“But how do you keep from becoming a cult?”
I am astonished at how many people assume that the moment several unrelated-by-marriage adults begin to share a home, pray faithfully for the neighbors and the world and demonstrate hospitality in the neighborhood, a deadly cult has formed. These assumptions come more from inside than outside the church, especially the Protestant church. I am never asked this question by Catholics, Orthodox, or Episcopalians because they always had faith-based intentional communities (aka religious orders). Their first comment is always, “How wonderful!”
The funny thing is, secular intentional communities are all around us and we think they are perfectly normal. Sororities and fraternities are a type of intentional community gathered around common values and practices. Not only do we think these are acceptable organizations, many of us work(ed) hard to get into them, and remain connected for life to our “sisters” or “brothers.” We also have intentional communities of senior citizens residing in assisted living villages where people eat together, exercise, and go on adventures together. No one worries about cults there, even though most of those communities have religious services, too. Every summer families send their children off to live in intentional community at summer camp for weeks on end. No one worries about the C word forming there.
I understand why people might fear a cult, of course. If it is a real danger. No one avoids religiously induced tyranny and blind obedience to narcissistic, violent, exploitive leaders more than I do. That is one reason why our leadership structures in Missional Wisdom communities are democratic, involve teams of several people, and diversity of thought. They are designed to give hives to would-be cult leaders.
In light of the oft-asked cult question, though, I laughed out loud when I saw the recent AARP article about a group of women of a certain age that decided to buy a home and live in community together for economic reasons. Lauded for their savvy business sense and resourcefulness, these women are middle class and Suze Orman worthy. I wonder if anyone asks them in a hushed, worried, voice, “But how will you avoid becoming a cult?”