Forsaking You Parents
One of the reasons why we do not teach much about forsaking family is because it is something that we just do in practical terms, more than we actually teach it in theoretical terms. We forsake our family merely by living together communally, seven days a week. Young people who suddenly decide to join a community like our own (after having lived with their parents) "forsake" the relationship that they had at home as a natural consequence of choosing to move in with us. This is not terribly different from what happens when a young person leaves home to get married, move into a flat on their own, move into student accommodation at a university, or travel or work abroad.
When you join our community, you become part of a fellowship which likely to be involved in a fair amount of travel, as well as taking you out of your present accommodation and away from your present employer. That is just the practical reality of living in a community such as our own. So we don't have to come right out and say much about forsaking your family for God. Forsaking your family is a natural part of the more positive decision you have made to live with us.
But sometimes there is discussion about how your decision will affect (or has affected) your relationship with your family. This is particularly true if family members register objections to you making a decision to live with us. We have always discussed this informally in the past, and we have done so in the context of each individual's particular circumstances. However, this study is being prepared to help future potential members to cope with objections from their family.
Sometimes problems can be resolved merely by tactfully addressing the concerns that your family have expressed. We stress the word "tactful" because, in your enthusiasm to put your own faith into practice, it is easy to think that you should set out to convert your family as well. We should warn you, however, that so far we have never had a member of our community succeed in actually converting either of their parents to join us. We have had a fair few succeed in getting their parents to come and visit us and even to stay with us for weeks and (in one case) months at a time. But none of those successes came overnight; they came after years of membership in our
It seems that the first reaction by most family members is to view your decision with suspicion. This suspicion is directed toward the group that you have chosen to join. It takes time before they can fully accept your decision. So if you are going to try to discuss our community with your family at all, you will need to use a lot of tact.
If you do or say things that could raise fear or suspicion in the mind of your family, you can be almost certain that the fear will spread, and that it will set back any further efforts to win their support for your decision. Unfortunately, saying too little can frighten them almost as quickly as saying too much. However, we generally feel that young people err on the side of trying to say too much to their family. Either way, you should pray humbly for wisdom in what you say or do not say.
We will now look at some of the things that most often concern family members when a close relative chooses to join a new religious movement like our own. They are: (a) concerns that you may be coaxed into sexual immorality, (b) concerns that you are going to be ripped off financially, (c) concerns that you are going to be encouraged to break the law, (d) concerns about you dropping out of school or quitting your job, and (e) concerns that you may be taken some place where they cannot gain access to you.
The concern about sexual immorality is probably (in our case) the easiest to refute, because of our extremely high standards with regard to sex.
Bear in mind, however, that even very conservative teachings about sex can still trigger alarm bells. The subject is so controversial precisely because people feel so strongly about it, and because what one person feels comfortable with, another does not.
The most "bizarre" things about us with regard to sex are that we openly condone masturbation (private of course!), something which is covertly if not overtly condemned by most evangelical churches; and we encourage celibacy in preference to marriage. In either case, it helps if you can emphasise the fact that our position is not really bizarre at all.
It is almost certain that adult members of your own family and religious leaders practise masturbation at times (or at least that they did when they were single), so it would be hypocritical of them to condemn us for admitting to something that they have done and continue to do secretly. The reason that we encourage masturbation is because it acts as a safety valve on sexual energy which could easily result in genuine sexual immorality if not given some legitimate outlet like masturbation.
With regard to celibacy, our position is halfway between the Protestant and Catholic extremes, making us more balanced than either of the other two. Catholics "forbid" marriage for the clergy, and Protestants almost "require" it. We simply discourage it.
This policy of playing down the sensational aspect of our beliefs and trying to compare them with the beliefs of more "respectable" organisations can be helpful whenever your family become fearful about our teachings. This is true even of the fact that we live together in a community. Try to get your family away from comparing us with hippy communes (with their usual emphasis on drugs and free sex) and toward comparing us with other Christian communities in both Protestant and Catholic traditions.
On the other extreme to the sexual immorality concern is the concern about you being financially ripped off. We cannot categorically deny this one, because it is a requirement for membership in our community that you forsake all private ownership. We teach it because Jesus taught it (Luke 14:33), and we teach it because we have found from deep personal experience that the love of money really is the root of all evil. (I Timothy 6:10)
Each of us has been through the same process of forsaking everything that we own ourselves. We have found that by forsaking all private ownership, it has freed us from an attachment to our possessions that we had not even been completely aware of before we did it. By communally sharing ownership, there is greater unity and trust between members.
When people join us, they have the option of giving their possessions to some other charity. (We recommend World Vision because they have a strong interdenominational Christian emphasis, and because they primarily help people in the Third World, where needs are most genuine.) But new members may also give their possessions to us; and that is the preferred option. The Bible says, "Where your treasure is, is where your heart will be." (Luke 12:34) If your heart is with us and with what we are doing, then it makes sense to do like the early Christians did; they laid the proceeds of the sale of their possessions at the feet of the apostles, to be distributed amongst all members of the community according to their needs. (Acts 4:34-35)
We do not allow people to hand over all of their wealth until after they have lived with us for at least a week; but if they do make such a decision after that initial trial period, it is an irreversible one. If you change your mind one day later, your money and possessions will not be returned to you. We do not hide this, and the reason we do not hide it is because we do not want to rip you off. We want you to think and pray seriously about such a decision before you make it. If such a decision could be turned on and off at will, there would be no place where we could draw an absolute line. Someone could forsake $100 when they first joined the community, and then demand that it be refunded to them when they leave a year later, even though it had long since been spent by the community for community needs and projects. It is not fair to have one policy with regard to people who have a lot of wealth to forsake, and a different one for those who have only a little. You will never gain the spiritual benefits that come from truly forsaking everything, unless you understand that it is an irreversible decision. And letting you know this ahead of time will help you to think more seriously before you make such a decision.
It is precisely because of our honesty on this matter that we have had so few people join us. And most of those who have joined us have had very little material wealth apart from the clothes on their backs anyway. There have, however, been a few who forsook thousands of dollars. We are pleased to be able to state that, so far, not one of them has complained later about their decision.
Nevertheless, this is another area where you may not get enough time to go into all of what we have just said here, if your family objects on the grounds that you may be ripped off financially. And even if they did hear what we have to say, there is no guarantee that they would believe it. Once again, our honest opinion is that the best approach is to say very little to your family about this topic unless they are the ones to bring it up. We will try to explain why this is our advice: To begin with, we want you to be able to spend a trial period with us (at least a week). You do not need to make a final decision about your wealth until after you have spent that period with us. But you won't get that chance if your family panics and takes steps to stop you from spending time with us. If, after a week with us, you want to discuss such a decision with your family, then that is probably the more appropriate time to do so. Most of the people who spend a trial week with us do not even see the week out. They find our lifestyle (or some other aspect of what we teach or do) not to their liking. In other words, it isn't like you are being thrown into a meat blender that is going to rob you of your freedom to not join us at the end of the week. If it happens that you decide against joining us, there has been nothing lost with regard to your wealth. However, if your family become overly frightened before you come for your trial week, they may try to stop you from visiting altogether, and we do not want that to happen; so we advise against bringing up the subject of forsaking all with them, at least until you are actually ready to make such a decision. (Note: We are talking about adults here and not minors. Minors have to have formal permission from their parents to stay with us.)
If you do decide to join our community after the trial week, then you need to determine which belongings are actually yours, and which belong to your family. Some parents take the attitude that everything they buy for their children still belongs to the parents, and you do not have a right to sell, give away, or in any other way dispose of their "gift" without their permission. If that is the case, then you may need to formally hand these possessions over to your parents for them to dispose of as they choose. We will not let you bring possessions into the community which have strings attached, e.g. that you are not to give it to anyone else in the community.
However, there will be other things that are undeniably your own. These are things about which, under normal circumstances, your family would not interfere with your decisions. If you decided to spend, sell or dispose of these things, they would more or less consider it to be your own business. With regard to things that are your own property, we see little need for you to discuss such a decision with your family, unless you have doubts about whether it is the right thing to do. Common sense would tell you that they would advise against giving your wealth to a community that they are not a part of. We accept this as a fact of life, and do not try to hide it from you. It is almost certain that your family will object to you forsaking all of your wealth to us or to anyone else.
For the average person in the system, life is all about accumulating as much wealth as you can. To them, if you spend wealth, then it should be with the intention of getting something of equal or greater material value in return. Imagine telling your family that you are going to give all of your wealth to anyone. Unless you have a guarantee that you can get it back, or unless you are getting something of material value back, they would almost certainly object. Consequently, there seems to be little point in discussing such a decision with them.
At the end of this article (under the sub-heading Adolescence) we will discuss the general reason for us encouraging some young people not to discuss some of these controversial issues with their parents.
If the subject does come up, it may help if you understand that our community is different from most communities which require people to forsake all of their wealth. None of our members work for money; and we do not collect the dole. We all live by faith. We would probably use at least some of your wealth to cover day to day living expenses. However, when it is gone, we all trust God together for further provision. Because of this, we are less likely to accumulate massive wealth. In a community where members continue to work for money, and where they put all of their income into a common purse, millions of dollars can accumulate in a very short period of time. Where there is great wealth, there is also great temptation for abuse. We can appreciate this.
Of course, our poverty also becomes a cause for concern amongst some family members. Nevertheless, the fact that we all enjoy much the same level of wealth or poverty, and the fact that all members have equal voting power with regard to how money is to be spent, means that there is minimal opportunity for corruption to creep in.
Breaking the Law
Actually, this is a fairly minor concern. But it could be that family members become genuinely concerned about the possibility that you are getting involved with a group that is into doing something illegal (e.g. using or selling drugs). This is another area which is fairly easy to address, providing your family can be specific and frank about their concerns. It is easy to reassure them that we are not into drugs, for example. Hopefully because we will be honest about some things that we know they will not like, they may take our word for it when we specifically deny other things.
Often what they are saying when they express vague fears about such things as whether or not we will encourage you to break the law, is just that they fear the loss of control that they will experience over you leaving them and living with someone they do not know. (See Loss of Control below.) Parents have similar fears when their children go off to live with other young people, whether at a university or in a flat. They don't want you to be subject to bad influences. Because there may be more of us than you would normally be living with in a flat, and because we are more of a mystery to them than a university, which obviously is very visible and permanent, the fears will be increased with regard to ourselves. If you feel that is the case, then do everything you can to encourage them to meet the members of the community that you will be staying with. Encourage them to read up on what we teach from our website... even if this results in them discovering other things to worry about, such as the fact that we teach people to "forsake all" (see above). At least in reading what we have to say, they gain exposure to some good things about us as well, and if they do become frightened, their fears are less likely to be vague and irrational.
There are times when we have broken minor laws, like laws against people distributing literature. We have often done this as part of a formal protest, and some of us have been arrested at times. Very few parents feel good about their kids being arrested; however, because of the nature of our actions, the penalties have always (so far) been minimal, and we are frequently let off altogether, because of our otherwise good behaviour and because of the seriousness of the points we have been trying to make in our demonstrations. Most parents are aware that university students often become involved in protests and demonstration. Arrests as a result of those actions are often accepted by family members (and by the rest of society) as trivial, if not noble.
Dropping Out of School or Quitting a Job
Parents are always concerned if their children decide to quit a job or drop out of school. "Success" for most people means getting a formal education and then using it to get a job, and then staying in that job until you get a promotion, or until a better job becomes available. But reality is that young people regularly leave jobs or drop out of school without serious damage to them or to their quality of life. They do so for many different reasons, and such decisions probably have as many good consequences as they have bad consequences.
Obviously it is good to have a formal education. Degrees can open many doors for you in later life, and they are useful for more things than just making money. But they also take a long time and a lot of dedication before you can receive them. If it was just a matter of dropping by the uni and picking up a handful of degrees, then we would be very much in favour of it. However, each new degree involves several more years of your life; and there comes a point at which you must decide between studying now with the hope of using your degree at some time in the future, and just getting on with what it is that you wish to do.
These days it is much easier for young people to take time off from studies and then return to them later. If you are becoming overly stressed by your studies, a break now could be a good way to renew your enthusiasm for the course that you have undertaken. After some time away from a particular course, you may also decide that you are more interested in a different academic discipline. It is far better to make such a career change now, while you are young, than to persevere with a course of study that your parents pushed you into, only to find out in later life that you really do not have the aptitude for what your parents wanted you to do.
Similar arguments could be put forward with regard to jobs as well. There are benefits to be obtained by remaining faithful in a single job. However, most successful people in the business world have had to change jobs at times, in order to better themselves.
They have to learn how to take risks. And in your case, the risk you are taking is that you believe you will be happier working for God than working for money. It is not such a great risk when you think about it. If you decide that what we are offering is not what you want, you can probably find employment once again. Our experience has been that people who spend time in our community actually develop skills that have made them even more successful when they have returned to the work force.
Our advice with regard to parental concerns about you quitting your job or dropping out of school, is that you should emphasise to your parents the fact that they are not irreversible decisions. Where possible, we have tried to encourage people to just take time off in order to visit us for a trial week, so that you will not have burned your bridges behind you if you decide at the end of the week that our lifestyle is not for you.
Now we come to something that is probably fundamental in all of the concerns that family members have about their young people joining our community (or any other similar community). The concern is that your relatives are going to lose control over you. Because concern over loss of control is so universal, it is also the charge most universally levelled against any group which threatens that control. We are the ones who are accused of mind control, on the grounds that we have supposedly caused you to think in a way that is "uncharacteristic" as far as your relatives are concerned. Most of them do not even realise how much they are seeing themselves in us, i.e. how much they are obsessed with control.
One of the best ways to reassure your family that they are not going to lose touch with you is rather obvious... stay in touch with them. Where possible, let them know where they can contact you (even if it's just through and email address or phone number). But make sure that you also do what you can to call, write, or visit them, even after you have joined the community. Because some family members (and even some members of the general public) can become violently opposed to us, we try not to give out our home addresses too quickly. Unfortunately, many relatives cannot understand this, because they are used to churches and other large institutions having public addresses (although the private addresses of people in these institutions are not usually given out freely either). You will need to do everything in your power to play down the absence of a private address, and as we just said, the best way to do it is for you to take the initiative in communicating with them. If you do not keep the communication lines open, they will begin to become nervous, and it is much more difficult to convince them that they have nothing to fear after they have started to feel suspicious. Prevention is much easier than a cure.
In its most extreme form, this fear (about losing control) will result in your family imagining that you are going to be spirited away to some foreign country where you will totally disappear, and never be heard from again. The saddest thing about this fear, is that it causes family members to behave in such a way as to maximise the chances that their fear will become a reality. Any group which has more than one location will be inclined to move a new member to a different location if the place where he or she is staying is subjected to attacks or harassment. (Ask the organisers of any women's shelter or youth refuge if this is not true.)
If distraught parents or relatives continue to attack and harass the community (e.g. by constantly calling or visiting, being abusive, going to the police, to the media, to government bodies, and by seeking assistance to have you kidnapped by de-programmers), even phone calls and mail contact may have to be curtailed. This is particularly true if they use the information they get from such contact with you to make further attacks on the community. If any of your family begin to behave in this way, it is important for YOU to communicate to them how they are creating the very problem they claim to be worried about happening. If your leaders try to warn them, the warnings will probably be taken as threats.
Jesus taught his followers to "hate" their parents for him. (Luke 14:26) At first glance this appears to be either a contradiction or an error in the translation; for the greatest commandment, according to Jesus, was that we should love God with all our heart, and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. In another place, Jesus specifically refers to people pretending to use commitment to God as an excuse for depriving their parents of respect that is due to them. However, the thought expressed in this passage from Luke 14 is also repeated elsewhere. So it is not likely to be an error in the translation.
We have never made a big deal of Luke 14:26; but we have noticed that, when young people try to obey Luke 14:33 (about forsaking their material possessions), they often run into stiff opposition from their parents, and parents invariably use a sort of emotional blackmail, where they plead with their child, "If you love me, please don't do this." And if they refuse to give in to their parents, the stakes are raised, and the child is accused of hating his/her parents, and we are accused of teaching them to hate their parents. So Jesus must have been preparing his disciples for what the parents themselves would say in opposition to his teachings.
We have noticed that the problem is not limited to young people who forsake all and join a Christian commune. Although parental opposition is most fierce when someone joins a Christian community, there is often stress between parents and children when the children are going through adolescence; and for many people, this tension continues throughout life.
Parents often do not want to let their children grow up. They find it hard to trust them to make mistakes and suffer the consequences themselves. They are particularly offended if their young people support ideologies which they themselves do not support. And so they lash out at the "evil influences" that are apparently seeking to undermine their authority.
In many cases, the adolescent is able to get support from the larger community. Society now recognises the rights of teenagers to move away from home and to engage in activities that their parents disapprove of. Teachers and counsellors actively encourage young people to question things that they always took for granted when they were living at home. And parents who object to such interference are generally regarded as authoritarian and/or overly possessive.
But when it comes to what we are teaching, there is almost universal disagreement with ourselves. School counsellors, the general public, police, the media and the courts all find themselves suddenly sympathising with the over-protective parents. Suddenly it is understandable that a "distraught mother" would seek to have her grown son kidnapped and deprogrammed. It becomes reasonable to falsely charge a son or daughter with a crime, as a way to get him/her away from us and into police custody; and the police will often knowingly conspire with such a plot. Everyone will secretly conspire to use terms like "mind control" and "cult" without anyone bothering to ask what the terms mean, or to determine what evidence there is for using the labels. The important thing, to them, is to stop someone (you) from obeying the teachings of Jesus.
If you are a young person, this opposition can be daunting to say the least. The whole world is out there telling you that you are an ungrateful son or daughter, who owes it to your parents to drop this talk about obeying Jesus ("at least temporarily") and fulfil your duty to your parents. They will call you a rebel and a runaway, and use whatever means they can think of to generate feelings of guilt for your thoughts about obeying Jesus and living by faith.
However, unless you are prepared to live your life as an appendage of your parents, you will need to cut the emotional umbilical cord that your father or mother is using in an attempt to control you and to rob you of your right to grow up and function as an adult. Instructions from Jesus to stop calling anyone "father" seem to go along with this injunction to "hate" your mother and father for his sake.
Usually it is a temporary separation; and when your parents have adjusted to recognising your rights, the relationship will improve dramatically. But the responsibility still lies with you, the adolescent (though you may be 30 or 40 years old) to take the initiative. If you wait for your parents to lead the way in giving you the freedom to disagree with them, it cannot be said that you have thought for yourself when you did so. It has to come from you personally, and it takes courage to do so.
Your peers will do so for selfish and rebellious reasons; but Jesus calls on you to take a stand against your parents and other family members for a good reason. If you do it in faith, you will be able to continue to love them and treat them with respect, without giving in to their efforts to control and manipulate you. It is a difficult and traumatic time for all adolescents, but it is a rite of passage through to adulthood, and it is one that God himself has called on you to go through.