The following is a description by a second-generation woman who was brought up in the JFC and echoes the experience of many.
“How do you see God? The creator? A loving Father who welcomes you into his arms unconditionally? Are you created in his image? Or is he just a jolly Father Christmas type character? For me, he was a vindictive Ogre!
As a child growing up in the Jesus Army during the 1980s and 2000s I and most like me where subject to an environment where an unreachably high standard of moral, spiritual and behavioural expectations were set. I know now that even the highest placed Leaders couldn’t attain their own lofty standards but as a child I knew without doubt that failure to hit those marks meant one thing rejection. Rejection by the brethren, by the church and ultimately by God. This was my training, my understanding and my life.
Any rejection on any level meant banishment from God’s Kingdom – the Jesus Army. We all learned that Zion, the city on a hill is the only true church, that other Christians were lukewarm and worse than unbelievers! I was left in no doubt that all who fell short were destined for Hell.
All of which convinced this young child beyond any question that I had committed the unforgivable sin, had grieved the spirit, was destined for hell and there was nothing I could do about it. A terror that haunted me and remained deeply rooted until I finally found freedom and ‘lost my faith’.
We were taught that everything about us ‘body, soul and mind’ was fallen and evil. That only the Spirit within was sanctified and we as humans had no value in our own right. Natural skills and aptitude were rejected and reduced in value as “fleshly’ and “vain”. We were commanded by teaching to be fully reliant on God for all ministry, being set disciplines by other ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters’ often reacting naturally rather than spiritually themselves. How could we do anything else but fail? This has led to an intense self-hatred and an inability to see God as anything other than a rage filled monster who delights in my failure.
As a female I was viewed as inferior to men, which translated into God seeing me as inferior (even sub-human) too. My own Father was mostly absent due to grueling church commitments most evenings and weekends. Even my communication with God was not mine but was undertaken though Elders and Shepherds, giving no encouragement for a ‘personal relationship with God/Jesus’. The entire direction of my existence (love, life, education, career, food, sleep) came from men within the church nominated by the church as having dominion over me.
To leave the church was to leave God. It’s a simple teaching but with far from simple repercussions and so began 15 years of turmoil, fear, shame, guilt and confusion. We lived with a member of the Senior Leadership Team for my time in the church and he has heard my struggles and confusion ever since I left, offering no help or support, only the arrogance that is the luxury of the empowered and their dismissive platitudes that ‘God would cover it’. No remorse or sorrow shown.
My experience of growing up in the Jesus Army and the extreme spiritual abuse endured therein has damaged any relationship or faith I may have had in a God and made me very hardened and cynical towards religion”.