The Brethren (Jim Roberts group)
The Brethren is one of several informal names for a nameless religious movement created by Jimmie T. "Jim" Roberts. Other names include the Brothers and Sisters and the garbage eaters, after their reputation for eating food from garbage bins. The movement’s members shun material things and family, living essentially as vagrants and doing odd jobs to pay their expenses. The movement's way of life has led to accusations that it is a cult.
Jimmie T. Roberts (also known as Brother Evangelist Roberts), son of a former Pentecostal minister, created the movement around 1971, drawing together followers of the Jesus Movement across the United States. Roberts had become convinced that mainstream churches were too worldly, and wished to create a wandering discipleship patterned on the New Testament apostles. He began recruiting a core of followers in Colorado and California. At first they adopted a communal lifestyle.
Beliefs are prominently millenarian and apocalyptic, centered on the teaching that humanity is in the end times and that members must purify themselves in preparation for the end of the world. The movement directs new members to sell their possessions and break with their families as a necessary part of earning salvation. Any finances generated are distributed according to need. For instance, money might be used for material to sew clothing, traveling expenses, or cooking spices. In some cases new members' money was given to older members, but in other cases it was kept by the individual to do what they would with it.
The main scriptures used in support of "The Brethren" are;
- Luke 14:33 "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
- Matthew 19:29 "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my names's sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life."
- Acts 4:32 "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common."
- Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?"
- Mark 8:35 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."
- 2 Timothy 6:7-8 "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content."
The Brethren live as itinerants. They acquired the nickname "the Garbage Eaters" after being observed collecting discarded food from dumpsters. Although some members at times don't bathe too frequently, especially when camping out, the group has no laws or rules against bathing or using soap, shampoo, deodorant etc. Although some members refuse medical treatment, other members have accepted medical treatment or dental work. During the 1970s, members wore monk-like habits. Men wear long beards, and women dress modestly in long dresses and long hair. Women and men eat separately and new members are restricted in all contact with the opposite sex. Women and men have clearly defined roles. Immediately on joining the group women begin sewing their own clothing (May 2011). The Brethren essentially disallow marriage by single group members, maintaining that "the hour is too late." Children of couples who join the group are not allowed to play. Laughing, dancing and other forms of celebration are to be reserved for the return of Yeshua (Jesus)(May 2011). Graven images are not allowed and any image on products found are covered to protect the members from seeing them. Coloring is allowed, but not creating images and singing is a part of nightly gatherings.
The Brethren also maintain that there is no actual sacrament of the Eucharist and that the bread and wine should be understood only as a metaphor for fellowship. Members are divided into pairs (or occasionally three) and sent off to preach. The teams regather periodically for fellowship, to hear Brother Evangelist Roberts, and to be assigned new companions and their next destination. The hierarchy is minimal. Directly under Roberts are a group of Elders. Members are designated as "Older brothers" or "Middle brothers" according to time served in the group.
A highly publicized case of deprogramming in Arkansas during 1975 brought unwelcome attention to the Brethren. Beginning in the late 1970s, stories written by members, such as Rachel Martin, also began appearing. Coverage, often negative, continued to surface in the media. The group dropped out of sight around 1980.
After several police raids and arrests in the 1970s, Roberts ordered members to keep their locations secret and not to communicate with their families. The members fear being arrested or kidnapped at the request of distraught families, with instances reported as recently as 1998.
Families of members have asserted that their relatives are moved about to keep them from reestablishing familial contact. Parents whose children have disappeared into the movement have formed a group called "The Roberts Group Parents Network" (or TRGPN) for mutual support and to aid in locating missing members. In 2011, Evangeline Griego's documentary film God Willing explored the experiences of parents trying to reestablish contact with children who had joined the Brethren and disappeared. The film has since aired on PBS stations in the United States.
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- Melton, J. Gordon (2003). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Seventh edition). Farmington Hills, Michigan: The Gale Group, Inc. ISBN 0-7876-6384-0.
- Snow, Robert L. (2003). Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers. Westport Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0-275-98052-8.
- Walker, James K. (2007). The Concise Guide to Today's Religions and Spirituality. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7369-2011-7.
- Dugger, Rachel Martin; Bonnie Palmer Young (1980). Escape. London: Pickering and Inglis. ISBN 0-7208-0459-0.
- Guerra, Jim (2000). From Dean's List to Dumpsters: Why I Left Harvard to Join a Cult. Dorrance Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-8059-4850-9.
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- Sherry, Allison (1998-09-98). "Students warned about cults". Rocky Mountain Collegian.
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