My life there and afterwards

Posts tagged ‘Light Groups’

News story – must-see

Channel W5, on Canadian TV, has just done a 4 part investigation into Grenville Christian College and this report includes the connection with The Community of Jesus, Orleans,MA. Here is the link:
It is a must-see. Finally the abuse is becoming known and the class action suit is going forward.

One person said that her faith was not affected by the “Christian” abuse she endured there. I am truly glad for her, but many others did have their faith shattered, as I had mine shattered by the C of J. When you believe whole-heartedly that the leaders you trust are speaking for God, and interpreting scripture as it was meant to be understood, and then realize the hypocrisy and harm that is going on, it is devastating. It takes time to heal, but I am also very glad that I can now sort things out for myself. No one knows the ultimate answers for sure, and anyone who says they do has too high an opinion of themselves. Now I am free to embrace the journey of life for myself, and to seek for the answers that work for me.

Love is the only thing that transforms the human heart. If a group is Christian, they will see Jesus as fully revealing this divine wisdom, which takes the shape of gentle understanding and radical forgiveness–which is just about all that Jesus does. Jesus, who Christians believe represents God, does not tell the vulnerable how bad they are. Look at Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He doesn’t belittle or punish Zacchaeus; instead, Jesus goes to his home, shares a meal with him, and treats him like a friend. He does not submit him to a “light session”.

Anyone who thinks fear, anger, divine intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love is on a power trip. Show me where that has worked. You cannot lead people to the highest level of fulfillment and creativity by teaching them they are the scum of the earth. The leaders at GCC and CJ were/are on a power trip and, from my experience, do not show any care for the lives of those they are supposedly caring for.


Sharing someone else’s well-written post

This is long, but is beautifully written – so accurate and well said – that I quote it for you as this week’s post.
All references to the leadership and practices at Grenville Christian College were/are also true of the leadership and practices at The Community of Jesus.

All of these beliefs were learned over a period of many years directly from the Community of Jesus. None of them originated at GCC. We learned them on teaching retreats at the CJ, personal counseling sessions there, from listening to “Mothers’ tapes” (teachings of Cay and Judy at the CJ and elsewhere), “live-in” weeks at the CJ, from visits by CJ people to GCC, from our “oblate houses”, “Mother house retreats”, etc. We took vows to the CJ, vowing a lifelong commitment to the CJ and the life of obedience to this teaching. We were required to attend a certain number of retreats a year, spend a week a year “living in” there, and write monthly “notes” of a highly personal nature to the leaders of the CJ. The daily application of these teachings was done by those in leadership at GCC.

Obedience –
Obedience was first to God. Following God’s will for your life is a common modern day evangelical teaching. However, at GCC, “God’s” will was determined by those in charge within the community of GCC and above them in a hierarchy, also the Community of Jesus. After the initial contact, the decision to join was encouraged through a combination of both fear and enticements. The initial impressions of the community for a person considering following “God’s” will there were not unlike initial impressions for any other person-the place was beautiful, the people were thoughtful and “caring”….Once numerous bridges were burned, you were more privy to statements made by C. Farnsworth that included the statement that making the commitment to join GCC was the last decision a person ever made. Spiritual authorities spoke for God and were to be obeyed always. Disobedience to them was disobedience to God. The expectation of obedience was extended to staff children. In many ways they were the most vulnerable of anyone at GCC. Children were stripped of any parental protection (see the teaching of the sin of idolatry), were subject to daily corrections by any adult and were expected to be obedient in particular to those in leadership positions. In addition, they were taught that they were called by God to live this life of obedience at GCC or the CJ (see call of God) because they were children of people called to GCC. It was a lifelong call.

Call of God –
GCC members saw their work and life as a “vocation”, a lifelong call to serve God in one place. Members took lifetime vows of obedience to their authorities (at the CJ and at GCC), and also vows of “stability” (they would serve God in one of these two places). It was assumed and said that if GCC ever failed, members would “go home” to live at the CJ. This sense of devotion and purpose gave members a feeling that they were special, or at least they were part of something special (which amounts to the same thing in practice). “Many are called, but few are chosen”. We considered ourselves to be in that latter group.

Cross life –
This teaching stated that each individual’s cross was his or her sin. It was each individual’s responsibility to deny his sinful nature by aggressively crucifying his own sinful nature daily through confession to others of those sins. It was also each person’s responsibility to speak against the sin of others. In essence there was an aggressive policy of policing behavior, since behavior was the expression of sin. Everyday mistakes could be interpreted as the result of sin. Confessions were randomly used to control individuals through public humiliations and at other times to manipulate them. This teaching started with a belief in the radical sin nature of everyone, even Christians, expressed in self-will, wanting one’s own way, own things, own will. This showed up in the everyday events of life – choosing simple things that you wanted or liked. The only way to solve this was by the breaking of the will. This came about through deep repentance, but because of our sin we were blind to our sin. The only way to see the truth was to have others speak it to us. This took the form of direct confrontation, person to person, or in a group (light groups).
If a person “resisted the truth”, the heat was turned up, bringing in more people, multiple meetings addressing his/her sin, changes in living arrangements or job, assigning disciplines to the individual, until he or she “repented” (had their will broken). This was usually followed by “love-bombing”. Affection was then showered on the person who was in a very vulnerable emotional and psychological state. The person by that time was so grateful for affection, approval, love….that this experience tended to cement their dependent relationship on the group and the leaders.
The other effect of this is that if it were done publicly, as it usually was, bystanders and correctors were also traumatized by witnessing or participating in breaking down the offender. So repeated traumatizations instilled in all members a knowledge of what resistance meant. After many of these over a period of time, most of us became experts in self-censoring our actions, movements, and even thoughts. The end result was a large group of people who were very good at “presenting” the correct image: smiling, cheerful, caring, obedient, ready to jump into action to serve the greater good.
If you ask why people would go along with this, there are two good explanations. The first is use of the tactics of brainwashing.. They work! Even with very intelligent people, which answers the question how smart people could be trapped in a group like this. The second and more powerful reason is the belief that ALL community members had, that we were called by God to this life, that disobedience to our leaders was rebellion against God, and the result of that rebellion was eternal damnation. On the plus side, we believed that we were a special group, chosen for a special job by God. We saw ourselves as an elite strike force for God. That combination of fear and pride was extremely powerful. The students were our mission field, sent to us by God. We were to love them, of course, but love also included “speaking the truth in love”, correction, verbal confrontation, etc. What if they resisted what God intended for them? A similar pressure would be brought to bear upon them. If they complied with our program, they received approval. If they rebelled outwardly, corrections (both private and/or public) and disciplines were sanctioned to “encourage” compliance in beliefs, thoughts and behavior. When compliance appeared to be accomplished, “love-bombing” followed. Again, even the students who were not directly confronted all knew people who had been, so that traumatization worked with the students as well. They learned early on what was expected of them, what behavior and attitudes were rewarded, and which were punished.
Given the fervor with which these beliefs were held, the relative isolation of the school (a boarding school), it’s not surprising that abuses occurred.

Honesty (Being honest and the danger therein) –This was called “living in the light” and was a large part of our commitment to each other. Brutal honesty was the expected norm in almost all cases. If you felt someone was guilty of any of the Seven Deadly’s below (or even if you just had “a bad feeling” about someone), you were expected to tell them, pulling no punches, not “sugar-coating” it, or “softening the blow”. Only real (brutal) honesty was helpful, as anything else would not have the desired effect of breaking the will. If you “sugar-coated” something you said, you ran the risk of giving them something positive about themselves to cling to, which would only delay or stymie their eventual healing (breaking of their will, repentance).
If you were the recipient of this brutal honesty, you were expected to reply in kind and “tell all”. This meant exposing other “sins”, related or unrelated. If you withheld information, self-accusations, etc., you were accused of being “hidden”, in itself a terrible sin. The antidote to this was to expose the person as much as possible, as publicly as possible, in front of as many people as possible (in some cases the person’s children). However, the unspoken exception to this rule was that this “brutal honesty” only flowed downwards. Taking it upon oneself to be brutally honest with anyone in authority was to open yourself immediately to an accusation of one of the sins listed below, almost always accompanied by intense light groups or disciplines. In other words, it was only done if you had a death wish.

Seven Deadly Sins
Sins were often discerned when “someone else” interpreted a person’s failure to perform perfectly in some responsibility and then diagnosed which sin caused it. Otherwise it was determined by their lack of heartfelt compliance with a given mandate, either verbally or in their behavior. There was a strong focus on changing a person’s work performance, their beliefs and behavior by sanctioning heavy-handed disciplines or random life changes that were primarily declared to target the root sin that was the cause of all. The result of constant “sin surveillance” was living in fear of being caught in some sinful behavior over which one had little control. In
the short term, the “discipline” was really a form of punishment as it really had no actual benefit except that of producing fear. In the long term, a person internalized the beliefs and unknowingly learned strategies to avoid the resulting pain of “sinning.” The following were the culprit sins:

Idolatry-The biblical teaching against idolatry (worshipping someone/something more than God) was applied to the dynamics of human relationships in such a way that natural family relationships and friendships would be considered idolatrous if there was no evidence that each party within the relationship would “stand against” the sin of the other. To be “in idolatry” with another person, someone would typically be blind to another person’s specific sin and/or unwilling to confront that person about his sin. Sin was typically thought to be acted out, often in some obscure way that was pointed out by one of the community leaders. The battle against sin played out in everyday life in some of the following ways: close friendships were nipped in the bud; spouses were pitted against one another; parents were told that they were blinded by their natural love for their children and so were incapable of being a healthy influence in raising their children. All adults in the community were responsible for the oversight of the children and were “responsible” to correct the sins of the children in everyday contexts. The specific sins of an individual may have been discerned by the more spiritual people in the community, but confronting that individual with that sin was often delegated to his friends or spouse. This teaching against the sin of idolatry led to power play dynamics within the community as individuals were “safer” if they were on the giving rather than the receiving end of corrections. Thus a lot of sucking up to those in charge and betraying of all others to protect yourself. It also was destructive within the family framework as parents were often publicly humiliated and disrespected in front of their children, children were encouraged to correct their parents, and parents were taught that others were better at deciding what was best for their children. Children were often randomly removed from the homes of their parents to live with another family. Parents were often corrected over and over for not discerning what was good for their children, losing any internal sense of parenting. Playing the idolatry card gave those in charge leverage to achieve control and the ability to manipulate a situation to their own purposes, if they so desired. It was the trump card.

Jealousy – was one of the worst sins for which to be corrected. In any situation that was played out less than perfectly, someone was bound to be randomly corrected for being jealous of someone else. This meant envy of another person’s looks, possessions, talents, status, family….It was generally considered that the best cure for jealousy was to have the person of whom another was jealous to correct the person that was deemed jealous. An even better cure would be to have that person be in charge of the other person’s spiritual journey out of the muck and mire of jealousy. Such a journey might include changes in the jealous person’s everyday routines, change of their job, change of their living situation, and undergoing disciplines as well. Jealousy was seen as an actively destructive force if not eradicated. To be known as a jealous person carried a heightened degree of shame.

Control or the desire to control one’s life or his immediate situation was considered a sin. This sin often would be noted when a person was unable to accomplish unreasonable goals that had been expected of him/her. That person’s anger (see below) within the situation was considered the reason for not accomplishing the task at hand successfully. When random changes that were decided for a person’s life were met with resistance, the sins of control and rebellion would be named in an attempt to bring a change of heart. If there was no change of heart, more pressure would be applied in an effort to create repentance. Being “out of control” was thus considered a virtue and a desirable emotional state. So random changes in policies, living situations, jobs, etc. all had the benefit of helping people stay “out of control”. Resisting such things was interpreted as being “controlling.”

Rebellion – As it says in the Old Testament, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. This included not only outward acts of disobedience to the many rules, disciplines, etc. but also any inward attitudes of not wanting to comply. So in many cases, simply obeying slowly was an indication of rebellion. To be labeled as “rebellious” was a terrible judgement, and those who were labelled as such often went to great lengths of outward obedience to try to escape the stigma of being considered rebellious. Students, of course, were expected to obey directives as well, usually instantly. Allowing rebellious acts and attitudes to pass unchecked was also considered a very grievous sin, as that was often seen as “opening the door to Satan”, who was the original rebel!

Pride/Haughtiness – Reserving the right to have your own thoughts and opinions showed pride and haughtiness because you were saying that you were as good as, or better than, those in charge. And because those in charge had a direct line with God, you were in essence putting yourself above God. If you were corrected for something and you disagreed, your pride or haughtiness was added to the list of sins already named. If you engaged in critical thinking (wondering why some people got “special treatment”) that showed extreme haughtiness, since you were essentially saying you were on the same level as they were, or should be anyway. Of course, the antidote for pride and haughtiness was humiliation. So public humiliation, which could include a group of people pointing out your faults, or even mocking you, was a very good thing, because it was seen to kill your pride and haughtiness.

Lust (SEX and other things!) – Sexual lust was considered the root of much evil, so much so that community members were not even allowed to talk about anything related to the topic of sex or sexuality except to Charles Farnsworth-not even to our own spouse. This topic was OFF LIMITS and was all encompassing in its boundaries. No specific point was too insignificant to be included. The arousal of sexual thoughts and feelings in men were considered the fault of the female gender. For this reason, there were very strict mandates in place to keep “inappropriate” behavior and thoughts under control. We were taught that sex was for procreation, not pleasure.
(Our corporate busyness was one deterrent to marital relations.) Also, men had needs. Personal counseling related to sexual abuse was straightforward-sexual abuse was minimized and declared “a garden variety sin.” C. Farnsworth gave instructions in the topic of sex to our own kids without our permission or even notice. (We learned of this after leaving.) This “teaching” or lack thereof was a strong force in our everyday lives. Its implications were wide ranging and insidious. It appeared righteous but was really a very strong control mechanism for those in charge. In our lives the bottom line was that everything about human sexuality was evil, not just lustful desires/thoughts.
Lust for other things-any complaints about working for pittance and having little materially was deflected by enforcing the mantra that “others may, but we cannot.”

Anger – Anger was generally viewed as a sin. If you got angry at someone or a situation, that showed that you didn’t really agree with it, that you thought you knew better than those in charge, that you lacked love, etc. The exception was “righteous anger”, the anger at sin. This, however, was only sanctioned if it came “top down”, or from a peer. Anger at anyone in charge could never be seen as righteous anger.
People were often “encouraged” to display or “get out” their anger. This usually left them in a vulnerable state, since all could see what they really felt. Although releasing pent up anger may have brought some momentarily relief from emotional pressure and internal guilt, that person’s real feelings and perspectives were typically used against them at some point. For the moment, “love-bombing” was their reward for being “honest.”


CLOSED SYSTEM –The vow of obedience to this way of life and the breaking down of ties with family members outside the community, as well as any friends outside the community, resulted in a very isolated, closed system. Other influences were cut off or discouraged, and the business of everyday responsibilities (which included not just running a boarding school but a host of other “community” responsibilities, like daily chant services, daily prayer vigil, and regular light groups) effectively closed all members off from the “outside world” and ensured that almost all personal interactions were constrained by the above values.
RANDOMNESS – The “icing on the cake” was the way in which things were enforced.

Even though the above categories seem clear and delineated, in practice ALL beliefs and policies were applied randomly. Some people could do almost anything and never receive any disciplines. Others only had to look sideways to call a staff meeting down on their heads. Since the “discernment” of all of these sins was up to those in charge, punishments were often meted out in what seemed like arbitrary fashion, depending on the current “party line”. The result was that those not in charge (almost everyone) were kept in a current state of emotional disequilibrium, never knowing what could happen next. Most tried to gain some measure of balance by currying favor with those above them, hoping that if something drastic happened, it wouldn’t happen to them.”

BITE: Information Control

Information was deliberately held back. A lot of the workings of the Community were on a need to know basis. If you were picked to be part of a group, then you would know some things, but you did not share your information outside of the particular group. If you were not part of a group, you knew better than to even ask. The inner group would meet, but the rest of us had no clue what they were meeting about. We would just be told the decisions and how it affected our daily lives, where we lived, work/life schedules.

This was true even with something as huge as building the new church. It was not a group decision. We were told God had given the go ahead to do it. We did have Chapter meetings that everyone attended and we did vote to go ahead with it and to borrow money to pay for it. But for me, and I suspect for most of the others as well, I would have rather died than to have publicly disagreed. I can’t tell you how many elections we had that put the current leader in charge where I held the black and white balls and told myself, put the black ball in, no one will see you, vote your conscience. And at the time the box reached me I put the white ball in. I was too scared that someone would see me still holding the white ball, and I would be “spoken” to. (Being spoken to was being raked over the coals)

Information was distorted to make it more “acceptable”. This happened a lot about the founders’ illnesses, and certainly hiding any suspicion that they might have a drinking problem, mental problem,s or be lesbians. We were told that their living together in the “Study” and sharing a bedroom was a holy partnership, and had no sexual involvement. They wanted us to think they were mainline Christians, and their stance was that homosexuality was against the teaching of the Bible. At the same time they were living opposite to what they told us. The hypocrisy is the sin.

Deception was also used in how they handled the Chronicle articles of 20+ years ago. They told us that the articles and videos were full of lies, that the members who had left, the dissenters, were blowing everything out of proportion, and the media loved scandals and so were exaggerating everything, and that it was all biased against us. We were told to not watch the video or read the newspaper, that it would “just upset us”.

Since leaving and watching the full content of the Chronicle videos I can testify that all the accusations from the “dissenters” were true.

The leader has lied outright on the Chronicle TV interview when she said there were no more light sessions going on. At that very time they were going on, and there have continued to be light sessions. We just didn’t use that term anymore, but the structure and format and what goes on in them had not changed. She also lied when she said children were not taken away from their parents and put into other houses. Over the years we did change slightly and go through the formality of “asking” the parents if they agreed to the move, but the social pressure has always been there to say yes, whether you agreed or not.

As far as “critical information” goes, I seriously had never heard this term before leaving CJ and did not know that critical thinking was a positive and valuable thing to do. It was considered worldly and rebellious to think too much about spiritual things. The mind was supposed to take a back seat to the spirit, as interpreted by the leaders.

Chronicle article 20 years ago

About 20 years ago Chronicle Magazine did a TV series on the Community of Jesus. You can still see it on YouTube. Type in “Community or Cult” and they are the ones posted by TruthIsVictory.

The leader says on there that there is no “sex direction” at CJ. I personally was at several of her teachings where she taught the sisters and the married couples about sex, that it wasn’t worth all the fuss and bother, that it was almost always sinful, etc. She was very graphic and rude with the sisters, saying things I cannot repeat publicly. The founders taught a lot of restrictions about sex in marriage.

The leader says that the 40 day grape fasts were all voluntary, there was no authoritarian direction to do them. I remember the founders telling us in no uncertain terms that we were all going on those fasts, and that no one was exempt. I suffered, as did many others from malnutrition and physical exhaustion from those fasts.

The leader says the “old light sessions” were no longer practiced. When the leaders heard that the ex-members were targeting the light sessions, and we all knew that abuse had happened at them, they told us to not mention that word anymore. They were officially stopped and banned, BUT, that we would continue the practice, just not call them by that name. “Light sessions” were no long going on, but carry on the practice with no name.

She says that children are not moved out from their parents home against their wishes. There was a variety of feelings on this. Some parents and children wanted the separation. Others, myself included, did not. Those of us who did not had no choice. It was the CJ practice, the decision came down from all the leaders, and there was no arguing with it. I personally have suffered untold grief over what they did to my family.

And so leadership is very careful not to appear to be using coercion. She is always phrasing it in the terms “you have a choice”. But she’s working with the people that are already brainwashed. I knew very well that there was really no choice involved. Just tell me what to do, tell me how high to jump and I’ll jump. So she can phrase it as choice all she wants to, but I was already conditioned. So she gets away with coming off and looking like, more benign, and more loving and more reasonable. I really thought that, that when she was going to lead us I thought “Oh, the reign of the founders is over. Yeah, she’ll be more reasonable with us, working with us, leading us, this is awesome” Huh, I was fooled, but that is what I thought, and that is what she actively portrayed.

She told us that one leader had suffered a mental breakdown, from her ADD or whatever, and that is why she had to step into full power. that leader went off to a mental health place for a while and the leader wanted to have her committed there for good, but her children, fought it. Legally. Got legal action that she could retire in her own home, and she did. She had a beautiful apartment at the Community, where she lived until she died..

The leader took over and what I saw of her method was spiritual disapproval, and kicking people out. She told another sister and me, when we were Senior Sisters, “I want so and so out of this community” This was an older sister who was beginning to express dissatisfaction with our life. “She is too much trouble” OMG, so OK, here I am struggling and this is just another nail in my coffin, that if I start to spout off about how angry I really am inside, if I start to tell people I’m miserable, I’m going to be the next one on her roster to be kicked out. Toe the line, baby, and make the best of it that you can. That was the message to me. And also another sister. She said “Get her out of the Convent, put her with her mother. I cant’ get her to leave the Community but we’ll get her at least where she’s the least trouble. And I don’t want a lot of people going over there”

So she comes off, she can stand in front of a camera, and insist, “I always give everybody a choice. Everybody’s here by free choice. People do these things because they are dedicated to the work of God.” ON THE SURFACE. An unknowing person could say “Yeah it’s true”, but only because of what you see when you walk on the site. Live there a month and then see what you say.

No one had a chain around my ankle. But they did have a chain around my mind. You have no idea how your view of life can get warped if you are in an enclosed, high-control environment. Since I left and have learned about cults, and gotten a perspective, I can see it so clearly.

I just wish something could be done to expose them, to bring what is done in darkness into the light. If they are living such a wonderful life, why won’t they be accountable to mainstream churches?

Thumbnail History and Teachings

I was recently asked what my experience at CJ was like, and also asked some questions about their Christian doctrine. Here is what I wrote:

My experience at The Community of Jesus: a thumbnail history.

I entered the Community of Jesus with my husband in January, 1970 and lived there for 40 years. We raised our 3 children there. July 9, 2010 I left and now live in the Boston area.
I was raised in a family with a father who would burst out in anger at unsuspected times. It was mostly aimed at my brother & sister, but I learned to stay unnoticed to avoid his anger. My mother denied the affect this had on us, and was always trying to explain away his actions. This pre-disposed me to neither confronting angry authority nor walking away from it.
I spent 4 years, ’65-’69, in the Hippie culture of San Francisco. I was not raised in any religious setting, and was at a loss for a moral structure other than what I intuitively felt. I also had no framework in which to place my yearning for something more to life. At the end of these 4 years, I experienced a wonderful conversion to Christianity, accepting Jesus as my Savior. My husband and I married and moved to Massachusetts in ’69 so he could reconcile with his parents, who were Christian. A minister in Oregon referred us to a minister on Cape Cod, and he told us about a fledgling Christian community in Orleans, at Rock Harbor,. We started to go to the teachings. I knew nothing about Christian doctrine, and they talked a lot about the “deeper life” and being especially connected to God, which appealed to me.
After a couple of months, my husband and I were beginning to experience trouble in our relationship, and were feeling in need of help. We almost went back to the West Coast, but instead asked if we could stay a while at the Community of Jesus. We moved in with a woman who had bought one of the first houses there.
The very first day there was a misunderstanding, and since we were waiting hours past our appointment time, we asked one of the sisters, got permission, and went ahead and unpacked our car at the house we were assigned to live in. When we were called over to finally meet with the two founders, one of them went on a 5 minute yelling tirade at us that if we were going to live there we had to be strictly obedient. It didn’t matter how long they kept us waiting, we were not to do anything unless they told us we could. It was frightening and humiliating. It was my father all over again, and so right there I was set on a path of obedience and avoidance of confrontation. I was pregnant with my first child, and desperate for a secure home, and also did want to learn how to live for God. Their stress on obedience was the opposite of the free life I had been living, and seemed to be the antidote that we needed.
At first it seemed idealistic, that we were learning how to recognize and confess sin and building a new and better life of getting close to God. However, the teaching centered solely on sin and how we had to die on the cross daily, and there was no resurrection life or joy. It was all a sin hunt. At first I believed that this was the training necessary to be able to reach a state of peace and wisdom, but the longed for salvation, forgiveness and peace were always kept tantalizingly out of reach. They often compared us to the military, and how we had to be broken down and made to be obedient in order for a new life to grow in us. The teaching was not based on the forgiveness and love of God, but rather on how sinful we were. One leader would often teach us that we deserved nothing but hell, and it was only grace that we weren’t already in hell. Like all of their teaching, there is a kernel of truth in this, that we are sinners and God’s forgiveness is grace. But instead of helping us reach a balance, it was all focused on our sin in order to make us compliant and obedient. In the military boot camp they do humiliate, name call and break individuals down, but they also encourage a bonding and pride in working together. We did not get that building up part.
I was indoctrinated, brain-washed, and through fear was taught that I could not leave. If I did I would be leaving God, since He had called me here, and my life would go back to what it was, and much, much worse. Once we became a member, we were forever a member. Vows were taken in order to make the commitment binding. Even those who did not take vows were still under the social pressure of knowing that it would be wrong to leave. The two founders, and later the next leader, would talk against anyone who left, saying that they had “chosen the world”, had chosen to follow their own sinful passions, and would experience all kinds of pain and suffering, and probably die a terrible death. When we heard of one sister who had left, and eventually died, all the gossip was about how she must have had a terrible realization at the end of how wrong she was to have left. Anyone who contemplated leaving knew they would have to go through a gauntlet of “light sessions” where their “sin” would be strongly spoken against, and also that they would be considered the enemy if they did leave. I witnessed some of these sessions, and have experienced this since I left. No one will contact me, one very good friend who did write me for a while eventually told me to stop writing. While I was there we were told to cut off anyone who had left, as they were “out of their call, and would only cause us suffering if we talked with them”.
I was taught how to block any negative thoughts, and to suppress my feelings of pain and hurt. Anyone who expressed dissatisfaction with the teaching or the life of constant exposure was humiliated even more. It was called “correction” and “light groups”, from the scriptures about speaking to one another in love and living in the light. They twisted the concept of speaking to one another in love. It was often taught us that true love was being willing to be hard on each other, accusing one another of sin, and “going after” each other until the sin was confessed. This consisted of taking the person in question into a room, and a group of others would accuse and harangue you until you broke down in tears. Often the victim would confess just in order to be left alone. We were taught that we could not possibly know ourselves as well as others could see us, so if I was accused of being in anger, even though I did not feel angry, they were “picking up the truth” about me, and I had to accept their accusation. The founders would often teach on this, that whatever anyone else “saw” about us, we had to accept in humility and accept that it must be true, even if we could not see it ourselves. So it was not a personal conviction of the Holy Spirit, but rather a teaching that we had to accept any accusation that was leveled against us. Anyone who dared to try to defend themselves, or to say that they just didn’t see the truth of what was being said, was additionally accused of stubbornness and rebellion.
They practiced separation from your children, allowing other people to have the say on how they were raised even if they lived with you. They took one of my children away from me and had him/her live for almost a year with a couple of older teenage girls. We had a broken relationship for a long time because of this, and have suffered immense grief from what they did to us. I was caught in the trap. The harm they have done to me and my family was extensive. They essentially broke up my marriage and drove my husband away. My children were savvy enough to know the place was wrong, and at the end of High School 2 of them left. My oldest lived there for a few years as a Sister, but once she got an experience outside of the Community of Jesus (CJ) at a Harp Camp, she realized how wrong they were also. I was the one that was brain-washed the most, and therefore stayed the longest. It took 2 years of intense emotional pain for me to get up the courage to leave. It has been 3 years now that I have been out. I have recovered a lot, but am still in therapy to work on my triggers and emotional patterns, and I still deal with fear of incurring their wrath and reprisals.
I was never happy there. In the early years I took this as the work I had to do to get free from my sin. In the later years I did my best to ignore my pain. We were taught that any problem we had was our own sin, so if I disagreed with some of the teachings or the leaders’ actions, it was sin in me. I had no idea what critical thinking was. I finally got to the point, after my family had left, and I was left alone with my inner life, that I decided that I could not go on living in such a depressed state. I had to figure out what was wrong with me. That began 2 years of intense emotional struggling, trying to resolve my inner conflict at the same time as trying to make my vowed life there work. It was cognitive dissonance to the hilt. In the Rule of the Community of Jesus it states that any member can request a Leave of Absence (LOA) if they feel they have a spiritual need that requires some time alone to work on. I requested this LOA 3 times, was denied all times, and the 3rd time I was told that I had to leave, the next day, on a bus to Boston. I was kicked out at 63 years old with only $1,000 in my pocket, a suitcase and a bus ticket. I was homeless, jobless and scared. Although it was a cruel and unloving thing to do to me, especially since I was not asking to leave but was trying to get help to resolve my conflicts, it turned out to be the best thing they could have done to me. It opened my eyes to the true nature of the teaching and life at the Community of Jesus. God has watched over me and guided me into a new life. I am learning now what true Christianity is about.

I always assumed that the Bible was the Word of God, but the founders and later leaders didn’t teach that directly. They would teach from the Bible sometimes, but mostly they would teach from their own personal revelation of how to apply some of the scriptures to daily living. That was their charisma. They were always talking about how to apply scripture to our daily living. The teaching was all centered on personal wrongness. The heart of man is wicked, there is no good in me, and we have to go through the cross daily in order to come out into resurrection life. So there was the promise of getting to resurrection life, but in my 40 years there I never experienced it. I had moments of joy and inspiration and revelation, but I never reached a place of living in the salvation and joy of what Jesus did for us. The teaching was completely centered on the fact that I was wrong all of the time. Even if I wasn’t wrong factually, I was wrong in my attitude. If I argued my innocence in any particular situation, that meant I was wrong, because no one was supposed to defend themselves. To say anything in your own defense was sin, even if it was the truth.

The Divinity of Jesus was held to be true. The Trinity was believed in, accepted. The Holy Spirit was the one spoken of the most. It was a contradictory teaching. We were supposed to be connected to the Holy Spirit in order to hear God speaking to us, but if what I heard was different from what the leaders heard, I had heard wrong, and had to go back and keep praying until I heard the same thing they did. We were told that if a group prayed together for guidance, if we were all “in the Spirit” we would all get the same word/guidance. If we didn’t agree, then someone wasn’t hearing the Holy Spirit. Instead of allowing for each member to hear a part of the whole, this made us all conform to what the leaders thought was right. It also encouraged me to distrust what I ‘heard’ until I found out whether or not it agreed with authority. If what I thought/felt/heard from God was not conforming, then I suppressed it out of fear.

Jesus died on the cross for us, but…. We also had to die on the cross daily. They took that one verse, “He who would come after me must pick up his cross and follow me” and added the word “daily” to it in all their teachings. They made it the mantra for our daily living. In everything we were to die to our own desires. What to have for breakfast, what kind of job we worked at, what to watch on TV, die, die, die. Let someone else make the choices. If it bothered me, then my self-will was too strong and I needed to die to it. Every household and the Convent had someone(s) in charge, and they were the ones who enforced the rules. This set up a desire in us all to be considered obedient and good enough to be put in charge so we could have a little more freedom to make choices, as simple as those choices might be. This reward/punishment atmosphere produced more compliance and obedience in us.

Bodily resurrection was believed in but there was an interesting twist. The leaders taught that because we had been “called” together, that we would continue to be together in heaven. The leader told me once that even those who had left would be back in the “fold” in heaven, because they had been called there. They said that the mansions in heaven were groups like ours, and that we were building our heavenly place now by loyalty to the Community of Jesus.

They believe in the return of Jesus. We went through a phase in the 70’s where we all bought wood stoves and food that was vacuumed packed, and learned about eating off the land, because they thought the end was coming soon. That has died down, but the mentality is still there that they will be a beacon of light in the darkness of the end times, that people will flock to them for safety, and that they will not suffer any harm because they are special. Again, this had a kernel of truth in it, because if we trust in God, He will be faithful to protect and guide us. But the leader once said to us that everyone else who was not living here at the Community of Jesus was “dead”, indicating that we had the truth of God, and no one else did.

Perhaps the biggest harm they do is in the extreme stress they put on obedience to human leaders (who speak for God) and therefore suppressing any critical thinking of the individual. My obedience was through fear and suppression, not freely given through an informed agreement.

Abuse and threats: Yes. There was a little bit of slapping and hitting in the early days, but once that got exposed in the Chronicle coverage, we were told to stop that. However, the verbal abuse continued and continues. Threats are used constantly. Some are big like; you will go to hell if you leave, and some are small like; you can’t watch your favorite sports program unless you stop arguing with people. A loaded language phrase was “coming under”. No matter who spoke what to us, we had to “come under” in our attitude and response. Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was sinning that way, I will confess my sin, etc., etc. In those last 2 years I was there, I was once accused of something so outrageous and immoral that I finally, for the first time, denied it and stood my ground. It was not true, and I was not going to let anyone say it was true. I went through hell for that. I was yelled at and repeatedly brought into the office for “light sessions” about my “sin” and the fact that I was so adamantly denying it made them think it had to be true. I stood my ground, and finally complained to the leader that it was not true and they would not leave me alone about it. This was the only time I actually “won” my case. She said OK, it wasn’t true, and to tell them to drop it. So I won my case that time, but it created a strain on my relationships with the sisters who I had to work with who had been involved in trying to get me to confess to something that was not true. To this day I believe that it was the leaqder that had told them to go after me about that. I believe this because I was party to her doing the same thing with other people. So there is a great deal of emotional abuse that goes on daily there. They don’t call it abuse, they call it training for heaven and dealing with sin, but it is not normal, it is extreme, and it is abuse. The cognitive suppression is also abuse. I was emotionally, intellectually and spiritually dying before I was finally able to leave. I was also suffering from extreme migraines brought on by the stress. I have not had a single one since I left.

Deprivation of sleep and nourishment both happen. Deprivation of sleep is used openly and is considered a legitimate and good way to train someone at anything. Excessive prayer vigil hours throughout the night are used to train you spiritually. Excessive practices in Band and Orchestra and Choir and Drama late into the night and then early the next morning are common. In the early days we were made to go on 40 day fasts. There was no choice, everyone had to do it. If you were caught cheating, you had to start the 40 days all over again. I witnessed this happening to several people. One year the fast was on grapes and water. I was so starved for nutrition that I ran home early from church to eat lettuce dipped in dressing. Another year it was bread and water. Some of us cheated and added cheese to the bread, and we were publicly yelled at and told to start the fast over again. Eventually I learned to self-medicate through food, and began to gain weight. After I became a sister in the Convent, I gained even more weight. I repeatedly asked for help to lose it, and was told, with disgust, that I should be able to control myself on my own and just eat less. This was indicative of all areas of need. If we had assimilated the concept of self-denial, we should be able to deal with any problems without help by just denying ourselves.
Even though we tirelessly worked on the upkeep of the grounds, in the offices, and on many projects, we were never praised or thanked for our work. I served in the Marching/Field Band for 30 years. I sustained injuries to my hip and knee and foot because they pushed us so hard. I finally had to retire from playing the keyboards in 2008 because I developed strains in my thumbs from the excessive practicing. I also could no longer march or do the strenuous exercises because of having strained/sprained my foot. I served an additional year as a coach, but even that proved to be too much for my foot, knee and hip, so I explained this and respectfully retired. I received a formal note from the Band leadership thanking me for my one year as a coach, but no mention of my 30 years as a playing member. I told the leader of the Community that this bothered me, that I felt my 30 years were totally ignored and un-appreciated. Her reply was “Well, who were you doing it for, yourself or God?” The clear message, and this was a part of the teachings, is that we do not deserve thanks for anything we do. It is all a duty to God, and much less than we should be giving.

One example of how Love was (not) lived at CJ and in the Band

The Community of Jesus has a Marching Band. We started out marching in parades on the street, 4th of July and such, and grew into a Field Show Band, like you see at football game half-time. Once we became a Field Band, we would go on tour every year, to perform at different venues.

During the Band tour in June of 2005, I kept a journal. One of the themes of the Band show was Love, and the next paragraph is my journal entry about that concept.

“LOVE: outgoing warmth. Requiring truth of others. Giving acceptance and understanding. Being available to others, and open. Being willing to work, put out effort for another. Directed towards God, it is obedience. Taking seriously what He has said, and giving thought, attention and effort to live it. ‘If you love me, obey my commandments’. Owning Truth and being Glad of it. Expressing the Joy of Truth.”

These thoughts of mine show that I am idealistic. If I and others had not been thwarted in expressing these ideas, we may have been able to build a truly Christian community. But in practice we followed the original teaching which was; “the truth about myself is that I am completely bad and don’t deserve anything good.” Because of my high idealism, I really tried to be loving and understanding of others. When the Band leader, for instance, and the other appointed leaders in Band, would yell at us about how selfish and uncaring we were, instead of waking up and seeing the difference in how they treated us and how we were trying to treat each other, and because of the teaching that we deserved to be yelled at, I accepted the castigations as proof that I was not reaching the goal. After cringing through the attacks, I would try all the harder to live a loving and sacrificial life.

Requiring truth of others is a dangerous concept. At CJ it meant that we had free license to be hard on each other in order to force the “truth” out. There was no sense of boundaries or of an individual’s right to choose what they shared about their inner self. This is the premise that the damaging light groups were based on. Light groups only stopped in name. Their practice continued throughout the years and was integrated into our way of life. Requiring truth of others meant brow-beating them until they confessed. Sometimes the confessions were truth and sometimes they were not, but in either case it was a situation of force, not love or caring help.

This style of life was still going on up to when I left, and I wish there was some way to expose it and bring an end to it. The leaders need to be held accountable for their brain-washing techniques, and the victims need help to wake up to how far from the teachings of Jesus CJ has strayed.