The Rise and Fall of the Jesus Christians.
By Ross, written in 2013.
There comes a time when silence is consent.
In November of 2010 I was abruptly excommunicated from The Jesus Christians by its founder, Dave McKay for a small disagreement.
After almost 30 years of service in that community and 3 years of public silence and contemplation on the matter, I have decided to speak publicly about my personal experiences in the Jesus Christians. No human organization is perfect and neither is Dave McKay. Neither am I for that matter. However, I am committed to writing a truthful and honest account of my experiences living in a Christian community. I am neither attempting to demonize Dave, as anti cult or angry ex members have done, nor am I going to minimize Dave's faults. Seeing as Dave intentionally exalted himself as leader of the community he must accept much of the blame for its failures as an example of Gods love to a broken world. Dave is a brilliant man in some ways and deeply flawed in others.
I have tried my best as a Christian brother who genuinely loves Dave to show him privately his faults. Dave has made it impossible to do so from within the organization. He has cleverly subverted the rules so they operate in his favor, and he has forbidden that members should communicate with me. Dave has refused any avenue of addressing the problem. The only option available to me is to go public with my concerns. I do not have any illusions that this will change the negative culture increasing within the movement. All I can do by this letter is to warn others, who may consider joining, what you are in for if you get involved with Dave or any proxy community acting in secret with him as the leader over it. You will learn many good things, many good ideals and truths, but you have been warned of the hidden dangers to your spiritual and emotional well being.
Dave is clever. It has taken an average person like myself 30 years to understand who he is and what motivates him.
I first met Dave McKay and his family in 1981. I was 21. I was idealistic and I wanted to live in a christian community the way the early Christians did in the book of Acts chapters 2&4. Fresh out of Uni I did not have much life experience. However I had recently got a taste of abuse of power by sociopathic religious authoritarians. I had been attending the Geelong Revival Centre, a pentecostal church that taught you must speak in tongues in order to be saved. Although that church is very kind to those on the inside, they have contempt for anyone on the outside. Not only must you speak in tongues, you must also attend the Revival Centre to be saved. This was my first experience with an exclusivist authoritarian religious regime. Ironically it was Dave McKay who helped me see through the power games going on.
As soon as I questioned the doctrines of the Geelong Revival Centre church, I found myself excommunicated by the pastor. All the church members were told not to communicate with me. I lost all my friends in one stroke and all because I was sincerely trying to understand the gospels and question where the church was not practicing it. Unless you have been shunned by religious people in this way you will have no idea how emotionally devastating it is to lose all your close friends at the dictates of one man. And this coercive practice is designed to keep people in fear to the leadership.
On top of this, my wife, whom I had married one year before in that church, did not have the moral back bone to withstand the peer group pressure being applied nor understand it. She forsook our marriage and moved out. After some time she delivered an ultimatum that I return to the church or our marriage was over. Determined not to submit to religious and emotional blackmail, I could not in good conscience return to such a hypocritical church. I realised that I had joined an authoritarian regime controlled by one man, Noel Hollins, the head pastor from Geelong. The whole church and its branches was a hierarchy with Hollins at the top. The other pastors all obeyed this man and down to the congregation below. Hollins is a clever sociopath. But I did not understand what that meant back then.
It seemed my destiny was to join with Dave McKay and his family in forming a Christian Community. At that time I remember Dave telling me clearly that if he ever told me to do anything contrary to my own conscience that I should follow my conscience and not him. I trusted him and felt assured that I could always leave if anything wrong should happen. I believed at that time he would respect my conscience and not coerce me to do things I considered unethical.
In those early days Dave was much more idealistic. He is an intelligent man and an excellent organizer. He was more a servant of the community in those days. There were many group meetings where group consensus was sought and encouraged. We all felt we had a stake and power shared more evenly just as you would expect of a true Christian community. We were involved in many positive exciting projects and as the community grew we did amazing social work for the slum dwellers in India. The 1980's were generally a very happy time for me.
Dave could have been the CEO of a corporation such is his ability. His major weakness at that time was his impatience. He would get angry and become highly critical of people. His criticisms were mostly accurate, but the manner in which they were delivered caused a lot of grief to those under him. Anyone who couldn't handle the stress of being under his close scrutiny, left, or were encouraged to leave.
Mindful of the abuse of power, Dave to his credit finally got serious about dealing with his anger. It seems the anger was a form of bullying or intimidation in order to get people to do what he wanted them to do and to silence them. Even though the anger subsided, however, it seemed that Dave was figuring out new and more subtle ways to persuade people to conform to what HE wanted more than seeking group consensus as a servant leader.
Dave and Kevin
As young people matured in the community they needed more freedom to grow and be autonomous. Dave found his control over the community threatened by the natural process of other members maturing. This dynamic mostly played out between Kevin, his son, and Dave. If Dave came up with an idea, Kevin would come up with an alternative one.
Meetings started to become ping pong matches between Kev and Dave as to who had the best idea to be implemented.
Probably the peak year of the Jesus Christians was 1997, when the largest project in India ever undertaken by the community was underway in Chennai in a slum. With over 15 members working there full time it was a marvelous experience. God blessed us and protected us. But it was also the turning point in the community's history.
In 1998 a major disagreement occurred leading to a meeting in which half the community sided with Kevin, along with another member named Craig, and the other half sided with Christine, in India. Christine had a grievance with Kevin which was not resolved, and Craig (the leader of the Australian team) had stepped in to say that Christine should back off from her criticism of Kevin and drop the matter. Dave and Cherry, who were in the United States on their own at the time, announced they were leaving the community because of the on-going tensions. Christine announced she was also leaving to join her parents, and the rest of the Indian team followed suit. The Australian team, which was now the official remaining Jesus Christian community, offered for the Indian team to keep all their assets and the division was fairly amicable at this point. (Group policy was that anyone who left the community was expected to leave with nothing.)
Within a week or so, Dave and Cherry and Roland and Sue were arriving on the same day in Sydney. A meeting was held with the Jesus Christians team there. The agreement was made to rejoin as one community, but with individual teams operating more autonomously. Dave was arguing that he ought to have the role of an "apostle", as a central authority with overall control of the small groups. Another agreement was reached in which Dave was to act as an "apostle" with some authority to correct whatever problems that might occur in the smaller teams.
However this agreement did not seem to satisfy Dave. I was in India at the time and not present to witness what went on directly. The situation was no doubt very tense. The next morning Dave decided to falsely accuse Kevin of intending to steal money from a fund reserved for charity in India. There was no evidence of any such intention. But the end result was outrage and hurt feelings. Kevin's team left in disgust when Dave would not withdraw his accusation with a lot of hurtful things being said and done by both sides. After they left he then told the remaining half of the group that Kevin and Co were back-sliders and to not speak to them except through Dave. If the reader notices that this shunning tactic was exactly the same as used by pastors of the Revival Centre pastors you would be right. But I was too confused to see it clearly that Dave was resorting to the same tactics to keep control.
Dave had now convinced us his own son was a threat. Over in India I felt nothing but grief over the situation. The manner in which they were removed seemed highly unethical. I sank into depression feeling powerless as I watched the group split in half and Dave increase his authoritarian methods to deal with problems. As long as people were not criticizing Dave's leadership, things carried on, but the spirit of love was being replaced by fear.
2000, Associate Membership
People were becoming afraid to speak up lest they receive special attention. By this time I had given up trying to argue with Dave, the stress of it was too much for me. In 2000 I decided the only course was to quietly withdraw and to become as independent as possible from Dave as I could. Knowing that I was now on anti-depressants, Dave could see it would be unwise of him to pressure me emotionally any further. I became an associate member with limited say in the community, but still supporting the basic Community ideals.
I purchased my own bus from the community and was permitted freedom to make my own decisions with little interference. I tried not to make trouble and be peaceable as my health was fragile. But I was in a position to observe the group dynamics.
In 2005 the community broke into smaller more autonomous communities as an experiment.
2008 Kenyan reunion
In 2008 Dave had surgery for cancer but was slowly recovering. The community had a reunion in Kenya. During a meeting Dave suggested the idea of re-grouping as one community again and discussed the problem of his ill health and the possible need for a new generation of leaders, suggesting a vote be made as to who should lead the overall community. Dave, Alf, Cherry, Jesse and Joe were suggested as candidates with Robin, Chris, Roland and Fran declining to be candidates due to other commitments. It was a secret ballot. A very clear majority voted for Alf and Joe with only one person voting for Dave to lead, which we know now was Sue.
Dave was noticably upset. It was as though he expected more people to vote for him. It seemed the vote had not turned out in the way he would have liked. He had suggested that Alf and Joe work as apprentice leaders with him being the advisor, and everyone had agreed to this suggestion. Unfortunately, Dave is a terrible back seat driver. He seemed incapable of advising people or allowing others to choose to freely accept or reject his "advice". It became clear that any advice he gave to the apprentices was expected to be followed, and therefore amounted to orders. These orders were delivered to them privately so as to appear as though they were in charge.
2010 Australian reunion
Over the next couple of years it appears that Dave was increasingly making more of the decisions and his apprentices were simply rubber stamping them. This was to become more obvious to me during the 2010 cruise reunion.
Even before the reunion Dave started talking up the idea of taking the community underground although the details of it were not fully discussed.
One night after the Falun Gong whipping trial, all of us were walking down a busy city street back to our vehicles. It was dark and cold and we were all tired, and some of us were walking on ahead trying to get back quickly. Dave seemed annoyed for some reason by this and and started shouting orders that people should all bunch up and walk together in earshot of him in the crowds. Seeing he officially he was NOT the leader but only an advisor, it was a clear indication that he did not consider himself to be any such thing but was instead entitled to shout orders and expect them to be followed.
Apparently, no-one else was concerned by this and bunched up and walked with Dave. Those of us who did not, because we were up ahead and did not hear the orders, were criticised for our "lack of group unity and social awareness" back at the camp.
I felt depressed by the whole thing, but along with the following events, felt powerless to stop what was happening.
Visiting from the UK was the Gianstefani family. Roland and Sue had pioneered the UK base and brought many members into the fold. They had been faithful and successful in their own right. However their presence seemed to be an opportunity for Dave to belittle them and give them a dressing down, humiliating them publicly in front of others.
As usual there is always some truth in the criticism, but the criticism turned into a campaign by Dave to have first Daniel and then all of them excluded from the cruise and expelled from the community. Attempts were made to get rid of Dann and then divide Roland and Sue's marriage and when they resisted being split up that was the end of it. They left and returned to the UK. Not much of a happy reunion for them or for me to witness. But I did not have the courage to challenge it.
Dave seemed satisfied that he had asserted his power and things settled down for a while. The cruise came and went and Dave of course was in PR mode and could not afford such a display in front of relatives. PR required that he hide his behaviors that would be considered publicly inappropriate.
The move to go underground
Two months after the cruise and after most members had left Australia, Dave called for an urgent internet discussion. The "discussion" did not last long. Dave outlined his plans for the next stage of the community which was what he had been hinting at months before. It was the plan to disappear from public view and pretend that the community had disbanded. This plan required that all members should immediately cut off association with any contacts or friends outside the group. Communication with relatives was to be a bare minimum, enough to allow them to believe there was nothing wrong or that people were not in trouble. The supposed reason for this measure was to prepare the community for the "Great Tribulation", a future time in prophecy in which an evil world government will persecute Christians. Dave was stating that this would probably be only a temporary 3 month experiment.
Not surprisingly the older more mature people involved in this discussion, Roland, Sue and I, expressed reservations about this plan. Roland and Sue were the first to object and say that they did not wish to participate. Dave simply acted unilaterally and cut them out of any further communication of any sort. It seemed that Dave was in the mood to tolerate no disagreement. Not long after I also expressed my concerns that snubbing friends and associates was a harsh and unkind thing to do to people seeing as this was supposedly only and exercise and not a real emergency. Without warning I too was immediately cut off! No further communication or explanation was given. I did not hear from Dave for many months. I was left completely on my own.
It began to dawn on me that Dave cared not a bit for anyones' feelings. He made no apologies and I am sure that the abruptness of the excommunication was to "teach us lesson" that his authority was not to be questioned or else. It served as a punishment to me and a warning to anyone else not to challenge him or else they would be cut off too. Now I could see that history had come full circle. Just as 30 years ago the Revival Centre pastor had excommunicated me, so I had been excommunicated by Dave.
When Dave finally started talking to people several months later it was no surprise that he made it clear that no one was allowed to talk to other members of the group. All communication must now go through Dave. The decision to go underground was not temporary at all, but permanent. The whole exercise was in my opinion, about Dave's control over the community and how to hide it from the public.
For many months the Jesus Christians forum carried the announcement that the Jesus Christians had disbanded.
In a chance encounter with Dave on the street about one year later, he approached me with no concern for my welfare or any regret for what he had done to me. He even tried to lie to my face that the Jesus Christians had disbanded and he was no longer in charge. Knowing this to be a complete fiction I told him so to his face. Realising he had been caught out in a deliberate lie, he removed the evidence posted on the JC website and replaced it with an article claiming that the group had "graduated" instead. This allowed a fiction to be created that people were still in touch with each other but were autonomous and not controlled by Dave. Though still a fiction and a deception designed to mislead the public, it was a lie much easier to be embellished as it suited Dave. It also left open a future option for people to reunite in some way if Dave so chose.
What became clear to me was that lying and deception were now prominent behaviors encouraged by Dave. And that he was prepared to deceive anyone and mislead them if it suited his plans. At the same time he permitted himself to deceive others he demanded total honesty to himself. The double standards and hypocrisy were increasing. By demanding that all communication only go through Dave, Dave has actually increased his power over the community by limiting or editing the information that the community members are permitted to hear.
The JC web site was purged of all controversial writings by Dave and the forum no longer was a place of open discussion. Membership of the forum was heavily controlled and only favorable comments from enquirers were posted. Anything unfavorable was deleted and critics banned.
It is clear that the community I once joined in the beginning as an open democratic entity no longer existed and had been replaced by stealth with a far more militant authoritarian power structure. It is something I can no longer agree with.
The name of the game now is not truth but propaganda, not honesty but deception. But Dave really is no worse than the mainstream media, politicians businessmen and advertisers. They are all constantly trying to deceive us and persuade us to support their agenda.
The only problem is that he does this in the name of Jesus, and tries to use the same tactics that the ungodly world uses to get people to follow his organisation, with him as its now secret head. Which is why he has to HIDE the fact that he is the head. Because his un-Christian behavior has hurt such a number of people over time, there are more and more people willing to expose and oppose him.
Dave will claim that any attempt to challenge his actions amounts to him being persecuted for his faith. But he is not being criticised for following Jesus but for his own unethical behavior and uncompassionate treatment of other people. It is because he refuses to see that his own actions are unloving that he must be marked as a person unfit to lead a Christian community.
I present this testimony as truthful as I can make it without exaggerations. Dave has not retired from leadership of the now reorganised Jesus Christians. He has instructed followers to hide his influence and keep it a secret. Instructions to the group now come through a proxy leadership who make no reference to their counsel coming from Dave directly in group correspondence. Just like the political and business world, Dave acts like a puppet master from behind the scenes. The separate teams have changed their group identities and personal names so as to give the impression they are not connected with the Jesus Christians or with Dave. Way back when we were still involved in the "discussion" to go underground, the plan was that association with Dave will be kept secret from new members and the public.
But as Jesus said, "That which you hear whispered in secret, SHOUT ye from the rooftops!". Jesus said He is the WAY and the TRUTH. Only the TRUTH can set us free. A Christian community cannot permit dishonest practises to flourish without serious consequences. This testimony is a plea for group members to return to the cornerstone, the teachings of Jesus, and to forsake the unethical teachings and hypocritical actions of Dave McKay. The true Captain of the ship is Jesus and Dave should be just another fellow sailor. There can be only one mediator between God and people, and those who deliberately try to impose themselves as higher than our own conscience should be rebuked and marked as dangerous to others' spiritual well being.
So Be it.