Awesome Families: The Promise of Healing Relationships in the International Churches of Christ

By Kathleen E. Jenkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
A Kingdom That Promised
Too Much

AT THE START OF THIS ethnography, I asked how we might make sense of the contradictory portraits of the ICOC: an ideal family community alongside a dangerous and destructive one. How do we come to understand why individuals join religious groups that seem a direct affront to deeply held social values? My ethnography of this movement is not exhaustive; no doubt there are relationships and institutional dynamics that I was not allowed to see. However, my work does suggest that the answer to this puzzling ICOC family paradox lies somewhere in the recognition that members and leaders were incredibly of this world. Their attraction to the movement, their attempts to shape better selves and relationships in unsettled lives, were not based in radical departures from cultural belief and practice, but on religious, family, and therapeutic strategies and approaches that already permeated their lives. I have shown here, and others before have suggested, that controversial new religious movements are not so much a break from the norms and cultural expectations of the mainstream as they are attempts to order/ make sense of our world (Beckford 1985). They are magnified attempts to use and push beyond dominant cultural boundaries.

The sociological study of radical or controversial religious movements must pay rigorous attention to the complexity and ingenuity of groups’ creative use of various cultural beliefs and practices even as it develops an analysis of social control within authoritative systems. Researchers of controversial new religious movements have tended, until recently, to be labeled by one another as “cult apologists” (those more sympathetic to groups) or “cult bashers” (those who are highly critical and negative of controversial groups) (Zablocki and Robbins 2001).

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