The Evolution of The Peregrine Foundation

by Ramon Sender Barayon

January, 1995

The Peregrine Foundation was created in 1992 as the non- profit parent organization for a series of projects, the first being the KIT Newsletter, The KIT Information Service and The XRoads Fund.
The KIT project began when I decided to research the story of my daughter, Xaverie Sender Rhodes, in whose life I had been prevented from participating by the Bruderhof. The Bruderhof, or Society of Brothers, or Hutterian Brethren East, consisted of group high-demand Christian intentional communities that had been, since the 1960s, developing decidedly totalitarian tendencies. After Xaverie's sudden and untimely death in 1988, I asked the Bruderhof leadership to allow me to interview members who knew her. I intended to write a memoir and, in the process, assuage a father's thirst for his daughter's presence. In the process I also hoped that I would find some healing for the emotional trauma caused by the thirty-year separation. I had used the same technique when I wrote my book "A Death In Zamora" that traced the life of my mother who was shot during the Spanish Civil War when I was only two years old.
My daughter Xaverie had grown up in the Bruderhof with her mother, after I was asked to leave and subsequently realized I was emotionally incapable of living in the community -- and in the marriage. Over the following years, despite numerous attempts to communicate with Xavi, I was cut off from her completely by the Bruderhof hierarchy. Occasionally I phoned when visiting the East Coast in the hopes of at least talking to her, but was always told, "We think it's in Xavi's best interests not to speak with you." I remained enough under their control to accept their reasoning, but the leadership's ongoing refusal to allow me a relationship with my own daughter remained a festering wound in my heart.
When she was seventeen, I insisted upon a visit and finally was allowed one hour with her in a local diner. It remains one of the most magical moments of my life, although I realized it created a dilemma for her: to listen to her heart's desire for her father or remain true to the Bruderhof's (and her mother's) demands. After that visit she wrote to tell me that she could not, as a novice member, remain true to her faith and remain in contact with me. Twelve years after that visit, she wrote once more to tell me that she loved me but due to the differences in our lives she would be unable to communicate with me further.
Despite the finality of her letter, I clung to the dream that some day things would change. When my wife Judith and I traveled east in the summer of 1988, she encouraged me to try to telephone Xavi again. This time I had slightly better luck, because whoever answered the phone did not recognize my voice and assumed I was a customer for their toys.
"No, Xavi is not taking orders right now," he said. "She just gave birth to her second child."
That was how I discovered that she had been married for three years and that I was a grandfather twice over! I asked to speak with my son-in-law, John Rhodes, and when he refused to allow me -- or even Judith -- to speak with Xavi, I contacted a neighboring minister as a possible go-between. We returned to San Francisco feeling that perhaps some sort of beginning had been made towards resolving the impasse.
On October 3rd, 1988, I received the news of Xaverie's sudden death from a virulent melanoma cancer on August 26, roughly three weeks after our phone call. When I read the letter, my first reaction was one of shocked disbelief, but when I spoke with John Rhodes and later read the transcript of the memorial service, the truth hit me in all its appalling starkness. My daughter had died at 33, leaving behind two little children. Five days later I still was trying to come to grips with the reality, and yet it seemed as if months had passed. Why couldn't the community have let me know sooner? At least they could have telephoned. Why was I not allowed one final visit?
Six months later, I decided to research my daughter's life story. Perhaps I could capture memories of her in the same way that I had those of my mother in Spain by hunting down those who had known her. When the Bruderhof leadership turned down my request to interview Bruderhof members, I began to search for ex-members. I knew the phone number of one Woodcrest survivor. He gave me the names of two more ex-members who in turn gave me the names of two more. By the end of the month, I had talked with more than thirty and personally visited four. By the end of the second month, I had spoken to over sixty. They all asked about the others I had contacted and wanted their news and addresses. Many had followed obediently the Bruderhof leadership's warning not to contact other ex-members because that act would seal shut any possibility of return.
The KIT newsletter started as a modest two-page sheet sent to the sixty or so thirty early contactees to share addresses and information. It became a monthly, and very soon I was mailing ten- thousand-word issues to 200 addresses. The volume of incoming mail was extraordinary, and the newsletter expanded to 16,000 words per issue, almost all of it 'letters to the editor'. At this point I invited four local Bruderhof graduates to form a volunteer staff and share the workload.
I talked with exiles from the Bruderhof's Great Crisis of 1960- 1961 who were living in dire poverty, as well as survivors of various 'clearances' within the American communities. I discovered that one ex-member, Lee Kleiss, had started a Round-Robin letter in the early 1960s that had continued through a few issues. I found the so-called 'Hartford Boys,' a group of young men driven away by a Servant (minister) who beat them severely, and the tightly-knit English group who had stayed more closely in touch. In common with the ex- members in Germany, they seemed more willing to let bygone be bygones than the feistier Americans, and tried to put a good face on past wrongs. But one thing they all shared: an intense desire to know whom I had found and what they were doing with their lives. The Bruderhof's technique of warning ex-members away from contacting each other had isolated many of them, but it could not stifle the yearning to renew childhood connections, old bonds of friendship and fellowship. Every person I contacted expressed the same hunger for news, with a few exceptions. One or two had been alerted to stay away from KIT by the Bruderhof and would not speak to me. A few others remained too traumatized and fearful to accept even a sample issue. However over the intervening years, many of the more timid folk have put aside their fears and joined the KIT network.
Financial contributions from the readership kept abreast of mailing and printing costs, so the staff only need to donate their time -- and telephones. We named the newsletter KIT, an acronym for 'Keep In Touch,' and began to mail copies to each of the communities. We seemed to be putting together a widely scattered support group whose opinions ran the full gamut from guilt to rage. Some staunchly defended the Bruderhof while others' anger erupted in verbal vitriol. Each had his or her own dramatic story to tell. The most moving were those told by people who had been ejected from the communities as teenager, cut off from their parents and from any type of financial or emotional support.
The Bruderhof leadership always made the separation as difficult as possible in the hope that the individual would be traumatized to the point of begging to be taken back, willing to confess to even the most blatantly false accusations as proof of their obedience and total surrender to the leaders. As more and more personal stories were told, the Bruderhof leadership proved itself remarkably cruel and vindictive, especially in the case of the adolescents. What terrible burdens of guilt and shame they placed on these youngsters! And, unfortunately, the driving force behind the worst of these attitudes was their venerated elder, Heini Arnold, who seemed obsessed with 'inner purity. ' Today, as their deceased and still-adulated Vorsteher, their bishop, he must bear the ultimate responsibility, no matter who carried out his orders.
In late 1989, we heard that the Bruderhof was very concerned about the KIT newsletters. At first I received some frankly hostile letters from members. Then a change occurred, and the letters became more sympathetic. I heard that 'a new spirit of reconciliation' was awakening in the bruderhofs. Ex-members wrote about their surprisingly pleasant visits to relatives within the communities. The usual challenges to 'repent and return' were absent from members' conversations, although now and then a 'longing' might be expressed in a gentler manner. In January, 1990, a Bruderhof couple traveling in California visited with KIT staff.
The meeting seemed to go well. I felt that personally they were willing to acknowledge that I had been treated very badly. As long as the conversation centered on the failings of individuals within the Bruderhof, they listened. They acknowledged that serious mistakes had been made in the past by various Servants and Witness Brothers, but the moment either their beloved leader Heini was criticized, or abusive aspects of the Bruderhof system itself were mentioned, they just did not hear what was said. This lack of communication on major issues set the tone of all future meetings.
In the late summer of 1990 we held our first KIT conference at a youth hostel in central Massachusetts. Approximately fifty 'survivors and graduates' gathered for three days of shared memories and visiting with old friends and lost relatives. What an amazing event!
In December, 1990, the Bruderhof Elder Johann Christoph Arnold (son of Heini Arnold) along with his wife and another Bruderhof couple met with KIT staff in San Francisco. The meeting was friendly, and Arnold stated that they were willing to "meet with anyone, anywhere" and were eager for reconciliation. The other brother expressed his fears about the impact of the KIT newsletter on the Bruderhof young people if they had access to it. KIT staff's suggestion of third-party mediation was turned down. Although the Bruderhof couples expressed a desire to dissolve the barriers between the two groups, very little progress was made. Arnold was asked if he could 'really deliver' on his previous guarantee that anyone could publish in KIT without risking loss of visiting privileges. The Elder repeated that all Bruderhof efforts to keep people from communicating in and through KIT would completely cease. The last remark now seems ironic in that almost ALL KITfolk are currently denied visits to their families within the communities. Not only that, but members who are being expelled are asked to sign a statement promising not to have anything to do with KIT!
In 1992, KIT staff incorporated as the nonprofit Peregrine Foundation ('peregrine' meaning 'pilgrim' or 'wanderer'). Other above-mentioned projects were added, such as the Carrier Pigeon Press that is publishing book-length memoirs and the "Women From Utopia" series, and a computer bulletin board that allows KITfolk to converse and interact on a daily basis. In 1995, the newsletters and other articles will become accessible in electronic form on the Internet.
As of December, 1994, the KIT newsletter has published over a million words, and three books and four 'Annuals' (bound and indexed collections of the newsletters) are in print as well as various smaller brochures and pamphlets. The XRoads Fund (named in Xavi's memory) has assisted various young people, and helped one young man move out of a homeless shelter into an ex-member's home. Also we were able to track down his birth father and reunite them -- a real detective story! In another case we aided a large family thrown out of the community under the most adverse of circumstances and told to go on welfare. Rarely does a month go by that we do not receive a 'thank you' letter for the help and services provided. We have held three more annual conferences in the U.S. and two Euro- KIT gatherings have been held in England.
KIT serves many purposes. It allows all voices to be heard, the angry ones, the ones pleading for forgiveness and understanding, the ones just wanting to share their life stories. At times the various purposes intersect and collide: the 'support group aspect' --Ęthe need to vent anger -- interferes with the need to communicate to the Bruderhof leadership in the hopes of resolving some of the outstanding conflicts and misunderstandings.
Various attempts to meet for conflict resolution have been made, but all offers to meet in the presence of neutral outside negotiators have been turned down. The leadership keeps repeating to everyone that I explicitly said to them over the phone that "As long as the Bruderhof follows Christ, I will try to destroy them." This is such a blatant lie that I feel that it demeans me to have to reply to it, yet I have done so in the newsletter various times and over the telephone directly to Dick Domer, who insists that he himself heard me say it! Unbelievable!
Many similar problems and misunderstandings remain unresolved. In the words of one newsletter reader, "History, sociology and pastoral concerns intersect." How, for example, do Bruderhof parental authority patterns combined with particularly prudish notions of sexual 'purity' result in various kinds of abuse of children and adolescents? And how can these issues be discussed in an atmosphere that does not seem threatening to the leadership? Why do they continue to deny visiting privileges to family members just because they read KIT issues or attend meetings with people who do? Why do they persecute various recently ejected families by acts that are blatantly illegal and persecutory, such as tapping the telephones, burglarizing their homes, and threatening their lives and livelihoods in various ways?
Recently I interviewed a Bruderhof graduate who has remained a seeking Christian, and he expressed very ably the spiritual contradiction at the heart of the Bruderhof belief system. On the one hand, one takes a vow at baptism to "always speak out if one sees that the Church is moving in the wrong direction." Yet on the other hand, when the new member speaks out, he is slammed into church discipline and then the REAL baptism takes place. The real Bruderhof baptism is not the baptism by water upon the person's confession of Jesus Christ as savior, but what I would call 'a baptism by fire in the flames of church discipline.' The new brother or sister must be willing to surrender to church discipline whether or not it has been applied correctly. You must be willing to be crucified by the Servants for the sake of your brothers' sins, following in the footsteps of Christ who purportedly bore with humility the unfair accusations of others and the burden of other men's misdeeds. You must die to your self, abandoned by your brothers and sisters, despite the voice of your conscience screaming, "But it wasn't me! I didn't do anything wrong!"
The Servants seem to operate on the theory that, inasmuch as we all are sinners anyway in the eyes of God, what do the particulars matter -- i.e. what particular member erred? Similar to other totalistic groups, what is deemed important is the accused's total obedience to authority, displayed by his willingness to be scapegoated. Yet what dies in this travesty of Christ's crucifixion, along with the truth, is the voice of the member's individual conscience. What emerges from this surrender to the will of the leadership ("Whether I am guilty or not, I am guilty because the Servants say I am guilty and I must submit to their superior vision.") is a hollowed-out husk of a person, completely malleable by the leadership.
The Bruderhof leadership is very skilled at helping the new member through the baptism by water upon confession of faith in Christ. They are equally adept at manipulating the new member through church discipline and 'the baptism by fire' whereby the individual conscience is killed, or at least betrayed into silence. Whether consciously or not, they are equally skilled at making sure that the new member never receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit (too emotional, too unpredictable and hard to control) but remains forever a worm, forever out of touch with God, constantly reminded of this fact and open to manipulation at the whim of the hierarchy. It sounds horrible -- and the truth is that it is horrible because the new member is led, step by step, towards the Servants' goal of having him denounce the voice of God in his own conscience. What the victim is told is, "We have all been through the gift of church discipline and it was such a blessing! Now it's your turn to experience what I experienced when I was 'out'!" It brings to mind the initiation rituals practiced in boys' schools or fraternities, but in terms of the teachings of Christ, it is a sadistic abomination.
The heresy that one must allow church authorities to crucify oneself in order to faithfully follow Christ's example can be refuted by Scripture, and here I quote from a more knowledgeable friend:
"Accepting false accusation in imitation of Christ is easy to rebut. Christ never agreed with the accusers that he was guilty of the false charges they made. He said to Pilate "...therefore he who betrayed me to you hath the greater sin..." implying that the false charges were sinful. Jesus said the devil is a liar and the father of lies, implying that untruth is of the devil... He said "I am the way the truth and the life..." implying that what is not of the truth is not from him... He defended himself vigorously against the charges of the Pharisees and Saducees. Jesus suffered "for the sins of the world" but not in order that religious authorities could inflict suffering on others... that is a diabolical twisting of the Christian doctrine. Jesus very certainly said, "Inasmuch as you did it (i.e. anything) to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me." If the Bruderhof authorities want to claim the right to make false accusations in the name of Jesus for the sake of his humility, then there is no further arguing with them... They haven't a leg to stand on according to Scripture, which also states, "For freedom Christ has set you free." He did not die for you so that you can be enslaved by religious authorities.
Recently I wrote to that same friend:
"A group that shares the same belief can strike a sympathetic resonance with the source of all being, with God or the Holy Spirit, if you will. This resonance expresses itself in a mutual harmony when all goes well, as I have experienced within many communal groups. Yet it must be renewed constantly because, as in a marriage, the daily wear-and-tear gradually wear away the contact with that deeper source.
"How that renewal occurs, and what price we are willing to pay for it varies, but I think it's best that we don't hunt for it and force its blossoming in our lives. Instead, let it surprise us every springtime with the rebirth of the forests and fields. I suppose that is what I have come to believe -- that nature's rhythms are best. Odd, because the Bruderhof also professes a great love of nature. They encourage that attitude in the children, and the adults cultivate it in themselves as evidence of a childlike attitude toward life.
So when the ambitious schemes I concoct come tumbling down, or when society seems out of step with my dreams, it only takes a walk in the woods to inspire me with wonder, with how our planet nurtures us despite all the terrible things we do to her. Nature's reality is the real reality, and it happens on a time span so much greater than our own. I find peace in acknowledging the brevity of my stay here and knowing that, after I am gone, nature will continue to create this beautiful, 'best of all possible, worlds'. That is, if our accumulated self-hatreds do not poison us and all other creatures off this earth. Recently I read in the newspaper that the majority of Americans believe in some sort of End Time scenario, and yet so often we increase the possibility of the worst happening when we believe in the worst.
When women and men come together to live in a heaven of their own design, so often they create a hell. Yet these artificial heavens and hells may be necessary as test tube utopias where we can discover our individual selves within that complex dance we perform with all life. Humans everywhere should be free to live any variety or flavor of lifestyle that they desire, as long as they do not hurt others, including their own children. Personally, I believe adults should be free to live in the most eccentric grouping their fevered imaginations can devise, as long as they do not include children and do not impinge on the rights of the neighbors. Once children are born into these groups, these young people's inalienable human rights -- as expressed in the United Nations document on human rights -- must be safeguarded. I suggest that Canada, by assigning a teacher from the local school district to religious communal groups such as the Hutterites, has taken a first step in the right direction. Society-at- large somehow must find a way to defuse future potential Wacos, potential Jonestowns and Temples of the Sun, and move to protect the quality of the lives of the children within these apocolyptic groups.
Personally, instead of searching for heaven these days, I'm content to live spiritually close to the earth, accepting her time- tested rhythms as my own, her seasons as my moods. Still, I always feel this yearning to belong to a tribe, and I have found its scattered members in unexpected places. The tribe I belong to is pagan, animist-Buddhist like the Tibetans, sexy, softly loving and accepting of new ideas -- everything the Bruderhof is not. We are self- confident enough of our values to welcome ex-members with open arms and bid them a fond farewell when their needs take them elsewhere. Instead of finding God through guilt and self-denial, the big 'No-No-No,' we celebrate total self-acceptance as a gentler, more life-affirming path, the big 'Yes-Yes-Yes!' This path also brought me to that secret inner place where God speaks to me. And strangely enough, just like that very first time that happened -- in the Woodcrest preparation group -- the sun is always in my eyes when I hear His voice.
The world seems so much brighter when we're in love. Or... could it be the other way around -- the world seems so much more loving when we stand naked in the light?
Much Love,
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