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Delve into the real-life cult terrors of not Tom Cruise or Scientology, but of First Church of Christ Scientist.

Is the First Church of Christ Scientist actually a cult?

Imagine walking into an art exhibit, only to recognize a familiar face — not a Hollywood A-lister or a rock star, but a famed weight-loss guru turned controversial cult leader. That’s precisely the experience a former Church of Christ member had one day at a Tennessee art exhibit, where they encountered none other than Gwen Shamblin.

Shared roots

Gwen and her devoted followers weren’t strangers. They were all part of the same tight-knit Nashville community. Growing up in the Church of Christ, the individual was deeply immersed in their faith community, and Gwen’s Christian weight-loss program, Weigh Down, had a significant influence on their teen years. There was a secret admiration for Gwen and the beautiful, thin girls who left their church to join Gwen’s Remnant Fellowship Church.

While the individual embraced a life of faith, missionary trips, and an extended overseas sojourn, Gwen and her followers distanced themselves from the mainstream Christian community. The enigmatic Remnant Fellowship Church became a subject of controversy and speculation.

Church or cult

When the 2021 HBO docuseries The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin aired, it unearthed unsettling truths about Gwen’s church. Suddenly, the individual felt a sense of relief for not having been invited to join Gwen’s group during their adolescence. Upon their return to Nashville, they had silently drifted away from their church, though they never officially left.

A chance encounter at a dinner party with a psychiatrist named Bob led to a profound reevaluation of their religious past. Bob’s assertion that the Church of Christ exhibited cult-like characteristics hit hard. He pointed out the insidious elements of isolation, control, psychological manipulation, and ostracism, features that eerily echoed the individual’s past experiences in their faith community.

Years after creating distance from their church, the individual found themselves co-leading a mission trip to Australia. A disturbing incident during a ‘prayer group’ session, where a leader probed uncomfortably into a young woman’s personal life, validated Bob’s analysis. The manipulative and controlling behavior, thinly veiled as prayer offering, forced a hard realization: their religious upbringing was steeped in cult-like practices.

The liberation

This revelation cast a gloomy pallor over the rest of the trip. The individual’s association with the church became a tumultuous experience filled with conflicts and resentment. An outright break-up was necessary; silently drifting away was no longer an option.

Now, after several years, the individual is still painstakingly unraveling the complex knots of their past. Yet, there is an appreciation for their escape from the twisted faith that once defined their youth. Reflecting back on that art exhibit day, they realized the unspoken cost of their former classmate’s journey with Gwen.

 Perhaps the classmate recognized them, but the transformation she had undergone, likely due to years of mental poison, left her eyes devoid of the life they once knew.

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