Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tragedy of Cults: Exclusive Brethren

ABC's Four Corners documentary on the Exclusive Brethren disturbingly chronicled four or five cases of families cleft apart by fear, threats of divine retribution, as well as allegations of alcoholism, infidelity, child abuse and illegal financial activities. The documentary didn't deal much with the recent political activity in NZ, Australia and in Canada and elsewhere.

A number of cases of families in NZ and Australia were examined, all of which cohered to the same pattern of abuse where fear, financing and family were used by church leaders against recalcitrant members to first bring them back into line or, failing that, to permanently exclude them from the church and from access to family within the church.

In one case, a member was excluded and offered the rights to a business as a trade for his two sons whom the church wanted to retain. In another, a mother was counselled against leaving to be with her excluded husband and provided with cash as inducements to stay. In a third, a family that left the church was told that God would punish them by taking one of their children - when their eldest son died in his sleep many years later, the parents struggled with the guilt that perhaps God was vengeful afterall?

The documentary also examined the behaviour of the church leaders, including the leader of the Chuch in the '50s, Jim Taylor who entrenched their isolation by banning members from eating or socialising with anyone who wasn't a member of the church. Allegations against Taylor included infidelity and alcoholism, as well as allegations of tax avoidance. A head of the Australian Church in the '80s, Ron Fawkes, claims that he personally illegally transported "tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars in cash" to the US for then leader, James Symington, and that the Exclusive Brethren have hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

A full transcript from the documentary is available here and an online forum can be viewed here.

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