Abusive controlling culture

The following statements are extracts from the original Truth Document that describe a part of the Jesus Fellowship culture that controlled and abused.

The experiences following the statements were compiled by Erin Woodger and are just the tip of the iceberg for what many people within the Jesus Fellowship experienced.

  • Were rules like not allowing children to have toys or to enjoy playing harmful or just wacky? – They were incredibly damaging to peoples development, even in later life not being able to relax or know how to play with their kids. Adults confiscated gifts, destroyed and broke toys in front of their children, to teach them what they should have or desire.
  • Did adults and parents prevent children from socialising with any children outside the JFC e.g. in school, and pull them out of every extra curricular activity, from Chinese New Year Assemblies to school trips? – Yes, which further ostracised children from their peers and resulted in social exclusion. This was all designed to stop them learning to question Noel.
  • Did adults sometimes try and cast demons out of children and young people, who exhibited misbehaviour, distress, grief, or what was seen as lust? – Yes.
  • Did Leaders take authority away from parents, particularly single parents, by insisting they be in submission to the Church, and insisting that all children address all baptised members as Brother and Sister, and demonstrate absolute deference? – Yes
  • Did this enable a culture in which paedophiles could thrive? – Yes, Children were left vulnerable and often made to sleep in dormitories with very potentially very dangerous adults.
  • Did Noel exhibit all the signs and actions of a leader of a cult? – Yes, he had absolute authority and could not be questioned and claimed to be a prophet who spoke the word of God.
  • Were senior leaders like Noel shouting and screaming at people who wanted to leave and telling them they are going to hell just over enthusiasm and passion or incredibly damaging? – Yes, this has caused lasting damage and left people feeling like they are still ‘under judgement’ for leaving the JFC
  • Was the fact that taking any holidays, rest and downtime was deemed wrong, a way of control? – Yes, people to this day feel guilty at taking any holidays, even years after leaving the JFC.
  • Was the relating procedure a way of trying to retain purity or used as a method of controlling relationships? – Having women offered up as ‘available’ in elders meetings ensured men viewed women as property with shepherds and then husbands controlling the relationship. People were told if, when (and sometimes to whom) they could get married. Lack of time spent together before marriage resulted in many rocky relationships and if you married without the blessing of the Church, it was destined to fail.
  • Were teachings like ‘married couples should have separate beds’ actually enforced? – Yes, a newly made elder who insisted on sharing a bed with his newly wed wife was chastised in front of others by Noel and told if he persisted in this disgraceful action he would be considered unsuitably for Eldership.
  • Was the busy structure and regime of every day of every week just good organization or another form of control? – Keeping everyone exhausted and pre-occupied in activities ensured they didn’t question anything. There was no time to develop a personal relationship with God. Doctrine was repeated on a regular basis with members being told how to feel and think.
  • Was the teaching about being Zion a city on a hill healthy? – No, it is symptomatic of a controlling cult, we are special and God has chosen us as better and more enlightened than other Christians. The lifestyle was considered a higher way and other Christians scorned for their weak lukewarm beliefs.
  • Was use of old testament words like Zion and Israel, mixed with new testament and other words, part of creating a vocabulary and framework that contained its own rules? – Yes, this was all part of Noel creating a separated people who were totally under his control. This way of framing the world and creating control via insular language is consistently practiced in cults. It means that challenges to its thinking can be more easily denounced, as there’s no frame of reference (terms) with which to challenge the status quo.
  • Is it true natural talents were considered fleshly and was that wrong? – Yes, people were advised to deny what they were naturally good at or enjoyed and to trust in God and the leaders alone. This destroyed who they are as people, crushing the joy and limited people’s personality and self-belief.
  • Was education and gaining certain professions, specialisations or careers discouraged? – Yes, you were encouraged to give this up to the cause, and had to check decisions like this out with the ruling authority. Women especially were expected not to achieve or excel, and interest in the arts (drama, dance, visual, music) for its own sake, was viewed with suspicion.
  • Did the Hierarchy stand in the way of a personal relationship with God? – Yes, you were not allowed to question the teachings and it was all about the body, the church, having a personal relationship with God was evangelical Christianity and to be avoided. Critical thinking, vocalisation of doubts and questioning was completely discouraged.
  • Why was Celibacy promoted so much and was it balanced? – Noel hated people getting married as they would be able to give less to the cause, guilting and emotionally persuading people to live as celibate from as young as 18 caused heartache and the feeling of failure when they couldn’t live up to it. It was well known that Noel felt that a woman would take a man away from God if they got married.
  • Was making Covenant a good thing? – No, Noel twisted making a vow of covenant to ensure people felt they couldn’t question or leave; this is systematic of a cult organization. And people still suffer from the abuse and curses they were given because of breaking covenant.
  • Is pleasure and enjoyment really sinful? – No, the JFC taught you should live a life of simplicity (at times poverty and extreme self denial) and that all pleasure is sinful, this has skewed people’s ability to enjoy even simple pleasures now.Was disassociating with / disconnecting from your natural family just a way of being committed to the JFC? No, it broke family relationships for years and was a further measure of control, spending time with family outside of the community could result in questions being asked and you questioning the leadership.
  • Was it right to be told to Rejoice in persecution? – No, the main group of people who suffered persecution were the children at school, telling someone to rejoice in being shunned and bullied is abuse and only compounds the situation.
  • Was there a lack of privacy and having personal space – physical or mental? – Yes, particularly impactful on developing children and young adults. Even going for a solitary walk or being alone for too long in a room was frowned on and discouraged. And people continually urged to ‘share their heart’.
  • Were the sexes separated in an unusually rigorous way? – Yes, and young boys and girls were followed, monitored and scrutinised if they looked at each other or chatted or laughed in ways that might be construed as too enjoyable or even flirting, in the name of maintaining ‘Holy Segregation’. Girls, again, were especially viewed with suspicion. Did this protect them from abuse? Apparently not.
  • Did the JFC’s statement of faith and practice reflect the actual beliefs of the church? – No, the statement of faith states the church believes in “justification by faith” whereas the beliefs taught were far more “justification by works” Bourne out by the many many rules and discipline meted out including not being able to be a member of Gods kingdom of you wore a leather jacket.
  • If this is true, why did Noel produce the statement of faith and practice? – This was to hand out to enquiring Christian organisations to lesson the impact of the extreme teachings and control mechanisms.
  • Did Noel make subtle changes to traditional hymns written by the likes of John Newton? – Yes, he would change the slant and meaning but leave the authors name so people thought what he taught must be inline with ‘normal’ Christian doctrine.

Survivor A: “This is all SO true and I can substantiate every claim, with a slight caveat that I was expected to have a personal relationship with God so that I could “bring words”, “lead others” etc but without having the time to develop it or the freedom to question and study either the bible or other theological texts.”

Survivor B: “Did Noel deceive people by teaching themes backed by mainstream Christian magazines a month or so later, thereby claiming he was Holy Spirit led and God’s chosen mouthpiece. Yes! He was on the printers mailing list and received his copy of those magazines four/five weeks before they were published. He was no prophet but a clever liar.”

Survivor C: “I recognise some of this, perhaps more than I’d like to. Some uncomfortable reading there that brings back painful memories.

It is important to stress that all of the above was not standard practice in every household. As an aside the doctrine of mass guilt for individual crimes is odious and unjust – not saying it’s at work here, just thought it needed reiterating.”

Survivor D: “ALL true. Sick sick place. So dangerous to children and vulnerable adults. I wouldn’t even put on here some of the stuff I was exposed to. I have no doubt that my parents wanted to and tried to keep me safe but it was impossible in such a toxic environment with controlling psychopaths in charge. When I did report things my parents were not told. The church also ensured that my relationship with my parents was non-existent by always keeping them busy with other needy people. This meant when I needed them they weren’t there. This is not their fault. I cannot believe that some people still think that it was the parents responsibility.”

Survivor E: “I can say yes to all of those points. And even though I’m not entirely convinced all the points were always done with the intention of misleading or controlling that was definitely the end result. The main concern for me is when anything was highlighted as wrong, people were outspoken or actual abuse happened people were slated as ‘damaging the kingdom’ and acts were covered up. This was pure evil.”

Survivor F: “I saw the following words written in a leader’s bible “treat all complaints as from the devil”.”

Survivor G: “When I questioned the errors and control, I was told I was backsliding and losing my covenant heart.”

Survivor H: “I can confirm that this was completely true of the houses I was associated with.”

Survivor I: “I remember after a celebates meeting at Cornhill Noel had asked the celebates there to go home and ask any families to dedicate one of their children to celebacy. How would that be a calling from God on their life? Haha they asked us and we refused.”

Survivor J: “I can confirm every statement made in these posts and more besides.”

Survivor K: “Noels emphasis on celibacy started after a leader who analysed the common purse realised that single members were more profitable that families. It was also a good teaching to cover up his own sexuality and evolve a celibacy celebrity status. One senior celibate elder who changed his mind years later was refused a community wedding, ostracised by fellow long standing brothers, and removed from his important ministry in the church. As with the covenant if the church wants to move forward it needs to be scrapped.”

Survivor L: It’s even things like NEVER receiving a birthday present. This may seem insignificant but to a child it is hugely damaging and neglectful. I grew up presuming I wasn’t worth anything to anyone. I now work primarily in child protection and fight for children who are suffering similar neglect.”

Survivor M: “Each point regarding children I can confirm were facts of life for me as a child born then living till 7yrs old within the JA household. They were the rules enforced and the life I knew as ‘normal’. Only now, as an adult, am I beginning to understand just how wrong and damaging they were.”

Survivor N: “Celibacy was rigorously promoted and relationships controlled to an extreme level. One lunch time, I was taken from my JA place of work, without warning and without being asked if I wanted to go, to spend an afternoon with two senior elders (two of the twelve – weren’t they called covering authority elders or something like that?). They talked at me, shouted at me and prayed over me for several hours. One of them specifically said that my desire to be married was ‘inherited sin from my mother’. When they finally realised I would not be moved, I was kind of dismissed with the words ‘the JA would not lower its standards for the likes of me’. They relented and allowed us to begin a relationship, but about a week in we discovered they had lied to us both! We made the decision to leave the JA at that point. This year we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and in the last couple of years those two senior elders have had quite spectacular falls from grace. It turns out their own personal standards were not quite up to the mark.”

Survivor O: “What really makes me angry is that is doesn’t matter to me – we refused to be controlled and followed our own path – but I have heard other stories over the years of other couples who were deliberately lied to or not informed of another person’s interest in them, and this impacted on whether or not they actually got married!”

Survivor P: “As a single mother of I can confirm all of these points. Though on entering the church I was inspired by the teaching and believed we were all working to build the church and did not mind living simply so we could give to others but in the end I was so demoralised that non of the teaching in the community seemed to include me as a single mother and I left feeling I had no place. I’m very glad now that I did.”

Survivor Q: “I know of someone who recently got married this year (2018) after years of longing and looking and not being told of men’s requests to “get to know her” she thought all these years that no one wanted her when in fact she was never told as it would have been “disastrous for her to get married” in the elders opinion. I hope this person now finds enough love and fulfilment to erase her many years of heart ache. Our family lived with this person back in the 80’s when she wanted to get married.”

Survivor R: “They tried to push celibacy on me despite someone bringing a word over me, many, many years previously, before I even joined the JA, declaring I was to be married.”

Survivor S: “There’s a contradiction between free will and personal prophetic revelation that is largely ignored.
I couldn’t wait for “ministry for ministries”, duly received a list of assorted words/destinations that to this day I don’t know which were correct and which soulish nonsense, some of which I presume were false because I see no sign of them after over 30 years have passed and some of which tied me in knots and almost certainly helped to wreck any chance of forward progress as I ran around in circles assuming my future direction/purpose was other than the one that transpired. I was way too emotionally unstable for the church when I was around, not in terms of outbursts, just from being unable to stick at anything for long before I was bored to tears and miserable (a lifelong problem for me). You can imagine some of the vile words that were thrown in my direction. They did as much damage as you’d expect in a troubled, young man with deep emotional issues, zero confidence and a wide open and inherently trusting heart. There’s a person, long gone from the church, the mere thought of whom produces hours of stress, pain and anxiety and another round of trying to forgive.”

Survivor T: “Yes to all. Regarding parents being responsible for their children, that is not my experience. We lost complete control and authority of our children to a dogmatic arse licking (Noel’s) celibate leader.”