Defectors may as well commit suicide, says leader of sect

The Sunday Times, UK/September 18, 2015

By Billy Kenber

The leader of a hardline Christian sect which runs 34 schools in Britain has suggested that followers considering leaving the group should kill themselves with rat poison or arsenic.

Bruce Hales was meeting members of Exclusive Brethren, also known as Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, when he was asked how to help a man aged 25 who was thinking of leaving. Mr Hales’s word is treated as gospel by the 45,000 members of the church worldwide. A leaked transcript of the meeting in Surrey in June obtained by The Times reveals the Australian saying that “having links with persons under discipline or opposed [former members who have left]” was a “poison”.

He told a British member of the Brethren who was attempting to convince the young man to stay that “the trouble with your fellow is he’s got poisoned”. Mr Hales continued: “He might as well get a shot of — what’s the best thing to kill you quickly . . . cyanide? No, not cyanide. Rems. Arsenic.”

He discussed in detail the means of committing suicide, before going on to tell followers that he wasn’t advocating suicide “in the slightest degree”.

Members of the Brethren, which former members have described as a cult, regard the rest of the world as evil and avoid socialising or eating with anyone who is not an adherent.

Members are prohibited from attending university or working for non-Brethren businesses. Anyone who breaks the rules is disciplined by “elders” and may be “withdrawn from”, a sanction which often means that nobody in the sect, including family members, will ever speak to them again.

The group has charitable status in the UK, despite the regulator finding that its practices broke up families. This status was upheld by the Charity Commission after the Brethren ran an extensive and aggressive lobbying campaign in 2012 and agreed to soften some policies.

A spokesman said that Mr Hales’s comments, published in full in the White Book, which collects all of his public utterances and is a required purchase for every Brethren household, had been taken out of context.

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