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Exclusive Brethren’s Political Activity Under Fire

Segments of the blogosphere are abuzz over reports of clandestine political activity by the Exclusive Brethren in Australia and New Zealand. News.com.au has the latest:

PRIME Minister John Howard has admitted he met members of the fundamentalist Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren.

The highly secretive group, which has 40,000 members throughout the world, many in New Zealand and Australia, has been accused of underhanded campaigning against the Greens at the 2004 federal election and subsequent state polls.

…Mr Howard yesterday admitted for the first time he had met representatives of the sect.

“I’ve met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren,” he said.

“It’s a free country. They are not breaking the law and, like any other group, they are entitled to put their views to the Government.”

The Australian Green Party, however, is not buying it:

The Prime Minister has a lot more to explain to the electorate about his association with the elders of the Exclusive Brethren sect, Greens Leader Bob Brown said in Hobart today.

“Last November the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet responded to an FOI request (see attached) that there was no record of prime ministerial meetings with the sect elders. However on Friday, to a Greens’ question from October last year, the Prime Minister revealed he has met with the elders.

…”Mr Howard has thrown up a murky smokescreen over his government’s relationship with this shadowy group which has spent huge amounts of money promoting the [Liberal-National] Coalition’s cause.

“A starting question is why this wealthy sect has been able to exclude unions from 30 of its workplaces under Howard’s industrial relations legislation. The other questions include the sect’s tax exemption status and its prohibition on children attending universities,” Senator Brown said.

Howard’s links with the group have been a matter of public debate for over a year. The Sydney Morning Herald reported last September:

The sect’s MET school at Meadowbank was the address used to authorise political advertisements by Stephen Hales, the brother of Bruce Hales, a Sydney businessman and world leader of the Brethren’s 70,000 followers. The ads in The Parramatta Advertiser said: “Keep Parramatta in safe hands, Keep Australia in safe hands, Keep Howard Prime Minister”. “Don’t trust a novice with no experience.”

…A staff member at the Meadowbank school said yesterday that Stephen Hales was a “past parent” of the school. The Commonwealth Electoral Act says anyone authorising political advertisements must provide an address at which they can “usually be contacted during the day”.

…The Greens NSW education spokesman, John Kaye, said the Brethren should return their schools’ public funding because they had used a school as a front for political activity. “It is outrageous that a private school receiving more than $2.4 million each year in public funds can engage in partisan politics. It is an abuse of public trust and a misuse of public resources.”

The then-Special Minister of State, Eric Abetz (since prmoted to Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation), complained that these were “ridiculous assertions”, while a Brethren spokesman denied the claims.

However, the Greens kept up their “assertions”, and a couple of weeks ago Brown complained that

“Just last month the Prime Minister blocked an inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren sect, which is misogynist and which represses women in a way which should simply not be allowed in Australian society,”

According to the Morning Herald, the famously separatist Exclusive Brethren were stirred into action by gay rights:

“Go back 50 years when I was a boy: homosexuals went to jail,” declared church leader Daniel Hales. “Judeo-Christian principles that are biblical were taken for granted, weren’t they? Sacrosanct.” But those days are gone and the world is on the slide. “Anybody committed to a principle is now having to defend that principle.”

So in 2004, the Brethren began to pour cash into politics. It was a revolutionary departure for a sect in which nothing changes without the approval of its world leader, Daniel’s brother, Bruce, a businessman in West Ryde known to the faithful as the Elect Vessel, the Lord’s Representative on Earth and the Paul of Our Time.

The first confirmed sighting of sect members politicking anywhere in the world was a rowdy meeting in the seat of Bennelong in the 2004 election. The Hales boys were among the Brethren who turned out to heckle intelligence whistleblower and Greens candidate Andrew Wilkie. They were taunting Wilkie about his own marriage and the sexuality of his party’s leader, Senator Bob Brown.

However, the new-found activism was not just confined to Australia:

…They spent more than $1 million in 2004 backing George Bush and an anti-gay marriage Senate candidate in Florida. Next they ran a national campaign against same-sex marriage legislation in Canada. Last year the sect had a war chest of nearly $1 million in New Zealand to fight the Greens and promote the conservative National Party.

I blogged on the American connection back in January last year. The New Zealand situation is currently coming under particular scrutiny:

Members of the sect do not vote, believing that governments are created and dismissed by God, who is the only authority they recognize.

‘But if the country is in decline we feel we have to do something to arrest it,’ Christchurch businessman Douglas Watt said last year after he and six other Exclusive Brethren admitted they were behind a costly anonymous leaflet campaign designed to oust the Labour Party government and its Green Party allies at last year’s general election.

…The sect took out newspaper advertisements in New Zealand criticizing the Labour government’s failure to join the war in Iraq – even though members refuse military service.

The formula of intervention was also identical – each campaign was anonymous as sect members tried to keep their involvement secret.

…It is the secrecy that upset New Zealand’s Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark, who dubbed as ‘scumbag politics’ recent claims that the Brethren hired a private investigator to look for dirt on her and her husband, who was forced to deny he was homosexual.

That particular claim is now being investigated by the police.

The lobbying has not done Clark’s main opponents, the conservative National Party, much good either. Leader Don Brash changed his vote to oppose civil unions for gays after being lobbied by Brethren, but has now dissociated the party from the sect.

However, Brash’s links to the group remain controversial; Stuff reports:

New Zealand First MP Ron Mark said the Brethren aggressively lobbied his party to support National during negotiations to form a government.

He said Brethren members seemed to have up to date information about those negotiations, which he believed could only have come from National.

A spokesman for National’s leader Don Brash denied the Brethren were acting under any sort of authority from the party and disputed Mr Mark’s claim that the sect had been given inside information on the negotiations.

But senior government minister Steve Maharey said Mr Mark’s comments made it clear the Brethren were working with the knowledge of the National Party to influence the decisions of other parties.

…Dr Brash at first denied meeting any Brethren members, and then admitted he had.

Meanwhile, the situation is being monitored on Peebs.net, a website run by ex-members of the group. The site previously noted (as I blogged here) a curious directive from Bruce Hales concerning the 2004 US election campaign:

We have just received news that there will be a world-wide Exclusive Brethren Prayer Meeting at 06:00am tomorrow in order to “pray George W. Bush back into power”. The USA go to the polls tomorrow, Tuesday November 2nd, 2004, and the EB Proclamation indicates that the Prayer Event will commence at 6am in each EB Territory.

The proclamation is from an officially still-recovering Bruce Hales who stated recently that: “If George Bush and Tony Blair are not returned to office, then the Rapture is very near.”

This, of course, raised an obvious question:

Mr Hales, we understand that you teach that the Rapture is the ‘Great Hope’ for the Church, the Bride of Christ. Why then do you not pray for John Kerry and thus support your own teachings?

(Hat tips: Beware of the God; Cult News Network)

One Response

  1. […] has been noted in several countries; I looked at activities in Australia and New Zealand back in September. In New Zealand, the Brethren’s politicking has now had dramatic consequences, with the […]

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