When Community Becomes Cultish.

I’ve been thinking about what makes faith communities become “cultish”. There are toxic communities which inevitably form around a narcissistic leader and co-dependent followers. An experience of such a community may lead you to never want to take part in any kind of “community” ever again. However, I do believe that there can be healthy, life-giving, humble communities, made up of those whose hearts have been transformed by divine love. Let’s look at two major differences between the two types of communities.

Cultish = Controlling.

Cults lure members in, then they manipulate them while they are there, and shame them when they leave. Some leaders, don’t let their followers read “other” books or visit “other” groups. Some cults keep you so busy you have no time to think critically about what you are doing. Cult members get caught up in the tornado of the group mindsets. They decide for you, where you should or shouldn’t move to. Who you can and can’t be friends with. Have you ever had someone cut you off, because they joined a cult? Cult leaders slither their way into learning details about their members lives, for when you learn someone’s heart motivations, it is easier to control them. Cults are notorious for shaming and ostracizing those who leave. 

Non-Cultish = Freedom.

God gave us a free-will. Manipulation is informing or mis-informing someone out of personal insecurity or lust. The remedy is love and truth. We ought to want what is best others. Cults slander those that would dilute their influence. We ought to do our best to communicate with integrity. We should never convert someone’s weaknesses into our personal gain. Ensure people that they are “in charge” of their own decisions, and encourage them to really pray and seek God and get counsel from others. Always love them even when you disagree. Let’s not ever shame anyone for leaving the group, always bless them. If you have nothing good to say, let’s stay silent. 

Cultish = Authoritarian.

Cults usually have a leader who is the master manipulator. The person who controls others into getting what he or she wants. Their ego is usually fed by having dependents. And their ego is too big to “share the stage”. They need to be “the” voice, not “a” voice. If they do have lieutenants, they are usually weak-minded and cowardly individuals, or those brainwashed by religion to serve unconditionally. Cult leaders act like they are special and superior. God has anointed them. They dress, live, and drive the part. They make others believe they are a different class of human or “believer”. When we believe someone is that special, we allow their words to puppeteer us and we come under mind-control or a hypnosis, which can lead a psychosomatic healing and a generous financial gift.

Non-Cultish = Pluralistic.

While godly leadership can be a true blessing and usually a vision begins with one person who God impregnates (metaphorically speaking), it is healthy for there to be a company of decision makers and influencers.

Cults usually isolate — due to their pride— they do not join networks — where they can humbly learn from various others. They are “homo-sect-ual”. Cult leaders don’t have mentors. No one can tell them “no”. Cults have led themselves to believe that they are better than everyone else, so they become quite exclusive (and elitist). They see themselves as the remnant, while label others as apostate. They bash others to fortify their own identity.

Could it be that spiritual retardation leads to arrogance, while true spiritual maturity leads to compassion and humility — where we don’t see ourselves as a “higher class” of human, rather a beloved child of God, just like the next person?

I would love for you to contribute to this conversation. I feel I just had some starter points. You may not agree with these points, if not, I would love to hear your perspective. Do you have any stories of a cultish experience?

Published by Daniel H. Park

A Pastor in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Leading Jesuscenter.com

2 thoughts on “When Community Becomes Cultish.

  1. Thanks Daniel! I knew someone who likely was in a cult. It seemed pretty legalistic. Maybe as though missing the forest through the trees. He would get focused on the little stuff but miss the big picture. The cult played off of childhood weaknesses. We had tried to reason but to no avail. But we continued to try to show God’s love.


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