An Ohio megachurch is the focus of an extensive investigation published by The Daily Beast on Saturday.
"Over the last two months, The Daily Beast interviewed 25 former Dwell followers, whose membership spans nearly four decades. While the details of their experiences differed, the result was the same: Dwell, they said, was a church that drew them in when they were young or lonely, showered them with attention and compliments, and quickly turned dark," Emily Shugerman reported. "A church that pressured them to relinquish all their free time, to cut ties with their outside friends and family, to move into group houses with their fellow members. A church that dictated who they could date, where they went to school, and how they groomed their body hair. A church that pressured them to stay in abusive marriages and blamed them when they were raped. A church that warned them that walking away from Dwell would be walking away from God. What they were describing, many of them said, was not a church at all, but a cult."
Executive Pastor Brian Adams told The Beast that "cult" was "an anti-Christian slur."
Dennis McCallum, the 70-year-old founder of Dwell, is thoroughly convinced that his church is fighting a war with Satan. In his book, Satan and His Kingdom—one of 14 books he has published on Christianity—McCallum claims that the devil is a living being, and that a 'spiritual war' is raging against him around the world. He claims Christians must act as soldiers, ready to endure extreme suffering, sacrifice their possessions, and follow their leaders’ orders," The Beast reported.
"Younger, unwed Dwell members are prodded to move into “ministry houses” that sleep up to four per room. (Stapleton said a house leader told him the point of the cramped quarters was to prevent residents from masturbating.) Once there, members are expected to spend most of their free time socializing with house members or evangelizing to potential recruits," The Beast reported. "Members said the group inserted itself into many other areas of their lives, from who would be in their wedding to how they groomed themselves."
The Beast interviewed Dr. Janja Laclich, a sociologist and cult expert.
“People are giving up their own autonomy. They’re giving up their own decision-making. They’re pawns. And if they think about leaving then they’re going to lose everybody they know and their family," she explained. “It’s classic cult stuff.”
Watch NBC 4's February report on the church: