Judgment has been entered in High Court claim no. BL-2017-000101 against the Defendant Laurence Roy Moffitt (a.k.a. Laurie Moffitt) for copyright infringement, misuse of private information and breach of confidence in respect of the address books containing the names and addresses of the members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. Permanent injunctions have been granted. Mr Moffitt has been ordered to pay damages and to pay the Claimants’ legal costs on the indemnity basis.
Saturday, 10 May 2014
PBCC foist problems on a sleepy Commonwealth backwater
This is a well written and long article of which only the first page is published here-click on the link below to open the full article;
STONEWALL — Quietly, and out of earshot of Winnipeg, Stonewall had its own mini "British Invasion" a decade ago.
Newcomers from England started to descend on this town just north of Winnipeg that has historically been a limestone quarry and agricultural service centre. They bought homes, started businesses, built a church — all the usual stuff.
Stonewall, Man., is home to a large Plymouth Brethren congregation, one of two outside the city of Winnipeg. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Stonewall councillors were pleased their town was chosen by the English-speaking immigrants. Local residents were charmed, as North Americans tend to be, by how the newcomers snapped off their words with British accents.
But residents soon found there was something different about the newcomers. They didn’t want much to do with the townsfolk. They wouldn’t socialize with them, other than a few words on the street or in a store. It wasn’t long before local people started to regard them as "standoffish," as one Stonewall resident put it.
In time, the community learned the newcomers were from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), a religious sect that practises "separateness" from the rest of society. The two-metre-high rod-iron fence around their church attests to that.
It’s one of the few physical barriers. Most Plymouth Brethren barriers are social. They won’t eat in the same room as non-members, including in restaurants. Brethren are not even allowed to visit the homes of non-Brethren, or "worldly people." They don’t go to the cinema, the theatre or sporting events.
Plymouth Brethren are sometimes thought of as a British version of Hutterites, without the colonies. Both are conscientious objectors to military service; neither group votes; both forbid television and radio in their homes. The Brethren forbid computers with anything other than email functions and some business software, and all their computers and programs are purchased from a Brethren-owned company.
Plymouth Brethren also maintain a dress code, but not one as rustic or obvious as that of Hutterites.
Brethren women are required to wear ankle-length skirts, long hair and some kind of head covering — it used to be a kerchief but now is often a ribbon. The attire is urban, individualized, and becoming less strict to the point where women are now seen wearing designer clothes with hem lines climbing to knee level.
A seven-foot-high steel fence surrounds the Plymouth Brethren Meeting Hall in Stonewall. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Men dress business casual. They keep their hair short and are clean-shaven — not even sideburns are allowed. While that doesn’t sound like it would set the men apart, it does.
"They are conspicuously well-scrubbed," said a Stonewall resident who has had dealings with the Brethren.
This "new" Christian sect has actually been in Manitoba since the 1880s. The Stonewall group was only the most recent wave. Plymouth Brethren are also in Winnipeg (Charleswood) and the village of Woodlands, not far from Stonewall in the Interlake.
It’s a group that shows quite remarkable business acumen. The Plymouth Brethren bought up half of Stonewall’s industrial park upon arrival, and immediately set up a cluster of companies.
But attempts to learn more about the sect and interview its members showed how it has managed to stay under the radar.
Brethren’s business impact
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Plymouth Brethren don’t believe in a church hierarchy. There is no formally designated church leader, such as a salaried priest or pastor, so when I called recently to request an interview, there was no official spokesperson — and no one who felt comfortable speaking for the group.
After about a week of phone calls and numerous referrals, two Brethren men finally agreed to be interviewed — then each cancelled as the interviews neared. Both said they were too busy.
Negotiations continued. Dates were submitted for interviews. I explained my mission was merely to write about a unique immigrant group outside the city, which was entirely true. Upon request, I forwarded a list of questions.
Despite all the negotiations, I was ultimately turned down. All of this took place over a period of three weeks. Ex-Plymouth Brethren members later told me I was being played; strung along until I tired and perhaps gave up on the story.
I fared little better making cold calls to businesses run by Plymouth Brethren in Stonewall. Everyone said they were too busy to talk. At the fifth business I visited, Charles Deayton, at Universal Business Team, which provides consulting and training services to businesses, said he had been expecting me. Word had traveled quickly that a Free Press reporter was making the rounds.
Deayton was candid yet considerate. He basically told me I had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of getting an interview with a member of the Plymouth Brethren.
"We don’t want to be all over the newspaper," he said. A colleague beside him was more curt. "We’re not interested. We’ve got work to do. Thanks for coming."
All of which is not to imply the Plymouth Brethren here are bad people. They are good and productive community members, most people say. Their businesses have been major contributors to the tax base of Stonewall and provide jobs for many non-Brethren as well as Brethren.
When I googled Universal Business Team, I learned it has offices in 19 countries, mainly assisting other Brethren businesses. But I also saw Universal Business Team is the subject of criticism from a group called PEEB, People Escaping Exclusive Brethren, or "leavers," as they call themselves. (Exclusive Brethren is another name for the most isolationist branch of Plymouth Brethren, which is the one practising in Manitoba.)
A website run by the ex-Brethren also popped up: www.wikipeebia.com. It contained lengthy testimonials from leavers and it included a pull-down window listing "confirmed suicides" of former Plymouth Brethren members. That was my first red flag.
Another red flag was the Plymouth Brethren private school in Stonewall, Sterling North Academy. The grades 3-12 school employs a full complement of certified public-school teachers — but none are Plymouth Brethren. Why would a group that arrived over a hundred years ago not have at least some of its own teachers? There are dozens of Hutterites with university degrees teaching across Manitoba.
Plymouth Brethren got their name because their first assembly was in the English port town of Plymouth, more famously known as the departure point for the pilgrims who settled in the United States in the early 1600s.
The Plymouth Brethren formed in 1830 as a breakaway sect from the Anglican church. As so often happens with religious groups, the Brethren thought the main church was becoming too worldly, and set up a doctrine of separation from the world.
Another core belief among Plymouth Brethren is the "rapture." Some historians believe the concept of rapture was even started by the PBCC and later adopted by evangelical groups in the United States. The rapture is judgment day, when God will supposedly sweep up to heaven only the true believers — there are about 46,000 Plymouth Brethren worldwide — and destroy the rest of the planet’s seven billion people in a great conflagration.
Edward Pearce Langrell, the first of the Plymouth Brethren to arrive in Manitoba, settled in Woodlands in the 1880s. He was acquainted with John Nelson Darby of Ireland, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren. Langrell became the first principal at Warren Elementary School. Today, there are 15 Langrells in the Woodlands phone directory.
Plymouth Brethren are now headquartered in Australia, which has about 15,000 members. A similar number resides in Britain, and New Zealand also has a sizeable population. A year ago, six big bus coaches full of Brethren from Australia and New Zealand visited fellow Brethren in Manitoba as part of a cross-country tour.
Even though Plymouth Brethren have been in Manitoba for well over a century, primarily in Winnipeg (Charleswood) and Woodlands, they have surfaced in news stories in the WinnipegFree Press only about 10 times. By comparison, the Free Press runs about 10 stories a year on Hutterites.
Exclusive Brethren Don’ts
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One of the stories was about a Brethren protest against having to join unions in Manitoba (1972); another was about members in Vancouver not wanting their children subjected to computers in schools (1990s).
There were also two curious wire stories out of London, England, dated 1964. The stories concerned then Brethren leader Jim Taylor Jr., who had left London ahead of schedule for the United States amid denunciation from the British Parliament, the British press and even the Methodist Church for breaking up families.
The stories described the Plymouth Brethren as a "small, very strict, secretive nonconformist sect" that abides by a strict interpretation of this Biblical text: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."
One British MP produced a list of 60 families that he claimed had been split up by the Brethren. A British woman claimed her husband left her after 31 years marriage because she bought a radio and television.
While the Brethren have always practised separation from the rest of society, they were more mainstream prior to the 1960s. Then, Taylor Jr. started to put his stamp on things. The Brethren have their own pope-like figure, called the Man of God. Taylor Jr. served in that role from 1959-70. He had a predilection for making up rules. It was Taylor Jr. who introduced the hard-line doctrine of separateness, starting with banning members from eating and socializing with non-members.
The rules included everything from banning men from wearing shorts (thy naked, spindly legs are an abomination, presumably) to who should take out the garbage (that falleth to the husband, naturally).
One decree from Taylor Jr. was that Brethren farmers could no longer live on the same property as their livestock. Since the Brethren near Woodlands were largely cattle ranchers, the edict triggered a small housing boom there. Brethren farmers to this day must commute to their farms.
PBCC members once celebrated Christmas and Easter with fellow Christians around the world. Taylor Jr. declared it should no longer be thus, although Dave Henry, president of Accent Group in Stonewall and a leader in the Stonewall Brethren community, told me in an email that the Brethren "respect these holidays and enjoy these days with our families and friends."
A PBCC member can only live in or do business in a freestanding building; that is, in a structure not touching a building owned or occupied by non-Brethren. Otherwise, Brethren risk "contamination" from worldly people. That rules out living in an apartment block. Children don’t move out of the home until they marry.
"You could be 60 and still be living in your parents’ basement," one ex-Brethren said. Every marriage has to be first approved by the Man of God.
You can’t go on holidays, period. If you want to see fellow Brethren in another province or country, the church has to approve your travel. Air tickets must be purchased through a Brethren business. You can’t stay in hotels (see the "freestanding building" rule). Wherever you go, you have to be billeted by other Brethren. Even swimming in public is forbidden, but that rule is said to be loosening. You can own a swimming pool only if the house comes with one, but you can’t have one installed. Their churches, called meeting rooms, don’t have windows.
Until 2005, Brethren banned cellphones, computers and fax machines. The Internet is regarded as a "pipeline to filth." Now, Brethren businesses provide cellphones and computers with software called "Wordex" that permits only word processing, spreadsheets, accounting programs and email, but no Internet. Skype is also prohibited.
(I asked Dave Henry in an early email whether radio and TV are allowed. He responded: "It is not that they are ‘not allowed’ – they do not want them," he said of Brethren members. "The radio and television have become 'pipelines of filth' intruding into households and disrupting family life." I later saw Henry had copied this answer verbatim from the official Plymouth Brethren website. Ex-members said my emailed questions would have been screened by either the current Man of God, or an assistant, in Sydney, Australia.)
Brethren are not allowed to read novels, and newspapers and magazines are discouraged. You are not allowed pets. When Taylor Jr. issued this directive, Brethren families had to put to sleep their cats and dogs and goldfish while tears streamed down their children’s faces.
Why are there no Brethren teachers in their schools? Or any Brethren nurses or doctors for that matter? Because Taylor Jr. decreed universities are swirling with sin. Members cannot attend. So, all its teachers are non-Brethren. The certified teachers are not allowed to even utter the word university, or encourage students in any way to attend post-secondary schools.
Belonging to Plymouth Brethren is most restrictive for women. They cannot wear makeup or jewelry or dye — or even cut — their hair. Women are not allowed to occupy any position in authority over a man. Their work is mostly secretarial in various Brethren businesses, and only lasts until marriage. Women marry early, and then don’t work outside the home, although exceptions are made for a husband’s business. They typically have large families. Contraceptives are prohibited.
In church services, women sit at the back with the children while the men sit in the centre. The Brethren church in Stonewall is bowl-shaped inside, with the men at the centre, starting with the most important men, usually business leaders. Women and children are seated in the outside rows. Women’s only role is to hand out hymn sheets. They are not allowed to speak.
Smoking is not permitted, but alcohol is. Former members say alcohol is a problem for Brethren and tell stories of abuse. For example, former Man of God Jim Symington was known to imbibe. Symington was a hog farmer from Neche, N.D., before he served as leader of the Plymouth Brethren from 1970-87. A former Brethren member (who will be formally introduced later) tells of seeing Symington so drunk one time, two men had to help him walk into church.
Taylor Jr. had a problem with alcohol. He was caught in bed with a married woman half his age in Aberdeen, Scotland, as detailed in Behind the Exclusive Brethren(2008), an extraordinary book by Australian journalist, Michael Bachelard. The Brethren responded with an incredible defence, saying Taylor allowed himself to be discovered in bed with someone else’s wife to trap his opponents into denouncing him.
Meantime, current Man of God Bruce D. Hales lives in a $5 million mansion, owns a private jet, and Forbes magazine lists him as the fourth-richest man in Australia.
Manitoba’s has about 450 Plymouth Brethren members, about one per cent of the Brethren worldwide, but when Symington was Man of God, there was steady traffic through Winnipeg of Brethren delegations going to meet Symington in North Dakota. Because Brethren can’t stay in hotels, delegates were billeted by PBCC families in Winnipeg and Woodlands, making Manitoba the centre of the world for Plymouth Brethren.
While Brethren do help out with community events, such as assisting annual community clean-ups in Stonewall and Woodlands, they must do so separately. They will join walks for cancer but must be left to themselves.
Those are just some of the rules. Before his death in 1970, Taylor Jr. had issued a total of 390 directives.
Most of my information came from interviews with non-Brethren in the Interlake, emails from Dave Henry, reading Bachelard’s book and exchanging emails with the author, and from internet sources such as Wikipedia and the Brethren web site,plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org. What was to be a simple story about an immigrant community in rural Manitoba became more like pulling on a magician’s scarf and finding it attached to an infinite number of scarves.
Woodlands Mb. is home to a large Plymouth Bretheren congregation, one of two outside the city of Winnipeg. The Meeting Hall in Woodlands sits behind a tall wooden fence. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
It was inevitable that if I kept pulling on the scarves, they would lead to people who were either expelled or who had left the Brethren voluntarily. I was not prepared for what they were about to tell me.
Meeting ex-Brethren is like rummaging through a box of broken toys. Each one is missing some piece of themselves emotionally. All the ex-Brethren have children, parents or siblings within the Brethren who refuse to see them.
When you leave the Brethren — or are kicked out — you’re dead to them. Your kids won’t acknowledge you. If you should encounter them, they will glass themselves off, not even meeting your gaze. Your parents will glass themselves off from you. Your friends will glass themselves off from you. Have your grandchildren over? You never will. They will be told you are evil.
You’ll also lose your job because Brethren work for Brethren-owned companies.
I interviewed about a dozen former members who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They admit to being afraid of the Brethren. Almost every one of them had been "withdrawn from" — an innocent sounding term until you hear it so often it takes on a chilling cast.
None of the ex-members I spoke to had been withdrawn from for vice or a venal sin. They were withdrawn from for questioning the doctrine, the leadership or a leader’s words. They were withdrawn from because they associated with non-Brethren or were caught with forbidden technology.
Many people were withdrawn from for breaking the no-computer-or-cellphone rule, which changed in 2005. Marriage breakup will also result in one of the parties being withdrawn from. One family was withdrawn from because Brethren leaders deemed their home, which was undergoing renovations while billeting visiting Brethren, not up to PBCC standards.
"It hurts really, really bad," said one ex-Brethren parent with grown-up children still in the Brethren. "We don’t want to be bitter. Sometimes, it’s hard not to be. But you have to forgive."
Withdrawing from is how the Brethren leaders keep their members in fear of breaking its rules. "You move one inch out of line and you’re gone," said a former member.
"The consequences of breaking rules is what keeps lots of people from stepping outside those boundaries," said another.
For the protection of these ex-members and their family members still in the Brethren, the following accounts have been greatly generalized. Even people who have left the Brethren are still controlled by them years later.
One person I spoke to got out with his wife and all his children. To hear him, it was like escaping a house fire just in time. He was lucky all his children were still living at home.
Several people I talked to had lost their grown-up children to the Brethren. They don’t see them anymore or if they do, it’s only in passing. Their children will just make brief, polite, heartbreakingly emotionless small talk, like automatons, and move on.
The reason people I interviewed were scared is because even that fraction of contact could be taken away if their identities are revealed.
"The separation with family is just terribly painful and it won’t go away," said one mother who has children and grandchildren who won’t see her. "The only way to heal is to say you were wrong and go back."
Ex-members say you have to go through humiliation to go back. Some people do apologize and return, even after many years away. But many simply can’t bring themselves to truly believe in the Brethren again, even though everyone I interviewed said they still believed in God.
One ex-member said the hardest part for him was having his parents treat him like he no longer existed. He recalled bumping into them accidentally on the street one day. "I approached them and said hello. They both looked away and never replied. It was as if I was not there. Those things burn deeply into your inner being," he said.
"Every ex-member has a long string of heartbreaking stories like that. We tend to suppress them because they are so painful." He has let his own kids know that will never happen to them as long as he lives. "The one thing I convey to my kids is my love for them is unconditional," he said.
In another family, a teenage son had been withdrawn from for getting mixed up with drugs. He had a small bag of marijuana and confessed to it out of guilt. The leaders determined he could still live at home, but the family was forbidden to talk to him or eat with him for an indefinite period. This is called the "shutting up" phase, a kind of trial period. The entire family was soon withdrawn from for failing to obey the church’s directives.
One teenage girl was shut up for 37 days in England last year, including missing school, for setting up a Facebook page.
A father who was withdrawn from came home from work one day to discover his wife and children were gone. Brethren leaders had visited her at home while he was away and convinced her to leave her husband and stay in the fold.
Such visits to women at home alone are a common practice by Brethren leaders. What do they say to the wife? They may tell her God will seek retribution by taking one of her children, say ex-members. They will also try to use the wife as a pawn, saying if she stays in the Brethren and separates from her husband, it will encourage him to come back to the church and to God.
Divorces are a horrible ordeal among Brethren. The Brethren believe only the marriages of sinners fail. If there’s a split, someone’s at fault and has to be withdrawn from, typically the man. He’s out with no job or family and not a friend in the world.
The Brethren will try every legal tactic to prevent him from even having visitation rights with his children. The Brethren hierarchy keeps a massive war chest just for legal custody fights, Bachelard writes. Members are encouraged to leave money in their wills specifically for the legal fund. One tactic is to fire the lawyer representing the Brethren party just before a case goes to trial, delaying the process. Most withdrawn fathers, now out of a job they held with a Brethren-owned company, haven’t the finances to fight.
If they lose a case, the Brethren appeal, no matter how ludicrous the appeal is.
While one man interviewed didn’t want particulars of his child custody case known, it follows closely the pattern revealed in Bachelard’s book, which details cases of children being told a parent "is leprous, wicked or ‘of the devil.’" Children sometimes write letters to their estranged parent telling them they are wicked. Or they will hang up on phone calls from the parent and return letters and gifts unopened. In Australia, a judge in a custody case reprimanded the Brethren for what he called the "brainwash" of children.
The man I interviewed said the Brethren will make false accusations against the father. "What they try to do all along is destroy you." That’s where the suicides come in.
The man, who keeps in touch with other ex-Brethren, says he knows of 30 to 40 suicides among ex-Brethren. He says 95 per cent of the suicides are men, most of whom have been cut off from their children.
"The first year (out of the Brethren), I came close two times," he said. "It’s very, very real, and it’s very hard to explain to someone how traumatic it is to be treated like that."
That’s why the website wikipeebia.com keeps track of suicides. It currently lists 24 confirmed suicides of former Brethren. It’s the fourth website the leavers have created. The previous three were shut down by legal action by the Plymouth Brethren, according to Bachelard.
The stock answer from the Brethren is that they don’t break up families; sin breaks up families.
How could a people who claim to worship a loving Christian God be so cold?
Ex-members blamed Taylor Jr. They said under him, the Brethren morphed from a mainstream Christian sect to a cult.
The Plymouth Brethren Meeting Room in Stonewall, Man. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
People inside are trapped, said former PBCC members. "The trouble is, we believed it fully," said a former member. "You’re indoctrinated from birth."
"The hold the church has on you is intense," added another ex-member.
The church has invented a system of control, they say. First, you have to be born into the church. It’s been almost impossible to join since Taylor Jr.’s time. Then the church controls your life from birth to death. You attend church seven days a week, every night after work, again on Saturday, and four times on Sunday, starting with a 6 a.m. service. Start to miss and you can be withdrawn from.
The church helps arrange marriages and finds you a job, writes Bachelard. In the 1960s, Taylor Jr. also introduced what he called "the system," which required members to record their actions every 15 minutes and submit their records to church elders. The practice was done away with but is reportedly coming back again, especially for people in business.
The church micro-manages people’s lives. As one ex-member stated, "every part of your day, every action you take, there is a regulation for that. If you do something wrong, you can lose everything."
Said another former member: "You’re scared of the outside world when you’re in (the Brethren). It’s like looking through a window and you don’t understand what’s going on. Once you’re out, it’s the freedom, the freedom of thought, the freedom of movement. You’re not constrained. Any thought against the Brethren is considered a sin. My mind was liberated."
"A pen warmed up in hell," to quote Mark Twain, comes to mind when Phil Admiraal tells the story about his wife Kim’s response to an offer from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
Former Plymouth Brethren member Phil Admiraal outside his Stonewall auto repair business in the community's business park. Ironically, several of the businesses now surrounding his are owned by Brethren. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Phil Admiraal had been out of the Plymouth Brethren for many years and married to a non-Brethren woman when the couple got a knock on their door.
It’s something the Brethren will do sometimes, try to get someone to return to the fold no matter how many years have passed. On this occasion, they urged Phil to return to the Brethren by making an apology. Kim was present, and asked what would happen to her? She could also join, they said. Of course, she could never see her side of the family again.
At that point, Kim proceeded to blister the paint on the walls with her views on what the Brethren could do with their offer.
After chasing Brethren members for interviews for several weeks without success, and then ex-Brethren who didn’t want to talk, and then ex-Brethren who talked but didn’t want their names used, it was manna from heaven to interview a straight shooter like Phil Admiraal. He is an on-the-record kind of guy. He has nothing to hide. And he’s not afraid of the Brethren.
Admiraal left the Brethren when he was 20. He and a woman from California who was also Brethren had fallen in love and wanted to marry. (The Brethren have a network across the globe for matching up young men and women.) As is the Brethren custom, Admiraal had to obtain permission from the Man of God. In this case, it was Symington in Neche. Because of the proximity, Admiraal had to ask permission in person.
Phil and his wife Kim Admiraal. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Symington asked him why he would be any better of a husband than his brother, who had been kicked out of the Brethren for a serious sin. Symington didn’t like Admiraal’s answer, which was something along the lines that he wasn’t his brother, so he forbade the marriage.
Admiraal was furious. He told Symington no one was going to tell him what he could do. That kind of back talk will get you tossed out of the Brethren faster than adultery or murder. Admiraal flew out to California to see his fiancé, but she broke off their engagement because she didn’t want a life outside the Brethren.
Admiraal returned to live with his parents, who were in a "shutting up" phase because they had violated some rule. They were not allowed to attend church, socialize or speak to anyone in the church except elders. When this happens, people leave meals for you outside your door.
Eventually, Brethren leaders presented them with a deal. The parents could get back into the church, but they had to throw Phil and his sister out of their house and withdraw from them (Phil’s sister had been excommunicated for attending a party of non-Brethren).
The parents accepted. Admiraal had little contact with then afterwards and they are now both deceased. The last time he talked to his mother, on the phone, she warned him of the impending "rapture."
Admiraal has been out for more than 35 years, which allows him to talk more freely than other former Brethren interviewed. The weird thing for him is that he moved to Stonewall two decades ago to get away from the Brethren in Winnipeg. Today, his business, Admiraal Auto, is surrounded by Brethren businesses in Stonewall Industrial Park.
"Once they kick you out, they pretty much destroy your life," he said. He had no post-secondary education and no friends outside the Brethren when he left.
"In the church, they instil in your mind that the Brethren is the only way. When I left, I was terrified. I started drinking like a fish. Then I found out there are a lot of good people in the world."
He got a job at Landeau Lincoln car dealership in Winnipeg. He remembers a co-worker inviting him over for dinner. "I was terrified. I’d never eaten with a non-Brethren before in my life." He’d always liked cars, and Landeau gave him the opportunity to work his way up.
Like other ex-Brethren interviewed, Admiraal doesn’t wish ill on people in the Brethren. He believes a lot of them wish they could get out. "It’s not like they’re bad people. They’re not. It’s just that they live with such strong religious beliefs of a cult," he said. "I don’t agree with how (the church) controls people’s lives."