Supervision – Punishment – Exclusion
The group does not try obsessively to retain all its members. Whoever has, in their opinion, fallen away from the faith can be quickly excluded. That typically includes one’s stubborn refusal to submit oneself to the lifestyle rules of the group. If someone sins, he has a chance for repentance. But if he commits the same sin consciously again, then there is no new grace for him. They refer to Hebrews 6:4 – “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” The Holic Group sees it as intentional sin if one does not recognize his own guilt, or doesn’t want to acknowledge his action as sinful – or perhaps even defends himself.
Members feel responsible for one another in the group, and bound to observe the others, and, if necessary, make them aware of their misdeeds. A former member described it: “It is an atmosphere of continuous surveilance and suspicion. One isn’t really aware of it, but rather perceives it like a family or siblings who watch out for each other. Only later did I learn that real love includes the ability to let go.”
There are two forms of exclusion:
The simple form of exclusion occurs when someone deliberately sins (or when the group considers it to be so), who won’t admit his guilt, and who doesn’t want to repent. He still has a chance to repent, though, and return to the group.
The ‘expulsion’ [second form] happens when some has fallen away from God (often connected to a clear resistance and strong criticism of the group). According the group’s opinion, this is very deliberate sin against the Holy Spirit. For such ‘expellees’ there is no chance to return to the group.
In the case of smaller misdeeds, individual punishments are given. But this concept is not admitted, and instead they say that the guilty person “bears the consequences of his action.” Whoever, e.g., was dishonest or dishonorable toward the group might find his keys to the apartment taken away, so that he understands his sin. Or whoever sins with his driving habits will be forbidden to drive.
The remaining group members reject any contact with an excluded member. The only exception is the possibility that the excluded member penitently comes back, and asks to be readmitted. His reasoning will be meticulously examined in the group – whether the penitence and contrition are authentic and sufficient. Compared to the group’s unyielding behavior in relational matters, they’re generally fair in material matters: the excluded member gets some time to organize his move to a new apartment, and a bit of money.
Because exclusion generally happens against the will of the person being expelled, often his world implodes. He can imagine a life without the group only with great difficulty. For him, the worst thing that he could ever imagine has happened. Generally, he seeks to find fault with himself and lives off the the hope of being taken in again. Despair and depression are certainly present in this phase, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts. Often the person who has been expelled moves into a room or a small apartment alone. As long as the desire to return to the group is strong, he avoids contact with other expelled members (they could already have permanently fallen away) and also with his previous social circles (family and friends). He hopes thereby to avoid anything which could endanger his being taken back. Because the remaining group members have no contact with him, he lives socially isolated to the greatest extent.
Since around 2005, one can speak of a pronounced wave of exclusions. Concerning the reasons for this wave, which even included the group’s founder, one can only speculate:
- It could have to do with power struggles about the leadership role in the group. (Especially in groups which reject official rankings and hierarchies, other mechanisms arise to establish the internal pecking order. In the Holic Group, e.g., the concept of the “older siblings” with more experience – and therefore also with more influence – has arisen.)
- It could be an attempted corrective action against real or imagined liberalizing tendencies.
- It could be an attempt to keep the group more strongly on course and to suppress internal discussions. The exclusion of a member is a horrifying example to the remaining members about what could threaten them in case they deviate from the group’s norms. A member would be afraid to express a critical opinion.
- It could be the result of conspiracy theories in the group.
- It could be a radicalizing trend, which commonly appears in perfectionistic groups. In such communities, conflicts easily emerge about the truly purest doctrine and whether or not the lifestyle is already radical enough.