Determination, courage and cunning

Some pressure put on those who want to leave

Chronicle and Echo/October 11, 1984

The Jesus Fellowship is both publicity conscious and publicity shy.

They have appointed one of their senior Elders, David Hawker, to deal with media enquiries.

Stories praising the Fellowship are welcome and there always seems to be a steady stream of members willing to come forward to testify how they have been saved from a life of degradation and to tell how the Fellowship turned them away from a life of violence or alcoholism or drug abuse.

There is no doubt that many have been saved and put on the road to a better life, because in the Fellowship they have found the warmth and friendship that was lacking previously in their lives.

Fellowship leaders emphasise that in helping people free themselves from drug addiction, alcoholism, mental and physical illness and other problems, their work benefits society in general.

But still people do leave and return to the outside - a world which the Fellowship honestly believe is sinful.

To leave, though, requires courage, determination and it has been claimed, a certain amount of cunning. Some pressure is put on anyone who tries to leave.

Earlier this year, 'a man' and his 'fiance' left the Fellowship and are now living in London and planning their marriage later this year.

It is a marriage that could have happened several years ago. 'The man', now 30, was a member of the Fellowship for seven years and he met 'his fiance' who was a member at 15, while both were working in the community.

'The only way we could get married while we were both in the community was if we would conform to all their ways. But once you start interpreting the scriptures the way Mr. Stanton does then you realise that not everything is right.' He said.

'We were so encouraged to be celibate and the message was 'conform or you do not get married.' So we both decided to leave.' He said.

He claimed he was a 'marked man' and was told that 'although judgement might not come on us immediately it would certainly come in later years.'

'So even after we left we were in a state whereby we would be driving along and constantly thinking that we were going to have an accident.' He added.

David Hawker denied that pressure put on anyone wanting to leave was so great.

Mr Hawker went on: 'We do not accept all that 'the man' says. Of course it is not easy leaving a church to which you have been so fully committed. It is like leaving a religious order - you have made certain pledges which cannot lightly be broken. But if anyone expresses a settled intention to leave, nothing is put in the way to stop them and, indeed, financial and other help is often given.'

'The man' continued is story: 'I had been preparing to leave for 18 months, literally psyching myself up for the moment. When 'my fiance' agreed to leave she said she wanted another six months to prepare herself.'

'In the end we were heartbroken because we had left so many friends behind us and we could not go back to them. The pressures were enormous and I owe much to my parents who I had turned against and alienated when I was a Fellowship member.'

Even the problems were not over as 'his fiance' lost two stone in weight through stress and there were also financial worries for the couple.

''My finace' joined the Fellowship when she was only 15 and when she left she got just £800 from the Relief of Need Fund - £800 for the 13 years of blood sweat and tears she had put in.' he said.

'My initial contribution was £1,600 and in the end I received £2,750,' added the man who now works as the manager of a confectionary warehouse. 'The pay is not great, but at least it is all mine and I don't have to sign the cheque on the back and return it to a community fund as I had to previously when I was working for House of Goodness.'

Mr Hawker said the contribution was always voluntary, but was a pre-requisite of community membership.

The couple finally made the break four months ago and another defector left just before Christmas Last year. He is now back home living in Liverpool.

'The man' now 27 was a member for three years. He also spoke of the 'tremendous pressure' exerted on people to stay, and claimed there were some within the community convinced that they would be under a 'terrible judgement' if they left.

'So when I decided to go last November I escaped secretly, I did not tell anyone I was going so there was no pressure on me' he added.

'But there was pressure immediately after I left for me to come back and be reconciled. The community tried all they could to find me and they were obviously very annoyed that had left without telling anyone - but that was the only way to go, he added.

'But now I have left I have no intention of returning although I remain a committed Christian. But I now believe the Fellowship practices a form of Christianity which is not to my liking.'

Two senior members of the Fellowship who also left - and have since spent some time helping others who wanted to follow their lead.

'I left because the Fellowship was practising a form of Christianity which was offending my conscience' said one of the men.

'I believe that the one aspect of the human character which God never violates is man's free will. I believe the community strips people of their free will to decide what is right or wrong before God.'

The other man added: 'The community is destructive for this reason. You are not allowed to decide anything for yourself.'

A community member said: 'The community has high Christian values and is only against ungodly things. It is certainly not destructive and as a friend of 'one of the men' I know he accepted this.

Mr Hawker said it was totally untrue to suggest the community means any loss of free will. 'All members join by their own free choice. Members are actively encouraged to take responsibility and make their own decisions.'

'Conversion to Christ strengthens a person's will and community membership means a willing joining together to seek a common aim and purpose.'

'Conflicts only arise when someone wants to act in opposition to everyone else. At such a time the person has the choice of staying and accepting the agreed practices of the community, or leaving. He is free to do either.'

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