An Organic Examination:
The Abuses Of The Xenos / Dwell Heresy Revisited
By Rev. Rafael D Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
How does one get involved in the exposing of a falsehood? Most people never bother with what to them seems to be none of their business while others look narrowly on such a prospect as the height of intolerance. For some, it’s probably more like a headlong collision you avoid, but ultimately truth takes you where you need to go, even if you willingly follow it or not. If you care at all about such a thing as truth, you’ll make the journey no matter the cost. That is how I and Megan Cox, the head of the Beyond Zion Foundation ended up on the road to Columbus, Ohio in the late fall of 2022 with a full scale investigation of an alleged cult there uppermost in our minds. We wanted the truth behind this community of faith and the charges we’d been hearing about. .
We had worked separately over the past two years with the producers of the now storied HBOMax docuseries called “The Way Down” exposing the outrages committed by the late Gwen Shamblin Lara’s Remnant Fellowship cult. I was familiar with Megan’s story having helped to turn it into an online testimony and our passion for helping the abused find hope is a shared fire we both tend within us. Megan's publication of her full testimony about her time in Remnant came forth as part of a shared collaboration and how she's gone on since then has always been gratifying to watch. Megan has created the Beyond Zion Foundation, an advocacy and awareness organization devoted to helping people leave cults. As the director of Spiritwatch Ministries, that has been our also our chief concern since its inception 30 years ago and always will be, so when I was asked about 4 years ago to help the HBOMax project, I cautiously signed aboard. I have, frankly, a very dim view of the media, who usually sensationalize their perceptions of the incredibly complicated Cultworld with a scandalizing insenstivity that is worse than their silence on it. I've encountered enough of that over the years. The Campfire production company, I came to learn, were wanting to responsibly relate the Remnant story and from that point onward, we worked hard together with Remnant survivors and my archive of Remnant media collected over the 18 years I've been working on exposing them.
I’d known about a church calling itself Xenos Christian Fellowship and knew it carried a less than stellar reputation for a long time, but it wasn’t until I read a former Xenos member’s email to our inbox that was so heart rending, it struck a chord within me. They were like so many who’ve written to me in the past whose sharing of their brokenness and the hope that is the lifejacket of their souls is always a humbling thing, a place of shattered confidence we are asked to enter into to aid them. I began to reach out to them and learned about their abuse firsthand. I shared this concern with Megan at about the same time that the two of us had been separately invited by another production company , Everywoman Studios, to create a documentary about cultism in America and to seek to help its victims if possible.
It quickly became apparent to us that Xenos (which changed it's name to Dwell Community Church in 2020, so we will refer to it as XD) was going to become a target of opportunity that should be considered since for all of it’s self-lauding media, there were also social media reports about them of a far different variety that we were all too familiar with. Megan had lived through years of religious terrorism while living under the rule of Remnant Fellowship and I had during those same years been helping many people staggered by it. The massive presence of personal testimonies online exposing years of religious abuse at the hands of XD leaders was appalling. So after our connection with this former Xenos member via more emails and phone calls, we decided to launch an investigation with the help of Everywoman Studios.
We researched Xenos’ history, existence and activity. We obtained and read several of the publications put out by XD, not to mention their innumerable position paper and apologetic materials.They convincingly built a shining literary and media edifice before us that presented XD as a legitimate community of Christian faith radically aimed at rethinking what the Christian church should become through intentional community based on small group disciple groups (their self-verifying promotion had a dark underside we'd soon behold). They commended themselves to readers by pointing to the apologetic projects and cooperative Christian world missions ventures they’d created over the years. We were supposed to be impressed when we found Christian leaders such as pastor D. James Kennedy, theologian Grant Osborne and even the apologist Norman Geisler giving approving nods to some of their polemics on postmodernism. Indeed, we observed, how assuredly orthodox and Biblically founded they certainly seemed to be. How do you question the credibility of a Xenos charity warmly cited by President H.W. Bush as one of the Thousand Points of Light?
And we also tried to get a serious grip on the discovery of an almost virtual decades-long silence on coverage of Xenos’ questionable activities in local media, except for the publication of only four critical articles in almost fifty years of their existence which came through local media. That truly amazed us.
Thanks to the providential connection we made with former member Mark Kennedy, who has created the XenosIsACult.com website, we got a deeper understanding of the group’s inner dynamics as well as the recognition of survivors who were expelled or walked away from Xenos - victims of a theology of manipulation found in Xenos culture at their ministry house and home church levels. Every survivor’s story was shockingly similar and tragically familiar as if almost taken from a playbook. There appears to be an existence of an oral tradition among XD leaders on how to control members that was largely invisible to others outside it. Xenos members understood all too well how “discipline” worked down to what kinds of shame to expect and to bestow, without any need of an actual scribal reading of it among their group settings. It was learned that a breathtaking degree of corporate coercion sanctioned by Xenos was responsible for these horrors, as shared in a private group meeting with 11 of them who were all given free reign to share what happened to them.
These were diverse individuals, male and female who were involved at different times and places over an almost 25 year timeline and settings but their testimonies were always the same. Their initial idealistic desire to know God and prepare for life through higher education drew them into XD’s recruitment flattery called “love bombing” and they became part of a zealous lifestyle regimentation that XD’s guidance compelled them to follow. They became highly committed to their XD “ministry house” social circles - and all of the activity mandated there - and ultimately were found wanting by leaders there in some manner that was unacceptable to them. They then would be ultimately shamed and rebuked quite abusively in the name of “Christian discipline” both privately and publicly in a program of punitive sanction meant to compel them to comply to XD rules or face expulsion and drastic spiritual and social consequences. XD leaders mobilized the full membership of a ministry house publicly to provide a ruthless exposure of their weaknesses no matter how private, down to what kind of sexual activity the errant were involved with as well as how they spent their last $20. Group shaming and shunning was imposed “for their own good.” Such plainly vicious activity, drawn more from the hateful collectivism of authoritarian power found in cults and less than real Christian community motivated by love, drove many of these victims to finally leave, while others were expelled under demonization as spiritual losers or agents of Satan.
We expected to hear this after our experiences with the tender mercies of a cult like Remnant Fellowship. But it didn't make it easier. After listening to years of this from hundreds of people over decades of ministry to the religiously abusive, the knife still had its edge and it cut us to the core. It was all too nightmarishly the same. In all of the years before I’d ever heard of Remnant or Xenos, I’ve seen this same level of misanthropic mayhem called “compassionate counsel” imposed by Mormon bishops, Jehovah’s Witness elders and New Apostolic Reformation “prophets’ and “apostles” supplied to their own struggling members. XD’s doctrine was utterly irrelevant at this point and the untold amount of hurt they’d imposed by their completely monstrous practice was an evil that had to be confronted,
It became clear for us what had to be done.
Using what was testified to as the basis for comparing many other testimonies found on XenosIsACult,com and across social media sites, the terribly familiar pattern of cultic mind control imposed upon religious abuse was recognized and abundantly confirmed. After further discussion, study of Xenos materials and meeting with Desiree and other survivors, Meagan and I wearily and yet unhesitatingly came to the conclusion that Xenos / Dwell was operating as an actual cult , despite all of it’s claims of being just another misunderstood church. It was hard to be believe it had been doing so for decades, cloaked by an inexplicable silence which could be called shocking if the word just so completely failed to truly describe the abominations they’d been doing in the name of Jesus Christ. We felt that XD should be made immediately aware of these allegations and we chose to make an attempt to contact them to discuss our findings.
We arrived on the morning of Friday, December 17th at the administrative offices for Dwell and did the only thing that we felt we should do which was to just be direct and forthright. We had no illusions about how it might go and we were not disappointed. A very nice and pleasant receptionist took our request after we walked into the main d reception area to share any thoughts upon the observations we’d gain that week with any elders available which was turned down the day we went. We told them who we were, that we were recognizable by our work with the HBOMax documentary on Remnant Fellowship and that we were conducting an investigation that we wanted their response and reaction to (we never said we were from HBO or the Vice Network, by the way, despite Conrad Hilario’s subsequent registered confusion about who we were). We did not identify we were with a production company of any sort as we wanted to see how Xenos / Dwell would respond to a mutt of a minister and a cult survivor’s requiring their time and accountability.
And in flawlessly executed bureaucratic order, the very nice lady promptly advised us that if we didn’t have an appointment there would be no one to see us .. even as people shuffled in and out of the reception area, probably to take a good look at who we were. There was no time to discuss serious allegations but I remembered that as we came in some some old guy (like me) in shorts was puttering by his giant black truck parked just across from where we did. I smiled, knowing where this was going after our demand was nicely pushed back, so we left our contact information and requested contact from someone. With a radiant beam, the very nice receptionist took it and we departed.
I won’t get too much into our reaction once we drove off. Megan likely shared the feral indignation and rage I felt as we returned to the Everywoman team. It was quite a sight to see though on my part. But she was a bit more measured than I. My blood pressure medication probably burnt off within the first ten minutes. Yet I realized I couldn’t afford trying to emulate Christ cleansing the temple just then, however, and remembered that it was Christmas time and we needed to be nice.
I was still seeing red, but in control of myself when a Keegan Hale at Dwell would provide an email response later that Friday: the email by Megan he referred to was missent by her and he never got it. My response below detailed our request again :
On 2021-12-17 14:51, Keegan Hale wrote:
Hi Rafael/Megan, I am an administrator at Dwell Community Church. I understand that you visited Dwell's main office office today and left your information so that you could be contacted. Our receptionist passed it along to me. I was wondering what I could do to help you as I don't believe that we have met.(My response) Hello Keegan, Thank you for responding. We do not know each other and I wish we were meeting under different circumstances. But this situation we came to bring to your attention is of grave concern, and as a pastor and countercult ministry director, such occasions call for direct and immediate discussion. Circling back after Megan's email earlier today to see if we can schedule a meeting with one of the elders this Monday 12/20? We have a 30 minute window of time from 1130am to 12:00pm. We'd prefer to set the call as a zoom meeting, if possible. To reiterate what Megan outlined, we are making a documentary on the Xenos/Dwell Community Church and have uncovered allegations of abuse from many different ex-members which we find are credible. We do not view them as deceptive people with an agenda. We believe their pain came from violation inflicted within your church's activities. Our goal is to present our findings to your leadership and get a statement on the record. We are not seeking debate but simply your response to what we believe are substantial amounts of evidence. Please know it's important to us to give this story the due diligence of presenting Xenos/Dwell with our evidence so that the church has a chance to respond. If you can arrange a meeting during the above stated time, we will send along a zoom invite.We look forward to connecting.Sincerely, Rev. Rafael D Martinez Spiritwatch Ministries
We agreed to initiate dialogue on Monday, December 20th by a Zoom call that Everywoman graciously worked to facilitate the day before:
On Sun, Dec 19, 2021, 3:11 PM <email@example.com> wrote:YOU HAVE BEEN INVITED TO THE FOLLOWING EVENT.ZOOM VC: MEGAN, RAFAEL & KEEGAN MEETINGWhen_ Mon Dec 20, 2021 11:30am – 12:30pm Eastern Time - New YorkCalendar_ firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com - organizer
Everywoman Studios is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: ZOOM VC: Megan, Rafael & Keegan MeetingTime: Dec 20, 2021 11:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Keegan would be unable to attend the meeting, but Conrad Hilario and Kate Mizelle, senior leaders at Dwell were copied in to the email above and would agree to meet with us, and the Zoom call would take place as scheduled. While we had not set any agreement as to whether or not the call should have been treated as a private conversation or not, we found out not long after the the conversation of the 30 minute call ended that Xenos / Dwell posted the Zoom call video on what was essentially a private channel it hosts on YouTube, in which one had to have the URL link to see it. It was available, but .. hidden in plain sight. We found the irony of that just amazing. For about the past couple of weeks, the meeting is now publicly viewable. The link to our own recording of this is on the next page of our three part series on XD on this store.
We speculate that they did this to ensure that their leaders could view the discussion and prepare for what they knew was going to come by way of docuserial difficulty they’d be possibly encountering. The release date was on February 23rd, 2022, long after it had already been viewed exclusively by XD leaders and whoever else had the link.
But what Conrad and Kate didn’t know was that Jamie Ostroff, an investigative reporter at the NBC affiliate station WCMH in Columbus had been alerted about the shameful spectacle of Xenos’s historically abusive nature and that they decided they would be doing an investigation of their own, which culminated in the broadcasts at the end of February, 2022. It wasn’t until she turned to them for response that they realized they were facing something a lot quicker and closer to home by way of penetrating inquiry. They resorted to talking pointed emails and a refusal to go on camera for any response to Ostroff's bold inquiries about the factuality of the abuses suffered by so many. We can understand why a bully wouldn't want to talk about his bullying for the world to see.
What Hilario and MIzelle did not do, either in print or their email response, was to provide any hint about the robust email exchanges that Megan and I conducted after the interview with them. These followed the questions we had wanted to pose to them regarding our charges that Xenos’ abuses are rampant and cultic. We stopped hearing from them shortly afterwards and in the final article ahead, you will see why.
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