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In-laws Involved in a Cult

  1. Sep 19, 2011 #1


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    I'm almost positive that my wife's sister and her husband are part of a religious cult. I've no issues with people going to church, but when family members are involved, I get protective and want justice. I've done a little research on religious cults and most of them seem to indoctrinate members so deeply that it's very difficult to get them to leave.

    Some of the things they've been telling us lately are absurd. We aren't concerned about a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peoples_Temple" [Broken] scenario here, but the environment is unhealthy in many other ways. Just one example: the "leaders" used the church members' tithe money to go on a vacation and found some ridiculous justification for it. The members are emotionally manipulated into feeling sorry for the leaders and pour out affection and money on them because of it. There is a strong victim mentality among the members, and they're made to believe that without each other, they wouldn't survive the real world. I'm deeply grieved, and, frankly, pissed-off about the situation.

    Has anyone else tried to confront family members about this before? What worked and what didn't? It's worth mentioning that they've gotten pretty defensive on previous occasions upon the mere mention of the possibility that they're being taken advantage of.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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  3. Sep 19, 2011 #2
    I doubt you could do much for them directly if they are deeply involved. I would suggest maybe reporting the "church" to the appropriate authorities if possible. Maybe find concerned family of other members and pool any incriminating information.
  4. Sep 19, 2011 #3


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    This is probably a good idea. I'm sure they're violating many of the rules regarding non-profit organizations; it might be possible to get it revoked.

    Even though I'd like to try and preserve our relationship with them as much as possible, the truth is, we disagree about life on so many levels that our friendship is pretty shallow. They're good people and there have been occasions where it's been fun spending time with them. I'm a bit conflicted given the family element in this situation. My first instinct is to shut the place down before it hurts them on a greater level, but I also realize that there might be better ways to go about it.

    Thanks for helping me process.
  5. Sep 19, 2011 #4
    Why are you getting involved in your girlfriend's parents business? If what they are doing isn't exactly infringing on your life or deterring it into a dangerous road, then you really have no business attempting to push your world views on others.

    I have family who could be said to be in a "cult" or do the wrong things, but I only intervene when they actually want me to intervene or it is dramatically hurting such as a life or death situation. Otherwise, if what they are doing isn't hurting them or endangering others, I don't find it to be a good idea to poke my nose in and change their life to the way I want it to be.

    Giving tithe money so the the leaders can go on vacation? An unethical practice, but I am sure the members know what the leaders did with the money, but are still participating in the activities. Something they feel they belong to and the money is worth it to them.
  6. Sep 19, 2011 #5


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    It's not her parents, it's my sister-in-law and her husband. Also, I'm not trying to push my worldview onto them. I have no problems with them being religious or going to a legitimate religious institution. I think you misunderstood my concerns.

    I'm not comfortable waiting to intervene until the moment when things are all-of-a-sudden "life or death." Your situation seems to be different than mine.

    If the members know and don't care, then neither do I. But I'm not fond of assumptions, especially when they involve people I care about.
  7. Sep 20, 2011 #6


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    Yes, someone close to me was far too involved in a cult-like church. The organization was structured sort of in "circles", with the most dedicated members in the inner circle. Inner circle people lived at the church, something I would call a compound.

    Even in the outer circles, the members home-schooled their kids and rarely interacted with mainstream America.

    What finally happened was he divorced his wife and had to put his kids in public school. It was only then he saw how weird and maladjusted his three kids were.

    He's doing better now, the kids are still weird though.

    It's very very hard to watch, really there is nothing you can do. Intervention will only confirm to them that you are the enemy. I'm so sorry you're going through this :frown:! You have to come to terms with the fact that there isn't anything you can do except tell them you love them, and that you miss the way things used to be between you.

    Your wife must feel horrible about all this :cry:.
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  8. Sep 20, 2011 #7


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    Thanks for the reply, lisab.

    One of the most difficult parts has been navigating this without pushing too hard, and your mention of my wife's feelings is very poignant. It might be good for me to take it easy for a bit--more for my wife's sake than anything else. I get really passionate about things like this and sometimes forget that I need to consider how my quest for justice is affecting the other people involved.
  9. Sep 20, 2011 #8


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    Firstly, do you know the name of the organization? You haven't mentioned it if you do.

    Secondly, are you aware of any teachings they adhere to that are oriented strongly in opposition to mainstream ideals? (For example: the idea that castration is the natural order, that experiencing pain is the only way to gain knowledge, or that children shouldn't interact with society.)

    Thirdly, how did you become aware of your relatives' involvement? Was it because they mentioned financial hardship, or because they invited you to join?

    If you're allowed to visit the church in question, I STRONGLY advise you go before you cast too strong a judgement. Forum members here will know that I am strongly opposed to any religion which advocates scientific ignorance or personal reliance on an external supernatural entity. HOWEVER, there is a thin squiggly line between a cult and mainstream religion.

    Unfortunately, that line is almost exclusively drawn by "public acceptance" of the tenants of the church.

    If they have a New Hampshire division, I'd be happy to attend in your place. I've been to a lot of houses of worship and usually find it an inviting atmosphere. I was raised Catholic, and, oddly enough, Catholics seem to be the least welcoming of outsiders (other than Muslims; never could get into a mosque).

    EDIT: Even Jews will invite you in, they just want you to wear a hat. Most Christians are exactly the opposite. No hats allowed.

    I do the same thing. I just had a discussion about chiropractors with my mom. She loves to see her chiropractor. Fortunately, he is only a mild quack and was happy to refer her to a doctor when she needed it. My discussion with her basically went like this:

    Mom: "Why can't you just let me enjoy this?"
    Me: "I'm saying you can, but when the day comes when you have to choose between scientific medicine and your chiropractor, I hope I'm not forced to make that decision for you."
    Mom: "You're so melodramatic."
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  10. Sep 20, 2011 #9


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    It's a "home church" of about 30 or so people, so it's really hard to find the name of the organization under which they're registered.

    I'd have to dig for this. Mostly what I hear about, through conversations with them, is the ridiculous emotional manipulation.

    They invited us to a Thanksgiving Day celebration that the church was putting on. I didn't pick-up on anything too strange outside of the normal religious stuff (speaking in tongues, putting their hands on things when they pray for them, being excessively nice, etc.). They were all nice people, but it was still a weird experience for me.

    I agree, and it's why I've been doing some research about what makes a cult, from a religious perspective, before moving forward. But, as I mentioned in my response to lisab, I think I might have to let it rest for awhile. My wife is very upset about it and, ultimately, she's my main concern. I don't want to drag her along at her expense.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Flex. :smile:
  11. Sep 20, 2011 #10


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    You're welcome, of course. As far as your wife goes, she's probably getting upset because she senses emotion tension developing which is stressful for her; she perceives it as a divide in her family that's growing.

    Firstly, you might want to take the time to explain to her your concern and make sure she knows that you understand why she's upset. Say something like: "the only reason I'm even looking into this is because I care about your sister and her husband. I would never do something that would jeopardize our family's relationship with them."

    She'll probably say something like: "well, just drop it then. It's not important; they're happy."

    And you can reply: "can I explain to you why I think it might be important? And then you can tell me why you think it's not important?"

    Secondly, in any discussion, validate your wife's point of view WHILE offering an alternative. "You're probably right, hun. I think it's worrisome that ________, what do you think?"

    By the way, the "speaking in tongues" thing pushes it over the line for me. I know there are some mainstream religions that expel verbal diarrhea as though it were some ancient language, but it's an important indicator of the mental condition of the religious adherents. It means that at some point the group mentality has breached the physiological barrier; peer pressure is now triggering behavioral episodes.
  12. Sep 20, 2011 #11
    I had a friend years ago who told me she found a youth group she really loved. They apparently preformed exorcisms and she thought that was just amazing. I wasn't sure how to respond to that though I was a bit worried about her.

    Dembadon, is the "speaking in tongues" glossolalia or are they actually speaking another language like latin?
  13. Sep 20, 2011 #12


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    Dem, is there any chance that your wife is at risk of getting sucked into this cult by her sister?
  14. Sep 20, 2011 #13


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    Not too much evidence for cult behavior from my point of view.

    Institutions and businesses that are not religious have their own special way of communicating and if one does not understand the lingo then one would be baffled as to what was being expressed, and could descibe it as talking in tongues.
    People being nice may be bewildering at first, but once becoming accustomed to politeness, manners, honesty, respect, one tends to ask for nothing less.
    Objects everywhere are treated in all manners as being sacred to some extent, or holding a special meaning - marriage rings, sports pennants, trophies, the cross.
    Tithes to the church is how a church is able to survive and pay its bills of heating, electricity, constuction, payment to the pastor(priest, etc) and their family, who, I would imagine that they also would want to take a "vacation" just like regular folk.
    Dedication to a church, is not in itself evidence of belonging to a church that is a cult. People are dedicted to a lot of things - their job, their family, their sports team, their military unit. It is just a factor in belonging to a same minded group of individuals that can share and experience in common, and work towards a common goal.

    I say this so you can reflect and take a step back and try to perceive the behavior and participation in the church as being something that they believe in. A cult will usually attempt to cut off its members from friends and family, and that does not appear to be the case here as you were invited to a dinner at the church, so you obviously have contact. They have not sold their house, emptied their bank account and given it all to the "leaders", in which case that would be a problem.

    Is this a case of missing what used to be and wanting it to continue, or a fantasy of what could have been and isn't. Your opinion that the place is taking advantage of them and needs to be shut down before it hurts them, may be misguided.

    There is one very important thing for you to think deeply about. If you persue this issue you have a risk to consider - they may feel an attack upon their beliefs, values and life choices and feel that you have hurt them and become resentful, and refuse any association with you. Your wife may not understand your motivation and become distant if you do not consider what she has to lose ( or gain ) in all of this.

    I feel for you as a human being, who in wanting to protect, may face tough choices.
  15. Sep 20, 2011 #14


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    What was coming out of their mouths sounded like complete gibberish to me.

    I never like saying anything has absolutely no chance of happening, but the chances of her joining is pretty close to that--zero.

    Thanks for your input, 256bits. There are dynamics that went unmentioned here which are more convincing, but I share your concerns about jumping to conclusions. I'm trying to tread lightly here so that I don't cause unnecessary damage to any party involved. I just want the truth to be known.
  16. Sep 22, 2011 #15


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    You appear to be quite a decent individual judging from your posts and replies. I would trust that you should be able to sort out the truth from the banter. Convincing the people in question is another matter. All the best.
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