a.k.a. The Brotherhood, Garbage Eaters, etc.
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, and The Brethren. Counter
cult groups, disaffected parents of Brethren, 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
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 the Anabaptist faith group in Europe.
The Brethren 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
although that is not a term used within the group.
The group is a nomadic religious movement. They travel around North America
in 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, living a life of 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 over 100 members,
organized into a number of small groups -- each under the
authority of a long-term member.
||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." 9 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:
|| Matthew 19:21-24: "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go
sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have
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
Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man
hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich
man to enter into the kingdom of God."
||Matthew 19:27-29: "Then answered Peter and said unto him,
have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
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
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."
||Luke 14:33: "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that
all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
||Luke 18:22-25: "Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto
Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute
unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come,
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
man to enter into the kingdom of God."
||Luke 18:28-30: "Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and
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."
quotations from the KJV)
||Like the early Christian movements, they have no concept of the
||They believe that living a holy life and abstaining from sin are major
prerequisites for salvation. |
||In common with many other religiously conservative groups, they
teach that their ideas provide the only way to salvation.|
||Holding down a regular job or pursuing a career is seen as a definite
their main task of seeking God's
kingdom and righteousness.|
||They 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.|
||They refer to God as Yahveh, Yeshua and Elohiym.|
||They believe that divorce and remarriage constitutes adultery.|
||They regard homosexual behavior as intrinsically immoral, sinful and perverse.|
||They live communally and nomadically, moving from city to city.|
||They place many demands on their followers:|
||They must accept a life of poverty and simplicity.
||They are expected to energetically proselytize and recruit new
||They do not engage in worldly activities: watch TV, read
newspapers, go to movies.
||The 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. |
carry backpacks, and ride bicycles.|
||Men grow beards and have short hair; the women let their hear grow
long and do not wear jewelry.|
||They do not focus their evangelical effort on a specific group. 9
However they find that they do speak mainly with youths and young
adults (18-24), college or university students,
or pop culture people.|
||New members initially retain their financial assets when they join the
group. They gradually distribute them to the group as needed. They 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.|
||Generally, 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 outstanding circumstances.|
||Some members take a Hebrew or Greek name when they join.|
||Members with less seniority in the group give deference to more
||Women are not allowed to be in a position of authority or to teach.|
||Members 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.|
||Men 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.|
||Their food is often obtained as
discards from bakeries and restaurants, or packaged foods older than
their expiry date, from grocery stores and supermarkets. |
||They are non-violent; they do not believe in carrying or using
or any form of physical violence.|
||They do not date. They abstain from sexual activity
outside of marriage. All members are single and celibate, with the exception of one
||Following the writings of St. Paul, (1 Corinthians 6:1-7) they do
initiate lawsuits against people who have harmed them. They attempt
settle disputes by negotiation. This makes them vulnerable to harassment and kidnapping.|
||They do not use drugs, Alcohol is consumed not at all, or rarely and then in moderation.|
||They feel that they must maintain secrecy concerning their exact whereabouts in order to
avoid being kidnapped by members of their family, or by deprogrammers.
On rare occasions, kidnappers have allegedly pepper sprayed, forcibly confined and handcuffed members. They have been
across state lines against their will, and subjected to abusive and criminal deprogramming
by counter-cult or anti-cult
Separating from friends and family:
Members generally minimize direct contact with persons outside the group, except
when proselytizing, or negotiating for food or accommodation. This separation from outsiders is not
of paramount importance to the Brethren. However, it is critical to many of their friends and family.
Sources disagree about the frequency of letter writing by members. Some parents claim that
they had received only two letters: a brief letter shortly after their adult child joined the group;
a second letter a few weeks later which stated that there would be no more contacts in the future.
After that, there was only silence. However, some group members claim that they frequently send brief
notes to parents and friends to confirm that they are OK. They often stop sending letters if parents
pressure them to leave the group.
Members believe that they are following the instructions of Jesus by
avoiding any close association with those
outside the Brethren. They regard direct contact with their family of origin to be particularly disruptive. This policy is
supported by a number of gospel passages in which Jesus told his
||Separate totally from their families of origin.
||Dedicate their life totally to following him.
||Anticipate persecution and hatred from their families and friends.
Some the "anti-family" passages in the New Testament attributed to Jesus are:
||Matthew 10:34-37: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I
not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance
against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the
daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be
they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me
is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is
not worthy of me."
||Matthew 12:46-50: "While he yet talked to the people, behold, his
mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then
one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without,
desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that
told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched
forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my
brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in
heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."
||Luke 9:59-62: "And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said,
suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the
dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And
another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid
them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him,
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for
the kingdom of God."
||Luke, 14:26: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and
mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his
own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
||Luke 21:16-17: "And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and
brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends; and some of you shall they cause
to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's
sake." (all quotations from the KJV)
Many of the estranged parents and friends of the Brethren are justifiably
distressed, for two reasons:
||Most of the members were above average in intelligence and had been
attending university when they joined the group. Their parents
probably had high expectations that their sons and daughters would
become financially and socially successful later in life.
||Some parents must live with the minimal or no contact, with their
loved ones -- some not even knowing if they are still alive. 6
"The Roberts Parents Group" has posted a series of letters on their web site, addressed to their adult children. They talk of the
incredible sadness, anger, and frustration caused by losing contact
with their adult child. 7
We believe that the Brethren only accept adults as members -- not
children or adults with children. This has allegedly led to some adults
leaving their spouses and children and severing all contact with their
spouses and/or children in order to join the group . A literal
interpretation of some of the above passages from the Bible might be used to
justify such actions. However, it would be considered illegal in some
jurisdictions and immoral according to many moral and ethical systems.
The group has been targeted by:
||The Anti-Cult Movement, who claim that the members are victims of
deceptive recruiting practices and mind-control manipulation
administered by their leaders. Members are described as wandering
around dazed, in a trance for years, while being physically isolated
from all contact outside the group, and being manipulated and exploited by the leaders.
This is a common charge against new religious groups. Academic researchers
have found little or no evidence that it is true.
||The Counter-Cult Movement, who accuse the group of
being a heretical "cult" -- deviating from
traditional Christian beliefs.
They give the same designation to Mormon church, Jehovah's
Witnesses and many other established faith groups.
||Former members, who have become estranged from the group. This is a
common response of ex-members of high demand religious groups. When an
individual finds that their continued membership is no a longer
positive experience, they leave. Some are angry at at what
they view as wasted time and effort while they were in the group.
||The estranged parents and friends of current members.
Jim Guerra was one follower of the group. He joined them during his sophomore
year at Harvard University, and has since left. He wrote a book "From Dean's
List to Dumpsters"
The group has been the subject of a number of unsympathetic programs
on network television. They have been featured in negative articles in
Newsweek and in local newspapers in the areas where they visit. 8,10
Much misinformation is spread about the group. In reality:
||They do not regard themselves as disciples of Jim Roberts.
||They do not believe that Roberts is Christ, or an incarnation of
Christ, or in any way divine.
||They do not stress apocalyptic beliefs - an obsession with end of the
world scenarios. In common with all other conservative Christian groups, they do
believe that Jesus Christ will be returning to the earth soon; but they do
not prophecy dates nor do they stockpile survival foods.
||They do not demonize people outside of the Brethren.
||They do not promote group or individual suicide.
||They do not condemn marriage.
Only rarely are members of The Brethren interviewed in the media. 11
Almost all reports are based on parents' accounts and those of the anti or
||2000-JUN: According to the ReligionToday news service at
Crosswalk.com, ABC News reported on The Brethren. The quoted a
"cult expert" as saying that new members are taken
into hiding in a different part of the country in order to be isolated
from their former lives.
||2001-SEP-06: Michael Robeson wrote a positive and thoughtful
article in Collegian.com about his encounter with Jerry Williams, the
local leader of The Bretheren in Fort Collins, CO. 13
The Brethren is a secretive group of very dedicated believers about which little is known. Many of the factors found in destructive
cults are missing in this group. We would
identify them as a high-demand but benign Christian group. Membership requires almost total
personal commitment. They are attempting to
live a simple life, free of encumbrances, avoiding sin and seeking after
righteousness. They feel that the route to a close relationship with God is to
simulate the experiences of
Jesus' original disciples.
However, in their drive to live a life as
Jesus commanded -- forsaking all possessions and separating themselves
from their family -- they generate immense amounts of grief and anger in many of
their families of origin. As the ABC News program stated, parents can't
understand what made their children change so suddenly, and don't know if
they will ever see them again. Much of this pain could be alleviated if
The Brethren would establish a simple, periodic, one-way Email link to
members' parents that would keep families informed of the health and
status (but not the location) of their children. In their drive to follow
Jesus' commands to abandon their families and live a life of poverty, they
are ignoring other commands by Jesus: to perform acts of kindness towards
people who are suffering -- presumably including their parents. The
sponsors of this web site, the OCRT, would be pleased to provide such a
link at no charge. Unfortunately, our offer was never taken up
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Emmy Kondo, "Inside a Secretive and Controversial Religious Cult: The
Clandestine Brotherhood," ABC News, PrimeTime Live, 1998-MAR-25. See:
"Parents seek son lost to religious group," Denver Post,
"Religious group, skeptics differ on path," Denver Post,
J. Gordon Melton, "Encyclopedia of American Religions," 5th
James Lewis, Ed., "Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects and New Religions,"
Prometheus Press, (1998), Page 85.
Larry & Judy Wilcox, "The Brotherhood Stole
our Son," at: http://www.dldewey.com/ (Site
is no longer active)
"The Roberts Parents Group" is a group of parents of members of
Brethren who have lost contact with their adult members. They maintain
a list of letters to their children at: http://bigfoot.com/~trgpn
Email address is: [email protected]
"A Chronicle of Religious Persecution in America" is a story by a
member of the group, describing how he had been harassed by a stalker.
Coleman Cornelius, "Religious group, skeptics differ on path," Denver
Post, 1998-AUG-27, Denver, CO, at: www.denverpost.com/
"Held captive by a cult: Cleveland man intent on reclaiming his
daughter," NewsNet 5 has written a story from the parent's
perspective about desperate parents kidnapping their 18 year-old daughter
from the Brethren. See: www.newsnet5.com/
Coleman Cornelius, "Member: Life joyless before joining."
This is an interview of Patrick Rooney who was kidnapped out of the group.
Jim Guerra, "From Dean's List to Dumpsters: Why I left Harvard to
Join a Cult," Dorrance Publ. Co., (2000).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. A
review of this book was published by the Roberts Group Parents Network
Michael Robeson, "Time spent with the Brethren brings self-reflection
and many questions," 2001-SEP-06, at:
Copyright © 1999 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2006-MAR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson