Seven Years in the Boston Movement:
Jane Akshar’s Story
On the 4th June 1986 I was baptized and became a member of the Central London Church of Christ, now known as the London Church of Christ. I was 31, owned my own house, had a car and had a well-paid career in computing. However I had for many years felt that my life was incomplete and purposeless and I was happy that I had found the answer I was looking for.
Sadly everything was not as it seemed. After much heart searching my husband and I came to the conclusion that there were many abuses in the church by the leaders. We tried to raise this with the leaders, keeping it between them and us, but we got nowhere. Eventually we agreed to appear on television to expose some of these matters. We did this in the hope that this radical step would force changes on the church. That it would revert back to the organization we joined back in 1986. The response of the church was to throw us out, literally and to deny all our allegations. Indeed lies were told about us to protect their position. We now believe that the London Church of Christ is a destructive cult that needs uncovering.
This decision has not been arrived at lightly, for seven years this was all my life. My husband and I had met in the church, dated and eventually married. While we were members, I had a miscarriage and eventually went on to have my daughter. Nearly all of our friends were members, everything we did revolved around church meetings and activities. There was no part of my life that it did not impinge upon.
The doctrine we had been taught meant that to leave the church was leaving God, I would go to hell and so would my husband and child. Spiritually, emotionally and mentally it was a tremendously painful thing to do. The reasons behind our decision were many and various and I wish to cover them all. First you have to understand that until I was married whenever anything came up I always believed that I was wrong and they were right. I had a non-existent belief in my own judgment. It was only when my husband started agreeing with me and telling me that I could be right that I realized that my opinion could be the correct one occasionally.
Every member reports to a discipler who has to be asked advice on everything. This advice is mandatory, rejection of advice is perceived as pride, arrogance and a hard heart.
Hope meetings and travel
During the summer of 1986 and 1987 the church conducted a recruitment campaign using both overseas visitors and members of the London church who were on holiday. You were put under tremendous pressure to take holiday during this period. Leadership dismissed the idea that members might need to take a holiday where they got away and relaxed. What was the need for a Christian to take a holiday, God would provide them with everything.
Anyway there was an urgency to win the world now. Meetings took place after evening evangelism starting at nine — ten o’clock, there was never any reason not to be there. These meetings took place 15-20 minutes walk from Tooting Broadway tube and I live in Sutton. I did not have a car at this time and my journey home from these meetings by bus and tube could take up to one hour and I was travelling alone. Next morning I would be up at 5:30 in order to start praying and reading the Bible. I resented my tiredness and lack of time to relax but felt that I was wrong. That what was being asked of me was totally realistic and if I really trusted in God it would not be a problem.
I did not question it at the time but as most of these visitors were from America they needed visas. According to the trust deeds of the church they established the International School of Evangelism. By claim to be students of this school overseas visitors who needed visas could profess to be students. It is our contention that this ruse was used by anyone in the church who needed a visa, and contravenes the UK immigration laws.
The dating rules were very artificial and comprising many unwritten rules and regulations. It was because so few members had strong personal convictions that these rules had to be in place. That is why the opportunities for sexual immorality were so limited that it could not take place. If the members had been more reliant on personal conviction instead of relying on following charismatic leaders there would have been no need for such strict regulations.
Back in 1986 only male members of the church could initiate casual dates, dating and marriage. This meant that sisters who were considered unattractive because of looks, spiritual attitude or age were rarely asked out. Being 31, I was one of the oldest single members, most of the church being in their early twenties. During my first year I was asked on one date and that was a church-wide meal which my discipler made sure I had a date for. In my second year I went on three dates, this meant many lonely Saturday nights as other people in my group were popular and out every Saturday. In October 1988 female members were allowed to invite brothers on casual dates. This change of attitude came about because of the lack of normal relationships to display to visitors.
I was one of the few members of the church who owned property and it was assumed, indeed I offered to share with other sisters in the church. Most of the girls who stayed with me were on average ten years younger than me but were considered by the church to be more spiritual. Consequently they decided who should live in my house, what rent they would pay, how many, who shared a room with whom, who had what room. Whether we would have an evangelical party to invite people to, in short everything about the house and the people living in it was decided by someone other than myself. The only thing left in my hands was paying the bills.
In 1987 I offered to help support a sister who could then work full-time for the church. The practicalities of this were that she lived rent free in my house. I paid all her bills and provided her with food. She had constant use of my car and I paid for the petrol. In addition I gave her 120 pounds per month, pocket money. Although the church was totally prepared to accept the money, this was never mentioned in public. Many people were talked about on Sundays who supported the church financially or in other ways. My effort was never mentioned. This made me feel that whatever I did was never enough. I would never be good enough.
This was an important part of controlling me. By making me constantly insecure and guilty I could be made to do anything that was asked of me, always hoping that this time I would make it. When Annette left to go to the Munich church planting, interest rates also went up. I was unable to afford to carry on supporting in this way but continued to let two full-time members of the church staff stay at my house paying half of the rent of the other girls. All this was apart from my regular contribution of 60 pounds per week, 5 pounds per week poor contribution, and 1000 pounds or more for twice yearly special contributions.
One aspect of my life that the church leaders did not approve of was my cat, called Rahotep. It was not considered the act of a committed Christian to have an animal. You should be ready to go anywhere, do anything at a moment’s notice and having a cat did not fit in. Secondly Emma Day (now married to Fred Scott the lead evangelist) lived in my house. Emma did not like my cat.
However, it was not until I was going out with my husband that they struck. They told me that if we got married then Ayman would insist that the cat went, then they said that I put the cat before God. It is difficult to describe the pressure that was put on me that night. I was not allowed to phone Ayman; we were only allowed to talk on the phone once a week for 30 minutes on Friday. Then Emma went out making it quite clear that the cat must not be in the house when she got back.
I was too ashamed to take him to his usual vet. I found one in the telephone directory. This vet obviously thought that it was some sort of domestic dispute and agreed that I could come to his surgery. He even arranged for a car to pick me up as the girls had taken my car when they had gone out. It was horrible. I really loved that cat and he was just being used as another means of keeping me totally under control. The vet said he would take care of the body and give his basket to someone who needed it. I took all his food and bowls and left them outside the PDSA. I feel so ashamed that I let them make me do this but I really thought that it was what God wanted. I also knew that if I did not obey them in this they would stop Ayman and I going out together.
My relationship with Ayman was terrific, although we were allowed very little time together, the phone call once a week and a Saturday night date, our relationship was growing very close. He treated me wonderfully and I was always talking about him and the things he did, cards, flowers etc. This got me into a lot of trouble. I was challenged on being proud. Since they had destroyed my self-confidence in all other areas there was only this one left.
I honestly think they were jealous. Anyway, after being constantly challenged and told to repent, they decided that everyone would move out of my house. I asked what I was supposed to repent of and was told a truly humble and obedient disciple would not have to ask. I never knew what I was supposed to do or be saying.
Although I did not know until after we were married an enormous amount of pressure was put on Ayman to finish with me. He was told he would never go on a mission, would never rise in the leadership if he married me. The evangelist said to him: “tell me the word and finish with Jane and you will be dating another sister by next Saturday”.
He did not give in so they allowed the marriage to go ahead. Everything was controlled by Emma who decided what I could wear, the flowers, everything but allowed me to pay. There were a number of aspects of our wedding that were not what we wanted but, without discussing it with each other, we decided to keep quiet, do what we were told and get married.
Sickness and Work
The late hours and constant pressure had a huge impact on my health, and that of course damaged my work. Before I joined the church, I had six days sick leave that year. Afterwards I had between 21 and 24 days every year I was a member. When I mentioned this, I was of course rebuked. I was not trusting in God, a true disciple would not worry about these things. God would give them strength. Although my job was providing the church with a lot of money they were quite happy to let it be damaged.
Dating & Marriage
I have already mentioned the rather draconian rules and regulations regarding dating. When a brother liked a sister he would go to his discipler. The discipler would then go to the girl’s discipler and discuss the potential couple. It would then go to leadership, if they approved then the couple would start going out every four weeks.
Approval was hard to get, you had to be spiritually equal in their eyes, it had to fit into their plans for each individual. Many mixed relationships were stopped because it was planned for the couple to go to a predominantly white area of Britain where a black person could hamper their effectiveness. If they were allowed to date, they would be constantly checked on and monitored. If it as thought that they were being impure in thought or deed that was the end of it. If it impacted the number of visitors or Bible studies they were in it was stopped.
If, however, you passed all these tests then the brother was allowed to ask the sister to start steady dating. This was as significant as getting engaged, very rarely did a couple break up. If they did, it was usually because the leaders decided that they had to.
Once you had been dating for a while (and this varied from a few months to several years) then the brother was allowed to ask her to marry him. Of course while you were dating, you were checked all the time and only if you did what you were told were you allowed to continue. They had to have many rules and regulations because people’s convictions were not personal, based on their own beliefs, but because of membership of the group.
Once you were married all this purity went flying out of the window. Of course this is how it should be in a Christian marriage, but they went to the opposite extreme. The first thing you got asked when you came back off honeymoon was what night did she have an orgasm. How often did you do it, where, etc. etc. You had to share about everything, positions, thoughts, the works. It was a big shock after the singles ministry where everything was forbidden and kept out of your mind. Couples were given weekly goals of sexual frequency and it was discussed in groups if you did not make the goal.
Again, all this prevented true intimacy and trust between couples and the church was able to increase their control of the membership. Couples were encouraged to bring their trouble to their disciplers and it would be resolved in a foursome.
One of the first things that sparked doubts in our mind was Ayman’s experience in the tape ministry. The church records all sermons and sells these to the congregation. As Ayman did not have a work permit he helped out with the recording, and another brother was in charge. At the end of 1990 they were asked to produce some accounts. When we looked these over it was obvious that a large sum of money was going missing. Although revenue had increased by over 200% the profit remained the same. Approximately a cute 30,000 had disappeared.
Our attitude at this time was that once the leader knew about it he would sort it out. It never occurred to us that they would not care and not take any action to stop it happening again. We also became aware of a full time member of staff who was buying drugs. Again we told the leadership expecting them to sort it out but a year later he was still on the staff. We began to realize that all the publicity over the years was true. It was a bitter blow.
Fred & Emma
We had what we thought was a strong relationship with Fred and Emma Scott the lead evangelist and his wife. We told them of our worries in person and by letter. Briefly these covered marriage problems, payment of tax by staff, deed of covenant falsification, insensitive advice, contracts of employment, wage slips, the finances in the tape ministry, general unhappiness and most of all there was no way to raise a problem without it being thrown back at you, you were sinning. Copies of some of the letters are attached.
Almost immediately we were dropped as friends and inevitably everything we said was dismissed. We were told to repent for being negative and disobedient. In the end we went on television in the hope that this dramatic action would change things. The response of the church was to “publicly mark” us. This is similar to being excommunicated, no one was allowed to talk to us and we were considered to be evil and of Satan.
During November 1990 I fell pregnant, we were still very involved in the ministry and were attending a mid week service over an hour’s drive away. After I had the miscarriage Ayman said that never again would he put his wife under such pressure. He felt that the intense schedule had contributed to the loss of the baby. He was told to repent of his attitude and to stop mistrusting the leaders and God. When I became pregnant again he refused to obey them and made sure I got enough rest and did not endanger the pregnancy.
At four months I got an infection and was admitted into hospital. Again I was pressurized to evangelize the ward, there was no consideration to my condition or that I had nearly lost another baby. It was about this time we were considered weak Christians, standing up for what we believed in was considered a sign of spiritual weakness not strength. The only thing you are allowed to believe in is what you are told, your own personal conviction counts for nothing.
After we had the baby and I went back to work we began to find the schedule of mid week meetings and Bible discussions overwhelming. It was okay for a single person, just about tolerable for a married couple, but for a family it was unrealistic. Meetings that started too early to get a meal after work and that finished at 9, 10, or even 11 o’clock were normal. We suggested having the Bible discussion at our house as this would make it easier, but after a few months this was dropped and we were expected to be on the move.
We refused. Now we were not just weak Christians — we were struggling, rebellious and going to hell. Many letters, phone calls and meetings took place. Always we were challenged about our attitude and obedience, never did any leader acknowledge that we might be right in any area.