Jesus Christians

Geraldine Smith

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JESUS CHRISTIANS TIMELINE

1944:  Dave McKay was born in Rochester, New York.

1981:  The McKay family began distributing their tracts on the street.

1985:  Six of the youngest Jesus Christians members successfully walked 1000km across the Nullarbor Desert.

1998:  Several members including Dave and Cherry McKay’s son Kevin McKay left over differences regarding the direction of the community.

1998:  The community that formed around Dave and Cherry McKay adopted the name “Jesus Christians.”

1999:  The Jesus Christians were falsely accused of kidnapping nineteen-year-old Kyri Sheridan.

2000:  The Jesus Christians were falsely accused of kidnapping sixteen-year-old Bobby Kelly.

2002:  The first two Jesus Christian members altruistically donated their kidneys to a stranger.

2003:  The Guardian journalist, Jon Ronson, produced a documentary on the Jesus Christian’s kidney donations called Kidneys for Jesus.

2005:  Jesus Christians were falsely accused of kidnapping Betty Njoroge and her seven-year-old son in Kenya.

2006:  The Jesus Christians performed a mock trial after a Jesus Christian member was attacked by the family of a newly joined member.

2007:  Several Jesus Christian members appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show special on cults.

2010:  Dave and Cherry McKay announced that the Jesus Christians had officially disbanded.

2015:  Former Jesus Christian members began publishing YouTube videos on their channel Cómo Vivir Por Fe [Living by Faith].

2016:  Former Jesus Christian members published the YouTube channels End Time Survivors, Radically New Life, and A Voice in the Desert.

2018:  Former Jesus Christian members published the YouTube channel The Teachings of Jesus and Christian Cartoons.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

What would come to be known as the Jesus Christians (JCs) emerged in the 1980s as a small community based around the family of Dave and Cherry McKay, and their four children Kevin, Sheri, Gary and Christine. Dave and Cherry met at high school in the small town of Clarksburg, California. Dave was raised in a family of Nazarene Christians. Cherry’s mother was part of Christ Unity, but her main influence was her grandmother who was a Baptist (personal communication with Dave McKay, May 14, 2019).  Dave and Cherry married young and moved from the United States to Australia in 1968. After moving to Australia, Dave briefly joined the Children of God for a period of several months but left due to several disagreements such as the church’s teachings on sexual ethics; Cherry did not join (Ronson 2002a). In 1981, the McKay family began producing and distributing their own tracts and experimenting with ways to adopt their understanding of the teachings of Jesus into their lifestyle (“JC History 1981-1996”  2016). The maxims that would later come to characterize the JCs was preaching the teachings of Jesus, performing altruistic humanitarian work, and the rejection of greed and the idolatrous worship of money. Throughout the 1980s, this manifested in “free work” campaigns, charity projects in India, as well as in Australia, and street protests designed to bring their message to a broader audience. Whilst many activities were based in Australia, the group also expanded into the United Kingdom, the United States, Africa, India, and New Zealand (“JC History 1981-1996” 2016).

During the 1980s, the early group, which was not yet called the Jesus Christians, used media stunts, graffiti, “free work” campaigns, and street performances to bring attention to their message. These stunts often led to arrests and legal action taken against them. They also garnered considerable media attention as Dave McKay used his background as a journalist to facilitate greater media exposure. The main thrust of the group’s street performances and stunts involved the desecration of paper money. They did this to bring attention to idolatrous worship of money in modern society. They glued $1 notes to the footpath in Martin Place, Sydney, spelling the words “Trust God, Not Money,” burnt paper money in public demonstrations, and inscribed $2 dollar notes with their message and Bible scripture. They also (illegally) painted a mural in the Devonshire Street tunnel in Sydney (“Mural Painters Told to Get Permission First 1984), and stood in shopping centers dressed in hessian robes and chains whilst holding scrolls inscribed with “fire and brimstone” Bible verses (“JC History 1981-1996,” 2016). The group’s street performances expanded into greater feats when, in 1985, several of the youngest members of the community successfully walked 1000km across the Nullarbor Desert without supplies or money. [Image at right] The small group of young Christians was led by fifteen-year-old Christine McKay. They completed the walk in two months by relying on what they found and what was given to them by strangers. This stunt earned them the name the “Nullarbor Walkers” by the media ((“Walkers Begged, Say Locals“ 1985; “JC History 1981-1996” 2016; “Critics Were Wrong, Say Nullarbor 7” 1985a, “Walkers Call for Apologies After 1,700km Trek” 1985b).

Throughout the 1990s, the JCs extended their reach overseas to India where they carried out various large-scale humanitarian projects. The group had previously worked in India in the 1980s, but in 1990, several members moved to Madras and began what would become known as “Vision 2000.” This was their largest humanitarian project yet (“JC History 1981-1996” 2016). Continuing their flare for public dissent, they drew attention to the poor living conditions of the slums by taking turns standing waist-deep in the open sewers for a week. They also set up a dining table, wine glasses and fine linen in the sewerage (“JC History 1981-1996” 2016; McGirk 1995). In addition, they engaged in charitable works such as teaching English, cleaning public toilets, sweeping the streets, cleaning the open sewer, and building a concrete slab to cover the open sewer. They also built many structures on the slab to support the various charity activities they were running (McGirk 1995, 1994). They state that

1994 was a year of great popularity for us in India, with media reports almost every week throughout the year, and a constant stream of visitors, from politicians and celebrities to whole school classes and service clubs. Several television documentaries on our work were made in India, and some were shown all over Asia. We had succeeded in turning a 60 metre stretch of sewer into an oasis, complete with a full-size volleyball court, clinic, and small huts for our workers. We treated up to 150 patients a day, as well as teaching English classes and organizing sporting competitions. However, we also slogged on dredging a further 100 meters of the silted up sewage canal, using only buckets and shovels and our bare hands(“JC History 1981-1996” 2016).

Their protests and social work in the area attracted international media interest, as well as many volunteers, journalists, and other organizations. However, they were eventually pressured to leave after being repeatedly threatened from the local slumlord (“JC History 1981-1996” 2016; McGirk 1995).

In the late 1990s, the group adopted a new direction. Several members defected from the group, and they began to call themselves “Jesus Christians”(“JC History 1981-1996” 2016). They handed over the work they had done in India to various charity organizations and began to focus upon evangelism, through the distribution of their tracts. The Jesus Christians website describes the reason for this shift from humanitarian work to witnessing, stating that “we were keen to reduce our involvement in that form of “social work” and to increase our involvement in getting out the printed word.”(“JC History 1981-1996” 2016). In 1996, this change in focus led to a split in the community led by Dave and Cherry’s son, Kevin McKay who left with many other members (“The Split” 2016). Up to this point the group went by many names which were often given to them by the media, such as the Rappville Christians, Medowie Volunteers, Sydney Christians, the Australians, Nullarbor Walkers, and the Christians. In 1998, they officially named themselves the Jesus Christians (“A Change of Name” 2016).

Throughout the 2000s, over thirty JC members made altruistic kidney donations to strangers. The first to document the kidney donations was The Guardian journalist Jon Ronson. In 2002, he wrote a two-part article for the Guardian (Ronson 2002a, 2002b), and in 2003, he produced a television documentary, Kidneys for Jesus (Ronson 2003) where he followed the donation process of several JC members. In 2004, the group came under scrutiny once again for the kidney donations. The JCs admitted that they had exaggerated how long they had known the recipients so that they would be allowed to donate. At the time, unrelated kidney donations were not legal in Australia, and it raised questions about the legality of the JCs actions (Giles 2004; Scott 2004; NSW to Allow Live Kidney Donations” 2004). In NSW, this led to a re-evaluation of NSW policy on kidney donations, which allowed for un-related kidney donations (“NSW To Allow Live Kidney Donations” 2004). In Victoria, the JCs were banned from donating their kidneys (“JC Kidney Ban in Australia” 2016). The JCs kidney donations also spurred debate in the medical community over whether the JC members should be allowed to donate (Frunză et al. 2010; Mueller et al. 2008). They were rejected from the Mayo Clinic in the United States from donating, due to the fears that the members were being coerced by Dave McKay (Mueller et al. 2008). In 2008, the JCs entered the public stage again when Australian Story (“Ash’s Anatomy” 2007) produced  a report on JC member Ashwyn Falkingham, who wanted to donate his kidney to a woman in Canada. The story focused on the plight of Falkingham’s parents to prevent him from donating his kidney and “rescue” him from the JCs. Initially, they quashed his efforts by contacting the Canadian health authorities (“Ash’s Anatomy” 2007), but Falkingham later successfully donated in Cyprus (“Kidneys” 2016).

In 2010, the Jesus Christians announced that they had disbanded, and they disappeared from the public scene. One reason why they did this was to escape the harassment they were experiencing from anti-cult antagonists. Around the same time, several long-term members Susan and Roland Gianstefani, Ross Parry, and Alan Wright exited the community, either from excommunication or defection. In subsequent years, they have been highly vocal in exposing the JCs for being dishonest about their disbandment. They claim that the JCs continued to operate covertly and that they were shunned from the community because they did not agree with the decision to “go underground”(Gianstefani 2019; Parry 2013; Wright 2019). In a personal communication (November 27, 2017), Dave McKay clarifies that the disbandment was “real and fake at the same time” (Personal Communication, November 27, 2017). On the one hand, individual teams still operated under the same teachings and practices as the JCs. However, the decision to disband caused a restructure in the community. Each of the teams, which were spread across Australia, Kenya, the United States, the United Kingdom and South America, became autonomous bodies and members minimized and/or ceased contact with relatives, friends and contacts. Assets had been divided several years before and many members parted ways on the instruction to manage their own evangelizing activities. Most importantly, they no longer identified as JCs (McKay, 2017). Thus, the JCs announcement of disbandment was not necessarily dishonest, but neither does it capture the nuance of the transition that occurred in the community at that time.

In 2015, the group began to re-emerge as several members began experimenting with the production of YouTube videos. For the first few years, the JCs presented themselves as anonymous. The presenters were not named, and they often appeared wearing a mask or with a digitally distorted face and voice. In 2011, the first channel was created by former JC members based in South America and it was called Cómo Vivir Por Fe [Living by Faith] (“Cómo Vivir Por Fe [Living by Faith]” 2011), however they did not produce a video until 2015. End Time Survivors, A Voice in the Desert, and Radically New Life appeared in 2016 (“A Voice in the Desert,” 2016, “End Time Survivors,” 2016b, “Radically New Life” 2016). In 2018, they published The Teachings of Jesus and Christian Cartoons (“Christian Cartoons” 2018; “The Teachings of Jesus” 2018). A large portion of the material presented by these YouTube channels is drawn from the corpus of material produced by the JCs and many former JC members administrate these channels. The channels differ in emphasis and style, but all follow a general format. They include sermons delivered by, sometimes distorted, voices, animations, music videos, and documentaries about the group’s activities. The Endtime Survivors channel stands out as possessing a greater emphasis on end time Bible prophecy and apocalyptic themes. A Voice in the Desert possesses a greater volume of sermons delivered by Dave McKay, but various other individuals also present. All the presenters are referred to as “Voice.” A Voice in the Desert also stands out as the most popular channel with more than 90 000 subscribers in 2019 (“A Voice in the Desert” 2017f). As the JCs continued to produce YouTube videos, other users began to identify them as former JCs and they became more relaxed with identifying individuals that appeared in the videos.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

The JC’s most central ethos is that they directly follow the teachings of Jesus. In a video entitled “The Cornerstone,” the presenter explains that,

Most Christians would understand this [The Cornerstone] is a term used in the Bible to refer to Jesus, and in particular his teachings. In one reference at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, his teachings are described as the entire foundation on which we should build our lives, and presumably our churches. This passage is also the one that most clearly identifies the teachings of Jesus as being the foundation, not just a name or a theological statement about Jesus, and it links disobedience to those teachings to spiritual destruction as opposed to obedience, which will result in spiritual survival…Jesus, in particular the teachings of Jesus, is the one piece that is absolutely indispensable. Without him everything else falls apart or becomes chaos (A Voice in the Desert 2019).

They believe that the teachings of Jesus are the “Word of God,” therefore His teachings are the utmost truth (A Voice in the Desert 2017a).Therefore, they prioritize the teachings of Jesus, as told in the Four Gospels, above all else in the Bible. They do not disregard the rest of the Bible, rather that which is not confirmed in the teachings of Jesus is considered inferior. They state that, “every other stone must line up with the cornerstone. If the apostles or the prophets are quoted in opposition to Jesus, we must follow Jesus in preference to them”(“Jesus -Key Verses” 2016).  It is on this prioritization of the teachings of Jesus that they claim to be unique among most other Christians.

The JCs believe that most Christian churches are failing to follow the teachings of Jesus. They use the terms “Churchianity,” and its adherents “churchies,” to refer to those who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus but follow the doctrine of the institution. They state that “churchies are people whose first loyalty is to the institutional church rather than to Jesus. They are defensive about the establishment and critical of anyone who supports the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, this includes the vast majority of Churchgoers” (“Churchies” 2016). For one to follow the truth, which is the teachings of Jesus, they must leave the religious establishment (“Churchies” 2016). Consequently, the JCs are anti-institutional. This is reflected in their loose organizational structure that is designed to avoid the construction of a church and hierarchical leadership. They spurn calling themselves or any individual by a title, this includes, mother, father, doctor, professor, sir, etc. (“Titles” 2016). Their desire to avoid worshiping doctrine over God also leads them to be suspicious of tradition and ritual activities (“System Worship” 2017). The JCs do not worship in a particular place or building, they do not hold any day as holy, and they do not practice regular sacraments (“The Kingdom of Heaven or Religion?” 2016). Furthermore, contentious theological debates over baptism, circumcision, the Sabbath, homosexuality, priesthood, the Sacraments, etc. are considered peripheral issues that are over-emphasized by other Christian denominations. The JCs see these doctrinal issues as irrelevant when one follows the teachings of Jesus (A Voice in the Desert 2018a).

There are those, however, who may go to church or another religious institution with the intention to follow the truth, but they have not yet come across it. This quality of truth-seeking is described as “sincerity.” A sincere individual is someone who seeks the truth as it was revealed by the teachings of Jesus. They state that a sincere person who possesses “real faith will respond positively to the light. It will seek out the light. It will want to know the truth’(“Faith and Sincerity” 2016). Anyone from any religion could be considered sincere in their search for the truth. They do not necessarily need to be Christian, because they have not been shown the teachings of Jesus, but are living out the truth of the teachings nonetheless. However, “a really sincere person will be drawn to the teachings of Jesus” (“Faith and Sincerity” 2016), and once the teachings have been revealed to an individual that person must conform to them. The doctrine states that, “a person with real faith will seek to change in conformity to the truth, rather than hide behind religious idols, dogmas, and traditions”(“Faith and Sincerity” 2016).

Those who are sincere are those who are likely to end up in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven can refer to the world that will take over after the events of the Book of Revelation occur, and the other-worldly, ever-present realm that exists beyond the human domain. In their description of the Kingdom of Heaven, they state that

This mysterious “kingdom of heaven” does “not come with observation” (Luke 17:20); it is not “of this world” (John 18:36); it is not ruled by “carnal weapons” (II Corinthians 10:4); in fact, by human political standards, it is not a kingdom at all. Instead, it is a relationship between the human race and our Creator. It consists of attitudes and spiritual forces at work in the lives of those who are humble, loving, and sincere in their faith toward God. All of these forces come from the Spirit of the One who Created us, which, in some mysterious way, is also the Spirit of the One who died on the cross in Israel some 2,000 years ago.  In other words, God’s kingdom IS the Spirit of Jesus.  The kingdom of heaven is the REVELATION of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is what Jesus came to demonstrate, at the same time that it is something yet to come when he returns (End Time Survivors 2018a).

Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven is something that can be accessed in the present through sincerity and living out the teachings of Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven also refers to an unseen global community of sincere individuals. This “invisible” kingdom is the culmination of sincere individuals who may not know one another but who are connected through their relationship with God. In the end-times, those who are sincere will be united together into the twelve tribes and they will become a part of the coming Kingdom.

For the JCs, the most important teaching of Jesus is that one must reject the love and service of money in order to serve God (A Voice in the Desert 2017b). They believe that the love of money is the “Root of all Evil” and identify greed and the worship of money as the source of the world’s ills. They state that “the Bible tells us that the love of money, whether physical or electronic, is responsible for all the evils and injustices in the world” (End Time Survivors 2018b).  Furthermore, they believe that this is what separates them from other Churches and most of society. Unlike the churches, they have rejected the love of money and instead, have chosen to serve God. In the JCs worldview, we are all given a choice to serve either God or money; you cannot serve both. Those who choose money will be subject to God’s wrath during the end-times. They often refer to Matthew 6:24 (A Voice in the Desert 2017c), which states, “no one can serve two masters: for either they will love the one and hate the other; or else they will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Their rejection of money frames most of the group’s practices, it is what inspires their evangelizing activities, and it is deeply related to their millennialist worldview. They believe that it is also from money that the “Mark of the Beast” will emerge and it will be the tool by which the Devil will gain power during the end-times.

The Book of Revelation and its relationship with the Four Gospels is a key component in the JCs’ Christology. For the JCs, the end-time is imminently approaching. In a documentary they produced called The Mark (End Time Survivors 2016a), they explain that the Mark of the Beast is already being rolled out and that society is slowly being conditioned to accept it. The Mark of the Beast refers to a physical mark on the hand or forehead that demonstrates one’s allegiance to the Devil and prevents one from being a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who take the mark are choosing money (the Devil) over God. They believe that the mark may come in the form of RFID microchipping technology that will be inserted into the hand and be used for financial transactions. This technology will come on the wave of the cashless society. It will replace paper money and become the only way to make financial transactions. Through the development of microchipping technology in credit cards and online banking, which makes cash inconvenient and eventually obsolete, we are slowly being conditioned to take the mark (A Voice in the Desert 2017c). Gradually, each person will be pressured to take the mark because they will be excluded from society without it. Only true followers of Jesus will reject the mark and face the consequences of persecution and suffering. However, they will eventually be rewarded when the Great Tribulation ends and the Kingdom of Heaven is established on Earth (End Time Survivors 2016a).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

The JCs’ core ethos to reject the worship of money compels them to adopt a lifestyle that subsists on as little money as possible. For the JCs, when the mark is rolled out, it will become the ubiquitous way to make financial transactions. Hence, the JCs believe that one day they will have to learn to live without money entirely. Since the cashless society has not yet arrived, and the mark is not widespread, they still use money for necessities. Nevertheless, no one in the community has a job or works for money. For financial needs they subsist on the donations that they collect when distributing their literature on the street. In addition, when a new person joins the community their money becomes added to the collective bank account  of the community. Many members live in camper caravans or cheap accommodation, they “bin-raid” or “dumpster-dive” for food and other items and devise creative alternatives to using money. [Image at right] They are highly aware of sales, discounts, and free alternatives, they do their own repairs and maintenance on their vehicles or homes, make or build what they can, and practice learning to do without things that are unnecessary. This lifestyle also encourages a focus on community living. According to the JCs, living out the teachings of Jesus must be done with other Christians by living together 24/7. It is by doing this that they are better able to survive without money (A Voice in the Desert 2017d:1, 2018b:2).

The JCs describe their lifestyle as “living by faith.” Living by faith begins when more than one Christian joins with another to form a community to live out the teachings of Jesus (A Voice in the Desert 2017e). The JCs believe that when one chooses to serve God over money, then God will provide their basic needs such as food and clothing. Living by faith involves seven major themes: 1) “Pray” involves learning to have an honest relationship with God, so that one may learn to trust the will of God to guide them. They state that “if you’re going to climb out of a boat and try to walk on water, you can’t afford to have misplaced faith. You must ask God to show you His will clearly, from the teachings of His Son” (“Living By Faith: How to Do It” 2016). 2) “Simplify” refers to learning to live with only what one needs, which is food and clothing. 3) “Sell” is closely related to simplify and refers to selling all that one owns and donating the funds to the poor. It too is based on the maxim that one should only own what they need.4) “Give” involves giving to others without any expectation of return. They suggest to “try to regularly give something… secretly… totally… (whether or not the recipient deserves it) without any strings attached” (“Living By Faith: How to Do It” 2016). 5). “Work” refers to putting one’s energy to working for God and with the motivation of love. The JCs occasionally carry out this practice by going on “free work campaigns,” [Image at right] where they offer their time and energy to whoever asks for help (“Living By Faith: How to Do It” 2016). 6) “Ask” being able to ask for food and shelter from those who have plenty, without feeling guilt or worthlessness. 7) “Share” involves working, living, and sharing together as a community. This ethos of community is important to maintain the maxims described above, to allow for the sharing of skills and knowledge, and to correct one another in times of error (“Living By Faith: How to Do It” 2016).

“Forsaking All” is a practice that is closely related to living by faith. “The Forsake All Principle” refers both to the initial transformation one makes when they join the community, as well as an ongoing practice of detaching oneself from worldly attachments. Forsaking all is the boundary that signifies those who are a part of the community. One is not considered a member of the community until they have completed the process. When individuals join, they must give up their job or education, sell all their possessions, give away their money and assets, and leave behind their family, friends and other social commitments. The new joiner must forsake their previous life and identity to take upon the lifestyle of the JCs and the identity as a Christian (“The Forsake All Principle” 2016). Thus, forsaking all refers to more than forsaking one’s material possessions, instead “the [Forsake All] principle teaches that in all areas of human experience, it pays to let go of our attachment to things, whether they be material possessions, hopes, relationships, fears or whatever ”(“The Forsake All Principle” 2016). Giving up these attachments allows one to be guided by God’s will and commit themselves to the community and its ethos. Furthermore, forsaking all is a mentality that is returned to by members. They must continually return to this practice as it is a component of living by faith (A Voice in the Desert 2017f; “The Forsake All Principle” 2016).

A key practice, or a set of practices, in the JC community is discerning God’s will. In times when the JCs require guidance on an issue their first port of call is the teachings of Jesus. However, in circumstances where the teachings cannot provide a specific answer the JCs must use several other means to understand God’s will. The JCs also teach that one should regularly practice “listening times,” so that they may remain receptive to receiving a message from God. They state that,

God can speak to us through dreams, visions and prophecies. We should take the time to listen to what he has to say. Ask God to give you dreams when you go to sleep; and each day when you pray take time to clear your mind of its busy thoughts and allow God to speak to you. You may see a picture, have some words come into your head or have a little daydream which you have not consciously created yourself (McKay, 2016).

The JCs believe that any individual can receive direct revelations from God; however, several factors must be considered in tandem with one another to avoid misinterpretation. Furthermore, these factors must correlate with the teachings of Jesus. Direct revelations from dreams or listening, can also be confirmed by “Godly counsel” (advice from more experienced members), or by other members who received similar revelations. Confirmation can also come from circumstances, coincidences, or miracles. In addition, if one has a desire or interest in something, this can also be implanted by God. Finally, one’s conscience, which has been trained by the teachings of Jesus, can also be a way to discern what is right and wrong (“Eight Ways God Talks to People—GO AHEAD; TRY THEM!” 2018; McKay 2016).

A “Faith Outreach,” “Survival Outreach,” or simply, “Outreach,” is a period of time where members will choose to leave behind all money, leave their homes, take only a few possessions, and live on the street or in the wilderness (A Voice in the Desert 2018c). Every outreach is different, yet the main difficulties that participants must face on the outreach include going without food, shelter, and other comforts. A survival outreach puts into practice the teachings of Jesus and calls upon the principles of forsaking all, living by faith, and listening. The member may go alone or in a group, and it is usually practiced either once a year or every few years. They must rely on what is given to them by strangers or what they can find to survive; they call this “Gods’ provision.” Listening is an important practice during the outreach because it directs them where they are needed and where they may find supplies. Another key activity during the outreach is to witness without relying upon distributing tracts (A Voice in the Desert 2018c). This calls upon the members’ faculties of creativity to find new ways to spread their message. The purpose of the outreach is to put the teachings of Jesus into practice. It teaches members how to do without food and shelter for a short time, to rely on God’s providence, and it encourages preaching the Word of God (“Outreach: Key Verses” 2016). Most importantly, it is considered practice for when the shift towards the cashless society is complete and the JCs must learn to live without money entirely (A Voice in the Desert 2018c).

The JCs have a strong witnessing focus and devote most of their energy to producing YouTube videos or distributing tracts on the street. They identify preaching the Gospel as a key teachings of Jesus (A Voice in the Desert, 2017d). The JCs produce their own books, comics and DVDs which they use for distributing. Some of this material includes Survivors, Listening and Destroyers, which is a three-part fictional series that details the journeys of several individuals as they navigate the teachings of Jesus in the context of the end-times. It was written by Dave McKay as a critique of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind franchise. They also distribute DVDs, including The Mark, which details the coming mark of the beast in RFID microchipping, and a comic version of the Gospel of Luke, which is called The Liberator. The aim of distributing tracts is to inspire as many people as possible to follow the teachings of Jesus (“How To Inspire Others” 2017). They believe that rather than trying to convince someone to accept the material, distributing is about finding those already receptive to the message. They state that, “it’s true that you will have to sift through hundreds of goats each day while you wait patiently for a sheep to come along” (“How To Inspire Others” 2017). Distributing is also a means for the JCs to collect donations so that they may continue to print literature and to pay for unavoidable expenses(A Voice in the Desert 2017d).

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

Before 2010, the JCs were organized around the leadership of Dave and Cherry McKay. In subsequent years moves were made to transition from the leadership of Dave and Cherry to a committee of leadership roles. The aim of this transition was to provide the organizational foundation for the future of the community that would be able to manage the numerous bases in Australia, Africa, South America, North America, the United Kingdom, Southeast Asia, and Europe. At the time of writing, Dave McKay reported that they are currently in the process of writing a constitution. A new leader was elected, and she was given the task of overseeing the general administration of the various bases around the world. These six bases are represented by six members in a committee called “Hub.” The members of Hub are a secret, other than Dave McKay who sits on this committee and plays an emeritus role. In addition to the committee, there are other leadership roles. One member was given the task of writing scripts for the YouTube channels and taking over as the main presenter on A Voice in the Desert. Another position that was established is the “Roving Ambassador.” The task of this individual is to travel between each base to help deal with various issues. Many of the JCs do not have passports because they want to avoid using microchip technology, however this individual was able to acquire a ten-year passport without a microchip. This role is important to reach the various international bases. In addition, another member has the role of managing the online aspect of their ministry, including the production of YouTube videos and channels, advertising, and social media (personal communication with Dave McKay, May 14, 2019).

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

During the late 1990s to the 2000s, the JCs began to be harangued by a series of false kidnapping accusations spearheaded by the media, “cult experts,” and the families of newly joined members. In 1999, nineteen-year-old Kyri Sheridan went travelling with the community. Kyri’s mother, Bernadette Sheridan, reported him missing to the police and stalked the community. She believed that the JCs had abducted her son, despite being in contact with him. The accusation was proven to be unfounded when Kyri turned up to a police station to inform them that he was not missing (“The Kyri Saga” 2016). The second instance where a kidnapping accusation was made occurred in 2000, when sixteen-year-old Bobby Kelly went travelling with the community after gaining permission from his grandmother. [Image at right] A media frenzy ensued, and the JCs were ordered to return Kelly home. Kelly was found safe and well at a campsite in New Hampshire; however, Susan and Roland Gianstefani were arrested for not revealing Bobby’s location. They were charged with a suspended six month sentence (“Cult Kidnap Boy” 2016). In 2005, the Gianstefanis were involved once again in a kidnapping accusation in Kenya when Betty Njoroge and her seven-year-old son joined the community. Despite the charges being dropped, Roland Gianstefani was arrested and kept in custody until the JCs paid bail and a bribe to have him released (“Australian cult member freed in Kenya” 2005; “Controversies” 2016). In 2006, The JCs were again accused of kidnapping eighteen-year-old Joseph Johnson, which resulted in a violent assault of a JC member by several of Johnson’s family members (Johnson 2010).

The violent assault by Johnson’s family resulted in what was described as “the Whipping Trial” by Fox News (Francisco 2017), which reported on the event. After Joseph Johnson joined the community, he and two other members returned to his family home to retrieve a few possessions. During the visit, JC member Reinhard Zeuner was attacked by Johnson’s father and brother and suffered serious brain and spinal injuries. Johnsons family attacked the JCs because they believed that Johnson had been brainwashed by a dangerous cult. They developed this idea by reading about the JCs online (Johnson 2010). The attack was filmed on the phone of a passer-by, yet the perpetrators were not charged for the attack. As a reaction to the lack of charges laid against Johnson’s family members, the JCs held a mock trial and called Fox News to report on it (Francisco 2017). The trial ended with several JC members offering to take the punishment of lashes of the whip meted out to Johnson’s family. [Image at right] The mock-trial found Johnson’s father and brother guilty of attempted murder, and the rest of his family with conspiring to murder Zeuner. Jared and John, Johnson’s father and brother, were prescribed twenty-five lashes of the whip each. Dave McKay and another JC member, Jeremy, took the punishment. Cherry took five lashes in place of Johnson’s mother, and Johnson took five lashes for his brother (Johnson 2016). During the trial Johnson’s family arrived at the auditorium and the police were called to escort the JCs out of the auditorium and into their vehicles (Johnson 2016).

The narrative that the JCs are a dangerous cult has been maintained through cult-monitoring websites, cult experts, and YouTube cult busters. In the online realm, cult-monitoring website the Cult Education Institute (CEI) hosts two forums which users have dedicated to collecting information on the group (“‘Jesus Christians,’ ‘cult’, Dave McKay, the ‘Truth Believers’” 2005; “Jesus Christians, the Truth Believers, Dave McKay, Visual Archive” 2007).

In the late 2010s, when former JC members turned to YouTube the cult narrative was revived once again when they caught the attention of new anti-cult antagonists. Several videos were produced to “expose” the JCs, which drew on cultic themes of kidnapping, coercion, and deviant beliefs. The most notable example is the cult-busting channel Servus Christi, who produced several long expositions on the JCs and their history (Servus Christi 2018a, 2018b). It is interesting to note how the JCs responded to this challenge. The decision to disband in 2010 occurred in part because of the harassment they were receiving from online antagonists. From 2016 onwards, the group re-emerged with new strategies to engage with the public through the online realm. They put a greater emphasis on online engagement, maintained a level of privacy, and presented themselves through a series of channels that appeared disconnected from one another. This did not prevent new antagonists from appearing, however the JCs’ decentralizing tactics allowed them to minimize the character attacks by their online critics and avoid potentially dangerous situations.

IMAGES
Image #1: The youngest members of the community who successfully walked 1000km across the Nullarbor Desert without supplies or money.
Image #2:  Members engaged in a “bin-raid” or “dumpster-dive” for food and other items.
Image #3: Free Work project signs.
Image #4: Dave McKay receiving twenty-fivelashes of the whip during  “The Whipping Trial.”

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Publication Date:
25 May 2019.

 

 

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