Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 10. 8 July, 1970
Just a further walk from thee — The Exclusive Brethren
Just a further walk from thee
The Exclusive Brethren
The Exclusive Brethren are a fundamentalist Christian group who have increasingly in recent years cut themselves off from the ways of the "wicked evil world." Individual members of the sect are friendly, genuine people; their religion, however, is one of stark puritanism. Cecily Pinker was a member of the Brethren until she enrolled at Victoria University at the beginning of last year. In the accompanying article, she discusses this extraordinary group.
One of the strangest religious movements of all time began early last century when a prominent scholar named John Darby dissociated himself from the clergy of the Anglican Church to meet for bible readings and communion with independent small groups of people which he found all over England. After much conflict and dissension among leaders, during which time John Darby produced his own translation of the Bible, Darby's followers formed the basis of an exclusive religious movement which was to develop under further leaders into the sect now known as Exclusive Brethren.
John Darby's Bible was only new in that it claimed to be a more correct and more up-to-date version than the 1611 Authorised Version. Today it reads as neither pleasing nor modern but rather stilted. However, it still forms the strict basis of all 'exclusive' belief. After Darby had fought many of the group's doctrinal battles, it carried on under various leaders until the seat of power was moved to New York early this century under a certain James Taylor. The sect now flourishes more prominently and more strangely than ever before, under Taylor's son, James Taylor Junior.
The leadership has not gone unchallenged in recent years, however. In 1953, when James Taylor senior died, there emerged two possible leaders, G.R. Cowell, whose teachings were similar to those of the dead leader, and James Taylor Junior (now known as 'Big Jim' Taylor), a forceful and ruthless character. Cowell's leadership was benign and lethargic in the view of James Taylor Junior, as it urged weakening of his own edicts and encouraged what he regarded as a state of apathy regarding the things of Christ. Under James Taylor Junior's leadership, the heresy of Cowell's teachings was eventually 'exposed', and Cowell was 'withdrawn from' (a euphemism for 'excommunicated').
Again, in the mid-60's, three brilliant leaders took advantage of Taylor's illness to establish rival trends. These leaders were Bruce and John Hales of Sydney and Alan Gadstone of Melbourne. These men were experts in business management, and after setting all exclusive-owned businesses on their feet, sought to do the same with the sect itself, under what became known as 'the system'. The main aim was to achieve efficiency in all paths of life, including worship of God. Meetings were held early in the evening at 6.30 pm. and disposed of quickly so members could return to their business pursuits. The Exclusives were to be best at everything. They were to earn as much money as possible, learn about business management and educate their children as well as possible under tuition by educated Exclusives. Members were to work for the Lord and use His money (the enormous levies raised through collections from members) to build enormous halls and amass material wealth. Members were encouraged to work late into the night at their studies and rise early to read the books produced by the sect. They could be subjected to severe interrogations at meetings for any misdemeanours. All went well during 1965—66 until James Taylor suddenly woke up to what was happening and exposed the evils of 'The System'. The Hales brothers and Gadstone were withdrawn from and Exclusives once more rejected worldly prosperity and business efficiency to get themselves out of debt and become humble servants of the Lord. This movement made a very deep and lasting impression, however, and was the reason for several subsequent 'withdrawals'.
In 1956 it was estimated that the Exclusive Brethren comprised 10,000 to 20,000 members. Most of these are in Great Britain, and only a small percentage in America, despite the fact that it is the seat of leadership. There are 1,000-2,000 members in both Sydney and Melbourne, besides others in different parts of Australia, and over 1,500 in New Zealand. Wellington has approximately 350 and Auckland, Christchurch and Palmerston North probably have more. There are members of the sect in Blenheim, Nelson, Dunedin, New Plymouth, Hawera, Gisborne, Hastings, Napier, Whangarei and a few other districts. There are very few new recruits now, as open-air campaigning has ceased to be a main feature of a gospel which is now preached to Exclusives only. The sect relies for continuity on the population growth generated by its own members. As contraception is banned, large families are very common. Most girls arc married by the time they are about eighteen or nineteen.
Two principal beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren are dependence on God to provide personal leadership and the doctrine of separation from the rest of the world. These principles have grown steadily stronger over the years and are now carried to extreme lengths. Leadership is based on God's gift of the Holy Spirit in every individual; so there arc no priests. Any male member of the sect has the right to express himself at meetings.
But the doctrine of separation from the world is much stronger than the doctrine of divine inspiration. It has been the cause of most conflict as it has become more and more strictly enforced over the last fifteen years. It was at first a spiritual separation alone—the notion that one had seen the 'true light' of God and was spiritually better off than those of one's acquaintances and relations who were not Exclusives. But in the late 50's, this doctrine came to be enforced physically and materially; the edict from New York being preached throughout the sect by Taylor's 'henchmen'.
The most striking aspect of this was the prohibition on eating or drinking with any person who was not a member of the sect. It was recognised that some communication with the outer world was essential, but this too was confined to business conversation or preaching to others for the purposes of conversion. It was also decreed that no Exclusive Brother (or Sister) should be the member of any Trade Union or Organisation, professional or otherwise. One could not 'belong to' any group except the sect, even if not belonging affected one's career, nor could one be a part of any industrial unrest or any form of protest or demonstration.
"Pure, holy and undefiled"
The Exclusives did not see themselves as arrogant in cutting themselves off in this way, or even cruel when it came to breaking up families where one parent or child did not belong to the sect. God decreed that they were to be "pure, holy and undefiled", and submission was based not so much upon the hope of the after-life being propitious or of immediate reward but in the amazing fear instilled into people of the wrath of God, were they to disobey His commands. This fear formed the basis under which most edicts were obeyed, and caused people to go through great financial straits, convinced all the while that they were doing the only right thing. There was also a certain amount of fear of ostracism from the sect (wherein could be found one's only real earthly friends), if one did not conform.
The withdrawal of lawyers from, the Bar, chemists from the Pharmaceutical Association, lecturers from universities and teachers from schools, workers from trade unions and many others from their relatives and neighbours gave the Exclusive Brethren a great feeling not of intellectual, but of spiritual and material satisfaction—healthy in mind, healthy in body. As their worldly brothers rejected attempts at conversion, the doors of the Church were closed to the world, and only a few open-air campaigners remain.
The departure of any individual from the Brethren is regarded as a very serious moral venture, which the sect does its utmost to prevent. They attempt to forestall this by holding lengthy addresses to the sect, aimed primarily at its teen-age members, warning them of all the dangers and pitfalls of a world they have never known. Almost all forms of culture come under this category and are regarded as evil.
No novels, radio, television, dancing, films ...
Members of the sect are not allowed to possess radios (if they buy a car with one it has to be removed), or television sets; they cannot go to dances, to films, take holiday trips, drink alcohol (except for medicinal purposes—my grandmother drank a glass of brandy for these purposes every night), go to restaurants, play cards, gamble in any way, wear jewellery, smoke cigarettes or a pipe or cigars, eat black pudding (it contains blood—banned in Leviticus), play team sports, enjoy (as opposed to suffer) music, or in fact do anything except attend sect meetings every day of their lives unless illness prevents their attendance. Sisters are not permitted to cut their hair, wear slacks, skirts of less than calf-length (their knees must be covered when they sit down), sleeveless dresses or makeup.
Exclusives are permitted to seek the advice of medical practitioners, undergo operations and blood-transfusions, and take drugs where prescribed. Any illegal drug-taking is banned, however, and also methods of healing such as colour therapy (spiritual healing), hypnotism and spiritualism. Such methods of healing have from time to time had a considerable vogue amongst page 8 sect members. Most 'evil pleasures' listed art banned either because they involve group activity which would compromise an Exclusive, or because they are wanton pleasures to replace the true joy to be found in the continuous worship of God.
Members of the sect are warned of the imminence of the wrath of God which can be expected to be unleashed on any child who disobeys his or her parents. One sixteen or seventeen-year old member of the sect in Wellington, for example, disobeyed his parents a couple of years ago by riding a motorcycle. When he had an accident and consequently suffered concussion, sect members were told that this was a warning from God. (At a meeting shortly after the incident, a member told the sect that God had had the grace not to harm the miscreant's whole body but simply to "touch him on the head". This was to be a moral lesson to all sect members and parents were warned to be continually alert to what their children were up to.)
Meetings of the Exclusives take the form of discussion groups on passages of scripture. These arc usually 'chaired' by a prominent member and, following discussion, three short addresses are given. A speaker is chosen who in turn chooses the two speakers who shall follow him. Young men are often picked to test their faith, and woe betide him who gives no direct spiritual message or exhortation. In this way it becomes increasingly difficult for young people to rebel. Gatherings arc held each night during the week, every Saturday morning and throughout Sunday. Exclusives go to bed early on Saturday night (8 pm. or soon after) so as to be ready to start their strenuous Sunday activities with communion (The Lord's Supper) at 6 am. the following morning. Then, after a quick breakfast, they all meet at 9 am. for discussion of the spiritual thoughts that the Lord has opened up to them, and continue at 10.15 am. with three gospel addresses. Then they move around the smaller halls in the city for further preachings at midday, 2 pm, 3.30 pm and 5 pm. The day's activities end at about 6 pm. It is surprising that there is so much stress on gospel-preaching, in spite of the fact that it is taken for granted that most are truly converted, and the "sinners and publicans" outside are not invited to listen.
Attendance at meetings is compulsory unless one gives a very good reason beforehand. If not, one can expect a visitor before the night is out. The addresses are the most emotionally effective way of 'getting at' members, and strengthening their conviction. At a discussion, any person may be fired direct questions and interrogated if he or she has fallen by the wayside. Discussions can become very emotive.
Prayer and fasting
Prayer and fasting have always been important rituals in the Exclusive's life, and their efficacy has never been doubted. Prayer meetings are held in small groups each Monday evening. Each male member prays, whatever his age. These meetings used to be lengthy affairs of at least an hour and a quarter, but they are now compressed within the space of an hour. Big Jim likes prayers to be a minute long. At the beginning of the meeting, a member reads aloud the 'agenda' (as the Exclusives term it) of things to be prayed about. There is a printed copy of the agenda in every house. It lists the localities of conventions which have been arranged, prominent leaders, those who travel, the sick, and current affairs affecting the Brethren like their young men on Hospital Aid in Vietnam. Ardent members of the sect fast every Saturday afternoon and evening and all members may be called upon to fast for two or three days during a serious Exclusive emergency. There were several fasts during the exodus of a large number of members who left in the late 50's in horror at the "eating matter" (the Brethren's code-name for this particular aspect of the doctrine of separation). The last fast that I can remember was held during the third reading of the Family Preservation Bill in the British House of Commons in 1964.
Women: "in subjection"
As the Apostle Paul decreed that women were to remain silent, Exclusive 'Sisters' remain silent, long-haired, dowdy and keep their heads covered at all times out of doors. About twelve years ago, married women were denied the right to work; their proper place being in the home. They only live to be submissive and produce more Exclusives. The husband is clearly the head of the house—he sits at the head of the table while his wife sits to his right-hand "in subjection", as the Exclusives put it. He makes most decisions and ratifies those that he doesn't make personally.
The Exclusive Sisters play an important role in the spiritual education of their young. Any filial disobedience is viewed seriously, especially as the child grows older. (The relevant text is "Honour thy father and thy mother"). It is interesting to note that both Taylors have said that "single sisters are the most spiritual because they are married to Christ and His Assembly and their whole attention is centred around this."
Children are recruited at a very early age. In days of yore, children were approached at the age of twelve or thereabouts and questioned as to their faith before being admitted to take communion. Now the interrogation has gone and children are allowed to take communion as soon as they are old enough (which may be two years old in some cases). Exclusive children are intended to have been taking communion for as long as they can remember.
There are several objections to the university: its education, its atmosphere, and the fact that it is a corporate body, of which every student and lecturer forms a part, thus bound with the world in a worldly gathering. The objection to education is fairly obvious: children, if taught to think, arc likely to start questioning the way of life they have been brought up in. Usually, sect children are compelled to leave school at the age of fifteen and begin working, preferably for a member of the Exclusive Brethren. In the sect member's employ, they will be carefully watched for signs of discontent. If a person stays at school beyond the age of fifteen, his or her parents may have a fair amount of explaining to do. University education is all but out of the question now. There arc a few members of the sect who obtained degrees in the good old days when a university education was allowed. Two of these sect members were secondary school teachers in Wellington—Mary Campion at Wellington High School and Robert Bradley at Wellington College. Both of these teachers tried to dissuade me from attending university. Mary Campion wrote to me in February 1969, just three days after I had left home to go to university, asking "What is this I hear you have done?? Needless to say I feel deeply concerned for your welfare ... I fear lest you make a wrong decision that may lead to the loss of all that is truly life."
Inside 'the Churchill Drive Hall' at Crofton Downs. This [unclear: fir]st and the last time you'll ever see an Exclusive Brethren meeting in action. A member of the congregation has jus[unclear: t] all at the back to pursue our photographer, John Eastcott. About two hours after Mr Eastcott returned to his hom[unclear: e] who was identified as a member of the Brethren by Cecily Pinker rang the Eastcott home and enquired whether t[unclear: he] Eastcott bad been driving was for sale. The caller was told that the car was not for sale. Mr Eastcott hasn't had any [gap — reason: illegible].
When I let it be known that I wished to attend university, I was immediately refused permission. When I persisted in my plea, various members of the sect tried to talk me out of it. The two secondary school teachers went to great lengths here. The fact that I did not know for sure what sort of career I would take up hardly helped matters. When I went back to school for 6A, the question of sect members taking university courses started to crop up at meetings of the Brethren. My case was never referred to in particular but Robert Bradley once got very worked up in a meeting over what was clearly my 'case'. Even my mother conceded that it was me that Bradley was referring to.
She's leaving home, bye, bye
Members of the Brethren didn't want me to go back to school for my 6A year anyway. They didn't want me to sit Junior Scholarship but gave way only when I pointed out that it wasn't compulsory to accept the Scholarship if I got one. When I did get one, I was continually asked whether I had written back to the University Grants Committee telling them that I did not want to take up the Scholarship. But I didn't write the letter. Instead I handed in a resignation at the Government office where I was working and, two weeks after I turned eighteen and my parents could no longer at law prevent my departure, I left home. In fact, I didn't leave home until my parents told me that, as far as they were concerned, I could not attend university under any circumstances.
... to breed little Brethren
What sort of career I was supposed to embark upon was perfectly clear. I was supposed to breed little Brethren. If I wanted anything else, I found the field had been fairly well closed down for me. Teaching of any form was out because a woman should not teach men or boys (because women are under an obligation to be subject to the stronger sex). Any career involving socialising or travel was ruled out: one cannot leave ones birthplace and local sect gathering to gad ab[unclear: out] the world; nor can one have any more deali[unclear: ings] than necessary with those one works with. [gap — reason: illegible] degree was neither necessary nor desirable. A career that involved more than a 40-hour wee[unclear: k] work was ruled out since it would encroach upon meeting times of the sect (for example, Friday evening and Saturday morning). In short, [unclear: the] most obvious 'career' for a girl was an office [unclear: job] in a firm owned by a member of the sect failing that, a menial career in the Public Servi[unclear: ce.]
Seeing the error of her ways?
For the first six months after I left home received letters as frequently as once a day fr[unclear: om] my parents and from at least twenty o[unclear: ther] Brethren. All of them asked me to see the [unclear: error] of my ways, to leave university and to ret[unclear: urn] home. My parents used to try to see me ve[unclear: ry] often but the people with whom I boa[unclear: rd] discouraged this. I was very grateful for this was approached at the university four or f[unclear: ive] times by members of the sect. When I [unclear: was] working at a Government office during the M[gap — reason: illegible] holidays, Lincoln Richards, a member of the se[gap — reason: illegible] approached me as I was leaving the office day and spoke to me for about forty minu[unclear: tes] before I got fed up and walked off. The the[gap — reason: illegible] common to all of the appeals to me was th[unclear: at] I would be neither happy nor successful and th[unclear: at] I would be disappointed with all I saw in the wo[unclear: k] and that the only place where one could real find God was in the Assembly.
At the end of six months, when I had ignore nearly all of the letters sent to me and refused t[unclear: o] see the various members of the sect who want[unclear: ed] to meet me, the sect convened in an 'Assemb[unclear: ly] meeting' to determine that they could no long[unclear: er] 'walk' with me (this basically meant not taking communion), on the grounds of 2 Tim[unclear: othy] Chapter 2: "Let everyone that names the na[unclear: mes] of the Lord depart from iniquity". I was in[unclear: iquite].
The Second Coming and the Day [unclear: of] Judgement
Why have such harsh laws been accepted for page 9 [unclear: [gap — reason: illegible]ing?] Mainly, I think, because they have come [unclear: gr]adually, and to each is attached the spur of working for the Lord and fear of His displeasure, [unclear: T]here is in most Exclusives an unshakeable [unclear: con]viction in the after-life and day of judgement. [unclear: Be]fore the Day of Judgement, Christ will come [unclear: ag]ain (the celebrated Second Coming) to take [unclear: wi]th Him those who are His before the final evil the person of the anti-Christ descends upon [unclear: th]e earth. The Second Coming is expected to [unclear: ta]ke place about 2,000 years after Christ's birth, [unclear: wa]ter which the blessed will spend a millennium [unclear: w]ith Christ before the Judgement Day. There are [unclear: b]ought to be seven millennia: 2,000 years [unclear: be]tween the Creation and the Deluge, 2,000 [unclear: ye]ars between the Deluge and the Birth of Christ, .[unclear: 1,]000 years between his birth and his Second [unclear: co]ming and the subsequent millennium to the [unclear: w]ay of Judgement. (Seven is the perfect [unclear: nu]mber). After that, Eternity begins.
The rise of the Anti-Christ
[unclear: T]he Anti-Christ will be a Jew who will command great following in Europe. (In 1968, during the [unclear: w]ay Revolution in France, members of the [unclear: brethren] regarded Danny Cohn-Bendit—'Danny [unclear: the] Red'—as a likely embodiment of the [unclear: a]nti-Christ. He still may be the Anti-Christ but [unclear: he's] quietened down a bit for the time being). At [unclear: th]e same time as the rising of the Anti-Christ, the [unclear: r]iver Euphrates will dry up and Communist [unclear: ho]rdes will invade Europe, South-East Asia and [unclear: A]ustralasia. By this time, all those redeemed by [unclear: the] blood of Christ will have departed from "this [unclear: p]resent evil world" to join Christ in glory. Those redeemed "include, naturally enough, the [unclear: b]rethren. There are a few others: some of the [unclear: cle]rgy and other genuine Christians who are under the shelter of the Blood". The "dead in [unclear: c]hrist" (that is the redeemed dead) will also [unclear: de]part at this point. The advent of the [unclear: a]nti-Christ and the unleashing of the Communist [unclear: h]ordes (and all this terminology is the Brethren's) [unclear: sy]mbolise the terrible powers of evil to be let [unclear: those] on the world once Christ and his followers have departed.
'The Churchill Drive Hall' at Crofton Downs was opened (to coin a phrase) in September, 1967. Another hall designed and built by the Brethren, it is the biggest in Wellington. All Assembly meetings (that is, meetings of all members of the sect in the Wellington locality ') are held here.
[unclear: T]he Brethren's rules have not always been so [unclear: st]rict, although they now change with increasing rapidity as the Exclusives shut themselves further and further away from the world as, they believe, the coming of the Lord draw's nigh. I attended kindergarten as a child but, since it is not compulsory to send children to kindergarten, this is no longer permitted. My parents frequently had contact with relatives who were not Exclusives. But my earliest memories are of being taught to fear God and the consequences of sin. The greatest fear was confession: this was not 'compulsory', as in the Roman Catholic Church, but sin was unatoned until confessed and repented of. Sinners, like secret trade unionists, alcoholics, gamblers, fornicators, adulterers and suchlike, were urged in addresses to confess their sins before they were exposed. Somehow, I always connected these alarming crimes with my own childhood misdemeanours, and became terrified of attending meetings until I attended several where such depraved sinners were exposed in public. I realised then that my childhood crimes were of little importance, though not concealed from the Eye of a Wrathful God. Many children, I think, had such guilt complexes.
Early schooldays were relatively normal. Exclusive children were allowed to have other children home to play, but not to go to other children's homes; certain books were grudgingly permitted. When the Doctrine of Separation began to be enforced in the late 50's, children were urged not to play with their classmates but keep to themselves and other Exclusive children as much as possible. If one ate lunch at school, one was not to eat it with the other children. One did not go to school parties or school picnics or sing Christmas Carols with the worldly hypocrites at end-of-year functions. Any celebration of Christmas was impermissible since such celebrations are a pagan custom.
These rules, however, were not stringently enforced until my last two years at primary school and the years at secondary school, when the real crunch began. At the school I attended I got away with a good deal (reading novels, for example), but there were always two or three other Exclusive children who were eager to inform.
One of the main things that has held Exclusives together all over the world is the great amount of travelling from place to place undertaken by the sect's leaders. There have always been annual 'conventions' at each so-called 'locality', where a leader is invited to suggest the subject of discussion, and Exclusives are invited to come to hear him. The meetings last three days—usually Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Until recently, the right to such travel was reserved for those with means, but the whole scale of conventions has changed. Now specific invitations (which can only be turned down for a very good reason), are issued only to those considered worthy of attendance. The Exclusives pool their resources to enable these people to travel to distant convention. The most important convention is an annual one held by Jim Taylor in England or in the United States. It is attended by about 30 New Zealand Exclusives, whose air fares are paid by the community. Those leaders who spread the word are also given grants of money frequently ("administered to"), regardless of whether they need financial assistance, to encourage them in their work for the Lord. There are weekly collections of funds to pay for rent of halls, heating and such expenses, and a special collection each month solely for the purpose of levying funds for travel and the printing of Exclusive literature. In Wellington in 1969, about $500 was collected each month from the three hundred and fifty members of the sect, the majority of whom are less than twenty years old.
Big Jim Taylor
Jim Taylor spends most of his time travelling from one 'locality' to another. He has visited New Zealand four or five times since 1953. Each time he has stayed for a couple of weeks, living in the home of a prominent Exclusive. (The last time he was in Wellington he stayed with Ronald Deck.) I saw Taylor on each of his visits and had dinner with him once at Ronald Deck's house a few years ago. He is about seventy years old; a large, florid American. He speaks bad English (that is, grammatically bad) in a low monotone. Some of the Exclusives admitted to me that they too found Taylor pretty boring but most members of the sect who heard him hung attentively onto his every word. By repute, Taylor is friendly on the surface but ruthless in looking after "the Lord's interests". I have never heard of him having a conversation about anything else.
Other Sect meetings
In addition to the larger conventions, or 'Three-Day Meetings', at which most of the sect's new edicts are presented and preached and any person is liable for direct interrogation if suspected of being impure or having unconfessed sins, there are smaller conventions known as 'Fellowship Meetings' held over a weekend. Sometimes Friday night is included. Invitations to these, though not on such a large scale as the others, used to be open, but are now also personal. They are attended by fellow-Exclusives as far as two hundred miles away from the locality.
What is for us in this too, is that God allows you at times to have an unmanageable and rebellious son. He allows that to be amongst us, and I think it is to get us on God's side, to know what He thinks. An experience like that, to have an unmanageable and rebellious son, has been known in many families amongst us. Everything has been done for him; he has been chastened oft-times; so finally they have to come to it that he is deserving of the penalty. It is not now that such persons are put to death. With such persons it is that we have to say that we cannot walk with them, we cannot have fellowship with them. The relationship is not brought to an end by discipline, although it is broken in the sense in which you have to shrink from them and withdraw from them. It has become a great test amongst us to do that, to withdraw from persons who are so close, and it has been affecting assemblies universally that secretly some have not been in accord with the judgement. —James Taylor Junior in Things that are more Excellent, Volume 97 in a series; this volume being notes of meetings at Minneapolis in October, 1967.
Sunday meetings used to commence at 11 am. but have been brought forward through a series of steps to the commencement time of 6 am. mentioned earlier. This last change took place at the end of 1967. The time of commencement of Evening Services has remained constant at about 7 pm. but Three Day Conventions start at 6 am. each day. Fellowship meetings start at 9 am.
The Three Day Convention is a very tiring experience. Each day there are nine meetings, in groups of three (each group comprising two discussion groups, and one hour of three addresses). Meetings do not usually finish before 6 at night. There is a short break during the morning for a meal. These are big changes because before the 60's the maximum number of meetings in one day was three. For a long time, catering services were employed to provide meals on such occasions, in halls specially hired for the purpose (usually college halls, occasionally theatres). But the sanctity of cooking and eating in the home came to the fore, and catering was discontinued, especially as it proved to be very expensive. In the same way, a Sister makes the loaf of bread that is used for communion, instead of buying a loaf handled by worldly hands.
No room at the inn
Accommodation was a problem: formerly hotels and motels were used, but the sanctity of these places was dubious, and visiting Exclusives were page 10 billeted in other Exclusives' homes. Halls were no longer to be hired, so buildings to scat up to 1,000 people have been and are being built in the principal 'localities': Wellington, Auckland, Palmerston North, Christchurch. This of course meant great expenditure, as the halls are, of course, empty most of the time, but funds were raised when called for. These halls are closed to non-Exclusives. For a long time, if a person showed interest in being 'converted' to the straight and narrow path, in giving up living in sin (in a broad sense) and "the wicked evil world," he might be invited to attend meetings, particularly gospel preachings. But this became forbidden recently because it seemed to provide a leak for information.
The interested sinner may now listen to street corner preachings on Friday nights and, having renounced all earthly vices and relatives, undergoes a gruelling examination in the presence of two or more witnesses before his case for entry is put before the Assembly. The process of getting out is almost as difficult as getting in. This may seem strict, but the Exclusives are very ready to welcome sincere new members, and very reluctant to let former members depart.
Over their dead bodies
Marriages and funerals come in for special treatment. Marriages take place in a Registrar's office and are blessed thereafter by the Exclusives at a special meeting for the occasion. At this meeting, the virtues of chastity are enumerated and the code of conduct for a good life set out. (At one Assembly a speaker told the newly-weds that "life isn't just a bed of roses, you know.") There is usually a "reception" for all at the house of the bride's parents, but no liquor is consumed of course. When a person dies, a special meeting is held. The deceased's body lies in its casket with the Lid off in the centre of the room. At the end of such a meeting, the casket is wheeled to the back of the room and all the Exclusives file past it gazing at the body before the lid is replaced and the coffin placed in the hearse. I have seen five such dead bodies, either withered victims of old age or of the ravages of cancer, and I have seen two-year olds held up to behold the corpses. It is not a pleasant sight. At the cemetery, a further prayer is held over the coffin. Exclusives are not cremated. Cremation is regarded as a fatuous attempt to destroy the body completely—soul, spirit and all—and thus depart from the world unseen by God.
No views is good views
Exclusives do not support conscription ("Thou shalt not kill"), but allow their young men to undergo compulsory military training so long as they do not carry arms. They do not disobey the law, as they regard government as a divine institution established by God. In fact, they pray for the Government, that it may continue to be favourable. But they do not vote as elections are in the Hands of God, and it is not their place to choose a government, regardless of whether the successful party is good or evil. They do not believe in democracy or in Communism, but do believe in monarchy or dictatorship, provided such a government allows them to meet as they please. They support the presence of American forces in South-East Asia, (they practically worshipped Lyndon Johnson—believing him almost as worthy as Big Jim), convinced that this is an instance of the hand of God against Communism (which is rearing its head in Australasia). There are, of course, many paradoxes here. Exclusives do not support apartheid, as it prevents black and white Exclusives from attending meetings together in South Africa. As for the All Black Tour, they do not regard sporting activities as spiritually helpful, so I expect they would be against the Tour. It rather depends on what New York says.
"And on the Seventh Day . . ."
The New Testament used to be the creed upon which Exclusives based their way of life, but they now adhere to the Old Testament literally in some respects. For instance, the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, has become almost as important to them as Sunday, the first day of the week. As God rested on the Seventh Day, so do the Exclusives, apart from attending Saturday morning meetings. The day is devoted to quiet activities (such as reading or visiting the other sect members) in preparation for the rigours of the Lord's Day. Children were not encouraged to do homework on Saturdays, if this could be avoided. No Exclusive works on a Saturday.
"Every word that cometh out of God's mouth . . ."
Reading matter is supplied to be bought at page 11 monthly intervals by each household. No novels are to be read or brought into an Exclusive house. Almost all the sect's books comprise edited transcripts of meetings involving prominent leaders. John Darby used to write instructions on doctrine and the way of life to be followed, but recordings of meetings, discussions and addresses are now most popular and are distributed in large quantities. Two or three books are published each month, besides numerous leaflets. The most important recorded meetings are those of Jim Taylor, but these are censored by him before distribution so that radical ideas are carried by word of mouth rather than on paper to the rest of the world.
Most publications, therefore, do not contain specific injunctions. The message, rather, is disguised under verbiage of doctrine and establishing relationships between Biblical passages. Biblical typology and symbolism form a major basis for such discussion.
The standard of reading matter used to be fairly high, as John Nelson Darby was an educated man, and his followers tended to speak well. This standard has steadily degenerated, however, with the minimising of education and the advent of James Taylor Junior. As his works are no longer edited but printed direct from tape, there is no halting the flow of bad Americanisms which are quickly picked up and used by his followers. This degeneracy in the quality of the spoken 'Exclusive' Word has become part of an anti-intellectual campaign, as English accents are frowned upon and good speaking generally regarded as "orthodox pomposity".
"The imagination of man's mind is evil continually"
Reading novels is regarded as one of the worst and most obvious pitfalls for the young, or for any members of the sect, because "the imagination of man's mind is evil continually" and "knowledge corrupts". Many works of non-fiction are also banned; especially those dealing with geology, evolution and sometimes astronomy, particularly Darwin's The Origin of the Species. (Or was it Dickens' Origin of the Species—as our Prime Minister would have it?) Only books published by the sect were to line the shelves of Exclusive homes. "A novel in the house corrupts the whole house," one Exclusive saying has it.
To prepare himself for a day 'in the world' at work, an Exclusive reads a passage from the Bible as soon as he rises and prays for help. To ensure that there is a daily message for the whole family, there is family reading, singing and praying each morning. This ritual is carried out before each meal. There is quite a large number of hymns, but these are carefully selected only from writings of Exclusives, past or present. Somehow William Cowper got in with "God moves in a mysterious way", on what grounds I am not quite sure.
The Brethren and the law
What measures can be taken against the Exclusive Brethren? Unfortunately there is very little that can be done under the law, because one of the disadvantages of our free state is the fact that it allows parents to shape their children's religious beliefs however they wish. The Department of Child Welfare can take no action on behalf of children except by talking to parents. Most children would prefer not to bring Child Welfare to their parents' doorstep. The Education Department cannot issue studentships to students whose parents object, except by special and devious means. And children cannot be kept at school after they turn fifteen if parents are unwilling. A child may leave home at the age of 16, but until he or she is eighteen years old, the parents can bring a court case against the child. In the early 60's a Bill was introduced in Britain called The Family Preservation Bill which would have given the Government the right to remove children from their, parents where the children were under extreme religious influence. But the Bill did not get past its third reading in the House of Commons. As far as I know, that is the only attempt that has been made to take action in such cases, so a child has to endure such influence for the first eighteen years of its life, willing or unwilling. Only at eighteen can one choose the life one wants to lead.
Attitude to other religious groups
The attitude of the Exclusives towards other religions is generally arrogant and intolerant. The Church of England, Wesleyan, Methodist and Presbyterian churches are the least offensive; Jews and Roman Catholics are regarded with greater distaste as the Jews do not acknowledge the birth of Christ and Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. More serious deviants are sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists. Pagans are forgiveable if they have never had an opportunity to see the true light. But the Open Brethren or Plymouth Brethren are the worst offenders of all because they have seen the true light but have chosen to ignore it. They hold most of the beliefs of the Exclusives, but offer a far more relaxed type of religion that takes advantage of most worldly pleasures. Open Brethren, and other offshoots of the Exclusives, are very antagonistic to Exclusives, but anxious to hear all the latest edicts and draw to their side any ex-Exclusives. As many Open Brethren have relatives who are Exclusives, there is always a certain 'leakage' of information—to the Exclusives' chagrin.
"Children, keep yourselves from idols"
It appears that the most sweeping changes have taken place during the last decade. Whether this is because I became more and more aware of them as I grew up during this period I am not quite sure, but I do not think this is the whole reason. During this period there has been much talk of the imminent coming of the Lord, which is now constantly referred to and kept in the minds of the hearers. This is intended to spur them on to changes in their ways for His pleasure and to ensure that they will not fail Him when the Second Coming is expected so soon.
This message has great psychological effects, although they do begin to wear thin when for Sunday after Sunday the Second Coming has been confidently predicted and no show. It provides a hope for getting out of awkward situations and creates a greater willingness to forego material pleasures. Members of the Brethren do not talk of the future. For them there is no future—only the immediate future which will soon be past. So why spurn the spiritual comfort of the Lord to waste one's energy in worldly pursuits when the end is so close? On the other hand, why not enjoy life while it lasts? Surely a question that it is up to the individual to decide how to answer. But, if one is a member of the Brethren, one does not even get the chance to consider this answer. Most members of the sect are simply carried around in circles on the "Exclusive" conveyor belt. They are surely the nearest creatures on earth to "the stuffed men, the hollow men".