Tampa parents say their children are “caught in the clutches of a cult.” But rather than a group recruiting on a college campus, this “cult” was allegedly gaining members through a long-term substitute teacher at a high school, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

That high school teacher was Christine Bowen, who was subsequently fired. It seems Bowen recruited her students to attend a “bible study” led by her husband Tom Bowen, a pharmaceutical salesman.

One family said the Bowens have “stolen” their daughter.

The Bowens deny all the allegations. But historically, at least two churches have asked the couple to leave their congregations.

Some families now call the small household group the “Bowenites.”

“This is a destructive religious cult,” said father and psychologist Gerald Mussenden. “They basically encouraged kids to sever ties with their parents…[and]…friends.”

Concerned families brought in veteran cult exit-counselor Dave Clark.

Clark has worked in the cult field for more than twenty years and is perhaps best known for his intervention regarding a member of the “Bible Speaks.” He helped an heiress to a department store fortune break away from the group. That woman later won a lawsuit that claimed she was essentially “brainwashed,” which bankrupted the church.

The Bible Speaks is now known as “Greater Grace World Outreach” of Baltimore, Maryland and still led by its founder Carl Stevens.

It is not unusual for destructive cults to begin very modestly, with only a handful of people and/or as a family operation. Carl Stevens began as a milkman with a supposed “gift” for bible study. Simply because a group is small, does not preclude the possibility that it is a “cult” or potentially unsafe.

And the manipulation of the bible to justify isolation, control and commitment to a particular group and/or leader is not new. Infamous cult leaders David Koresh and Jim Jones both deftly twisted scriptures out of context to achieve their ends.

Mary Alice Chrnalogar another veteran cult watcher wrote a book on this very subject titled “Twisted Scriptures” published by Zondervan Press. Within her book Chrnalogar examines in depth how destructive groups can manipulate the bible.

A tight knit group like the so-called “Bowenites” can be potentially more controlling than a larger group, due to the ever-present focus of a leader working personally with only a few individuals.

Hopefully, the concerned families in Florida will somehow work things out with their children, though one has already filed a restraining order, which would preclude contact.