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The Brethren
a.k.a. The Brotherhood, Garbage Eaters, etc.

Part 1 of two parts

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Group Name:

This Christian faith group actually has no formal name.  Members refer it as a church, spiritual community, or assembly. It has been called The Brotherhood, Brothers and Sisters, The Roberts Group, The Brethren, and the Body of Christ. Counter cult groups, disaffected parents of Brethren members, and others frequently call them by the derogatory term "Garbage Eaters." This name apparently is derived from their practice of searching through supermarket dumpsters for over-ripe produce and food that is beyond their recommended expiry date. 

They have no connection to the much larger group, The Church of the Brethren, which first appeared in the U.S. in 1723 CE, and traces its roots back to an Anabaptist faith group in Europe.

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Group History:

The faith group was founded in 1971 by Jimmy T. Roberts, a former sergeant in the Marines. Members consider Roberts to be "The Elder." He is also referred to as Brother Evangelist. Outsiders sometimes call him The Prophet, although that is not a term used within the group.

The group is a nomadic religious movement. They travel around North America in small groups, following a simple lifestyle. They have been described as having "chosen to lead a nomadic, Spartan existence in search of spiritual salvation." 1 The term "Spartan" seems a bit extreme. They lead a simple but comfortable life --they have enough food to eat and clothes to wear. They do not consider themselves as ascetics -- as living a life of extreme poverty and suffering in order to gain spiritual gifts.

They generally remain in the United States, although they have made occasional trips into Canada and Mexico. By the middle of the year 2000, they had slightly more than 100 members, organized into a number of small groups -- each under the authority of a long-term male member.

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Beliefs:

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They "forsake all" and live as itinerate followers of Christ, much as the original disciples did in the 1st century. Jerry Williams, a group member, explained:

"Our main message is we're trying to live as Christ and the early disciples did. We require what the Messiah required -- it has to do with forsaking worldly possessions and living for God every day." 2 They accept the Jesus' instructions to give away most of their possessions and to live a life of simplicity, as recorded in a number of gospel passages, including: 

bullet Matthew 19:21-24: "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

bullet Matthew 19:27-29: "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."

bullet Luke 14:33:  "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

bullet Luke 18:22-25: "Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

bullet Luke 18:28-30: "Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."  (all quotations from the KJV)
bulletLike the early Christian movement, they have no concept of the Trinity.

bulletThey believe that living a holy life and abstaining from sin are major prerequisites for salvation.

bulletIn common with many other religiously conservative groups, they teach that their ideas provide the only way to salvation.

bulletHolding down a regular job or pursuing a career is seen as a definite hindrance to their main task of seeking God's kingdom and righteousness.

bulletThey regard the King James Version of the Bible as the only English translation that is sufficiently accurate to be authoritative. Translations exist in other languages which are on a par with the KJV. Many members read the Hebrew Tanach extensively.

bulletThey refer to God as Yahveh, Yeshua and Elohiym.

bulletLike many other Christian faith groups, they regard their group as having the "fullness of truth" and believe that all other Christian denominations and faith groups are in error.

bulletThey anticipate the end of the world as we know it and the return of Jesus to Earth in the near future.

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Practices:

bulletThey live communally and nomadically, moving from city to city.

bulletThey place many demands on their followers:
bullet They must accept a life of poverty and simplicity.

bullet They are expected to energetically proselytize and recruit new members.

bullet They do not engage in worldly activities: watch TV, read newspapers, go to movies, or seek medical support when sick.
bulletThe men often wear a simple brown hooded tunic that reaches down to the bottom of their knees. They are of no set color or design. Some have sleeves, some are worn over common button-down long sleeve shirts.  Some have hoods, some don't. Women wear a  dress or jumper of similar design.
 
bulletThey often carry backpacks and ride bicycles.

bulletMen grow beards and have short hair; the women let their hear grow long and do not wear jewelry.

bulletThey do not focus their evangelical effort on a specific group. 2 However they find that they do speak mainly with youths and young adults (18-24), college or university students, counter-culture, and pop culture individuals.

bulletNew members initially retain their financial assets when they join the group. They gradually distribute them to the group as needed. They usually dispose of most of their possessions before joining. In one case where a new member had substantial savings, most of it was left untouched in the bank. The group did not want to be accused of seizing the new member's inheritance.

bulletGenerally, only adults are allowed to join the group. Exceptions are made in those cases where parents and their minor children join together, or under other unusual circumstances.

bulletSome members take a Hebrew or Greek name when they join.

bulletMembers with less seniority in the group give deference to more experienced members.

bulletWomen are not allowed to be in a position of authority or to teach.

bulletMembers frequently live in homes or other buildings in exchange for watching the property. Sometimes they camp out, or live in a vacant building, with the permission of the owner.

bulletMen spend most of their time in study, meditation, and witnessing to those outside the group. They also engage in physical work, like gathering food, repairing and selling bicycles, working at odd-jobs, etc.

bulletTheir food is often obtained as discards from bakeries and restaurants, or packaged foods older than their expiry date, from grocery stores and supermarkets.
 
bulletThey are non-violent; they do not believe in carrying or using weapons, or any form of physical violence.

bulletThey do not date. They abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage. All members have been single and celibate, with the exception of one married couple.

bulletFollowing the writings of St. Paul, (1 Corinthians 6:1-7) they do not initiate lawsuits against people who have harmed them. They attempt to settle disputes by negotiation. This makes them vulnerable to harassment and kidnapping.

bulletThey do not use drugs, Alcohol is consumed either not at all, or rarely, in moderation.

bulletThey feel that they must maintain secrecy concerning their exact whereabouts in order to avoid being kidnapped by members of their families, or by religious deprogrammers. On rare occasions, kidnappers have allegedly pepper sprayed, forcibly confined and handcuffed members. They have sometimes been taken across state lines against their will, and subjected to abusive and criminal deprogramming by counter-cult or anti-cult groups. 

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This article continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Emmy Kondo, "Inside a Secretive and Controversial Religious Cult: The Clandestine Brotherhood," ABC News, PrimeTime Live, 1998-MAR-25. See: http://more.abcnews.go.com/  
  2. Coleman Cornelius, "Religious group, skeptics differ on path," Denver Post, 1998-AUG-27, Denver, CO, at: www.denverpost.com/  

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Copyright 1999 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2019-MAR-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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