Inside the Brethren lobby horse


Bachelard, Michael; Behind the Exclusive Brethren. Scribe Publications, Australia, 2008. RRP $32.95. ISBN: 97819213722585

Behind the Exclusive Brethren, by Michael Bachelard, cover imageAustralia's 15,000 Exclusive Brethren are easily recognised by their distinctive unworldly dress, especially in the rural areas where they are prominent. Many are involved in small business. One of the nation's structural landmarks, the gigantic metal flagpole astride Parliament House, was produced by a typical Brethren light industrial enterprise.

On the face of it, it seems the Brethren are simply a small business version of the agrarian Amish — reclusive and fundamentalist, but essentially industrious and harmless. But Michael Bachelard paints a different and thoroughly convincing picture in his readable and well researched investigation.

He focuses on Brethren efforts to secure favours from politicians and governments in Australia and New Zealand. Brethren members do not vote, but their lobbying efforts are extensive. Bachelard reminds us of their extraordinary involvement in the 2005 New Zealand election campaign where, in an attempt to establish a close working relationship with former opposition leader Don Brash, they ran anti-government advertisements that led to cries of foul play and eventually Brash's resignation.

The Brethren energetically and successfully cultivated a relationship with John Howard, from the earliest days of Howard's election to parliament. This secured them generous access to him while was prime minister. Kevin Rudd has made it clear he has no time for them, and they have 'gone quiet'. But they are expected to re-emerge when the political climate is more congenial.

There have been other exposes of the Brethren's involvement in politics, on the ABC's 4 Corners and elsewhere. But Bachelard's is the most thorough examination. It incorporates a history of the sect, a description of Brethren life, an analysis of the sect's involvement in politics, and details of the Brethren approach to education, marriage breakdown and dissent.

At the core of Brethren doctrine is a belief in separation. It pivots on a verse in Paul's second letter to the Timothy which requires Christians to 'withdraw from iniquity'. Friendships with 'worldlies' are forbidden, and social intercourse is limited to necessary contact such as business negotiations. The sect's current leader Bruce Hales said: 'Unless you come to a hatred of the world, you are likely to be sucked in by it.'

Bachelard details the Brethren response to family breakdown, and their relationship with the Family Law Act. In common with other sects, there is a high degree of tension when a non-sect parent wishes to have contact with their children who remain in the sect.

The Brethren resist scrutiny, and the release of Bachelard's magnum opus of investigative journalism will challenge their hierarchy, perhaps to the extent that they will understand why their energetic engagement with the body politic attracts scrutiny consistent with the value society places on transparency.

John GunsonJohn Gunson is a legal practitioner in rural NSW who has represented estranged Exclusive Brethren members in court cases against the sect.


Topic tags: john gunson, Behind the Exclusive Brethren, Michael Bachelard, 97819213722585, book review



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Existing comments

Small problem here, it appears that John Gunson is not an independent reviewer but instead rather biased. Also I think it only qualifies as investigative journalism if you actually investigate both sides which Bachelard clearly hasn't done.

Steve | 17 October 2008  

Perhaps there was nothing else to add. If the other side is more of the same. It adds nothing to the truth to include unsubstantiated denials.

RAYMOND | 18 October 2008  

No, unsubstantiated denials do not add anything to the truth. However Bachelard's book is not the truth in the first place, just unsubstantiated allegations.

Steve | 20 October 2008  

Raymond is right. There's nothing else to add. The only side the Brethren has is a dark side. They should be put under the same watch we put Islamic extremists.

trevor | 20 October 2008  

Even if only half the facts are true wouldn't you reckon that's half too much? The hierarchy of the Raven Taylor Hayes Exclusive Brethren seems to be reaping the benefits of large tax breaks without being accountable to the tax payers and voters.
A good handbook and insight into arguably a sect or religion.

I hope Michael Bachelard's investigations continue.

Frances | 21 October 2008  

What if none of the'facts' are true? Or 10%? Why demand absolute perfection from one particlar religous society when the world as a whole is far from that? There have been very unsavoury happenings amongst the Exclusive Brethren, but journalists like Bachelard focus on those only as reported to them by biased individuals. It is a documented fact that marriage breakdowns and other societal ills are statistically far less among them than society as a whole.

Steve | 22 October 2008  

Thank you John Gunson - an excellent review. This book was investigated fully. No professional journalist would dare to publish a book that cuts so deep without checking facts!

Michael Bachelard is a premier professional journalist. It is his mission to seek out truth. If there is no evidence, he rejects the claim - we know, we watched him.

You do not speak out against such a litigious group unless you have your facts straight. They are a law firms' dream! They sue not to win - just to financially lay siege.

We have no idea who 'STEVE' is, but judging by the educated vocabulary, he is not Exclusive Brethren. They are banned from attending university and using the Internet. But they do have spare $$ for a talented PR firm or three! :-)

Michael Bachelard deserves applause for being courageous, accurate and what he is - a professional journalist. In USA, where would we have been without a Woodward or a Bernstein? Those guys are heroes ... and Michael? A gutsy Ozzie who calls it like it is.

We pray the book saves more lives. Too many have already been lost.

Peebs.Net Team

Peebs.Net Team | 30 October 2008  

OK, I wasn't going to poat any more but the (the premier anti-Exclusive Brethren website for those of you who are interested) demands a few rebuttals.

Firstly, Bachelard is a 'journalist' who has published a book and then self-seekingly promoted it by writing stories that smear the Brethren. Hardly what you would call independent professional conduct.

The Exclusive Brethren do not litigate unless the untruths told are extreme and malicious. They can't because cowardly attacks like Bachelard's hide behind the fact they are against a legally hard to defend group instead of individual persons.

I think your inference that I am a paid (or unpaid) PR (or any other type) professional is as funny as you do!

You are comparing Bachelard to Woodward and Bernstein?!! That's a good joke too! You have to realise that the community just does not care about the distorted stories a few obsessed ex-members tell.

Finally your last point contains admirable aims and sentiment, and some truth but a misconception about how to acheive those aims. I pray that those opposing the Exclusive Brethren for the sake of it may get past their sad preoccupation with past failings and get on with their lives.

STEVE | 06 November 2008  

Having just found your web-site, I am appalled at the comments made by 'Steve'. I and my family have and are living in and out of the Exclusive Brethren for over a century. I have not yet read the reviewed book as I have only just been told about it, but nothing could be as bad as the actual situation. 'Sad preoccupation with the past!' Baloney. Sorrow and fear in the present are far more accurate descriptions.

lynn | 19 November 2008  

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