28 11-19-88 09:43 pps Ex-Ecclesia members lament founder's fall. PORTLAND, Ore. (UPI)

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28 11-19-88 09:43 pps Ex-Ecclesia members lament founder's fall. 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 total control. 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 been intimidated. 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."


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