Jewish believers are especially vulnerable.

Once upon a time deprogramming entrepreneurs like Ted Patrick were regarded as heroes of a sort. It used to be that only Moonies and adherents of other offbeat cults got deprogrammed. But now it’s happening to Christians.

Last December, 21-year-old Betsy and 18-year-old Whitney Chase flew to suburban Detroit for a brief holiday visit with their mother. On the second day of their visit they thought they were going shopping. They were taken instead to an unfamiliar house to talk to deprogrammers hired by their mother. The house was guarded. The girls were separated and not permitted to make phone calls. They were shown films about the Moonies and Jim Jones. All this because the girls are members of an Assembly of God church. Their mother is worried that the girls’ personalities have changed and that they now believe in faith healing. In this case, mother, stepfather, and eight others were arrested for kidnaping.

Eyebrows are raising now that Christians have become fair game in the deprogrammers’ market. Recently Ted Patrick asserted that Jerry Falwell has more people under mind control than [Sun Myung] Moon and that “Falwell leads the biggest cult in the nation.”

The incident in Detroit is not the only one. Christians who belong to the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus are sometimes victims. This year there have been at least four incidents in which Jews for Jesus street missionaries in New York City have been assaulted by the militant Jewish Defense League. In 1981, a Soviet Jew from Chicago who had become a Christian was kidnaped and taken to New York for deprogramming. The boy, a teen-ager, eventually committed suicide.

Deprogramming has also plagued Maranatha Campus Ministries, a charismatic ministry represented on more than 60 college campuses in 32 states. Maranatha’s director of missions, Ted Doss, knows of at least 10 incidents of attempted deprogramming of students belonging to Maranatha.

Typically, these students are called home by their parents on some pretext, then coerced or strongly urged to view anticult films and talk to deprogrammers. Most do not return to Maranatha. But some have played along with the deprogrammers until they have an opportunity to flee.

“These deprogramming attempts are a violation of privacy and religious freedom,” Doss says. “Our greatest concern is that these new Christians are being deprived of opportunities for fellowship.”

Moishe Rosen, founder and president of Jews for Jesus, says that Jewish Christians are likely candidates for deprogramming because many Jewish parents regard Christianity as a cult. He notes that the New York Jewish Community Relations Council has a task force on missionary and cult activities. In a recent Jews for Jesus publication on Christian growth being offered free to new Jewish believers, an entire chapter is devoted to instruction in handling kidnap and deprogramming attempts.

Rosen and his organization have opposed deprogramming from the start, and not just because of fears that it would someday invade Christianity. Rosen says, “If you’ve got enough money, you can deprogram anyone from anything.” Rosen emphasized that a Christian can not be deprogrammed from genuine faith. But he maintains a Christian’s witness can be rendered confused and ineffective. “I know of nobody who has been able to live a normal Christian life after being deprogrammed,” he said.

Ron DeWolf, son of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, also questions the ethics of deprogramming. Despite a painful experience in Scientology and an equally painful period of withdrawal that lasted for years, DeWolf believes that religious reorientation should be personal and voluntary.

Rosen is concerned that, as a business, deprogramming is becoming respectable. Efforts of deprogrammers are now backed by established attorneys and psychiatrists. “It would not be difficult,” says Rosen, “for a Jewish psychiatrist to believe that a Jewish person has been psychologically coerced if that person said he believes Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world.”

Rosen contends there is a key difference in the coercive attempts of cults and deprogrammers and the efforts of those who witness for Christ. “Deprogramming,” he says, “presumes that there is no such thing as free will, that all choices are conditioned choices. As Christians, we believe God gives man a choice to trust him or to defy him. The difference,” Rosen concludes, “is that a Christian honors a person’s right to decide for himself.” Rosen says, “You always let them walk away when they want to walk away.”

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