If you’re looking for a Christian cult in the U.S. — or at least a fairly close analogue to one — you’d be hard-pressed to look beyond Moscow, Idaho, the home of Pastor Doug Wilson and his Christ Church.
This is a church that held a massive, indoor, maskless service for over a thousand people in July of 2020, in the thick of the pandemic and well before vaccines were available. Members of the church staged a protest outside City Hall last September in opposition to local COVID restrictions. And last October, church staffer Jesse Sumpter was mocked relentlessly after tweeting to men: “Make sure your wife votes exactly as you do.”
Those COVID-denying activities may not seem all that unusual for right-wing churches. And the patriarchal tweet is definitely not unusual. But the problems are so much worse. Thankfully, VICE’s Sarah Stankorb has done a deep dive into the church’s abusive ways.
To learn about Christ Church’s culture of abuse and social control, VICE has interviewed 12 former and current church members and Logos students, and reviewed court and medical documents, church correspondence, and business filings. Ex-kirkers describe a punitive community in which women are told they must defer to church leaders and cannot say “no” to their husbands, men are taught to strictly control their homes, and those who speak out can be isolated and harassed.
What we see over and over again is that men who are abusive — sometimes criminally so — remain in Wilson’s good graces. Wilson requires church members to submit to him, and those who refuse are eventually excommunicated.
Many of the emotional dynamics ex-members described in the church run parallel to coercive control in abusive relationships, while theological demands for submission normalize the same pattern at home. Church leaders, doubling as counselors, know how to hurt rebellious members.
If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that former members of the church are finally telling their stories through social media and to anyone who will listen. Will that change the mind of current members? Probably not. The critics’ actions can always be attributed to Satan or some nonsense like that. But at least people who have no ties to the church will better understand just how dangerous these people are.
Their actions during the pandemic showed how little they care about the health of their community, and the well-documented emotional abuse shows how little they care about their own members. It’s just a giant group of selfish people who hurt just about everyone they meet, all in the name of Jesus. It’s not the only group that does this, but it’s powerful one. And unlike other controlling religious groups that are tight-knit but spread across the country, this one exists primarily in a small part of Idaho. Stankorb says the church includes 900 members in a town of only 25,000. That closeness gives them even more control over anyone who crosses their path.
(Screenshot via YouTube)