'Cult' orders faith before family

Sunshine Coast Daily, Australia/February 28, 2009

Helen Pomery says a church cult is responsible for stealing her family. Photo: Warren Lynam/18028

Teenage members of a Sunshine Coast church have been ordered to put the church’s teachings before family or risk excommunication.

Young adults aged 17 to 25 have been warned if they do not sign a commitment form at tomorrow’s meeting of the Sunshine Coast Christian Fellowship, they could be cut off.

Helen Pomery of Maleny, a former member of the fellowship who was excommunicated in 2002, said contacts in the church had expressed their concerns to her. Many feared they would "lose their children".

"There is so much pressure on these kids to sign the commitment form. If they don’t, they will be kicked out. People are very scared," Ms Pomery said.

"This has put strain on a lot of parents too because if they express their concerns, they are labelled ‘evil’ and the elders will try to turn their children against them. The fellowship is not a church.

"It is a cult and it thrives on fear."

The Daily obtained copies of the commitment forms and "doctrine" written by church elders, which outlines some of the fellowship’s extreme teachings.

Most controversial are documents placing the importance of the church above family, including statements like: "Come and commit to being the Lord’s disciple first, and that will provide the opportunity for Christ to come to your family".

Last year the fellowship, which is based in Brisbane, made national headlines after the ABC’s Four Corners ran an expose of its teachings and doctrine. Ms Pomery told her story on the program and in a book by Morag Zwartz, Apostles of Fear: A Cult Church Exposed.

According to Ms Pomery, church elders believe they are "God personified".

"Members are taught that God actually speaks through the elders. This creates an air of fear because members are told if they disobey the teachings of the elders, they will be damned for eternity.

"The fellowship isolates people. Members can’t socialise with people outside the church and young people can’t date people that aren’t in the church. Arranged marriages are common.

"Basically people become trapped in the fellowship because if they leave, they have nothing. I lost my family to the fellowship so speaking out against them isn’t hard because I have nothing left to lose."

Dean of the Catholic church on the Sunshine Coast, Father John Dobson, said he did not know much about the fellowship but thought it displayed "cult-like traits".

"The Catholic church has strong authority, some of the strongest of any church, but is never interferes with personal conscience.

"An individual’s conscience is not to be meddled with, even by those in authority, and if members of a congregation feel like this is happening, they should assess the situation.

"Scriptures teach God’s greatest gift to humans is the ability to love and this in turn leads people to be free. Love is certainly not domination and I’m concerned that elders in this church would present their word as the word of God. I would also be concerned about anyone who believes that."

Ms Pomery has set up a support group for people affected by cults, and said people still in the fellowship were in regular contact with her.

"They want to know how they can get out without losing their families. All of then have seen how the fellowship works and have seen families torn apart. They are scared and are very careful about how they get in contact. If the church found out they would be immediately excommunicated.

"After being married for 30 years my husband, who was a doctor, left me a letter telling me to be out of the house in a week. I didn’t know what to do.

"I have three kids who are 35, 33 and 28. Two of them - the oldest and the youngest - are still heavily involved with the church and haven’t spoken to me since I left. My eldest child has three kids of her own. I’ve never met my grandchildren."

Yesterday the Daily contacted Sunshine Coast Christian Fellowship elders David Black and Paul Fox.

Mr Black declined to comment and Mr Fox said the commitment form and associated doctrine spoke for itself.

"It speaks to our young people and it speaks for itself so I don’t need to comment," he said.

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