Cult Deprogramming, Civil Rights, & Prayer

By Kristen Johnson

Deprogrammed is a terrifying, difficult-to-watch documentary about cults and one man’s crusade in the 1970s and 1980s to “deprogram” youth who were caught up in cults. It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking look at groups such as the Moonies, the Hare Krishna, Satanists, the Jonestown group, Heaven’s Gate and others.

What’s interesting to note about the first “deprogrammer,” Ted Patrick, is that he had no formal education beyond the 9th grade, had no psychological training, etc. But many, many concerned parents hired him to literally kidnap their of-age children to try to save them from the brainwashing they were clearly receiving in these cult groups. Oftentimes, his methods were brutal, and he was jailed numerous times for holding people against their wills and for kidnapping. The taped interviews of ex-cultists (or cultists who refused to be “deprogrammed”) is very eye-opening and certainly food for thought. What makes a group a cult? Do we have the right to force a person against their will to leave a cult? I certainly don’t have the answers, but it does bring up some interesting questions about civil liberties.

I recommend this documentary because it is historically important, and also important to think about what goes on in these kinds of groups today. The conclusion at the end basically wraps it up by saying that these groups still exist today, but they are more underground than they used to be. That makes sense, because people will always have greed and a desire for power…..and I can’t remember the last time I saw a report about a cult in the news.

I did a little research to find out how we can help cult victims, and sadly there is very little out there in the way of resources for victims. There is some psychological research and some techniques are being discussed (and presumably used to help people) – but how do we get people out of these groups, or keep them from joining them in the first place? One of the interviewees in the documentary indicated that this is how people end up in groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS – mind control and a charismatic leader. That’s a truly terrifying thought.

Families Against Cult Teachings is not rated on Charity Navigator, but they look like a good organization for helping people in cults. They reconnect families who have had a family member involved in a cult, rescue children who are in cults, and provide support services for former cult members and affected family members and friends. They also provide awareness and education for the community.

Our best course of action is to pray for and support affected family members. Imagining the pain of losing a family member to a cult is heartbreaking.

Colossians 4:2 (NRSV): Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

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2 thoughts on “Cult Deprogramming, Civil Rights, & Prayer

  1. My friend and I were talking about this subject a few weeks ago when we had watched the documentary on Scientology. What is the difference between a religious group and a cult? I read once manny years ago on the subject of cults and they listed Jehovah Witness’ as a cult but I have not heard that since.


    1. It’s a tough subject, isn’t it? I was also taught that Jehovah Witnesses (and others, not in mainstream Protestant groups) are cults when I was a kid. But, I also haven’t heard that in a long time. When I looked up the definition, it says: “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” That sounds a wee-bit judgmental and broad, doesn’t it? I think it likely comes down to mind-control and whether or not people would be ostracized if they left. I know that a lot of these kinds of groups can’t even talk to ex-members once they’re out, and that includes family members. Thank you for your comment – I’m glad I’m not the only one with questions!


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