Introduction


Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws on official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What can a "church" legally do?

"Joseph G" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 16, 2007 at 3:16 a.m.:
I am curious about what legal constraints apply to a church. Like other churches the FOF tithes its members, albeit excessively, and I have understood that churches do have the right to release members who do not pay the required tithe. Disciplinary action by the church against members who violate publicized tasks (like the smoking exercise, the drug exercise, or previously, the sex exercise) are also allowed, including fines and even “excommunication.”
However, as an institution the FOF obviously does some things very differently than conventional churches / religions.
Is it okay for a church to expel members over actions about which there are no clearly communicated guidelines or religious doctrines, nor any universally acknowledged legal or ethical non-acceptability? Many former FOF students have been “released” at the whim of its senior minister. FOF members who asked the wrong questions or used the wrong tone of voice in a public meeting, who slept with the wrong guy(s), who returned the wrong gift, who caught the wrong B Influence virus…have been summarily ejected from the FOF church. Other FOF members who enjoyed a closer relationship to the senior minister, but otherwise did the same or similar naughty acts, have historically received much less severe reprimands. Mihai and Dorian solicited sex with FOF women using vouchers for payment, and were only given a one-month timeout from the Galleria. Around the same time, ["P."] was given a leave of absence for acquiescing to their sleazy solicitation, ostensibly because she told a lie under cross examination (but in reality because she had been the girlfriend of Asaf [Braverman]). From longer ago Annie comes to mind as well. She was not only asked to leave the FOF but was literally told to get out of Oregon House by sunset (or was it sunrise?)…but this was during the Dark Ages of the sex exercise.
Also, are other churches allowed to have so many overt double-standards when it comes to what amounts to spiritual capital punishment by their own definition: i.e. in the FOF, the release of a member “by C Influence?” Are the senior ministers in other churches empowered to expel any member at any time without any due process? If the FOF only requested — but did not require — donations, this might seem less unfair; but in the FOF’s case the so-called “teaching donation” is not voluntary, and when you leave you lose access to every (material) thing you helped build with your money and/or your sweat. And what if C Influence “told” RB (e.g. through a license plate or a caveman drawing) that he should no longer let anybody stay in the school whose name ends with an “o”, or who was born in the state of Alabama, or whose skin has more than a certain volume of freckles, or who drives more than 25 mph on the property, or who does not look into his left eye during a meeting? Could he legally ask them to leave? (Don’t laugh, we’ve heard crazier ideas in the past.)
There is probably a lawyer out there who could shed some light on this.
Two last thoughts:
1) If members or ex-members of a church do have any legal rights at all with respect to discrimination or abuse at the hands of the church’s ministers, it seems to me that, for the FOF, the FOF Board of Directors may be its legal Achilles heel. Members of the FOF BOD are legally responsible for the actions of the organization, including its officers and its ministerial leadership, as is any BOD for any organization. This body has never been much more than a rubber stamp. But have they considered what could happen to them if the FOF were ever busted? Right now, May 2007, may be a good time to reevaluate.
2) Many FOF members living in the OH area are trapped by one or more heavy financial realities. Some have limited job skills. Others are nervous around “life people” and do not know how to behave in an interview. Others own houses they are not likely to be able to sell unless it is to another FOF student (not much of that happening lately). Many have jobs working for or with other FOF members, and risk losing these jobs if they leave the FOF. Others have children, which magnifies all the above. Earlier on there was mention of trying to mobilize some financial assistance for people like this, but I think another path has more potential. There are apparently thousands of us reading this blog on both sides of the FOF fence. Is there a way to create a kind of Monster.com for the FOF? Okay, I’ll put my hand up. If you are a business owner or manager who may be able to offer gainful employment somewhere on the planet, or if you are an FOF member who wants to explore his/her alternative career options, write to me at FOFmonster@sbsglobal.net and I will try to discreetly mediate a connection. No promises but what the heck, if it even helps one or two souls it’s worth a try.
With love.

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