The Exclusive Brethren are a Christian sect that gave a lot of financial support to the Howard Government; they also surreptitiously letterboxed leaflets bagging the Greens. In this history / expose of The Brethren, investigative journalist with The Age Michael Bachelard paints a picture of a patriarchal religious sect that is frighteningly heavy on the control and brain washing it imposes on its adherents.
The most shocking part of the sect’s doctrine is that of ‘separation’. It doesn’t sound so bad when you read about it in that way, but when you see what it in fact does by utterly destroying families and relationships, then you’ll be amazed at the cruelty of it all.
(Chapter five, simply titled The Aldterton Family, highlights the tragedy and ruin The Exclusive Brethren have wrought upon families.)
Basically, if you do something the sect feels is not in line with its values, you can be ‘withdrawn from’, more properly this means ostracised. You’re treated like you don’t even exist by family or spouse. This can go on for years. In the Alderton Family chapter, one couple of grandparents who gave up the sect have never seen most of their grandchildren. They’re seen as evil by those of their family still in the sect. You do wonder at the viciousness of it all. And this is a group that espouses family values?
There is another chapter on the cases that have been brought before the Family Court, in which one Justice describes the practice of separation as ‘vicious and cruel’.
Then there is John Howard's relationship to the group. Even during the most turbulent period of Howard’s office, the period where the Howard Government was tanking and Howard was flailing around trying to save his government, he still could always find time for the Exclusive Brethren’s man of God, Bruce D. Hales. It does make one wonder. The Liberals had always been spruiked their family values, but how could you harmonise the Brethren’s take on the family with that of the wider community?
Also frightening is how the Brethren liked to control women. They were barred from even finding employment where they would have authority over a man. There’s even a quote from nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, who grew up in the Exclusive Brethren until her family left when she was 17 years of age. On women she says, ‘They were not allowed to have too much education because then they might have some authority over a man.’
One is amazed that groups like this actually operate, and that people submit to it and become so brainwashed by it. Even more amazing, why do Liberal politicians make so much time for groups like this (or hippie Christian groups like Hillsong Church?). These are only small groups. Why do they get so much political attention? It’s truly baffling. (Actually, the answer is they’re well organised and persistent.)
Michael Bachelard says Howard was probably attracted to the Brethren because they’re control freaks. Who knows? It all seems so extreme. The take away is that we all have to remain vigilant about what is happening in politics.
Thanks to Mr Bachelard for taking the time to research and write this illuminating and depressing book.