The history of the sect shows up the cult-like aspects of it:
They first met in Dublin, but the movement was named 'Plymouth Brethren' as their first large assembly was formed in Plymouth (in 1831). The Brethren movement began with a desire to return to the simplicity of apostolic worship; as a protest against other churches' prevailing clericalism, spiritual dryness and formalism; and with a strong expectation that Christ would soon return. They met to share the Lord's Supper without any ordained clergy present, believing the Spirit would guide the participants. J.N.Darby believed the other churches were in ruins, and so assemblies should not be set up with elders and deacons. Because of Darby's outstanding personal and academic giftedness he naturally assumed a significant leadership position in the early days (and was warned by Groves about his propensity to exercise undue authority). Early controversies centred around 'prophetic' interpretations, Christ's humanity, and separatism from those who were 'contaminated' by the teachings of other groups. In 1847/8 Darby led a breakaway group which had a more centralized leadership and rigorous separatism. These 'Exclusive Brethren' have since degenerated into a sectarian authoritarianism, and have themselves split into many factions.
Of interest is J N Darby's injunction that
'We abstain from pleasures and amusements of the world. If we have evening parties, it is for the purpose of studying the Word and of edifying ourselves together. We do not mix in politics; we are not of the world; we do not vote.' (J.N.Darby 1878).
Nonetheless, this apparent separation from worldly concerns doesn't stop them from supporting and funding campaigns by Bush, Howard and Brash (US, Australia and NZ).
Greens Senator Bob Brown asked Special Minister of State, Eric Abetz, about the sect's funding of pamphlets backing Prime Minister Howard last year and authorised out of an Exclusive Brethren school in Sydney. He asked if Mr Howard had met with world leader of the sect Mr Bruce Hales who is reported to have predicted 'the rapture' or end of the world if Mr Howard and President Bush were not re-elected.
Funny, EoR thought they'd be happy to welcome in the Rapture. Isn't that what all good Christians are waiting for?
Strangely, they sound like those objects of anathema to all god-fearin', right-livin' Chreestians, the Moslems:
The women wear headscarves in public. Their religion opposes assimilation, and they educate children at home or in their own schools. Fearing the taint of the godless, they refuse to eat with unbelievers. They reject democracy, and work towards God's rule.
The Chief Inspector of Schools in England has praised their private schools, which eschew computers, the internet, newspapers and "modern" technology. Nonetheless, other schools that practise a closed-shop pre-technology ethos are not so acceptable:
David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, praised the Exclusive Brethren in his annual report last month, in which he also criticised Islamic schools for teaching a narrow curriculum that posed a potential threat to Britain’s sense of national identity.
The Sydney Morning Herald article points out that these are not just crackpots hiding out in some mountain fastness - they're actually crackpots hiding out in some mountain fastness with lots of money and media savvy:
The Brethren's glossy, professionally produced anti-Green and anti-Labour leaflets look familiar. In the weeks before John Howard's re-election in October last year, half- and full-page advertisements appeared in local and metropolitan newspapers endorsing his Government and attacking the Greens. The advertisements echoed the content and style of Liberal Party advertising, but none of the endorsers' names and addresses belonged to the party.
There also seems to be a tinge of Buddhist karma to their doctrines as well:
They also incline to a "prosperity gospel" in which wealth is a sign of God's favour, and the poor have only themselves to blame, so taxes and welfare subvert the divine order.
The Liberal Party loves this sort of thing, since their dirty work can be done for them, but it is clear that they have the same agenda (if not the same overwhelming urge to put it so forcefully):
The religious right has become increasingly outspoken within the party, with the Treasurer, Peter Costello, arguing that Australia's problems will be solved not by legislation but a return to the Ten Commandments, and John Anderson declaring while deputy prime minister that without Jesus, "we're a mob of dirty rotten sinners and we're on the path to hell".
The Liberal Party refuses to admit any formal links to the Exclusive Brethren (and there probably aren't any) but the two seem to be involved in some ongoing informal political two-step:
The Tasmanian Liberal Party has denied any link with the Exclusive Brethren, though its state director has admitted meeting the group before the election. Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has also denied any formal links between the Liberal Party and the religious group. Mr Costello says he has met members of the group many times, but that is as far as things go. "There are no formal links, but if they're Australians, then the links are that like all other Australians we'd want to appeal to them," he said.
Funny, the Liberal Party doesn't seem to be doing too much to appeal to anarcho-communnist-green Australians... And why are the discussions between the Brethren and government members always in camera and off the record?
One former cult member - sorry, sect member, states
"I think the basic problem is, their God is crazy. In fact, he's insane. In fact, you never know what he's going to do next."
Another commentator states their goal is
"Towards a movement for what they call Christian Government. It's the idea that it's no longer enough just to watch from the sidelines, but that there's really a role for Christians in trying to get governments that reflect what they see as Christian values, which of course they're not necessarily what all Christians see as Christian values - reducing taxation, reducing welfare, increasing defence spending and then with the kind of socially, morally conservative positions also."
The Exclusive Brethren have most recently attempted to influence last weekend's Tasmanian state election using less than open means:
Members of the Exclusive Brethren have taken out newspaper advertisements without revealing that the group is behind the campaign.Two half-page newspaper advertisements, one placed by Scottsdale pig-farmer Roger Unwin, the other by another Scottsdale man, Trevor Christian, attacked the Greens for their policies on such things as same-sex marriages and transgender rights. [...] In another development, the Liberal Party says it has received no funding from the group. However the party has admitted meeting members of the group before the election campaign. One of the Exclusive Brethren's pamphlets described the Greens as "socially destructive". A Liberal Party pamphlet distributed in Tasmania uses the same description.
An interesting short interview with a former member tells how Adrian was ostracised after leaving. Later, when his daughter drowned, he was informed the next day that God was punishing him for leaving the Exclusive Brethren. So much for Christian values of forgiveness and comfort. The interview also points out their hyprocrisy in attempting to influence every election they can even though they are forbidden from voting themselves.
At least they'll all burn in Hell for falling from their high and holy ideals and getting involved in dirty worldly matters.
Further information: the BBC maintains a very good series of pages on the history and doctrines of the Exclusive Brethren (for example, they are forbidden from reading fiction - apparently the Bible is an exception; they are forbidden from using computers - apparently www.theexclusivebretren.com/ is an aberration - at least, when EoR visited it there was nothing to see); they are forbidden from sharing driveways or private drainage facilities with outsiders - EoR presumes there is an injunction against this somewhere in the Bible).