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.

One thought on “Why call it “cultic”?….

  1. Margaret, Thanks for this posting, and for this blog, and for all you’re doing on the “Reflections” website, which I visit now and again.

    A few comments in response to this post:

    It was a long time before Perry and I were able to finally accept that the assembly was a cult (or cultic, as you put it). When we “left fellowship” in the early 90’s, we didn’t have a clear idea about why we were leaving. We sort of just “slunk” away, unwilling to blame the assembly or George and Betty, and more inclined to blame ourselves for our personal failings. I know people spoke ill of us for leaving, but we tried hard in those early years to speak well of the assembly and take responsibility for our decisions and mistakes, even as we moved on to the next stage of our lives. I think for many years we tried to pretend those assembly years never existed.

    In that regard, I feel we didn’t made a “clean break,” mentally or spiritually, from “assembly-think” until a few years ago, when we heard about all that had been going on for so many years–George’s immorality, the physical/emotional abuse, etc.–and we began to re-examine the effect our years in the assembly had on us, not only while were there, but in the ensuing years (legalism is a hard thing to shake off). It’s only been within the last couple of years that we’ve begun to use the “c” word. It’s a hard thing to admit. There’s this embarrassment, this shame, this sense of personal failing, for our lack of insight or discernment. But I think the fact that we’re finally able to admit it is a step in the right direction.

    Thanks again for all you’re doing.

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