Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Payment is a Principle - Now and Then

Fellowship of Friends cult 2005 e-mail solicitation for Robert Earl Burton's Egypt travels (R. E. Burton, dandy)
2005 Fellowship of Friends e-mail solicitation. Source: FOF History Project

From a Fellowship of Friends website FAQ:
Is there a fee to join?

To join, in the Unites States, one pays a tithe of 10% gross monthly income. The membership donation is presented in a sliding scale, so that newer members are required to pay less than older members until they are able to verify the basic principles of awakening and sleep. Because the Fellowship of Friends is recognized by the state and federal governments as a non-profit religious organization, all membership donations are tax deductible in the U.S.
Then

Fellowship of Friends Payment Guidelines, April 1, 1984


[ed. - in the following, taken from an official Fellowship letter, note the inherent contradiction between the terms "donation" and "required".]
  • One pays a monthly tithe (ten per cent) of one's income before taxes or, $100, whichever is greater.
  • One year after becoming a member, one pays a donation equivalent to one month's gross income, or $750, whichever is greater.
  • After eighteen month's membership, an additional monthly donation, currently $165, is required.
  • After two years, a continuing semi-annual donation of $650 is required in the spring and fall.
  • The Fellowship is a church, and these donations are deductible on state and federal income tax returns, according to existing laws.
  • If one's donations are in arrears more than ten weeks, one may not attend meetings, functions, or visit Renaissance until donations are within ten weeks of being current. If one's donations are in arrears more than fourteen weeks, one is no longer a member. Reinstatement of membership requires payment of all donations in arrears at the time one left, plus a payment of $1500.
  • Exceptions to the above guidelines may be granted for hardship cases.
[ed. - now for the "hammer":]

Payment rids us at once of many useless people. Nothing shows up people so much as their attitude toward money.  - Mr. Gurdjieff

Now

Posted by "Comrade" on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 19, 2007:
In this discussion group, at least a few people have mentioned the 10% payments that are required to remain in the Fellowship of Friends. However, it’s important to note that the actual amount that you contribute is much higher than 10%. If you are a “regular” member, here’s how it works: 
  • Each month, you contribute 10% of your gross income, i.e., 10% of the amount that you earn before taxes are taken out.
  • You also contribute a “special donation” of $255 each month.
  • Twice a year, Spring and Fall, you must contribute additional amounts of $775, or a total of $1,550.
  • In December, you contribute an additional $100.

For example, if your gross salary is $50,000 per year. you will pay:
  • $5,000 for the 10% monthly payment 
  • $3,060 for the monthly special donations 
  • $1,550 for the Spring and Fall donations 
  • $100 for the December donation 
  • $9,710 total

So with a salary of $50,000 per year, the actual amount that you pay is not 10% of your salary, but 19.42%.

Since approximately 30% of your gross income is taken out of your paycheck by the state and federal governments, you are left with $35,000 per year in gross income. Subtract the $9,710 that you donate to the Fellowship, and you are left with $25,290 per year, or $2,108 per month to pay rent, buy food, pay your bills, buy clothes, etc.

Tax write-offs are helpful, because over the course of the year you can essentially add another $200 per month to your available income assuming the above salary.

However, it’s good to remember that you must also pay to attend various large gatherings at the Isis property. This includes meetings, receptions, dinners, fund-raising auctions, raffles, and artistic performances. So to be an “active” member of the Fellowship who actually participates in the events and interacts with your fellow students at large gatherings, you need to pay even more than the standard donations mentioned above. These amounts can run into the hundreds of dollars per month if you truly wish to remain active.

Needless to say, making just $50,000 per year is not enough to remain in the school and keep your finances healthy — let alone make a trip to Egypt. What often occurs is that members end up using their credit cards for many of the above payments, and therefore build huge debts. Someone once said the credit card companies “are in the business of separating you from your money.” This is one way they can accomplish that — by accepting large transactions with religious organizations such as the Fellowship.

By the way, if you’re making $100,000 a year, here are the totals:
  • $10,000 for the 10% monthly payments 
  • $3,060 for the monthly special donations 
  • $1,550 for the Spring and Fall donation 
  • $100 for the December donation 
  • $14,710 total (or 14.7% of your income)
So this leaves you with about $50,000 per year to pay your bills, or over $4,000 per month. So obviously as you make more money, the easier it is to remain in the Fellowship. But contributing to your 401k account for long-term security? Even at $100,000 per year, a person needs to reduce or eliminate their 401k contribution, or use their credit cards if they wish to participate in the dinners, auctions, fundraisers, lotteries, and so on. Of course, having a large bank account to begin with will help, but tapping into your savings to remain in the Fellowship has its long-term consequences even for those who are making six figures.

The Fellowship does occasionally help people who are having trouble by reducing their payments on a temporary basis. And if you are a member of the Fellowship who falls into a certain “category,” your payments may be reduced. This includes married mothers, single parents (only one parent is eligible), disabled students, unemployed members, and full-time college students, etc.

Anyone is welcome to critique the math above… But the point is, it’s a considerable sum, and we often don’t think about the consequences of these large payments. I sense that this topic is very uncomfortable for members to discuss. It usually begins and ends with the Gurdjieff quotation related to our attitude about money. But this is one of the central issues of this entire blog – the amount of money that members are contributing to the Fellowship and the buffers that are connected to this topic.

"Big Bucks" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 5, 2007 at 3:10 p.m.:
[Quoting a blogger:] “It should be added that membership fees consist of 10% of income, two extra payments each year and payments for dinners, talks and presentations. The Fellowship of Friends is not a cheap business.”
Yes, in addition to the 10% fee, “special donations” of $255 are required each month, as well as Spring and Fall donations of $775 each, and a December donation of $100. Attending dinners, talks, and presentations usually costs a few hundred dollars each month.

"Rear View Mirror' wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 27, 2008 at 3:47 p.m.:
More history needed? [blogger] wrote:
Two more “students” leaving Apollo?
I wonder how many are still in and paying…..!
Anybody who can share some numbers, please?
————

Based on reports that I’ve heard, most people are no longer paying the usual $750 to $1,000 per month (which is an average when you include the spring and fall “donations”). If someone is having trouble making payments, all they need to do is ask for a break, and they can lower the payments indefinitely to about $100-$150 per month, and skip the spring and fall.

It’s become very lax in this regard. The intentions are obvious: Keep the membership numbers up so that it doesn’t become too obvious that public opinion is being swayed against Burton. How many people have worked out such a deal, I don’t know, but it’s an obvious effort on the part of “management” to weather the storm of negative opinion, and to keep the facade that nothing has changed, and that everything is fine.

But things have changed. And everything is not fine.

My guess is that the FOF 1) has some money set aside for such times, and 2) some of the more wealthy sycophants are helping to keep things afloat right now.

I’ve also heard that certain “assets” are currently being sold to help out.

By the way, something that I don’t believe has been mentioned on the blog yet… Robert Burton frequently would make statements such as [paraphrasing]: Make your teaching payments first, and Influence C will take care of the rest.

In other words: Sure, you may be a month behind on your rent, and a few weeks from being evicted from your apartment, but write that check for $1,545 (or thereabouts) for that Spring donation and April “teaching payment,” and everything will be fine.

Everything won’t be fine. This is one of the most underreported aspects of this cult — People do leave because of the heavy financial burden (in addition to everything else). However, people rarely will admit this because of the stigma attached to it. Rarely do we want to admit that we’re not independently wealthy and capable of buying whatever the hell we want, including a measly donation of approximately $1,500 to the Fellowship of Friends.

You hear about the people who visit Las Vegas and win $1,000 over the weekend. They share their story with everyone on Monday morning. We hear how they had a great time, and how Las Vegas is GREAT!
What you don’t hear on Monday morning is the story from that OTHER guy who LOST $1,000. The Fellowship of Friends is much like a casino. They know how to take your money. If you keep playing at the casino, eventually they will take back everything you won — if you ever did win something.

[ed. - 2013 note: In addition to Rear View Mirror's comment, it has been reported that for those who are over 60 years of age, and those who are disabled, donations have been reduced to "little or nothing." It is speculated that this was an attempt to stem the massive exodus of 2007-2008.]


"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 8, 2012:

Looking at the lies–by–omission on the website of the Fellowship of Friends, one among the many now springs out. In answering the hypothetical question, “Is there a fee to join?” (http://www.beingpresent.org/index.php?toc=FAQ), they state, “ . . . one pays a tithe of 10% gross monthly income. The membership donation is presented in a sliding scale, so that newer members are required to pay less than older members until they are able to verify the basic principles of awakening and sleep.” All tax-deductible, as befits a U.S. based religious organization or church. Sounds fairly reasonable, huh?
Potential members might want to know more details before they commit, and they aren’t going to get them from those conducting the ‘Introductory Meetings’. The basic fees below are transcribed from the February 20, 1982 Board Meeting of Directors (http://tinyurl.com/6tjawty, which I think was posted by ‘Veronica Poe’). Especially note: those days of (!) relative moderation and greed (!!) are far in the past; things have since become much worse. The ‘official’ requests may still resemble those below (allowing for inflation), though there are now mandatory additional ‘center donations’ (fairly moderate) but there is now also an unceasing pressure to supply money, day after day, week after week, year after year, for the little extras, such as seeing, listening to, dining with, or having a photograph taken with Beloved Teacher, or attending any kind of meetings, concerts, festivals or celebrations, or recordings of such. At the same time, there is intense pressure to buy gifts for Beloved Teacher, from the latest cars to jewelry, for birthday, Xmas, the anniversaries of the various degrees of consciousness he claims to have gained. But it doesn’t end there by any means. Beloved Teacher has projects, lots of glorious projects. At his whim, buildings, theatres, landscaping, avenues, wineries, vineyards, always more projects, that must also be paid for. Even after this, there are urgent requirements for objects of art, statues, fountains, religious bits and pieces pleasing to the gods.
These pressures are both invisible and visible, that is, not only are your fellow members looking you over, there are professional fundraisers to apply the constant pressure. None of these contributions is tax deductible, probably (IMO) because they are not (according to my understanding) declared income for Burton, they just go straight to his pocket.
With any money you have left, there is pressure to travel, see museums, visit countries, visit FoF centers, dress yourself nicely, acquire possessions, repay him at three times cost for little gifts he has chosen for you, all under his all–seeing and critical eye (I’m lumping his own and his informers’ eyes together here, of course). If you question these, you are presented with thought-terminating clich├ęs, such as, “Payment is a principle”, or, “These moments are priceless”. And I haven’t even mentioned fines, such as $1500 for smoking (each offense).
So, these fees mentioned below merely entitle you to claim basic membership, nothing more. Anything else is charged for, over and over again. Lots more details on previous pages of this blog.
______________________________
. . . THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED, that the following guidelines be adopted as the currently effective Donation Guidelines applying to members of the church:
1) Members shall pay a monthly tithe (ten per cent) of one’s income before taxes, or $100, whichever is greater; special arrangements for hardship cases may be permitted.
2) Three months after becoming a member, and additional monthly donation of $10 is required.
3) One year after becoming a member, a once-in-a-lifetime donation of ten times of a member’s average monthly payment is required.
4) After eighteen month’s membership, an additional monthly donation of $135 is required.
5) After two years, a continuing, semi-annual donation in the spring and autumn of $650 is required.
6) If a member’s donations are in arrears for more than 8 weeks, he or she may not attend meetings, centre functions, or visit Renaissance until donations are within 8 weeks of being current. If a member’s donations are in arrears more than 3 ½ months, membership shall terminate. Reinstatement of membership requires payment of all donations in arrears at the time membership is terminated, plus a payment of $2500.
7) New income from sources other than ordinary income, such as inheritances, capital gains or gifts shall be subject to a 10% donation from the total of such new money received.
. . .
__________________________
The rest of this document is worth reading, because it is also a tissue of prevarications. The most basic one is the idea that the Board regulates the Founding Minister in any way (see imaginary org chart). The reality is, Burton is dictator, and occupies the mass and space of the top 90% of an organizational pyramid, with the Board, Council of Ministers and other sycophants a thin layer below him, leaving the insignificant lumpen below that as prey. He makes every important decision (and thousands of unimportant ones). The Board is a rubber stamp, pure and simple, there to keep the authorities off his neck. The purpose of the Fellowship of Friends is to satisfy the lusts and whims of Robert Earl Burton. A huge percentage of the resources is diverted for his satisfactions and amusement, a situation the average observer would hasten to label as inurement, and thus illegal. And that is just from the official donations; the probably undeclared or underdeclared, unofficial donations provide at least as much additional income for his sole pleasure. In every way, Burton is unaccountable to anyone.

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