Don’t follow the leader
Jay Howard is an expert on cults. He has written a book on the subject and counseled countless cult members and their families.
By Howard’s estimates, there are thousands of households in the metro area that have loved ones in unusual religious organizations.
“Anyone is susceptible to joining a cult,” Howard said. “Cult members come from all socio-economic backgrounds, races and ages. Certain things have to happen at the right time to make someone open to joining, but it is a very innocent beginning.”
Howard has gathered a group of national scholars on cults and the occult for a three-day workshop May 12 to 14 at Brooklyn Park Evangelical Free Church, 7849 W. Broadway Ave. The conference, called, “Cults and Culture: Discerning truth in our time,” will bring together a relative who’s who of recognized authorities, on the subject, Howard said.
Dr. Paul Martin and Robert Pardon run centers for former cult members. They will host a session on Thursday night entitled: “Exiting the cults.”
The discussion will feature former cult members who will talk about their lives in the cult and how they made the transition to everyday life after leaving.
Howard said former cult members need to be completely retrained after living in an environment devoid of personal freedom.
A cult is a mind-controlling environment, Howard said. Members of a cult ose their ability to make decisions. In some extreme cases, people need help deciding when and what to eat.
“My hope is that this workshop will give hope to families coping with loved ones in the cult recovery process,” Howard said. “It is not always easy, but you can come through it. When people lose someone to a cult there is a sense of loss almost like a death in the family.”
Howard calls the work exit counseling. Deprogrammers, famous for kidnapping cult members, taking them to a secluded cabin and using physical violence to break members from the cult, are not prudent options.
“There were charges of kidnapping using that method,” he said. “Sometimes a deprogrammer wasn’t much better than being in the cult.”
In his studies on cults, Howard has spoke with several members. He said most cults are started by what he calls true believers.
“It is hard to tell sometimes if the leaders of these groups are scam artists or if they believe in what they are saying,” Howard said. “Most of the leaders are power hungry or after financial wealth, but at some point they go around the beam. Most cults keep people by using a combination of mind control and religious fears. The cult succeeds in convincing people if that if they leave they will lose their mortal soul.”
Howard was drawn into the research 30 years ago this month, he said.
Reverend Moon, a cult leader who achieved a degree of popularity in the 1960s and 70s, was speaking in St. Paul.
“I was in a parking lot getting ready to get in my car and this girl approached me and asked if I wanted to buy some candy,” Howard said. “She said she was doing mission work for her church, but she wouldn’t tell me what church she was with.”
Eventually, the girl said she was a Moonie, Howard said. “I didn’t buy any candy from her, but I went out and bought “Kingdom of the Cults” and have been studying cults ever since.”
Howard is never surprised by who joins cults or that people do in the first place. He said part of human nature is longing to belong to something.
“For many members, they don’t believe in anything so they are bound to believe in something,” he said. “That’s why it is so vital to help encourage people from making the mistake of joining in the first place.”
Information: www.focusonthefaulty.org or 952-937-0934.