In his new book "Recovering from Churches That Abuse," sociologist Ronald Enroth devotes little more than 25 pages to Jesus People U.S.A. (JPUSA), an Evangelical Covenant Church and intentional community based in the tough Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.
But for a year, Enroth, JPUSA officials, top leaders of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination, and mutual friends in evangelical countercult ministries have churned out many more pages of furious correspondence as JPUSA has worked to clear its name before publication of the book. Based on 70 hours of interviews with more than 40 former members of JPUSA, Enroth maintains that the community is authoritarian and ostracizes its departing members.
In his book, Enroth praises JPUSA's "wonderful ministry to the margins of society in the inner city of Chicago." He also says JPUSA "has had a positive impact on the Christian world through Cornerstone magazine and REZ band."
"Ironically, though, many of its own members have been marginalized in the interests of 'the ministry' and 'the community,'" Enroth writes. "I have done my homework and am willing to stake my reputation on it," Enroth has assured board members of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), an umbrella organization.
JPUSA has held Enroth to those words, vigorously questioning his reputation and his methodology in a 96-page issue of Cornerstone issued before the book's release.
That issue of Cornerstone has divided EMNR board members, which includes JPUSA member Eric Pement, Elliot Miller of Christian Research Institute, and three other leaders in the countercult movement: James Bjornstad, Gordon Lewis, and Bob Passantino.
"Two board members called me and were upset about [the Cornerstone issue] and felt ...1