Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise has always been about drama—petty digs at so-called best friends, mascara-streaked tears over crumbling relationships, and a healthy dose of flipping tables and smashing wine glasses.
But recently, season storylines have been overtaken by serious criminal investigations, with Teresa Giudice serving prison time for financial fraud, Jen Shah facing charges over conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, and Erika Jayne currently entangled in allegations that her husband embezzled his clients’ settlement funds to bankroll their extravagant lifestyle.
In the new season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, Mary Cosby will take her turn in the hot seat in response to accusations that she has transformed her late grandmother’s Faith Temple Pentecostal Church into a cult.
Eyebrows were raised from the moment viewers first met Cosby, and learned about her unconventional religious path. The eccentric, designer-clad preacher married her step-grandfather Bishop Robert Cosby shortly after her grandmother Rosemary “Mama” Redmon Cosby passed away in 1997, thereby inheriting her multimillion-dollar estate, her various businesses, and her commanding position in the church.
Cosby was already quizzed over the cult allegations at the Season 1 reunion, which aired in February. Host Andy Cohen brought up leaked audio recordings of Cosby’s sermons, including one where she complained about not getting enough birthday cards and called the congregation “stingy” and “poor.”
Cosby denied to Cohen that she was pilfering money from the church to fund her expensive lifestyle, calling the claim cruel. “My church couldn’t possibly take care of me,” Cosby said. “I’m a God-fearing woman. I would never do that.”
“Clearly I’m not gonna get on national television, be a Housewife and be in a cult,” Cosby defended herself to Entertainment Tonight. “Like, come on. I believe in my church. There’s no cult. My church members, they know those are false allegations. Those are ridiculous. It’s the people that are looking for fault.”
But questions have only intensified, and the Season 2 trailer shows Cosby’s co-star Lisa Barlow meeting with the late Salt Lake City community leader Cameron Williams, who states unequivocally, “Is it a cult? Yes. Does she call herself ‘God’? Yes.” (Williams’ family declined to comment when approached by The Daily Beast.)
The Daily Beast spoke with seven former Faith Temple church members, six who agree with claims that Cosby has been operating her church like a “cult”—alleging she refers to herself as God, encourages members to work at her family’s various businesses for free or minimum wage, berates congregation members from the podium, and instills the fear that if anyone ever leaves Faith Temple for another church, they will be condemned to hell.
Cosby’s own uncle Ernest Walton believes Cosby is running a “cult,” saying his mother would be disappointed. “I think it’s an abomination,” he says. “Everything's coming out into the light now and everything’s coming down.”
A second former male member, who requested to have his name withheld and was at the church for 25 years before leaving in around 2018, says Williams was spot on with what he told Barlow. “It’s cultish what they’ve done,” he says. “It’s the mental manipulation to try to get people to believe that she has power to either take them to heaven or condemn them to hell.”
“It’s not a joke,” says Abby, a former member raised in the church who left age 22 in the late 1990s, and requested to have her full name withheld because a close relative is still an active member. “She’s got these people terrified. That woman is the most evil thing that ever walked this Earth. You have no idea, all those smiles and shit—that is not real.”
Former church member Ralph Arnold Jr. says he “unequivocally” believes Cosby is running a cult, and her teachings go against fundamental Christian beliefs. “She preaches that she is God on earth,” he explains. “The church has gone to ruin and most everyone has left because Mary has no anointing whatsoever when she preaches. She just screams at her members and mentally abuses them into submission. [She] brainwashes them on the regular, not to mention the utterly flamboyant and hypocritical life she lives.”
“We were going to church for religious reasons,” ex-member Rosebud, who asked for her last name to be withheld, adds. “We thought we were learning a new way of life, a new way to praise God, but that was never the case… There is so much shady stuff going on in that church.”
A female former member, who requested anonymity because a family member is still in the church, likened Cosby and her husband to con artists. “They make you afraid,” she says. “You are afraid to not go to that church and you’re afraid to go to the church as well. It’s really messed up… If not a cult, they are definitely scam artists that manipulate the members of the church into giving them pretty much all of their money so that they can live high and mighty on the hill.”
And while former member Ernest Enoch disagrees with the term “cult” and expresses his upset with former members who spoke out against Cosby, saying the issues dividing Faith Temple should be addressed internally rather than in public, he admits that when he left the church in Jan. 2021 it cost him his relationship with someone he considered family.
“I would never say that I personally belonged to a cult, that’s making me look like a fool,” Enoch says. “I disagree with some things, but they’re my disagreements. People [are] not talking to each other right now because of all this stuff. I saw somebody and it broke my heart because he’s like a son to me and he barely could look at me, he barely could talk to me… because he knows that I’m not affiliated with them anymore.”
A lawyer for Cosby stated that, “[A]ll religious institutions, including the Faith Temple Pentecostal, accept donations from their parishioners; however they don’t force parishioners into poverty to make such contributions.” He stated the suggestion that Cosby calls herself “God” is “extremely offensive and has no basis in reality.” (In the trailer for next season of RHOSLC, Mary is seen angrily telling cast-mate Lisa Barlow “I’m not God—I worship the God in me.”)
Faith Temple Pentecostal Church was started by Cosby’s grandmother Dr. Rosemary Redmon Cosby, known to her congregation as “Mama.” According to Faith Temple’s website, Mama left her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, with her four children in January 1961 on a pilgrimage to Salt Lake City, believing she had been called there by God.
In 1975, she married Robert Cosby, who was 20 years her junior, and he became Bishop of Faith Temple. Over the years, Mama amassed a sizable fortune through the church and running various businesses, including restaurants. She owned three homes in the Salt Lake City area, a condo in nearby Zion Summit, as well as a vacation home in St. Cloud, Florida.
“God established through Mama, a church of ministers, as Elisha established a school of prophets,” Robert Cosby wrote on the church’s website. “Mama teaching the ministers to be of one mind, going against everything that mainstream Christianity teaches and allowed God to manifest himself in her.”
The church was at its peak in the 1990s, with Rosebud and Ralph estimating at least 500 people packed into the pews on Sundays. Rosebud’s mother was so deeply invested in the church that Rosebud says she followed Mama from Indiana to Utah, and that she herself was named in honor of Mama, whose first name is Rosemary.
Rosebud says her mother took her sisters and her to the church nearly every day, and on Sunday they would be there from sunup until sundown. “That was our life,” she says. “They would give the adults weekly schedules. If you became a member of Mama’s church, you were dedicated to attending the whole weekly schedule.”
When congregants were not at Faith Temple, those who didn’t have full-time jobs outside of the church did housework at Mama’s home or at one of her various businesses. Rosebud says her mother, who worked at a local hospital, did free work in her spare time at Mama’s balloon and flower shop, or would go to Mama’s house to clean.
Abby says she was also made to work for free at one of Mama’s restaurants. “I don’t even remember getting any money at all, to be honest with you,” she says. “I was just grateful that she chose me.”
Mama died from heart failure at the age of 64 in January 1997, at her vacation home in St. Cloud, Florida, leaving behind a multimillion-dollar fortune. Her daughter Rosalind Cazares—Cosby’s mother—claimed Mama was in perfect health before her sudden death and suggested her stepfather could have been the cause, according to local reports. Although a judge granted Cazares’ request to have Mama’s body exhumed and have an autopsy performed, it was ultimately determined that she died of natural causes.
Cosby claims that it was Mama’s wish for her to marry her step grandfather, who she is not related to by blood, because he was 20 years younger than Mama. “My grandmother told me for herself that she wanted me to take her place,” Cosby previously said. “My grandmother felt like she robbed his youth and so she said, ‘If something ever happens, I want you to marry one of my girls because I know they’ll be loyal to you and treat you good like you treated me.’”
“I did marry him,” she added. “I didn’t want to… That’s weird to me. But [my grandmother] really did want me to, so I obeyed her. I trusted every word.”
Cosby claimed they waited and prayed about their relationship for “two years” before tying the knot. However, local reports from the time claim they married in Chicago in September 1998. Cosby was 25 and Robert Cosby was 45.
Cosby’s marriage divided the church, prompting Cazares to split from Faith Temple and start her own church, taking half of the congregation with her, about 200 members, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Cazares ended up filing suit against Robert Cosby, once in 1997 and again in 2007, claiming he had mishandled assets from her mother’s multimillion-dollar estate and intended to cut her out of her inheritance. (Cazares and Robert Cosby had both been made representatives of Mama’s estate.)
“This includes the failure to identify and account for the articles of personal property that were given away, sold, destroyed or otherwise not preserved by defendant Cosby while he was acting as personal representative of the estate,” her 2007 suit claimed. Cazares alleged that Mama’s signature had been forged on deeds and mortgages prior to her death. A jury ultimately ruled in Cazares’ favor, and ordered Robert Cosby and Faith Temple’s business manager Annie Johnson to pay her $1.2 million.
Around the time Cazares left and divided the church in spring 1998, Ralph and some of his family members left the church as well. Not only did he disapprove of the marriage, Ralph says, but he also didn’t believe that Mama or Cosby were God. “I was raised hearing it all the time and watched the adults in my family worship [Mama] and say it all the time,” he explains. “Not only the adults in my family but her herself. She would preach it… It was beaten into our brains and psyche.”
Some sources say that while Mama’s leadership tactics were questionable, the situation at Faith Temple deteriorated significantly under Mary’s reign. One of the most shocking claims is the verbal dressing downs Cosby allegedly issue from the podium, singling out certain members of the church.
The male former member says under Cosby and Robert Cosby “it was all about money.” On Sundays, he alleges, there would be “grueling hours and hours of people badgered” for donations. “They would sit and demand money until they got a certain dollar figure, whatever [sum] was in their head before they let people go” he claims. “Now, that didn’t mean they had guns to your head, but they would shame you if you left. They would shame you if you didn’t give enough. So, it was a form of mental manipulation.”
“I witnessed Mary ridiculing [senior leaders] a couple of the times that I went back,” Ralph says. “There would be church meetings where [senior leaders] were picked apart and mentally beaten down in front of the entire congregation… She is blatantly making fun of, ridiculing, and verbally abusing her congregation members.”
There's been a handful of Cosby's sermons posted on YouTube, one of which was played at the RHOSLC Season 1 reunion. In one particular recording, Cosby can be heard calling her congregation poor and stingy, apparently over a lack of tithe money coming into the church and not receiving enough birthday cards.
“You’re not in church, you think I’m stupid,” she asks. “Coming in here draining me? I ain’t preaching over y’all’s sin. I’m doing everything else, y’all ain’t helping. Halfway pay your tithes. I got 14 birthday cards. Your old stingy selves. You old poor people. I don’t want no poor people around me. You’re poor as hell. And if you ain’t poor, you stingy cause you still poor! God said you was poor.”
While many Christians believe in paying tithe to the church, around 10 percent of their earnings, several sources say that both Mama and Cosby demanded a much higher percentage. Rosebud recalls that her mother was paying almost half of her checks to the church when it was led by Mama, taken from her wage as a cleaner at a hospital, where Rosebud estimates her mother was making $5 an hour in the late 1990s.
“Mary and [her husband] require all of their members to give them way more money than their monthly tithes. They call them love offerings,” Ralph explains, saying that such donations kept his family in poverty and subjection.
“There were a lot of times we would come home [and] we had no lights because my mom said she had to pay her tithe, or she put a little extra in the collection plate for offerings,” Rosebud recalls of the earlier years of the church when it was led by Mama. “If [Mama or leadership found] out you gave two cents to anybody else’s church, they would go off. They will stand up there on the pulpit, and they will call you out.”
The female former congregation member, whose grandparents and mother were also part of the church, says she remembers people were forced to hand over their food stamps in those days. “My mom never had Christmas growing up because all the money [her parents] had for Christmas gifts were given to the church,” she says. “My grandpa got injured in the war and got a settlement of money and they took it from him, all of it. A lot of the members there are on food stamps, and they struggle to pay their own bills. They [would] make them give them everything.”
The male former member says Mama was always transparent about where the funds were going. “Mama had the utmost respect for the people, she was transparent in everything, including financial situations within the church,” he says.”She didn’t hide nothing from nobody.” However, somewhere down the line after Cosby married Robert Cosby, he claims “somebody had got an addiction to the finer life and saw that they [could] milk the church members for funds, and live this exotic life.”
Abby says while she knew that Cosby and her husband were wealthy due to inheriting Mama’s various businesses, it wasn’t until seeing Cosby on RHOSLC that she realized the degree of their wealth, describing the ostentatious display of Cosby’s homes as a slap in the face to her struggling congregation.
While church members were used to visiting and doing household work at Mama and Robert Cosby’s marital home, Abby recalls that after Mama died, Robert Cosby addressed the church, saying things would be different.
“I’ll never forget the bishop said, ‘This is not going to be the same as when Mama was here. Y’all abused her, wore her out, killed her. Now, I’m not going to be like that, you will not get my face, you’re not going to intrude upon my privacy, things are going to change.’”
“All of us never knew,” Abby says of seeing Cosby’s mansion and the rooms filled with racks of designer clothes. “That’s the first time we all saw what she had; it is overwhelming hoarding. We didn’t know that. We all did think, ‘Where’s all this money going?’ They said we were going to build a temple, a temple greater than the Mormon Temple. Seriously, we’ve been so damn poor. And that’s the first time in all these years I ever saw what they had.”
“I think it’s an abomination,” Walton adds, of his niece’s grand display of wealth on the show. “And it’s the worst thing that they explored it all on TV and got to be movie stars and stuff. And it’s ridiculous.”
“It’s sickening to think about all the people on fixed income and to know friends and family that have took the equity out of their homes… because they gave to that,” the male former member says.
Abby believes that Mary and Robert Cosby are hellbent on using the church to fund their extravagant lifestyle. “Trust me, whatever those people have, she takes,” she claims.
Several sources believe Mama and Cosby’s teachings go against fundamental Christian beliefs by referring to themselves as God, as well as allowing their congregants to refer to them as God, and by instilling fear in members that they will not get to heaven unless they believe in them and follow their teachings. “They felt like they were next to Jesus,” Rosebud says. “[Cosby] preaches that she is God on earth,” Ralph adds.
“Mary is trying to convince people that she’s God, or like this special mediator,” the ex male member explains. “That she has power that she can talk to God and she can decide where you’re going [heaven or hell]. Mary tries to equate herself to like a female Jesus.”
In an audio recording from one of Cosby’s sermons, Cosby tells the congregation, “You don’t just walk up back in here. You got to go through the door… For there’s one God, and one mediator between God and man. Who do you think that is?” A congregation member appears to call out, “You, Mary!”
“I don’t know, I ain’t say it,” Cosby responds. “But you ain’t coming back unless you come through me, I know that. I know the father, honey, and he comes to me.”
“They put the fear in you, that if you don’t go to that church, you’re going to go to hell,” the female former member says. “My mom has some issues with the damnation of feeling like she’s going to hell. As a grown adult, she has it beaten into her head, that’s the only way. She just is so torn in her heart knowing that it’s not the truth, but because she believed that for so long… I mean, it’s brainwashing.”
Rosebud says she felt compelled to speak out after watching Cosby on The Real Housewives, and in anticipation of Bravo not taking the cult allegations as seriously as they deserve. Abby and Rosebud say they want their relatives and others who are still at Faith Temple to realize what’s happening around them. “Their brains are still clouded, and they’re still devoted,” Rosebud says. “They don’t see anything wrong.”
Ralph echoed their sentiments. “I would tell them to open their eyes and really examine what has happened,” he adds. “In their heart of hearts, they have to know that God left the leadership of Faith Temple long ago and is now only in their hearts. I would behest them to run for their lives as fast as they can away from her and [Robert Cosby]. To protect whatever faith they may still have and try to start healing. [The congregation] is faithful to a fault, and what has happened to them is just heartbreaking.”
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