List Of Concerns & Suggestions

The following list of concerns and suggestions was compiled from various contributions to the KIT newsletters and from concerns and personal experiences expressed and discussed at various conference workshops. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive compilation but just to serve as a starting point for further discussion and dialogue.
Concern A) Visiting privileges: Although guaranteed verbally and IN WRITING by Johann Christoph Arnold, visitation rights have been denied to almost all those who read -- or who write letters to -- the KIT Newsletter. When this is pointed out to the Bruderhof leadership, their rationale is that "these are family matters that each family decides individually." However that is an evasion. All that Johann Christoph has to do is put a 'spin' on a remark such as "I'll leave it in your hands as a family to decide what to do about these relatives of yours that are connected to this horrible newsletter..."Also, we definitely know that there is no difference between what an individual or an individual family decides to do and what Christoph decides --and the brotherhood 'rubber stamps.' The system is coercive and monolithic.
Suggestion A) Guarantee and put into practice open contact for family members and friends, in and out of the community regardless of religious or political opinions.
Concern B) So-called "clearances" in the children's community: In the past, as recently as the 1980s, children were isolated and interrogated for lengthy periods of time either over some so-called "impurity" (such as commenting on two mating animals) or so-called "sin." Frequently the children did not know why they were being interrogated or could not even understand the implied sexual references. A six-year-old girl once whispered to her friend, "Just tell them that we looked at each others' bottoms." Children have been removed from their families and/or their age group for long periods of time, sometimes for more than a year. Many who grew up in the Bruderhof suffer from the trauma of these incidents, even after many years have passed.
In the past, the Bruderhof practiced canings, thrashings, boxing of ears and switching of girls' bare legs with willow or mulberry switches. For the most part these physical abuses were stopped in the 1950s when the Bruderhof started communities in the USA, but certain individuals continued aspects of these practices. A particularly extreme example was the Servant of the Word at the Deer Spring community in Norfolk, Connecticut, during the 1970s. He was responsible for the departure of up to fifteen boys from the communities because of his tendency to pull them around his office by the hair and hit them. In one case he actually inflicted permanent damage.
The Bruderhof's emphasis on "purity" in the children has led to many abuses, both psychological, sexual, emotional as well as physical. Their addiction to what has been labeled "worm theology" (the theory that Man is hopelessly sinful and must die to his/her own sense of self) has led to many psychological breakdowns and depressions, especially among the younger women. The same cluster of symptoms has been treated so often by the psychiatrists and therapists in the surrounding towns that it was given the name "The Society Syndrome."
Suggestion B) Regardless of whether the children are growing up in a direction that will lead them towards or away from the life in the community, they should be treated with respect and consideration, and their educational opportunities arranged to their own advantage. No more forced separation of children from their parents, or isolation or prolonged interrogations. The psychological abuse of children and young people must stop.
Concern C) We are concerned about the paranoia running rampant among the leadership that has infected the membership as a whole. The Bruderhof seems to be withdrawing more and more from society-at-large and from the Christian fellowship in general (including the Anabaptist groups such as the Society of Friends, the Mennonites, etc.)An indication of this is that their Elder Christoph Arnold has armed himself with two handguns, and owns a permit to carry a concealed weapon. This gives the lie to the Bruderhof's witness as a pacifist organization.
Suggestion C) The cult of personality that has allowed Johann Christoph Arnold to assert total control over the finances, the minds and the emotions of the community, and impose the myth of the infallibility of the Elder, must be exposed and stopped.
Concern D) Children are given college educations or specialized trainings on a selective basis that include a caste and class value system. Wealthy relatives on the outside tend to improve a child's chances to go to college. For children who leave the community after college, Bruderhof leaders dun them for repayment of tuition moneys, threatening them either with a lawsuit or with loss of visiting privileges to their family until the money is paid.
Suggestion D) Inasmuch as the Bruderhof is a wealthy organization judged by any per capita standard, all the children should be allowed a college education AT THE EXPENSE OF THE COMMUNITY regardless of whether they are staying or moving away to live outside permanently, and regardless of how wealthy their outside family members are. Because their parents sign over all their worldly possessions to the Bruderhof, the Bruderhof stands in loco parentis to their young people. It is customary in the USA, for parents who are able, to bear the expense of a child's education.
Concern E) The possibility exists of medication being used to control the moods of individuals within the Bruderhof. According to one source, there seems to have been an increase in the amount of anti-depressants ordered. In one recent case in Pennsylvania, a member was brought to a local hospital so overdosed on prescription drugs that the staff reprimanded the attending member. There have been other reported cases of young women seriously overmedicated by the Bruderhof medical staff.
Suggestion E) Individuals' medical records and the medical work of in-house specialists should be reviewed by the outside medical community. For example, the cancer rate seems very high within the communities. In one case (Xavie Sender Rhodes), she died from melanoma ten days after diagnosis. The oncologist said, "I have never seen a case like hers, even in the literature!" In times past, the Bruderhof attitude toward sickness was overly Spartan, and the tendency was to ignore early symptoms. Even such things as brains tumors were frequently ignored or misdiagnosed as "demonic possession."
Concern F) Families who are kicked out or who re-settle outside do so with minimum assistance from the community. They have no health insurance. Frequent cases are reported of individuals being driven to the Greyhound depot and given $50, or families with eight children told to apply for Welfare and food stamps.
Suggestion F)People should be financially vested in the Bruderhof and able to liquidate their stake upon departure. Their health insurance should be continued until they have established themselves outside.
Concern G) Upon a person becoming a Novice, all his or her worldly possessions are taken by the Bruderhof. If the person decides that the life is not to their taste, they leave all their possessions behind except for perhaps a suitcase of clothes and whatever personal objects they keep in their room. In certain cases, people were kept just long enough to sign over their property and then, a few days later, told to leave.
Suggestion G) Novice members' worldly goods should not be absorbed by the Bruderhof. Instead the items should be itemized, warehoused, and the cash put into escrow with the understanding that everything will be returned to them WITH NO HARD FEELINGS, if for some reason the Novice decides to withdraw. This is the practice within many religious orders.
Concern H) In some instances the Bruderhof grabbed for inheritances against the express wishes of the deceased. They have harassed family members on the outside over legacies and trust funds.
Suggestion H) Money-grabbing from individuals cheapens the Bruderhof, at least in the eyes of those involved in the distribution of the deceased's possessions. This habit perhaps is left over from the early, poverty- stricken period in Paraguay and Germany, but is no longer necessary.
Concern I) A tendency exists both in the Bruderhof, the Hutterites and other 'withdrawn' sects to view property and goods in the "outside world" as tainted by the devil. With that attitude held firmly in mind, anything that can be 'liberated' for the Church (and by implication, for oneself) becomes a minor victory. In the Bruderhof this attitude carries over to milking the government bureaucracies for whatever the communities can get away with: Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicare, School Lunch Programs, 'cooking' the account books, etc. etc.)
Suggestion I) HONESTY! All property and all ethical obligations, both in and out of the communities, should be fully respected.
Concern J) The German Reparations moneys paid to individuals in the Bruderhof in the early 1960s to compensate them for their lack of education, etc. should be paid to those named on the checks. The German victims never saw one pfennig of those moneys that were due to them. Also, it seems that the family who now owns the original Rhoen Bruderhof in Germany is having to buy it over again by paying the Bruderhof for the value of the property (the German government's somewhat strange way of settling reparations on property) even though they themselves bought it from the family who originally bought it from the Nazis as confiscated property. Does this seem fair to these poor people? It is not, after all, as if the Bruderhof is a poor organization. They should let the current owners off the hook.
Suggestion J) The reparations just should be paid to whomever they are due. A few names come to mind: Miriam Arnold Holmes, Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe, but there are many others. If not forthcoming, perhaps the German government should be asked to investigate? There is also the specific question of Teika Schonbroodt's hotel in the North Sea that was appropriated during her Novitiate and then sold. When she left the Bruderhof, she and her children were forced to live on the generosity of friends and public assistance. Since the German Government paid reparations to the Bruderhof, the Bruderhof should pay reparations to Teika and her children.
Concern K) There are many people, women especially, living very marginal lives outside due to the emotional damage they suffered in the Bruderhof. These people should have financial support from the communities, and enough money to seek out counseling or psychotherapy. Also there are elderly people who spent a major portion of their lives in the Bruderhof and are now having to eke out their final years on tiny pensions and marginal Social Security checks.
Suggestion K) Requests for financial aid for special needs such as psychotherapy should be respected. A fund similar to the XRoads Fund should be established because there are ex-members living in poverty who would rather DIE than ask a penny from the Bruderhof. The fund would allow them to apply for aid and keep their self-respect.
Concern L) Speaking of Social Security, why does the Bruderhof place all their elderly folks on SSI? By some strange technicality, it seems that everyone there over the age of 65 can receive a monthly check from the Federal government even though, to our knowledge, the communities do not pay into Social Security and also have a per capita income high above the poverty level!
Suggestion L) The fictional accounting methods by which the elderly people are shown as impoverished should be exposed and rectified. After all, if they have spent their entire lives in the community, they should be financially vested in the community. Also the Bruderhof should pay Social Security, and thus guarantee that if someone retires outside the community, there will be something for them after 65.
Concern M) The Bruderhof keeps extensive records on any and all ex-members and members. These include letters of confession that can be used -- and are used -- to smear or control the individual, sometimes even brought up many years later. In the outside world this would be called "blackmail. " Their manipulation and misuse of confidential data stands in direct contradiction to the Bruderhof's own insistence that once something is forgiven someone, it is forever forgotten. One outstanding example of misuse of the archives was the publication of ex-Servant of the Word Gwynn Evans' letter of contrition and confession in "Torches Rekindled" without including his second letter that withdrew his statements. Also the recent publication and dissemination of the personal confessions of members of a Hutterite colony was judged in extremely poor taste and 'beyond the pale' by many other Hutterite colonies. It served to confirm them in their stand against the Bruderhof's attempts to interject their values and life style into the Old Order Hutterite colonies.
Suggestion M) Freedom of Access to Information! The Bruderhof archives should be opened to the following: members and ex- members who request any or all records relating to their time in the Bruderhof under conditions similar to those of the Freedom of Information Act of the U. S. government; outside physicians who request access in order to review any or all medical records.
Concern O) Rumors abound of financial mismanagement and possible skullduggery, including money-skimming, private bank accounts, credit cards for the senior servants, and odd money trails that disappear over the horizon. Are the books being 'cooked? '
Suggestion O) An accredited and independent auditing firm should be hired to make an unbiased, full accounting of the financial status of the communities. considering Johann Christoph Arnold's involvement in Jacob Kleinsasser's money manipulations (that resulted in the loss of 47 million dollars of the Hutterite colonies' money). This matter is currently under investigation by Canadian Revenue and the RCMP. Can the IRS and the FBI be far behind? Anyway, the Bruderhof books should be open and available for public scrutiny. As a religious organization, there is no need for secrecy in connection with any of their financial affairs.
Concern P) The Bruderhof does not allow its members free access to outside information. Mail is scanned and carefully watched. In the past it was even censored by the Servant and in certain cases not delivered at all.
Suggestion P) Tampering with the mail is a federal offense, with each case considered a separate crime.
Concern Q) The Bruderhof system stifles dissent and does not offer a real opportunity for its members or their children to make informed decisions. Over the members' heads hangs the very real threat of expulsion with nothing to show for many years of faithful service except a very large family and no credit or work references. The "No Gossip" rule, known as "The First Law In Sannerz," protects the leader from any small group getting together to discuss the leader's failings before confronting him as a group. Thus each individual must approach the Servant with his or her own private accusation and thereby exposing him or herself to the very real danger of immediate expulsion.
Suggestion Q) Freedom of Expression is basic to a free society! The "No Gossip" rule must be changed to allow discussion in small groups of any topic of their own choosing without endangering their membership. The inability of the individual to challenge an order of a superior, in the words of a Canadian appeals court justice, "turns Hutterites into zombies who can be expelled from the Church for daring to question the conduct and orders of the elders. "
Concern R) The 'no personal property' rule disenfranchises the members just as thoroughly as if they were in a perpetual state of servitude.
Suggestion R) As mentioned earlier, each individual must be allotted a vested interest in the property of the Bruderhof that is negotiable or can be liquidated upon their decision to leave the community.
Concern S) Women are treated as second-class citizens. The Bruderhof still remains an orthodox patriarchy, with the woman's place seen as in the home, in the kitchen and as the bearer of many children. She is expected to express herself in meetings through her husband's voice, keep her head covered in public and not talk too loudly or laugh too much.
Suggestion S) Orthodox patriarchies, upon closer inspection, may camouflage a strong matriarchal hierarchy, but there are no workers for women's rights who would approve of the manner in which women are treated in the Bruderhof. Freedom! Equal treatment! NOW!
Summing Up: The Bruderhof system has trapped both the rank- and-file members and the leadership in a stagnant puddle of fear and rigidified power. Power that is not shared becomes a dictatorship. Power that is not based on love becomes authoritarian and judgmental. This is not what Christ taught his friends and followers, and the hope for the future is that the Bruderhof can find their way back to their First Love, drop their fears, peek out from behind the demons of their own making and discover that the world out here wants them, begs them, to become their own best dream, the followers of the Universal Christ (for others the coming Messiah, or the Avatar Kalki, or the Maitreya Buddha) whose coming world democracy of cosmic love will embrace everyone everywhere! PEACE!
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