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

Part 2

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This article is a continued below from Part 1

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Group history:

The faith group was founded in 1971 by Jimmy T. Roberts, (1939-2015), a former sergeant in the Marines. Members considered Roberts to be "The Elder." He is also referred to as Brother Evangelist. Outsiders sometimes called 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 goals.

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Separating from friends and family:

Members generally minimize direct contact with all persons outside the group, except when proselytizing, or negotiating for food or accommodation. This separation from outsiders is critical to many of the members' 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 disciples to:

bullet Separate totally from their families of origin.

bullet Dedicate their life totally to following him. 

bullet Anticipate persecution and hatred from their families and friends.

Some the "anti-family" passages in the New Testament attributed to Jesus are:
bullet 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."

bullet 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."  

bullet Luke 9:59-62: "And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, 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."
 
bullet 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."
 
bullet 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 King James Version of the Bible.
 
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 graduate and become financially and socially successful later in life.

  • Some parents live with the minimal or no contact, with their loved ones -- some not even knowing if they are still alive. 1

"The Roberts Group Parents Network" is composed of parents of members of the Roberts Group whose mission is to:

"Release the members from the control of the Roberts Group and establish two-way communication and an open and loving relationship between members and their families."

That network 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. 2  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 if young children are involved and immoral according to many moral and ethical systems and faith groups.

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Misinformation about the group: 

The group has been targeted by many who are:  

bullet In 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, high-demand religious groups. Academic researchers have found little or no evidence that it is true.

bullet In the Counter-Cult Movement, who accuse the group of being a heretical "cult" -- deviating from traditional Christian beliefs.  They give the same designation to The Churchof Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS/Mormon church), Jehovah's Witnesses, and many other established faith groups.

bullet Former members, who have become estranged from the group. This is a common response of ex-members of high demand religious groups. When, after a few years, 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.
 
bullet Estranged parents and friends of current members with whom contact has been severed. 

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" 11

The group has been the subject of a number of unsympathetic programs on radio stations and network television. They have been featured in negative articles in Newsweek and in local newspapers in the various areas where they visit. 4,5 Much misinformation is spread about the group.

In reality:

bullet They do not regard themselves as disciples of Jim Roberts.

bullet They do not believe that Roberts is Christ, or an incarnation of Christ, or in any way divine.

bullet They do not stress apocalyptic beliefs -- an obsession with end of the world scenarios. In common with many other conservative Christian groups, they do believe that Jesus Christ will be returning to the earth in the near future. However, they do not predict dates nor do they stockpile survival foods.

bullet They do not demonize people outside of the Brethren.

bullet They do not promote group or individual suicide.

bullet They do not condemn marriage.

Only rarely are members of The Brethren interviewed in the media. 6 Almost all reports are based on parents' accounts and those of the anti or counter-cult movements. 

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Information on the group: 1997 to now:

  • 1997-NOV: The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper published an article about the group by Phillip Lavelle and Sandi Dolbee, titled: "Across America, a nomadic band quietly recruits brothers and sisters for the 'true' church." 7 The article indicated that there were about "... 10 "cells" of Brothers and Sisters, each typically containing 10 or fewer members, scattered in moving "camps" across the United States, with occasional forays into Canada and Mexico."

  • 2000-JUN: According to the ReligionToday news service at Crosswalk.com, ABC News reported on The Brethren. They quoted a "cult expert" as saying that new members are taken into hiding in a different part of the country, in order to isolate them 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. 8

  • video cover2011-APR: Evangeline Griego directed and produced a video titled: "God Willing: What would you do if faith took your child away." Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com. She also wrote an article on Huffington Post about her experiences making her video. See: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/

  • 2015-DEC: The founder, Jim Roberts (1939-2015), died on DEC-06 in Denver, CO, aged 76, of cancer. Jerry Williams, a.k.a. Brother Hatsair, took over the leadership of the group. 9

  • 2016-DEC-18: Ubah Bulale presented a podcast called: "Exploring the Cult of Garbage Eaters." See: https://www.btrtoday.com
  • 2017-MAR-07: A New Zealand newspaper, the Sunday Times, published an article on the group. See: https://culteducation.com

  • 2018-MAR: A discussion in Reddit mentioned that:

    "The Brethren Membership is strongly concentrated in three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, but also exist in states including Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Arizona, California & Kansas." 12

  • 2018-JUN-26: Radio Public produced a podcast called "The Cult of the Garbage Eaters." See: https://radiopublic.com

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Author's comments:

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, they forsake all possessions and separate themselves from their families of origin. They generate immense amounts of grief and anger in most of their families. As the ABC News program stated, 3 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, offered to provide such a link at no charge. Unfortunately, our offer was never taken up

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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. Larry & Judy Wilcox, "The Brotherhood Stole our Son," at: http://www.dldewey.com/ (Site is no longer active)
  2. "The Roberts Parents Group" is a group of parents of members of the Brethren who have lost contact with their adult members. They maintain a list of letters to their children at: http://bigfoot.com/  Their Email address is: [email protected] 
  3. 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/  
  4. "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. See: http://members.tripod.com/
  5. "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/
  6. Coleman Cornelius, "Member: Life joyless before joining." This is an interview of Patrick Rooney who was kidnapped out of the group. See: http://www.rickross.com/
  7. Phillip J. Lavelle and Sandi Dolbee, "Across America, a nomadic band quietly recruits brothers and sisters for the "true" church," Seattle Union-Tribune, 1997-NOV-10, at: https://culteducation.com/
  8. Michael Robeson, "Time spent with the Brethren brings self-reflection and many questions," 2001-SEP-06, at: http://www.collegian.com/
  9. "The Brethren (Jim Roberts group)," Wikipedia, as on 2019-JAN-08, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  10. "Looking to visit a cult," Reddit, 2018, at: https://www.reddit.com/

  11. book cover Jim Guerra, "From Dean's List to Dumpsters: Why I left Harvard to Join a Cult," Dorrance Publ. Co., (2000). Read 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 at: http://members.tripod.com/ We have searched for a sharper image of the book cover but was unable to find one.
  12. See the posting by "yoyo2749" at: https://www.reddit.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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