Fellowship of Friends

A spiritual organization centered around the teachings of Robert Earl Burton, marked by controversy and allegations of abuse and cult-like practices.

The Fellowship of Friends, founded in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, is a spiritual organization that has garnered significant attention over the years, both for its unique teachings and controversial practices. The Fellowship is based on the “Fourth Way” teachings of George Gurdjieff, a 20th-century mystic-philosopher, and emphasizes the pursuit of higher consciousness and spiritual awakening.

Early Foundations and Teachings

Robert Earl Burton, a former schoolteacher, established the Fellowship of Friends with a mission to guide its members towards higher levels of spiritual consciousness. Burton claims to be in communication with a pantheon of angels, including historical figures like Dante Alighieri, Leonardo da Vinci, and William Shakespeare, whom he believes achieved higher consciousness in their lifetimes. These entities, according to Burton, provide guidance and predictions about apocalyptic events. The Fellowship has made several predictions about global catastrophes, though none have materialized.

Practices and Lifestyle

Members of the Fellowship are encouraged to engage in practices that promote self-awareness and a positive outlook. They are also urged to immerse themselves in life’s finer things, such as art and music, as a path to spiritual evolution. The group operated the Renaissance Vineyard and Winery from 1982 to 2015, which became a significant aspect of their community life.

Controversies and Allegations

The Fellowship of Friends has been embroiled in several controversies, particularly regarding the behavior of its leader, Robert Earl Burton. Lawsuits in 1984 and 1996 alleged that Burton used his position to sexually prey upon young male members. These allegations were settled out of court, leading to the departure of about 100 members after each incident. Numerous other members have shared similar stories of Burton’s activities.

A recent lawsuit has brought to light more severe allegations, claiming that Burton and other officers of the Fellowship knowingly enabled and covered up the abuse and trafficking of young, vulnerable male members. This included procuring immigration documents for these individuals to travel to the U.S., where they were allegedly victimized by Burton. The lawsuit describes disturbing sex rituals known as “Lovefests,” wherein Burton attempted to engage in sexual activities with a large number of men within a short period. One plaintiff alleged that Burton sexually assaulted him hundreds of times over several years.

The lawsuit also alleges that Burton controlled various aspects of members’ lives, from instructing them on whom to marry to demanding abortions and forbidding same-sex relationships, while Burton himself targeted men who were not attracted to other men. Burton claimed that sexual activities with him were a form of “holy sex” that would enhance spiritual evolution.

Current Status

Despite these controversies, the Fellowship of Friends continues to operate, with the Apollo compound in Oregon House, California, serving as its headquarters. Burton’s teachings and the organization’s activities continue to draw both followers and critics, the latter of whom describe the Fellowship as a cult that traps its members with false promises of spiritual evolution.