Beware of Wolves
Mom never knew the risks my siblings and I faced, and embraced, growing up in Alaska. We didn’t tell her everything, and she was happy we were enjoying ourselves. There was the avalanche that almost buried me and our dog, a husky-shepherd-St. Bernard mix, up on the mountain above our house. Or the tides that threatened my brother and a friend after I stranded them on a sand bar to start our broken engine. The thin ice over which we glided. The wolf I met while walking home from school.
But fifty years later, I learned about a worse danger, a wolf we eluded without recognizing his fangs.
The Wolf at Camp
He was a counselor at a Christian camp where I loved being more than anywhere in the world. There I picked sweet wild strawberries. There I learned to ride horses and waterski in a cold bay with snow-capped peaks rising like jewels on all sides.
In Chapel there, I “gave my heart to Jesus,” like hundreds of other kids. We threw pinecones into the bonfire along the river on the last day of camp to “give testimony” to what we had experienced. Mom was the cook two of those summers, so we and our dog had the run of what seemed like paradise.
But there was a wolf there. One of my favorite counselors had begun a life-long career of grooming and abusing boys. We were not his targets, thank God.
A younger boy was, one who’d charmed us with his naivete, and whose parents served God at the camp. That counselor would lure him on a trip to another state, and molest him. This boy would go on to struggle for decades with heavy drinking, trauma, then finally a violent breakdown which led to years in prison. Meanwhile, his abuser set up front companies and “ministries” to gain access to victims in America and overseas.
Jesus warned: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
The Nature of Wolves
Wolves are beautiful and formidable creatures, able, in a pack, to take on a moose, grizzly bear, or (according to Rudyard Kipling) stampede a herd of buffalo to take out a ne’er-do-well tiger. But for ripping a soul to pieces, that takes a human prophet or counselor.
I just finished reading Let Our Children Go, which tells how Ted Patrick, the “father of deprogramming,” rescued young people from cults about the time I was riding horses and picking strawberries in Alaska. In the 1970s, thousands of young people were joining communes and cults like the Unification Church (“Moonies”), Hare Krishna, Children of God, People’s Temple, and smaller groups.
Rescuing the Victims
A black man who grew up in a rough neighborhood of Chattanooga, Patrick had run across plenty of flim-flam artists at church. While working for Governor Reagan, Patrick met devotees of sex cult leader David Berg proselytizing on a beach in California and went with them to see the brainwashing for himself. Patrick then made it his mission to work with worried family members to “rescue” (or kidnap) those caught in such movements, confine them, and talk them out of their delusions.
Patrick was a controversial figure and spent time in prison. The great sociologist Rodney Stark, from whom I have learned much, thought “cults” were misunderstood, and told me he gladly spoke to the Moonies when asked. But the picture Patrick painted of spiritual wolves is corroborated by many sources. Like that former Bible camp counsellor, they use religion to prey upon the young and vulnerable for financial, egotistical, and sexual gain, chewing up souls and spitting out bones.
Invariably, Patrick argued, they seek to alienate children from their own parents. They isolate young people, keep them exhausted, demand their belongings, subject them to a constant barrage of propaganda, then coerce them into working their fingers to the bone to enrich cult leaders.
Founders of cults use moral vocabulary as a fisherman employs lures, to get victims to bite. The so-called “idealism” of the young, only weakly anchored in experience and critical thinking, is used against kids by such predators.
The Danger of Cults
We seldom talk so rudely about cults anymore, still less use old-fashioned language like “heresies.” Individual abusers can turn up in any institution: your church, school, sports field or gymnasium. But wolves run in packs, and human wolf packs develop ideologies that justify exploiting sheep. Not that everyone who runs in a given pack need be a cold-hearted narcissist. Along with cars, bank accounts, and the pittance from selling flowers at airports, brainwashing persuades the vulnerable to donate their very ideals to those who enslave them.
What then is the difference between a corrupt cult and a culture of corruption? Size, mainly. When Mohammed was raiding, raping, and enslaving, his movement might have been compared to the Peoples’ Temple or early Mormonism. But having conquered kingdoms, Islamic Law came to form the worldview of half-continents.
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Whether individually or in bands, “Thieves come to kill and destroy.” But Jesus “comes to give life, and that more abundantly.”
The classic cults are still out there, and new ones form every day. Each brings its own “sexual revolution,” preying upon the young and often (as Patrick perceived) making servants of the girls — while Jesus, I will show in my next book, has liberated billions of women around the world.
Yet “Christian” churches, too, can grow unhealthy, abusive, and tyrannical.
Do your leaders see themselves as holier than the rest? (“My house is the New Jerusalem,” a cult leader in Taiwan told me.) Do they seek to heal relationships or to divide us from loved ones? Is there an expectation that pastor deserves not merely a living, but an extravagant lifestyle?
And are children amply protected from potential abusers? I mean both inside and outside the church. Some of our most dangerous wolves are paid well and placed in positions of authority over children by the state. They teach kids to hate Western civilization, and the liberating power of the Gospel.
Wolf-pack authorities encourage the vulnerable young to believe fables as foolish as Jim Jones’ chatter about being a reincarnated Lenin, “Father Moon’s” money-making blather about his “perfect family,” or “Grandpa Mo’s” justification of sex abuse. You are whatever gender you choose! It’s fine to let men, magically baptized with invisible holy water as female, into women’s lockers! Genital mutilation is now cool, just call it “gender-affirming care!”
Learning to Watch Out
I’m glad Mom gave us lots of freedom, growing up. We all made it, thank God. I’ll take the dangers (and mosquitoes) of the Alaskan wilderness over such human predators. Jesus found a wolf in His own chosen flock. So, His point wasn’t that we should go out of this world, or stay locked down and socially isolated. Life has to be lived, and dangers faced, and children need to learn to be tough.
But as parents, it is our first duty to “watch out,” since wolves still prowl around, seeking whom they may devour. And let us teach children to be respectful towards authority, but also to be strong, and to maintain a Christ-like skepticism, that knows when to say “No, thanks” and even when to say, “Get thee behind me, demon warg.”
David Marshall, an educator and writer, has a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia.