I’m not quite sure how to tackle this subject. I read a lot of comments and emails, on my blog as well as others, asking what to do when a friend/family member/somebody in your community starts showing signs of moving towards radical christian movements.
I’ve been thinking about different ways how to answer this question and I really can’t come up with a satisfying idea. Every person and family is different and I think it depends a lot on the history of that person/family how much they’ll be attracted to the different movements. For a start I’ll describe what really made ME realize I was on the wrong track.
Right at the beginning I want to say that theological reasoning does not help in any way. They’re all muddy to say the least. You say evolution is a fact – they’ll ask “Why would God lie to me on the first page of his infallible word?”. You say you must interpret passages in the bible, they say it’s the actual, literal word of God. You see where I’m going with this. Don’t even get into fights like this because they will make you look like you’re not only against God or the bible but also against the specific person you’re talking to. They might still talk to you in order to convert you, to make you see the light, but they won’t change their opinions based on what you’re telling them about God and the bible. Worst case they’ll just cut contact with you and you’ll blow all your chances to help them out of it.
A good first step would be to find out why this person or family is eyeing with the movement. Has there been some sort of tragedy in the family such as the death of a loved person, or maybe a case of rape or long-term unemployment? Really anything that can make a person depressed can trigger an attraction towards radical movements. Or has the person simply had a bad history? Lots of love lost? Decisions made that turned out badly? Or simply missed out on chances that person thinks if he or she took it, their life would be better? Try to carefully investigate to understand where they’re coming from. It could simply be the case that a person or a member of a family has some sort of psychological disorder, in that case you can’t really do much but carefully try to push that person towards professionals. In case of some sort of trauma, you might be able to talk to them. You have to gain their trust and live as an example that radical faith is not necessary to be a loving person. Show them you truly care, help them out, talk to them, listen to them. They really need to open up to you in order for this to work. And unfortunately that’s not always the case.
If you don’t have those strong connections to said person maybe talk to someone who’s close to them, someone you can trust will not go and gossip about how you mess with other people’s business.
I can honestly say that without the fact that I got into a courtship I didn’t want to be in, at a point in my life where I didn’t feel ready opened my mind up to that type of work. The people who made me realize and say out loud that I didn’t want this sort of life didn’t talk bad about my family or my beliefs. They urged me to listen to my heart and mind and to investigate whether the decision I was making (or that was made for me) really felt like the right path for me. They didn’t cut me off, they were there for me with love and compassion and even when I fell back into very radical behaviour encouraged me and kept my mind working on my problem. They showed me that happiness, love and a good life are possible without radical behaviour and that God doesn’t abandon people who don’t follow this set of rules made by people like Bill Gothard and supported by communities such as Vision forum. They showed me, in my case particularly, that you don’t have to be a “feminist” (in the sense fundamentalists use it) to be a free woman. They showed me that there were many women in the bible and in history who followed God’s wish for women without being married off to a guy they didn’t want to marry. They showed me how normal relationships work, not by telling me but by living it. That a marriage very well can be happy without the wife being as submissive as a door mat.
If you know a person who is already in the movement and you see things happening that you think are bad – such as abuse, forced courtship/betrothal, and overall strange behaviour – you should investigate as well. Why is this family so radical? Please remember that, if your church community is a mixed groups of different strengths of faith, it’s not that bad yet. The very abusive, hardcore families tend to leave “normal” conservative churches and form up new private church groups, consisting of only like-minded families and meeting up for service at home. That’s the point where they are so cut off every other community that you have no chance to get into real contact with them anymore. Though this isn’t true for all fundamentalist families, it was something I saw happening in my own family as well as others. We used to go to different conservative churches when I was younger, but the worse it got, the more we lived in our own world. We met up with like-minded families only, the fathers leading private service. I think this was partially due to the fact that the girls in my family (me and my sisters) got older and my Dad was more and more nervous that our purity would be damaged through the contact with other families and kids our age, especially boys and men. As long as they are in your church (and you’re a sane person going to a normal church!), you still got chances to build up some sort of contact.
Again, do not get into theological arguments here. Don’t tell them that this isn’t how this church works and what it stands for. Encourage them to stay! Say things like “You’re a great addition to our community” or “I love exchanging ideas and views with you!”. Gain their trust and respect because that’s the only way your word will have some sort of meaning to them. If your pastor is against this sort of radical religion and abuse, talk to him. Tell him you’re worried, but you don’t want to drive those people away. Initiate meetings and groups where you can talk about the different views and teachings. Again, be very careful with this one. Don’t talk about how teachings are ungodly or unbiblical, that’s muddy and won’t make things better. Instead, you should talk about teachings matter-of-factly. Discuss them. Pick out what’s good about the teachings, question the problems, ask for their opinions before you word out a strong opinion of yourself.
Something that will most likely find open ears is beating the teachings with biblical reasoning. That’s actually very easy. Talk about the danger of idolizing leaders like Bill G and the Pearls. Talk about how you have a big problem with the Pearls comparing kids to animals and that you find Jesus would be strongly against such a view. They are children of God, not mules. They can’t be treated as such. Talk about how Harris and Ludy plant ideas into girl’s minds without a real biblical foundation (because in fact, they have none). Talk about how girls read their books more often than they read their bible. Question this behaviour. Really, your strongest argument in this case is that many of the teachings and people are idolized above the bible. They might argue against it to your face but it will get them thinking.
When you’re at a point where you think they’re trying to cut you off, trying to move away from the community they were in, don’t let them shake you off. Back off for a while with discussions of faith and teachings, but be their friend. Help them, be there for them, ask their advice. Tell them how you solved problems. Even if they don’t call you anymore, you call them. Don’t let them hide in their own little world because I can promise you, it’s going to be hell for some of them.
Beliefs are generally a very hard and problematic issue and even if you did everything, your best, to help them and get them out of the muddy waters of radical religion you might still fail. That’s always sad and there isn’t really much you can do anymore in that case except have a clear consciousness that you have tried everything you could. And at the end of the day, that might be worth just as much, at least for you.
And at this point I want to translate a quote I found true, not only for this sort of situation but as a general things in life: “We thought we could do it all. We thought with love it was possible. But sometimes you just don’t make it.”