Documentary, lawsuit accuse Jesus People USA of past abuses

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Jesus People USA — a controversial, Christian commune in Chicago — is in the news again over allegations of sexual abuse in decades past.

The Chicago Tribune says the allegations were made in a recent lawsuit, filed by 38-year-old Heather Kool, and a video documentary.

The lawsuit names the commune and the Evangelical Covenant Church, a Chicago-based denomination that has considered the Jesus People one of its congregations since 1989. Kool’s lawsuit does not identify anyone who allegedly abused her.

The legal action sets the stage for a new documentary available Friday in which Kool and a half-dozen others share their accounts of alleged abuse at the religious commune.

The documentary, “No Place To Call Home,” was made by Jaime Prater, now 37 and living in Indiana, who moved with his family to the commune when he was a toddler.

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Prater, who left the commune in 1999, initially set out to document his experiences growing up in the sect.

But as DNAInfo Chicago writes as Prater talked with more and more others who grew up at JPUSA, he discovered

that out of 188 former Jesus People members he contacted, almost a third alleged to him they were abused either by adults or teenagers at the commune. Ten were interviewed by Prater on camera and named in the film, he said, including a Minnesota woman, Sveah Johnson, who claims she was assaulted in a bathroom when she was 5.

The publication also notes

Chicago Police Department spokesman Adam Collins said this week that while there’s no allegation of recent or current cases of sexual abuse in the group, “a number of people are reporting they believe there is abuse based on past history.”

Police have not found evidence to support criminal prosecution, Collins said.

But even “if there was evidence to support the allegations that were made, the cases that have been reported cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations,” Collins added.

In 2001 the Chicago Tribune published a feature report detailing criticism that the group was overly authoritarian, secretive about its finances and was psychologically abusive.

In his book, Recovering From Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ronald Enroth devoted all of chapter 7 to Jesus People USA.

At the time, JPUSA made some preemptive strikes against the book (yes, before it was published), turning to — among others — cult apologist Anson Shupe for help.

No Place to Call Home can be downloaded starting today.
More about the civil lawsuit, scheduled for mid-April

It appears that Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), hasn’t been following a principle or two.

Recovering Grace — a website that helps people deal with the aftermath of their involvement in Gothard’s various institutes and the effects of his harmful theology — has recently been publishing stories from young women who detail the sexual harassment and emotional spiritual manipulation they have experienced.

Long story short, the IBLP board of directors has now placed Bill Gothard on administrative leave.

Christian apologetics and counter-cult ministry Midwest Christian Outreach has been highlighting the problems surrounding Gothard and his ministry for years.

As recent events show, their book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard & the Christian Life is still highly relevant.

In july 2013, actress Leah Remini turned her back on the Scientology cult after 30 years of “interrogations” and “thought modification.”

At the time she also mentioned her concerns about the Scientology’s ‘Disconnection’ policy, in which the cult forces its victims to destroy friendships and family ties — particularly with those people who question the faux-religion’s teachings and practices.

Now, in an interview with BuzzFeed, Remini says that while she does not want to be known as a “bitter, ex-Scientologist,” she does want people to know the truth.

Remini says that where there were dozens of factors that influenced her decision to leave, none were more persuasive than the fact that her 9-year-old daughter, Sofia, was getting to an age where the acclimation into the Church would soon have to start. In the process, she learned that “everything the Church taught me was a lie.”

Predictably, the interview caused the cult to go into its usual damage control mode by talking nonsense, and claiming that Remini was “on the verge of being expelled for her ethical lapses.”

As Scientology’s record of hate- and harassment activities shows, ‘ethical’ doesn’t quite mean the same thing to Scientologists as it means to those of us who are free.

Can you stand more Scientology weirdness? L. Ron Hubbard, the quack (and habitual liar) who founded the UFO cult, claimed that “Phones are psycho.”

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This post was last updated: Friday, May 9, 2014 at 3:42 PM, Central European Time (CET)