Monday, February 19, 2024

Compensation to victims of the Jesus Army may total £10m

The disbanded, Northampton-based cult The Jesus Army is back in the news today. The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports that the compensation to be paid to survivors of abuse within the cult may reach £10m.

I blogged about the Jesus Army a few years ago, and the Chronicle & Echo gives a brief history of it today:

Originally set up by founder Noel Stanton in Bugbrooke in 1969, the Jesus Army was a cult-like religious movement, which attracted thousands of members who lived together in close-knit, rural communes. Mr Stanton remained at the helm of the organisation until 2009 when he died.

In 2017 the new leader Mick Haines said, in a speech, he had become aware of “serious allegations” about Mr Stanton.

More allegations of financial, emotional, physical and sexual abuse from both children and adults have surfaced. In 2019 Chronicle & Echo reported some 200 claims had been made.

A number of people have been convicted of carrying out abuse at the Jesus Fellowship Church, which has since issued an apology.

My reason for blogging about this today is that I recently came across a comprehensive online archive on the Jesus Army.

Studying it you find t hat some people had serious doubts about the Jesus Army from the start. Here is a reader's letter to the Chronicle & Echo dated 28 October 1986:

Probe this group

While not always accepting the political views of Mr Michael Morris MP, I agree with his recent call for a government inquiry into The Jesus People at Bugbrooke.

Having heard and listened to many frightening experiences concerning their very obscure methods of the teachings of Christ, and having recently heard through the papers, that a second cousin of mine who did join this group has killed himself I hope that Government sees the seriousness of such a group operating here in the United Kingdom and acts fast.

One of the skills the traditional Conservative MP was expected to possess was the ability to spot a wrongun when he saw one, and Michael Morris certainly possessed it.

And then there was an article by William Dalrymple in the Independent Magazine for 8 April 1989. William Dalrymple the historian would have been only 24 at the time this was published, but I do think he was the author. This blog's hero Ian Jack was the editor of the Independent Magazine in those days and was known for identifying and encouraging young talent.

Dalrymple catalogues some of the allegations against the Jesus Army, including their involvement in a number of deaths. Then he goes to have dinner at the group's community house in Bugbrooke, finds them to be charming people and wonders what all the fuss has been about.

This is a legitimate article to write - if a controversial group is in the news, go and meet them and see what they're like. But if the Jesus Army were a sinister cult - and that's exactly what it turned out to be - it was hardly going to reveal this to him over dinner. Dalrymple does not come across as sufficiently aware of this.

And then he takes a wrong turn:

England is now, at root, a deeply secular society where extreme expressions of fundamentalist belief are frowned upon. The hostility that the Jesus People have aroused in many quarters reflects the fact that most people now find strong religious convictions utterly incomprehensible. 
According to Dr Eileen Barker, a sociologist of religion at the London School of Economics, the term brainwashing used against sects like the Jesus People is now nothing more than a metaphor to explain strong religious convictions by people who find them inexplicable: 

'Today people find it very difficult to accept that someone could be prepared to sacrifice everything that is normally regarded as important for an idea. There is a fundamental problem of communication. Neither side can understand the other; they have a totally different world vision.'

Everything Dalrymple and Barker say here may be correct, but it has no relevance to the truth or falsity of the allegations against the Jesus People.

As Karl Popper says somewhere, how we come up with a scientific hypothesis is a question of human psychology: it has no bearing on that hypothesis's truth or falsity. 

Similarly, an investigator may be driven by a hatred of religion, but you still have to examine the evidence he puts forward. You can't dismiss allegations of abuse just by psychoanalysing the person who makes them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder, would the Jesus Army organisation have the resources to pay £10 million in compensation? I rather doubt it - it arose fairly quickly, mushroomed up and withered away all in about 30 years. Some of its congregations were subsumed into other more orthodox religious organisations, but I doubt if there's any money in whatever's left of the central organisation.