In the name of Religion

A religious group is rocked by allegations of sexual impropriety by leader Robert Burton

The San Diego Union-Tribune/March 12, 1995
By Gordon Smith - Staff Writer

Name: The Fellowship of Friends
Incorporated: 1971
Headquarters: Apollo, property located near the tiny community of Oregon House in Yuba County.
Founder: Robert Burton, called The Teacher by members.
Members: 1,900
Beliefs:A complex philosophy that says man is asleep and can awaken through concentrated effort and the help of a teacher.

OREGON HOUSE, Yuba County-To anyone delving the two-lane roads that wind through the foothills of one of California's poorest counties, the international headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends-one of the state's most unusual and controversial religious groups-comes as a shock.

Mile after mile of mobile homes and aging ranch houses, tucked into the forests of oak and pine some 50 miles north of Sacramento, suddenly give way to this: 1,300 acres of rolling hillsides and dazzling vineyards.

The Fellowship produces wine as part of an esoteric belief that observing refined traditions can help lead to spiritual enlightenment. Its award-winning winery has been the subject of flattering articles in Sunset and Los Angeles Times magazines.

But a growing number of former members- including some who served on the group's board of directors-say the Fellowship's practices are those of an exploitive cult.

These practices and the group's convoluted philosophy are used, they say, to support founder and leader Robert Burton's penchant for traveling worldwide, collecting expensive artwork and having frequent sex with a virtual harem of male members.

Most of the critics emphasize they are offended not by Burton's homosexuality, but by what they contend is the use of his position of power to have sex with dozens of members, most of them heterosexual men.


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