A two-year study of nearly 250 youthful Christians living in an Oregon commune revealed that virtually all of them have successfully kicked drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and pre-marital sex in creating a new life for themselves based on a “fundamentalist-style Christian fellowship.”
This is the report of a research team of social psychologists that appeared in last month’s Psychology Today magazine. The trio: Dr. Mary White Harder, 27, Kearney (Nebraska) State College (during the study she was with the University of Nevada); Dr. James T. Richardson, 30, University of Nevada; and Robert B. Simmonds, 27, graduate student at Nevada.
Their intensive study was of a group they identify as Christ Commune. They said they did not disclose the location of the commune out of respect for members’ privacy. It is operated by a four-year-old group that has established thirty-five other Christian communes (total membership; about 800) in localities around the nation, they said. (The main commune of the several they visited is Shiloh House, near Eugene, Oregon. An outgrowth of the youth ministry of Calvary Chapel near Costa Mesa, California, it is headed by elder Jim Higgins.)
“They’re young, tireless, devout, dogmatic, evangelical, and terribly earnest,” says the report. The researchers were critical of certain aspects of alleged sexism (women have no decision-making positions in the leadership structure; girls wear maxi-dresses because it is the female’s responsibility to avoid sexually charged situations) and political non-involvement (“the only way to change society is to change men’s hearts”).
The commune is damaging in that it fails to prepare a person to re-enter society, said Dr. Harder in an interview. But overall, she said, the team was favorably impressed and even drawn to the young people by their love and freedom from tension. The team lived and worked with the youths two summers and was constantly on the receiving end of a low-pressured convincing witness. One of the researchers was almost converted, and two of them wept when it came time to leave last year, said Dr. Harder, but all survived with their unbelief in Christianity intact. She acknowledged that it is probably the Shiloh people’s faith “that makes them attractive to us,” but nevertheless wants no part of it herself. She declined to elaborate. The researchers plan to return this summer.
Courtship practices intrigued team members. Courtship is encouraged, but strictly regulated, they wrote. Outward display is limited to hand-holding. Those wanting to be married must be engaged for at least six months, and for three of these months one of the partners must live in another commune. Afterward, one of the pastors (he has counseled the couple earlier on sex relations and family responsibilities) performs the ceremony.
The team found that the young men in the commune have become good farmers. The Shiloh Christians are becoming self-sufficient but meanwhile receive some government commodities and free medical attention. At Shiloh, the day begins at 4:30 a.m. and lasts at least until 11 p.m. To their surprise, the investigators found a drop-out rate of only 10 per cent. Occasionally, courts remand juvenile delinquents to the commune’s custody.
It all leads the researchers to conclude that Shiloh and the Jesus people “will be around for a long time.”
GLENN EVERETT and EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
The Bookrack Evangelism program of the Mennonite Board of Missions continues to pay. More than 20,000 religious paperbacks have been sold at the Washington, D. C., National Airport alone, and in excess of 2,000 have moved from racks in the Pentagon in the last six months.
Explo ’74, a cousin of Campus Crusade for Christ’s Explo ’72 in Dallas, is expected to draw more than 300,000 to Seoul, Korea, in August, 1974. Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright called Korea the “most logical place” for the evangelism training conference because there are more Christian leaders in South Korea than in any other country outside the United States.
Preliminary plans call for attending delegates to fan out across Asia for witnessing periods ranging from one to six months. Other plans are being laid for a team of 100,000 volunteers, tentatively called the Great Commission Peace Corps, to witness in countries around the world.
Attendance projections for Explo ’74 suggest at least 300,000 may attend from Korea and another 20–30,000 from other parts of the world.
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