Ex-cultists are organizing; more sophisticated methods of deprogramming are in use.

New religions are becoming more a part of everyday life, seeping into the mainstream and away from the fringes of society where it is easier to identify a “cult.” Hare Krishnas dress in business suits or blue jeans; Sun Myung Moon’s Unification church owns daily newspapers in New York and Washington, D.C.; the Children of God and Divine Light Mission have adopted more conventional-sounding names in some locations.

In response, parents, former members, mental health professionals, and deprogrammers are becoming better organized. They are also renouncing “coercive” techniques that too often backfire and deepen the commitment of a cult member. Many of the new approaches will be welcomed by Christians who share a concern about the rapid rise of these groups, but other tough questions regarding spiritual needs and religious freedom remain largely unanswered.

As the new approaches take hold, attempts to legislate restrictions on cults or expand parents’ rights to gain access to adult children in religious groups are receiving less attention.

One of the new developments is “networking.” Ex-cult members have announced formation of Focus, a network designed to lend support to people who come out of cults and frequently feel let down spiritually and emotionally. Focus will attempt to change the image of ex-members from “embittered accusers who are overwhelmed by their victimization” to an informed group of people who can share what they have learned and “build into youth ministries and public education a sense of how persuasion tips over into coercion,” according to cofounder Gary Scharff, a former Moonie.

Another network, Citizens Freedom Foundation, also ...

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