The Brethren (Jim Roberts Group)

A highly secretive and nomadic religious group, known for its strict adherence to the teachings of Jesus and an austere lifestyle.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Fundamentalism
Founder: Jim Roberts
Founded: 1971
Location: United States (nomadic)
Other Names: The Brethren, The Garbage Eaters, The Body, The Roberts Group

The Brethren, often referred to as the Jim Roberts Group or derogatorily as the “Garbage Eaters,” is a nomadic religious movement established in the early 1970s by Jim Roberts. This group, lacking a formal name, is also known as the Brothers and Sisters, the Body of Christ, and the Road Ministry. Its members lead a vagrant lifestyle, fundamentally rejecting modern societal norms including materialism and conventional family structures.

Jim Roberts, born in 1939 in Paducah, Kentucky, was the son of a part-time preacher and served in the Marines before starting his religious mission. The group advocates for a literal interpretation of the Bible and emphasizes living a life akin to that of Jesus’ early disciples. The Brethren believe that they are the one true church and that salvation is achieved through a life of extreme piety and self-denial​​​​​​.

The Brethren’s lifestyle is marked by austerity and mobility. Members forsake their families and past acquaintances, live off discarded food, and wear homemade clothing. Their practices include sewing their own garments, dumpster diving for food, and traveling across the country mostly by hitchhiking or biking. Men typically grow long beards and hair, while women wear plain, long tunic dresses. This uniform appearance and lifestyle are meant to keep them detached from societal influences and closer to their understanding of biblical teachings​​​​.

The group is structured in small cells, often comprising 10 to 12 individuals who constantly move from one location to another, including college campuses, where they recruit young people seeking spiritual meaning. Despite their peaceful and industrious outward demeanor, the group has been described by former members as controlling and isolating, with Jim Roberts, until his death in 2015, exerting significant influence over all members. Leaving the group is discouraged and is seen as spiritual betrayal, which contributes to the group’s enigmatic and cult-like perception​​​​​​​​.

The Brethren’s controversial practices and extreme interpretation of Christian doctrine, combined with their reclusive and nomadic nature, continue to draw attention and criticism, reflecting the complex and often blurred lines between religious fervor and cult-like isolation.

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