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 / (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Christina Bernard, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Susan Johnson Suleski, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity)
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 reflects those of KIT editors or staff.

February 1995 Volume VII #2


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

We have received word that the Bruderhof communities have (or will soon) put aside the Hutterite costume including beards (optional?), and returned to the modest civilian garb they wore before the reuniting. This, along with elder J. Christoph Arnold's aggressive letter (see excerpts below), which anticipates the imminent excommunication of the Bruderhof communities by the Schmiedeleut "Oiler" branch, seems to indicate that the final connection between the Bruderhof and the Hutterites now has been broken.
Also, the Michaelshof community in Germany is being sold by next month. Ironically, this comes at a time when the township finally had given permission for the community to put up a large new building, but the Hutterite carpenters to build it are no longer available, nor are the Hutterite funds. In fact, since the Michaelshof always was a joint venture with the Hutterites and they want their money back, the Bruderhof cannot afford to keep it any longer. The Rheinische Zeitung ran an article in which the Michaelshof leaders said they never felt really accepted in Germany, and in 'these serious times,' they feel they are more needed in Russia, Japan and Korea. There are many financial interconnections between the Kleinsasser "Oiler" faction and the Bruderhof. Both Spring Valley (1.6 million dollars) and Catskill (1 million dollars) were bought and paid for with Hutterite cash-- in the case of Spring Valley with piles of tens, twenties and a few fifty-dollar bills. Where did all this cash come from, anyway? Enquiring minds would like to know!
The most tragic impact of this split will be on the twenty-two intermarried couples and their immediate relatives, who now will have to decide which side of the family to shun. Welcome, dear folks, to the sad dilemma with which many KITfolk have been living for years! "Can't you feel the love?" Brrrrrrrrrrr!

----- The Whole Kit And Caboodle -----

Congratulations to Nathan Mathis who was hired as Operating Room Tech at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he had been interning -- and his first choice for a paying job. Way-to-go, Nathan!
Connie D'hoedt [belatedly discovered in the KIT file folder - sorry!] I would like to take this opportunity to greet you all for Christmas. I wish you all a very joyful Christmas and all the best for 1995.
An Open Letter From The Bruderhof, written on behalf of all its members by J. Christoph Arnold Reprinted from The Plough, Winter 1995, as a courtesy to the many Hutterian colonies that have not yet seen the letter as of our date of publication.
NOTE: This letter has been deleted as of November 16, 1995, to comply with the Bruderhof's attorneys' request that KIT "cease and desist from republishing in any of your publications any copyright protected articles, letters or items published by the Hutterian Brethren." (By "Hutterian Brethren" we assume they refer to the Bruderhof.) We offer the following description of the letter instead:
Christoph Arnold first outlines the reuniting of the Bruderhof with the Hutterites in 1974, and describes the warm and close relations that ensued, especially with the Elder Jake Kleinsasser. He then criticizes the Hutterian Church for having become "lukewarm, shallow and superficial." Christoph alleges that Jesus "sharpness against sin" is no longer practiced by the Hutterites, and they have become self-satisfied.
He then states that many young Hutterites are looking for something new, and longing for the Holy Spirit to break in. He insists that the Bruderhof cares deeply for the "brothers and sisters in the western colonies." However the rumor is that the Bruderhof communities may be officially excluded by the Kleinsasser faction -- the last one to remain united with the Bruderhof -- in the upcoming weeks.
Christoph then asserts the Bruderhof determination to move ahead, and how they wish to witness to Christ so that "God's kingdom might break into this dark world and change people's lives."
KIT: We talked to Elias Kleinsasser at Crystal Spring who said that he had not seen the above letter from Christoph Arnold. When we asked, "Are you voting to kick out the Bruderhof?" he replied "It says in the Bible, 'The godless run without being chased.' That's not quoted exactly, but Christoph is running and fleeing from somebody to we don't know where. It's not the church that kicks a man out. A man's actions kick him out."
Barnabas Johnson, 1/24/95: I recently spent two weeks in England, and am now completing two weeks in the United States. In a few hours I will start my journey home to Kazakhstan; Lowry just called to say our pipes are frozen; but her voice was warm and our cats are fine. I have missed [the city of] Almaty, and look forward to returning to Central Asia, where for millennia East has met West, North has met South, yet the mountains and steppes have prevailed, unperturbed. During this past month, I have had several KIT-related discussions, and have read much of the Hummer (Humming Bird Express computer mailbox) material. Perturbed, I want to offer two observations.
First, to those on and off the 'hofs who think that KITfolk understand little and care less about Bruderhof matters, I would suggest that you peruse our writings and observe how cogently -- and regretfully -- the present mess between the "Eastern" and "Western" communities was predicted in KIT's pages, as indeed it was predicted by Heini's critics decades ago.
When the Easterners come to grips with the havoc caused by Heini's zealotry for "uniting" with the Westerners, everybody (not merely those of us on the outside) will be forced to confront the larger havoc of Heini's legacy, including
a) how and why Heini became dictator in the late 1950s and early 1960s,
b) how and why Heini was able to ram this "uniting" through, despite the opposition of those leading servants of the early 1970s who had been his main hatchet men in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s,
c) Heini's "proposal" that Christoph become his successor as EIder (one of life's little bemuse-ments for those of us who are JC's contemporaries), and
d) the role of Jake Kleinsasser in confirming and supporting Christoph's leadership until very recently, despite considerable resistance from the new generation of leaders who arose after 1975.
All this, in turn, requires searching reappraisal of the entire question of Bruderhof leadership, and how the First Law of Sannerz insulates leaders from accurate "self- governing" feedback, etc. Little more need be said here, because not only has it been said in KIT's pages before, but also the great majority of readers could write volumes on this subject at the drop of a kopftuch. I would only reiterate that, when Christoph falls -- as he must -- we will offer him the same hand of friendship that we have offered each other.
Although we have, with good reason, singled out Heini and Christoph for special criticism, we have focused far more upon the craziness of a SYSTEM that "sets up" leaders and then deprives them of what they need to stay sane, to wit, honest feedback. By 1960, I conclude, Heini was mentally disturbed, perhaps dangerously insane; he thought he had special spiritual powers, and deserved special dispensations; accordingly, he got away with ludicrous ideas and actions, for which the Bruderhof now praises him in its institutional, "systemic" insanity. That cannot last much longer, and Christoph will turn out to have been his father's most tragic victim.
I worry for Christoph's future. Pistol-packers are far more likely to kill themselves than others. And Christoph has got himself into a terrible mess, a spiritual "slough of despond" that his father constructed -- and tossed him into -- decades ago. He has no dignified way out other than to welcome a reappraisal of his father's life, and hence his own. That reappraisal is inevitable; the only question, for Christoph, is whether he can get through it and come out on the other side alive, healthy, and ennobled by self- wisdom, which Socrates said was the touchstone of all wisdom. Know yourself, that you may govern yourself. And, as individuals need feedback, so also do institutions; we KITfolk truly are the Bruderhof's -- and Christoph's --- best friends; anyone who thinks otherwise is merely perpetuating a delusion.
Christoph, if you are reading this, please take to heart that we want to help you and our former sisters and brothers to free yourselves from a SYSTEM that has hurt us all: the "Kingdom of God" (as too many despotisms have understood this concept), which stands as a formidable barrier thwarting evolution towards that loftier goal which, for lack of a better name, some KITfolk have called the Democracy of Spirit. It is time that your despotism be dismantled. KITfolk could be your best allies in finding a responsible, step-by-step path leading out of your present quagmire. Try us. We are not your enemies; we are only enemies of your self-destructive ideology, theocracy, tyranny.
Second, there has been considerable discussion on the Hummer and elsewhere about the need for a formal "organization" of some kind. I want to urge that we KITfolk continue to resist forming, stumbling into, or seeming to be an "organization" -- for all the reasons often mentioned, but especially because the "transaction costs" of an organization tend to be far higher than most people realize.
Organizations spend too much time in reorganizing, determining committee memberships, developing official position papers, and arguing over this or that leader's responsibilities and prerogatives. We do not need this. Our "adhocracy" is doing just fine. Each of us is free to say or do what we wish, as individuals; we are even free to run any idea or plan up a flagpole to see if others -- as individuals -- want to salute and "join" our efforts. For example, a "deputation" of former members is welcome to ask the New York Agency for Child Welfare (or whatever it is called) to look into "child abuse" caused by stupid religious discipline, etc., at Woodcrest; but we do not need an "organization" to accomplish such a task.
Similarly, anyone is welcome to try arranging a meeting with one or several individuals or hofs to discuss, say, visitation rights. But forming an "organization" to bargain with or otherwise confront the Bruderhof is unlikely to add to --- and might detract from --- our fundamental strength, which is our friendship for and understanding of each other, as individuals, as former members of an organization that despises individuality and measures everything from the perspective of group goals, collective accomplishments. If others must call us an organization, then that is their affair; if managing international conferences and publishing books "makes us" an organization in their eyes, then let them concretize their metaphores, paraphrand their metapheres, and waste their lifetimes trying to figure out the identity of Adam's odd ox.
Meanwhile, let us remain fluid, nimble, undefined, unfinished -- mere fingers pointing to a finger pointing beyond names, classifications, ossifications. Let us call ourselves nothing much, just friends who keep in touch.
ITEM excerpted from an article in The Herald Standard by correspondent Doug Drazga (2/7/95 p. A-4): "Wharton Rejects Rezoning." Supervisors Monday rejected a rezoning plan by the Hutterian Brethren of Pennsylvania, Inc. The proposal originally called for 10 acres of the Hutterian Brethren's property to be rezoned from B-1 to B- 2 for purposes of constructing a new manufacturing building. But the Hutterian Brethren Monday submitted a 6.5-acre rezoning proposal along with a provision that the old building would be razed within 36 months.
Supervisors had the option of either rejecting or pursuing the proposal... Supervisor Roger Baxter suggested that the proposal should go through as a "non-conforming use" instead of a rezoning. Baxter also feared that rezoning would lead to spot zoning throughout the township. "We could get into spot zoning everywhere, and we'll have headache after headache over it," Baxter said. "We're going to be spot zoning all over Wharton Township, and that scares me."
Township resident Patrick Wick concurred. "You're opening up a can of worms," Wick said. "(The matter) should be taken before the Zoning and Hearing Board for an extension of non-conforming use. I won't oppose that; I'm afraid of the B-2."
The non-conforming use issue will be take up by the township's Zoning and Hearing Board.
KIT Addendum: The Herald Standard also reported in December that the Bruderhof has filed an appeal to their property tax assessment with the Pennsylvania Court of Common pleas in Uniontown. They are claiming that as a charitable organization they are exempt from payment of property taxes. Since the main argument in favor of the zoning variance is that it will increase the Bruderhof's taxes (and thus benefit the township), it seems that, once again, figuratively speaking, they have shot themselves in the foot.
Hans Martin, 1/13/95: It's a long time since I last wrote. Like many others, I too started writing and then left the job unfinished. I even have a long letter in my computer, but thought it better to write a new one. Many things happened since I last wrote. As you can detect from my address [see top of p. 1 - ed] we moved to sunny Florida, quite a sudden and unexpected move. Last year when my spouse and I returned from a nice vacation in Europe, (Holland, Germany and Switzerland) I received an offer for a job in Florida, which I accepted. We were tired of the Los Angeles rat race. So far we like it very much. My spouse and I also took a nice trip to South America. Argentina and Paraguay were the two countries we visited. We still keep in close contact with many dear friends, but also have many relatives in both countries from my wife's side. The highlight of our trip was, visiting the Iguazœ Falls. They were as pretty as ever; it is a spectacle to behold. The time did not allow me to visit Primavera as I would have liked to, maybe the next time.
Back in the States we had the tremendous chore to sell our property in California and buying a dwelling in Florida, and then of course the packing and moving. It is amazing how much junk you collect and never use. What we miss the most is to be close to our grandchildren. Two of them we have with us during the month of January while their parents are vacationing in South America.
The main reason for my writing is that I would like to make a couple of statements about KIT. I am very disappointed with what I read. With my sister Ruth, to whom I am close now, I discussed this issue many times. She said "Hans you should write. KIT readers need to know that not all of us feel and think the same way." So here are my thoughts.
When I read KIT I hear many of you double talk. On the one hand I hear complaints about visiting rights and on the other hand I hear that people are angry because the Bruderhof knocks at their doors. If some of the things written in KIT about the Bruderhof would be said about me, I would be angry too. I probably would not give the person saying these things the time of the day, never mind let them in my house. Many writers of KIT have called the Bruderhof SOB and then get upset because the Bruderhof calls them by their nickname. I believe that if I want to tell the Bruderhof what to do I should join them and then get involved in the decision making.
Someone also said that the education we received on the Bruderhof was lousy. I beg to differ. I only completed the seventh grade on the Bruderhof, in the middle of the eighth grade I was sent to Friesland for one year. When I returned to the Bruderhof I was not permitted to attend night classes (Vortbildungs Schule) offered to those who had finished ninth grade. However, with a seventh grade education I was able to take an examination in a foreign language that allowed me to enter nursing school in Argentina. With the education I received on the Bruderhof I also was able to pass the GED test (high school Equivalency Test) in the United States, again not in my native language. In my days on the Bruderhof German was the main language spoken and in school we were taught English only as a foreign language. With that education and only that education I was able to enter the University and function quite well. I also want to remind you that we had a tremendous privilege to grow up with two languages. Many of us even learned three languages. Not many people in this world have this privilege. I think the education on the Bruderhof was excellent and our teachers out did themselves. This statement coming from me is something, because I hated some of them.
I think all I want to say is that we need to be more careful what we say about the Bruderhof. Just because we are angry or disappointed we should take things out of perspective. Also when we talk about people dead or alive we should be more careful about what we say. It hurts when not so nice things are said about your parents or friends. Maybe that is the reason I don't want to write about my experience on the Bruderhof. I probably would have to write nasty things about some people who are portrayed as loving in KIT. I believe enough hurt has occurred. It took me many years to get over the hurting, and some of the scar tissue is very fragile.
Yes, what is done can't be taken back, but we should learn to forgive! Not forget, because we can learn from our past experience. I hear so much hatred in the letters I read in KIT and as long as we keep that hatred we can't forgive. In the long run we are only going to hurt ourselves. Yes, mistakes have been done and as long as we are human mistakes will be done. I believe that this is why the Bible tells us to forgive seventy times seven. The people Jesus was talking to thought that forgiving three times in one day was a lot and the answer they got was seventy times seven. What Jesus wanted to tell them, was that there is no limit in forgiving.
Well, this letter is longer than I thought it would be. However, I had to voice my opinion. Thank you for listening. Sincerely,
Hans Zimmermann, 1/22/95: First of all, a belated Happy and Healthy New Year to all the KIT readers out there! Also special thanks to all those who have submitted their stories and comments on current and past happenings. They continue to shed more and more light on what has transpired throughout the history of the SOB, and express the many different thoughts and memories we carry within us. I now read the newsletter from front to back in order not to miss any new revelations, important items, and/or tidbits. I loved the last Comic Strip!
For those who did not or do not watch TV, you may have missed an airing on CBS "Sixty Minutes", December 11, 1993, about fraud and corruption in Nigeria. In particular, sharpies preying on ignorant and gullible people, such as religious groups, and coming up with schemes to elicit large money donations for worthy causes in Nigeria. Some of these were rather blatant, while others were much more elaborate and deceptive. I requested a transcript from CBS and when received, will submit it to KIT. It may give people a better understanding as to what goes on in that nation. While I have nothing against helping needy people, falling into those kinds of traps is feeding thieves. The Western Hutterites still in Nigeria should be warned.
The following, from my perspective, should be considered more anecdotal than an indictment or serious complaint about the life in the Primavera bruderhofs. Hilarion Braun comments in the last KIT letter about canings on the Bruderhof in Primavera are quite correct. I'm not totally opposed to a well-deserved spanking here or there, nevertheless it was administered too frequently in Paraguay. It was quite prevalent, and the teachers did try to put the "fear of God" into us by threatening the kids with a Tract Prugel, i.e. a thrashing with a belt or a cane, if we misbehaved. In other words, they would beat the stuffing out of you!
While obviously nobody likes the idea of being whipped, we kind of expected and accepted the consequences of our misdeeds. Our English gym teachers were very sporty about this: "Bend down and take it like a man!" Or "Bend down and smile. It won't be hard." To a kid bent over with a taut behind, that seemed a hollow promise. I personally received one, maybe two whippings -- I can't even remember for what, but I hold no grudges because of it. As kids grew to being big boys (young men), this did not work anymore, as those who felt they could fight back were willing to do so -- and did!
To toughen us up and condition ourselves or a possible beating, we played a perverse game called Schinken Klopfen ("Beat the Ham"). One person would sit down on a chair bench or log, then another boy would put his head into the sitting person's lap who would hold the boy's head down and cover his eyes. The rest of the boys formed a semicircle, spit into their hands, rubbed them, and then smacked the boy's behind with their bare hands as hard as they could. The victim then would have to guess who hit him. If he guessed correctly, then that person would have to subject himself to the beating. It could get quite painful, but never as painful -- or potentially harmful -- as a caning. In this case, we did "grin and bare it." However the policy of caning did create a general acceptance among the youth that the stronger ones could beat up on the weaker, mostly older boys beating younger ones. No back talk by a younger kid to an older one was tolerated. The Faust Recht, the Law of the First, reigned supreme. I received my share of beatings from the older boys, and may have done the same to the younger ones myself. I quickly learned not to pick fights that I could not win, be it with adults or other boys. That way I navigated through my school years without getting into any major scraps.
Pure intimidation was also practiced by some teachers, raising their voices excessively. By that I mean that they screamed at us kids. One teacher comes to mind in particular, Fritz Freiburghaus. He was an excellent teacher and well-respected by all students. However when provoked, he really could blow his top. A big man with a girth and voice to match, he would have put Luciano Pavarotti ('large' Italian tenor) to shame. When he screamed, we shook in our boots (mostly bare feet). I'm not sure anymore if it was because we were afraid that our eardrum would rupture or that he might literally burst from rage. He gave true meaning to the words in a German song, Wenn der Lowe in der Wuste brullt dann erzitterd das Tierische Leben ("When the lion in the desert roars, the animal world shivers.")
In retrospect, I feel that the intimidation factor was far too great. (The arrival of new teacher Jere Bruner from the USA was a welcome change). As a kid, one had the feeling that anyone, adults or even an older school kid, had a license to beat you if you misbehaved or went against their wishes. However once one graduated from school and became an older teenager, this fear disappeared and for the most part faded away. Nevertheless, the legacy it seemed to leave was that boys remained very confrontational to adults, a rebellious attitude that caused many to leave the SOB prematurely to everyone's detriment. I believe that many of the resulting differences were never fully reconciled. The attempt to fully control every person just did not work, both physically and spiritually. Frequently it backfired.
NIGERIA UPDATE: Four Bruderhof 'heavies' (Joe Keiderling, Christian Domer, Danni Meier and Ben Zumpe) went to Nigeria and succeeded in 'extracting' 10 Nigerians (who had left Palmgrove) and bringing them back. Palmgrove residents (including Western Hutterites) are very upset, and even more convinced of the devious tactics of the SOB.
Julius Rubin: Last July, I received an intriguing e-mail message on my college Internet account. Chip Wilson contacted me over computer e-mail and asked for help in contacting a "Ramond" Sender of KIT. Someone had slipped him the torn, partial title page of the paper that Ramon and I authored, "Heini Arnold and the Abuse of Charismatic Authority in the Early Woodcrest Bruderhof" (presented at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist studies at Elizabethtown College in July 1993). The torn title page provided my name and e-mail address. Chip insisted that all communication take place by computer mail and did not provide a postal address or telephone number. He explained that he was a member of an unnamed Christian community, "the Erie group," that was in the final stages of affiliating with the Bruderhof. He, however, had many doubts, unanswered questions, and serious concerns about the Bruderhof.
I told Chip that I would forward his message to Ramon Sender. I also warned Chip that relations between the Bruderhof and people who received or wrote for KIT were controversial. I also directed him to Ben Zablocki's Joyful Community as the definitive sociological study of the Bruderhof. I then stopped corresponding with Chip and wished him well in his search for answers. Ramon was attending EuroKIT in England, and then he returned to the KIT reunion at Friendly Crossways. He had not received Chip's forwarded e-mail until he returned home. Thus began a six-month exchange between KITfolk and Chip Wilson.
Ramon Sender: Aside from two phone calls that Chip made, the intense interaction between Chip and several KITfolk took place over computer e-mail. At one point in December, in contrast to the rest of his fellowship, Chip decided not to join the Bruderhof. But in January he was invited to visit Christoph Arnold at Woodcrest, and the next thing we heard was that he had decided to move to the communities. He wrote us a letter announcing his intentions and requested that we print it in KIT. KIT staff decided to print the letter, but thought we would like to print it in context with the previous computer e-mail correspondence with Chip. Here, then, with Chip's permission are some excerpts.
Ramon, 8/14/94: Dear Chip Wilson: We received your e-mail address and also a printout of your 'correspondence' via computer....Your Bruderhof friend's comment about the exiling of their previous leader, Hans Zumpe, because of marital infidelity is true. But what he [your friend] did not say (and probably does not know) is that this poor man wrote letter after letter begging his wife -- and the community -- for forgiveness, abasing himself over and over again. His wife saw either none or else very few of the letters, and the leader who took his place, Heini Arnold, tossed all the others in the waste basket. Why? Because he did not want Hans Zumpe ever to return. Zumpe was too great a threat to Heini's leadership and the new, very dangerous direction in which he was taking the community. After Hans was exiled, 600-plus more people were ejected, six of the nine bruderhofs closed and sold, and the movement consolidated under the fist of Heini Arnold, the new Elder.
...Before you write me off -- and perhaps the whole KIT group -- as a bunch of malcontents who have been driven "into bitterness by their inability to seek forgiveness," to paraphrase the Bruderhof, it might behoove you to look deeper into the Bruderhof's structure and belief system. In closing, I would like to emphasize that I do not want to see the Bruderhof destroyed (as they keep telling everyone). Quite the opposite. I would like to encourage them to follow their own highest ideal, that of becoming a light on the hill to brighten the path for all mankind. But I do not believe the direction they are following will allow that to exist. Be Well,
Chip Wilson, 8/16/95: I wanted to let you know I received your lengthy transmission. Thanks. Actually, my quick reading of the material you sent has left me stunned. I'm going to need time to sit and reread and digest. It's too early for me to comment intelligently, but I will just say that I'm somewhat confused as to how to reconcile the Bruderhof I thought I knew with the Bruderhof that is portrayed in your list of concerns.
I will certainly be back in touch when I return. I have several friends who, like me, have been watching the Bruderhof with interest for several years and who have been unmistakenly drawn to the Community. I need to talk with them. Would you have any objection if I shared parts of your document with them? This is more than I can deal with alone, and these are people whom I can trust... I'll certainly respect it if you would prefer confidentiality.
Ramon, 8/16/95: Feel free to share the material with your friends. However, if you approach the Bruderhof with the list, I would prefer that you NOT say that you received it from me. It is true that they have copies of this document that I mailed them, but they become very fearful when it comes back to them from different sources. (It also has been printed in our newsletter)....
8/18/94: Chip. here's a question for you: "How can a person be free to exercise his freedom of conscience if he is disenfranchised, if he has no equity and no security to fall back on if the group turns against him because of his voiced disagreement over something?"
We have heard stories that the Elder Christoph Arnold wanted the men to go on double shifts in the workshop, one shift starting at 4:30 a.m. When some families protested because it disturbed the children's schedules and their time together, their punishment was to stand against the wall during mealtimes. Now is that a loving and Christian lifestyle? I don't think so...
Chip, 8/22/94: I still don't really know how to respond, nor what I should do next. I have relived each of my visits to Spring Valley, remembering conversations, impressions. I still can't shake that powerful impression of peace and harmony that hit me the first time I walked into the dining hall there. You'll probably think I'm just another foolish sucker, but I tell you, it was real. I remember reading in the book by Zablocki how common this feeling is among first-time guests.
My first reaction in reading your list of concerns was denial. "That can't be true!" In some ways your list reads like a tabloid review of the history of the Branch Davidians in Waco. But at the same time, I can't help thinking that somehow the Lord had his hand in linking me with you before I made any rash move.
I had a long talk with a close friend of mine who lives in New Jersey. He, like me, has had a long- standing relationship with the Bruderhof. He receives The Plough magazine (a Bruderhof periodical) and writes occasionally. He and I have known each other for years, and I trust his judgment. We see each other once or twice a year, and correspond regularly. I felt like I needed to talk everything over with him.
I was surprised that what I had to share with him didn't come as a shock to him. After I finished reading excerpts to him I expected outrage, but instead he was quiet for a while and then said "You know, Chip, I've been worried about the Bruderhof for a while now." He said he didn't believe all the allegations in your list, but that taken as a whole, the document has merit, and the concerns certainly are legitimate. I was shocked. We talked for a long time after that.
Our main question now is: If the picture you paint is accurate and we have been deceived regarding the true nature of life at the Bruderhof, what is our responsibility toward the friends we've made there? And somehow, I still need convincing that the horror you described is real. You asked me not to write you off as a malcontent, and I have to admit, I was very tempted to do just that. But after talking with my friend I realize I can't.
So for now I need to think this through and try to determine what course I should take and in what manner I should continue my relationship with the Bruderhof. Living as I do in an intentional community, I know all too well the unique problems that arise, and the tendency of the outside public to misinterpret what they see. Somehow I can't help feeling that some of the charges you level against the Bruderhof are overstated for this same reason...
I don't feel I can just close the book on the Bruderhof. At the same time I can't simply ignore the serious abuses your document exposes....
I will certainly not mention your name to anyone at the Bruderhof... I have heard enough during my visits to the Bruderhof to know that any association with KIT would effectively bar me from further contact.
Blair Purcell, 9/14/94: ...I really must ask again with respect -- why would you be kicked out of your own organization for talking to KITfolk while determining one of the most critical decisions you'll ever make? You might decide we're full of horse manure and what you're telling me is that would make no difference -- you'd still be out. Why? Are these the rules of your community as well? I don't intend to be offensive but, Chip, your group just might fit in with the Bruderhof as we currently view it.
Any of you in your group can be my friend or, perhaps, just my correspondent without believing what I believe. That would be OK with me and no offense taken! Why can't it work the other way as well? I guess I'm a little irritated to think I hear you saying some of the things we find so aggravating about the Bruderhof -- a lack of freedom to discuss and assess different perspectives being chief among them. Please correct me if I have misperceived and forgive my bluntness. You've asked me to be frank -- and that's what I think I've heard you saying. I look forward to hearing from you.
Chip, 9/13/94: What you write about illegal entry into the homes of evicted members I find difficult to believe. Yet I must believe you. Even more difficult is your mention of other more serious criminal activity. Regarding the concealed weapon, this is something I'd like to ask about if I can find a way to do it without exposing my link to the KIT network.
With regards to your question about why I would be ostracized if my group and the Bruderhof knew I was in contact with Ramon: you must understand that to my people, Ramon does not just represent an individual who disagrees with them. He represents a force, an idea, that is fundamentally opposed to one of their (our) key doctrines. In their view, Ramon does not believe that each one personally has to repent for his/her own sinful life, thoughts, deeds, motives and surrender all his/her faculties to the Church. They see Ramon as an unfortunate and tragically blinded miscreant who never grasped the essence of leadership in the church. They (at least the ones I have spoken with) firmly believe that their current bishop, Christoph Arnold, is not guilty of any of the crimes or abuses that have been credited to him. They feel that Ramon and "his crowd" are spreading slander about Christoph and Christoph's father, Heini Arnold, in an effort to undermine his authority as bishop. In a world of absolutes such as in the Bruderhof, any tolerance of a "spirit" that is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of God is recognized as treason, or, to use another analogy, adultery. In a way, I can understand where they're coming from, but I'd welcome your thoughts on this.
Chip 9/16/94: ...a question I raised very early on... has surfaced several times in my contacts by letter or by personal discussion with various members at Spring Valley and New Meadow Run (including, I should add, at least one Servant of the Word): How does a person's failure to recognize his own personal moral frailty and sinful state vis-a-vis the kingdom of God affect his attitude toward the Bruderhof? Let me try to rephrase that: it seems to me that one of the characteristics of the Bruderhof that in my view distinguishes it from any other Christian group I have ever known or heard of is its realistic assessment of human nature. We human beings, by nature, are not fit for the kingdom of God, and God must continually effect a transformation in each of our minds and hearts in order for us to find a place in his kingdom. To my way of thinking, this is what is meant by the phrase in Matthew where "the poor in spirit" are blessed.
Now, what happens if someone doesn't buy that notion? What if someone feels that he isn't really that bad by nature, and that he has something to contribute to the kingdom of God? That's fine to believe that, but this person certainly won't ever belong in the Bruderhof. It seems to me that the trouble starts when someone feels attracted to the Bruderhof, but doesn't buy into this notion of frailty and utter dependence on God's grace. The real rub comes when he knows he has sinned but is unable to admit it to others. The reason I write this is because I know what it means to stand in front of people you trust and tell them in plain English that you betrayed them and how you did it. There is power in confession when it's done with a view toward restoration, redemption, and reconciliation.
It seems to me that someone in this limbo of attraction/repulsion would have very strong incentives to discredit the Bruderhof in order to relieve the tension. I can't help wondering if this might explain at least some of the energy and passion I perceive as I read through the back issues of the KIT newsletter....
If I am to be completely frank with you both, I'll have to say that your labeling the Bruderhof as a cult, as well as some of the other allegations I've heard from you I consider as distortions of the truth or worse. I may be mistaken, but until I'm convinced that you are right, I feel it would be wrong of me to try to influence my associates here in the fellowship. I feel strongly that any decision to join the Bruderhof must be made as an individual. I'm no fan of group-think.
I look to my Spring Valley visit in early October as pivotal in my own search. I cannot go on indefinitely gathering the information and weighing it. I need to make a choice soon. At this point I feel reasonably certain what that choice will be, but I want to hold off the final decision until after my next visit. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts.
Blair, 9/16/94: There is concern that you and your group may be making a very drastic mistake. I think everyone wants you to be aware of the nature of the commitment apparently required by the current leadership of the Bruderhof.
Would you and members of your current group be willing to harass former members on behalf of the Bruderhof? If not, what would happen to you if you refused to participate in such activities? Would you become the silent majority who are not told of such activities and who allow others to act on your behalf without knowing what is being done in your name?
You only have my word as to the harassment and the trespassing -- but, again, would you trespass on behalf of the community, in God's name? What would happen to you if you did not after being asked to do so? Could you, in good conscience, remain in such a community in that situation? Could you, in good conscience, join such a community if you believed it had happened in the recent past?
Margot Purcell, 9/16/94: I can full well understand the atmosphere you felt during your visits to the Bruderhof. Those who have not yet committed themselves to the "Life" are treated with great respect and love in the hope that they will join. I believe the individuals with whom you speak genuinely believe they are "leading" you in the right direction. The actual reality of living this ideal life is not as they state. Try talking to someone not assigned to guest duty -- not just those experienced enough to spout the correct answers.
My question to anyone there and those like you who are interested in joining is why are they so afraid of those who have left? Especially folks like ourselves who grew up there! They raised us -- why do they feel we threaten them? We're their children!
There are so many parents on the Bruderhof who have been asked to contact their children and demand a decision to be made between visiting them (the parents) and getting together. as friends, with ex-Bruderhofers. Most, like myself, never actually took the vows.
Why break up families? Why cause so much pain? Why is there no love in so many of the Bruderhof actions toward those who did not choose this way of life? We were always told as children that the Bruderhof was not the only good way of life, that it also had its struggles and weaknesses. Why do we now hear the opposite?
If you decide to join, be aware of all you give up to live this life. All your friends and relatives would be basically cut off from you. You may be told this isn't so, but when the time comes that you need or want to visit "outside", you may be challenged as to what your "priorities" are. We do know they keep in touch with relatives and friends who have a substantial amount of money -- that's an ongoing situation. We sincerely hope the information we can furnish helps you to make the correct decision regarding the Bruderhof. We really wish you could pass on a special "hello" to my family. But they, too, know of our association with KIT and would realize you've been talking to the wrong people.
Ramon, 9/17/94: Regarding the hand weapon issue, I also agree with Blair. For someone upon whom it is incumbent to set an example because of his leadership position, I think Christoph's ownership of hand weapons and a permit to carry them concealed is setting a very poor role model for the young people. Also, Chip, when you registered your handgun, did you also apply for a concealed weapon permit? Christoph did, and the excuse given was that it was necessary to conceal the weapon from a bear in order to get close enough to shoot it. (this was the final 'official' excuse given by Ben Zumpe, Servant of the Word at Michaelshof)....
...I apologize for once more overwhelming you with verbiage, and also for all our attempts to "rain on your parade." I know how much you must yearn to believe what you saw at the Bruderhof must be really real! We all have this yearning for the Kingdom to manifest externally, and yet were we not told that the Kingdom "is within"? I personally believe that all attempts to manifest the Kingdom of God in the outer world will come to naught until God walks in human flesh amongst us again.
Blair, 9/17/94: I fully agree one's failure to recognize his own moral frailty and sinful state could easily affect one's perception of the Bruderhof. I would contend that those who currently have leadership roles in the community are in exactly that status -- and that affects their perception of what their role as servants/protectors of the HSOB should be. Their perception allows them to justify actions which would be considered illegal/immoral/sinful by any legitimate religious group. If we are humans with frailty, are they not the same?
Does that make me free from sin? Of course not -- but my confession will be to God, not to the Bruderhof. The transformation you speak of, to allow the entry into the Kingdom of God, IS continuous. We do not believe the community has a copyright on that process.
Further in your note, you state that those who don't buy the Bruderhof concept won't ever belong to the Bruderhof. OK -- I'm sure I understand that, as all ex- or non-Bruderhofers must in one way or another. If confession to your fellow congregants is your means of entry into the Kingdom of God, so be it and I support your right and obligation to follow this course. It's not mine and I've never "applied" for membership -- so my concerns for the community must be based on other concerns. Such as family and mutual respect.
Finally, we have provided a great deal of input while you have not responded to our probing questions about the treatment of ex-Bruderhofers. No comment about Ramon and the death of his daughter. You state your belief that we may be distorting the truth or worse and yet fail to respond to my hypothetical (from your perspective) questions about whether you would join the Bruderhof if you knew they had engaged in illegal activities including trespass & worse. No response to our personal legitimate concerns about being able to visit relatives.
No response to our question about whether you would participate in illegal activities if asked to do so. No response to our questions about your right to approach us in apparent violation of your own community rules. And, if the Bruderhof considers such an approach to be a breach of trust, will you someday confess your sins in a Brotherhood meeting and share our correspondence with them so you can appropriately atone for your sins?
Perhaps you're right about not continuing our dialogue. Our views may be so far apart that to continue would be fruitless. Right now I think we KIT people deserve answers to the questions we've posed to you -- so that we can understand your perspective accurately. If you are at all interested in finding more from my wife and I, I'd like to first hear the questions answered. Where do we go from here? Respectfully,
Name Withheld, 9/19/94: It seems a convenient excuse to use that because one is not in agreement with the 'hof that one is outside the Kingdom, and also trying to discredit the 'hof because of spiritual imbalance. If I see a way of life so in error that I can no longer justify living there and seek to serve Jesus elsewhere, I prefer to think I am not outside the Kingdom.
Due to the fact I have family members currently baptized members of the 'hof, I have a vested interest in making sure the 'hof leaders are above reproach and serving God, regardless of the fact I have chosen a different way. I ask God each day to mold me in his image, to lead me in his will. While I am more than pleased to fellowship with other followers of Jesus, I keep my eyes on Jesus, not men. And to say I am not worthy of the Kingdom, after I have claimed salvation through Jesus, is to disavow his victory over death, and God's love for us in sending him to us.
Yes, I know I am a sinner, past, present, and future, but I also know that Jesus paid the ultimate price for my sins, and I am cleansed by his blood. Your original questions leads me to believe you have already made your decision that KITfolk are malcontents and spiritual misfits. Remember, most of the folks did not "choose" to leave the Bruderhof; they were ejected. Also, due to their treatment in the 'hof, many have turned away from traditional Christianity because they had given themselves so completely to the Bruderhof, and after ejection, experienced horrendous pain. Before you judge them, "Walk a mile in their shoes!"
And where is Jesus in all this? Is he central to bruderhof life or is Christoph/Heini/Eberhard? And where is the endless love we are to show each other? Keeping a child, or in my case my brothers and sisters away from my parents, is loving? I think the Bruderhof has much to answer for.
Chip, 10/3/94: I just returned this morning from Spring Valley... I feel like I have aged ten years.... I don't think I slept more than nine hours over the entire weekend. It's a wonder I was able to drive all the way home without mishap... Where do I begin? Let me start out by saying that I have decided not to join the Bruderhof. To me, there are too many unanswered questions.
I spoke with many, many people during my visit... But the pivotal conversation for me took place Saturday evening at New Meadow Run. The entire community had come over to New Meadow Run to participate in a joint Open House. They were absolutely inundated with well over 800 guests (most of whom, in my opinion, were there for the free supper). However, during the afternoon, I ran into Christian Domer. I asked if we could chat sometime, and he invited me over to his house for that same evening. I would like to try to reconstruct that conversation for you, since I feel it was during that evening that I made up my mind, and I would like your reading of some of the things Domer told me...
After about a half hour of small talk about current events on the Bruderhof, about the situation in their collapsed Nigerian community and in the Manitoba communities, I told Christian that a friend of mine, knowing of my interest in the Bruderhof, had passed on to me an old copy of the KIT newsletter. I told him that in this particular issue, there had been considerable discussion about a concealed weapon in the possession of the Bruderhof elder, Johann Arnold. I told him that there had even been a copy of the permit for this handgun printed in the newsletter. I told him that I had deliberately postponed making any judgment or forming any opinions on what I read there until I had the chance to talk seriously with someone from within the Bruderhof ranks who was familiar with the situation and had also read this copy of the KIT newsletter. I asked him what he knew, and whether he could explain it to me.
Although Domer appeared to maintain his composure at this point, his body language was telling. His arms folded over his chest, jaw working -- I sensed he was seething underneath.... He began by thanking me for "being open" about what I had read, and he urged me to feel completely free to ask him any questions that had been raised in my mind by "those KITfolk." So I said "Before we get into this gun question, tell me first what you know about the KITfolk -- their purpose, their gripes, their claims." His response was fascinating. (As I recount this, please remember that I'm not endorsing Domer's position, I'm merely reporting what I heard.)
"Chip," he began, "there's really only two people in the KIT camp that you need to watch out for. One of these is Ramon Sender." He asked me if I knew anything about Ramon. I told him that I had seen his name in the newsletter. He went on to tell me that Ramon has, over the years, developed such a warped and distorted picture of the nature of Bruderhof life that he has become hopelessly blinded to reality. He said that Ramon feels the Bruderhof is a cult, and that the leadership has lost the original vision that informed the Bruderhof's beginnings. According to Domer, Ramon has devoted all his prodigious energies to the exposure of the perceived abuses going on in the Bruderhof.
Domer said, "Take this whole gun issue. Let me explain what really happened." He went on to explain how an overzealous brother, at the time close to elder Arnold, developed an unhealthy and unnatural fixation on firearms in general, and handguns in particular. During a local scare about rabies in the area of the Rifton community, he used the resulting media hoopla to convince Arnold to allow him to take out a handgun permit in Arnold's name, in order to be able to protect Woodcrest residents from rabid animals.
Arnold, who himself enjoys hunting on occasion, allowed him to do it. Domer claims that the choice of a Magnum .44 was this brother's alone, and Arnold had nothing to do with that. He also said that well before the time when the news broke in the KIT circles, Arnold had gotten rid of the handgun, and there are none currently in anyone's possession on any Bruderhof. Domer explained that Arnold would never come out and name this brother who got the permit (he said that the permit printed in KIT was clearly in this brother's handwriting). He said that Arnold would simply take the heat himself, rather than expose anyone else.
I didn't comment on that, but rather moved on to the whole question of relatives, and the Bruderhof's refusal to allow some ex-members or children of ex-members to visit their relations within the Bruderhof. Domer explained, at some length, how the Bruderhof membership had "struggled" to reach a common recognition that anyone associated with KIT had chosen to reject the Bruderhof's allegiance to a "life of repentance and mutual submission." He stressed that KIT's oft-repeated claim that this refusal was simply a ruling handed down by Arnold was false, and that the membership had unanimously decided to adopt this policy. Domer talked a lot more about this, but I won't relate it all since I'm sure this line is familiar to you.
Then I brought Domer back to an earlier comment of his regarding two people to watch out for. I asked who the second was. When he told me, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how a son of the gentle person I had met could become an enemy of the Bruderhof on a level with Ramon Sender, and my bewilderment must have shown on my face. Domer said, "Oh, Ramon is really no threat. But XXX [name deleted -- ed] is in a league all his own." He then explained how XXX had been Arnold's right- hand man in Woodcrest, a trusted Servant of the Word (minister), and a leading educator. And through all this, apparently, XXX had never grasped the meaning of "the life." He had never understood the "true inner nature of our life." "He saw everything on a human level, in terms of politics and manipulation and power." (Let me inject here that to me, this is the biggest puzzle of all: how can the Bruderhof possibly believe that someone could work his way up to such a position of authority in the hierarchy without others noticing that he had no grasp of the basics of "the life." This defies explanation, and I honestly can't see how they buy this story among themselves, internally.)
Domer said that he feels that XXX's goal is to see Arnold deposed and removed from his eldership. He feels that XXX wants to make a comeback, to be recognized as the man who exposed Arnold's abusive system and saved the Bruderhof from certain demise.
As Domer continued talking, it became clear to me that XXX is really the focus of his anger. He told me that as long as he lives, and as long as XXX holds to his position regarding Arnold, he, Christian Domer, will do everything possible to ensure that XXX never gets his chance to re-enter. And believe me, he meant it! If what Domer says about XXX is even half true, then you should know, Ramon, that XXX and, by extension, you, have one formidable opponent! I think Domer sees this as his contribution to the next generation of Bruderhof members. Domer pumped me hard on whether I had had any contact with XXX. He seemed surprised to hear that I had never heard of him. ...
You're going to be hearing more from me. Although I've decided not to join, I feel like my work has only begun. Somehow, I feel I bear a responsibility to all the friends I've made among the Bruderhof membership. I owe them an explanation of my decision, and I'm not sure how to approach this. I left it with Domer and the others at Spring Valley that I wanted to keep in close touch, and wanted to continue visiting, but wasn't yet ready for a decision. Any advice? You're a great team! Count me in.
Joel Clement, 10/4/94: Just a quick note to say thanks for your long and detailed report on your visit to Spring Valley and New Meadow Run. Very interesting indeed. Most all of the people you mention at the 'hof I knew during the years that I lived there. Christian Domer was a childhood friend. Just to comment on the issue of the Elder. The Bruderhof openly states that they believe that the Elder is above reproach and is not to be touched by mortal men.
From: Our Broken relationship with the Society of Brothers by Samuel Kleinsasser:
"...for the first time in Hutterian history this
'package deal' of veneration of the Eldership was
introduced as an aid to the common people. ...We feel that
this veneration of the Eldership, which goes hand in hand
with granting too much power to this office was to a large
extent imported from the Society [of Brothers]. ...
"What do some of his supporters have to say
on this matter? One of them writes: 'Even if Jake Vetter
[several years Senior Elder, now apparently "retired" -- ed]
would have done all those things that he is accused of, still
no human being has the authority to remove him. Nor can
he be replaced by mere human beings, as is being tried. He
has been placed in his position as Elder by God, and none
other than God can remove him.'
"One witness brother declared: 'Even if Jake
Vetter had committed gross immorality, no human being
has the right to judge him, he is accountable only to God,
because nobody in the Church is above him, therefore
nobody can judge him.'"
Ramon, 10/4/94: Chip, ...I suggest that if you are continuing in contact with Bruderhof members, that you should also continue to be VERY circumspect about how you were able to reach your decision. So far you have been playing it correctly. More later, and again, congratulations!
10/6/94: One item that you mentioned from your conversation with Christian Domer stuck in my mind: "Domer explained, at some length, how the Bruderhof membership had 'struggled' at some length to reach a common recognition that anyone associated with KIT had chosen to reject the Bruderhof's allegiance to a "life of repentance and mutual submission."
Now why is it that KITfolk must share the Bruderhof allegiance to a "life of repentance and mutual submission" before they are allowed to visit family members. This sounds very sanctimonious and self- righteous to me. This is a free country -- a 'free universe,' as a matter of fact, and my allegiances are my own, thank you very much.
This statement contradicts what we have been told over and over, that these visitation refusals are "a family matter" and not a policy matter (whether Christoph or the brotherhood doesn't really make a difference).
All the nit-picking gets somewhat tiring after a while, the "than thou's." If it's not "holier than thou," then it's "lowlier than thou," or "more repentant than thou," etc. etc. Frankly, it gets to me.
Joel, 10/6/94: Thanks for sharing more of your observations from your trip to the Bruderhof. Where shall I start! What Bette Bolken-Zumpe so clearly points out in Torches Extinguished is the dual nature of her uncle Heini Arnold. The Bruderhof is unwilling or incapable of seeing this. Bette in her medical training wrote a paper on schizophrenia and says she was thinking of Heini while writing it! But I assume you have read Bette's book. Also it should be pointed out that one of the main reasons Bette took the time and trouble to write her life story is to counteract the obvious shortcomings and oversights in Merrill Mow's Torches Rekindled.
Chip, do you understand the relationship between "Doublethink/Doublespeak" and totalitarian societies? In my opinion the Bruderhof oozes with Doublethink. The quote from Heini Arnold about the nature of leadership is a classic example, perhaps the classic example. Just recently Bette cited this quote as an example of how Heini did just the opposite of what he said! I don't understand why such smart people cannot see through this stuff. Perhaps being smart just makes it more difficult.... Well, I've blasted away enough for now. Thanks again for sharing so openly with us, Regards,
Ramon, 10/9/94: Hi, Chip. I just had a phone call from Christian Domer, on his most diplomatic behavior. He said he just phoned to express a feeling:
"Someone who has been struggling to find God in his life came to visit and mentioned that he had seen a few KIT issues. I noticed a change in him that I couldn't believe had come just from reading a couple of KITs, so I presume he has had some contact with someone who made it seem like an 'either/or' situation... which does not seem compatible with the reconciliation which you write in KIT that you are seeking, Ramon..."
I said, "Well, it's certainly possible that this person had some contact with KIT people. And as far as reconciliation goes, that seems to be a pretty loaded word that has a particular meaning for you people. I prefer to say that we have been seeking to dialogue about abuses that we perceive in the Bruderhof system."
I mentioned my concern about the Bruderhof requiring total surrender and obedience to the Elder, which Christian seemed to deny. I also mentioned the misquotation attributed to me (by his father, although I did not mention Dick Domer) that I said that "I would continue to try to destroy the Bruderhof as long as they followed Christ."
Anyway, it seems that Christian Domer definitely suspects that you have had direct contact with some KIT person. I suppose we should not be too surprised that he psyched that out. The conspiracy-minded amongst us could of course suspect some sort of 'leak,' but I don't know if it's really necessary to go that far. I would tread carefully in any future interactions, Chip, if you wish to continue having access to friends there.
Chip, 10/11/94: Ramon, I'm dismayed at what you report about your phone call from Domer. I spent a good part of the evening reconstructing my conversation with him trying to figure out how he could have suspected more than I told him. How would you suggest I proceed? One thing's sure: Domer is heavy into KIT-bashing if he's willing to phone you up purely on a hunch like that.
Blair, 10/12/94: Chip, just a note rethinking your dilemma. We don't really think C.D. was doing any more than taking a fishing expedition when he called Ramon. There's no real way he could have known about your contacts with us beyond your acknowledgment of reading the newsletter issue that included the gun permit.
Have you been honest here with yourself? You know they don't want you reading our newsletter/talking with our members/making inquiries about the inequities we perceive. Yet you still wish to maintain contact with the community in some respects -- even if it's "just" remaining in touch with those you've come to like and admire within the membership. We'd like to do that as well. We also assume, since you're still corresponding with us, that you don't really intend to give up your freedom of association and your freedom to inquire about issues that are dear to your personal faith and search for God.
As we've pointed out before, there's a contradiction here. While we feel anyone in the community can maintain and protect their religious faith and simultaneously associate with us, (personally and other KIT members in general -- because we have no interest in changing their faith or their means of expressing it) the community feels we are such a threat to their way of life that they overtly forbid any such contact. And then have the gall to tell us it is a family decision when YOU know it is community policy -- as told to you by C.D.
Are you placing your presumed values of freedom of association and freedom of inquiry above what the community surely would want you to do in this situation? Is it honest on your part to tell them one thing and do another? In asking these questions of you in such a challenging way, we are only re-expressing the dilemmas each KIT participant feels in dealing with our loved ones within the Bruderhof. Some of us have clearly come down on the side of complete honesty (which we think may bring change sooner than by any other method) and others conceal their connection in an effort to maintain some contact.
We surely don't know what is right for each person in this kind of situation. We do know we've had an influence on your decision to abandon your original inclination to join the Bruderhof and we feel a responsibility for that. in every respect, we hope it is the correct decision. Good luck and keep us posted.
Chip, 10/16/94: Things have been in upheaval here in our fellowship in Erie. I need some help. The serious membership here is divided in our attitude toward the Bruderhof. Some seem pretty sure that community in general (and the Bruderhof in particular) is not for them. Most are convinced that the Lord has called them to the Bruderhof, but a couple are still uncertain. As for me, I have made it known that I simply need more time to determine the Lord's will for my life. The fellowship has been very gracious and assured me that they would exert no pressure on me.
This afternoon, I took a long stroll with one brother who can't make up his mind what he should do. He and I have had a very close relationship, and I trust him. I really spilled my guts, telling him everything I have experienced over the last couple of months. I told him about the e-mail, though I didn't reveal any names. He respected my wish to protect the privacy of my correspondents, and I know he won't talk to others.
However, I was unable to convince him. I feel enormously relieved that my "secret" is out, but very disappointed that I wasn't able to convey my concerns convincingly... Interestingly, your friend also had a hard time relating to your assessment of Christoph Arnold's eldership. Apparently, he was blown away by some of Arnold's sermons. He said that Arnold speaks out boldly against sin wherever it may be, even if in his own family, even in himself. He clearly (according to my friend) curries favor with no one, and certainly is unconcerned with his own person or preserving his "position" within the community hierarchy.
My friend ended this evening by saying "Somehow, I can't help thinking that these people you've been in touch with have been denied the chance to know what really makes the Bruderhof work. They see a group that deals harshly with sin and that takes a literal interpretation of some of Christ's hardest sayings, and they just can't deal with it."... What should I do next? How can I get your message across to my friend? Nothing seemed to break his resolve. I covered a lot of ground: attitude to family members outside the community, firearm possession, consolidation of power in the leadership. Help!
Joel, 10/17/94: Thanks for your report on sharing your findings with the Erie group. Your friend sounds as if he has been quite impressed with the Bruderhof -- or at least what he has seen so far of the Bruderhof. Therein lies the catch. Most seeking Christian people are going to be very impressed with the Bruderhof at first glance. But they are largely deceived in my view. It is amazing to hear that your friend thinks that we "have been denied the chance to know what really makes the Bruderhof work." This assessment much better fits your friend himself. Between us out here we probably have 35 YEARS of Bruderhof "on hof" experience and another 40+ years of having to try to deal with the Bruderhof from the outside. I would guess that your friend is in denial and is so overwhelmed and impressed by the "love" and the nice people that he doesn't want to look further. I am tempted to launch into a discussion regarding your friend's being impressed with Arnold's speaking out boldly against sin etc., etc., but that should be aimed more at your friend . As for Christ's harshest sayings, yes, Christ spoke plainly about sin and even more plainly about religious "show" and religious hypocrisy. He dealt gently with the woman caught in adultery ("Go home and sin no more."-- she could have been stoned or put in permanent ausschluss) and really got teed-off with the hypocritical, rigid, religious establishment of the day... Anywise, I wish you well and will keep you in my prayers...
Ramon, 10/20/94: What can I say? Your friend sounds like he already is a baptized brother! I must respect the sincerity of his search to surrender himself totally to Christ. However I must take exception to his statement:
"If someone has once accepted... his total...
dependence on God's grace each day but refuses
for some reason... to accept it, there is going to be
a very strong incentive in him to lash out at
everything that reminds him of this recognition.
On a visceral level, he will be constantly driven
to refute all evidence of his frailty."
He applies this to "a significant proportion of the KIT following" (KIT FOLLOWING??!!) I think he is jumping to unfounded conclusions. Speaking for myself, the knowledge of my mortality, if nothing else, reminds me that every day is a gift from God for which I express unceasing gratitude. -- Thank you, dearest Father, for the blessings you shower upon me daily!
My criticism of the Bruderhof system has nothing to do with my turning away from any previous realization of my total dependence on Him. It has to do with the fact that the fruits of the Bruderhof system are rotten, if you look beneath the glossy surface. But no one from the Bruderhof with whom I have spoken ever has been willing to look at the system critically. They are more than happy to, as individuals, accept responsibility for the terrible mistakes and hateful behavior towards young people and the elderly that have occurred. But the moment you mention anything critical about the way the place is structured, they fuzz out. They don't hear you, and you don't get a reply.
If I may interject some of my own thinking, two of the main paths to God-realization have been called "the Big YES" and "the Big NO." Historically, Christianity has focused on the latter. Taken to it's logical extreme, it requires the total rejection of the self and the actions of the self, and leads to what St. John of the Cross termed 'The Dark Night of the Soul." I've been there twice, and I know whereof I speak. If you empty yourself totally, and since, so to speak, "nature abhors a vacuum," God will fill you with His own Holy Spirit. It is a personal rebirth, of that I have no doubt. But it also is a very painful and violent process that I sincerely believe God does not wish -- and has never wished -- for us. And has nothing to do with the message of love and brotherhood that Christ taught his disciples.
This is a 'spiritual death' experience that humans have dreamed up for themselves over the centuries and, if I may use yet another analogy, it's like pushing the 'reset' button on a computer. It 'clears the random access memory,' untangles whatever snarls have developed, and you start over fresh from a mysterious place where what I would call "the still, small voice of the Higher Self" can be heard. Of course the problem is that the habitual patterns of your self-identity begin to reassert themselves once again. Why? Because you cannot live on the physical plane without an ego. It's that simple. And from my own humble experience, I do not believe that God intends that you should.
Taken to its logical extreme, the ideal "Big NO" procedure is probably electroshock or surgical removal of certain parts of the cortex, what used to be called a 'lobotomy.' I'm sorry, but I have no use for this type of ferreting out all traces of the ego and stomping on them. Life is just too short for this. I'd rather go roll in the meadow like a silly donkey and count clouds and do what my English teacher described as "pathetic fallacy" (ascribing human traits and emotions to scalled lower beings). So frequently in the process of this type of self- abnegation the person falls into a truly 'pathetic fallacy,' that of self-hatred and spiritual self-abuse. Circling around one's inadequacies and sins is just as egocentric as puffing oneself up with pride. Always in this process it is love that suffers.
And the real paradox to ponder is not how, as your friend stated in Christoph's case, that his 'authority' springs from his dependence and weakness (then an alcoholic would make a great Servant) -- but if I cannot love myself as God loves me, then I cannot love others. I begin to develop a judging and 'picky' attitude towards my brothers and sisters, and this is where things start to go wrong in the Bruderhof. Everyone is busy judging themselves, judging their brothers and sisters. It's picky-picky-picky, and leads to hard-heartedness and other types of abusive behaviors.
I learned during the Sixties that there also exists the path of the "Big YES," and that is the one I tread these days, confidant in God's love and acceptance, knowing that He cares deeply for me and accepts me as I am with all my quirks and failings. When I forget this, I look at how my dog wags her tail whenever I glance at her, how she attends on my every moment, and I think, "God also lives in her, and if she can shower me with so much love in her capacity as a dog, how much more so must God love me from His infinite capacity for love!" The rest is just smoke and noise, as far as I'm concerned.
One last item: regarding the Kingdom of God, I believe with the New Testament that "the Kingdom of God is within." Also I believe that any attempt to manifest the kingdom in some sort of closed communal setting, set apart from the 'evil world,' will lead to terrible abuses and disaster. I also believe that Christ will not establish a kingdom of earth when he returns. He will establish the true democracy of brother-sisterhood of all beings everywhere, of which ours is but a pale and grotesque reflection. Chip, I have probably said all sorts of wrong things. I wish I could say the magic words, but I can't. You're going to just have to fight your way out of this with God's help.
Joel, 10/29/94: It is very interesting to see how people within the Community perceive "us" -- particularly Ramon Sender and XXX. All I have ever done in the KIT newsletter is write my feelings about growing up within the Bruderhof and then making the adjustments to the outside world. The Bruderhof should view KIT as feedback mechanism rather than an attempt to destroy them. But personal testimony is very powerful stuff especially from children. Some of the most compelling things I have ever read I've read in the KIT newsletter...
Blair, 10/29/94: sometimes I get impatient with the community and the things they write. For example, in the beginning of Christian Domer's letter, he states that he feels WE are putting you in an either/or situation. We are not -- you may join the community if you wish and still correspond/visit/whatever with ANY of us. It's OK with us. Then he says later in the letter, "Anyone seriously associated with the Bruderhof needs to make an either/or decision." Correct me if my perception of this as a contradiction is wrong. Maybe YOU'RE putting yourself in the either/or situation; just be aware of who is creating the dichotomy -- it's not us.
Christian Domer states that a war is being raged in the spiritual realm and KITfolk don't have any inkling of this dimension of the battle. It's very difficult to be involved in a war and not be aware of your participation.... As I said last night, the BIG issue (particularly among the activist core in KIT) is the question of family dissolution and lack of visiting rights. Now you're in the same boat -- wanting to remain friends with the community AND live outside, still seeking not only spiritual direction but truth as well. I'm afraid you're not going to be allowed that by the Bruderhof.
What can we do? If you were in our shoes and shared our ONE primary concern, what would you do? Should we send an emissary to negotiate visitation rights? Would the community allow that? Could a mission like this lead to a discussion of broader issues? If the community can't talk to KIT, could an emissary be sent representing ex-bruderhof children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. who share the goal of family restoration? Would the emissary be allowed to present community proposals in the KIT newsletter as a means of communicating them to those concerned with family reunion?
Ramon, 10/20/94: Dear Chip: Thanks so much for sharing Christian Domer's letter. What is the most amazing to me is the amount of hatred he displays toward XXX. Wow! XXX is one of the most likable Bruderhof-bred people I know, and also the least threatening -- except that he knows where all the skeletons are kept, I'm pretty sure.
It's odd that the 'spirit' that Christian Domer claims the Bruderhof is defending has already been excommunicated by the vast majority of the Hutterian Church membership, has done terrible psychic damage to hundreds of people, especially their own children, and so blinded the members themselves that they cannot see that the system they espouse is abusive....
I also question whether members really feel free to express their own feelings within a setting where they know that if they "break the unity" by disagreeing with the leadership, they can be accused of harboring a 'wrong spirit,' giving in to self-will, etc., and out they go into the "evil world" with all the children, no equity after however many years of labor, told to apply for welfare and generally trashed. Does this sound like an environment where members feel free to disagree with the leadership when their consciences speak to them? I must stop before I wind myself up into a real rant!
Joel, Thanks for your letter and for sharing what the bruderhof has been telling you... Again it looks like you will have your work cut out for you in the upcoming meetings with Bruderhof reps. It looks like you may be "called on the carpet" for having contact with us via e-mail. I wish you courage to stand for what you believe in and in your search for the truth. It looks to me like the Bruderhof is trying very hard to sway you over to their side. You do not need to try to hide the fact that you have been in contact with me personally. I can't speak for the others. I have been to quite an extent "in the public domain" with my feelings about the Bruderhof and my Bruderhof upbringing. I am also quite weary of the secretive nature of all of this. It reminds me of the Bruderhof.
Chip, 11/6/94: My main reason for writing tonight was because our fellowship here is expecting a visit shortly from two representatives from the 'hof. I feel that I can't go on hiding my contact with you from my friends there. I now feel it is dishonest on my part to pretend that I've never heard from you. At the same time, let me hasten to say that I am resolved to protect the names of each one of you. I could never betray the trust you have shown me. I also feel I need to tell them that I have decided not to join, even though there is much within their life that I respect, and that I want to remain in close contact.
I see this as a unique opportunity for me to try to bridge a gap that at times seems hopelessly wide. How would you advise me to proceed? I need your thoughts and your prayers. What are the issues I should bring to the table initially? How do I respond if my announcement triggers total exclusion from any 'hof. Somehow, I simply cannot believe that my good friends within the community will turn their backs on me. I will make it clear that in many ways, I can understand their position vis-a-vis XXX, Ramon, and KIT. But I feel there must be a way to communicate in some meaningful fashion.
Blair, 11/7/94: Well, it is gratifying to us that you won't be entering the community, but only from the perspective that we truly believe you will be avoiding a substantial disappointment and heartache somewhere down the road. Now the big task is to move on with your life, both spiritually and practically. Good luck on that...
Finally from your note, it seems as if you've already told the community of your decision not to join and that you've been in touch with KIT. That must have been some session -- we hope it resolved itself to your satisfaction and in line with your personal spiritual goals.
We also hope you will be able to continue to visit your friends within the community. If there were a way you could fill the gap that would lead to some form of reconciliation between the Bruderhof and it's outside children, we think it would be absolutely wonderful. You ask for advice and, perhaps at this point, you no longer need advice because you disclosed your KIT connection.
To do less, however, would have been dishonest. If there's still a narrow path along which you might function in an effort to bring the community closer to those who've chosen to live outside let us know what it might be. As loosely organized as KIT is, many or a few or just one might take advantage of whatever opening you may see... Keep up your spirits. you will find a way for yourself that works and you can be assured you are probably the most prayed over person around -- both within the Bruderhof and without. 11/9/94: Do you really feel you may be able to function as an intermediary between KIT and the Bruderhof? I would hope someone could do so someday and your efforts in that direction, even if unsuccessful, would be appreciated. When you ask about appreciation of Eberhard Arnold's vision for the community I think you'll find very few people in KIT would question those objectives. We certainly do not -- but that doesn't mean we have chosen that path to a Christian life. It's not our style, but neither do we want the Bruderhof to change their true religious objectives.
The way they act is contrary to what they profess to believe. Even if we don't (and we don't) concern ourselves with what they believe, we must object to the way they treat (most) ex-members. Their behavior is un-Christian....
We wish you great success in your most important personal goal of maintaining a good relationship with your friends in the Bruderhof. If nothing else comes of our conversations back and forth but your ability to maintain a foot in each camp, then you will have achieved a great deal. Blessed be the peacemakers!
Chip, 11/16/94: There is no earthly way I could describe the last two days to you, even if I had the rest of this week to do it in, so I won't even try. But I do want to try to tell you where I stand at this juncture, and enlist your prayers, thoughts, suggestions. In brief, our fellowship here was visited yesterday and this morning by a Bruderhof delegation of three: Steve and Martha Wiser, and Hans Kurtz. Steve is a Servant of the Word, and I suspect Hans is as well, though I can't confirm that. Do any of you know these people?
Our fellowship essentially closed down yesterday afternoon, and we all met together at Center House (our main building, just off 38th Street). It is no exaggeration to say that our fellowship was in a virtual state of suspended animation. Myself, I was deeply disquieted and anxious... What happened over the next 24 hours, in two separate 3-hour meetings, was unbelievable. I have never in my life felt the spirit of God so powerfully at work among a group of believers.
Early on in the meetings, I made my announcement regarding my contact with KIT. At the outset, I asked if my wish to protect the identities of my correspondents could be respected, and whether anyone would have a problem with that. To my utter amazement, this request was accepted, and as I continued my story and described what I have been hearing, I never once met with any anger, outrage, or rejection. In fact, I hardly got any verbal response from Steve or Hans, though I could sense the pain they felt. The only real response I got was "You need to simply come to Woodcrest and speak directly with Christoph and the other brothers there." I was totally unprepared for this. What is going on?
I was never once asked for the names of the people I had corresponded with (though I'm sure they suspect you, Ramon). In the end, I finally came out with the worst I had heard -- the story you related, John, about the tape recorder found in XXX's house. Steve and Hans obviously knew nothing about this, and had no explanation for this. However, Steve carefully recounted for the sake of our other fellowship members, the whole XXX saga from the Bruderhof perspective. Naturally, there is a considerable discrepancy between Steve's account and the one I'm more familiar with, but it just didn't seem to be the time to argue.
We covered a lot of ground during our talks. My portion of the meetings only lasted the first hour and a half, and then the discussion shifted to the needs and questions of the other members. The final result of our conference is that our entire membership, with the sole exception of Chip, wrote a formal letter to the Brotherhood asking to move to any Bruderhof community of the Brotherhood's suggestion. My group is hoping this can take place before Christmas. This decision was reached late this morning, and by that time, I was stunned.
Suddenly, the focus shifted back to me, and Steve said, "And for you, Chip, my suggestion would be that you would simply drop the Bruderhof and move on to something else. I sense that you simply need a change, and time to consider everything. However, if you would like to come to Woodcrest and talk things over with the brothers there, we could certainly arrange that for you. But we will not hold anything against you, because I sense that underneath, you really long to do God's will, and I hope you find what that might be for you."
I honestly felt like someone had wrapped his arms around me and enveloped me in a cocoon of love and concern. I've never felt anything like it. Probably because I was expecting a radically different reaction.
After the meetings adjourned, I pulled Steve aside and told him that I felt I owed it to my correspondents to report back to them after this meeting. Steve told me "Chip, you do whatever you feel is right."
So. Where does that leave me? I have written a letter requesting permission to visit Woodcrest during the holidays. (I'll go there instead of to Spring Valley.) But I will confess to you that in retrospect, I do still have a nagging feeling that somehow the response of Steve and Hans may be some kind of ploy to draw me closer to the Bruderhof. I was struck by John Stewart's account about the change in attitude that occurs once a "seeking guest" becomes baptized in the Bruderhof.
However, at the same time, there was an undeniable movement of the spirit of God during our meetings. Is this possible? God forbid that I should resist his spirit. And yet I don't want to be naive and blindly accept what feels good. Does anybody know where I'm coming from?
Joel, 11/16/94: Thanks for writing so promptly about the visit of Steve and Martha Wiser and Hans Kurtz. I know these people quite well from a previous life, if you know what I mean. They are all "nice people" which is probably why they were selected to come to you in what appears to be the final stages of absorbing your fellowship. The Bruderhof has a history of absorbing other community movements. The Bruderhof truly believes that they are the most radical, most given-over-to-God group on the face of the earth. Once they believe that, who in the world is going to be able to argue with them?
The love you felt is real. That's what makes it so powerful and compelling (and dangerous). I'm not so sure about your having felt "the spirit of God amongst a group of believers" but who knows, maybe that was real also. But should all these good feelings cause you to ignore the mountains of evidence you have heard about the Bruderhof's accusations? I think not. I am surprised that in the hour and a half that you explained what you have learned in the last several months from KIT or the "Children of the Bruderhof" as we have taken to calling ourselves, that none of the other members of the fellowship were moved to ask questions of the Bruderhof representatives. It looks like you are the lonely "voice in the wilderness." Welcome to the club.
What Steve Wiser says to you is very interesting. Look at the doublespeak here: First he tells you to "drop the Bruderhof and move on to something else" then he invites you to "come to Woodcrest and talk things over with the brothers there." (I would have suggested the former, but it seems by the fact that you have requested to go visit Woodcrest that you have already decided on the latter.) I have for years been inundated by these kinds of mixed messages from the Bruderhof so I have become good at spotting them. I'm not even sure that they do this on purpose but it can be very confusing....
If you can only feel the movement of God's Spirit in a group setting then I'm worried for you. Maybe it's time to test God's spirit all by yourself. Quite a few of us have done so and survived to tell about it. Let us know what happens...
Blair, 11/17/94: We didn't have any idea what the community reaction would be to your contact with KIT. Whatever their response would be, both you and we know they would have preferred no contact at all. Personally, we're not surprised they didn't ask with whom you spoke (they might have done so had you not indicated, in advance, your desire for confidentiality). We think the love you felt was real but it is not the only source of love in the world. if love is what you seek you need not join the Bruderhof to find it.
[Regarding the discovery of a voice-activated tape recorder found connected to the phone line and hidden by a Bruderhof member - ed] Now that you know, we will confirm that we saw the phone tap ourselves and that the existence of it easily explains how the community knew what XXX was speaking of and to whom over a period of several months.
We'd like to point out that the discussions XXX had, if ours were typical, were simply sharing of experiences (good and bad) with many other ex- bruderhofers who came to know the family on the outside. We know the community doesn't want any of us to talk with each other because it allows us to find out that experiences are not isolated events but continue, as a pattern, to occur with regularity. For example, we may be able to put you in touch (if that person will agree to it) with another individual who also has told us their phone was tapped. If we weren't free to talk with each other, how could the pattern be recognized? Remember when we asked you if you would be willing to participate in illegal activities on behalf of the community? The phone tap in question was exactly the event we had in mind. The fact that some don't know about these activities doesn't mean they do not occur. The ones who don't know are simply not yet trusted to participate without raising a stink.
Maybe they will never be asked to do anything illegal; maybe they do know and surely would not acknowledge their cognizance during your meetings. Whichever Bruderhof conducted the tap surely did so with authority from the highest levels. Willingness to conduct an illegal activity implicitly implies a willingness to lie about participation in that activity -- both individually and institutionally.
We are particularly concerned that your friends have decided to move ahead with the amalgamation with the HSOB without you. In the long run that means, from our experience, loss of contact with those friends -- and that's not pleasant. it can be a big loss in your life. Keep plugging away, Chip. If the community will allow you to maintain contact -- and that's what you want -- don't hesitate.
Chip, 11/24/94: I had a brief phone call yesterday with Elder Christoph Arnold at Rifton. Steve Wiser had encouraged me to phone him and ask for permission to visit Rifton this Christmas if that was what I still wanted. Arnold sounded pleasant enough on the phone. He said I would be welcome. I began to tell him about who I was and where I came from, but he obviously was already familiar with my name and my fellowship here. I asked him if there would be a chance I could speak with him in private during my visit. He said he would definitely be able to fit something in.
Now, here's my question: I'm not going all the way to Rifton without asking some pretty pointed questions when I get there. I assume Arnold knows already of my involvement with KIT, though we didn't mention it over the phone. To me, the issue of the wire- tapping is the litmus test of the Community's integrity. My personal inclination would be to ask Arnold directly about this incident. However, I sense a distinct reticence among you folks to raising this issue at all. To me, it's critical. How would you advise me? What questions would you ask Arnold if you had a private audience with him? I understand some of my correspondence has appeared on a KIT bulletin board. Any advice from the network from recent graduates who know and understand the operations of Elder Arnold?
One of you mentioned that there have been other cases of wire-tapping. I'm stunned. I don't see how I can talk with Arnold without mentioning this. However, I trust your judgment more than my own in this matter. I will defer. Just let me know what you honestly feel.
Blair, 11/28/94: Chip, Christoph Arnold knows all about your efforts to join the community -- as well he ought given his position. Surely he knows of your contacts with KIT, only natural in the situation. From my perspective it is difficult to understand why he feels you may be "salvageable" to the community which is what I think his motivation may be -- or, perhaps, he thinks you can tell him what we've told you, thereby learning what "line" we are spreading about the Bruderhof.
Now, if you're going there with "very pointed" questions, it will be interesting to hear the responses. I cannot believe anyone in the community tapped XXX's telephone without instruction to do so from the very top. Given the structure and hierarchy, nothing else would make sense. I was the one who mentioned another phone tap. My understanding of it is not complete, I didn't personally see the tap. the little I know is that the person in question left one of the 'hofs, took up residence nearby and while there came to believe his/her phone was tapped. I don't know if he/she saw the tap but, as in the (slightly) more recent case, conversations recorded were repeated back from.i.Thanks, 11/7/94: for your letter and for sharing wh˙; various Bruderhof sources that could only have been known from a tap. I believe the person who told me; I am attempting to get more information for you which may or may not be forthcoming.
There is a reticence among KITfolk to discuss the phone tap -- quite honestly, trying to protect the victims. So to say we hesitate about raising the issue is accurate -- simply because we don't want to bring down the wrath of the community further, on the family. However, hiding what everyone knows to exist (including the Bruderhof) is a little like hiding the elephant in the living room. Not an easy task! The Bruderhof knows we know about the tap, we know they know, yet, obviously, they don't want to spread the story and we share the reluctance -- for entirely different reasons.
12/11/94: Chip called and we talked about 40 minutes Sunday morning. seemed quite relieved we hadn't abandoned him as he first thought because of e-mail problems. He's planning his Golden 'Hof expedition on 12/27-28 but has not yet nailed down the date... I quoted a recent exile (not by name) in regards to another phone recording event and Chip concluded I was quoting a third servant who has left within the last 18 mos. I didn't correct him.
12/14/94: Chip, whenever I get as angry as I am right now at the community, I must remind myself the anger is directed at the system, not the individuals who seem to be responsible for the specific offenses I or others perceive. I think I am successful in that effort (redirecting the anger) but I must tell you I am sorely tried. Maybe you didn't need to know all this before going to Woodcrest. Perhaps, like the shooting incident at Pleasant View, we should have kept this confidential until after your visit because you already have enough information. Probably I'm going off the deep end here in sharing my frustration with you -- certainly there is no real decision-making process in KIT but I suspect several-to-many KIT people might not agree with me for doing so. Tough bananas!
These stories are EXACTLY why the Bruderhof doesn't want ex-broodys to get together, why they require people who leave the communities to sign documents promising not to contact KIT or Ramon. Gossip among members is a sin in their eyes only because it would allow discussion of serious issues outside the brotherhood meetings. These stories are ISSUES, not gossip. People are hurting, even dying, and the Bruderhof, as a system, has never learned how to care.... I will never try to tear down the community but I will always hold their feet to the fire of public opinion and I will always seek to help those who decide to leave and who are victims of this infernal system. There are a LOT of others out here who feel the same way. And I hope our presence creates a lot of sleepless nights among the misguided and manipulative leaders who will not (and unfortunately cannot) recognize what needs to be done to bring the Bruderhof back to it's original purpose and goal.
Chip, 12/27/94: I hope all of you enjoyed a blessed Christmas. For me, it was a Christmas unlike any I've ever experienced. On the one hand, I had several long stretches of solitude to reflect on my own life. I also spent several hours in a careful reading of the new Bruderhof book Discipleship containing excerpts from the letters and sermons of Heini Arnold. (More on that later.) On the other hand, it was a time of upheaval and uncertainty. For many here, there was last-minute frenzied packing and long phone calls with relatives, explaining their decision to join this "strange commune" in upstate New York. I was involved in all this merely as an uneasy observer, trying to deal with an unwelcome hollowness of spirit. We did, however, still enjoy some wonderful meetings on Christmas Eve and Christmas day where the spirit of family and togetherness prevailed over the bustle, and we could remember the message of the Christ child and the wonder of God as infant arriving on earth.
As you all know, tomorrow is the day for my departure for Rifton... If everything goes as planned, I'll be staying for about a week. When and if my conversation with Arnold takes place, I plan to cover the following points:
1. Possession of firearms, particularly handguns for self-defense, and how he reconciles this with Christian pacifism.
2. Involvement of zealous underlings in illegal activities, with or without Arnold's approval...
3. Family visitation issues.
4. The issue raised by John Stewart of the Bruderhof's penchant for hiding the reality of brotherhood life from the enthusiastic newcomer until after he/she is baptized.
5. The role of the Elder and leadership in general. How is an Elder removed from office? How is his performance evaluated? Whatever became of "servant leadership?"
6. Finally, what are Arnold's true feelings regarding his father's book Discipleship. More importantly, I intend to discuss this book with as many members as I can during my visit. If there is anything within the membership that resonates to this book, then I still see hope for the Bruderhof as an institution. Whether or not Heini Arnold lived what he wrote in his book, the message contained there is undeniably powerful. Maybe it will serve to awaken something in the hearts of the Bruderhof membership that has evaded the leadership. It is certainly a recipe for radical, committed discipleship.
Well, I guess you'll all agree that this will be a start if I'm able to put these questions on the table. Any suggestions? Once more, wish me luck! I'll be back.
Blair, 1/3/95: To a Family Friend of Chip's: We've come to know Chip to a certain extent but understand the closer relationship you and he have enjoyed. In the same way that it saddened Chip to see friends taken in by the Bruderhof, you must be equally pained by Chip's (apparent) decision to leave the outside world to join what I have heard described as a holy war and to subscribe to the "us-vs.-them" mind-set of the community.
While many others in the network had predicted just such an event, I had really felt the balance of information provided by KIT could not have been answered by the community. If it has been, if someone has seen the error of certain policies, if certain practices have miraculously come to an end, then Chip has found his niche.
If, more likely, those changes have not occurred then your friend faces deep difficulty in the months and years ahead. good luck and god speed in your quest. With concern, 1/3/95: Dear Chip, from what your family friend says (his worst fears are realized!), it sounds like you've thrown in your lot with the Bruderhof. We look forward to your letter of explanation and, in the meantime, sincerely hope you have found the situation you've been seeking. If the community has been able to answer your concerns and questions to your satisfaction, either they have changed or you are (sadly) more gullible than I would have anticipated. Best of luck,
Chip, Woodcrest Bruderhof, 1/4/95: Dear Ramon: This will be a difficult letter to write, and for several reasons. But because you have invested so much effort in me over the last five months I feel I owe it to you to tell you what has happened to me this week. Let me begin by saying that I have asked the Brotherhood to allow me to remain here. I have been invited to move to one of the Communities for one month, with an option to stay longer if we, on both sides, feel I should.
I arrived at Woodcrest late Wednesday night in a uneasy state of mind. But over the next three days, gradually the power of what is going on here dawned on me once again. I was brought back to my first visit when for the first time I discovered the reality of unity and single-minded devotion to Christ and to brothers and sisters. With pain I realized that through skepticism, pride, and an inordinate reliance on the intellect, I had smothered the flame that was kindled in me at that time. I realize now that it is a great blindness that afflicts those who visit a Bruderhof community and fail to discern the miracle that is taking place around them every moment. I believe there is only one cause for this blindness, and that is the sin of pride, of self-importance, of arrogance. This is what causes people to resist recognizing their true condition before God and forces them to build up elaborate defenses to protect them from appearing before others as they really are. I am guilty of this sin. I rushed to agree with your views on the Bruderhof because if I could prove to myself that the Bruderhof was a cult, it would relieve me from the necessity of confronting my own pride and the many other wrongs in my own life. For this I apologize.
But I cannot stop there. I feel I must do more than apologize to you. I must warn you, Ramon (as well as you Blair, Joel, Mike, and all the others who took such an interest in my situation), that you have committed a grave error in judgment and discernment regarding the Bruderhof. I am now convinced that the Bruderhof is founded on a radical, absolute commitment to the teachings, the will, and the person of Jesus Christ. This being the case, it is inevitable that the Bruderhof will face persecution of one form or another. Jesus promised nothing less to his followers. My deepest regret is that I was once a party to this abusive activity, and that the people who are currently involved are people whom I have gotten to know well. I owe it to you to tell you what I have discovered.
The Bruderhof is not a cult. In fact, nothing I have ever experienced is farther from a cult. The best way I can explain this is by telling you about my talk with Christoph Arnold. I came to the discussion armed to the teeth (as you well know) with every argument and concern in the KIT arsenal. I didn't want to leave the room without a clear sense of who Christoph was and what he represented. I found answers to all my questions about Christoph, and I left the meeting a changed man. This had nothing to do with any charisma or charm on Christoph's part. He is no actor, no politician. He is a simple human being. There is nothing sophisticated about him, and there isn't an insincere bone in his body.
How is it possible that such a man could be the target of such passion and, yes, even hatred? I know why I was deluded, but each of us needs to answer this question personally. Its important. With each question I posed to Christoph, I became more and more ashamed. He slowly disarmed me with his forthright responses and his utter lack of any defensiveness. I won't review each point I covered, but I want to mention his response to the question of illegal activities among his henchmen. I asked him what he felt about tapping the phones of ex-members without their consent or knowledge. He said he had heard about this allegation, and that all he could say was that if it had indeed been done, he had never authorized such activity and never would. He told me that as long as he lived, the Bruderhof would never condone such activity. Wire-tapping, he said, besides being illegal, is wrong, pure and simple. He even told me that should they ever discover such activity being done or supported by someone from within the membership, it would be a matter of great concern and would be dealt with very seriously.
In my discussion with Christoph Arnold, I was also surprised to discover no trace of malice--and certainly not the paranoia I expected--toward Chris Winter or toward another ex-Servant who recently left, Dan Moody. I only sensed a deeply felt sorrow and pain at the betrayal to God and to the church. It was also striking to note that Christoph seemed unconcerned about the betrayal he personally had experienced. He seemed genuinely concerned to find some way to reconcile with these two men. Of equal concern to Christoph was the current collapse of relations with the old order Hutterites in Canada. This obviously was weighing very heavily on him, and I sensed that this man would go any lengths to restore the relationship and re-unite the church.
I also want to testify that among the new generation of Bruderhof membership -- sabras and newcomers -- there is a striking zeal and sincerity that simply doesn't conform to John Stewart's analysis. Heini Arnold's book Discipleship is, to my way of thinking, an accurate portrayal of the community life envisioned by the emerging leadership. I also spent many hours talking with recent arrivals -- people who have joined from the outside and were baptized within the last two to five years. It's probably safe to say that for every John Stewart out there, there are twenty recent converts inside who will refute all of John's claims (and, I might add, very convincingly).
In connection with John Stewart, I also want to mention your findings on church discipline as reported in the December KIT. Here again, Ramon, I feel you may have inadvertently singled out someone who never really experienced the liberation of true surrender and applied his mutant experience to the entire movement. All I can say is I had long and thorough discussions with members who had undergone church discipline and testified brilliantly to its powerful and lasting positive effect on their lives. One in particular reported to me about his years of seeking, including frequent visits to ministers, psychiatrists and paraprofessionals in several disciplines, only to find complete liberation in the gospel of repentance, surrender, and submission as practiced at the Bruderhof. This brother was vibrant testimony to the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" that John Stewart suggested was intentionally denied the prospective member. And far from being the emotional worm that you described, manipulated by the whims of the leadership, this man was alive.
As I reflected on the current impasse between KIT and the Bruderhof, a passage from the Book of Acts kept coming to mind. When the Pharisees wanted to silence Peter and the other apostles and shut down their movement, the wise leader Gamaliel counseled that it would be better to leave them alone, saying: "If this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:38-39).
What does all this mean about our relationship? It certainly does not mean that you and I can no longer communicate. In fact, it was made quite clear to me that I was free to contact you and receive mail from you as often as I wish. No restrictions. I suppose, having heard as much as I have, there is nothing more you could do to persuade me. I even asked if I could protect the names of those who corresponded with me, since I feel that your confidentiality must be respected. No one had any problem with this.
Ramon, I know this letter will be a shock to you and to all the others. How I wish each one of you could experience what I have and could experience the liberation I feel now. I will certainly never forget how you all rallied to my cause, however misguided your intentions might have been. And I honestly feel that my decision to move to the Bruderhof will have no adverse effect on any of you. If it does, I will certainly want to hear about it.
Ramon, you have been good to me. Grant me one last favor. Print this letter in KIT... In closing, let me beg you not to write me off as another victim of Bruderhof brainwashing. You know me too well. I feel a deep inner certainty that I have made the right choice, and I hope and pray that you will be able to accept that. Please keep me in touch. Sincerely,
Ben Cavanna, 1/5/95: The Chip thing is a little surprising, but it's tough to resist love-bombing and the Bruderhof is quite good at this. Some people need to run away and hide from reality and the Bruderhof is a great place to do that.
Blair, 1/6/95: Dear Chip, we are honestly pleased you have found what you sought. and we truly hope what you sought is there to find. It IS there, although we have felt it masked by certain activities and attitudes. NOTHING you've pointed out overcomes the characteristics previously provided which describe a cult. That list was not prepared either by us or by a person with the Bruderhof in mind.
If Elder Arnold is truly concerned about illegal activity being carried out by the community, what has he done to find and discipline the person(s) responsible? Why does it seem to be a pattern, as we know of other people similarly "bugged"? It the Elder doesn't know what happened, one must ask if he is an effective leader. It simply does not wash that he didn't know about and condone what was done.
I am sure your letter will be published in KIT -- perhaps with some of the things we've written to you as well.
One more thing, we do not hate anyone in the community, from Elder Arnold on down to the lowliest brother. None of the people with whom you have corresponded has EVER expressed hatred of either individuals or the institution itself. I only know a very, very few ex-bruderhofers who do hate the HSOB. We dislike (vigorously!) a few of the policies and will continue to do so until modified or changed. Thank you for keeping our names confidential. If you are allowed to receive the KIT newsletter, you will see, when your letter is published, whether we've decided to be open about whether our participation in the "Save Chip" movement should become a matter of open record. It really doesn't matter much -- we're on the list regardless.
Go for it! bring your faith to the Bruderhof and make it work for yourself and for them. Truly, keep your eyes open as well!
1/7/95: Dear Chip, in rereading your letter, I am drawn again to your paragraph in which you state I have committed a "grave error" in judgment and discernment regarding the Bruderhof. Here's another phrase you introduced in one of your previous letters (some months ago): "arrogance of pride or arrogance of intellect. How does each apply here -- in this situation? "
You feel that your faith (and that of the Elder of the community) requires you to surrender to unity with God and I would surely not disagree with that goal for anyone -- even if that definition of the requirements of faith is not one I would seek for myself. In this surrender, however, you imply the necessity of giving up intellect as an article of faith -- an idea that simply cannot be allowed to pass without challenge.
After you sought us out, you began to "investigate" the Bruderhof (armed with information provided by all of us), and found the leader to be a charming, simple man who was able to satisfactorily answer the questions you raised. We would both agree that God, by definition, will not deceive, lie or manipulate and, if the Elder of the Bruderhof is a Godly person, he could not undertake those activities either.
Perhaps you were not told of the precise situation that triggered discovery of one of the wiretaps placed by the Bruderhof. The parents of one of Christoph Arnold's close relatives drove over a hundred miles to "confront and challenge" the individual who talked with the person whose phone was tapped. The only way those parents could have known of the conversation was by means of a tap. When it was realized that a tap was the only possible explanation, a close search of the premises resulted in the discovery of the tap. It would be impossible, in my view, for the parents, the Elder's sister and brother-in-law, to have been aware of that conversation and not to have known the source from which it came. And if they knew about the conversation, then the Elder surely knew. It would be utterly disingenuous for him to deny that he knew about the phone tap when his sister did.
How, then, can I allow my God-given intellect to be overridden by a sense of unity with and towards anyone who is apparently lying through his teeth? If he would lie in one matter, I must intellectually believe he would willingly lie in others. In fairness, I must always hold open the possibility of truth -- but in fairness to myself (and my God-given intellect!), the possibility of truth must be accompanied by evidence of truth. I have seen none.
Now, I'll grant that my argument for believing the Elder knew is an intellectual exercise based on "prideful" reasoning -- but somehow those terms have a greater appeal to me than "arrogance of faith". Perhaps you will agree that it would be arrogant of the Elder to ask you to accept his "word" in this or any other matter if you had any evidence which contradicted his position. If he asks you to come into "unity", however, the evidence no longer matters. Evidence becomes intellectual, even prideful, and that is disunity. God forbid there should be disunity! This arrogance of faith is based on using faith to achieve worthy goals by means of deceit, lying or manipulation. For the Elder to use your faith to overcome your questions about the wiretap is the grossest example of manipulation and deceit I have recently seen...
Well, I'm sure I didn't change your mind. That wasn't my intent. Your standard of faith is simply not one I can accept for myself. To be told I am in "grave error" rubs the wrong way. I continue to wish you the very best in your quest for a Godly life but will continue to remind you the community does not have an exclusive arrangement with God. Keep in touch. I'd be pleased to know you received this particular e-mail letter; please acknowledge!
1/16/95: Dear Chip, we don't know if you're still online but, if so, I'd like to ask a question. You stated you would not reveal our name to the Bruderhof in your letter explaining why you decided to join. There is evidence that you DID reveal our names -- inasmuch as the letter copy you sent us had our plus-4 zip code extension on our address. We had not used this in our correspondence with you, and must have been obtained from The Plough mailing list in Woodcrest. Unless you can present evidence to the contrary, I am accusing you of lying about giving them our names. It appears you are willing to lie (as described in point nine of the list of characteristics of a cult) in support of a "greater cause." You're fitting right in, Chip! Way to go!
KIT: On January 31st, Ramon attempted to telephone Chip at the Bruderhof to ask his permission to print the preceding excerpts from his letters. The following was a response to Chip's Fax giving us his permision.
Ramon to Chip Wilson, 2/1/95: I was glad to hear from you via Fax, and know that you are not 'out of touch' against your will. Regarding the e-mail correspondence, I think you will find that we have given a balanced and fair overview of the dialogue. What continues to concern me, however, is your promise of confidentiality. You say that you have held true to your promise not to divulge names, but if you haven't divulged them, how did the following occur?
A few of the people to whom you sent copies of your final letter had the 'plus-4' version of the Zip Code on the envelope. This is the version of their address in use by the community, and thus must have been provided to you by them in response to a request. We can only assume that you asked for the specific names and addresses from the community.
Also, here is my version of what occurred yesterday in my attempts to phone you. There already is another version circulating. According to Christian Domer, "Ramon refused to identify himself four times to the New Meadow Run receptionist!" Totally untrue. I hesitated to identify myself once, for obvious reasons, but then went ahead and did so.
At Pleasant View I again gave my name, and after waiting for a while, was told to "call back in an hour" by a man who would not give me his name and who then hung up on me very rudely. An hour later I called back, was told to wait, only to be told that Chip was unavailable. When I asked when Chip would be available to discuss his submission to KIT, I was told "Sorry, I may not release that information." Christian Domer then phoned me back to say that "Chip does not want to communicate with you."
"Look, we want to run some of the e-mail letters that preceded the letter he wants printed in KIT," I explained. "I want to talk to him about it."
"I have seen some of the e-mail letters," Christian said. "And I don't think he's interested in having anything further to do with you."
"If you have seen some of the letters, then Chip has broken his promise," I said. "He promised that the names would remain confidential."
I then told Christian that in my opinion the Bruderhof was skirting very close to criminal activity. I also asked him to tell the man who had hung up on me so rudely at Pleasant View to learn some manners. That finished our conversation.
I did not have an opportunity to elaborate on what I meant by my 'criminal activity' remark, but it certainly includes the placing of a voice-activated cassette recorder under an ex-member's porch. Have you received any further information regarding that incident?
If you want to clear up the question as to your promise of confidentiality, I'd be pleased to include your answer in KIT. Also we look forward with interest to your letter responding to the "Thirteen Characteristics of a Cult" document, which we heard was your intention.
We always continue to hope for a substantial change of direction by the Bruderhof leadership. Hopefully this break from the Hutterites will prove to be the beginnings of a real spiritual renewal and a return to the ideals of Sannerz. I don't think Eberhard Arnold would have condoned harassing and obscene phone calls, bugging telephones, lurking outside people's homes, following their cars, interfering with or intercepting their mail. This is cultish behavior, not that of childlike brothers and sisters following the calling of Jesus. I think if these behaviors were common knowledge in the brotherhood, there WOULD be a real spiritual renewal! Sorry if the tone of this letter sounds testy, but I'm fed up with rude phone manners so that individual brothers can score Brownie Points with the servants. Sincerely,
Chip Wilson to Ramon Sender, 2/5/95: Perhaps it is futile to even make this response, but I guess I owe it to you. I request that this communication end our 'dialog' until such time when you will cease to accuse us at the Bruderhof of being a cult. In throwing my lot in here with the brothers and sisters, I have chosen a path very different from yours. Please, respect my decision, and leave me, and all of us, in peace! It might also behoove you to open the New Testament to Acts 5:38-39 and give Gamaliel's words some careful consideration. Before I answer your questions, let me say this: Ramon, you and your little tribe, are simply being eaten up by unfounded paranoia. OK, I got some addresses from a Plough mailing list... BIG DEAL! That does not mean I "divulged names" -- I did not. And even if I had, why, if you are such servants of righteousness, would you care? Or do you have something to hide? Yes, Christian and a few other brothers were shown some of our correspondence, but trust me, this was done selectively, and names were removed. Again I most ask, what do you have to hide? Finally, I will give a brief answer to all 13 of your beloved "Cult Characteristics": NO! The Bruderhof is far from perfect, made up of weak human beings, but I can honestly and wholeheartedly answer as I do. Perhaps it is time YOU took these points and tacked them over your bed, and please, send a copy to each of your faithful followers. I wish you the best, GOOD-BYE!
P.S. Please do publish this letter in KIT, together with whatever other items you should care to include.
Ramon: A final thought. In his book How To Live Between Office Visits, Dr. Bernie Siegel quotes from The Direction of Human Development, by Ashley Montagu:
"Love implies the possession of a feeling of deep
involvement in another, and to love means to
communicate that feeling of involvement to him.
Love is unconditional, it makes no bargains and it trades
with no one for anything. Love is supportive. Love is firm.
Love is most needed by the human organism from the
moment of birth. Love is reciprocal in its effect and is as
beneficial to the giver as it is to the recipient. Love is
creative. Love enlarges the capacities of those who are
Love is tender.
Love is joyful.
Love is fearless.
Love enables the person to treat life as an art.
Love as an attitude of mind and as a form of behavior is adaptively the best and most efficient of all adjustive processes in enabling the human being to adapt himself to his environment.
For the person and the species, love is the form of behavior having the highest survival value."
Excuse me for quoting such well-known scripture, but Corinthians I 4-8 says the same thing:
"Love is always patient and kind; it is never
jealous; it is never boastful or conceited; it is never
rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not
resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people's
sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to
excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever
comes. Love does not come to an end."
I would ask:
"Does Bruderhof behavior fit these definitions of truly loving behavior as taught by Jesus Christ or is it instead 'the love that cuts like a knife,' which Christoph once described in my presence as the 'real' love?"
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