BBC 1 have recently aired a documentary about a group you may not have heard of called the Bruderhof Community. They have a centre down in Sussex as well as around the world. CR chats to Bernard Hibbs, who is a member of the community.
Jeff: I have to say that I'd never really heard of the community and I've looked on your website. It's quite different to how people may imagine living their Christian faith today.
Bernard: Yes, it is. We've never tried to keep ourselves secret. Some of the media coverage probably gives that impression but we haven't done much in the media before. Hence, I guess we are somewhat of an unknown community yet a very distinctive one. You don't often find three hundred people living together, sharing their possessions, sharing their money and living out their faith like that.
Jeff: I guess because it's different all sorts of wrong suggestions will be made and fear, scandal tactics come about. Reading some of the stuff you've put on line, you don't encourage people to just come in and join the community, do you? You test whether someone has a call to that community.
Bernard: It's a lifetime commitment to join our community, which is a really serious thing. We want people to do that who are really able to follow through with that calling. But everyone's welcome; we have hundreds of visitors a year. If someone wants to become a member there will be a time of testing to see how that pans out. Community has its ups and downs and we want to make sure just because you came for one day and it was beautifully sunny and warm and everyone was in a good mood, that's not how it is every day.
Jeff: That is so refreshingly realistic, thank you. Tell us about the Bruderhof Community; it's not just this little group in Sussex, it's international.
Bernard: We started in 1920 in Germany; had a run in with the Nazis and ended up getting kicked out. It was just a few families trying to live out their faith on a daily basis. They stood up to Hitler and got expelled from the country. They fled to England and from England they fled world War Two down to South America then from there, in the 1950s, up to North America and from there back around the world. We have 23 communities in England, America, Germany, Australia.
Jeff: What's the basis of life in the Bruderhof community?
Bernard: If you read Acts 2 and Acts 4 it says the believers were of one heart and one mind, they shared all their possessions and no one called anything they had their own. So if you take this example and ask yourself why did the disciples behave like that so suddenly, it was such a rapid departure from the norms; and if you look at the teachings of Christ, Jesus spoke often about the dangers of wealth, the dangers of mammon, the need to give up our idols, the need to show love to our neighbour above anything else and to stop worrying about money. It says very clearly in the Sermon on the Mount you cannot serve God and money.
So we've decided that the best way we can live out our faith to Christ is by giving up money, giving up possessions and instantly you find out there are many beneficial things happen. If no one has money all of a sudden status is done away with. We live in a society that unfortunately equates what you get paid with your status in society; that's not kingdom values.
Jeff: I can understand that. People watching the programme tomorrow will maybe look at the way the ladies dress in the community and I don't want to be insulting, but it looks like the Amish. It's not status dress; it's not designer stuff, is it?
Bernard: That's right. Both men and women reject modern fashion or any sort of fashion because we think someone should be who they are and we shouldn't view people through what they're wearing or how they express themselves with their clothes. And life is so much simpler if you don't have to keep up with styles. The big difference is, as people point out, the men are dressed pretty normally and the women seem to be dressed like peasants from the 1900s.
In a way it's true; it's just how our community has developed. We started off in 1920 and haven't felt the need to change the way we dress too much. Whereas men have always been able to wear a shirt and a pair of trousers, there has been this relentless focus on women and what women look like and what women wear. To me it's a bit of a sinister message that advertising executives are pushing this on to women and often very young girls saying if you want to be acceptable you've got to look like this. I want to see way beyond how someone dresses and try to find out who they really are.
Jeff: I guess in some ways it helps in fighting the urges of a man towards a woman. If he sees a pretty girl in a short skirt it can take their heart, their mind in a different direction.
Bernard: Absolutely, and also vice versa. We should dress modestly; it says that in the bible. When you're living in a community like this where we uphold sexual purity, uphold marriage, it is very important. I want my wife, all women in fact, to come to work knowing they are never going to be sexually harassed in the workplace. (There has been so much in the news about that in the last couple of years).