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.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A cult is a cult is a cult

Joe Average wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
I am forwarding an old letter from an ex-student, as valid now as then. Be warned – I have trimmed it a bit where you see …, but it is still long.
Dear Friends,
Of late, my friends and I have been labelled “dissidents”, and worse, by FOF’s leadership. While reading this letter it would be helpful if you could simply consider me an old friend.
… Please permit yourself the clear space to receive these thoughts and feelings in order to work with them as completely as possible. Given the current situation, I understand that this will not be easy for you. It certainly has been a disturbing process for me as well. However, I have been overwhelmed by the weight of my observations and feel duty bound to share them with you.
This letter is not intended to serve as the last word on REB [Robert Earl Burton] or the FOF. Nor is it written to prove or establish a particular point of view. Instead, I hope that it will create a balance to the information you have received from FOF, and act as a springboard from which you may begin a long overdue reappraisal of your own feelings and presumptions. Many of you are mired in a way of life which, for myself and many other ex-members, was neither happy nor enlightening, but instead offered little more than tedium, suppression, exclusivity and debilitating dependency.

Of late, FOF has required all of you to believe that certain ex-members, as “dissidents”, are “bad” simply because criticism of REB and FOF is not now and never has been permitted. These people have been described as “vindictive”, “crazy”, or “liars” … Apparently it is unthinkable to FOF that anyone could sincerely believe (or know) that the allegations directed at REB are true. But given a history of intense involvement with REB, do you really believe that ex-members would turn around and speak this way unless they really felt that something was wrong? From FOF’s narrow point of view, one would have to be fallen, dark, and just plain wrong to criticize their “guru”. I implore you to remain open to the possibility that your old friends are none of the above.
The author of this letter has over the past year spoken with approximately 40 ex-members who have uniquely personal and varied perceptions of REB and FOF. Among these people are a number of former high-ranking FOF officials and board of directors members, as well as personal and sexual intimates of REB. …
They are all united in the belief that accurate information, dialogue, real consideration and anything remotely like discrimination have never been offered or encouraged by REB or FOF. Therefore, they would like to see a free, full, and honest discussion occur. Such a discussion would benefit everyone, except for those who desire only the maintenance of their status and claim. Everyone, especially the “rank and file” FOF membership, must be set free in order to find their own true way through this controversy.
It is obvious however that as long as ex-member “dissidents” are seen as negative, dark, angry, unspiritual “others”–and “you” in FOF remain the righteous, holy lovers of god, unjustly criticized, god’s army fighting off the heathen masses and demonic media–as long as this contrived dichotomy persists there can be no clarity. …Do not permit the FOF leadership to call you to a false, childish, and simplistic understanding of this controversy. It is a complex, personal and deeply emotional matter that cannot be resolved or dismissed through name-calling and character assassination. … This matter cannot be reduced to a battle between good and evil…
Instead of encouraging an open discussion, FOF has used the same tactics that any political organization would use. They have created a “cause” for you to rally around and feel emotionally committed to and identified with, so that you won’t stare the accusations against REB straight in the eye. They would rather hook you into a fight to protect “the right to freely practice religion”, a right which they claim ex-members have tried to deprive you of. But in what way has anyone actually done this?
Let’s take a little closer look at the constitutional protections afforded to “religions” such as the FOF. The right to believe whatever you want is protected absolutely. However, the right to do whatever you want is not afforded the same absolute protection at all. Many of the things which REB has been accused of do not fall into the category of actions which are protected. Additionally, is it not reasonable as a common citizen to ask why people who have been involved in illegal activities should be granted the privilege of tax-exempt religious status, as claimed by FOF? And if, in fact, abuses of people have occurred (through actions which are commonly recognized as abuses in our society) shouldn’t the victims have a right to address them in all the forums available? How then does this amount to an attack on religious freedom?
…The difficulty for many of you is that it has been so long since you entered into an examination other than one created for you by REB and FOF that to do so on your own and to examine “the authorities themselves” is a very difficult task indeed. And yet it must be done if there is to be any clarity or passage through this controversy.
All I ask then is that this process of unfettered examination be permitted and actually encouraged by FOF. Ask yourself how it is that you are now “advocates”, burdened by belief and fixed presumptions. Why hasn’t REB and FOF welcomed and seen the necessity for an open airing of issues? Why have you all been programmed and “educated” by the FOF propagandists on their way to whitewashing the so-called “FOF sacred history”? How does spiritual practice properly lead to all this manipulation and defense? Who and what is requiring that you become politicized rather than clear? And how well do you really understand that which you are being called upon to defend?
I invite you to regain the discrimination and inquisitiveness many of you have unconsciously chosen to relinquish in order to associate with REB and the myth he has drawn you into (both as to who he is and the necessity of turning to him for your liberation). If we assume for the moment that REB began his “teaching work” by speaking to our desire for liberation, apart from excess dogmatic baggage and entanglements, it is evident that he has now “moved on” and is at work merely cultivating in his students a yearning for salvation in a system where only he can do the saving.
… And if we accept that REB’s writings carry a credible message, they do so only insofar as they release the reader into his or her own inherent sense of “being” and “truth”, free of the game of “the search”. It appears impossible for this to occur in the midst of all the medieval, dogmatic, exclusive, ritualized form beneath which direct, unmediated truth has been buried by REB and FOF. After all these years, where is the real evidence that any type of “spiritual process” is uniquely occurring within your community? People are just growing older. The greatness of god has been subordinated to the glory, of REB and his hierarchical empire. Needing to be nurtured and fathered, and being naive as to true spiritual culture and to the game of spiritual authority, most of us never even noticed the light go out.
This is a large part of what ex-members are trying to address. You are part of a highly ambitious and politicized “machine of seeking” where you no longer own your own perceptions. Ideological dogma coupled with the edited information of the group dominates and molds your life. You are required to adapt to a complex, sophisticated technology of mind and emotion, through which you understand yourself and upon which you view the world; it is a hierarchical scheme with REB as the head, reigning above and beyond the world of man, as external savior or father. We have all been too much in need of an external mediator to serve the participation in and awareness of our own true condition. We must grow beyond the childish and incapacitating dependency bonds which are everywhere propagated by REB and FOF.
In many ex-members’ experience, the first doubts and questions about their lives as devotees centered around the observations they had regarding the “community” and “institution” of FOF. But they found it much harder to take the obvious next step and look directly at REB, the source and creator of every aspect of the “culture”, institutional structure, and spiritual life of those in FOF. These ex-members, like many of you, dared not break the great taboo of seriously questioning or doubting REB; either their comparative lack of in-depth or prolonged personal experience with him or their incapacity to break through the indoctrination prevented them from seeing him clearly. But finally, in the face of what is now obvious, their relationship to the mythology and imagery which is REB has broken down. These people have “discovered” the man Bubbles Burton, and now know that “the emperor wears no clothes.”
At this point it would be good to examine the specific activities of REB that many people are concerned about. Some of the information recently brought to light will be recounted here for those who are unfamiliar with what has been said, or for those who have been confused and distracted by FOF…
To begin with, REB has historically had control over the finances, properties, and other assets of FOF as if he personally and solely “owned” FOF, in stark contrast to the purposes and laws governing non-profit religious organizations. He has personally made all key decisions and has gratified his every whim, caring not for the financial strains he has placed on others. There are serious questions regarding whether REB has over the years abused the tax-exempt status of the FOF corporation for his own personal gain. Perhaps this is why FOF officials in the past few years have strategically destroyed documents that tended to reveal that REB was actually “running the show.”
REB has always demanded that people “go beyond themselves” to give him more money than they could afford, and then has spent the money on whatever he wanted to create or consume in that moment. Like a child, he has demanded the immediate gratification of his material desires, and then has often abandoned what he has been given in search of a new and more expensive “toy”. … In private, REB has laughed at those who have shown any concern about his financial exploitation of others. This is purportedly an example of the fact that REB is “free of conventional morality.”
…REB has participated in and required others to perform in sexual and related acts of a highly degrading and demeaning nature which have caused psychological and/or physical damage to those participating. FOF has recently admitted to examples of these types of activity, which many people believe are a reflection of the perversion of REB, rather than anything like enlightened “spiritual instruction.” … These sexual excesses of REB are not a thing of the distant past….. And it is the firm belief of many people that the inordinate amount of time and attention REB spends on sexuality reflects nothing more than his own obsession and desires.
The vast discrepancy between what REB claims and says, versus what he does and intends must be thoroughly examined and understood before one can make an informed response to the man. What should be clear to everyone is that no one in FOF is given the opportunity to “cast the light” directly on REB. Why is he so estranged and hidden from you, really? Apart from your child-like fantasies and subtle beliefs about “who he is” and “how he works”, how much and how privately have you observed him and then tested your observations? The fact is, apart from what you have read and are told, intermixed with a variety of contacts with REB years ago, most of you know very little about your teacher. You have therefore been called to relate to only the most superficial imagery about who REB is, and at the same time you have become steeped in an officially prescribed method for relating to him which permits only subservience and fawning devotion. And those of you who have been close to him should ask yourselves to what degree you own hopes, needs, and self-generated projections and expectations, coupled with the mythology about how REB’s “unconventional behavior” has been designed to teach you, has colored your perceptions of him. Ex-members know from their own experience that many of you are paying a heavy price in terms of emotional suppression, confusion, and self-delusion in order to maintain the false conclusion that you have actually been served by this “crazy-wise” madness.
Another disturbing matter regarding REB is the ritual of secrecy and deception surrounding him. Some of the things described about REB’s life would not in themselves be worthy of any real concern if they did not stand in complete contradiction to an idealized image which has been used to exploit the people who have supported the whole affair. … It was on the basis of this lie that so many accepted the notion that his past behavior was in fact a “teaching demonstration”, and went on to give their lives, minds, hearts, and money to this man. However, upon discovering this deception, many were understandably outraged. …
You may ask yourself why those who know all of these secrets have always withheld them from you. But we already know the answer. How glamorous to be associated with the ultimate matter and the ultimate master! But what a conceit and what a foundation for the pursuit of power. Through the screening mechanisms of the so-called “culture”, only the few “mature” or “committed” members are given access to REB based upon a paranoid and patriarchal mentality of obedience. The demonstrated signs of your “maturity” (i.e. submission and obedience) gauge the level of your “status” and regulated, controlled access to events, places and people on the political (not spiritual but political) pecking order… REB’s behavior is a reflection of his own character and motivations, just like everyone else’s, and he should rightfully take responsibility for the problems his shortcomings have created in his own life and the lives of others. He is anything but free of ego. He has his own strengths and weaknesses. Yet through the process of indoctrination and manipulation, coupled with the weaknesses of those around him, he has been successful at keeping himself invulnerable and unquestioned. In so doing, he has become afflicted in all the ways that any man would be corrupted and deluded by excessive power and isolation from critical feedback. He has also thus imprisoned himself within the expectations he created in others and the torment of pretending to be something he is not. …
…Nor is it any longer accepted that “the world” is a terrible place full of terrible people, and that spiritual life ends when one leaves FOF. People now know better than to become ensnared in the tentacles of this argument. And where there was only “one” worthy of love and respect, all others became unworthy and worthless. This is what happened in FOF, for as we were all divested of our own selfworth and simultaneously invested in REB, we were rendered nothing rather than “no-thing.” Can you feel this?
We have all (current and ex-members), along with REB, cooperated in constructing this insane empire. It is a classic and perverted play on what might have been. And it is nothing like what most of us signed up for or thought we were choosing. But so long as you are exposed to the “system” which life in FOF represents, there is no space within which to understand this and be set free.
…those who serve critical functions in your “culture” adapt to a profoundly dependent form of relating to REB and a resulting righteous, exclusive, self-glorifying, self-protective and politically charged “life of service.” You are all aware of the institutional mentality of those who lead you at FOF. They are part of a machine and priesthood of aberrated spiritual seeking and corruption, an exclusive club, reigning in association with the “enlightened” source or “goodie” who is offered as a reward to those giving over their center, discrimination, and direct unmediated ability to live the truth of their own condition. In this process many of you have lost yourselves, your power and your way. And for REB to hide behind a claim of “blamelessness and divinity” while placing all the blame on the immaturity of his devotees, those very people who depend on him for their spiritual guidance, is not only irresponsible and cowardly, but the perfect vision of a perfectly narcissistic megalomaniac. Surely there was a time before you came to FOF where you could have simply recognized this to be so.
But can you now? It is so hard from where you are. I know, for it has taken many people years, even after leaving FOF, to wake up from the sleep which had settled into every corner of their mind’s eye. Although discrimination is spoken about in the teaching, it is nowhere present in the lives of devotees. Many of you have, through non-use, lost your own personal, instinctual feeling for life, having been conditioned to believe that it represents recoil from the divine. You have become good at obeying without reflection. Your blank agreement is applauded as “equanimity” and the transcendence of reactivity.
Those who are in the FOF hierarchy have the most to lose. And they are among the most corrupt and in need of help. These people are relieved of the ordinary responsibilities of life and live instead a bizarre fantasy life. To do the bidding of their teacher they have become proficient at selectively withholding and releasing edited information, and have made the poor choice of abandoning their native sense of human decency in exchange for power and prestige.
Many of these same people are the most seriously ambitious in their “search.” It is as if they have not yet adapted to the rudiments of the practice as it relates to the “search” and yet are influential simply because they are “submitted.” Having made such a heavy investment of time and energy in gaining their status and position, they are now banking on their “personal” relationship with REB to save them. In this way there is a tremendous amount of manipulation around the poles of hope and fear. You spin and turn but rarely find a seat from which to observe the play. … The shocking news that thousands of people see this “master” of yours as a tyrannical and deluded power broker never quite reaches your ears or cannot penetrate your rehearsed belief.
When finally pressed up against this blunt observation from “the world” outside, you hold up “the teaching” like a crucifix to stave off the heathen hordes. You retreat into the “certainty” that nothing like “the teaching” could ever have been written by a charlatan. But many believe that REB’s, or anyone else’s ability to artfully synthesize, categorize, and recapitulate ideas and insights does not bear any necessary relation to spiritual realization and maturity. Aside from his particular style of presentation and arrangement of things, there is nothing uniquely described in REB’s literature that does not appear elsewhere. … he has borrowed from or been heavily influenced by numerous others to whom he has given no credit at all. The fact that he has been able to articulate the free and transcendent relationship to life that we all instinctively feel in moments, coupled with the fact that he writes and speaks about many things which are beyond the realm of your personal experience, is offered as “proof” that he is spiritually superior to you.
Many of you have apparently forgotten the simple truth that actions speak louder than words, and that insights which are not practiced are meaningless, if not dangerous. Your distraction with a complexity of abstractions and a sophisticated, “pre-packaged” context within which to interpret everything has left you “incapable of seeing the forest for the trees.” “By their fruits shall ye know them”, said one spiritual teacher nearly 2,000 years ago. And it is on this basis that each one of us must draw our own conclusions regarding the spiritual status of Robert Burton.
I am so glad to no longer be where many of you are, and I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you why. In many respects it would have been far easier to write this entire matter off as just another set of experiences. But I have felt too much passion and serious caring to have made that choice.
Should any of you meander out beyond the fences and psychological barriers of FOF, you will find that there is “unavoidably” only god outside your temple walls. Your spiritual life may change in form, but it will continue. And there are many people who have been through what you have experienced and can thus offer help. Many have needed and received support in order to make the critical transition back to a measure of self-respectability.
…It would have been preferable for all of you to have done the work of provoking this discussion. But I understand why this could not be so and trust that you will soon recognize the benefits which will ultimately come from what has been started. If in the end there is a bit more openness and honesty in FOF, a degree of self-critical inspection, or a drop less arrogance and exclusivity on the part of Robert Burton, we will have all been served…
Mark D. Miller Sausalito, California USA

Now, before you dig too deep in your memories trying to remember that name, I should let you know that I needed to make a few small changes to the letter. Do the following substitutions, and you have the original letter:
Bubbles Burton = Franklin Jones
Robert Burton = Da Free John
FOF = JDC (Johannine Daist Communion)
The idea is obvious, hopefully. Just change the names and the rest of the text, despite its length, complexity and level of detail, is a near perfect fit – word for word, point for point. Would Margaret Singer just smile and nod knowingly at this point Joel?
Nothing unique in REB’s approach, nor in its results in his students.

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