For Chris Nassoiy, 25, and for most members, the last restriction is by far the most painful. He has seen his parents only once since they left the church in 2009, when he gathered his belongings from his childhood home.
“I had to tell them that we won’t be able to communicate until they apologize, until they accept the Gospel,” he said, his voice cracking. “It was a little bit wrenching.”
For his mother, Sally Nassoiy, what started as heartbreak has evolved into anger at Jones and other church officials.
“They take young people willing to devote themselves to God’s word, and they exploit them,” she said. “It’s a cult. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it.”
Jones, 59, denies that the church is a cult or that he abuses his authority in his role as Dove’s leader.
“I’m the central figure,” he said. “That’s certainly true. But I do think the church will exist after me,” adding that he he hopes his 29-year-old son, Luke, will take over one day.
Jones said he doesn’t mandate that parishioners sever ties with their families, though it can be hard to maintain connections with those who aren’t giving their lives to the church.
Those who leave Dove do so, he said, because “their faith just wasn’t strong enough.”
Jones knows personally how his strict edicts and unconventional leadership can divide families. Two of his daughters have left the church in disgust.
“I don’t support him, and I don’t want to have anything to do with him,” Emma Jones said via Facebook.
Her father said her decision to walk away from the church “was the biggest betrayal.”
For most of the young congregants, membership requires participation in Jones’s three-year “academy,” which preaches discipline and adherence to the Bible. It also requires hours of work, much of it unpaid, in the Dove World Outreach Center’s used-furniture business, which is run out of the same building as the church.
Jones defended that arrangement, saying that members of the academy are provided with food and housing to compensate them for their work.
The young congregants live in church-owned housing in one of Gainesville’s roughest neighborhoods.
Willie Irving, who lives in the neighborhood, used to attend services at the center. He stopped going in 2009, he said, when he realized the church was “trying to make a living on people’s faith.”
But some of those who have extricated themselves from the church describe just how difficult the process can be in this tight-knit community, where roots run deep.