Source : 21/10/1982 Northampton Chronicle and Echo
RE the Jesus People and the 'group family syndrome'.
The rapid expansion of any organisation which develops like an upside-down pyramid, as is the case with the Jesus People, the apex of which is a hitherto modest village Baptist church, and the acquisition in a remarkably short space of time of substantial property holding, together with considerable commercial interests in building, farming and retail business is unlikely to be achieved except by a registered charity (which perhaps the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust may well be) with a common fund to which the wage-earning member contributes if not all of his pay packet, certainly a high proportion.
In 1970-71 my firm employed two young wood-working craftsmen who were active members of the Fellowship.
They were good craftsmen, well provided with tools of the trade, presumably by the Fellowship, and conscientious workers, excepting for their somewhat arrogant attitude expressing an absolute conviction that they had discovered the Way - and that Community activities must always take priority over the exigencies of their terms of employment, so that when hours of work and working away from base in any way interfered with their duties relative to the Fellowship they could not co-operate.
Payment of wages also caused some difficulty; the junior member would hand over his pay packet unopened to the senior (which rather bears out my reference to contributing to a common fund), so that checking the contents and obtaining a signature for their receipt was something of a problem.
Your leader of October 2 expresses cause for concern in many aspects of the Fellowship's teaching, but it is very likely that the organisation is for some of its members primarily a refuge and a haven from present day society, with which they are unable to cope, and which, in many respects, is the root cause of the growth of communes generally, some without any religious overtones whatsoever.
The degree to which individual members of the Bugbrooke Community truly 'devote themselves to Christ' is known only to the person concerned, and cannot be measured or evaluated except by God, who alone can see into the hearts and minds of mankind.
Paul Johnson writing in the Observer on October 10 pointed out that during the 1960's one of the most important and costly illusions to be developed during that decade was the notion that the family was the enemy of social content and that it could and should be dispensed with, and that unfortunately this fallacy was not confined to academics but was quite rapidly translated into social welfare policy and legal rulings.
Thus a basic institution which hitherto with a voluntary organised religion and a far less involved State, for generations exercised the necessary restraint to the passions and supplemented our shortcomings, has been progressively undermined almost to impotence, and deprived of its authority.
The family and the State are not, as Sir Edmund Leach maintains, (Reith lecture 1967) competing welfare systems. The State is quite unable emotionally to come to the rescue of inadequate individuals who, having no longer personal family solidarity to look to, turn inevitably to a group family strength for comfort and protection.
In Paul Johnson's view, family, Church and State are complementary institutions, both of control and of charity, and the idea society rests upon the tripod of a strong family, a voluntary Church and a liberal minimum State, the family being the most important leg of this tripod.
If this balance is ever again restored, and its erosion by legal authority has been such that it is very doubtful that it can be, then, and only then, will we begin to see the decline of the group family syndrome.
There is little doubt that the Jesus Fellowship presents itself as a group family organisation, providing protection, comfort and the essentials of day-to-day existence, both physical and spiritual, to its adherents.
Obviously substantial funds are necessary to maintain such a family and to what extent its members deny themselves the 'luxuries of life' as part of their commitment must be relative; and is not the phrase 'living on a pittance' somewhat meaningless where all is provided?
I do not wish to appear as supporting the Jesus People philosophy, but nevertheless it cannot be denied that the Fellowship does made a positive contribution to good order and propriety and that the burden of responsibility it assumes for the less secure of its members would otherwise lie with the State.