Xenos/Dwell’s control tactics involve common patterns found in many high control groups and abusive relationships. It can feel incredibly confusing to be targeted by these tactics, because they manipulate people by producing shame, building and then abusing trust, destroying your sense of agency, and undermining your capacity to evaluate situations.
Recognizing patterns as harmful tactics is helpful in various ways. For people potentially targeted by Dwell’s extensive control system, or whose family has been caught in their traps, it can help you diagnose and prevent this from happening. For those who have found or are finding their way out, learning more about control tactics and spiritual abuse can help you understand what was done to you and help you move from feeling the shame that was used to control you, to understanding what was done to you by the Dwell system. Finally, for members and leaders in Dwell we hope that they will consider how even the unintentional perpetuation of these tactics causes real harm, which then causes so many to speak out against Dwell. We hope that Dwell members and leaders will begin the extensive work of repentance, transformation and deep change that will be needed if Dwell is to ever stop producing so much lifelong damage to so many people.
Some of the tactics we have seen and experienced are:
- Love bombing – targets are made to feel important and interesting as long as you are in the process of being recruited
- Extreme control of time and attention – it’s not uncommon for those in the college group to be pressured to participate in 5 meetings a week
- Intentional destruction of personal relationships – friendships within the church as well as family outside the church broken up, and people offering healthy alternatives are described as “not walking with God”
- Demonization of outsiders – “people outside the church just don’t get it, you’ll never find as good of a church as this”
- Cult of personality surrounding Dennis McCallum – according to Dwell, the many substantiated complaints about Dennis are just subjective and the result of negative attitudes towards Godly and “Biblical” leadership
- Instrumental control of people posing as discipleship – Dwell trains and enforces a top down approach that diminishes people’s own agency and conscience, with all agency redefined as completely unacceptable “autonomy”
- Making abused people complicit in abuse themselves – the system generates abusive dynamics that often make you a victim and a perpetrator
- Blame shifting and victim blaming – people who experience difficulties, or who offer legitimate critiques, are slanderously shamed for being “obviously just in sin” or “opposed to Biblical teaching” or they “just need to get over it”
- Excommunication / Discipline out of the church / Shunning – intentional public humiliation and withdrawal of relationship, although leaders are exempt from the tactics they use on others
- Encouragement of nicotine and alchohol as an outreach tactic – supposedly makes the church cool while also creating destructive environments that frequently lead to addiction or harmful behaviors, which then provides them with tools to shame and publicly humiliate selected targets
Many of the harmful tactics of Dwell are explored in detail in the paper below by Katie Reinaker, which especially highlights their demanding, inflexible model of “submission to God” (a.k.a. the leaders), along with the withdrawal of the community as a consequence of failure to submit to “God”/Dwell, as sources of significant trauma. The paper can be read or downloaded here:
Another way of becoming aware of some of these tactics is to reflect on and consider your own experience. The following questions are adapted from Development of a Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire, by Kathryn Hope Keller.
Considering your relationship to your church, ask yourself:
Is it acceptable for me to express my true emotions?
Do leaders in my group acknowledge harm they have caused others?
Do leaders share information about other people that should have been kept private?
Do I feel that God and other’s love and acceptance of me is dependent upon the work that I do for the church?
Have I been gossiped about or harshly criticized by leaders or other members?
Do I feel cynical about other churches or religious groups?
Do I feel like a spiritual failure and depend on the church to tell me how to make life decisions?
Do I feel like God will punish me if I don’t do what the church has told me to do?
Do I feel freedom to ask questions or express concerns in my church?
Am I dependent on the church?
Do my leaders use fear to control people?
Am I expected to get and share information about other members and potential members for our leaders?
Have I or other members been confronted by a leader and made to feel ashamed and helpless?
Do I feel lonely and misunderstood because of my church experiences?
If upon reflection you feel you may have experienced or are experiencing spiritual abuse, you do not need to justify this to others in your group. We encourage you to continue to seek out resources and support to experience the agency and dignity that belong to every person.