Relationship with the Bruderhof

No one but you should decide how you interact with your family. That being said, so often it is entirely out of your control. It can be heartbreaking to see your connection or lack thereof dictated by the Church. It  is easy to be angry with family still in the community. After all, they made a decision that led to extreme separation, by giving up their freedom of choice through baptism. But then, so did I. I chose to leave, knowing I would likely have little to do with their daily lives in the future. I was fully aware of the way they treat leavers. I decided I would put myself through the pain of separation for the sake of personal agency. Even if I were still within the community, there’s no guarantee I’d be living on the same commune as my mother. It’s always going to be painful, but each individual has to decide if the separation is worth it – if the cost of choosing your own career path, the people you surround yourself with, the way you dress and where you live – if the ability to make these choices for yourself is worth letting go of a relationship that ultimately strangles your sense of self. One can also keep hoping they revamp their policies towards leavers.  Perhaps one day people will be able to come and go freely on the communes, promoting the healthy family unit they claim to support. Until that day, there are hundreds of people out here willing to step up and be a family to those like us who have essentially lost ours.

Dealing With My Family

WILL MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HOF FAMILY BE THE SAME?

The quick answer is, “It depends”. The long-term answer is, “Probably not; not in the way you need.”

“Placing loyalty to Jesus above all else can be difficult, but his words cannot be ignored. Family relationships within or beyond the community must not draw us away from following him.”  (Foundations Chapter 6. Life in Community: Children and the Family)

This is going to be a difficult and painful topic to cover. There are essential points you will need to consider as you try to maintain a reasonable relationship with family. The most important point is that the Bruderhof equates “loyalty to Jesus” with loyalty to the Bruderhof.  Your parents individually have made a life-time vow of fidelity to the Bruderhof Church Community. This vow supersedes all normal, natural, “God-given” commitments. Your parents, individually are, quite literally, married to the Church Community. Their loyalty to the Church Community (=Jesus) comes first.  To each other they are sister-and-a-brother-in-marriage. A bedrock promise, once given, cannot be undone. If the promise is broken, the individual member becomes “unfaithful”; a vow-breaker. To place love for the child above loyalty to the Church is a grave sin. Loyalty to the Church is the glue that holds the Bruderhof together; without it, the present structure falls apart. Though your parents may love you deeply they can’t demonstrate their love and show their support in the manner you need and deserve.

When you were born, you were ceremoniously presented to the Community during a Family Meeting. Your Darstellung (presentation) signified to all present that you were “given” to the Church Community. Your parents became your primary caretakers. All other members agreed to raise you in the fear of God. Founder Eberhard Arnold’s teachings make it very clear that the main task of the Church Community is to raise you in the fear of God. Implied is the belief that you will become a loyal Bruderhof member. He taught that if every member took the task of child rearing seriously the child would naturally choose to become a member. He had virtually nothing to say about a possible future outside the Bruderhof. A Bruderhof education is not so much concerned with preparing you for life “outside”, as it is in preparing you to take your proper place within the Church Community.

It is not a stretch to say that your development as an independent person capable of making your own decisions has been arrested. Now that you have chosen to leave the Bruderhof, you must, as it were, “unlearn” those things that stunted your development. This may prove painful, but it is work you need to do if you wish to find your place in wider society. Your relationship with Hof family has changed; it will never again be the same. Your parents will remind you that their First Loyalty is to the Church Community=Jesus. They can no longer advise you about such important matters as your post high school education, career choices, your finances and your relationships. Hence forth your request to visit requires the approval of the Servant of the Word. Your request may be granted with the provision that you agree to visit the Community first, and your family second. You will be asked to immerse yourself in the daily affairs of the Church Community. Your personal needs, especially your emotional needs, are secondary. If this seems cruel you may want to read the story of an early Christian convert, Vibia Perpetua. (BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, p. 11-13, by Elaine Pagels. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.) Here, in stark detail, you learn how an early Christian handled the conflict between loyalty to her baby and her husband, and loyalty to Jesus.

In fairness, it should be noted that in recent years there has been a gradual shift in the Bruderhof’s attitude towards those of its “children” who leave. More recently Hof parents and family members have been granted permission to meet off-Hof with non-Hof family members. Bruderhof parents have attended “outside” weddings. I commend this development even as relational road blocks remain.

Your relationship with your Hof family is affected by another important consideration: your willingness to abide by the conditions placed upon you by your parents and Leaders. Upon leaving, you more than likely were asked to not have any contact whatsoever with former Bruderhof associates. You were warned against contact with “evil KIT folk.” You were warned not to do social networking on face book and elsewhere. You may have been asked not to speak critically about the Bruderhof. If you can meet these conditions visitations may happen. These restrictions are a control mechanism that virtually assures that the leaver will be less than truthful when asked by parents about social contacts “outside”.

It bears repeating that a relationship with Hof family is difficult to maintain once you leave. Natural and so-called “God-given” bonds will never again be the same. You now are entirely on your own. The choices you make are yours. Your parents can no longer provide the emotional support you need and deserve! They cannot satisfactorily resolve past “issues”. You will need to bring these to the attention of the Senior Pastor. Your parents and family members may write cards and wish you well.

Keep in mind that your parents and siblings on the Bruderhof are grieving for “broken” relationship. Much as they may want to, they are not allowed to demonstrate their love for you in personal, deeply meaningful ways. And, when a loved one marries or faces the end of life, you may not be told until well after the fact.

Mel Fros

mfros@juno.com