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Title Plymouth Brethren - Hidden prophets

Plymouth Brethren - Hidden prophets July 1st, 2006 - You don t know these three Sydney suburban businessmen, but their sect has influenced politics in four countries. [...] For 175 years the sect has counted among its strange proscriptions no public entertainment, no novels, no eating with outsiders, no university, no membership of other organisations of any kind, no shorts ( God has no pleasure in the legs of a man ), no party walls shared with non-Brethren, no films, no radio, no television and no mobile phones an absolute ban on worldly politics. Brethren members have never voted. [...] Within weeks of campaigning for [Australian Prime Minister] Howard, Brethren were offering covert but well-funded support for George Bush. Intervention in Canada and New Zealand followed. Earlier this year, Brethren campaigned hard against the Greens in Tasmania. The strategy involved billboards attacking the Greens, towed through Hobart s streets by men wearing party masks of freaks and ghouls. The message on the billboards was: Dangerous Extreme. They cover their tracks. The name of the sect is never mentioned. Their political demands are a seamless mix of business breaks and hard-line Christian morality. Under Hales, the Exclusive Brethren have become a new player in the right-wing politics of the world. And they have lots and lots and lots of money. [...] AUSTRALIA 2004 A FEISTY night of heckling in the 2004 Australian elections was the first but neglected clue that the sect had plunged into politics. [...] There was no time in the last days of the campaign to track down the names and addresses. The scale of the Brethren operation in Australia went undetected for nearly a year. THE UNITED STATES 2004 A Knoxville map-store owner told the St Petersburg Times his committee was working with a larger group but refused to identify it. We like to fly beneath the radar, he said. On election day, the committee placed a hugely expensive full-page ad supporting Bush in The New York Times under the banner headline: America Is In Safe Hands. [...] That the Brethren were last-minute, large-scale backers of Bush interested the Federal Elections Commission. A spokesman told the St Petersburg Times that any money contributed by a foreign national and used to purchase advertising so close to an election violates a 1966 law designed to limit foreign intervention in US elections . The commission now tells the Herald it cannot comment on whether it is investigating the sect s role. CANADA 2005 A POLITICAL conflagration was soon blazing as the Canadian Parliament debated same-sex marriage. In March last year, households in the electorate of every member supporting the bill received a greeting card raging against the legislation: The suicidal rush to fundamentally change a 6000-year-old institution is the canker that will destroy the roots of Canada s living tree . The card was carefully worded to avoid contravening Canada s hate propaganda law [...] Questioned by journalists after placing a newspaper ad attacking the legislation, Heggie said he and the Concerned Canadian parents were Exclusive Brethren. He told the Vancouver Sun: Those who think the Brethren are being unethical and deceptive don t understand their approach to the outside world. It s not that we re hiding anything. It s just that we re not interested in grandstanding. NEW ZEALAND 2005 THE polite world of New Zealand politics had never seen attack advertising on the scale of the anti-Greens campaign in the elections of September last year. Every letter box seemed to receive a mysterious pamphlet denouncing The Green Delusion. [...] When news of the Brethren s role broke 10 days before polling day, the leader of the Opposition National Party, Don Brash who seemed to be heading for victory claimed not to know who was behind the pamphlets: We were not aware they were coming out and had nothing to do with it. But a few days later he had to make the humiliating admission that he d known all along. The Exclusive Brethren have told me some time back that they were thoroughly fed up with the Government and they would be distributing some pamphlets. [...] The police investigated the role of the Brethren in the campaign there were also questions about dodgy or incomplete addresses on pamphlets and ads but no prosecutions were laid. The investigation revealed the Brethren s budget for the campaign was $NZ1.2 million ($900,000). LIGHT DAWNS IN AUSTRALIA WHILE the New Zealand elections were being fought, the Greens sent Brown a copy of the Green Delusion pamphlet. It seemed terribly familiar. The Tasmanian senator Christine Milne took one look and thought, That s exactly the same pamphlet used against me. A few details were different but the layout was the same, the language was the same . [...] When the story of the sect s involvement in the 2004 elections broke in the Herald in September last year, the church issued the same denials issued when the Brethren were sprung in New Zealand, Canada and the US. A spokesman, Warwick John, claimed the ads and pamphlets were the work of individual businessmen. The Brethren church has had no involvement whatsoever with the advertisements in New Zealand or any other country. For ex-Brethren around the world, this claim makes no sense. Here is a church where authority over the tiniest details of believers lives is maintained by brutal expulsion. For challenging the authority of the Elect Vessel, for watching television, for having a beer with a non-believer, members are expelled from their faith and their family. The emotional carnage is appalling. For these people, the idea that individual Brethren could of their own accord take the revolutionary step of entering worldly politics doesn t compute. A recent and fearful refugee from the sect told the Herald: No one would have countenanced doing this without the complete sanction of the leader universally. AN HOUR WITH THE ELDERS The Hales excite strong passion among the ex-Brethren. The exiles say the shift into politics plus a fresh emphasis on business prosperity and greater demands for cash contributions to the church began in 2002 when Bruce Hales inherited the leadership from his father. [...] The tricky part of this meeting conducted with gusto by these elders was following the logic that says Brethren are forbidden by God to vote but it s fine for them to urge others to vote. How so? For exactly this reason, said Hales. I see it as a sin and you don t. So I m very happy for you to vote because to you it s your obligation to the community. But to me, it s my conscience that doesn t allow me to vote. They said the church insists on total honesty and lawfulness. But did it show candour to fight Canada s Civil Marriage Act via a post box in a 7-Eleven? That s just a sensible move to avoid persecution and anything unfair, said Hales. It avoids the Mad Hatter attack, isn t that fair? These men are all businessmen. They apologised for being strapped for time at the end of the financial year. The source of the sect s great prosperity are little businesses office fit-outs, carpets, roofing, small manufacturing, farming that succeed for the best reason: the work is good and they re known to be honest. Brethren families are forbidden to buy boats and holiday houses, go skiing, or spend anything on public entertainment. Booze is allowed but the stern obligation to lead simple lives leaves lots of cash to spare. [...] TASMANIA AGAIN BOB Brown admits his party was almost culpably naive going into the Tasmanian elections earlier this year. Mysterious pamphlets appeared smearing the Greens lax attitudes to drugs and attacking the party s tax policies. But the focus was on sex: homosexuals, gay marriage, sex-change operations funded by Medicare and the foul idea that persons [may] choose their own gender regardless of their sex at birth . Late in the campaign, the Greens candidate Peter Cover noticed this material was authorised by men in the island s north-east Bible belt. Someone in the party knew someone living down the road from them in Scottsdale. Calls were made. The pig farmer and the carpet merchant on the pamphlets turned out to be Brethren. Brown called for a Senate inquiry into the sect into its tax breaks, government funding for its schools, the impact on families of excommunications and the role the church was playing in Australian politics and political activities . The Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz flew to the Brethren s defence, comparing Brown s action to Nazi persecution of the Jews: When a leader of a political party in Australia starts scapegoating a lawful religious minority the warning bells of history should be ringing loud � once you remove the Green overcoat, there is a Brown shirt lurking underneath. This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 1, 2006 Full Article