These are some great resources for combating the tactics, abuse and manipulation of 'High Demand Religious Groups' and cults.
Olive Leaf Network
New Zealand based aid, advocacy and awareness for former members of high-demand religious groups.
Testimony from Waco Surivor
Cult leader David Koresh led his followers to a fiery death following a weeks-long standoff with the FBI in Waco, Texas. Among the followers were three brainwashed sisters from Auckland. One of them died in the raid. But Grace Adams and Poia Alpha survived, since then both sisters have worked to help other people who feel they have been caught up in a cult. Sunday TVNZ caught up with them for this in-depth, 14-minute interview.
The Mind Control Techniques of the ICC
(International Christian Church)
Read Josh's story
Josh found himself caught up in Shincheonji, initially warm and friendly with what seemed an emphasis on bible study soon turned out to be anything but
Read Vanessa's story
Vanessa had recently moved cities, was on the lookout for a new Church, she never expected that the people who had connected with her weren't welcoming her but instead luring her out and to SCJ.
Article: 10 things I wish I knew about cults
Read Ps. Steve's learnings
Steve, a NZ Baptist Pastor experienced first hand the heartache of having intelligent, Jesus loving people in his Church, manipulated into a cult and all the repercussions that comes with that on their community, families and daily lives.
These cults intentionally seek out intelligent and learning young men and women in a unique stage of life. One where they may be in a new city, a new living situation, finding a new Church and new friend group.
There are incredible Christian people and organisations who are available to help in these areas. Be safe and ensure you're connecting with legitimate and known Church and para-church organisations Take steps to ensure they are honest about what their intentions are and that they are indeed who they say they are.
Here are some known and healthy organizations to connect with. Be careful, some organizations have been known to fake membership with legitimate groups. Use these channels of contact so you can be sure in their legitimacy.
Podcast: Cult Chat
Dr Caroline Ansley, Lindy Jacomb and Liz Gregory as they traverse the cultiverse. Journey with them as they unpack the cult playbook, talk to leavers of coercive and controlling groups in New Zealand, and share their stories. On “Cult Chat” our hosts talk with experts to gain greater understanding of cultishness and call for Kiwis to cult-proof their lives. "Cult Chat" is a home-grown Kiwi podcast where each of the hosts are uniquely positioned to host a survivor-centric podcast, bringing their individual experiences of high control groups to the conversation.
Our hosts have each spent years advocating for awareness, education and safety for survivors of harmful groups, and have had their own challenges in the cultisphere.
Book: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse
Worried you or someone you know may be caught up in a relationship where spirituality is weaponised to manipulate, guilt and coerce?
Shincheonji Specific Resources
Shincheonji has highlighted the importance for us in Aotearoa to be aware of cults. Shincheonji have many names; Zion International, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, Parachristo, SCJ, Mannam and many more
Jesus Morning Star Specific Resources
Jesus Morning Star, also known as Providence, Christian Gospel Mission, Every Nation and many other names is a cult highly active in Universities and regularly recruits through unsuspecting Churches.
Thinking of Leaving?
There are many "High Demand Religious Organizations" as well as personal relationships that use spiritual abuse to assert authority and power over others, controlling their daily lives, freedoms, finances and more . The Exclusive Brethren (Plymouth Brethren), Gloriavale Christian Community, Centrepoint and just some of these organizations.
A huge thank you to Olive Leaf Network for their work in this area and for making these and other resources available
Unsure about a group?
Here's a few questions to consider
Does your church/study/group oppose critical thinking?
When you ask questions are you encouraged to take what the leader says on faith? Are Bible references displayed in support of statements made from the pulpit? Do they welcome historical exegesis of text? Is there open forums and opportunity for criticism, questions and dissent? If not, they are displaying signs of authoritarian behaviour.
Does your church/study/group isolate and punish dissenting or departing members?
When people question the direction of the leader are they isolated? Are other members of the congregation told not to speak to them? Is it possible to disagree with the leader on a secondary issue (something that wouldn’t show up in a historic creed or in the church’s doctrinal statement) and still serve in a ministry role? If the leader is never to be questioned and disagreement is punishable by exile, they are displaying manipulative behaviour, coercing submission through threats of and actual isolation.
Does your church/study/group emphasize doctrines rooted in extra-biblical sources?
Are the majority of sermons in your church based on issues not clearly or obviously addressed in the Bible? Are other sources (cable news pundits, the dreams of the pastor, books by non-biblical authors) treated as co-equal authorities to the Bible? Does your church make a major deal out of minor themes in the Bible? Are certain topics emphasized again and again and again, over and above the central truths of the historic Christian Gospel? Is so, they are asserting their will, as equal to or greater than the will of God.
Does your church/study/group require inappropriate demonstrations of loyalty to the leader(s)?
Are church staff required to sign non-disclosure agreements and forbidden to speak a critical word about the leader? Are church deacons and property managers required to give preferential treatment to the family members of the leader in terms of outside contracts and tenders? Are the sins of the leader swept under the rug so as not to detract from the respect he is owed by congregants and followers? Does the leader set his own compensation without oversight and limitation imposed by other non-related leaders in the church? Any leader who takes privilege, cultivates a toxic space with one sided, selfish relationships. A Christ-like leader operates with transparency, accountability and oversight.
Does your church/study/group encourage members to break ties with family members outside the group?
Are members encouraged to sever relationships with non-aligned family members, including older parents and adult children? Is there an undervaluing of the intimate family ties commended in Scripture, such as the particular love of husbands for wives and the particular respect of wives for their husbands? Does the church seek to supplant biological family as the primary means of support and nurture? If so, they may be attempting to manipulate you into creating a support system that relies solely on them and leads to further isolation.
Does your church/study/group engage in practices that contradict biblical behavioural norms?
Does your church forbid what Scripture permits? Does it forbid marriage or eating certain foods? Does it encourage that which Scripture forbids? Does it encourage or celebrate certain forms of sexual activity which the Bible condemns? Does it require things that Scripture is indifferent to? Does it mandate a style of dress or a certain type of music or a certain approach to dating and courtship? Legalism within groups can be a sign of a cult, especially if they pick and choose what to apply.
Does your church/study/group effectively isolate itself from the wider Body of Christ within the world?
Does your church discourage interaction with Christians from “that other group”? Does your church only permit congregants to read from a very narrow list of approved authors? Does your church insist on singing only the songs they have written or endorsed? Does your church only support missionaries that have come from their congregation or congregations within their particular movement? Does your church generally consider believers outside the church or the movement as apostate, fallen or unregenerate? If so, you might be involved in some kind of Christian cult.
Does your church/study/group put an enormous amount of pressure on people questioning the group, or considering leaving?
Some groups have been known to track peoples movements when they feel this person may be beginning to question the group, it's actions and doctrines. If you've ever felt or experienced the group displaying intimidating behaviour, this is a clear sign of cult behaviour and manipulation.
RED FLAG #1: HIGH CONTROL & DEMAND
Within a cult environment, a charismatic and authoritative leader, relationship or organization will control the life decisions of followers. High control, high pressure and constant demand can appear in a number of ways. This can mean:
RED FLAG #2: QUESTIONS ARE MET WITH HOSTILITY OR SIDESTEPPING
Oftentimes, when cult members are questioned about their cult’s practices and environment, or, are told that they are in a cult by an outsider, members will dig in their heels and repeat 'prepared' information from that cult’s leadership.
RED FLAG #3: FEAR-MONGERING
Fear-mongering is when a person in a leadership position intentionally tries to make others afraid of something. Ex: End of times or a doomsday mentality.
RED FLAG #4: ISOLATION
Even during recruiting phases, Isolation is a technique used. Be it to seperate you from your friends, or family. This is done so that pressure can be asserted and a person is more likely to simply agree rather than cause any uncomfortable conflict.
If a leader requires explicit devotion and separation from loved ones, it’s a cult. The aim is for the cult’s leadership to be the only form of support for its members making it extremely difficult to leave. This is often seen as an all-or-nothing belief - you are in or you are out, and then you are completely cut off from the community if you disagree.
RED FLAG #5: SECRECY & DECEPTION
If someone has approached you and claim to be from a certain group, but won't answer basic questions like 'who are you affiliated with?' 'What's your website?' 'Who is the organization leader?' 'Where do you source your study material?'
If they ask you to not share the approach, their group or study with anyone, that is deceptive, manipulative, inauthentic and absolutely a cult. If you say 'you want to talk about it with your Pastor/friend/family and they attempt to dissuade you, they're a cult. If you find yourself feeling emotional, there is a chance they are employing tactics to play on your empathy. Recognise they are deceptively manipulating to try and get you to agree to their terms. Any attempt to dissuade you from seeking time, or input from others is manipulative behaviour.
RED FLAG #6: INTIMIDATION
Intimidation is a manipulation technique used to 'get ones way'. Have you seen the group, leader, or person display intimidation techniques towards people?
RED FLAG #7: FLAKEY OR UNVERIFIABLE
If the person talking to you claims to be from a group, but can't name it's website or leader. Perhaps the group wears a T-Shirt but in this instance, isn't. Perhaps they don't want to admit which Church or organization they are with, or wont let you google it - These are RED FLAGS - Christ calls for transparency and authenticity.
Of course these could also be entirely innocent approaches with legitimate, Christ loving people sharing their faith. Many in the Baptist Union won't know who our leader is, but will know their affiliations & their Church and Pastor. If something feels off, if they dodge questions, try to isolate you or pressure you, trust your faith and your gut, talk to someone you trust before agreeing to anything.