Sunday, 7 October 2007

Surviving the Jesus Army; Even after all these years.

Speculation about me on a forum on which I used to post frequently made me feel that I should start my own blog on the subject of the JA. I have contributed in the past both to the JA's own forum, which is heavily moderated and where what I am permitted to say is severely limited, and to a largely unmoderated, largely anti-JA site, where freedom to speak has been as much a curse as a blessing, as it has attracted the attentions of one malevolent individual in particular who was liberal in his expressions of malice. Here, at least, I can speak my mind without being moderated or attacked; the medium is under my control

Ironically, my malevolent detractor was neither JA nor a former member, and more ironically still, he decided to try to destroy me because he saw me as an apologist for the Jesus Army.

What is so ironic about this is that my name has been associated within Jesus Army circles for the last two decades with my having blown the whistle on the Jesus Army when I left it in 1984, by publishing a pamphlet with another former member, John Everett, who had left a year or two before me. Together, we made a determined effort to draw attention to aspects of the Jesus People (as they were then known) which we felt were severely damaging to members. This involved several years' involvement in TV, radio and newspaper articles, talks to churches and involvement with Christian and secular cult concern organisations, which organised talks to the Police, Samaritans etc. Other activities at the time included a telephone hotline to help people leaving - and I am confident that we helped as many to leave as I helped to join the fellowship.

Eventually in 1989 after a very good, very balanced article by William Dalrymple in the Independent, and after several years of quite intensive activity raising public and church awareness of the Jesus People/ Jesus Army/ Jesus Fellowship Church / New Creation Christian Community (and resulting in their expulsion from the Evangelical Alliance and the Baptist Union), it was time for me to move on, get a degree, etc. And though I still thought about my experiences often over the years, I no longer felt any need to campaign about the issues.

However, around the time I left the scene (or a little after that) Mike Aldrich, who actually I know very little about, but who I respect as someone who deals dispassionately with quite emotive material, and who I therefore came to have a lot of time for, was setting up a website to keep a watching brief on the Jesus Army, and asked if he could make liberal use of my campaign material, which I was happy to agree, and subsequently I contributed to a nascent forum, which has since moved and changed a good deal. Some years later I would contribute remeniscences to the forum, many of which were happy. Over the years my feelings had mellowed and I'd come to remember many of the more positive aspects of community life. It was this mellowing which would put me in the cross-hairs of my malevolent detractor.

About 5 years ago, quite by accident, I learned that the mechanic who serviced my car, David, was not only a member of a house church associated with the JA, but was actually its Elder/ Pastor and was in the process of transferring his household, lock stock and barrel, under the authority of the leadership of the Jesus Army. And of course we got talking. Our contact was sporadic (annual MOTs etc), and to be fair to him, he did not attempt to evangelise me. If anything, further contact was initiated by me.

There came a time about two years ago when I felt that I wanted to draw a line under my JA experiences by trying to attempt some kind of reconciliation with the eldership of the fellowship, and in particular with its Prophet, Noel Stanton. David was instrumental in making this possible this time last year. I want to write about this in a separate posting.

Earlier this year one member of David's household contacted me to ask my advice about leaving the JA; he was aware that I'd done so myself during the fellowship's more intense years, so knew it was possible. He later asked if I would help him leave and he came to stay with me for a few months over the summer. I put him in touch with someone who gave him a job and he moved into his own place and is doing well. His experiences have convinced me that though many of the people have changed and though there have been organisational changes and massive use of the internet as a PR tool, the JA is in essence very much as it was when I left it in 1984.

However, it will have to be someone else's "cause" now. What I want to write here in however long it takes, is an attempt to clarify the events of the last twenty years. This is my story. The JA have published theirs, making reference to my "Judas" activities and to my having persecuted them. And there have been numerous anti-cult books, written in the years since I moved on (and which I haven't read), which cite the Eveleigh/Everett campaigns and quote/paraphrase our material quite freely (like this example -see appendix - reviewed online) In turn, others have published speculation about my having sold my soul back to Noel Stanton, when I went to clear the air.

I am neither an apologist for the Jesus Army nor an embittered anti-JA watcher. I have made my peace with my past. It has made me who I am and, despite everything, I am comfortable with myself.