit when He is contrary to popular opinion. That is not good!
If you see something wrong in your church, and if you are in leadership, I'm afraid you'll have to do the hard thing and be the loving confronter, as described in the bible. It is excruciating (I know!), but you are the sword of the Lord. Get to work and do your duty. I know the price you must pay is terribly high, especially when it all comes down on top of you. But the Lord will give you strength to bear it.
If you are not in leadership, it is not your job to fix it. And unless your name is Jeremiah or John the Baptist, it is certainly not healthy for you to publicly criticize or write deleterious articles tearing down those involved. Just because you have a mouth (or a blog), that alone does not qualify you to be the watchman screaming from the top of the wall. Publicly criticizing the actions or beliefs of other saints, to the world at large, is counter-productive. Hey, it is in direct violation of clear scripture. So don't do it. However; it is your job to protect yourself and your family. You alone carry that weight.
Our encouragement is this; hold on to your personal boundaries, never ignore a red flag and listen to your gut. Holy Spirit always speaks from your gut, so don't allow this pure pipeline from heaven to become corrupted through intentional violation of what you know to be lines that should not be crossed.
Be prepared to stand alone and you'll not just save yourself, but perhaps many others as well.