'I was kicked out of the Exclusive Brethren'

Fairfax Media, New Zealand/August 19, 2016

By Mike Moore

Like Aliester Crowley, an influential 20th century occultist I was raised in an Exclusive or Plymouth Brethren group.

My own experience is comparatively mild, though, as my Exclusive Brethren group wasn't the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church group led by Bruce Hales, but a somewhat milder one. It wasn't the cult that that one clearly is, however, it was enough to really leave a mark.

I grew up in a house in Canada without television, movies, swearing, smoking, alcohol, voting, modern music, comic books, Christmas, Easter, Halloween and a hundred other things.

My sister was required to wear a dress or skirt at all times and to have long hair, just as I was required to have short hair.

I had to go out to church ("meeting" we called it) five times each week, plus special meetings. Sunday was entirely set aside for meeting and religious activities, with no playing allowed. Church services were entirely without media or instrumental music or anything of that kind. They were silent, sombre, dark, shameful things. They were for God, not to entertain or delight us.

I was strongly discouraged from associating with any children at school, and did not go to their houses or anything of that kind. I grew up in fear of going to hell, knowing that the rapture was about to happen at any moment and knowing that God was displeased with anything I might want to do that was fun in any way.

We heard over and over again that other churches were "just churches, just men's ideas" and that our group wasn't just a church, but in fact God's chosen group. So we couldn't leave.

If we got into trouble with the church by, for example, writing something they disagreed with, or having sex before marriage or associating with another church or something, we would be officially shunned. We'd have to attend meeting, but sit in a special area in the back; eat at home alone; and stay away whenever there was a church social function.

In my twenties a lot of people starting leaving and a lot of people got kicked out of the group. Most people were kicked out because they had said kicking people out was wrong, or that it was OK to worship at other churches too.

There was certainly no place for women to take any active role in church activities. They were required to wear dresses or skirts, have long hair and very minimalist or no makeup, hair dye and jewellery. At meeting and whenever the Bible or hymns were involved women had to wear a headcovering of some kind to show their submission.

There was absolutely no tolerance of homosexuality.

I was kicked out for writing a parody of one of my church's outreach pamphlets and the church has since refused to even meet to discuss letting me back in. And that was 20 years ago.

At first I badly wanted back in as I was now cut off from the dating pool of marriageable Brethren women. Any women who I had started to hang out with got phone calls warning them off me and I was not allowed to attend all of the social events of my birth culture.

Once they kicked me out I was free and had more freedom than I'd wanted or knew what to do with.

These days I watch TV and go to movies and concerts. I dress how I like and vote and so on, but I find I am cold, suspicious and closed. I have a profound pessimism about human nature and a constant expectation that the world is about to blow itself up, or descend into anarchy.

I have trouble connecting to people as people who are still "in" the Brethren movement avoid me like the plague as they find my ideas very upsetting, while people who've never been part of anything like that seem to think, feel and live entirely differently to what I can relate to.

I've done fairly well, as many leavers seem to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, can't remember much of their childhood, have unreasoning rage against anything related to religion, or have severe substance abuse problems and so on.

But there seems to be a higher rate of mental illness "among the gathered saints". And, like many religious groups, we have cases of incest and child molestation that we were expected to leave to the church to handle, rather than shaming the church by going to police about it.

Very few leavers, in my experience, have been able to retain their faith in any form and live sensible, workable lives. There are, of course, some exceptions. 

I wrote a book about this, I Was A Teenage Pharisee, including the stories of many people raised in various Exclusive Brethren groups in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United States and England. I also did an audiobook version, with many of the people who submitted quotes for the book reading their quotes into their cellphones, or having a friend do it for them.

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