Sometimes a cult-like group is subtle and hard to pinpoint. But other times a group is obliging enough wave blazing red flags in choreographed formation. I found one such group recently.
Now, I have absolutely no connection with Weigh Down, Gwen Shamblin, or Remnant Fellowship. I never participated in any of it; I hardly even had heard of it. (Gwen is not pleased with me, I can tell.) A friend pointed me to the site, and I’m just reporting on what I see here. Which appears to be a group that’s practically screaming “Cult!” Or maybe it’s just “Raging narcissist who would like to be a cult leader.” Either way, it’s very instructive.
Let’s take a tour of these red flags, how about?
One person in the spotlight. If you read the site, it sure does have a lot to say about Gwen Shamblin. She seems to really like posting quotes that other men have said about her. Some of the prose is so glowing that you can just imagine Gwen brushing away a tear and saying, “That is so touching. It’s so good of me to say that about me.” Seriously, I bet she’s very nice in person. No, I mean it. People don’t become cult leaders without having very strong personal magnetism.
The Bible like you’ve never heard it before! “It is noteworthy that although the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Weigh Down participants had been church-goers for years, not one reported having ever heard these Biblically-based teachings from their home church.” Yeah, it’s noteworthy, all right. The Bible is centuries old and has been studied threadbare. If somebody finds something in it that nobody else has, then you can safely assume you’re hearing more imagination than Godly inspiration.
Promises of Paradise. The site is packed with sweeping claims of how Remnant Fellowship has dramatically broken addictions, saved marriages, and brought families together, all by the “power of God.” In real life, all these areas are an ongoing struggle and don’t always turn out the way we want them to. But a cult promises one-time-and-done miracles to broken and hurting people.
Obedience. The wording can vary, but within the culture of a cult-like group, two pillars support the entire community: authority and obedience. Members must recognize who is in authority, and then obey without question.
“Obedience—obedience—it’s beautiful. Do you want to remain in this love? It’s just like a child who stays by your side and communes with you by obedience and by following what you’re saying. You have a beautiful relationship, but the one who turns and disobeys does not. To have a relationship and to have answered prayers is to remain in the vine. God gives His will to those who are going to obey it. Why give it to those who are not going to obey it? It tires you out to tell people or employees or children to do something and you know that they’re just going to stare at you while you speak, but they never do what you say. Likewise, God gives His will, His beautiful and perfect will and desires, to those who will put it into practice.”
Note that this is cast in terms of obeying God’s will. But where do you learn God’s actual, real will? That would be the person who teaches what “the majority of hundreds of thousands” never heard before.
Blame shifting. Cults never can live up to their promises, but don’t worry, they’ve got that taken care of. When you’ve given them your money and your soul, and “God” doesn’t come through with that miraculous change, they tell you it’s your fault:
“Can you not figure out how to lose weight yet? Then it’s because you’ve not purposed in your heart to do it. So purpose in your heart to obey what He tells you to do, and then He will show you the way out of your desires that have ensnared you. Do you really want out of the trap of your own desires? Then obey what He tells you to do. Put it into practice…”
As an entirely subjective red flag, these pictures of doll-like beautiful children with perfectly curled hair put me on edge — particularly as they’re the grandchildren of the great exalted founder. Don’t you want children this sweet and well-behaved? Then get yourself to Remnant Fellowship and prepare to obey.
I consider Remnant Fellowship to be a pretty blatant example of what to avoid. However, anytime you run across a church, a study, or even a pyramid-shaped “business” that promises great results “if you just…”, look for the red flags and consider them seriously. Life is hard, and despite their grand promises to the contrary, cults make it even harder.