Warning others about a group you were in
Some people, once they’re out of a group and feel safe, want to warn others about that group.
Their experiences are very powerful tools in convincing others about the danger they’re in.
If you’ve left a group and are considering whether to take any further action, here are some thoughts and advice on what you can do.
We’ve written this from a Christian point-of-view, for someone who has left a Christian cult and who wants to continue in their faith, even though they’ve had a bad experience with one group. For those in other situations, we hope that some of the general principles are still valid. You are always welcome to contact us to receive personal attention and advice. (See our “Contact Us” page for details.)
There are basically three approaches you can take:
1. Do nothing, and just move forward with the rest of your life
2. Warn the people inside the group
3. Confront the leader(s)
Doing nothing is a legitimate option. There is no reason you have to do anything other than look after yourself. Doing something has an element of risk associated with it, and not something to be taken likely.
So think seriously about whether you want to take action, and pray for God’s guidance on this matter.
Take advice from experienced Christians and people you trust. If you are seeing a counsellor or other mental health professional, ask them for their opinion.
If you do decide to take action be warned – you may become the target of abuse, threats, lies, rumors, spiritual attack, lawsuits and (probably not) physical attacks or intimidation.
Should I warn others, or confront the leader(s)? Or both?
We generally recommend not to confront cult leaders. The only time we suggest this course of action (and we suggest it first, before warning others) is if you think the leader(s) will actually be responsive to your approach.
Sometimes leaders don’t know what is going on in their organization and it’s a “middle-manager” who is doing the damage. In that case, talking to the leader first may be an option to consider.
But if you are quite confident that the problem stems from the leadership, and there is no chance of repentance, then don’t bother talking to the leader(s) and go straight to warning others.
We note that Jesus did both – He confronted the Pharisees AND He warned the people about their false leaders. And look at the hatred He stirred up be doing this.
When leaving a group, we think there is strength in numbers. This doesn’t mean that you should wait until there are several others ready to leave, but rather that it is advantageous to have assistance from other people outside the group.
In the same way, when warning others it is good to have a support network around you to help with the work and emotional load you are taking on.
So after you’ve made a decision to warn others, the next thing we’d suggest you do is seek others who are willing to help you. You don’t have to do this on your own.
Some ex-members might be able to write about their experiences, and you can add them to your own. Some people might be able to edit material for you. Some might be able to give you advice. Some might be able to pray for you. Some are skilled at websites, or Facebook pages. Draw up a list of roles and think of one or two people who you can turn to for assistance for each role. Make a list of whom you’d like to help you, and then approach them and gauge their enthusiasm.
Consider who should be on the list very carefully. They might be people you know well (friends and family), those you don’t know well (perhaps another ex-member, or a colleague at work, a neighbor) and finally those you don’t know at all but would be useful to have on it. This last group might include a lawyer, a doctor, a leader at another (mainstream) church, people from the internet (such as Cultwatch) and so on.
Next, think about how you want to warn others. Do you want to set up a Facebook page? A separate website? Or will it be personal contact?
If you set-up a Facebook page, or even a website, be very, very careful about what you write and what you call it. If the church is called “Victory”, then something like “Concerns ex-Victory members have” or similar. Or even just “Ex-Victory members”. Explain what it’s about and invite a few people to join and write before you advertise it to people.
Make sure other people don’t write anything libellous. If they do, warn them and remove it.
Try to speak in facts as much as you can, rather than opinions. “On Saturday May 4, he told me that as I hadn’t been attending a Bible study regularly enough, I couldn’t attend the church picnic.” Try to be as specific as possible. Don’t lie and don’t even exaggerate. Some controlling people can be litigious – they might sue you.
Litigation is a serious risk, and one you should take into account before you embark on this. Seek advice from a lawyer around this.
Verbal warnings are good for people you know. “Bob, can we go out for coffee? There’s something I want to talk to you about.” For those types of meetings, try to make them face-to-face. Firstly, it’s a serious matter and one that is better for face-to-face, but also you will be able to see if your warnings have hit home or not. Pray before the meeting, and pray when you meet them. A quick prayer in the coffee shop or where-ever with the person.
But face-to-face meetings will remove any anonymity you have, so that’s another thing to consider before you do.
As word of your actions starts spreading, it is impossible to say what will happen. Some cults just ignore their critics, and warn their followers to stay away. Others become quite aggressive and intimidating. In our section “How to leave and recover” read the section on documenting your dealings with them. Using a diary is good, and even collecting evidence via a recording device is an option.
Continue to use your support network, and you might find this grows as members and ex-members of the group become aware of you.
Keep yourself safe. Don’t trust new people you meet with personal details (home phone, address) until they have proven themselves. Consider doing things anonymously, at least for a while.
Keep praying, and write to us if there is anything we can do.
Confront the leader(s)
As we’ve already said, we generally recommend not to confront cult leaders. The only time we suggest this course of action (and we suggest it first, before warning others) is if you think the leader(s) will actually be responsive to your approach.
When people are controlling and manipulative they don’t like that control being diminished or threatened. The leader is not going to just say “oh, well, it’s good to have a healthy debate”. They’re going to fight back. You need to be prepared for that.
However, as we said, “confronting the leaders” is a risky business. We think you should pray about it, get some advice (do you have a new church or leaders you could get advice from?) and think about it very hard. It is not an easy decision.
If you do decide to confront the leaders, we’d suggest the following approach. Make sure you have prayed about it a LOT. Get two or three people to come with you. Make a time that suits everyone, and explain to the leader why you want to meet. (There’s a good chance he won’t even meet with you – and then you have your answer.)
Remember that the Biblical model for this, is confronting in love and gentleness. If he gets abusive or angry, then you have your answer. Just leave.
Pray first. Ask for God’s guidance in the meeting. Don’t be judgmental. Explain how certain situations made you feel. If he says things like “that’s not my problem” then you have your answer.
Tell him that this will be hard for him to hear, but some people feel he’s controlling, and explain why. Maybe even do some roleplaying before the meeting with someone who can act so that you’re prepared for some of what he says.
At the end of the meeting, decide in your mind whether there is potential for them to repent and change their behavior, whether you need to give them more time, or whether you want to move on to warning people. There are really only three options for them. And the “more time” one has limited shelf life.
If you have confronted a leader and feel there has been no positive response, you may wish to warn others. But this is something else to think about. (Read the section above if you haven’t already.)
Taking action against a group is a dangerous and serious business.
Please seek support before you do anything, and think carefully about the decision.
If you would like a more personalized response, please write to us via our “contact us” section.