Love-bombing is characteristic of most cults. Prospects, recruits and members are drowned in a sea of love and caring.
Recently in an evangelical church I heard the pastor describe his visit to two cultic groups in which he praised their love-bombing and urged that his church adopt the same loving attitude towards visitors and members.
Should the evangelical church practice love-bombing? Is this what Christ meant when he said, "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another," (John 13:35)?
I've heard cult members say, "Of course we practice love-bombing: Who'd want to be in a group or church that practiced hate-bombing?" This attitude highlights a common misconception. Hate-bombing is not the opposite of love-bombing.
The opposite of love-bombing is unconditional love. Love-bombing is highly conditional.
The cults will love you to death while you represent a prospective convert to their group. As a member a tight family love will surround you as you faithfully promote their cause.
However, when it is clear that a prospect will not join the group or a member voices doubts, create waves, or leaves the group, all love ceases.
Indeed scorn is immediately heaped on these individuals and remaining members are told not to have any contact with them.
All time, effort and love-bombing is then directed towards new prospects and the faithful members. Is this the love evangelical churches should practice?
Unconditional love is what God practiced when he sent his Son to die for us "while we were yet sinners," (Romans 5:8).
He doesn't love us because we might become or are his faithful servants. He simply loves us. He will disapprove of our sin and approve of our faith but He will always love us.
Churches need to love visitors because they are humans created in God's image and not because they are prospective members. The love needs to continue if the visitor chooses to associate with another group of believers.
Problem members need to be loved even if they create problems or leave in a huff. Christians need to practice God's kind of love.
Beware of the love-bomb.
The term "Love Bombing" originated with the Moonies to describe a step in their process of conversion. New members are sought out, friendshipped, and invited to group events. Potential recruits are overwhelmed with attention which makes them feel special, loved, and an important part of the new group.
Aspects of this technique include, but are not limited to flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually non-sexual touching, and lots of attention. (Singer, p 114)
Geri-Ann Galanti, a cult researcher, experienced love bombing at a Moonie recruitment camp. Regarding a very personal compliment she received, she stated, "Even though I knew it was a manipulative technique, I wanted to believe she meant it, and I decided that she really did. After all, it matched my own perception of myself." Recovery from Cults, p 98.
Love-bombing instills trust. It is impossible to think of the new group as harmful, because everyone is so friendly. Everyone seems so happy and nice; how could the group be wrong? Love-bombing can produce a social high. Recruits can come to feel dependent on this feeling and the safety net of belonging to a close-knit group of people. It also makes them feel loyal and dedicated, as they now may feel they owe the group some attention in return.
Sometimes love-bombing involves sexual attraction. Many cults send males to recruit lone females, and females to recruit lone males. In the case of Mormonism, many young women become attracted to young, polished male missionaries. I don't believe this behavior is intentional, but it works quite often, sometimes resulting in a post-mission marriage.
Other times, member-missionaries (not on formal missions) use sexual attraction to convert members of the opposite sex, which may or may not result in marriage.
Mormons frequently use all kinds of friendshipping techniques to find new and retain existing members. Sometimes this friendship is sincere, but more often than not, it is superficial. As soon as the LDS member realizes their fellowshipping efforts are not paying off, they often shift their attentions elsewhere. They are not interested in someone as a person who they would honestly like to get to know -- they are interested in them as a potential convert.
Members of all ages are encouraged to provide service projects, and frequently target "less-active" members or non-members. Home and Visiting Teachers and missionaries are encouraged to provide service especially to those families struggling with Church attendance.
This topic is so frequently expressed in Church lesson manuals, magazines, and Conference talks, that there is little room in this forum to quote examples. For a complete list of examples for your own personal research, visit http://lds.org/search/0,5523,165,00.html and search on "Fellowship".
Here is an example from the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet given to all Mormon teenagers:
"... Invite your nonmember friends to Church activities where they can learn about your standards and the principles of the gospel. Include them in your midweek activities and your Sunday meetings. Help them feel welcome and wanted. Many nonmembers have come into the Church through friends who have involved them in Church activities."
Here are a few excerpts from the Priesthood manual, Lesson 10, Fellowshipping: A Priesthood Responsibility:
"Although we should be friendly and neighborly and try to show our love to all people, giving help and friendship to new and less-active members is a basic priesthood responsibility..."
"...[Fellowshipping] helps new converts and other Church members feel wanted and needed and motivates them to participate in the Church."
Here is an example of love bombing from the same priesthood lesson, about Jack, who's wife is a member:
"Jack, initially reluctant to come [to a block party staged to fellowship him], was surprised and delighted with the easy, natural friendliness of the group. By the evening’s end, he enthusiastically supported the idea of a second party, a picnic in two weeks. No one said anything about going to church [emphasis added], but Allen Westover, who had discussed Jack’s house-painting project at the party, showed up on Saturday with his own ladder—and came back evenings after work. [Two other men] also helped several times...
“Later that month when the elders quorum had a project, Jack was anxious to help them... As the summer progressed, Jack spent more and more time with Church members. There were chats about fishing rods and politics and raising children, about gardening, working out marital difficulties, and handling job pressures. Jack was talking as well as listening. Social evenings with different families included family home evenings and spiritual discussions. To [his wife's] great joy, Jack told her one evening that he was ready to take the next step of being taught by the missionaries and … joining the Church.”
This story is a perfect demonstration of love bombing. The original goal for planning the block party was to convert Jack. Several Church members became involved, making friends with him and planning further gatherings. They helped him paint his house to help him feel appreciative, and then engaged him in group activities, which made him feel helpful. They discussed non-Church topics with him, circumventing a direct approach that may have turned him off.
Had Jack not been a potential convert, I doubt any of these men would have been bothered to waste their time.
Mormons are encouraged to sincerely and unconditionally love other people, yet this love is not, in reality, unconditional. There are many instances when a Mormon will give the cold shoulder to a fellow member who is not "acting in accordance with the Gospel".
Certainly when members leave, love is withdrawn. If a member writes a controversial paper or associates with controversial people, they may be subject to "disfellowship" and "excommunication". The nature of these words is no mistake -- they both imply a separation from the group. These are the opposite of love bombing, a total withdrawal of love and support as a punishment for going against the group's standards.
Furthermore, love bombing helps silence complaints and criticism, long after conversion:
"The apparently loving unanimity of the group masks, and in some cases bolsters, strict rules against private as well as public dissent. Questions are deflected. Critical comments are met with smiling pleas of 'no negativity'..."
Cults also try to cut you off from your friends and family because they hate others being able to influence you. A mind control cult will seek to manoeuvre your life so as to maximize your contact with cult members and minimize your contact with people outside the group, especially those who oppose your involvement.
From XFamily - Children of God
Love bombing is the deliberate use of an intense, concerted show of affection by a group of people toward an individual they seek to recruit or otherwise influence.
The phrase can be used in slightly different ways.
- Certain organizations, notably the Children of God/The Family and the Unification Church, use or have used the phrase themselves. In this context, the implication is that the show of "love" is sincere.
- Critics of cults often use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and the practice is manipulative. "Love bombing" is sometimes cited by critics as one of the defining characteristics of a cult.
Unlike the "Flirty Fishing" previously practiced by the group, "love bombing" is usually nonsexual.
The term was popularized by the controversial psychiatrist Margaret Singer. She used the term in 1981 when testifying in a lawsuit on behalf of the Daily Mail. (The Unification Church had sued the newspaper for libel, in regard to stories the newspaper had published about David Adler's experiences with the church). In her testimony Singer said that she had interviewed over five hundred members of various sects, about half of them members of the Unification Church. She said that the church's use of a showering of intense affection was more effective than the brainwashing techniques used by the North Koreans on prisoners of war. In a 1996 book entitled Cults in Our Midst, she described the technique thus:
"As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members' flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing—or the offer of instant companionship— is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives."
A few years before Margaret Singer died she discussed love bombing and capture-bonding in long phone conversations with Keith Henson who at that time was applying Evolutionary psychology to understanding the relation between cults and drugs. Henson proposed a mechanism rooted in the evolution of Stone Age human ancestors to account for the effects of love bombing. In brief, he proposed that intense social attention has similar effects to addictive drugs because the attention causes the release of brain chemicals that activate the brain's reward circuits.
The postulated evolutionary origin of this mechanism is that tribe members who took actions such as hunting received attention. If the attention rewarded them they were more likely to repeat the action, and in the long-term people with such motivational traits were more likely to become ancestors. In this view drug addiction is a side effect of Stone Age evolution.
If attention-reward theory is accepted as an important human psychological trait, then intense cult love bombing is just the extreme end of what all groups (religious and otherwise) do to obtain members.
However, there is no litmus test which defines love bombing, any more than there is any way of objectively determining the sincerity of any human emotion.
Love bombing is the deliberate show of affection or friendship by an individual or a group of people toward another individual. Critics have asserted that this action may be motivated in part by the desire to recruit, convert or otherwise influence.
As of 2005, the phrase can be used in two slightly different ways.
- Members of the Unification Church, and perhaps members of other groups, use or have used the phrase themselves to mean a genuine expression of friendship, fellowship, interest, or concern.
- Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and the practice is manipulative. "Love bombing" is often cited by critics as one of the methods used by some cults and religions to recruit and retain members.
The term seems to have been used within, and is often associated with, the Unification Church, especially the San Francisco Bay area church known as the "Oakland family." In 1999 testimony to the Maryland Cult Task Force, Ronald Loomis, Director of Education for the International Cultic Studies Association, reflecting his belief that the term was not invented by critics, asserted: "We did not make up this term. The term 'love bombing' originated with the Unification Church, the Moonies. It’s their term. Another group that’s active on many Maryland campuses, the International Churches of Christ, also uses that term."
Though the term was already widely used by the media at the time, the Unification Church used it at least as early as 1978. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, used the term "love bomb" in a July 23, 1978 speech (translated):
Former members of the Children of God, including Deborah Davis, daughter of the founder of the Children of God, and Kristina Jones, daughter of an early member, have used the term in describing the early days of the organization.Unification Church members are smiling all of the time, even at four in the morning. The man who is full of love must live that way. When you go out witnessing you can caress the wall and say that it can expect you to witness well and be smiling when you return. What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.
Criticism of love bombing and response
Critics of cults often cite love bombing as one of the features that may identify an organization as a cult. When used by critics, the phrase is defined to mean affection that is feigned or with an ulterior motive and that is used to reduce the subject's resistance to recruitment.
The term was popularized by psychology professor Margaret Singer, who has become closely identified with the love-bombing-as-brainwashing point of view. In her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst, she described the technique thus:
As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members' flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing - or the offer of instant companionship - is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.
The Unification Church rejects this view of its practice. Church leader Damian Anderson has written:
One man's love-bombing is another man's being showered with attention. Everyone likes such care and attention, so it is unfortunate that when we love as Jesus taught us to love, that we are then accused of having ulterior motives.
Steven Hassan and Keith Henson are among the other cult critics to write about love bombing. 
Electrical engineer and anti-scientology activist Keith Henson has attempted to explain in evolutionary psychology terms how love bombing works. It is based on the idea that the brain evolved in a social context and that attention from others acts as a reward for reasons rooted in stone age evolution.
Memes...which manifest as cults and related social movements, have "discovered" the brain's reward system.... Successful cult memes induce intense social interaction behaviour between cult members. This trips the attention detectors. Tripping the detectors causes the release of reward chemicals.... Anyone who has ever had the feeling of being higher than a kite after giving a public speech is well aware of the effects of attention.