Wednesday, 3 December 2008

If you mean "spiritual" abuse (whatever that is meant to be), say so. Calling it just "abuse" seems deliberately misleading

I have always believed, as a critic of the Jesus Army, that if I was to have an impact on JA members they had to be able to recognise the truth in things that I said, even if they might never be able to admit it either to themselves or to me. Recognising the truth would make it possible for them to consider the points I raised, which I felt arose from those mutually accepted facts.

To do that I have attempted over the years not to use vocabulary which puts a negative spin on things that happened in the JA. For instance, I never use the word brainwash or ever claim to have been forced to do anything against my will. I try to avoid casting in a negative light anything which I would, at the time, have accepted as reasonable. Maybe I am lucky in that the objections I have to the fellowship are to things which I militated against as a member; I am fortunate that I did not suffer as badly as some others. I never experienced anything which I did not think was well intentioned, if misguided.

Some however claim to have been abused in the JA, and from what I do know of the JA, I have no doubt that they have indeed been very badly treated, but have taken issue recently with the use of the word abuse, particularly when it has been made clear that they were not harmed physically or sexually. This is an issue which has exercised me recently, as I have been involved in a very public spat with someone who speaks freely of having been abused as a child (pre-JA) and of having subsequently been abused in the JA, though I know from private correspondence that whatever she experienced in the JA was not sexual in nature.

I take issue with people using words like "abuse" when criticising the JA (especially when in the same posts they refer to sexual abuse in her past) because the casual and unqualified use of the word seems calculated to smear the JA, as readers will be left with the impression that child abuse etc is what is implied. What makes me most angry about this is that such people know that readers will automatically assume that they are referring to sexual or physical abuse and they deliberately leave it vague so that the JA will suffer the greatest measure of suspicion as a result.

It is disingenuous of them to say that all abuse is abuse (as if a harsh word is as severe as rape) and that they are not explicitly saying that the abuse is sexual. It is downright misleading if they later concede that the abuse was "spiritual", given that it is on a secular forum and that most people do not recognise the existence of spiritual abuse anyway.....let alone automatically infer it. If they mean bullying, maybe that is the word they should use and not abuse at all.

One has attempted to say that I am in some way defending the abuse which she says goes on in the JA or that I am accusing her of lying. This reminds me of the time that I did indeed defend Noel Stanton from the allegation that he protected paedophiles; that too was an allegation designed to cause the JA maximum damage without being founded on any evidence at all, and that too led to me being accused of defending "abuse" in the JA. It is the kind of unsophisticated sophistry you tend to get from the shrill people on some forums.

Of course I do not support abuse of any kind. And I am not actually defending the JA, as such. I am defending a principle. Describing bullying of adults as being on a par with the abuse of children is foolish and appears to degrade the seriousness of child abuse. Further, misleading language makes it hard to reach people we want to help in the JA.

As I am a member of a profession which has to deal not only with children suffering from real abuse, but also with children and their parents who use the paranoia around abuse to make malicious allegations against teachers, TAs, social workers etc in order to punish them for doing their jobs, I take this kind of thing very seriously. You almost never hear of conscientious children making malicious allegations of abuse; it will almost always be disruptive kids who can't get their own way, who strike back by accusing adults in school of something - because they want to hurt them. This has devastating consequences for these dedicated professionals, many of whose careers are permanently ruined, even the lucky few who are eventually exonerated. So, when I see people using words like abuse, people who know that readers will assume that sexual abuse is implied and readers who have probably never even heard of "spiritual" abuse, it makes my blood boil.

If genuine abuse takes place in the JA, social services and the police need to be brought in immediately. Anyone who talks of abuse in the JA but who has not alerted the authorities must be assumed to be muck-raking in order to cause maximum damage.

Anyone who says they are accusing the JA of abuse in order to help the victims of abuse is just not being honest. The way to stop abuse if you know it is going on is to call in the authorties and really get something done, especially post Baby P, when child services etc will be falling over backwards to be seen to be doing everything possible to protect children.

If however, you are not talking about child sexual abuse, it is morally reprehensible not to make that perfectly clear. Almost nobody has ever heard of spititual abuse, whatever the heck that is, but if that is what this person means, that is what she should say....and as nobody knows what it is, she should spell it out....not leave it entirely vague.

Language is powerful stuff. It must be handled carefully.

Why? Because if we want the members of the JA reading it to feel that someone is arguing their corner (with the possibility that people will be emboldened to leave) they have to be able to recognise what we say as representative. I am pretty confident that most would say that they are having a rough time of it, prehaps even a truly horrendous time, but very much doubt that they will think, "I am being abused".

Friday, 7 November 2008

If you can do no more good, go flying!

Clearly the JA will not answer for the past, not publically anyway. But as those who remember the past carefully avoid the public spotlight and are defended by people who weren't even around back then, and who have had the past carefully guarded even from them, perhaps nobody should be susprised.

And if those zealots defending the JA don't know of its past offenses and are genuinely indignant about the criticisms they are defending their church from, does that not perhaps suggest that the church has changed? I'd like to think so.

I think that my unfortunate recent experience of the JA was down to the house elder, who had joined his house church to the JA, being so determined to be a hardliner in order to impress the centralist elders; hard-liners of the original, unreformed JA. His need to be seen to be the big man cost the JA's new reputation. But it can perhaps be seen as exceptional behaviour?

It would always cause me concern that new elders recognise the hard-line centralists as the people to impress and that the leaders who date back to the JA's more cultic days are still in charge...principally Noel Stanton and Mick "Temperate" Haines(Noel's Timothy).....but right now I don't feel there is a lot of point being a critic.

In the past I always saw to it that what I wrote could be recognised as the truth by ordinary members, who would be challenged to think, "Yes, I see where Peter Eveleigh is coming from. I don't agree, but I need to think about how to answer that criticism, because if I can't, maybe he has a point."

But when current JA's first response to anything I say is one of disbelief and is coupled to a sense that I must be lying out of some sense of bitterness which has lasted twenty-plus years, I have no chance of being a force for good. The remodelling of the JA has clearly been very effective but with the pre-reform elders still in charge, I am afraid that some way down the line the young or new members will discover that actually the warnings I have been given were justified. Fortunately for them, there are lots of support groups, etc, and though they won't see it now, having forums like the Sheffield one will give them a way of making contacts. And if that is all that so-called "discussion" forum has become, well that is not such a bad thing.

So, for now anyway, I am going flying.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

In a nutshell, what admissions from the JA would satisfy me?

Circa's comment that there would never be any terms which would satisfy me made me wonder what three admissions would make me willing to let go. I think in essence, these three would do it:


In the past the Jesus Fellowhip taught openly and without shame, self-conciousness or embarrassment that they were the Kingdom of God on Earth and called themselves Zion. They regarded all other christian churches as worldly, compromising, backslidden, uncommitted etc. They believed that such Christians lived under grace alone and that the only excuse such people had for not being in Zion (in the JFC) too was the fact that they had not met the JFC. They believed that any person who met the JFC but did not join it, must be judged by God as disobeying the call to covenant community.


Any person who left the JFC was said to be en-route for apostasy, that leaving the fellowship was not merely leaving one church with the possibility of going to another, but was actually an act of rebellion against God and that such people must be judged by God accordingly; judged for breaking their life-long covenants. Noel taught unselfconsciously about people who left committing the sin against the Holy Spirit, with the danger that in the moment of rebellion that person risked God not only never being able to forgive them (the sinner having committed the unforgivable sin), but actually actively hardening their hearts against Him, himself. People who left, even if they claimed to be leaving with their faith intact, were encouraged to believe that they would forever live as spiritual orphans who would never find their spiritual homes. Some of us were even told that if we became sick, we would not recover because we would not have the covering of God.


People like me who spoke out about the JFC had some really horrible lies made up about us in order to blacken our reputations among people who might otherwise believe us. One sympathetic member of the press (now a very highly admired author and correspondent for the New Statesman, The Observer etc) rang me after doing a piece on the JA to advise me that they had suggested to him that I had been forced to leave the fellowship for trying to have sex with under-age members!

That was probably their worst mistake in dealing with me, for far from making me afraid to speak out, it made me more certain than before what sort of people I was dealing with; and more sure of just how spooked they must be by my efforts. Noel rang my minister and told him I was mentally unstable and unreliable. As I have said before, a sister was contacted this year and told that every churchman in her town would be contacted and told she was a treacherous jezebel. We are always painted as bitter misfits who never fitted in, who were always trouble-makers etc, even though two fellow critics in the 1980s had been elders and had lived in fellowship for many years.So, there you go. In essence, I would be satisfied if there was an admission that in the past the JA regarded itself as the Kingdom of God, that people feared losing their salvations if they left and that those of us who spoke out were blackened with the sorts of lies that could easily have destroyed weaker people.

Perhaps the scale of the things that trouble me most about the JA will help put in perspective just why leaving the fellowship had such a life-affecting impact on me, and why it is hard for me to let go.

Monday, 13 October 2008


Today I flew solo.


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Secondary Sources found to support claims about cult lists

See wiki for the new section on the finding of two secondary sources which confirm the existence of CIC and FAIR, in the former of which John Campbell is actually quoted as denying what the CIC are saying. The latter (about FAIR) is a book which I think John has successfully cited himself (certainly the author is), so he won't want to discredit this one. And since the tone of the quote from Chryssides is pro-JA, John will have trouble arguing that it is a bit of anti-cult polemic.

Many thanks to Mike Aldrich.

You judge for yourself - are the JA "mainstream"?

Following pressure from me to include an edit on the wikipedia article about the JA that acknowledged that the JA is regarded by some as a cult, John replaced one I had put about the CIC, setting that allegation against an academic article that gives the impression that at the same time, others regard them now as mainstream.

John wrote:
"Despite the entry of the Jesus Army into the charismatic mainstream[18], the church continued to attract a range of views[19] and anti-cult groups like the Cult Information Centre, FAIR and Reachout Trust still included the Jesus Army on their lists.[citation needed]"

But having put it, in order to nullify my claim about the cult organisations, he is using wiki rules to push for the complete removal of the allegation from the article. I am pretty sure the paragraph will disappear any minute now.

We discussed this here. On the issue of the "citation needed" to back the allegation about the JA's cultism, here is what was said.

My feeling, as you can see from the discussion, is that wikipedia rules are being used to suppress the truth, rather than to document it. I am not sure I agree with John Campbell's interpretation of rules of evidence, but he is clearly not going to let this go, and anything I add to the article will just be "reverted" anyway. It is John's full time job responding to people like me. I don't have the time or inclination to fight this endlessly.

By leaving these links here I want to leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether the JA are just grasping at whatever straw will allow them to suppress the fact that they are regarded by a lot of people as a cult and are not, as they would have us believe, now just part of the Christian mainstream.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Andy Overturner demonstrates that leaving the JA is leaving God

It is hard to credit the naivety of the man, that Andy Overturner was willing to demonstrate on the Sheffield Forum just the sort of language that the JA use when speaking of people who have left the fellowship. I have to admit to having been absolutely delighted because he was so open about it, and even justified it by referring to the fact that Jesus used such language:

"Can't you see your actions validate you being described as a 'snake in the grass', pouncing (perhaps unwittingly, by mere instinct) on vulnerable prey? (Yes, you, not us!)Jesus talked about His opponents as being snakes. And also as wolves, looking for a stray sheep to devour. You have been an opponent of our cause, seeking to keep folk away from us. Shouldn't we warn people to be careful? In words that Jesus has taught us?"

The context of all this, as you can see for yourself on the link, was me describing how unpleasant the JA became towards me because, when someone in the JA had asked me if he could stay with me if he left the JA and I had put him up. They had ignored the fact that I had not led the man away but simply done the decent thing when he had asked, rather desperately, for help.

I had told him that the best bet would be not to run away but go and tell his house leader why he wanted to leave, explain his reasons and try to keep lines of communication friendly...and that if he phoned me, I would then come and collect him. I had gone and seen the House leader, then, myself and said that I had hoped that we would remain friends, accepting that the man had acted on his own volition, not mine.

I think what is so wonderful about Andy's comments is that it demonstrates the fact that he thinks that I could have controlled this man's actions; by implication it shows that he believes that it should be possible for people to be controlled this way and that I should not have helped him leave.

It also demonstrates the fact that leaving the JA is automatically associated in the minds of the JA with leaving God. Why, otherwise, would my helping this man be described as a thief stealing an unguarded sheep?...or as a wolf devouring a vulnerable, stray sheep?...or me as a snake pouncing on vulnerable prey?....all terms which Jesus apparently used of his opponents.

The funny thing is that if I had claimed that they use such language, they'd have denied it. Here we have Andy proudly justifying such behaviour as perfectly reasonable.

When the man asked me to take him in, because he knew he would be leaving the JA penniless, Andy says that I "would have done better to stay out of it altogether". Hard to see how any decent person could have done nothing and left this poor chap with people who imagine they have the right to exert such controls over him.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Flying is the best therapy!

If I could afford it, I'd fly every available bookable hour! That would soon break the compulsion to argue with the JA :) I am flying in the morning, so ought to get to bed. Last weekend's "therapy" worked a treat. You feel so ALIVE up there. Can't wait to get up again. I have three days solid ahead.....wonderful.

Next time anyone tells you they are hooked on anything, tell them to go flying.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Going Flying

ahhhh, sod the lot of 'em! I am shutting down and going flying. I remember Graeme Sincere saying he'd given up flying for the Kingdom and in that instant thinking that flying was something I'd like to have in my life. There is nothing, really NOTHING as liberating!

Two whole days of bimbling around in the sky!


Thursday, 25 September 2008

a pointless addiction

The immediacy of the internet has made it too easy for me to allow myself to be drawn into pointless and upsetting fights online, which achieve nothing, except perhaps to give the JA the ongoing conviction that they are persecuted and that this confirms that they are "of Christ". They thrive on the stuff, while it just leaves me feeling depressed.

Why don't I realise, even after years of the ridiculous exchanges, that nobody will ever fall down and admit that I am right, or admit that they are lying etc? Of course they won't; it is idiotic to imagine that any group which believes itself to be the Kingdom of God is going to put aside its pathological need to defend the pearls against the swine and own up to its wrongs.

So, why don't I do what friends advise and get on with the book or out to the garage to finish the van.....all my positive projects which make me feel good about myself? How is the addiction broken. Anyone know?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

JA evasions on the Sheffield Forum

My attention was recently drawn to the Sheffield Forum and a thread on it about the JA, which is now an astonishing 39pages long. The most prolific of the JA's posters on the forum is called Circa. He writes intelligently, though rather acerbically in defence of the JA...reminding me of myself rather; I was just as passionate about the JA...and as passionate about what was wrong with it when I left. As with my last posting, I must not hold that passion against anyone. I'd be embarrassed if people now could see what I was like when I was young.

What is most interesting on this particular thread is that it attracts the attention of JAs in a way that JAW has never really succeeded in doing, making them vulnerable to public scrutiny in a way that I am not sure I have ever witnessed before, but as they are not really equipped to think or express themselves freely, as soon as they have said their set-piece, they are quite incapable of doing very much more than repeating in my exchange with Mendocino.

What none of them will countenance is being drawn into a consideration of how they would feel if I could prove to them that in the old days people were led to believe that if they left the JA they would lose their salvation; that in the old days all leaving was associated with apostasy and leaving the Kingdom, etc.

The JA posters deny, point-blank, that such things have ever been taught and imply that I am lying and it occurs to me that their indignance and apparent sincerity points to them having been kept in the dark, just as my exchange with Tschaka indicated a couple of years ago. Back then Tschaka was adamant that the lost salvation stuff was heresy and so thought I was saying it to make the JA look bad. He asked around and was surprised to discover through an elder that I hadn't been lying after all. He had the good grace to admit as much to me, all the time insisting that it is not what is taught now, though.

Along with never holding their hands up to actual mistakes made (instead preferring always to trash whoever is making the allegation) the JA, it seems, will never actually admit to having taught heresy in the past....because PR is still far more important to them than truth and honesty.

The current membership are being kept in the dark about past doctrine because if it were more commonly known about (if, for instance, it was openly and arrogantly boasted of by some zealot, as they are rather inclined to do) it would seriously undermine the JA's carefully orchestrated re-modelling into a mainstream evangelical church.

If other churches and even the JA's own members knew that in my day the JA was said to be the Kingdom of God and that leaving them led to damnation, that other churches were "the form without the power" and that other churches were only ever blessed because they got splashed by the overflow of God's blessing on the JA, it could very well lead to a serious crisis comparable with their earlier exclusion from the Evangelical Alliance.

All of which explains why the JA, having put in a passionate appearance on the thread, are very evasive indeed when it comes to discussing how they would feel if I proved my claims about the JA's heretical past.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Maybe I should be more tolerant of other survivors

When I worked in a Christian bookshop, I remember being told off for endlessly banging on about the JA. Getting out and getting through all that was the biggest thing that had happened to me...and I needed to work it through in my head and talk it out, over and much so, that I bored everyone to tears with it - especially my poor, long-suffering girlfriend, Gill.

I was preoccupied with it for several years: talking to the press, Newsnight etc, attending conferences, being invited to talk to the Samaritans etc about cults etc...and inevitably, my point of view was very one-sided. I didn't have it in me to see the good in the JA...and certainly would not have stood up for them, as I did for Noel, for instance, when one critic accused him of covering up paedophilia in the JA, etc. But you mellow with the years and when other issues in your life eclipse the old ones.

I should probably remember that other survivors will not have yet processed all their sh1t, and maybe I should be more tolerant than I am at times, particularly on JAW, where my attempts to balance things get me into hot water with very angry people.

I have had a correspondence with an ardent ex-JA Christian, recently (via hotmail), who said she didn't think she could trust me with her story because of my stance on sex outside marriage. I said that I wasn't particularly anxious to hear her story if she wasn't comfortable telling me it, but took issue with her suggesting that I am untrustworthy just because I don't think sex is immoral. She chided me for my pride in thinking I am good, etc. I thought all sorts of unchristian things then, which is my prerogative as an evil backslider ;) ....but I have been there. I was an evangelical christian for years after the JA, so maybe I need to be more christian in how I view people who are obviously still a bit unhinged after their JA experiences. This poor lady, for instance, believes that a brother told her by telepathy that he loved her, before she was then very badly treated by the brethren.

We are all at different stages in our post-JA evolutions. The survivors should, perhaps, remember that and help carry the surviving, even if it means having to put up with their self-righteous crap. God knows, we remember what it was to be just as boring, obsessive, angry and unbalanced. I know I would be desperately embarrassed to meet the intense young man I was when I worked in that christian bookshop.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

John agrees but does not concede

John stresses that he has conceded nothing; he felt it very important to stress that point. He had asserted that people must achieve concensus before editing. I had impressed on him the fact that actually anyone can edit without seeking approval from anybody else and after some to-and-froing he finally agreed that what I asserted was so, but he wants it clearly understood that he has made no concessions.

Is that clear? ;)

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Latest concession frees everyone to contribute to the JA article

John Campbell has now conceded that there is nothing to stop anybody editing the Jesus Army article without first discussing planned changes with other editors and seeking consensus. I am hoping to get John's reassurance that he will not "revert" edits he disapproves of until a period of time has been given to any editor to justify his or her edit.

This is a substantial change. It is more in the spirit of Wikipedia than the process that John, Rumiton and I had to go through to bring stability to the article. A number of people have expressed their disappointment with the article that was produced by this "committe-style" process, and hopefully will be able to bring about changes now which will make the article more representative of the JA many of us know, and which has not yet been reflected in the article.

My thanks to Gramby for comments which kick-started this change of approach.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The neutral observer's perspective on the wiki article

Given Wikipedia's emphasis on the "neutral" point of view, it was interesting to get the POV of someone who had never come across the JA before a day or so ago, and then only a reference in someone's blog, which made him curious and made him consult wikipedia. Calling himself Gramby, he commented on the discussion page that the article seemed to have been sanitised, to be no more than a "fluff" piece promoting the JA. Reading the negotiations had in turn led him to the conclusion that John Campbell was vetting all the content of the article and using the wikipedia rules to stop sincere editors having a voice.

His comments put me on the spot a bit because I have a potentially invidious relationship with John, where, in the interests of the stability of the article, we communicate with each other and attempt to co-moderate the page. It is a questionable compromise and I am starting to question my role in it.

I may have let myself be too easily bullied by wikipedia zealots with a better handle than me on wikipedia's rules, into giving too much ground. That would not have happened if I had taken the trouble to read the wiki rules with sufficient care. From Gramby's comments I have realised that I have probably yielded too easily on the subject of verifiable sources, which need not be exclusively academic but can include respected news media. I used very few media sources, giving up my right to cite many others. Tabloids, for instance, may be less desirable than broadsheets, but they are still verifiable sources.

For the last couple of days John Campbell has been uncontactable and I would be reluctant to move until I have given him the chance to comment on Gramby's observations, but I do think Gramby is right and that editors must be assumed to be in good faith when they attempt to make changes to an article which we all know is a compromise which very largely covers up those aspects, past and present, which embarrass the JA. There has been a tendency for editors who have made changes without clearing them with others (in discussion) to be treated as vandals and disruptive elements. Reference has even been made to "potential disruption" or "vandalism" in the edit summaries. Why should any editor clear anything with me or John first? I would even question the right to include an insistence that edits be discussed first.

Negotiation and building relationships with people whose interests are contrary to your own is a very tricky business and involves "give and take" and it seems that I may have given rather too much. It may be time for me to be less of a school prefect on wikipedia and to hope that others will be enboldened to make some brave edits.

I apologise to anyone who has been frustrated in their efforts to make edits, if I have come across as a patsy, seemingly defending the JA's position by defending the stability of the article. If you read the history of the negotiated re-write, you may get a perspective on why I felt it was necessary to attempt to maintain a status quo. I hope you will get a sense of just how hard I fought to include facts which would shed a more revealing light on the JA, but which ultimately could be excluded using the perverse wiki rules of evidence.

Please appreciate that there is a lot in what is now in place which can be read between the lines, or which is very subtle and which would have been totally excluded if compromise had not been possible. My rationale has been in all this, that it is all very well being bold in what you put in, but there is not much point if it then gets immediately removed (reverted). Achieving a compromise that all can live with will mean that the edit will be allowed to stand.

Friday, 6 June 2008

JA membership is a stumbling-block for the faithful

It may seem a funny thing for an atheist to say, but re-reading the last posting made me realise that membership of the JA is a stumbling-block for people who believe.

When I was there we used to say that Christians outside who had not met us would be under grace, but that anyone who met us and did not answer the calling to the kingdom (which we thought was inevitable because we were THE kingdom) would be under judgement.

The irony of this twisted way of looking at things is that in a sense quite the opposite is true. Here and on JAW we have talked about people who leave the JA and lose their faith. I have suggested that the reason for it is not that leavers are bad people or even wilfully rejecting God, but simply that the JA way of couching the faith creates a natural intellectual and psychological block for anyone who leaves.

Christians I met over the years who asked why I had lost my faith all conclude that after experiencing the JA it was perhaps inevitable that I'd be sickened by Christianity. As it happens, I was a Christian afterwards for about 5 years. But in a sense they are right I think: the JA brand of Christianity is a stumblingblock to faith in Christ or trust in other Christians.

Perhaps the JA were right after all; those who had not met them WERE under grace.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Without membership, the belief system has no meaning

The dilemma was simpler in my day - either I would be damned when I left or God would turn out to be bigger than the JA, which ultimately was the gamble I took.

These days, less stress is placed on God's judgement if you leave and more on the inevitable backsliding into apostasy which must follow if you choose to break your covenant with the church -a covenant which is meant to be irrevocable.

This is a change of emphasis, though in practice the language used is pretty similar. In my time the emphasis was placed on God taking his covering away; now it is placed on you taking your soul from under God's covering.

"Minister of the Gospel", an apologist for the JA, a woman who could not hold office in the JA and who does so now in another church, is reluctant to criticise the JA. Her message, as an ex-JA woman, is very much the JA's own: if you fall away from God, then your heart was not right with Him. And that, of course, is common sense....(even for an atheist looking in).

My problem is with the notion that anyone's heart COULD be right with God in a group which preaches a personal relationship with God but which controls everything members think about God, and where the covering system acts as a barrier between an individual and God.

Looked at from a secular point of view for a minute, JA membership defines a person's life. What he or she believes is conditioned by membership. A JA member's relationship with God is lived through a JA filter. When you are told that to leave the JA is to break your irrevocable contract to which God called you, an intellectual crisis is surely inevitable.

How does a leaver get past that level of guilt to a point where they can accept that God is not displeased with them? How can they get to a point where they feel God approves of them without having to go back into the JA? The irony is that any "faith" that CAN survive that kind of crisis may have been a faith lived secretly and hidden from the covering elders - a faith lived in rebellion, effectively, against the covenant!

If the majority of members who leave stop being Christians, the JA will see this as proof that covenant breakers are judged by God (and use it to warn others against leaving); other Christians may self-righteously judge these people, who need their help, by saying that their hearts were not true.

But what may be more true, ultimately, is that the JA is not about faith at all, but about membership. When you stop being a member, the rest of it simply has no meaning. The five leavers whose lives I have been a part of in small measure recently have not become terrible sinners.....they have just become normal, more balanced. God has not become an enemy, just irrelevant. They have got their lives back.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Thinking on my feet - this is badly written and needs editing

People no longer fear becoming backslidden if they leave the JA, says "Minister of the Gospel"; if they backslide, it is no longer the JA's fault, but because a person's heart is, as she put it, out of kilter with God.

This isn't an unusual thing for a Christian to say; loss of faith is always blamed on the individual: you weren't healed because you didn't believe enough, etc. It is an aspect of Christianity that I find so nauseating. Minister of the Gospel is herself a church leader, though as a woman, she had to leave the JA to become one, but as a church leader it is important not to be seen to be critical of other leaders. So the JA gets off the hook if people who leave lose their faith.

This is a philosophy which does not accept that there is a human aspect to what people believe and fear. And when, for however many years, you have had to submit your own thinking and spiritual insight to the scrutiny of elders and adjust it when it was out of line with the received view; when you have spent years under the discipline of the church - and your so-called "personal relationship with God" has first been moulded by people who believe that they ARE the kingdom of God and that God would never call anyone to break a lifetime covenant with their particular church.....

isn't it inevitable that someone who leaves believes himself to be a "covenant breaker", is filled with guilts and doubts and fears. You would have to have a pretty extraordinary psyche (or not have been an entirely committed member in the first place) not to feel out of kilter with God when you leave.

Is this your fault? Do you deserve to feel a loss of God's grace or covering? Is this not the time, perhaps more than ever before, when a Christian needs to know that God is still with him or her? These are questions which Christians have to answer; I don't because I don't believe in God. They must square their belief system with the desperation felt by people who leave the JA as Christians but lose faith. They cannot blame God, so it is easiest to blame the individual.

To my mind nobody can reasonably be expected to leave a church which makes leaving as close as possible to the unforgiveable sin and not expect people to feel out of kilter with their God....or with their unreconstructed belief system. Loss of faith is almost inevitable. Those who leave and keep their faith, as I did (at a time when unforgiveable sin and lost salvation was far more explicitly taught), do so out of a sense of sheer bloody minded determination not to lose it; less froma love of God than from a determination not to prove Noel right. I continued to profess Christ for about 5 years until it became quite clear to me that Christianity is a human construct.

I believe that people who lose their "kilter with God" do so because the JA has constructed a pseudo-reality where you can only have God if you take the rest of the package. That is what makes them a cult. They are not just like any other evangelical church in that sense. When you leave the JA you ARE leaving God, not because you want to but because the JA have constructed their reality that way. Not only do they feel themselves to be THE kingdom of God, but they feel they actually OWN God.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Who is responsible if we lived for years in the fear of lost salvation?

A poster on JAW who calls herself Minister of the Gospel has suggested that we, not Noel Stanton, are responsible for believing that we would be damned if we left the Jesus Fellowship/JA because, she asserts, Noel never actually taught it. My recollections of what Noel actually taught are quite different but I take her point that this almost universally held fear was less taught than it was culturally held to be true. If we weren't actually taught it as doctrine, we certainly were not taught anything else.

If we all believed it and regularly repeated it to each other, using it to keep people on track and in fellowship; used it as a way of cajoling and bullying each other and preventing people from leaving, is it reasonable to absolve Noel Stanton of responsibility for this heresy?

It suited the eldership for us to live for years in fear of "leaving the kingdom", "leaving Zion". Any true man or woman of God leading a church would have disabused us of a doctrinal misconception which kept Christians living in fear.

"Minister of the Gospel" says that God will judge Noel's heart, which she implies was good because he was taking a strong line to make people committed to the Kingdom. But if there is a God worthy of the name, surely He will see a heart which put the building of an institution above the spiritual welfare of its members.

Can a church built on deceit and fear be Godly?

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Is its "central-zion" model of control killing the JA?

In the 9 months since I helped someone leave the JA (and he stayed with me over the summer), a further 4 people have left the same household and contacted me and another two have left it to be part of another one, where they can be confident of less friction with the house leader. The leader they are leaving, whose style of "shepherding" most closely follows the more traditional, hardline, central zion model is a zealot for Noel's style because he attached his church group to the JA only in recent years, and presumably wants to make a good impression.

So the household with which I was in contact a year ago now only has three adults and a child; only one adult is not actually a member of the elder's family. This household now has fewer members than when it joined the JA wholesale about five years ago, suggesting that, far from the JA regime bringing more people to Christ and nurturing them, it is stifling and oppressive....and certainly this has been the experience of all 7 of the people who opted to leave this household in the last year.

The two adult non-community members, a husband and wife, who ironically bought the house for the elder's house-church, originally (before it became subsumed into the JA), have opted to be associated with another one in another city, where the model of shepherding has a more laissez faire reputation; or "slack and compromising", as the elder they are leaving characterises it. It may have been his judgementalism which confirmed this couple in their belief that this would be a more appealing place to worship.

The irony which will be lost on the declining household is that the "slack and compromising" one has a thriving congregation. It's elder, Ian, was in the church when I was a member twenty-something years ago and is a lovely chap, who I know to be a solid Christian with a large family, all of whom are enthusiastic Christians, while the more intense elder's children who are old enough to have left home have done so, and while devoted children, are not associated with the church in any way.

The JA will usually tell anyone who alludes to the church's unsavoury past that things have changed, that the church has outlived its earlier experiments in community, where many mistakes were made, but where the church is now mature, more sensitive. But all 5 of my contacts tell me just the same sorts of stories about bullying and control as were typical in my time. What I think is most interesting though, is that their experiences were at the hands of someone who did not join until nearly two decades after I left, while the more liberal households are those that are considered backslidden...and are led by people who were around in my time. As an outsider, it was strange to be told by the intense elder that this other household was backslidden. It seemed that there was no sense of faithfulness to fellow members of the Jesus Army....even when talking to me, a known critic of the JA.

It was inevitable, surely, that Noel and the leadership of the JA would not be able to maintain the intense level of control which the fellowship had in the early days. This is not a fellowship which has grown anything like as large as its PR suggests, not when it counts almost any type of association as membership (with its many levels of commitment). In fact, one of the first signs of its number manipulations dates back to my time, when Noel, our Prophet, prophesied that the church, which then had about 100 Servant Groups (church-growing cells), would have twice as many groups within a year. Frantic effort and lots of naming and claiming went on...but the church did not grow, so that we were forced to make the prophesy come true by dividing every cell group in two. Where previously I had been part of a thriving group, I found myself the leader of just three of us in our cell - myself and two sisters.

The most noticeable difference in the fellowship from my time is the shrinking emphasis on "community" which had always been what made us distinct from the rest of Christendom, so much so that we were dismissive of Christians who did not live in community, which we held to be God's model. Community (and its structures) was what made it possible to control people. Numerically, there are no more people in community now than there were in my time and a schism in styles of shepherding, even within this number, has been made clear to me in the last year.

The schism makes it possible for some people, rather than leaving altogether, to find households where leadership styles are far less cultic and where the lifestyle is far more normal, some would say "worldly"...while others would just say that it more closely imitates more mainstream evangelical house churches. I predict, and the recent experiences of the local JA household bear this out, that the hard-line JA will die out and those who stay at all will do so in clusters of Christians, the type of which Noel always charaterised (when it happened elsewhere) as having "the form without the power". Perhaps, given the fact that such clusters appear to thrive, while Noel's model is under threat of extinction, Noel should give some thought to what he means by "power" and whether it is really such a good thing?

The form without the power? What form, what power?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

2008, the way ahead following a year of vindication

2008, I hope, will be a year in which the Jesus Army plays very little part in my life. It is now over a year since I went back to Bugbrooke and heard it from the horse's mouth that our whistle-blowing back in the 1980s had been "unhelpful" rather than untruthful (para 10). And the re-write of the wikipedia article has revealed that the expulsion from the EA led to a great deal of re-thinking on community policy, it led to greater openness to wider christendom and to a quiet burying of more controversial doctrine; loss of salvation awaiting anyone who leaves is no longer taught, though last year Tschaka, speaking for the JA, said that it had been spoken of more freely in the past. I feel that the events of the last few years have more than vindicated all our efforts, so that not only have I felt considerably healed, but the church, too, has changed a great deal.

My house-guest this last summer revealed that the JA is not entirely different from what I knew, it's true, but the fact is that the worst anyone who leaves need suffer is a measure of rejection and guilt, where my generation suffered post traumatic stress and the fear of being damned. I wouldn't recommend anyone joining the JA, but I wouldn't get involved in dissuading them from it either, and I am certainly not qualified to say whether it is a good thing or not.

As I said shortly after I went to stay with the JA last year, those community-shaped holes which have stayed with me over the years could never be filled, even if I wanted them to be, by what exists of the community now. It is a community in decline. And many of its old stalwarts are being neglected, overlooked, unloved and unsupported in the JA's rush to recruit ever more people. It is not a community that appeals anymore; and not least of all because most of my old friends there have themselves since left. It is very liberating knowing that even if I had some burst of insanity and wanted to go back to the Bugbrooke I knew, I would find it gone; it no longer tempts me, even from a humanist/communal point of view.

The Wikipedia article is finished and I am now very reluctant to get too involved in the rather invidious business of guarding it from change, partly because I regard wiki's rules of evidence quite suspect, given that it allows the subject of an article to say anything it wants about itself, while silencing those best qualified to know what really goes on there, on the grounds that we, but not they, are biased. It seems to me that if the JA can have their own websites linked to the article, it ought to be right for the JA Watch site to also be linked. But no, wikipedia's anti-bias rules are partial on this. It shouldn't be my job now to help the JA use wikipedia rules to exclude the dissenting voice, or to deny researchers access to an archive of more than twenty years of material, much of which shines a light on aspects of the JA which they would prefer to bury. Then again, wikipedia is just one source of information and I am very happy that it says enough to give readers reason for caution.

I have gained a cautious respect for the JA's PR man, John Campbell, which I hope is mutual. Clearly he doesn't like me and will obviously resent having been forced to negotiate with me, given my history as a critic who caused them a great deal of discomfort in the past. He may well feel rather uncomfortable with the idea that some contact will have to be maintained in the years ahead. But I think this is healthy. The best thing about the JA's last couple of decades has been its realisation that it needs to be accountable to "the world" and that arrogant refusals to deal with other Christians or with other outsiders was deeply damaging to their reputation in the past.

It is even rather amusing, given the radical JFC I was a part of, watching some of their members' rather desperate efforts for the JFC to appear no less ordinary now than the most bog standard C of E church (see mentions in History and in Beliefs), though these parts have since been removed, largely at my urging, as I felt that they represented an attempt to look respectable on the back of a church of which they have been contemptuous.

I feel healed and vindicated by recent events. The JA have not only privately acknowledged the veracity of the claims I made in the 1980s but their subsequent actions can be regarded as an acknowledgement that change had to come. We have not been apologised to for having been the victims of over-zealous heavy shepherding in the JFC's early experiments in community, true, but that would call for greater humility than is possible in a church which is still doing its best to re-package itself, and to deny and bury some of the more controversial past beliefs and practices.