My Child Has Joined a Cult

Can you offer any guidance to parents whose child has recently become a member of a cult? Our family has been completely blindsided by this. We have no clue what our options are or what we ought to do, practically, legally, and otherwise. We really need your help!

You’re in a difficult position – difficult, but by no means hopeless. That’s because the problem you’re facing is primarily spiritual in nature. It’s about as big, as formidable, and as consequential as any problem can possibly be, but it’s also a problem that only God can solve. When it comes right down to it, the ball is in His court on this one. He alone is able to enlighten the eyes of your child’s heart and to deliver him or her from the power of darkness and deception. Your job is to pray for your son or daughter and wage war in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12) by leaning upon the Lord’s grace and looking to Him for guidance, consolation, and practical solutions.

How should you respond on the natural plane while fighting this unseen battle? There are several things you can do. To begin with, if your child is under eighteen, you have the option of taking legal action to secure his or her release from the cult group. We recommend that you report every piece of evidence and every bit of relevant information to the local police. If you know where your child is, tell the authorities. If not, file a Missing Persons Report. You can, of course, take the same steps if your child is emancipated (over eighteen), but in that case you should be aware that he or she cannot be legally compelled to return to your home.

If you have any reason to think that your child’s membership in the cult poses an immediate danger to you or the rest of your family – if, for instance, you fear that the leaders of the group might threaten you in some way to prevent your interfering – make sure that the police know this as well. They may have officers on the force who specialize in issues of this kind and who can work with you to increase home security and ensure your family’s protection.

Meanwhile, do everything you can to maintain a positive connection with your child. As you’re able, send birthday cards, letters, and tokens of your love and affection. If you have opportunities to engage in conversation, strive to be a good listener. Instead of trying to “fix” the problem, draw your child out with questions like “How are you doing?” or “Can you tell me why you felt led to join this particular group?” or “What are your feelings about your new situation?” Treat your child as you would any other independent adult with whom you are attempting to cultivate a good relationship and maintain a positive influence. Resist the temptation to argue or to become angry. If you react in a hostile manner, this will only reinforce what cult leaders have probably been telling your child since Day One – namely, that you are an outsider and an enemy to the Cause.

In this connection, it’s vital to remember that, in your child’s eyes, you are no longer “family.” We know this sounds harsh, but it’s almost certainly the case. Cult leaders regularly indoctrinate novices with the idea that family members and old friends are “dead” to them, and that the cult group itself has now become their “tribe” or “clan.” You need to make up your mind to operate on the basis of this assumption.

You should also bear in mind that cults typically capitalize on the pain and woundedness of new recruits. It’s likely that they have already tried to drive a wedge between you and your son or daughter by dredging up and focusing on past parent-child conflicts. If your child confronts you with any of this, don’t be afraid to concede the validity of those aspects of his or her criticism that have an actual basis in fact. By being honest and owning the truth about your personal flaws and shortcomings, you can help disarm the lies.

It’s also crucial to implement appropriate boundaries and abide by them until this situation is resolved. In particular, don’t give in to requests for financial support. If you hear that your child needs assistance paying for room and board, clothing, or personal items of any kind, simply say that you aren’t in a position to help. If you’re told that he or she is ill or in the hospital, make it clear that you will be more than happy to provide the proper care at home. Cults often employ ruses of this kind to wheedle money out of the families of their members.

Finally, stay engaged, stay available, and stay on your knees. In the event that your child becomes enlightened to the true colors of the cult leader and the real nature of the group, you’ll want to be there when that happens to help pick up the pieces and welcome the prodigal home. This may prove to be a long and difficult road, but God will stand by you to the end. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

In closing, we can’t overemphasize the importance of enlisting the help of a professional counselor. Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists who are able to provide sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation.


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Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free From Spiritual Strongholds

Bringing Home the Prodigals

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Cults, World Religions, and Apologetics Resource List (resource list)

Spiritual Counterfeits Project

Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center

When Adult Children Reject the Faith

Loving Your Prodigal

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