28 11-19-88 09:43 pps Ex-Ecclesia members lament founder's fall. PORTLAND, Ore. (UPI)
28 11-19-88 09:43 pps Ex-Ecclesia members lament founder's
PORTLAND, Ore. (UPI) _ A former Ecclesia Athletic Association
member who worked closely with leader Eldridge Broussard Jr. in
Los Angeles and helped bring the group to Oregon says he watched
Broussard evolve from a charismatic Christian minister to a
power-hungry church leader.
Another former insider who still has close ties to Ecclesia
says that because of Broussard's domination of the group, his
followers no longer are capable of making their own decisions.
The Oregonian newspaper interviewed the two former members,
Bruce Manning and his ex-wife, Sherri Nicholson. The newspaper
published interviews Sunday with the pair, saying they "may be
the only insiders with details of Ecclesia's activities who are
willing to speak candidly."
Current Ecclesia members, including Broussard, have refused to
answer specific questions about the nature of the group, how it
operated, its daily regimen or its financial situtation.
The group entered the national spotlight last month when
Broussard's 8-year-old daughter, Dayna, was beaten to death and
four Ecclesia members were accused of manslaughter. The state
took 53 children housed at Ecclesia's farmhouse near Sandy, east
of Portland, into protective custody and alleged they had been
victims of systematic beatings.
Manning and Nicholson said a shift in the character of the man
they once idolized began about 11 years ago, when Broussard
failed to raise an infant from the dead after praying and weeping
all day long on her grave.
Those who knew him best said the experience clearly left
Broussard's faith shaken. But out of that disillusionment rose
an even stronger faith _ in himself. By 1987, his single-tracked
conviction in his own leadership had created the man his
followers call "Big El" _ the name "El" in Old Testament Hebrew
means "the mighty one," or God.
"He was pursuing power, prestige and the limelight," said
Manning, a Portlander and former Ecclesia member who last year
helped bring the group to Oregon, where it set up communes in
Sandy and Clackamas to grow produce and train children in a
rigorous athletic regimen.
Manning said he firmly believes Broussard is responsible for
all that has happened in the lives of his followers, including
his daughter's death.
"If he wants to hold the reins as tight as he does, then he'd
better take responsibility," Manning said.
Nicholson, of Gresham, once called Ecclesia "the most exciting
thing in my life," but she also has grown disillusioned.
"Something has happened, and something has changed," she said.
"I feel sorry. I feel sad. I feel some confusion."
The couple had been heavily involved in Ecclesia before the
breakup. Manning remodeled a bakery that became Broussard's
Watts Christian Center. Nicholson instructed children at the
center in biblical teachings and athletic regimen.
And they set up an Ecclesia school in their Gresham home last
year, introducing the group to a Hood River farmer who helped
supply them with apples, chickens, beef and potatoes.
"The man I knew and the man you see these days are not the
same person," Manning said.
Last fall, Manning left the group. Then, after 14 years of
marriage, the Mannings were divorced. Nicholson left the group
at the end of the year, wanting more control over her life and
children than Broussard would allow.
Manning said he concluded the group had become a church,
operated by a small core of members under Broussard's almost
Nicholson is not so quick to use the word "cult." She says
Ecclesia members have come to believe it is safer to let
Broussard make all their decisions, but they never have been
pressured to stay in the group, and those who have left have not
Broussard bristles at comparisons with cult leaders, but
Manning said Broussard "has done more to perpetrate that title
than the newspapers have done ... What else would you call him?"
Manning said no property ever was listed in Broussard's name.
"El owns no cars, no land, nothing," he said. "He just owns 70
people and their kids."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank