The Wheaton of the West
February 22, 2016 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm (almost) as skeptical as anybody about Wheaton, but I just didn't recognize anything of my experiences there in the Ditto Boys article about Westmont. Granted, that was twenty years ago, and my experiences there were not typical, but while it was very much a spiritual bad relationship, I wouldn't characterize it as abusive. And while I am a white, straight CIS boy, I'm in close enough contact with people who weren't to say that if it wasn't a happy place, it was not, broadly, a place of darkness.
posted by wotsac at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2016

"“Look at Westmont,” Ben told me. “It’s a feeder school.” ...the main work of the organization was not with students in need of grooming but with “followers of Christ” in politics, business, overseas."

As in Dominionism and Seven Mountains sort of thing? Jesus plus nothing, indeed.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

All I know is that the Westmont campus is stunningly beautiful, well actually the views and landscape, the buildings not so much.

Checking out the "Prominent Alumni" list on Wikipedia, doesn't seem to show captains of industry or politicians, while Wheaton does show some powerful people.
posted by cell divide at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2016

But Wil lives in California.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:44 AM on February 22, 2016

Hence the title
posted by AGameOfMoans at 11:45 AM on February 22, 2016

It does not seem to be interested in history.

This is true of my childhood experience of Evangelicalism. "We're doing it exactly like Jesus wanted it done," is the the stated or unstated assumption, so two thousand years of Christian cultural evolution and change don't matter and aren't worth talking about. Christianity - "true" Christianity - has no history other than what's in the Bible. (And no future worth talking about other than what's in the Bible, either.)

Learning that Christianity did have history was one of the early cracks in my faith - in particular, reading Hoffer's The True Believer.

It's not at all surprising that Christianity has led to so many cults, though, considering that Jesus said a whole lot of things that don't fit in with a comfortable, conventional life, but do fit with exactly what you'd expect a cult leader to say. "Behold my mother and my brethren!" "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." Etc.
posted by clawsoon at 11:46 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a native of the southeastern US, I had never heard of this place. When I was applying to academic jobs a few years ago, they had an ad that I fit very well. And Santa Barbara is beautiful with perfect weather. And I am a Christian, although not the same kind as them in any way. But ultimately, the Jewish atheist spousal dude convinced me not to apply to any place whose campus he wouldn't feel comfortable on. I can't believe just how awful that bullet I dodged was.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:13 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great, great article by a writer who is better than any other on the deep dive into the conservative movement.
posted by parmanparman at 2:24 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know people who teach there, and I've been there. The view is gorgeous. It didn't set off my spidey senses the way Wheaton did, so I'm really fascinated by this sort of piece.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:54 PM on February 22, 2016

A bit more: I was at a wedding of rich, white, beautiful SoCal evangelicals. The sort who look like they're right out of stock photos from the 1980s. Now, that group set off my spidey senses. And a number of them had gone to Westmont.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:59 PM on February 22, 2016

To echo clawsoon: it's amazing to think that what Jesus was on about 2000 years ago just happens to look like rich white suburban America in the late 20th/early 21st centuries.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:03 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'll try to pick some higher amplitude bits out of the main article, and comment from my perspective as someone with personal experience in a similar environment (though that environment was probably 40+% less weird).

“Every guy confessed to one another,” Ben remembers. “Mostly, we talked about masturbation.” It was a sin, but not as great a sin as women. “It was supposed to be just men and Jesus.”

Yeah, things tend to go pear-shaped when people take a natural biological imperative and cast it into the bin of unacceptable behavior. You must not be attracted to other human beings. Pleasure is sinful. God created you individually and intentionally, but he kinda fucked up a bit with that whole having-a-sex-drive thing. (That's probably enough.)

Enroth ran down a list of characteristics of spiritual abuse:

Which I hereby apply to my own experience:

“disrupted families,” check
“surveillance,” not really
“spiritual elitism,” check
ostracism of those who leave. check, at least partially

Later, I’d read in Enroth’s work about other aspects that were just as instantly recognizable:

—an emphasis on amorphous “attitudinal sins,” especially “rebelliousness”;
—suppression of dissent ;
—no institutional checks and balances;
—an aversion to publicity ;
—a perception of persecution, the notion that outsiders can never understand;
—a recruitment strategy that, in the beginning at least, denies that there’s anything to which to belong.

I think this is where I draw the line between what is "merely" a spiritually abusive church (though you can substitute another religious organizational term here if you wish) and what used to be called a cult. My Environment had 60% similarity with the former group of characteristics, but close to 0% with the latter. Was what I experienced spiritually abusive? Certainly, but it was more due to unchecked toxic aspects of the culture than intentional authoritarianism and isolation. That said, I can probably pick a random megachurch and find a disturbing number of points from group two apply quite well.

“We will transform culture to the extent that we are a transforming community,” he said. “We will be a transforming community to the extent that we are being transformed individually and corporately…. Students will become transformers to the extent that they see and feel us being transformed.”

To a lot of evangelicals that sounds quite innocent.

“I’ve heard from some students that [Coe] discourages the name ‘Jesus Christ,’” Enroth continued, “that he tells students, ‘Don’t use the two terms, Jesus and Christ, together. Just refer to Jesus.’ Jesus minus the Bible, in a sense.

Hmm, yes. Take out the "Christ" bit and you're left with a transliteration of a Jewish name Yehoshua. But no sense of history? Use "Fred" instead please, or "Zvi" or better "Flibblegrob" so the amount of context and meaning is apparent.

Doug Coe’s son, came round to lecture the young members of the Fellowship I was living with on Genghis Khan as some kind of metaphor for Jesus

The only place in the Bible I can think of with any remote sort of justification for this thing is (a very weird, unhinged approach to) the book of Revelation. (I think I'll not get into all that.)

Jesus plus nothing, not even “Christ.” Which would make this god what? The devil?

What else are you left with when you co-opt a label and attach it to pure will-to-power?

Anyway, that's enough. Considering I had to sift through a large amount of similar bullshit growing up I think I've managed to be fairly restrained.

(Also, certain others are better qualified to comment on the bits about patriarchy, and there's a few people whose relevant insights about church history I'd appreciate here.)
posted by iffthen at 6:56 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not that this all figures prominently in the US primaries or anything : -
Ted Cruz - What is his real vision for America?
posted by adamvasco at 10:27 AM on February 23, 2016

An addition to adamvasco's link: "Dominionism is the new religious freedom," by Frederick Clarkson.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2016

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