In many of literature's greatest horror stories, true fear arises on the part of the reader when the author leaves his or her most horrifying elements up to the imagination.
News stories in this day and age can be much the same way. For instance, when labels such as “cult” are applied to ill-defined groups of people without any true background or frame of reference readers and viewers are left to draw their own conclusions — filling in their own background through the lens of their own imaginations.
After all, what could be more harrowing, more horrifying, than a secretive organization conducting thought reform and exploiting members against the backdrop of a small East Texas Town?
Not much. But has anyone really explored or verified if this is, indeed, what the Church of Wells is doing?
During a recent interview with a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter, church elders sat down and considered many of these questions. The parents of Catherine Grove, a 26-year-old some believe taken and brainwashed by the church, did not respond to recent approaches for comment.
In Wells, members of the church are dispersed in homes throughout town. Their central meeting building, a white double story house with a balcony with shuttered windows, also houses a couple of parishioners and a small child.
The second story of the building — currently boarded up — is under renovation to become a studio for the group's resident artist. This same artist is working on a wall mural at the grocery store owned by the group.
During a recent visit to the church's main meetinghouse in Wells, elders provided the reporter with a tour of some residences and that grocery store business.
So What is a Cult?
It is most specifically defined as “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.”
Right or wrong, correct or incorrect, an ever-increasing group of people believe that a cult has — for all intents and purposes — kidnapped and brainwashed Arkansas resident Catherine Grove.
Her mother, Patty Grove, recently revisited and retooled some of the words attributed to her in previous stories — terms such as “cult” to describe the church and “kidnap” to describe the situation at hand. Patty Grove has said her family is extremely concerned about her daughter because of “what is going on behind closed doors” with the church.
The Groves recently started what is effectively a public relations campaign in the hope of having their daughter again by their side — despite the 26-year-old's repeated public statements that with the Church of Wells is where she wants to be right now.
Church of Wells parishioners say what the Groves are doing — posting repeated negative comments about them over the Internet, conducting mass interviews with the media to criticize them — is persecution.
But Jake Gardner, one of three elders of the church, said it is persecution he can live with — as long as Catherine Grove gets what she needs from the Church of Wells in terms of saving her own soul.
“This isn't a surprise,” Gardner said of the public criticism. “It's grieving to me that these things have been said against us — with such words as 'David Koresh — Mount Carmel; or Jim Jones — Jonestown. … That these words have been tossed around in relation to us grieves me very deeply. But I am not surprised.”
Elder Ryan Ringnald described the continued bad-mouthing of the church by the Groves as “much injustice.”
“We have been kind … and loving and peaceable toward Mr. and Mrs. Grove,” Ringnald said. “We still love them to this day. But they have been unreasonable and unkind and slanderous and even violent in their words. … Our desire is only for the good of Catherine Grove and that she would have the civil rights under God to pursue the Christianity she so chooses.”
The church elders say they try their best but are prepared for the worst when it comes to reactions. As a matter of fact, Gardner said the Bible teaches true Christians to be prepared to be persecuted.
“We aren't trying to win a popularity contest,” Gardner said. “The gospel has always been counter cultural— against the grain of society and status quo of that generation.”