Evangelism as Inviolable Excuse

As the designation of evangelical Christianity would have it, Dwell Community Church has set up a system that prioritizes evangelism above all else. The metaphor of war is nowhere lost in this pursuit, with church leadership calling for continuous training of the soldiers of Christ such that they may militantly convert the masses to belief in God. So long as souls are saved from the fires of Hell, the ends justify the means, and all tactics and potential abuses in this spiritual warfare are readily excused as acceptable losses in order to obtain the ultimate booty. Not only is this methodology deeply flawed as a soul-saving campaign strategy, but it appears to be less a premeditated policy than an absolution granted in retrospect for a church long unable or unwilling to encourage a healthy culture.

Dwell Community Church promotes a culture where the ends justify the means, specifically in the realm of evangelism.

Dwell Community Church holds that the primary call from God is to save souls via evangelism. The full weight of the organization is put behind this effort, and the majority of church activities have this goal in mind. Even the tireless program for increasing intellectual knowledge as a proxy for spiritual maturity is in service to this end, with the church maintaining that well-equipped soldiers are necessary for the battle to be won in victory. The charitable endeavors of the church in terms of student ministries in low-income neighborhoods may be especially concerning in this context. The church offers the hope of a fair education in exchange for the right to indoctrinate students in their particular language of God. All of this is done with the urgency of wartime, with members being encouraged to devalue all other priorities including education, career, pleasure, well being, and success in pursuit of the ultimate goal of converting new members.


This enkindles an atmosphere within the church - especially within the college group - which feels more like the Crusades than a campus ministry sharing the good news of eternal life. Initiates who fail the rigors of spiritual boot camp within Dwell Community Church are readily marginalized as dead weight, stagnant elements within the mighty army of God which must be guarded against, lest the entire enterprise be put in jeopardy. Church leadership will readily state that these lackluster adherents are free to find a gentler (read, less spiritually relevant) practice of Christianity in one of the "regular" churches so plentiful within the community, the suggestion itself cloaked with condescension. Consider too that home churches that fail to gain new membership are disbanded in shame, the fear of which motivates a fascinating variety of manipulation in outreach to avoid such public failure. An invitation to a college group meeting these days looks a lot more like a free Hawaiian vacation turned timeshare sales pitch, with the unsuspecting thinking they are attending a wine and cheese night only to be made to sit through an hour long Bible study.


The testimony of former members indicates that senior church leadership is aware of the damaging nature of its youth ministries, at least to some extent, but considers this toxic atmosphere to be the inevitable result of immature leadership and preferable to the perceived threat of collegiate debauchery to its own internal purity culture. In a move designed to prolong an inevitable checkmate, the leadership within Dwell Community Church has chosen to trivialize and marginalize its victims rather than demonstrate accountability for the systemic issues resulting in hundreds of instances of abuse. Consider the following testimony from an ex-member:

 

"Before I decided to leave the church, I spoke about the abuse problem in the church with one of the elders for about an hour. It was a respectful conversation, and I felt heard and understood, but I found myself disappointed and unsatisfied by the conclusion . . . In response, I heard that the church leadership is aware that the structure of the college group can breed conformity, which can then create damaging situations, but that the structure is preferable to leaving the students more open to the dangers of college and it is necessary to give students the opportunity to get their "spiritual feet" under them and stabilize their walk with God. Also, I learned that there would be an effort to mitigate the instances of abuse through increased home-church coaching and follow-up from more experienced leaders."

 

It is not at all clear how the same senior leadership which once propagated and continues to defend its own systemic abuses while in the college ministry could possibly hope to mitigate instances of ongoing abuse. Indeed, a review of church responses demonstrates that leaders within Dwell Community Church seek to dispel internal concern regarding these allegations of abuse by dismissing claims as trivial or false, questioning the very relevance and materiality of emotional abuse (listen here, starting at 3:30), and justifying abuse as an unavoidable aspect of a church practicing high-commitment spiritual life and evangelism. This propaganda makes the underlying motivations all that much clearer and belies a fear that the church cannot withstand the fallout of accountability as they are concerned that it will affect attendance and their ability to save more souls for Jesus. Indeed, this is the wellspring of the abuse itself: everything is permitted in the face of evangelism. The senior leadership is ready to make an ongoing sacrifice of those it has wounded deeply in order to save face before a community already reviled by its tarnished history.


Instead the church condones ongoing abuse as a type of acceptable loss for the ultimate gain of evangelism. From this perspective, it is not surprising that Dwell Community Church chooses to promote an uncharacteristic leniency to abuses within the college ministry, given that this is the group with the highest rate of growth within the organization. In a knot that God himself would struggle to untangle, the growth rate of the college group is inextricably linked with an audience as much receptive to the message of salvation as susceptible to the rampant spiritual abuse within the church. New members are drawn into the church by an illusion of a community of acceptance, which lasts only as long as it takes to win them to Christ, after which they are thrown into the military campaign as conscripted soldiers themselves. The result is a deeply imbalanced culture ripe for emotional and spiritual abuse which waives any culpability for destruction of the weak in pursuit of the immediate high of initial conversion.


Consider the story Christa shares in this interview with Spiritwatch Ministries in which she describes the relief of finally being accepted into a spiritual family at Dwell Community Church after struggling with family issues and depression throughout her life. With little prior exposure to church, Christa shares that she was eager to throw herself into the group and eventually moved into a college ministry house, only to be asked to leave for failing to meet the strict sexual purity standards. There is a truly heartbreaking moment where she discusses struggling with and eventually be hospitalized for suicidal ideation after being kicked out of her college home church. Christa describes thinking at the time that dying may be the only way to be accepted in the community of God that she so desperately longed for after being abandoned by the church. Christa was coaxed into Dwell Community Church with the promise of unconditional acceptance, but was quickly abandoned for failing to meet the legalistic structure, an abandonment likely all the more destructive given her particular history and life experiences. She explains that after her hospitalization and recovery she attempted to repent and rejoin the home church only to be told that the contingency for her return was that she must confess the sins that led to her expulsion in front of the entire group, both men and women. It is precisely this type of traumatic psychological abuse that the church is guilty of dismissing, at the same time priding and excusing itself for the ability to once save and then damage souls.


How arrogant that the church believes that their pitiful offering of adulterated evangelism is an indispensable service to God! Is God so weak that he needs the militant might of Dwell Community Church to reveal his saving grace to the community? Does God require the aid of men to make his truth known? That evangelism at the cost of life-altering emotional abuse is a worthy sacrifice to God indicates not merely a wild pomposity but also a disturbing distrust of the potency and saving grace of God. Dwell Community Church may proudly display its offering of six thousand conversions before our ineffable God, but when asked about the blood of the abused crying out from the ground, will they content themselves with the response to the second great sin of mankind by answering, "Am I my brother's keeper?"


Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
Rainer Maria Rilke



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