While there are many lists of cult characteristics, there doesn’t seem to be any clear definition of what combination or minimum demand there must be for the term “cult” to apply. Also, the term cult most certainly carries
with it derogatory connotations, and as well some have pointed out that not every “cult” has negative effects on it’s members. Certainly groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can be seen to employ certain “cultish” group behaviors
that many, if not most, would agree render positive results. The terms High Demand Group or High Control Group have been employed as a replacement terminology for the usage of cult as well.
That being said, one can certainly not avoid the abundance
of negative press that Xenos Christian Fellowship (Referred to from here out as XCF) has received on the internet alone, with the vast majority of it’s critics labeling it most assuredly as a cult.
So, is XCF a cult? Obviously that depends
on who you ask. Of course any true XCF member would say no, but then again so would a Mormon or Jehovah Witness say the same about their group. The intent of this paper is not to look at any list of cult like practices and tick them off either yay or nay,
but more specifically to look at those practices that XCF does engage in that leads many to brand it as such. These basic concerns can be found at this web site:
Note as well this warning from the web site:
“Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale,” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult; this is not so much a
diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.”
These first statements concern the leadership of the group in question
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning
commitment to its leader, and(whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (e.g., members must get permission to date, change jobs, or marry, or leaders prescribe what to wear, where to live, whether to have children, how to
discipline children, and so forth).
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
The main leadership of XCF is divided into two groups; The elders, which adhere to the biblical principles of eldership, and home church (group) leaders, which adhere to the biblical model of deacons. While the elders are
definitely not as “powerful” as the definitions above, there certainly has been some questionable practices. Most notably, the founder of XCF, Dennis McCallum, and his number one disciple, Gary Delashmutt, as well as the influence of Dennis’
mother Martha, are known to have been behind some of the unorthodox hiring and firing of many leadership and career positions within XCF. The replacement of Calumet’s (XCF’s private school) principal, multiples of the counseling staff,
missionaries, and the appointment of elders themselves, several who bear the name McCallum, would seem to indicate a power structure that most churches would feel uncomfortable with. In fact, some might say, XCF at times seemed to resemble more of a family
business than a church.*
Along these lines, though again not as controlled as stated above, the XCF leadership is a disciple based structure, with each leader training his/her own set of disciples. And though this at first glance appears biblical in
nature, it differs foundationally from the biblical model of each person making disciples of Jesus, and opts instead for a more militaristic model of each leader making a disciple of him/her self. Thus, the tendency to mimic cultish behavior is greatly increased
due to an underlying desire to please the man centered leaders above you and gain their acceptance through obedience and imitation. This tendency is what probably leads to many of the “cult” accusations, as well as the practices that follow.
The effects of cult like leadership
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and control members.
Often this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
- Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before
joining the group.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Here we see without question the behavior of those in XCF almost verbatim. Each one of these traits can be seen to find a multitude
of complaints that follow these structures almost word for word. How many of these complaints referred to the “shunning” and expulsion of members for non conformist behavior, people continuously advised to make or change life decisions to serve
XCF, and to focus the majority of their time and efforts on either group activities, or growing the group in general?
The overall flaw of XCF
The most basic and fundamental problem
of XCF, that which makes it a cult, if the term is to apply, is it’s unhealthy and unrealistic view of itself. XCF continuously and persistently views itself with an air of exclusivity. Though many of it’s teachings and doctrines adhere to a healthy
biblical definition of the purpose of the church, namely that there are different facets of Christianity that serve both locally and ultimately universally, their obvious practices would seem to imply otherwise. One of the most common complaints that has plagued
XCF for over 20 years is their custom of “ministry houses”. If grouping your members all into a shared living situation while monitoring their private lives and demanding their sole focus and time is not seen as cultish, then nothing is.
Those who’s living situation matures beyond that of the ministry house controls are pressured into choosing marriage and career choices that again serve only XCF alone. For a church that recognizes salvation through Jesus Christ on a universal
level and in light of the Christian movement being over a billion strong, this practice takes spiritual arrogance to an all new level considering XCF’s relatively small size of only 6000 members situated in Columbus, Ohio. This also touches upon the
view that is commonly held within XCF of other Christian movements as well. Again, one of the obvious criticism’s that XCF has received is their view of the Catholic church. However, more apparent was XCF’s response toward their fellow mega church
located just down the road, the Vineyard. During the 1990’s, an exodus of XCF members left to attend the local Vineyard church. And while the more acceptable and proper mature response would have been for XCF to address it’s own issues, it instead
chose to embark upon an anti-Vineyard campaign that still resonates to this day. Indeed, one major criticism that could be leveled at XCF is that while the whole world has a beaten path directly to XCF influence ( and thus Christian influence) through it’s
OSU affiliations, it chooses instead to squander these opportunities by shaming members into either relocating their Christian lives solely for XCF benefits, or leaving them hurt and bitter at Christianity in general. In light of John 3:16 alone, this is indeed
Another major component of XCF’s cult like control is it’s rampant and unashamed practice of gossip. And while most Christian organizations will ultimately engage in this behavior through the spiritualizing of unwarranted dissemination
of information about its members, XCF quite literally seems to take pride in this practice, even so much so that one has to wonder if they are not also engaging in the cultish practice of reinterpreting scriptures to fit their own self serving desires. One
clear justification of this dynamic is in the words of Dennis McCallum himself from his web article "Strange things in Xenos" (click on link here)
"The same goes for informal counseling with Xenos leaders. We are on public record as rejecting the validity of unqualified confidentiality across the board, because as secrecy increases, community decreases."
The clearest examples of this behavior is within the “leaders” meetings, both at a home church level, and the group as a whole. And of course what better way of exhibiting control than the sharing of information, especially of a private and
shameful nature. In almost direct opposition to the commands of Jesus Himself where “sins” are to be addressed in a completely private setting and only ever aired in extreme and demanding circumstances (Matthew 18:15-17), XCF regularly shares the
misconduct of it’s members (either biblical or XCF created) amongst the leaders under the justification of “protecting” the body of believers from unwanted and/or evil influences. The question that one should be asking at this point is what
totalitarian regime or dictatorship has not ever employed this tactic?
What to make of it
Xenos Christian Fellowship
seems to be caught in a dilemma, and indeed has been stuck in it for years. It’s either a church that wants to be a cult, or a cult that wants to be a church. Unfortunately, much like the yeast that Jesus referred to, a little cult has leavened the whole
church, and XCF cannot hope to clear away the cult accusations that have plagued it once and for all without radical change within the core of its structure, beginning with the deconstruction of its ministry house network and the revamping of it’s leadership
models for a start. But then again, perhaps like many of its cohorts, XCF will just plod along ignoring it’s cult status but also rejecting mainstream Christianity while maintaining its exclusive claim to some form of spirituality over and above the
rest of the Christian world.
More on Leadership
and past elders related to the McCallum family include;
Ryan Lowery/ replacement senior paster/ Son in law to Dennis McCallum
Conrad Hilario/ replacement senior paster/ Disciple of Dennis McCallum
Brett McCallum/ current elder/ Son of Dennis McCallum
Scott "Buck" McCallum/ past elder/ Brother of Dennis McCallum
Kieth McCallum/ past elder of Xenos Columbus/
current elder of NeoXenos/ Brother of Dennis McCallum.