Jesus Christians, David McKay:
A Jury of His Peers
Los Angeles Independent, USA
Jan. 4, 2007
The Jesus Christians carry out their unusual form of justice.
When Joseph Johnson decided to devote his life to Jesus Christ, he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
But he might never have expected it to land him, on Oct. 7, 2006, in a Los Angeles middle school auditorium, waiting for his turn to be whipped.
Last April, just weeks shy of his high school graduation, the 18-year-old straight-A student and star athlete ran away from his parents’ home in Long Beach to join a radical religious community called the Jesus Christians, which some say is a cult.
When Joseph returned to his parents’ house one morning in early May with two other Jesus Christians to tell his family he’d joined the group, a fight broke out.
Jesus Christian Reinhard Zeuner, 41, ended up in the hospital for several days with skull and spine injuries, while Joseph’s father, Jared, (a teacher for the Compton Unified School District) and Joseph’s older brother, John, now face assault charges.
In response to Zeuner’s beating, the Jesus Christians decided to put Joseph’s family on the stand in a special sort of “trial.”
“Even amongst ourselves, we were heavily debating whether to do it or not,” Jesus Christian Jeremy Kronmiller, 28, said recently about the trial, which was held on Oct. 7. “We knew how the public could see it … we’ve gotten a lot of criticism before: ‘Crazy whipping cult.’”
Indeed, throughout their history, the Jesus Christians have been no stranger to controversy...
...But Joseph Johnson’s mother Sheila, who like her husband Jared is a teacher for Compton Unified, still sees McKay as a dangerous predator who targets the young.
“Why were they talking to a minor?” Sheila asked, referring to the fact that Joseph was 16 years old when he began exchanging e-mails with the Jesus Christians. “He was a kid at the time. If he were an adult meeting with adults, it would be different. But for a kid … I don’t even know if it’s a choice. Just like, is it his decision not to call home?
”Joseph, who has spent the past several months traveling outside of Los Angeles with another Jesus Christian and would not agree to a phone interview, has not spoken to either of his parents since the Jesus Christians went forward with their unique trial nearly three months ago.
In early October, Joseph called his parents to tell them that the Jesus Christians would be holding a trial that month in Long Beach in response to Zeuner’s beating and Jared, Sheila, John and Joseph’s younger brother Josh would be the defendants.
To take part in the trial, Joseph told Sheila, each of the Johnsons would have to prepare statements admitting their responsibility for Zeuner’s injuries.The Johnsons declined.
“It just sounds bizarre,” Sheila said. “And even if I had written a statement, who’s to say if it would be sufficient for David McKay?” So, the Jesus Christians proceeded without the Johnsons’ cooperation.On the afternoon of Oct. 7, 10 members, along with a local news crew, gathered inside the auditorium of Stephens Middle School in Long Beach, which they had rented for the occasion...
After the statements, the jury was ready to deliver its verdicts.
For the crime attempted murder, McKay pronounced Jared guilty.
Then, in Jared’s absence, McKay volunteered to take the punishment he had prescribed for Joseph’s father — 25 lashes from a whip.McKay walked the few steps up to the stage and laid face down on the platform with his face in the red pillow.
Jose’ Jacobo, the quiet 18-year-old from Oregon, picked up a whip from the floor behind the platform and delivered the blows to McKay’s back. McKay’s body tensed with every sharp crack that resounded through the room.Cherry McKay announced the next verdict, finding Sheila Johnson guilty of being an accessory to attempted murder and sentencing her to a choice between shaving her head and leaving it uncovered for three months, or five lashes from the whip.
Cherry chose the five lashes for Sheila, and replaced her husband on the stage to receive her punishment from Jacobo.Joseph next found his younger brother, Josh, guilty of being an accessory and also took five lashes on his behalf.And finally, Kronmiller announced Joseph’s older brother, John, guilty of attempted murder and took 25 lashes in John’s place.
“This was our way of addressing the issue of what took place,” said Kronmiller after the trial. “We wanted to show love for the people who committed the crime, and that’s why we volunteered ourselves to take on the punishment we thought they were deserving of.
“It’s an attempt to show, this is what true justice looks like.”
As for the Johnsons, he said, “They never once apologized
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