Experiencing an Expulsion (2009)

Here the author reports out of her own experience regarding an expulsion. This practice, in which Holic members are excluded from the group against their wills, for, in some cases, trivial reasons, has been escalating since around 2002. Even the founder of the group, Gottfried Holic, was himself affected by this. It is still not clear, whether this reflects a radicalizing movement within the group, power struggles in the wake of the [group’s] founder, or a reaction to possible relaxation toward the environment (understood by some in the group as a softening).

An English language blog by an excluded ex-member is found here – the German translation of it: here. Another excluded member has written a comprehensive (English) letter to the group.

Why are people expelled?

Reasons for expulsion were more-orless all sins which the group saw as such, and in which one had hardened oneself, according to the opinion of the group. Any particular alleged sin always involved many others, too. Seen as especially dangerous was, among others, the longing for one’s parents, who do not belong to the group. Prior to my expulsion, I was told that this could be the beginning of one’s ‘falling away.’ (Exact quote from Ina B.: “It can be that you fall away even today.”)

The possibility of falling away was, in any case, a strong subliminal instrument of threat and also power for the group. If a member doesn’t want [to do] something [in the group], it is considered to be falling away. According to the teachings of the group, there is no possibility of a return to God for those who’ve fallen away. Therefore hell alone mercilessly awaits him or her. The member himself would not be conscious of this [phobia]. In order not to fall away, and also in order to love God, she or he wants to be obedient to Him, which means to be conformed to the group.

I experienced two expulsion conversations in which an expulsion was the result: that of my own biological sister, and that of my own. I was, however, informed about other expulsions, or they were explained to me. I was also present for some conversations with an expelled person who wanted to be admitted again, and who likewise had belonged to my ‘community’ in Stuttgart. Then in fact – after approximately a year – this individual was readmitted (and later again expelled). Already during the time in which I was a member, the Holic Group differentiated between lesser and greater sins. This was, at least, stated [by them]. The lesser sins, for a normal Christian, are actually trivial matters.

Can you cite an example of this?

I can best give an example from my own life: something that was seen as a serious sin. Because of my personal disposition, I have a greater need for sleep than many other people. In addition, my mental health condition also causes me to need more sleep for regeneration. As I write this now and recall it, “it galls me.” When the ‘community’ (The Holic Group) had newly admitted me, I wanted to live as a healthy human. I had such hope for a normal life, which was grounded in a multiyear desire for God’s radical work, because I am, indeed, not healthy. Therefore, I also wanted to reduce my need for sleep to a normal amount.

Because I mentioned this, and was already attempting to put it into practice, I was urged by a “sister” from the “community” to ask my physician how much sleep I needed. From then on, eight hours was my allotment from the group.

Was that sufficient?

I didn’t really cope with that. Nevertheless: if I slept more, it was [seen as] sin and I had to confess it. Even if I laid down again during the day, and if I didn’t fall asleep within a half hour, I had to get up again after this half hour and be active again. I had to keep to these demands from the “community,” or do penance if I had sinned in this way. I must also say that I continually suffered from sleep deprivation, and especially my soul lacked the necessary daily regeneration. There was, in any case, not really time during the day for a personal processing of the day’s events, for the independent formation of opinion. And so I was continuously on a “[tread]mill”, day in, day out. At the Bible topics, discussed almost daily, I regularly fell asleep. (During the week we discussed Biblical topics usually from 11:30 PM to around 1:00 AM, – that’s no joke!) Not that there was a lack of thorough interest [on my part], but [rather] I couldn’t even process the amount of content at all, and certainly couldn’t recognize God’s activity in it. It was really very miserable.

How did the Group deal with your increased need for sleep?

In their eyes it was a “sin.” And this “sinning” was the primary reason for my expulsion. I was on a visit to the Berlin communal apartment, and – finally – I wanted to express my own opinion about my own need for sleep. On one of the “vacation” weekends we met with all the other German and some of the Austrian communities. We discussed – as usual – a Biblical topic at a wooded area with a parking lot. Again, I couldn’t pay attention, became tired, and walked away from the topical discussion. I laid down in the Berlin bus and stayed lying down. This produced, as a consequence, an admonishing conversation. I had previously stated that I wished that the “community” would think as I do regarding my sleep behavior / sleep need. I was reproached [that] I was wanting the “community” to sin. Note: I [allegedly] wanted the “community,” the body of Christ, to sin! It’s ludicrous! Man, am I happy that it became clear to me that the “community,” the Holic Group, is not that which it claims to be. That being a Christian is something different. That a life with God really leads into freedom, to an expansion of life, and is not enslaving and not imposing regulation after regulation, with the stoking of fear that one will wind up in hell if one is not worthy of this “life with God.” I am so happy, that God Himself is different. And I love this God.

You spoke of “doing penance,” which follows a “sin.” What can the reader imagine in a concrete way regarding this?

I myself experienced that it was managed this way:

If a person had “sinned,” thoroughly regardless of whether it was a “sinful action” or a “sinful” thought, it was expected of him or her that one do penance. This meant that one repent of this sin before God (this contrition was seen as very important, without it there was no proper penance). A person had to – first – confess it before God as a sin, and ask Him for forgiveness with the firm intention of never wanting to do this sin again. Once, one of the “older” “sisters” (Ina B. from the Stuttgart group) explained to me that only this was a true repentance, the willingness to want to never again do the sin.

It was essentially also expected that a person confess his sins very quickly also to another “brother” or “sister,” and this naturally [be done] with humility. If it had to do with smaller sins or perhaps also with thought sins, which were already known to the group, it sufficed to confess now and again, rather than every time. Yet it was expected, that a person would struggle against his or her own sins and – finally – overcome them, which was a part of “sanctification.” A person got “assistance” in this during conversations, e.g., during the evening walks in twos or threes. “Help” from “siblings” in the fight against sins was seen as something very essential, as a deep [form of] love. If a person sinned stubbornly in some matter, then there were conversations with, e.g., the apartment’s entire community.

From what I know today, this was not really serving the [process of] sanctification, but rather – and the Holic cult would vehemently deny this – control and the exercise of power, in which I sooner see the secret, unspoken motivation of the Holic cult.

In the “struggle against sin,” the group saw the struggle for “purity,” and for the “sanctification” of the “community.” Allegedly, the members helped each other, in order to arrive together in eternity with God. It was “brotherly love” lived out. But in truth it was a terrible surveillance of the individual. Nothing, nothing at all, was personal any more, not even one’s thoughts. There was also no private sphere any more. This called forth an aggressiveness in me, which naturally wasn’t allowed, and which I therefore didn’t really even admit to myself as such. Because there would have been consequences – in the final consequence it did, in fact, lead to my expulsion.

It is also the case that the group really didn’t let God get into the action. The individual’s personal relationship to God was not so important: the “relationship” to Him was primarily through the “siblings” and through the “group.” But my personal relationship to Him is actually the decisive thing, and the [sanctifying] changes in me come, after all, precisely out of this [relationship].

The topic of “the struggle for sanctification,” for the Holic Group, belongs to the topic of “penance,” as mentioned above. I’d like to add that this meant not only fighting to leave sin behind, to overcome [it], but rather very actively to “overcome evil with good,” and to continually strive to “do good,” to give everything. The reader can consider what that means. For me this was a perpetual enormous stress, from getting up in the morning to going to bed in the evening. For a while, I was afraid that I’d have a heart attack.

The expulsion appears to be the most draconian punishment. Were there also other “milder” punishments for “offences” which didn’t result in expulsion?

If somebody was “spiritually in danger,” but didn’t realize his sins and didn’t repent of them, then it might be that he wasn’t allowed to carry out certain tasks, specifically those in connection with which he’d sinned without repenting. That could involve very different types of tasks, from driving vehicles to being a supervising co-driver for those in driver’s training (who were learning the group’s way of driving in the large, modified vehicles which were primarily Mercedes Sprinters), to tasks involved with “missionary work.” Following successful penance, the member in question was eventually allowed to take on these tasks again.

For especially stubborn sinning, there were punishments, even if the Holic Group would vehemently deny these:

One was the distressing conversations with several “siblings,” which had many of the aspects of an interrogation, and in which it was expected that the “sinner” would humble herself or himself and repent, or at least admit the readiness to take stock of oneself again, and finally “to repent.” If he didn’t repent, then his expulsion was probable (maybe they’d give him a bit more time, a “chance”).

The consequence of such a conversation – even if there was repentance – could be that for some time the member in question was not seen as capable of doing the tasks previously assigned to him. That could involve driving vehicles, taking care of missionary letters (answering emails which had been sent to the Holic Group as a result of recruiting, etc.), this, when somebody was seen as being spiritually too weak (more precisely, he was simply not 100% in line with the group’s ideology).

I myself was almost not allowed to continue my vacation spent in Berlin by the group there, which was shortly before my actual expulsion, because of my “sin” in my sleeping habits (my main offense was that I had – finally! – formed and expressed my own opinion about my sleep habits. I described that already). And, by the way: this ‘vacation’ was mainly work: I helped the Berlin group move within the city [from one building to another] (2006).

What preceded an expulsion?

Generally, many conversations preceded an expulsion, in order to bring the person in question to repentance, mostly a deep, thorough repentance. But this didn’t actually mean a deep repentance [turning] toward God, but rather a repentance [turning] back toward group conformity. In the group, this was equated with God’s will. These conversations took place in a smaller setting, perhaps among three people, including the person whom they wanted to help. It occurred often during the evening walks, and more often also in the framework of the respective “community” of those in the apartment. However, not all of the members were always present. Some members – e.g., those whom they saw as spiritually too weak – were also advised not to participate in such conversations. Sometimes such ‘weak’ members also suggested this on their own. These conversations could expand over a long period of time, both an individual conversation itself (in extreme cases for hours), as well as all the individual conversations taken together, e.g., stretched out over six months. Such conversations were seen as a deed of sincere brotherly love.

How did the expulsion happen in concrete detail?

If someone was so acutely “in danger” spiritually, that he would no longer accept help from the group toward repentance, or did not engage in the expected repentance, then the group decided to have a conversation in a large framework [e.g., more members present]. This often took place on the weekends at the meetings with the “siblings” from various cities. Here still more of the “older siblings” were present. In the gathered large meeting there were “siblings” from various cities, especially those who were more familiar with the “problematic” brother or sister. A sort of interrogation took place here about the sins from which the sinner really – according to the group’s opinion – had urgently to repent. Everything from which he had to turn away was discussed, in order to examine the attitude of the person being questioned. This was in order to judge whether they could still help him or not. But it was really asked as a way to confront the one who’d possibly be expelled with his sins. He was supposed to list them and judge them himself. He was supposed to repent on his own, with God’s help. Even in this conversation, the “sinner” still had a chance to turn back. After a certain [amount of] time, the “sinner” was sent out and the “the community” consulted. Then the “sinner” was called in again and had the opportunity to say something once more (perhaps he had now repented?). Then the decision of the “community” was announced. If it was an expulsion, then they distanced themselves immediately and entirely, after perhaps a few more words, from the person who was now expelled. I seemed to myself, after my verdict, to be miserable dirt, unworthy, scum. After consultation by a large number of “siblings” following the previous interrogation of the delinquent member, a person is expelled with the simple announcement by the one of the older members in the group: “we expel you, … (Name).” The expelled person was then equated with a nonbeliever, and immediately excluded from fellowship with the others: spiritually, and especially in practical matters, too.

What did this expulsion look like in concrete terms, e.g., even in your case?

This radical separation from an excluded person expressed itself as follows: In the summer, at a wooded area with a parking lot, the excluded person was assigned to one of the large modified vehicles, in which he could stay initially. It was the group’s understanding that nobody would have fellowship with him anymore. The excluded person was, after all, an evil person, who didn’t want to obey God anymore, [and] perhaps couldn’t even obey God anymore. Occasionally the excluded person was driven to the nearest train station, in order to travel home (first still to the location of the shared apartment of the group in question). During the other seasons, the weekend expulsions took place in the Stuttgart building, which was the common winter weekend lodgings for the German groups and some of the Austrian groups.

I was expelled in this way, too. A room was designated for me – I was no longer allowed to sleep in what had been up until then my bed in a four-person room. I was also assigned a toilet to use and a place to wash up, as well as a bit of space in the refrigerator in the communal pantry. The room next to me was emptied, my former “brother” wanted to have as close to nothing as possible to do with me, so that then, after the expulsion weekend, I was almost entirely by myself. These two rooms, and the toilet and sink area, constituted a small separate area of the house.

All the rooms to which a nonbeliever should have no admittance, and which I had previously entered daily, were closed to me when the group was out of the building. And I had to give up almost all the keys, which I did on my own initiative. I had seen this, or something similar, in the cases of other expulsions. It was expected of me that I, who after all wanted to get back in, return all the papers related to open or incomplete missionary contacts to the “community.” Which I did, likewise on my own initiative.

Did you then remain living in the group’s house further?

I was told after a short time that I should move out. In carrying this out, they helped me, even if in a rather loveless fashion. In this regard, I should mention that at first I left almost everything there, because I wanted indeed to get back in. I rented a furnished room, which in my thought at the time was supposed to be merely a temporary solution. It would have been a sin for me to construct my own new existence. I continued to consider my possessions, too, including cash, to be God’s property, and therefore the group’s property. As an expelled person, I struggled to maintain a life conformed to the group, even though I was now separated from the group.

Sometimes an expelled person was allowed to remain living [in the group’s apartment], e.g., if the group saw the beginnings of a “repentance,” or hoped for that. In my case, because of my mental health concerns, but also because of the group’s controlling paternalism, against which I had not resisted, I had become totally dependent. I was told that I “had to become independent.”

Which contacts may an expelled person have?

Here the reader must presuppose two things:

First, that someone who is in the Holic Group sees himself as holy. He’ll offer no fellowship, except the most necessary practical contacts, to someone who doesn’t want to live in the same way, in order not to make himself impure, and in order not to participate in the sins of others (the “community,” the Holic Group, as the “Body of Christ” indeed judges other people spiritually, which they claim to have the ability to do.)

Second, that an expelled person often desires to return [into the group], because of, among other reasons, that which is taught in the Holic Group about falling away. If the reader considers this, the reader will come to the conclusion that

a) anybody who’s in the Holic Group won’t, on her or his initiative, approach an expelled person, except for in practical matters. The practice is indeed that an expelled person, if he thinks that he has repented, writes a letter to the “community” about this, which they then evaluate, and – in the “most favorable” case – invite the expelled person for an appraisal interview. That is to say, the expelled person must take the initiative. He cannot await comfort or encouraging words from the group. Perhaps in a replying letter, or in a conversation, should one occur, he’ll receive cautious instructive thoughts, so that he knows in which direction his repentance must further proceed. Such conversations can be utterly nerveracking, because the group wants to hear absolutely all sins. [For the group] it’s not important, how much God has helped the person during the expulsion, but rather, the repentance from all sins, [and the willingness] to disclose everything. The “community” is naturally not guilty for the misery. So it was, at least, in my case. My stomach still turns now [at the thought of it]. If a person happens to see a member in the building after being excluded, the atmosphere is icy, with the exception of a rather forced “hello” and possibly some practical matters.

b) It is logical that the expelled person, who wants to return [to the group], creates no contacts to the external world, except for practical matters, for the reasons given above. He wants, after all, to repent, and not to do anything in common with sinners, i.e., those whom the “community” have judged to be such. He even wants to avoid their probably “sinful” ideas, because those could cause him to fall away from God. This is very harsh, because a person then stands there really without a single other person, apart from strictly practical contacts. Even establishing contact with other expelled people would mean establishing contact with people who perhaps don’t even really want to repent, who perhaps have already “fallen away” and therefore conceal a seriously dangerous potential (according to Holic formed thought).

The latter (b) was the case for me. Only God could break through this, no human could help me for these reasons.

What’s the difference between “expulsion” and “suspension”?

Initially, during my time, no distinction was made between a “simple expulsion”and a “suspension” (cf. the website), but  rather, it went this way:

Someone was expelled if he did not repent, according to the standards set by the group, and again humbly align himself with the group’s life. [He’d be expelled if he didn’t ‘repent’] despite previous conversations with initially one or two “siblings,” then also with several [siblings]. The group chose this method when they still saw a chance for [the expelled member] to repent, after carrying out the expulsion.

[The group] acted differently when someone was viewed as hopeless: for example, a yet to be converted guest who’d lived for some time with the group without – according to their standards – converting, and who’d hardened himself beyond repentance. [Also seen as hopeless would be] a “brother” or “sister” who’d fallen away. Then they had to “send” him or her “away” (that was the concept they used). They said, for example: “We separate ourselves from you.” Or: “We can have no fellowship with you any more.” Perhaps in the case of a guest, who’d lived for a longer time [in the group], but who’d not converted in the smallest details, they’d proceed this way: he should “think about it again.” In his case they had a certain amount of hope for a conversion.

Concluding Remark

Not every expelled person thinks as I do. But for me, the thoughts stated above (as expressed especially under the heading “Which contacts may an expelled person have?”) were logical conclusions, to which I held strictly for more than eighteen months after my expulsion, because I want to spend eternity with God. God Himself recaptured me, indeed absolutely liberated me, through these circumstances.

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