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Overview for Clergy

Michael D. Langone, PhD

Clergy should recognize that joining cults is often related much more to psychological and social influence factors than to an evaluation of a group’s theology. They can help families concerned about a loved one or people who have left cultic groups by listening sympathetically and referring them to cult specialists. Clergy can also be helpful in the recovery process of those ex-members who need to re-orient themselves spiritually.

Cults vary tremendously. 
  • Different people respond differently to the same group. 
  • Controversial cults tend to be characterized by control-oriented leadership that places high demands on members, expects compliance, discourages questioning, isolates members from those who might threaten the leader’s control, and offers the carrot of a pseudo-elitism to compensate for the members’ submission to leadership. 
  • Former members are often “gun-shy” about churches or any organization. 
  • Clergy need to be patient with ex-members’ suspicions and fears and offer a safe haven that the ex-member can use when and if he/she wants. 
  • Families who seek help about a child in a cult may have good reason to be concerned and should not be dismissed as “overprotective” parents. 
  • Clergy should encourage families and ex-members to take advantage of specialized resources, such as those ICSA provides. 

Although our capacity to give individualized responses to inquiries is limited, we do what we can and, when appropriate and feasible, refer inquirers to people who may be able to give additional assistance. The ICSA network includes experienced helping professionals, some of whom run support groups

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