Friday 27 December 2013

Breakdown of Survey Results

Forty people responded to it.  Of course if you want to be heard, or to add to my understanding of the phenomenon of people apparently leaving traditional Plymouth Brethren thinking in droves, feel free to answer it yourself. Here's what the respondents said:

1: To what degree have you stepped away from the Brethren life?
(Not a single person who hadn't walked away at least a bit answered this survey, obviously.) 
15 said they took some of what they'd learned there, but went to a different church.  
9 said they went through a tough time of re-evaluating everything and have a very different outlook now.  
7 said they retained their Christian beliefs but do not attend church anymore.
6 said they do not believe in God anymore.
2 said they changed their views only slightly.

For people choosing to comment in their own words, here are some of the things they wrote:
  • I walked away from the trappings, the form and formality, but still believe in the basic principles for the most part, just don't see how it can be practically practiced. I do not go to any church but retain Christian beliefs, and long for a place to worship and fellowship where I could feel I was truly worshiping and honoring the Lord with fellow believers. I get too tired of religiosity though, so haven't yet found that place.
  • 99.9% healed by God's Mercy and Love, committed follower of Jesus Christ, no 'denominational' affiliation
  • left but could not live without wife/family so back but it's not nice. (from an Exclusive Brethren man who can't see his relatives, so long as he stays 'out')
  • .....would I actually leave on my own? Don't know.....but I don't believe a lot of old school brethren stuff anymore.

2. Do you have a clear memory of a specific time when you feel you got saved?
18 said yes, with clear memories of it.
5 said yes, but not in childhood.
6 said they had vague memories only.
4 said "not really"
5 said just "no"
in their own words:
  • Over an over again. Afraid of hell. Not sure I "did it right."
  • I was very troubled about if I was actually saved or not until I was a teenager. I certainly had " asked Jesus into my heart"... But did I mean it? Was I sure he existed? In my teens, I finally felt peace.
  • vague memories at a very young age - then a clear specific time not in childhood when with that understanding I accepted what Christ had done for me
  • I remember consciously telling God that if I wasn't saved already, I would like to be...after a gospel given by Pilkington in our home assembly. I was 11.

3. Did your family enforce a Brethren lifestyle fairly firmly? (with abstinences such as movies, television, Christmas, alcohol, swearing or anything of that kind?) 
31 said "Yes.  Very much."
3 said "Yes, somewhat"
2 said "To some degree"
4 said "Not very much"
No one said "no." No one answered in their own words.

4.What kinds of things, if anything, were you once absolutely certain of, but now are not so dogmatic about?
This was only in your own words.  As it required writing/thinking/was personal, five people skipped this question, and a number of people bailed on the survey entirely at this point. The others said things like:
  • That there is "one place" where those who love Him "are gathered" and he is "in the midst" and nowhere else is He in the midst. AND that if I, as a woman, am "submissive" to my husband, God will make everything turn out "right" - even if my husband is in error. And while I'm there, I no longer believe that God is hung up on submission as the touchstone of a woman's godliness.
  • [no] Christmas, Worship, Dress/Clothing
  • That 'we' are right, everybody else is wrong. The MOG is sinless - rubbish  (the MOG is Exclusive Brethren talk for "Man of God" which means the world-wide ruler of the Taylor-Hale Exclusive Brethren, Bruce Hale, who teaches that he is sinless)
  • I left at a fairly young age, and saw people that I thought I had faith in crumbling around me even younger still. So I'm not sure I was certain of anything - I had a lot of doubts at a very young age. The more I explored, the more I was sure that I could not be sure of anything except who God is. Which, incidentally, turned out to be a very different thing that I had been taught."
  • Where the presence of the Lord is.
  • Submission to elders. Scriptural basis for church Govt. & Order. Separation from other denominations. Faithfulness to attendance of meetings.
  • [no] Christmas, [no] alcohol, separation from others
  • The "one place" doctrine and the narrow fellowship I was raised in. I am flexible "dispensationalist." 
  • Truth of the one body
  • Everything.
  • hats for women in church, skirts, solemnness
  • 1. Once saved always saved. 2. even tho I was saved, I was a bad person for letting the "old man" surface. 3. The brethren was the only true place that Jesus could show up and feel clean on Sunday Mornings. 4. That I could "give" my heart to Jesus. 5. Jesus has to love me...God too. 6. To marry outside of the assembly was lowering myself. 7. Music incites lust. 8. I am better than everyone else. 9. Other churches have demons.
  • By faith ye are saved.... taken to a meaningless extreme
  • That there is only one table and it is ONLY at a specific group of assemblies.
  •  The one place myth.
  • That everyone else was wrong but us. Now I don't care what anyone else does.
  • "one place", holiness defined but what i abstained from, sex before marriage being the worst possible sin, women not to speak in church.
  • One place. The way discipline is carried out. No music,etc.
  • The Lord exclusively in the midst.
  • Pretty much everything! The only thing I am certain about anymore is that water boils at 100 F but only at sea level!!
  • I used to think that people needed to be right about everything. And always needed to be corrected if wrong. Now i tend to just let some things slide
  • [not] Celebrating Christmas

5. What, if anything, do you feel was harmful or bad about your Brethren experience? Was this what made you step away from the Brethren way of thinking and living, or was it something else? 
This was also 'in your own words,' and three people skipped it:
  •  The grooming into a lifestyle of manipulation, obedience to all males, hypocrisy over living in freedom vs religion etc, my mother left and took all six children with her, after which we all underwent individual journeys into Truth 
  • Judging others! Feeling condemned, rather than feeling convicted! Pretending I was a "happy Christian", when in reality, I felt miserable, because of being forced into a stereotypical box! Pretension is what made me leave!  
  • Female oppression and physical and psychological abuse... It definitely made me question god and move away from organized religion. 
  • The most harmful aspect of my Brethren experience was the mandate that critical inquiry, especially regarding spiritual/religious things, was not tolerated.  
  • immense pressure to conform and bolster whoever takes the lead - deadens your conscience 
  • I think the biggest change for me, as above, was discovering God. Discovering a God who loved unconditionally, and realizing that the same unlimited grace that provided salvation is the very thing that allows us to give grace to each other as part of the body of Christ, the body that is in God's eyes one entity, although fragmented and divided here. Love that is not conditional on our walk with God, and a God who does not come and go dependent on our method of gathering together, I believe, is the single most damaging thing that is missing from the exclusive branch of the Brethren (remember that there are many factions of the brethren as well as the church - 'Open' brethren have issues just like any other church but this idea of the exclusivity of the presence of God is not one of them).  
  • Excessive control by "elders" - very harmful. Only partly why I left.
  • Bullying the flock collectively & personally. Domination. I could see high incidence of mental issues & could feel myself at risk if I remained. I felt my continuance was endorsing a bad system, and somewhat sustaining it. - our private lives were scrutinised & inappropriately made subject of public judgement. We saw injustice in treatment of others, and lies proffered to explain departures from fellowship, when we knew the facts to be otherwise. - it was very sick situation.
  • Treatment of others. Twas this.
  • The "pride of place" was extremely toxic. The lack if grace towards those who you disagreed with was very wrong!  
  • Too exclusive Too judgmental. They hold to a higherarchy of sins but claim they don't. They pick and choose what laws/morays/rules they want to follow. I found it hard to "drop the judgement" when I left. 
  • lack of love and forgiveness, which is central to the teachings of JESUS 
  • The fear they instilled into me as a child. if u dont do/live like this u will burn in hell etc 
  • The worst thing was it bred (and I fed heartily on it) feelings of superiority and condescencion in me...and these have proven extremely hard to shake off.  
  • Not practicing what Jesus told us to... but believing he we were more right than everyone on earth because we had "scripture" down more accurately than everyone... when really we built everything with and on Pauls doctrine... even though we should have built Upon jesus' words 
  • We stepped away when we realized how much pride it takes to think the Lord's table can only be located with a specific group and that the Lord needs our help to protect it.  
  • I stepped away cuz i knew it wasn't honest to stay. 
  • It taught us that there were certain doctrines you just weren't supposed to question or doubt, because if you didn't believe them you were a heretic. It's very difficult to have a healthy religious faith (which is inherently uncertain in nature) when you've been raised like this. Yes, this was the main reason I left the Brethren, and the whole evangelical Christian movement.  
  • Excluding other Christians. 
  • It was the unnecessary separation from anything outside of the Brethren.  
  • Overall lack of anything positive and loving. Everything seemed to be about following outdated rules. 
  • The lies and half-truths that were taught to me about other non-Brethren Christians  
  • Idealism and complete disconnect from reality, secondly massive misinterpretation of the bible as written. The bible is fiction anyway but I can also read what it says and see how it differs from brethren practice 
  • taught hypocrisy, taught exclusivity and superiority were good and right, taught not to question, to judge, to stay away from all non christians in every way except day/day biz or evangelizing, not allowed to feel i belonged anywhere except in the brethren circle (true body of christ not important).  
  • lack of real friendships
  • unrepentant lying
  • Pretty much all of it, but perhaps mainly that I was not allowed to be myself and was not encouraged to be myself. Love was conditional - a child does not thrive in such an environment. 
  • We never learned how to get close to anyone. Or how to truly feel love for anyone  
  • The narrowness.
  • Let me count the ways.... Not to sound too bitter. The totalitarian power and control that the distilled human ideology of "brethren-ism" gave to the select few who lived up to the lofty [brethren] image of godliness, giving them "moral weight" to exert undue and even ungodly influence, as those more honest and less proud cowered and believed, to some degree, that God Himself was finding them wanting, and expecting them to "submit' to the "elders" and the "shepherds of their souls" or else be even more unworthy. And the sexual abuse that was denied until glaring, then dealt with by "putting away" rather than prosecution by "worldly" laws and courts, leaving the perpetrators free to prey upon the unsuspecting, and justice waiting for a heavenly court. Those are extremes and I know not every group was guilty of either one, but I was in a couple that were. What was the final straw for me was the arrogance (I didn't see it that way until after I left, but the attitude I came to identify as arrogance) of believing that the Lord is only in the midst of an extremely select group of believers who have been hyper-educated as to New Testament Church ideology and live up to a certain standard and don't take a name, etc. After reading the book "They Searched for a City" I started the slow wake-up to the realization that God Himself led some believers to - gasp - sects!  

6. Did your association with the Brethren connect you to other, nonBrethren Christians? 
19 said "Not at all."
11 said "Not really"
8 said "Sometimes"
2 said "Yes." 
One commented:
  • Never. I was constantly surprised when I met a "christian" outside of the assembly - and did everything I could to convert them to my way of believing. I knew my husband 30 years ago and could not EVER consider him for marriage because altho he professed Christianity, he was not in the assembly and therefore a pagan. Thank you, God, for moving me past that stupidity!

7. Did your assembly appear to be mainly run by one person or family or school of thought, or was there room for healthy disagreement? 
22 said it ran according to one view of things with little room for disagreement
7 said there was some room for healthy disagreement
3 said everyone (male) got to speak up and have their ideas heard
7 said it changed over time and got more narrow
1 said it changed to get more open over time
  • there were core groups of families...I was never privy to how it really worked.  

8. Were you at any time aware of sexual or financial impropriety going on in your assembly or those nearby?
Two people skipped this one.
19 said "No."
9 said they had first-hand experience of it
8 said they had second-hand experience of it.
3 said there were rumours which never got proven
  • As an adult I found out about sexual molestation in the assembly I grew up in as a child. 
  • I didn't hear of that until long after I was gone.  
  • This is an interesting one. There were a few examples over the years, these were more one offs. A man cheating on his wife with someone not in the meeting or those not married having sex.

9. Assuming a belief in God, do you now feel that God moved you into or out of the Brethren system at any point in your life?
5 people skipped this one.
22 said "Yes.  Very much."
6 said "Maybe"
1 said  "Not really"
6 said "Not at all."

  • we moved from exclusive brethren to open brethren. We feel that the Lord lead us in this move. 
  • No, I feel he left that up to me and supports me where ever I go.  
  • Absolutely - God put people in my life for a reason and many of those in my life are due to my brethren roots - my family was shaped (good and bad) by the brethren...However God also provided a way out when the time was right...and I am forever grateful for that. 
  • I feel like God allowed me to go away from him to learn some hard lessons...He still does. 
  • I believe he allowed me to be born into it. Beyond that......I don't know. 

10. Did the teaching you experienced go very far beyond simply validating Brethren methods of doing things, thinking and feeling?
3 people skipped this one.
15 said "Not much, no"
12 said "Somewhat"
9 said "Yes. Definitely"
1 said "I don't remember what they taught"
  • I believe that the teaching I was exposed to, for the most part, represented personal opinions and interpretations that suited personal beliefs.  
  • What I heard and what I learned from the Brethren writings were often two different things especially in regard to interacting with other believers and the history of divisions. 
  • I learned to study the bible, and memorize, and have a deep faith in God and community from the brethren and my family - That is something I am very thankful for.  
  • It is always to bolster the MOG and his ideas 
  • In some ways I am more well-taught than most preachers I know who have gone through seminary. But there is a definite lack in some areas, probably owing to the fact that so much teaching was geared toward validating Brethren methods. I feel that Brethren tend to be educated and intellectual, and attract those likeminded. So there is a lot of knowledge, but not as much "heart" - teaching on love is very lacking, grace is an abstract, and mercy is something Jesus showed on the cross that we should be humbly thankful for, but nobody knows how to play it forward. 

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