is a cult
Dwell Community Church changed its name from Xenos Christian Fellowship in December 2020 after years of negative press and accusations by former members of incidences of abuse. Explore with us how such abuse arises within Dwell Community Church, and find resources for understanding, recovery, and inspiration for hope.
We wanted to take the road to life, and we've come to a graveyard; we set out for a promised land, and all we see is a desert; we talked about justice, and all we know is terror and despair.
Is Dwell Community Church a cult? What is a cult and why do we care so much?
Is Dwell Community Church a cult? What the heck is a cult and why do we care so much? This is the million-dollar question both for members and former members of Dwell Community Church along with the surrounding community. Or is it? Of course, the church itself has long denied claims of being a cult and has published numerous articles on its website discussing what cults are and why Dwell Community Church does not meet the selected criteria. These claims can certainly be debated both in favor of and against the church being a cult, as they have been for many years in the Columbus area. However, there is no definitive set of criteria for what a cult is or is not, leaving many asking if the entire dogmatic religious enterprise is not fundamentally a cult of belief. Regardless, despite the catchy name of this particular website, the entire debate surrounding whether or not Dwell Community Church is a cult is largely a red herring and detracts from the real question that we should care about:
Is Dwell Community Church responsible for abuse against members and former members which has resulted in significant trauma for which the church should exercise accountability and desire to change?
If we are to believe only a fraction of the allegations brought against the church in the past several decades, it is clear that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Indeed, the cries that the church is a cult are the last resort of many individuals who have suffered from gaslighting, victim-shaming, and the lonely road to recovery in the wake of the abandonment by their former church family. So instead of fixating on whether or not Dwell Community Church is or is not a cult, let us focus on identifying how abuse occurs and why Dwell Community Church leadership seems so incapable of acknowledging allegations of abuse as valid.
Dwell Community Church believes in a demanding, inflexible model of submission to God. Church leadership has routinely denied that members are controlled in an overt manner such as forcing individuals to donate money to the church, live in a ministry house, or attend a large number of meetings. However, the unspoken structure of the Dwell Community Church belief system holds that these behaviors are required and synonymous with increasing spirituality. The basic model is relatively inflexible and a majority of allegations against the church involve some conflict with the rigidity of this structure. Dwell Community Church no doubt maintains that this model of submission to God is based in scripture and underpinned by mainstream biblical doctrines. While this may even be the case, it does not negate the fact that this structure leads to significant allegations of abuse. Fundamentally, abuse results not from any of the individual beliefs about spirituality or the specifics of what full submission to God looks like; it is a consequence of the rigidity and inflexibility of the model of submission itself, with ex-members expressing that they were simply overwhelmed by the exhaustive, contradictory, or invasive standards placed upon them. The very nature of which results in allegations of control and manipulation.
Dwell Community Church believes in a demanding, inflexible model of submission to God.
Dwell Community Church uses withdrawal of the community as a consequence of failure to submit to God.
Dwell Community Church uses withdrawal of the community as a consequence of failure to submit to God. The withdrawal of community plays a crucial role within the maintenance of the authoritarian structure of the organization, and it has several key consequences. First, the withdrawal of the community often constitutes the abuse itself as former members struggle with feelings of shame and confusion regarding what has happened to them along with being isolated and cut-off from their entire support network. Second, the isolation of the ex-member shields the church from bearing witness to the consequences of their decision to withdraw access to the community, allowing members remaining in the organization to view the ex-member as truly rebellious against God rather than as a victim of abuse. This explains the disparity in perspective between ex-members and those remaining within the organization, including church leadership. Former members and the wider community become acutely aware of the damage caused as individuals are forced to recover within the context of support existing outside of the church. Within the church, ex-members are viewed with pity and sadness as those sheep who have been led astray by the corrupt world or by Satan, rather than individuals who confronted an inflexible structure of belief that was in many cases impossible to accommodate. Allegations made against Dwell Community Church are viewed by members and church leadership as spiritual persecution, brought by broken individuals in rebellion from God.
How can it be that Dwell Community Church leadership is so unaware of the abuse that it is responsible for? De facto excommunication of former members has the effect of increasing the confirmation bias within the church and leads to church members and leadership being completely unaware of the incredible damage that they have inflicted upon individuals. The demanding, inflexible model of submission to God is perpetuated by the very fact that some individuals fail while others succeed, and those who fail are pruned from the church thereby encouraging organizational growth in the direction of pruning. This engenders an environment whereby members and leadership alike feel confident in the very model that they have created and succeeded within, and over time the internal culture becomes less and less aware of the reality experienced by the pruned individuals. Church leadership and members truly believe that they have acted in accordance with God’s will and that no actual abuse has occurred. This reality constitutes the actual danger of Dwell Community Church – a danger that extends not just to former, current, and future congregants, but includes senior leadership as well. Indeed, this is the paradox of good intentions, that significant and radical damage may result from intentions that are, at the core, reasonable and understandable - or even good. This paradox has as its roots the most subtle realms of human culture and experience but is most evident in closed systems of totalitarian thought.
How can it be that Dwell Community Church leadership is so unaware of the abuse that it is responsible for?
Coming Home: The Jesus People Movement in the Midwest and their attempts to escape fundamentalism
May 2021 by Benjamin Wayne Williamson, M. Div.
Xenos has continued to come under public scrutiny in recent years because of their authoritarian practices in their membership's lives, going so far as to change their name to Dwell in February 2020. Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt believe that they are recreating God’s intention for the church as they attempt to reproduce the Christian experience that they read about in the pages of the New Testament. It would appear that they genuinely believe the Bible has finally been correctly applied to church life and the vision of the first century Christianity fulfilled through Xenos Christian Fellowship.