Guidelines for Relatives and Friends

Inform is not an 'advice agency'. Our main aim is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate and balanced as possible and by directing them towards other experts, and, when asked, to people with first-hand experience of the movements.

However, scholarly research into religious movements has alerted us to the likely consequences of certain courses of action. Based on the findings of this research, Inform has drawn up the following guidelines for people who are anxious about the involvement of a relative or friend who has joined a religious movement:

Get as much accurate, balanced and up-to-date information as possible about both the movement and the individual concerned.

  • Keep in touch. It is important that the convert maintains contact with the wider society so that he or she has access to an independent perspective from which to assess the world-views and values presented by the movement.
  • Listen! Don't tell converts how wrong, sinister, dangerous or evil the movement is and how mistaken, stupid, duped or brainwashed they are. Try to understand how they perceive the situation. If you try to define their experience for them you risk pushing them into a defensive position that could prevent them from considering alternatives.
  • Try to show respect for the convert's right to choose.
  • Let the convert know that you have not rejected him/her, but are there if needed. Converts are more likely to leave a movement if they do not feel that they will lose face by doing so.
  • In a supportive and non-confrontational manner you can tell the convert what you have heard might be some more troubling aspects and potential dangers associated with the movement. Encourage him/her to consider these seriously in the light of his/her own participation in, and experience of, the movement.
  • Discuss the converts' new beliefs and values with him or her and ask 'What if?' questions - What would you do if you discovered that... or What would you do if you were asked to... For example, if converts agree that deceptive fund-raising practices are wrong before they encounter them, they are more likely to disapprove if the movement asks them to participate in them at a later date.
  • If you have good grounds for believing there is actual or potential danger to an individual and/or that potentially criminal activity is taking place, it is advisable to go to the appropriate authorities such as the police, social services or the local British Embassy or Consulate. Inform can give you the necessary contact information.
  • Inform warns against the dangers of the illegal act of kidnapping or using forceful means to remove converts from a movement.

Further guidelines can be found in Eileen Barker's New Religious Movements, A Practical Introduction and from Inform.

See also our information on other Organisations Offering Support.