In Depth

Jesus Army: shocking reports of life inside Christian cult

Hundreds of ex-members of totalitarian sect seeking damages over alleged historical child sex offences

An evangelical church called the Jesus Army is facing renewed police interest as former members come forward with fresh allegations of historical sex offences and other abuse.

According to the BBC, hundreds of past recruits to the Jesus Army - also known as the Jesus Fellowship Church - are seeking damages for alleged abuse inside the Baptist sect, which was set up in the late 1960s.

An investigation by the broadcaster has found that a total of 43 people who were active in the church have been linked to reports of historic sexual and physical abuse, including rapes, bullying, brainwashing, forced labour, financial bondage and “barbaric beatings”.

Most of the claims relate to incidents in the 1980s and 1990s.

Launched by former Baptist Noel Stanton in the manse of a small chapel in Northamptonshire in 1969, the Jesus Army followed a “strict set of rules which banned toys, sugar, sweets, TV and all the trappings of a normal childhood”, according to The Sun.

One particularly “sinister creed” issued by the church - or cult, as it has been described - instructed elders to “beat Adam [sin] out of a child by the age of seven”, the newspaper reports.

At its peak, in the early 2000s, the evangelical group is believed to have had more than 2,500 members living in communes in Northamptonshire and various other areas of the country.

The sect claimed to be helping homeless and vulnerable people, who were offered the promise of “new creation” through an intense regime of work and worship. 

“All of their income was given to a common purse and everything was shared - from underwear to parenting,” says the BBC.

Members also allege the church decreed that children could be disciplined by any adult, and that many were separated from their parents by the age of 12 or 13.

In the wake of assault claims in 2013, the Jesus Army initiated what it called a disclosure exercise in which alleged  victims were encouraged to talk to the church’s “safeguarding department”, which then passed the information to the police.

Since the disclosures began, five offenders have been convicted of historic child sexual offences.

In May, as the allegations continued to mount, members voted to revoke the church’s constitution and dissolve the institution entirely.

According to Christian news site Premier, the church “blamed a badly damaged reputation, declining membership and a slowdown in giving for the closure”.

But a statement posted on the church’s website also acknowledged and apologised for what it termed “faults and failures”.

“We are deeply sorry for, and appalled by the abuse that has taken place within Jesus Fellowship Church and the New Creation Christian Community (NCCC) and offer our heartfelt sympathy and unreserved apology to all those affected,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the church has announced that a formal redress scheme is being developed “to provide money and counselling” to “those who had suffered poor treatment in the past”.

But a survivors’ group has raised concerns about the level of compensation being proposed and is now preparing a group legal action. 

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