The group Spiritwatch Ministries posted a document called "The Xenos/Dwell Heresy Briefly Examined." Here is the document, along with a response, in blue, from former Dwell lead elder Dennis McCallum (now Dwell teaching pastor).
An Organic Deception: The Xenos / Dwell Heresy Briefly Examined
By Rev. Rafael D. Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
With response by former Dwell elder, Dennis McCallum
Dennis: As one who is named and criticized repeatedly in this paper, I find it right to follow the apostle Paul’s practice of defending his personal integrity and that of his ministry (e.g. 2 Corinthians 10-12). I know in our culture today, any effort to correct the record will be dismissed as gas lighting, but that’s just a manipulative way to make accusations unfalsifiable.
Because I am no longer employed as a pastor or elder at Dwell, I speak here from personal opinion rather than on behalf of the church.
In the heart of the Buckeye State of Ohio, the state capital of Columbus stands as a testimony to the passion and industry of the American Midwest. It's "Scioto Mile" is quite possibly one of the most beautiful inner city walks in the nation. With a diverse and thriving populace of just over 2 million, the Arch City is also home to many typically American institutions, from the headquarters of White Castle, Nationwide Mutual and Big Lots to the quaintly charming German Village district , the Columbus Center for Science and Industry and the annual celebration of the Columbus Festival Latino. It’s a great place to live and work. And it’s important to remember that Columbus is also the base for the Ohio State University (OSU), one of the most well known in our nation, a point of amazing civic accomplishment that every Ohioan should be proud of. It has a wonderful vibe and a crackling energy that makes it a great place to live, work and play. The explosive growth of the outer suburbs of Columbus is proof of that.
What is regrettably not as well known about the city is the ceaseless work of that of a church that regularly accesses the university’s vibrant social life, a place that used to be called Xenos Christian Fellowship until changing its name to Dwell Community Church in 2020. That is until in late February 2022 when a local NBC television channel affiliate began to air a four part series on the church that ended up being stretched into six parts. You may be here reading this as a result of hearing of this reporting, which I and my associate Megan Cox helped to initiate.
Dennis: It’s important to note that reports by Spiritwatch, NBC4, The Daily Beast report and The Columbus Dispatch are not independent or spontaneous. They are being orchestrated and, we believe, manipulated, by well-known adversaries of our church. Ex-members Mark Kennedy, Kari Puchovich, and Gail Burkholder have been waging a media war with our church for several years. They have gathered stories from other disgruntled ex-members, and these selected accounts back all of the reports mentioned. It gives the false impression that the whole city is up in arms against our church.
You’ve come to find out more and we intend to provide you a side of the story of Xenos / Dwell you haven’t heard. Sadly, to its detriment most of Columbus is scarcely aware of any of it.
Dennis: Actually, Xenos/Dwell is one of the largest, best known and respected churches in Columbus. The impression that Dwell is sneaky or hidden is false.
Its award-winning ministry to disadvantaged, inner-city youth has been praised as one of the greatest, benevolent ministries in town. Dwell members have expended more than $12 million on ministry to the local poor, as well as tens of thousands of volunteer hours. The results have been outstanding. The students in Harambee Christian School routinely score in the 92nd percentile on standardized tests — better than most suburban schools and far above the average 15th percentile scores of the surrounding Linden neighborhood.
None of the hostile reports, including this one, said a single word about this outstanding sacrificial ministry that holds such a big place in our hearts. It’s a good example of the imbalance in this paper.
I'll be using the designation XD to identify the church when discussing its more recent history and use the older Xenos name as needed. The context of the discussion will determine why I chose to do so.
Having been an active presence in Columbus as well since 1970, with generations of men and women having passed through their collective doors, Xenos / Dwell’s vast influence is probably one of the best kept secrets of Columbus which many of it’s over two million residents are scarcely aware of. We have mentioned how regrettable it is that more people know little to nothing of their activities.
Dennis: Again, this is wrong. While we don’t seek publicity or aim for it, our church and its deeds are very well-known in Columbus.
This regret is not based on a hope more people are involved with it, God forbid. For all of its seemingly upright orthodoxy the church has tragically harbored scandalously evil social circles under its governance for all of that time, leaving thousands in the know devastated by religious abuse and a perversion of the very Christian principles it purports to uphold.
That's a pretty tall tale to many, I'm sure.
Dennis: Yes. It is an incredibly tall tale. There are not thousands suffering spiritual abuse. The number of people complaining about abuse or unresolved conflict they experienced at Xenos/Dwell are in the dozens, maybe even a hundred or two, not in the thousands. This author is exaggerating to create sensationalism.
It's nothing I as a minister want to ever say about any church anywhere. I believe in the relevance and necessity of thriving churches as lights in our increasingly dark world. But it's a story you have to heed. I’m a preacher and those of my tribe use Scripture to tell the Story of stories - the Gospel of Jesus Christ - as part of our calling. And while this account of the aberrance of Xenos / Dwell is a story fifty years in the making, there is no absolutely no pleasure I take in telling it. There is no beauty in the narrative except the bleak, stark truth it contains about Xenos / Dwell , which has been involved in decades of questionable activity that the people of Columbus need to be aware of. But it must be told and the stories faithfully recounted by others for so much longer than I have should also be remembered.
Dennis: The polemical and melodramatic tone of this paper is obvious. This author is constructing a false narrative. He never attended Dwell meetings. The one “interview” he conducted with Dwell leaders was nothing but a string of accusations. At the beginning, this author and his colleague announced that they had already made up their minds on Dwell’s guilt. They only wanted to know what we planned to do about it. All his information comes from Mark Kennedy and his carefully screened persons.
The First Amendment and Christian liberty certainly grants XD the right to act as they will as well as providing for me - and others - the right to voice our concerns and our assessments over what we see as the most high-handed outrages of a “church” that are hidden in plain sight.
Dennis: Again, nothing is hidden. Our church has been practicing community in Central Ohio for more than 50 years, and is very well-known. A more relevant question: Who is “Spiritwatch”?
As a Christian minister for almost 40 years, I am solemnly held to the highest of standards when it comes to making a truth claim, that being the very face of God Himself. It transcends any earthly court of legal or human opinion. I will stand and give account to Him someday, sooner or later, for what I say here. Believe me, I have no interest in tale-telling, no motive of slander and no axe of jealousy or malice to grind against the people of XD whatsoever.
Dennis: We believe this is untrue. This writer has heavy prejudice. He knows very little about XD.
As a Christian pastor, I am quite aware of the supremely challenging enterprise the Christian ministry involves and identify fully with the struggles of ministers and churches everywhere.
But I am compelled by truth and honesty itself to report what my decades of observation, informed by an extensive ministry to new religions also called cultic movements, have enabled me to see. I have long watched the intrigues of a religious machine calling itself a church manifest in a harsh, legalistic cultism that has crushed the faith and lives of its members with a systemic authoritarianism that cannot be under exaggerated.
Dennis: Dwell is not authoritarian. Neither are we legalistic. In fact, we are known for a high level of freedom and respect for individual decision-making. The only authority given to Dwell leaders is the right to decide how the ministry will operate (e.g. when to meet, what to teach, etc.). Never being in authority over members’ lives.
And I’m not referring to the Remnant Fellowship cult I have been exposing for the past 20 years, either (I am perhaps most recognizable for being a chief contributor to the ongoing HBO Max docuseries about that black hole of cultism).
Dennis: This is an actual cult, nothing like Dwell.
It's only been in the last few months I have been compelled to stand and speak out. So for now, it is this story of Xenos / Dwell that we will briefly summarize and assess and in other articles we will share how Spiritwatch Ministries came to finally weigh in on this debacle as well as abortively pursue the matter through dialogue with XD leaders.
Dennis: We have had no dialog with this author. Two elders sat for a string of accusations from the author and his colleague. That’s it. It was not a dialogue or an interview. We have the session recorded.
Fouled Springs: The Confused Orthodoxy and Heresy Of Xenos / Dwell
[clip] the apostle James posed in his New Testament epistle a prickly question: Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? (James 3:11). [clip] ‘
“Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”
So the existence of Xenos / Dwell is just as paradoxical. It seems to regrettably personify this Biblical parable. The church is a recognizable example of Christian influence in the Columbus metropolitan region viewed as a place of authentic Christian community that has been largely betrayed by an embedded agenda of religious abuse and questionable behavior that it has sanctioned for decades. This surreal state of affairs is a reality shadowing many lives in the Columbus metro region and beyond who have made XD their go-to community of faith
Dennis: Any discerning reader can see the polemical, hostile tone. The truth is that Dwell is a group of fun-loving, happy Jesus followers who love hanging out with each other. This above description of our church is baffling to thousands of members of Dwell. What “questionable behavior”? Our behavior is teaching the text of the Bible, building friendships and serving others.
It’s doctrinal statement is a solid affirmation of Biblical truth and it’s history also contains many efforts to even rally defenses of the Christian faith itself as well as offer contributions and support to schools all over. Many members of Xenos / Dwell have generally positive and meaningful experiences and three generations of people call it their refuge of faith. XD has no shortage of people with polished and well curated testimonies of praise for available to dig out of their websites.
Dennis: This is a cynical view of thousands of members who consider Dwell to be the most awesome church imaginable and countless others who have left Dwell on great terms to walk with God at other fellowships in Columbus and beyond. The writer admits members’ positive experiences, but dismisses their views as “polished and well curated.” How does this writer feel justified discounting and marginalizing the voices of thousands of people? Is he gas lighting them?
These starry eyed people continue to attend despite the whispers of trouble behind the proverbial four walls of whatever XD church venue they attend, be it their gatherings at the Xenos campus, home church or “ministry house” dormitory settings.
Dennis: This bitter, inflammatory description bares the intent of the author. “Starry eyed” again neatly dismisses the view of all our members. They must be dazed robots to have such positive views of Dwell!
After all, one might point out, they use the Bible, defend it’s truth and claim to stand in countercultural defiance of a postmodern antichristian world order, and it’s a church, so what’s to worry? What’s troubling is to discover such emphasis on Christian orthodoxy shockingly all the more undermined, moot and invalid by it’s inexplicable devotion to what is now recognizable as full blown religious abuse. XD’s discipling exercises reveal a readiness to inflict malevolent and punitive abuse upon the members it shamelessly claims to be spiritually building up in the name of “discipline”.
Dennis: We are baffled about what this hostile author is referring to. After admitting our doctrine is orthodox and biblical, he launches into hateful name-calling, like “malevolent and punitive abuse.” We deny that abuse is typical of our church.
It will also become evident as this article is read that Xenos / Dwell’s loudly voiced claims of orthodoxy are largely in name only. Their hidden doctrinal agenda actually reveals a commitment to a unique form of it’s own form of home grown heresy (a word derived from New Testament Greek that literally means “division”). The church’s imbalanced approach to discipling actually divides Christians from one another in the most excruciating fashion by setting XD members up as examples of Satanic evil and rebellion. This reveals how Xenos / Dwell clearly has become a fouled spring of bitter water for a host of members and former adherents who have found its towering hypocrisy on doctrinal purity versus practical impurity as a state of affairs that is simply no longer tolerable.
Dennis: Any discerning reader can see the hatred in this section. Our practice of making disciples is fully explained and defended in the book Organic Discipleship, written by myself and Jessica Lowery. We invite anyone desiring to know the truth to read this biblically detailed text. This describes what we practice, and it’s a far cry from what this writer claims.
Another mystery concerning the quality of the Xenos’ spring flowing through Columbus is that there’s either one of three opinions about Xenos / Dwell on the street there: people are unaware of it or if they do know of it, they either love or loathe it.
Dennis: That was also the case with Jesus. He said, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). John also recounted, “So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him” (John 7:43). The Lord often warned that those who teach truth will be hated, just like he was.
Many there have a truly negative view of the church and this appears to persist well beyond the immediate region of the university. And this state of civic affairs was in place a long time before I ever came on the scene.
Dennis: We know we have critics, including ex-members. We also know Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26).
It’s another strange paradox when you find related in Acts 2:47 that even in the infinitely more socially hostile time of first century Palestine, the first band of Christian disciples were “praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Dennis: And, shortly after that, a vicious persecution was launched in Acts 8.
The resentment, suspicion and even open contempt we heard expressed about Xenos is quite obviously a most puzzling thing to find in a church that has been in ministry in a city for over 50 years. Jesus said of His disciples that they should be lights in the world, a “city on a hill” that can’t be hidden. The place of a church presence should be an uplift in any community.
Dennis: A more balanced study would have revealed that XD is widely appreciated in the city, with ministries to the poor, recovering addicts, survivors of abuse and many others. A good summary can be found here. This writer interviewed a list collected by Mark Kennedy, a longtime critic of our church. It is not representative.
You would expect that a church should be viewed as a pillar of a community, even in the postmodern skepticism of our day but an astonishing number of Columbus residents would more readily view Xenos / Dwell as a gutter drain instead. This appears to be as it continues to aggressively seek new growth in a post COVID pandemic age using the same strategies it has always used.
Dennis: This section is nonsense. The author did not conduct any controlled study of public opinion in Columbus to reach these conclusions. He also overlooks XD’s longstanding partnerships with national organizations such as Youth for Christ and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
[clip] Dwell operates in a manner indistinguishable from that of cultic movements,
be it a resorting to activities causing innumerable reports of religious abuse within them as well as a plain disregard of the neighborhoods all around the "ministry houses" most students live in. It has become apparent that Xenos / Dwell is not the well of pure water it likes to imagine itself to be.
Dennis: He links here to a hardcore non-believer who thinks that no Christian truth claim has any validity.
We’ve had isolated problems with ministry house students behaving in an annoying way to neighbors, but leaders address complaints we get and call on the house in question to change. Most ministry houses have good relations with neighbors.
The Rise of A Megachurch of Manipulation: The Roots of The Xenos Vision
The founders of Xenos, Dennis McCalIum and Gary Delashmutt became students at OSU after a juvenile wandering into drugs and trouble with the law and were given a stern probationary period to change their ways.
Dennis: The legal problems with probation only apply to me, not to DeLashmutt.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, they finally made confession of faith in Christ and began to voraciously study about what a commitment to such faith would manifest in a troubled society at odds with it. From their rooming house, which became known as the “Fish House”, they began in 1970 to publish a Christian newspaper setting forth their newfound vision of faith which they used to spark dialogues with other OSU students.
Delashmutt joined McCallum later to live there in 1971.A brief recounting of the origins of Xenos brings more paradoxical insight into it’s questionable operation. It’s a familiar story you can read about and hear recounted on their websites and : we’ll only hit high spots relevant to our discussion here, a journey into the ragged orthodoxy of young radicals for Christ whose refinement of their positions did not include attention to the wretched aberrance they fell into..
Dennis: The actual article is here
We have no idea what this picture is. It seems to be a picture of some radical protestors, probably inserted to make XD seem more extreme.
OSU was at the center of the volcanic age of protest that rocked American college campuses over the Vietnam War, the draft and social injustices. Despite the tragedy of the Kent State shootings by Ohio National Guardsmen that left several students dead, the far more intensive contention actually was taking place on the OSU campus in 1970 with incidents like the Six Hour War.
The massive outcry for revolutional change in American society was uppermost in the student body and was too often a perceived challenge to discipline and order by the college and local civic leaders. People were restless, dissatisfied and seeking change. The whole civic order was a barely concealed internecine warfare of unrest between traditionalists and radicals.
Dennis: I don’t know what his point is here. Yes, there was unrest. Is he insinuating that XD people were rioters?
This unrest certainly contributed to the openness Delashmutt and McCallum found in their dialogues. Students were weary of their own culture wars, seeking answers and the two young men seemed to have their ear. Their conversations and personal study with them later that year culminated in weekly Bible studies at their boarding house. The meeting place there then became known as the “Fish House Fellowship” which directly contributed to an explosion of Bible study gatherings connected to the Fellowship that appeared all over the city. In addition to the study of Scripture, Gary and Dennis' readings across a wide spectrum of Christian thought began to focus sharply upon how professing Christians were to live and began to focus sharply on a vision of Christian community building that would be in tension with more traditional forms of this found in churches of the day. Such reflection was quite common in the 1970s, with the countercultural influences of the “Jesus Movement” including serious attempts at innovative communal living and radical new forms of church governance. All of these powerful streams of cultural unrest contributed to the fortunes of the Fish House.
Dennis: And is there a problem with this?
McCallum’s reverie of his years of religious wandering resonated with many of his new audiences:
I had been raised in a Christian Reformed church and then a conservative Methodist church, which changed into a liberal Methodist church while we attended there .. At some point, my parents left that church, although I had already checked out of Christianity by that time. After my arrest some years later, my probation agreement required me to do what my parents wanted, which included attending church again, now at a Baptist church. .. All four were traditional churches; all four behaved the same way, they all met on Sunday mornings, all had similar services, all sang many of the same songs, all had the same feel and largely the same outlook. .. I had a feeling .. my future lay somewhere different from this traditional version of “church.” (Members Of One Another, introduction)
After a lackadaisical and carelessly irresponsible life,
Dennis: Only in my earliest days. By 1970 at 18 years old, I was off drugs and a student with a part-time job.
McCallum wanted more out of what he felt he just wasn’t seeing in the life of church going that involved a new way of approaching and “doing the Christian thing”: his friend Gary Delashmutt who also had been on the road of juvenile delinquency but who also sought to change his ways joined him on this quest. As they sought to consolidate the amazing gains they made, Dennis and Gary then came under the influence of two former staffers of the Campus Crusade For Christ, Gordon Walker and Ray Nethery. A Bible study on the book of Acts one of them was leading on the OSU campus profoundly impacted McCallum as well as by his interactions with them. Such free and intriguing interaction around the differences they observed in the first century church from the “conventional modern church” would lead the young men into an ongoing contact with these older, dynamic Christian leaders who were pursuing their own restless desire to bring to fruition their own ideals of a restored, renewed Christian faith that would shake the world.
Dennis: Somewhat exaggerated but basically true. What’s the problem?
The importance of this contact would soon rapidly become apparent during the formative years of the FIsh House Fellowship days. Studies with Nethery and Walker’s own group in Columbus in those early years helped lead McCallum and Delashmutt to conclude that it was necessary to dismiss the conventional concepts of institutional church structure for what they called “every member ministry” in which the distinctions between clergy and laity were to be put aside and a new order of congregational life should be pursued.
By 1974, the group’s direction would start to move counter to that of Fish leaders.
In keeping with the revolutionary spirit of the times which the Jesus Movement embraced, the Fish House Fellowship became a place where McCallum and Delashmutt enthusiastically “blew up” their Bible studies and captivated study members with their call for “new wineskins.” These “wineskins” would be new kinds of far more informal and close-knit fellowship built on close, daily interpersonal discipling relationships that went way beyond just simple weekly church attendance.
Dennis: We did not enthusiastically blow up groups. This is actually describing a peaceful reorganization of the ministry, based on Acts 2:42ff. Forming small groups during the late ’70s was hardly radical or far out. Nor did anyone “captivate” people. People enjoyed small groups, and the larger house churches we formed later, and they still like them today.
As part of this clarion call came a willingness to impose accountability and even discipline where it was needed when Fellowship members needed it.
Dennis: Not our idea, and not unique to our group. See Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.
This call for such radical changes struck at the imagination and conscience of many participants: as the Fish House Fellowship Bible studies multiplied and continued in one form or another, they went on to become small groups that served as functional cell group churches and enjoyed substantial growth throughout the 1970’s,
It was during these years that the “every member ministry” concept began to fully extend and shape the fellowship’s ongoing body life. By 1981, the fellowship had grown to the point that the network of small groups were restructured under the group’s incorporation as an actual church under Ohio law.
Dennis: “Every member” ministry isn’t our idea. It comes from New Testament passages including 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. We taught this from day one.
McCallum and Delashmutt who by now were bivocational and had started businesses to subsidize their work became the first paid staff of the new movement called Xenos Christian Fellowship. The jarring name “Xenos” was adopted by the group in an effort to establish their newly adopted identity using the Greek word meaning “foreign traveler” as taken from Hebrews 11:13. It provided for the fellowship a winsome image of how Christians should view their state in the world, as someone literally passing through it and unconcerned with its affairs, toward the ultimate end of an earthly journey toward heaven involving knowing God in Christ as modeled in Christian pilgrimage. Yet the group’s idealism remained focused on a vision of Christian community primarily targeting local college students for their recruitment focus.
Dennis: Actually, our church is about half adult (family age and seniors) and half student.
Although older people became members and had been joining it, Xenos was intent on continuing to make young men and women attending local colleges their primary mission field.
Throughout the 1980’s as Xenos continued to grow, it was not without both a seriously cautionary amount of inner controversy and outer tension that we must note. It’s uneasy incorporation as a church brought with it all the complexity and challenge that goes into running a non profit corporate body such as an ecclesiastical institution. Among the many necessities it mandated was the designing and building of a church campus for Xenos members who were marrying, beginning families of their own and who began to require the kind of church congregational structures that it’s iconoclastic small group setting could no longer provide.
Dennis: We never abandoned the small-group emphasis. To this day, house churches are central to our vision.
The very thing which Xenos had decried for years was now something they had to invest in, an irony seemingly lost on them except when the inevitable conflict erupted between different factions over how the church was to be built, a long and exhausting struggle that all of the church’s apparent devotion to close relationships didn’t seem to mediate. This factionalism festered into the 1990’s where it would become part of a major split in Xenos.
Dennis: Yes, and this is where many of our enemies originated. They continue to attack our church to this day.
But even these growth pains, however, became overshadowed when the first public charges of cultism and extreme practice among Xenos began to surface and be documented.
A 1984 Columbus Dispatch newspaper article was published that critically examined Xenos’ discipling practices and contained charges by area ministers about how disturbingly extreme they’d become.
Dennis: This author appears to have not read the article. The only negative part was a sidebar where a liberal Catholic priest argued that “fundamentalist” groups gave too easy answers. The other pastor quoted (Bill Lewis) told me his comments were distorted and taken out of context. He told me he was an admirer of Xenos, and that the critics simply had no category for commitment. He even wrote a letter to the editor complaining that they had misrepresented what he said.
The now defunct Cult Awareness Network (CAN) became involved and provided further investigative services that detailed a prevalence of abusive practices there.
Dennis: Actually, I met with the leader of this group and befriended her. She never held that Xenos was a cult. We had her come and lecture at our combined leaders meeting on how to avoid controlling behavior.
With such painfully glaring outrages reported by CAN and local ministers in the media, these charges couldn’t be glossed over or ignored by Xenos’ leaders, and their response to this unpleasant episode, as revealed by an online history, was quite telling and bears quoting in full:
Xenos elders got feedback from the network and from area pastors before launching an internal inventory that uncovered a number of incidents involving cult-like behavior. In response, the leadership launched numerous reforms. Training was dramatically increased. The elders reasoned that leaders lacking knowledge might rely on pressure instead of persuasion. That could lead to some of the bossiness evident in some groups. The elders also went back over all their training materials to root out statements that could be misinterpreted as condoning the controlling of members. They also convened several re-evaluation meetings with existing leaders to rethink their philosophy of ministry, including the possible overuse of church discipline.
Dennis: CAN never claimed any “glaring outrages” happened in Xenos. Neither did they ever identify us as a cult.
It’s noteworthy to see how Xenos conducted itself here and how much of a template for the future their reaction then would become.
Dennis: I think our response was appropriate and good. After claiming that we never admit fault, it’s ironic that the author would quote an article where XD leaders disclosed our own faults and corrected them. It seems that whether we admit fault or deny it, it proves we’re a cult.
First Xenos stated that their internal investigation “uncovered” instances in which “cult-like behavior” was occurring within their movement. They frame the narrative as if they were blithely unaware of what was going on, which is certainly an unacceptable form of deceptive dialogue.
Dennis: We were unaware, contrary to this angry writer’s claims—that our discoveries were phony and that we already knew.
Secondly, they made no attempt to substantially clarify what these abuses were, who was involved and made no other reference to the substance of the charges.
Dennis: Absolutely wrong. He has no basis for making this claim. We spent months having lengthy discussions at combined leaders meetings and teaching in public directly addressed the issues, including specific examples. See the second half of this paper.
And thirdly, they resort to a cunning revisionism about their past over any kind of Christian repentance that should have been done by all leaders involved when this wrongdoing was discovered.
Dennis: Wrong again. We did in fact repent over wrongdoing whenever discovered, including removing a number of leaders who were being bossy in their groups.
Xenos, their “pressure” issue was just a simple bit of misunderstanding which their “reform” more than adequately addressed. And their efforts were a re-training of leaders and re-evaluation of their curricula by what was essentially an effective sanitizing of their writings and history in plain sight!
Dennis: Completely wrong. This is nothing but imagination by a writer who never bothered to learn anything about this part of our history.
The only details Xenos provides is a downplaying description of “bossiness evident in some groups”, a reference to their home group ministries that was a “controlling of members” and the “possible” misusage of what they called “church discipline.” But, Xenos reassured readers of it’s self-representations, it was all taken care of by a “rooting out” and “retraining.”
That’s all that a well written bit of damage control needed to address. And nothing was said about any attempt by Xenos elders or leaders to provide healing or care for those impacted by the religious abuses, outrages or damages that were certainly incurred.
Dennis: Wrong. This writer — who wasn’t there and knows very little about the period — has substituted his own imaginary scenario for real history.
If Xenos was to be believed, these “cult like practices” were just a shot in the dark, an odd yet bloodless anomaly they could quickly move on from. Indeed, there’s nothing mentioned that shows that Xenos learned anything from what was quite obviously a massive failure by its leaders to provide basic pastoral care and shepherding vigilance over their flocks in a time of acute crisis.
Dennis: Yes, we failed in some key ways, but nothing like the exaggerated narrative this writer advances. And we repented and expended huge effort to heal those affected. He is simply commenting on our history paper, which I would invite people to read for themselves.
This self-absolving false humility is a pattern of behavior that Xenos has resorted to again and again as the years went by. Their concern is for polishing their corporate image and there isn’t any sense of responsibility or identification with those their corporate jackboots had kicked around. The towering and arrogant contempt displayed here by an elitist authoritarian leadership too ready to move on beyond responsibility is beyond grotesque.
Dennis: Hopefully, any sane reader can see the hostility and cynicism in this diatribe. In this author’s mind: Any humility must be false humility, and any disclosure of failure on our part is “polishing our image.”
The incident demonstrated beyond all question where Xenos would proceed when responding to those outside it’s religious hothouses who would question what it does. This is the playbook of spin doctoring for any questionable movement in handling controversy and Xenos’ pride over being such eloquent scribes of “truth” surely must have swelled further.
Dennis: It’s so ironic that this author is charging others with spin doctoring.
This has been their pattern of response ever since as seen in the recent response of XD to the NBC investigative reporting that brought you here. Take a listen to this self absorbed and caustic sniping set forth by an unidentified Xenos leader that can't be dignified with the word "preaching", unless you want to call the raving of upset partisans who were found out that very thing.
Dennis: On the contrary, the lecture by Dwell elder James Rochford is fine, and we recommend it.
This public commitment by Xenos leadership to redefining legitimate criticism of its actions as Satanic attack contributes to their ongoing evasion of accountability and top-down hierarchical control.
Dennis: Our church is governed by a publicly elected board of 7-10 co-equal elders, each with one vote. Serving under their oversight are hundreds of home church leaders. They hold elders accountable by reviewing them and re-electing them after each three year term of office. That is the totality of our “hierarchy.” It’s minimal, and it’s nothing like a cult.
This is what likely led to a massive disillusionment with them in the early to mid 1990’s at a time when the church’s new campus was being built. It had become a megachurch in keeping with the McCallam and Delashmutt vision of a renewed Christian faith and ethos. However, for all of their lofty declarations, the beautiful dream was ravaged by ugly facts. Well over 1700 people would leave Xenos as a result of church frictions that were no doubt inflamed by the highly questionable quality of governance which had been displayed during the 1984 “cult” crisis; it was inevitable that the organization would be ultimately impacted.
Dennis: This recounting is slanted badly. The article he references never called XD a cult.
Even though their devotion to family life programming, Christian world missions, apologetics and Christian education became new emphases which they launched and continued, Xenos never forgot their never ending emphasis of small group intimacy and engagement of college students continued even if at a lower key that would a few years later dramatically redouble as new growth.
Dennis: Yes, our community gives more than $2 million dollars every year to ministry to the poor in developing countries. Yes, we are a strong family church. Yes, we believe in authentic community through smaller groups. Nothing wrong with any of this.
This new growth occurred by a new emphasis of the “ministry house” concept that continued to provide great carrots for a lot of Xenos’ sticks in recruitment of new prospects for Xenos’ agenda.
Dennis: Ministry houses have been a key piece in our group since 1970. I lived in one myself for almost four years as a student. They were nothing new in the ’80s.
And despite their loss of thousands of members in the last decade of the twentieth century - a story in and of itself - Xenos managed to stabilize its growth efforts and now, in 2022 remains at a plateau of about 5000 people.
Dennis: Yes, and we’ve actually declined some during COVID. The division that cost us thousands was in the early ’90s. It was complex. For instance, many left in protest because we rejected the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” obsession that was spreading at the time.
In the end, it came down to whether we wanted the church to feature healing and nurture first, or whether we wanted to prioritize outreach and high involvement. No elder was ever charged with any objective, discrediting sin. Concurrently, our rejection of the “Toronto Blessing” or “Laughing Revival” angered many, and they left.
This growth as we have seen has hardly been a healthy surge of new life as Xenos loves to characterize it, with so much questionable about it. Yet it never stops them from claiming their growth is a sign of God’s favor upon their doings.
Dennis: God’s favor is on our church, and he’s shown that in numerous ways.
And their self-inflated belief that the trouble they bring upon themselves is obviously not for any fault of their own continues to fortify their delusion: they would do well to remember what McCallum has noted in his own writings about this very thing:
.. These masterpieces of deception have shaped the non-Christian world’s view of Christianity to a saddening degree. Believers will have difficulty understanding why some non-believers feel such hostility and scorn for the church if we fail to learn what they know about “Christian” misbehavior and foolishness. .. A surprising percentage of Christians go so far as to defend, minimize or excuse past wicked actions, thus further implicating themselves and Jesus in the evildoing. .. Christians should learn about church atrocities and denounce them firmly. (Satan And His KIngdom, p 77)
Our work here is just our attempt to help Xenos / Dwell do that very thing.
Dennis: This citation from my book on Satan was referring to churches burning people at the stake, sexually abusing people, including kids, stealing money and fighting holy wars. It’s quite out of context to apply it to some vague “delusion” that I am supposedly under. Anyone can check this citation to see how twisted his use is.
The Existential Deception Of The Xenos Heresy
I have mentioned that despite it’s professed passion for Christian truth that the XD organization can be called heretical, or socially and spiritually divisive and out of conformity with the very principles it purports to advance.
Such division is a confusing and damaging worldview that can truly be called heresy, a word we deliberately choose here to describe the group’s elitist and exclusive agenda which has judged all other Christian bodies as inferior to their own and which militates with recruits to leave them behind and join with XD.
Dennis: Although we like our church and feel blessed to be in it, I directly deny that we hold that all other Christian bodies are inferior. Rather, that kind of bashing is what Spiritwatch is doing toward XD. Our view is that different groups have different strengths and weakness.
This blatant proselytizing is not uncommon in what I have come to call the Cultworld, the culture of culture and world of worlds where dangerous cultism is the operative principle. Cultism can and does appear more Christian than anyone else and prides itself as able to sing hymns, make confessions of faith and shape more lives than most modern churches.
Dennis: If “proselytizing” means sharing our faith with non-Christians, yes, we believe in that. All the name-calling about cults is groundless.
I have beheld this throughout my entire career as a Christian minister and pastor (You can read our other articles here about what's been seen).
Dennis: This page linked here shows XD imbedded with a list of actual cults. It is hugely unfair, as we are nothing like those other groups. It goes to show how little this writer knows about our church.
Within cultism today, there are countless examples of “churches” that proudly embrace their own positions that at first glance lead you to believe that they are indeed bastions of sound doctrine and practice. Their energy and mission seems quite legitimate. And yet one of the most disturbing axioms about deception I’ve heard sweeps this kind of casual observation aside as one realizes that“the most dangerous lie is the one that most closely resembles the truth.” Such is the heresy of Xenos, whose existence is a testimony to the power of division leveraged by abuses that are easily as deplorable as those committed by other abusive churches.
Dennis: What are the deceiving lies advanced by XD? Rather than Dwell fostering division, it is Spiritwatch attacking another Christian church that is divisive.
There are plenty of these counterfeits in the Buckeye state like the Gladstone community, the International Churches of Christ and Remnant Fellowship as well as groups like the New Apostolic Reformation, the Unification movement, the Watchtower Society and the Mormon Church.
Dennis: These are all cultic groups. None of them are anything like ours.
All profess cardinal Christian truths through their media, example and teaching all the while understanding from a “hidden doctrine” point of view that their public belief and practice has self-serving application hidden from outsiders. All happily have found niches there - as in the rest of our country. And all enthusiastically advocate their divisive agendas as cutting edge Christian mission and focus their attentions on Christian church members to draw them away after their own siren songs.
Dennis: Cults have hidden doctrines. We have none. Everything we teach is publically available, open to scrutiny and always has been.
The divisive and damaging heresy of Xenos / Dwell, simply put, is not chiefly doctrinal whatsoever but is primarily identifiable by their practical lifestyle.
Read it again: this is the takeaway of this article
The divisive and damaging heresy of Xenos / Dwell, simply put, is not chiefly doctrinal whatsoever but is primarily identifiable by their practical lifestyle.
The evils of XD aren’t as much in its theology but in its society. That’s not to say XD is free from laboring under questionable doctrinal issues but it’s heretically divisive presence is most recognizable in how it glosses over the personal violation and injury that regularly occurs there. These oppressions occur quite invisibly among the fellowship’s many social structures in the name of “discipling” and of course are virtually a secret to those outside XD. Within the innumerable and hidden venues of XD socialization, verbal abuse leading to religious abuse regularly occurs which is regularly overlooked.
Dennis: We don’t believe this claim. While we are unable to avoid all personal offenses in such a widespread community, we try to address any objective complaint brought to us. The actual occurrence of abusive activity is quite rare. Any church of some size has people who feel disappointed or hurt by someone in the group. And we’ve had to remove some bad players over the years.
Such concealment is virtually assured to those who don't regularly involve themselves with XD. That would especially include include many stars of the larger Evangelical firmament such as Ben Witherington, D.A Carson, Grant Osborne, John Perkins and Crawford Loritts who have chosen to commend XD’s work as a cutting edge "church."
Dennis: That’s right, and these experts know far more about our church than Spiritwatch. A few others who have visited and presented at XD:
- Larry Crabb, PhD, renowned author and counselor
- Hugh Ross, PhD, president of Reasons to Believe
- Gene Getz, PhD, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary
- William Lane Craig, PhD, professor at Biola University
- Oz Guinness, PhD, author and close associate of Francis Schaeffer
- Sean McDowell, PhD, author and professor at Biola University
- Lee Strobel, MS law, apologist and author
- John Lennox, PhD, professor at University of Oxford
- Stuart Briscoe, founder of Elmbrook Church
- Ed Stetzer, PhD, church expert
- J. P. Moreland, PhD, professor at Biola University
All of these leading Christian figures have had extensive discussion with me and others on staff, and many have been here multiple times. Would experts like these agree to speak at a cult conference? Is the suggestion that they are so ignorant, undiscerning, and incompetent that they couldn’t tell the difference between a cult and a legitimate Christian church?
After writing this attack essay, Spiritwatch and its allies have launched out to contact upcoming and past speakers at the Xenos Summer Institute and threaten them with being publicly denounced (like in this paper) for supporting a cult.
XD makes much of it's place citing the cooperative ventures such men – and women – from the local community as well as the larger Christian culture outside of Columbus that are supposedly a sanction of their legitimacy and of course, orthodoxy. With this kind of affirmation in place, the abusive history regularly occurring among XD social circles is thrust even deeper into a silence and secrecy that has existed for too long.
Dennis: The writer’s sweeping dismissal of these scholars and experts is quite pretentious. Earlier he complains that we are alienated from all churches. Now he admits that we are friends with other groups and leaders, but it’s just camouflage. In a polemical piece like this, XD can do nothing right.
As far as those claiming abuse being thrust into silence, I would say it’s actually the opposite. Those feeling abused are the only voices being heard. The rest of our 5000 members are thrust into silence, and their stories discounted as brainwash..
This ready association by Evangelical leaders with Xenos' work reminds me of the overwhelming acceptance of the apologetics work of Ravi Zacharias by virtually the entire Evangelical world and the accolades he accepted as one of the greatest apologists of the 20th century .. until the fit hit the shan about his secret and shagnasty life as a sexual predator that he kept well away from the spotlights on his storied life.
Dennis: Zacharias had nothing to do with XD. The important point, missed by this writer, is that no scandal like this has occurred in XD upper-level leadership since the early ’80s, when one elder had an affair and was immediately removed.
I suspect a bit of reflection by these same Evangelical stars, who I deeply respect, concerning their ongoing involvement with XD is direly needed. One of the truly lamentable sins of the Evangelical movement is our desire to rally around heroes who look the part. We want to believe someone’s credentials and thought provoking work without doing a lot of digging.
Dennis: It’s very hard to accept that the author respects these “Evangelical stars.” He represents them as shallow, undiscerning, and sidling up to bad groups. Yet these senior Christian scholars know far more about us than this unaccredited writer. His call to dig deeper rings hollow, because that is exactly what he failed to do.
One group that did dig deeper was Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. When XD wanted to host a branch campus for the school, it sent a team of professionals to study our church. The researched our finances, our doctrine and our practices. The study lasted for months. They concluded that XD is an exemplary church, truly embodying New Testament teaching and practice. The branch campus was authorized and gives out postgraduate degrees today.
In the case of XD, where there’s smoke there really is, under the smolder, a very livid fire. I’d suggest to all these men – and women – to listen up and start doing their diligence – the world you want to reach is watching if you identify with the flocks of the Lord or hirelings who treat them hideously.
Dennis: This is an outrage. Using arguments like these, one could shred the reputation of any group.
The spiritual bullying and oppression that is quite common in XD has arisen out of an unbelievably intrusive misapplication of their teachings on relational or “organic discipleship” as they call it. Their “every member ministry” foundational belief is presented as a recovery of lost truth about the true nature of the Christian faith which is to be replicated through small group ministry where all professing Christians are to take their place as disciplers of one another and as part of the movement’s efforts to evangelize and plant home churches.
Dennis: Making disciples didn’t come from me or XD. It comes from Jesus, who said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). “Every member” ministry is a concept taken directly from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Most Bible-believing churches embrace these teachings. Replicating house churches or small groups is also mainstream practice for Bible-believing churches, as it was for the early church.
While this perspective on Christian faith is hardly original to XD and has been used by many churches in one way or another for the past 500 years (such as in the early Methodist movement), there has been ample occasion for abuses of power and a crushing inequality of relationship using this model among Xenos leaders for decades. And most of the bad press that they’ve received has been for what is known is going on just within their young adult discipling circles. For decades, this ill treatment of XD members by leaders has been trickling down and so tolerated within the larger and older Xenos constituency to the point that it’s just considered “normal.”
Dennis: Most of our members tell me they love their disciplers. Discipleship results in close friendships lasting many years. The author’s characterization is scurrilous and false for the overwhelming majority. While close friendships always contain dangers, cases where such friendships blew up are unusual.
The amount of intellectual busywork Xenos has put in to framing their convictions on this has resulted in scores of books, innumerable hours of preaching, lectures and teaching and the endless restating going on in position papers and leadership training courses.
Dennis: All of these are available to the public online. Books by Dwell pastors are on sale through Amazon. I would encourage people to read them and judge for yourself whether we deserve this kind of verbal abuse.
All of these focus sharply on providing an exhaustingly methodical intentionality in the creation of intimate relationships within XD social circles and it’s impossible to overstate how obsessed with this unifying principle they are. It’s within these contexts that the overlap of personal connections, especially those in ministry house settings, that frequent incidents of unacceptable forms of negatively cruel behavior characterized as “Christian formation.”
Dennis: The use of words like “obsessed,” “negatively cruel” and “exhaustingly” make commonplace Bible teaching sound sinister and dangerous. This is just rhetoric.
For all of their doctrinal and theological precision about the necessity for intimate koinonia, or deep spiritual fellowship, to lead believers into spiritual maturity, XD’s utter silence on their readiness to employ harsh, shaming group dynamics or personal criticism is something they obviously never quite let on.
Dennis: That silence is because we don’t practice “harsh, shaming group dynamics.” We practice church discipline for serious and dangerous sin, just like many Protestant and Catholic churches.
The Original Sin Of The “Aliens”: Why Xenos Is No “New Testament” Church
While having revelled in it’s self-imposed and grotesquely romantic notion that it is a community of “aliens and strangers” (drawn from the vivid New Testament imagery of Ephesians 2:19), Xenos / Dwell misses the mark of Christian perfection it has set by a country mile.
Dennis: The term “alien” is one translation of the Greek word xenos. Our use comes from Hebrews 11:13, where people like Abraham and Sarah “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
Perhaps the gravest failure Xenos has fallen into has been the absence of genuine compassion and love for it’s own struggling membership as seen in its vicious treatment of members who fail their group standards whether through sin or just plain weakness.
Dennis: Our members consider XD to be a highly compassionate and loving group. I agree with them.
This is by far the most onerous and disturbing thing to have to say about a "church" when it falls away from this kind of “first love’, but it is none other than Jesus Christ Himself minced no words rebuking the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4 for having done just that. We can only bear testimony to His censure here that XD falls directly under.
Dennis: The censure and judging here is coming from Rafael, not from Jesus. I have no idea why he is citing this passage. But it is interesting to note that rebuking is apparently not uncompassionate after all.
Love, Scripture reveals in Romans 5:5 and in 1 Corinthians 13 is a divinely bestowed grace of God that all committed believers, regardless of their maturity, receive from God and is meant to enable them to lift up those around them in a pure manner that helps restore, heal and bless them. The apostle Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1 wasn’t a suggestion: he commanded the “spiritual”, those mature in the faith in the Galatian church, to stand ready to offer a path of restoration for those caught up in sin through a humble and gentle approach to them.
Dennis: Yes. And Jesus also had a category for removing people from fellowship if they refuse to listen to the church (Matthew 18:15-18). That was backed up by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.
And certainly, the gentle spirit the mature discipler should bring to the altars of restorative discipline can only be energized by God’s love – not the fickle, impatient species of “sloppy agape” meted out by Xenosian “reconciliation.” That has, for too many Xenos members over fifty years of operation, not what has met their situation, as painfully recounted by this former member:
X (her discipler) still argued that I was selfish in focusing on the shitty way people had treated me and that not being the real problem. That’s the real motherfucking problem. My initial withdrawal stemmed from the lack of support from my “friends” who ended up being hypocrites. So when X told me that the only thing she had to offer me in friendship going forward was that she’d think of me when God placed me on her heart, but other that that... well that was it. And that’s not acceptable as a friendship. Doesn’t even come close to meeting my working definition of friendship. Sixteen years of friendship...flushed down the fucking toilet.
Dennis: I don’t know who these people are or what happened. It sounds awful. But those experienced in working with people in conflict know that stories like these sound very convincing until you hear the other side. Without context or hearing what others saw, it’s impossible to know what actually went on. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.”
The difference between valid journalism and rumor-mongering includes the honest pursuit of truth from both sides in conflict.
The position that this former member sets forth is that all of the grandiose posturing Xenos makes about it's doctrinal commitment to mentoring Christians is pure baloney. The abrupt dismissal from her discipler's memory or concern is clearly not one of XD's success stories that will show up in a recruitment video. It's not something middle school and high school students are aware of, much less their parents, but who will find people like this "discipler" knocking themselves out to persuade them to consider XD events.
Dennis: “Grandiose posturing” and “pure baloney” expose the writer’s significant bias.
Situational ethics and conditional affection are what this former member found meted out as needed by disinterested and calloused disciplers. The “friendship” ended with a typical expression of Xenosian “positive regard”, a reminder that the discipler would think of the former member when God put the memory there, and no other time. This kind of petty vindictiveness is found in schoolyards among prepubescent teens and yet it’s what passes as “love” in the Orwellian world of Xenos where war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Love in Xenos is readily redefined as a cruel grudging of barely concealed intolerance, and is certainly a grossly flawed aping of the character of God's Spirit who seems to be anywhere but in the average Xenos discipler or leader charged to correct in His love .. not theirs.
Dennis: This is all polemics and a one-sided perspective. I seriously doubt that the other party in this dispute would agree with this characterization.
And this is hardly one aggrieved and isolate case. Hundreds of testimonies exist relating this same terrible climate still exists in XD.
Dennis: No, I don’t believe this. Dozens, yes, carefully gathered from a 50-year-long ministry with attendance in the thousands during most of its history. The presence of dozens of angry people is not surprising, even if it is tragic. We hate to see it and do whatever we can to help people heal. But “hundreds” is pure exaggeration for effect.
That such shameful riptides of hateful extremism are just routinely accepted as normal in a place where love is supposed to be expressed is perhaps the foundational error of Xenos / Dwell.
Dennis: “Shameful riptides of hateful extremism.” This language is hysterical. Surely, discerning readers will see how extreme and ridiculous this is.
Decades ago, when the first Xenosian disciple was found caught up in failure or sin was verbally pistol whipped and objectified as a spiritual loser and instrument of Satan, that was when XD lost it's integrity and functions as nothing more than a great, self-oiling religious machine ready to grind all who don't fit into its' gears into hamburger. That is their original sin.
Dennis: Nothing like this actually happened. The author is imaging it.
Xenos despises the imago dei, the image of God in all the people under their control and cruelly conditions them to become robots. For all of it's theological "purity", it takes the place of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual lives of its members and imposes a hierarchy of dictatorial authoritarianism upon them to master their lives. Where is the love, really?
Dennis: This is nothing but unfair vilification. “cruelly conditions them to become robots” This is really laughable. What a low view this writer has of our members!
In the sharpest contrast, listen to what part of 1 Corinthians 13 says and read for yourself just how vital this Godly love, given by God by His Spirit, should be in the lifestyle of Christians grappling with a difficult and challenging world:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not [b]puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.
Without this kind of ardent grace in the heart, mind and soul of the professing Christian, according to verses 1 to 3, their professed spirituality is worthless if not completely counterfeit. If they resist this foundational reality in their lives to the point that it doesn’t change their behavior or treatment of those around them, then they wallow in a spirituality stinking of carnality, materialism and self-righteousness calling their faith into serious question. How can you claim to love the fallen world order and hate the struggler in the ministry house pne [sic] bunk over? Their spirituality is empty and their connection to God would seem to be tragically nonexistent. Don't shoot me. I just tell you what I see and what the Bible says.
Dennis: This ferocious denunciation based on the supposed lack of love in our church is quite absurd. “a spirituality stinking of carnality, materialism and self-righteousness...”? Really? The same author (Paul) who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 also wrote chapter 5 on church discipline.
A respected Christian apologist and scholar I have known for years, Dr. James Bjornstad of Cedarville University, shared with me that when he and another well known authority on cults, the late Dr. Paul Martin visited Xenos years ago on a fact finding mission regarding it’s activity, they noted the cold and often sharp manner in which McCallum treated their congregants as they interacted conversationally right in front of them, causing Martin to remark that “he’s (Dennis) got it pretty tight here” (personal phone call 2/25/22 with Dr. Bjornstad).
Dennis: One of these sources is dead, and the other is retired and unavailable. These are the only sources, other than angry ex-members, in this paper. And we only have Rafael’s word for what they said. I don’t believe this report, because scholars like these would have contacted XD leadership and we would have known they were visiting. No such visit is on record.
Dr. Martin’s observation was that McCallum’s treatment of his church members was a revealing glimpse into just how browbeaten and controlled by ill temper that Xenos members would expect to be by their leaders. Such treatment is plain evidence that the kind of Spirit-bestowed divine love and preference Christians should show for others isn’t found in Xenos very easily, if at all.
Dennis: Again we have nothing but Rafael’s word for this — the same voice that has demonstrated such hostility toward our group in this paper. I have read Martin, and admire him, but I have never met him, And I’m sure I would remember if I had. Also, he has never observed my interactions with others. I don’t believe this story ever happened. Martin is now dead, so this claim cannot be fact-checked.
Therefore, by the standards of 1 Corinthians 13 and what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23 about those who claim to know God and have done great things for them yet who fail to live in a truly loving way toward others, it’s hard to conclude anything else but that Xenos / Dwell has been weighed and seriously found wanting by the Word of God.
Let’s just leave this here with the thought that in the day of Judgment, I wouldn’t want to be Dennis McCallum or any of the of Xenos / Dwell who failed this most basic test of Christian integrity.
Dennis: I’m sure God will be a fairer judge than this writer. “goon squad elders...”
The Christian educator Dr. Larry Richards helpfully observed that the term “hidden curricula” decades ago is where the real influence in Christian learning settings occurs wherever they occur. The hidden curricula is all the social and spiritual influences brought to bear by teachers and disciplers that are usually unspoken, unintended and not easily perceived but which are the most transformative of all as another educator, Dr. Perry Shaw well states:
The hidden curriculum is subtle but is in fact far more powerful than the explicit curriculum, as the messages we communicate through how we teach embed themselves deeply within the psyches of our students and influence their attitudes, motivations, and behaviors in a way that our words rarely accomplish. .. the hidden curriculum always overrides the explicit curriculum. .. Consequently we ignore the hidden curriculum at our own peril. The hidden curriculum is pervasive..
Dennis: Neither of these authors were referring to XD. There is no hidden curriculum in our church.
In other words, a church institution will assert a written or scribally defined position or value on a given subject but the actual personal and communal influences among them model a reality quite the opposite of the ideal. The discipled then come under a far more formative power through the oral and social interaction of the discipler and the written values come to be redefined. What you read and are even told is subject or even negated by what you experience and the social influences become the real way some one learns what the real positions and values are.
Dennis: We declare that there is nothing hidden in XD. Transparency and accountability are high values here. Even our financials are on display for any who want to examine them. XD is exceptional in yearly reporting to the congregation on the state of the church. Elders are chosen by a two thirds vote of the 800+ servant team members for 3 year terms of office, and must be re-approved by additional two thirds vote—unlike any cult.
This pedagogical principle is hardly just some dry educational theory but a powerful insight into the power of XD’s damage and abuse.
Using a hidden curricula of unspoken rules and unspecified religious pressures to drive members, XD compels largely young and impressionable college students into a slavishly compliant submission to the authority of their disciplers who are hardly much older than they, with life experience not much greater than their own.
Dennis: His claim that disciplers have authority over their disciples is explicitly and strongly rejected in our training and practice, and we make it clear it will not be tolerated. Disciple-makers are facilitators and assistants. They do not have authority over a disciple. If one claimed he did have authority over disciples, that would be a clear breach of our rules, and could result in discipline. The only power any disciple-maker has is the freedom to leave the discipling relationship if they feel it’s appropriate.
This likely occurs quite regularly in older Dwell social settings as well since the fellowship has institutionalized this imbalance for years.
Such indoctrination is a harsh reality in XD and in other cultic movements. The true values of XD – that unthinking obedience to a dominant person's snap judgment of your life is a Christian virtue, among others – are then modeled by these unstable leader figures and "caught" by student disciples by socialization.
Dennis: Again, we adamantly reject unthinking obedience to any church authority. This claim is simply false, and again shows how little the writer knows about our church. We teach that a leader’s words and actions should be viewed critically. We encourage members to raise objections wherever they see a problem.
The twisting of the BIblical values supposed to be underlying them is what is really "taught" and this is the warped power of XD's "hidden curricula". When McCallum insists that all Christians have a hand in discipling those around them, he completely ignores the plain fact that all who are church leaders are to be mature and established in their personal integrity and temperament and “not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6).
Dennis: We call on older believers to disciple younger believers. This description is a misreading of our material. However, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) is for every member. Paul’s language is “we all,” meaning every member.
Despite the need to ensure such maturity should be present in the life of a church leader, XD presses on with it’s mechanical discipling operation, with little to no regard for how errant such leadership can be and actually has been. It foolishly and arrogantly continues to make it's abusive control the Big Idea meant to be "caught" by those being "taught."
Dennis: This writer clearly doesn’t believe in discipleship or “every member” ministry. Ironically, much of the criticism of XD comes from our holding to strong qualifications for leadership, unlike what he suggests. Many of our critics are former leaders who were removed after being disqualified.
This kind of damaging divisiveness that turned newer disciples into pawns on the Xenos board of worldview chess has been going on for decades, It is why for many, the Xenos / Dwell organization should be considered a cultic movement, or at bare minimum an abusive church movement. Despite XD’s community advanced as a “non traditional” small group with Christian discipling models mandated by their interpretation of Biblical theology and relentlessly emphasized as the standard for truth, we have found something far more malevolent there.
Xenos / Dwell, in essence wields an organic oppression against its most vulnerable members who are almost entirely disenfranchised young people who have been conditioned to a passive obedience which an Evangelical theology covers Xenos’ antipathy for more traditional – and Biblical – varieties of Christian discipleship.
Dennis: Most of our present and former students are white-collar professionals with college and post-graduate degrees. Those uninterested in college learn trades with good careers. Few of them are or ever were disenfranchised. Neither are they passive. Our members tend to be strong and active.
Their establishment of a coercive community based on authoritarian manipulation by mind control and exploitation of their young adults’ faith and zeal can no longer be dismissed. It is an affront to the Christian liberty all believers are called to enjoy in responsible community for growth in the good grace of Jesus Christ which He intends all to enjoy.
Dennis: This description is absurd and displays author bias and hostility.
Moving Forward: Light That Darkness Refuses To Comprehend
We would strongly commend the work of the website XenosIsACult.com for providing far more detail about the history, the work and the abuses of Xenos / Dwell.
Dennis: This is the Mark Kennedy attack site mentioned earlier. Kennedy began this site as a high-school student, and he continues to attract negative stories and push them to other outlets. His sister is a leader in XD. The day before her marriage to another XD leader, Kennedy and his friends blasted student neighborhoods with posters declaring, “Xenos is a cult.”
I first came across them a few years back but never have had the opportunity to connect with them until l ater last year in 2021. They have created a space on the internet where unfiltered and honest perspectives on the toxic culture that exists in Xenos have been shared. We owe an incredible debt to their work which has enabled us to help objectively measure just what kind of a place that XD really is.
Dennis: The methodology of evaluating an organization solely on complaints from disgruntled ex-members or ex-employees is flawed. This writer and Kennedy base almost all their conclusions on this very biased pool of opinion.
[clip on ongoing page of praise for Kennedy]
It’s important to remember as you consider where you stand on this that Xenos counts on their ability to continually rebuff, evade, deny and push back against any voice of dissent with their carnal behavior or any call for dialogue on their abusive ways. They do not stand and directly engage those who directly question them as it appears that they have no such moral fortitude (or “spine”) to be confronted by people not interested in their gaslighting.
Dennis: So, any effort to reply or disagree just proves that XD is a cult, and is gas lighting. Well, we’re certainly not going to admit to things that aren’t true. This writer sat down with two of our elders and offered nothing but a stream of unwarranted accusations. He also made it clear that his mind was made up regarding XD’s guilt and that he didn’t want to hear any more about it. Regarding that kind of interaction: Yes, we have better things to do with our time.
Their behavior is that of the fanatical Boston Red Sox fan Ben in the movie “Fever Pitch” who would clap his hands over his ears and wail syllabically to avoid hearing someone around him speak of the ongoing progress of his team’s baseball game. Xenos spin doctoring concerning some outrage relies upon their grotesque pretense that they can’t hear what’s being said because they’ve already released a paper or have a committee to address any issue. Nothing else is ever admitted to or addressed in any substantial and frank face to face exchange as equals with those who have legitimate grievances.
Dennis: This is wrong. We have meetings like these often with disgruntled or wounded members in the church and outside.
This state of affairs has continued for well over fifty years and championed by the heavy hands of McCallum and Delashmutt since Xenos’ inception. It’s a well known fact among Xenos / Dwell members that this is a tactic their senior leaders will sustain indefinitely, turning people back to PDF files or meetings filled with lower level leaders eager to keep toeing the group line for them.
Dennis: Actually, the truth is that neither DeLashmutt or I are in staff leadership positions. Today, we lead only in our respective home churches and do some teaching as needed.
We have little hope that Xenos / Dwell leaders will themselves submit to anything remotely resembling a face to face and direct dialogue which requires them to be made accountable to someone other than themselves. It would be swell if they would yield to the conviction of God’s Spirit as well as listen to the outrage of those they continually offend , a sign that there may actually be the presence of truly Christian character and moral courage within them to answer for their injuries. I’m not holding my breath but I will keep praying with thousands of others who have been interceding for this megachurch of manipulation to let God’s Spirit see them as he does (Ezekiel 34).
Dennis: Any dialog of this sort would have to include those being accused. We don’t practice one-sided kangaroo courts. Accountability works both ways. It would also be up to the elders of the church.
Applying Ezekiel to us is extreme and wrong. But it brings up a key point, missing from this paper. Cults have leaders who are using the flock for personal enrichment or sexual favors. Who is the cult leader in XD? Where is his fortune? The very things described in Ezekiel are missing here. Is the cult leader me? I’m not even in upper-level leadership. I lead a modest life in a simple house and used car.
After twenty years of contention with Gwen Shamblin Lara, the leader of the Remnant Fellowship movement and seeing her own hardened heart only get stonier up to the point that her Cessna private jet fatally fell out of the sky in May 2021, I have no illusions about what these false shepherds in Columbus, Ohio will do. I will just commend them to the hand of God for His power to deal with them just as He has done up to and including the events in Smyrna, Tennessee. In our next two articles we will share how we got involved with Xenos and our attempts to engage XD.
I leave for them a final bit of Scripture they would do well to read and act upon personally, not in focus groups:
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Dennis: After so much hostility and rage, it seems quite out of place to refer to Jesus loving us.
In conclusion, members of XD know what we are — a wonderful, self-sacrificial, fun-loving community of true followers of Jesus. We have never had a financial scandal. We have an “open books” policy, allowing anyone to examine our books. We have never had a sexual scandal. Our elders all practice simple living, owning modest homes and driving used cars. There is no ground of suspicion against any of our current elders, me or DeLashmutt.
Yes, people have been hurt here at times, including me. We regret that. But we’ve never figured out how to avoid all hurts, and no other group has discovered that secret either. We do our best, which may well be deficient at times. But in fairness, our critics rarely have any positive ideas for moving forward. And it’s always easier for someone like this author to be an armchair critic.
We will continue serving God and doing good, secure in the confidence we are not, and have never been, a cult. If anyone has something they would like us to hear or see, we welcome that. We are less open to the kind of extreme, biased battering like in this paper.