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Questionable Christian Fellowship
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QUESTIONABLE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
The name of some religious groups gives no clue as to their real nature. Take the name: ‘Christian Fellowship’ – add to that the name of a city or suburb e.g. ‘Basketsville Christian Fellowship’. What does that tell tells us? Nothing, other than (if there was such a place as ‘Basketsville’) there is, in that city or suburb, a group calling itself a ‘Christian Fellowship’.
The name does NOT tell as anything about the nature of its ‘Christianity’; its theological perspective; its governance or leadership structure; its leadership approach/ psychology (open, accountable, democratic, secretive, autocratic, controlling, etc); its financial accountability; its social structure and operation; it relationship to other Christian congregations/denominations.
On the surface, and especially if no questions are asked, one could find ‘nice’, well-intentioned, kind, apparent Christian people.
AND that is part of the problem.
For years we have heard people tell us of their involvement in cults and extreme Christian fringe groups. They have admitted that they asked few (if any) questions. Most acknowledged that they were (at the time of joining) at a low point in their lives. Then they met friendly people and received invitations to become involved. They often add: ‘BUT the people were so nice!’
Reputable and genuine Christian congregations don’t have a monopoly on NICE people (they actually also manage to attract a few obnoxious ones – thank God there is somewhere where even they can be accepted and loved!). Being ‘nice’, however, is no guarantee of belonging to a theologically sound and psychologically/emotionally balanced Christian church fellowship.
Some groups calling themselves ‘Christian Fellowship’, may be sound and balanced, but there are some that are actually manipulative, destructive groups of people led by leaders, or a leader, who is manipulative and playing power games with people to validate his or her own significance.
One such group of ‘fellowships’ are those that are linked to, or part of the network of churches associated with, the Brisbane Christian Fellowship. These are leader dominated and controlled. Then leadership of these ‘fellowships’ are autocratic and controlling, and reject all questioning of their power and authority. They have been responsible for turning family members against each other and isolating those who dare to question or criticise.
They have used music and musical concerts to involve Christian from various denominations – such as The Jerusalem Passion – to give them a front of respectability. They don’t let others know that they are an exclusivist group, believing that ultimately salvation belongs to them alone – THEY are the chosen of God.
In June 2008, the ABC Four Corners programme ran an exposé on the Brisbane Christian Fellowship, calling the programme: ‘The God of Broken Hearts’. Part of its descriptive promo reads:
‘They’re ordinary, upstanding churchgoers: carpenters, doctors, teachers, accountants, students, landscape gardeners, police officers. With families in tow, they worship every Sunday. They donate generously and often.
“Well behaved children, very stable attractive wives, dignified husbands – almost like something out of ‘Father Knows Best’,” observes a past congregation member.
But this middle class respectability masks a weight of sorrow that, until now, has been borne in private. Four Corners reports a story of families fractured and lives damaged, of emotional abuse and everlasting harm caused by too much power in too few hands.
“The level of pain and cruelty is just incredible,” says a close observer. “The way the church operates is that they’re more than happy to facilitate the break-up of families… But it goes one step further than that – they actually orchestrate it.”’
The programme featured three former BCF members and allowed them to share their painful stories: Helen Pomery, Greg Passmore and Haydn Simmons. You can watch the programme, plus extended interviews, and find additional resources at: (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2280999.htm
‘Integrity is the opposite of denial – it is an unflinching commitment to facing all reality and refusing to deny the parts that cause discomfort.’
(First published in TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, Vol. 29 No. 3; May-July 2008)