The article on Sunday was absolutely huge: a massive part of the Chicago Tribune's front page and two full inside pages. On Monday, it continued just as long. One would think that if the Tribune was going to publish such a massive story—particularly one with a strong exposé approach—that it would doublecheck the reporting. Instead, the special report on Jesus People USA (JPUSA) is an awful strange read for folks familiar with the story. "Jesus People USA, a controversial Chicago-based sect … stands as one of the last surviving religious communes of an American generation," reports Kirsten Scharnberg. "Despite an onslaught of criticism that the group is overly authoritarian, secretive about its finances and psychologically abusive, Jesus People USA continues to attract largely the same clientele it has for nearly 30 years: troubled, disillusioned, needy youth."
The word that forms the outline for this 9,000-word series but that's never really used is cult. That Scharnberg thinks JPUSA is cultish is pretty clear. JPUSA leaders "run the commune with an unyielding grip," she says. It has seen strange practices, such as adult spankings, exorcisms, and has discouraged men and women from talking to each other. And, Scharnberg writes, it has left hundreds of victims: "Of the hundreds who left, some faltered financially, leaving without savings or job references or skills. Some struggled emotionally, winding up in counseling, in substance-abuse treatment, in divorce court, in jail. Some splintered spiritually, concluding that walking away from Jesus People USA was akin to walking away from God." But wait a second. Is this really the proper lens to view JPUSA through? Isn't JPUSA more akin ...1