Summer Lake, Oregon (CNN) Looking at this beautiful lake in the western U.S. state of Oregon is to understand the meaning of the phrase “God’s country.” And that’s exactly why Brother Gregory lives here.
He is part of a an off-grid movement of conservative Christians who are choosing to live their lives on the edge of society, unplugged from civilization as much as they can, living under basic biblical principles.
Brother Gregory — the “Brother” is more of a nickname than an occupational title — ministers from the Oregon desert where he lives with his wife, some of his grown children and grandchildren.
Like other conservative Christians in this growing movement, Brother Gregory believes that Christianity has strayed too far from its roots, and has given its role in people’s lives over to the government — as with welfare programs or health care.
“We are not living off the grid as much as we are creating a new grid, a more wholesome grid,” he said.
“We are following a different path that we think is healthier, promotes better families, and better communities.”
He doesn’t believe a church needs four walls and a roof. Rather, a church is people who believe in taking care of each other — living under the biblical principles of faith, hope and charity.
Making the government an idol is the problem.
–Keith Humphrey, Christian Exodus
Video: Christian Exodus leader Video: Christian Exodus believer Video: A brother and a shepherd
“Christians should be looking for a way to take care of one another without forcing their neighbor to contribute to their welfare. In essence that’s coveting your neighbor’s goods through the agency of the governments you create.”
And that is a sin.
Brother Gregory runs the web site for “His Holy Church,” and he explains that he is not what you would typically think of as a minister. He doesn’t regularly get up and speak before a congregation, for example.
“‘His Holy Church’ is a phrase. It’s ‘His’, meaning Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ established the Church 2,000 years ago. It’s ‘Holy’ because it’s separate. It’s separate from the world. It’s in the world but not of the world. And it’s a ‘Church’, which actually comes from the Greek ‘ekklesia’, meaning ‘called out’. They’re called out to do the will of Jesus Christ and the Father in Heaven.”
Brother Gregory, a shepherd in the literal sense at his ranch in Summer Lake, Oregon, sees echoes of that in his religious life as a minister.
“Sheep teach the shepherd to be a good shepherd,” he says, “and in that sense, that’s what people need. They need a good shepherd who’s not going to rule over them but guide them in the good ways, the ways of life.”
There are others with similar views to Brother Gregory. But while Brother Gregory is content spreading his gospel over the internet and simply living out his life on his ranch in Oregon, these Christians take things a step further.
There is a group called Christian Exodus, and while they too believe modern Christianity is corrupt, they are a little more fired up about the role government plays. Mainly, that it shouldn’t have any role at all.
Keith Humphrey is the executive director of Christian Exodus. His long Amish-style beard gives a very visible clue to his beliefs. He would love to live in simpler times, when government was virtually non-existent.
“Making the government an idol is the problem. That’s what stands in the way of Christian sanctification,” Humphrey says. “It’s hands off mainly things like our family, our children, our bodies, our health, and even our money, the fruits of our labor. These don’t belong to government.”
Christian Exodus considers itself a movement. In 2004, it tried to get its members — some 1,500 or so who have signed up online — to move together to South Carolina, form a community and secede from the United States.
“We originally anticipated thousands and thousands of people overwhelming these smaller counties,” Humphrey says. “We had people moving, that were moving, but they were kind of putting the cart before the horse, because they weren’t living independently. They were just showing up and saying ‘Okay, where’s my house and where’s my job?’ We’re like, ‘Uh, no, it doesn’t work like that. ‘”
When the idea didn’t work out, Christian Exodus then started trying to pull members together into micro-communities, through social networking, and encouraging its members to live through what it calls ‘personal secession’.
“Personal secession are things like homeschooling, house churches, home gardening, home-based economics, just regaining privacy and a sense of community rather than worrying about what’s going on in Washington, D.C… What’s the latest thing from the Supreme Court?
“You know, who cares? I don’t care about what they’re saying in D.C. because they don’t represent me hardly more than Pyongyang.”
His Holy Church and Christian Exodus each say it is hard to track how many followers they may have, because many people who believe in their movements also don’t like to be tracked.
They live “off the grid” in every aspect. But each group has thousands of members signed up online, and each says many more could be unregistered followers. They exist on the edge of society, living as they believe Christians did in the beginning.