The following statements are extracts from the original Truth Document and describe a part of the Jesus Fellowship culture that actively encouraged and allowed children to be beaten.
The experiences following the statements were compiled by Erin Woodger and are just the tip of the iceberg for what many children growing up within the Jesus Fellowship experienced.
- Did many leaders beat children for things as slight as turning round? – Yes, this was within Holiday school and in the community houses.
- Was this illegal at the time? – It is true that corporal punishment was legal, but these beatings were sustained, often unreasonable and in anger, not love. It was also taught that beatings should be on areas of the body that would not be visible at school so as not to arouse suspicion from social services, clearly showing that the “outside world” would deem the punishment worthy of investigation.
- But wasn’t it just the older children that were hit with a rod or branch? – No, the teachings were; up to the age of one a child should be smacked on the hand, from one year onwards they should be hit with a rod or suitable stick or branch. This was to beat the ‘Adam’ out of them.
- What happened to parents that didn’t discipline their children with the rod? – They were told they hated their children and were not fit for leadership.
- Why did the police not bring any charges? – At the time there was insufficient evidence and no appetite to press charges.
- Were parents and leaders told to break a child’s will by the age of seven? – Yes
- Was it just the parents who disciplined the children? – No, any leader in the house could hit any child. Children came under the authority of their parents and the leaders.
Here are some of the survivors experiences;
- Survivor A: “The response from the JA lawyers, always seems to be, that it was the parents, who were responsible for their own children, but a copy of the precepts clearly states, that the children came under the authority of every adult in the house.”
- Survivor B: “It has been noticed that this precept in particular, established a culture that helped make for a potential haven for child abusers. As soon as (sometimes before) a new contact was baptised, the kids had to call them Brother or Sister as a mark of deference, and they had the right to discipline children or take them on a walk, out of reach of parents or for ‘instruction’ or prayer. Further reinforced by the practice of ‘Caring Brothers’ or Sisters, and the practice of separating young teenagers from their parents/families.”
- Survivor C: “Agreed. The precepts were law as far as any members were concerned. Upheld and enforced by the leadership”
- Survivor D: “I was part of the farm during the early 80’s and trust me… precepts or call them what you will were law! What Stanton or Others said went …. law… no argument, no discussion and absolutely no dissent. From how many weetabix to when to go to bed to when to beat children ( even to having a nominated surrogate beater) were order of the day and upheld with hellfire, damnation and public humiliation. I know…. I was there, I saw it and was on 2 distinct occasions subject to physical abuse as a result of these “holy” orders.”
- Survivor E: “One observation that’s been made a few times is how cults and cult leaders use language to create an environment in which there is no vocabulary with which to question. Interestingly, ‘Precepts’ when googled comes up with the top (wiki) definition as: “A precept (from the Latin: præcipere, to teach) is a commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action. In religion, precepts are usually commands respecting moral conduct.” (Google/ Wikipedia aren’t necessarily always accurate, but they give a good indication of the majority understanding). From my perspective and memory, Noel Stanton was more of a dogmatic leader than an ‘aspirational’ one, and this was well understood by everyone (via the enraged shouting and threats he issued most meetings for example) – hence the overzealous keeping / and then abuse of precepts leading to a culture in which a) an unnecessarily strict and joyless regime occurred and b) many children experienced being inappropriately treated by adults (if not worse).”
- Survivor F: “Single mothers would often ask brothers to correct their children when they felt a male voice would be more effective this included corporate punishments.”
- Survivor G: “Personally I was disciplined by most adults who lived in both the houses I grew up in. Smacked and rodded by many other parents and members.”
- Survivor H: “I got smacked round the face by one mother for talking in a meeting.”
- Survivor I: “I often said the treatment and measure of abuse handed down depended on the insecurity and how ambitious the house leader was for promotion I was recently informed by one of the Apostolic group and I quote that’s the way it was that was the culture of the day. Child abuse was rife in the sixties and today people are being convicted for it, Historically it was wrong, Today it is still wrong and Tomorrow it is still wrong.”
- Survivors J: “The problem is, most of the senior household leaders enjoyed the power they got from their tyrannical reign. We all know the main ones, often celibate with no concept of family life, they enjoyed their power over families etc. They’ll never apologise as they still believe, in their own narcissistic way, that they were/are right.”
- Survivor K: “Having spent the last 30 years listening to the horror stories of what life was like for a child growing up in the JA, my heart goes out to anyone who had the misfortune of spending all or part of their childhood there!”
- Survivor L: “Beatings with the nobbly stick, wooden spoon etc standard. Any brothers in your household (actually any brothers!) could decide you needed disciplining, sisters too I just don’t remember any sisters ever doing more than telling me off. Some brothers got off on handing out punishment, telling you when you could scratch an itch.”it’s the devil making you scratch”. Twisted fuckers! pleased never managed to break my spirit. Probably why I got so many licks!”
- Survivor M: “I would like to make a point that from our experience and the graphical research some of us survivors have undertaken it seems that the most intense and brutal behaviour seemed to be more in the Northamptonshire area so we’re talking about, places such as Vineyard, Farm, Cornhill, The Hall, Sheepfold etc … maybe some are not aware of that? I would suggest they speak to more of the survivors from this area? Although I really think sadly what I see in many is denial – until they are confronted with the hard facts and survivors accounts. That is still in part the work of the association but the problem is it’s not stories of fluffy clouds and green trees, idyllic gooseberry picking and tractor rides and well rounded and nurtured children who all followed god and stayed in “Zion” stories, so unfortunately they are not desirable stories, nevertheless they are stories people need to hear, people need to look at our generation and count up how many of us stayed and how many left. That alone speaks volumes – but the control we were all still imprinted with did not come out fully until the JA requested it through operation lifeboat 1 – ( insurance exercise gone badly wrong) and that’s just one part of the demographics of the survivors group.”