A UK-based cult known as the Jesus Fellowship Church – formerly the Jesus Army headquartered in a former art deco cinema in Northampton – announced this week that it was shutting down for good.
It was the best news I heard all week as I had lost a good friend to this despicable outfit shortly after it was founded in 1969.
He was brainwashed into believing that his homosexuality could only be ‘”cured” if he handed over large amounts of cash to the Army, and preach against gay people on street corners. He abruptly terminated our five-year friendship, and his two-year involvement with the church ended when he committed suicide aged 24.
I later learned from his mother that he had handed all the money and property he inherited from his father to the church, which began calling itself the Jesus Army in 1987.
In announcing its closure, the Jesus Fellowship Church said it will cease to exist and the current national leadership team will be stepping down from their roles once the winding up of the central church has been completed.
The JFC is thought to have approximately 3,500 members in around 24 congregations in various cities and towns of the UK. It insists that its members remain celibate, and hand their belongings and earnings over to the church’s “common purse”.
All wealth “belongs to Jesus”, don’cha know.
Congregations that were part of the JFC will become fully independent. They will not be affiliated to a national church organisation and will be led by people who are appointed by their own members. Some have already appointed interim leadership teams, comprising women and men who are part of the congregation. These local congregations will be responsible for every aspect of their function including finance, staffing, and safeguarding.
According to the church’s statement:
In 2013 the JFC invited people to make disclosures about their experiences of the Church and many came forward with disclosures related to pastoral abuse and bullying as well as financial, physical and sexual abuse.
This information was passed to the Police, who launched Operation Lifeboat, examining non-recent abuse in the JFC. As a result, a number of criminal cases were successfully prosecuted through the courts.
The reputation of the Church has been badly damaged and the confidence of members of the Church was profoundly shaken. Alongside this, a declining membership and consequent slowdown in giving means that the national Church no longer has the resources to continue as it was.
The statement added:
The NLT and the members of the JFC recognise that, over a sustained period of time, there have been faults and failures in the Church that have had a profound impact on many people’s lives.
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. Children and vulnerable people were entitled to expect full protection from harm. We acknowledge the pain many of those people continue to feel. As things have become clearer to us, we are grieved and deeply troubled.
The statement concluded:
We have initiated the development of a listening and redress scheme which will continue to be taken forwards by the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust.
While the Trustees have a legal obligation to provide for the welfare of current members of the Community Trust, they want to provide help and compensation for those who suffered abuse or poor treatment in the past. They are seeking to provide resources to help former and current members towards closure from the mistakes and painful experiences of the past.
A working party – including victims and their representatives – is leading the development of this redress scheme. While we cannot undo the harm done, we hope that this can be of some help to those who feel they can engage with the scheme.
We are committed to working with the Police and Social Services to ensure that all allegations of abuse that come to our attention are dealt with appropriately and encourage anyone with concerns to report them.
Anyone with safeguarding issues or concerns, whether non-recent or current, should report them to the Jesus Fellowship Safeguarding Department (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you do not feel comfortable approaching someone from the Jesus Fellowship Church then we encourage you to contact the Police directly or the Safeguarding Helpline run by a support organisation independent of the Church and the Community Trust.
My one regret is that, while the main body has gone out of business, toxic fragments of it will continue to exist.