Nomadic sect accused of brainwashing children

Evening Standard - London/April 8, 2002

The Jesus Christians are a nomadic religious cult that calls on members to forsake their job, boss, family and friends in order to show pure devotion to God, writes David Taylor.

Despite having a base in Sydney, Australia, the international missionaries are constantly on the move, living and travelling in a white Leyland DAF van.

The cult was formed in Australia by a charismatic figure named David Mackay.

The group is very small, comprising of 17 members worldwide, four of whom are usually in Britain.

It is an offshoot of the US Children of God sect, later known as the Family, which was notorious for enticing converts with the promise of sex.

Jesus Christians have staged publicity stunts in Australia, calling for Christians to reject mainstream religion and focus on the word of the New Testament.

They combine preaching in public places with leaflet distribution to attract followers. Members, including Susan and Roland Gianstefani, also hand out copies of The Liberator, a religious cartoon book, to lure youngsters.

Converts believe that Aids, UFO sightings, earthquakes and the persecution of Jesus Christians by the media are all signs of an impending apocalypse.

Graham Baldwin, a campaigner who runs Catalyst, a charity that helps families who have lost children to cults, claims the Jesus Christians target impressionable teenagers and manipulate them with mind-control techniques.

Parents agree, saying their children have been brainwashed.

The Jesus Christians deny this, saying they merely present a simple and enlightened view of the Bible that shows the truth of Jesus's teachings and encourages a lifestyle based on a commitment to these doctrines.

They do not have rituals, a regimented lifestyle or any ceremonies. And they do not attend church.

Instead, Jesus Christians debate theological issues, adhere to a communal life based on poverty and live by certain biblical passages which, they claim, are the key to true Christianity.

One such passage is Luke 14.33, which says: "Whoever does not give up everything they own cannot be a Christian."

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