5 Apr 2011

Totalitarian control of Exclusive Brethren members means children have no true intellectual or religious freedom

Banyule and Nillumbik Weekly    -  Victoria, Australia         April 5, 2011

No class for excluded Brethren students


CONTROVERSIAL sect Exclusive Brethren bans members from attending university on campus, despite its students being high academic achievers.

According to the federal government’s My School website, students at the sect-run Glenvale School achieved above average scores across all five areas of the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests last year – writing, spelling, reading, numeracy, and grammar and punctuation.

Diamond Valley is home to one of the biggest Brethren communities in Australia.

Despite the high scores, students cannot attend university on-campus as, according to the sect, it would ‘‘…put them in conflict with their church fellowship’’.

Brethren spokesman Bob Lawrence, from PR firm Jackson Wells, told BNW, students who wish to continue their education can only do so via online courses or off-campus ‘‘delivery mechanisms’’.

Fifty per cent of the class of 2010 went on to tertiary education, and the other 50 per cent found jobs.

The school spends $19,965 per student, almost double what the average state school spends. My School revealed more than

$7 million of the school’s $11.7 million annual budget came from private donations.

Despite its private wealth, the school’s Community Socio-Education Advantage index is below the average.

Mr Lawrence said the school relies on a ‘‘high level of support from the community’’.

‘‘That support includes capital infrastructure which in all independent schools is mainly privately funded. Glenvale School has had an increased capital expenditure program to provide necessary education facilities for the students,’’ he said.

Last year, the sect won a controversial VCAT battle with residents to build its Melbourne headquarters, a 2000-seat ‘‘mega-church’’ in Diamond Creek. The sect also operates five smaller churches in the area.

Detractors, including former members, have labelled the religion a cult, saying it controls member’s lives and forbids them from engaging in society.

The school, which has 611 students across 13 campuses in Victoria, teaches grades three to year 12.

The sect also runs six other schools throughout Australia.

This article was found at:


Exclusive Brethren schools funded by Australian government allow parents to evade taxes when paying school fees

Intellectual abuse in Exclusive Brethren's government funded schools prevents kids from thinking too much


  1. Evangelical woman wants CBC to stop reporting about messy divorce and husband's excommunication

    By SUE MONTGOMERY, The Gazette September 30, 2011

    A West Island woman belonging to an evangelical church that forbids radio, television and the Internet is seeking an injunction to stop CBC from reporting on the woman's messy divorce from her husband and his excommunication from the closed religious community.

    The motion, which is to be heard in Quebec Superior Court on Friday, says the couple was married in New York in 1996 and vowed to raise their children according to the followings of the exclusive Plymouth Brethren, of which there are about 106 members in Montreal.

    The airing of the program would be prejudicial to the children, who "dress somewhat differently than other children," the motion says. Members of the group, including children, don't socialize or eat with people outside the community.

    The woman, who can't be identified to protect the identity of the couple's five children, says the marriage fell apart when her husband "became obsessed with porn, strip bars and prostitutes."

    "The last straw was when he throttled me to the point I thought I was a goner," she wrote in a letter to Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC.

    The mother asked the court this year to order that the children follow the Brethren's code of conduct when they were with their father, but a Superior Court judge refused.

    In her June judgment, Justice Hélène Le Bel called the husband a good parent who "will not behave in such a way as to offend the religious beliefs or sensitivities of the children."

    The father is seeking sole custody of the children. A trial is scheduled for two weeks in November.

    During his visits with the children after the 2007 marital breakup, the father exposed the children to television and radio as well as "violent age-16-and-up videos," says the mother's letter attached to the motion. "His aim is to alienate and turn them against their friends within the Christian Fellowship."

    According to their website, the Plymouth Brethren have 40,000 members worldwide. They don't vote, but "hold government in the highest respect as God's ministers, used by Him to restrain evil and provide conditions for the promotion of the glad tidings."

    They have their own government-recognized schools for children ages 11-17.


  2. Evangelical group focus of child custody fight

    Ex-communicated father seeks sole custody of five children

    CBC News Oct 3, 2011

    A father who used to belong to a little-known Evangelical Christian group is fighting for sole custody of his five children, who remain in the closed community with their mother.

    The father, who cannot be identified, was ex-communicated from The Exclusive Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, a religious group that bans contact with the outside world.

    He currently sees his children every other weekend and every Wednesday, but he told CBC News that he's seeking sole custody because he wants them to be free.

    "I want them to have the opportunity to choose their lifestyle rather than having it forced on them," the father said.

    The Exclusive Brethren has 40,000 followers worldwide and about 100 in the Montreal region. They have two churches and a government-recognized school in Baie d'Urfé, on Montreal's West Island.

    The group believes women belong at home and does not allow its members to be educated beyond a high school diploma. It also forbids socializing outside the community, using the Internet, and going to the cinema.

    The 35-year-old father grew up in Winnipeg within the Exclusive Brethren community, but moved to Montreal in 1994 to help build the group's presence in the city. Two years later, he met and married his ex-wife and they had five children. The father said he became increasingly dissatisfied with the religious group, and the control it exerted over its members. He said he worries for his children, saying their lives are decided for them if they stay in the community.

    "The court will judge which parent can offer these children the best possible development in their lives," said Marie Annik Walsh, the lawyer representing the father in the custody battle. She added that the question of education will also be a factor.

    Earlier this year, the mother requested a court order that the children follow the Brethren's code of conduct when they were with their father, but a Superior Court judge refused.

    That same judge, Justice Hélène Le Bel, said the custody trial will look at the role religion should play in the lives of the children.

    The case will go before a Quebec Superior Court on Nov. 10.

    The Exclusive Brethren have hired three lawyers to argue the mother's case. The community and the mother refused to speak to CBC News, and filed a failed injunction to stop the story from going to air.


  3. Mark Craddock, Christian Sect Doctor, Banned For Prescribing 'Gay Cure' Drug Used For Castration

    By Cavan Sieczkowski The Huffington Post August 5, 2012

    An Australian doctor and member of a conservative Christian sect has been banned from practicing medicine after he prescribed a teenager a chemical castration drug to be used as a "gay cure."

    Dr. Mark Craddock of Sydney, who is also a member of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship sect, prescribed an 18-year-old man who was also part of the sect with the drug after he came out as gay, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

    In a letter to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, the unnamed man, who is now 24, said that when he came out as gay, a church leader told him ''there's medication you can go on." He continued, ''He recommended that I speak to Dr Craddock on the matter with a view to my being placed on medication to help me with my 'problem','' the New Zealand resident said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

    The teen went to visit the 75-year-old doctor who then prescribed him with a "gay cure": the anti-androgen therapy cyproterone acetate, sold under the brand name Cyprostat, along with five repeats, according to ninemsn. He said the doctor did not refer him to a psychologist or discuss the drug's side effects.

    Cyprostat is a form of hormone therapy used to treat prostate cancer. The drug will "work by stopping testosterone from reaching the cancer cells. Without testosterone the prostate cancer cells are not able to grow," according to the UK's Prostate Cancer Charity. Hormone suppressants have been used to "chemically castrate" sex offenders, the Guardian notes.

    A hearing by the Medical Council of the Australian State of New South Wales determined, "Dr Craddock failed to adequately assess the patient and failed to provide appropriate medical management of the patients therapeutic needs," in an excerpt obtained by Gay Star News. The committee found that Craddock was guilty of "unsatisfactory processional conduct. He was severely reprimanded and practice restrictions were placed on his registration."

    There are more than 40,000 Exclusive Brethren around the world, according to the sect's official website. They "believe strongly in the traditional family unit. Marriage is held in the greatest [honor], as one of God's original thoughts of blessing for the human race."

    Some doctors, like Craddock, have taken somewhat dangerous steps in an attempt to "cure" homosexuality. In 2010, Dr. Maria New of New York City's Mount Sinai was reportedly experimenting with injecting fetuses with steroids to potentially make girls "more feminine" and reduce odds they turn out gay, the Oregonian reported at the time.

    The American Psychiatric Association has condemned the "treatment" of homosexuality, according to GLAAD, saying, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

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    Activists have championed against "gay cures" in the United Kingdom, which includes Conversion Therapy. Last year, Apple pulled Exodus International's "Gay Cure" app from its collection.

    Below, see 11 horrific "cures" for homosexuality:


    In 2009 Manifested Glory Ministries came under fire when a 20-minute video posted on YouTube showed a 16 year old being subjected to an exorcism to "cure" him of his homosexuality. The boy is shown writhing as church members stand on his feet, hold him under the arms and scream, "Come on, you homosexual demon! You homosexual spirit, we call you out right now! Loose your grip, Lucifer!"


    Electrocution has long been a go-to tool for "curing" homosexuality and is still used to this day. In October Nathan Manske, the founder and Executive Director of I'm From Driftwood, a 501(c)(3) non-profit forum for true lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer stories, shared the story of Samuel Brinton on HuffPost Gay Voices. Brinton was raised in rural Iowa and he spoke of growing up gay in a conservative, Southern Baptist family that subjected him to forced Christian conversion therapy. "We then went into the 'Month of Hell,'" Brinton explains in the video above. "The 'Month of Hell' consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I'd be electrocuted."


    Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, a German psychiatrist who practiced during the 19th century, prescribed a trip to a brothel, preceded by lots of drinking, to cure men of their homosexuality. Women who were "afflicted," it's noted, "were referred only to their husbands."


    Hypnotism was a common tool used during the 19th century to "cure" homosexuals. When Schrenck-Notzing wasn't busy sending gay men to brothels, he was hypnotizing them. In 1892 the German psychiatrist reported success in treating 32 cases of "sexual perversions." Of the 32 cases, 12 were classified as "cured," meaning "the patients were completely able to 'combat fixed ideas [about homosexuality], deepen a sense of duty, self-control, and right-mindedness.'"

    Fetal Intervention

    Günther Dorner, who worked with the Institute for Experimental Endocrinology in the middle of the 20th century, believed that homosexuality is "determined by prenatal gendering of the brain caused by endocrinological disturbances." He hypothesized that if you could alter any hormonal imbalances present in the womb -- as he attempted to do with fetal rats -- homosexuality could be prevented before it even developed.

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    'Overdosing' On Homosexuality

    In the 1960s British psychologist I. Oswald would pump a gay man full of nausea-inducing drugs before surrounding him with glasses of urine and playing audio recordings of men having sex. Oswald was attempting to "overdose" gay men on homosexuality in hopes that they would "turn to women for relief."


    American neurologist Graeme M. Hammond suggests bicycling as a cure for homosexuality. He believed "homosexuality was rooted in nervous exhaustion and that bicycle exercise would restore health and heterosexuality."

    Cold Showers

    In June of 2011 Hong Kong reportedly hired a psychiatrist to give a government-sponsored training session on conversion therapy. Among the techniques Hong Kwai-wah suggested for "curing" homosexuality were cold showers, prayer, and abstinence.


    Eugen Steinach (1861-1944), director of the Biological Institute in Vienna, believed that homosexuality was the result of hormonal imbalances. To prove his hypothesis, the scientist implanted sex organs in neutered rats and Guinea pigs and claimed to have conducted successful "sex change" operations on the rodents. Steinach's research didn't end with animals. He also transplanted testicles from heterosexual men into gay men in hopes of "remasculizing the recipient."

    Cocaine, Strychnine, Genital Mutilation

    Physician Denslow Lewis believed that women brought up in wealthy 19th century homes could develop "sexual hyperesthesia [excessive sensitivity to stimuli]" and become lesbians. In order to cure these women he prescribed "cocaine solutions, saline cathartics, the surgical "liberation" of adherent clitorises, or even the administration of strychnine by hypodermic." Though he claimed that some of his patients were "cured" and became wives and mothers, one went insane and died in an asylum.


    "Pray the gay away!" has become the battle cry of the conversion therapy movement. From Marcus Bachmann's alleged conversion clinic to an ex-gay iPhone app, those who believe homosexuality is not only wrong but curable rely on the power of prayer to make a miracle happen.


  6. Probe into strict Christian sect school that 'shut up' girl pupil for 37 days... for making Facebook page

    By Mark Nicol UK Daily Mail January 20, 2013

    A fundamentalist Christian church at the centre of a multi-million-pound dispute over charitable status is being investigated about claims of child cruelty.

    The Exclusive Brethren, which has 16,000 UK followers, has gained the support of more than 50 MPs in its bid to retain its charitable status – and the entitlement to tax relief on donations.

    But this newspaper has uncovered allegations of a shocking regime inside Exclusive Brethren schools – including pupils being confined at home for using the internet, elders tearing pages from textbooks to remove material about gay rights or sexually transmitted diseases, and teenage boys and girls being banned from talking to each other.

    Yesterday a local education authority confirmed it was investigating allegations of child cruelty and failures to teach the National Curriculum at an Exclusive Brethren school in Wiltshire. Wilton Park School, near Salisbury, opened in September 2011 as an independent day school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.

    The probe, by Wiltshire County Council, local police officers and the Department for Education’s Due Diligence Team was triggered by a teacher at Wilton Park handing over a dossier describing alleged abuses.

    These claims include the punishments imposed upon six pupils for setting up a Facebook page.

    Elders from the church are said to have responded so harshly because of the Exclusive Brethren’s teachings on modern technology – laptops are considered instruments of evil and internet access is tightly controlled to protect followers from defiling material.

    Pupils are also banned from emailing each other because, according to a school memo, ‘such communications promote special friendships and are beneath the dignity of our calling’.

    The dossier states that, on the elders’ instruction, six pupils were withdrawn, confined to their homes and forbidden to have any communication with anyone outside their close families. Inside the Exclusive Brethren community these punishments are called ‘shutting up’.

    The teacher, who is not a member of the Exclusive Brethren, wrote: ‘As an employee I have known of families that have been “shut up’’ for different lengths of time. I have never witnessed pupils being shut up before.

    ‘The pupils were shut up between the months of May and July 2012. The only girl was shut up for the longest number of days and was recorded to have had 37 days off out of a possible 70 [school] days between May 4th and July 22nd [when the school term ended]. All of her absences were recorded as authorised absences.

    ‘She was not allowed to have any communication with anyone apart from immediate family members, i.e. those who she shared a house with. She suffered both mentally and physically from this controlled withdrawal from her friends; she lost weight and was emotionally distressed.

    ‘When it was decided that she would be allowed back to school, it was controlled by the EB [Exclusive Brethren] elders. She was dropped off and escorted into a classroom.

    'She remained there with work to do all day. She was not allowed to have contact with anyone apart from one or two teachers. They were not allowed to have any form of conversation with her unless it was study related.

    ‘At the end of the day she was picked up by a parent and taken home. She remained in her home until the following school day.’

    A Brethren spokesman said: ‘Shutting up is not intended as a punishment but is meant to encourage people to consider the consequences of their actions. Where young persons are involved this decision is taken ultimately by their parents, though the advice of elders may be sought.

    ‘The trustees – all Brethren – decide what is best for the school based on their religious and moral beliefs.’

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  7. The six pupils were in Wilton Park’s sixth form. These boys and girls, aged 16 to 18, are subjected to gender segregation at all times – to reflect the school’s commitment to biblical values. Liaisons and relationships between pupils are prohibited and monitored using CCTV.

    Other stipulations include teenagers being forbidden to attend university or public events such as Premiership football matches.

    Pupils seldom play any competitive sport and have been banned from playing rugby by the church’s Australian leadership.

    As the dossier compiled by the Wilton Park teacher reads: ‘The sixth-form boys at the school are a very athletic group and they wanted to start playing full-contact rugby. They put forward a very articulate and well-thought-through presentation as to why they felt this was necessary. The trustees told them they would come back with an answer within 24 hours.

    ‘Their answer, as dictated to them by “Australia”, was clear that full-contact rugby should not be played as it promotes savagery. So for Exclusive Brethren schools in the UK, decisions are no longer made locally or even nationally.’

    Teaching staff at Wilton Park must also abide by strict codes of conduct and dress, as set out by the school: ‘Female staff must wear dresses or skirts (at least knee-length) and clothing must be modest and not revealing or low-cut.’ Male teachers must have short hair and shave.

    The launch of the investigation comes just weeks before the Exclusive Brethren’s appeal against the Charity Commission is heard by a legal tribunal. The Commission recently decided the church did not qualify for charitable status.

    Unless the verdict is overturned, the Exclusive Brethren stands to lose its entitlement to tax relief. As a charity, the church currently claims 25p from the Inland Revenue for every £1 received in donations under the Gift Aid scheme.

    The case is worth so much to the church that it has spent £1.5 million on a legal campaign.

    THE five-day tribunal in March will hear evidence about the church’s charitable works. But other witnesses, including former members of the Exclusive Brethren, may gave their testimonies from behind screens – such is their fear of the potential consequences.

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  8. An Education Department spokeswoman confirmed she was aware of the dossier and added: ‘We are working with police and local council to take any action necessary.’

    A spokesman for Wiltshire Council said: ‘An allegation has been received in relation to this school.

    ‘The council is committed to protecting and safeguarding every child in Wiltshire. We take all allegations of child abuse seriously.’

    An insider's view of the notoriously strict Plymouth Brethren schools

    AS part of our investigation, The Mail on Sunday was given unprecedented access to another Exclusive Brethren school.

    All 192 pupils at Linton Park School, near Maidstone, Kent, come from Exclusive Brethren families – in keeping with the church’s stance of separation from the community, including other Christian groups. The pupils are aged from seven to 18.

    Deputy head teacher John Welch admitted that his staff – who don’t belong to the controversial church – censor books to remove content that the school’s trustees consider incompatible with their faith.

    He also admitted the Exclusive Brethren’s stance on issues such as gay rights and abortion made teaching ‘delicate’.

    Mr Welch, a former policeman, said: ‘I’ve been working in Brethren schools since 2001 so by now I know the areas that are sensitive.

    But today I still have to get approval for resources such as DVDs. Blasphemy is another area so we blank out any swear words.

    ‘Recently I was teaching post-1945 British history and the legalisation by Harold Wilson’s government of abortion and homosexuality. Many communities would say these were advances in society, the Brethren would not. It is delicate.’

    According to pupil Nathan Woodcock, 15, his community is being unfairly targeted.

    He said: ‘We do a lot of work for the public benefit and I really enjoy helping the less fortunate. For instance, we put on “Pie Days”, when the homeless come to our meeting hall and we feed them.

    'The public don’t understand we only eat and drink with people with whom we share the Lord’s Supper.’

    The Exclusive Brethren, which has 16,000 followers in the UK and 46,000 worldwide, formed in 1848.

    In that year they broke off from the much larger Plymouth Brethren – an evangelical Christian church founded in 1832.

    The church’s worldwide leader Bruce Hales, based in Sydney, Australia, assumed the leadership after the death of his father.

    Hales preaches that the world is ‘evil’ and that separation from it is the ‘greatest thing that the Lord has provided’.


  9. Charity Commission accepts Plymouth Brethren application

    by Michael Trimmer, Christian Today January 10, 2014

    The Preston Down Trust, part of the Devon-based Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, has had its application for charitable status accepted after agreeing to make changes to its governing document.

    The approval by the Charity Commission marks the end of a long process of debate, appeal and evolution at the Plymouth Brethren.

    The Charity Commission's initial refusal in 2012 led to an appeal which had to be temporarily halted because of legal fee issues, before eventually resulting in a decision in favour of the Church on Thursday.

    The controversy rested on whether the trust's religious activities could be described as "advancement of religion for public benefit", part of the criteria for the Charity Commission's acceptance of religious organisations.

    In official documentation on the subject, the Charity Commission states that in order for a religious organisation to be recognised as charitable, they have to demonstrate that their aims are for the public benefit.

    "It would not be sufficient for any such organisation to show that it is established solely for the benefit of the followers or adherents of the religion," the guidance states.

    In its decision document on the Plymouth Brethren, the Charity Commission outlined concerns about "the doctrine of separation from evil, which… resulted in (i) both a moral and physical separation from the wider community and (ii) limited interaction between the Brethren and the wider public".

    This doctrine resulted in policies such as limiting the attendance of church services to those who were already considered members and forbidding members to socialise in any way with non-members.

    The commission said it had received evidence relating to allegations of "detriment, harm or disbenefit" following its 2012 decision to refuse charitable status to the Plymouth Brethren.

    Disciplinary procedures against members were found to include the controversial practice of "shutting up", where members of the congregation are not permitted to speak to a particular individual.

    The possibility that this practice was inflicted upon children was investigated in early 2013 by Parliamentarians.

    This practice had previously resulted in the physical separation of family members to such an extent that non-Brethren family members were not permitted to attend their Brethren relatives' funerals.

    The decision document also claims of legal action against former members, and members who left the Church being "ostracised and consequently treated differently from other members of the public".

    Dialogue between the Preston Down Trust and the Charity Commission resulted to changes to the trust's governing document and the Commission being satisfied that it met the requirements for charitable status.

    It is uncommon for the Charity Commission to take such an approach, a fact that was remarked upon by Tory peer Baroness Berridge, who was involved in gathering evidence in relation to the Church.

    "The grave concerns of the Charity Commission should not be underestimated as they have required the EB (Exclusive Brethren) to agree to a 'faith in practice' document and it is remarkable for them to require a religious group to, in effect, alter its practice and doctrine to qualify for charitable status," she said.

    She also echoed concerns about the Plymouth Brethren's practices, saying: "This religion is not one I recognise as Christian."

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  10. The Plymouth Brethren welcomed the outcome in a statement that read: "This decision is a great relief to us and we are hugely encouraged and comforted, that after a thorough explanation of our Christian beliefs and practices, which are based on the infallible and eternal Word of God as set out in Holy Scripture, the Charity Commission has agreed that the doctrines and practices of our Church advance religion for the public benefit."

    The decision to grant charitable status could still be appealed and the Charity Commission will be reviewing the status in a year's time.

    Baroness Berridge added: "I recognise that those harmed by their experience of the EB may be disappointed by today's decision and may have relevant standing to appeal the decision."

    Explaining its decision to grant charitable status, the Charity Commission said the trust had "demonstrated a willingness to make amends and to do what it could as a Christian organisation to ensure, as far as it was consistent with its religious beliefs, it would act with Christian compassion in the future".

    Changes include ensuring worship services are open to all members of the public and making it public what the accepted dress code is to those who wish to attend.

    In a section of the new governing documents entitled "Compassion", the trust sets out how that pastoral care should be provided "including but not limited to where fault occurs".

    "No action should be taken in any way to treat vindictively, maliciously or unfairly persons whether within or outside the community, including those who were within the community and who are leaving or have left the community," it says.

    "Every care should be taken to provide for and support the welfare and education of children and young persons within the community.

    "Where persons seek to leave the community, reasonable assistance should be afforded to them in terms of support and/or financial assistance relating to employment or other matters, where they have been dependent on the community for that support."

    The new governing document also states that "reasonable steps" should be taken to allow the continuation of family relationships when a family member leaves community, including providing access to family members, especially children.

    The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church welcomed the Charity Commission's decision in a statement, despite noting that it did not agree with all aspects of its opinion.

    Spokesperson for the Plymouth Brethren, Gerry Devenish, refused to be drawn on the specifics of what they disagreed with but told Christian Today that their core values "as a mainstream Christian church remain unchanged".

    He said the Charity Commission's opinion document "speaks for itself" and was positive about the new governing document making the Church "more accountable".

    William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, was quoted on ThirdSector.co.uk as saying: "I am pleased that the PDT has agreed to adopt a new governing document and am confident that the organisation now qualifies for charitable status.

    "This was a complex and sensitive case, which involved strong views and feelings on both sides of the argument. I am grateful to all those who shared information with us, and for their patience in awaiting today's decision.

    "I hope that the organisation's new explicit focus on compassion and forgiveness will help allay the concerns of people who remain uncomfortable with some of the practices of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church."




    The Plymouth Brethren discourage interaction between their followers and outsiders, and the church encompasses all aspects of social and professional life for its members. Critics say it has gone from being a Christian sect to full-blown cult.

    By: Bill Redekop, Winnipeg Free Press May 10, 2014

    STONEWALL — Quietly, and out of earshot of Winnipeg, Stonewall had its own mini "British Invasion" a decade ago.

    Newcomers from England started to descend on this town just north of Winnipeg that has historically been a limestone quarry and agricultural service centre.

    They bought homes, started businesses, built a church — all the usual stuff.

    Stonewall councillors were pleased their town was chosen by the English-speaking immigrants. Local residents were charmed, as North Americans tend to be, by how the newcomers snapped off their words with British accents.

    But residents soon found there was something different about the newcomers. They didn’t want much to do with the townsfolk. They wouldn’t socialize with them, other than a few words on the street or in a store. It wasn’t long before local people started to regard them as "standoffish," as one Stonewall resident put it.

    In time, the community learned the newcomers were from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), a religious sect that practises "separateness" from the rest of society. The two-metre-high rod-iron fence around their church attests to that.

    It’s one of the few physical barriers. Most Plymouth Brethren barriers are social. They won’t eat in the same room as non-members, including in restaurants.
    Brethren are not even allowed to visit the homes of non-Brethren, or "worldly people." They don’t go to the cinema, the theatre or sporting events.

    Plymouth Brethren are sometimes thought of as a British version of Hutterites, without the colonies. Both are conscientious objectors to military service; neither group votes; both forbid television and radio in their homes. The Brethren forbid computers with anything other than email functions and some business software, and all their computers and programs are purchased from a Brethren-owned company.

    Plymouth Brethren also maintain a dress code, but not one as rustic or obvious as that of Hutterites.

    Brethren women are required to wear ankle-length skirts, long hair and some kind of head covering — it used to be a kerchief but now is often a ribbon. The attire is urban, individualized, and becoming less strict to the point where women are now seen wearing designer clothes with hem lines climbing to knee level.

    Men dress business casual. They keep their hair short and are clean-shaven — not even sideburns are allowed. While that doesn’t sound like it would set the men apart, it does.

    "They are conspicuously well-scrubbed," said a Stonewall resident who has had dealings with the Brethren.

    This "new" Christian sect has actually been in Manitoba since the 1880s. The Stonewall group was only the most recent wave. Plymouth Brethren are also in Winnipeg (Charleswood) and the village of Woodlands, not far from Stonewall in the Interlake.

    It’s a group that shows quite remarkable business acumen. The Plymouth Brethren bought up half of Stonewall’s industrial park upon arrival, and immediately set up a cluster of companies.

    But attempts to learn more about the sect and interview its members showed how it has managed to stay under the radar.

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  12. Charity Commission chair calls for evidence about Plymouth Brethren congregations

    by Sam Burne James, Third Sector March 19, 2015

    In a letter to The Times, William Shawcross says the regulator's decision on the Preston Down Trust was independent and robust, and urges people to contact the commission with evidence about the activities of Brethren congregations

    The chair of the Charity Commission has invited anyone with evidence about Plymouth Brethren congregations to present it to the regulator as part of its ongoing monitoring of Brethren charities.

    In a letter to The Times published today, William Shawcross says that the regulator’s 2014 decision to register as a charity the Preston Down Trust, a Devon-based congregation of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, had been "independent and robust".

    His letter comes in response to an article in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper that documented the campaigning efforts of the church in the five-year legal battle that led to the PDT being registered.

    In response to the article, the commission confirmed that its officials had been followed by members of the church, which adheres to a doctrine of separation and has been accused of breaking up families and using harsh disciplinary practices. The commission said it was sent letters by more than 3,000 of the church’s members and 200 MPs after initially refusing to register the PDT.

    Shawcross’s Times letter says: "Anyone reading our published decision will see it was independent and robust. We were the first public authority to put on record the ‘detriment and harm’ caused by the doctrines and practices of the brethren.

    "We recognised the Preston Down Trust as charitable only after it satisfied us that it met the public benefit requirement by accepting a new deed setting out its core religious doctrines and practices, acknowledged past mistakes and agreed to greater engagement with the wider public.

    "We will make public the conclusions of our monitoring of those Brethren halls that we registered as charities. If any member of the public has evidence relating to these charities, we would be glad to receive it."

    Since the registration of the PDT, a further 69 Plymouth Brethren congregations have been granted charitable status by the commission. When it registered the PDT, the commission said it would monitor the new charity’s compliance with its governing documents and that the commission "regularly monitors charities that were the subject of a complex or high-risk registration process to ensure that they are operating in line with their trusts and charity law".

    Two further letters on the subject of the Brethren are also published in The Times today. Harry Adam of Atworth in Wiltshire says that the church’s practices "do not reflect any generally accepted view of ‘Christian’ behaviour". Another, from Jake Whiteside, a spokesman for the PBCC, says that the PDT decision "was taken after extensive examination of evidence, lasting more than 12 months". He responds to criticism of Brethren schools made in Tuesday’s Times story by saying: "They are unusual in one area: they are particularly successful."


  13. Extreme sect secures £13m tax breaks

    by Alexi Mostrous Special Correspondent Billy Kenber Investigations Reporter, The Times, UK March 17, 2015

    The charity regulator secured tax breaks worth millions of pounds a year for a hardline Christian sect despite finding that its practices caused harm and broke up families.

    The Charity Commission struck a deal with the Exclusive Brethren, which has 17,000 followers in Britain and enjoys charitable tax relief worth up to £13 million a year, after the group’s Australian leader called for “extreme pressure” to be put on William Shawcross, the head of the regulator.

    British members of the sect, also known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, work for Brethren businesses, shun outsiders socially and make yearly cash payments totalling an estimated £350,000 to Bruce Hales, a secretive accountant who travels by private jet and runs the group from a wealthy Sydney suburb.

    Under its strict disciplinary practices, followers of the sect, which has been described by some as a cult, have been ostracised or thrown out for minor transgressions. Many claim they have been torn away from their families, in some cases for decades.
    Leaked documents obtained by The Times lay bare the extraordinary lobbying campaign prepared a draft presentation showing a photograph of a car being crushed by a brick wall accompanied with the words: “This must be our aim. No mercy. Nothing else will do.”

    Your wish is my command, MP assured church

    More than 200 MPs, many of whom had been persuaded that the Brethren were an innocuous Christian church, wrote to the regulator on its behalf and several tabled supportive motions, organised debates and hosted parliamentary events. Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough who is one of the Brethren’s strongest supporters, assured the sect: “Your wish is my command.”

    Five MPs wrote to Alison McKenna, the principal judge of the charity tribunal, to influence her decision in the Brethren’s favour. A spokesman for Ms McKenna said that she had “made it clear that it was not appropriate to write to a judge during the hearing”.

    By late 2012, the tribunal was set to hear testimony from ex-members describing how they had suffered emotional and in some cases physical abuse.

    However, less than two months after Mr Hales had told his enforcers to get “Shawcross to review the [case] without going to tribunal”, according to a note of an internal meeting, the Charity Commission agreed to stay the case. Regulators instead negotiated a deal with the Brethren behind closed doors. The Brethren said that they had received advice that the regulator’s “challenge to [the group’s] charitable status was misguided and that a collaborative dialogue might be possible to resolve this.”

    In January last year the sect, which some ex-members and Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, have denounced as an “extremist cult” which “breaks up families” and tightly controls members’ lives, was granted charitable status. “I think the Charity Commission has questions to answer over whether it buckled under pressure from what appears to have been a particularly aggressive lobbying campaign,” Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, said.

    Several MPs who supported the Brethren also received significant help from Brethren volunteers in the run-up to the 2010 election and in by-elections. Mr Bone, Robert Halfon, and Michael Ellis, who all made speeches, tabled questions or hosted debates on the Brethren’s behalf, received such help.

    The Charity Commission says it withdrew the case from the tribunal because of costs — despite only spending £14,000 on the case. By signing a Deed of Variation, which compels the Brethren to support members who wish to leave, the sect’s meeting halls fulfilled charitable status, it was decided.

    The Brethren described the leaked minutes as unapproved and possibly inaccurate, denied that they are a cult and said they are a “force for good."

    [no link available for this article; it originally was published behind a subscription wall]

  14. Secretive leader with private jet is God’s man on earth

    by Billy Kenber and Alexi Mostrous, The Times UK March 17 2015

    A publicityshy,62yearold

    Australian accountant wields great power over the lives of 45,000 worldwide members of the
    Exclusive Brethren “cult”.

    Bruce David Hales, who lives in a large house in a Sydney enclave and uses a private jet to travel around the world, has led the
    sect since he took over from his father in 2002.

    Known variously as the Elect Vessel, the Great Man, the Paul of our Day, Minister in the Lord in Recovery, and Mr Bruce, Mr
    Hales’s word is considered unimpeachable. His photograph, along with those of the six former universal leaders, hangs in the
    living room of nearly every Brethren household. Mr Hales’ sermons are recorded in “ministry” documents to which every
    member is expected to subscribe and Brethren children learn about his life in school.

    When he speaks at special meetings attended by members from several countries he has his own security team and former
    adherents have described waiting up to 90 minutes for him to arrive. Mr Hales has ultimate authority in disciplining
    members and can change the group’s many rules at his discretion, as happened in the last decade with access to computers,
    mobile phones and a limited version of the internet.

    Three former members said he even approves marriages, a claim the Brethren denies. One who spoke to him in 2007 was
    disappointed not to receive his blessing and his Brethren fiancée broke off the engagement.

    Brethren members in the UK donate an estimated £32,000 a month to Mr Hales in cash and he is thought to receive as much
    as £1 million a year from worldwide members. Members claim they vary the exact amount and regularity of the payments to
    reduce the risk of these gifts being seen as taxable. The Brethren said individual donors paid tax on donations and that they
    were confident that Mr Hales paid all necessary tax. The Brethren deny the church is centrally organised, a claim refuted by
    scores of current and former members contacted by The Times.

    When a reporter sought to attend a Bible reading at a gospel hall in Paignton, Devon, as a member of the public he was made
    to sign a form disclosing his name but not his occupation. A reporter seeking to attend another of the 342 halls in Kent on the
    same basis was questioned about her connections to the first reporter less than 10 minutes later.

    The Brethren said it was a “complete coincidence”.

    [no link available for this article; it was originally published behind a subscription wall]

  15. Exclusive Brethren preaches hatred of world and pipelines of filth

    by Billy Kenber and Alexi Mostrous, The Times UK March 17 2015

    For the 17,000 British members of the Exclusive Brethren, life is highly restricted and tightly controlled.

    Behind security gates, inside one of 340 windowless meeting rooms across the country, members gather daily for gospel
    preachings, prayers and Bible readings. On Sundays, the first of four meetings begins at 6am.

    The Brethren believe the rest of the world is evil and shun modern conveniences such as television, radio and Google as the
    “pipelines of filth”. Christmas is viewed as a pagan ritual and is not celebrated.

    Members are expected to socialise only with each other, live in detached houses and refrain from eating or drinking with
    outsiders. “We have to get a hatred, an utter hatred of the world,” Bruce Hales, the Australian accountant who leads the sect’s

    worldwide congregation, said in 2006. “Unless you’ve come to a hatred of the world you’re likely to be sucked
    in by it, and seduced by it.”

    Although members practise street preaching, they do not seek new followers. Almost all are born into the sect and from birth
    the path is a clear one: education at a Brethren school, employment at a Brethren business, marriage to a Brethren partner.

    By combining resources, the sect has overcome its small size to amass extraordinary wealth. Brethren charities in the UK
    recorded £138 million in income in 2013 alone. More than 1,000 British Brethrenrun
    businesses turn over £2 billion a year.

    The church receives as much as £13 million a year in tax reliefs and rate exemptions from the British taxpayer.

    All this might be regarded as no more than eccentric were it not for the Brethren’s most controversial practice. Any member
    who breaches its strict rules, by owning an unauthorised computer, for example, risks being ostracised through a twostep
    process known as “shutting up” and “withdrawing from”.

    If a Brethren member is shut up, no one except local elders can talk to them. Children move out of the homes of shutup
    parents to live with other members of the community, often for months. If breaches continue, the shutup
    member is withdrawn from. Under this ultimate sanction, it is often found that nobody in the sect will speak to that member again.

    Former members say the policy rips families apart and has been unfairly implemented for minor transgressions including
    talking to outsiders, visiting a pub or setting up a Facebook page.

    The Brethren say it is limited to “serious offences” and would not include the possession of an unauthorised computer. A
    spokesman said: “Pastoral care is based on the teaching of scripture. Any discipline is rare and only contemplated as a last

    Yet Glen Gulley, a member who was convicted of two sexual assaults on a four year old child in 2011, remains in the sect and
    has not been excommunicated. He has been allowed to remain in the group because he admitted guilt and disavowed his
    wrongdoing, The Times understands.

    Even though the number of “shutting ups” has fallen since 2012, when the sect began a highprofile
    lobbying campaign to ensure that it retained charitable status, current members have been told in the privacy of the meeting rooms that “nothing has changed”.

    continued below

  16. One former member says he is compiling a dossier of cases where members have allegedly been shut up or former members
    allegedly prevented from seeing relatives in the sect.

    In one case, a gay Brethren member claims that he was excommunicated last June, four months after the Brethren’s promise
    to reform, because he used Facebook to contact former members. His brother, who remains “in”, suffered a brain
    haemorrhage in mid January but the exmember says he was not told for eight weeks and his parents refused to tell him
    which hospital his sibling was in so that he could visit. The family said that church elders had encouraged them to tell him
    about his brother’s illness. The Brethren denied he had been excluded for Facebook use and said he left of his own accord.
    Brethren keep religiously to the edicts passed down to them by Mr Hales, who is considered the voice of the holy spirit on
    earth. Travel is limited to overseas church meetings and occasional visits to relatives, often booked through a Brethrenrun
    travel agency, and members are encouraged to shop with a voucher scheme which pays a rebate to the group’s schools of up to
    9 per cent of the £60 million spent in 2014.

    Telephones and computers are purchased from a Brethrencontrolled
    company called UBT, which charges abovemarket
    prices, including £450 for a BlackBerry on a 24month
    contract costing £84 a month. Internet access on UBT computers,
    known as Wordex machines, is restricted.

    Female followers are required to wear skirts and headscarves or a hair ribbon and must sit at the back during religious

    The Brethren’s leadership exercises tight control on everyday life. Documents seen by The Times reveal that in 2013 the sect
    collected data on how many members had been diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections or had had abortions.

    In recent years the group has made great efforts to show that it is an outwardfacing
    and charitable organisation. Many
    members donate to charities such as the British Heart Foundation and several have testified to their happy lives on the sect’s

    The Grace Trust, the biggest Brethren charity with a £70 million income, gives thousands of pounds in grants to 24 charities
    not associated with the sect. However, more than 99 per cent of the trust’s £27.9 million grants last year were reserved for
    other Brethren charities, schools and meeting halls.

    One member claimed that money from UBT in Australia was being used to build up large cash reserves in advance of the end
    of the world, which the Brethren believe is imminent. The member said that Mr Hales had declared that the Rapture — when
    Brethren will leave the earth — will occur in 2022. This is denied by the Brethren.

    A Brethren spokesman said members enjoy a “wellbalanced
    and happy lifestyle” which, like other faith communities, seeks to
    avoid the “influences and excesses which blight society”.

    [no link available for this article; it was originally published behind a subscription wall]

  17. Inquiry at sect schools that banned books

    by Billy Kenber and Alexi Mostrous, The Times, UK March 18, 2015

    The funding of British faith schools run by an extreme religious sect is under investigation by the taxman over multimillion pound gift aid claims, The Times has learnt.

    The Exclusive Brethren operates 34 schools under a restrictive regime that segregates boys and girls during break times at secondary school, has banned books, including JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and uses textbooks with passages on evolution torn out.

    The private schools, which cost £30 million a year to run and are funded through a complex web of Brethren-controlled charities, have made repeated applications for free school status. So far none has succeeded but David Cameron has pledged to open another 500 schools in England over the next five years, increasing the possibility of a successful application.

    The Times revealed yesterday that the charity regulator struck a deal with the Brethren to grant them charitable status after the Brethren’s Australian leader privately called for “extreme pressure” to be applied to William Shawcross, the commission’s head.

    Last night, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, which represents charity chiefs, called on the Charity Commission to explain why it had secured millions of pounds a year in tax breaks for the Brethren despite finding that their practices caused harm and broke up families.

    “Mr Shawcross needs to give a full account of how the decision was arrived at and what kind of pressure was put on him,” Sir Stephen said. “This is about the independence of the regulator.”

    Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP, said: “The Charity Commission appears to have bowed to pressure and not conducted a full review.” Gavin Shuker, vice-chairman of Christians in Parliament, described the Brethren’s practices as “essentially cultish”.

    “Very quickly here in parliament they managed to get an enormous number of MPs saying this was a religious liberty question,” he said. “We’re a parliament that doesn’t do much diligence, we just wade in without even a Google.”

    Revenue & Customs is examining whether the Brethren have wrongly claimed thousands of tax rebates on parental donations that help fund their schools’ £30 million-a-year operation. If HMRC finds against the single Brethren school under investigation, tax relief of up to £4 million a year across all the sect’s schools could be at risk.

    Brethren schools typically record above-average results and most have glowing inspection reports. “The national curriculum is followed in all schools,” the Brethren spokesman said. “There is no [central] policy requiring textbooks to have pages removed or stuck together. The PBCC [Plymouth Brethren Christian Church] does not contradict scientific views of the age of the Earth.” He admitted, however, that individual schools retain discretion over what is taught and how.

    continued below

  18. The Times can also reveal that Brethren schools secretly introduced school fees four years ago, despite claiming in brochures and accounts filed with the Charity Commission that its schools were free. The fees, which parents were told were obligatory, were recorded as “voluntary income” in an arrangement that will raise further questions about the schools’ financial structure.

    A 2011 letter announcing the introduction of yearly “fees” of £1,500 per child stated that fees were “an essential principle of righteousness in our administration” and that “an invoice will be issued direct from the individual schools shortly”.

    Parents at one school were later warned that “fees should be regarded as an obligation in the same way as paying your electricity and other household bills”. Yet accounts filed by the school trusts said they were “non-fee paying”.

    The spokesman said that in 2011 “a modest sum” had been requested from parents. It was initially described as a fee but subsequently changed to “parental contribution” on legal advice.

    Although schools can claim gift aid on “voluntary contributions”, a Brethren spokesman insisted that no school had claimed tax relief on this element of funding. He accepted, however, that tax inspectors had questioned gift aid claims made on donations from parents.
    “Such issues as there have been derive from uncertainty about the correct application of the rules,” he said. “Other faith schools are also currently being investigated by HMRC over gift aid.”

    HMRC would not comment on this claim and it is unclear if it relates to the same funding structure used by Brethren schools.
    The Charity Commission described its process toward the Brethren as “searching and robust”.

    [no link available for this article,it was published behind a subscription wall]

  19. The class that was scared of biology 

    ‘They thought it was linked to the Devil’

    by Alexi Mostrous and Billy Kenber, The Times March 21 2015

    Life at Britain’s 34 Brethren schools appears idyllic. Numerous inspection reports praise the quality of teaching, the well-behaved pupils and the comprehensive facilities.

    Academic results at the schools run privately by the Exclusive Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, are excellent, with 83 per cent of pupils obtaining five A*-C grades in English and maths, compared with a 56 per cent national average. And yet the schools have another, more controversial side.

    Eight former teachers at Brethren schools, most of whom left in the past two years, variously claim they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, that boys and girls were prevented from talking to one another outside class and that bullying, racism and homophobia were endemic.

    Under the auspices of the Focus Learning Trust, the Exclusive Brethren community spends about £30 million a year educating members away from the moral dangers of the outside world. Children do not attend university to avoid the evils of “campus life” so the sect has been forced to employ outsiders to teach at its schools.

    One science teacher at a Brethren school in the north described how she was looking forward to teaching the 30 pupils about biology, chemistry and the principles of evolution only to discover that they had been taught to be deeply suspicious of scientific principles.

    “They were scared of biology,” the teacher, who has since left, claimed. “They were very negative when you mentioned it. They associated it with the devil.” She claims that she was instructed to remove large numbers of pages from textbooks.

    “There were things removed from everything I taught. They took out everything to do with sexual reproduction, including hormones, fertility, birth control, and removed anything to with evolution.”

    A male teacher at another Brethren school, who left in 2013, made similar claims. “Anything that showed the Earth as being 4 billion years old was removed or glued together,” he said. The same thing happened with pages about contraception while “anything that showed gay relationships as being normal was defaced in that way as well”.

    In 2003, Focus Schools issued a “guiding principles” document which stated that the “theory of evolution is regarded as a falsehood.” The Brethren said its schools now taught evolution as a “valid scientific theory” but accepted that individual trustees retained discretion over what was taught and how.

    The Times has obtained a 2013 list of almost 800 books deemed unsuitable for Brethren children, including several Roald Dahl works, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom, and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

    Brethren elders take the most sensitive classes, such as PE and religious education, known in Focus schools as Bible Studies, where pupils are played tapes of Bruce Hales, the secretive Australian accountant who runs the sect from Sydney. A handout given at one Bible Studies class compared western life expectancies of 75 to 80 years with “heathen countries in Africa and Asia [where] the average life is only 35-45 years”. The Brethren said they did not recognise this document, it was not in current circulation and the life expectancy information was “stated as a general fact, and no conclusions drawn”.

    continued below

  20. Members of the sect do not attend university and instead go to work at a Brethren business. Elders have previously described going to university as “evil”, although in recent years distance-learning courses for school leavers have been offered in business-focused subjects.

    The current parents’ handbook for a Brethren school in Derbyshire, states that “teachers are to refrain from influencing students on matters of tertiary education apart from what is arranged and promoted by the UBT Organisation [the Brethren’s global business supplier and advisory service]”.

    The Brethren denied that its central policy “requires textbooks to have pages removed or stuck together”. A spokesman said the big bang theory was explicitly mentioned in the science “support manuals” used by teachers and insisted that the National Curriculum was followed in all schools.

    There was currently no “central guidance” on what fiction may be used in the schools, the spokesman said.

    The curriculum at Focus Schools is narrower than many mainstream schools, with a focus on business and accounting skills, although inspections have not raised concerns about this.

    Brethren boys generally study woodwork and metalwork, while the girls take needlework and cooking, according to two former teachers. The Brethren said there was “no policy” requiring boys and girls to be taught separately, although at secondary level they are kept apart at break and lunch times.

    Pupils endure commutes of up to two hours each way on Brethren minibuses, with boys seated at the front and girls at the back.
    Susan Turner, a former head teacher at Sefton Park School until 2006, said: “The children I taught were largely happy and well-balanced, but if you didn’t fit the mould, if you were a girl that wanted more than being a wife or mother or a secretary, life was difficult.”

    “It is not the Brethren people who are at fault,” Ms Turner said. “It is the system which governs their lives, and the people at the top who control every aspect of their lives. It is made almost impossible to leave because it means leaving behind family, friends and financial support, with very little likelihood of ever seeing them again.”

    The Brethren said that Ms Turner was not a credible witness. They said that school trustees were advised in 2006 that she was guilty of professional misconduct. A letter sent to Ms Turner subsequently assured her that “the complaints [against her] were not upheld”, that she was “not accused of anything by the school” and that the school was “prepared to provide a reference to any prospective employer.”

    Mrs Turner said she did not accept that her actions helping a student who was experiencing difficulties within the Brethren were inappropriate and she resigned because she felt she would continue to help anyone who requested her assistance. She was subsequently employed by the Brethren to teach German at another location.

    The Brethren provided testimonials from teachers and head teachers praising the quality of education at their schools. One head teacher said that sensitive subjects such as the big bang theory and stem cell research were not treated as “taboo subjects ” but had to be taught “in a way that doesn’t undermine the nature of the faith school ethos”.

    In his experience, Brethren pupils did not use foul language, fight, damage property, smoke, use drugs or attack staff.
    Teachers and former members who spoke to The Times, however, claimed that Brethren children were often intolerant of anyone who was different from their own largely white, Anglo-Saxon community.


  21. Three Exclusive Brethren Case Studies

    The Times, UK March 18, 2015

    Case study 1: Running away from home and family was only way out

    Emma Hewitt: “Anything’s better than having a Brethren life"

    Emma Hewitt, a quiet and determined 25­year­old, escaped from the Brethren in February last year. After weeks of secretly communicating with an ex­Brethren couple using an “unauthorised” mobile phone, she sneaked out of her house to meet them while her mother and sister were at church and her father was in the shower.

    Running down the drive, she bundled herself into the back of the couple’s car, put her head down and was driven away to hide at their home hundreds of miles away. When she shut the door, she knew that under the Brethren’s strict regime she might never speak to her parents again, but she had reached a point where it was a sacrifice she was willing to make.

    “Anything’s better than having a Brethren life. It was the only way out.”

    The sect dominated every part of her life, with a church elder running the fixings business she worked in alongside her father, sister and brother. Business and religion were closely mixed. Although Brethren members worked alongside non­Brethren employees, the latter were normally confined to warehouse roles, she says. “You don’t engage in conversation with them unless it’s to do with work.
    They haven’t been given the light. It’s as if you’re a level above.”

    Three years ago, she says, her parents were “shut up” for admitting to owning an “unauthorised” computer. Their children, who were aged between 20 and 24, went to live with another Brethren family who were neither relatives nor, according to Ms Hewitt, close family friends.

    “The only communication we could get [with] our parents would be through the priests.” Eventually, after six weeks, the family was reunited without explanation.

    A Brethren spokesman accepted that Ms Hewitt’s parents had been “shut up” but denied that it was because of an “unauthorised” laptop. They say she lived with close family friends with the consent of her parents.

    Ms Hewitt now works as an accounts assistant and has a partner.

    Case study 2: Punished for visit to see fireworks

    Mark Ghinn, 50, who was withdrawn from in 1984, was made to stand in the garden as a young child while his father, who was also kicked out, came into the family home to fetch cutlery and blankets. On another occasion, his whole family was shut up for going to see fireworks in Hyde Park.

    continued below

  22. When he was 19 Mr Ghinns mother was separated from her family in the night and his father attempted suicide. He did not see his mother for close to 20 years after he was withdrawn, with letters and gifts returned unopened. The Brethren accepted that Mr Ghinn was treated poorly but denied he was prevented from seeing his mother.

    Mark Elliott, 57, who left in 1989, described how the Brethren did not tell his wife that her sister, who had remained a member, had died. When Mr Elliott’s own father died in 1994, more than 40 Brethren attended the funeral, removed the coffin from the hearse, and conducted their own service. When his father’s partner tried to leave flowers she was shouted at and chased away. The Elliotts are now seeking compensation from the Brethren. The Brethren say this is an attempt to embarrass the church.

    The key question for the Charity Commission, reviewing its 2014 decision to grant charitable status to Brethren meeting halls, is whether anything has changed.

    Case study 3: Gay man ‘treated like sex offender’

    Craig Hoyle, a 25­year­old former Brethren member from New Zealand who was withdrawn in 2009, was told by Bruce Hales in 2007 to “never accept” his homosexuality, he says today.

    Mr Hoyle says that he was sent to live in Australia and claims he was instructed to seek help from Mark Craddock, a doctor who was also a Brethren member.

    Dr Craddock prescribed him Cyprostat, a hormonal suppressant commonly used for sex offenders or people with advanced prostate cancer. He gave Mr Hoyle a year’s subscription, which would have had the effect of “chemically castrating” him. Mr Hoyle stopped after a few weeks. Dr Craddock was later severely reprimanded and found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct by the New South Wales Medical professional standards committee.

    A Brethren spokesman said that neither the church nor Mr Bruce Hales “condoned or requested the action taken by Dr Craddock”.
    Mr Hoyle claims that while in Sydney he met Hales several times. “Hales famously said that we shouldn’t sing any music by Elton John or the Beatles. Yet when I went out for a meal with him he sang Candle in the Wind standing by a piano.” The Brethren deny this.

    On his return to New Zealand, Mr Hoyle claims that Brethren elders shut him up for the “defilement of young people” after admitting to his brothers and sisters that he was gay.


  23. Excommunication from Exclusive Brethren costs man his family

    by OLIVIA WANNAN, The Dominion Post May 18 2015

    A former member of the Exclusive Brethren has revealed life inside the insular religious group - and that the price of leaving was his family.

    Wellingtonian Robin McLean said he was excommunicated from a local chapter several years ago, an act that lost him everything - life with his wife and children, his business and his faith.

    "I can't talk to my wife. She won't answer my phone calls. She won't open the door for me," he said.

    "[The last time I visited] my youngest son answered the door and I told him, 'I hardly recognise you'. My boy had changed into a man. It just shows you, all the wasted years."

    The 58-year-old was born into the church community, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, and enjoyed his upbringing. Like many, he did not question the growing number ofedicts the church leaders prescribed for their followers.

    "You could not eat with someone who was not in the same church as you. So if someone in your family was not in the church, you could have nothing to do with that person. Overnight it wrecked families."

    Pets were banned, and for many years, modern technology like cell phones and computers had to be avoided, he said.

    "Ladies had to wear their hair down their back with a scarf. There were rules about everything."

    McLean thought the ban on living and eating with anyone who was not a current Exclusive Brethren member - even if they were a close family member - was a social restriction of cult-like proportions.

    The restriction put anyone who left the organisation and therefore everyone they knew, particularly those who were excommunicated against their will, through hell, he said.

    "I've gone public on behalf of all the other guys - we think there are about 40 currently - in the same situation as me ... and on behalf of two guys who committed suicide in the 1980s [after being excommunicated]."

    As McLean got older, he could not reconcile the actions of one church leader with his Christian morals - especially the discovery of that leader with the naked spouse of another church member.

    continued below

  24. McLean took his concerns to his wife and his priests and his ongoing challenges of the Brethren's rules and political practices meant his local church decided to "withdraw" from him, he said.

    "They'd excommunicated me, just like that. My family had gone to live somewhere else the night before, because they were concerned about me. They never came back.

    "If I went home now, my wife would be shut up - she wouldn't be allowed to see anyone - and my kids would have to leave home. That's the separation rule."

    A written statement from the family said McLean began to live a lifestyle "completely at odds with the values the couple had once shared".

    The family said, rather than McLean being kicked out, the decision was his.

    "Robin chose to leave his wife and family and pursue his own life. There has been no edict issued by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church that Robin cannot see his family."

    McLean said the small community's withdrawal brought a pain he would not wish on his worst enemy.

    "All your support is taken away from you. That's a terrible feeling.

    "I saw my GP more than once a week. She basically saved my life. I had no one else to talk to. I didn't have another friend in the world."

    A few hundred Exclusive Brethren members lived in Wellington, he said.

    McLean hoped the Brethren leaders would realise forcing families to separate was too callous to continue or that governments would force the group to cease. "They've got to amend their disciplinary practices so they don't cause detriment and harm."

    A public relations firm representing Australasian Exclusive Brethren said no member of the organisation would be available to comment on McLean's claims. However, a church spokesman responded to emailed questions on the separation rule.

    "It is unlikely a wife would wish to eat a meal with her husband if he has left fellowship. However ... that does not mean all contact ceases, especially where care is required, such as responsibility for elderly parents or children."

    Even while observing the rule, Brethren still interacted with the wider world through work, business and the communities they lived in, as well as former members, he said.


  25. I was raised in a religious cult

    New book Joy and Sorrow details life in the Exclusive Brethren

    NEWS.com.au AUGUST 27, 2015
    FOR the first 25 years of her life, Joy Nason lived in constant fear of “God’s wrath” — to the point where death was a better option than confessing her sins.

    The Neutral Bay woman has opened up about her childhood as a member of the Exclusive Brethren church in her book Joy and Sorrow.

    The book goes into depth about growing up in a family that belonged to an evil cult and how she is “surviving and thriving” after escaping.

    She was born in England and her family migrated to Australia in the 1950s. She said while her parents were kind, the Brethren’s grip on the family only tightened.

    Edicts included no television, no toys, no pets, no contact with outsiders and a intimidating culture of confessing sins.

    Nason did manage to get a job in an office, but she wasn’t allowed to socialise and ate her lunch alone.

    “The worst part was the fear — the fear of being a sinner and being punished by God,’’ she said.

    As a young woman, she once snuck out to go to the movies. “You weren’t allowed to go to the movies,’’ she said. “I was terrified for months I would be found out.”

    Nason escaped when she was 25, but said it took her years to throw off the nightmares and shackles of fear that God would strike her dead.

    Part of the reason she left to seek sanctuary with a former Exclusive Brethren member was her fear of not being a fit and proper person for the church.

    She writes in the book that she had ``become a brainwashed soul, living in dread of God’s wrath’’.

    “Time after time I would shake so much sitting next to my mother in the meetings, I was sure she would notice,’’ said Nason.

    “I was terrified that my sins might warrant a confession and figured I’d rather die than let this happen.’’.

    However, Nason says her only real “sin” at the time was a desire to experience the outside world.

    Nason was well aware that by leaving the Brethren she would be cut off from her family (except for three of her seven siblings who had left the Brethren) and may never see her parents again.

    When her mother died, it was made very clear to Nason that she could not attend the funeral..

    Earlier her father had been excommunicated from the cult for questioning their ideas and separated from his wife.

    “It broke his heart,’’ says Nason.

    While she craved a normal life, Nason said some of her life had been less conventional, including three marriages. She did carve out a career as a senior TAFE teacher and administrator after obtaining a university degree — another pursuit banned by the Brethren.

    Nason said turning 70 was a milestone of great pride and no small defiance of the Brethren’s prediction that life ends at three score years and ten.

    Nason says the Exclusive Brethren was renamed the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church in 2014 and now has about 40,000 followers living mainly in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia.

    She was inspired to write it by Neutral Bay author Peter FitzSimons, who urged would-be writers to tell their stories.

    Joy and Sorrow is available online as an ebook and in print from booktopia.com.au and Pages & Pages in Mosman.


  26. Exclusive Brethren leader Bruce Hales says man in torment should kill himself

    by Michael Bachelard, Sydney Morning Herald September 19, 2015

    The Australian man who leads the Exclusive Brethren has said a mentally tormented young member of his flock would be better to "get a shot of poison" and "finish yourself off" than talk to members of his own family.

    Bruce D. Hales is the wealthy Sydney-based global leader of the controversial, 45,000-strong Christian sect, whose word is regarded by his followers as infallible gospel.

    Members do not vote, but were at one point meeting regularly with former prime minister John Howard.

    At a recent meeting in the United Kingdom, Mr Hales was asked about how a 25-year-old man with "mind trouble" should be dealt with, because he was in contact with "opposers" – people who have left the Brethren. The "opposers" in question are understood to be members of the man's own family who have already left the Brethren.

    Mr Hales said "having links" with them was "rotten poison", and that the poison had got into the young man, who is from New Zealand.

    Despite having been told that the man was "in what would appear to be torment at times," Mr Hales told the meeting it would be better for him to kill himself.

    "He might as well get a shot of – what's the best thing to kill you quickly? ... What's the stuff? Cyanide? No, not cyanide," Mr Hales says.

    "Arsenic. How do you get arsenic into you? ... He'd be better to take arsenic, or go and get some rat poison or something, take a bottle of it."

    Mr Hales then appears to contradict himself: "Now I'm not advocating him doing that but ... that would be better, to finish yourself off that way [rather] than having to do with the opponents of the truth."

    He also makes a play on words with the name of the young man's initials, BS, suggesting he was referring to "bullshit", then adding, "send the bastard back [to New Zealand]".

    "My wife is going to be worried what I'm going to say next, but listen, I haven't even had half a drink, not even a quarter ... probably an ounce maximum, so this is not brought on by drink," Mr Hales said.

    Exclusive Brethren are notoriously heavy drinkers. One of the sect's seminal moments was when a former world leader, James Taylor Junior, got riotously drunk and started abusing his flock and talking nonsense in the church service. The following day he was also found in bed with the naked wife of one of his flock – an incident that split the Brethren.

    Former members have compared Mr Hales' recent outbursts to those alcohol-fuelled antics.

    In another meeting recently, Mr Hales, a wealthy Sydney-based office furniture magnate, was asked about traitors and said they would "get shot in the army ... [or] shoot yourself in the foot before you get shot in the head".

    An Exclusive Brethren spokesman told Fairfax Media the comments should not be given a "literal interpretation", and had been taken out of context.

    "Mr Hales makes it very clear he is not advocating any person taking poison or committing suicide. He is using a common, everyday metaphor ... It is hardly unusual for a preacher or minister in any religion to warn a congregation to avoid people who extol certain beliefs and that those beliefs are 'poison'."

    The spokesman denied Mr Hales was drunk at the time, or an alcoholic.

    The sect's website says that young people are "made to feel wanted".

    The spokesman said Mr Hales' advice was about "how to assist a young man who is unhappy ... That could only be interpreted as being made to feel welcome".

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  27. TV lifestyle star Rosemary Stanton’s dark childhood in secretive Exclusive Brethren religious sect

    The Daily Telegraph March 15, 2016

    Rosemary Stanton opens up on her childhood in the 'Brethren'

    TV nutritionist and lifestyle star Rosemary Stanton has revealed the lasting trauma of growing up in a secretive religious sect, the Exclusive Brethren.

    Dr Stanton said that 40 years after escaping she still had trouble looking in the mirror from being told vanity was a sin and being banned to play with other children.

    “I had been brought up in this very strict religious sect,” Dr Stanton told A Current Affair.’It’s really wrong to subject children to that.’

    She finally fled the sect that had controlled her young life when she was 20, along with her sister and eventually her whole family.

    Dr Stanton first came to prominence in 1972 when she was handpicked by Ita Buttrose to write a monthly health and nutrition column in Cleo magazine.

    From there she went on to appear on every morning and daytime television program in the country - becoming a household name.

    But had it not been for her childhood spent in the Plymouth Christian Brethren Church, more commonly now known as the Exclusive Brethren, she might have become a sport star or doctor instead.

    “I had been brought up in this very strict religious sect,” Dr Stanton told A Current Affair.

    “You weren’t supposed to go to concerts, you couldn’t be in school plays.”

    Growing up, Dr Stanton and her siblings were not allowed to play with other children.

    “It was a very exclusive group, we weren’t supposed to have anything to do with other people,” she said.

    “We weren’t supposed to read books, we didn’t have make-up, we had to have long hair, we weren’t allowed to wear boys clothes like jeans or long pants or any of those sorts of things.”

    The Stanton family did not even own a television.

    Like so many others who are different at school, she was bullied. But not just by students.

    “We had some teachers who seemed to think that we were these odd strange little religious children and they sort of treated us differently,” she said.

    “I felt robbed and cheated. At 17, I was told I couldn’t go to uni. Girls in that sect can’t go to uni in case they’re put in a position above men.’

    Eventually, at age 20, she decided it was time to leave the sect that had controlled her life.

    “I had made the decision to leave, my sister had made the decision to leave. But when it actually came to the crunch, the whole family decided to leave,” she said.

    “To this day, I think anybody who treats a child differently because of their parents’ beliefs needs to take a long hard look at themselves.”


  28. Former Brethren allege high rate of abuse in New Zealand

    by BEVAN HURLEY Stuff.co.nz April 24 2016

    Four out of ten former Exclusive Brethrens who responded to a study looking at traumatic experiences growing up in the sect say they were sexually abused as children in New Zealand.

    The study, carried out by a former Brethren, found 18 of 44 participants claimed they had been sexually abused as children.

    The figure was significantly higher than the worldwide average, which found around 27 per cent claimed they had suffered child sex abuse.

    It's the first piece of academic research into allegations of abuse suffered by members of the church.

    Researcher Jill Mytton, from the United Kingdom, believes levels of child sexual abuse in the former member population are much higher than in the general population.

    "That appears to be particularly high in New Zealand though, and this warrants further investigation."

    Mytton said she could not be sure who the abusers were in every case, but those who had spoken to her said that their abusers were members of the Brethren.

    Mytton said said she came under attack by the Brethren and her study was suddenly cancelled by her UK-based university after the Brethren made legal threats.

    "I was in the process of finding out about that when legal action by the Brethren halted the research. The university who were hosting the research pulled the plug I assume because they feared a lawsuit."

    The Brethren commissioned three academics, professors from the University College London and Warwick University, who severely criticised Mytton's research.

    In a statement, church spokesman Doug Watt said: "Jill Mytton's research has been widely discredited and she has a personal vendetta against the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

    "The church, like all other decent individuals and organisations, is appalled with sexual assault of any sort. Where we discover such incidents we have and will continue to take appropriate action."

    Fairfax has spoken to three former Exclusive Brethrens members who say they experienced child sexual abuse.
    None had taken their cases to the police, and each said they had felt powerless to confront their abusers, who they claim were family members or elders within the church.

    One woman, who now helps other Brethren who are trying to leave the church, said she was "dreadfully abused" as a child.

    "I ran away from home and I tried to kill myself and I still see people coming out who have suffered years and years of abuse. Every other church has safeguarding. I have had young girls in my home who have been dreadfully abused and have been alcoholics in their early 20s."

    After high profile sex abuse cases against senior Brethren members in 2009, the church promised to introduce a new code of care for complainants.

    Requests this month for a copy of the code of care or any information about how the Brethren treats alleged victims of sexual abuse were refused.

    continued below

  29. Jill Mytton said her research had found Brethren who left the sect showed higher levels of psychological distress that the general population including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress symptoms, and interpersonal problems.


    A former Exclusive Brethren member has described feeling 'violated' by two sect leaders who were investigating allegations of sexual impropriety by an older Brethren member.

    The woman said as a 16-year-old girl she was taken to a room and questioned by two sect leaders, or 'priestlies' as they were known.

    She says the treatment by church elders was worse than the experience itself.

    "I look back and I go that is an incredible violation. If you're vulnerable, it's an incredibly vulnerable position to be put into."

    The woman said she had already begun to question Brethren teachings, for which she was subjected to extreme psychological abuse by church elders.

    She says she was told: "you're mental, you're evil, you're possessed."

    "It's spiritual abuse. It's appealing to the highest power that people can believe in. Twisting of scripture to force submission of women."

    The woman said she met the Exclusive Brethren world leader Bruce Hales as a teenager, at a time when she was already doubting it's teachings.

    She was particularly nervous, as she'd been taught in Brethren folklore that Hales could read minds.

    "I was looking at him thinking he's a lying, conniving emperor with no clothes on. He just looked at me with the same greasy smile that he looked at everyone. Clearly he didn't have a clue what was going on in my mind."

    She was excommunicated at age 21.

    "It was a bit like jumping out of a plane into a big black hole."

    Still in her 20s, she's now managed to establish a career and found a partner, and says she has says has been able to fulfil many of her life wishes since leaving the sect.

    "It's wonderful to be free of that control and to be able to grow as a person the way that I believe I was meant to be."

    But she is torn by never being able to see her family again.

    "I'd love to see them free, there are amazing men and women in there -full of talent and potential. One of the most horrible things they're doing is to restrict people from being all that they can be. In all seriousness there are so many amazing men and women.

    "They're not enjoying it and yet they can't conceive of another way of life. They don't know how to break down the fear."


    * Clive Allen Petrie, 74, of Nelson, was found guilty in 2009 of nine charges of indecent assault, as well as inducing a girl under 12 to perform an indecent act.

    * William David McLean, 44, of Levin, was jailed for three years in 2012 for raping a woman over an 11-year period.

    * Fairfax is aware of three other recent or pending criminal sex abuse cases against former or current Brethren members.


  30. Former Exclusive Brethren members hit with dawn raids, legal suits after speaking out against the secretive Christian sect

    by BEVAN HURLEY Stuff.co.nz Aug 09 2020

    A former Exclusive Brethren who was once told to drink rat poison by the church’s Supreme Leader is one of several former members fighting legal action after speaking out against the church. Bevan Hurley reports.

    On June 30 this year, Braden Simmons attended an informal session with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

    He would later tell friends he was there to share his story about his mental struggles during his time as an Exclusive Brethren, and in particular an incident involving the church’s Supreme Leader Bruce Hales, a man who is looked on by members as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit on earth.

    Eleven days later, two lawyers, a private investigator and a forensic expert showed up at Simmons’ Mangere Bridge home just before dawn. They had a court order to search every electronic device in his home. The order was made ‘without notice’ – meaning Simmons had no clue what was coming.

    The tense exchange was captured on mobile phone. Simmons is informed he has no choice but to allow the investigators into his home or face contempt of court charges.

    Footage shows them going room by room, asking everyone present to hand over laptops, mobile phones for inspection.

    An independent, court-appointed solicitor was on hand to explain to Simmons that his former boss Peter Bishop, understood to be one of the church’s top elders in New Zealand, and employer Rock Solid Holdings were making a series of serious claims against him in a civil action before the Auckland High Court.

    Doug Watt, a spokesperson for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), which the Exclusive Brethren now refer to themselves as, said yesterday the church knew nothing about Simmons’ appearance at the inquiry.

    “The first the PBCC heard that Mr Simmons took part in a Royal Commission is from you, today. That said, since then we have asked around and understand Mr Simmons had told a few church members about his intention to do this.”

    He'd be better to take arsenic or go and get some rat poison’

    Braden Simmons was in the midst of a ‘mental torment’. It was 2015, and the then 25-year-old Exclusive Brethren had only known life inside the closed confines of the church.

    From home to school to work, social life to religious instruction, every aspect of his life was based around the church.

    As a member he was not allowed to eat, form friendships or communicate with outsiders, except to do business with them.

    And next to God is the Supreme Leader, also known as the Elect Vessel, or Man of God, Bruce Hales, who’s every utterance is treated as absolute gospel.

    Simmons had quit his job with commercial property developers Euroclass and travelled to Europe and on to the United Kingdom. While staying with a Brethren family, word reached his hosts that he was in contact with an ‘Opposer’, the name given to former members who have left the Brethren.

    Bruce Hales was asked about this at a Brethren gathering in Sutton, south London, on June 9, 2015.

    During a lengthy ministry, which was published in one of the church’s booklets, or white papers, and distributed to Brethren around the world, Hales said it would be better for those who were in contact with ‘Opposers’ to drink rat poison, or arsenic.

    “The trouble with your fellow is he's got poisoned. He might as well get a shot of - what's the best thing to kill you quickly? What's the stuff? Cyanide. No, not cyanide. Arsenic. How do you get arsenic into you?

    “I was going to say he'd be better to take arsenic or go and get some rat poison or something, take a bottle of it. Now I'm not advocating him doing that, but you might as – that would be better to finish yourself off that way than having to do with the opponents of the truth.”

    continued below

  31. Hales later says his wife is going to be worried what he might say next. “But listen, I haven't even had half a drink, not even a quarter... probably an ounce maximum.”

    He goes on to appear to make fun of Simmons’ initials, saying: “Well I think we've hit the nail on the head. This... is a lot of BS.”

    The incident was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Times of London, and Stuff. Simmons was not identified. But inside the church, it was widely known who Hales was referring to.

    When asked about the rat poison comments in 2016, the church said Hales’ words as a metaphor and not to be taken literally.

    “Mr Hales did not say any person should drink rat poison. Mr Hales was using a metaphor to illustrate... the effect on a person coming into contact with another person whose beliefs and values are different from their own and potentially damaging.

    “It is hardly unusual for a preacher or minister in any religion to warn a congregation to avoid people who extol certain beliefs and that those beliefs are ‘poison’.”

    Asked whether there was any concern about the imbalance of power, spokesperson, Doug Watt, said yesterday the church had not changed its position.

    Friends of Simmons have told Stuff he was ex-communicated after objecting to the ‘rat poison ministry’, and felt that a man who would say such things could not be the Man of God.

    ‘Are you Mr Simmons’?

    At around 7am on July 11, Rob McLean was woken by a loud knock at the door.

    McLean was staying in a spare room at Simmons’ Mangere Bridge.

    “I poked my nose out the window and there was a whole crowd of people looking outside. Quite serious looking people in trenchcoats and umbrellas. This is the middle of winter and it’s dark. I couldn’t believe my ears or my eyes. One asked 'Are you Mr Simmons?"

    Outside was senior counsel Zane Kennedy, an experienced litigator and former partner at MinterEllisonRuddWatts, his junior solicitor, Hannah Jaques, court-appointed independent solicitor Mihai Pascariu, a private detective and another specialist forensic investigator.

    McLean began filming, capturing the intensely awkward, and at-times confrontational scene.

    Pascariu, appointed by the court as an impartial adjudicator, asks to come inside to explain what was happening.

    The court appointed solicitor explains the nature of the search order, while Simmons phones his lawyer, seeking advice.

    He’s told if he refuses to comply with the order, he’ll be in contempt of court.

    Simmons just has enough time to take a shower before the search begins.

    The other lawyers and investigators are eventually let inside. McLean filmed as they went room-to-room, threatening to call the police on them.

    “It was like something out of a crime movie. It’s out of this world. And this is New Zealand in 2020. People can’t get their head around the fact that there is such a law that allows individuals to do a dawn raid without any notice.”

    McLean was ex-communicated by the church about 10 years ago. He's also been caught up in an increasingly rancorous legal dispute and is not allowed to see his family.

    He says it seems like it’s a common tactic of the Brethren’s to use their enormous wealth to entangle former members in endless litigation.

    Stuff made legal representations through counsel Robert Stewart to publish details of the civil case.

    After a hearing at Auckland High Court on July 22, Justice Tracey Walker allowed the parties to be named, but said the allegations and other details cannot be published.

    Watt, the PBCC spokesman, said yesterday: “The proceedings you mentioned have been brought by an independent company, Rock Solid Holdings and associated parties, not the church.

    “Yes, the owner of Rock Solid Holdings is a member of our church, but his religious affiliation is entirely beside the point as will be obvious from the nature and details of the claim.

    continued below

  32. “I’m also curious to know if he was Catholic or Jewish, would you be asking those churches about this legal issue?”

    Watt said the church had never discouraged former members either explicitly or through legal channels not to take part in the Royal Commission.

    In another case, an 83-year-old Palmerston North man is fighting an application to the High Court by the Exclusive Brethren’s commercial arm Universal Business Team, or UBT, seeking access to his records and emails.

    His alleged wrongdoing? Unauthorised use of an Exclusive Brethren directory.

    Peter Harrison was kicked out of the church in 1982 and immediately estranged from his wife, four sons and church members.

    Over the years of continued forced estrangement from family members, Harrison occasionally attempted to call the Brethren's extreme practices to account by writing to senior elders, but to no effect.

    On March 9 this year, Harrison received legal documents from the UBT alleging a ‘breach of confidence’, alleging he had used a church directory to send letters to members of the church in Australia.

    The case is due before the High Court in Palmerston North later this month.

    His barrister Steven Price, said: “It will be for the court to decide, but we'll be arguing that this application is heavy-handed and unnecessary.”

    Price said Harrison had tried to explain to the Brethren that the letters were sent out by another person, and he hasn’t ever had a copy of the 2015 address book in question in his possession.

    “He's stressed and feels bullied. He can't quite understand how he can be said to have done anything wrong here. He feels like they're punishing him for speaking out against him.”

    The Brethren have also pursued litigation against former members, media companies and academics in Australia and the United Kingdom in recent years.

    Watt, the PBCC spokesman, said the church doesn't pursue legal actions lightly nor unless they have advice that they have a proper basis to do so.

    “UBT is using normal legal processes to request information to determine if our intellectual property has been compromised.

    “We have a perfectly reasonable right to protect our property from infringement or theft, regardless of the age of the people who might be involved.”

    The true word of God

    On its website, the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church says its beliefs are that the “Holy Bible is the true Word of God and we believe we are each called upon to live a life in accordance with its instructions”.

    “We hold the same faith as every true Christian and as such we believe spiritual growth arises when the teachings of the Bible are applied to daily life.”

    But those words ring hollow for Braden Simmons’ sister Lindy Jacomb.

    Growing up in the Brethren, Jacomb had always been spiritually curious.

    And as she grew older, Jacomb found it more and more difficult to reconcile the teachings of the Brethren with what she read about in the bible.

    She didn’t understand why she couldn’t become a teacher or a nurse, professions expressly forbidden by the Brethren. She had questions, and eventually could no longer keep hiding her doubts about the group. She also wrote down several pages of questions and sent them to Bruce Hales.

    continued below

  33. Jacomb says this was seen as ‘challenging’ the Man of God.

    She began to receive visits from church elders, two men, who would take her into a room and apply extended pressure to change her thinking.

    “It's you with two older men alone in a room, I look back in horror at it now, it's just what we thought was normal. My parents eventually came to me and said ‘there's no place for you under our roof’.”

    At the age of 20, Jacomb found herself completely alone. Then, in 2008, the Brethren were banned from using computers or the internet. She recalled someone mentioning the name of a relative who’d been kicked out of the church before she was born, and used the 018 national directory system to find them.

    “A wonderful couple took me in even though I was a stranger, and have become like real parents to me.”

    Jacomb’s adopted parents walked her down the aisle when she got married, and are loving grandparents to her son.

    She says: “You have to start again figuring out what you believe, trying to figure out what is truth. I have decided that I do believe in Christianity but it looks very different from the Brethren's version of Christianity.”

    She studied a Bachelor of Theology and is now a pastor at the Karori Baptist Church, her continuing faith is something of a rarity among former Brethren.

    “A lot of people come out of the Brethren very broken and vulnerable, so traumatised by what's been done to them in the name of religion that they don't want to touch it with a 40-foot pole.”

    Jacomb is supporting her brother Braden and Peter Harrison through their litigation.

    She says it appears the Brethren engage in legal action and threats to quieten down former members from speaking out about their experiences.

    “How on earth have they got to where they’ve got to where they think it's right to sever children from families, husbands from wives, and grandparents to grandchildren.”

    When asked about the traumatising impact of separation, and whether the church regretted any of its actions, PBCC spokesperson Watt said: “The fact is, sometimes people leave churches and that certainly isn’t unique to us. Just like other religious communities, if one member leaves the group, the dynamic changes and people and their families can react in different ways.

    “It is up to individual families as to how they manage and respond to these situations. I will say very strongly that the church will always support its own members, and the church would never stand in the way of families communicating with each other.

    “At the end of the day, we are Christian, and it’s our desire to live alongside our local communities and to act with kindness and compassion.

    “So no, while I cannot guarantee that every Brethren member has done everything right over our 100 years or more of history, I know from experience that the vast majority of Brethren are very good people trying to do very good things.”

    continued below

  34. Rebranding as the PBCC

    The shift to being known as the PBCC is an attempt at a rebranding exercise, say former members of the church.

    The church engages in some community outreach through efforts such as the Rapid Relief Team, which hands out food and essential supplies at the scenes of natural disasters and emergencies.

    The Rapid Relief Team has also actively sought media attention for its efforts delivering food to parcels to south Auckland.

    A global organisation, its New Zealand branch received $908,000 in donations last year.

    That’s dwarfed by the tens of millions in annual donations to the National Assistance Fund, one of the richest charities in New Zealand, whose trustees are Brethren elders.

    Filings with the Charity Register show it’s received $353 million in donations since 2010. In its best year, ending 20 June 2019, it received more $60m.

    The National Assistance Fund’s stated purpose is to “source and apply resources for the benefit and wellbeing of persons in NZ through promoting the understanding and practice of the Christian faith”.

    “We contribute to the well-being of NZ society by supporting the provision of… Educational facilities operated on principles consistent with the Christian faith.”

    Yet, as one former member points out, non-Brethren are not allowed to attend their churches, prayer meetings or enrol in their schools.

    The charity shares its address in the Hamilton suburb of Te Rapa with UBT Accountants, which is part of the sprawling group of companies under the UBT umbrella. UBT being the company that is suing Peter Harrison for misuse of its directory.

    Peter Bishop, who is suing Braden Simmons, is a director of NAF Trustee, a corporate trust which manages the National Assistance Fund charity.

    When approached for comment, Simmons said: “The actions that have been taken have impacted many people, whom I care about beyond words. For this reason I have no comment to the media.”