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.