Osaka — A clergyman who has been helping people to leave cults for more than 20 years says it is important to know what such people have been searching for. "A solution can be found if you know what they are seeking. In many cases, there are problems in family relations," said the clergyman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of those he is counseling.
One Sunday afternoon, a man visited the clergyman's church to talk about his daughter in her 20s who had joined a cult. "I thought I could persuade her to leave the cult. I thought I could at least make her feel doubts about the cult but in vain. I wonder in what way she wants to lead her life," the man told the clergyman.
The clergyman said, "She is trying to deal with her problems at the cult. The problem is how you are going to accept her after her departure from the cult."
A 26-year-old former cult member, who wanted to remain anonymous, joined the group to find the purpose of life. In February 2001, when she was a university sophomore, a man had stopped her in a Tokyo shopping area offering to read her fortune.
She did not know the man belonged to a cult but was attracted by his pledge "never to pursue my own interest."
She lived together with other cult followers and went up to people on the street to try to lure them into joining the cult. After graduating from university, she joined a company but left it within a year without talking to her family members. Then, following directions from the cult, she engaged in fraudulent commodity sales.
In December 2005, her parents became aware of what she was doing. It was just before she was to have gone abroad for cult activities. Her parents tried to persuade her to leave the group, but she refused.
The parents visited the clergyman and were told "never to become hostile." Learning from other people's experiences about how to speak to family members belonging to cults, they changed their behavior toward her.
In March 2006, the clergyman began counseling her. Her father, 56, took time off work, and all her family members, including her younger brother, grandfather and grandmother, joined the counseling.
No headway was made for a while, and she sometimes refused to meet the clergyman. The father said at the time, "I am sure we can rescue her but if this situation continues..."
Although the family members were confident of rescuing her, they were gnawed by anxiety. But her intransigence gradually broke down.
One month after the start of the counseling, she removed a ring which she had worn as proof of belonging to the cult. She did it after listening to a CD recording brought by the clergyman of a lecture about another cult and noticing what that cult had in common with her own.
She said, "I believed that my ideal to do something for society filled with inequalities could be realized at the cult. But everything was a lie. I was made to feel fear in order to override what I had once believed in." She is now talking about her experiences as part of the church's counseling.
The clergyman said he mostly used to help young people to quit cults, but since the 1990s, the number of women with families who need his help has been increasing. Recently, cults have approached people under the guise of volunteer organizations and sports circles.
He said many former cult members are plagued by loneliness and a sense of loss even after their families have found relief, and feel guilty over the inconvenience they inflicted upon their families. Mental care after breaking from a cult is indispensable, he said.
"Cults provide comfortable places for those who cannot find their places. Such places should actually be provided by families," he said.
The member of one family, recalling its struggle against a cult, said, "Although the family alone cannot rescue a cult member, only the family can rescue the member."