A minister and a member praise Fellowship

Appeal-Democrat, California/August 24, 2008

A Fellowship of Friends member says he divides his life into the years before he joined - and the time since then.

"It's lived up to every claim," said the long-time member. "It answered a lot of my questions. It gave me the tools to help arrive at those answers."

The man, during a two-hour interview in Marysville conducted on the condition that he would not be named, defended the group critics label a cult - and the man who leads it.

"Robert Burton is a homosexual," the member said. "The last time I checked that was not against the law." "He's never asked anyone to do anything illegal," the member said. "I have not seen where Robert Burton has crossed the line."

A Web site critical of the Fellowship -fofdiscussion.wordpress.com - posts the writings of the same 100 to 200 people and often makes unsupported claims about what people say has happened at its Oregon House headquarters, the member said.

"There are people who want these kinds of things to be believed," he said. "Everything is exaggerated."

He likened Burton to the Greek philosopher Socrates and said the school seeks to develop the higher center in people, a kind of spiritual muscle that is a bridge between the earthly and divine.

"That's what the Fellowship is about," the member said.

The school, he said, draws on what is known as the "Fourth Way" teaching intended to provide the West with a system of spiritual development that develops the body, mind and the emotions.

"Robert has made the Fourth Way his own," the member said. "It's a very personal interpretation of the Fourth Way."

"I see him as a person who got it right spiritually," the member said. "He's in a position to be a guide for other people."

Robert Earl Burton, 69, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Senior minister Girard Haven said Burton does not grant interviews and prefers to devote his time to the Fellowship.

Haven, 63, moved to the Oregon House headquarters in 1975 after he found life as a computer programmer living in a Southern California beach community unsatisfying.

Haven said differences over the Fellowship caused difficulties in his marriage to Elena Haven, who left the group last year and who has said the two are divorcing.

"I understand her point of view," he said of Elena Haven's criticisms. "I don't agree with it."

Of her picketing in front of the Fellowship headquarters, Girard Haven said, "Most people really didn't pay attention." For members it was a nonevent, he said.

Girard Haven said of Burton's predictions about a 1998 earthquake in California and a world Armageddon in 2006 that, "No one has ever joined the Fellowship because of the predictions."

"The predictions for me were always a side issue," the senior minister said. "It was never the center of what we were doing."

"I am quite relieved there wasn't an earthquake," Haven said. "I'm very happy the civilization we know has not collapsed."

Burton's predictions proved to be wrong, but the Fellowship leader "has never claimed to be perfect," Haven said.

Asked if Burton is divine, Haven answered: "He belongs to a higher order."

"He has a much higher level of spiritual consciousness," Haven said. "Relative to us it is divine. Relative to powers higher than himself he is not."

The Fellowship Web site - beingpresent.org - states that Burton "has come to understand the esoteric nature of all spiritual teachings throughout recorded time."

"He has concluded that all religious traditions are the same and that the basis of all great spiritual work is the same - to escape from imagination and the lower self and to awaken and recognize one's Higher Self," the Web site states.

In a 1995 collection of short statements called "Self-Remembering" on a range of topics, Burton wrote "Jesus said when he was 12 that he must be about his father's business. This does not refer to his age but to world 12 within him."

Girard Haven said the Fellowship is "for people who are not satisfied with the traditional religions."

"It's here for the people who want it," said Haven.

The Fellowship and its methods for greater spiritual awareness inspire passions among members and others, he said.

"The techniques that are used are powerful," said the senior minister. "It elicits strong feelings."

"It becomes hard to remain neutral," Haven said. "When people leave there's still strong feelings about it."

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