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Source: (consider it) Thread: Bruderhof Cult? - Absolutely not says cult expert
Grec Man
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The Bruderhof is not a cult according to cult expert Bryan Wilson. In fact, it is completely the opposite, peaceful and life-affirming.

I was interested to read another thread on the ship about this topic, but the thread is now closed, so I thought to start another.

How to decide if a religious group is a cult or not is quite hard, and very subjective, but here is a really interesting paper written by a noted cult expert Bryan Wilson about visiting the Bruderhof:

quote:

The Bruderhof
by Bryan R. Wilson, Reader Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Oxford

Among the minority religions with which I have become acquainted in the course of my studies is the body known as the Bruderhof. I have read much of the available social science literature on this movement and on the history of the wider Hutterite fraternity. On two occasions, I have visited the Bruderhof community at Nonington in Kent, and am acquainted with some of their leading members. As will be apparent, my approach to the Bruderhof and to all other minority religions is objective and ethically neutral. I am not and never have been a member of the Bruderhof.

The Bruderhof can claim to inherit the authentic spirit of the radical Reformation, and shares with others in the Hutterite tradition (the name derives from Jacob Hutter (d.1536)) the commitment to a simple communitarian way of life in which basic Christian virtues and values are cherished and nurtured. The members of the Bruderhof espouse a Protestant ethic with an emphasis on the shared possession of the necessities of life. They are committed to non-violence and the endeavour to promote peace and goodwill among all mankind.

Their communal life certainly differs from the life-style of most citizens, but it is generally recognized by scholars to be a way of life informed by wholesome ideals and conscientious concerns.The general evidence concerning such communities is that they are of long-term benefit to the societies in which they are established. As self-regulating bodies they are virtually crime-free, and such are the standard held up to their young people that they are unlikely to be involved in vandalism or any other form of anti-social behaviour. A Bruderhof community requires no police surveillance,and might have the direct or indirect effect of reducing the policing costs of the wider society. Similarly, the strong family values which pervade the community encourage its members to look after one another, and this is of considerable importance to the elderly, who are so well cared for in the community that even in extremis they are unlikely to become a charge on local or state government finances. (...) The two English Bruderhof communities maintain these traditions and give them manifold expression"

You can read the paper here:
Why the Bruderhof is not a cult

Anyway, I found it interesting.

[edited down quoted text]

[ 28. July 2017, 07:51: Message edited by: Eutychus ]

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Grec Man
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Just to add, of course the Bruderhof is not everyone's cup of tea. But the accusations made are mostly by ex-members, and people who visit generally have a good experience.

Here is a visit report for instance:
Learning from the Bruderhof

And here is a good overview of the Bruderhof:
5 Beliefs of the Bruderhof

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Baptist Trainfan
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I know very little about the Bruderhof. However, having done an MA in Sociology of Religions some years ago which included a large segment on New Religious Movements, I learned both to respect Wilson's views and also to be wary of comments made by disaffected ex-members. The seminal study at the time was Eileen Barker's work on the Unification Church, which suggested that some of the criticisms often made about it were in fact ill-informed and unfounded.

One must also be careful to distinguish between the popular and academic uses of the word "cult": the former tends to be pejorative while the latter is purely descriptive of a specific sociological phenomenon.

[ 27. July 2017, 13:17: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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Brenda Clough
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I would be interested to know how a bad cult is defined. Clearly, if all the members are dead in the jungle after drinking poisoned Kool-Ade, we can agree this is a pernicious set of beliefs. But, before things get to that point, how can you tell?

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Grec Man
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Well, that is exactly the point made by Bryan Wilson - there are only 5 examples of major death caused by a nutty cult, Jonestown is one of them. Which is why in popular culture the word "cult" is so pejorative.
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Baptist Trainfan
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@ Brenda: I would have said by extreme and abusive control by leaders, and a total rejection of and separation from the world around.

Will that do for starters?

[ 27. July 2017, 13:23: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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mr cheesy
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I don't know much about cults in general, but know a bit about the Bruderhof.

I think the main problem isn't really their impacts on anyone else (negligible) or their book publishing (nobody really takes any notice) or their highly organised communities or the commitment required of new members (don't really get many new members, not really trying to recruit). Indeed, on the latter point it is possible to make the argument that they're communities organised so much around older people that they're basically old people's homes with a factory and community attached.

The main problem is the effects of their lifestyle on the children.

They're organised in family groups, with some unseen central hand determining where any given family should be at any given moment. They don't have many possessions so they can literally be told that they're moving to another community in another country with very little notice.

They say that they're a big global family so the impact on the children is minimal, but the real problem occurs when the child gets to 16. Their theology is basically of voluntary inclusion and so when they come of age the child must positively make the choice to stay and take various vows of commitment.

But the children have never known anything outside of the communities in which they've lived. They don't know much about money, they don't know much about other ideas and people in the world. They've very little imagination as to how they'd get on.

I understand that around a third of children leave the communities at this age. I was told that they are given as much support as they can when they make this decision (no reason to disbelieve this - the communities are very wealthy) but it is an almost total break. As their parents and siblings and friends are moved around regularly, they might not even have the right to be in the same country as their parents (who are usually abroad on some kind of missionary or religious visa) and communication is very difficult.

And the community doesn't like or encourage communication with people who have left.

The end result is a bunch of bewildered and abandoned children in the world. Some of whom are pretty angry.

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Grec Man
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quote:
But the children have never known anything outside of the communities in which they've lived. They don't know much about money, they don't know much about other ideas and people in the world. They've very little imagination as to how they'd get on.

I can't really see that this is true. Young people from the Bruderhof spend a lot of time outside of the community, go to college and university, and to say that they don't know about other ideas and people in the world is laughable.
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mr cheesy
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I'd also dispute a bit whether they are a Christian group. They're clearly modelled after the Hutterite (although actually it is a very modern approximation to it - they got summarily excommunicated by a true Hutterite group when they tried to reach out) and clearly has a lot of roots in Christianity.

And it is true to say that the whole community hangs on a lot of religious language and iconography and ideas.

But the one thing that really holds together is their regular unaccompanied singing - 3 or more times a day - and that singing is not particularly Christian.

I'd say that individually their theology is quite weak, belonging is more to do with being part of the community and joining in the daily rituals of work and worship rather than believing in particular prescribed creeds.

But then it is quite hard to tell. It is very hard to tell what any individual thinks about almost anything because they've almost entirely lost individuality. If you ask anyone anything, they'll almost inevitably look to someone else as if they're searching for the correct answer.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Grec Man:
I can't really see that this is true. Young people from the Bruderhof spend a lot of time outside of the community, go to college and university, and to say that they don't know about other ideas and people in the world is laughable.

No, it really isn't. It is true that they go to university, but interestingly they've set up new tiny communities in university towns for their youth to go to.

So even at university they're still living in community.

It is absolutely true that they attend various events and groups - usually in the UK these are associated with various peace causes. But the interactions with others are extremely limited and they always attend in groups.

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mr cheesy
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A few years ago they were attending ordinary state schools but it was decided that they weren't learning whatever-it-is that the community thinks they should be learning, so they've set up their own schools with their own curricula.

Which oddly isn't creationist.

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Grec Man
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OK - so the Bruderhof is not Christian because of singing! I can see the number of Christians worldwide dwindling rapidly then.
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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Grec Man:
OK - so the Bruderhof is not Christian because of singing! I can see the number of Christians worldwide dwindling rapidly then.

The songs are quite beautiful - they have a wide vocabulary about birds and flowers and hills and other wonderful things.

But they're not about the things we'd usually associate with Christianity - theology, the Trinity, the cross etc.

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Grec Man
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ah, I understand what you mean! Sorry. The Bruderhof sings a wide selection of songs though, and some are very "christian".

[ 27. July 2017, 13:43: Message edited by: Grec Man ]

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Gottschalk
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"How to decide if a religious group is a cult or not is quite hard, and very subjective..."

Good but difficult question. I think it might go against the fundamental liberties if the government were to decide that. The French have MIVILUDES, a government agency that is tasked monitoring not sects per se, but sectarian deviance : http://www.derives-sectes.gouv.fr/

I think the reason behind is this is that associations and groups in general can potentially at one point or another fall prey to such sectarian deviances.

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mr cheesy
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But then it is a very alien worldview to most Western Christians. It developed in Germany, consciously took from the Hutterite/Anabaptist traditions and has been insulated from most of Christian thought for a long time.

It isn't exactly that they're unaware of other theologies, they're just not very interested in them.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Grec Man:
ah, I understand what you mean! Sorry. The Bruderhof sings a wide selection of songs though, and some are very "christian".

Yes, some are - but they don't seem to sing them very often. They tend to be associated with particular religious festivals rather than being used in the way the rest of us tend to sing hymns.

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:

But the one thing that really holds together is their regular unaccompanied singing - 3 or more times a day - and that singing is not particularly Christian.

I'd say that individually their theology is quite weak, belonging is more to do with being part of the community and joining in the daily rituals of work and worship rather than believing in particular prescribed creeds.

Isn't this true of a lot of these kinds of exclusivist communities though? Or certainly that's been my experience when interacting their members. In an inversion of sorts, belonging becomes a form of believing in itself.
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Grec Man
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Mr Cheesy, just interested in how much time you have actually spent on the Bruderhof?

You obviously feel the Bruderhof is very insular, and not interested in other people's theology or traditions. But the Bruderhof I know invites many people from different denominations and churches in to speak to the community.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by chris stiles:
Isn't this true of a lot of these kinds of exclusivist communities though? Or certainly that's been my experience when interacting their members. In an inversion of sorts, belonging becomes a form of believing in itself.

No idea, I don't know about other groups.

The Bruderhof basically believe that church=community so whilst they sometimes get along with other Christians (& sometimes others), it is always on their terms, ie in their community.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Grec Man:
Mr Cheesy, just interested in how much time you have actually spent on the Bruderhof?

For various reasons I can't answer that.

quote:
You obviously feel the Bruderhof is very insular, and not interested in other people's theology or traditions. But the Bruderhof I know invites many people from different denominations and churches in to speak to the community.
Yes. They absolutely do invite and encourage others to visit and interact with them. I wouldn't describe them as insular exactly and they are not totally against other theologies - for example they've been getting close to a group of Roman Catholics and went to visit the Pope a while back.

But again, it is always on their terms. Visitors come and get involved in whatever the community is doing, it is extremely rare for them to visit and get involved in anyone else's worship.

I'm not saying that makes them a cult, by the way. But they are a religious group with few connections to others and little in common with other parts of Christianity.

[ 27. July 2017, 13:58: Message edited by: mr cheesy ]

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Grec Man
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Well, being part of the Bruderhof I guess gives me a different view on these things. For instance, I have prayed and worshipped with other Christians "on thier terms" and not on the community probably 5 times in the last couple months. Not sure if that is extremely rare, but I doubt it.

How often do other churches get together for worship? It is a great idea and should be done more.

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
No idea, I don't know about other groups.

My impression is that a lot of others - both ones which would claim some kind of christian orthodoxy and ones that wouldn't - end up being places where belonging becomes a short hand for assent - and so belief is short cut altogether. This seems to be especially true of those that encourage/mandate communal living.

quote:

The Bruderhof basically believe that church=community so whilst they sometimes get along with other Christians (& sometimes others), it is always on their terms, ie in their community.

This is entirely unique; there are a fair number of exclusivist groups that I know of that fall into this category (most - but not all - are pentecostal/charismatic of one stripe or another - one of them was set up along ethnic lines, and kind of re-derived the concept of religious orders from first principles).
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mr cheesy
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Well I'm surprised to learn that the however-many thousand members of the Bruderhof worldwide all regularly leave the community to worship with other Christians.

That's a welcome development, if true.

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Stetson
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^^ Chris:

Did you mean to open your second paragraph with "This is not entirely unique"? That seems to fit the context better.

[ 27. July 2017, 14:10: Message edited by: Stetson ]

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Ohher
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:


I'd say that individually their theology is quite weak, belonging is more to do with being part of the community and joining in the <Sunday> rituals of work and worship rather than believing in particular prescribed creeds.


When I substitute my "Sunday" for your "daily," I find myself quite unable to distinguish your description of the Bruderhof from any of the Protestant congregations I've been part of.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Ohher:
When I substitute my "Sunday" for your "daily," I find myself quite unable to distinguish your description of the Bruderhof from any of the Protestant congregations I've been part of.

Heh, I've not explained it very well then. It is completely different.

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chris stiles
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quote:
Originally posted by Stetson:

Did you mean to open your second paragraph with "This is not entirely unique"? That seems to fit the context better.

I did yes, thank you.
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Grec Man
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Yes, also not entirely sure about individuals having weak theology. Of course, not all members are the same, and some care more about such things than others, but everyone know what they believe and why.
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HCH
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I have encountered (but do not necessarily endorse) this distinction: A cult is a church one joins as an adult.
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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by HCH:
I have encountered (but do not necessarily endorse) this distinction: A cult is a church one joins as an adult.

Errr... did you miss something at the end of that sentence? Crying out for a "but.."

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Grec Man
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Here are a bunch of articles written by people from the Bruderhof about activities they are going that involves interaction with others. It is always a misconception that if you live in community you can't interact with others, but that is really not true. In fact, very often the opposite is true.

Here is an article by a young woman who attended a Taize conference:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/how-to-pray-with-taize

Here is from a couple working in Israel at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/world/jerusalem-neighbors-sharing-life-in-a-country-between

A young lady who went (by herself, just mentioned to counter the view that everything is done in groups!) to a conference:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/following-jesus/musings-on-chi-alpha-conference

A teacher who takes his students to the local soup kitchen:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/why-i-take-my-students-to-the-soup-kitchen

A young man who help setup a field hospital in Mosul:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/building-a-hospital-in-mosul

A young lady who is doing an internship at First Things in New York:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/justice/the-best-sign-to-carry-at-any-march

And someone working with kids in South Korea:
http://www.bruderhof.com/en/voices-blog/life-in-community/visiting-the-drop-box

I hope that is helpful.

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lilBuddha
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Cult is a difficult word as it is imprecise.
I don't know enough about the Bruderhof to assign an appellation at the moment.
However, we are shaped by the culture we live in, especially whilst children. Thus, I am not a fan of closed or semi-closed societies.
Those societies where too little variation is observed generally means too tight a level of control or influence.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
Cult is a difficult word as it is imprecise.

A good article here by someone who knows what they're talking about.
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mr cheesy
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I think the Bruderhof is a bit more extreme in some practices than groups we're more commonly aware of like the JWs and Mormons.

And it arguably meets some of the criteria suggested by Cultwatch.

On the other hand, it is hard to categorise because it does seem to be more open (in some ways) than other groups.

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Leorning Cniht
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What makes a cult?

If you are prevented or discouraged from maintaining contact with friends and family when you join, it's a cult.

Is it secretive? Does its leadership exert authoritarian control over details of members lives? Does it believe in a bunch of private special knowledge that the "elect" have?

The more you answer "yes", the more culty it looks.

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leo
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I read their newsletter. They seem to be quite orthodox and challenge the mainstream.

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
Cult is a difficult word as it is imprecise.

A good article here by someone who knows what they're talking about.
Yeah, but no.
quote:
The trouble is that there is no behaviour found in the so-called cults that cannot also be found in mainstream religions.

This is certainly not to suggest that "cults" never do "bad things". On its files, Inform has information about well over a thousand groups that have been or might be called cults, and some of these have undoubtedly engaged in heinous criminal activities – but the vast majority have not. Their crimes tend, however, to be more visible than those of "normal" parishioners. The media are far more likely to report that a cult member has committed suicide than to mention that an Anglican has done so

There is a massive difference between an action by a member of a group and an action directed by the group.
I think the definition in the title of the article
quote:
One person's cult is another's true religion
is over-reaching.
The distinction, in my eyes, is the level of control and autonomy. Otherwise, culture is a cult. Hell, life is a cult.

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If it's not here soon, I might be done
No it won't be too soon 'til I say goodnight moon

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by leo:
I read their newsletter. They seem to be quite orthodox and challenge the mainstream.

Worth reading some of their critics for another view.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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Grec Man
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Just be aware that some of the Bruderhof's most vocal critics have never even visited!

Here is a paper by a Baptist historian about the Bruderhof that discusses some of this stuff:
The Spirituality of the Bruderhof

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Baptist Trainfan
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I haven't read this. But the author is well-respected in British Baptist theological circles.
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mr cheesy
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No, some of the most vocal critics are ex-members.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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Grec Man
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Mr Cheesy, I've really enjoyed the conversation on this. It is a shame that you can't say how much time you have actually spent on a Bruderhof. You have pretty weighty opinions, like you have a lot of knowledge, and yet you say things like this:
quote:
And it is true to say that the whole community hangs on a lot of religious language and iconography and ideas.
Now, religious language and iconography are two things you don't find on the Bruderhof. So I am uncertain how much to trust what you say.

Hey, you still haven't told me how often your church leaves your church building on a Sunday and joins other churches for worship. And how often your Sunday sermon is held by someone from a different church and denomination.

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Grec Man
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Yes, Ian Randall who wrote that paper has visited several times. I think his paper nicely counters the view expressed here that the Bruderhof is not even Christian, and that we are "more extreme than mormons and JWs"!
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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
No, some of the most vocal critics are ex-members.

Which is normal for people who leave cult groups, churches, choral societies, golf clubs, employers ... Yes, their views must be heard as they can be instructive, but they must be heard with a degree of caution as they are not disinterested parties.

FWIW I was once a member of an evangelical missionary society whose Headquarters were a large mansion that had previously been owned by the Bruderhof. The general (and uninformed) consensus was that they had been"a bit weird". Looking back, I realise that the members of the missionary society really knew nothing about the Anabaptist tradition from which the Bruderhof sprang. More to the point, by largely living in community themselves, the missionaries were attracting a certain degree of (shall we say) curiosity from the surrounding community. However they did arrange "open evenings", the kids went to local schools and folk who were there for any length of time were encouraged to join local churches.

[ 28. July 2017, 07:49: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Grec Man:
Now, religious language and iconography are two things you don't find on the Bruderhof. So I am uncertain how much to trust what you say.

Well given that you appear to be trying to do PR for the Bruderhof, there is no reason to simply believe your gloss.

I meant by iconography that there are Christian images around the place rather than images of other things. Perhaps icon was the wrong word, but what I meant was that it is a place where Christian words and Christian images are used.

There are plenty of people making reports online which support what I've said including a good number of people who report being abandoned by their families when they leave.

quote:
Hey, you still haven't told me how often your church leaves your church building on a Sunday and joins other churches for worship. And how often your Sunday sermon is held by someone from a different church and denomination.
You've conveniently sidestepped the points that I made. I don't believe that thousands of members regularly go to other church services. It is entirely possible that a small number like you do on occasion.

And it is entirely consistent for me to say that the majority of children in the Bruderhof have little contact outside whilst you post things about individuals doing things.

Both of these things are true. Young people sometimes leave and are sometimes able to do interesting and worthwhile activities. But that doesn't mean that the majority have much contact with the world.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
hich is normal for people who leave cult groups, churches, choral societies, golf clubs, employers ... Yes, their views must be heard as they can be instructive, but they must be heard with a degree of caution as they are not disinterested parties.

Well that's true, although I think they deserve to be heard seriously when they're saying things like "If you are a member thrown out from the Bruderhof cult, don't expect to be able to freely speak to any family members inside ever again"

I don't think it is a cult in various understandings of the word, but it is an undeniable fact that the way the thing is arranged means that families are split up.

And it is an undeniable fact that their lifestyle is more extreme than the JWs or Mormons, who more-or-less live in society.

quote:
FWIW I was once a member of an evangelical missionary society whose Headquarters were a large mansion that had previously been owned by the Bruderhof. The general (and uninformed) consensus was that they had been"a bit weird". Looking back, I realise that the members of the missionary society really knew nothing about the Anabaptist tradition from which the Bruderhof sprang. More to the point, by largely living in community themselves, the missionaries were attracting a certain degree of (shall we say) curiosity from the surrounding community. However they did arrange "open evenings", the kids went to local schools and folk who were there for any length of time were encouraged to join local churches.
Not sure what this has to do with anything.

In general, I would say that the Bruderhof usually have good relations with their neighbours.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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Eutychus
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hosting/

Grec Man, I have (belatedly) edited down the quote in your opening post.

Please don't post overly long excerpts from other places. Firstly, to ensure we remain well within the bounds of "fair use" and don't fall foul of copyright claims. Secondly, to ensure thread readability: we want to hear what posters have to say, not what they can cut and paste from elsewhere.

(There is certainly plenty to debate here as can be seen from the thread progression!)

A short summary and/or key quote, together with a link to the source, is deemed best practice. Thank you for your coooperation.

/hosting

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One has to take part. Scary as it is. - Martin60
Jerusalem is a city without walls

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Grec Man
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Thanks Baptist Trainfan, I know the place well. Yes, anyone who lives a way of life that is different from the mainstream is thought of as weird. No big problem - people can think what they want.

The point about ex-members being critical is well stated - people who used to shop in Tesco but now go to Lidl will probably have a litany of complaints about Tesco. That doesn't make Tesco a bad place to shop.

I still don't get the religious words and pictures thing, and (if that were true, why that would matter). You have claimed that we don't sing religious songs, but do have religious pictures. How can both of these be criticisms?

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
I meant by iconography that there are Christian images around the place rather than images of other things. Perhaps icon was the wrong word, but what I meant was that it is a place where Christian words and Christian images are used.
After all, the simplicity of a "Lord's Table" rather than an altar is, in itself, iconic. So is the prominence of the pulpit in a Methodist chapel.

[ 28. July 2017, 08:00: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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