ICOC involvement changes way former members see the world

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, February 28, 1999
By Beth Pratt

Given the law of averages, I knew it would happen one of these days. A few days ago, it did.

I had some reading to do, so I took off my glasses. (Unless you are nearsighted too, that probably doesn't make much sense.) This is my all-time favorite pair, so light I hardly know they are perched on my nose. The frames are so thin that once I take the glasses off and lay them aside, they just disappear, especially on a patterned background.

When I finished reading, I couldn't find the glasses. That is, until I stood up. In the process of putting my feet on the floor to get up, I sat on the glasses. Just squashed the earpieces to ridiculous angles.

At first, I was sure they were ruined. But applying a little pressure here and there, I soon had the frames bent back into shape. This is one product that delivered on its promises.

One of the ways we evaluate religious groups is to look at the promises made by the leadership and consider whether the promise is consistent with the result. If in order to attract adherents, a group practices deception about its goals and uses abusive psychological conditioning to keep its members in line, we call it a cult.

Caution is my first response when I hear someone use the word "cult" about a religious group. Sometimes people judge anyone whose style of worship differs from theirs as wrong or dangerous.

But when reports continue to pour in about mental and emotional abuse of its converts by a religious group, it is time to listen. Such is the case with the International Churches of Christ, once know as the Boston Movement. Doctrinally, the ICOC seems in line with the mainline Church of Christ from which it evolved. But there the resemblance ends, according to those who have had experience with the group.

A letter from a parent who rescued her son from the group in 1992 is a chilling picture of what happens. He was a freshman at Texas Tech, and recruited through a dormitory Bible study. At that time, the family lived several hundred miles from Lubbock. But because they had a close relationship with their son, they knew immediately when they talked to him that something was wrong. But eight years later they are still asking themselves how it could have happened.

Unfortunately, people tend to be ashamed about having had someone involved with a group that is cultic in nature. The family may retreat into silence, believing their friends will gossip about what made their child vulnerable to such a group.

Their fears are real. Those of us who have not been the target of mind-control techniques have a hard time understanding how it can happen. But I have always thought that Eve gets a bad rap from preachers who so cavalierly overlook the devious skill of the snake as he deceived Eve with his arguments.

Adam was not deceived. He simply accepted the forbidden fruit from Eve without question, then blamed her for his disobedience. Actually, he blamed God with his "the woman you gave me" line. Now, if you want to argue that this is a mythical story, I will respond that even if it is, the analysis of human behavior shines through it so brightly as to make the myth claim irrelevant.

Deception is still the stock in trade of people seeking power over others. As it was in the beginning, so it is today. Christian parents should not be criticized because their sons and daughters are attracted to a group that promises to make them into dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ.

Youth are by nature idealistic. They look around at the adults in their churches and see that many people fail to live up to the Christian principles they proclaim. And yes, they look at a president who brings shame on his church because of his immoral behavior.

They want to live their faith, and here comes a group affirming them and claiming that it will show them the true church. The deception is subtle. By the time the young person recognizes that the frame of reference or context of Scripture is bent all out of shape, the mind-control techniques have done their work.

Once the framework is bent, it can be difficult to straighten. Sometimes it even breaks. For those who come out of the ICOC, the lenses through which they view life are never quite the same.


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