In My Experience: 6 Earmarks of A Cult

If you’ve heard my story, you know that my husband and I came out of a cult years ago. So when I talk about a cult it isn’t theory or supposition. It’s from my experience and subsequent years of therapy, counseling and research to overcome the devastation that occurred in my life and soul and family. Cult behavior and the resulting pain marks a soul. Once that happens, you never forget. I don’t walk in the shadow of it, but I react when I hear the word. So when I hear this word being thrown around about people I love and people who are spreading the Good News of Jesus in alive and active, transformative and healing ways, it makes me want to cry and scream.

Please understand I do not use that word  “CULT” lightly.

Just because a group holds different beliefs than I do, does not make them a cult. <- Read that again, please.


For the love of Jesus,
stop labeling groups as cults just because they hold differing views than you.

Cults are deadly. There is no love there. There is no peace.

Cults want to kill hope, steal family affections, and destroy everything
that doesn’t benefit and support their beliefs and ways.

Please use caution where you place that label because when we misuse it, we sap a little of its power to identify those groups that are truly dangerous. 


1. How do they treat you when you leave? 

Leaving a cult is costly. The thing that has, by design, become your life is now the very thing you must abandon.

When someone leaves the group, it opens a crack that others might escape through. The threat is dealt with by a counter-threat to excommunicate, vilify and defame the escapees and anyone who follows. Friends become enemies.

When my husband and I left we received a flood of unsigned letters that called us names, told us we were headed to hell and were taking our kids with us — and pages and pages of scripture twisted to fit the agenda. 

We burned them all.

2. How do they treat you when you disagree? 

Disagreement is not allowed because it has the potential to undermine the power-hold cult leaders must have to maintain control. They see disagreement and even questions as a sign of rebellion.

There is no room for “agreeing to disagree” because every person is expected to fall in line with the group mentality and groupthink. Any deviation or questioning of the laws they invoke is grounds for punishment. Punishment is always meant to humiliate. There is no love that covers mistakes. The more public the correction, the more others are manipulated into conformity.

My husband had questions and asked them of a leader. Instead of answering his questions, he was told if we gave more money he would understand. I was told if I was more of doormat of a wife, my husband would be more of a leader. Looking back the absurdity of this is staggering. Everything twisted for their agenda. Every question met with a platitude and watchman eye. 

That was the beginning of the end for us. 


3. Do they tear down families or build them up? 

The “group” is above everything else. 

Cults weaken and then eliminate the family unit because a connected family threatens their control and manipulation. Members must deny family needs and elevate the needs of the leaders above everything else. Often these needs are personal to the leaders (childcare, home maintenance, money to support their lifestyle and fund their agenda) but they are portrayed as contributing to the group but at the expense of nuclear families. They require members to sever all outside relationships, so the cult replaces family and friends.

Children are off-loaded onto other individuals, the responsibility of raising them left to caretakers. 


4. Do they require or forbid things? Do they want to control what you listen to, where you go, who you spend time with? 

The principal goal of cultic leadership is control. They do this by bullying, deriding, and gaslighting people into submission. Abuse is rampant, and the subsequent scars are often lifelong. 

They hold leaders up as untouchable and the ultimate authority of everything that happens. They require members to submit to the leaders’ positions, teachings, and philosophies without question. 

Cults often control the music everyone listens to, the translation of bible or other sacred text that is used, the way people dress, how they discipline their children. Even what they eat, what they drink and where they live.


5. Do they allow and encourage independent thought, actions, or decisions? 

Questions, suggestions, or critical inquiry are forbidden, and seen as a threat and rebellion. They view disagreement as defying God. Leadership often frame what they are unfamiliar or disagree with as evil or demonic. 

Hearing from God is for the elite leadership, and what they hear usurps all other authority. Everything rises and falls on this arrogant and dangerous point.

They view autonomy and independent thought or action as rebellion because it threatens the leadership’s control and power. Rules are enforced through a tattletale environment and all members are expected to report on the activities and movements of other members.


6. Are they humble servants or arrogant controllers? 

Cults are, by definition, isolated, self-entitled, and self-centered groups because the leaders are narcissistic, arrogant, and abusive.

Leaders mock other leaders, tear down other groups, and call anyone they disagree with evil or threatening. They defame, mock, and slander anyone who offers freedom or healing.

They present their cult as the only true “church” claiming they alone have the truth. They alone are God’s chosen.

Leaders expect the members to serve, laud and worship them. They hold members to different, stricter requirements than themselves.

They only associate with those who hold the same beliefs and practices and see all outsiders as a threat, inferior, unenlightened and even evil. 



*Warning: use caution when placing that label because when we misuse it, we sap a little of its power to identify those groups that are truly dangerous. 




For the love of Jesus, stop calling groups that hold different theology or doctrine than you a cult. Cults are dangerous. Cults want to kill hope, steal family affections, and destroy everything not benefitting their beliefs and ways.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: