"Ten Years of Life within the Walls of the Friendly Towers"

By a former member of "Jesus People USA" (JPUSA)

The word "controlling" is a valid way to describe what goes on at "Jesus People USA" (JPUSA). Oppressive, deceptive, and scheming are other words that come to mind. I hinge upon the word "evil" for the reason that I don’t necessarily feel that it’s leaders intended to become so. Let me explain what I mean by this. JPUSA’s leaders appointed themselves to that role. No "non elder" ever voted on their appointment. Deciding who was worthy of that role was done by other elders (the Herrins) long ago in "Jesus People" folklore. Most of the elders are in fact surprise! Related.

As for the role of deacon, it is a name only. A deacon holds no power, has no voice. They are not allowed to vote on whom is named elder any more or less than your typical rank and filer is allowed to vote on that or any other issue. By the way, it needs to be stated that the position of elder is eternal, unless that lofty individual decides to leave. Which brings up an interesting question to posit. During the ten years that I was at JPSA, there was no one deemed worthy enough to become an elder although two had left. Why was this? Was JPUSA comprised almost entirely of the inept, lacking any ability to ascend the ranks? If that was the case, then what is it about JPUSA that keeps its members in such an inert state? What is most perplexing is that none of JPUSA’s members ever seem to think about their system of government.

After I left, Dawn Herrin was married. I think that someone somehow decided that her new husband was elder material but I’m not sure, I don’t keep in touch anymore.

I’m no sociologist, but let me brave an opinion. It seems to me that many people exist in a state of non-being. By this I mean that they have not yet become individuals in a greater sense. The thought of belonging to something higher than what they envision themselves to ever being holds enormous allure. There exists in some people the misunderstanding that the way to become, is by losing yourself in the collective. This is compounded by the warped notion that God wants us to surrender all. Our individuality, our dreams, our abilities, our capacity to reason and follow him. It seems almost noble at first to let others make crucial decisions for us. We don’t realize how easy it is, and that this gentle path leads to stagnation. We become in effect like Nietzsche’s last man.

When you live in a microcosm like JPUSA you lose all perspective because there are no reference points. The world is JPUSA and JPUSA is the world. I do not say the community is the world because JPUSA is not one. A community implies individuals working together for some shared purpose. What exists at JPUSA is a family run business, powered by the engines of need and counter culture.

As a member of JPUSA it is difficult to realize that it is not proper or normal for someone in leadership to tell you:

  • You and your spouse must first ask permission to have children.
  • You don’t see anything wrong with an elder telling you how you can have sexual relations with your wife and the frequency of those relations.
  • You believe the justifications on why someone in leadership will decide on whom you can associate with, visit or marry.
  • As a member you learn not to question the different lifestyles, bank accounts, or property that elders have--compared to regular members.
  • You unlearn that no one has the right to force you into an unwanted or dangerous occupation or deprive you of an education--especially when you are paying for theirs.
  • You become comfortable with the rule that an approved fellow member must always accompany you when leaving the premises.
  • You accept as fact without question that your self-appointed leaders are "more godly" than you and can be trusted when you confess your sins, desires, secrets, and problems to them.
  • You rationalize with them when they tell others these things and use them against you.
  • You learn to do the same to others for the good of "The community".

All this takes time. A person does not walk in the door with the realization of what is required to exist successfully at JPUSA. The structure slowly unfolds, unseen, unfelt, unknowing. As you become part of JPUSA--it becomes part of you. That’s why it’s so easy for people there to justify JPUSA's actions no matter how strained they are to outsiders.

I believe that most "Jesus People" are honest and passionate about their faith. Many are young and come from broken families. I truly believe that what drives most of them is the perception that they are serving God. Again, the idea of losing oneself to God comes into play.

Historically, I believe that the "elders" meant well. That is why I do not call them evil--although I think the term "Fascist", however strong, is much closer to reality in describing their government and leadership. What can you expect to come from a system in which only a self-selected few define every aspect of the common member’s life?

I do not blame the leadership entirely, as Pascal said "Man is a reed but he is a thinking reed". No one forced the adults such as myself to join (children are a different story). I do not identify with the status of "victim". If anything I am embarrassed it took me so long to realize what was happening.

Neither do I excuse their wrongs. They have been addressed many times by many people concerning their doings. The repeated response is always the same. "No system is perfect". At some point, ignorance becomes willful, and can no longer be ignored.

To be sure, there is must be good that comes out of JPUSA. If nothing else, those that leave have gained an ability to see more clearly because of the experience.

But what is JPUSA’s legacy? Countless lives have been destroyed. Marriages willingly and maliciously torn apart by the leadership's subterfuge. Children tossed aside and told "That’s just how life is". The cost in terms of lost faith is untold. The potential of what might have been--so many people living together for the purpose of serving God. That ongoing loss seems to me the greatest sin of all.

Copyright © 1998 Rick Ross
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