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Want to steer clear of cults? Here are five ways

By NJOKI CHEGE
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Anecdotal evidence suggests that victims of cults masquerading as churches are not necessarily the uneducated or the under-exposed as we have wrongly thought all along. They are the elite among us; those we expect to know better. Although they are the most unlikely targets, they form a significant chunk of hopeless victims of these collared thugs. The victims today are young, hip, moneyed and surprisingly quite exposed. They spend most of there time on social media, spaces which these con-artists have mastered and in which they have amassed a legion of followers. The victims look successful, solidly ensconced in well-paying jobs, but they really are broken people — having endured trauma from their childhoods, past relationships or marriages that ended too soon. This trauma has crystallised into insecurities that the mummy and daddy pastors prey on.

They have a skewed view of God. They confuse being religious with being spiritual. They are living double lives; on the one hand they truly want to find healing for their brokenness, but they also struggle with vices such as alcoholism and drug abuse. The daddy pastors — the avuncular crooks who prey on them instead of earnestly reaching out to them — have monetised this national disaster. Today, I want to show young people — and especially young women — the red flags they should look out for in a cult camouflaged as a church.

1. Isolation

This is the hallmark of any cult. Does your church isolate you from your family and friends? Do you see your mummy pastor or daddy pastor more often than you see your family or friends? As a rule, cult masters seek to isolate you so that they can control you. If you find yourself spending too much time in church — unless of course you are gainfully employed there — chances are that you are part of a cult. Life is about balance; family, church and work … in no particular order. And if you find a church that seeks to disrupt this balance, be very afraid.

2. Over-exaltation of the church leaders

Church leaders must be respected. However, has your pastor has made the church about himself or herself? Do you find yourself more obsessed with the head of the church than with God himself? The personality worship could range from the blatant, downright obvious, or, and pay attention here, it could be very subtle. It often begins mildly, with strategies that involve the mummy or daddy pastor making their life a “testimony”. This testimony is usually accompanied by a fishy “rags-to-riches” sob-story that nobody else can corroborate. The mummy pastor tries to paint her life as the “ultimate” success story — subtly urging faithful to emulate her. Don’t be fooled, though. There is only one head of the church that we all should emulate, and it is definitely not your daddy pastor.

3. Too personal

Does your pastor urge you to open up to them about your personal issues, childhood trauma, marital or financial problems? If yes, approach with caution. They don’t care about you or your well-being. They are collecting dirt on you. They want to understand your weakness so that they know what buttons to push to loosen your purse strings. I know pastors double up as counsellors, but I would like to warn you from being vulnerable to strangers whose credentials and back story you are unsure of.

4. Guilt Trips

There is nowhere in the Holy Writ where God manipulates or corners His people to give tithes and offerings. These things are voluntary. You either give or you don’t and if you don’t, God is not a mean guy who will strike you dead.

Nobody should guilt-trip you into giving money to the church. And if they do, you are in a cult. In fact, this point is so important because most cults survive on members’ money. That fraudulently-got money is the oxygen of cultic organisations. Your mummy or daddy pastors are not rich because they work hard; they are rich because your tithe goes straight to their bank accounts.

5. Your instincts

If there is anything I have learnt in life, it is to trust my guts. You never go wrong by trusting your instincts. If you feel that there is something that just doesn’t sit right in that church, get up and leave.

Walk away, if you think you are being conned. If you are having doubts with the dogma and the philosophies of that church, if they are doing strange things that you are certain are not right, and if, most importantly, there are no mechanisms for accountability, financial or otherwise, walk away and join a church that truly cares about you.