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SPECIAL REPORT


I BECAME A MORAL ROBOT ...


Source : 10/10/1984 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

On the fateful day a man finally broke his ties with the Jesus Fellowship, one elder forcibly tried to prevent him closing his car door and driving away into the outside world.

'It was as if he were trying to prevent a burglar driving off with the loot,' said the man.

The reason for the action by the elder was that the man had carried out sociological research on the community and he wanted to take his confidential notes with him.

'I felt I was the only person entitled to possess the information and I was determined to take what was, after all, my own property,' he added.

The breakaway by the man, now 27, and happily married, signalled the end of a remarkable period in his young life and the beginning of a new era for him.

A life that had seemed full of promise when he won a scholarship to Eton; a life that went sour when he turned to drugs and 'dropped out'; a life that brought him into contact with the Jesus People where he rose to become a House-hold Elder; a life of love for another community member; and a life when he finally realised he had become what he called a 'moral robot'.

His story, told in quiet, reserved tones, sitting in the lounge of the London inner city house where he now lives, is a chilling tale, that begins at the firmly established school of Eton.

'I loved my first years there but somewhere along the line, the rot set in,' he said.

The rot was him flirting with the use of the drug LSD - 'a devastating nightmare from which I feared there would be no recovery'.

In the end, he had to leave Eton, and after specialist treatment, found a job in the Civil Service, returned to a College of Further Education, worked in a Home and Garden Centre and then accepted the opportunity to begin a social science course at the University of Kent based in Canterbury.

While at the university, he became actively involved with the Christian Union where he met a young girl who was the first to tell him about the Jesus Fellowship.

'I was determined to go and find out the truth for myself and in my first visit I was very impressed by the industry and simplicity of lifestyle which the members displayed,' he said.

In fact, he stayed over the weekend and said: 'I returned to Canterbury assured that I had just spent a couple of days with a sincere company of believers.'

Community members encouraged him to return and he did so in the summer of 1977 when he asked two important questions: 'If I join the community will I be allowed to continue my university course - and, will I be allowed to get married?'

He said: 'I was assured I would be allowed to continue my university course and was also told that if it seemed right for me to get married at some future point then no-one would object.'

He added: 'After several weeks of formal residence within the community I was baptised by full immersion in water. I was also aware that at 20 years of age I was making a pledge of community membership which was lifelong.'

But the storm clouds were soon to gather over the man's involvement with the community. An elder was appointed to oversee him and 'I had to seek permission for almost every move I made.'

Senior elder Mr. David Hawker commented: 'It sounds from this as if he was not free to make his own decisions. This is, of course, untrue. Elders in the church give advice and guidance, but do not forcibly impose their will on anyone.'

One problem was the man's course at University. 'When I returned to the community after my first week back at university, the Elder was adamant that I would need to leave. He was even unhappy about me returning in the same car as the woman to wind things up and gave me 5 and instructed me to travel by train. I was very confused and eventually a more senior Elder intervened,' said the man.

In his third year at Canterbury, he started to fall in love with a young woman he had helped lead into the community. He was 22 at the time and confided his feelings to Elders.

By the summer of 1980, he was still in love and talked with the girl's Elder about his feelings for her. 'He told me that I should leave it for a year and if I still felt the same way, then he would consider the initiation of courtship,' said the man.

And by the winter months of the same year the man began to have doubts about his life in the community.

He said: 'I was aware that I had somehow been persuaded to take on board actions and attitudes which were totally against my innermost convictions as a person and as a Christian. For instance, I had become suspicious of other Christians - an attitude which, if not positively encouraged in the community, is implicit in so much of its teaching. In fact, I realised what a moral robot I had become.'

Mr. Hawker commented: ' If the man's attitude towards the other Christians was wrong, he should answer to his own conscience and not blame the community.'

Despite his misgivings, the man was appointed a junior Elder in January, 1981 and for a time the suspicions about community life disappeared.

But within a couple of months they had resurfaced with his love for his fellow community member at the heart of the problem.

In March, he asked the young woman's Elder if the time was ripe to begin a relationship with her 'as at the end of the year I would be 25 and had waited reasonably patiently for two-and-a-half years already,' he said.

A month later her Elder said he felt confident a relationship should begin but within a few days he changed his mind. 'I felt like a helpless rag doll being torn in two directions,' he said.

It was at this stage that the man claims Mr. Stanton intervened.

'The cowardly way in which the whole affair had been handled left me with numb realisation that I no longer had any basis on which I could trust the leadership,' said the man.

Mr. Hawker said: 'It is sad that the man is now expressing apparent bitterness over this affair. Mistakes may well have been made, but there was never any malice intended. In fact he would have married eventually. As it was, he took matters into his own hands and left.'

The man got over the heartache - but began to look at his involvement with the community more closely.

On September 31, he took a British Airways flight to Tel Aviv - 'a flight to freedom,' he said. But Mr. Hawker emphasised that the Fellowship paid his fare for the flight in full.

While he was away, he wrote to Mr. Stanton making it clear that he had no intention of returning as a committed community member, but 'pleaded' not to be regarded as an enemy.

In January, 1982, he returned to Stockton House in Warwickshire to collect his personal belongings, a scene which ended in near farce with an Elder hanging on to his car door as he drove off.

Mr. Hawker commented: 'It should be noted that, in spite of now being in a position of Christian leadership, the man has, over the past 18 months, rejected repeated attempts at reconciliation with the Jesus Fellowship. We find it strange that a Christian man should choose to attack his fellow Christians in this way and refuse to respect Church confidences. Jesus taught forgiveness, and we have no wish to retaliate in a similar way.