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by WaylandCybersmith


Stuart Willis

Mention the name of Stuart Willis to a member of the Blaze Community and you are sure to touch a raw nerve. Willis has done more than anyone to condemn the community.

It is difficult to put all the pieces together, what you hear depends, very much, on who you speak to.

Stuart Willis was raised in a foster home from a very young age. He gained a reputation for being rebellious and a trouble-maker, with several run-ins with the police for violence and petty theft.

At the age of 16, he met the Blaze Community and moved into a house in North Tibworth. Over the next two years, he changed completely. He was made a youth leader, responsible for his own study group. He gained a reputation as a skilled evangelist, and many people joined the community because of him.

When he was 19, he met Christina Baker, who joined his study group. She was 15 at the time. Over the weeks that followed, the community leaders were concerned that Stuart and Christina were too close. They said that Christina should join another group, which she did, but she and Stuart continued to see each other, usually in secret.

According to Blaze Community, their relationship became sexual, which, due to Christina’s age, was statutory rape. Christopher Stoneham confronted Willis about this. An argument ensued, during which Willis punched Stoneham and smashed a window in Heritage House.

A letter was sent to the authorities, indicating Blaze Community’s fears, and recommending that an investigation take place. This happened soon after, and Christina was taken into care. Willis was not prosecuted, but given a severe warning. He was stripped of all authority in Blaze Community and left.

According to Willis, he had not done anything wrong in his relationship with Christina, and insisted that they loved each other. He blamed the community for interfering with their relationship. He claimed the community tried to turn people into mindless slaves, with leaders controlling every aspect of the member’s lives.

Following this, the authorities investigated the whole community. They concluded that, although there was no evidence of actual child endangerment, many of the practices of the community were unwise, and made recommendations in the area of child protection.

The publicity around the incident, and the mere fact of the investigation, meant that the branding of the Blaze Community as a cult was reinforced. This hit the children especially, as they became subject to taunts and bullying at school, by teachers as well as students.

Stuart Willis was interviewed on television and radio, and in newspapers and magazines. He became known as “The man that escaped Blaze Community”, a label he did his best to live up to,

Many others who had left the community, for one reason or another, made contact with Willis, and he became the centre of an anti-Blaze Community movement. Eventually, he set up a web site, on which he published every news article about the Blaze Community. The news reports painted a negative view of the community. A community spokesperson said that this was because it is generally bad news that is reported as good news does not sell papers.

The newspapers themselves appeared to take a stance against the community. The community attracted people at the extremes of society; addicts, ex-prisoners, homeless people, people with mental illness. This was because the community had a policy of accepting anyone. The critics said that the community were preying on the vulnerable.

These vulnerable people sometimes got into trouble. They would return to their addictions and crimes. Occasionally, some might die through overdose, or suicide. Or, they might be arrested and convicted of criminal activity. In every case, their connection with Blaze Community would be highlighted.

There was also a forum, but this became a magnet for anyone with a story, no matter how unbelievable or salacious. The credibility of Willis' movement was dealt a severe blow by arguments that erupted between those that wanted to genuinely report concerns about the community, and those that wanted to fabricate stories for the sake of attention, or some other motive.

When Joshua King took over the leadership of Blaze Community, one of the first things he did was arrange a meeting with Willis and others. Soon after, Willis announced that he was satisfied with what King had said, and closed the web site and forum.


© WaylandCybersmith 2011


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