Jul 21, 2019

Buddhist, teacher, predator: dark secrets of the Triratna guru


British-born guru Sangharakshita was mired in allegations of abuse for years. Now it seems the scandal in his wealthy order went far wider than previously acknowledged

Jamie Doward
The Guardian
July 21, 2019

Coddington Court, near the Herefordshire market town of Ledbury, is a late-18th-century red brick mansion surrounded by farmland.

These days it goes by the name of Adhisthana, reflecting its reincarnation as the headquarters of one of the most influential Buddhist orders in the world, the Triratna Community, whose founder, Sangharakshita, lived there until his death last year at the age of 93. With its impressive grounds and gardens, it looks like a serene place for someone to spend their final years. But behind the scenes, the picture is a rather more turbulent one.

For decades the order has been dogged by claims of sexual misconduct, claims that often strayed into allegations of coercion and abuse but which were thought to involve only a handful of individuals at worst.

But now a bombshell internal report, produced by concerned members and shared with the Observer, has found that more than one in 10 of them claim to have experienced or observed sexual misconduct while in the order. Many of the allegations are against Sangharakshita himself, but others make it clear that he was not the only alleged perpetrator. Indeed, the report seems to indicate that the licentious culture the guru encouraged when he established his first centre in the 1960s, at a time when Timothy Leary was urging people to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, flourished across the order.

Yet, despite the lurid revelations, Sangharakshita’s influence lingers. The Adhisthana website carries many pictures of him, a bespectacled, slight man draped in holy robes. The photographs invite comparisons with Gandhi, but the two gurus come from very different backgrounds.

Born Dennis Lingwood, the son of a French polisher from Tooting, Sangharakshita, meaning “one who is protected by the spiritual community”, deserted from the British army in India during the second world war and wandered the subcontinent, studying with several leading Tibetan lamas.

Two decades on, he returned to London at the invitation of a group of Buddhists in Hampstead, with a mission to set up one of Britain’s first monasteries, before leaving for reasons that are disputed. Some claim that he was caught using rent boys, an allegation that the Triratna community said it had not heard before. At the time of his departure, the Hampstead group issued a statement that said: “Whatever may have been said to the detriment of his character in the course of recent speculation and gossip may now be withdrawn.”

Venturing out on his own, Lingwood developed his own, highly interpretative brand of Buddhism, drawing on elements of Nietzsche and Freud. Critics would accuse him of a pushing a “semi-intellectual potpourri of Buddhism” but he shrugged off the attacks, claiming he was helping the religion find new followers in the west.

Many of his ideas were unorthodox. Lingwood encouraged heterosexual followers to experiment with homosexuality as a means of expanding their minds; he was deeply critical of the nuclear family and of mixed-sex communities in general; he encouraged young men to break away from their families.

“I think the son has to cut free and maybe not have much to do with his parents for a year or two,” he once explained.

His thinking struck a chord.

“There was something anarchic and anti-establishment about it,” one man who has been a member since the late 80s told the Observer. “I’d seen the rows my parents had, how they’d tried to amass money and it hadn’t helped them. I decided that the nuclear family didn’t work for me. I didn’t want the get-married-get-a job narrative. I was looking for something different and what it offered helped me.”

As a growing number of predominantly young men flocked to Triratna, then called the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), it expanded dramatically. Today it has more than 30 centres in the UK alone and operates in 26 countries.

Thousands mourned Lingwood when his funeral was broadcast at Triratna centres around the world. His obituary in the Timessuggested that he had arguably done “more than any other person to popularise Buddhism in the west”.

But fissures within the community he founded are now becoming major fault lines. An internal report by nine disaffected members, who call themselves the Interkula, makes troubling reading about the order’s historical safeguarding policies and the duty of care it had to its followers.

Its incendiary findings have hitherto gone unpublicised: a current member explained that it was not the Triratna way to share internal criticisms with the outside world. But they were drawn to the Observer’s attention by a former member who claims he was manipulated into having sex with Lingwood.

Of 423 respondents to a survey featured in the report, of whom two-thirds are order members and a quarter are “Mitras” – followers who may aspire to become order members – 55, around 13%, said that either they themselves, or someone they knew, had “experienced sexual misconduct by either Sangharakshita or other Triratna order members, in past and recent times”.

The report, which acknowledges that “some good progress” has been made in responding to the allegations, an approach the order describes as a “restorative process”, states: “While many respondents described misconduct between a more experienced male OM [order member] and less experienced male Mitra, as has been described many times in the past, other types of misconduct were also reported, including male order members becoming sexually involved with very vulnerable women … and inappropriate behaviour by a female order member.”

Some of the comments in the report are damning. One order member of more than 15 years said: “I know of several cases and the details are awful. They include alleged intervention on the part of one of the most high-profile OMs to try and encourage a victim not to testify to the police if questioned.”
Another said: “Yes, I know three OMs personally who experienced sexual misconduct by other OMs and have not been invited to participate in the restorative process.”
A third said: “I was sexually abused by older order members.”

A fourth added: “I know of four people who this describes. Only one of these was in the UK. I worry that this type of behaviour was much more widespread than generally believed.”
“I have friends who were sexually assaulted by senior OMs in recent times,” another said. “They reported it to other senior OMs. Nothing happened.”
It was not just men who were targeted.

“I know of a couple of women ‘friends of the movement’ who were pursued by male order members … both very vulnerable women – one ex-prison[er] pursued and one severe mental health problems – entered into sexual relationship with.”
Some of those who completed the survey questioned Triratna’s appetite for investigating the abuse.

“I think there is a large denial factor … I’m up for selling assets and making amends as part of us moving on and acknowledging our ignorance of the abuse,” one said.
If it came to that, and several law firms have floated the idea of bringing claims against Triratna, it would certainly have assets to sell. The latest accounts of its charitable arm, the Triratna Preceptors’ College Trust, reveal that in 2017, the most recent figures available, it alone was sitting on net assets worth more than £3.3m. It bought Adhisthana several years ago for a rumoured £5m.
But this is only part of the picture. The accounts explain that the trust acts as a hub for dozens of charities that operate in the UK and overseas. One member told the Observer that, in Cambridge alone, Triratna had eight or nine properties worth between £700,000 and £2m each. Another member suggested that its entire property empire was worth more than £100m.

It helps that the order is a charity and enjoys tax perks. And the fact that its members are often happy to work in its bookshops or cafes for very little helps keep its cost base low.

Today, much of the trust’s income comes from donations and organising spiritual retreats and meditation courses. Its position at the vanguard of the fashionable mindfulness movement was cemented four years ago when several of its leading members helped a cross-party group of MPs produce their influential Mindful Nation UK report, which extolled the benefits of the new psychological approach in treating mental health problems such as depression.

Mark Dunlop left the order in 1985 after many years working for it. A heterosexual man, he felt compelled to have sexual relations with Lingwood over a four-year period. “He didn’t have any charisma,” Dunlop said. “He was a slightly weird guy, in a way that worked in his favour because I thought: ‘I’m not being swayed by his charisma.’

“One theory about narcissists is that they have experienced some kind of trauma in their childhood so they don’t have any confidence in themselves, and they create this whole world as a compensation and manipulate other people to build up their own ego.

“That fits with how Lingwood behaved. He built up this fantasy of himself as a spiritual teacher, someone on a higher plane of understanding, but I always sensed he wasn’t a happy bunny. There was a sense of dissatisfaction lying underneath. I felt sorry for him, in a way. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to help him bring Buddhism to the west.”

It now seems that Lingwood’s behaviour provided a template that was copied by others who exploited the order’s hierarchy. Many who came to it seeking enlightenment aspired to become members. But this made them vulnerable to coercion by those in senior positions.

“There was a general feeling around at the time that you were ‘blocked’ if you had an aversion to gay sex,” one former member recalled in an online forum.

One Triratna retreat, in Norfolk, where Lingwood was resident for much of the 80s, was described by the member as “more reminiscent of a San Francisco gay bath-house than a Buddhist retreat”.

A current member told the Observer that in the early 90s a 17-year-old boy with obvious mental health problems ended up in a sexual relationship with an order member in his 40s when residing at a centre in the south-east.

Five years ago, an order member at another centre in London was caught exposing himself to a young child in a supermarket. After being found to have committed several similar offences, he was suspended indefinitely.

Misconduct has also been reported at centres overseas. One woman who attended an FWBO centre in New Zealand in the 90s said: “There was one ordained member when I was there who seemed to treat the centre as his own personal Tinder app, hooking up with one woman after another, using his position as guru to great advantage.”

Concerns were first raised about the order in a BBC news report in the early 90s, and then again in 1997 when the Guardian revealed sexual misconduct at one of its centres, in Croydon, south London. That exposé prompted the resignation of one member of the order.

In response to the Guardian’s report, one of the order’s senior members, Kulananda, wrote to the paper stressing that the abuse was confined to one centre and one individual. But in a blog posting 20 years later, Kulananda confirmed hehad been in a sexual relationship with Lingwood and that he had come to see that the guru’s behaviour towards others had engendered a “cultish-ness at the heart of things that, I believe, will ultimately be our downfall”.

The FWBO Files website contains a vast and growing repository of allegations from ex-members expressing similar views.

Towards the end of his life, Lingwood appears to have acknowledged the damage he had unleashed, expressing “deep regret for all the occasions on which I have hurt, harmed or upset fellow Buddhists”. But, even today, the order seems unwilling to confront its past head on: Triratna now describes Lingwood’s behaviour as “unskilful”, a key Buddhist term, but one which, to outsiders, seems to underplay the consequences of his predatory actions.

The order’s safeguarding officer, who goes by the spiritual name Munisha, insisted the order had learned lessons from past mistakes and said every Triratna centre in the UK now has a safeguarding officer.

“I’m extremely sorry if misconduct reported to any member of the order was not properly addressed at the time,” she said. “The Interkula’s survey includes accounts of misconduct which we would be keen to address. However, some of these are references to misconduct experienced by unnamed others, and we can only address a case where a named complainant is willing to tell us their story first hand.

“It is the policy of Triratna’s central safeguarding team that anything reported to us of a criminal – or even potentially criminal – nature is reported to the police, without exception.”
She confirmed that one of the order’s most senior members, Suvajra, who some had seen as a potential successor to Sangharakshita, had been “suspended in December 2018 after a rigorous internal disciplinary panel process found on a balance of probabilities that serious ethical misconduct had taken place.” She declined to explain the nature of the alleged misconduct.

Lingwood, of course, escaped such censure in his lifetime, enjoying the tranquillity of his final years cosseted away in the idyillic setting of Coddington Court, feted by his followers. Perhaps, though, in the twilight of his life, he anticipated that a higher judgment awaited him. His translation of a Buddhist text – Verses that Protect the Truth – was read out at his funeral.

One verse must have given him pause for thought: “Lead a righteous life, not one that is corrupt. The righteous live happily, both in this world and the next.”

‘Leaving mother’: the group credo

Key extracts from Leaving Mother and Initiation into Manhood, a document written by a senior member of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order in the 1970s and shared down the years within the order. The document reflects and helped shape the order’s thinking and confirms that much of Lingwood’s more controversial teachings were embraced and promoted by others.

“An initiation into manhood, then, is an experiential situation in which the false man dies in order that the true men may be born. The young man has to realise that he must submit and become totally passive to that which will liberate him from the domination of his mother.”

“Having abandoned the world of mother and all that it implies, the young man can now begin to realise that his assertiveness is natural to him and that it is no longer an act that he has to put on.”

“Many ‘mummy’s boys’ have a fear of passivity in a homosexual relationship even though that is what they may naturally want.”

“I would even go so far as to suggest that taking the passive role in a homosexual relationship could, for some men, constitute an initiation into manhood as (a) the man is surrendering his own pseudo-assertive side and therefore undergoing a sort of symbolic death, and (b) is experiencing his sexuality in a situation that is free from women and all their associations (ie, emotional dependency).”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/21/sangharakshita-guru-triratna-buddhist-dark-secrets

When Leaving a Religion Is Like Abandoning a Cult

C. E. Morgan
NY Times
July 1, 2019

LEAVING THE WITNESS
Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life -- By Amber Scorah

Though religious fundamentalism has surged globally in recent decades, the anti-intellectualism of these authoritarian movements, their staunch refusal to cede ground to reason and empiricism, often confounds nonbelievers. How can people devote the totality of their lives to the unseen, the unevidenced? How can faith subsume thinking?

But reason is a poor weapon against the believer whose very religious identity springs from an embrace of the unreasonable. Many fundamentalists are conscious of the seeming absurdity of their position, but it is precisely the stridency of their faith, their ability to withstand the irrational, that confirms for them their exceptionalism and salvation. They reject modernity’s demystification project and instead construct meaning in the supernatural. Their faith becomes very thick armor indeed, one that even the sharpest Enlightenment rationalism won’t penetrate.

But the stunted psychology of those raised in extreme religion is another problem altogether. For these children, there is no obvious forfeiture of common sense or flight from existential chaos that informs adult conversion. Rather, they experience a totalizing indoctrination that so severely limits the formation of an adult psychology that many don’t ever achieve maturity in the way secular society conceives of it, a state of empowered capability that permits complex life choices, a state in which contradictory ideas can be held in tension without psychic recoil. Instead, the fundamentalist child, raised on fear and limitation, lives a life of diminished options, constrained by strict dualisms: black and white, good and bad, God and Satan, and (perhaps most alarmingly for the broader culture) us and them.

Amber Scorah’s memoir, “Leaving the Witness,” is the account of a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness finally able to muster the emotional and intellectual resources necessary to leave the sect once she reaches her 30s. As a freedom story, hers is of particular note and value because the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a secretive and self-contained organization, known to most only as cheerful proselytizers who knock on doors and refuse to celebrate birthdays.

Established in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell, this millenarian movement rejected Christian doctrines it deemed extratextual, including trinitarianism and hell, instead preaching a dubious return to apostolic Christianity. Like many 19th-century Christian denominations, it reacted to the scientific age with intensified literalism and supernatural faith claims, granting Scripture the ultimate authority. As the Witnesses consolidated and organized, they formed a strict hierarchy topped by an eight-member, all-male governing body; a prolific and wealthy publishing empire; and a following of eight million members who actively proselytize, warning of an imminent Armageddon.

Witnesses are forbidden to socialize outside the organization; higher education is discouraged; and questioning doctrine is an offense punishable by disfellowshipping, or shunning. Understandably, given the hermetically sealed nature of the sect and the shattering designation of apostate applied to those who dare question the organization, memoirs of departure have been few. A Witness who leaves the cult stands to lose everything.

And, as Scorah makes exceedingly clear, she did survive a cult. Growing up in Vancouver, she was the child of an alcoholic father and distant mother, both of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scorah’s grandmother was the agent of indoctrination, bringing the author and her sister to the Kingdom Hall for services. There, Scorah was repeatedly warned that the end of the world was nigh, that Witnesses alone would survive on an earthly paradise, and that all others would be consigned to what’s called the common grave — extinction, or nonbeing. Though unusual in that she “strayed” sexually and experienced disfellowshipping at a young age, Scorah was reinstated when deemed properly repentant, and fell quickly in step with established doctrine, ultimately marrying a devout Witness for whom she felt little romantic or sexual interest. When she and her husband eventually journeyed to China as missionaries, Scorah was fully indoctrinated, “as confident in my mission as a suicide bomber.”

Ironically, given the primacy of love in most religious doctrines, it is often love — destabilizing, transformative and messily human — that represents the greatest threat to extremist indoctrination. Knowing this, authoritarian organizations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses exert tremendous effort to curtail the intermingling of believer with nonbeliever. After all, religious absolutism is no match for the handshake, the shared meal, the neighborly conversation, the kiss. So it was with Scorah. In China, where the denomination is outlawed, she cultivated secular friendships for the first time in order to secretly proselytize. She went to dinners, invited people out for excursions and gradually began to ask questions that come naturally to those not born into cults: How do you live your life? What is your religion about? Do you even believe in God?

Ultimately, it was through an email correspondence with a man that Scorah found the courage to court apostasy, focusing on the contradictions in Witness doctrine, its misogyny, and how its promotion of ignorance and lack of education undermines any sense of personal choice, rendering the word almost meaningless. When this email affair turned physical, Scorah was finally able to extricate herself from both a loveless marriage and a life-consuming cult. Her memoir, most valuable as an artifact of how one individual can escape mind control, tracks this transformation from zealous believer to apostate.

Scorah’s book, the bravery of which cannot be overstated, is an earnest one, fueled by a plucky humor and a can-do spirit that endears. Her tale, though an exploration of extremity, is highly readable and warm. However, her straightforward, unadorned prose, which many will admire, feels not so much intentionally accessible as the product of a mind still forming the ability to see the secular world, one not trained in the speculative that is the foundation of poetry and lyricism. Given the painfully restricted life she led until her 30s, this is entirely understandable, yet remains artistically limiting.

Likewise, there are unfortunate ellipses in the text, especially at moments of particular heat — the death of her father, the tryst with her lover, the argument that ends her marriage — that seem a product of two problems equally: a young writer’s struggle to consistently sculpt narrative movement, and the remnants of a Christian modesty not well suited to the task of memoir. While too many memoirists appear willing to fling anyone under the publishing bus, reticence can be equally troubling. Scorah would do well in her next literary outing to occupy a bolder space between ethic and revelation, perhaps the memoirist’s trickiest task.

And, hopefully, there will be another memoir. Many readers know Scorah through her viral article in The New York Times about the death of her son on his first day of day care. Though the introduction of this material in the final chapter conflicts tonally with what precedes it, her description of that loss in terse, blunted prose is deeply moving. Suddenly, we see an emerging writer come into full emotional expression. This, one senses, is her brutal but beautiful route into a new book — a shorter, wiser one, sharp and devastating. Here she reveals a chastened existence, steeped in grief and unknowing without recourse to pacifying religious answers. It is precisely through this unknowing, and her ability to bear it alongside the loss of her son, that Scorah most effectively accomplishes what her book sets out to do. She teaches us how integrity is determined not by assenting to the juvenile claims of fundamentalism, but by enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God. Given the enormity of her grief and the wholesale collapse of her previous belief system, the intellectual integrity that Scorah displays is nothing short of a miracle.

C.E. Morgan is the author of “The Sport of Kings,” which was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. She teaches at Harvard Divinity School.

LEAVING THE WITNESS
Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life
By Amber Scorah
279 pp. Viking. $28.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/01/books/review/leaving-the-witness-amber-scorah.html

Jul 20, 2019

Russian Eco-Cult Community in California


Paul Spinrad
Boingboing's

If you're looking for a way to get back to the land and enjoy an integrated life while society collapses, The Shambhala-Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project has 466 acres of land and is looking for settlers. It sounds nice! I've long fantasized about this kind of thing. Maybe now's the time.

The "Anastasia" in their name refers to the heroine of the "Ringing Cedars"series of books by Vladimir Megre, which came out in Russia during the mid-1990's and started being translated into English beginning in 2004. If numerous websites are to be believed, the series has a large following not just in Russia, but around the world. "Ringing Cedars" refers to the books' claim that when a Siberian Pine tree (sometimes translated as "Cedar") reaches 500 years of age, it becomes a sort of cosmic energy-channeling antenna. And so also rings the New Age BS detector, but please stay with me here...

I read and enjoyed Anastasia, the first book in the series, and I hope to read the rest. On one level, the book is a male midlife-crisis fantasy-- a first-person account of a spiritually empty entrepreneur who finds a stunningly beautiful and brilliant native girl in the forest, and she changes his life forever. Anastasia runs naked, communicates telepathically with animals, is clairvoyant, and possesses vast wisdom that has been lost to modern civilization. She's the "noble savage," and she's also a virgin who fell in love with the author/entrepreneur during a chance previous encounter that he doesn't remember, and she wants to start a family with him ASAP.

What interests me most about Anastasia (and I know I need to read more in the series to confirm/deny), is how it combines deep ecology with traditional, even conservative family values. There's no sense of hippie "alternative lifestyle" in its back-to-the-land message. It honors Christianity and connects with its audience through their experience gardening in dachas(modest country houses) on weekends. It's a container for hard-core downshifting that I sense would appeal to solid, traditional, family-oriented folks. Meanwhile, the book also has some wacky, unexpected ideas that I liked-- for example, the Anastasia character suggests that pollution from roadways could be mitigated by requiring active air purifiers on every vehicle's front bumper.
Websites that sell the Ringing Cedars books also sell products derived from the Siberian Pine-- nuts, oil, and polished slices of the tree to be worn as pendants. And perhaps the initial bolt of inspiration that Megre had, as an inland shipping entrepreneur exploring the Siberian forest, was how to concoct a new religion that would maximize the commercial value of this common regional tree. A 5 gram pendant (slice of branch on a string) costs $4 plus shipping.

Furthermore, according to the cult-watching Center For Apologetics Research, Megre was forced to admit in 1998 that he made the Anastasia stories up, whereupon psychic healer Olga Anatolevnya Guz began to claim that she is the real Anastasia.

But people can change, eyes can open, and how one comes to create a belief system doesn't reflect on the value it contains. Buddha abandoned his wife and baby son in order to pursue his own spiritual journey, but he turned the deadbeat-dad guilt that he must have felt (although his family was rich, so less damage done) into a philosophy and practice of non-attachment that countless people, including myself, have found valuable. There are numerous paths to insight. (But I've also talked to single women in San Francisco who are sick of all the passive, "hey, babe-- no attachments" Buddhist guys.)

So, Siberian Pine products aside-- not that I've tried any-- the Anastasians seem to be onto something constructive, and although I don't think I'll be joining them, I am "rooting" for them.


https://boingboing.net/2009/02/23/russian-ecocult-comm.html

Creepy eco-cult settling in California

The Shambhala Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project mixes strange Russian fantasy books with organic gardening and a healthy dash of northern California.

SHEA GUNTHER
MNN
February 24, 2009

I guess if you're going to start a crazy cult, it should at least be green, right?

The Shambhala-Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project is an ambitious plan to develop 466 acres of scrub land in northern California into an eco/spiritual paradise. The project is centered around a series of books called "Ringing Cedars" which was first written in Russian in the mid 90's before being translated into English starting in 2004. The books follow the story of a man and his beautiful forest woman named Anastasia, who can communicate with animals using her mind, is clairvoyant, and a virgin to boot.

The books were written by Vladimir Megre, a guy who just so happened to control large swaths of Siberian cedar, a tree that plays a major role in the Ringing Cedars books. He sells small slices of cedar trees along with other cedar related swag though websites that also hawk his books.

He's a smart entrepreneur with savvy marketing skills, but he trips over into creepyland by claiming that his story is true, that he was the man who met Anastasia and that the cedar trees (again, which he controls) and Anastasia actually have magical powers, including being able to encode his books with "an energy" to make its readers feel better and buy more copies.

People believe all sorts of crazythings, I guess this one isn't THAT far out of bounds of human beliefs.

Swing over to the Shambhala-Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project website to find out how you too can live the life of a rugged eco settler spiritual warrior. Even their housing lots are crazy- they are circular, no doubt to better commune with the earth spirits who disdain right angles.

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/blogs/creepy-eco-cult-settling-in-california

Jul 19, 2019

Jesus Army: shocking reports of life inside Christian cult


Gabriel Power
The Week
Jul 19, 2019

An evangelical church called the Jesus Army is facing renewed police interest as former members come forward with fresh allegations of historical sex offences and other abuse.

According to the BBC, hundreds of past recruits to the Jesus Army - also known as the Jesus Fellowship Church - are seeking damages for alleged abuse inside the Baptist sect, which was set up in the late 1960s.

An investigation by the broadcaster has found that a total of 43 people who were active in the church have been linked to reports of historic sexual and physical abuse, including rapes, bullying, brainwashing, forced labour, financial bondage and “barbaric beatings”.

Most of the claims relate to incidents in the 1980s and 1990s.

Launched by former Baptist Noel Stanton in the manse of a small chapel in Northamptonshire in 1969, the Jesus Army followed a “strict set of rules which banned toys, sugar, sweets, TV and all the trappings of a normal childhood”, according to The Sun.

One particularly “sinister creed” issued by the church - or cult, as it has been described - instructed elders to “beat Adam [sin] out of a child by the age of seven”, the newspaper reports.

At its peak, in the early 2000s, the evangelical group is believed to have had more than 2,500 members living in communes in Northamptonshire and various other areas of the country.

The sect claimed to be helping homeless and vulnerable people, who were offered the promise of “new creation” through an intense regime of work and worship. 

“All of their income was given to a common purse and everything was shared - from underwear to parenting,” says the BBC.

Members also allege the church decreed that children could be disciplined by any adult, and that many were separated from their parents by the age of 12 or 13.

In the wake of assault claims in 2013, the Jesus Army initiated what it called a disclosure exercise in which alleged  victims were encouraged to talk to the church’s “safeguarding department”, which then passed the information to the police.
Since the disclosures began, five offenders have been convicted of historic child sexual offences.

In May, as the allegations continued to mount, members voted to revoke the church’s constitution and dissolve the institution entirely.

According to Christian news site Premier, the church “blamed a badly damaged reputation, declining membership and a slowdown in giving for the closure”.

But a statement posted on the church’s website also acknowledged and apologised for what it termed “faults and failures”.

“We are deeply sorry for, and appalled by the abuse that has taken place within Jesus Fellowship Church and the New Creation Christian Community (NCCC) and offer our heartfelt sympathy and unreserved apology to all those affected,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the church has announced that a formal redress scheme is being developed “to provide money and counselling” to “those who had suffered poor treatment in the past”.

But a survivors’ group has raised concerns about the level of compensation being proposed and is now preparing a group legal action. 

https://www.theweek.co.uk/102355/jesus-army-shocking-reports-of-life-inside-christian-cult

Jul 17, 2019

Citing new evidence, judge angrily denies bail for leader of La Luz del Mundo church

Los Angeles Times
LEILA MILLER STAFF WRITER
JULY 16, 2019

The leader of La Luz del Mundo church remained impassive in a Los Angeles courtroom as a witness for prosecutors described a video that he alleged showed Naason Joaquin Garcia participating in a sexual threesome involving a minor.

State law enforcement officer and forensic examiner Steven Stover testified during a Superior Court hearing on Monday that the video, which he said was found on an iPad that officials had seized from Garcia, depicts the defendant having intercourse with a woman while she performs oral sex on an underage male.

Stover also said that he had found child pornography on an iPhone that had been taken from Garcia — a man church followers call the “apostle” of Jesus Christ. One video, he said, depicted four females “of a very young age” lying nude on a bed performing oral sex on each other.

On Tuesday, that was enough for Superior Court Judge David Fields to grant prosecutors’ request to deny the possibility of bail to Garcia. The religious leader had faced a $50-million bail, believed to be the highest ever imposed in L.A. County. He has pleaded not guilty to rape of a minor, among other sexual offenses.

An amended criminal complaint against Garcia and his co-defendants — who are charged with crimes alleged to have occurred in L.A. County between 2015 and 2019 — describes how women allegedly helped procure and prepare young girls for his pleasure. Prosecutors have claimed that Garcia leveraged his status as the head of a church where girls are taught that they must do anything to please the apostle. Garcia’s defense team disputes that account.

In a visibly angry voice, Fields said that he believed there is enough evidence to sustain a conviction and that Garcia would pose a risk to the community if he were released on bail.

“This is a man who preyed on young girls,” he said. “Religion was used against these girls. They were told that if they didn’t comply [sexually], they were sinning.”

Referring to claims by Garcia’s defense attorneys that a witness for prosecutors had been working to frame the apostle, the judge said, “These images are not planted on his phone by a conspiracy against him.”

In a news conference, Garcia’s lead attorney Ken Rosenfeld said his team would be appealing the decision. He said that Stover had inadequately relied on a Jane Doe witness to identify one of the people in the alleged threesome — who wore a mask — as an underage male.

“[It’s] a piece of evidence that may or may not be authentic … digital evidence is easy to fake,” said Rosenfeld. “The person is wearing a mask. It would take verification of knowing someone’s genitalia.”

Fields decided not to reduce the $25-million bail for co-defendant Alondra Ocampo, 36, whom Deputy Atty. Gen. Amanda Plisner has called “the groomer and recruiter” of all the young women allegedly sexually assaulted by Garcia. Another defendant, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, had her bail reduced last month from $5 million to $150,000. A fourth defendant remains at large.

The attorney general’s office had filed an amended complaint on Monday with three new counts of possession of child pornography against Garcia. Plisner said that this case is distinct from other sex abuse cases because the parents of the alleged victims “actually facilitate their abuse because they believe it to be a blessing to those young women.”

Stover testified that he was still analyzing more than 100,000 images and videos on the phone that was confiscated from Garcia. He also said he was reviewing an iPhone belonging to co-defendant Oaxaca. According to Stover, one conversation between Oaxaca and another female touched on how “Mr. Garcia has special privileges and he is not subject to the same rules as other people.”

“The conversation goes back and forth where [they discuss how] certain girls are ready for certain things, whether it be providing a dance for Mr. Garcia or advancing to something past an erotic dance and performing sexual acts,” he said. “There’s conversation about what a certain girl would do if she was given the opportunity to be alone with Mr. Garcia.”

Troy Holmes, a special agent for the state’s Department of Justice, also testified on Monday that a search of Garcia’s home uncovered two fraudulent California driver’s licenses that had photos of Garcia but carried different names. He also said that a trust account that was opened for the benefit of Garcia had received $5 million over a week in June. That sum came from about 90 different transactions from individuals in about a dozen states, he said.

At Monday’s hearing, Garcia’s defense attorneys cited a brief that they had filed last Wednesday that said they had uncovered a sophisticated and financially motivated plot intended to extort and frame the apostle. Attorneys wrote that a witness for prosecutors falsely claimed Garcia raped her in order to help sell a documentary film she was making about him and the church.

She “realized that the more salacious the allegations made against Mr. Garcia, the more successful her documentary project would become in the marketplace,” the brief stated.

The adult witness, whom defense investigators interviewed but was not named, allegedly coerced two female underage witnesses into engaging in child pornography as part of her plan, according to the brief. The attorneys said she admitted to taking pictures of the girls while they were partially clothed. She then allegedly sent them to Garcia without solicitation in order to extort him, they said.

But on Tuesday, the judge swept aside the attorneys’ allegations that there has been a conspiracy to frame the apostle.

“There’s just too much specific detail over a long period of time, several years, given by the Jane Does, for the court to believe that that this is all contrived and that somehow Garcia is being extorted,” Fields said.

In a press release sent after Tuesday’s hearing, the church wrote — in all capital letters — that the judge’s decision “in no way implies guilt, nor does it suggest defeat. His defense remains strong. We have complete trust in the integrity of the apostle of Jesus Christ.”



https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-luz-del-mundo-bail-review-201907-story.html

Jul 16, 2019

Planned 12 Tribes deli stirs concern in South Bend


Chinook Observer

·       

·        Jul 15, 2019

SOUTH BEND — New businesses in South Bend are usually met with great enthusiasm, but a recently erected sign announcing a new “Yellow Deli” has caused controversy among some in North Pacific County.

A photo of the deli’s swirling yellow logo was posted on Facebook within days of it appearing alongside U.S. Highway 101. The poster and subsequent sharers on social media identified the Yellow Deli as one of many, all of which belong to a religious group called the Twelve Tribes.

The restaurant building at 702 Robert Bush Dr. W was purchased in October 2016 by The Yellow Deli South Bend LLC for $125,000, according to Pacific County Taxsifter. The limited liability corporation is based at an address on State Route 105 in Raymond, according to state records. Its registered agent is Todd Thiessen, with Jeremiah Carlin and Wade Skinner IV also shown in corporate roles.

Growing awareness of the group’s plans to open a business in South Bend has generated intense interest. A local woman’s July 9 Facebook posting regarding Yellow Deli and Twelve Tribes was up to 329 comments and 37 shares by noon July 16. The tenor of comments ranges from hostility and calls for a boycott to defenses of their choice to live how they choose, so long as laws are obeyed.

A number of these individuals were careful to state that while they are concerned based on the research they have done, they are also willing to listen and be open-minded. The Twelve Tribes’ approach to physical discipline of children is a special area of concern for several commenters, along with objections to its stance on gender roles and other subjects.

It is unknown when the Yellow Deli is set to open. No business license is currently pending. The city manager declined to speak on the record about the deli.

Got its start in 1972

The first iteration of the group was in 1972, with the first Yellow Deli opening shortly thereafter in Tennessee.

Twelve Tribes now owns farms, hostels and Yellow Delis internationally — from Argentina to Australia, Canada to Spain — but this is their first known location in the state of Washington.

According to the Twelve Tribes website, members live communally “like an extended family, sharing all things in common, just as the first disciples did in the first century.”

All members are required to contribute 100% of their income to a “common purse” where funds are distributed to families and individuals equitably.

Income from the Yellow Deli will go directly into the same fund. Because of this system, those who work at the delis are unpaid and considered volunteers.

“We don’t have our own independent income or debts to carry by ourselves,” says their website.

The group invites interested parties to find out more about their community and beliefs with the Yellow Deli’s slogan, “We serve the Fruit of the Spirit, why not ask?”

Some describe a ‘cult’

This communal, faith-focused living may be seen as unconventional and may raise the eyebrows of more traditional folks, but these are not the issues that have caused so many to bristle at the thought of the new deli.

Twelve Tribes members consider themselves to be followers of Christianity, but those on the outside — including ex-members — frequently describe the group as a cult.

The Southern Law Poverty Center (SLPC) agrees.

In fact, SLPC published an article in 2018 that details the history and beliefs of the Twelve Tribes. The article, titled “Into Darkness: Inside an American White Supremacist Cult,” includes conversations with a number of former Twelve Tribe members, and leading religious scholars who have studied the group.

According to the article, one of the main tenets of their faith is based on the “The Curse of Ham,” in which Ham is cursed to “serve his brothers” forever.

Although the Bible does not describe the race of any of the characters in the story, white supremacists have long portrayed Ham as dark-skinned and his brothers as white, thereby using the Bible to not only justify the perpetuation of racism, but even to defend slavery.

Written teachings provided by ex-members of the group even go so far as to call Martin Luther King Jr. “evil” and to say, “It is horrible that someone would rise up to abolish slavery. What a marvelous opportunity that blacks could be brought over here to be slaves so that they could be found worthy of the nations.”

How children are raised in the community has also sowed some discomfort among county residents.

Adults in the community do not allow their children to attend college, and they openly encourage corporal punishment outside of what is generally considered acceptable. It is a stated practice to punish a child by spanking them “with a small reed-like rod, which stings but does not damage.”

Ex-members, however, contest this, alleging they have seen children severely and frequently beaten.

The Q&A portion of the Twelve Tribes website does offer some insight into the minds and beliefs of Twelve Tribes members.

“Are you a cult?” is addressed directly. The response reads: “When a person uses the word cult he usually means some group he fears or dislikes. While we are, from time to time, called a cult, we are not false, unorthodox, or extremist.”

The website also provides an emphatic denial of racism.

However, the group makes no effort to deny anti-LGBT sentiment, stating “We do not approve of homosexual behavior. We do not regard it as a genetic variation, a valid alternative lifestyle, or a mere psychological quirk.”

The previously mentioned article from the SLPC says that the group has been known to brag about members who are “formerly gay.”

https://www.chinookobserver.com/news/local/planned-tribes-deli-stirs-concern-in-south-bend/article_9a7d0030-a743-11e9-9224-df659e525cd4.html

Ottawa man says Dragon-boat festival CEO ordered him to remove Falun Gong shirt, citing Chinese sponsorship


Gerry Smith's allegations are the latest indication of Beijing’s low-profile campaign to influence Canadian society amid a tense diplomatic stand-off

National Post

Tom Blackwell

July 16, 2019

A Falun Gong practitioner says the CEO of Ottawa’s dragon-boat festival ordered him to take off a T-shirt advertising the Chinese spiritual group, citing in part China’s sponsorship of the popular event.

John Brooman also threatened to have other Falun Gong practitioners removed from the public park in which the festival took place last month if they didn’t leave voluntarily, says Gerry Smith, a retired Nortel Networks employee.

His allegations are the latest indication of Beijing’s low-profile campaign to influence Canadian society, even as the two countries remain locked in a tense diplomatic stand-off.

China’s interventions here have often concerned the Falun Gong, which it calls a cult, and has allegedly persecuted for years.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa is listed as a “gold sponsor” of the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, which also receives funding from companies and federal, provincial and city governments.

“If it had been the Chinese embassy, I would not have been surprised,” Smith, 72, told Brooman in a letter abut the incident. “But this is Canada … and Canadians should not be taking directions from the Chinese embassy. You are being used to do their dirty work of covering up horrific crimes.”

Neither the festival CEO nor the embassy could be reached for comment Tuesday.

But in responding to a letter of complaint from the Falun Gong, Brooman said he had had a “good exchange” with Smith and simply stressed that he wanted to avoid politicizing the festival.

“Gerry is a very nice man and I in no way meant to offend him. If Gerry felt he was discriminated against during our conversation, then I am surprised, and would be prepared to issue an apology for that perception to him directly,” he wrote in an email. “In the meantime, I would reiterate what I told Gerry that we respectfully request that any organization not use our event as a platform for advocacy.”

The Falun Gong is known for routinely demonstrating against China, often outside the country’s missions here. According to Smith’s account, however, his encounter with Brooman June 22 had nothing to do with advocacy.

He said he and other Falun Gong practitioners were doing exercises – an integral part of the group’s practices – in city-owned Mooney’s Bay Park – but well outside the fenced-off area where the three-day festival was unfolding.

At one point, his friend’s son indicated he was hungry, so Smith took him on his own into the festival grounds, found a food concession and bought him a veggie burger.

After sitting down at a picnic table, a man seated nearby who identified himself as Brooman told him to remove his T-shirt, which contained the latin-script words Falun Dafa – another name for the group – and “truthfulness, benevolence, forbearance” in Chinese.

Smith says he was taken aback, but did as he was told. In the discussion that ensued, he says he defended the Falun Gong. Brooman, he says, recounted how he had visited China twice, that the dragon-boat festival was about celebrating its culture and the Chinese embassy sponsored the event, which he said involved paying $1 million rent for the city park.

Smith said the CEO did not make an explicit link between the sponsorship and his request regarding the T-shirt, but it seemed obvious.

Gesturing to the walkie-talkie on his belt, Brooman also asked that Smith have his associates leave the park, though they were outside the fenced-in area, said the retired technologist.

“He said, ‘I know your group is out there, and I can have them removed. I can just call and have them removed’,” recounted Smith, who says he started following Falun Gong after meeting a group of practitioners at Nortel 20 years ago.

He said he complained to the City of Ottawa, which referred his complaint to police.

Officers concluded it was not a criminal matter, but told Smith he could contact private security or police if something similar happened again, a spokeswoman for the force said Tuesday.

Falun Gong representative Grace Wollensack said she has no doubt that banning practitioners was a condition of the embassy’s sponsorship, but said the incident was far from isolated.

The Ottawa tulip festival, for instance, excluded a Falun Gong band at the last minute in 2008, noting the Chinese embassy was involved in the event. A former Ottawa mayor refused to sign a proclamation honouring the group in 2010, after reportedly making a commitment to Chinese officials on a trade visit.

“They’re selling out Canadian values, Canadian principles,” said Wollensack Tuesday. “Because the Chinese embassy is doing this, it is eroding the freedom of our society.”

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/ottawa-man-says-dragon-boat-festival-ceo-ordered-him-to-remove-falun-gong-shirt-citing-chinese-sponsorship

Jul 14, 2019

Cult leader Oktar faces 24 charges


DAILY SABAH
July 13, 2019

Adnan Oktar, a prominent TV personality accused of running a criminal cult, faces 24 criminal charges, prosecutors revealed on Friday. An indictment against Oktar and 225 other suspects were concluded and will be presented to an Istanbul court which will set a trial date for Oktar and others.

Oktar was arrested last summer, along with a large number of his followers, as he was fleeing his mansion in Istanbul. He is among 171 jailed suspects. Prosecutors charge him and others with attempting political or military espionage, running a criminal organization, attempted murder, blackmail, issuing threats, rape and other lesser charges.

The 63-year-old Oktar was a household name in the 2000s but his prominence dates back to the 1980s when he was arrested for "promoting theocracy" for his Islamic views. He resurfaced in 1999 when he was charged with blackmail though he was found mentally ill by a court and spent months in a psychiatric hospital before his release. He made a comeback with a series of anti-evolution books and a TV station he launched in 2011. It was his TV shows that shot him to infamy in Turkey as he was criticized for surrounding himself with scantily clad women while spouting religious rhetoric. His lifestyle drew comparisons to the late Hugh Hefner, founder of the U.S. magazine Playboy. Like Hefner, Oktar's lavish mansion was home to surgically enhanced women who were seen in suggestive poses around Oktar during his TV shows.

https://www.dailysabah.com/investigations/2019/07/13/cult-leader-oktar-faces-24-charges

Jun 27, 2019

New Book 'Traumatized By Religious Abuse' Exposes the Trauma and Spiritual Crisis Survivors of Religious Abuse Experience

Connie A. Baker, MA, LPC announces the release of her highly acclaimed new book ‘Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Freedom for Survivors - Discover the Cultures and Systems of Religious Abuse and Reclaim Your Personal Power‘, Luminare Press.

“The #metoo and #churchtoo movements are creating conversations in popular culture as we become more aware of abuse and misused power within religious institutions. Traumatic wounds suffered in a place that should represent safety, security, and comfort can be some of the most confusing wounds of all,” Baker says.
‘Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Freedom for Survivors-Discover the Cultures and Systems of Religious Abuse and Reclaim Your Personal Power’ is a comprehensive resource for those who have experienced religious abuse, be it psychological, verbal, sexual or financial. With authenticity, openness, and careful consideration of many different faith traditions, Connie provides a path to hope and healing.

In ‘Traumatized by Religious Abuse’, the author answers the following questions: 

How does abuse happen in religious institutions?

What is unique about religious abuse?

How are power and control used in religious abuse?

What are the hallmark characteristics of abusive leaders and abusive religious cultures?

What are the implicit and subtle messages used by abusers?

What are the emotional, mental and existential damages after abuse?

How can a survivor recover and heal?

Connie A Baker covers in depth how religious ideas are often used to manipulate followers and how fear, shame, guilt and superstition can be leveraged for control. She points out that spiritual and religious abuse is not confined to any one type of religion or cult. This dynamic of abusive behavior can be found in many types of spiritual communities.

She writes from the perspective of a professional therapist who teaches and counsels survivors, and from her own perspective from being a survivor of religious abuse. “When I went through horrible religious abuse back in 1990, I was completely confused and without resources to get clarity and healing. I never want anyone to go through what I did after abuse. This is the book I needed back then and didn’t have.”

About Connie Baker 
Connie A Baker, MA LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with a Master of Arts in Counseling. She is a clinical supervisor, Masters Level University instructor, conference speaker and seminar teacher. She is a trauma recovery specialist, trained life coach, and the author of her new book, ‘Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Healing for Survivors. This acclaimed book is the culmination of her own story and years of experience as a therapist. The book is now available at retail outlets and on Amazon.com

Connie is sought after for guidance, radio and television interviews, and contributions to magazines for support and education about religious abuse and trauma recovery. 
Connie lives in Portland, OR with her husband, JR. They have 3 grown children and 1 grandson. 
For media inquiries contact Diane Dennis with Inspired Media at info(at)inspiredmc(dot)com

https://www.prweb.com/releases/new_book_traumatized_by_religious_abuse_exposes_the_trauma_and_spiritual_crisis_survivors_of_religious_abuse_experience/prweb16400148.htm

Jun 26, 2019

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