Sometimes on the Mormon blogs, we get the idea that our church is unique in its issues and problems and the Provo/Orem area, “Happy Valley”, is like no other place in the United States. My eyes were opened reading an article in “Buzzfeed” about the town of Waco Texas, the Antioch church that is pervasive in the town, and how “HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines helped convert a sleepy Texas town into a tourist mecca.” To continue the comparison to Provo, Waco has Baylor University, which didn’t accept its first black students until 1964, and didn’t allow dancing on campus until 1996!
From reading the Buzzfeed article, it became clear that what we see in the Mormon Church is pretty common with any conservative Christian sect.
See this from the article:
Within Waco, Antioch has taken on a position that, depending on who you talk to, is either life-centering or psychologically destructive. “I had so many good experiences at Antioch, mixed in with the bad,” one former member told me. “It was so easy to get addicted to it.” Ultimately, however, she came to see it as “a harmful place, with cultic tendencies, that doesn’t put the interest of the individuals who attend church there first.”
Like many religious organizations, there’s a spectrum of involvement; several former members described it to me as similar, in structure, to an MLM, with spiritual incentives and social pressure to invest more time and money (in “Life Groups,” in discipleship school, and, eventually, on overseas missions) while always recruiting more members to “disciple.”
“There’s some abuse of the culture of authority,” the wife of a former Antioch member told me. “People who say, ‘I don’t think you’re dating the right girl, and I’m your leader, and you need to listen to me.’ But those are college students making those proclamations.” A psychologist in town meets regularly with a group of self-described “Antioch survivors.” Former members told me stories of crises of faith after being made to feel unwelcome by the church, either for life decisions (declining to go on a mission) or for their identity (coming out as gay). (Seibert said, “It is not our practice or teaching to encourage people to cut off contact with those who leave the church. Additionally, it is rare that we would formally ask anyone to leave. Every church has guidelines for what they believe and who they aspire to be. People are welcome to join or leave as they feel God is leading them.”)
You could replace the word Antioch with Mormon in the above without any problem. They also have a very conservative view of homosexuality, so much so that in some ways it makes the Mormon Church look progressive!
Following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015, Seibert, who is Antioch’s lead pastor, reaffirmed the church’s belief that homosexuality is a sin, suggesting that 90% of people in a same-sex relationship were “abused in some way.” Seibert advised local business owners not to soften their stances toward homosexuality, praising those “willing to stand to lose even a deal or two or ten or even lose their business.”
And the influence of the church on the town leadership sounds just like any small Utah town
Towns like Waco have long been steered by religious leaders; that’s not anything new. What’s new is how integral the Antioch vision is to so much of the business and real estate development happening now, in which Christian entrepreneurs, as “pioneer-spirits,” map a course for Waco as if settling it for the first time.
Have you ever lived in an area that that had a non-LDS church dominate the people, culture and town the way the Mormon church does in Utah?