What defines a cult? It’s ironic that the definition itself offered by Christianity Today magazine has elements of a cult in the list. It’s very defensive of mainstream Christian religion. A more balanced approach is offered here and it cites a more common list proposed by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.:
- a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
- a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
- economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
Have you noticed how this sounds like a lot of Dispensationalist/Zionist churches? They are loaded with charismatic leaders seldom or never called to account for anything, an educational system that tends to manipulation and subtle forms of coercion, and makes a lot of noise about how holy it is to give sacrificially to the cause. Do we need to mention sexual peccadillos are all too common among the leaders?
I can’t make it a doctrine to avoid these things in Radix Fidem; people are what they are. It would be inconsistent with the covenant itself to load up levers for control. Who knows what this virtual family of faith will look like when I’m gone? But I do make it my policy, and I make some effort to transmit this as proper moral values. I get uncomfortable with adulation as the senior elder and I hope we all learn to stay humble. Radix Fidem dies without humility. This whole thing remains voluntary at every point; there is no orthodoxy, just a broad covenant. I stated outright that my booklet is not orthodoxy; you only have to decide that you can live with this for as long as you associate with my ministry. And God forbid that I ever manipulate folks and exploit them and their resources. I grew up in poverty for the most part and I’m quite comfortable with it, having avoided opportunities for economic advancement because they didn’t feel right.
Yet, by the same token, I am aware of a moral truth that we need sponsorship. Not because any of us needs to buy a lot of stuff, but several of us have (or soon will have) a mission calling and that means traveling a bit. Me, I’m comfortable with austere military deployment style travel. I can couch surf and eat whatever you put on your table, and long rides on smelly buses don’t bother me. But I can’t decide that for anyone else.
And make no mistake: This thing we do must spread. Again, it’s not the particulars of how any of us do religion, but Radix Fidem is a particular approach to each individual growing their own religion. We should invite people to steal our ideas and run with it, not gather them all under our sway. We aren’t looking for emotionally laden rallies and mass meetings, but we do need to infuse our approach into the world around us. I can’t even offer a particular method for doing so, just a strong sense that if we keep it to ourselves, we have killed everything that binds us together.
So my first concrete goal is coming to see as many of you as have an interest in face-to-face meeting. And there’s nothing wrong with any of you going to see each other without me. This needs to happen as the first step along the path to sharing our faith with the rest of the world. The virtual connection is not enough by itself. I’m willing to bet most of you don’t have the resources for it, so this is why it would be nice to have some kind of sponsorship. Let’s pray together for that end as we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.