[This section refers to a phase in Exclusive Brethrenism in 2002 when the Brethren began to have second thoughts about some of the members they had summarily excommunicated. They began to approach many such members, sometimes in a conciliatory fashion, to see whether they would consider returning to the EB fold. Very few wanted to do so, and many found the whole exercise quite upsetting.]
Mon, 28 Oct 2002
Subject: re a visit....please help
A further thought. If they are bringing Alan Ker and his wife to see you (did I understand you right?) that seems like pretty heavy artillery. Where do you live? (As I said earlier, I've lost all my feeb records.) You would certainly be justified in having some support yourself. Is there anyone on feeb who could be helpful in these circumstances and who is near to you (or could come)?
Sun, 3 Nov 2002 Subject: My brother
Having heard of your accounts of your brother Roger's brutality and inhumanity over the past 10 years I feel very much for you in this present experience. We really have no idea (and may never know) what devious motives lie behind this present approach. But - being realistic- we can be certain that it is either a cynical attempt to get hold of material that may be useful to this heartless and self serving group or an attempt to put into practice some new whim of their new leader. It may be both.
It is something of a trap (or a bottomless pit) to try to fathom their obscure machinations. I think you are right to base your decision on past experience of their nastiness and malice and to take no account of their present attempts to 'window-dress' all their stupidity and cruelty.
Reading recent emails I am only too aware of the emotion and heartbreak involved in 'apparently' more humane and friendly approaches from long lost relatives and how easy it is to respond and to forget all the horrible and wicked actions in the past. But it helps no one if we help them to gloss over their essential character. If anyone (and I mean anyone - I lost some of my dearest friends and several close relatives in 1970) phoned me and said that 'they had made mistakes but that their position was essentially a right one' I would simply laugh at them (however dear a 'lost friend' they might be). I would tell them that they were tied up in a system that was stupid and cruel and anti-Christian and that the sooner they woke up to its lunacy the better. That they had been dreadfully deceived and that the present moment (when there is a kind of uncertainty and flux) may be their last chance to escape from a weird and horrible sect which is both inhumane and also directly against the teachings of Christ. I would offer no comfort, no reassurance at all. Simply tell them over and over again that they have been made fools of and that their only salvation is to escape NOW. And I would tell them that the immorality and alcoholism and viciousness of James Taylor Jnr had been proved and that in staying with the ebs they were condoning and sanctioning the worst evils.
And betraying everything that JND stood for. And hope that some of that would start a (comparatively) sane thought process.
But in saying all that, I have the strongest sympathy and support for those who find it difficult to make a strong stand against long lost (and apparently contrite) close relatives. Just remember, they may have doubts about their affiliations and it does not help them if you are indirect and (by inference) reassuring.
Love to all Roger
Sun, 3 Nov 2002 Subject: Letter to Roger
Your letter to your brother is magnificent: honest, deeply-felt and eloquent. It has a passionate ring to it that should stop Roger in his tracks and make him reassess everything. (But you know how good they are at quibbling and shuffling away from things.)
I hope you send it as it is.
Tue, 5 Nov 2002
Subject: A few random thoughts about the gulag
The reports on this forum about ebs (under the direction of Bruce Hales Junior) making contact with relatives and acknowledging some error and injustice in the way 'excluded person' were dealt with over the past 10-15 years have set me thinking.
I know that this has involved a traumatic and emotionally disturbing experience for many of our members. This has been described clearly and movingly by several people and I sympathise. If I were to be contacted now (fortunately there is no risk of it!) by some of the people who were my closest friends in 1970 to be told that I was put out unjustly and that (if I read the formula right) 'although the leadership of the Man of God of the time was inspired by God, there were times when he was let down and misrepresented by local administrations, and harsh and misguided decisions were taken; these we now want to rectify' - I would go through a similar trauma in seeing those folks again and in trying to convey to them:
(a) how much I still miss them
(b) how glad I was to see them again BUT
(c) how could I tell them how silly and pathetic they all look to be still clinging to the wreckage of exclusivism and 'separating from the world' when it ceased to have any credibility at all four decades ago? (If it ever had any - but that is another story.)
But I have been trying to look beyond the personal (while remaining fully sympathetic about it) to the structural and 'political' implications of Bruce Hales Jr's bombshell. (Because believe me -I lived among the senior circles of ebism in the late 60s and was in some kind of inner circle for a while and can remember enough to conjure up what must be happening now- this will have been the biggest bombshell in ebism since Aberdeen.)
Let me try to explain why. Ebism has certain affinities with fascism: the way in which absolutist structures grow (as they did in Germany and Spain and Italy in the 1930s and in Russia a little earlier) by escalating their extremism, by increasing their thought control over individuals and by one draconian edict after another, leaving less and less room for escape or independent thought. They live by the drastic. I had several conversations with Bruce Hales one to one in the mid-60s and he kept repeating the phrase 'the standard of our separation is the abandonment on the cross'. He said to me 'Roger, we have hardly begun: the Lord has set something in train which is going to be very hard for all of us. Not all of us will be equal to it.'
And so it turned out. OK it was daft and illogical and had very little to do with christianity. But things did get tougher and tougher. It is in the nature of this kind of despotism that fear and subjugation are increased and tightened. And keep being increased and tightened. Most of you will have read books about Hitler's Germany or Stalinist Russia. They are very frightening. Not just the physical threat of jackboots on the landing at 3am and then endless imprisonment and dreadful torture but even for those who were not imprisoned there was the claustrophobia of having to think dull straitjacket thoughts - a condition that Orwell described superlatively in 'Animal Farm' and '1984'.
But when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 he was a younger leader than his immediate predecessors and a more obviously powerful and intelligent one. He began immediately to implement much more open and liberal policies - summarised in the two Russian words 'glasnost' (openness) and 'perestroika' (restructuring). Being used to Russian perfidy, the rest of the world assumed that this was one more example of the USSR saying one thing while meaning the opposite. (After all throughout all the horrors of Stalin's reign, the Russian constitution was a model of civilised and humane provisions.) But it turned out that he meant what he said - he was actually beginning the process of unfreezing the USSR from its dogmatic rigidity and moving it towards greater freedom and diversity. The question is, did he really mean it to move so far and so fast? Within a relatively short time the Russian 'parliament' was being televised and Gorbachev was being challenged -openly and directly and shatteringly- by the heroic Andrei Sakharov who had been suppressed and silenced and had spent seven years in internal exile. Whole factories closed down so that the workers could watch this with bewilderment and mounting disbelief. Gorbachev clearly started something that could not be stopped.
My point is this. However suppressed and dehumanised human beings may be (read Solzhenitsyn's 'A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' or 'Cancer Ward') a whiff of freedom and normality can bring out a latent instinct which will respond to it. Soviet systems (and the ebs are a copybook example) only survive by suppression and (to coin a word) 'drasticness'. Start to rethink - to question past decisions, to allow the possibility of error in the system- and you COULD release the whirlwind. I would put money on it (a lot of money) that there are hundreds if not thousands of people in the ebs who have a bad conscience (however deeply buried) about brethren history since the accession of King James the Second in 1960. And something (however embryonic) could well be starting to happen to those people. Despotism depends on 'never admitting error'.
What I'm really saying is that if Bruce Hales Jr is really freeing up ebism and allowing the idea of reassessment, I doubt if he or anybody will be able to hold it together. So the next 12 months or so could be extremely interesting for ebologists. It doesn't much matter WHY (and it could be very devious) Hales initiated this. (Gorbachev started his process mainly because the USSR was going bankrupt.) The fact that some kind of loosening and reassessment is now possible is enough to begin an avalanche. It may not happen. It may be a relatively small one. But my instinct is that it could be big.
Love to all Roger