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When Followers Rebel (or Sheila and Me)

(Note: The article below was written just two days before the community ended "autonomy" and came together to elect two leaders, neither of whom was Dave or Cherry.)

I have recently been thinking about the tension that I feel when members of our community openly defy me. I don't mean when they disagree or even when they express their disagreement quite strongly, but more when they say something along the lines of, "I'm not going to do it, and my reason for not doing it is just because it was you who said it."

I see that as rebellion against me personally rather than an expression of mature decision-making, and it gets me angry. We have a very democratic set-up, so that no one has to do anything just because I say so. And with the present system of "autonomy", no one even has to go along with the majority vote. Each team can become a law unto themselves.

I have said all that to emphasise that it's not that members have to go along with me or with anyone else in the community. Yet it still bothers me that some people are reacting to me more than acting in accord with their best understanding of the truth.

Obviously I feel that way about a lot (but not all) of what our natural children have done in connection with their departure from our community. I admire what each of them has done in a positive way to develop their abilities, to raise their families, and to build a better world. But all of the reactionary stuff both angers and saddens me. It saddens me because I know that such bitterness hurts them more than me; but it's not the sadness I am writing about here; it's the anger.

And that's where Sheila comes into it. Sheila is Joe's mother. All of the evidence suggests that she was an extremely dedicated mother. She sacrificed everything she could to give her family the best possible opportunities to become successful. And then Joe (her most promising son) chose to turn his back on offers of both academic and athletic scholarships to some of the best universities in America, so that he could travel around with what could be described as controversial Christian hippies. She felt that he had defied her, that he was spitting in her face, and making a decision which was going to unravel everything that she had been working toward in her management of his life.

I don't personally think that Joe was rebelling or even reacting. I think he was very positively living out his faith in God, and that he had well thought out reasons for making the decisions that he was and is making. I feel that Sheila is not open to even discussing those reasons with him, because she knows that he has overwhelming evidence to support his position. But that, too, is not what I want to write about. I want to put myself into Sheila's position, and to imagine that she honestly sees Joe as the "prodigal son" that she keeps calling him... a rebellious son who is running away from the "god" that she represents.

Here we have two leaders (Sheila and myself) both trying very hard to do what we think is best for the "followers", and both feeling that it is being thrown in our faces. What do we do about it? More to the point, what CAN we do about it?

We can shout and criticise... something that I am most inclined to do. Or we can marshal forces to wipe out the opposition, which seems to be more in line with Sheila's approach. She has, strangely enough, become the rallying heroine of much of the anti-Jesus Christian movement. Liesel went on the Jeremy Kyle Show in England, to say that she was there representing Sheila. Fox News talked about the "devastating" news that Jared and John (Joe's father and half-brother) had been charged with assault by the police for their attempt to murder Reinhard when he accompanied Joe on a visit to see the family. Sheila herself was the one who phoned John, and asked him to come and assist Jared in his efforts, and she held a gun in her hand as she watched the assault.

But when I reverse the circumstances a bit, putting myself in Sheila's shoes, I can understand her frustration. As parents/leaders, we often come from having been able, for years, to call virtually every shot in the development of our young charges. To see all of that crumbling because of the influence of some outside force makes you want to do all that you can to stop those "evil" influences. Thoughts that pass through one's mind are not always entirely Christian nor entirely legal.

But for most of us, that is all they are... just thoughts. We soon realise where such a road is taking us. Eventually we have to be more realistic, to accept defeat in some areas and to do what we can to salvage the relationship in other areas. And as we do this, we actually mature as leaders. And I think that this is another point at which Sheila and I differ.

Contrary to all common sense, Sheila actually seems to be gaining in support of her position. While all of the experts on parent-child relationships will tell parents that they have to accept the rights of their children to differ with them, and that intervention by force is immoral, it seems that everyone from other relatives and church congregations to the FBI (who seriously accepted Sheila's claim that Joe had been kidnapped even after they had all the evidence of Jared's assault) and the media, is prepared to say that when it comes to the teachings of Jesus interfering with the absolute authority of parents, no one's rights as adults should be respected.

Well, that is the way that the world is heading... unfortunately. We are going to just have to live (and probably die) with it. But it does not entitle us to stoop to the same levels. I (and other leaders in our community) have to learn our lessons regardless, and one of those lessons is that rebellion needs to be examined dispassionately, in an effort to determine whether it is actually rebellion against God or just a phase in spiritual development, where people become more independent and stronger in their commitment, thus enabling them to survive with or without the parental image of a human leader.

It is easy for our critics to say that we equate all that our leaders say with what God's will is, and that we see all dissent as rebellion against God. But there is a difference, and it is not all that difficult to discern. We just have to control our own hurt at the dissent long enough to see where people are heading in other areas of their lives. If they are moving on for God, then their disagreement with (or anger toward) us is of little consequence, and probably represents a great opportunity for us to learn more humility ourselves. But if the rebellion is consistent with problems they are facing with other people, then I feel we have a responsibility to point it out, even if they still refuse to accept the truth in what we are saying.

In conclusion, it is the job of any good leader to look beyond personal hurts and to observe where followers are going in their relationship with God.

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