In her book Not of My Making Maggie Jones discusses the horrible treatment she received in several mainline churches. Those churches were not cults; they were just your normal boulevard churches. So if even ordinary churches can sometimes be so hurtful, why do we imply that the Geftakys Assembly was somehow “cultic”? Are we just “disgruntled” former members with a huge chip on our shoulders who are trying to make the Assembly look worse than it was? Or worse yet, we’re tools of the devil, as GG and BG no doubt asserted?
Well, that is a possibility, of course. But here’s the deal. There are several specific behaviors that characterize cults. One element is special secret knowledge – this teacher / guru has the inside corner on knowing God. “You won’t get this anywheres else, friends.” Another is that you have to be very, very diligent in pursuit of it; not just anyone can get it. “You’ve got to press on to enter in, saints.” And another is that on your way in you aren’t told that you won’t be allowed to leave as a beloved child of God. “Those who leave have left the circle of life and light, and have gone out into the realm of death and darkness.”
The bullying and scapegoating and misconduct that happen in a cultic group pressure you to try harder (i.e. become a more productive member), and intimidate you into never even contemplating leaving (because others might be encouraged to think for themselves, too).
We use the term “cultic” because it accurately describes Assembly dynamics. The important thing, though, is not the label you give a group. If the “cult” word conjures up Jonestown for you, then don’t use it. But when you come across that description, don’t automatically dismiss it, either. The important thing is to recognize manipulative and destructive behaviors as unacceptable among Christians.