Jesus Christians

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The Jesus Christians were a small Christian millennialist group which practice communal living, voluntary work, activism and distribute Christian comics and books written by the founder, David Mckay. They were founded in Australia in the early 80's by Dave and Cherry Mckay and have had a three decade long history of controversy documented extensively by the media. Remaining small in number the group has operated under many different names and since 2010 the End Time Survivors movement has emerged which continues to be led by Dave and Cherry Mckay.[1]

Jesus Christians in Manchester October 2005 Clockwise from left James (Alf) Montagu, Martin Filla, Ross Parry, Roland Gianstefani (centre), Susan Gianstefani, Ufuoma Emerhor, Barry Mendez, Daniel Gianstefani

History and controversies[edit]

The history and activities of the Jesus Christians over the years have been extensively documented by both the group and the mainstream media, attracting both positive and negative attention. Some older newspaper articles were reproduced on the group's website, and where these are used below this is noted in the references.

Early days[edit]

Jesus Christian members in Medowie, Australia, 1988

The group was started in Melbourne, Australia, by Dave and Cherry McKay when Neville Williams moved in with the Mckay family in early 1981.[2][3][4] David Mckay was a former member of the Children of God and left following disagreements over practices such as flirty fishing.[5] The Jesus Christians operated under several different names, including Christians; The Medowie Christian Volunteers; Australian Christian Volunteers, and Voices in the Wilderness. The name 'Jesus Christians' was selected in 1996. ("A Change of Name", August, 1996)[6]

Free work[edit]

In 1983 Australian media followed members of the community who offered to do free work for one day for any family or business which requested their assistance.[7]

Money burning[edit]

In 1984 group member Boyd Ellery was sentenced to three months prison in Sydney for burning an Australian dollar note in a statement about trusting God and not money. The protest was broadcast on national television by Mike Willisee.[7]

Messages with money[edit]

In January 1985 the group glued Australian $2 notes to pavements to spell out messages against greed and money outside post offices around Victoria and New South Wales.[3][8]

Christian messages also appeared written on a claimed AUS$100,000 worth of $2 notes in Sydney. The group claimed that as a result the federal police confiscated their mail until the Council for Civil Liberties intervened.[9]

Nullarbor Walk[edit]

Nullabor-Walkers clockwise from top left: Gary McKay, Robin Dunn, Roland Gianstefani, Christine McKay, Dane Frick, Malcolm Wrest, Rachel Sukamaran

In May and June 1985, six of the youngest members of the community, 12 -year-old Rachel Sukamaran, Malcolm Wrest, Roland Gianstefani, Robin Dunn and Gary McKay, headed by 15-year-old Christine McKay, walked 1,000 miles across the Nullarbor Desert in the interior of Australia without taking any money, provisions or support vehicle for their journey, prompting controversy and media interest.[10]

Fall of America Prophecy[edit]

In 1990, members of the group travelled to the United States to hand out 290,000 booklets prophesying America's destruction. They wore T-shirts with an upside down American flag (as a symbol of distress) and the caption "Pride Goeth Before a Fall" [11]

India[edit]

In 1994, Rob & Christine Dunn, Gary, Dave & Cherry McKay, Ross Parry, Rachel Sukamaran, Malcolm Wrest, Craig, Kevin, Rols, Sue, Sinni, Liz, Boyd, Chris, Roshini, and Sheri were among Jesus Christian members who voluntarily cleaned sewers and toilets in India.[12] After one protest where members stood in the sewer for a week to draw attention to the filth that spread disease, Craig Hendry contracted Typhoid.[13]

In 1995 the Jesus Christians converted a section of open sewer in Chennai into a children's playground. The real estate created by covering the sewer was estimated to be worth AUD $950,000.[14] After one year the project was handed over to Indian charities to run, however the Indian government eventually demolished the site because it had been built on government land without permission.

Nappy Chappies / Children of God[edit]

In April 1997 and 1998 several Jesus Christians were arrested at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney dressed as babies in over-sized nappies while distributing "The Baby Books", highlighting how Jesus said his followers need to become like children to enter into God's Kingdom. The introduction of the books stated "We are children of God"[15] which led to confusion about the group being the same as the Children of God group started by David Berg of the same name. This continuing confusion can be seen in a 2013 article which uses a photograph of the "Nappy Chappies" labelled as the Children of God.[16]

Split[edit]

In 1998 there was a split in the community. Craig and Yesamma Hendry and their family, Kevin and Elisabeth McKay, Boyd and Sheri Ellery and their family, Darren and Donna Cooke, Ray Sippel, Josh and Tim left the community in Australia. Boyd wrote to the remaining community "The Spirit you are following is not Christ's. We will have no part of your hierarchies and fleshly importance."[17] The remaining community were "encouraged to avoid private correspondence or discussions with them..." [18] '

Kyri and Berni Sheridan[edit]

In July 1999, 19-year-old Kyri Sheridan joined the Jesus Christians in the UK. His mother reported him missing to the Guildford Police in Surrey. Kyri (accompanied by fellow Jesus Christian Francisco Gonzales) signed in at the Guildford police station to state that he was not actually "missing". The police confirmed Kyri was happy and making his own decision to be with the Jesus Christians. When his mother held Kyri to stop him from leaving she was pinned down, handcuffed and arrested by the police.[19]

2000-2010[edit]

Bobby Kelly (left) caused a British tabloid media frenzy by "disappearing" with the religious group "Jesus Christians" in June 2000 as a teenager. 17 years later Bobby poses with friends Roland and Sue Gianstefani who were convicted of contempt for refusing to reveal his whereabouts to a High Court judge.

Bobby Kelly controversy[edit]

On 14 July 2000 the group was splashed across the front page of the British tabloid Daily Express, which declared that members Susan and Roland Gianstefani had kidnapped a 16-year-old boy, Bobby Kelly.[20] Bobby had picked up a Jesus Christians cartoon book called The Liberator in Romford High Street, Essex, near the end of June 2000,[21] and gone home to tell his grandmother about the Christian man he met. Bobby went out again that afternoon and returned to tell his grandmother he wanted to join the Jesus Christians. A few days later "an Australian couple with their young son, a German and two English men" from the group visited and met Bobby's grandmother.[22] In the first two weeks of July while Bobby was with the group, before the scandal had hit the headlines, Bobby visited his youth worker from St. Peters Anglican Church in Harold Wood. He had previously attended that church. The youth worker, David Whitehouse, told the press a week later, "The group has a veneer of respectability, but there is something very disturbing about them. When I saw Bobby a week ago, he was with three of them, and he seemed very scared, which was unlike him.[23]

Sometime before July 14, anti-cult expert, Graham Baldwin, was reportedly contacted by "someone close to the family who suspected that something was wrong, and did something to try to save him." It has not been established that David Whitehouse was the person who contacted him. Baldwin worked for a charity, Catalyst, which helps families of people caught up in groups with whom the family disagrees. A solicitor who "specialises in cases against cults" was hired after legal aid was acquired and the solicitor succeeded in getting an emergency High Court action to try to "rescue the schoolboy".[22] The front page newspaper report in The Express was published two weeks after Bobby first met the Jesus Christians with the story that Bobby had "disappeared" after he met the group: "Within hours Bobby had forsaken his possessions and moved in with the group. The police were called and the airports and docks were put on the highest alert." [24] After The Express broke the story, instead of handing the boy over to the police, the Jesus Christians with Bobby "in tow" panicked went "on the run". The UK Jesus Christians became fugitives for two weeks.

When the Jesus Christians could not be found in the nationwide search, and when Bobby started doing telephone interviews with the media declaring that he had not been kidnapped,[25] an emergency court ruling was made banning the broadcast of interviews with Bobby or the group, which the BBC successfully challenged.[26] Bobby was eventually located hiding out with two Jesus Christian men, including Reinhard Zeuner, in a Hampshire forest,[27] and placed in a foster home. No members of the Jesus Christians were charged with kidnapping but a charge of contempt of court (for failing to answer questions from the High Court judge) resulted in six-month sentences for Susan and Roland Gianstefani. The solicitor for the Gianstefani's told the court that the Gianstefani's feared Bobby might be subjected to the deprogramming of his religious beliefs if they had revealed his whereabouts.[28] Minutes before the Gianstefanis were due to be sentenced, Bobby, who was kept in a separate room at the High Court, sent a note to the judge through the representative of the Official Solicitor saying that the Gianstefani's had acted nobly and they feared he (Bobby) might be subjected to the deprogramming of his religious beliefs if they had revealed his whereabouts.[29] Bobby said: "I hope they don't get into trouble. They were willing to go to prison for me." [21] The Gianstefanis' sentences were suspended after Bobby had pleaded with the judge in their defence.[30]

Kidney donations[edit]

Over half of the Jesus Christian members donated a kidney to people they did not know prior to agreeing to donate, thus earning them the nickname 'the kidney cult'.[31]

In January 2003, Jon Ronson's documentary called Kidneys for Jesus aired on Channel 4 in the UK. After an invitation from Dave McKay, Jon Ronson followed the group over a year as they attempted to donate their kidneys to strangers in the UK and the US. The successful donations of members Casey Crouch, Robin Dunn and Susan Gianstefani are featured.[32] The film also documents the tension that arose between Ronson and McKay during filming: McKay became increasingly concerned that Ronson was portraying the Jesus Christians in a poor light and Ronson was concerned about McKay's ideas to try to manipulate a media storm around the donations as well as his role in the decisions made by members to donate kidneys.[33]

In 2004 the group made headlines in Australia when the leader, David Mckay, revealed that members in Australia had lied to health authorities in order to be able to donate their kidneys.[34] David Mckay later admitted it was his teaching that if you must lie, be honest about your dishonesty.[35]

In June 2008, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a report on Ash Falkingham's fight for his right to donate a kidney to a stranger. The documentary covers the attempts of his parents to thwart the young Jesus Christian's intentions and his final success. Ash left the community shortly afterwards to work restoring bicycles for a charity.[36]

Kenya abduction charges[edit]

Jesus Christians James Montagu and Barry Mendez campaigning outside the Kenyan High Commission in London in July 2005 for the charges against Roland and Susan Gianstefani to be dropped .

In 2005 a charge of abduction was made against Roland and Susan Gianstefani in Kenya, this time by the father of a 27-year-old single mother, Betty Njoroge, who had joined the community with her 7 year old son. The woman released a video on the group's website declaring that she and her son had not been kidnapped and that her father was responsible for the case being pursued as he wanted custody of her son.[37] Roland Gianstefani was arrested and questioned by police and held for several days without charge, until the Australian embassy insisted he be charged or else released.[38] Roland and his wife Susan were charged[39] and Roland was held in a remand prison in Nairobi until 600,000 Kenyan shillings bail was paid.[40] The charges against him and Susan were dropped when Betty Njoroge appeared in court and presented an affidavit confirming she was acting of her own free will.[41] Roland contracted tuberculosis in prison and Susan, who had earlier told the media that she and her husband would never stoop to bribery,[35] not even to save their lives, claimed she had to resort to bribery to get basic amenities provided for Roland from the prison guards.[42]

Californian whipping trial[edit]

Jesus Christian, Joseph Johnson, South London, 2006

In October 2006 Jesus Christians in the United States, along with Dave and Cherry McKay, held a mock trial in Long Beach, California where they charged the parents and two brothers of one of their members, Joseph Johnson, with attempted murder and with aiding and abetting others in doing this. It followed an attack on one of their members, Reinhard Zeuner, in which he received a fractured spine, bleeding on the brain, broken teeth and numerous cuts to the head and face. An amateur video was made of the attack,[43] but the police never prosecuted the case. Although the family did not attend the trial, various sentences of 5-25 lashes of the whip were carried out on volunteers from the Jesus Christians themselves, as an attempt to illustrate their understanding of the cross of Christ. "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner", they said, in an effort to summarize what they were doing. ("The Trial")[44]

The Jeremy Kyle Show[edit]

On 11 December 2007, Dave and Cherry McKay and Roland and Susan Gianstefani were interviewed on stage as part of a two-day feature on religious cults on the UK television programme The Jeremy Kyle Show. The show attempted to link the Jesus Christians with such groups as Jim Jones' People's Temple, and the Children of God. Dave and Cherry and Roland and Sue were questioned by Jeremy Kyle and opponents of David McKay. At one point, due to the nature of the questioning, Dave McKay refused to reply to any more questions and McKay walked out of the interview and then returned to say "Just let them do their thing".

Freeganism and Wife Swap show[edit]

Jesus Christian Bob Rynham "bin raiding" in London, August 2007

In February 2008, Roland, Susan and Daniel Gianstefani were featured on the Channel 4 program Wife Swap,[45] where freegan Susan went to live with the millionaire family of an IT consultant.

Sydney whipping trial[edit]

In July 2010 Jesus Christians held a mock trial in Sydney, Australia, to draw attention to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners who were being persecuted in China. The "court" heard testimonies of victims, then Alf Montagu and Jayme Kronmiller submitted to 25 lashes of the whip as a form of substitutionary punishment for the former leader of the Communist Party of China, Jiang Zemin, and the Secret Police, Luo Gan, who unsurprisingly did not attend the trial.[46]

Gianstefanis leave, Group dispersal claimed by Founder.[edit]

In August 2010, long term members Roland, Susan and Daniel Gianstefani left the community after "numerous tensions over their parenting skills". This followed "a number of community discussions", according to the Jesus Christians Newsletter. Susan and Roland had been members of the group for more than twenty years.[47]

Roland and Susan Gianstefani, continue to identify as Jesus Christians.[48] Their current ministry is now focused on anti war and human rights activism.[49][50]

November 2010: Founder, David McKay claims the group has disbanded, graduated or dispersed.[51] Long Term members, Roland and Sue Gianstefani and Ross Parry claim they have been excommunicated at this time from all correspondence with other members at the behest of McKay, for objecting to changes in the dishonest manner in which the group is to operate.[52] Another member, Alan Wright, is also disfellowshipped from the group for refusing to comply with dictates from the groups leadership regarding not suing his wife for more money in a divorce settlement.[53]

Post 2010[edit]

End Time Survivors[edit]

Paul Henry, AKA Bruce, Jesus Christian and End Time Survivor, distributes literature outside of Kings College Hospital, Denmark Hill, London, November 7, 2017

Since the founder David Mckay´s announcement in 2010 of either disbandment or graduation or dispersal, there is some confusion with regard to the continuing organisation of members of Jesus Christians.[51]

Roland and Susan Gianstefani still identify as Jesus Christians UK, but have been excommunicated by the founder. Evidence that Jesus Christians appear to be operating under the name of End Time Survivors with Dave and Cherry Mckay continuing to lead the group in a more covert form has recently come to light.[54]

In October 2017 Roland and Susan Gianstefani had a live radio interview with Bobby Kelly on a Welsh radio station where they discussed their life and the controversies they were involved in when they were a part of the community now called End Times Survivors, formerly called the Jesus Christians community.[55]

On December 7, 2017 at the annual conference of The Australian Association for the Study of Religion in Sydney, an academic paper was presented with a formal discussion about a New religious movement that was founded in Australia in the 1980s and led by Dave and Cherry McKay. The author, Geraldine Smith, described the movement as a "Christian millennialist group" called the "End Time Survivors (ETS)". There is evidence that a web site and YouTube channel called "End Time Survivors" appeared in 2015. Several ex members of the Jesus Christians know and recognise voices and faces of Jesus Christians long term members despite minor attempts to digitally obscure their identities. Ex members, Roland and Sue Gianstefani assert that it has been a deliberate long term plan by David McKay to take the group underground and hide its identity from the public, by presenting the group or groups under different names while claiming loose associations between members living in different locations. They assert that the influence of the founder over these groups and their real identities is to be kept hidden from the public in order to avoid persecution.[56]

"Led by Dave and Cherry Mckay a movement mostly based in Australia but with significant global outreach. This movement derives its guiding ethos from a very particular reading of The Bible that prioritises the teachings of Jesus as an apocalyptic figure."[57]

The EndTime Survivors website contains many identical teachings from the Jesus Christians and promotes David McKay's books Survivors, Armageddon for Beginners[58] and Jesus Christian pamphlets such as Christian But Not Religious[59] as well as many of the Jesus Christians articles from their website. "End Time Survivors" also appears as a you tube channel and is linked to "Voice in the Desert" with similar topics.

Beliefs and teachings[edit]

  • God will provide the material needs of people who stop working for money, and dedicate their lives to obeying the teachings of Jesus (Luke 6:46, 12:22-23, 16:13, Matthew 6:24). (21. "A Unique Teaching", circa 1996)[60]
  • Jesus expects his followers to give up all their worldly wealth (Luke 12:33, 14:33). ("How to Be Saved")[61]
  • Jesus (not the Bible) is the Word of God. Although holy writings may be inspired, they are all fallible. ("The Word of God", August, 1995)[62]
  • Jesus never established water baptism as a form of sacrament, nor did he ordain other sacraments as such. ("Water Baptism", January, 1991)[63] ("I Will Have Mercy", March, 1998)[64]
  • Beliefs about the doctrine of the Trinity are of little consequence. ("Father and Son--Two for One", January, 1994)[65]
  • The teachings of Jesus, not religious traditions, should be the basis of faith. ("We Believe in Jesus Christ", circa 2000)[66]
  • Non-Christians can be saved on the basis of their faith in God, even if they have never heard of Jesus. This was made possible through the death of Jesus on the cross. See Universalism.
  • Sincerity is more important than being theologically correct. ("The Good Hindu")[67] ("In Search of Truth", November, 1986)[68]
  • The return of Jesus is likely to occur soon, although not until after the Great Tribulation. ("Signs of the Times", June, 1986)[69]
  • Christians will judge the world after Jesus returns, and Jesus will reign over the world for a thousand years.[70][71]
  • There are spiritual advantages to remaining single; however marriage is not forbidden even though it is regarded as an inferior option to celibacy.[72]
  • There is nothing sinful about masturbation. ("Wanking, the Last Taboo") [73]
  • When an individual rejects the teachings of Jesus, they are in fact rejecting God.[74]
  • Technology which will one day be used to implement the "Mark of the Beast", is on the earth now in the form of subdermal RFID chips.[75]

Practices[edit]

Members forsook all private ownership, with the option of either handing over all of their earthly possessions to the Jesus Christian community, or giving it all to charity. ("Forsaking All", from Jesus and Money)[76] The group teaches that all members must have equal say in how funds are to be used. ("Power--Good or Evil",[77] and "Setting Up Your Own Community"[78])

Publications[edit]

For many years members of the Jesus Christians distributed religious literature, much of it written by Dave McKay.[citation needed] In recent years,[when?] they primarily distributed copies of novels written by McKay, the main one being Survivors (novel) (ISBN 9966-755-00-4),[79] in exchange for "a few cents to help with the cost of printing them". In 2006 they reported that sales for this book had exceeded one million.[80]

Survivors is a response to the popular Left Behind series of novels on Bible prophecy, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. In its own words, Survivors attempts to include material that was left out of the LaHaye-Jenkins series. Mckay has also published a second book in the series, entitled Listening. It purports to be an "equel" (sic) to Survivors, taking place during the same time period, although from another viewpoint. A third book, also set during the same time period as the first two, is entitled Destroyers. It is available on the JC website,[81] and was released in paperback from around Christmas 2008. The story for that mostly takes place in Kenya and is told through the perspective of someone who takes the mark of the beast.[clarification needed]

As of 2009, the Jesus Christians had produced several videos, including a documentary expounding on various aspects of their lifestyle. They had also produced several music videos. Their latest videos included a documentary (The Tyrant Within) about the implementation of RFID microchip implants and a video about the justice system, its effect on society and a radical Christian approach to mixing justice with mercy (Beyond Justice).

Books by David McKay[edit]

(reprinted with the new title Not for Everyone by Anonymous ISBN 9966-755-14-4.

Jesus Christian pamphlets[edit]

  • Jeremiah's Lament – A modern paraphrase of the Book of Jeremiah.
  • Christian...but not religious!
  • Radical Christian Truths. ISBN 9966-755-15-2
  • Churchianity vs Christianity.

References[edit]

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