The Jesus People USA (JPUSA) of Chicago is a Christian commune (or as they now prefer to say, “intentional community”) that was founded in 1972. For two decades it enjoyed a kind of “fair-haired child” status among evangelicals as a combination ’60s-nostalgia/alternative-lifestyle/urban/countercult ministry. It featured, among other things, traveling music and drama ministries, a thriving literature ministry, and a K-12 school for its children, all supported by various commune-operated businesses.
A 1983 independent documentary film titled “Uptown Christian Soldiers”1“Image Union” No. 618, November 14, 1983, WTTW-TV, Chicago. http://mediaburn.org/video/image-union-episode-618/ contained some of the earliest criticism of JPUSA (including ex-member testimony), but did little to tarnish its image in the evangelical community. In 1989 JPUSA became a congregation in the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. Three years later, Christianity Today magazine devoted a six-page cover puff piece to the group.2“Jesus’ People,” by Timothy Jones, Christianity Today, September 14, 1992, 20-25. The article is available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/aprilweb-only/4-2-24.0.html. JPUSA was hip and trendy when it wasn’t hip and trendy to be hip and trendy among American evangelicals.
But the tide would soon turn. In 1994, Dr. Ronald M. Enroth, Professor of Sociology at Westmont College (Santa Barbara, CA) published a very unflattering chapter-length account containing testimonies of ex-members in his book, Recovering from Churches That Abuse.3Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994. Over the next 19 years, JPUSA continued to hemorrhage members and the splendor of its first two decades gradually dimmed. Its flagship publication, Cornerstone magazine ceased publication in 2003. Its main annual event, Cornerstone Festival, folded after its final opening in 2012. And now, in the midst of this apparent decline, tremors that have been rumbling for some time just beneath the surface are poised to put JPUSA back under a very uncomfortable spotlight.
(Video Source: Kickstarter, a fund-raising web site for filmmakers.)
Jaime Prater is a 37 year-old alumnus of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (1997) and Columbia College, Chicago (2001), where he majored in film and video. He is also a graduate of Uptown Christian School, run by JPUSA, where he was raised. A few years ago, Jaime began to put his filmmaking training to work on the project of interviewing others who, like himself, were either born at JPUSA or brought there as small children, and thus, unlike their parents, were not members there as a matter of choice.
While it is possible for JPUSA to dispute whether much of what these younger ex-members describe in their interviews actually constitutes abuse, one category of allegation is made that, if true, is beyond any debate. Jaime testifies to having been sexually molested while a child at JPUSA. When he brought this to the attention of the leadership at that time, he tells us that his story was discounted, and he suffered consequences. Some of those consequences were imposed for “acting out” behaviors that Jaime exhibited, which are often seen among children who have been sexually abused. His parents corroborate his account.
He is now wrapping up work on a film documentary titled No Place to Call Home—Growing Up in a Religious Commune.4As of this writing, Jaime is raising funds for the final version of the film at his page on the Kickstarter web site. He needs to reach his goal of $6,000 by Sunday, April 14, 2013. It turns out that Jaime is not the only person who claims to have been molested there, nor the only one who claims that his testimony was not believed. In fact, as Jaime came to the point where he thought his interviews were complete, more ex-members came forward with stories similar to his. If this string of allegations is true, it paints a picture not only of the sexual abuse of children extending back many years, but also a pattern of failure on the part of JPUSA’s leadership to alert the proper authorities.
For us, this is a difficult story to tell. One reason is that it’s not our story. We are not bringing these charges against JPUSA; we are simply reporting them. They have already been public to a certain extent, but now they will be more so. Another reason for our difficulty is the relationship we have had with JPUSA, or at least some of its key members, over many years—a relationship that has been tested over the past several years.
JPUSA and Me
Here at Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. (MCOI), our experience with JPUSA goes more than 30 years. Back in the early 1980s I worked on an annual project with JPUSA in which I, a friend of mine, and as many volunteers as we could find, would distribute evangelistic literature at the Watchtower Convention for Jehovah’s Witnesses that was held nearby. My friend knew Eric Pement, who rounded up the JPUSA volunteers and had them meet us at our location. He introduced me to Eric, who in turn showed me around the building in which JPUSA’s residents lived at that time.
I had already known of both JPUSA and Eric through JPUSA’s Cornerstone magazine, to which Eric was a regular contributor. On any given day I might be walking in Chicago or one of its nearby suburbs (particularly Oak Park, where I attended Emmaus Bible College), and a hippified member of JPUSA (long hair, bell-bottom jeans, peasant shirt, the whole nine yards) would offer me a free copy of the magazine, which I eagerly received and enthusiastically read. By the late ’70s the whole hippy shtick was already getting worn around the edges, but the magazine’s appearance was so professional, its artwork and layout so fabulous, and its articles so relevant and readable, that Cornerstone had already found its niche as a kind of Rolling Stone for Christians, complete with reviews of Contemporary Christian Music records.
One of the things I appreciated Cornerstone for was its exposés of cults and other spiritual frauds. JPUSA also published some of these articles as tracts, which I found very helpful. Thanks especially to Eric’s writing and involvement in such organizations as Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR),5Web site: EMNR.org. JPUSA was gaining a considerable reputation in this area. Eric was also of help to me personally as I was being persecuted by the leader of a spiritually abusive group to which my wife and I had belonged for about five years in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
JPUSA and He (Ronald Enroth)
But it was right about that time that JPUSA became ensnared in controversy. One person who had helped me recover from my experience of spiritual abuse was Dr. Ronald Enroth, Professor of Sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. In 1992 I read Dr. Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse,6Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. Cf. “Churches That Abuse,” Wikipedia entry. Dr. Enroth has generously given his permission to make a digital copy of this book available online, free of charge, at http://www.reveal.org/development/Churches_that_Abuse.pdf. Note that the pagination may differ from the printed edition. and its accounts were chillingly similar to what I was then experiencing. Once I left the abusive group, I contacted him by phone and he was very generous with his time.
In late 1993, Dr. Enroth advised me that “something big” was about to become public knowledge with respect to “a major ministry” in the Chicago area. Later he sent me a manila envelope, red-stamped “CONFIDENTIAL,” and I learned that this ministry was JPUSA. Needless to say, I was torn. But as I read the enclosed documentation, it became increasingly clear to me that whatever good works JPUSA may have done over the years, they needed to explain why so many of their ex-members were now testifying to incidents of spiritual abuse in their midst.
Unfortunately, that’s not the route they took. Instead, they circled the wagons, pointed their guns outward, and commenced firing. The first public volley came in the form of the now (in)famous “anti-Enroth issue” of Cornerstone,7Volume 23, Issue 105, 1994. published as a kind of preemptive strike even before Enroth’s Recovering from Churches that Abuse8Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994. With Dr. Enroth’s permission, a digital copy of this book is also available online, free of charge, at http://www.reveal.org/development/Recovering_from_Churches_that_Abuse.pdf. Again, note that the pagination may differ from the printed edition. came out with its chapter on JPUSA.
It seems that JPUSA received advance information concerning Enroth’s Recovering book when someone unethically smuggled an early draft copy of the chapter on JPUSA out of the offices of Zondervan Publishing House and sent it to Cornerstone. The magazine’s staff pulled out all the stops, and got as many evangelical (or not-so-evangelical) “big guns” as they could find to defend JPUSA, none of whose knowledge of JPUSA had any real depth, including one with an unsavory reputation as a cult apologist, and others whose response was to lamely question whether such things as “spiritual abuse” actually exist (I refer readers to the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians for the validity of that phenomenon).
In one of several other attempts to discredit Enroth before he even had the chance to speak, Jon Trott, then a senior editor of Cornerstone, blew as many dog whistles as he could find, accusing Enroth of “McCarthyite methods … He’s just using anecdotes squeezed into a frame—the secular mind-control model. And he ignores facts that don’t fit in.”9James D. Davis, “Ex-members Charge Church Has Abusive Dark Side,” Sun Sentinel, December 12, 1993. The article is available online at http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1993-12-12/lifestyle/9312090741_1_ex-members-commune-members-evangelical-covenant-church. The firestorm of controversy had already begun, even though the first copy of Recovering was still months away from being printed.
For a group now known for holding its members’ lives under a spotlight and providing them with generous amounts of unsolicited criticism, publishing a refutation to printed criticism even before its ink dried was not the best way to demonstrate accountability. Looking for every possible argument to discredit an accusation before it comes out of an accuser’s mouth does not exactly give the impression of fair-mindedness, or even respect for the audience observing the confrontation.
When I finally received my own copy of Recovering I turned immediately to its chapter on JPUSA and devoured it whole. I then put the book down and asked, “That’s it?! The leaders at JPUSA got their knickers in a furious twist over this?!” The revelations that JPUSA knew Enroth would share with the world were serious, but hardly as damning as what he’d exposed about other groups in his previous book, or even in Recovering itself. They were things that could be addressed and remedied, if JPUSA was willing.
Unfortunately, now we know that that was not “it.” The allegations that are now surfacing, in addition to those we already knew about, not only from ex-members who joined JPUSA in its early days, but from those who were born there or taken there as young children, make the reports delivered by Enroth look very tame, indeed.
In the long run, JPUSA’s response to the Enroth debacle did not help their credibility much, nor did it generate the sympathy they expected, and from a PR perspective it is easily diagnosed as a self-inflicted gunshot to the foot.
Unbeknownst to me until after I worked with MCOI for a while, Don and Joy Veinot attended numerous conferences with Eric Pement on the topic of cult evangelism in the 1980s and ’90s. I ended up speaking at such a conference with Eric after I joined MCOI. The conference was actually hosted by a church right in my neighborhood, and I was scheduled to present some of our preliminary research on Bill Gothard. This was also not too long after Ronald Enroth published, Recovering. Eric knew that I was somewhat sympathetic to the testimonies of the ex-members that Enroth was sharing, and he didn’t seem happy about it. Nevertheless, I got a call from Eric just before the conference.
“I’m not sure this phone call is a good idea, but I need a place to stay overnight during the conference and I was wondering if you could put me up for the night.”
This was how I learned about JPUSA’s policy of requiring its adult members to get permission to travel, of not generally allowing them to travel alone, and if they spend the night away from JPUSA they’re supposed to stay with a Christian family. Since we had no spare bed, Eric slept on our living room sofa, and before he went home I took him out to McDonald’s.
The conversation we shared that day yielded no new information. I have a great deal of respect for Eric, but as I broached the subject of the Enroth controversy with him he did nothing to fill what I considered major holes in JPUSA’s attempts to defend themselves. I do not, for example, see how objecting to Enroth’s “sociological methodology” actually deals with the question of whether or not the incidents Enroth reported actually happened, and whether anything was ever done about them. Biblically speaking, that’s all that really mattered at that point. Any complaint that Enroth did not properly follow academic methods could only serve as a smoke screen.
Several years after the initial Enroth/Recovering controversy, in April 2001 The Chicago Tribune ran a huge two-issue spread on JPUSA titled, “Commune’s iron grip tests faith of converts,”10Kirsten Scharnberg, April 1, 2001. A copy of the text is available at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jesuspeople2.html. and “Exodus from commune ignites battle for souls.”11Kirsten Scharnberg, April 2, 2001. A copy of the text is available at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jesuspeople3.html. The titles pretty much give away the author’s point of view. Ted Olsen at Christianity Today was incredulous.
Why spend so much ink on the disputes now? Especially now, actually? If anything, the Chicago Tribune practically ignores the more recent developments in the JPUSA.12Ted Olsen, “Chicago Tribune Investigates Jesus People USA,” posted April 1, 2001, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/aprilweb-only/4-2-23.0.html
Olsen accused the Tribune of doing “a sloppy job with JPUSA,” but he seemed blithely unaware of the fact that the Tribune folks were not the only ones spending “so much ink” on what was by that time a seven-year-long dispute. Just several months earlier, Jon Trott had returned to stirring the pot with an essay titled, “Is Abuse about Truth or Story…or Both? One Intentional Community’s Painful Experiences with False Accusations.” It appeared as a chapter—strangely out of sync with the other chapters—in a book titled, Bad Pastors: Clergy Misconduct in Modern America.13Edited by Anson D. Shupe, William A. Stacey, Susan E. Darnell, (New York, NY, USA: New York University Press, 2000). Trott’s essay generated a lengthy response from Enroth in the form of an open letter.14Copies may be found at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jp2.html and http://www.apologeticsindex.org/cpoint11-1.html. Whatever “more recent developments” might have been taking place at JPUSA, they did not include a willingness to put the whole episode behind them, or to truly make amends with ex-members, or even, after all that time, to stop attacking Enroth.
JPUSA and We (MCOI)
Around that same time, the same thing that first prompted Enroth to write about JPUSA more-or-less happened to MCOI: a significant number of ex-members contacted us, urging us to tell their stories of abuse. This led to a 2002 meeting with about 20 ex-JPUSAs at Naperville Bible Church (at least that’s how many signed the guest list). It was the product of many phone calls and email exchanges (some of which I still have). Of the ex-members of JPUSA who attended, three flew in from California, one couple came in from Tennessee, another couple from Wisconsin, someone else from Indiana, but most from Chicago and its suburbs.
We taped the meeting with the knowledge of everyone there, and we had each of them sign a confidentiality agreement in which they decided for themselves just how much permission to give us to publish what we heard. They could either (1) withhold permission, (2) give us permission to quote them anonymously, (3) give us permission to name them as a source but only when communicating with JPUSA when they agree to keep it confidential, or (4) give us permission to publish their quotes and name them as sources. We heard lots of stories, but we’d also seen how JPUSA responded to Enroth’s book in 1994, so we wanted to proceed cautiously. For reasons that will become clear as you read on, so far we have neither published anything we were told nor have we shared it with anyone, including JPUSA’s leadership.
We explained that our research into Bill Gothard lasted about six years before it resulted in a book (although it had resulted in journal articles prior to the book), and so we wanted to manage expectations. Gothard was difficult to research because his books were only available through his organization. Researching JPUSA would also be difficult because we would have to track down people, some of whom might not want to be found.
I also explained that our research would be complicated by the fact that I and my family would be moving to Florida in November 2002 and I would be starting a new career. We didn’t want people to think that we would be able to turn around a published piece right away.
Don contacted JPUSA to let them know that MCOI wanted to give them an opportunity to respond to the things we were hearing. The reply that MCOI received was encouraging: Jon Trott at JPUSA expressed gratitude that we wanted to hear their side of the story. He thanked us for being the first ones who had come to them at the beginning of the research. A meeting was soon arranged and a date was set for prior to my family’s move, so that I could attend along with Don. JPUSA’s leadership (which we assumed to be its pastors) was to be in attendance, along with Jon Trott and Eric Pement. Eric was no longer living at JPUSA, but was still sympathetic to the group.
Don and I had two primary objectives: (1) secure a list of people who had left JPUSA on good terms, and who would say good things about it, and (2) secure the commitment of JPUSA to allow someone from MCOI live in the commune for a period of time and interview current members. The reason we wanted these two things was because one of the big complaints that JPUSA had about Enroth was that he didn’t interview anyone other than “disgruntled ex-members,” and thus his presentation was unfairly one-sided.
To say the meeting did not get off on the right foot is a bit of an understatement. We showed up, and Jon was there, and so was Eric, but where was JPUSA’s leadership? Jon left the room for a while and we just sat there, looking out the window. Eventually Jon returned and Dawn and Curt Mortimer showed up. It appeared that they had not been briefed on the purpose of the meeting, leading to an awkward discussion that required us to justify something we thought JPUSA had already agreed to.
It soon became obvious to us that Dawn was not very trusting, and didn’t really want to cooperate with us. I also got the sense that Curt and Jon would follow whatever Dawn said. If Eric hadn’t vouched for us, we would have never gotten them to agree to supplying us with the list we wanted and the permission for someone to stay there. During our discussion they also thought it would be a good idea if they supplied us with audio copies of JPUSA’s sermons so we could see that they do not teach legalism, and we agreed to listen to them.
Unfortunately, however, these promises went unfulfilled for months. The latter two were never fulfilled. I obviously was not going to be able to be the MCOI rep staying at JPUSA; I was moving to Florida soon. We had one main candidate who would be able to take time off work to do it—but wouldn’t you know? JPUSA found something offensive about him, and he was never allowed to stay there. I remember the “offense” seemed rather lame, but I don’t recall exactly what it was right now. And we never did receive copies of any sermons.
In the meantime, I and my family temporarily moved in with my in-laws, nearly all my possessions were boxed-up and put in storage, and soon I would be in a program working toward teacher certification. I waited and waited for the list of happy (non-disgruntled?) ex-members, but I kept on being disappointed. As my obligation to get myself retrained and provide for my family loomed larger and larger, my time-window for being able to devote reasonable time to our JPUSA project was rapidly closing. My life was upside-down, and when I landed a teaching job in 2003 virtually everything else I was doing got put on hold for a while. Of course, this all worked to JPUSA’s advantage—not that I completely halted my work. I did what I could when I could, but a lot more slowly.
After we asked Jon Trott for the list a few times he sent us a nasty email telling us he’d send it when he was good and ready. When we finally got it, it was a much shorter list than we’d expected—not nearly as many people as had shown up in Naperville. Not only that, but once I started making calls, none of the people who answered their phones had been long-term residents of JPUSA. A few of them had even rented out their houses while at JPUSA, and returned to them after staying maybe one or two years. These were hardly people who’d made the same kind of commitment as those who’d turned over everything they owned to move in, often for decades.
It’s true that these people said nice things about JPUSA. They didn’t report any of the kinds of things that we’d heard described in Naperville (at that time there was only one alleged case of sexual abuse we were aware of), and they generally considered their stays there as positive experiences. However, it would not be difficult at all to make the case that the JPUSA leadership, knowing that these people were only there for a short time, would have handled them with kid gloves. We could not give their testimonies the same weight as those that came from former long-term residents who’d turned over all their earthly possessions to JPUSA, only to be turned out onto the street with nothing years later. As far as I was concerned, JPUSA’s leadership had reneged on its word. Still, we did not want to find ourselves in a position where, no matter what we published or how thoroughly it was documented, JPUSA could come back and say, “But they only listened to disgruntled ex-members!”
So now the problem was what to do next. After a couple of years of working on this I received a phone call from someone who’d been at the Naperville meeting and who was very unhappy with our lack of progress. I apologized profusely and assured him that we had every intention of moving forward when we could, but we were very short-handed, and my job and family life were preventing me from devoting adequate time to the research.
Sometime later (in the mid-2000s) we had a volunteer come forward, and he resumed making the phone calls to ex-members for us. He had time to do this because he was on disability for a serious health issue. Unfortunately, that health issue led to his untimely death (he was in his 30s) shortly after he started working with us. I was beginning to think that the Lord was trying to tell me either that this just wasn’t the right time for this or that we weren’t the right people to do it.
Thus we’ve been maintaining confidential documents on ex-JPUSAs for more than ten years now. As a small, under-staffed, under-funded ministry, we wanted to make sure that anything we publish is fair and accurate, giving due diligence to the goal of telling the positive side of the story as well as the negative (with, of course, the permission of those who tell us their stories)—and, ironically, JPUSA effectively sabotaged our effort to tell the positive side.
One of my biggest regrets has been that I have not been able to move this project forward so that we could complete it. But now that Jaime Prater’s video has come along, I am beginning to think that it could be far more effective than anything we could have done. For one thing, I don’t know how we would have been able to gather as much information about growing up at JPUSA as Jaime has. Most of the contacts we had were people who moved into JPUSA as adults.
At this point we have no reason to doubt that JPUSA’s leadership will choose to respond to Jaime’s video project much as it has in the past. It is our hope and our prayer that this time, however, things will be different.
We hope JPUSA will avoid attacking the messengers. We hope they will show as much concern that the principle of Matthew 5:23 is observed by them as they do for the principles of Matthew 18:15-17 being observed by others. We hope they will not resort to ad hominem arguments as a defense.
Yes, it is true that Jaime Prater no longer professes to be a Christian. Yes, it is also true that he is openly gay. But these facts do not invalidate his testimony. We would point out that we have noticed that a number of ex-JPUSAs have rejected the Christian faith entirely, sometimes with hostility, and while we hesitate to lay the blame for that solely at the feet of JPUSA, it should sober their leadership nonetheless. Does it?
We have been hoping and praying for reconciliation and healing between JPUSA and its ex-members for nearly 20 years now. Our desire for this was intensified in 2002. We implore the leadership at JPUSA to try a different—and we believe more biblical—course of action now, since it seems clear that their previous strategies have ended in failure.
|↑1||“Image Union” No. 618, November 14, 1983, WTTW-TV, Chicago. http://mediaburn.org/video/image-union-episode-618/|
|↑2||“Jesus’ People,” by Timothy Jones, Christianity Today, September 14, 1992, 20-25. The article is available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/aprilweb-only/4-2-24.0.html.|
|↑3||Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.|
|↑4||As of this writing, Jaime is raising funds for the final version of the film at his page on the Kickstarter web site. He needs to reach his goal of $6,000 by Sunday, April 14, 2013.|
|↑5||Web site: EMNR.org.|
|↑6||Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. Cf. “Churches That Abuse,” Wikipedia entry. Dr. Enroth has generously given his permission to make a digital copy of this book available online, free of charge, at http://www.reveal.org/development/Churches_that_Abuse.pdf. Note that the pagination may differ from the printed edition.|
|↑7||Volume 23, Issue 105, 1994.|
|↑8||Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994. With Dr. Enroth’s permission, a digital copy of this book is also available online, free of charge, at http://www.reveal.org/development/Recovering_from_Churches_that_Abuse.pdf. Again, note that the pagination may differ from the printed edition.|
|↑9||James D. Davis, “Ex-members Charge Church Has Abusive Dark Side,” Sun Sentinel, December 12, 1993. The article is available online at http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1993-12-12/lifestyle/9312090741_1_ex-members-commune-members-evangelical-covenant-church.|
|↑10||Kirsten Scharnberg, April 1, 2001. A copy of the text is available at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jesuspeople2.html.|
|↑11||Kirsten Scharnberg, April 2, 2001. A copy of the text is available at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jesuspeople3.html.|
|↑12||Ted Olsen, “Chicago Tribune Investigates Jesus People USA,” posted April 1, 2001, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/aprilweb-only/4-2-23.0.html|
|↑13||Edited by Anson D. Shupe, William A. Stacey, Susan E. Darnell, (New York, NY, USA: New York University Press, 2000).|
|↑14||Copies may be found at http://www.rickross.com/reference/jesuspeople/jp2.html and http://www.apologeticsindex.org/cpoint11-1.html.|
I was at JPUSA for over 10yrs & was married there & had children. I know what you hear from both sides is difficult to believe. I am one of the ones who am very thankful for JPUSA. My brother & sister-in-law are the ones who run the homeless shelter. I think you would have a bit of a different view from me & I c an think of countless others who have left. I know Jamie & all in the video well & know the truth can be seen as a glass half full or empty. If you would ever have questions or simply a perspective that in no way was as the others. Email me.
As a long term (23 years) member of Jp (’77-’00) I also married there and raised children.
In Your children’s dorm living arrangements ~ were You ever informed of who would be placed in your kid’s room?
Did You object?
Were Your objections ‘over-ridden’? and ignored?
As a result of other adults, with no background screening, placed in your children’s dormitory, was Your child molested or violated in any way?
If Your child came to you and told You of innapropriate behavior, by another adult or older child placed in your kid’s room, over your objection, Did you believe him?
and follow up?
~ only to be met with derision and scrutiny of your child either being a liar or at fault?
If your answer to any of the above is “No”.
You experienced Only ~ a glass half empty.
Others HAD a different experience.
Not a different perception. A different reality.
Kindly put, Debra. I too thought that Brian’s response was [moderator edit]!! Sorry, my kindness has left the building.
Just a friendly reminder: we welcome your comments and appreciate the time and thought you spend on them, but all comments are moderated, and while we expect controversy on this blog (especially when we post articles like this one) we do require everyone who comments to maintain as civil a tone as possible.
Very good article. It didn’t tell me anything I did not already know though. You see I and my husband and 4 kids were members of JPUSA for close to 20 years. We left in 1992 because all of our children were molested at JPUSA. We were told that it would be taken care of internally. Nothing was done to make sure that my sons abuser would get help so when our daughters were molested I insisted and it wasn’t until 6 months after the fact that this actually took place. . This was a result of my insistence. JPUSA does not believe in therapists or counselors. To make a long story short the therapist for our daughters abuser reported the abuse and a police interview with our daughters and a forensic psychologist were done.After the abuse I was told I couldn’t take my daughter to Cook County Hospital but instead JPUSA had us take our two year old daughter to a doctor who was a friend of theirs and who would not report it. They tried to cover it up so no publicity took place. We are so thankful for Jaimies documentary justice will come for all the children. We have finally found our voice and the courage to stand and fight with Jaimie to to the end. Our case was documented so they cannot deny what happened.
Thank you for publishing this article. To finally have a REAL voice after countless years of being silenced, is a wonderful experience. I too pray for true reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness. I believe that this is God’s timing and you were truly the forerunner. When God is ready things fall into place.
The leadership at Jpusa is broken. They grind up children who live on the inside (as long as they are NOT PKs (for the most part anyway)). The core leadership has sexual and psychological issues dating way back. They do do good works for people as long as you submit to their (sick) authority, or live on the outside. My husband and I lived there for 12 years. We got married there. We are thankful that we were asked to leave when we started to see how sick that the leadership was. Of course they said that we were the problem, and we were the sick ones.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This morning I added four words to the first paragraph under the heading, “JPUSA and We (MCOI)”: “another couple from Wisconsin,” so that the sentence now reads:
“Of the ex-members of JPUSA who attended, three flew in from California, one couple came in from Tennessee, another couple from Wisconsin, someone else from Indiana, but most from Chicago and its suburbs.”
As I was scrutinizing the guest list for another purpose, I noticed that I misinterpreted an address that was written down as an Illinois address. The handwriting was a bit difficult for me to interpret (I had apparently mistaken the name of the town for the street name), but the ZIP code was enough to confirm that it was a Wisconsin address.
I lived at JPUSA for 6 years and had many positive experiences this is were i met my adopted daughter who had cerebral palsy what a blessing she was, and im truly grateful for that. however JPUSA definitely had some serious control problems with their members. A class system they will completely deny and there is so much that i know to be true about the children that have spoken up in Jamie’s video. I am quite certain that it happened just the way the tell it and its an outrage the abuses that have happened under this leadership. I hope that some good for the community of JPUSA and ex JPUSA’s thru this project. Changes must be made that will never be made under the current leadership.
Interesting read. Myself and an ex-boyfriend had attended the first 3 Cornerstone Rock fest events. The very 1 event we attended a cult Seminar with Ronald Enroth speaking about cults. I am curious if he now is willing to admit that Roman Catholicism is indeed a cult, then he had titled it as an aberrational christian group (whatever that means??) I really do believe that initially the JPUSA was a real move of the spirit of God, but anytime a movement is then marketed it seems to sour and become corrupted, I believe it helped birth the pragmatic movement and purpose driven churches that have sought to market Christianity to the World by adopting their methods and seeking to meet so-called felt needs that the JPUSA were sincerely doing in the beginning, they were not trying to market anything at the time, they simply brought the world with them in trying to come out of a drug induced rock culture. I had reservations early on when I attended these rock events but could not put my finger on it at the time being a new christian myself I was so caught up in the excitement of it all. I am ver so thankful to the Lord that He is faithful in teaching me the Truth thru his Written Word by the leading of Holy Spirit.
This a problem how to define what is a cult. Many folks feel if it does not fit in my theological it must be a cult it is the main reason why I left evangelicalism behind. The label cult is meaningless especially with thousands of groups claiming that label. Jesus People was a good experience it originally opened me up spiritually a journey that would eventually lead me the Episcopal Church. It was not JPUSA itself but all different kinds Christians it seemed to attract. I am saddened to hear about the sexual abuse but honestly not surprised. Jesus people also drew a lot of questionable types and used work as a form of therapy and did not provide for needed counseling and at times did not admit thier was a problem.
In some ways Jesus People became authoritarian as the fundamentalist they abhored. A situation like that with the right in leadership and no voice for anyone else is a recipe for abuse. I was only thier three years I saw the control in a limited fashion but new it was there. Unfortunately I was blind to the abuse. I was fairly broken when I went to JPUSA. Ironically I was depressed when I left. I think the gift Jesus people gave me was not what they taught it was talking to catholics, pentecostal, Anglicans and others who came through even a self proclaimed wicca witch and a love for Lewis, Chesterton, vanier, and Merton.
I hope they learn and change and seek forgiveness from those they hurt otherwise they would continue into decline or dissolutionment.
I have a few remarks on your significant article.
The “Enroth issue” of Cornerstone was not primarily about his book, “Recovering from Chuches That Abuse.” It was primarily about a lengthy document Dr. Enroth circulated to about 10 to 15 of our ministry friends in September 1993. He sent a copy to me as well. I wrote an “Open Letter to Dr. Ronald Enroth,” addressing this particular document. The “Open Letter” never quoted from the “Recovering” book, although Cornerstone received a copy before the special issue was printed.
No one “unethically smuggled an early draft copy of the chapter on JPUSA out of the offices of Zondervan Publishing House and sent it to Cornerstone” magazine. Cornerstone regularly reviewed Zondervan books. Publishers often send out “page proofs” before publication, hoping to solicit interviews with their authors. A copy of the entire book (not any chapter) was sent by Zondervan’s regular publicist, unaware that Cornerstone magazine was related to one of the churches in his book.
In 1994, I did not perceive Cornerstone’s response as not allowing the author to speak. First, his charges had circulated among influential friends months earlier. Second, Cornerstone was then published only once or twice a year. We wanted to be timely. Third, we thought we were being accountable by bringing the matter to light. Looking back, this was not the proper way to have responded, even though all these points were true.
I recognize that properly making amends with ex-members of JPUSA is often slow or not done at all. When JPUSA pastors discovered someone who had a grievance against them, they usually refused to contact the former member to make amends. I brought this up on two or three occasions with different pastors. As I read Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus places reconciliation with one’s brother and sister above the obligation of bringing offerings for worship.
The reason MCOI did not receive a larger list of satisfied ex-members was not because such a list could not be composed (I came up with over 30 names in a few hours of the original request), but because some Council members doubted your stated intention to be impartial. They didn’t want the list to become a fishing expedition.
The entire JPUSA Council did not meet with you and Don Veinot because they believed two representatives (Dawn and Curt Mortimer) would be sufficient to hear and respond to the request.
MCOI did not receive audio copies of sermons because JPUSA does not record or duplicate its services (not at that time, at least). Although some members make personal recordings, the Council never asked anyone to tape sermons for the MCOI staff.
Regarding Jaime Prater’s video: as a filmmaker, he has a story to tell and a point of view to communicate. The intent is to expose sexual advances made against younger children and how the JPUSA leadership did not handle the offenders or victims appropriately. What is not clear in his video is how often the offenders were other children.
Jesus said if anyone causes sin to “one of these little ones who believe in Me,” it would be better that “a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). Although this verse probably refers to Jesus’ young disciples, many apply it to literal children. It was long-standing policy at JPUSA that leading another member into sin (e.g., drugs or sex) will immediately get the offender expelled—this happened to a deacon, a close friend of mine. It is hard to imagine why Jaime’s initial account was not believed and his adult roommate put out at once. On the other hand, it is NOT hard to imagine the difficulty should the offender be a child whose parents also lived in the community.
Sexual misconduct is ungodly and deeply traumatizing, whether inflicted by another child or by a pederast. It goes against everything the community teaches and expects of its members. The community is likely to avoid the topic because of the potential for litigation, loss of privacy, and the financial risk it entails. Christians believe true reconciliation comes through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20), and one may wonder how reconciliation meetings can be lasting or fruitful unless _both_ sides share the same grounds of faith. Nonetheless, something brave must be attempted, even if it is faltering and imperfect. I think we owe it to the Lord and to one another.
former Executive Editor of Cornerstone
Postscript: Dr. Enroth and I privately made our amends with one another at an EMNR conference many years ago.
I’d like to make one thing crystal clear in terms of adult on child sexual abuse vs. child on child sexual abuse at Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church.
There was a cyclical environment happening at Jpusa wherein certain adults would molest children, and then subsequently, children would act out that abuse on each other. In my case, the person responsible was nearly ten years my senior, and not a child, in any way shape or form. This same person went on to substitute teach me in 5th grade. For the record, a larger portion of the people I’ve interviewed experienced sexual trauma at the hands of an adult living at Jpusa.
The most damaging part of these stories isn’t the abuse per se, it’s how each child was treated after telling of it. Isolation, years of segregation from other children, and outright disbelief. This is the real tragedy of these stories. The response by the Jpusa leadership may have in fact caused more damage to the lives of the children they vowed to collectively raise then the sexual trauma itself.
They continue to act as if they’ve moved past all of this. The pastors of Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church haven’t once, to my knowledge, accounted for the environment that they helped create and sustain. The perception is, the children that they helped raised, they’ve collectively washed their hands of. We are at a point now however that any apology offered will be too late.
I want to caution people about possibly making light of child on child sexual trauma. Certainly the behavior was just as damaging as child on adult, but in a cesspool of sexual dysfunction and repression, it only makes sense that children would act out their trauma with others. Very very few people were given any kind of professional help. I pose the question, What did people expect to happen?
Jaime M Prater
Eric, as a long time jpusa advocate I sense you are perhaps still on the fence on alot of this documentary. You sound alot like my dad in some ways. Anyways, I feel that in this article you are saying that most of these sexual advances, as you call them, were done by one kid to another. while some of that is true, ALOT of the sexual abuse was done by adults to very small children. ITS sexual mollestation. Not kids touching eachother that around the same age. yes that happened to which is a normal part of growing up in a sexually repressed environment, but i think the majority was done by adults to small children….. speaking from my own experience.
I would like to comment on the sentence, “Christians believe true reconciliation comes through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20), and one may wonder how reconciliation meetings can be lasting or fruitful unless both sides share the same grounds of faith.”
It is a common misperception among Christians that there can be no morality outside of Christ. Perhaps this misconception contributed to the leadership of JPUSA refusing to reach out for help from the many qualifed agencies which could have assisted both the perpetrators and the victims of abuse.
Eric you stated “sexual advances made against younger children”. There is nothing in the documentary about sexual advances. There are testimonies of child sexual abuse at the hands of adults. For you to use the term sexual advances is a slap in the face of these broken, damaged children who bravely shared their experiences. You obviously have been on this site and read other stories of molestation, so for you to reduce their abuse to advances is shameful and unbelievably insensitive. Especially for someone who knows these children personally. At the least you should have remained silent out of respect for the victims. Regarding the long standing policy against leading other members to sin which would get one expelled. Was that “long standing” policy in place before or after Elder Johnny made sexual advances to his best friends’ wife Kim? When one chooses to defend another they put themselves in the line of fire, as you have done. Dennis B.
First of all I’d like to apologize to Ron for my offensive treatment towards him. Next, I’d like to point out that I was on staff @ cornerstone when the Enroth deal hit the fan. I understand how difficult it must be for Eric to reconcile his memory…his legacy as Cornerstone’s cult apologist .The mental gymnastics it must take to defend a cult, while acknowledging a history of authoring a majority of it’s anti-cult literature must be truly difficult. It was JPUSAs cult structure that made it fertile ground for the roots of child abuse. Barb and Eric were both close friends of ours and our children played together. I have no intent to hurt you in any way. I only like to point out that you hurt yourself with your continued denial and defense concerning Jpusa.
I think it’s important to share these preliminary numerical statistics. This was conducted by a wise and wonderful close friend.
“Below is the percentage I figured out in regards to those sexually abused/molested (meaning anything done that was not mutual). Since I left JP in 1998 I only included the kids I could remember (1974-1998). So while it is not a perfectly accurate picture it is probably pretty close, or will at least give us a look at 24 years.
188 total kids:
59 molested (31%) = 69 different accounts
59 not molested (31%)
70 didn’t answer or I have no way of finding out (37%)
Out of 69 different sexual accounts:
31 were told to the counsel and nothing was reported to police
3 were told to the counsel and was reported to police (this happened after 1998)
35 were not told to anyone
Of the 31 accounts told to the counsel that was not reported to police:
21 were done by adults
10 were done by teens
Of the 3 accounts reported to the police:
3 were done by a teen
Of the 35 accounts not told to anyone:
11 were done by adults
8 were done by teens
16 are not known if done by adult or teen”
Eric, how can you defend the leaders actions? Christ never would defended anyone who clung to their leadership, especially those who belittled and degraded the victims of sexual abuse in their “fold”.
It is so sickening that the Herrins narcissistic attitude and actions have been nourished and allowed to flourish like it has. Not once have I ever heard of them admitting that they were wrong about anything. How many times did you hear them belittle a family or degrade people who were different. Hell, they taught me HOW to do that in the MOST hurtful, and then of course judged me harshly for following their example.
I really thought that you were wiser than that, Eric. It is like you still live under their thumb. (Please TRY to hear me objectively, I do not mean to offend. I hope that you to can understand my (our) point of view ) After all, I can understand your position. I too know what it is like to live in that place. It alters one’s ability to think objectively, without defending them.
You worked so hard on your position that “JPUSA is not a cult” for so many years! It is understandable that you do not want to change your position now.
Please rethink your position from one of these struggling adults who grew up there; htey were so vulnerable to the Herrin’s twisted logic injected into all of us. I for one am ashamed that I ever gave them rule over me.
But obviously you have heard ALL of these truths before, and chosen to defend the narcissism of this “wonderful” family.
Dennis: I could not agree more; thank you for your words!
Eric the blanket statement of child on child abuse that you made I find offensive. It is as if you are making excuses for why no wrong was done!! In my own case my children’s abusers were 10 and 13 years older. All four of my children were molested at the hands of fifteen year old teenagers. I find fault that the abuse was not reported for my children at all. You know as well as I why this was done. It was done to keep officials unaware and so JPUSA would not have its reputation tarnished so the good work could go on. I was made to feel like I was selfish and childish for having a hard time just getting over it and keeping my mouth shut! How dare you defend or minimize what they did! The cover up and mental gymnastics that went into practice to save face makes me sick! Tina told me my five year old daughter was to blame because she did not tell because she was afraid. JPUSA needs to accept the consequences legally for not allowing each of us to report our children’s abuse. I was not allowed to take my youngest daughter to the hospital to be checked out for fear of the abuse being reported. I was made to take my daughter to a DR friend of JPUSA who would be sympathetic to their cause. Don’t write about circumstances you are ignorant of and stop defending them!!!
Shelia Bragg says:
I lived in JPUSA as an adult for 20 years in the dark and ignorant of the truth that is coming to light in Jaime’s Documentary.
Please allow me to respond to Eric Pement’s remarks concerning Jaime Prater’s Documentary of many of the children’s lives and experiences of child sexual abuse they endured while having grown up in the Jesus People Commune.
Eric, in your remarks you display a textbook example of “DIM thinking” (Denial, Ignorance and Minimization); which is described in an article on Spiritual Healing by Dee Ann Miller. (Link Below)
By distorting the facts of what has actually happened, you responded in the same spirit of denial, ignorance and minimization “DIM thinking” which has been and continues to be the form of response used by JPUSA Leadership.
Please allow me to point out your “carefully mentioned” words which display “DIM thinking”;
Eric’s comment; ‘Regarding Jaime Prater’s video: as a filmmaker, he has a story to tell and a point of view to communicate.’
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”; ( I am including Jesus People Leadership in my references since you have responded as the former executive Editor of Cornerstone Magazine, which was owned and operated by Jesus People Leadership.) Eric, by re-defining Jaime’s documentary as a video or film, a “story to tell” or “point of view” to communicate; you deny, ignore and minimize the truth of what actually happened to the children while in the JPUSA Commune.
The Dictionary defines the word documentary as pertaining to, consisting of, or derived from documents (a written or printed paper furnishing information or evidence, especially of a factual or informative nature.
That which is based on or re-creates an actual event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements: as in a documentary of the life of Gandhi.
Eric’s Comment; “The intent (by Jaime) is to expose sexual advances made against younger children and how the JPUSA leadership did not handle the offenders or victims appropriately.”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”; By re-defining Sexual Abuse as “sexual advances” you deny, ignore and minimize the actual accounts as told by the children, of being touched in their private parts to the point of penetration and having their bodies manipulated into positions as their offenders aroused themselves at the child’s expense.
Eric’s Comment; “What is not clear in his video is how often the offenders were other children. Jesus said if anyone causes sin to “one of these little ones who believe in Me,” it would be better that “a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”; HOW DARE YOU, use the Word of God to distract from the facts of JPUSA leadership not taking the proper action to: protect the Sexually Abused Child Survivor (following procedures that would have not allowed for this to happen to begin with and to prevent it from ever happening again); getting proper help/counseling for the (in some cases) teen abusers or following through with reporting the adults who were known by the leadership to be child molesters.
The scripture you have used in Matt. 18:6 would better be used against you and JPUSA leadership for their and your denial of the facts. By writing your response and referencing Jaime’s documentary as anything other than fact; you deny, ignore and minimize TRUTH/ FACT, which makes what you have said in your statement a lie. The dictionary defines the word lie as: a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; something intended or serving to convey a false impression.
Eric’s Comment: “The community is likely to avoid the topic because of the potential for litigation, loss of privacy, and the financial risk it entails. Christians believe true reconciliation comes through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20)”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”; You speak here of being reconciled to God, yet ignore the fact that if one is to be reconciled with God, he must come to Him in truth, not hiding behind a lie or denying that it ever happened. Yes, God loves the offender, but He can’t help him if he never admits wrong and tries to make it right with God and with his brother whom he has offence.
Eric’s Comment; “I recognize that properly making amends with ex-members of JPUSA is often slow or not done at all. When JPUSA pastors discovered someone who had a grievance against them, they usually refused to contact the former member to make amends. I brought this up on two or three occasions with different pastors. As I read Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus places reconciliation with one’s brother and sister above the obligation of bringing offerings for worship.”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”: You do well to stick to the “not done at all” since you know that is the case. Having yourself known of many ex-JPUSA’s who have left having seen errors in the commune, but where not heard when they were addressed. Please share with us how the leaders have heard and responded to your recommendations as ‘Cult Specialist’ and former Executive Editor of Cornerstone; to amend wrongs done to ex-JPUSAs?
Eric’s Comment; “The reason MCOI did not receive a larger list of satisfied ex-members was not because such a list could not be composed (I came up with over 30 names in a few hours of the original request), but because some Council members doubted your stated intention to be impartial. They didn’t want the list to become a fishing expedition.”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”: Please tell me how a long list of (long term) well satisfied Ex-JPUSA’s would in any way hurt the community?
Eric’s Comment: “MCOI did not receive audio copies of sermons because JPUSA does not record or duplicate its services (not at that time, at least). Although some members make personal recordings, the Council never asked anyone to tape sermons for the MCOI staff.”
Shelia’s reply to Eric/JPUSA Leadership’s “DIM thinking”: I left the commune in 1998 and video recordings were being made of the Sunday Church services by members of the community with the knowledge and consent of the Leadership (as nothing was done without their knowledge and consent). You and I both know those videos could have been supplied to MCOI; seeing that the funds for the video equipment could only have been supplied by JPUSA since members had very few possessions of their own.
Also Eric, when you use words like “perceive”, (as you did in your early remarks) you raise the question as to whether or not what is being said actually happened; therefore calling fact or truth, a lie.
Eric, by using this scripture Matt. 18:6 you convey a false impression of the JPUSA leaders as simply doing their best to protect teen sexual abusers and you say nothing of the adults who ‘proper action’ should have been taken against instead of ignoring what was done.
You tell us, the amount of help/counseling was given to the teen sexual abusers?
What efforts were made to discover that these children/teens were acting out of the numerous sexual abuses they themselves had endured by adults brought into JPUSA by leadership, as the children grew up in the Commune.
And please go on Eric, to tell us of what legal action was reported and brought against the adults who had sexually abused the children?
Please, do not use the fact that some of the cases of child sexual abuse at JPUSA were done by teens; simply to distract from the cases where Adult Child Abusers have been protected by the leadership, by sending them to off-site JPUSA locations and telling parents and other community members that the sexually abused survivor was lying.
You tell us, how many times JPUSA leadership has counseled the abused to keep silent and that no one would believe them; bringing the guilt upon the heroic survivor.
Eric, you are no doubt an intelligent man but never the less a blind one; which baffles me. I can only conclude that scripture is true as it says; “we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities”.
Please do not collude with those who know the truth yet hide behind the rank and file members and blind ex-members, that do not have full knowledge of truth. I pray for you to wake up because God is Truth and He is Justice and He Comes! Please do not be found with those of Hebrews 10: 30-31.
“For we know Him who said, Vengeance is Mine – retribution and the meting out of full justice rest with Me; I will repay – I will exact the compensation, says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and the cases of His people. It is a fearful (formidable and terrible) thing to incur the divine penalties and be cast into the hands of the living God!” Hebrews 10: 30-31. (amplified)
Eric, I love you and your wife as brother and sister. Get out of the line of fire because you are not battling on the side of God but, it is the Lord with whom you do battle. He is Truth and He is Justice, let Him settle the case.
By the way, Eric, I am a Christian (still), but by your use of the word in your remarks, I cringe to be called one if it means that I am associated with the group to whom you refer and use scripture to defend (the JPUSA Leaders); those who stand with the lie and use you and the precious Word of God to try and prove the lie to be truth.
Due to the number of replies, I cannot reply to each posting here. Fortunately, I know each respondent personally, so I will reach out to you directly to address your criticisms or corrections. I also believe that certain personal incidents should not be posted on a public website, so for this reason I will engage your concerns directly and privately.
A few misunderstandings emerged more than once, and to these I respond briefly.
My use of the term “sexual advances” was misconstrued to mean that “sexual abuse” or “molestation” did not occur. I believe molestation and pederasty occured within the community, and it was sinful.
I did not mean to suggest that most abuse was committed by older children. I said the video doesn’t say how frequently this occurred. Jaime understood my statement correctly and replied appropriately. (Thanks, Jaime!)
Finally, my act of explaining certain interactions with Ron Henzel and Don Veinot was misconstrued as “defending” all the actions of JPUSA leadership at all times. My explanation of the actions of one person done at one point in time should not be reinterpreted as a “defense” of a different person at a different time. Thanks.
I realize Eric has touched on a real sore spot, but I think we should consider calling it a day with the responses. I think he’s got the picture. For those of us who deem prayer as a part of our lives, let’s pray for him and all that God wants to show him. Just sayin 🙂
Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church
The Next Generation ?
Well, one can only hope that they will learn from the mistakes of the past. That somehow, someway the Spirit of God will inflame the next generation’s hearts to pick up the mantle and continue anew.
The mistakes of the past?
An abbreviated history.
Jesus People USA (JPUSA) was born during a great moving of the Spirit of God in the very early 70’s. Many from the counter culture had come to know God and were afire with their new found faith. With their long hair, blue jeans and a past that usually included drugs, sex, rock and roll and rebellion against the establishment, these new converts didn’t fit well into your standard established churches.
Besides they knew that God saved them and loved them, even with all of their cultural trappings and they felt the call to reach out to their own generation and weren’t convinced that they had to cut their hair and forsake their patched blue jeans.
It didn’t start out as an “intentional community”.
Jesus People USA was a small group of people who were zealous to serve God and they were going to do it through street evangelism using their talents of music, street theater, an underground paper and whatever they had. With the diligence of an army in battle, they would hit the streets, going from town to town to reach souls for Christ.
With a deep conviction that Jesus’ return was imminent and possibly very soon there was no time to waste, no work too hard and no personal sacrifice too much. They were banded together with a common bond to give all to Jesus who had given his very life for them.
As any well directed army has leaders to command and direct the troops, so did Jesus People USA. The average disciple of this young army was about 18-19 years old. The leaders (not appointed by any established church) were a Preacher and his wife, of dubious past.
When the group grew and their bus broke down they could no longer travel.
An intentional community and the Jesus People USA Discipleship Training School was born in Chicago.
A group of dedicated young people living close together and sharing all things in common. Wanting to walk uprightly before the Lord in purity, rules had to be established, it was only practical.
The teachings of the “Shepherding Movement” from Christian Growth Ministries that surfaced around the same time were a perfect fit for the new community. Among other things, these teachings gave strict authority to the leaders, perfect for an army of God, strict submission was required, “submit or split” was one of the mantras.
But all was not smelling like roses in Denmark. The pastor, John Herrin Sr. had to be expelled for sexual indiscretions. He had a penchant for going after the young female disciples. His wife had helped to enable him and endured with him through a circuit of churches, as they stayed ahead of similar scandal, left in their wake.
Nepotism was alive and well. Dawn Herrin, the debunked pastor’s wife remained. New leaders emerged at her side.
Glenn Kaiser (Dawn’s son in law), Vic Williams (Dawn’s other son in law) and John Herrin (Dawn’s son), and a few others were included to make up a “council” which would remain as the form of leadership onto this day. Some council members have left and others have been added including Tina Herrin (Dawn’s daughter in law) but all of the Herrin family members have remained.
Plurality of leadership was established and touted as a way to avoid errancy after the ousting of John Herrin Sr., but the Herrin family has always maintained a solid quorum.
Bob Mumford and the Christian Growth Ministries saw the harm and abuse resulting from their teachings of “Shepherding and Discipleship”. They denounced it and apologized for them in the mid-70’s. As did also Keith Green’s Last Days Ministries, and many others, publicly renouncing the harsh practices in controlling their members.
Jesus People USA did not.
They continued to espouse these teachings for many years to come, resulting in much harm to their members.
In 1989 JPUSA joined with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) to gain the legitimacy and credibility which comes from being part of a larger denomination. When joining, JPUSA managed to get the ECC to agree to allow Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church to keep their existing leadership form in perpetuity and in that process discarded many of the normal checks and balances that the ECC requires of its churches. Large sections of the ECC bylaws and constitution governing church policy, structure etc. were stricken from the constitution by the JPUSA leadership, effectively rewriting the document as it applied to JPUSA.
A few of the most egregious and damaging practices that the leadership had instituted:
1) A long held practice of having newly saved parents or single mothers to give up their children to foster families within the community whom the leadership somehow deemed better equipped to raise these children.
2) Failing to properly address and report scores of incidents of child sexual abuse. And knowing of these incidents, failed proper safeguards and background checks of those placed into children’s dormitory living accommodations.
3) While the practice of very harsh disciple of children has changed, it certainly wounded the first generation of children.
4) Failing to abandon the “Shepherding teachings”, this has left many longtime members with an undue dependency on the leadership and many abiding guilt issues for those who chose to leave. Some of this policy may have changed, yet there has not been corrective measures taken to dismantle the psychological effects it continues to have on long term members.
5) The practice of the leadership to encourage commitment to “the community” over one’s commitment to their family and marriage.
What about the next generation?
How could/would one provide a place of acceptance, growth, support and purpose of ministry to a new believer who rejected traditional church culture?
The idea/ideal of coming along side one another to encourage, to assist, to teach one another in the faith, to work together, are these not correct ideas? Are these not biblical ideas, teachings? I would contend that they are, I think most would agree. I believe we were so close and that is one reason why so many of us followed the course for so long.
Look at all that was accomplished, the lives touched, all the vibrant ministries, the list is so long, I won’t even try to name them here, if you are familiar with JPUSA you know what they are/were.
These could still be alive today, growing, thriving.
I don’t think our hearts changed.
So many people willing to give all for God.
So much talent, creativity, energy, love for God, love for each other.
We had found the Pearl of great price. Not in JPUSA, not in community, IN JESUS.
We were happy, rejoicing, thrilled, to sell all and tell the world what we had found.
Jesus People USA could have been so, so much more.
JPUSA was a place where the sum was greater than the parts, where our voice could be magnified, amplified, many hands, a common goal.
A raging fire we could have been.
When the leaders silenced the voices of all others and would only listen to their own counsel they set in motion a course of events that would lead down the unfortunate path of our demise.
Without a vision the people parish.
The fire was slowly snuffed out by small minds who were not willing to do the hard work of proper leadership.
For every wrong decision made they thought they had the answer, they wouldn’t seek outside counsel. They thought that no one knew better than themselves.
I find the word’s to Rolling in the Deep almost haunting.
There’s a fire starting in my heart,
reaching a fever pitch and it’s bring me out the dark.
The scars of your love remind me of us,
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all.
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless,
I can’t help feeling,
We could have had it all …..
Many of us former members struggle with our faith.
Some burnt out, some just plain mad. Some families broken/destroyed.
I hope that God will heal us.
Many of our children don’t know what to believe, I can only hope that the good parts of our example will remain somewhere in their hearts and that God in his time will touch them with his love as he did us.
An Ideal lost…
It feels like I’m writing the obituary of an era…
I hope not. Will God make dry bones live again?
The next generation?
I know much has changed.
The Cornerstone magazine and the festival are gone, Resurrection Band is gone, many of the long term members have moved on. Some remain and work continues, I wish them the best. It’s regrettable that the leadership has never come clean, admitted publicly their mistakes and made proper amends for the misguidance and hurt lives.
Former deacon, Business manager
Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church 1975-2000
I think it’s important to recognize that many of us who post here aren’t ex-members of Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church in so much as we are their mirror. We are as much Jpusa as any formal current member is. A friend articulated this years ago (much better) but we are their fruit, and if they do not like what they see, then it’s time to look at the tree then question why so much of that fruit ends up on the ground bruised.
Year upon year many of us have been saying the same thing. The Covenant Church was informed that child molestations had been going on in Jpusa a number of years ago and they did not act. The Covenant Church was informed about the practices of spiritual and emotional abuse of many members of Jpusa and they did not act. Instead former members of Jpusa were met with scorn, judgement and condemnation for their accounts, much like many of us who have come forward are in regards to alleging unreported cases of child sexual abuse and trauma.
The right thing to do would be for the pastors of Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant to make these wrongs a right. No matter the specifics a situation, offer an apology and a question “How can we make this right?” Surely that is the least that they could have done? Instead, it’s been a steady refusal to own up to ANYTHING save for some generalities. Protect the community at all costs. Protect our way of life. Preserve, preserve, preserve.
And now we are where are because of those choices. We are their mirror, their mirror darkly. If Jpusa is what it has always defended itself to be to the world, then where are all of those well adjusted people to outnumber the well of hurt?
Jaime M Prater
These issues are not at all clear cut; there are many nuances and perspectives. I joined JPUSA as a young single person in ’86 and apart from an 18 month stay on the Navajo rez in ’06, lived there until ’12 when I moved out to assist my parents.
I met my wife at JPUSA and we had our 3 children there and had an overwhelming positive experience. We never suffered any of the 5 points Bob Sexton so eloquently detailed, and I know that most of those still at JPUSA share an experience similar to my own.
However, I do not discount any of the points Bob brings up, his perspective and experience were shared by many. Especially among those who joined JPUSA in the 70s & early 80s.
But there lies the frustating complexity, people having experiences of nearly opposite character during the same time and within the same organization. Most of the policies and practices that had the most potential for harm have changed, yet the same leadership that instituted those practices is still in place today. Certainly, God can affect growth, change, maturity and wisdom in a person (and orhanization), but shouldn’t apology and some sort of restuitive efforts be made for past mistakes?
So, that is how I find myself fully in support of JPUSA and its various outreaches and yet fully in support of Jaime’s project and his efforts to give voice to those who have found themselves silenced.
I simply believe in what JPUSA can (and in many cases has and continues to) be too much to let the skeletons remain in the closet. These misdeeds need a proper burial. Both for the sake of JPUSA and , more over, for the lives that were so horribly damaged by the mistakes and misdeeds.
Those who are honestly doing their best to follow Jesus have nothing to fear from the truth, even when it reveals horrendous hurts.
I believe you do everyone here a disservice when you say, in your first sentence “these issues aren’t clear cut.”
These issues are clear cuts. These aren’t horrible hurts, these are outright crimes. Any other articulation of them is a dishonest one.
I just believe that should be clarified. I have enjoyed your support and your ernest quest for the truth. My stomach does a flip whenever I perceive a “not bad but” or a “well, bad things happened…but.”
Let us be done with that.
J M Prater
There’s nothing nuanced about child sexual abuse. Especially when we’re talking about so many cases.
Jaime and Andy,
I’m NOT trying to say there is anything ambiguous about allegations of sexual abuse.
My concern is that there is a tendency to make it an “either/or” type of proposition.
Either JPUSA is a horrible place that is a hot bed of abusive activity, or it is a wonderful place where God is at work. If that thinking is generally accepted, then many folks believe all that is required to discount all criticism and question is to find an instance to the contrary.
My point is thstthr “clear cut”, “eithet/or” paradigm does not apply.
Yes, many good things have happened in and becsuse of JPUSA; but that does not mean that it is immune from horrendous instances of abuse; or that those instances can be ignored or not dealt with.
Contrary to the “well, bad things may have happened . .
but” argument thst seeks to discredit questioning and criticism; i am saying that no matter how much “good” has come from JPUSA, these allegations still must be acknowledged and handled in a forthcoming and transparently honest wsy.
The following information is offered toward a better understanding of issues which former members have confronted JPUSA leadership with many times, over the years.
The following link is to an Open Letter offered to JPUSA Leadership in 2002.
While it is acknowledged that some surface issues have changed, the core structure and major issues addressed in the letter remain the same.
JPUSA leadership would still do well (as a minimum) to adopt these changes in hope of a healthy environment for the next generation.
This second link is regarding the amended ECC/JPUSA Constitution & Bylaws
Current as of October 2000
Thank you for the significant comment you posted here on April 23. In addition to tending to several pressing obligations, my response has been delayed by my desire to take some time to consider your points and think through my responses to them.
Before I launch into my reply, I would reiterate my high opinion of you, and add that nothing you wrote here diminishes it in the least. As you well know, I myself spent five-and-one-half years in a spiritually abusive group. For a brief while the head of that group considered me part of the group’s leadership (although my role was kept rather vague), which means that I sat by and watched as he verbally assaulted, emotionally pummeled, and spiritually castrated (and I do not use that term lightly, let alone facetiously!) my fellow-members. I supported his abuse and to some extent participated in it.
Thus I am in no moral position to condemn anyone in JPUSA’s leadership. Meanwhile, I also remember how defensive I was of my ex-leader and his group even after I left. It took nearly a decade for me to sort out the major issues, and even longer to find answers to various lingering questions.
My guess is that you are trying to be honestly open to reevaluating JPUSA, and that, like me, it becomes easier to be objective about it with the passing of time. But since I do not know where you might be in such a process, all I can do at this point is respond to your words as carefully as possible.
Eric, that may very well be what you personally intended at the time, but it is not the impression I and others received from the editorial (credited to the “Cornerstone Staff”) titled “The Acid Test of Accountability,” which served as the introduction to the issue in question (Volume 22, Issues 102/103, pages 5, 8). References to the book there were clear, beginning in the editorial’s first paragraph, in fact, and I believe that a straightforward interpretation of them leads to the conclusion that the magazine issue was a response to Dr. Enroth’s book. In part, it said:
This editorial is obviously programmatic in the sense that it lays out the rationale and agenda for the entire magazine issue. And yet while I did find references to “correspondence with Dr. Enroth,” and, “A series of letters (numbering around forty) between ourselves, the ECC, Dr. Enroth, and Zondervan” (page 5), I cannot find any reference to “a lengthy document Dr. Enroth circulated to about 10 to 15 of [your] ministry friends.”
As far as your “Open Letter To Dr. Ronald Enroth” (pages 65-72) is concerned, neither did I find a reference to this “lengthy document” there, although I admit that I did not slog through every word of its densely-typed, small-font, three-columned, eight quarto-sized pages to locate it! (But thanks for informing us that you wrote it, since that was not made clear in the magazine.) Rather, the “Open Letter” begins:
Why only refer to “a two-page list of concerns and criticisms” whose only apparent recipient was Jon Trott if you were actually responding to “a lengthy document…to about 10 to 15 of our ministry friends?” Please provide the page, column, and paragraph numbers in case I have overlooked your mention of it.
But even if it actually was the case that you were primarily responding to something that Dr. Enroth had shared with “about 10 to 15” people, doesn’t it seem a bit like overkill to respond to him with a nationally- and internationally-circulated magazine issue? Why not simply circulate a private reply among the aforementioned “ministry friends?”
Eric, the testimony I received from Dr. Enroth in 1994 was that it was obvious to him that Cornerstone had received an early draft of his chapter on JPUSA because the things that the leadership of JPUSA were referring to in that chapter in his interactions with them had since been significantly revised or deleted (so I’m not referring here to minor typographical errors). Dr. Enroth confirmed this assessment several times to me at the time of the controversy, and I have not received any information to the contrary since then.
I’m sure you’ll agree to set aside the question of whether Cornerstone received only a single chapter or the entire book in this fashion, since it is not the point. The question is whether Cornerstone received a heads-up about the book’s criticisms of JPUSA earlier than it should have, and whether JPUSA may have had a friend at Zondervan who made that happen. Assuming Dr. Enroth’s account of evidence for a premature release is accurate, it does not seem likely, to me, at least, that competent editors would authorize the release of a review copy of a book so early in the editing process. It seems more likely that someone sneaked it out.
But, in fairness, here we have an obvious conflict between your narrative and Dr. Enroth’s, and I cannot at this time decide between them with certainty. After providing my opinion based on the accounts I have received, all I can do is note the conflict and move on.
I did not characterize Cornerstone’s various responses (the magazine issue, Jon Trott’s newspaper interview, etc.) as “not allowing the author to speak,” but rather as “attempts to discredit Enroth before he even had the chance to speak,” which I think they obviously were, so I stand by my own wording. And since the issue’s editorial seemed to make it clear that it was a response to Recovering from Churches That Abuse, I cannot see how responding to a book before it is published is “timely.” Even more difficult for me to see is how enlisting allies to discredit “Dr. Ronald Enroth’s accusations against the Jesus People USA” (not the accusations the 40 ex-JPUSAs he interviewed, mind you, but “Enroth’s accusations,” cf. page 43) constitutes “being accountable by bringing the matter to light.” It came off more like you were trying to hold Dr. Enroth accountable for supposedly being unfair to JPUSA rather than being accountable for what ex-members were saying. But I am glad you at least acknowledge that the “anti-Enroth” issue of Cornerstone was not the proper response.
Eric, you cannot imagine how many reactions I experienced when I read this paragraph. I find it encouraging that you seem to realize that you are here describing and admitting to a pervasive failure of accountability on the part of JPUSA’s leadership. Accountability is not only to those over us in the Lord, but to those under us as well. And even though you only addressed the lack of it on the part of JPUSA’s leaders “on two or three occasions” during your years at JPUSA, you admit that this is what “usually” happened.
But any relief I feel over the significance of your candor on this enormous issue is tempered by the sense of tragedy that comes from knowing that for many years men and women who have claimed to be under-shepherds of Christ have actually ruled His sheep “with force and harshness” (Ezekiel 34:4, ESV). Thus the rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees falls on JPUSA’s pastors as well: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4, ESV).
Of all the people there who should have been models of humility, repentance, and reconciliation, it should have been the pastors! They routinely exacted accountability from those they supposedly cared for, and often at the price of ostracism from JPUSA—a heavy burden they tied on their people’s shoulders, which they themselves were not willing to lift a finger to move, despite the fact that nothing would have more powerfully exemplified the truth of the Gospel. So I see little need to be curious why so many who have left JPUSA have also left the Christian faith, since the leadership may have preached the Gospel but this critical part of their lives contradicted it.
I am grateful for this admission as well, if for no other reason than that it means that the blame for this shameful duplicity does not rest solely on the shoulders of Jon Trott, whom the leaders of JPUSA used to fend us off in their cowardice. So it would appear that they lied to us when they agreed to trust us, that they lied to us when they said they would cooperate, and then they expected Jon to take the heat, and perhaps the fall. Thanks: if you hadn’t told us, we wouldn’t have known, and we would be left to think it was all Jon’s fault.
When I read things like this I am glad that the Lord has blessed me with a rather ample sense of humor, because I was there when the Mortimers finally showed up. And if JPUSA’s Council had made any decision whatsoever about the matter, the distinct and loud impression that the Mortimers’ disoriented and tardy arrival gave was that whatever decision had been made had either come at the last possible minute, and/or that the Mortimers had only learned of what the whole thing was about moments before they entered the room. I have entertained various speculative scenarios as to what might have been happening behind the scenes, but the bottom line for us is that it was the first red flag that JPUSA’s leadership did not intend to deal with us in good faith, and as such it gave a very accurate forecast.
Then it is doubly odd that the leadership not only promised to supply such audio copies, but that the idea for doing so originated with them.
Actually, Eric, in all the draft copies and clips of the documentary that I had seen up until your comment was made, all the alleged offenders were adults. I did not sense any lack of clarity on that point. But while I have heard of cases since then in which the alleged perpetrators were teenagers, those cases still raise grave issues of how they were allegedly handled, and why parents were allegedly not allowed to contact proper authorities.
Eric, it seems pretty obvious that among those who were stumbled into sin were some “one of these little ones who believe in Me.” They were children who were also young disciples, as you put it, whom JPUSA had the responsibility to mentor in the Christian faith. Now, I don’t think you’re denying that, but let’s just be clear: no matter which reference “these little ones” has in Matthew 18:6, they were caused to stumble into sin at JPUSA.
At the same time, while it may be true that you should not deal with a child or teen perpetrator the same way you deal with an adult, you should still, nevertheless deal with them, and the authorities need to be involved whenever a crime has been committed, no matter by whom. At the very least, if one of your children had been molested by a teenager, would you not want to see that your child had the best possible care, regardless of the legal consequences that might result from the exposure of the incident? How would you react if you were told, “No, you can’t contact this social worker or that counselor, no matter how good they are, because they are mandated reporters who will probably report the incident”? Are we not called upon by Scripture to honor the authority of local government (Romans 13:1-5), or is that only for when we need its social welfare safety net?
Yes; in other words, if I understand what you’re saying in the light of Scripture: the JPUSA community is likely to ignore their guilt for ungodly reasons. Sure! I get it. We are all sinners. We know how rationalization and self-justification works.
But do you really hear what you are saying about JPUSA? If your assessment is true, you believe they will probably continue to refuse to care for those who have been the most vulnerable in their midst. Thus, in biblical terms, it’s likely that they had no business ever presuming to be qualified as spiritual leaders. So when I read you writing these things, I have to wonder whether you still think there is any reason to continue denying that JPUSA has been a church that has abused people, especially during the time that you lived there.
Yes, we do. But even if one side does not share the same grounds of faith as the other, it is still biblically incumbent on the side that stands on the ground of salvation by grace through faith in Christ to seek whatever reconciliation can be attained. And yet up to now JPUSA’s leadership appears to be despising Paul’s injunction, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:8, ESV). Instead, if you are right, it would seem that they have deliberately chosen to live in enmity with those they have offended under the deceitful cloak of self-protection. Up to now it appears that they have habitually disregarded Christ’s command to interrupt their practice of external “righteousness” for the sake of spiritual unity with their brothers and sisters in order to be proactive in making things right (Matthew 5:23-24). Instead, according to your testimony, they doubled down on their image of external “righteousness” while sacrificing the sheep entrusted to their care on the altar of their “community.”
I am glad that you made your private amends with Dr. Enroth many years ago. Given the nature of the testimonies from multiple people that Jaime’s film is bringing to light, and given your role as an ardent defender of JPUSA in times past, I wonder what role you will take and how ardently you will assume it in pursuing the kind of amends that now need to be made between all those who were involved in this situation.
This may have already been answered,but I am confused as to why Eric is responding in a (for lack of better words) representative for jp?! Eric your family left many years ago am I correct? I understand you are a part of the ECC,but wouldn’t it be better for all involved if there were some responses from those who are being “called isout”? Would that not make more sense? Why is it, do you think, that you, or in most cases my dad are speaking for them….is that biblical?What is the deal?! If so.eone is making very serious accusations about me I am not sending someone else to defend me….I am going to deal with it in a way that eliminates all heresay and drama.Why is this so hard?My only conclusion is, that their stance one of no wrongdoing.
Tamzen, my opinion as to why Eric and your dad have continued to answer and/or defend the Jpusa leaders is that, quite frankly, the Jpusa leadership are, and always have been cowards.
They have never once defended, or tried to defend themselves as a council using their voice, rather letting others take the fall while they get the minutes of each debacle reported to them.
Imagine the scenario when all of this begins to unfold, and they are questioned about certain responses throughout the years….”well, we didn’t tell Jon Trott or Eric Pement to say such things” see how that works?
Unfortunately, I think Jaime’s analysis is spot-on. From all outward appearances, when doing battle to protect their public image of righteousness, JPUSA’s Council uses others as armed human shields, if you will.
Yes, JPUSA’s Council signed Eric’s “An Open Letter To Dr. Ronald Enroth,” and that perhaps has given the impression that at one point they actually did “defend themselves.” But now that we all know that Eric actually wrote it, it occurs to me that if I were to begin picking apart that document’s statements (which I can easily do based on what I know from Scripture and have heard from ex-members), the Council could manufacture an “out” by expressing their “regret” over Eric’s choice of wording which they did not “catch” at the time. (Wink! Wink!)
I hate to sound cynical here, but in my opinion the behavior I’ve been witnessing for nearly 20 years now on the part of JPUSA’s leadership, and especially the aspects of that behavior which we have all come to learn more recently thanks to Jaime’s work, places the burden squarely on them to explain why we should give them the benefit of the doubt.
It is my hope that the rank and file membership of Jpusa RISE UP and demand change, accountability, and a democratic way of life. It won’t be easy. There are fantastic people who live at Jpusa who touched my life as a child through manhood. I hope they can find it within themselves to form their own coalition of members and DEMAND that the past be accounted for and made right.
THEY have the ultimate power. THEY make Jpusa what it is, not the council.
I was saved at a Resurrection Band concert ( Rez Band was their moniker later ) on 12/13/80, NEVER discipled by JPUSA, got involved in another cult less than a year later. Came out of that cult in ’90, went to Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in late spring of ’95.
Found out later thru an ex-JPUSA ( I did NOT hear this from a Wellspring staff member, as that would be a violation of the law) that another ex-JPUSA went to Wellspring for one week around 2002/2003 when Barbara Pement, Eric Pement’s wife was there for a 2 week stay. Despite the FACT that Barbara received treatment at Wellspring, Eric Pement STILL endorses JPUSA and is STILL the vice president of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions ( http://www.emnr.org ) Why is this allowed? Why is Eric Pement allowed to be an apologist for a cult that has destroyed lives for nearly 4 decades?
Although it may be an exercise in futility, someone needs to attempt to become the moderator of jpusainfo.yuku.com and “unlock” the bottom section of the site.
This is the first ex-JPUSA site that was started around 2001. The stories that were posted the first 4 years or so were riveting and appalling. Unfortunately, some inside JPUSA started posting hurtful comments on the site, and a few years later a few pro-JPUSA defenders started posting, deriding those who saw JPUSA as a cult.
Shane Moser became the moderator in 2008 and appears to be no longer doing anything with the site. He may not even be responding to e-mails. ( He kicked me off without reason shortly after he became moderator.)
The bottom section of the site is where the best stories are, yet, it is completely inaccessible due to the incompetence of the moderator before Moser.
The following site may be of help to ex-JPUSA’s: exjpusahelp.com
I for one have never heard of that site, but jpusa leadership are notorious for having others defend them such as Jon T. And Eric P. Finding out who started it could be a first step. By the way, what cult were you involved in.
It was a group called End Time Handmaidens and Servants. My report is at eth-s.com .
It is located in the northwest corner of Arkansas, in what is known as the “Grand Canyon” of the Ozark Mt. range. EXTREMELY secluded property. My total involvement was for about 8.5 years, with 4.3 of those years spent at the h.q. Only about 25 – 30 of us worked there, and I rarely left the valley in which the h.q. was located. The overall atmosphere was one of mutual despisement of each other.
Although the cult is not well known, the writings of the (now dead) leader, Gwen Shaw, inspired much of the heresy of C. Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Dick Bernal and others in the “spiritual warfare movement”, and she was also part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement.
PLEASE pray for an individual at JPUSA whom I spoke with a few days ago. They knew something about the place was “off”, and were thinking of leaving. I gave them the links to the Uptown Update interview with Jamie, and the http://www.exjpusahelp.com site. Pray they have the courage to leave and find a decent place to stay. Thanks.
On April 12, Amy said that “…. the core leadership has sexual and psychological issues dating way back.” I believe that is one reason why they chose Trott to be their PR#1 man.
Consider this message by Trott:
bluechristian.blogspot.com/2007/09/mutuality-in-bed-my-seminar-for.html ( Type in only http:// before the link, NOT, http://www. )
Trott is obsessed with sex, plain and simple.
As far as PR#2, Eric Pement: Since he was brought up in the RLDS (Reorganized Latter Day Saints) cult, I believe he simply can’t bring himself to believe that he got involved in another cult.
He’s not really defending JPUSA – he’s defending himself.
Before moving to Chicago, the leaders of what is now JPUSA were briefly affiliated with the infamous child-sex cult, the Children of God (COG), led by (the now dead) David “Moses” Berg.
About 6 years ago, I found an ex-COG site, and a topic started by someone who was inquiring about JPUSA. Below is the link to the topic. An anonymous ex-JPUSA warns of the JPUSA cult’s history of child molestation, I post some thoughts, and then, JPUSA’s own cyber-troll, Jon Trott appears. Please carefully read about what he says about his views of the COG, especially his early impressions of them when he saw them on television while young. I find it ironic that JPUSA was originally associated with the COG, that Trott formed an early admiration of the COG, and then joined JPUSA in 1977. Kind of like a “birds of a feather” situation. Really SICK, TWISTED birds of a feather
groups.able2know.org/xfamily/topic/60-1 (Type in http:// before the link and NOT http://www. )
The abuse I received living at JPSUSA for at least 10 years was physical and mental abuse. Punishment was being hit with rods, rulers, belts (even pulled my pants down to make it hurt worse) whatever. In the later years of me living there I had started to act out, violently and would try to hit back.
Leadership(if that is what you want to call it) had me bouncing around family to family like foster care of some crap and for the longest time wouldn’t allow my mother to see me or my father to see me and my mother. Eventually I was considering mentally Il. sent to Henry Horner Children’s center in Chicago where I learned curse words, bad behavior, smoking etc. Once I was returned to JPUSA, JP had me go to a public school and there I was punched and pushed down a cement flight of stairs. Maybe I was just too weird to other kids that were living in the “outside world” Anyhow…eventually I was sent back to the hospital and eventually to Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana Ill, which honestly was the best thing that happened to me. Cunningham Children’s Home had many black racist people who didn’t like the white kids but there were also very loving and kind staff members who cared more about the kids than themselves and that saved my personality from going overboard with hate and wanting revenge.
To this day I can’t have a conversation about abuse with my mother, she seriously defends JPUSA stating that the leadership was right to try and “handle things” internally before taking drastic measure with the police. Of course I’m saddened by hearing her say that. There definitely was some very fun times there at JPUSA and I’m still christian and I forgive my abusers and the abusers of my friends I had at JPUSA. Many people I know including Jaime P. have totally denied Christ and live in the world as if there is no God. Yes I blame JPUSA for friends of mine and other people I know for them turning their backs on Jesus. Bad Witnessing is worse than none at all in my opinion. Many families at JPUSA would not let their kids be around me and one time I went to cornerstone the kids blamed me for another kid smoking a cigarette and shunned me. If I had to start my childhood over it would be without Jesus people but definitely not without JESUS!.
I’m not sure what to think about the whole sexual abuse accusations, sounds like a conspiracy even if some sexual abuse had happened. Honestly I didn’t think people who were sexually abused would actually come out and make it public so easily and post it all over the web…strange. My childhood story is hard to believe just as other ex children of JPUSA.
Christie. I refute what my son Steve States that I did not believe the abuse at jpusa, I know his teacher miss l. Heiss spanked him for every little thing I know because two of his classmates talked about it right in front of me.Alsoi tried to get him back I always got the reason that it was my anger that caused him to act out well it wasn’t there were plenty of other parents with anger I never abused him they did with their authoritarianism and excessive spankings and separationfrom me I couldn’t visit him for a very long time.At one point in time I insisted he be returned to me and Jeanie Denton of course this is coming from the top, said no and I said I will take him and leave to that she replied she would call dcfs, Jeane Denton did try to get him taken from me and for what? Oh I know cause I didn’t want to be controlled by control freaks and didn’t want them spanking him. They should have taught me parenting skills and a mentor but their solution is always to take kids from their single parent. They Glen,Wendy,Tina,John,neiland Victor sit on their thrones acting like they are God, someone needs to dethrone them! I read about the sex crimes and I watched Jamie’s movie I believe all of it because I know the people and I remember Jamie he was a sweet little child like the other children jpusa abused.I knew Jennie Vancourt and the abuses that happened on her floor to her kids she told me abuse was occurring. Also when stev moved to the third floor Deb STraun took me aside and told me to keep a close eye on Steve becauseDaniel Alvarado liked little boys.You know my son forgets that i to had emotional issues fornot being able to keep him and seei ghim walking down the street and not even being able to say hi it wasnt fair it was hurtfulhow the so called leaders treated us and othders.w I hope my son can put away his bitterness and anger and go forward in Christ things happen people fail us I beleive blame should not be placed on God we are not exempt from hardships and trials or persecution.Jesus is the only one that can restore us spiritually and emotionally and bring healing to us.There are some good Baptist churches that preach the whole counsel of who are not muzzled because of501c3status. Revelation: 21:1=4 And I saw a new heaven and anew earth:for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, coming down from God our of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that Sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said UN to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. KJV version.
Sorry for the misspells I’m in a hurry to eat lunch.
THANK YOU so much for your amazing account and bravery. It takes a lot of courage to come out and say what you have.
I just want to make right one portion of what you said as it relates to me. However much I do not consider myself a Christian, I am a believer in god. I’ve always had a connection to god, and we talk daily. I couldn’t do what I do now in terms of this project without that relationship.
Bless you sir.
On April 24, Bob Sexton wrote:
“The pastor, John Herrin Sr. had to be expelled for sexual indiscretions. He had a penchant for going after the young female disciples. His wife had helped to enable him and endured with him through a circuit of churches, as they stayed ahead of similar scandal, left in their wake. Nepotism was alive and well…Plurality of leadership was established and touted as a way to avoid errancy after the ousting of John Herrin Sr., but the Herrin family has always maintained a solid quorum.”
As a psychotherapist specialized in working with adult survivors of childhood abuse/sexual abuse, I think Mr. Sexton has hit on a core issue surrounding the unwillingness of the leadership of JPUSA to appropriately deal with the charges of outright, unquestionable abuse.
Cultures of enabling and denial are known and documented to be systemic and generational realities in family systems where abuse/sexual abuse/incest exist. And JPUSA is a “family system” both by nature of its organizational structure, and as the apparent and unfortunate organizational victim of a dysfunctional biological family that makes up the core leadership.
In response to Hydro, i knew your mom, and i know for a fact that she had been threatened by j.denton, to call dcfs and have you taken from her j. denton said iit in a very mean way. Your mother’s crime in their eyes is that she would yell at you not alot but just enough in their eyes to force her to give you up to another family. By their attitude half of the kid;s in the world would be in foster care, parents some do yell at their kid’s; their are parenting classes for those parents which brings me to the next fact/ J
Just so u know i knew your mom, she was threatened by j.Denton, J.Denton would call dcfs and have u taken from her if she left with u. She was forced to give u up to another family so her hands were tied.Really . the big crime in their eyes is that she would yell at u. Jpusa didn’t have parenting classes they didn’t give her a mentor J. Denton threatened her son one time after J. Denton spanked u she said if u don’t listen to your mom u won’t see her all she got were threats, no help in learning how to be a parent I remember her reading a Bill Backus book about raising kids etc. and she applied it and your mother never yelled at you again she would encourage you, not be punitive with u. jpusa were wrong for not teaching her how to parent they take the easy way take the kid give the kid to another family.There was a positive change and nobody acknowledged it but boy they were quick to acknowledge when she used to yell ha!
Also i know she doesn’t defend jpusa she did the research and fully believes the allegations against jpusa. She knows some of the victims personally and feels very sad for them.
Thanks for this great article and forum. I have been looking for the ex-Jesus People who I used to belong to. Please let me know where I might find them again.
I think part of the reason that some of us have defended Jesus People is that we did not grow up there and left after a couple of years. I was there three years and was emotionally unbalanced to begin with. Jesus People is what I needed at the time but was only part of my journey. The biggest things that I appreciated was not those in charge but all the people that Jesus People attracted. I met so many kinds of Christians and individuals which jump started my own spiritual journey, Today I am a liberal High Church Episcopalian and consider myself part of the emergent movement. I guess what I am saying is that alot of us short timers were blinded by are circumstances, individuals we met, and ministries like rez and cornerstone.
Because we may not have a right to defend the community, Sexual abuse is a horrible sin and my prayer is that those who in leadership step down admit thier what they did and that help be given to those they damaged.
Looking for anyone who can and is willing to put me in contact with Pastor Ron Brown or the Brown family, I believe I’m directly related. I can be found at email@example.com
I had a short stay at JPSUS for a few months in the late 70s. I was 17 years old then and they had a buddy system in place. My buddy was Richard Upchurch, a charismatic black man who easily climbed the ranks of authority at JPSUS, but was apparantly a deeply flawed individual who later on really went off the deep end, and even stole a vehicle from the commune when he left.
Richard was a smooth talker. We got to ride in the Resurrection Band bus with the band to Detroit for a concert in a park there, things like that.
Anyway, it seemed that JPUSA liked to reward people with leadership roles that talked a lot, like somehow talking a lot shows spiritual maturity. I’m trying not to laugh right now.
As far as ‘sexual’ things, all I remember is the single brothers meetings when they confessed their sins openly to the group, and then prayed. A very common confession was ‘masturbation’, and one young guy about my age at that time would confess every meeting that he messed up yet once again and can’t seem to stop doing it.
The single brothers had to be at the commune for (I forget how many years) before they could court a sister and get married.
Demonizing human nature, I believe, creates self fulfilling prophesy, where the labeling of lust as perversion works within a person’s heart in time to create the pervert mindset, where then the entertaining of thoughts you know are not you begin to take hold and change you into something you hate yourself for.
I do remember the Bible saying in I Timothy that forbidding marriage is a doctrine of devils. I would think as a Christian community, you’d note that if all the single brothers have masturbation confessions, you’d try hard to get them married before the devil gets a chance to tempt them with thoughts of perversion.
After you’ve dealt with that one, we’ll talk about why married people stray and such.
Thanks for the video. God bless.
20 years at JPUSA and for me it was good. The case against the council foolishly covering up abuse is absolute. But do those actions constitute even 1% of 1% of everything done by hundreds of people over decades? 10 leaders failed to call the cops. So now everything about jpusa is evil?
I stand with the victims. their pain is 100% to me. But must the world be taught that the massive amounts of good that jpusa did and is still doing is nothing? When you attack jpusa you are attacking the thousands who lived there for love who never had anything to do with the councils poor choice. 2nd point is why is Jaimes group going after the 10 people who failed to report only? Anyone wanting to do something should go after the real pedophiles who harmed children. They go mostly unnamed publicly. One of the people in Jaimes video has a brother who was one of the abusers. We rightly condemn the council for not wanting those they loved to suffer public humiliation and jail and then do the same ourselves. Why didnt she out her brother -a real criminal while condemning those who failed to call the police? Why is there no publicized list of all of the actual perps? Why are we not hunting them down and warning their neighbors? Because Jaimes video isnt about reducing the number of future victims it is about smearing people he is mad at for other reasons also. The council was stupid to not realize that abused children grow up and as adults tell the truth -as Jaimes movie proves. So there was no way any coverup would work anyway. Jpusa is a good group numbering in the hundreds doing amazing acts of love who had 10 leaders who totally blew it regarding the child victims.
I’d like to share my very brief experience at Japooza – not a bad one; and then my thoughts on the whole grim affair at core of the article, and thread.
I was brought up in the church from age two, but nothing ever spoke to me, none of the typical buzz phrases or articles of faith, just no connection. Not being a particularly rebellious sort, I sought at least the succor of something relevant – to me – within the general Christian milieu. By my late teens (the late 70s), it was evident that for anything new that came about, the church was always, on average, about twenty years behind in getting with the program; meaning, they never really had their own, it’s all a matter of slowly coming round to ‘the world”s way of doing things; then fitting it, or hoping to fit it, within a localized Biblical framework. (Cynical, you may say; to which I must ask: Unless you’re much younger – and in that case, similar arguments may be made by properly-questioning folks of a slightly later generation – think back to when drums in Christian churches were widely, if not universally, considered a’work of the devil’ [frequent direct quote], and even tame Christian rock albums were hard to come by; then compare that with the fact that by the late 80s, not only was every fourth band on the radio calling themselves Christian, but there was Christian heavy metal, soon Christian death metal [yes, it’s a sound over and above any lyrical application], and more than one entire regularly published magazine devoted to Christian metal, a shocking change from any angle, when held against the consensus of not too many years prior. I lived through that time: the retrospective is almost funny. But playing it safe on the part of the church [used generally, of course, so please hold on to your ‘But! …But! :)], then embracing the new thing wholeheartedly, like was anyone *really* getting a word from God to proceed…or not? No, nobody. ;p) The point of that aside is simply to say, when nothing else spoke to me, heavy music did; and nothing showed itself in my viewscreen until late-70s Resurrection Band, uncannily, did. Cornerstone Mag was up next; and the artwork…groovy; but, ah, quite dissatisfying to some entrenched old-schoolers, as shown by a letter to the ed complaining that their art was, quote, ‘demonic’. (Are you seeing a trend? You should be. I’d add a ‘LOL’; but really, superstition isn’t funny…leastways, not anymore.)
A few years after my fond discovery of a band through which I could actually hear the message (yes, there was also 2nd Chapter, about as close as I’d get in my search for the well-nigh-non-existent Christian Prog, Kansas having veered more and more radio-ward, and Jimmy Hotz unbeknownst to me until just about centuries later; but really, 2nd Chap’s jaw-droppingly fantastic melodies aside, Matthew, in concert, sang with *no* emotion, no expression whatsoever, just his way, but why bother watching a statue when you can listen, and imagine otherwise – when you can pretend that it matters?) I took a six-month, 20,000 mile roadtrip around the states. Along the way I stopped at Last Days Ministries in Texas; and also, Japooza, in Chicago. I may have called ahead, don’t recall (this was 1981), but, parking along the street, and entering, my reception was decent. I was trying to remember a few of the terms; when coming to the end of the above thread of 53 comments (I read them all with interest), another Mark helped me out in his October 2017 post. I was assigned a ‘buddy’, shown around a bit, taken upstairs, and we hung out in said buddy’s quarters. Whether I was invited to stay on, or I asked, I do not recall; but the invitation was open. For a few years afterward, I felt guilty for turning it down due to my extreme lack of interest in temperatures below 70, knowing what Chicago is during summer’s off season, like I couldn’t be Cold for Christ?, yep, full admission. The buddy, a very friendly and pleasant guy I think about three years younger, toured me about, gave me the scoop; along the way mentioning they did confessions (I think it was weekly). I was impressed, as I’d always thought that was one thing the RCC had over Protestantism – I’d been well-schooled, all my life, in militant anti-Catholicism – in acknowledging sins; but here it seemed more relevant since you’d be doing all the admittin’ to your housemates, to some local peer group…well, from amongst the stated 300-ish of them, at the time. I do wish I recalled the name of my Buddy. He had a pony tail longer than mine, a slightly scruffy face, and played me a few light ditties on his acoustic guitar, my disappointment at his having basically given up any serious pursuit of music since become a Christian, the usual story, throw away your talent in order to better…worship? But not to get personal, he was, as a Buddy, totally cool to me. I couldn’t have asked for better. Later, he regaled me with an unlabeled cassette of some foreign band. (The music was riveting, heavy rock. I inquired. Unfortunately all he knew was the band’s possible name of Arkangel; but even that wasn’t confirmed. I spent 12 years trying to track them down, finally did, an expensive rarity from Venezuela, and well worth having driven all the way to Chicago to hear off a low noise tape; and yes indeed, that was the band, ’cause no one up till then rocked like they did.) My Buddy also mentioned, since I was all into talking music, and so was he, that it was forbidden to listen to some (or was it all?) of Kerry Livgren’s recently-released solo offering, Seeds of Change, because Ronnie James Dio sang on a track or two; and having done time in Black Sabbath, that wouldn’t do. I sort of understood; but also didn’t because music spoke to me over and above mere lyrical content; and I could not, would not go through more than a week without playing Seeds of Change for the millionth time. I think that sort of prohibition, while not, in its immediacy, alarming, put me off of living there. I stayed 3 nights, and boogied on, wishing them well. My only other recollection is a sermonette delivered as two-person skit; so, entertainment credit is given. The fact of dingy old buildings being something I’ve always found depressing would likely not have served me well, either, so the pickiness of my visual esthetics may, in retrospect, been a valid reason for not staying beyond the three day introductory. I felt neither drawn nor repelled by anything else, simply the fact of thinking I should find a home church beyond the standard suit-and-tie on Sunday, more casual on Sunday night, real casual on Wednesday night, and even-the-youth-minister-dresses cazh on a hot-dog Saturday afternoon in the park social, church. You know the type: we should dress for God on Sunday morning; but less so the rest of the week.
So, my personal experience, though short, was, via three-and-a-half albums (as they’d started drastically changing style by their fourth vinyl album, those early demo tapes not coming to my attention until 2010) was helpful for where I was at, how I needed information conveyed to me. There were some disappointments, as in their poor logic and handling of the anti-D&D rage via a Cornerstone article, and politically daft opinings on matters outside the country, beyond their ken: yammering about things distant, and about which they were painfully unsussed, when their provinciality was even more stringent than I’d imagined, as witnessed by many former residents in the thread hereabove. But, as to enculturated sin, I was shocked to hear rumors of any, learning them only through my greater shock in learning about multiple issues coming out of the Bill Gothard ‘institute’, whose weeklong seminar I’d taken, to the tune of copious notes. If you look up one on the net, you’ll often find the other. And gosh, in my naivete, I’d thought John Todd was the only church-related problem (with parallels to, but infinitely more interesting than, the late-in-the-day revelations concerning Mike Warnke – for those who are curious; and you should be).
So, reflections on how abuse of position might come about. Power, the attendant privilege; and the almost inescapable pride of position. It has been my vastly intrigued observation that religious groups (oh, they can call themselves ‘spiritual’ all day long, whatever, I know the game and the necessary denials), when they approach about the 300 membership mark – or, horrors, exceed, as in the numerous megachurches – given time, breed their own culture, their own systems, and nothing untoward may show up for 20 plus years; but you can bet if the same few are still at the top, abuse will obtain. It works much in the same way that entrenched politicians (Diane Feinstein is a good – because remarkably ‘I can do what I want; I’m comfortably ensconced in indefinite tenure’ bad – example, here). Bosses (ok, call them leadership) keeping a grip on their power, with gradual influx of any manner of improprieties – or straight-up evil – and no one had best question, or in any manner try and wrest it from. It might be the intrigue of easy financial…opportunities: the willing donations; but physical
availability of human chattel is always at the ready, given that you have followers – much more so if the term used is ‘disciples’ – and it goes to your head (or collective head, in agreement to maintain that grip, such as the counsel referenced in several posts). Honestly, people need to get dialed better with simple biology, of the fact that there is no automaticity greater than that of the gene’s dictates; but we’re not going to improve, there, with the look-the-other-way, then make-it-up culture of Creationism; and the sheer, and inexcusable misinformation that follows. When what used to be viewed as sin becomes part of the local culture, it no longer is. Now it’s a *sacrament*, and nobody had better get in the way of the efficient maintenance of that.
member of JPUSA from 1976 thru 1984 No comments at present….