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.