Why I left the Jesus Army
When my husband and I left the Jesus Army, I was 31, having joined the church when I was 16 years old with my mum and my siblings. Although I had no choice in joining the church, I did in fact get baptised and move into community of my own free will at 18.
I had gotten to my lowest point both physically and emotionally, whilst living at the community house with my husband, with two young children, often being up in the night tending to a crying baby and then being told I must be in the kitchen by 9am to start peeling several tons of potatoes etc the next day whilst tending to my children and being so unbelievably tired. I had a husband who was unhappy and often in disagreement with the leader of the house which impacted on both of us as the Celibate women of the household showed their disapproval of us and so I felt very alone.
Probably the worst example of that disapproval was the Dedication of my baby son in 1995. As my family stood in the centre of the room, hopeful and expecting a wonderful welcome for my baby, we were bombarded with probably the worst criticism and negative comments I have ever been faced with. It cut me to the heart and had nothing to do with bringing my baby boy to God and welcoming him into God’s family. I was crushed beyond measure, as person after person took the opportunity to say what they had on their minds about my husband and I. I remember rushing out of the room and crying and crying and feeling that my baby was not accepted into the community family. It broke my heart. One of the Elders came out to comfort me, saying that it was disgusting and should not have happened. Even now I still find it baffling and hurtful thinking back and just writing this.
Some examples of reasons why we felt we had no choice but to leave the Church:
Both my husband and I had real problems with the attitudes of members of the church about certain issues that were arising at that time. When E was taken to court for molesting a minor, neither the girl, nor her family were believed to be telling the truth. I saw her parents – wonderful, faithful people disbelieved and turned against by the church and it was heart breaking to witness. I remember leaders including Noel demanding that another young girl –who had witnessed E’s sexual advances towards the girl being told not go to court to witness against E even though she knew the truth. I found all this disturbing as it was clearly a cover up for E’s misdemeanours by the church and an attitude of ‘You do not take your brother to court’.
We knew about a married Elder secretly meeting with a young 15 year old girl and doing sexual things with her. I remember hearing that Noel adamantly told the elder of our house that nothing must be done about it – yet another cover up. This was particularly disturbing to my husband and I because we knew of another young women that had been preyed upon by the Elder in question – a man we saw weekly, standing at the front of the stage ‘praising the Lord’ looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. We started to feel that something really dark was happening within the church that we wanted no part of.
There were other stories of predatory ‘leaders’ who behaved in an unchristian way towards girls, boys and women all of which lead me to fear for my own young children.
We heard that A had been sexually molesting a young boy for some time and this particularly disturbed us as there seemed to be nothing done about this – in fact there was silence about it. It was outrageous to us that the leadership not only didn’t throw him out of the church, but didn’t hand him into the police for his crimes. I still remember my brother, a teenager at the time and a friend of the boy jumping onto A at a meeting at Spinney Hill in Northampton trying to punch him for what he had done. Again nobody asked my brother why he had tried to beat A up and nothing more was said about the rumours.
We felt more and more that the church was not a safe place to bring up our children and a deep-rooted fear that the leadership would never acknowledge the seriousness of these crimes put us in a huge quandary. I began to feel very depressed. Partly because I felt my life was spiralling out of my control with everything revolving around endless house work at the community house we lived at, attending one meeting or another almost every single day, and a feeling that I was not a good mother to my young children and was not giving them what they needed because of a lack of time to ‘just be’ but more importantly I no longer felt safe within the church and I became fearful of what was happening around me and the impact it would have on my children. My husband and I made the decision to leave the Church after many tears and questioning because we felt we had no alternative.
Leaving Community was a painful and lonely time for me. I felt ostracized for making the decision to leave. Unfortunately, people that I had considered to be long term, trusted friends dropped away from me, not wishing to be associated with me any more and I felt desperately alone. I felt that God hated me and did not want me and nor did His people. I also felt let down by the leadership of the church for not protecting children and for hiding gross misdemeanours of men in power and leadership.
Those first few months of living alone in our little rented house were incredibly difficult. We struggled to pay electric, gas and rent bills, and never had enough money to buy new clothes for the children as they grew out of everything and ran out of money for necessities like nappies. We could not afford heating bills and even turned the central heating off during the day in the winter to help us afford the gas bill. It meant that our house was often freezing because of our fear of getting into debt. The only income we had was what my husband earned, which was low paid, when he managed to get a job soon after we left the church.
Although I had a 3 year old and a 1 year old baby, I had no choice but to find work in the evenings when my babies were asleep in bed to make ends meet. This was exhausting and added to my depression as I felt I wasn’t coping. Having benefited from the use of the fellowship’s cars for some years, it was incredibly difficult to adjust to walking for miles with a toddler and a baby, loaded up with shopping on a pram too, and though a car might be seen as a luxury, it was very hard to be without one.
I feel strongly that we fell into financial hardship and poverty as a direct result of feeling we had no option but to leave as we saw such distressing and horrific things happening in the Church.
Before getting married and starting a family, I worked in a Fellowship business for 11 years. I was a hardworking and talented person – often attaining more sales than many of my counterparts, and I enjoyed the buzz of making those sales, and excelling in customer service. I gave all my wages in willingly, knowing that I was benefiting from the fact that all my bills were paid living in community. I never begrudged that. However, when we left the church, I felt we were abandoned by the church, both financially and in support and love. You might consider £2500 a lot of money to give a family of 4 but it hardly covered the cost of renting a property or buying the essentials that one needs with 2 children. Both my husband and I worked faithfully in Fellowship businesses, rarely taking breaks of sickness – we left the Church with no pension, no savings, no bank accounts – ( banks did not want to know us) no car, no financial acumen and the fear of debt looming over us. I do not believe any of this would have happened if we had not been compelled to leave the church and it was a dark and scary time for us as a young family.
Some particularly painful memories:
Finding out that a particular Elder from the Farm warned a single brother not ‘go near me’ with a view to marriage as I was “damaged goods” because I came from a one parent family. This phrase has stayed with me for the whole of my life. I have always felt I will never be ‘good enough’, ‘loveable enough’, ‘acceptable enough’. It ruined my self-esteem, and I suspect has played a part in my choice of partner. Now – years later with two grown up children, I realise what a disgusting, prejudiced thing to say about any young woman, but back then I felt nothing but deep shame on hearing those words.
Two weeks before my wedding an Elder turned on me for no reason at all, except that he could. This was done in the presence of another Elder). He denounced me, he denounced the man I was about to marry shouting in my face “Your relationship with (my then husband to be) is not of God and never will be” – He continued to throw all manner of reasons why I was doing the wrong thing going ahead with my wedding – bearing in mind invitations had been sent out at this point in time. I was left absolutely distraught because this leader had declared that nothing good would come of my marriage. He had been nothing but supportive up till that particular day and I could not comprehend why he would say such terrible things to me leading up to my wedding day.
I left the community house I lived at for two weeks to stay with my friend at another community house as I was so traumatised by the Elder’s behaviour towards me. I still remember the other Elder just standing there silently doing nothing to stop him. I had nobody to defend me, or stop him. Looking back, I now know that it was bullying in the worst possible way. I married my husband feeling that the leader I looked up to did not approve of my choice, and that God would not bless me or my marriage. This experience severely affected my confidence in taking what was a huge step for me, and later, when we experienced issues in our marriage a feeling of utter failure – as I felt I was cursed by the Elder right from the start.
Before I got married when I was 19, a young man fell in love with me, and decided to hound me soon after he realised that the feeling was not mutual. This continued for several months until I moved to a different community house to get away from him. He often turned up drunk demanding to talk to me, breaking windows, smashing cars and declaring his love for me and his desire to marry me. This was a frightening time for me as he followed me to my place of work many times, turning up and causing trouble at Sunday meetings and trying to contact me over the phone. I lived in fear for some time, even going into hiding for two weeks just to get away from him. Why he was welcomed by the church during this time when he behaved in this erratic, aggressive and obsessive way is beyond my understanding. I did not feel protected from him by the leaders of the church, and he was never banned or removed from meetings.
I would cry with fear, whenever he was present at a meeting – seeing him ‘worshiping the Lord’ one minute, and then running down an aisle towards me screaming in my face in a psychotic fashion the next. The fact that the church did not protect me as a vulnerable young woman, and continued to invite the man to meetings, and even allow him to take covenant and be baptised is unbelievable to me now. I was a young girl that was reliant on the leaders to protect me from this man but it did not happen and I was let down badly.
I became exhausted by the endless harassment from this guy and became very low, not able to sleep, often anxious and unable to settle, becoming increasingly unhappy living at the community house I was part of. I believe I was suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder now, although this was not diagnosed by a doctor at the time and I went onto sleeping pills. My shepherd was extremely stressed out by his responsibilities and I found it too difficult to talk to him. None of this helped my wellbeing, and I became constantly anxious, as I continued to be terrorised by my stalker. Not once did any of the leadership prevent him from getting to me both physically nor did they involve the police.
Perhaps the most traumatic thing to happen to me was when I decided to go and stay with my uncle and aunt for a few days when I felt at the end of my tether from being followed and harassed by this man, and feeling that my shepherd wasn’t really listening.
I spent a week with my uncle trying to calm myself down and rest, and when he encouraged me to go to the nearest community house – even thought he was not a Christian which was a house on the South coast and perhaps get an opportunity to talk through my problems with someone there I decided to do this. I arrived to find out that a Senior Leader and his wife had also arrived for a ‘holiday’, and I remember noticing the annoyed look on the leader’s face when he saw me. Clearly he had not expected me to be there and was not pleased.
I spent a few days at the house mixing in with the small household there, mucking in with house work etc, and waited for the Elder of the household to find the time to talk to me. The visiting leader did not speak to me at all, considering there were so few people in the household. I remember feeling nervous and intimidated by his presence, and I was very quiet.
I waited to have a talk all week, and near the end of that week I was called me into a room. The visiting leader was in the room with him but the Elder of the house did not speak at all. Then began a tirade of abuse at me from the visiting leader, telling me he had never liked me, that I was there at this community house for all the wrong reasons and that I was making up how low I felt. He abused me in a disgusting, aggressive and frightening way. Something I had never experienced before or since. I’m sure he felt justified to say all those things to me, however he did not know me, he had barely said two words to me ever, he did not know any details about the traumas I had been going through or the desperation I felt inside. He did not allow me to speak at all, although I remember interjecting him with “How can you say those things about me and “But you don’t know me!” through hysterical crying. I still remember the shock, like I was being punched in the stomach as he denied me a chance to tell him the truth about who I was, what I felt inside etc.
When he had finished he dismissed me, and said I had to go home the next day. All I remember of the rest of that night was sobbing hysterically, and wanting to kill myself. I have never, ever felt anything like it – not before or since that night. I was a 19 year old girl – and that man treated me with absolute distain. He made me feel worthless, like I deserved no love or understanding or the right to be heard.
I was so distraught that night that I thought I had to kill myself because I had no right to be alive. That leader made me feel like that. It is something I cannot forgive him for, and though I thank God that I didn’t go through with it, I have never forgotten that experience. It is something I could not share with anyone for a very long time because felt so ashamed that a man in authority in that church had the power to make me feel I was utterly worthless. It was cold, callous and destroyed me. When I look into my wonderful daughter’s eyes I cannot bear the thought that a man who is a leader in that church could have the power to destroy her with his words and behaviour. I was that girl.
I believe he will have forgotten that day. He probably had no interest in me after that day and he will have no idea of the devastation he caused me when he inflicted that character assassination on me. I am not a bitter person, but I cannot forget what he did to me, having no clue how fragile I was as a vulnerable young woman that just needed a listening ear. He mistreated me shamelessly, and used his authority as a man and Elder of the church in the worst possible way and the Elder of that house allowed him to.
I am not that young woman now but I have the scars from that day. The very thought of him doing and saying such words make me hate him beyond any hate I have for anyone in that church because I was that young girl and so completely defenceless.
I feel that I am one of the lucky ones though. I have had a good life, with much happiness despite horrible things happening to me, and I am grateful for friends and family around me.
There is life outside of the Jesus Army!!! It’s good, and it’s fulfilling and I’m still experiencing new things that make me smile and laugh every day.