Eyewitness: Why people join cults

As Uganda tries to come to grips with the discovery of hundreds of dead bodies linked to a cult, many are asking how this could have happened. Kristina Jones, who grew up in a cult, offers her impressions to BBC News Online.

BBC News, March 24, 2000
By Eric Gorski

Generally, people never think of becoming involved in a cult - until it happens. By then it is probably too late.

Groups who actively recruit are devious. They sell themselves well and appear highly attractive.

Spiritual food

Their knowledge, and strong sense of purpose becomes infectious.

They are selective - if you are not the right sort of person, they will not look twice at you.

Therapy cults will aim for the richer, business-types, whereas a communal group wants younger members, those who are in a time of transition, willing to break away from their parents or the workplace. Above all, they value the ability of the would-be recruit to live by the groups standards, to obey, to accept and to conform.

David Berg, the founder of the Children of God - the group my parents joined - started out by feeding and helping the dropouts of society.

They were fed up with the modern way of life and disagreed with the Vietnam war.

Not only did Mr Berg start feeding them food physically, he started 'feeding' them spiritually.

Mr Berg came into his element. He had at last found himself a following and proceeded to make quite sure not to lose them.

He preached against the hypocrisy of the established church system, the social establishment and the American Government.


His own children were deeply rooted in the evangelistic lifestyle.

They sang and played on guitars. They knew the Bible and were not afraid to "hide their light under a bushel" which was their example of living simply for Jesus.

As word spread about this man and his radical approach, his popularity increased.

The fellowship grew, members preached the Bible according to Berg and recruited more " lost souls" with their controversial love bombing.

Potential recruits were told that they had found a God who cared through the "Revolution for Jesus".

Their message was alive, exciting and unique - totally unlike the normal churches which at that time seemed dead, mediocre and boring.

Mr Berg's little following travelled and preached the gospel, recruiting more along the way, living off donations, belongings and funds of newly recruited members - as new members were expected to give all their worldly goods.

One day they were invited to my mother's school Christian Union to give a talk.

Cult pressure

Everything they preached and shared with her on that day made an impression which encouraged contact with her and the group to continue.

She was deeply impressed by the way they knew the Bible, the Lord and above all their radical approach to the gospel.

"Go ye into all the world" said the Bible. Soon after her 16th birthday and after almost a year of contact between her and the group she was pressured to make the decision to leave school and join them full time.

They made her feel she had no choice, as to not join would be disobedience to God.

She had for the past year enjoyed her visits. They always welcomed her with open arms and masses of love.

Family contacts severed

It became clear that members could only "love God or mammon". All contacts with the natural family would have to be severed.

Needless to say, she went through an emotional struggle before deciding they must be right

She became convinced that this was exactly what she wanted: to be a radical missionary and live communally with people her age as one big family ... She joined not wanting to miss out on this exciting new way of life. Regular Bible classes were given by them explaining the group's teachings and beliefs.

"Forsaking all" was a message given to disciples like my mother.

With the earlier wave of peace and love, they had also adopted a form of love bombing - showering attention, affection and interest upon the unsuspecting lost souls.

Overwhelming new recruits in this way really worked with my mother.

She could not believe her eyes. She became convinced that this was exactly what she wanted: to be a radical missionary and live communally with people her age as one big family.

It seemed like a more dedicated style of Church. She joined not wanting to miss out on this exciting new way of life.


After my parents - who met in the cult - became recruits, they were bombarded with indoctrination, disabling any free thought.

The cause took over and they did their best to be faithful to God and his prophet, bringing up my siblings and myself in the same way because they wanted what was best for us, their children.

Their blind faith and fear and obedience, which is the main requisite, made the truth indistinguishable from the untruth.

Mr Berg showed us that we had more freedom than anyone in the outside world.

We believed that we were free of the bondage of the devil and material possessions.

Fifteen years later, she found a way to escape with six of her children. More and more continue to leave.

The key lesson to draw from all of this is that it is vital for families of the cult recruits or potential recruits to provide them with love and support.

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