Source : 30/09/1982 Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Despite the length of your enquiry into the Jesus Fellowship it has barely scratched the surface of this immensely complex subject, with all its worrying psychological, sociological and financial implications.
Their leader Mr. Stanton and their busy publicity officer Mr. Hawker have been afforded much space to put across their simplistic, but very cleverly planned presentation of a sharing Christian community, and they seem to expect to be believed without question because they are 'religious'.
There are many honest, caring people from this area and further afield who have disturbing personal experience of the Fellowship, and who would testify to a very different 'understanding of the truth'. They are, however, inhibited by threats of libel writs and injunctions which, like other controversial sects, the Jesus Fellowship has not been slow to use. Neither is publishing evidence available from ex-members who often seem disturbed and unwilling to talk of their experience; parents like-wise are terrified to do so, for fear of breaking an already tenuous link with their children.
No-one would dispute the help given to much publicised drug addicts and others from disturbed backgrounds. Some local people have no doubt experienced acts of kindness from gentle, ordinary members of the Fellowship, many of whom live outside the community and were already practising Christians before being 'converted' to Mr. Stanton's way of thinking. But their 'caring' does not prove that all is well in those areas of concern which have been glossed over in the Chronicle and Echo report.
Questions frequently arise about the charitable status (if any) of their large housing association, about their ability to undercut local traders with the aid of a free work force and about their unsubstantiated claims of handing back the money and property of members who wish to leave.
Of great concern too, are the civil liberties of children born into the 'community' or taken in by their parents, and there is worrying evidence of young people well under the age of 18 spending much of their time with the Fellowship. The question of indoctrination, which is at the heart of the debate, is far too complicated to cover in the letters column, but one must not ignore the dangers of the rapid effect and immense power of group pressure to conform in an authoritarian environment, largely and effectively isolated from outside influences.
I also hear fears expressed regarding the number of Fellowship members in positions to influence vulnerable minds - doctors, nurses, teachers, lecturers, social workers, solicitors etc.
Controversial groups are full of members eager to testify their happiness, and no doubt some have found an 'escape route' from the pressures of life and the necessity of making decisions, but if everything is so perfect, why does this community cause so much fear and suspicion? There are so many others which attract no criticism at all.
Are they not willing to share God's message with all us sinners?
Perhaps the most teling point in the whole series is Mr. Hawkers refusal to disclose the whereabouts of their PUBLIC meetings! Apart from stopping youngsters on the streets, the fellowship is active in universities and colleges all over the country, under a Baptist cloak - in Oxford, Leicester, Warwick, Coventry, Rugby, Manchester and Birmingham, where they hold regular meetings under the title 'New Life'.
Because of my knowledge of the Jesus Fellowship since its birth and because of close witness of a once happy family being torn apart by a different sect, I joined F.A.I.R. (Family, Action, Information and Rescue), a national organisation about to gain charitable status, and which offers support, literature and counselling to parents of young people involved in 'new religious' sects. I became very aware of the amazing similarities in these groups, whatever their beliefs, in many areas which cause the most concern. My work has brought me into contact with many tragic families, including several of those mentioned in the Chronicle and Echo and there is a noticeable thread running through accounts of church leaders and of those parents who question, not their child's commitment to Christ, but a doctrinaire 'New Family'. A well-defined pattern of alienation recurs over and over again.
It is very easy to criticise any church, and there are deficiencies in most, but we do well to be vigilant. I would be glad to offer support, literature and information to anyone concerned. Alternatively you may care to contact Mr. Paul Rose, who as Labour MP, founded F.A.I.R., in response to enquiries from worried parents of Moonies, and who has recently been selected as SDP candidate for Northampton South.