Experts slam 'cult' for exploiting kids

The Sunday Mail/July 20, 2003
By Chris Taylor

A "CULT-like" Gold Coast religious ministry has been accused of exploiting children and preying on vulnerable people to fund its operation.

Revival Flame Ministries came under fire last week after it staged a tent meeting in Brisbane during which children as young as five were "healed" by controversial Pastor Sasha Alexander.

Mr Alexander is thought to be earning thousands from his global operation, which includes the Gold Coast church House of Praise and a learning centre named University of the Spirit.

He says he has been appointed a healer by God, and he teaches his followers to donate 10 per cent of their earnings and offer regular donations to his church.

Night of Talking in Tongues

A woman, who claims to be experiencing "a miracle" screams from the pit of her gut, flails wildly and staggers as if drunk, falling violently with a thud.

For the next 30 minutes she remains on the floor moaning and contorting in spasms and adopting a deep-pitched drawl to speak a "language" only angels can understand.

It's a frightening spectacle - even more so when the woman attempts to rise to her feet and, unable to stand, instead thrashes her head against the floor in a state bordering on hysteria.

But the performance - with showbiz razzamatazz provided courtesy of Pastor Sasha Alexander - has only just begun. A boy, no older than six, appears to enter a convulsion during which his eyes roll back in his head and he becomes perfectly rigid after Mr Alexander touches his forehead, sending him to the floor, where he lies still for 15 minutes.

Mr Alexander claims to have cured the little boy of a minor bout of gastro and then begins to babble incoherently, but switches back to English to say: "Isn't it wonderful when God touches the children?

"But if you'd never seen this before you'd think it was a crazy house and the inmates were in charge." Martin Hughs, a 33-year-old light aircraft pilot, says later: "Can you hear that language? It's a heavenly language. The Devil can't interpret it."

Mr Hughs, along with several hundred others, gives up several nights a week - not to mention a portion of his income - to see the pastor at work.

It all takes place in a tent, a $1 million outfit rigged with hi-tech sound and video equipment, or at the pastor's Gold Coast church - located, appropriately, in Demand Ave - which he is in the process of purchasing for a $1.2 million, and where he has established a "spiritual university".

Mr Alexander, who started his Revival Flame Ministry in a rented hall in Surfers Paradise about eight years ago, has built up a considerable flock, travels the world to spread the word, has his own program on community television station Briz31 and is in the process of signing a deal with a cable television network.

Bleached blond, with a moon face and wearing a knee-length trench coat, the 52-year-old former fashion retailer claims to have been chosen by God to anoint - or heal - the ill and is adamant that he has visited heaven, not once but twice. In 1988, he claims, he left his body during a prayer meeting and wound up kneeling at "the throne of God" in heaven with angels hovering and God telling him to set up a tent and travel the world preaching.

A couple of years later he was back in heaven where, "there were angels with wings, man, and they are freaky looking things. They picked me up by the elbows and took me back to my body and then I heard God say 'Next,' and it blew me out." He says God will provide him with the $1.2 million he needs to buy and renovate the rented Arundel property he uses as a base. He is also likely to need help from his parishioners.

Up to 25 students are enrolled at Mr Alexander's University of the Spirit established in 1998, and pay annual tuition of about $2600.

His website also features a pledging page where parishioners are encouraged to make contributions using their credit cards or direct debits. Then, there's the gift shop where sale items include everything from books and videos averaging $20 to children's jackets at $33.

Parishioner Melissa Von Bratt, 23, a primary school teacher, says: "We are taught to ask God how much he wants us to give." Much of what Mr Alexander discusses involves finance and how to get it. "We need to generate finances so we can keep people employed. God invented the monetary system. I work for God and there's got to be a fair rate of exchange for that," he says. "God's my paymaster.

"I don't say, 'A sore knee will cost you $50; a sore back, that'll be $100.' But it all takes money. The gospel is free but it don't come cheap."

But psychologists and sect investigators say the ministry could be exploiting vulnerable people by using "showbusiness" techniques. They were appalled to learn young children were attending meetings to be "healed" of illnesses.

Adrian van Leen, director of the cult-busting group Concerned Christians Growth Ministries, said the "cult-like" Revival Flame group "seems to be a form of rip-off emotionally, spiritually and psychologically."

Mr van Leen said it was horrifying children were taking part in the group's meetings.

The Sunday Mail asked Commissioner for Children and Young People Robin Sullivan to comment on disturbing images taken of children at one of Mr Alexander's meetings, but she declined.

Mr Alexander denied his group shared any characteristics with cults and denied he exploited his congregation.

"A lot of people want to control and manipulate people really and they do it through religion . . . there are all sorts of people trying to play with people's heads," he said.

John Henderson, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said the practices used at Mr Alexander's meetings, where people enter "healing" spasms and speak in tongues, should be supervised.

And leading Brisbane clinical psychologist Brad Johnston said the structure of such gatherings could be damaging to children.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.