The Times versus the Exclusive Brethren
The Times newspaper has run several reports this month exposing the barmy beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren, a cult that has 17,000 followers in Britain and enjoys charitable tax relief worth up to £13 million a year.
Other media are now getting in on the act. Yesterday the Huffington Post reported that schools run by the Exclusive Brethren are under investigation following claims by former teachers that they were required to use science textbooks with pages ripped out, prevent boys and girls from talking to one another outside classrooms, and tolerate bullying, racism and homophobia.
Life at Britain’s 34 Brethren schools is under the microscope following a decision last year to grant them charity status, which allows the group to avoid taxes estimated to be worth millions of pounds every year.
After their first bid for charitable status was rejected, the sect fought back with supporters writing thousands of letters to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales. The Commission then buckled under the pressure.
The sect’s leader is an Australian named Bruce Hales (followers call him “the Prophet”).
Eight former teachers have spoken to the media and described school buses segregated by gender, classroom racism and textbooks with pages on evolution, fossil fuels and sexual reproduction ripped out.
One teacher said:
Anything that showed the earth as being 4 billion years old was removed or glued together.
The same thing happened with pages about contraception, while:
Anything that showed gay relationships as being normal was defaced in that way as well.
Another former staff member said:
They don’t see anything wrong in saying that black people are going to hell.
A former member of the cult, Laurence Moffitt, has been meticulously tracking the story on his blog, where he reveals that:
I was born into the Exclusive Brethren cult in 1967, was excommunicated in ’93 whereupon my family was destroyed.
On March 20, Moffitt posted a letter written to the The Times by Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations:
Sir, The logic of the argument advanced by the chairman of the Charity Commission defending his organisation’s decision to award charitable status for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (letter, Mar 19) does not withstand scrutiny.
William Shawcross asserts that the commission was the first public authority to put on record the ‘detriment and harm’ caused by the doctrines and practices of the Brethren. He then states that, after concessions, it registered various Brethren organisations as charities. Awarding charitable status to these bodies under any circumstances means that they can claim Gift Aid, which boosts the resources of the very organisations the commission previously found caused ‘detriment and harm’.
The reality of the matter is that the commission has taken a positive decision to facilitate the Brethren’s existence. A full explanation of the process and the individuals involved in granting this ‘harmful’ organisation charitable status must follow.
Moffitt also posted two letters written to the paper, castigating it for attacking the cult.
William Hathorn, of Maidstone, Kent wrote:
Sir, Christians showing zeal for their faith have at various times over the centuries been attacked. Your reports sadly continue this. People who have left an institution will of course attack it later to prove to their own comfort that they have made the right move.
If our lives are ‘cut off from society’, how is it we employ many non-Brethren and have nearly 100 per cent non-Brethren customers? Brethren also pay their taxes impeccably.
I feel you have attacked a group of people who by living simple, upright lives are in a tiny way supporting the good of British society.
And Susan May, of St Austell, Cornwall, chimed in with:
Sir, It seems to me (I am a Christian but not a member of the Brethren) that every opportunity is taken to malign the Exclusive Brethren without a word said in their defence. Although their way of life may be somewhat different from that of most people, in my opinion and that of many in Cornwall who have benefited from their contribution to the local economy, they are hardworking and valuable members of the community.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn, who alerted me earlier this month to the first reports in the The Times.