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When the Church Becomes a Cult

It is rare that a book hits you squarely where you need it to. In the wake of last Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol, as I was reeling and unsure how to process the events of the day, I picked-up Garrett’s book as a way to re-direct my attention and instead found insight into a community I struggle to understand.

In the House of Friends recounts Garrett’s twelve years in an abusive, cult-like church in Oregon. Garrett walks through how he was pulled in, what made him stay, how the slow indoctrination happened, and the deceptive tactics used thereafter to keep he and his family there.

Garrett starts his account with an observation that many in the church community are hesitant to call out cult-like churches due to the “spiritual aspect.” They are slow to call a personality that is manipulative, abusive, and narcissistic what it is, and instead hide behind labels that only divert from the reality before them.

Many of us have a broken view of cults. We think of groups in the woods, people who live isolated lives with their leader. But cult-like churches exist all around us. All one has to do is carefully examine the words, demands, and focus of their leaders.

What I found most helpful about Garrett’s review is how it applies to the religious right of today. The “cult of Trump,” as it has been referenced, is packed with good, church-going, Bible-reading evangelicals. Indeed, Garrett is quick to point out that many of the attributes of a healthy church are the attributes of a cult-like church only severely twisted, which is why we have to be discerning and know the Bible for ourselves.

In the wake of white extremism becoming so enmeshed with a message of peace and love, one only has to look at the indicators Garrett points out to see the slow and calculated ways narcissistic, abusive pastors (and leaders) entangle their followers. It stops being about what the Bible says and all about what the pastor says. They demand total devotion, start degrading those outside the flock, and demand more and more of people’s time and money. They start attaching faith to politics, and single issues, requiring total devotion and no questions.

Garrett and his family eventually got out of their abusive church. Garrett spends the second half of the book talking about the road back, what people leaving cult-like churches need, and what authentic, good churches can do to be a welcoming, healing place.

I found Garrett’s book to a good primer on how to identify spiritually abusive and misaligned leaders of the faith (any faith). It is a good check for anyone searching for a place of identity and belonging, and a helpful insight to those of us on the outside wondering what happened to those we love the most.

Buy a copy of In the House of Friends here.

Links are affiliate. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, and the little guy gets some love too.  

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