The KIT Newsletter, an Activity of the KIT Information Service, a Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 / telephone: (415) 821-2090 / fax (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Joy Johnson MacDonald, Susan Johnson Suleski, Carol Beels Beck, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity); Europe: Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe. The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from within and from outside the Bruderhof. The opinions expressed in the letters we publish are those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflect those of KIT editors or staff.
Yearly subscription rates (11 issues): $25 USA; $30 Canada; $35 International mailed f/ USA; 20 from EuroKIT to UK and Europe. KIT is staffed by volunteers, and a 100% of all subscriptions/donations pay printing/mailing costs and assist ex-members.
For those of you who access the newsletter on the InterNet, we expect you to be willing to continue on a honor system and mail in your subscription regularly. Please give more or less, as you can afford. Thank you.

April 1997,Volume IX #4

-------------- "Keep In Touch" --------------

-------- Table of Contents --------
Mini-KIT GET-Together U.K.
B'hof Refusal of Mennonite Mediation offer
New Bruderhof Lawsuit
Peter Rideman Confession
Barnabas Johnson
Blair Purcell
Gibb/Bruderhof Meeting
Looking Back
Glen & Karen Greenwood
Hilarion Braun
Nadine Moonje Pleil
Mike LeBlanc
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe
Wayne & Betty Chesley web site story
Glen & Karen Greenwood - address change: 364 Hoke Road Richfield Springs NY 13439 Peter Holland, get well soon! Renatus Kluver is recovering at home from a total hip replacement. May he heal quickly so he can get back to his position on the -- EuroKIT -- rugby -- team?
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ITEM: A mini-KIT get-together will be held at Rookwood School, Andover, Hants, England (The 1994 Eurokit venue), Sunday 25th May 10.00 am to evening. We will have a barbeque. Please bring food and drink to share. Hot water available. There will be a small charge, Adults 3.00, Couples 5.00, Children free. Everybody welcome. Camping available at 2.00 per person if anyone wishes to stay overnight, or Bed and Breakfast available.

All enquiries and bookings to: Andy and Gudrun Harries, 01264 353800, 119 Gallaghers Mead, Andover, Hants., SP10 3BS.

Friendly Crossways Weekend: July 25-28th!

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ITEM: The week before the airing of the KIT/Bruderhof segment on "48 Hours," March 27th, Christian Domer and Joe Keiderling delivered to the Mennonite Conciliation Service a final refusal to sit down with KIT readers -- after spending almost half a year pondering the MCS offer. Joe Keiderling's letter of refusal is printed below. This event was followed on Monday, March 24, by the Bruderhof's serving a lawsuit on Ramon Sender and the Peregrine Foundation (see the text of the complaint below) for copyright infringement because KIT published Domer's letter to the Hutterite ministers in the February issue (p. 1). Neither the refusal of the mediation offer nor the lawsuit was mentioned on the television program "48 Hours," which touched upon various other outstanding issues such as the treatment of young people by the leadership and the punitive withdrawal of visiting privleges. The earlier part of the same program dealt with the nightmarish suicides of the Heaven's Gate cultists. Apparently Woodcrest deeply resented the segue, despite Dan Rather's disclaimer at the end of the show, and invited visitors to their web site to telephone their reactions to CBS.
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Case Number 97 - CV - 0379

Plaintiffs Demand

Trial By Jury



RAMON SENDER, Individually,

TO: (name and address of defendants.)

YOU ARE HEREBY SUMMONED and required to serve with the Clerk of this Court and serve upon

(plaintiff's attorney name and address) an answer to the complaint which is herewith served upon you, within 20 days after service of this summons upon you, exclusive of the day of service. If you fail to do so, judgment by default will be taken against you for the relief demanded in the complaint.

signed George A. Ray, clerk

Tara Burt, March 19, 1997


Plaintiffs Hutterian Brethren in New York, Inc.,

a/k/a WOODCREST BRUDERHOF (hereinafter "HBNY" or "THE BRUDERHOF") and CHRISTIAN DOMER (hereinafter "DOMER"), by their attorneys, Lazare Potter & Giocovas LLP, as and for their Complaint, upon information and belief, aver as follows:


1. This is an action for copyright infringement arising under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., and for the related claims of invasion of privacy under New York Civil Rights Law 50 et seq.

2. This Court has jurisdiction of this action under 28 U.S.C. 1331, 1338(a) and 1338(b), and under its supplemental jurisdiction.

3. Venue is proper in this district under 28 U.S.C. 1391 and 1400(a).


4. Plaintiff THE BRUDERHOF is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New York and has its principal location at the Woodcrest Bruderhof, Route 213, Rifton, New York.

5. Plaintiff, CHRISTIAN DOMER, is an individual residing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof , Route 213, Rifton, New York.

6. Defendant, THE PEREGRINE FOUNDATION (hereinafter "PEREGRINE"), is a non-profit corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of the State of California.

7. Upon information and belief, defendant PEREGRINE at all time relevant hereto, regularly transacts, solicits and does business in New York.

8. Upon information and belief, defendant RAMON SENDER (hereinafter "SENDER"), is a citizen of the State of California residing at 3922 23rd Street, San Francisco, California, 94114 and, as both an officer of defendant PEREGRINE and in his personal capacity, regularly transacts, solicits and does business in NEW YORK.


9. Plaintiff HBNY (THE BRUDERHOF) was formed in 1954 and is a collective membership organization. THE BRUDERHOF's purpose is for its members to live together in the spirit of, and in obedience to, the teachings of Christ as was done by Christians throughout the centuries. Central tenets of THE BRUDERHOF are the spirit of love as professed by Jesus and a respect for family, children, purity in relationships, and lifelong faithfulness in marriage. Members of THE BRUDERHOF also work together and share the income they generate in common, as instructed in Bible teachings.

10. The purposes of THE BRUDERHOF are achieved only by, and through, communal living. Members of THE BRUDERHOF earn their livelihood by manufacturing educational furniture and toys for children as well as by manufacturing specialized equipment for the physically disabled.

11. Defendant, PEREGRINE, via its founder and president, SENDER, was established for the sole purpose of undermining the goals and membership of THE BRUDERHOF. Toward this end, it conducts, organizes and participates in a regular course of activities in New York (e.g. protests, meetings and mailings) designed to further its purpose, to wit, the ultimate dissolution of THE BRUDERHOF communities.

12. PEREGRINE's recent past activities against THE BRUDERHOF have also included misappropriation of the names and membership marks of "BRUDERHOF" and "HUTTERIAN BRETHREN." As a result of these unlawful activities directed against THE BRUDERHOF, PEREGRINE's principals, including defendant SENDER, were named as defendants in a trademark infringement suit commenced in this Court which resulted in a Consent Order. A copy of the Amended Complaint and Final Judgment Upon Consent in that case are attached hereto as Exhibits "A" and "B", respectively.

13. At all times relevant hereto, PEREGRINE conducted a project known as the "KIT newsletter", which itself was an activity of the KIT Information Service (a Service also run by PEREGRINE).

14. At all times relevant hereto, PEREGRINE also maintained a web site on the Internet for, inter alia, the publication of KIT newsletters.

15. Defendant SENDER is the editor of the KIT newsletter, the President of PEREGRINE and, PEREGRINE/KIT's chief proponent of the dissolution of THE BRUDERHOF communities and, in those capacities, acts as a recipient and repository of letters submitted for publication.

16. Upon information and belief, the KIT newsletter is mailed to subscribers throughout the United States, including New York. Attached hereto as Exhibit "C" is a copy of the February 1997 edition of the KIT newsletter which was mailed by KIT/SENDER and which bears a New York zip code, i.e., 12061-3721

17. On or about January 23. 1997, plaintiff, DOMER, authored and signed a letter (hereinafter "Subject Letter") on behalf of the WOODCREST BRUDERHOF to Michael Waldner of certain Hutterite colonies in South Dakota. Said letter was mailed and published to Michael Waldner on January 23, 1997. A copy of the Subject Letter is attached hereto as Exhibit "D."

18. The Subject Letter contains material wholly original with plaintiffs and constitutes copyrightable subject matter under the laws of the United States.

19. Plaintiffs are currently, and at all times relevant hereto, have been the sole proprietors of all right, title and interest in and to the copyright in the Subject Letter.

20. On or about March 31, 1997, a Certificate of Registration for Subject Letter was issued by the Registrar of Copyrights with an effective date of February 25, 1997. A true and correct copy of the Certificate of Registration is attached hereto as Exhibit 'E'.

21. Upon information and belief, subsequent to January 23, 1997, Michael Waldner, either directly or indirectly, may have provided the Subject Letter to defendant SENDER.

22. Defendant SENDER, in furtherance of the objectives of PEREGRINE as against THE BRUDERHOF, did knowingly, wantonly, wilfully, recklessly and without authorization and in bad faith, publish the Subject Letter in the February 1997 issue of the KIT newsletter.

23. Defendants, SENDER and PEREGRINE, published the Subject Letter in a wilful attempt to confuse and deceive the public and impugn the reputation of THE BRUDERHOF.

24. The February 1997 edition of the KIT newsletter was published via PEREGRINE's aforementioned web site as well as to its regular mail subscribers.


25. Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference each and every allegations set forth in paragraphs 1 through 24, inclusive, as though fully set forth herein.

26. By their actions as alleged above, defendants have infringed and will continue to infringe plaintiffs' copyright in and relating to the Subject Letter by publishing via mail and on the Internet direct copies of plaintiffs' copyrighted Letter.


27. Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference each and every allegation set forth in paragraphs 1 through 26, inclusive, as though fully set forth herein.

28. By their actions as alleged above, defendants have violated and will continue to violate plaintiff DOMER's civil rights by virtue of their unauthorized and knowing use of the Subject Letter for the purposes heretofore alleged.

29. By their actions as alleged above, defendants have invaded and will continue to invade plaintiff DOMER's privacy rights by virtue of their unauthorized and knowing use of the Subject Letter for the purposes heretofore alleged.


30. Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference each and every allegation set forth in paragraphs 1 through 29, inclusive, as though fully set forth herein.

31. By publishing the Subject Letter in various mediums, defendants have inflicted intentional harm upon plaintiffs.

32. Upon information and belief, defendants can offer no justifiable reason or excuse for these actions.

33. As a result of these actions, defendants have suffered and will continue to suffer special damages including, but not limited to, loss of prospective economic advantage and damage to their personal and professional reputations.

WHEREFORE, plaintiffs pray for judgement as against the defendants as follows:

1. That the Court find that the defendants have infringed plaintiffs' copyrights in the Subject Letter.

2. That the Court find a substantial likelihood that the defendants will continue to infringe plaintiff's copyrights in the Subject Letter unless enjoined from doing so.

3. That the Court find that the defendants have violated plaintiff DOMER's civil rights and, thereby, invaded his privacy.

4. That the Court find a substantial likelihood that defendants will continue to invade plaintiff, DOMER's privacy unless enjoined from so doing.

5. That defendants, their officers and directors, agents, servants, employees and all other person in active concert or privity or in participation with them, be enjoined from directly or indirectly infringing plaintiffs' copyrights in the Subject Letter or continuing to publish and reproduce the Subject Letter.

6. That defendants, their officers and directors, agents, servants, employees and all other person in active concert or privity or in participation with them, be enjoined to return to plaintiffs any and all originals, copies, facsimiles or duplicates of the subject Letter in their possession, custody or control.

7. That defendants, their officers and directors, agents, servants, employees and all other persons in active concert or privity or in participation with them, be enjoined to recall from all distributors and any others known to defendants to return to plaintiffs any and all originals, copies, facsimiles or duplicates of the subject Letter in their possession, custody or control.

8. That defendants be required to file with the court and to serve on plaintiffs, within thirty (30) days after service of the Court's order as herein prayed, a report in writing under oath setting forth in detail the manner and form in which defendants complied with the Court's order.

9. That judgment be entered for plaintiffs and against defendants for plaintiffs' actual damages according to proof.

10. That judgement be entered for plaintiffs against defendants for statutory damages based upon defendants' acts of infringement pursuant to the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq.

11. That defendants be required to account for all gains, profits and advantages derived from its acts of infringement and for its other violations of law.

12. That all gains, profits and advantages derived by defendants from their acts of infringement be held in constructive trust for the benefit of plaintiffs.

13. That plaintiffs have judgment against defendants for plaintiffs' costs and attorneys' fees.

14. That plaintiffs have judgment against defendants for punitive damages owing to defendants' wanton, wilful, reckless and bad faith conduct.

15. That the Court grant such other, further and different relief as the Court deems proper under the circumstances. (Attorneys for Plaintiffs) Exhibits A, B, C, D attached

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Peter Rideman, Confession of Faith, published by Plough Publishing House, Translated by Kathleen Hasenberg

"Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you because you go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Since Christians must not sue one another at law, going to law and sitting in judgement are completely done away with among Christians.

"It followeth from this that no Christian can sit upon or call a court. For Christians do not go to law in this way. Thus judging and bringing to law have ceased and come to an end in the Church of Christ."

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Barnabas Johnson, 4/4/97: Shortly after I returned in December from three years of "democracy building" in the former Soviet Union, I was asked by Ramon Sender whether KIT -- "a Project of the Peregrine Foundation" -- could legally publish Christian Domer's January 23 letter to Michael Waldner. Following due consideration, I wrote a memorandum stating that KIT had a right -- and possibly a responsibility -- to publish that letter.

My field is constitutional law. U.S. copyright law is governed by the First Amendment: freedom of conscience, inquiry, expression, association, etc. The genius of good copyright law is that it balances the interests of authors, publishers, and copyright owners with a planetary civilization's need for the free exchange of information and ideas on matters "in the public interest" -- a concept defined by centuries of lawsuits, millenniums of experience. Robust debate, inquiry, criticism, expression, the life of democracy, is precisely what the Peregrine Foundation was endowed to engage in pursuant to its Letter of Recognition as a "501(c)(3)" tax-exempt organization. Research, education, networking, conferencing, and publishing about the Bruderhof, the Hutterites, the Bruderhof-Hutterite schism, and "intentional community" lessons generally ... stories of happiness and woe, of forgiveness and new beginnings ... is what KIT was endowed to do. That is what KIT has done.

We are KIT. And we will not stop. We have an obligation to uphold our inalienable rights. The Bruderhof has cut itself off from the fundamentals of democracy, a free press, accountable governance, but we know that these are "abiding values" which -- by their nature -- atrophy if not asserted, die if not defended.

Of course, just because one has the right to do something does not mean that it is the right thing to do. But consider: Christoph Arnold, the Bruderhof's Elder, tossed the Bruderhof-Hutterite schism into the "public eye" two years ago with an astonishingly-intemperate letter of condemnation that was widely disseminated. I was embarrassed to realize that the Bruderhof we once worked to build up had now sunk so low. KIT did not create this story. KIT merely reported it.

The January 23 letter came from the "Bruderhof Corporate Office" and was sent to various Hutterite leaders. Indeed, it appears that faxes from the Bruderhof, and copies faxed among the colonies, fell like snowflakes into machine shops, cow barns, everywhere. The copy KIT published was sent to KIT by an "original recipient" who thought it should be shared with concerned friends on the outside. I think he was right.

This letter should not be interpreted in a vacuum. Among other things, we had to interpret it in light of our own experience with that same Bruderhof leadership, including its suit against the "Children of the Bruderhof" -- and of COB's subsequent demise. If this new suit goes to trial, that letter's fullest context will have to be thoroughly explored and voluminously ventilated: 70 years of crises, schisms, family squabbles, spiritual abuses, "Church Discipline" run amuck, evolving techniques of psychological torture, and the growing usurpation of power and wealth by an unaccountable ruling clique that will seemingly stop at nothing to amass more ill-gotten wealth and jet-age toys.

The Bruderhof's suit against Peregrine, Ramon, and KIT is -- and must be shown to be -- utterly baseless. It is the apparent culmination of a lamentable story of an increasingly-dictatorial and out-of-control Bruderhof leadership oppressing its critics by crushing them, expelling them, pauperizing them, and cutting them off from families and friends; now that these victims of three decades have found each other and have started networking together on child abuse, elder abuse, and similar serious problems, the Bruderhof is compounding those previous outrages by threatening ruinously-expensive litigation. This must not be allowed.

Christoph, Christian, the entire Bruderhof leadership, have never had to answer to a free press. They have seemingly limitless funds for their lawyers with attack-dog proclivities, their Gulfstreams, their Perks, and they do not care a tinker's dam where all that money came from. How long can they silence those who know? How long will they break our hearts with unrequited longings for lost children and grandchildren? How long must our parents and grandparents be coerced into telling us not to write or visit? How long will Bruderhof members be force-fed lies that demonize us and sanctify their leader's dogma -- "It does not matter whether we are right or wrong, so long as we are united"?

For more than two decades I have opposed initiating litigation or governmental inquiries, etc., against the Bruderhof. In the early 1970s, I even offered the Bruderhof free help in defending against a suit brought by my friend David Ostrom. Last year I wrote a letter to Joe Keiderling begging the Bruderhof to drop its suit against COB. "We are family" I said, quoting a dear childhood friend I had met again in 1990 when I visited Woodcrest for Easter. "We are family" I repeated over and over. "Surely we can resolve our differences without litigation!" I said it every way I knew how. But my letter was ignored.

I have become convinced that this is because those who were behind the COB litigation, and have now sued again, are indeed a "class apart" from the ordinary members; they have steeled themselves against the simple blessings of family and friendship; they are what some of us know we might have become. We are dangerous to them because we know too well the perils of their zealotry. And we appreciate what this Bruderhof-Hutterite schism implies for Heini and Christoph.

Heini's 1960s "Reformation" and 1970s "Uniting with the Hutterites" reflected a mad, selfish, destructive effort to gain and hold dictatorial power within the Bruderhof. His position as "Arnoldleut Elder" depended on the Bruderhof's formal adoption of Hutterianism, and following Heini's death it was the Hutterites who "legitimated" Heini's choice of his son Christoph as the new Vorsteher. If it had not been for support from the Hutterites in the early 1980s, Christoph would not have become the Leader -- with all those books he supposedly writes, all those endorsements from the theologically challenged, and all those trappings of power and prestige.

Heini and Christoph "used" the Hutterites in much the way most of us were "used"; it is remarkable how gullible we all once were. But I, for one, have had enough. KIT has helped me find the courage to stand and fight -- to defend against this abusive suit and, perhaps, to take the initiative with a "full court press" to lay this entire matter open for judicial, governmental, and public scrutiny.

Even a minimal defense against this suit will be expensive. A full defense, which would probably include a counter suit and possibly a class action, might run up expenses of $100,000 even before trial. Yet we have to consider all options. Litigation can get ugly, and often even the "victor" ends up with little or nothing to show for the life-consuming endeavor that victory requires, yet "turning the other cheek" is not always the best answer -- for nothing makes sense without context. History shows that unresisted oppression metastasizes. The "book of life" -- the experience of the ages -- teaches that giving up freedom and accountable governance seldom if ever advances any theological cause. That is my view; you must decide for yourself.

I will resist. I have had enough. I think it would be unconscionable for us to abandon Ramon and Peregrine at this juncture. Those who agree, including our friends among the Hutterites, will -- I hope -- donate generously to the Peregrine Defense Fund. All donations by U.S. taxpayers will be deductible charitable donations. Perhaps similar funds can be set up in England and Germany to support Ramon, Peregrine, and the "KIT Process" against this Bruderhof attack. We need to raise at least $10,000 during the next month in order to demonstrate to a good law firm that we take this matter seriously. I am prepared to help with as much legal work as my time allows, but nobody can be expected to carry this burden without the help of many others. We have a formidable adversary. We are going to have to fight hard. Please think about how you can help. And let's keep in touch.

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Blair Purcell 3/19/97: Many of you will be aware that Wayne & Betty Chesley (recently exited novice members of the Bruderhof) and Margot (Wegner) Purcell and I initiated contact with the Mennonite Conciliation Service of the Mennonite Central Committee of the US several months ago. This contact was to ask them to provide professional mediation services between the Bruderhof Communities and their former members, children and the families thereof. David and Starla Goodwin joined our effort shortly after -- and many former Bruderhoffers and their families offered moral support; several volunteered to join us as negotiators.

Our effort was suggested as a result of a letter written by Joe Keiderling [August/September 1996 issue of KIT] in which he proposed creating a dialogue between those seriously seeking peace with the Bruderhof and the Bruderhof itself.

The issues we hoped to discuss (and which were provided to the Bruderhof) included restoration of family contact on a regular basis, provision of information concerning the health and well-being of family members inside the Bruderhof, the opportunity to visit those seriously or terminally ill, the privilege of attending final services for those family memebers who die "inside." A final concern we wished to discuss was the issue of prompt and appropriate notification of civil authorities when allegations of physical or sexual abuse might arise - particularly involving minor children.

Moreover, it should be clear that this proposal was not an effort to embarass the Bruderhof. The suggested points of discussion here have been brought up many times by individuals - which resulted in no apparent interest on the part of the Bruderhof to seriously resolve these vitally important issues.

With this as a background, I must tell you that we were informed today (March 19th, 1997) by Carolyn Schrock-Schenk of the Mennonite Conciliation Service that Joe Keiderling and Christian Domer have refused to sit down with us to attempt a true, broad resolution of these issues that we wished to bring to the table. Nor have they, at this time, offered issues that the Bruderhof may wish to discuss with us. Let me tell you that all concerned in this semi-private effort, from those who proposed it, to those who worked long (October, November, December, January, February and most of March) and hard to bring peace between the Bruderhof and its outside families, find ourselves VERY disappointed.

The three families who participated in this effort (the Chesleys, the Goodwins and the Purcells) remain committed to the concept of our plan. We are willing to meet at any time and at any place - and we are convinced that professional mediation is the one method by which mutual success (for the Bruderhof and for its outside families) might be achieved. Because of the common Anabaptist beliefs shared by the Bruderhof and the Mennonites, we had hoped their good offices would have led the Bruderhof to realize the importance of just sitting down to talk about our differences.

They choose not to meet. We remain willing. Unconditionally. Other former members have expressed the same desire to meet in a mediated setting. A further offer may be initiated shortly. Tragically, family relationships remain in tatters. Some may never see loved ones again, living or dead. The religious perspective of the Bruderhof remains a deep concern to those who have sought the promise -- and found the reality. Further, as you will see elsewhere in this issue of KIT, Christian Domer and the Bruderhof have once more filed a lawsuit against Ramon Sender. This suit was filed within days of the date of the Bruderhof refusal to mediate. We find it ironic that the Bruderhof took nearly six months to refuse to mediate and only a very few weeks to decide (again) to litigate.

I'd like to finish with a quote from a private e-mail sent to me on Sunday, March 9th, 1997 from Christoph Arnold (writing as "Charley") and posted on the Anabaptist newsgroup on the Internet:

"May God be with you and most of all give you a peaceful heart."

I always hope that God is with our extended family but peaceful hearts will have to wait. Soon, perhaps, but not today. Love to all,

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Joe Keiderling, Christian Domer, Woodcrest Bruderhof, 3/12/97: Dear Ms. Schrock-Shenk, it has been several months since Ronald Mathies first contacted Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof requesting our involvement in a mediated discussion with members of the loose network known as KIT. Since that time we have had numerous conversations with you over the phone. On behalf of the Bruderhof we would like to share some thoughts regarding where this process has taken us and where we would like to go from here.

It was with mixed feelings that we agreed originally to consider KIT's request and the offer from the Mennonite Conciliation Service to facilitate our discussion. From the outset, we questioned seriously whether our relationship with individual KIT representatives could be improved by third party mediation. Unfortunately, the actions of people such as Wayne Chesley, Blair Purcell, Bill Peters, Ramon Sender and others over the past several months have given us no reason for optimisim and only further confirmation of our original misgivings. We anticipated, when serious discussion with MCS began, that KIT would make some attempt to show good faith on their side. We feel that has been sadly lacking.

Another obstacle to the mediation process has been ambivalence among our own membership regarding the utility of our efforts. Although the two of us have consistently maintained that we are prepared to consider any option and are always prepared to meet and talk with anyone who has complaints about the Bruderhof, there have been many among our members who feel that our willingness to enter a mediated discussion is misguided and that our time can be better spent elsewhere. As you know, all major decisions here in the Bruderhof are made by concensus, and it would be impossible for us to sit down with you and KIT in a formal, mediated discussion without the unanimous consent of our membership. Unless the two of us are able to come forward to our people with compelling reasons for hope in this process, we are not going to get much support. Unfortuately, KIT has been unwilling or unable to provide us such reasons. Indeed, we have not even been able to present to our people a clear sense of who is involved from the KIT side and what their goals are. It appears right now that there is so little hope of progress that we can hardly justify further investment of our time.

Finally, our efforts in the mediation process have been hampered over the last months by serious issues that have demanded much of our attention. One of these issues, as mentioned during our last phone call, has involved our severed relationship with the old-order Hutterites of Manitoba and South Dakota and our obligation to address serious legal and moral issues that have come to our attention. Although the KIT network knows nothing of the substance of these issues, they have chosen to trivialize the little they have seen and heard and to ridicule our efforts publicly. Under the circumstances it is difficult to imagine more irresponsible behavior.

Having said all this, we want to state that with this letter we are not shutting down the mediation process. We simply feel that the KIT representatives who are interested in this process need to find a way to address the issues we have described and find ways to salvage an opportunity we feel they have squandered.

Please feel free to use this letter in any way you feel is appropriate. Please do not hesitate to contact either of us with any further questions or suggestions you may have. We appreciate very much the effort you have put into this process and the concern you have shown. With warm regards,

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ITEM: As requested by Christian Domer [in the letter cited in the lawsuit], some Hutterite (Gibb group) ministers met at their attorney Jeff Sveen's with Christoph and Verenali Arnold, Christian Domer and Joe Keiderling. The following is a rough description of what seems to have occurred, as it has been reported to us.

The Bruderhof people arrived very late. The ministers had asked that the Bruderhof not bring any ex-Hutterites to the meeting so, when Tim and Harry Wipf also showed up, according to our sources they were asked to leave.

"Then you don't consider me an ex-Hutterite?" one Bruderhofer allegedly commented.

No reply allegedly was offered.

Christoph also said he would leave, and told Verenali to come with him. The Hutterite ministers also would not have continued with a woman present.

The meeting proceeded with Domer and Keiderling presenting13 to 15 confessions (they said they had more) from ex-Hutterites who had transferred to the Bruderhof. These described various abuses and lapses without naming names, but it seems that most of the ministers were unaware of the cited cases, presumably because some involved unknown situations or predated their ministries or because of confusion regarding dates and places.

Amongst other things, the Bruderhoffers complained that Hutterite children were under-supervised, such as a nine-year-old looking after a group of younger siblings. Some particular mishaps were mentioned such as a drowning and a fire, both blamed on a lack of adult supervision. Another item allegedly involved the sexual abuse of a Hutterite girl. From one ex-Hutterite's viewpoint who knew the story, "The girl was old enough to know better and had had a lot of boy problems. Everything had been previously confessed and punished 'in the Hutterite way' with ausschluss and church discipline, and then set aside."

The Bruderhof also brought up a Hutterite man who had joined the Bruderhof and his wife and children had remained behind at a colony. It seemed that the Bruderhof wanted to claim the children.

The Gibb ministers' basic feeling allegedly was, "These allegations are too broad. How can we respond if we don't have the names of the people or colonies where these supposed actions occured?" The Bruderhof representatives seem to want to plan another meeting, this time with the Oiler group. Just exactly who will be willing to meet with them, if anyone, is uncertain.

Upon the Bruderhoffers' return to Woodcrest, they were heard to say about the meeting, "The brothers were very cold." More recently, it has been reported that ex-Hutterite-now-Bruderhof people allegedly are going around interviewing ex-Hutterites about whether they had ever experienced sexual or physical abuse while they lived in the colonies.

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Looking Back -- Nostalgic Tidbits From the April KIT Issues in Previous Years

April, 1990 - In January, Sender sent an open letter to the five Bruderhof communities in the name of former members. The letter seeks to open conversation about past "injustices" and suggests ways in which wrongs may be righted.

April, 1991 - Jacob Gneiting, Woodcrest Bruderhof: The whole area of sex and sex education was a very needy one and had brought me personally into deep need. Now I see that the whole background of all our parents, including mine as well as you and other teachers, and for sure all those who were Servants at that time, was that sex was something dirty, and even natural urges are to be suppressed, and the less one spoke about it the better. Now I accept this fact as something that happened in the erroneous conviction of doing right. I see differently now and I am thankful our young people are free to know that especially in this area of sex they need much help and encouragement from their parents and others, and it is perfectly in order, even necessary, for young people to grapple with these questions openly and frankly. I could go on in this vein for some more time.

April Fool's Page, 1992 - "A Sense of Humor is a terrible thing to lose, especially during these occasional odd rebirths." The XXIV Rimpoche Lama reincarnating as Elspeth Twigsby, President of the Wading Bird Watchers Club, North Uffington, West Sussex.

April,1993 - Ruth Baer Lambach: What is wrong with this picture of people growing up, generation after generation, knowing that they will continue to produce yet another generation charged with the mission of loving one another and living in community of goods? I will never know what it is like to be an adult in such a society. I wonder what is wrong with it? Maybe the human being needs challenges to overcome? Maybe you need to chew on crisp, raw vegetables to keep your gums strong and healthy...

I think this is potentially a great time to be a Hutterite. I applaud the anonymous Manitoba Hutterite brother for his sharp insights and solid spiritual foundation, for being well-educated, well grounded in Hutterite history, and able to express himself lucidly. With people like him in the colonies, I think the Hutterites have a chance to continue their lifestyle for centuries.

April, 1994 - A Hutterian minister, Name Withheld: I also have read Torches Extinguished... It is not the whitewash job called Torches Rekindled. I especially like Bette's candid approach and that she describes the events in detail that are only glossed over in Torches Rekindled. I still remember the story we were told about her father Hans Zumpe's death in early 1973, by the Arnoldleut. Hans was "on his way to the U.S. by private plane, with loads of manuscripts which he was going to publish (all lies, of course) to expose Heini and the Gemeinde. The Good Lord however intervened and the plane crashed, not only killing the bad Hans Zumpe, but also burning all the documents. Yes, God's hand reached out to protect his chosen leader for his people." Everybody nodded in full agreement.

...But truth cannot be burned or buried, but will come out on top, regardless of man's efforts to keep the lid on.

April, 1995 - Bishop-in-Charge, Church of Nigeria, plus five pastors, to Christoph Arnold: ...What is the difference between your unbiblical lawsuit and the tax collector whom Christ warned true believers to be careful with, else he gives them to the world judges? Judging from your actions, you have nailed Christ again and again to the cross for representing Him with constant and fleshly demands, seeking utopian uniformity only to achieve half-truth by means of coercion, instead of using persuasive love to come to peace and dedication.

As it now appears, you have sadly made "Hutterites faith" a laughing stock, not only to ignorant Africans but also to the well-informed Western world. How can you now defend the "no lawsuit" belief of the Hutterites and then turn around and defy it?

April, 1996 - Liz Maas Peters, 2/29/96: On June 9th, my mother, Nicky Maas, passed away in Darvell. I received word of this on June 21st, via regular mail. The letter was a 'dear friends' letter. Along with it came an advertisement for a book and a sheet about capital punishment. I did not feel that either of the latter two papers should have been sent to me at that time.

I was so saddened and dismayed that my brothers hadn't bothered to let me know that my (our) mother had been so seriously ill for the four months before her death. I had, of course, known that since 1984, when she had a heart attack, that her health was delicate and frail, and encumbered by heart problems. But nonetheless, the letter from, well, nobody really, did shock and upset me quite a bit, as well as the cruelty of such notification.

The July before the 1994 KIT Conference at Friendly Crossways (which I, my husband, our two youngest daughters and our grandson had the good fortune to be able to attend) I wrote to two of my brothers: Rolf in New Meadow Run and Nick in Deer Spring. I told them I would be traveling in their areas soon and would like to know if we could stop in and visit. I also told them that my ultimate destination was the KIT Conference. I suggested they call me to verify visitation (collect if need be) as the time before our departure was short. They each called on the same day, between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M., collect! The message was the same: "We want to have no contact with you while you are part of KIT, which is a hate organization." I tried my best to reason with each of them. My oldest brother Rolf was more insensitive than Nick was. When I asked him if he had ever read a KIT newsletter, he said that he hadn't, but he knew that my soul was suffering because I was not, and I would not be, on the right track with anything until I stopped reading the newsletters.

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Glen & Karen Greenwood, 3/27/97: Hello, everyone! Just a note to let everyone know how we are. We've had a mild winter this year in Central New York, cold but not much snow. The boys are growing: Eric is 6 and in kindergarten, and Mark is 4 and in preschool. Both are healthy, happy and active boys.

Karen is doing well. She has been on dialysis now for over ten years and still waiting for a kidney translplant. She has been on hemodialysis for the past year and her treatments can be difficult for her. We hope you will consider signing donor cards (if you have not already done so) to give Karen as well as others like her a chance to have a closer-to-normal life.

We like to visit Jon and Linda on their farm as much as we can. Jon has been very busy with the Farm Bureau and his duties as County Legislator. They are expanding their farm, adding cows and building a new cow barn and milking parlor. The parlor is a double sixteen with the option to go to 20 cows per side when being milked. The boys enjoy the tractors, equipment, animals and visiting with relatives.

Best Wishes to Steve and Ann Button and their partners on their upcoming weddings!

If anyone is in our area or visiting Cooperstown, we would be glad to see you! Please note our new address. Have a great spring!

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Hilarion Braun, An Open Letter to the Bruderhof, 3/31/97: Some of us oldtimers who were expelled from the hof some 30 years ago remember ideals that we still value. Nonviolence, modesty, patience, thoughtfulness, but above all love -- these were the ideals we took with us. You tell the world that these are your ideals, and yet you use police brutality (Dave Maendel, Mike Boller) and the courts to sue your brothers and sisters. You have sued frivolously and visciously in several cases while professing to be Christians, for whom this is a forbidden act.

Now the news media are all interested in finding out who you really are and how you truly live and act. You publicly denounce official murder/capital punishment while you sic the police, who are armed to kill, on your brothers and sisters. These acts of brutality are reported only in KIT and the secular press, while your publications engage in pietistic babble that would nauseate even some of my religious friends.

If you want peace between KIT and the Bruderhof, return to the old ideals you taught us so well. Renounce the violence of excess money. You have turned your temple into a money machine, and the unrest and disillusionment you are experiencing stems from mammon. While pursuing a battle exclusively against eros, you were conquered by mammon, and eros apparently is still alive and well amongst you.

KIT is not your enemy. It is a voice, a means of contact for those of us who still believe that love is greater than any other power, and that all authority without wisdom is mere noise against the music of eternity. Give up your false pride and think clearly what it is that has incapacitated you to love your perceived enemy as you are commanded to do.

You have alienated the Hutterites and many other friends and have formed an alliance with Madison Avenue, which is ruled by mammon and eros. Your wealth has become a burden that is threatening to destroy you as it is surely destroying the Hutterites. Their flippant attitude about wealth was a shock to the Bruderhof in the 1950s, but is now fully accepted by Woodcrest. What happened to the ideal of voluntary poverty, or at least modesty? You fly around the conspicuous of Hollywood while denouncing the sexual pecadillos of your brothers and sisters. You denounce the injustice the poor suffer while causing the unjust incarceration of Dave Maendel, who cannot afford the kind of lawyers you engage.

By writing just a few words about what you have done, I cannot imagine this ever becoming a Christian witness. I challenge you to tell me what is false in this letter I have written, inasmuch as you tell the world that KIT publishes lies. I am open to your answer, and in the meantime, will help raise the resources to defend us aginst your most recent lawsuit.

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Nadine Moonje Pleil, 3/10/97: Adolf and Evi, I think you did a good job analyzing the death book and A Plea For Purity. It is a fact that the word 'sex' was never used in the Bruderhof and was not allowed to be used. In our day, we were brought up in such a prudish manner that it really is hard to believe. Young girls who were sent away from the commune had no idea whatsoever of what awaited them in the so-called 'outside world!' What a dilemma they found themselves in! Is it then so surprising that these young 'innocents' found themselves in very bad trouble?

Is the 'death book' a report about Christoph Arnold's childhood? I believe that quite some pages have been taken up with his childhood. How is it possible that a seven-year-old would go with his father during the revolution in Paraguay, to deliver medicine to the neighbors? Furthermore, how did Christoph manage to skip meetings in the Bruderhof house in Asuncion when he was only 14 when he arrived in the United States? The so-called 'house boys' at the Bruderhof House had to have finished school and be at least 16 years old. That is how it was, according to my memory.

Karl Keiderling, Christoph Boller and Bud Mercer said that my parents-in-law, Otto and Dora Pleil, "never understood the life. They simply did not understand the life." My in-laws were sent away because they did not understand the life! I have to ask myself who ever really understood the life? Corruption in the commune began in Germany. The way children were treated for minor transgressions, being curious about their bodies, started in Germany. The prudishness of the adults caused young children a lot of grief. This prudishness continued in Primavera, Wheathill and the other places right up to 1980 when we were told to leave. Has it changed since then? The commune claims to believe in purity. Purity is a good thing to believe in, but not at the expense of young children. Some people I know still suffer because of exclusions as young children.

About the book Innerland, I never understood the content, and feel that too many words were used in order to explain the bible. The bible, I think, is mostly relatively simple to understand. Of course, as with any subject, there are conflicting views. I read the bible from beginning to end when I was 12 years old. I gleaned a lot from reading it, and also found out about things which I, as a twelve-year-old was not supposed to know about (according to the commune)!

Innerland is a book for the intellectually inclined person. It definitely does not reach the average person. I heard an English brother, who had to translate at meetings, say, "My, that was Eberhard at his ever-hardest!" That about summed it up for me. I consider myself an intelligent person, but I have never been able to understand Innerland. I have only sat through meetings when parts of it were read and during that time I counted palm trees. I never have read the whole book because I simply did not understand it!

So I so not think badly of my in-laws for not understanding the life. In actual fact, I do believe that Otto and Dora understood a lot more about the life than Karl K., Bud M. and Christoph Boller. They both had a very simple and clear approach to the life. They gave up everything to genuinely live a life of peace, love and harmony. What happened?

They were sent away because apparently they had never understood the life. The Mennonites warned Otto and Dora not to join the commune, but Otto did not heed the warning. He said he felt that they had good people in the commune. He trusted the commune. I ask myself, did I ever understand 'the life' myself? I have to say, No, I did not understand 'the life in the commune.' I never did, and still do not!

However if a group of people understand that way of life and feel that is what they have to do, then they have the freedom to do so. I personally am not cut out for that kind of life and am actually now thankful that my family was sent away, lock, stock and barrel. We were sent away. We did not choose to go, although we had thoughts of wanting to get out from under. So I now thank the commune for sending our whole family away. It was a blessing in disguise!

Greetings to all,

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Mike LeBlanc, 3/14/97: I am working on getting an online magazine of Good News (from ex-members/sabras going. I plan to call it the Graduate Good News or The Survivor or some such thing. I hope to have my web page up by the end of the weekend. It will include other Bruderhof-related material as well. My hope is for the newsletter to act as a beacon for those that would leave the Bruderhof to see that we have overcome the difficulties that we encountered in our Bruderhof experience.

Included in my site will be a full posting of the bard/phoenix material for those interested. I have found that much of the material has universal appeal in my conversations with others on the Net.

I will impose editorial control to restrict (but not eliminate entirely) negative postings. I would also like to provide a type of "survial guide" for those recently ejected. One of the purposes or main thrusts of this online Good News effort would be to show the world that we are not just a bunch of ill-willed , maladjusted (however true) disgruntled (yes!) ex-members (malcontents). Anyone care to join me in this effort? Suggestions, etc., are welcome!

Any thought, comments, concerns? Feel free to write, especially those I haven't heard from in some time (You know who you are.)

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Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 3/21/97: The KITletter was good again. It is good that JCA is making a fool of himself in such a way, even though this will make the whole Bruderhof look stupid. Coming onto the Internet as 'Charley!' How stupid can you get! If it was some undefined wisdom he was giving the world, it would not be so bad, but actually making decisions as to who should and who should not take part in the discussion about Innerland really beats me. He is not even correct in his knowledge about the book that my grandfather wrote, so I wonder if he ever took the trouble to get the background of the book and the message it was supposed to give to the world.

Personally, I never have managed to really read all of it as it contains a lot of repetition and a lot of difficult theological terminology where we would just use a few simple words. But do not forget the time in which it was written, the greatest part in the Tyrol in 1912-1913 before World War I. He wrote those articles for German Christian magazines as a call to start thinking what war would do to this world and its inhabitants. The articles, 'Letters From The Mountains,' were well received and formed the basis for the book Innerland later.

When he returned from the Hutterites in 1931, he was driven by the idea that this book should be brought out as soon as possible. With the upcoming power of Hitler there was a real danger of a second World War. My grandfather believed that his book would be of ultimate importance and he worked on it night and day. No one was allowed to disturb him when he was working. He found it difficult to concentrate with all the Bruderhof goings-on and started to smoke cigars again in his study. This brought him a lot of criticism from community members who had stopped smoking when the Bruderhof united with the Hutterites. As my father Hans was the only 'Second' Servant of the Word in those times, Eberhard discussed 'the book and its message' with my dad daily. This was how my father was able to finish the book and get it printed in 1936 after my Opa's death. My father worked very hard on it also, and I have the first copy in my possession. Even in the Afterword you will not find my father's name, but only 'the homeprinter's shop of the Eberhard Arnold Publishing House/Bruderhof, County of Fulda.'

My father said about the book, "As a gesture of respect to my father-in-law and founder of the Bruderhof, it was of utmost importance to get this book in print. Even though the language does not speak to us ordinary people, the message of love should be able to penetrate the difficult language and reach our hearts!" Later he said, "The book never had the impact that Eberhard thought it would have because the world was changing and evolving into a war situation, and E.A. did not evolve with his time. He remained stuck on some particular issues that were important, but the bible is so much clearer and radical in what God wants from mankind. I am glad Opa never experienced this disappointment!"

The book was translated into English by Kathleen Hasenberg and she really did her utmost to translate the very essence of my grandfather's thoughts, even though some of the issues get weaker or a little twisted in every translation.

My second point is the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on my grandfather. Nietzsche most certainly was one of the greatest philosophers of our time. His writings are inspiring as a source of deep thought. Sadly, the man went absolutely crazy (schizophrenia) and died in dirt and extreme poverty. His sister Elizabeth Nietzsche was a close friend of Adolf Hitler, and she promoted the writings of her then-crazy brother and gave them the National Socialist stigma.

Nietzsche never was a Nazi. He even fought the Nazi ideas in his Bayreuth Circle of friends by having only Jewish friends. At one point at a festival, Nietzsche came dressed as Elijah in a wagon pulled by his friends (all Jews!) and this photo usually is used a proof that Nietzche was "driving the Jews with a whip," but this misunderstanding drove him into craziness. Elisabeth Nietzsche (who had spent some years in Paraguayan jungles trying to breed the ideal Arisch-Germanisch type of man with all these fair, blue-eyed types she had brought over for the experiment) came back to Germany in 1938 and cleared out her brother Friedrich's rooms. She put on this big library exhibition of his work -- and people even could pay to see her demented brother in his writing room!

Anyhow, at the time my grandfather wrote his thesis about Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, he contrasted the broad-minded philosopher's new ideas with the German Protestantism of those days, of which his own father Carl Franklin Arnold was the great advocate. My grandfather was equally impressed by Rudolph Steiner (the founder of Anthroposophy in Dornach, Switzerland) whom he also met and conversed with, as he had with Nietzsche and others. He was really searching for a broader and deeper Christianity than his theological studies could provide him. Naturally he, like everyone who lived in Germany at that time, must have been a little infected by the Nazi spirit even though they fought it with everything they felt they could do.

The third point I would like to make about this discussion is about the new biography of Eberhard Arnold that was printed in Germany's Brendow publishing house at the end of 1996. Emmy Barth (Woodcrest) news group quote refers to this book on page 2 of the March KIT. The book is written by Markus Baum and the title is Stone of Offense (Stein des Anstosses). When Christoph speaks of how 'Today's writers and scholars in Germany are calling E.A. one of the most impressive witnesses for Christ in our century," he must be referring to Markus Baum. I have the biography and I think on the whole it is good and correct, with some nice photos of my ancestors. Markus Baum is a member of the editorial staff of the German evangelical radio organization in Wetzlar, Germany. He has worked on this book for many years and has had all the support and help of the Bruderhof communities.

In his foreword, he thanks Hela Erhlich and Winifred Hildel for their endless patience in helping him find his way through all the material ... "without their constant help, advice, correction, I would not have found my way through this material and without their open criticism I would have become stuck in many a wrong formulation or judgment. Christopher Zimmermann, my thanks for advice and finding my way in the Bruderhof archives, and for spending so many nights and days helping me with his valuable advice. Marianne Zimmerman, thanks for all her lively memories, Jorg Barth for his friendly hosting on the Michaelshof, Christoph Arnold and Emmy Barth, my special thanks for all the personal photos and documents. And thank also to the deceased Gertrud Hussy, Gunther Hohman and Irmgard Keiderling for helping to preserve these documents (no mention of Hans Zumpe, naturally!) And special thanks for the royal and trusting advance from the New Hutterite Bruderhofe! (which must mean a financial advance to cover printing costs)."

All in all, it is a very good and thorough study of E.A. with all the help from the Bruderhof. A friend of mine in Germany went to a book review given by Markus Baum and found him very shallow and unable to answer questions that she or others who knew the Bruderhof put to him. So the question is, "Who did really write the book and why??? Is it to promote Eberhard Arnold or the Bruderhof today? Is it to share the halo of what the Bruderhof feels is a holy man? Is it to promote Bruderhof life, or is it just a defense against questions put to the Bruderhof today and make E.A. responsible for the terrible behavior of Christoph, who destroyed everything that was good at one time? Enough for now. Much Love to each and every one,

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Wayne & Betty Chesley's story as it appears on their website which is now "in the public domain:"
The Bruderhof Communities, Some Personal Experiences

"Lying in any form comes from below; and most terrifying of all is the religious lie."

Eberhard Arnold

Why are we posting this about the Bruderhof Communities.

My wife and I were novice members of the Bruderhof Communities. As guests and as members we lived at the Deerspring and Catskill communities for about two years.

We joined the Bruderhof thinking that we had found a church that was living more according to the New Testament than any other church. In fact we had been challenged by Bruderhoffers to join any other church that was living more in keeping with the Gospel than they were. To one who is seeking to commit totally to God's will this is a big challenge.

When one sees the Bruderhof (even with the faults it lets show) only through the filtered world of the visitor or guest it is hard even to imagine a church more committed to living by Christ's teachings. But the picture is quite different when one makes a commitment to the communities. In the end we found that the communities place unity with the brotherhood and trust in the leadership in a place which Jesus alone should inhabit. We do not believe it has always been this way at the Bruderhof, or that it must be this way in community.

We have many warm memories of our time in the Bruderhof communities. We made many friends and experienced great joys. Though much was demanded of us we would seek the common life again if God gives us the opportunity. We still think of our first year at the Bruderhof as one of the most wonderful years of our lives. It is not our desire to tear down or destroy the Bruderhof. We wish rather that the brothers and sisters there (especially those in the leadership) would genuinely repent and lift up Jesus. We wish that the Bruderhoffers would seek to follow the authentic Jesus of the New Testament, and to let His words dwell in their hearts and guide their actions.

At the same time too we want to warn others who, like us, hear Jesus' calling to follow. The Bruderhof is not what it appears to be. We wish now that we had heard such a warning before we committed ourselves to the Bruderhof communities. But we know that all things work together for good to those who love God. It may be that we had a genuine calling to join the Bruderhof, to go through the things we went through for God's purposes. Here we hope to bring God honor by speaking the truth in love. If anything we have written appears self serving or untruthful or proud, rather than honoring of God, we wish that the reader will let us know so that we can revise this article and repent of our wrongs.

Please Note: This is not sponsored by or in any way affiliated with the Keep in Touch (KIT) newsletter or the Peregrine foundation. Observations and comments are our own.

What brought us to the Bruderhof Communities?

Since we've been married, Betty and I have had an interest in what one might call "radical Christianity". Radical in the sense of going to the root. It might be a calling, it might be a concern to take our faith seriously, it might just be a sense of longing for something more in our lives, but our religion is something that has often set us on different paths than those most often traveled.

We were part of a radical evangelical group (attempting community and inner city mission in Boston) when we first heard about Hutterites. We had common cause with The Hutterites and other Anabaptists in our commitment to non-resistance (Christian pacifism) and in our avoidance of materialism. Some years later we read about the Bruderhof in Sojourners magazine and started subscribing to the Plough. In our minds we saw the Bruderhof Communities as little villages of ethnic Germans busy about their business and living out their admirable religious beliefs. They seemed to us (mostly I suppose because we associated them with the Hutterites) to be an exiled community, very interesting but exclusive and not very inviting. We thought we would visit some day, but we were in no hurry.

After our (failed?) experiment with radical Christianity in Boston we put each other through school. We were not involved in a church. After being involved with such a serious and unique attempt at living out our faith it was difficult to simply fill a place in a pew on Sunday mornings. And so we neglected our spiritual lives. But many things happened to wake us up after I graduated. We were forced to make some hard decisions about our material posessions and about taking Jesus' words seriously to "love your enemies" and to "not resist an evil person". We found a local Mennonite Church (Anabaptist cousins to the Hutterites) and started to attend. As we studied the scriptures and looked at our own lives we began to feel convicted about the materialism and materialistic goals we had let slip into our lives -we began to identify with the rich young man who asked Jesus "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16). We also were inspired by the example of Francis of Assisi whose devotion to God made him poor in this world but rich in God's kingdom.

We started a thorough study of the New Testament with the mind set that Jesus really meant what he said, and thinking that we should follow His teachings in the clear sense (understanding the scriptures in a reasonably literal way) in which they were given. We had long tried to practice the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, but we discovered other commands and teachings of Jesus (and the apostles) that we had brushed aside. For example, we came on the passage in Luke where Jesus told his disciples to sell their possessions and follow him -and we observed the practice of having all things common among the disciples in Acts. If we're going to take Jesus at his word, and seek to follow the example of the pristine early church, what were we to do about these teachings and practices?

It was at this time of spiritual re-awakening and renewed seeking that we decided to visit the Bruderhof.

In what ways do the Bruderhof Communities differ from their public image?


It always seemed a miracle to us, what God had brought together at the Bruderhof. We know many others share that feeling. The casual observer and old friend of the Bruderhof is struck by the beauty of the life and the ideals of the communities. But a closer look (which is difficult to obtain for an outsider) reveals a much more complicated reality. There is much hidden from the casual observer. Though they would deny it, we assert there is a lot of public image-building and self-delusion at the Bruderhof.

As a visitor or guest, you are told, "We are not perfect" and "If you find something lacking in us, let us know." But if what you perceive as wrong in the community is different than what the community feels is wrong, then you are as likely as not to be asked to not visit again. One recent visitor who asked about the lawsuits the Bruderhof had filed told me that he was asked: "What are you really seeking?". He was then told that it would be best if he not visit again until he decides. He was devastated because he, like so many others, loves the ideals of the Bruderhof. Experiencing some of the reality of the Bruderhof was shaking to him.

A brotherhood member takes a vow to speak up when he sees something wrong in the community. But if, as a member, you don't criticize what the leadership criticizes and praise what the leadership praises you are likely to be considered "of the wrong Spirit" and "not in unity with the Church" (which according to the theology of the Bruderhof means you are disconnected from God himself). If you're not in unity with the church, you are not allowed in the brotherhood meetings (the decision-making assembly), and so you are disenfranchised. Of course that means you won't have an opportunity to upset a unanimous decision of the church. So while it seems miraculous to the outside observer that the brothers and sisters can be "of one heart and one mind," making their decisions unanimously, when one realizes that dissenters can be removed from the decision-making body, it looks less like a miracle and more like group think and power politics.

Christoph Arnold, the elder of the communities, was asked in a television interview: "Do you believe in democracy?" To which he answered, "No! I am thankful for democracy... We have lived under Hitler, so democracy isn't all bad, but democracy can be a tool of Satan." Supposing that they are letting God rule the communities, the Bruderhof has stripped away the checks and balances of democratic polity and left itself open to the abuses of an authoritarian dictatorship. A small elite leads the church, revered as though they are prophets receiving instructions from God. (I'm told they claim explicitly they have the prophetic voice among them). It is a system which ensures that the voice of a true prophet among them may not be heard. If God rules them, and they are indeed a brotherhood united by God's Spirit, then they would not be afraid of the true, uncoerced consensus of the church. But under their current system, if the Elder and "Servants of the Word" (ministers) are no longer following Jesus, no voice in the church they serve can call them back. One minister has said that he would rather that they all go wrong together so that God can call them back together, but we think they have made it easy to go wrong, and hard to be called back.

The Bruderhof has developed a very thorough system for centralized control and decision-making. They do not have to rely on God's working among them to keep them of one heart and one mind. They have the administrative and technological (and legal) means to do so. Even in their Nigerian community they could not let the Spirit keep their distant brothers in unity, they had to have a (very expensive) satellite telephone connection so that they could stay in contact. If God speaks with one voice to each and every heart of the united brotherhood, then they would not need the controls and policies which, in a real political sense, keep the brotherhood members in the dark and in line with the leadership.

If the Bruderhoffers would trust God rather than Christoph and the Servants, then they would allow a democratic process for the governance of the communities. Then perhaps God (rather than a few men) could rule and He (rather than coercion and intimidation) could make the brothers and sisters truly of one heart and one mind.


This was the response to a friend who asked a Bruderhof teacher how much bible study time the young people had in school. While Bruderhoffers seem to pride themselves in living out the teachings of scripture and living in the same way manner the early church, few Bruderhoffers, it seems, seriously study the scriptures and fewer still are personally familiar with the history of the early church.

In a discussion concerning a seeking visitor, someone referred to the Apostle Paul having taken a collection from individual church members as an example of why some people object to the "common purse" in the Bruderhof. One brother expressed surprise at this; he didn't believe it was in the bible! When assured that it is, he stated that this is why we should not study the scriptures on our own -- "the Servants do that for us."

We have been told by several older brothers and sisters that at one time "no one read the bible in the Bruderhof" -- it was practically prohibited and certainly discouraged. One sister who told me about this laments the fact, and feels that the lack of bible reading and study is showing now in the young people. Even now, individual or small group bible study (except under the very strict supervision of the leadership) is not encouraged.

The Bruderhof presently takes a rather mystical approach to the bible. Bruderhoffers are interested in the "Living Word" of the scripture and reject the "dead letter." While this might sound inspired and good, it has become apparent to us that the practical outworking is that the scriptures, even the very words of Christ, are subservient to the brotherhood and the leadership. Instead of the communities behaving in a scriptural fashion, the scriptures are expected to behave in a communitarian fashion. At any time the Bruderhof can re-interpret the scripture to suit a present need or activity. The Bruderhoffers do not rely on the scripture as a guide to their conduct; rather they rely on the "leading of the Spirit" or "prophetic voice" in the "united brotherhood" to guide them and to give them the present sense of what the scripture means.

This approach to scriptural interpretation means the Bruderhof need never believe themselves wrong, because God always leads them. Even if they do something contrary to what they believe the "Living Word" moved them to do in the past, they are still acting consistently in their way of thinking.

An example we heard mentioned once at the Bruderhof is they did not at one time expect the sisters to wear a head covering, because that is how God led them to understand 1 Cor. 11. Now they do, because that is how God leads them to understand 1 Cor. 11. Both understandings of the same passage of scripture, although contradictory, are right for the time. Where once brothers would be expected to surrender anything they have to a robber and not defend themselves or the church's property, they now will even have someone arrested for trespassing or take another party to court and sue to protect their interests. They apparently see no inconsistency in this.

The Bruderhof once engaged in a campaign of harassment against a group of people who grew up in but never joined the communities (The Children of the Bruderhof). At a brotherhood meeting I spoke against this saying we should follow Jesus' teachings to "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you". The answer I was given was, "Jesus got rough sometimes," and the scripture used to justify their actions was His driving out the money changers from the temple with a whip. In fact when I suggested that the church turn to scripture to seek how to respond to our enemies I was told: "We're not going to do this the Brethren way or the Mennonite way, but our way."

The Bruderhof way is to use the scriptures for the purpose and needs of the moment. In their literature they state: "Christ's spirit and teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Bible are both the goal and foundation of our communal life." If that were true they would devote themselves gladly to the study and understanding of the bible. They need to realize that a spirit that contradicts the written Word is not the "Living Word"; it is a different spirit than Christ's. ROOTS

The Bruderhof claims it's roots are found in Anabaptism and the Radical Reformation. It was this sense of common rootedness that led Eberhard Arnold to seek to unite with the Hutterites. As is the case with the early church, it is more or less assumed at the Bruderhof that the early Anabaptists believed and practiced their faith in the same way as the modern Bruderhof communities (I had several uncomfortable discussions about this with members who had grown up in the communities). Evidence to the contrary is ignored (or avoided), with no apparent sense of discomfort.

The early Anabaptists were firmly grounded in the scriptures and were zealous for their faith. They would not assert that: 'Our common basis is faith in Christ; all the same, we acknowledge God's power to work among all people, regardless of their background or creed" (from the Bruderhof web site). The early Anabaptists asserted that Christ alone is the way. They were missionaries wanting not to make friends with the world or other religious leaders but wanting to turn men's hearts to Christ. They did not engage in social action and protest against the government; they followed Christ's commands and called individuals to the Kingdom of God. They did not wall themselves into compounds to make a pleasant and lovely life for themselves and their children; they risked all for the Gospel.

The Bruderhoffers still state in their literature and in their by-laws (or Constitution) that they adhere to Peter Rideman's Confession of Faith. This inspiring statement of Christian faith and practice is one of the earliest testimonies of the Anabaptist movement. But a plain reading of the text of this confession reveals that in many details the Bruderhof does not adhere to Rideman, and when asked about the inconsistencies between the Bruderhof's practices and the instructions and proscriptions of Rideman (and other Anabaptist writers), one is likely to be told: "We adhere to the spirit of the old Anabaptist movement." But we believe that the old Anabaptists would not recognize the spirit of the modern Bruderhof movement as belonging to them.

A couple examples serve to show that the spirit of Rideman's writings is a spirit foreign to the Bruderhof:

The Bruderhof breeds and sells German Shepherd dogs. Many of their customers, because of the pedigree and training of these dogs, purchase them as guard dogs. (As Bruderhof members we thought the communities were just breeding a variety of Golden Retrievers and thought it odd that the New York city police wanted to buy a number of these sweet gentle pets!). Why engage in a business that contributes to the violence of our society? The very police to whom they have sold their animals may use them against people whose cause they claim to champion. This might seem like a fine point, but the Bruderhof could, if they feel it necessary to breed animals for sale, breed Cocker Spaniels or some other dog which is not useful as a weapon. Rideman writes, "... since Christians must not use and practice such vengeance, neither can they make the weapons by which such vengeance and destruction may be practiced by others..." We feel it is inconsistent with the teachings and spirit of Rideman's writings to be involved in such a business.

On more than one occasion the Bruderhof has brought lawsuits (not only against the Children of the Bruderhof, but against their own mission church in Nigeria) and has even had people arrested and prosecuted. Rideman writes: "Since, as is said above, all temporal things are foreign to us and naught is our own, a Christian can neither strive, quarrel, nor go to law on their account; on the contrary, as one whose heart is turned from the world and set upon what is divine, he should suffer wrong... going to law and sitting in judgment are completely done away with among Christians."

If the Bruderhof is indeed rooted in the Anabaptist movement then their recent activities would suggest that they are cutting themselves off from their roots.

The Bruderhof and its enemies.

The Peaceable Kingdom?

One of the most amazing things we learned and experienced as a brotherhood member in the Bruderhof was the attitude and relationship of the Bruderhof toward its "enemies". If you read The Plough (the Bruderhof's periodical) you might almost think that the Bruderhof has no enemies. You wouldn't realize from casual contact with the Bruderhof how much emotional energy is spent by the members on their enemies. Sometimes brotherhood meetings (open to members only) are taken up with little more than denunciations of one enemy or another. But the only encounter the visitor or seeker at the Bruderhof is likely to have with this is to be told that there are people who oppose the Bruderhof, "As long as we follow Christ," or one might be warned away from certain organizations or people (We were good friends of the Bruderhof before we went there; we avoided its enemies and saw little contrary opinion of the Bruderhof). If a visitor should have contact with one of the Bruderhof's enemies, he may himself become an enemy. This has been especially tragic for families which are divided between inside of and outside of the communities. They can be denied visiting privileges because of the contacts the outsiders have with the Bruderhof's "enemies." This is all the more so for a member -- even if that supposed enemy is one of your own siblings or children. To have any contact with particular enemies can result in your being quickly expelled and barred from even seeing your family again, until such a a time as the brotherhood feels you may come back.

Who are these enemies?

The principle enemy of the Bruderhof (as far as the Bruderhof is concerned) is "the spirit of KIT." I asked a minister (after we left) what this "KIT" is. He said: "It is the Spirit that has resisted God from the beginning." This is a mighty strong statement to make against a group of mere people with common Bruderhof experiences who want to "Keep In Touch" by subscribing to and writing for a newsletter. This dehumanizing demonization of its enemies gives the Bruderhof license to do what they feel is necessary to deal with its enemies, even if they act toward these people in a way contrary to what scripture teaches. It is still unfathomable to us how the Bruderhof can act the way they do against some people except that the bruderhoffers believe they are battling "demonic forces" and are not considering the humanity of their opponents. Jesus never dealt with people this way. It is a very dangerous trap to fall into.

"KIT" is a newsletter for ex-members and people who grew up in but did not join the communities. It was started by Ramon Sender in 1988. Ramon had joined the Bruderhof in 1958 and left not long afterwards. His wife decided to remain behind with his little daughter. He later divorced and remarried. He tried to remain in contact, but was refused any further contact until, when she was eighteen (16 years later), he finally was allowed a one-hour visit. The relationship remained distant despite his frequent efforts to remain in touch. Almost 30 years later, just after he had tried to contact her again -- and learned by chance that she was married and that he was a grand-father twice over -- he was informed that she had died of a brain tumor. It was a severe shock that they never even contacted him about her illness or death. In an effort to learn more about her, he began to contact other ex-member (something which the Bruderhof strongly discourages). As he acquired more and more addresses. he started a round robin newsletter which has grown into the KIT newsletter of today.

The Peregrine foundation publishes the newsletter and other materials dealing with the experiences and grievances of ex-members, as well as materials published by professionals who have studied the Bruderhof and it's history. The Bruderhof sees KIT subscribers and writers, as well as activists for the causes of ex-Bruderhoffers generically as "KIT". There are occasional gatherings of "KIT folks", including annual conferences in the US and Europe.

It was our experience as brotherhood members that nearly all of the Bruderhof's misfortunes and criticisms are laid at the feet of KIT and Ramon. If someone begins to criticize the Bruderhof it is said that "KIT got a hold of him". If a reporter writes an unflattering story about the Bruderhof,it is blamed on KIT. Once a major magazine canceled a planned article on the Bruderhof (because of their split with the Hutterites the story would have lost a lot of it's meaning) and this was blamed on KIT. Even criticisms from Western Hutterite ministers were blamed on KIT's influence. We heard the most outrageous stories about KIT, that they had gotten a million dollar grant to oppose the Bruderhof, that they had published and distributed a "deprogamming kit", that they have tried to influence the government to act against the Bruderhof. We even had a letter from Ramon (to an un-named guest) read in the Brotherhood meeting which we now believe was a total fabrication. It seems to be a given at the Bruderhof that there is a great, powerful, influential, conspiratorial organization (KIT) that is out to destroy the Bruderhof and it's life "as long as we follow Christ". Whoever does not speak well of the Bruderhof is involved in KIT and is of the "KIT" spirit.

It is for this reason that the Bruderhoffers felt actually obliged to make thousands of harassing phone calls to an 800 number which "The Children of the Bruderhof", had set up. The purpose of this "hotline" was to help people who wanted to leave or who had left the communities ("leavers" who grew up there have difficulties adjusting -imagine having never received a paycheck or never having shopped for groceries!). Though COB was not actually affiliated with the Peregrine Foundation (except that their interests and "members" overlapped) it was still identified as "KIT". Eventually the Bruderhof sued this group of it's own children (including several professing Christians) for trade mark infringement on the name "Bruderhof" and "Hutterian Brethren" (though the Bruderhof itself was, at that time, expunging the name "Hutterite" from their literature and stationery!). The Bruderhof asked for $20,000.00 in damages, yet they insist that they did not file a lawsuit but filed an "injunction" (that word, I suppose, must satisfy the Bruderhoffers "it's wrong to sue at law, and we didn't sue") . The Bruderhof succeeded in eliminating this new group of enemies, who were shocked that their own parents and siblings would do this to them.

Are they really out to destroy the Bruderhof?

In a meeting of the brotherhood, Christoph Arnold triumphantly tells the brotherhood of a recent contact with Ramon Sender where he stated clearly that he is "out to destroy the Bruderhof as long as we follow Christ". (which Ramon denies saying). In an interview for television, the husband of a woman who grew up in the Bruderhof says he is "out to destroy the Bruderhof under it's present leadership" (a choice of words for which he later apologized). A minister from the Bruderhof brings this up to me in a conversation in an "I told you so" manner, evidence that the Bruderhof does indeed have enemies working to destroy them. The 800 number, we are told in the brotherhood, was set up to "draw our children away", "it is a threat to the very future of the communities".

Real or invented, the common brotherhood members believe they have enemies who are out to destroy the Bruderhof.

We suppose that some ex-members (and Bruderhof children), with no spiritual grounding and with nothing but bitterness toward the Bruderhof for the wrongs done to them and their families might just enjoy seeing the Bruderhof cease to exist. It would not surprise us to find some angry, vengeful people among the "KIT folk" (though admittedly we have had very little contact with any of these people). Some pieces in the newsletter have a bitter or sarcastic tone and evidence a real a hatred for the Bruderhof and those who have wronged them. There are some who put the worst spin on their stories about the Bruderhof in order to make the Bruderhof and it's leaders look as foul and foolish as possible.

There are many people who have been hurt by the Bruderhof, who are still being hurt when the Bruderhof denies them contact with their loved ones inside the communities. Ex-members and people who grew up there have a growing list of grievances and a sense of real frustration at the Bruderhof's continued harassment and attempt at control in their lives. Some of them may lash out at the Bruderhof, hoping to wake the Bruderhoffers up, to move the brotherhood to deal fairly with their grievances.

When one hears some of the stories of ex-members and children of the Bruderhof, it is almost surprising that so many still speak well of the Bruderhof, or that they want nothing more than simply to be able to write to and visit loved ones inside. The Bruderhof's "enemies" include many who wish no harm to the Bruderhof (which, after all is their "family"), but because they associate with the Bruderhof's critics they are regarded as being no different in quality from someone "out to destroy the Bruderhof as long as we follow Christ".

Bitterness, anger, and sarcasm are not the way of Christ's followers. Many former members and children of the Bruderhof make no pretense of following Jesus and they behave as most people would in their circumstances. We're surprised sometimes at the restraint of some of these people. We frankly wonder why the Bruderhof itself has not been sued in the case of the organized harassment campaign against "The Children of the Bruderhof". It's peculiar that, being supposedly out to destroy the Bruderhof "as long as we follow Christ", some of it's enemies have behaved in a more Christ-like fashion than the Bruderhof communities. (It was proposed to us that the Bruderhof instilled certain values in their children who later left the communities. The Bruderhof has collectively strayed from those values, while many children of the Bruderhof have not. So the children of the Bruderhof still consider it unthinkable to sue someone -and were quite shocked that they themselves were sued by their kin.)

The majority of those considered enemies of the Bruderhof do not desire to do it any harm. Many would rather see the Bruderhof return to the values it once held (and still professes to hold). Any who would actually want to destroy it are too few and too powerless (compared to the Bruderhof) to do any real damage. The greatest damage done to the Bruderhof is that it's reputation is soiled by the truth of many of it's critics reports and accusations. The Bruderhof does further damage to itself by it's reactions to these reports. The real threat to the Bruderhof's future are the Bruderhoffers themselves, when they turn from following Jesus and His teachings and instead follow another spirit.

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."

Jesus, from The Sermon on the Mount

One of the most distinctive teachings and practices of the old Anabaptists is their literal following of Jesus' command to love their enemies. This is a love that accepts a blow rather than striking back, that returns blessings for curses, that feeds and clothes the foe and even sacrifices it's own life to save the life of one's enemy. It is the love demonstrated by Jesus, who went so far as to die on the cross, while we were still God's enemies, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to Him. It is this type of love to which Jesus calls his followers.

I once witnessed a debate between a Marine Corps chaplain and a Mennonite woman. This chaplain agreed that we must love our enemies, he said he would not counsel any young soldier to shoot at a person whom he did not love. My reaction was: "I would rather then that these Christian soldiers not love me". This is not the love of Christ. That Christians are called to love is an unavoidable teaching of the gospel, but so often "Christians" have perverted that love and twisted it to accommodate their hatred. When it comes to their enemies, the Bruderhoffers would rather stand in the place of Jesus when he exercised divine judgment and drove the money changers out of the temple. But this is not the action that Jesus calls us to. We think that the Bruderhoffers have lost their trust in God and His judgment and so do not obediently demonstrate love toward their enemies (which could make them friends instead). The Bruderhof has twisted the meaning of love and so has lost it's power to change the hearts of its real enemies.

We don't recall the Bruderhoffers ever praying for their persecutors. We do not recall even once hearing a Servant of the Word call them to "turn the other cheek" to their enemies attacks. What we often witnessed was anger and bitterness toward the Bruderhof's enemies (especially from Christoph, the elder, and from other ministers). We witnessed brotherhood meetings where one person after another spoke angrily against some "traitor" and those associated with them. We have experienced the Bruderhof's bitterness ourselves. The "love" the Bruderhof expresses to it's enemies is not the love that Jesus expressed toward us, nor is it the love He called us to.

The greatest power the Bruderhof's "enemies" have is speaking the truth about the Bruderhof and its history. If the public exposure of certain activities and facts about the Bruderhof are so damaging to them it is the Bruderhof which has itself to blame for hiding the truth. If the Bruderhof is "destroyed" it will be at their own hands. It will be due to inner chaos, a loss of moral compass; it will be because the Bruderhoffers have ceased to follow Christ, not because they do follow Him. It is their loveless reaction to real or imagined enemies that breaks them down and turns them from Christ's path. We believe that rather than letting Christ's light shine in these circumstances, the Bruderhof is being overcome by darkness.

On a personal note: We left the Bruderhof not because we could not love our neighbors and my enemies enough (though that is truly difficult and a gift from God), but because we could not hate the Bruderhof's enemies enough.

Is the Bruderhof a cult?

I read about a sociologist who did a study of the word "fundamentalist" and its use in the American media. He concluded the a fundamentalist is "someone whose religion I do not like". The term "cult" has so many different definitions, depending on your own viewpoint, that it too usually means a religion we do not like. The Bruderhof has published articles against cults, and certainly many groups that the popular media labeled as cults take similar anti-cult stands against certain groups. Even to list characteristics of a cult, then match them to particular groups, is difficult. One man's cult is another man's precious heritage.

In the end each of us will decide if a particular group is a cult or a legitimate religion. Some of us, as we seek to follow the unconventional and hard path which a more literal approach to Jesus' teachings requires, have to make a very difficult decision about cults. Society at large would consider having a common purse or dressing "plain" or certain practices pertaining to "separation from the world" to be characteristics of a cult. In the popular sense of the word the Bruderhof would certainly then be considered a cult. I once said to a brother at the Bruderhof (while we were members): "If we were more agressive in trying to bring in new members we would surely be considered a cult". He agreed. But the same is likely true of the Amish or conservative Mennonites. At one time all of the Anabaptist groups were considered "heretical sects" and were regulated and restricted in their activities because of it.

A more useful approach to the question is to look at what one considers characteristics of groups popularly considered cults. When one looks at such traits as authoritarian leadership, control of information to members, harsh reaction to dissent and harassment of ex-members then one would have to say that the Bruderhof has many cult-like characteritics. We do not believe that these characteristics are fundamentally a part of the Bruderhof though. If the Bruderhof lived up to its stated ideals and stayed true to the teachings of its founders it would not exhibit these characteristics. That in itself might be a cult-like characteristic of the present day Bruderhof, that its profession and practice do not match one another.

We believe that the Bruderhof's membership in the Hutterian Church and its association with other churches has helped to moderate some of their cultic tendencies. If by no other means than by allowing a channel for information to the brotherhood members which is not controlled by the leadership. Now that the Bruderhof is no longer subject to any restraints as a member of the Hutterian Church, one has to be concerned about where the leadership, feeling only answerable to the "Spirit's" leading might lead the group to.

What about the Hutterites?

[A brief history of the Hutterian Brethren is included here on the web site.

The Bruderhof Communities, Some Personal Experiences

Presently the Hutterites are found in three major groups, the Dariusleut, the Lehrerleut and the Schmiedleut (which has undergone a period of struggle and division in part because of the affinity of some in the group for the Bruderhoffers). Their lifestyle and spiritual practices are traditions firmly established by their forefathers whose suffering and even martyrdom commend them as leaders worthy of respect. They are literalistic in their approach to scriptures and are reluctant to accept innovation or new interpretations of scriptural teachings and church tradition. They tend to govern themselves by majority or consensus with none of the mystical sense of "unity" (and its accompanying pressure against dissent). As one Hutterite teacher told me "We recognize that we are humans and that we need checks and balances".

The Hutterites are not perfect. The scriptural foundation of many of their practices have, for some individuals, become just tradition. Their customs and culture are at times elevated to an overly inportant status (for example: the German language has become to some what Latin was to the church from which their forefathers separated themselves). It has been said by some Hutterites that you must be born a Hutterite to become one. This surely reflects a loss of the vision of their ancestors and the decay of some parts of the church into an ethnic sub-culture. But the Hutterites have not fallen into the cult-like practices of authoritarian control and coercion that the Bruderhoffers have. Even their seemingly harsh practice of shunning the excommunicated (similar to Old Order Amish) is based on scripture and is not arbitrarily practiced or exercised against members for speaking out against the leadership. The Hutterites answer to the scriptures, not some vague leading of the Spirit (as interpreted by powerful leaders). We hope that a true zeal for mission and a heartfelt desire to follow Jesus and stand by his teachings will revive the mission of the Hutterian church everywhere.

The Bruderhofs' membership in and expulsion from the Hutterian church.

Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof Communities, knew of the Hutterites from their many writings preserved in Europe. He was inspired by them in establishing his own communities at Sannerz and the Rhon. When he discovered in 1927 that the Hutterians still existed in North America he wrote and expressed his desire to unite with them. In 1930 he traveled to North America and visited most of the Hutterian bruderhofs there, at which time he was ordained as a servant of the word and his group was incorporated into the Hutterian church.

It seems that from the outset there were conflicts between the visions of Christian discipleship of these new Hutterites and the descendants of the original Hutterian Brethren. The Hutterites have a well regulated church life with the church setting standards according to their understanding of the scriptures. Arnold's Bruderhof movement grew out of the German Youth movement which brought with it a free-thought mysticism (for lack of a better word) that valued freedom and spontaneity (the German Youth Movement reminds one of the Hippie movement of recent years). While wanting to be Hutterites, the Bruderhoffers viewed the Hutterites through their own experiences and considered the forms and ordinances of the Hutterites as contrary to the Spirit of true Hutterianism. They believed that the ordinances and regulations of the church were evidence of the weakening of the original Anabaptist movement. But many practices which the Bruderhoffers enjoyed were (and are) positively shocking to the Hutterites. Through the years the Bruderhoffers tried to hide some of these practices, and some of them were abandoned "out of Love for our Western Brothers". But at other times the Bruderhoffers, believing that they are being led by God's Spirit have stood firmly against being bound by ideals or standards. Though they were members of the Hutterian church they would not submit themselves to the church to which they vowed faithfulness.

As has happened several time in the past, the Bruderhoffers are again separated from the Hutterites (We leave the story of those separations to others). The Hutterian Brethren Church of the Darius & Lehrerleut Conference (with the agreement of many Schmiedleut communities) expelled the "Society of Brothers who call themselves Hutterian Brethren" in 1990. Citing ten points in which the Bruderhoffers have violated church standards they concluded: "Therefore we, the Darius and Lehrerleut Congregations, declare and reveal to you the Arnold Congregation, that hereafter you are not recognized as Brothers in Faith, and ask you to refrain, yes, stop using and tarnishing the Hutterite name and image with your anti-Hutterian deeds. We ask that in the future you not send any of your literature and 'The Plough' for fear of being led astray, because we have sadly experienced that our counselling was in vain all these years." (Source: Document Expelling The Bruderhof Communities from the Hutterian Church), the Peregrine Foundation Archives)

In January 1995, The Plough published an open letter to the Western Hutterites on behalf of all the Bruderhof members. Stating that the Hutterite's witness "to the clear teachings of the New Testament, especially those concerning brotherly love, mutual service, community of goods, nonviolence, sexual purity, and faithfulness in marriage." has "unfortunately... been almost completely lost. (from Plough 41: "An Open Letter"). Christoph further states that: "the church has lost its salt and has become lukewarm, shallow, and superficial." and "The sharpness of Jesus against sin, especially as emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount, has been completely rejected by modern-day Hutterianism.". Some months after the Bruderhof communities published this scandalous open letter, the ministers and stewards of the colonies under the leadership of Elder Jacob Kleinsasser met in conference. After summarizing a number of actions of the Bruderhof against the West the ministers concluded: "Since with these actions you have stated your separation and excluded yourself from the Hutterian Church, it was decided at the meeting that we do not want to associate with you in any way or form, until you begin to clear up these matters."

We were members at the time the open letter was published. We feel that the difficulties between the East and West were much more specific than we were told about in the brotherhood, and that the open letter was meant to precipitate the expulsion of the Bruderhof Communities from the Hutterian church. This would allow the Bruderhof to go on the path of their choosing without having to answer to the larger church. Shortly after the letter was published, there was a rush to cast off the outer "symbols" of Hutterianism (though they had not yet been expelled from the Schmiedleut Hutterites), with many brothers shaving off their beards and giving up the wearing of suspenders, and the sisters changing from the traditional Hutterian spotted head covering to more colorful scarves.

The Bruderhofs' recent relationship to the Hutterites.

In recent times the Hutterites benefited from the Bruderhoffers' "mission" efforts. The Hutterites have their own language and culture which make it difficult for the seeker to actually join and be assimilated into the church community (in a way that is similar to the Amish). The fact that the bruderhoffers speak English and that many of their members come from "the world" can make it easier for an outsider to find their way into this radically different lifestyle. But many seekers have discovered that the Hutterites and the Bruderhoffers are fundamentally different in more than just language and culture. We know several families who "discovered" the Hutterites and sought to join them but who eventually were sent to the Bruderhof communities where it was felt that they might, because of language and custom, fit in better. Sadly in many cases the biblically inspired seeking that led these families to the Hutterites put them in conflict with the Bruderhoffers and resulted in hardship and disillusionment. It is perhaps then for the best that the Bruderhoffers no longer even identify themselves as Hutterites and that the Hutterites have distanced themselves from this group which contributed to their own internal conflicts and struggles.

A joint mission project between the "East" and "West" in Nigeria brought many of the conflicts between the Hutterites and the Bruderhoffers to a head. The Bruderhoffers eventually pulled out of Nigeria when the leaders there refused to turn over the assets of the community to the Bruderhoffers (the Bruderhof communities are centrally administered, the Hutterite colonies are individually autonomous). The Bruderhoffers accused the Nigerian leaders of embezzling funds and other crimes and sins against the church. While the Bruderhoffers later agreed to let the Western Hutterites supervise the Nigerian community and investigate these charges, they were not satisfied with the conclusions of the Hutterites and accused the men sent to Nigeria of being against the Bruderhof in the first place. The Bruderhoffers' inflexible stand and insistence on controlling the Nigerian church has resulted in divided families (several Bruderhoffers married Nigerians) and other tragedies of a sort all too common to Bruderhof history. The Bruderhoffers eventually sued the Nigerian church while the Hutterites have continued to support their brothers in the faith at Palm Grove.

One incident that led to the expulsion of the Bruderhof in 1955 was the take over of the Forest River colony by the Bruderhoffers. It was for this incident that Heini Arnold had asked forgiveness in 1974, which led to the Bruderhof's re-uniting with the Hutterites. A similar incident occurred more recently with the Oakwood Colony.

Oakwood was established by several Hutterite families in South Dakota. These families were seeking a sincere spirituality, and were drawn to associate more closely with the Bruderhof communities. At one point nearly half of the original Oakwood members were living in the East (the Bruderhof communities), and about half of the Oakwood population had come from the East. Oakwood maintained a very close relationship with the East and was often tied into the Bruderhof's brotherhood meetings by telephone.

When the Oakwood brothers and sisters sensed a deep need to clear up past sins, the Bruderhof offered to help. At one point the Oakwood members all accepted church discipline (in the Bruderhof fashion). There was a great deal of confusion during this time, with differing practices of the East and West becomming manifest in this little Hutterian colony. Christoph made some comments about church discipline that greatly offended the ministers in the West, and new misunderstandings arose.

As tensions increased between the East and West, Oakwood favored the East. When some Oakwood members (who had come to Oakwood from another divided colony) would not consent with the other Eastern-oriented members to certain decisions, the Bruderhof faction decided to abandon Oakwood and move East.

As brotherhood members at the time, we were deeply impressed with the willingness of these brothers and sisters to abandon everything for the sake of a united brotherhood and to follow Christ. But after several weeks, Oakwood brothers started making trips to the colony to retrieve their possessions. We recall several truckloads of furniture and equipment arriving at the community at which we were living. It seems that the Oakwood brothers did not in fact abandon the colony, but instead they appeared to have stripped it and carried what they could back east. We still do not understand how the assets of the colony were theirs to dispose of as they wished. It impresses us now to consider what would happen if a majority faction of one of the Eastern communities decided to go West and to take the furniture and tools and shop and construction machinery of the community with them.

There is still much we do not understand about the recent conflicts between the Hutterites and the Bruderhof. The Bruderhoffers feel that a member must live up to a vow to be faithful to the church. We ask, what church must a member be faithful to? If unity and self-denial are so important to them, why have the Bruderhof members failed to submit themselves to the Hutterian Church, and instead divided the church to pursue their own vision?

Leaving the Bruderhof

Our family left the Bruderhof. We broke a vow we made to them in order to faithfully follow Jesus. It was not at all an easy decision, especially for Betty. Scriptures teach that it is a sin to break a vow. But no vow can bind an individual to fellowship with evil. Betty found peace when she was reminded that to remain in the bruderhof, and participate in their lies and misdeeds (being now no longer in the dark about them) would be more dangerous to her soul than breaking her vow. It simply is not true that "it doesn't matter if what we do is right or wrong, as long as we do it together".

Because I spoke out agaist the harassing phone calls to the "Children of the Bruderhof" I was put out of the brotherhood. I could not agree to the counsel of the ministers and the brothers and sisters who tried to guide me back into unity with them. I had lost confidence in the ministers and no longer trusted them for the instruction and guidance of my soul. In the end I asked to go away for a while. I wasn't sure I would find my way back, but I knew I couldn't find my way anywhere if I stayed. When I asked to "take a time away" it was agreed that Betty and the children should go with me. We were supplied with a car, some furniture, a good stock of food and money enough to pay our expenses for our first month out.

It was a hard time for us, especially for our four year-old son, Stevie, who missed his friends in group and the wonderful life he had there. We missed the communal meals, the singing, the closeness we felt to our neighbors, the working together. There is a lot of love in the Bruderhof. At Catskill we had an older brother in our family who had no family of his own there. He was our "Grandpa Harry". Harry was well taken care of in the community. The fact that he had a place there, and that such a fellow would never see the inside of a nursing home, is a testimony to the rich love of the Bruderhof members for one another. We miss our Grandpa Harry and all the other dear brothers and sisters and we are sorry that circumstances have caused them such pain.

When we asked to leave, we chose to move to Lancaster county in Pennsylvania where we could be close to the Mennonite and River Brethren friends we had made over the years. We knew it would be a difficult time for us, and that we would need the counsel of these Christian friends. I was able to find temporary work which, by living quite simply, sustained our family. Our friends helped; they gave us work to do when I would have been otherwise unemployed, and we received fresh vegetables from their gardens. It was quite a good experience actually to try to provide for the family on the little I was able to earn during those first few months. I got a full-time position doing computer repair and received my first month's paycheck when we were down to our last two dollars. We believe God provided, and in that time our faith and patience were strengthened.

We also received the spiritual guidance and counsel we needed. We were among brothers and sisters who have a high regard for the scriptures, and they helped us see our way to a stronger faith. We had made some compromises during our time at the Bruderhof which we had to find our way clear of after we left. Betty still wanted to be "faithful" to the church (the Bruderhof). When several months after leaving the Bruderhof I called the 800 number myself, things got very difficult for us all. But as we learned from various sources about the lawsuits and other matters which we knew were contrary to scriptural teachings, Betty realized that faithfulness to Jesus and His teachings (and to our wedding vows) is more important to our souls than faithfulness to our novice vows. Our family is united and seeking to live in truthfulness and honesty according to God's Word.

There are many more things we could say about the Bruderhof and our experiences on leaving the communities. Our Bruderhof experience has been a painful one at times. There were lies told to us about friends, financial and legal difficulties and attempts to divide our family. Even as we write this we are facing new challenges from our former brothers and sisters. These actions against us can be forgiven. These are the type of actions that tested our trust in God and our willingness to obey Him. We confess that we have not always passed the tests.

We do not think ourselves better than our friends at the Bruderhof. We do not think we are spiritually superior to them. We too are humans, sinful and in need of God's grace and the redemption He promises to us through faith. We know that our calling is to repentance and obedience to Him. The path we feel God has called us to is a hard one to follow, and we realize that we are prone not merely to make mistakes, but to sin. We want to guard our own hearts as we speak about the Bruderhof and our experiences. It is not with bitterness or anger that we think of the Bruderhof, it is with bewilderment and sadness. Our heart-felt prayers are that God will lead us, and the Bruderhoffers, and the Bruderhof's enemies and friends to the truth.

This letter was written to one of the ministers at the Bruderhof in reply to his negative response to our request to be released from our novice vows:

January 6, 1996

Dear M--------,

We are sorry to hear that the brotherhood will not release us from our novice vow, it would be easier for us all if you would.

The quotes you sent us brought back fond memories of a time of innocence and of zeal. But unfortunately the brotherhood to which we committed ourselves in that vow is not the brotherhood we know now. I do not know if the brotherhood changed or if we simply came to know the brotherhood better, but we would never have made those vows with the knowledge we have now. And we cannot return and join you again. Our commitment to following Jesus must take precedence over promises we made regarding the bruderhof communities. We cannot set aside the commands of God in order to observe your traditions. (see Mark 7: 9-13).

We tried to live up to those vows: We sensed within the community life something that should be clearer or would more fittingly bespeak the will of God, we felt that something ought to be corrected or abolished. The brotherhood responded by expelling me, and by justifying its actions while ignoring our admonitions.

There are some things missing too in the novice vows which are very important. Perhaps they are implicit in the vows (I suppose I thought they were), but the lack of these missing elements is what I think leads the brotherhood astray, and it to these which we must be faithful.

Jesus said: "You must love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments." We know too that our neighbor is not just those who love us, but our enemies as well, even Ramon Sender. So we must commit ourselves to love God and our neighbor.

Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing." He also said: "Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God; trust also in me." We must trust God, he will take care of us, he will provide for all our needs and protect us.

Jesus said: "If you love me you will obey what I have commanded. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever -the Spirit of truth." and again: "If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him." John wrote: "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands, This is the love of God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome." We cannot lay aside any of what Jesus taught, not for one moment. Obedience to his teachings are our first calling if we claim to love him.

I reviewed the novice vows you sent. I remember in novice meetings some of the young people bringing up the very issue we are confronted with concerning the novice vows: What if the church will not be corrected, but stands firmly in the wrong? I have been told by brothers: "It is not important if what we do is right or wrong, as long as we do it together." But the apostle John wrote: "All wrong doing is sin." We cannot set aside the commands of God to hold to the traditions of men. And so we cannot continue in our novitiate.

Now M_____, you feel that we are straining at gnats, and swallowing camels. What camels do you see us swallowing? How can you call the very words and commands of Jesus gnats? I do not claim to read the bible better than the rest of you, but any child can tell us what Jesus' words mean. I am not alone in what I understand, in fact I am in unity with a greater body of believers than the brotherhood in these matters. I will leave you with the following:

From Jesus:

If you obey my commands you will remain in my Love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You have heard it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles... You have heard it said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy", but I say unto you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

Paul the Apostle said:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? From the early church

Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians:

Among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth. They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works. When struck, they do not strike back. When robbed, they do not go to law. They give to them that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.

For we have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak. Who of [the philosophers] have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them (to abstain from which is of itself an evidence of no small measure of forbearance), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives?

Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp:

If you love the good disciples only, you have no grace. Rather subdue by gentleness those that are evil. All wounds are not healed through the same medicine. Mitigate cutting by tenderness.

Aristedes, Apology:

It is Christians, O emperor, who have sought and found the truth. ... They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves... They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies.

From the early Anabaptists

Hans Denk:

No Christian who wants to boast in his Lord may use power to coerce and rule. For the realm of our king consists alone in the teaching and power of the Spirit. Whoever truly acknowledges Christ as Lord ought to do nothing but what he commands. Now he commands all his disciples to teach evil doers and to admonish them for their improvement. If they will not listen we should allow them to be heathens and avoid them.

Peter Rideman, Whether a Christian can go to law or sit in judgment

Since, as is said above, all other temporal things are foreign no us and naught is our own, a Christian can neither strive, quarrel nor go to law on their account; on the contrary, as one whose heart is turned from the world and set upon what is divine, he should suffer wrong; as Paul saith, "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you because you go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" Thus since Christians must not sue one another at law, going to law and sitting in judgment are completely done away with among Christians.

"Whosoever would be my disciple", saith he, "let him take his cross upon him and follow me." Therefore doth he command further saying, "Resist not evil. Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you, bless them that curse you, that ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise and his rain to fall on the good and the evil."

Here it is evident, since he saith particularly they are not children of vengeance, that Christ will not have in his house or kingdom servants of vengeance, but of blessing, love, and good action, as he himself was. Now, he who hath not this spirit is none of his.

From Eberhard Arnold, Salt and Light:

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount gives the unconditional command and all-inclusive authority never to offer the slightest resistance to the power of evil. This is the only way the evil one can be made good. Jesus' will to love would rather be struck twice than return a single blow.

Love surpasses all things. It admits no other emotion. In marriage too it stays faithful and combats any separation or divorce. Love permeates hidden prayer as forgiveness. It determines public conduct when the will for total reconciliation is absolute, embracing even the enemy -- yes, him in particular. Rather than ever returning cursing and hatred, injury and enmity, whether singly or collectively, it never takes the slightest part in hostility, quarreling or war.

This living fellowship of hearts, in a firmly welded bond of all working forces and material goods, stands out in thorough contrast to the conduct of the whole world. This necessarily causes particular bitterness in quarters where people are being recruited for deeds of violence that are justified in ideological terms. For here every hostile action is rejected outright, no matter what weighty justification is found for it. All participation in warlike, police, or juridical proceedings is excluded, no matter how plausible or justified on the grounds of protecting the good.

Love forgoes everything of it's own. Anyone who by clear conscience protects the mystery of his faith will stay away from any dealings with legal or hostile actions, just as the elders of the early church did. The justice of Christ will not sue. It does not act as an intermediary. It does no business to the disadvantage of it's neighbor. It abandons all advantage, sacrifices every privilege, and never defends a right...

NOTE: All the previous materials are available on the Internet at Wayne & Betty Chesley's web site:
The Bruderhof Communities, Some Personal Experiences
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