After reading the definitions and characteristics of a cult and a dominated group, the question is: do either of these fit the Community of Jesus?
As mentioned previously, this site does not consider the Community to be a cult. However, you must be prepared to hear the word used often, as domination psychology for a group is usually attributed to a cult.
The FACTnet site has an extensive discussion board. When they replaced the message board software a while ago, they kept the old version of the message board software. It was sometimes easier to read. From the old board is a thread called Characteristics of a cult, which discusses how the Community fits the description of a such a group—very well. It is an excellent discussion by people who were living just as the current members are now—they know what it’s like. It is highly-recommended reading.
See also FACTNet’s own page: What is a Destructive Cult?
The Community does seem to fit the criteria of a dominated group. The criteria listed from the three different, very credible sources is included below. In addition, observations about what goes on in the Community is associated with the criteria. Whether the Community really is a dominated group or not is up to you, the reader.
Referring to Tobias & Lalich:
- Community members are certainly expected to be excessively zealous (otherwise, you are resentful and “out of the spirit”) and unquestioning in their commitment to leadership of the group (otherwise, you are rebellious and “not in a good place”—or, worse yet, breaking your vows to God).
- Personal beliefs and values are definitely replaced with those of the group (which is dictated by the leadership). When was the last time a regular Community member (someone not in authority) expressed a personal view that contradicted the standard Community beliefs that was tolerated?
- Community members are manipulated and exploited. This is a huge subject that deserves its own page of explanation and examples.
- Community members have given up their education. Many young people have been told to quit school before they finished, while others have been completely discouraged from attending at all. In most (if not all) cases, for their “soul’s sake.”
- Community members have given up their careers. Many people have given up fulfilling careers to work in the Community, not using their God-given talent.
- Community members have given up their families. This is another subject that deserves its own page.
- Community members have worked excessively long hours at group-directed tasks. There’s no denying that everyone puts in crazy hours toward rehearsals, practicing, services, chores, and other Community-related activities. Life isn’t meant to be that crazy.
- Harm or threat of harm does or has come to members due to: poor nutrition (fasts, food disciplines); psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; sleep deprivation (prayer vigils, late-night talks, chant services, etc.).
Referring to Singer & Lalich:
- There is definitely a hierarchy, even though they may deny it. The authoritarian structure begins at the top with Betty Pugsley, whose word is next to God in the eyes of the Community. If you are a Community member, you are probably scoffing at the idea. Take a minute, please, and be honest with yourself.
- Isn’t it true that most anyone will talk with excitement if “Mother Betty” spoke with them? Isn’t it true that most people there feel like their day is made if Betty smiles at them, acknowledges them, encourages them, or any other kind of positive gesture? If you have been in the Community for a while, wasn’t that also true about “the Mothers,” as well? If they’re only human, and “there’s not a choice between us,” then why do you and everyone else think they’re so great?
- Don’t you get nervous, excited, or both whenever you’re around Betty? Why?
- If you scoff at the idea that Betty has totalitarian control of your life, then take a good look at your life and those around you.
- Young people have to ask permission to date one another. Aren’t high school graduates discouraged from going to college? If you answer no, why is it that a place that boasts about its young people has so many that do not attend college? Why are so many young people encouraged or pushed towards the sisterhood/brotherhood? Why is that?
- Aren’t you told whether you’ll be in the band or not? If not, don’t you know someone who was told to join it when it wasn’t their idea? Or what about which instrument you should play? Some people have been told which one to play, while others have been told to play something else (one that is not what they originally chose or wanted to learn or what they have played for years). You may scoff at the idea of being “told” what to play, but seriously, think about it: aren’t people coaxed or have suggestions made to them? And when someone important makes such a suggestion, isn’t there a tremendous amount of pressure to conform and go along with the suggestion? Then it really isn’t a suggestion, is it?
- How many decisions during a day, a week, or a month do you make on your own? Why can’t you do whatever you want?
- If you’re not under totalitarian control, why aren’t you allowed to question authority? Why is your absolute, unquestioning, immediate obedience demanded of you if you’re so “free”? Why do you think that Cay & Judy and now Betty have put so much emphasis on obedience?
- When you mix God into the equation, the pressure to do as the leadership says becomes infinitely greater. Now it’s not just that you should do what the leader tells you, it becomes paramount to obey because to disobey the leader is to rebel against God Almighty. That’s some pretty serious pressure to conform. If you do not obey Betty or any of the anointed ones, you are disobeying God Himself.
- Who wants to disobey God? Nobody. That’s exactly the point. Now they have you where they want you. You must do as you’re told or suffer the wrath of God (which is not true—it’s more like the wrath of Betty or anyone who is “above” you or in charge of you).
- A double set of ethics was most obvious during the reign of Cay & Judy, but it is still prevalent—it’s just hidden better.
- If you don’t think that Cay & Judy were self-appointed, you are in complete denial. If you don’t think Betty is self-appointed, that’s more understandable—but no less untrue. How is it that she was 2nd in command under Judy, then Judy was “out of the picture” and Betty the only one on top? How do you think that happened? And how is it that the Rule of the Community was changed such that only one leader is in absolutely control? Do you really think that when you voted for a new leader there wasn’t a lot of pressure to vote Betty back in? Was it really the Holy Spirit working? Think about it.
- The leadership has always been “charismatic, determined, and domineering.”
- Cay & Judy were very obvious into the veneration of themselves; however, Betty is much more quiet about it, so as to make you think that it’s “not about her.”
- Cay & Judy had numerous paintings made. They were hanging on the walls of Zion, Bethany, and the hallways of the Bethany/Chapel complex. Anyone walking around that area were constantly reminded of how special The Founders were, and that they were anointed and “yoked together.”
Referring to Robert Jay Lifton:
- The amount of communication is definitely restricted within the Community of Jesus. Again, it was much more obvious during the Cay & Judy years, but it is still the way of life at Rock Harbor. Most people are left “out of the loop” on many topics and decisions. Enclosure is a definite restriction from family & friends outside of the Community.
- In the old days, members were even told not to read the newspaper or watch television during Lent. When articles in Boston Magazine or the Cape Cod Times came out, members were sometimes told not to buy it or read the article. Instead, Cay & Judy would gather the adults together in the chapel to read the article to them, making commentary along the way and laughing at what they deemed “outrageous” statements or observations. Naturally, the pressure was to agree and laugh along with them as a show of support or agreement.
- Not every generality of a dominated group fits every group. While it can’t be ruled out, it does not seem that “planned spontaneity” is a tool used at the Community.
- The demand for purity is absolutely part of Community life.
- The cult of confession is absolutely part of Community life.
- The portrayal of The Teaching and your way of life is absolutely evident at the Community.
- The idea of “loading the language” is absolutely part of Community life. You are so used to the language, you probably disagree that you have special words and phrases; however, your use of certain terms is very different or implies something other than what any normal person would understand from that term.
- For example, “idolatry” means the worship of man-made idols, but to you it means a very negative, twisted, wicked perversion of a loving relationship between a parent and child or between two friends. If you said to someone outside of the Community, “I was put on discipline because I have an idolatrous relationship with my daughter,” the outsider would be baffled and confused.
- The word “correction” means something totally different to you than it does to outsiders. The term “self-love” to you is sin and something to be loathed, while to outsiders it usually means the kind of healthy self-respect that we should have for ourselves (if we can’t treat ourselves with respect, how can we treat anyone else with respect?). The list goes on.
- The doctrine over person is absolutely part of Community life. “Deny yourself” and “pick up your cross” are well-known phrases that are drummed into you. You constantly look at yourselves about your sin, told that you are wrong, that you’re worthless, that you’re rebellious, that you’re disobedient, that you’re jealous, and on and on and on. You’re taught to perceive yourself as a completely sinful, as “the lame, the halt, and the blind.” If it weren’t for the Community, you’d be a complete mess—right?
- The dispensing of existence is absolutely part of Community life.